a MobyLives guest column
by Christopher Allen Waldrop

10 January 2005 —In 1997 I attended a talk about the future of libraries and the Internet. It was the first time I heard it suggested that the Internet could potentially replace the traditional library: With the increasing availability of information online eventually there wouldn't be a need for a physical library building to hold books and periodicals.
     It was suggested that this change could occur in as little as ten years, but so far it doesn't look like that's going to happen. In spite of the increasing availability of information in electronic formats no one's rushing to turn the local library into a golf course; in fact in the past decade many cities and universities have purposely invested in new buildings or renovation to accommodate new technology, as well as more books. If anything technology means new opportunities for libraries.
     Still some librarians worry that the Internet's going to put them out of a job. The recent beta testing of Google Scholar, and the announcement that Google Print would be working with libraries at Harvard, Oxford, Stanford, the University of Michigan, as well as the New York Public Library hasn't done anything to help put those fears aside.
     However the reality is much more complicated.
     Even though their new products are being billed as attempts to compete with Microsoft and Yahoo!, Google is also threatening to step on the toes of companies that serve libraries almost exclusively. Proquest, Ingenta, H.W. Wilson, and others already have searchable databases of full–text periodicals and abstracts. Meanwhile publishers, including Elsevier, John Wiley, and Blackwell have created similar full–text databases of their own periodicals.
     The disadvantage for libraries is that these products require pretty hefty subscription fees based on different factors such as number of users, the number of titles the library subscribes to, or even the number of hits. For library users there's an even more important downside: these databases are designed for scholarly use, and since no two are alike there's a learning curve with each one.
     The beauty of Google is its simplicity; it's like a virtual reference librarian. Ask Google a question, and while it won't give you an answer it can help you figure out where to go.
     Google Scholar would seem to be Google's answer to the periodical search engine, although it's already been hit with a lawsuit for trademark infringement by the American Chemical Society which has a product called SciFinder Scholar. The lawsuit is still pending, and Google seems set to step in and give libraries exactly what they need: a free resource that provides the greatest possible access to information.
     The catch, in addition to Google being cagey about its definition of "scholarly," is that users get a mixed bag of hits. Sometimes there's a link to a full–text article, but users are just as likely to get a search result labeled [book] and a link to search by zip code for the nearest library with that book in its stacks.
     Even more frustrating is the label [citation], which may mean ³book² but doesn't include the library search option. And while it's possible to find article citations there's no guarantee a user will get a full–text article. In most library databases users can limit their searches to full–text articles, so unless they just want citations they're better off using one of those.
     Google Print will theoretically take things a step further by making whole books available to users through a simple search. However Google's digital library project doesn't necessarily provide any better benefits than going to a library's web catalog. Although their press release says, "With the addition of books from our library partners, our book selection will continue to increase, and you'll also be able to find out of print, rare and public domain books," the emphasis should be on public domain books. As the "About Google Print" page explains, a book will only be available in its entirety if it "has no copyright restrictions and is considered public domain."
     In a clarifying e–mail to me, they added, "We'll also show a few pages from books when we have an agreement to do so with the publisher." Google is soliciting the cooperation of publishers with the promise that they'll increase their books' visibility and attract customers, as well as earning money from ads targeted to their content. It remains to be seen how many publishers will go for this, or how much money there really is to be made. Meanwhile the University of Michigan and Stanford may digitize their entire collection, but only public domain books will actually be available online.
     This isn't to say Google's entirely bad.
     In many ways Google is expanding the traditional library's boundaries but keeping the ideal of making information freely available to anyone. The increased emphasis on scanning books will, hopefully, push this technology and make it cheaper, faster, and more effective. Space and time have always been the biggest enemies of libraries, and scanning means versions of the most rare and fragile documents can be made freely available while the originals are kept in controlled environments. It may even be in Google's interests to help libraries fight legislation like the 1998 Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act and its restrictions upon the public domain.
     On the other hand, Google is a profit–driven corporation, whereas most libraries (including the ones currently working with Google) are non–profit. Since Google's revenue comes from selling ads it's not clear whether search hits will lean more towards results that push products.
     And although remote, it's also a possibility that Google will exercise editorial control, restricting access to information at the behest of advertisers or shareholders. The quantity of information available may make such control impossible, but it also means that users won't necessarily know when access to information is being denied.
     Many librarians believe they're competing with and losing against search engines like Google, that for most users the convenience of a simple, clean interface outweighs the quality of the quality of the results. Whether this is true or not Google's digital library project is an opportunity for libraries to remain competitive by working with the competition. For the sake of users, and their own future, libraries just have to make sure they're taking advantage of the opportunity and not being taken advantage of.

