Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Son might burn Nabokov's last work

NabokovKate Connolly reports in The Guardian that Dimitri Nabokov, son and the sole surviving heir of Vladimir Nabakov, has said that he might burn the writer's last (unfinished) novel, The Original of Laura, as requested by his father. His mother, Vera, could not bring herself to dispose of it when she was alive, but after she passed away in 1991, the burden is now his.

"But more than 30 years since his death, nobody has dared to incinerate the manuscript, a collection of 50 index cards that is languishing in a Swiss bank vault."

Dimitri Nabokov has described the work as the most "brilliant, original and potentially radical" script his father ever wrote.

Some fans argue that if the author really wanted the manuscript to be destroyed he would have done it himself. Kafka and Virgil, apparently, had similar requests, for their works to be destroyed after their deaths. But how much poorer the world would be if those wishes had been carried. It would have changed the entire history of thought.

Others, apparently, think that we should honour the author's wishes.

The Guardian

Doris Lessing attacks harmful promotion

Doris LessingNobel laureate Doris Lessing has attacked what she calls the 'harmful' promotion of young authors. She believes that 'Literature festivals and the aggressive marketing of celebrity authors have created a damaging climate for new writing ...' and that she felt desperately sorry for them.

Lessing is quoted, "Now what happens is that if you are a girl who's good-looking and has written even a passable book you can be earning enormous sums of money very quickly and are then sent on a promotional tour ..."

Yes, and some people say good looks are also useful for winning prizes.

She continues, "The writer has become more and more a personality. Literary festivals are enormously enjoyable but when you go into one it's got nothing to do with your writing ... We all know that writing comes out of a man or a woman sitting alone in a room with the telephone off the hook, a cup of coffee and in the good old days, a cigarette."

Times Online

Other news

Martin AmisMartin Amis the GBP 3.000.00 an hour professor

Maev Kennedy reports in The Guardian that Martin Amis is paid GBP 3,000 an hour by Manchester University to be a visiting professor of creative writing. Not quite in the same league as the Premiership footballers, as the story suggests, but nice. His salary has been disclosed as GBP 80,000 a year or GBP 3,000 an hour: '... 12 90-minute postgraduate seminars, four public appearances and one session at the summer writing school'.

The normal fee for a visiting academic is reported to be between GBP 20.00 and GBP 50.00 an hour. 'Applications for the creative writing course increased by 50% when the news broke of Amis's new role' the report says.

The Guardian

DivisaderoAmazon shows Bloomsbury who's boss

In the story Amazon 'punishes' Bloomsbury on terms Roger Tagholm of Publishing News reports that "AMAZON HAS REMOVED the 'Buy New' button on a range of Bloomsbury titles in what appears to be a terms dispute with the publisher. Titles include William Boyd's Restless, Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love, William Dalrymple's The Last Mughal and Michael Ondaatje's Divisadero."

I didn't get it at first. Then reading further down I got it. By taking off the 'Buy New' button, shoppers are forced to buy from the Amazon market place and this most buyers are reluctant to do because the book would not be shipped by Amazon itself but from third-party vendors. And as a result Bloomsbury will lose sales. Amazon is banking on its brand loyalty. Book buyers seldom care what imprint a book carries.

But with a list that includes JK Rowling, Michael Ontaadje and William Dalrymple, this is a big gamble for Amazon. If they succeed with Bloomsbury, who will be next? Will anyone else be safe? And what else will Amazon do?

Suddenly it feels safe to be a small insignificant independent player.

Publishing news

Borders Online Book TV

A recent report in Booktrade.com says that Borders Books will launch an Internet television channel at www.borders.co.uk. It will feature interviews with bestselling authors, news on the latest books, and offer readers the chance to upload videos of themselves reviewing books.

This content is now available on www.bookzone.tv which is owned by Simply Media. The news is that this will be re-branded as 'Borders Book Zone' with the content being provided by Simply Media and will be a feature of the Borders online bookstore which is to be launched soon. (Borders currently uses the online retail engine provided by Amazon.com.) The video content will be an attempt by Borders at differentiation. When a customer clicks on a book he can be taken to a video, it is associated with, for him to view before deciding on the purchase.

It is left to be seen if this will catch on.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Did Borges foresee the Internet?

