by Dennis Loy Johnson

3 January 2005 —In light of the catastrophe that is still unfolding in the Indian Ocean basin, today's column is replaced by an appeal sent in by Indian book blogger Hurree Babu (his website is Kitabkhana. He writes:

"Two days ago, a good friend of mine who also blogs started up a blog called Tsunami Help. He thought it might be a good place to start with compiling information about the disaster that's rocked South Asia—you know, put together donor lists, track the death toll, maybe get people thinking. People started joining in, one by one, and then in dozens, and then in scores. In just two days, Tsunami Help wracked up over 1,00,000 hits. It has thirty–odd people posting from all over the world, and that number is growing.
     This is where you come in—if you want to. Ever since I started Kitabkhana, which is a small literary blog out of India, I've been taken aback by the warmth and involvement of the litblogging community. Drop by Tsunami Help, or other places that are doing their bit, like WorldChanging.com and CommandPost.com.
     Have a happy new year. And thanks."

  Don't want to register for a site but need log on i.d.s and passwords? Get them at BugMeNot.com.

MobyLives towers above all other literary weblogs.
                                    — The Complete Review

Friday 7 January 2005

Christmas not so bad for B&N . . .
While holiday book sales were modest at best, and retail in general suffered because, as a Publishers Weekly report notes, "the heavy discounting that lured more customers into stores is cutting deeply into profits," some in the book business did okay nonetheless—notably, Barnes & Noble, which saw sales of $1.04 billion for the nine weeks considered the holiday period. According to a report in the Hartford Business News, that represents a 5.7 percent in sales, or $55.7 million, over the same period last year. A report in the Internet Retailer, meanwhile, notes that sales at BarnesandNoble.com also gained last quarter, by 2.7 percent —although in this case that represented just under three million dollars. What's more, "For the 48 weeks ended Jan. 1, 2005, Barnes & Noble.com sales declined 1.1% to $373.9 million from $78.1 million."

Everyone wants to be Michael Cader . . .
The conglomerate that publishes Kirkus Reviews, The Hollywood Reporter, Billboard and other trade magazines, VNU Business Media, "is developing a wide-ranging Web site to cover the book business and offer sales data" gathered by Nielsen BookScan, which it also owns. As Paul D. Colford reports in a New York Daily News story, the website will be called The Book Standard, and will launch on January 27th, although it is already inviting sign–ups for "a free weekly E–mail with news and sales rankings." Heading the effort is Jerome Kramer, formerly head of Book Magazine, which closed in 2003 when co–owner Barnes & Noble withdrew funding. Now, as Colford observes, the effort goes head to head with the efforts of Publishers Weekly, which has its own ambitious website and e–mail newsletters, and Michael Cader's popular website Publisher's Marketplace, which is also the home of the Publisher's Lunch e–newsletter, one of the first and most widely followed. Says Kramer, "Our goal in the long run is to be the global, English–language provider of book business information."

Returning books FROM the library . . .
"Looted Books: The Austrian National Library confronts its Nazi Past," is the title of an exhibition on display at the Austrian National Library, and, as this description from the Library's website notes, the show "deals with the darkest and most unsavoury chapter of its history — the aggressive acquisition policy during the Nazi period, from 1938 to 1945." It was then, the description continues, that "the library's director–general Paul Heigl, who was appointed in March 1938 and who was a fanatic National Socialist, that the National Library played a very active and dominant role in the systematic looting of book collections and libraries, many of them belonging to Austrian Jews and Jewish institutions." The exhibition, which is running until 23 January, "attempts on the one hand to draw attention to the personal tragedies of the victims behind the book looting and the wrong which was done to them by presenting a number of case histories. On the other hand, the display attempts to provide an overview of the situation in the National Library during the Nazi regime by highlighting the personal and political involvement of those staff members who were responsible for the outrageous actions." Meanwhile, the library has issued a 3,000 page provenance report as part of its ongoing effort at restitution.