Librarian CHIRSTOPHER ALLEN WALDROP is the Serials Coordinator at the Vanderbilt University Library in Nashville, Tennessee.

Link to this column.

©2005 Christopher Allen Waldrop

Previous column; BLUE CHRISTMAS ... Booksellers are reputed to be stallwart lefties, but guess who "the world's biggest bookseller" is giving its corporate donations to.

©2005 Christopher Allen Waldrop

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Friday 28 January 2005

S&S announces tsunami aid project . . .
"With a nod to God, next month Simon & Schuster will become the first mainstream publisher to launch its own religion imprint for children," reports Karen Springen in a story for Newsweek. The new "faith–based line" will be called Little Simon Inspirations. Says Robin Corey, publisher of S&S's "novelty, media and teen publishing" division, "[The audience for these books] is not what we have always thought of as the traditional Christian market. It's Joe Everybody. When a tsunami hits, you want to be reassuring to your kids." All the titles in the series will "come with the endorsement of Max Lucado, an influential San Antonio, Texas, preacher who's written the popular adult titles 'Next Door Savior' and 'It's Not About Me.'" Says Corey, "He's our seal of approval. The people who want these books know Max Lucado."

Book by Guantanamo translator being investigated by Army . . .
A book being written by a former Army seargeant who was an Arabic translator at the United States prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba describes how "Female interrogators tried to break male Muslim detainees. . . by sexually touching them, by wearing miniskirts and thong underwear, and, in one case, by smearing a Saudi man's face with red ink, which he was led to believe was menstrual blood." According to an Associated Press wire story, the manuscript of Erik R. Saar "is classified as secret pending a Pentagon review" of the book project. The revelations of its contents came about when the AP obtained an eight–page segment, but would not say how it was obtained.

Book critical of Earth First! leader is itself attacked . . .
A book about the late Earth First! activist Judi Bari is creating a firestorm of controversy, including the disruption of bookstore appearances by the author, according to a New York Times report by Dean E. Murphy. The book, The Secret Wars of Judi Bari by Kate Coleman, which was published by the small, non–profit, conservative San Francisco publisher Encounter Books, "says that in the years after the bombing, Ms. Bari chose 'the role of martyr over that of environmental activist,' and that 'many who once were close to her claimed that she had become a tyrannical diva.' It says she made money by 'scamming through nuisance suits against deep pockets.'" Daryl Cherney, who, in 1991, was a passenger in a car driven by Ms. Bari that was car–bombed, says, "Today there are few progressive heroes left. But even the ones who have died must be killed again by literary assassins like Kate Coleman."

Well, somebody's getting screwed . . .
A Forbes magazine report notes that Merrill Lynch has evaluated stock in Amazon.com as "reasonably valued" at current prices, but that "the absence of near–term margin growth and decelerating 2005 free cash flow growth will limit near–term stock appreciation, in our view." The research firm did note that "Amazon's 44 million users represent just 5% of the total worldwide online population," so there is room for optimism. But meanwhile, the Merrill also noted that ""Amazon is set to benefit from strong secular trends in e–commerce" but at the moment "the online commerce category remains under–penetrated."

African Internet bookseller showing rapid growth . . .
A new south African Internet bookseller is showing signs of rapid growth, according to a brief report from AllAfrica.com. Michael van Rooyen, the founder of the one–year–old Loot.co.za, says sales doubled in the last quarter, and he is "bullish" about the future. "People are slowly getting to know that we exist," he says. "With our catalogue now approaching 1.5 million titles we expect strong growth to continue in 2005."

Blogger still hopes to get his job back at Bastardstone's . . .
A group of some major writers, including Iain Banks and A.L.Kennedy, have joined in the criticism of the Waterstone's chain of booksellers for firing an employee who called the company "Bastardstone's" on his blog. As Brian Donnelly reports in a story for Glascow's Herald newspaper (and as previously covered on MobyLives), Joe Gordon was fired from an Edinburgh Waterstone's after griping online about his shifts at the store, and calling his manager a "sandal wearing bastard." But now Kennedy and Banks have "spoken out in a letter to The Herald and called for Mr. Gordon's reinstatement." Kennedy says the firing "is an invasion of privacy and it is a huge over–reaction to somebody talking about where they work in private context."