BorgesArgentine writer Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) wrote most of his works in the 1930s through to the 1950s, and spent much of his time as the Chief Librarian of Biblioteca Nacional de la Republica Argentina (or the National Library of the Argentine Republic) by which time he was already totally blind to which he said, "No one should read self-pity or reproach into this statement of the majesty of God, who with such splendid irony granted me books and blindness at one touch."

His stories were mainly set in pre-technological past and he appeared to be fascinated by the authority of ancient text. Yet, according to Noam Cohen of the New York Times, '... a growing number of contemporary commentators -- whether literature professors or cultural critics like Umberto Eco -- have concluded that Borges uniquely, bizarrely, prefigured the World Wide Web.'

Here are some examples (extracted from the New York Times story)

The Infinite Encyclopedia

"Who, singular or plural, invented Tlon? The plural is, I suppose, inevitable, since the hypothesis of a single inventor -- some infinite Leibniz working in obscurity and self-effacement -- has been unanimously discarded. It is conjectured that this 'brave new world' is the work of a secret society of astronomers, biologists, engineers, metaphysicians, poets, chemists, algebrists, moralists, painters, geometers, ...guided and directed by some shadowy man of genius. There are many men adept in those diverse disciplines, but few capable of imagination -- fewer still capable of subordinating imagination to a rigorous and systematic plan. The plan is so vast that the contribution of each writer is infinitesimal." Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius (1940)

The Wikipedia project that began in 2001, now has a total of more than nine million articles in more 250 languages. There are more than 75,000 'active contributors', many of whom are anonymous. As it grows, it becomes more influential. But its logic remains a mystery. A saying
among Wikipedia's contributors is: "The problem with Wikipedia is that it only works in practice. In theory, it can never work."

The Universal Library

"From those incontrovertible premises, the librarian deduced that the Library is 'total' ... that is, all that is able to be expressed, in every language ... When it was announced that the Library contained all books, the first reaction was unbounded joy. All men felt themselves the possessors of an intact and secret treasure. There was no personal problem, no world problem, whose eloquent solution did not exist." The Library of Babel (1941)

Is the Internet itself not the Universal Library, where one can search for recipes, medical treatments, trivia or whatever? Or what about Google's and Microsoft's announcement to digitise entire university book collections making all published works available to anyone, anytime, in any language? Or Google itself?

The New York Times

Bookselling is local

In a story All Bookselling Is Local, Karen Holt of Publisher's Weekly, begins by saying: 'Conventional wisdom goes like this: for a decade, superstore expansion has barrelled across the country, driving out all but a few plucky independents, turning bookselling into a monolithic industry with all the local flavour of a Banana Republic.'

Good news is that 'it ain't necessarily so'. (Apologies Porgy and Bess, Gershwin)

The report says that Publisher's Weekly dispatched a team of staff editors, correspondents and freelancers, in 2007, to take a state-by-state look at bookselling in the US. They interviewed hundreds of retailers, publishers' reps and others in the book business, to arrive at the conclusion that bookselling is local.

Barnes & Noble, Borders and Amazon expand their hegemony, and independents' struggle to survive, it continues, Indies that are still in the game have developed strategies that enable them to avoid going head-to-head with national retailers on price and selection. They set up bookstores where big chains won't go and focus on a niche. In Indiana, a largely rural community, 97 of its 142 bookstores are independents focusing on the needs of the local population. But in high income areas, soaring rentals are pricing booksellers out of the market.

Finding the right niche is key in an age of specialty stores. Bookstores need to make their space a centre for activity, not just a place to shelve books. That would include hosting workshops, book clubs and book signing. As publishers become more and more reluctant to send their authors on signing tours due to high costs and poor attendance at such events, booksellers are showcasing local talent.

The story also shows some interesting statistics. For example, did you know that Wyoming has one store for every 13,000 residents and New York has one store for every 43, 997 persons? There is no mention of the size of the stores.

Publisher's Weekly

In Europe

In another story Viva la Difference!, Publisher's Weekly Ruediger Wischenbart looks at how specialization becomes the fashion in Europe as publishers look for ways to differentiate themselves.

This increasing differentiation is the fallout of globalization, says Wischenbart. I guess' this is also a reaction against giant corporations who try to be all things to everybody, and in the end don't do anything well at all.

Interestingly, the report says that '... 40% of all bestselling titles across Europe originate locally, not globally or even internationally, with a good number of those successful titles spreading, through translations, across the continent'. (What is it in ASEAN? Zero point zero zero one percent? Not that much?)