As economy falters, American libraries getting more use than ever, but less money . . .
"Next week a storied team with more than 64,000 members and millions of loyal fans will gather in Boston to try to lift a 'curse' that has been haunting them for decades," write Carol Brey Casiano and Bernard A. Margolis. However, it's not the Boston team you think it is. It's the American Library Association and, say Casiano and Margolis in a Boston Globe commentary, the ALA's situation "is even more haunting than the 86–year 'curse of the Bambino.' Despite the fact that more people are using libraries than ever before, library funding continues to decrease. More than $80 million has been cut from public library budgets in the past year alone, which has weakened or closed libraries in more than 40 states." Casiano, ALA president, and Margolis, president of the Boston Public Library, say, "Particularly in times of economic uncertainty, more and more Americans rely on the libraries' free resources to research loans, jobs, vital medical knowledge, or small–business opportunities." But they're worried that "Patrons may not realize how important the library is until they arrive to find the doors shuttered, the computers dark, or the periodicals missing."

Expand your word power . . .
It's one of the "favorite pastimes" of Germans: "creating new words." As Emma Burrows reports in a story for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the rage is more aptly put as making up insults: "Especially younger Germans just love to create derogatory nouns out of adjectives and verbs." But the game has rather idiosyncratic twists. For example, one popular website is dedicated to insults based on sauna culture, and lists over 2,000 examples, such as calling someone a "Saunauntensitzer ('person who sits on the lowest bench, i.e. the coolest place in the sauna')." There are even more numerous insults oriented around office abuse, such as the term "Anhangvergesser ('person who forgets the Attachment'), who has to resend every e–mail because he forgot to attach a file," and "Rückseiten–Faxer who never feeds the fax machine the right way around."

NOTE: Daily newspapers often change URLs when archiving, so some links won't work beyond the day they're first posted.

Thursday 6 January 2005

In Letters: Not–so–stupid Moby? . . .
The BuyBlue commentary continues to draw commentary — this time from readers criticizing the criticism of the concept . . . in the MobyLives letters section . . . .

Travel pubs trying to do their part in aiding tsunami victims . . .
Some prominent travel book publishers, such as the publishers of the Lonely Planet and Rough Guide series are trying to use their expertise to help victims of the tsunamis. As a Reuters wire story reports, "After years of helping readers lose themselves in remote and far-flung parts of the world, travel publisher Lonely Planet is now trying to find them amid the tens of thousands dead or missing in tsunami-hit countries. Tapping into its cyber-savvy clientele, many of whom keep computerized diaries of their travels, Lonely Planet established an electronic lost–and–found message board on its 'Thorn Tree' Web site link within hours of the disaster." Company CEO Judy Slater says, "We've had double the normal traffic, it has just taken off." A spokeswoman for Rough Guides, meanwhile, said on its website there is "information for people still planning to travel to the area as well as consular addresses."

Andrea Levy wins Whitbread Award . . .
The winner of this year's Orange Prize for women's fiction, Andrea Levy, has beathen this year's winner of Booker Prize, Alan Hollinghurst, in the competition for the Whitbread Award, it was announced last night in London. As a report in The Independent by Louise Jury details, Levy's "Small Island, about post–war multicultural Britain, defeated Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty, a dissection of Thatcherite Britain, as well as Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernieres and Case Histories by Kate Atkinson." Meanwhile, Michael Symmons Roberts won the poetry prize for Corpus, and Susan Fletcher won the first novel award for Eve Green (beating the "much–hyped" Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke). One of the winners will be announced as the winner of the £30,000 "book of the year" award later this month.

Amazon inspires battle of analysts . . .
Stock in Amazon.com fell 5% Tuesday after a Citigroup Smith Barney analyst Lanny Baker "slapped a sell rating on Amazon, citing new competition and the specter of higher technology and marketing costs." Analysts are also wary of the fact that "By cutting prices and expanding free shipping offers, Amazon's operating margins have declined." But, according to a Business Week report by Rob Hof, another analyst thinks that "thanks to a number of developments not universally recognized by Wall Street, Amazon may well surprise the bears in months and years to come." Says Bear Stearns analyst Robert S. Peck, "Most of the Street is pretty negative. We think they're asleep at the wheel." Peck thinks Amazons growth rate is underrated, and he thinks its "third party" sales—whereby other companies such as Target sell things on Amazon's site—are going to do more for the company than expected because it's got higher margins of profitability.

