A longlist that includes a few ‘Ninja favourites (and some former contributors and commentors). Not too many new names here, though it’s nice to see our advertiser, Broadview’s Freehand Books get their first nod in their very first season ever. Worse still, of the 15 books, you could only really make a case for the Freehand book and perhaps (though every year this is more unlikely) the two Anansi books, being “small” or independent press. So this is to say that nothing valuable came out of the small/literary press world last year? Further, only two books of short stories. Well, what do you think? Let the carping, sore-losing, and justified indignation begin! The longlisted titles are:
- David Adams Richards, The Lost Highway (Doubleday Canada)
- David Bergen, The Retreat (McClelland & Stewart)
- Joseph Boyden, Through Black Spruce (Viking Canada)
- Austin Clarke, i(Thomas Allen Publishers)
- Anthony De Sa, Barnacle Love (Doubleday Canada)
- Emma Donoghue, The Sealed Letter (HarperCollins Canada)
- Marina Endicott, Good to A Fault (Freehand Books/Broadview Press)
- Steven Galloway, The Cellist of Sarajevo (Knopf Canada)
- Rawi Hage, Cockroach (House of Anansi Press)
- Kenneth J Hervey, Blackstrap Hawco (Random House Canada)
- Patrick Lane, Red Dog, Red Dog (McClelland & Stewart)
- Pasha Malla, The Withdrawal Method (House of Anansi Press)
- Paul Quarrington, The Ravine (Random House Canada)
- Nino Ricci, The Origin of Species (Doubleday Canada)
- Mary Swan, The Boys in the Trees (Henry Holt/HB Fenn)
A bizarre and funny interview with a dry, possibly insane, dude about his new book. “There are two things you need to know: one is that writing a book doesn’t not involve going outside…” Don’t panic, but the molemen are among us. (Thanks, XJ)
Everyone has a better grasp of the importance of arts than we do. This is quite a legacy project for Dana Gioia.
The National Endowment for the Arts announced Monday that it has begun construction on a $1.3 billion, 14-line lyric poem—its largest investment in the nation’s aesthetic- industrial complex since the $850 million interpretive-dance budget of 1985.
“America’s metaphors have become strained beyond recognition, our nation’s verses are severely overwrought, and if one merely examines the internal logic of some of these archaic poems, they are in danger of completely falling apart,” said the project’s head stanza foreman Dana Gioia. “We need to make sure America’s poems remain the biggest, best-designed, best-funded poems in the world.”
John Ashbery, one of my heroes, is making his debut, at 81, as a visual artist with a series of collage works. Hmm, sounds familiar.
Of the hundreds of openings in the city this fall, this one will be particularly distinctive. Because the artist is the pre-eminent American poet John Ashbery, making his solo debut as professional artist at 81, with a modest but polished exhibition of two dozen small collages.
A couple of them date from his college years in the 1940s. Most are from the 1970s and were recently rediscovered tucked away in a shoebox. “I lost those for a long time,” he says. “Quite a few others got thrown out.” Several more are hot off his apartment work table.
To Mr. Ashbery the intermingling of artist and writer always made sense, because he was both, though his primary ambition while growing up in rural upstate New York was to be a painter. And not just any kind of painter, but a Surrealist.
- PEI Book Award winner announced
- What masterpieces have been overlooked in the Booker history?
- The real reason why Rushdie didn’t make the cut
- My listmate Rob Winger shortlisted for Ottawa Book Award (the only literary press book on the list) — rock on Rob and Nightwood
A few long gone writers back in the news.
The book giants on the web move their stock, new and used, like faceless widgets. An NYT essay looks at the tension between these point-and-click conveyor-belt warehouses and the fine rare book dealers near you.
Indeed, the state of the art in used-book selling these days seems to be less about connoisseurship than about database management. With the help of software tools, so-called megalisters stock millions of books and sell tens of thousands a week through Amazon, AbeBooks and other online marketplaces. Some sellers don’t even own their wares. They just copy other sellers’ lists and then buy the books as necessary, pocketing the markup (though none acknowledge the practice, since it is banned on most commercial sites).
To small sellers like Joe Orlando of Fenwick Street Used Books and Music in Leonardtown, Md., megalisters treat books as “simply a widget that they can make a few bucks on.” The megalisters — a name originally intended as a term of abuse but now accepted by the accused — don’t quite disagree. “What we’re trying to do is provide cheap books for everybody,” said G. Seth Beal, the president and chief operating officer of Thrift Books, which lists three million books and has 180 employees. Beal says he personally loves handling and collecting old volumes, but his business model is based on achieving economies of scale through automation.
I saw this come in over the weekend and was shocked. American literary heavyweight, known for playful experiment in a mainstream environment, dead at 46 by his own hand.
Looks like some campaigns to get politicians to change stupid ideas eventually work. At least in Britain.
In a letter to the deputy leader of the House of Commons Helen Goodman, who had raised concerns over publishers’ proposals with the Department for Children, Schools and Families, Balls said that his officials had met with publishers’ representatives to discuss the proposal to age-band books earlier this year.
