Wednesday, December 16, 2009

It's a topsy-turvy book world

Borders UK is under administration; rumours have it that Borders US have not paid their distributors for two months; Barnes and Noble is losing money, so is Waterstones in UK; and publishers are terrified of returns if any more of the big boys go bust. Then there is another story (currently denied) that Amazon wants to set up a brick-and-mortar shop!

In another story French President Nicolas Sarkozy says that he would not let his country's literary heritage be taken away by a "friendly" large American company, namely Google, and is looking to create its own national digital organisation. The project is expected to be financed by a national loan.

In yet another development, five of the biggest publishers of newspapers and magazines in the US (Time Inc., News Corp., Conde Nast, Hearst Corp., and Meredith Corp., whose magazines include Time, Cosmopolitan and Better Homes and Gardens) have announced a plan to challenge Amazon's Kindle with their own digital solution that would display in colour, and work on a variety of devices. Things get even more complicated with the announcement that Simon & Schuster is delaying its e-book editions of about 35 leading titles, taking a stand against the cut-rate US$9.99 pricing of e-books imposed by Amazon. A second publisher, the Hachette Book Group, said it has similar plans.

And then there is this potential 800 pound gorilla in the room (still in vapour form, but which no one dares to ignore), Apple's alleged Kindle-crusher, rumoured to be set for a spring of 2010 release -- okay, start the drum roll now -- the-e MacTablet ... or-rr the TabletMac ... or (is it) the iPad? Well, whatever. Apparently, Apple has been talking to several media companies about their phantom device (which has also been touted as a full-fledged computer, a gaming machine and a portable DVD player), which many think will redefine the rules of the game. Anyway, quite a few fingernails are being chewed in anticipation; there is much nervousness in the industry.

WSJ Online

Chicago Tribune

The Register

Cnet

Neruda, the shell collector

Anita Brooks writes in The Independent about Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) who was a career diplomat, a member of the Communist party and was made a Nobel literary laureate in 1971. (The Chilean writer and politician was born Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto; Neruda was his pen name that he assumed as a teenager, partly to hide his poetry from his father who wanted his son to have a proper occupation. He took his pen name from Czech writer and poet Jan Neruda.)

Neruda wrote erotic love poems, surrealist poems, historical epics, and political manifestos. While he was not doing any of these, the author was a passionate collector of shells, which he acquired from markets and beaches around the world. He collected over 9000 shells (one from Mao Zedong) in a period of 20 years. 400 of these are now (for the first time) on exhibition in Madrid at the Instituto de Cervantes. (He donated his collection to the University of Chile in 1954.)

"The best thing I have collected in my life are my shells," the poet once wrote. "They gave me the pleasure of their prodigious structure, the lunar purity of their mysterious porcelain."

The Independent

Monday, November 30, 2009

Borders UK under administration

Going, going, gone. The drama has been unfolding for months, and finally it has been confirmed: Borders UK has gone belly-up; even that, not without more drama though. After acquiring it in a management buyout four month ago, Valco Capital has been trying to hawk Borders, to the extent of advertising its sale. But when deals with WH Smith and HMV didn't come through, administration remained the only option.

Borders is the first major chain to go under in UK after Woolworths, and the first bookshop chain. With 45 stores at prime locations on high streets and as anchor tenants in malls closing down, besides leaving plenty of empty retail space like Woolworths, there is a real fear of the domino effect with several publishers, wholesalers and distributors in UK being put under immense pressure. (Malaysia will not be exempt either: imagine only a tiny portion of the books from 45 mega-stores, being remaindered and sold off cheap at the next big warehouse sale in Klang Valley, and the resulting strain on the local industry.) The first store of Borders UK was opened in 1998 and now the chain has been shuttered, after being directly or indirectly responsible for the demise of hundreds of independents over the last decade. (The French must really be having a good laugh -- no remaindered sales there and, remember, they treat their independents like wine!)

Still, Mr Robert Clark, the senior partner at Retail Knowledge Bank, "...firmly believes that if a bookseller has knowledgeable staff and tailors its services to the local community ... there is still a place in Britain's high streets for physical booksellers." Even chains.

BTW, according to the BBC website, the 45 stores under Borders have started closing down sales.

The Independent

Salman Rushdie to write sequel to 'Haroun and the Sea of Stories'

According to TheBookseller.com, Salman Rushdie is writing a sequel to his 1990s children's book Haroun and the Sea of Stories. Luka and the Fire of Life is expected to be published by Jonathan Cape in late 2010, according to the website.

Salman Rushdie wrote Haroun and the Sea of Stories in 1990 for his oldest son Zafar. It was Rushdie's first book afer The Satanic Verses, the first book after Ayatollah Khomeini called for his execution. The book tells the story of a 12-year-old boy who goes on a quest to help his father recover his lost gift of storytelling. It is probably the most readable of Rushdie's books, for those who find his other works a little intimidating.

Rushdie is writing Luka and the Fire of Life for his youngest son, Milan, who was born in 1999. Luka is the younger brother of Haroun, who must also help his ailing father in a quest to find the fire of life.

I remember the time when Silverfish first opened in Desa Seri Hartamas. Walking into the Times warehouse (they were distributing Penguin books then), I saw a stack of hardbound Harouns with full colour illustrations priced at RM56.00. I asked them what they were doing there, and they told me that nobody wanted them. Shocked, I told them that I'd take the lot (although they refused to give me a better discount). I knew my customers would love the book and I sold them all out in a month. Then I ordered 60 more, which too sold out. I couldn't even save a copy for myself. (I later bought a copy from India.)

It was a beautiful book. Let's hope some brain-dead pen-pusher does not decide to ban it.

Monday, November 16, 2009

In France, indie bookshops are like fine wine

Olivia Snaije writes in Publishing Perspectives. France will soon be a warding labels to indie bookshops in the country, like it does for wine. The former culture minister Christine Albanel launched the Librairie Independante de Reference (Recommended Independent Bookshop) label in 2007. As of September 2009, 406 of France's 3,000 independent bookstores have qualified for the designation -- denoting high quality.

Olivia Snaije reports: "In order to qualify for the LIR label, which is valid for three years, bookshops must fulfill six conditions, among which are that the bookshop play an important cultural role in the community, organizing readings and cultural events; that it have employees who contribute to the quality of the service and that the bookstore's owner be responsible for buying stock; that the store maintain a large selection of books -- typically at least 6,000 titles, the majority of which have been in print for a year or more."

"Bookshops that win LIR designation receive tax breaks from the government and special subsidies administered by the Centre National du Livre (CNL), including interest-free loans for store improvements and money to support readings and events. Some 500,000 euros are designated for the LIR-related projects, while the government estimates the tax breaks offered will exceed 3 million euros in value."

In 1981 the Lang law, which was initially criticised for obstructing free competition, established fixed book prices in France. It limited discounts to 5%. Now, 28 years later, it is considered a success, and a boost to the industry. Today, France has a network of 3,500 independent bookshops and some 6,000 publishers.

Talk of taking culture seriously.

Publishing Perspectives

An agent for agents

From Publishers Weekly: First there were writers and publishers, then there were agents inbetween the writers and the publishers; now there is an agent inbetween the writer and the agent!

WEbook was launched 18 months ago as a site for writers. It has now added a new service, AgentInbox, that links authors and agents. With a link on the WEbook home page. According to their site, they will pre-screen submissions from authors before sending them on to appropriate agents. "AgentInbox will focus in particular on query letters while also ensuring the manuscripts adhere to basic editorial standards and readiness," says Ardy Khazaei, president of WEbook.

Publishers Weekly says, "WEbook's team of in-house and freelance publishing professionals will review pitch letters, make sure that the letters match the actual manuscript and that the manuscript is properly formatted, but the company will not make any recommendations about the quality of the content."

"We think we've created a fast and easy way for agents to manage the slush pile," says Khazaei.

The report says that, to date, about eight literary agencies have signed on and, in the short term AgentInbox is free to authors. But there could be a fee in future. There will be no charge to agents and WEbook will take no cut of any future deals.