RIP: Leslie Gourse . . .
Leslie Gourse, the author of numerous biographies of jazz musicians, died at her Manhattan home on December 23 from respiratory problems, it has been announced. According to a New York Times obituary, Gourse was "author or editor of more than 30 books," and "devoted most of her writing to profiles of jazz virtuosos," including Nat King Cole, Sarah Vaughan, Wynton Marsalis, Art Blakey, Carmen McRae, and Thelonious Monk. She also wrote children's books, such as her 1998 book, Deep Down in Music: The Art of the Great Jazz Bassists. Leslie Gourse was 65.

The O'Reilly factor . . .
The 1999 novel by Stephen Chbosky from MTV Books, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, "has quietly old nearly half a million copies, birthing a cult of diehard fans more dedicated than the weirdest of Star Trek geeks," according to Marty Beckerman. But the book—"about a 15–year–old boy unable to repress any emotions"—has also "become a target for anti–obscenity moralists," and "[t]wo school districts have banned Perks, and many more have challenged the novel for its depictions of adolescent sexuality and drug use." In an interview with Chbosky for WordRiot.com, Beckerman asks, "Is there any irony that when Bill O'Reilly started talking about your book on Fox News, it sold a lot of copies?" Replies Chbosky, "Oh yeah, it's happened every time the book gets challenged. It is ironic . . . I've never understood the need people have to dictate morality to other people. I really don't know what it is. I don't know if it's fear or the belief that they know the only right way. Or maybe they see a lot of social ills and social decline, and they really think they have the elixir for it.

Secret revelations of writers, lesson 43: He made it up . . .
His newest novel, Oh, Play That Thing, is set primarily in Chicago, so when Roddy Doyle traveled to the Windy City, Chicago Tribune reporter Patrick T. Reardon felt inclined to ask, How did Doyle, who lives in Dublin, "write a novel — well, half a novel — about Chicago from 3,700 miles away?" In his interview with Doyle, Reardon says "Doyle considered moving to Chicago for a year with his family," but the family didn't like the idea. "So he relied on key Chicagoans and several shelf-loads of books for insights into the city." And why did he choose Chicago as a setting in the first place? "Louis Armstrong was here at that time," he explains.

NOTE: Daily newspapers often change URLs when archiving, so some links won't work beyond the day they're first posted.

Wednesday 5 January 2005

In a surprise, Sara Nelson named PW editor; in a bigger surprise, the New York Times' first book business report in weeks declares PW threatened by relentless book biz coverage in newspapers . . .
She has been, in relatively short order, a book journalist at Inside.com, then at Glamour, then The New York Observer, and then The New York Post, and now Sara Nelson is the new editor–in–chief of Publishers Weekly, replacing Nora Rawlinson. As the press release from PW's conglomerate owner Reed Elsevier notes, Nelson has also worked at Self magazine, The Book Publishing Report, the Oxygen network, and Bookreporter.com, authored a memoir called So Many Books, So Little Time, taught at New York University, Columbia and Radcliffe, and been a television reporter for "one of the first 'reality shows,' CBS's Top Cops," as well as for Comedy Central's Women Aloud program. Despite her wide experience, her appointment—or more particularly, the firing of Rawlinson—came as a surprise to most in the industry. As a New York Times report by Ed Wyatt notes, the magazine was still sending out correspondence signed by Rawlinson yesterday. "That inconsistency is but one example of the many challenges facing Sara Nelson," says Wyatt. Among others, says Wyatt, is that coverage from "Internet sites, e–mail newsletters and daily newspapers" have cut into PW's circulation.

Former owner threatens to buy back Waterstone's and class it up . . .
The founder and former owner of one of the U.K.'s biggest bookselling chains, Waterstone's, has accused the current owners of "taking it down–market" and has declared he may try to buy it back, according to a report in The Scotsman from Angus Howarth. In fact, it would be the second time Tim Waterstone has bought the company back, notes Howarth. Waterstone sold the company in 1998 to the HMV Group, after selling it to, and buying it back from, the W.H. Smith chain before that. Now, he says HMV has chased "the middle market," whereas he "always viewed the business as a top&3150;end retailer." He says, "If I did buy it, I would move it back to where it was before."

