Friday, May 30, 2008

The book is dead, long live the book

Hay FestivalThree stories concerning books caught my eye this week. Three different sources but related.

The first, Victor Keegan writes in The Guardian: 'Books are one of the oldest industries, yet they have been hardly affected by the digital revolution. Publishers just go on commissioning and editing them in their own sweet time as if nothing had happened. In an age when your blog could be out of date in minutes, publishers seem happy to leave months, even years, between the manuscript being presented and going on sale. The curious thing is that it doesn't seem to be doing them any harm at all.'

Then another story in Publisher's Weekly by Jim Milliot says: 'The production of traditional books (in the US) rose 1% in 2007, to 276,649 new titles and editions, but the output of on-demand, short run and unclassified titles soared from 21,936 in 2006 to 134,773 last year ... a 39% increase in output to 411,422 (titles)(!!).' That is truly astounding. So, far from killing the book industry, the digital revolution (read internet) has actually been a boon. One gets dizzy just thinking of the possibilities. 500,000 titles a year? One million?!

Then in another story, also from The Guardian from the recent Hay-on-Wye Festival, Aleks
Krotoski wonders Why is the book world threatened by gamers? But are they? Why this virulent antipathy towards multimedia? The traditional novel has already been challenged by graphic novels, an evolution of the comics and has made a slight, but if currently insignificant, dent in the order of things in the book world. It is only a little more than a novelty for now, but it is bound to grow. Then there is that cell phone novel. And with ebooks and all, the possibilities are enormous -- imagine moving pictures to accompany novels, with an infinite number of endings depending on reader interaction.

But will all that mean the end of books? I think not. The death of books has been announced before -- with the advent of the movie, then with the radio, then the television, the computer, the internet, the cell phone and the ebook -- and it will continue to be prognosed.

The book is dead, long live the book.

The Guardian

Publishers Weekly

The Guardian

James Bond rides again

Devil may careJill Lawless of the Associated Press reports that the latest 007 novel has be launched simultaneously in 21 languages. I was still in school when his later novels were published, and I read every one of them after watching Ursula Andress emerging from the ocean in that 1962 movie, Dr No, wearing a bikini and a large hunting knife, and watched every movie after that. Nothing could beat that testosterone and adrenaline rush for the horny adolescent I was. I had to hide the books from my mom though, because of the risque covers. And you know the best part? I could buy some of the books for all of ten cents from the ottu kedai down the street.

James Bond is now back, and I can't wait to get my hands on a copy. Will I be disappointed? Probably. Still, I am curious. Are we about to get a somewhat more literary James Bond in the hands of Sebastian Faulks?

Booksellers will be rubbing their hands though, what with Daniel Craig's rippling muscles and that Ursula Andress imitation of his.

The Associated Press

Scrabble is 60 years old

ScrabbleLindsay McIntosh writes in The Scotsman: 'There are no flashing lights,
interactive car chases or shoot 'em ups and although it can now be played online, it has steadfastly refused to be corrupted by the digital revolution ... Yet Scrabble -- the word game consisting solely of a board and some tiles printed with letters -- has endured through the generations to celebrate its 60th birthday this year.'

I am not a great Scabbler but I don't know of anyone who reads who has never heard of the game or played it before. Here is some trivia from the story in The Scotsman:
  • In 1949, Scrabble sold 2,413, and in four years, that is in 1953, it sold almost four million. To date, approximately, 150 million sets have been produced.
  • 30,000 Scrabble games take place in the world every hour. (Multiply that appropriately to determine the number of games and players every day, every week and every month. Grand Theft Auto? Take a number.)
  • Scrabble is available in 29 languages.
  • The highest number of points that can be scored on the first go in
  • English is 128 -- with muzjiks -- which means Russian peasants.
  • The highest score ever was by one Dr Karl Khoshnaw -- 392 points with
  • caziques -- the plural for a West Indian chief.

The Scotsman

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Vote for the best Booker

Booker sixThe first Booker prize was awarded in 1969. The winner that year was Something to Answer For by PH Newby published by Faber & Faber. There have been 40 winners since, and it appears that now is the time to pick the best of the best. Why now? I have absolutely no idea. I thought they would pick the best of the best, say, after 50 years. (They have picked the best of the first twenty-five before.)

Anyway, the forty is now down to six with Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children leading the pack. Personally, I think it is a good list though I have not read JG Farell whose Seige of Krishnapur won the prize in 1973. I can live with the list which also includes JM Coetzee (Disgrace), Peter Carey (Oscar and Lucinda), Pat Barker (Ghost Road), and Nadine Gordimer (The Conservationist).