“While we are broadly supportive of any measures which help parents to choose the right books for their children, we advise caution in this area”, Balls wrote, backing author concerns that age guidance can demoralise children who read below their supposed age group, and that it can encourage complacency if children are reading above their age group.
The children’s minister recommended that “parents seeking guidance about this contact librarians or teachers who know about the full range of children’s literature”.
Hmm, speaking to experts? How forward thinking!
There are many zany tactics adopted by publishers and authors to get their books noticed, but how about giving them away for free? John Warner, chief creative tsar of struggling independent publisher TOW Books, is so sick of sending his books out to newspapers and magazines and television shows for review, and hearing nothing back, that he’s decided to give up on the media and send books directly to his readers.
They’s fresh, sick, dope, yo. Isn’t that how the kid’s talk today? What, this isn’t the 90s anymore? Okay, well then gag me with a spoon. Libraries are back, wiggidy-wack, fo-shizzle. Sigh. I’ll leave now.
Reading rates are down and Americans say they love casual living. And yet, one of the most popular rooms in big new houses is a library. Rather than being about books, their appeal is often about creating a certain ambiance. “Libraries connote elegance and quality,” says New York architect and interior designer Campion Platt, adding that most of his wealthy clients want one, even if they do most of their reading online.
Libraries have become so fashionable that this month, talk-show host Oprah Winfrey featured the one in her Santa Barbara, Calif., home on the cover of her magazine; it contains first editions collected for her by a rare-book dealer.
In the latest annual National Association of Home Builders consumer survey, 63% of home buyers said they wanted a library or considered one essential, a percentage that has been edging up for the past few years. Many mass-market home builders are including libraries in their house plans, sometimes with retro touches like rolling ladders and circular stairs.
A call to a few friends to donate books to benefit Obama goes viral and suddenly a literary fundraiser in the SF Bay area gets some real heavyweight dough.
In seven days, hundreds of books have arrived. First editions from Stephen King and Billy Collins. Books from Anne Tyler, Tobias Wolff, Lisa See, Jodi Picoult, Jonathan Lethem, Dave Eggers. From Jamie Lee Curtis and David Leavitt and Judy Blume. Greil Marcus’ donated books each arrived with a limited-edition companion CD. While we talk on the phone, she opens a package with three books from Erica Jong and a note from the author.
A great piece mulling whether Shakespeare’s Tempest island was actually just off Massachusetts. This is fascinating to me in part because I’ve been studying the Tempest for a poem I’m working on (I actually included an epigraph with the poem, which for me is like voting Conservative–extremely unusual, and slightly insane) and, being an autodidact rather than a scholar of Willie Shakes, I had no idea this debate had been going on.
Without venturing quite that far into biographical speculation, it seems reasonable to suppose that the playwright might have taken an interest in the 1602 book about the Elizabeth Island voyage, given that the trip was sponsored by his patron. But no mention of a possible Tempest connection is to be found in the places one might expect to find it. There are just two incidental references to Shakespeare himself, and none to the play, in Bartholomew Gosnold, Discoverer and Planter (Archon, 1963) by the late Warner F. Gookin, for example. (Gookin, who died in 1952, remains a towering figure in Gosnold studies, which is definitely one of the less crowded fields of historical scholarship.)
Nor is The Tempest singled out for attention in biographies of Shakespeare’s patron, or at least none that I could locate. The most likely seeming monograph for a possible reference to the play’s Cuttyhunkian origins is a new book, John Klause’s Shakespeare, the Earl, and the Jesuit, published earlier this year by Farleigh Dickinson Press. Klause, a professor of English at Hofstra University, makes a close analysis of possible biographical and historical subtexts of various plays — but the book makes just a handful of references to The Tempest, and none to the Gosnold expedition.
Where did the idea that Shakespeare set his play just offshore from Massachusetts come from, then? And what is the evidence for it, if any?
Poet Dana Gioia has, regardless of what you think of his politics and policies, made the NEA vital again in a time when America was ready to butt out its collective cigarette in the arts and culture sector eye. Citing reasons similar to Andrew Motion’s reasons for leaving (ie, not writing), Gioia looks to greener pastures. Well, Mr. Gioia, there are no pastures greener than those rolling on Canajun hills, pardner. And I fear your skill with gingerly navigating a terribly hostile system run by petty, anti-intellectual despots might be just the ticket, come October.
Mr. Gioia said: “I think the difficulty any chairman has in the N.E.A. is to listen to and assimilate the needs of vastly different constituencies — politicians, artists, organizers, teachers, students, average citizens, urban communities and rural communities. You have to balance all of their needs.”
Some have complained that Mr. Gioia has not stood up strongly enough for controversial artists. But he said the debate over the endowment, with its current annual budget of $144.7 million, had reached a deadlock when he arrived. “What we needed to do first of all was change the conversation,” he said.
M&S will make sure Julie Couillard (Maxime Bernier’s ex who just can’t get enough of high-ranking gang thugs) tell-all gets to stores before the elections.