Bangladesh tries to ban books by "fundamentalist" group . . .
The Supreme Court of Bangladesh has asked the government to "show cause" why the banning of some books and publications by the Muslim group the Ahmadia Muslim Jamat of Bangladesh (AMJB) "should not be declared illegal." According to a report in the Bangladeshi newspaper The New Nation by Humayun Kabir Chowdhury, the Court stayed the ban and asked four senior government officials, the Secretary and the Senior Assistant Secretary of the Home Ministry, the Inspector General of Police, the Deputy Controller of the Bangladesh Government Press, to respond. The ban of 10 books and 10 pamphlets by the AMJB came as part of a government campaign against the group because it consists of "as non–Muslims initiated by Anti–Ahmadiyya Zealots and backed by some fundamentalist groups." A representative for the AMJB argued that the ban was "wholly illegal and violative of the fundamental rights of the citizens to cultivate their own religion peacefully."

Army doctors make Iraqis feel "born again" . . .
Unbeknownst to each other, two American military doctors hatched schemes "to modernize Iraq's health care system by getting up-to-date medical textbooks and journals into the hands of Iraqi professors and students." In short order, reports Alicia Chang in an Associated Press wire story, "medical schools, publishing houses and people around the globe donated boxloads of medical literature to the war-scarred country. More than 100,000 items have been collected so far." Says Dr. Thamer Al Hilfi of the University of Tikrit College of Medicine, "This is really a big change. Everyone here — doctors and students — feel like they are born again."

Critic who thinks NYT and LAT are liberal is upset by their coverage—or lack thereof—of Sontag's lesbianism. . .
As was made clear in the numerous obituaries and tributes, which all mentioned her striking appearance, Susan Sontag "was well aware of herself as a sexual being and used her image to transform herself from just another intellectual into a cultural icon," observes Patrick Moore, the author of Beyond Shame: Reclaiming the Abandoned History of Radical Gay Sexuality . What's more, he says, "Sontag's lesbian relationships surely affected her work and our understanding of it." Nonetheless, in the lavish, lengthy and detailed front page obituaries in The New York Times as well as the LA Times itself, "her relationships with women and how they shaped her thoughts on gay culture and the larger world of outsiders and outlaws (a Sontag fascination) were omitted," notes Moore in a commentary from yesterday's Los Angeles Times. "It seems that editors at what are, arguably, the nation's most respected (and liberal) newspapers believe that one personal detail cannot be mentioned in even the most complete biographies — being a lesbian. . . . . The obituaries, remembrances and appreciations in New York and Los Angeles do anything but honor Sontag. They form a record that is, at best, incomplete and, at worst, knowingly false."

Has Lincoln finally been emancipated? . . .
In an in–depth essay for Vanity Fair, Gore Vidal takes a look at the controversial new biography of Abraham Lincoln by C.A.Trip, The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln. Vidal, who has himself written a novel about Lincoln, discusses Tripp's theory that Lincoln was gay and analyzes the evidence, as well as the background of the late author, Trip—a researcher for Alfred Kinsey, whom Vidal knew personally, and whom he feels greatly influenced Tripp's conclusions. Vidal also discusses the case of the leading Lincoln biographer, David Herbert Donald, who disagrees with the notion that Lincoln was gay.

NOTE: Daily newspapers often change URLs when archiving, so some links won't work beyond the day they're first posted.

Tuesday 4 January 2005

Clarke urges support of Sri Lankan aid agency . . .
One of the best–known Western authors in Sri Lanka at the time of the tsunami, 87–year–old Sir Arthur C. Clarke, has survived the tragedy along with his family at their home in Colombo, but the underwater research facility he sponsors did not fare so well. The author of 2001: a Space Odyssey tells Roger Ebert for his Chicago Sun–Times column that "Most of our diving equipment and boats at Hikkaduwa were washed away. We still don't know the full extent of the damage." However, he says, "Our staff members are all safe, even though some are badly shaken and relate harrowing accounts of what happened." Meanwhile, he is encouraging people to support the Sri Lankan charity Sarvodaya, "which has a 45–year track record in helping the poorest of the poor" and has mounted a "well–organized, countryside relief effort, well above ethnic and other divisions."