The question is: Who's designing the book? . . .
"The county election supervisor who devised the infamous 'butterfly ballot' that helped spur the 2000 presidential election meltdown is writing a book about her experiences." According to an Associated Press wire story, Theresa LePore admits shes working on a book and that she's partnering with Marty Rogol, "a friend with national marketing experience," but she won't say much else. "There's definitely a book that's in the works," she tells the AP. "As far as the dirt goes, you'll have to wait for the book." LePore, a Democrat, was voted out of office last fall by "Democrats who blamed her for President Bush's election."

Lottery grant saves historic archive . . .
In what is seen in the UK as a "major coup," a "multi–million pound lottery grant has secured for Scotland the most important literary archive to become available in the last 100 years," according to a BBC News wire story. The Heritage Lotter Fund announced it will give £17.7 million to the National Library of Scotland so that it can buy the archive of the John Murray publishing house. The transaction is a relief to many who feared that the trove could be moved out of the UK by a foreign purchaser. As the report details, Murray founded the company in 1768, and through "Seven successive Murray generations built up the archive with the close relationships each enjoyed with the writers of their time helping to make it a 'who's who' of 19th century society." The archive consists of 150,000 manuscripts and letters, including "correspondence between the publisher and influential figures including Jane Austen, Charles Darwin, Sir Walter Scott, Benjamin Disraeli, David Livingstone, Thomas Carlyle, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Edith Wharton."

And they wonder if he's up to the job . . .
One of rock's greatest lyricists, and most versatile stylists, Elvis Costello, has announcedhe will write "a piece of lyric theatre based on the life of the great fairy tale author Hans Christian Andersen" that will premiere at the Royal Danish Opera in October. In a Guardian report by Charlotte Higgins, the director of the Opera, Henrik Engelbrecht, says he turned to the world of rock because, "What we have is an art form that is 400 years old, and has developed. We don't do opera seria like we did in the 18th century. One of the tasks we think we have is to look at other forms — dance, rock and film — anything that can invigorate our own art form." As Higgins points out, Costello has previously told reporters, "I don't give a fuck about being a rock'n'roll star. I just want to do the things that interest me."

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

Thursday 27 January 2005

Maybe they meant numerical literacy . . .
Late yesterday The New York Times caught up with the Quill Awards story that had been announced earlier in the day in an unusual early morning report from Publishers Weekly (see yesterday's MobyLives digest). The Times report by Edward Wyatt, posted on the Times' website late in the afternoon, said that the partnership between PW owner Reed Business International and NBC Universal Television "conceived the awards to try to remedy what has become an uncomfortable truth in the publishing industry: book awards are not selling as many books as they once did." Wyatt reported that the resultant Quills Literacy Foundation would run the awards as a "philanthropy." But that's the opposite of what the Foundation's head, Gerry Byrne, said in an interview with Michael Cader that ran earlier yesterday in Cader's Publisher's Lunch e–newsletter (unavailable as a link). In a note to MobyLives, Cader reiterated that Byrne "told me directly: The Quill Awards are a for–profit enterprise, owned and operated by RBI." Cader's earlier report also made one other observation somewhat contradictory to the Times report: while Wyatt reported that "most" of the annual awards "will be voted on by the general public," Cader noted that to even be considered for the public vote, books will have to have been cleared by Publishers Weekly first by having been selected for review by the magazine sometime during the previous year. Meanwhile, an official website for the Quills has been posted at the website of New York's local NBC affiliate. It announces that the Literacy Foundation "Executive Council" is "a select group of literacy–minded professionals," although a list of members reveals that the council does not include any reading teachers, educators, or academics of any kind, nor any librarians, linguists, social workers or other apparent specialists in "literacy." It does, however, include the heads of some of the world's largest conglomerate publishers, including Random House head Peter Olson, Larry Kirshbaum, the chair of Time Warner Books, Bob Miller, president of Hyperion Books, and Jane Friedman, the head of HarperCollins. The board also includes Greg Josefowicz, the CEO of the giant Borders bookselling chain, and James Chandler, the president and CEO of the country's largest book distributor, Ingram Books, as well as the heads of film studios, the editors of Variety and Parade magazines, and the head of the Advertising Council.