The 320-page book was originally to be released on Oct. 14, Canada’s election day — but the English version will now be available in bookstores on Oct. 6.
The French version will be on sale a few days later.
“She has been completely open and honest about her life from the beginning to the present day and talks about everything that she’s ever been involved in,” Josh Glover, a spokesman for McClelland & Stewart in Toronto, said Tuesday.
“There’s definitely some things that will be perceived as being very timely, especially given that the election is coming.”
Interviewed at the CBC. This guy is so smart it hurts. I mean, his brain could cut you without ever leaving the confines of his skull—-and, of course, without first being encased in steel and honed to a fine edge. I’ve loved every movie of his I’ve seen. Even the hairy Patricia Arquette one.
Q: Does directing change how you write?
A: I’m worried about that, actually, because directing is a very different thing than writing. As a director, many of your concerns are pragmatic things, and as a writer, you don’t think about those things, and you shouldn’t. Now I’m wondering if I’ll start thinking about, How am I going to afford to do this? — which is a really dangerous thing for me. I am writing something else now, and I’m trying not to go down that road. It’s tricky.
For instance, I’ve made a point of never thinking about my actors when I’m writing. People have always asked me: Did you think about Jim Carrey for Eternal Sunshine? And I always say no, because I want Jim Carrey to come to the character. If I write for an actor, then I’m writing based on what I’ve seen them do and then I’m not creating a character. But you know, lately I have been thinking about casting. It’s not “Who could do this?” although that is an issue, but also, “Do I want to work with this person? Is this going to be an awful experience, or is it going to be a good experience?” All those things are not an issue when you’re not the director.
Cats, golf, and Nazis. Three things I would have lumped together for other reasons, even before I read this. But there it is.
The late humourist Alan Coren was once famously informed that the only books that sell well are about cats, golf and the Nazis. Coren then went on to test this theory, in 1975, the year of my birth, by writing a book called Golfing For Cats, featuring a swastika on its cover. The book is well-known, but presumably never matched the combined sales of Meg And Mog, Nick Faldo’s autobiography and Mein Kampf, since it is now out of print. Presumably it’s very funny, but I’ll be damned if I’m spending the £40 plus current asking price for it on amazon marketplace.
Google is about to republish 244 years of newspaper articles. Finally I can finish my story cycle set during the Great Fedora-Hatband / Brylcreem Conflict of 1929 without paying those exorbitant fees.
As part of the latest initiative, Google will foot the bill to copy the archives of any newspaper publisher willing to permit the stories to be shown for free on Google’s Web site. The participating publishers will receive an unspecified portion of the revenue generated from the ads displayed next to the stories.
Google is touting the program as a way to give people an easier way to find a rich vein of history. The initiative also is designed to provide a financial boost to newspaper publishers as they try to offset declining revenue from print editions that are losing readers and advertisers to online news sources.
“I believe this could be a turning point for the industry,” said Pierre Little, publisher of the Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph, which touts itself as North America’s oldest newspaper, with editions dating to 1764. “This helps us unlock a bit of an asset that had just been sitting within the organization.”
Andrew Motion has stopped writing—-he’s as dry as the Queen’s… wait, let’s not go there. Today we begin a new era of empathy and tenderness. Andrew Motion has stopped writing—-his delicate fire has consumed the last of its fuel and the embers now curl pale tendrils of smoke heavenward, seeking the grace of an unknown god—-and perhaps a largish bird to shit on Her Royal Majesty’s pillbox hat.
“I dried up completely about five years ago and can’t write anything except to commission.”
But he added: “I thought all the poetry had gone, but I feel some of it is still there and may yet return.”
Speaking about the occasion of the Queen’s 60th wedding anniversary when his poem was read by Dame Judi Dench in Westminster Abbey, Motion said: “Afterwards the Queen stopped me and said ‘thank you’, but I have no idea if she really liked it.”
We have a nice, and well-argued dust-up going on in the comments section of the post on a recent legal decision to award JK Rowling a bunch of some not-rich guy’s money, so today maybe we should move on to the priracy of textbooks… Oh wait, no one cares.
I was heartened to learn that college kids are wielding the same Internet piracy tools they used to bring down the recording industry to download textbooks. Although the textbook oligopolists are fighting back mightily – the Association of American Publishers uses Covington & Burling, a take-no-prisoners law firm in Washington, D.C., to hunt down malefactors – there are at least two sites still around offering books: Textbook Torrents tends to be shut down, and moves around the Web, but the last time I checked, thepiratebay.org was offering such books as – well, you’ll see.
As a writer, how can I support this? I should be an absolutist on copyright protection for all books, magazines, and newspapers. But I’m not. The publishers have disgraced themselves, and they are paying the price. Three-hundred-dollar textbooks in the hard sciences are not unusual, and the companies are selling to a captive audience. Hundred-dollar add-ons, masquerading as digital workbooks, or problem-solving sets, are not uncommon.
Another article on the change in clientele and focus at libraries. Videogames and pop culture to attract kids? Gasp! See, I’ve always associated public libraries with creepy, leering old men in the stacks anyway, so this is really a match made in Hell’s Heaven, pairing two of the library’s two main stakeholder groups.