Enlightened leadership . . .
The government of Brazil has decided "to exempt publishing companies, bookstores, and book distributors from tax payments" in order to "make it possible to reduce prices to make books more accessible to the populace." As a report in Brazzilmag.com notes, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva "hopes to reduce the price of literary works by 10% over the next four years," and his representatives calls it "the first step for encouraging reading in the country."

The secrets of George Bush — revealed? . . .
Frustrated librarians and thwarted journalists take note: Great Britain's first Freedom of Information Act took effect on the first of the year, and Paul Collins of the Collins Library, in a brief commentary at his new weekend blog, Weekend Stubble, raises an interesting point: "Various US and UK agencies, not the least the DoD and the Ministry of Defense, share information with each other," he observes. "Might Britain's FOIA become a back door for US media to get at information hidden back home by the dastardly Patriot Act?"

Critics say Holocaust project moving too slowly . . .
Over $1 million has been donated to the World Jewish Congress in support of its Holocause Survivors Memoirs' Project since the project was launched by Elie Wiesel, who convinced Random House to seed the effort with the first $1 million. Since then, over 900 manuscripts have come into the project's New York offices. However, as Shlomo Shamir observes in a report for Haaretz, "since its inception only seven books have been published," and some critics says "the project is moving too slowly," and "with that kind of money, more books could have been published."The director of the program, Menachem Rosensaft, "says the process takes a lot of time and includes choosing a manuscript, preparing it for printing, review by a historian, editing and production," while more manuscripts keep coming in from around the world.

And in the gardening category, it's In the Garden With Josef . . .
In a year–end "best of" column for The Moscow Times, the English language newspaper's book critic Rebecca Reich notes that most of the 64 "Russia–related" book reviewed by the paper this year were about Josef Stalin, with current President Vladimir Putin "coming in a distant second." Writes Reich, " Josef Vissarionovich [Stalin's real name] figured as the primary focus of five biographical works, made cameo appearances in two novels and loomed in the background of a third, presided over the events of five historical studies, and made life a living hell for the subjects of three personal histories."

The ones with moving pictures are totally cool, too . . .
"A lifelong love of literature is a good thing, even if it is experienced by other means than a solitary encounter with the printed page," notes the pseudonymous English professor Thomas H. Benton in a commentary for The Chronicle of Higher Education, before going on to explain that "I am certain that my interest in literature was stimulated not so much by reading books myself as by listening to recordings of other people reading them"—in particular, the phonograph records he found in the local library. Among his favorites: "Basil Rathbone's readings of Poe and Hawthorne . . . The Hobbit performed by Nicol Williamson . . . the tragedies of Shakespeare with actors like Paul Scofield and Claire Bloom . . . Anthony Quayle reading Conrad's Heart of Darkness." In fact, Benton has continued listening to recorded books daily, to the point where, "I go to sleep every night with the soothing sounds of a recorded book." However, he notes a sort of stigma attached to "books on tape." "I never told any of my professors that I 'read' some of their assignments by listening to them on the subway. It seemed like cheating — almost the equivalent of reading Cliff's Notes instead of the real book. Even today, I keep my large collection of recorded books hidden in a closet. I wonder how many professors of my generation share these experiences."

Hithcens bids adieu to Susan Sontag . . .
In another moving encomium to Susan Sontag, Christopher Hitchens, at Slate, notes that, "A man is not on his oath, said Samuel Johnson, when he gives a funeral oration . . . Could Susan Sontag be irritating, or hectoring, or righteous? She most certainly could. She said and did her own share of foolish things during the 1960s, later retracting her notorious remark about the white 'race' being a 'cancer' by saying that it slandered cancer patients." However, he notes, "best of all, I felt, was the moment when, as president of American PEN, she had to confront the Rushdie affair in 1989. It's easy enough to see, now, that the offer of murder for cash, made by a depraved theocratic despot and directed at a novelist, was a warning of the Islamist intoxication that was to come. But at the time, many of the usual 'signers' of petitions were distinctly shaky and nervous, as were the publishers and booksellers who felt themselves under threat and sought to back away. Susan Sontag mobilized a tremendous campaign of solidarity that dispelled all this masochism and capitulation. I remember her saying hotly of our persecuted and hidden friend: 'You know, I think about Salman every second. It's as if he was a lover.' I would have done anything for her at that moment, not that she asked or noticed."