Somehow it doesn't quite add up, does it? Maybe, I am too cynical.

WEbook

So who says reading is dead?

For the whole of the first year, from August 2008 to August 2009, games were the number one category of downloads on the iPhone every month according to analytics firm, Flurry. But in September, games apps were overtaken by book apps for the first time. And, in the last four months, book apps have exceeded the popularity of games apps. In October one in five apps produced for the iPhone have been books.

Flurry predicts that Apple could take over the market from the Amazon Kindle, as more and more book publishers continue to produce books for the AppStore, even though the iPhone display is two inch smaller than the Kindle's. It could be even more worrying for Amazon if rumours of the Apple tablet turn out to be true.

Flurry's research, entitled the Pulse Report, also found that iPhone 'addicts' utilised their apps more than three times a day and in excess of 100 times a month,over ten times more than the average. Flurry's sample size was over 2,500 applications and 40 million consumers. The survey looked at usage patterns across Apple (iPhone and iPod Touch), Blackberry, JavaME and Google Android.

Flurry

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Second Great Library of Alexandria

The Royal Library of Alexandria, Egypt, was the largest and the most famous of the libraries of the ancient world. It flourished under the Ptolemaic dynasty and functioned as a major centre of scholarship for many centuries after Rome's conquest of Egypt.

Built at the beginning of the third century BCE, the library was conceived and opened during the reign of Ptolemy I (or his son Ptolemy II). Plutarch (CE 46–120) wrote that during his visit to Alexandria in 48 BCE, Julius Caesar accidentally burned the library down. According to Plutarch's account, this fire spread to the docks and then to the library. But the library remained a major centre of learning until the sacking of Alexandria in 642 by the Arab army led by Amr ibn al 'Aas.

Now, The Bibliotheca Alexandrina is officially open in an attempt to recreate the Royal Library of Alexandria. The library sits facing the Mediterranean Sea, not far from the site of the original one. Besides the library itself, which has shelf space for roughly 8 million books, there are three museums (Antiquities, Manuscripts and the History of Science), a planetarium, a conference centre, gallery space for art exhibitions, and a number of academic research centres.

The project was initially conceived in 1974 by scholars at Alexandria University. The Egyptian government and UNESCO jumped at it. A Norwegian architectural firm won the commission to design the complex. The project cost US$220 million to complete, with most of the funding coming from the Arab world.

The original Royal Library of Alexandria was envisaged by Ptolemy I as a gathering place for the world’s great scientists, scholars and thinkers. Like the modern complex, theRoyal Library of Alexandria housed not only a library (containing an estimated 700,000 scrolls), but science laboratories and research facilities as well.

Wired.com

Tweeting to shape future of publishing

If you always wanted to know about the publishing industry but were afraid to ask, there is a lively conversation taking place on Twitter about where the publishing industry is headed. The tweets are about how the industry should cope with the downturn, the price wars, the rising digital media, publishers struggling to figure out pricing, digital rights issues and how to market digital content.

Maria Schneider who covers writing, publishing and social media has compiled a list of 15 Twitter users she turns to for news and insight about how old school publishing is meeting the digital future. You may simply follow the tweets, or participate in the discussions about the industry. Below is a sample.

@R_Nash is Richard Nash, an Indie publisher, formerly of Soft Skull Press who is launching an innovative new social publishing startup called Cursor. Nash consistently offers a contrarian point-of-view and doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to challenging traditional publishing.

@NathanBransford is Nathan Bransford,a Literary agent with Curtis Brown. He writes a popular blog and tackles tough subjects such as: "Will writers of the future even need publishers?" Bransford may be the most popular literary agent on Twitter for his straight-up personable advice about where book publishing is headed.

Get the full list from Mashable.

Mashable

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Complete works of Shakespeare on your iPhone

Philip Michaels from Macworld.com reports that Readdle.com, in association with PlayShakespeare.com is providing the text for all plays, sonnets, and poems of the bard as a free download for the iPhone and the iPod touch. Also thrown in are Edward III and Sir Thomas More, two plays no one can definitively state that Shakespeare wrote, and the poem, To the Queen (ditto). Readdle's Shakespeare is all of 28.8MB; tons of disk space left for music and videos.

But Michaels says that "thumbing through Much Ado About Nothing or Richard III on a 3.5-inch screen involves a few sacrifices" and advises that the plays read best in landscape mode. But, given the limited screen real estate on the iPhone, there appear to be quibbles about lines running into one another, abbreviated names, lack of notes and reference guides.

As can be expected, the search functions are reported to be excellent. So there you go. Whether you want to impress chicks, or you are curious about the origins of a particular phrase, Readdle's Shakespeare is for you. What's more, it is free.

MacWorld.com

iPod MBAs

How I wish they had it forty years ago. Even now I have nightmares about getting up at 7.00 in the morning for the first lecture at 8.00am every day, head still heavy with sleep. But I will have to settle for simply being envious of the spoiled youth of today.

In a story called Turn on your iPod and learn, Matthew Symonds of the Independent writes, "If you ask a college student about the current favourites on their iPod, you might expect to hear of artists such as Lady Gaga, British Sea Power, or maybe even Michael Jackson for the newly nostalgic. Ask the same question on the campus of the Warwick Business School and you might be surprised when students remove their earphones to tell you that they are catching up on macroeconomics and analysis of the credit crisis, or that they are reviewing the latest thinking on creative management."

Disgusting. They don't even have to attend lectures!

Warwick, Stanford, MIT, Oxford and University College London are among those providing mobile learning with educational audio and video files, or podcasts, so students can study at their own pace, wherever and whenever they want. The courses and research material are provided by the universities professors and can be downloaded from the iTunes University, a free education area within the Apple iTunes.

You want to know what is worse? "... new research suggests that university students who learn by downloading a podcast lecture achieve significantly higher exam results than those who attend the lecture in person ..." and the results are even better for those who listen to the podcasts more than once. And you can still listen to your favourite U2 album when you are bored, and one will be wiser, or care.

The Independent

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The book is dead, long live the book

For several years now, the tech world has been predicting the eventual death of the book, what with the Google digitising campaign, the Kindle, the Sony reader and even the iPhone. Now, all of a sudden, Wired.com and Cnet.com are both heralding a new age of the book! Over the last seven years, Google has scanned millions of tomes from leading libraries around the world, and turned them into searchable documents available on the internet. Now, Google Book Search, in partnership with On Demand Books -- the makers of Espresso Book Machines -- are expected to announce a project in early October that will allow readers to buy paper copies of those, individually printed by bookstores around the world. The catch, the Espresso Machines cost USD100,000.00 a pop. (But I am not unduly worried, others will get into the business and soon we will see cheap book Machines from China.)


Still, this is good news. Google has scanned some 2 million books that are currently in public domain, and they will now be made available almost immediately from some 90 bookshops around the world that have these machines, so smelling paper and turning pages will last for a while longer. The books are expected to cost USD8.00 each. Not bad. Now, Penguin will have to re-examine their absurd pricing of some of their classics. (Of course, they will have to come up with better cover designs, but that should be in the pipeline.)


What this can do, if it does take off, is completely change the book retail industry, and give Amazon.com something to worry about. Imagine hundreds of bookstores around the world with access to millions of titles, which they can print, bind and deliver within minutes. This is, of course, currently, mostly about the long tail of books. But that can change. Many authors will not even mind letting Google handle the distribution of even their new books using this technology if it breaks the Amazon hegemony (and their absurd discount demands).


Yes, I love it. This is a revolution in book distribution and retail.


The other issue that needs to be addressed now is copyright. Copyright in the US now extends to the life of an author plus 70 years for newly created works -- but copyright laws vary from country to country. Life plus seventy years: now how absurd is that? It guarantees the death of most books. Few books in copyright have enough demand to warrant a reprint. (No publisher is going to publish 1000 copies when there is a demand for only fifty.) Yet they will have an undeniable cultural and historical value, and need to be read by people who matter.


