Saturday, February 28, 2009

Best selling author of all time

Who is, according to the Guinness Book of Records the best selling author in the world after William Shakespeare? Who, according to UNESCO, is the most translated? (Okay, the next one is easy.) Whose is the longest run of any play in the world?

In all cases, the answer is Agatha Christie. I started reading Agatha Christie when I was 12 years old -- that's right, almost half a century ago --and I still look for one of her books if I have a few hours to spare when travelling, and I have left the book I am currently reading at home. It is not so much revisiting as looking for my favourite comfort read, my 'reading' teddy bear, so to speak. (Leslie Charteris is my other comfort read.)

Agatha Christie has sold over 2 billion books in 44 languages (move aside Rowling, don't even think about it), she still sells 5 million copies every year, and annual royalties are still coming in at GBP4 million. Her play, The Mousetrap, also according to the Guinness Book of World Records, has the longest theatrical run ever. It opened at the Ambassadors Theatre in London on November 25, 1952. It moved next door to the St. Martin's Theatre on March 25, 1974, not missing a single performance. It continues to this day. The first edition of The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920) sold 2000 copies. Curtain (1975) sold 150,000 copies in the first edition.

The latest story (in The Independent) is that Greenway, her Georgian mansion in Devon, has been restored by the National Trust and will be open to the public for the first time. The mansion which was in the hands of Christie's daughter Rosalind and her second husband Anthony Hicks, was handed over to the National Trust by Mathew Pritchard, Dame Agatha's grandson, after their deaths in 2004 and 2005.

The Independent

Borders Flagship Store to close

Claire Kirch of Publishers Weekly reports that Borders 'stunned' Chicago's bookselling community with announcements of its plans to close its flagship store in the city in January 2010. The store opened in 1995, and with 49,881 square feet, is the largest store in the chain.

The demise of Borders has been in the news quite a bit in the past year. The original Borders bookstore opened in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1971 by brothers Tom and Louis Borders during their undergraduate and graduate years at the University of Michigan. The first Borders bookshop sold used books and was located in two rooms at the first floor. From there the brothers soon moved to a tiny ground floor plus mezzanine unit. Borders was acquired by Kmart in 1992, but was unable to manage it. Borders bought itself out in 1995 (the year launched its online bookstore). In 1997, the company established its first international store in Singapore, with 32,000 square feet (3,000 m2) and has since then opened another 41 stores in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand. The Australian, New Zealand and Singaporean stores were sold in June 2008 to Angus & Robertson to pay off debts.

So is this really the end? Perhaps, they expanded too quickly. Perhaps, they didn't study the market enough. Or people simply got carried away with the glamour and greed. The Malaysian Borders started as a franchise. But I wonder if they have now become entirely independent of the group -- suppliers say that they now have to invoice Berjaya Books. Who knows, a Malaysian might end up buying the chain.
Publisher's Weekly

Johan Jaafar to lead Media Prima

A story in the The Malaysian Insider says that Dato' Johan Jaafar is tipped to be 'Najib’s new media czar.' The report says, "Datuk Johan Jaafar, the ex-editor-in-chief of Utusan Malaysia who was once identified as being close to former deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, has been designated as the new media czar for the in-coming administration of Datuk Seri Najib Razak."

Yes, it is always about whose man anyone is, isn't it? I was rather happy reading that article, though. At least, we will have someone who reads, someone who thinks and someone who writes well too. And, he wouldn't require someone else to do his columns either. I have known him for sometime now, and I have always admired his quiet intelligence and speech.

He 'will be appointed a director of The New Straits Times Press Berhad (NSTP) and chairman of Media Prima Berhad', the report says. He 'is expected to be appointed an executive director in NSTP, the publisher of the New Straits Times, Berita Harian and Harian Metro.'

Dato' Johan Jaafar, who writes equally well both in English and Malay, started his career in Dewn Bahasa dan Pustaka and was appointed editor-in-chief of Utusan Malaysia, where he was regarded as 'high-brow and elitist'. I hope he does not change that. We could use some level of intellectual debate. We have had enough dumping down, so much so that sometimes, I wonder what kind of people, a Martian visiting earth would think after reading our newspapers, live here.

Your take from here on.

The Malaysian Insider

Monday, February 16, 2009

As the economy busts, libraries boom

Julia Horton writes in The Herald about a noticeable increase in the number of library users in the UK, particularly in Scotland.

Glasgow recorded a rise in library usage of 12% this December 2008 compared to the previous year. Edinburgh, too, has noted a percentage rise and "could reasonably expect the trend to continue upwards". US libraries are reporting attendance increase of up to 65%.

Many of those going to the libraries are those who have lost their jobs. They go to public libraries to use the PC facilities to fill up CVs, surf the internet and scan for jobs. Others are those watching their finances and borrowing rather than buying books.

Ironically, in the past decade many local authorities considered shutting some branches or scaling down library hours unable to compete with a market flooded with cheap books from bargain outlets and the internet.

The most popular books borrowed from Glasgow libraries are:

Martina Cole: The Business

Ian Rankin: Doors Open

Ian Rankin: Exit Music

James Patterson: Cross Country

James Patterson: Step on a Crack

The Herald

Book stealing in Britain

In an earlier story we looked at how Iranian businessman, Farhad Hakimzadeh, stole pages from valuable books from the British Library and the Bodleian. Murad Ahmad of Times Online looks at books most often stolen. He says: "An estimated 100 million books -- a black market worth about £750 million -- are stolen from bookshops in the UK every year." So why do people steal books when they can get it from a library for free?

