Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Garcia Marquez - Vargas LLosa fight

A special edition of García Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, to mark this year's 40th anniversary of its publication, will include a prologue by Vargas Llosa.

Apparently this is a big deal because thee last time the two spoke to one another was 30 years ago, when they brawled inside a Mexican cinema. One wonders what movie they were watching?

Truth is I was never aware of their fight, and it sure as hell diminish my enjoyment of both their books. Ben Macintyre says in Times Online, "Bury the hatchet? How very boring." I am not sure if he had his tongue in his cheek or not.

But from his story, this is common. Norman mailer appears to fight with everyone - punched Gore Vidal, sat on Capote, stabbed his first wife with a pen knife (not for criticising his work, though) … (Read about Norman mailer's all-time hate-list here: http://nymag.com/arts/books/features/26285/)

Macintyre quotes: In 1936 Wallace Stevens the poet, drunk, accosted Ernest Hemingway at a party and sneered: "So, you think you're Ernest Hemingway?" The resulting punch-up left both writers battered, and even more famous.

Nothing like a good schoolyard-type punch-up to get the blood pumping, right? (A dreadful thought just crossed my mind!)

Full story: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,6-2543309,00.html

American idols of books

A Reuters report.

Round one: First, you have to write a full-length novel by March 15th 2007? No problems there? I cannot find the part where it says how long it should be. I presume it should between 60,000-100,000 words. The novel must not be previously published meaning not self published nor vanity published - guess that includes POD. Next you send the full manuscript, synopsis and the first three chapters to First Chapters (be patient, I will give you the website address, in due course). Chapter 1will then be put on firstchapters.gather.com for a period of 14 days for members to read and rate each entry and vote on.

Cheng cheng chengggg …..

Round 2: 20 will advance to the next round. Chapter two will be posted. (Rising tension, The Exorcist music - by Walteer Carlos plays in the background.)

Round 3: 10 semi finalists remain. Chapter 3 goes up. (These song from Jaws.)

Round 4: 5 finalists remain. The Grand Prize judging panel will select the Grand Prize Winner to receive a $5,000 cash prize from Gather.com, and publication of the book by The Touchstone imprint of Simon & Schuster.

It doesn't say if readers will be allowed to post nasty comments on the websites of the pieces they read. How are they going to maintain interest otherwise? One must have insults.

And the website is (drum roll, please): http://www.gather.com/viewArticle.jsp?articleId=281474976883192

Who decides a best seller?

A simple question one would have though. If the book is good enough it will sell, right? Unfortunately, how naïve we are.

A recent report said that William Boyd was named novelist of the year when he received the Costa Book Award for 2007 (known as the Whitbread Book Award until last year) an prize open to residents of Britain and the Republic of Ireland and awarded in five categories - novel, first novel, poetry, biography and children's book. (http://www.costabookawards.com/awards/category_winners.aspx)

Of course, there is the Man Booker, and the Orange, and the Pulitzer, etc, etc.

Then this report in the Guardian Blog: Eyes on the prize: Are nominations for literary prizes being sewn up before authors have even signed with a publisher? (http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/books/2007/01/put_your_best_book_forward_1.html)
'Apparently agents can collude with publishers to guarantee, through publishing deals, that certain authors are put forward for specific prizes.'

Then there is report of how Richard and Judy of Channel four are ones who actually determine which books are best sellers in the UK! What a refreshing bit of air after all those stuffy awards. (Then again there was that Oprah Book Club debacle.)

Isn't it wonderfully fun to knock all these awards about? Until you finally win one, that is? (http://enjoyment.independent.co.uk/books/news/article2125407.ece)

Guilty reads

We all have our guilty reads. (We call them toilet reads, to put a snobbish twist to it.) Mine are Agatha Christie, Leslie Charteris, Ian Fleming and (I am really exposing myself here) Harry Potter.

But according to Nick Turner of Guardian Unlimited, Steephen King has been crowned as the top of guilty reads in the UK.

"Stephen King: we love him, but we don't want people to know it."

Stephen King has apparently beaten JK Rowling to the title of the UK's favourite literary guilty pleasure. The survey was carried out on behalf of the Costa Book Awards 2006. Harry Potter came in a close second.

The report says: 85% of those surveyed admitted to having an author they turn to for sheer gratification, but whom they might not admit to reading in pubic. Third place was tied between John Grisham and Dan Brown, while the fourth position was a split between Danielle Steel and Catherine Cookson. Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels were fifth.

"It is commonly acknowledged that many of us want to be seen to be reading a book in public that makes us look good … but as this survey demonstrates, most of us have an author we regularly turn to for an easy and enjoyable read."

Now you know.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Bulgakov museum sacked by fundamentalist

An AFP report: A museum in Moscow dedicated to Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov has been largely destroyed. The author has been condemned by the Orthodox church for his authorship of The Master and Margarita 'the fifth gospel, that of Satan,' which was not published until 26 years after Bulgakov's death in 1940.

The book is a work of fantasy and satire in which the devil comes to Communist-era Moscow to see if he can do some good.

According to sources, Alexander Morozov, a bitter critic of Bulgakov's work, which he condemned as Satanic, locked himself in the museum and "...threw many objects out of the window, including valuable illustrations of Bulgakov's works ..."

Full story: http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20061225/ennew_afp/afpentertainmentrussia

Books return to Kashmir bookshops

A Reuters report: Books are back on the shelves of Kashmir. If anyone has any idea of what books mean to Indians, you will understand how traumatic their absence has been for them.