Nick Harkaway writes in the Guardian Blog: "We lose stories every day because they drift out of use and into the vast limbo of in-copyright, out-of-print books whose ownership is unclear. At the same time, existing copyright law is woefully unable to get to grips with digital copying and display, and with the international quality of the internet ..."


and


"... we need, for example, a system where copyright must be re-registered every ten years to retain exclusivity, possibly with a safety net allowing someone who slips up to regain copyright."


I see where he is coming from, but not necessarily agree with his methods. Firstly, we have to add to the first category important books by living authors that, maybe, only researchers and specialists will want. The Print on Demand project by Google could address that if there is a path for authors to participate directly. As for the 10-year renewal system, it is cumbersome and does not address the absurd issues like the recent blocking of The Catcher in the Rye "sequel" by JD Salinger. Once a book is published it enters the public consciousness. It becomes part of the culture and, in many cases, a relevant version of history. The current copyright laws only address the commercial aspects. But, I agree, we need a new system.


In the meantime, Wired.com has it that President Obama has appointed scholar, Victoria A. Espinel, as USA's first copyright czar. Good luck.






Free to Read (by The Dram Project and SIS)

Twenty-sixth September saw the start of Banned Books Week in the the US. Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.

Here in Malaysia, more than 1500 books have been banned between 1971 and 2009. In terms of children's literature, these include books in the Spongebob Squarepants series, Dora’s Fiesta Adventure ActivePoint Book, Poems & Prayers for Children and Read-Aloud Children’s Classics.

The Dram Projects believes in the freedom to read. We also believe in the right to make informed choices when selecting reading material.

TDP will be participating in the Right to Read Festival, presented by Sisters in Islam and The Centre for Independent Journalism.

Artist/photographer Wei Meng Foo and Daphne Lee (of TDP) will conduct Free2READ, a workshop that introduces children (9-12) to their rights as readers; celebrates the joy and thrill of discovering the different worlds and experiences that lie between the covers of books; and examines the problems and challenges children might encounter in their reading journeys.

The workshop participants will be encouraged to discuss and debate the concept of book-banning; invited to question book-banning and challenging policies; and explore their own feelings and thoughts regarding the practice of restricting children's reading material.

This will be followed by a bookcover art session with artist/photographer Wei Meng Foo. During this session participants will be invited to exercise their imaginations and creatiivity to produce book covers that celebrate their rights as readers.

Date: 10th October, 2009. Time: 10am-1pm. Venue: The Annexe, Central Market, Kuala Lumpur. Admission: Free.

Registration: Call Nazreen at 03-7785 6121

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"Middle way" in literature

WoeserReport from Phayul.com: The Kalon Tripa, Prof Samdhong Rinpoche, the Prime Minister of Tibetan exile government, speaking as the chief guest at a literary conference recently organised by the Tibetan PEN in Dharamsala, advised Tibetan writers, poets and editors to adopt a middle way in their writing practices. Huh? That's a new one. Don't we have enough 'middle road' in literature, what with all the self-censorship, selling out and commercial interests? I, for one, would be grateful for a little less 'air bandung', and a little more truth. Or, was he talking about a balance between tradition and creativity in literature. Still does not make sense. Anyway, that's what happens when you get a politician to speak at a literary conference.

Anyway, for the record, several writers, poets, editors and readers met at this annual affair by Tibetan PEN. The main topic of debate was the usual one: can writings in non-Tibetan languages be considered Tibetan? To many of us, we have debated that one to death already in this country. But, many others argue that the issue is still very much alive. According to the sole Tibetan writer in English at the conference, Tenzin Tsundue, "if a writer is Tibetan and if the content is also Tibetan then it must be considered as Tibetan literature ..."

(Picture: Tibetan writer Woeser)

Phayul.com

Did the plot ever really die?

UlyssesReading Lev Grossman's story Good Books Don't Have to Be Hard in the Wall Street Journal, one will be entitles to be afraid. Be very afraid. The plot is coming back to the novel! Of course, many will go ... er ... did it ever die ... when? According to Grossman it was with Ulysses and Lady Chatterley's Lover, amongst other's. (So that's why they wanted to ban the books, they couldn't understand them!)

He writes: "A good story is a dirty secret that we all share. It's what makes guilty pleasures so pleasurable, but it's also what makes them so guilty. A juicy tale reeks of crass commercialism and cheap thrills. We crave such entertainments, but we despise them. Plot makes perverts of us all."

Really?! Hmm. I have to confess, I have always liked some plot in my novels, but not at the expense of good writing and good characters. I guess there was a time when I would plough through a hard book because it was supposed to be good. Strangely, this appears to be an affectation of 20th century Anglophone literature. The Europeans and the South Americans appear to have gotten over it after Kafka, that is, and seem to know how to combine good story-telling with good writing. (They are really not mutually exclusive, you know.)

Lev Grossman says, "All of this is changing. The revolution is under way. The novel is getting entertaining again. Writers like Michael Chabon, Jonathan Lethem, Donna Tartt, Kelly Link, Audrey Niffenegger, Richard Price, Kate Atkinson, Neil Gaiman, and Susanna Clarke, to name just a few, are busily grafting the sophisticated, intensely aware literary language of Modernism onto the sturdy narrative roots of genre fiction ..." Or, you could read Carlos Ruis Zafon, Saramago, Arturo Perez-Reverte, or any of the South Americans -- they still have the plot.

Wall Street Journal

Reading in class

ReadingA Yorkshire Post posting says that, "One-in-eight teachers has never read a book to their class ..." according to a research. (From some of the horror stories I hear of Malaysian schools, a local research might indicate that only one-in-eight teacher actually read.) The gripe is that "almost 600,000 children could be missing out on great stories and failing to develop a love of reading because of the use of 'extracts' in the classroom ..." highlighting fears amongst teachers and parents that this is affecting pupil's academic performance. I guess we have no such worries -- most of our parents and teachers will be quite happy if their children didn't read anything as long as they score 21 As.

Not surprisingly, this has spawned a major debate. One favourite view is: "If computers/playstations/DS etc, etc, didn't exist, children would spend more time reading. This generation has much more distractions than we had as kids - there was nothing much on the tv when I was little ..." Of course, it is fashionable to blame it all on the techno distractions of the day. When I was a kid, we had none of those either -- we did all our gaming outdoors. But that didn't stop teachers from reading to us, or for us to read on our own.

Basically, what we are looking at is the failure of the education system (despite, or because of, new fangled ideas) and teachers. (Actually, we had very few good teachers in those days either -- however much we like to romanticise the past. So, basically, nothing much has changed.)

The study was commissioned Heinemann.


Yorkshire Post

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The end of an era?

So far, with the global crisis and the prognosis of a meltdown, we have not really seen much end of an era scenarios. Okay, Woolworth went down and stayed down, GM went bust but soon bounced back. Michael Jackson and Ted Kennedy have died. Reader's Digest has filed for bankruptcy but news is that they will still be around. So the aftermath of the global financial crisis appears to be 'more of the same'.

But there is one era that is about to end for sure. Archie Andrews is marrying Veronica Lodge. Yes, you read that right. Looks like he is going to ditch Betty Cooper, and she is not the only one who is heart-broken.

I have been reading Archie comics for over 50 years, since I discovered comics. We used to read it surreptitiously because comics were considered to be 'yellow culture' corrupting the youth. I never found out what that meant, but they did make Socrates drink hemlock for 'corrupting the youth of Athens', so it has existed for a long time, and it still does. (In those days, Singaporeans would flock to JB to watch Chubby Checker's Rock Around the Clock because it was banned over there.)

Anyway, I have always also rooted for the underdog, and Betty was it. She was pretty and intelligent, as opposed to the merely extravagantly rich Veronica. Okay, she is beautiful, too. Still, she is the wrong girl. The report has it that this (the marriage proposal) happens when they graduate. What! They are not supposed to graduate, they are meant to be in High School forever. This is a comic, for Gods sake. It's like Superman suddenly becoming the bad guy. (Remember Superman 3, and how lame Richard Lester's effort was?)