Also '... the European Union has announced the launch of a European digital library, slated for November 2008, that promises to make available at least two million books, photographs, maps, archival records and film material from Europe's libraries, archives and museums, and to expand that to six million items by 2010'.

Publisher's Weekly

Meanwhile in Britain ...

One in four adults surveyed admit that they haven't read a book for a year. These are the honest ones. And nearly half in the poll admitted to lying about their reading to appear more intelligent. (Get that? Books can make you look more intelligent. Go the nearest bookstore

The research also showed that half of adults had read at least five books in the previous 12 months. (Not bad, if true.) One third took on 'challenging literature' to look more well read, even if they didn't understand what they were reading. And 40% lied about having read a certain book so that they could join in the conversation.

This is part of a Government campaign to target reluctant readers, particular boys and their fathers. About 4000 people responded to this survey by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council.

The Daily Mail


Pullman'Story' versus 'literature'

Philip Pullman argues that 'literature' is what a film director must leave out when translating a 'story' into a movie. The plot and the events are the story part and can be made into a play or a film. What is left behind is 'literature'.

Pullman was talking about the movie version of his book(s). Have you ever looked at it that way? How about the total distortions, like in The English Patient, for example. How do you classify that? When nothing remains of the book except the title?

The Guardian

007007 will be reborn in 2008

2008 will the year of the first 007 book by Sebastian Faulks. James Bond will be reborn. To celebrate the centenary of Ian Fleming's birth, Sebastian Faulks has been commissioned to write up more tales of the suave secret agent. Devil May Care, the first in the reincarnated series (one thinks it will be a series of books, not just one) will be published by Penguin in May. Who will he be pit against, now that the cold war enemies are no more? In the absence of the boy wizard will he be the new ... whatever?

The Guardian

SukarnoSukarno's books

The Jakarta Post says that Sukarno's private collection of thousands of books now belongs to Johan Budi Sava, the owner of the Toga Mas bookstore on Jl. Dieng in Malang. Thousands of old books are now on the second floor of the bookstore, and one day will serve as a small museum for anyone to use for their research. But many are old and fragile, like the 1825 map of Yogyakarta in the collection, and cannot be handled.

A year ago, when he was in Bogor to look for a place for a new bookstore, Johan Budi Sava was introduced to a businessman said to be Sukarno's friend, who said he had been asked to take care of the book collection. As he could not do it any more, he asked Johan to take care of them. And Johan jumped at it.


The Jakarta Post

How not to write a novel

In a story How to write a novel, Tim Dowling talks about the pitfalls. He says: 'Writing a novel must be one of the easiest things to avoid doing in the world -- chances are no one has asked you to do it, and no one will care if you don't. As soon as you start, almost every other activity in the world seems preferable. Distractions come in every shape ...'

For him, some of the biggest distractions are:

Food: He suggests an arrangement where '... there are several flights of stairs between you and anything remotely worth eating.'

The Internet: '... the biggest distraction faced by the modern novelist.'

And the Terrifying Enormity Of What You Are Trying To Do: 'Writing a novel is ... a bit like swimming across a huge, dark lake. Starting off is easy and finishing is both a relief ... but there's a long stretch in the middle where you can't see either shore and you're not even sure you're heading the right way.'

Tim Dowling writes for The Guardian. His first novel, The Giles Wareing Haters' Club (Picador) is out now.

The Media Circus

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Literary quotes of the year 2007

Here is a sample:

Doris Lessing, on being told she had won the Nobel prize for literature
"Oh, Christ. You can't go on getting excited every year about this. I've won all the prizes in Europe, every bloody one."

Anne Enright, on her Man Booker-winning The Gathering -- or how not to promote your book
"When people pick up a book they may want something happy that will cheer them up. In that case they shouldn’t really pick up my book. It’s the intellectual equivalent of a Hollywood weepie."

Martin Amis, defending his comments on Islam on the grounds that he didn't 'write' them.
"To paraphrase and slightly adapt Vladimir Nabokov: I think like a genius, I write like a distinguished man of letters, I talk like an idiot."

Norman Mailer to Philip Roth, in queue for the loo -- too much information.
Mailer: "Phil, sometimes I have to go into a telephone kiosk to pee. You just can't wait at my age."
Roth: "I know, it's the same with me."