For years, Kashmir's few literary bookshops had to stay shut due to the insurgency and the violence that broke out in 1989. Shops selling Islamic tracts or tuition books stayed open but Asian or Western classics and new blockbusters became scarce.

But now, finally, the works of Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy are back on the shelves with Salman Rushdie and Dan Brown in Srinagar's bookshops.

"The (Kashmir) valley's elite class would read a lot before the militancy erupted ," Hameeda Nayeem, a teacher at Kashmir University's department of English literature, told Reuters: "But reading is not a thing of the past now in Kashmir. A growing number of people have started reading literature."

Another said "... For the first time, I felt something good is happening to Kashmir ..."

Full story:

Murakami's Asian impact

Tomoko Nishida of Yomiuri Shimbun writes: At a recent symposium focusing on the writer (Murakami) held at Kobe University, participants discussed how his orks are received in East Asian nations and how he touches on East Asia's modern history in his novels.

The symposium, "Haruki Murakami@East Asia," was organised by the university as part of "East Asian Week," a project aimed at reviewing the relations between Japan and its East Asian neighbors.

Haruki Murakami is extremely popular not only in the United States and Europe, but also in East Asia.. In China, 1.4 million copies of Norwegian Wood and 300,000 copies of Kafka on the Shore have been published. This number exceeds the number of copies of his translated works in the European and US markets. And China is still a long way from being a fully-grown market (and these numbers do not include pirated editions).

Lin Shaohua, professor at Ocean University of China is quoted, :... Murakami's works fill the gap between precocious young people in the urban areas and immature urban literature ..."

Roald Dahl's new book

Guardian Unlimited reports: A neglected early work by Roald Dahl has been republished after more than 60 years, following a campaign by an American Air Force historian.

I read this on the Internet.

In 1943 Dahl wrote his first children's book, The Gremlins. Eleanor Roosevelt read it to her grandchildren and liked it so much that she invited him to have dinner with her and the President at the White House. They had such a good time that he was invited again, and then the visits extended to weekends at their country house. During those visits, Dahl had the unique opportunity to talk with President Franklin Roosevelt about world events as casually as one might have a conversation with an very old friend. It was a very exciting experience for him.

Guardian says the book "... is the story of two British pilots who discover group of small, horned creatures on the wings of their aeroplane. Initially hostile, the Gremlins are won over with their favourite food - used postage stamps
- and join the Allied forces in the Battle of Britain."

Wow! Really sounds like fun.

The report says that Disney was supposed to make a movie of it but didn't and the text languished. It has now been rediscovered and the original text will be released "... by the publishers Dark Horse (with) a full marketing
campaign..." in 2007.

Can't wait for it? Apparently the original text is available on the net. Here is the call to Google champions out there. Do tell me when you find the link.

Story link: http://books.guardian.co.uk/news/articles/0,,1976091,00.html

Writer demands to be unlisted from Amazon

This report from The Guardian had me baffled. It roughly goes like this: George Walker is the author of the children's book Tales from an Airfield, a book that has been doing well at the bookshops. But George Walker " ... was horrified to find that his new title was featured on the site without his permission."

Then he is quoted as saying, "What they are actually doing is getting the independents to do their market research ... When a book gets a certain amount of attention, they will attempt to stock it and cut the independents out. Not with my book".

An Amazon spokesman is quote as saying: "It's an incredibly unusual situation. We usually find that the millions of authors and many thousands of publishers who have books listed on the site are absolutely thrilled to see them".

Then Mr Walker, who self-published Tales from an Airfield says: "We take a very long-term view of this ... We have taken a stand to support local bookshops - that's how we want to sell our book."

The Forum of Private Business (FPB) has congratulated children's author George Walker for standing up to Amazon.com.

Hmm. I still don't get it. What am I missing here?

Plight of Independent bookstores

We have read about this doomsday scenario before. There were another two reports over the holiday season this week. The first one, a Reuters report, Competition is killing independent US bookstores, and another from The Guardian, Price wars come at a cost.

The first report basically laments how independent bookstore in the US are closing their doors, unable to withstand the marketing pressures of the superstores. The reprot says: Since the early 1990s the number of independent bookstores in the United States has halved to about 2,500, according to a report in The New York Times.

The arguments for independent bookstores are the same throughout the world. As Kate Bearce, who is closing her bookstore after 12 years of business, says :"... (that) consumer needed to be educated about the importance of small businesses in the local economy. She said the customer will ultimately lose. "Customer service is not the same . When somebody walks in this store I know them ... I have many customers that tell me, 'If I send my kids to you, I know you will provide them with appropriate titles."' She added that this kind of service cannot be duplicated at the bigger bookstores and discount outlets.

The argument in The Guardian is somewhat more interesting and maybe more pertinent to the Malaysian industry. It states that price wars come at a cost, and the consumer usually pays the cost without realising it. Big chain stores can and do demand huge discounts from publishers for 'front lists', book industry parlance for new titles. Independent bookshop owners cannot dream of such deals. Big chains use discounts to attract customers. But has the consumer really checked the prices of the non-discounted books? Of the backlist?

We at Silverfish Books, have had several customers ask why prices at certain bookstores are higher than ours, citing a markup being as much as 180% in some cases! We were baffled at first because the distributors fix the prices. Then we realised what was happening. One cannot defy gravity. Money lost at'loss leaders' will have to be recovered elsewhere.

One clever Malaysian reader advises: Buy your latest titles from mega-stores at a nice discount, your back lists at an independent, and wait for warehouse sales or the real bargains (though it will depend on your luck).

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