So whatever comes next, this is the end of an era.

Atlantic.com

Video gaming is the reason teenagers don't read, right? Wrong.

"My son always spends too much time on video games. How do I get him to read, ah?"

I have heard this question from dozens of parents. I am sure the authorities will tell you the same. Ask a Minister. But a news report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US appears to say that the average gamer is actually "a 35-year-old man who is overweight, aggressive, introverted and often depressed."

The study further shows that children and teenagers who are addicted tend toward physical inactivity and corresponding health problems.

"... there is growing concern and uncertainty about the health consequences of video game playing,” the CDC reports. “Given the ubiquity of video games -- industry
estimates suggest that they are played in 65% of American households -- these concerns may be justified.”

According to the CDC, both male and female gamers were more likely to be overweight, had more poor-mental-health days and were less socially outgoing than non-gamers. Women gamers were more likely to say that they experienced depression and other general health issues than women who aren’t gamers.

Jim McGregor, an analyst says, "It gives Americans just another reason to be fat, dumb and lazy.”

Wired.com

Interactive e-books

It is the first day of school and what is the most familiar sight? Kids with huge loads on their back. One would have thought someone would have noticed a commercial opportunity there – no, not bigger bags. Maybe, the time has arrived.

ScrollMotion, the iPhone application developer has announced the launch of a new kids' e-book reader for the device that will encourage picture books that will "integrate text, audio and pictures in an organic and fun manner that is interactive for parents and kids, with buttons and interactions especially designed for small fingers".

So, what do Malaysian parents/teachers want? Buku kerja, of course. Now imagine a programme that will allow one to develop lots and lots of interactive (and downloadable) e-Bukukerja for a laptop or a desktop. There would be the problem with pirates, of course. But attractive pricing should solve that. Tuition teachers will love the stuff.

One of the eBooks adopted by ScrollMotion is the Curious George's Dictionary based on the popular book series by Margret and HA Rey. Most of the application's content is from the print book. The dictionary, which has more than 600 entries and illustrations, is enhanced with audio -- letters and words are pronounced aloud -- and is searchable by letter. The Curious George's Dictionary is more than an e-book: a bit like a game, and a bit like an educational tool.

But that sounds like a lot of educational games that have been around since the Apple 11e. What is required is a simple tool that will allow your average tuition teacher to whip up a set of questions and answers in a couple of minutes. The resource could be made available over the internet even.

Any programmer out there? Or, is someone already doing this?

Publisher's Weekly

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Japanese brain workout

Calling all kiasu parents. Built around the brain training methodology of Professor Makoto Shichida, BB Softservice, a Japanese software developer, has announced that an English version of its brain training programme entitled, Brain Training Unotan (make no mistakes about that) is now available for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

Makoto Shichida is a renowned expert in the field of right brain therapy and training. Brain Training Unotan provides a series of training exercises that helps the brain improve and enhance memory retention, concentration and intuition capabilities, according to the makers.

Brain Training Unotan includes 15 brain training exercises that improve memory, concentration, and intuition using push-ups, crunches, squats, arm curls and aerobics.

This is from the website (verbatim):

The right-brain, known to excel at processing large quantities of visual information, is being activated through a simple continuous series of questions, consequently polishing memory retention. There is a free version contain one free training memory game.



This is a full-scale training product recommended for all hard-pressed adults wanting to improve job/school performances as well as retain a healthy brain by empowering the right-brain. The best prescription for your dormant right-brain! Train up your memory retention capabilities with this application.

Brain Training Unotan

Borders now sells toys

Latest news has it that Borders has added a selection of educational games and toys to the children’s sections in its superstores, with toys and games for children divided into three groups: three and under; three to seven; and seven to twelve. The space for the games and toys, apparently, used to sell music and movies. According to Borders, the toys and games have been chosen to help children learn to become readers by “promoting diversity, fostering creativity and helping build cognitive skills.” Borders will staff the children’s section with a specialist to help with recommendations.

Well, it does look like bookshops are finally getting sensible. I, for one, am all for it, but it is really not necessary to pretend that one is only going to stock educational toys. Bookshops need to diversify and redefine themselves to survive. If they have to sell toys, so be it. And there is nothing wrong with clothes and sports equipment either. And the jump from e-readers to mobile phones is not that big a leap. Everyone knows how low margins are in the book industry, not helped by the heavy discounting, and (now) serious remaindering. (The remainder trade is so serious that the entire book industry of many countries is in danger. Anyone with an internet connection and Google can import any quantity of books. Apparently, dealer's warehouses are so full they are begging 'remaindered' bookshops to take all they can, even offering some titles for free.)

Anyway, Amazon.com started life as a books only online store, now they are a virtual departmental store (although people still think of them as a bookshop).

Publisher's Weekly

Reading Cervantes in Venezuela

A BBC news story says that in Venezuela the government has given out tens of thousands of free copies of Don Quijote by Cervantes and Les Miserables by Victor Hugo to "promote reading for the construction of socialism and humanist values".

Wow! When they are serious about reading, they are serious about reading. Quite unlike our own box-tickers: Have we launched the reading campaign? Tick. Composed TV song? Tick. Put up posters? Tick. Was the campaign a success? Who cares, now we have to spend next year's budget.

"Today we launch the Revolutionary Reading Plan," President Hugo Chavez announced live to the nation in April. "Read, read, read, read. That should be our slogan for every day."

Since the announcement, the pace of the reading plan has quickened, says the report. A key component is a series of free book distribution events, which have been held in public squares across the country. The government says it has boosted literacy levels.

"I'm really pleased," one man said according to the report. "I've seen the film but never read the book, so this was a great opportunity as they're giving them away for free, and it's too expensive to buy." Venezuela has the most expensive books in the world.

BBC

Friday, July 31, 2009

Book Depository Opens in the US

A report in Publishers Weekly says that U.K. online bookseller, BookDepository.co.uk, has opened a U.S. storefront at bookdepository.com. It looks like the company, which won Direct Bookseller of the Year in Britain, is looking to go head-on with Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.

For those who do not know of it yet, The Book Depository offers free delivery worldwide, and at competitive prices to moot. We have ordered 4 books from them so far. They arrived within ten days, and the last one in 20. Slow but sure, and cheap.

BookDepository.com had sales of $100 million in 2008, with half of that generated from international sources. The US site, which is a step in the company's move to develop its brand internationally, offers a number of titles at cheaper prices than Amazon. They have 2.4 million titles available which, they say, is more books than Amazon.

With the American site the company will sell US titles as well, something that they couldn’t before due to rights restrictions in the UK.

Publishers Weekly

Amazon apologises for the Kindle kill-switch

Now, let's say, you walk into a bookshop and buy a book, and the bookshop finds out that the distributor does not have the rights to sell the book in this territory. Does this give the bookshop the right to come into your house and steal the book back?

This is roughly what Amazon did. Buyers who bought the digital copy of George Orwell's 1984, were not aware that the copies they were buying were not meant for their territory. When Amazon found out that the copies were 'illegal', they activated a Kindle kill-switch to delete all downloaded copies from their customers' Kindles -- now you see it, now you don't.

Okay, the copies were illegal. But that does not mean Amazon can simply erase them. The customers didn't know, for God's sake. They could have been notified, offered a legal alternative copy, or asked them if they'd like a refund. Instead, they pulled the kill-switch. It is scary to think that Amazon even has a kill-switch. Gosh, who else has got one? Microsoft? Google? Adobe? In fact, any company that insist on online registration is now suspect, as far as I am concerned.

This was the apology:

This is an apology for the way we previously handled illegally sold copies of 1984 and other novels on Kindle. Our "solution" to the problem was stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles. It is wholly self-inflicted, and we deserve the criticism we've received. We will use the scar tissue from this painful mistake to help make better decisions going forward, ones that match our mission.

With deep apology to our customers,
Jeff Bezos, Founder & CEO, Amazon.com

Cnet

European Union Literature prize(s)

Paulus HochgattererTwelve European authors were awarded the European Union Prize for Literature earlier this month. The prizes will be presented during an Award ceremony in Brussels on 28 September.