The fight over Shulz's identity . . .
There's no question that the great Polish author and artist Bruno Schulz was a "modernist master," but the manner of his death has made him a much more complex historic figure: Schulz, a Jew in the Drohobycz ghetto who survived the Nazi occupation until 1942 by working for an SS officer painting murals in his home, was shot dead on the street by a rival SS officer who believed that Schulz's protector had killed his Jewish dentist. Schulz's murderer supposedly later told Schulz's protector, "You killed my Jew. Now I've killed yours." Now, as Benjamin Paloff details in a Boston Review essay, an international contretemps has broken out over the possession of the murals Schulz was painting at the time of his murder. Soon after the murals were re–discovered in 2001 under decades of whitewash in a private home, "representatives from Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority, in Jerusalem, arrived in Drohobycz and hastily removed those portions of Schulz's murals that had already been uncovered by the Polish art conservationists." Since then, reports Paloff, public opinion "has raged against what is generally perceived as the theft of national treasures." For Poles, "Yad Vashem's actions carry a weighty significance. They suggest that dying because one is a Jew negates the relevance of having lived largely as a Pole—and, harsher still, that Jewishness and Polishness have been deemed fundamentally irreconcilable." But, says Paloff, "In Poland, they love Bruno Schulz. They want him back."

Burns being beaten in battle of bards . . .
January 25 was the birthday of the great Scottish bard Robert Burns. But, as Kristy Scott reports in a Guardian story, Alloway, "the small thatched cottage where Burns was born in 1759," and the "adjoining museum that houses many of his works, are in crisis." Says Laurie Black, the manager of the facility, "You could not even begin to value what's in here and yet it is totally neglected." The neglect, he says, is due to "years of underfunding. It is not anybody's fault. It is just what's happened." The National Trust for Scotland is trying to put together an emergency rescue package. But meanwhile, the site "has survived largely on goodwill but visitor numbers have dwindled. In 1905, the museum and birthplace attracted 100,000 visitors, while Shakespeare's birthplace in Stratford–upon–Avon pulled in 25,000. Last year, Shakespeare's birthplace had 2 million visitors; the Burns cottage and museum had 39,000."

Why the staff of the Encyclopedia Britannica chipped in and bought a young boy an X Box . . .
A 12–year–old British schoolboy "has uncovered several mistakes in the latest edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica — regarded by readers as an authority on everything," notes Justin Parkinson in a BBC News wire story. Lucian George, who goes to Highgate Junior School in London, found numerous mistakes and complained to the editors, who wrote back thanking him for "pointing out several errors and misleading statements." Among the errors George uncovered: "the terrain of the European bison." Says Parkinson, "He argued successfully that it encompassed parts of Russia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Slovakia and Belarus — not just Poland."

As if Texas politics weren't kinky already . . .
Kinky Friedman, the some–time country singer ("Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed") and some–time mystery writer (Kill Two Birds and Get Stoned), announced last week that he will run for governor of Texas as an independent against George Bush's Republican successor in the spot, Rick Perry. As Mark Lawson notes in a Guardian story, "Friedman is the latest representative of an American trend"—non–politicians running for office—that has featured, over the years, many writers . . . although those writers showed a marked "inability to translate literary celebrity into electability." Among them have been Upton Sinclair (who ran for governor of California twice); Norman Mailer (who ran for mayor of New York); and Gore Vidal (who failed in a bid to become a senator). Observes Lawson, "Britain has so far proved largely resistant to celebrity politics."

Celebrating while worrying . . .
To celebrate the 250th anniversary of Moscow State University (better know by its Russian acronym MGU), the school has built a new library, instituted a new line of textbooks, and mounted an ambitious "exhibition detailing the history of MGU at the State Historical Museum. The display features hundreds of rare books, documents, manuscripts and assorted objects of interest." As Victor Sonkin reports in a Moscow Times story, MGU "has been the center of Russian liberal thought, daring research and first-rate education ever since. An MGU degree is highly valued these days both by Western academics and headhunters at home." However, says Sorkin, who attended the school and is a part–time lecturer there, "it must be said that not all is flowers and joy for the university," and "The general decline of secondary educational standards in Russia is a growing concern . . . ."

Hours later, the fridge empty, they busted her anyway . . .
A 66–year–old grandmother who "cooks treats using cannabis" as treatment for her depression and back pain, and who is up on possession charges in an English court, has written a cookbook called Grandma Eats Cannabis. According to a BBC News report, Patricia Tabram "bakes cannabis–laced biscuits, soups and casseroles for herself and friends." She has sent the manuscript to the publishers of convicted drug dealer and cookbook author Howard Marks while she awaits her 11 March trial date. She says when the police showed up at her house in response to a tip that she had numerous pot plants in the attic, "I invited them in. I told them to look in the loft and I offered them some tea and biscuits."