I must admit I was expecting to cringe a little, particularly after the way some recent prizes have been awarded. Thank God there is no Life of Pi on the list, nor that dreadful book by DBC Pierre. (What's it called, again?) I wish some others were in, but the final list is still good.

If you are looking for a must-read list, there you are. My own choice of winner would be a difficult one -- either Disgrace, an unbelievably succinct assessment of the condition of man (and woman), or Midnight's Children which with a few deft strokes changed completely how literature in English would be viewed and written. (After much deliberation, all of ten minutes, I have decided to cast my vote for Midnight's Children, especially after reading his recent Enchantress of Florence.)

You can vote at the Booker website.

POD classics

Guy Dammann writes in The Guardian about 'the launch on June 2 of a new imprint from Faber & Faber designed to make available a large number of titles which until now have been out of print.' I visited the Faber website but there is nothing about this yet.

The report says that using print-on-demand technology to allow print runs between one to fifty books with the books priced at GBP9.00, and 'will not be stocked in large quantities by booksellers, but will be available to order through most major booksellers and the majority of internet-based book retailers.'

Faber expects to publish up to 20 new titles every month, with 100 ready by the launch date in June. So this is not really POD, that is printed on demand by booksellers, but rather traditional publishing using the reducing cost of POD technology. This could very well be the model for publishing in the future. Currently, POD does cost a lot more than traditional publishing -- the figure of 10-30 times more is quoted. If Faber is able to sell the books for GBP9.00 through online booksellers, and still pay a royalty of 10% to the authors, they must have found a way of bringing down the price.

The one other issue with POD is quality, but let's wait and see what Faber does with that. That might not be such a big issue, though, since UK paperbacks, particularly from Faber, Penguin and Vintage, appeared to have cornered the market for grottiness.

The Guardian


DevilThe devil roams again

Vanessa Thorpe in an article entitled A new lease of life for the Devil writes in the Observer that the stories of Satanism and black magic by Dennis Wheatley are to be re-released. Television serialization is also being planned. The deal is being struck by Dominic Wheatly, who was 18 when his grandfather died, and Chorion Ltd., an entertainment content company that, through a combination of ownership and long term licenses, exploits a portfolio of copyrights. Among the copyrights owned by Chorion include works of Agatha Christie (Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple), Georges Simenon (Inspector Maigret), Raymond Chandler (Philip Marlowe), Enid Blyton (Noddy, Famous Five) and Mr. Men and Little Miss, created by Roger Hargreaves.

I used to read these books as a teenager. Maybe I will wait for the TV show.

The Guardian

Garcia MarquezGarcia Marquez writes again

Graham Keeley writes The Guardian that Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez is rediscovering his muse two years after telling the world he was finished with writing. It is said that the new work, which does not yet have a title and is described as "a novel of love", should appear before the end of this year according to a friend, Darlo Arizmendi, head of news at Radio Caracol in Colombia.

In 2006 Marquez, 81, said that he was finished with writing. "Last year was the first in my life in which I haven't written even a line. With my experience, I could write a new novel without any
problems, but people would realise my heart wasn't in it."

His last novel, Memories of My Melancholy Whores, was released in 2004.

The Guardian

Social networking site for writers

Rachael Hawkes writes in the Social Media Portal that HarperCollins UK has released a new social networking site Authonomy in private beta. Aspiring authors can upload a minimum of 10,000 words of their manuscript for feedback and comments. This is the quote from Victoria Barnsley, chief executive and publisher of HarperCollins UK: 'Very often we hear from budding new authors who tell us their script was loved by their family, book group or wide circle of friends. Authonomy is an opportunity for these authors to ... really test whether their work has got what it takes to make it.'

Authonomy is currently by invitation only, but you can try and get yourself one at the website.

The Social Media Portal

LessingLessing's Nobel prize 'disaster'

Doris Lessing, 88, tells BBC Radio 4 that winning the Nobel Prize in 2007 has been a 'bloody disaster'. She says that she is finding it impossible to write anymore due to unrelenting media interest since she won the award. She says that she would probably give up writing novels altogether. 'All I do is give interviews and spend time being photographed.' And her advice to younger writers: 'Use it while you've got it because it'll go, it's sliding away like water down a plughole.'

Good advice.

BBC Radio 4