Call it a McLibrary or Starbooks. In a bid to attract young adult and teen patrons, a compact library, with an adjoining coffee shop, video-game stations and a focus on popular culture, will open its doors this fall in a fast-growing Victoria suburb.
“This branch is taking elements of leading-edge library design,” said Don Butcher, executive director of the Canadian Library Association. “It’s a neat approach.”
Due to open Oct. 17, the 2,000-square-foot library, in a new building just off Langford’s main street, will use novel methods to reach patrons. Dubbed an “express” branch, it will focus on providing speedy in-and-out service.
He is not, as children’s book writers are often supposed, an everyman’s grandpapa. His hatreds are fierce and grand, as if produced by Cecil B. DeMille. He hates his uncle (who made a cruel comment about him when he was a boy); he hates anything to do with God or religion, and Judaism in particular (“We were the ‘chosen people,’ chosen to be killed?”); he hates Salman Rushdie (for writing an excoriating review of one of his books); he hates syrupy animation, which is why he is thrilled with Mr. Jonze’s coming film of his book “Where the Wild Things Are,” despite rumors of studio discontent.
“I hate people,” he said at one point, extolling the superior company of dogs, like his sweet-tempered German shepherd, Herman (after Melville).
He is, at heart, a curmudgeon, but a delightful one, with a vast range of knowledge, a wicked sense of humor and a talent for storytelling and mimicry.
When Mr. Sendak received the 1996 National Medal of Arts, President Bill Clinton told him about one of his own childhood fantasies that involved wearing a long coat with brass buttons when he grew up.
“But Mr. President, you’re only going to be president for a year more,” Mr. Sendak said, “you still have time to be a doorman.”
Mr. Sendak insisted he was trying to be ingratiating, not funny.
It seems as though most of today’s reaction to the Booker shortlist revolves around the faint disbelief (and mild schadenfreude) people have around Rushdie being left off the list. Vitually every piece uses a word like “snubbed”. My suspicion is that it’s only the chattering classes using this word and Rushdie’s barely looked up from his desk.
The Telegraph has another “history of” article in honour of the 40th anniversary of the prize. And once again Canada makes a sad stab at making international news local by half-heartedly attaching itself in any way possible to a successful foreigner. At least it was reported as “former Canadian resident” in the case of Australian Steve Toltz, instead of the increasingly valueless “Canadian”, which is what we would normally call anyone famous enough, even if their only Canadian experience consisted of once sticking their ass over the border and dropping a steaming pile of shite on our frozen prairies. The inferiority complex is dazzling. (You know what will help that? Culture cuts.)
Ransom has been demanded from Somali kidnappers for the safe return of Alberta freelance journalist Amanda Lindhout. Our thoughts on her safe return and with her family.
Borlongan said her group has received independent confirmation that the kidnappers are seeking the ransom for the return of all four captives.
Leo Vincent, the head of the organization’s Africa desk, said he is relieved the kidnapping wasn’t political.
“It seems like it’s one of these numerous freelance militias who roam around southern Somalia looking basically for money for their own expenses — for fuel, for ammunition, for food, for clothes, for TVs and electronic equipment.”
Vincent said the fact that it isn’t a political kidnapping will make it easier to negotiate.
In the vein of this recent piece on the dangers of editing, the NYT republishes an excerpt of a book in which the late, great Robert Giroux reminisces about missing the boat on a little story called “Catcher in the Rye”. Apparently having the brass cancel for political reasons books you’ve already agreed to publish isn’t a new thing.
Funny, when I preposted that bit about the shortlist, none of these articles were up yet. Do they keep their writers in a stable all night and milk them in the morning? I’m guessing the sniffiness is just starting.
We talk about the places he could not revisit: Iran, because he was denied a visa; Afghanistan, because of the war; and Pakistan. I remind him of something he wrote in “The Great Railway Bazaar,” a dog-eared copy of which I have brought to our dinner: “Peshawar is a pretty town. I would gladly move there, settle down on a verandah, and grow old watching sunsets in the Khyber Pass.” Mr. Theroux looks forlorn, as if hurt by the vanishing of a world and its ways. “I couldn’t go to Pakistan. I decided that it was not safe for me, as an American. Now there’s a place I would have felt suspicion as a stranger, a foreigner. Peshawar . . . it’s more like the Peshawar of Kipling now.”
As we finish our curry-scented prawns — the kitchens at the Taj Boston are a lively and inventive place — I ask Mr. Theroux about the state of travel writing, and venture the opinion that a lot of bad books are written in this sphere. I also ask him, in jest, whether he’s willing, as the originator of the travel-writing genre, to apologize?
Mr. Theroux chuckles. “For setting these people loose? No, of course not! There are so many forms of travel writing now . . . ‘Where I went on my bike,’ or ‘My wife and I went somewhere and didn’t we have a jolly time,’ or ‘I don’t think I have anything to write about so I think I’ll take a trip and write about that.’ The ones that amuse me are the ones that make a drama — an ordeal — out of something pretty banal.”