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

Wednesday 26 January 2005

LATE BREAKING NEWS — Destination: Biggest most powerful publishing conglomerate . . .
In an announcement made at 8:00 am ET today in the e–newsletter PW Newsline, Reed Business Information—the conglomerate that owns Publishers Weekly—and NBC Universal Television (which is owned by the conglomerate General Electric), have combined to launch a new book award, to be called the Quill Awards, which "will be presented at an October ceremony in New York." According to a report by PW Newsline editor Jim Milliot (which is unavailable as a link), "NBC has agreed to carry the Quills ceremony on at least its 14 owned–and–operated stations that includes outlets in most major markets." The Newsline report refers readers to a release at the NBC website that appears to have been taken down, and is not available via a search of the site. But the president of "NBC Stations," Jay Ireland, tells Milliot that "NBC sees the Quills as a 'destination television event' that will promote reading and literacy." As to the role of Publishers Weekly in the project between the media giants, the Newsline story says "The slate of nominees will be chosen by an academy of approximately 6,000 booksellers and librarians who are PW subscribers and who will be selected by the end of February," and that the public will also be able to vote via the NBC website. Association of American Publishers president Pat Schroeder has endorsed the project, saying, "Publishers and authors are thrilled that Quills will bring added consumer attention to the wide variety of outstanding books that are available, and placing more books into the hands of readerrs helps overall literacy and the health of the book business."

Whitbread announced; judge admits he's dumb . . .
Orange Prize–winner Andrea Levy can now add the £25,000 Whitbread Prize for book of the year to her resume. As a BBC News wire story reports, Levy won her second major prize for Small Island, which is "set in post–war London and centres on a landlady and her lodgers, who include a Jamaican adapting to life outside the forces." Judging panel chair Sir Trevor McDonald called the book "a brilliantly observed novel of a period of English history that many people seem not to know very much about." At the London ceremony, Levy "used her acceptance speech to praise those who work for good race relations in Britain before adding that she had no plans to go wild with her prize money." She said, "I'm just happy this money will enable me to write a new book." Levy won out over Michael Symmons Roberts for his book of poems, Corpus, Susan Fletcher for her first novel Eve Green, and John Guy for his biography of Mary Queen of Scots, My Heart is My Own, which judges called "an impressive and readable piece of scholarship." Meanwhile, this year's celebrity judge for the award, Hugh Grant, in an interview with Reuters reporter Paul Majendie, was "asked if he felt insulted by critics who argue it is dumbing down to choose celebrity judges for big literary awards." Replied Grant, "It is not insulting to me. I am very dumb as everyone knows."

Unconvinced about the writing thing, Dylan sticks to day job . . .
He's "honored" to have been nominated last weekend for the National Book Critics Circle prize in the autobiography/biography category, but Bob Dylan won't be coming to pickup the award if his Chronicles, Vol. I wins, says a spokesman for the book's publisher, Simon & Schuster. According to an Associated Press wire story, S&S publicity head Victoria Meyer says Dylan will be on the road in March, when the awards will be given out, although she said her office would "work with his office to see if there's any way he can come to the NBCC ceremony."

Now, his wife has threatened to kill him if he doesn't immediately recommence typing . . .
A first–time author who spent 30 years writing his book has landed "what is thought to be the largest ever advance for his debut novel": £500,000 ($934,000). According to a report in The Daily Mail, 55–year–old Michael Cox "became determined" to finally finish the book when he learned that he a rare form of cancer he'd suffered from for several years could lead to blindness. The book, The Meaning of Night, is a murder mystery set in Victorian London. A "fierce bidding war" resulted in publisher John Murray winning out. "This novel has been in my head — and in my dreams — for over 30 years," says Cox. "It's amazing to me that my illness, which I have lived with for so long, gave me the opportunity finally to get it down on paper." Last year, Cox had an operation that saved his eyesight.