Euroalert.net says, "The aim of the European Union Prize for Literature is to put the spotlight on the creativity and diverse wealth of Europe’s contemporary literature, to promote the circulation of literature within Europe and encourage greater interest in non-national literary works."

The prize will be awarded in three phases, in the years 2009, 2010 and 2011, with 11 or 12 winners each time. By 2011, a winner will have been announced for each of the 34 countries participating in the EU Culture Programme. Very muhibah!

The first twelve winners of the European Prize for Literature are:

AUSTRIA – Mr. Paulus Hochgatterer, for The Sweetness of Life
CROATIA – Mrs. Mila Pavicevic, for Ice Girl and other fairy-tales
FRANCE – Mrs. Emmanuelle Pagano, for Les Adolescents Troglodytes
HUNGARY – Mrs. Szécsi Noémi, for Communist Monte Cristo
IRELAND - Mrs. Karen Gillece, for Longshore Drift
ITALY - Mr. Daniele Del Giudice, for Movable Horizon
LITHUANIA - Mrs.Laura Sintija Černiauskaitė, for Breathing into Marble
NORWAY - Mr. Carl Frode Tiller, for Encirclement
POLAND – Mr. Jacek Dukaj, for ICE
PORTUGAL – Mrs. Dulce Maria Cardos, for Os Meus Sentimentos
SLOVAKIA – Mr. Pavol Rankov, for It Happened on September the First (or whenever)
SWEDEN – Mrs. Helena Henschen, for The Shadow of a Crime

Euro Alert

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Writing as a weapon

Tim Adam's writes in The Observer about how, since winning the Booker prize in 1997, Arundhati Roy has "put fiction on hold to become a global dissenter against repression, economic 'progress' -- and dams."

Roy has not written fiction since The God of Small Things, a book that many loved and hated with equal passion -- both for the wrong reasons. I remember that period. She was possibly the first and the most famous purveyor of the Novelus Indiana exoticus, that most exotic of animals. Salman Rushdie attracted the attention of the world literary community towards the subcontinent, but his writings were too dizzy for many. Vikram Seth, too urbane. Naipaul, too English. Arundhati Roy had all the right ingredients -- caste violence, rape, incest, all that is down and dirty about India, like a train wreck one is attracted to but is afraid to get close to and, to top it all, she was pretty and her prose was good. After that no book by an Indian writer would survive in the market without at least one arranged marriage, but preferably with accounts of caste violence ending in rape, communal conflicts with plenty of looting, burning and mass emasculation, wretched injustice and abject poverty with people (literally) wallowing in shit , all in close-up and slowmo, like the lingering cum shots in a hard-core porn movie. That was the period when I first started publishing, and that was when everyone thought they could write, and everyone wanted to write just like her. (That was the period when writers from India would demand hefty advance with mere outlines of their 'novels').

She was born Suzanna Arundhati Roy in 1961, in Meghalaya in India to her Syrian Christian mother from Kerala, and a Bengali tea-planter father. She studied at the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi. Her latest book Listening to Grasshoppers : Field Notes on Democracy was published by Hamish Hamilton recently.


The Observer

A suitable girl

It was 16 years ago that I wrestled with the 1350 page hardback that was, Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy. The soap opera went on for a good six month during which time Mrs Rupa Mehra and Lata became very much a part of our family. I, somehow, did not sprain my wrists, but it was impossible to read the book in bed. Now Lata is a grandmother whose grandson is all grown up and she is looking for a suitable girl for him. A Suitable Girl is to be published in 2013 by Hamish Hamilton, an imprint of Penguin

Everyone knows the story of how A Suitable Boy created history with the US$1.1 million advance it received from Indian, British and American publishers. The 1,350-page book sold over a quarter of a million copies in hardback and over a million in paperback.

Seth says that his publishers had been after him for years to write a sequel but he hadn’t felt inspired enough. He is happy, however, that the muse has returned. He adds that the story has progressed quite a bit in his head, though not as much on paper.

But if Lata was nineteen years old in the 1950s, would she be over seventy now?


Times of India

Hemingway a 'dilettante spy'

John Dugdale reports in The Guardian about "The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America (Yale University Press), which reveals the Nobel prize-winning novelist was for a while on the KGB's list of its agents in America." The book, the report says, is based on notes that Vassiliev, a former KGB officer, made when he was given access in the 90s to Stalin-era intelligence archives in Moscow.

The archives, apparently, term Hemmingway as a 'dilettante spy'. According to his KGB file, he was recruited in 1941, given the cover name 'Argo', and "repeatedly expressed his desire and willingness to help us" when he met Soviet agents in Havana and London. However, it also says that he failed to "give us any political information" and was never "verified in practical work", so contacts with Argo ceased by the end of the decade.

There was also a story about another literary figure being involved in international espionage a couple of years ago, the poet WH Auden who repeatedly evaded British intelligence's attempts to find out whether he was involved in the disappearance of the Cambridge spies Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean in 1951. The suspicion was triggered by reports from a Reuters journalist that Burgess had tried to call his friend Auden the day before he left England.

In Britain MI5's efforts to reconstruct Burgess's social network led to Anthony Blunt, who named the poet Christopher Isherwood and three others.

More dilettante spies?


The Guardian

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

How to stay famous without talent

Paris HiltonI heard a stand up comic on television once. She said how she absolutely admired Paris Hilton who proved once and for all that one did not have to be poor to be 'white trash'.

A new psychology study, headed by Nathanael Fast of Stanford University in California, tries to explain why some stars continue to burn bright, long after their talent has faded -- if it ever was there to begin with. And the answer: people simply need something to talk about!

What exactly is Paris Hilton famous for? "Take Paris Hilton, somehow or other she became well known and now people are more likely to talk about her," Fast says. Prominent people stay popular for longer than they ought to because they serve as conversational fodder, which in turn drives more media coverage.
Mark Schaller, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, says, "It does provide an answer to the question of why fame is self-perpetuating, even when the famous person isn't doing anything fame-worthy anymore ... Catching an idea is not a whole lot different in some metaphorical way than catching a disease," he says.

Bottom line: people who talk about people basically have no life, and there are plenty of people in the world who are famous for being famous, but not necessarily for doing anything worthwhile.

Hmmm. Sounds familiar.

New Scientist

Jose Saramago still going strong

SaramagoAlfonso Daniels writes for the BBC News: Jose Saramago, the Portuguese Nobel Prize laureate, is 86 years old. He recently called Italy's leader, Silvio Berlusconi, "vomit" and compares the Palestinian territories with Auschwitz. And he is, arguably, the best living writer today.

Born in Azinhaga, Portugal, he spends only a few months of the year in his native country. He lives mostly in the Spanish Canary Islands where he has been in symbolic exile since 1992 when the Portuguese government blocked his allegedly heretical novel, The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, from being nominated for a European literary prize.

"I'm a hormonal communist," he says, "my body contains hormones that grow my beard and others that make me a communist. Change, for what? I would be ashamed, I don't want to become someone else."

Although he published his first book in 1947 (and some poems in 1966), he started publishing novels only in 1981 at the age of 59, his first being Journey to Portugal (1981) and rose to world fame with his publication of Balthasar and Blimunda in 1987. He won the Nobel Prize in 1998. Trained as a mechanic, he worked as a civil servant, as a manager of a metal company and in publishing.

He says he has three or four years more to live, maybe less. So he is speeding up his writing. His latest book, El Cuaderno (The Notebook), is a compilation of his popular blog entries. His next novel will be published before the end of the year. "I wrote it very quickly, it's possibly the book that I've written the most enthusiastically. It will have some 200 pages and will contain a surprise," he says. "I can't say any more, not even announce its title or else I would give it away."

BBC

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

End of the Malaysian book industry as we know it?

