Friday, July 31, 2009

Book Depository Opens in the US

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


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. 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."