The most stolen book in Britain is the London A-Z. Understandable. This is the first book I buy every time I land in London. (I keep losing my copies, or forget to pack them.) 'Patrick Neale, who worked at a Waterstone's in London before setting up Jaffe & Neale bookshop in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire. "A-Zs were like porn - you had to keep them under the till."'

A curious bunch, these book thieves. There is a story of how someone stole The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World from Red Lion Books in Colchester, Essex. I have a copy of that book. It is really big and heavy. It is amazing, how did they do it? (I am sure it was more than one person.)

Then there was this "unassuming, doddery old lady" who went into Bakewell in Derbyshire every week and stole a novel by Terry Pratchett. The police found 60 Pratchett books on the old lady's shelves. In 2004, there was a man who ran a gang of thieves that stole Lonely Planet travel guides to order, selling 35,000 stolen books a year. A religious bookshop in Herefordshire had to move away from a cathedral because the priests were stealing too many books.

This is a hilarious story. Read it at:

Times Online

Kindle kindles audio rights war

A report in E-Reads by Michael Gaudet says that the Author's Guild is angry at Amazon's Kindle 2 for its read-aloud technology. What the Author's Guild is worried about is the effect it would have on its member's additional income stream from the audio book.

Parents have always read to their children at home, teachers in the classroom and visually impaired readers have been using speech recognition software for several years now. None of this is an issue. But if someone goes on stage (or radio, or television) and reads a book for payment, wouldn't he (or she) be in violation of copyright?

There is this growing niche market for audio books often performed by the authors themselves, sold in CD box sets, to be played in car audio players or wherever. This is still a tiny market compared to the actual book, but it is obviously important, with separate audio rights often negotiated. Obviously, the Author's Guild is of the opinion that devices like the Kindle 2 will affect their income.

Speech recognition software has been around for a while and some computers come preinstalled with it. So at which point is the law broken? As it stands now, the digital 'voice' is pretty robotic. But we know that it is not going to stay that way for long as technology improves. What if one day they come up with a computer that sounds like Morgan Freeman or Barrack Obama? So, I am with the Author's Guild. Authors deserved to be paid for it.

Read more arguements in:


Sunday, February 01, 2009

The book thief

Farhad HakimzadehAs all book buyers know book thieves come in many forms. The most common are those who borrow books and (conveniently) forget to return them. Once it is in their possession it is theirs. Mwahahaha. These are evil
book thieves. Then there are those who misplace it. "It is only a book, what? Why is she getting so upset?" some would say. These are the stupids. At least one can respect the former, and given an opportunity we can use a similar tactic to steel one back from them. (Just so you know, I don't end my book -- call me whatever name you want.)

Then there are those who steal from bookshops or libraries by stuffing it down their pants (or whatever). Those who borrow from libraries and book rentals but don't return them eventually end up paying, so I can't say that amount to stealing. There are those who buy a book, photocopy the pages they want and return the book to the shop for a refund or an exchange. (Oh, I didn't realise I already had another copy at home.) But the most despicable of all thieves are those who rip pages they want out from books -- from libraries and from bookshops. It has happened to us.

This is exactly what Farhad Hakimzadeh, a wealthy businessman from Knightsbridge in London, did. He has been given two years, after he pleaded guilty, for stealing pages from rare books in the British Library and Bodleian Library. Staff at the British Library said Farhad Hakimzadeh looked like just the kind of person who would visit a good library. This former director of the Iran Heritage Foundation, who appeared extremely knowledgeable, is described as a published author, a collector of rare books and a very wealthy man. In all, he was accused of removing pages from 150 books. And pages from British Library texts were inserted into books owned by Hakimzadeh.

BBC News

Political correctness gone berserk

MockingbirdWith Barack Obama in the White House, it looks like it is time to update the literature used in high school classrooms in the US. Well at least according to one teacher. He say that novels that use the "N-word" need to go.

So American classics like To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn have been deemed no longer suitable for students in school because they use the word 'nigger' repeatedly. This is according to John Foley of Vancouver, an English teacher at Ridgefield High School in southern Washington writing in Seattle PI. But he hopes they remain in private and public libraries. He says, "I would keep copies in my own classroom and encourage students to read them. But they don't belong on the curriculum. Not anymore. Those books are old, and we're ready for new."

The reaction to this view has resulted in an "outpouring of enraged emails and letters to the paper" says The Guardian. "What Foley wrote is indeed a lucid example of apostasy. Obama would be horrified if he knew this censorship was done in his name," said one. Another said, "Now seems like an odd time to downplay the American tragedy of slavery and its linguistic legacy - the N-word." "There is nothing in American literature that more succinctly and directly
attacks racial prejudice than Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," was a third response.

Yes, I too think Obama would be horrified.

Gaiman wins Newbery medal

GraveyardBookNeil Gaiman has won America's most prestigious children's fiction prize, the Newbery medal, for his novel The Graveyard Book. The Newbery is an award to "the most distinguished American children's book published the previous year". The Award has been criticised in the pas for being out of touch with its readers, only recognising authors of books with a limited appeal. With the selection of Gaiman, a very popular author, they have answered that criticism.

The award, which was founded in 1922, is named in honour of 18th-century British bookseller John Newbery. Previous winners include Hugh Lofting's The Voyages of Dr Dolittle, Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time and Lloyd Alexander's The High King.

The Graveyard Book is the story of a boy who lives in a graveyard and is raised by ghosts.

The Guardian