There was an interesting SMS from a reader in an English daily recently. Referring to a recent warehouse sale, she said that she bought a (presumably brand new) book for RM8.00 that would normally cost RM40 in regular bookshops, and suggested that if book prices came down and bookshops reduced their profits, perhaps more people would read in this country. The implication here was that a retailer's profit on a book amounts to some 400%! How we wish that were true. Unfortunately, is quite far off the mark; the retailer's profit barely covers his overheads, but we don't expect customers to understand that. When a book sells for RM8 in one place and RM40 in another, what else would a customer think?

The warehouse sale in question was the recent Big Bad Wolf sale by BookXcess. Unverified sources have informed us that this was, in fact, a Pansing sale in disguise. And judging from the imprints on offer at the sale (and the observed appearance of Pansing staff at the warehouse over the period), it does appear to give that report some traction. Market talk appears to suggest it, anyway. (Established in 1974, Pansing is now a member of the Times Publishing Group. They are the sole distributors in Malaysia of several 'literary' imprints like Vintage, Picador, Harvill and so on.)

Here is a book industry primer for the uninitiated. The distributor is the wholesaler who acts between the publisher (the manufacturer) and the bookseller (the retailer). The publisher determines the recommended retail price, and the distributor buys the books at a discount from the publisher and then sells it to the retailer, who deals with the public. The publisher does not undercut the distributor and the retailer by selling the books directly to the public at ridiculously low prices, and the distributor does not, likewise, undercut the retailer to ensure a healthy industry and fair competition.

If a wholesaler does indeed sell his books to the public directly (or through an agent) at a ridiculously low prices it would be a serious breach of ethics, and probably be in violation of a whole host of anti-competition laws in quite a few countries in the world including, possibly, even Singapore. (Ask Microsoft about it.)

According to the same source, Pansing supplied more than 100,000 books for the warehouse sale, with the unsold books designated to Carrefour hypermart. (We have been wondering about the appearance of several 'Pansing' imprints, selling for RM5 each, in the hypermarket bins for some time now.) Where did all these books come from? Some, seen from their condition, are evidently returns from bookshops. But, quite a large number were in 'mint' condition. Why Pansing has chosen to dispose of its books in this manner is, currently, a matter of conjecture and some fanciful speculation. But, it has generated a quite a bit of unhappiness in the industry at the moment, with words like 'boycott' being bandied about. Perhaps, there is a need for all parties to clear the air including publishers like Pan MacMillan and Random House (UK) whose books Pansing distributes here and Singapore.

In the meantime, we have reduced our order of books from Pansing (unless absolutely necessary). American editions are nicer, anyway. Some major chains might even consider returning all books, and look for alternatives sources for the same titles. Or, maybe, even buy them back at their next warehouse sale at a fraction of the cost! That would be a good way of reducing prices!

And, to answer the SMS lady who complained about book prices: the reason imported books cost so much in Malaysia is due to our lousy exchange rate. Simple. And, the reason local books are not cheaper is because of our extremely small market size. But right now, the entire book industry in Malaysia has been put in jeopardy. We have had warehouse sales before, but not like this, where such a large quantity of books in very good condition have been dumped at between 10 and 20 percent of the RRP. The Malaysian book market is too small to absorb too many shocks of this nature. We don't have the diversity.

JD Salinger's legal battle against Catcher in the Rye 'sequel'

The book is entitled 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye, and it features a character, Mr C, similar to Holden Caulfield, the mixed-up adolescent in Catcher in the Rye. Mr Salinger, 90, has filed a lawsuit to prevent the publication of the book in the US. (The book is already available in the UK.)

In the sequel, a 76-year-old man wakes up in a nursing home in New York. This seemingly normal day brings with it an unnerving compulsion to flee his present situation and embark on a curious journey through the streets of New York City. The original was written in 1951. The 'sequel' is written by a writer going by the name John David California.

The lawsuit says the right to create a sequel to Catcher in the Rye or use the character Holden Caulfield, belongs only to Salinger who has "decidedly chosen not to exercise that right". Salinger has never allowed his novel to be filmed, staged or adapted in any other way. The author stopped the BBC from filming a television production of his novel in 2003, and has reportedly also turned down requests from Steven Spielberg to acquire the film rights.

The lawsuit, according to the Associated Press, says "The sequel is not a parody and it does not comment upon or criticise the original ... It is a ripoff, pure and simple."

Fredrik Colting, founder of Nicotext Publishing says, "We think it's completely ludicrous."

Shell pays out-of-court over Ken Saro-Wiwa killing

Ken and Amir It has been in all the newspapers and most people would have already read the story that Shell has agreed to pay US$15.5m in an out-of-court settlement of a legal action in which it was accused of having collaborated in the execution of the writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other leaders of the Ogoni tribe in Nigeria in 1995. This is one of the largest payouts agreed by a multinational corporation charged with human rights violations.

Kenule "Ken" Beeson Saro-Wiwa (October 10, 1941 -- November 10, 1995) was a Nigerian author, television producer, environmental activist and a member of the Ogoni people, an ethnic Nigerian minority whose homeland, Ogoniland, in the Niger has suffered extensive environmental damage from decades of indiscriminate oil waste dumping. Saro-Wiwa led a non-violent campaign against the operations of multinational oil companies, especially Shell. He was also an outspoken critic of the Nigerian government, which refused to enforce proper environmental regulations on the foreign oil companies. Saro-Wiwa was arrested, tried by a special military tribunal, and hanged in 1995 by the military government of General Sani Abacha.

But many would recall that Saro-Wiwa's son, Ken Wiwa, was at the first Kuala Lumpur International Literary Festival in 2004 and was interviewed by Amir Muhammad on how he handled his father's legacy. In his very personal memoir, In the Shadow of a Saint, Ken Wiwa examines his (often troubled) relationship with his father, and describes his personal search for answers.

The Guardian

Monday, June 01, 2009

Apple rejects, then accepts 'porn' e-book reader

E-bookCharlie Sorrel writes in wired.com that apple has relented and "finally approved the gorgeous-looking e-book reader, Eucalyptus, for the iTunes App Store." I have seen the visuals and I had to agree that it is gorgeous, and that I am finally beginning to buy into the e-book mania. It is so cool, you simply have
to have it, even if you never actually read a book on the iPhone or the iPod Touch.

The application was initially banned from the iTunes store by Apple because it could be used to download pornographic material, like the Kama Sutra, into the iPhone. Err ... I don't get it. Can one not do that with any e-book? Charlie Sorrel says, "Whoever was on Approval Duty at Apple that day obviously saw the name Kama Sutra in the list of downloadable books and had such a knee-jerk reaction ... that the book is some kind of sex manual." Oh my God, Apple is behaving like KDN, or KDN has infiltrated the company. Run for cover, the world is not safe anymore!

He continues, "... it isn't (a sex manual), although it does contain some sex advice -- take a look at an issue of Cosmopolitan if you want some real, juicy sex talk." KDN, listening? Probably wouldn't understand, too many words.

Eucalyptus costs US$10 and has access to around 20,000 Project Gutenberg texts. Pros: proper hyphenation, a hand-rolled typesetting algorithm and lovely page-turning animation (video on website). Cons: currently, can’t add own books, only public domain.

Wired Magazine

World's youngest author, again

Manuel DiazManuel Alguacil, 9, who has published his first book Thok, the Vain Dragon, has had to take a day off school to sign copies of his book at the Madrid Book Fair.

According to the story, or the spin, Manuel Alguacil could barely hold his copy of The Lord of the Rings when he was 6, but he got hooked on writing after reading it. Three years later, he has become one of the youngest authors in the world. His modest 38-page fantasy tale is inspired by (surprise) J R R Tolkien’s book and J K Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Manuel learnt to read when he was 3, but became bored by children’s books. By the age of 6 he had read The Lord of the Rings in two weeks. He wants to be an astronaut when he grows up. The boy is all right.

Other young talent

Britain’s youngest published author is Libby Reese, whose 60-page self-help book, Help, Hope and Happiness, was published when she was 9. Her book is based on her experiences when her parents separate. Her second book, about moving from primary to secondary school, came out in 2007.