Remembering the "indispensable" Peter Davison . . .
Knowing Peter Davison "was like having your own poet laureate," says Atlantic Monthly editor Cullen Murphy, in a moving tribute to his late colleague that appeared in The Boston Globe. He notes that Davison was a direct link to Boston's great flowering age, when he was an associate of other Bostonians such as Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Richard Wilbur and Donald Hall. He also notes that Davison "spent most of his career in service to the writing of others — he was an editor of great skill and no small commercial instinct," editing such books as William Least Heat Moon's Blue Highways and Robert Coles' The Spiritual Life of Children. "Through force of pen and personality," says Murphy, "he was in fact one of the indispensable cultural figures in Boston."

NOTE: Daily newspapers often change URLs when archiving, so some links won't work beyond the day they're first posted.

Monday 3 January 2005

In Letters . . .
The MobyLives column about the donation patterns of leading booksellers prompts one Moby fan to start the new year with a commentary on Moby's intellectual prowess . . . in the MobyLives letters section.

Hail & Farewell: Susan Sontag . . .
The death of Susan Sontag, the most noted event in the literary world over the holiday, brought forth numerous obituaries around the world, such as this New York Times remembrance by Margalit Fox, which referred to her as "lionized" and "polarizing," and another in The Guardian by Sam Jones that quoted her saying "I got through my childhood in a delirium of literary exaltations," and reported that it was "after reading Jack London's Martin Eden that she decided to become a writer." A Chinese obituary from the Xinhuanet wire service called her "both the most rarefied and the least predictable of thinkers, drawn to the demands of high art but open to the kick of popular culture." The obituary in the Turkish newspaper Zaman noted that she called herself a "besotted aesthete," an "obsessed moralist" and a "zealot of seriousness." The Times of India remembered Sontag with an article listing interesting aphorisms from her writings ("The camera makes everyone a tourist in other people's reality, and eventually in one's own"). There were also numerous personal remembrances to be found, such as this tribute from John Berger, who says she was like "quicksilver darting between past and future to shed light on the otherwise dark present." Another personal remembrance comes from William Drenttel, who designed many of her books. "We worked with abstractions of images to create feelings and patterns and colors, and my conversations with Susan were purely about aesthetics — the beauty or sharpness or hue of an image," he writes. "I think Susan loved getting lost in this unusual territory where content and language were less critical." Not all the remembrances of Sontag were friendly, however. A Washington Times obituary with no byline identifies her in its lede as "a critic, novelist and essayist who blamed America for the September 11 terror attacks." It goes on to quote no admirers but several critics, including David Horowitz and Tom Wolfe, who "dismissed" Sontag as "just another scribbler who spent her life signing up for protest meetings and lumbering to the podium encumbered by her prose style, which had a handicapped parking sticker valid at Partisan Review." But one of the sweeter appreciations of Sontag came in one of the most widely–circulated—Hillel Italie's Associated Press wire story about her, which recalls his encounter with her at the reception before the National Book Award ceremony in 2000, when he found her at the bar "tugging her famously thick, white streaked hair" and asked her why she was nervous. Writes Italie, "Sontag, the most imperious of intellectuals, the self–described 'zealot of seriousness,' blushed and smiled, her deep, forceful voice suddenly as awkward as a finalist for a spelling bee." She told him, "I guess it does matter. I know I shouldn't care, but I do." Sontag's novel, In America went on to win the award for the best novel that night.