In “praise” of the praise poetry. Ladies and gentlemen: the poetry blurb! (Remember your goggles when reading this piece, people… The acid is splashing and the exclamation points are sharpened to stilletos.)
I believe I’ve discovered a previously unrecognized genre of contemporary writing that deserves commendation for its distinctiveness and frequent excellence. It’s practiced mainly by contemporary poets, but it’s not poetry. In fact—at least for me—it’s much better than most contemporary poetry, in the sense that it’s much more readable, much better crafted, and often beautifully compressed in a dazzling haikulike way.
It’s something that gives people like me who don’t find themselves drawn to much contemporary poetry a sense of the verbal facility of contemporary poets—and contemporary poetry critics—when they’re writing prose about contemporary poetry.
JK Rowling has won her lawsuit against against the guy who wanted to publish his online Potter encyclopedia as an honest-to-goodness real book—-utterly crushing him like the worm he is for trying to make a buck off years of supporting her for free.
A federal judge on Monday ruled against a Web site operator who was seeking to publish an encyclopedia about the Harry Potter series of novels, blocking publication of “The Harry Potter Lexicon” after concluding that it would cause author J.K. Rowling “irreparable injury.”
U.S. District Judge Robert P. Patterson awarded Rowling and her publisher $6,750 in statutory damages and permanently blocked publication of the reference guide.
Irreparable injury, eh? Hm… She’s a fragile flower, ladies and gentlemen. Few people realize how delicate our billionaires truly are. Lesson learned, kids: you never have so much money that you can’t fuck someone else over for a bit more. Also, for the future fanboys among you: can’t win, don’t try.
The shortlist is out and man-o-man, is it ever going to blow your mind. Oh, wait. No it’s not.
Aravind Adiga The White Tiger (Atlantic)
Sebastian Barry The Secret Scripture (Faber and Faber)
Amitav Ghosh Sea of Poppies (John Murray)
Linda Grant The Clothes on Their Backs (Virago)
Philip Hensher The Northern Clemency (Fourth Estate)
Steve Toltz A Fraction of the Whole (Hamish Hamilton)
The Harlequins of the tea-and-crumpets set, Mills and Boon turns 100. But things haven’t always been thus. This profile of the company lays out the history that’s lead to the modern-day tree shredding factory.
Today, Mills & Boon has lots of genres to choose from. They include: modern romance (virgins, Greek millionaires, yachts, sheikhs, royalty); historical (kissing in costume); medical (kissing in the emergency department); intrigue (spies kissing); special edition (Jodi Picoult with kissing); “blaze” (kissing and then some); “desire two-in-one” (two stories for the price of one). Nocturne (kissing and ghosts) is new for 2008. Each genre is colour-coded, so you pick your happy ending by style not substance.
Readers are encouraged to buy an entire month’s offerings from each genre in one click on the company’s website. As long as it’s the right colour for your style of romance, who cares what the clinch on the cover looks like?
Actually, I did. When I read a couple of recent offerings by way of research, I felt compelled to fashion my own dust jacket for The Sheikh’s Virgin Princess so people on the train wouldn’t judge me.
It’s been a while since we’ve had a good round of throwing stones at other people’s windows. Here’s a crime writer accused of ripping off a Holocaust survivor’s memoir. Now, that, my friends, is how you take a low act like plagiarism and go the extra distance to get really really low. Marianas Trench low. Reaching up to scratch a snake’s belly low. Dick Cheney low. Low like a sad cow. Low like a hastily typed owl. Low… Here’s a spoiler for this crime story: the research assistant did it.
Many best-selling authors use research assistants, but some, like Australian Bryce Courtenay, acknowledge them openly. Some, like the American crime author James Patterson, even give their collaborators credit as co-authors.
In Entwined, there are no acknowledgments to La Plante’s assistant or to sources used.
There is often a grey area between plagiarism and the failure to acknowledge sources, said Jeremy Fisher, executive director of the Australian Society of Authors.
“Word-for-word plagiarism, or plagiarism where only a word or two is changed, is basic theft,” Dr Fisher said. “But non-acknowledgement of sources, even if it’s not plagiarism as such, is pushing the boundaries of ethics and taste. Obviously authors will do a lot of research for background information and don’t need to acknowledge every source, but where specific material is used as a source for a particular incident or passage in the book, we advise authors to acknowledge that source.
“Where an author has done significant personal research or got access to material through their own endeavour, and another author has come in and just re-written it without acknowledgement and claimed it as their own, it’s unethical at the very least. I ask novelists, why not fictionalise the material? Why use the exact original? If you’re a novelist, you can save yourself a lot of trouble by having the imagination to turn something into fiction.”
40 years of Booker Prizes, 40 judges dealing the dirt on how the winners were chosen. Sweet idea, and one only the Guardian would be able to pull off and give space to. I hope someone popped a switchblade under someone’s else’s chin somewhere in here.