United States' Amelia Atwater-Rhodes had her first fantasy novel, In the Forests of the Night, published in 1999 when she was 13. Now 23, she has published nine subsequent novels.

India's Ankit Fadia became an author at 15 with his book, The Unofficial Guide to Ethical Hacking, published in 2001. He now blogs for CNN, runs training courses, and is employed by the Singaporean Government to defend against hackers.

TimesOnline

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born 150 years ago

Conan DoyleSir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the world's most famous fictional detective, was born in 1859 in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Conan Doyle became a doctor and practised medicine while creating this archetypal protagonist of crime fiction other writers still struggle to match, even today. I read them as a boy, and I still read them to relax. Sherlock Holmes combines his skills of observation with science.

Sherlock Holmes is said to be a homage to one of Conan Doyle's teachers in medical school. "Elementary, my dear Watson" is one of the most memorable lines in modern literature, although that line does not appear in any of his books. It could have originated from the 1929 movie The Return of Sherlock Holmes. (Holmes says "My dear Watson" and "Elementary" on different occasions in The Crooked Man published in 1893.)

Holmes might have been fictional, but legend remains powerful. Tourists still flock to 221B, Baker Street in London to the museum dedicated to him.

The joke, voted as the funniest in the world, also features Holmes and Watson (though I do not recall reading it in any of the SH books.)

Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson go on a camping trip, set up their tent, and fall asleep.
Some hours later, Holmes wakes his faithful friend.
'Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see.'
Watson replies, 'I see millions of stars.'
'What does that tell you?'
Watson ponders for a minute. 'Astronomically speaking, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, it tells me that Saturn is in Leo. Time wise, it appears to be approximately a quarter past three. Theologically, it's evident the Lord is all-powerful and we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, it seems we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. What does it tell you?'
Holmes is silent for a moment, then speaks, 'Watson, you idiot, someone has stolen our tent.'

Conan Doyle died on July 7, 1930. He wrote 56 short stories and four novels.

Wired.com

Friday, May 15, 2009

Twitter rescues literature. (Or does it?)

Waiting for Godot  -- Samuel Beckett: Vladimir and Estragon stand next to tree and wait for Godot. Their status is not updated.

Lady Chatterley's Lover -- DH Lawrence: "Upper-class woman gets it on with gamekeeper."

You can get all these and more from Tim Collin's The Little Book of Twitter. "Maybe we are only just beginning to appreciate the potential of Twitter as an art form," he says.

Ok ... aaaay.

But I am sure it is fun. What was that book by the Frenchman, about talking about books you have never read? Guess, we can now talk about more books. But Tim Collins does admit he had difficulty with Finnegan's Wake.

Here are a couple more:

The Catcher in the Rye -- JD Salinger: Rich kid thinks everyone is fake except for his little sister. Has breakdown.

Pride and Prejudice -- Jane Austin: Woman meets man called Darcy who seems horrible. He turns out to be nice really. They get together.

Excellent for teachers. Wonderful material for seting multiple choice questions:

Question: Which book is this? Man walks around Dublin. We follow every minute detail of his day. He’s probably over tweeting. 
A. Ulysses -- James Joyce
B. Great Expectations -- Charles Dickens
C. The Catcher in the Rye -- JD Salinger

Now, if only someone will come up with a workbook for these darn things.

The Telegraph

Napoleon Bonaparte -- king of chick lit

Maev Kennedy and Catherine Neilan of The Guardian compare a novella, Clisson and Eugénie, about first love, a pieced together manuscript of lost book by Napoleon Bornaparte that has just been translated into English, with a Mills & Boons classic.

They write: "Napoleon is already credited with writing some of the most romantic – or revolting, depending on your sensibilities – words in his urgent message to Josephine: Will return to Paris tomorrow evening. Don't wash." Eeeuwww.

But the ruthless tyrant who conquered nearly the whole of Europe was also failed author of romances, until now that is. I feel numb. Come to me without delay is a line from the book. Is that what chick-lit is like? I must confess I have not read any.

Here are extracts. Decide if it is great literature.

"The sad young soldier [Clisson] takes the waters ... It was a place of enchantment ... Unknown as he was, he wandered amongst the crowd ... He gazed with interest at the beauty of the women and their dresses, mostly made of linen. People feel comfortable while taking the waters and he was able to engage in a great number of inconsequential conversations, which brought him relief from his melancholy and solitude."

Eugenie writes to him.

"I am worried and unhappy. I feel numb. Come to me without delay. Only the sight of you will cure me. Last night I dreamt you were on your deathbed. The life had gone out of your beautiful eyes, your mouth was lifeless, you had lost all your colour. I threw myself on your body: it was icy cold. I wanted to bring you back to life with my breath, to bring you warmth and life. But you could no longer hear me. You no longer knew me."

The Guardian

Organiser of Big Read escapes eating book

Literature Director of America's National Endowment for the Arts and programme director of the community reading scheme The Big Read, David Kipen, pledged to eat Harper Lee's To Kill a Mocking Bird if he could not persuade the entire literate population of of Kelleys Island in Lake Erie in Ohio to read it. As it tuned out the 131 residents of the island proved to be a literary-minded lot, so he didn't have to eat the book.

Alison Flood writes in The Guardian that Kipen, had been searching for a town "small enough and brave enough to accept the challenge of dragooning every last literate resident, without exception, into tackling its chosen book". Then he found the four square mile Kelleys Island – population 131. He said that if residents failed to finish Harper Lee's classic novel, he'd eat a copy of the book.

He is quoted. "The prospect of 'terrible indigestion' already has me up nights thinking about it ..." Really? How about choosing another small island, Manhatten, next?

The Guardian

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Bertrand Russell: Graphic novel hero

Bertrand Russell, the philosopher, logician, mathematician, my school-time philosopher hero, and Nobel prize for literature winner who wrote the seminal work on mathematical logic, the Principia Mathematica, is now a graphic novel hero. The hit 'comic', Logicomix has become a bestseller in Greece and has been picked up by several publishers across the world -- from China to Turkey, Israel to Italy. The UK version by Bloomsbury is expected in September this year.


Bertrand Russell died in 1970 at the age of 97. Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth portrays the story of his life and the great 60s pacifist's quest to pin down the foundations of mathematics. Sounds so tera menera yah? But it was a tera menera period, the 60s, with the Vietnam war, with the Beatles and Bob Dylan, with Kennedy, Khrushchev and Castro, with nuclear proliferation, with the hippies, with Charles Manson ... and with Bertrand Russell. It was he who got me interested in the scope and universality of mathematics, and the language of philosophers.


Logicomix is written by maths expert and novelist Apostolos Doxiadis, who was admitted to Columbia University at the age of 15, and Christos Papadimitriou, a computer scientist and novelist. The artwork is by Alecos Papadatos and Annie Di Donna.


"Covering a span of 60 years, it tells the story of Russell's life, taking in his childhood, brought up by his grandparents after he was orphaned aged four, his four marriages, the writing of his great work Principia Mathematica, his rivalry with Ludwig Wittgenstein, and his quest for nuclear disarmament in the last decades of his life."


The Guardian

Discussing philosophy with a bus conductor

It used to be a joke in the seventies that India was the only country in the world where one could actually have an intelligent discussion of Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance with a bus conductor during a rural pit stop, and the only place on earth where taxi drivers had Master's degrees. Now they are talking about India (and China) rescuing the entire English publishing industry.


With the US and the UK industry stagnating, publishers are looking for new markets. India, the world's third largest English language book market, is particularly enticing with its reported 10% annual growth and 350m English speaking segment of the population, and where PG Wodehouse, Agatha Christie and Enid Blyton are still a hit and every John Grisham title sells on average 70-80,000 copies. But that is miniscule compared to the potential of the market.


The Chinese market for English books is much smaller, but there is a great appetite for 'books about earning money and making a family healthier'. Who Moved My Cheese, the motivational book that celebrated its 10th anniversary last month, is one of China's all-time best-selling translated titles with several million sold, which is not entirely surprising given that, to them, English is primarily a language of business. Many English books in China are used as educational tools; people use them to improve their skills in a language.