Yeah, well, at least he didn't talk back to his earpiece this time . . .
After listening to President George Bush's inaugural speech, San Francisco Chronicle book critic David Kipen thought "it might be instructive to look at which of history's wordsmiths the President's outgoing speechwriter Michael Gerson has been cribbing from, if only to get a baseline for comparison with former Wall Street Journal editorialist William McGurn — who'll take over for Gerson in the coming weeks as Bush's ghostwriter–in–chief." So, in a column for the Chronc, Kipen tracks down the sources of numerous quotes used in the the President's speech, such as one from Abraham Lincoln. "Bush even quoted Lincoln by name, which is more than we can say for anybody else invoked," Kipen observes. "'Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves, and under the rule of a just God cannot long retain it,' Bush said, quoting from Lincoln's speech before the first Republican state convention of Illinois, held at Bloomington on May 29, 1856. Of course, Lincoln was referring to American slaveholders, Bush to foreign leaders over whom he has no legal jurisdiction — but why quibble?" Meanwhile, Kipen also notes, "During all the fawning inaugural postgame shows on Thursday, only one commentator had the temerity to wonder over an open microphone whether it would be asking too much for the leader of the free world, just this once every four years, to write his own damn speech, without any help from the West Wing term–paper mill. That commentator, I was just as surprised as anybody else to discover, is Dan Rather. In television, as in politics, watch out for the lame–duck with nothing to lose."

Get thee to a thermometer . . .
"Shakespeare had a knowledge of syphilis that was clinically exact," observes Dr. John Ross, of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Caritas St. Elizabeth's Medical Center in Boston. As Jennifer Viegas goes on to detail in an article for Discovery, the observation is part of Ross' theory that Shakespeare not only suffered from syphilis, but probably treated it with mercury, which may have been what killed him. Notes Viegas, the theory could "explain why Shakespeare (1564-1616) could have had a Parkinson–like tremor later in his life, why he apparently withdrew from social situations, and why the famed writer might have experienced some baldness at a relatively early age." What's more, the disease, which Shakespeare often referred to in his plays with names such as "the malady of France," might also, says Ross, "explain his misogynistic depictions of women in his later works." Meanwhile, not everyone agrees with Ross's diagnosis. UCLA Englih professor Albert Braunmuller "The argument that because Shakespeare mentions the disease he must have had it is illogical: he mentions dogs a lot but no one thinks he was a dog."

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

Tuesday 25 January 2005

Nobile tells his side . . .
While many, many stories have appeared about the new book that purports that the 16th president was gay, The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln by C.A. Trip, few have mentioned that the book had a co–author who dropped out of the project, and fewer still have talked to that co–author about why he dropped out. Now, that co–author, Philip Nobile, has written a review of the book for The Weekly Standard, and he finally tells his side of the tale. The essential reason for the split? "We quarreled constantly over evidence: I said the Gay Lincoln Theory was intriguing but impossible to prove; he said it was stone–cold fact," writes Nobile. " I quit the project first in 1999, when Tripp refused to include citations to Charles Shively, a former University of Massachusetts historian and Tripp's main guide to the gay Lincoln . . . . Although Tripp profusely copied ideas and references from Shively's flamboyantly rendered Lincoln chapter in Walt Whitman's Civil War Boy Lovers, he brushed off proper mention because he thought Shively's reputation for being 'too gay–lib' would dissuade readers." Plus, says Nobile, "The book is a hoax and a fraud: a historical hoax, because the inaccurate parts are all shaded toward a predetermined conclusion, and a literary fraud, because significant portions of the accurate parts are plagiarized–from me, as it happens." The article, which appeared last week, went on to detail the charges, but in short order, Andrew Sullivan began attacking Nobile on his blog. Sullivan also wrote to the Weekly Standard (letter unavailable as a free link) calling Nobile's review "character assassination" and demanding, "Will The Standard correct?" In a response, (also unavailable), the magazine's editors write that they have not "yet been able to find anybody here at the magazine who understands what it is precisely we're supposed to correct." They discuss some of Tripp's sympathetic writings about pedophilia and declare, "Clarence Arthur Tripp was not a 'social scientist.' He was a lunatic. Will Andrew Sullivan correct?" Meanwhile, Nobile writes his own rebuttal to Sullivan: "My hard case against Tripp's flim-flam is based on facts documented in my article, none of which Sullivan bothers to mention or refute."