No, honestly, our research found Ariel Sharon is a genius, and a good–looking man, too . . .
The editor of a book about the Yom Kippur War being published by the Israeli army and based upon recently declassified government research is denying charges that he was pressured "to reconcile the book's content with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's version of events in the war," or that "many sections of the book . . . were changed to improve Sharon's image." According to a report in The Haaretz, the History of the Yom Kippur War editor Dr. Shaul Shai does admit, however, that "some 300 revisions" were made to the original version of the book before it was published last week by the Israel Defense Forces' "historical branch." Knesset member Yossi Sarid has called for distribution to be halted and for the book to be "reviewed by an independent committee of experts, which will compare the versions and determine what motivated the changes." Sarid also noted that, "It is unfitting that in a democracy the army carries out the sensitive role of 'Minister of History.'"

Yeah, we sold a million—no, two million books ... in an hour ... yeah, that's the ticket . . .
After reports of numerous technical problems at Amazon.com in the weeks leading up to the holidays led to wide–spread speculation by leading analysts about lost sales—and denials that there were ongoing problems at all from Amazon itself—the company now says it "set a one–day record" for orders during the time period in question. However, as Tracie Rozhon reports n a New York Times story, the company refused to reveal which day it set the record.

RIP: Peter Davison . . .
Peter Davison, who was the poetry editor of the Atlantic Monthly for 30 years, an editor at the Atlantic Montly Press and Houghton Mifflin for 40 years, and a leading poet who won the Yale Younger Poet award for his first book, died last Wednesday of pancreatic cancer. He was 76. As a New York Times obituary by Richard Eder observes, "His own poems are a commonplace book of living by a man with a jaunty, insatiable, speculative appetite for it." At the Atlantic Monthly website, meanwhile, a healthy sampling of Davison's poems and other writing for the Magazine make the case.

Support me—no wait, I mean our troops! Support our troops! . . .
A "success guru" who has written a new book called The Door to Super Achievement wants to send thousands of free copies of his book to U.S. troops in Iraq. As a news release explains, Bruce Goldwell is a veteran of the war in Vietnam and he believes "By sharing this book with these future veterans my hope is to give them the opportunity to come home with the knowledge of how to make their dreams become a reality." But as historian and author Edward J. Renehan Jr. observes in a commentary on his blog, Goldwell is also seeking "donations to cover the cost of shipping" the books to Iraq. What's more, he " hopes to find a sponsor so he can go to Iraq and autograph books for troops personally." Says Renehan, "Won't that just make their day?"

What becomes an archetype most? . . .
A Times of London round–up of some of the year's literary dubious achievements includes such highlights as the "Enigmatic literary obiturary of the year," the award for which went to a remembrance of Francois Sagan that appeared in The Times itself and read in part, "Critics dedicated to astute Firbankian records of concinnity, such as Brigid Brophy, could point to her past as a stylist in the tradition of Benjamin Constant but they could hardly point to a concomitant depth." A similar column by Chicago Sun–Times book editor Henry Kisor includes an award for "Most Questionably Pushing of the Sexual Envelope," which went to Toni Bentley for her memoir The Surrender, a "paean to anal sex," and for her statement that, "I became an archetype, a myth, a Joseph Campbell goddess spreading my legs for the benefit of all mankind for all time."

NOTE: Daily newspapers often change URLs when archiving, so some links won't work beyond the day they're first posted.

Visit the mothership:


The International Bestseller
by Bernard–Henri Lévy


This week's fiction:

"Crank Call"
by Thomas J. Hubschman
(from Me Three)

"Brain Spiders"
(from Prose aX)

This week's poetry:

"Not Pee Wee"
(from Grain)

(from Briar Cliff Review)

Special edition:

First posted in October, 2001, Alicia Ostriker's anthology of poetry that she turned to after the 9/11 attacks — including the work of Stephen Dunn, C.P. Cavafy, Marianne Moore, and others — is far and away the most popular link ever posted on MobyLives. Find out why.


The Stories of Anton Chekhov

Zembla: The Official Site of the Vladimir Nabokov Society

The Complete Review

Poetry Daily

Everyone Who's Anyone in Adult Trade Publishing

The Collins Library Almanac

Author interviews at IdentityTheory.com

Stump the Bookseller

Online Etymology Dictionary

Project Gutenberg

Columbia World of Quotations


Herman Melville's Arrowhead

All material not otherwise attributed ©1998–2005 Dennis Loy Johnson.