2003 DJ Taylor
I can’t say that I enjoyed reading all the books – 113 of them, I believe, in that year – but there was a certain amount of pleasure to be gained from the attendant razzmatazz, the thought that for a very brief period in the year an artefact routinely overlooked by large swathes of an indifferent media was suddenly news. There were several memorable clashes of opinion, the funniest by far coming when the chair, John Carey, trying desperately to persuade us of the merits of Martin Amis’s Yellow Dog, read aloud from a paragraph describing the death-throes of a dying fly, at which point Francine Stock and I caught each other’s eye across the table and began to giggle. The judging process was pretty much a waste of time as all four of the other judges arrived at the longlist meeting convinced that DBC Pierre’s Vernon God Little was one of the great masterpieces of the early 21st century, whereas I thought that it was a promising first novel. This meant that the final judging session lasted a bare 10 minutes, after which I had to sit discussing the existence (or non-existence) of God with AC Grayling, a subject on which both of us hold strong views.
Dude, the switchblade! The switchblade!
Carol Ann Duffy strikes back with Vader-like precision, lopping at the wrist the hand that cut her poem from the UK cirriculum. Who’s your daddy, Schofield? (Sorry, watched a brief Star Wars clip this morning and got nostalgic.) It’s better than you deserve, having your name in there. (Not a bad poem, either!) This is all over a poem, not a memo, points out Mark Lawson, and therefore much of the room for debate must be made in the class, rather than the lines. And you kind of have to be half crazy already to let a literary work tip you into violence.
Duffy, one of Britain’s most admired poets, might have been tempted this week to feel the same way, following the news that the exam board AQA had ordered schools to remove from its GCSE curriculum an anthology containing the poem because it supposedly glorified knife crime.
Happily, in a move that may suggest she did not intend her work to be taken literally, Duffy has chosen the more measured response of penning a poem in reply. The verse, entitled Mrs Schofield’s GCSE and published here for the first time, makes reference to acts of violence in Shakespeare’s plays: Othello killing Desdemona, Macbeth’s dagger delusions, Tybalt’s stabbing in Romeo and Juliet.
“What it seems to me to be saying is that Shakespeare – the greatest writer – some of his stuff is a bit dangerous [too],” Duffy’s literary agent Peter Strauss said yesterday. “It’s saying, look at what’s been written previously before you criticise this.”
The great literary editor, dead at 94.
MacLean’s has a good overview piece on the CNQ/TNQ Salon des Refusés that’s taken on the Penguin Book of Canadian Short Stories. I didn’t realize the editors were getting snippy with each other, but it makes sense in some ways—-while TNQ and CNQ two of the greatest Canadian lit mags, they’re like night and day when it comes to the practical agenda of dealing with people. And I guess that should tell you something about how important the discussion is, when two very different venues come together to say, Hey, something was wrong here.
The two special issues are gorgeous, with most stories accompanied by appreciative essays from colleagues and explanatory notes by the authors themselves. The editors have already jointly staged in Toronto a panel discussion of the issues surrounding short-story writing, part of Pages bookstore’s “This Is Not A Reading Series.” They plan more public events. For two journals whose circulation is normally lower than 1,000 copies Canada-wide, launching this project has been a formidable effort.
It has also opened serious rifts between the two magazines’ editors. “It’s been a stressful and incredibly traumatic — well, yeah, traumatic — alliance,” Daniel Wells said in an interview. (Wells is no relation to the reporter of this article.) Canadian Notes and Queries and The New Quarterly have different temperaments. The New Quarterly is gentle, nurturing, celebratory. It makes friends easily.
CNQ can do the nurturing thing, but its burgeoning reputation has more to do with its ability to get fierce and snarky. The journal’s cumbersome title reflects its original mandate. It was launched in 1968 by William Morley, who ran the rare books division of the Queen’s University library. Morley used it to list rare books for sale and queries about other books. When the Internet threatened that mandate, CNQ shifted into literary criticism, first under Douglas (now George) Fetherling and then, from the late 1990s, under Metcalf.
Bidding war for Olympic superstar. Excuse me while I search the flab that covers my sedentary body to find a vital organ I might skewer with this letter opener.
Hoy’s autobiography is tentatively scheduled for next autumn. His agent Ricky Cowan confirmed that discussions with publishers about the book were ongoing, but would not comment further. Weidenfeld & Nicolson publisher Alan Samson, who is bidding for the memoir, said: “The USP of the book is that he is genuinely heroic – we may be seeing a sea change away from books about overcoming obstacles to books about genuine heroes of our times.” HarperCollins sports publisher Tom Whiting, who has also made an offer, added: “We are all seeing him as the true Olympian after Beijing … He’s got a story to tell and he’s a great role model for kids.”
Books from three-time sailing gold medallist Ben Ainslie and cyclist Victoria Pendleton are also being offered to publishers. And an “inspirational memoir” from US swimming superstar Michael Phelps, Built to Succeed, was sold in an American auction to Free Press for a reported $1.6m.
This lovely strange piece comes via Jessa. It was actually compelling and heartwarming to read. You know, I’m starting to get the impression that comics aren’t just for kids anymore. Maybe some arts journalists should pick up on that for an article or two. Maybe we should also give the medium some other designation so that adults won’t feel ashamed about reading comics in public… Graphic somethingsomething. Or somethingsomething novels.