With other Booker judges gagging, judging chair gagged . . .
As of Friday, "Members of the hallowed Man Booker advisory committee, the body responsible for appointing the prize's judges," were, according to Charlotte Higgins, still "spitting blood at the appointment of John Sutherland to chair the award panel this year." As reported earlier on MobyLives, Sutherland earned a bad reputation when, as a Booker judge in 1999, he subsequently discussed what went on behind closed doors at the judging meetings, infuriating the other judges. The current panel, says Higgins in a Guardian story, are not only angry at Sutherland's appointment; they are also "claiming not to have been informed until hearing of it 'quite accidentally' after the event." One judge tells Higgins "We were stunned . . . . He is an appalling choice . . . ." Booker administrator Martin Goff, who selected Sutherland, says he has warned Sutherland he could be a "liability," and says further that, "I have laid down certain rules." The article does not quote him saying what those rules are, however. By Saturday, a Daily Telegraph article by Nigel Reynolds reports that Sutherland "has agreed to a voluntary 'gagging clause' in the face of criticism by former judges." That means, says Reynolds, that Sutherland "has undertaken not to write or make public comments on the judges' deliberations until after the winner is announced in the autumn." Of course, it was after the deliberations were completed last time that the trouble started, but this article does not speak to that. And despite the quotes in the previous day's Guardian article (above), Goff said he turned down Sutherland's offer to resign because "this year's judges . . . raised no objections to serving with Prof Sutherland." Meanwhile, others from the 1999 panel have continued to add to the clamour against Sutherland. Boyd Tonkin, editor of the book section for The Independent, addresses his anger in a column, observes Sutherland has gone from judge to chair of the panel; Tonkin complains that "Sutherland, an inaccurate and impenitent leaker of our panel discussions, has been rewarded for his imprecisions by elevation to the chairman's role." But Tonkin also offers a bittersweet conspiracy theory as to why such an overwhelminngly unpopular choice was made: "Under the stewardship of its veteran administrator, Martyn Goff, the Booker has always stayed ahead of the chasing pack of prizes. How? By shovelling sacks of grist into the rumour mill. Call him Machiavellian, or call him Mephistophelean: the infinitely wily Goff long ago, and with the evident support of the Booker management committee, decided that virtually no publicity was bad publicity. Hence, I presume, the deeply surprising re–appointment, and elevation, of John Sutherland. The people who run the Man Booker clearly hanker after conflict. They will get it, in spades."

Love + Hate = $ . . .
The works of Rush Limbaugh and Al Franken have something in common: "In Amazon.com's vast customer review database, their books get as many raves as pans," reports Lia Miller in a story for The New York Times. What's more, books that get such high and low ratings—in Amazonian parlance, one or five star ratings—tend to be big sellers, according to research by Dartmouth professor Mikhail Gronas. In his study of Amazon reader reviews, Gronas found "the most telling variable is the one star rating." Explains Miller, "Professor Gronas found that books high on what he called the 'controversiality index' are given almost as many one-star as five-star ratings . . . . As it turns out, these books also tend to have high sales."

So you want to be a half–a–millionaire? . . .
A survey by Crain's business magazine of writers who have won so–called "genius grants" of $500,000 from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation "reveals that most of the 31 writers chosen since 1981 as MacArthur Fellows had already hit their artistic peak." As Mark Scheffler reports in a Chicago Business magazine article, "Surveying book reviews, author profiles and the opinions of literary scholars, Crain's determined that 88% of the MacArthur recipients wrote their greatest works before being recognized by the Chicago–based foundation. The sheer number of books produced by the writers declined, too, after their MacArthur awards." Says Scheffler, "It would reinforce romantic notions that great art requires personal sacrifice to suggest that, half-a-million dollars in hand, writers get lazy. But something else appears to account for the failure of the MacArthur program to fulfill its promise: Writers are mostly chosen too late in their careers, average age 48, and well after the literary establishment has recognized them for excellence."

Vendler still a big fish in the poetry pond . . .
"In literary conversation, she is sometimes called 'Dame Helen' — a nickname that can be affectionate or sarcastic, occasionally a little of both." What the nickname also signifies, says Scott McLemee, is that "No American critic writing about contemporary poetry has quite the prominence of Helen Vendler," the Harvard professor and sometime poetry critic for The New Yorker. In a profile of Vendler for The Chronicle of Higher Education, McLemee discusses Vendler's influence, and the grumbling about her influence. In a statement that may explain both, poet and critic, Hank Lazer tells McLemee, "As a literary gatekeeper, especially when she was reviewing for The New Yorker, Helen Vendler could really put someone in the literary spotlight — have them immediately be in the serious running for the Pulitzer and the National Book Award nominations, for major–press publication, even for major academic positions. It is an ability she would publicly deny having, but virtually no one else has wielded that sort of power."