Plenty more here if you are interested.

Times Online

Paper shortage in China, or Bad news for pirates

The report says that the latest Harry Potter and Dan Brown are not so affordable anymore. Nothing to cry over. But it also says the same of classic Chinese fiction -- now that is sad.

Price of paper in China is reported to be up by 10% due to 'voracious demand' and 'a crackdown on small, polluting paper mills’ to clean up the environment. So far only China appears to be affected. But the problem is, many publishers in the United States and Europe having their books printed in China to reduce printing costs. Penguin UK is said to spend about 60 per cent of its manufacturing budget in China. Not much longer, from the looks of it.

China is the United States' biggest offshore supplier of print products, mainly books, and, according to government statistics, exports of paper products from China rose by 76% between 2005 and 2006.

In a quiz show, the correct answer to the question, 'Who invented paper?' would be China. China is said to have invent paper around the 2nd century, before it was spread to the Arab world and Europe via the Silk Road. So thee country that started the revolution might also end it. Prices of books are bound to go up. It might make more sense to retail bestsellers like Harry Potter and Dan Brown as electronic downloads. (Thus, freeing the paper supply for the rest of us? Nothing wrong with wishful thinking, I guess! And it doesn't cost anything.)

International Herald Tribune

Alexander Graham Bell and Scottish Literature

AG BellDid Alexander Graham Bell invent the telephone?

As every schoolboy knows (or, at least when I went to school they did) Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, and that has been the correct answer in every quiz show -- that is, until now.

Now a new book, The Telephone Gambit: Chasing Alexander Graham Bell's Secret by Seth Shulman, argues that Bell stole some of the ideas from a rival, Elisha Gray. He argues that, "... Bell -- aided by aggressive lawyers and a corrupt patent examiner -- got an improper peek at patent documents Gray had filed ..." Interestingly, German inventor Philipp Reis, is reported to have beaten them both with an invention resembling the telephone in the1860s, but has never been never publicly credited.

How many more lies do we live on? Fiction will outlive facts all the time.

Associated Press

StevensonScottish Literature is not English

We knew that. Just try reading Trainspotting by Irving Welsh. But seriously. Scottish literary are appalled at a decision by the US Library of Congress to reclassify their work as a subsection of English literature. This means Scottish literature will no longer have its own section in the world's biggest library.

Culture Minister Linda Fabiani has promised to raise the matter with the US Congress, and a spokesman for the library said it would be reconsidering the controversial decision, the report says.

Did you know that John Buchan, who wrote The Thirty-Nine Steps, was Scottish when you read it as a teenager? I didn't, and it didn't matter. How about Robert Louis Stevenson? I knew he was Scottish but that didn't matter either.

I wonder what they have done to books by Canadian authors? Like Rohinton Mistry, for instance. Oh dear, did I say that? I hope I didn't start a small war somewhere. (BTW, did you know Alexander Graham Bell was a Scot?)


PG Wodehouse and the Hobbit

Russians love PG Wodehouse

Wodehouse coverIf you believe Bertie Wooster, aunts are amongst the most dislikeable and
dangerous creatures on the planet, and seeking their approval is a most arduous task. We have felt for Bertie through our teenage years, though we are not sure why. Now it appears the Russians can't get enough of upper class English twits stealing policemen’s helmets either.

PG Wodehouse was outlawed in the previous Soviet Republic by Stalin in 1929. But the ban was lifted in 1990 and the Russians can't get enough of Pyelem G Vudhaus, as he is known there. There are Wodehouse clubs and a Russian Wodehouse Society with over 3,000 members. Says Natalya Trauberg, translator and founder member of the club, "Russians need freedom and laughter very much ... They had none for so long."

The Telegraph

HobbitJackson agrees to produce Hobbit films

If your cow gives good milk, why not milk it good? This cannot be truer of any industry than Hollywood. The name of the cow is JRR Tolkien, and the flavour of the milk is called The Hobbit.

Having had a certain affinity with old JRR for several decades, I cannot help feeling a little irritated by the over-enthusiasm of all these "Johnny come latelies." (Like when Bobby McFerrin released that infernally commercial Don't Worry, Be Happy. How dare he?!) Still, it could be worse. It could have been someone other than Peter Jackson doing it. Two films are being planned. (Why make one when you can make more money with two?)

The Guardian