Contests, fine print, and other tricks of selling books. This author has come up with a contest where you can plot her next book and win 5G, but to enter you have to show proof of purchase of her last one (self-published). Tricksy, nasty, filthy little hobbitses. Ah, the publicity stunt—-the sleezebag uncle of communications.
There are no royalties involved, sadly, but “even if you don’t win, you could stand a chance of being a runner-up and having a cash offer from the publishers to reserve your plot for another book in the series!” Brittney’s website enthuses.
But then we get to the heart of the matter. You have to include proof of purchase of her first book with your submission. Will she be deluged with entries for this wacky marketing ploy?
Shirley Dent ain’t buying this Literary Darwinism stuff. And she’s not shy about it, either. Me, I just love watching these critical fads go by like a parade of brightly, if scantily, dressed men in handlebar mustaches while having grown up just enough as an artist to not really care about them.
Never before have I written “fuck me!” in the margin when annotating a scholarly text. Forgive me: I simply couldn’t help myself as I saw literature reduced to a conglomeration of atoms.
I detest this attempt to lock up literature in a biological grid of causation. Literature is not an evolutionary join-the-dots in which, as Ian McEwan puts it in his contribution to The Literary Animal, “troops of bonobo” can point the way to “all the major themes of the English 19th-century novel”. Such interpretations strip literature down to an impoverished universalism: a bland and neutral manuscript where ciphers of the same biological impulses and selfish genes can be repeated ad infinitum.
Glad to see this through the mist of oil particles: Edmonton will be posting poems by its laureate in a park on the river. Lovely! Way to go, Edmonton.
Blodgett said he aimed for a cycle of poems that fit together in the walkway along the river.
The poems are to be revealed in a ceremony Friday.
Blodgett, 73, is author of Elegy, a collection that started out as a tribute to artist Toni Onley, Apostrophes: Woman at a Piano and more than 20 other books of poetry and criticism. He was appointed Edmonton poet laureate in 2007.
The project is being funded through the Art & Design in Public Places, which is hosted by the Downtown Business Association. The program describes itself as a community based, multi-partner initiative designed to help revitalize Edmonton’s downtown through the placement of publicly and privately funded works of art and design.
Funding that will likely be villified and done away with soon enough?
I can barely bring myself to read the papers these days, lest I find more cuts by Stephen The Butcher Harper who seems cartoonishly bent on destroying arts and culture. But there is some hope. The pitchforks and torches are starting to come out and the town halls are starting to get packed.
Supporters of arts and culture rallied last night in a sweltering downtown Toronto theatre to denounce more than $40 million in recent cuts to programs by the Harper government and to strategize on ways to defeat Conservative members of Parliament in the impending election.
Hundreds of artists and supporters crowded into The Theatre Centre at Queen St. W. and Dovercourt Rd. to hear speakers, including author/activist Naomi Klein, decry cuts to programs such as Trade Routes, that promote Canadian film and culture abroad, as well as reductions in programs such as the Canada New Media Fund.
“This is not a fight about Canadian cultural values and cultural expression. This is not a fight about this and that ideology. This is not a fight about what percentage of GDP should go here or there. This is not a fight to save our national reputation. This is a fight about all of the above,” said Gregory Elgstrand, a member of new citizens group the Department of Culture.
We need to stop complaining to each other, though, and start talking to our friends, families and neighbours, anyone who might be voting, or tempted to vote Harper (I saw an election commercial for him the other night—-all white faces, soccer moms, vets, mechanics, and Bay Street types, posed with rictus grins in favour of Conservative… It was a scary moment). I guess the Department of Culture website is a good place to start to inform yourself, but you should be taking your views to the people around you who aren’t cultural practioners and talking to them in terms they understand. Tell them that Culture is one of the prime ways peoples and countries interact and exchange power, and that crippling its development and export is as foolhardy as crippling the economic or military sectors—-it’s like handing your money to a stranger on the corner or leaving the front door unlocked and asking for invasion. Tell them the reason some people think arts and culture doesn’t affect their lives is because it can at times be too big a phenomenon to be seen, that we move through it the way we do air, or a fish does water—-a medium one might not appreciate until it’s gone.
The slush pile is literature’s suburb subdivision — teeming with misplaced hopes, hiding the occasional psycho, and about as uniformly boring as the faceless storage unit houses that line the streets. Here an editor reminisces about slushpiles gone, the hours wasted and opportunities missed.
The slush pile is the great awkward albatross of the publishing industry. Writing must come from someone, and go to somewhere, and not everyone has a friend whose boyfriend happens to be editor of a literary imprint: every day someone decides that there’s nothing for it but to post their precious manuscript to someone they’ve never met, at a company that is receiving stuff from people like them all the time. And even in the best-case scenario – where every word of every submission is read – it is a deeply fallible system. Publishing history teems with stories of missed opportunities. Last year, for example, researchers rooting through 50 years of Knopf archives discovered readers’ reports rejecting Anne Frank’s diary (”A dreary record of typical family bickering, petty annoyances and adolescent emotion”), Borges (”utterly untranslatable”) and Sylvia Plath (”There certainly isn’t enough genuine talent for us to take notice”). There will have been a dozen editors – one for every publishing house that rejected him – who kicked themselves when DBC Pierre won the Booker prize in 2003.