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

Monday 24 January 2005

NBCC shortlist announced . . .
Despite the monster snow storm that socked the northeast this weekend and shut down much of New York City, the show went on at the Housing Works Bookstore Café in Soho, where critics from around the country gathered to hear the announcement of the nominees for the 2005 National Book Critics Circle awards. Nor did the snowstorm stop Hillel Italie from breaking the news in short order in an Associated Press wire story. Bob Dylan was a finalist in the biography/autobiography category for his memoirs, along with Ron Chernow for his bio of Alexander Hamilton, and Stephen Greenblatt for his bio of Shakespeare. In fiction the nominees were Philip Roth, Marilynne Robinson, Edwidge Danticat, David Mitchell, and Booker–winner Alan Holinghurst. Among the poetry nominees were Adrienne Rich, Gary Snyder, and Brigit Pegreen Kelly, while the nonfiction nominees included Kevin Boyle, Timothy B. Tyson, Diarmaid MacCulloch, and Edward Conlon. Poet and critic David Orr was given a special award for criticism.

Al Qaeda Reader causes some to read riot act to Doubleday . . .
"An English translation of interviews with Osama bin Laden and writings by his second in command, Ayman al–Zawahri, will be published by Doubleday," read a late–breaking Associated Press wire report on Thursday. "The book, tentatively titled The al-Qaeda Reader, is scheduled to come out next year." The publishers initial release seemed cautious. "It's important to know what our enemy is thinking," says a Doubleday spokeswoman, Suzanne Herz. "It gives us a beeline into their thoughts, ideas and teachings." It was not enough. On Friday, a Crain's report announced "Doubleday says it will donate all its profits from a book of Osama bin Laden's writings to a number of charities." It was not enough. The publisher has been under steady fire ever since. A Saturday New York Post editorial said the publication plans were "reprehensible," and called for an investigation by New York State attorney general Eliot Spitzer. By Sunday, the story had gone international, as a Sunday Telegraph article highlights. Doubleday had become subject to a "fierce controversy among families of the victims of the September 11 terror attacks by commissioning an anthology of writing by al–Qa'eda terrorist leaders," it reported. Jack Lynch, whose firefighter son died in the WTC attacks, tells the paper, "People who promote terrorism are an evil and a cancer in our society. Anything that promotes their agenda shouldn't be distributed in this country." Meanwhile, another man whose son was a firefighter who died in the attack, Lee Ielpi, says, "Anything the general public can read to emphasise how severe these terrorists are in their threats to destroy us would be beneficial," he said. "We are becoming complacent as it is."

Amazon's new cutting–edge pr campaign: "You can trust us, although we still don't trust you enough to give out our customer service number" . . .
In the UK, Amazon.co.uk has announced a campaign to "portray itself as 'open and honest' in a mainstream media drive to counter consumer uncertainty about purchasing goods on the web," according to a report by Richard Cann for Brand Republic. Cann explains, "Looking to avoid the trust issues that have plagued online rivals such as eBay, Amazon has hired Brave PR to handle consumer PR . . . ." Says Cann, the effort will "stress Amazon's approach to online retail, which it says is epitomised by its genuine customer reviews. " Mel Burr, who "leads" the account at Brace PR, says, "The theme of the campaign will be that Amazon tells it like it is."

Chinese booksales up, piracy down after discounting scheme . . .
Chinese booksellers have been suffering a sales slump over the last few years for a trio of reasons: "a rising number of subscribers of electronic publications," higher book prices, and an increase in pirated books. Now, according to a report on China Daily, the country's biggest bookseller, the Xinhua bookstore chain, has started discounting books by 20 percent in a bid to curb priracy, and stores have "reported increased sales in the first week of 2005." One expert says, "prices were one of the key factors that had led to a rampant supply of pirated publications." Professor Fang Qing says, "Higher prices stop the general public being able to absorb cultural nutrition or legal publications. When buying books and reading become a luxury in life, no wonder fewer and fewer people will turn to legal publications."

Writing about suffering . . .
"Many thousands of words have now been spent on the theological ramifications of the Asian tsunami," observes James Wood in a commentary for The Guardian. "Literature can no more 'explain' suffering than can science or religion," he notes, "but it can describe it better than either."

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

Visit the mothership:



From Ig Publishing . . .

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.