The importance of these 'new' markets are clearly underscored by Malaysian author, Tash Aw, who's second novel, Map of the Invisible World is first published by Harper Collins of India. (Tash Aw will be at Silverfish Books, 58-1 Jalan Telawi, Bangsar Baru on Sunday, 7th of June from 11.30am to 1.00pm. Remember it is a Sunday.) Also, Random House has announced that the record-breaking first print run of 6.5 million copies of The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown will include over half a million for overseas territories including India and South Africa.


Thaindian News

Crime and Punishment in nine minu

They have been threatening to come for a long time. And now they are here. Matthew Moore of The Daily Telegraph reports: "A freshly-bound edition of Fyodor Dostoevsky's classic -- ordered by The Daily Telegraph -- was one of the first tomes to drop out of the Espresso Book Machine when it opened for business for the first time ..." (The printing itself of the 540 pages took only five minutes. The sheets were then sent into the binding section of the machine were they were pressed, covered, glued, and cut to shape in under four minutes.)


"And the results were impressive. The hefty work that skidded out of the chute, while slightly sticky to the touch, looked and felt like a standard edition, even down to the correct ISBN number on the back. The paper and ink are the same quality used in larger presses, and the binding appeared flawless."


The Blackwell bookshop on Charing Cross Road is offering that novel amongst 400,000 titles, many of them rare and out of print. This GBP 68,000 machine -- one of only three in the world -- is on a three-month trial. It allows readers to track down rare books, and also offers mainstream works that happen to be out of stock. Customers will also have the benefit of being able to load files from their own discs.


Printing cost? Apart from a set fee of GBP10.00 a book, there is 2p charge for every page. So Crime and Punishment would have cost GBP 20.80. (I am assuming this is for a paperback.) But what are the alternatives. One could order a copy of the book from Amazon.com, wait for a week and pay the shipping costs. Or one could have a cup of coffee, or browse through the shelves, or read something, or nip into the shoe shop next door while waiting for the book to be cooked. The other alternative is the ebook. But with a cost of over GBP 200.00 for the reader and another GBP 5.00 to over GBP 50.00 a pop for the titles, will it ever take off. Besides, the bragging rights associated with a well-bound (or any) copy of Crime and Punishment sitting on the bookshelf which are so much more, there is also the way they furnish your house and determine its character. So what are you going to tell your friends when they drop into your bookless house; that you have an electronic copy of Dostoevsky on your Kindle? Duh!



The Daily Telegraph

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The most inspirational book

According to www.OnePoll.com, which conducted the research, To Kill a Mockingbird has been voted the most inspirational book of all time, beating the Bible into second place.

The 1960 Harper Lee classic has sold over 30 million copies worldwide. Set in the deep-south depression era, it recounts the life of middle-aged lawyer Atticus Finch, who is appointed to defend a black man accused of assaulting a white woman. It was made into an Oscar winning movie with Gregory Peck in 1962.

The Bible has been translated into 2,233 languages, and has sold an estimated 2.5 billion copies since 1815. Still, it lost to To Kill a Mockingbird. A spokesman said: "Despite To Kill a Mockingbird being written in the 1960's, it is still considered the most inspirational book ... The novel is renowned for its warmth and humour, despite dealing with serious issues of racial inequality. The narrator's father, Atticus Finch, has also served as a moral hero for many readers over the years ... It's interesting that the book is considered more inspirational than the bible ..."

Books on the top ten list:
1. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee (1960)
2. The Bible
3. A Child Called It - Dave Pelzer (2001)
4. Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus - John Gray (1993)
5. Diary of Anne Frank - Anne Frank (1947)
6. 1984 - George Orwell (1949)
7. A Long Walk to Freedom - Nelson Mandela (2002)
8. The Beach - Alex Garland (1994)
9. The Time Travellers Wife - Audrey Niffenegger (2005)
10. The Catcher in the Rye - J D Salinger (1951) ENDS


The Telegraph

Tamil Pulp Fiction

Mad scientists, hardboiled detectives, sensuous starlets, murderous robots, vengeful goddesses, saucy heroines -- what they all have in common, Tamil Pulp Fiction. Accessibly priced and with lurid photoshopped cover designs, they sell at tea stalls and railway stations and has a huge avid readership.

When I was kid, my mother used to devour Ananda Vikadan, Kalki and Kumutham in stacks. If only I knew how much fun she was having, I would have surely not neglected my Tamil education.

The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction, is an effort by translator Pritham Chakravarty and publisher Rajesh Kanna to bring some of this to non-Tamil reading readership, which for all intents and purposes includes me. I read an extract of a couple of stories produced exclusively by Outlook magazine recently. What can I say? They were corny to the max, but delightfully inventive.

According to the Outlook exclusive, the first book in Tamil for popular readership appeared in 1869. Later, inspired by the 'penny dreadful' novels of post WW1 Britain, another crop of authors appeared. A 1933 guideline for writing commercial novels appeared in Sudhandhira Sangu thus (from Outlook):

1. The title of the book should carry a woman's name -- and it should be a sexy one.
2. Don't worry about the storyline. All you have to do is skilfully adapt the stories of (penny dreadful author) Reynolds and the rest. Yet your story absolutely must include a minimum of half-a-dozen lovers and prostitutes, preferably 10 dozen murders, and a few sundry thieves and detectives,
3. The story should begin with a murder. Sprinkle in a few thefts. Some arson will also help.
4. You can make money only if you manage to titillate. If you try to bring in social messages, forget it.

Of the two writers I have read, Subha is the penname of two writers, Suresh and Balakrishnan, who have been churning it out since the 80's. They are reported to have written 550 novellas, 50 longer novels, and more than 400 short stories, apart from screenplays for cinema and television. The other author, Rajesh Kumar, has been writing since 1968 and has to his credit 1250 novels and over 2000 short stories.

No time for lazybones in that industry!

Blaft

Wayne Rooney chooses Harry Potter

In his story Footballers reveal their favourite books, Richard Garner, Education editor of the Independent, writes how English Premier League (EPL) footballers revealed their favourite literary works in a campaign to persuade more children to read books. 20 EPL players (one from each club) were selected as "reading stars" by their teams, and, interestingly, eight of the teams selected their goalkeepers as the person most likely to devote time to help children with their reading. The books range from children's books to the classics.

Wayne Rooney, of Manchester United, chose Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone by J K Rowling as the book he would read to children, while Robert Green, the West Ham and England goalkeeper, selected Homer's The Iliad. Wahhh!

Rooney says: "Harry Potter is almost every child's favourite book and ... J K Rowling is a fantastic author ... I would encourage any child to read the Harry Potter books: they are full of excitement and adventure and they really get your imagination going."

And Green's take: "Everyone should try to make a bit of time each day to read more. You should never be scared of a book either, reading classics like The Iliad might seem daunting but if you take your time you gain such a lot from trying them."

Here are some of the rest:

Bolton, Jussi Jaaskelainen, How To Speak Dragonese, Cressida Cowell;
Blackburn, Paul Robinson, The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, Robin S Sharma;
Hull City, Boaz Myhill, Lord Of The Flies, William Golding;
Wigan, Emmerson Boyce, Wallace And Gromit: The Bootiful Game, Ian Rimmer;
West Bromwich Albion, Chris Brunt, James and the Giant Peach, Roald Dahl.

The Independent

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Walkers Illustrated Classics

     
     


From The Guardian: Walkers have republished some of some of the best-loved children's stories using  the best illustrators to produce a beautiful collection of books. They intend to publish one book a month throughout 2009. These beautiful, critically acclaimed books of children's literature are targeted at the 'new generation'.

The collection, so far, includes:

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, illustrated by Inga Moore
Classic Poetry, selected by children's laureate Michael Rosen, illustrated by Paul Howard
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury
The Secret Garden by F Hodgson Burnett, illustrated by Inga Moore
The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, illustrated by Nicola Bayley

I so want to buy a collection (for myself, never mind the children).

The Guardian