And it is not, generally, a best-case scenario. While there are advantages for a publisher to going through slush piles – ideally finding the next Roth, or, more realistically, circumventing agents’ fees – there are also great disadvantages, not least of which are the hours and hours of labour for very little return.
I enjoy telling the story of how I met Ninja K in the slush pile for a magazine I once ran. We were almost bleeding out of the eyes at how bad the submissions were (and how many there were, even for a very small, very new fiction magazine… how heartbreaking, all those hopes and terribly cliché dreams) when K’s ms floated to the top, a slight golden glow around it. What? People who can write sometimes submit unsolicited to magazines!? Ah. Maybe there was a reason to go on. We were so desperate for good content that we called her to make sure she hadn’t also sent it somewhere else. And now we’re pals. So that’s at least one good story that came from the slush pile.
UK school chiefs are asking schools to destroy copies of an anthology containing a Duffy poem that addresses knife violence. Once again we see that while stupidity and small-mindedness most often seem to come through a southern twang, they can work themselves out in any accent, eh wot?
The poem starts: “Today I am going to kill something. Anything./I have had enough of being ignored and today/I am going to play God.” It describes a youth’s yearning for attention and a journey to sign on for the dole, and makes references to the killing of a goldfish. It ends ominously with the youth walking the streets armed with a bread knife.
Duffy, widely considered a front-runner to be the next poet laureate, yesterday declined to comment. But her literary agent, Peter Strauss, said: “It’s a pro-education, anti-violence poem written in the mid-1980s when Thatcher was in power and there were rising social problems and crime. It was written as a plea for education. How, 20 years later, it had been turned on itself and presented to mean the opposite I don’t know. You can’t say that it celebrates knife crime. What it does is the opposite.”
Michael Rosen, the children’s laureate, said: “By this same logic we would be banning Romeo and Juliet. That’s about a group of sexually attractive males strutting round the streets, getting off with girls and stabbing each other.
“Carol Ann is an easy target because she’s a modern poet.” He added: “Of course we want children to be talking about knife crime and poems like these are a terrific way of helping that happen. Blanket condemnation and censorship of something never works.”
Aside from the Top 10, the list throws up some fascinating facts: for example, there were 10 copies of the Kama Sutra abandoned in the Peterborough Travelodge, which is the basis for a short story all in itself. Had the couples in question worked through all the positions and no longer needed the book? Was it the last gasp of a dying relationship? The reading matter of lonely businessmen who couldn’t afford the pay-per-view adult channel? And if you’re going to go to the trouble to buy the Kama Sutra for you and your loved one, surely a bit more effort than the Peterborough Travelodge (as nice as I’m sure it is) is required for that all-important setting?
Maybe people need to take a more appropriate book with them when they stay at a Travelodge. A dozen copies of Stephen King’s mobiles-turn-you-into-zombies horror The Cell abandoned in Southend? Should have taken along King’s Everything’s Eventual collection, which contains his haunted hotel room story (and recently John Cusack movie) 1408. Can’t get through Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach, the ninth most abandoned book? Should have tried The Cement Garden, which probably best sums up the view from your window.
Ah for the days of Norman Mailer in the middle of a riot. But, alas, it’s not to be, all thought killed, as it were, by the demographic chart.
Here at our end of the forty-year war there are no Norman Mailers. Only pollsters. And consultants. And political scientists. The interpretation game is theirs now, and with the solemn mystifications of their profession, they guard it from befouling by mere “reporters,” as Mailer always referred to himself. The pollsters’ findings and the scientists’ graphs are what we are to consult should we wish to make some portentous comparison of this year’s mood to, say, that of 1976 or of the odds facing this year’s Republican standard-bearer to the chances of the one nominated in 1988.
It is a facile thing to say that the evolution from Mailer-style reporting to the works of these present-day wise men represents a decline, or even a catastrophic plunge, in the nation’s understanding of itself, but it has the virtue of being true. We are accustomed to thinking of history as a story of progress, but the replacement of observers like Mailer by superstar pollsters and consultants engagés is something very close to the opposite. Yes, Mailer was unbearably egotistical, given to exaggeration, and forever fleshing out a pet theory of history—the war of the hip and the square—that seems farcical in retrospect. But in his description of virtually any person, scene, building, or event, or even in his casual comments about the decor of a room where an event is about to take place, we learn more about what it’s like to be an American than we do from all the pollsters’ statistics put together.
- Lucky Glück (yes, I know that’s not how it’s pronounced)
- He must have had the millionth typewriter
- NYC: inspiring terrible prose
- You had to know this was coming: Sarah Palin, book-banner
- Should publishers should host their own covers for Amazon, etc.?