5 MobyLives.com



a MobyLives guest column
by Robert Lasner

14 March 2005 — Elisabeth Sifton, then Editor–in–Chief of Viking, wrote in the May 22, 1982 issue of The Nation that, "the average first novel sells only about 2,000 to 4,000 copies. This readership represents about .001 or .002 percent of the population." Combine those sobering sales statistics with last year's NEA report, "Reading at Risk," which showed a ten percent decline in literary readership since 1982, when Ms. Sifton made her comments, and it is clear that things are not going well for literary first fiction.
     As a publisher and a first–time author, I understand the problem all too well. In 2002, I decided to self–publish my debut novel For Fucks Sake because I knew, as someone with no connections in the literary world, how difficult it would be to get published. Not wanting the self–publishing stigma hung around my book, my wife, Elizabeth Clementson, and I decided to build a publishing house around For Fucks Sake, and Ig Publishing was born.
     Nostalgic for the good old days, when publishers actually tried to build an author's career, we dedicated Ig to publishing the work of "overlooked or first–time authors." While we heard phrases like "sixty percent returns," used to describe the failure of first fiction, we were confident that we could sell literary first novels. (Fortunately, we were also savvy enough to publish other, more commercial fare, or I would be writing this as a former publisher.)
     We published two first novels. Each was imaginative, and different than a lot of other stuff that passes for imaginative and different. Each author was non–connected—no agent, no "following," no MFA. Each book was non–genre specific—not a mystery, not a thriller, etc.—and non–classifiable—not a gay novel, not a punk novel, etc. In short, both were just good literary reads and, as we discovered, the worst thing to publish these days.
     Both books received a few reviews and a few orders upon release, and, then, three to six months after release, the returns started to roll in. (The sixty–percent figure was right on.) Publishing, for those who don't know, is a consignment business, and if your book doesn't move off the shelf in ninety days or so, it is removed from the shelf and sent back, hopefully still in sellable condition, to the publisher, wholesaler, or distributor from which it came.
     We were crestfallen. We had spent a lot of TLC—time, love and cash—on these novels, and all we had to show for it were boxes of books gathering dust on our distributor's shelves.
     Today, as our house passes the three–year mark, we, quite frankly, are wavering on our commitment to literary first fiction. And it is not just because of the failure of those two novels. (My novel has actually sold well, despite a grand total of one review when it came out, because the title and the edgy content helped it to develop a word of mouth following.) It is that we have also, sadly, learned "the business of publishing."
     Ignoring the hot MFA grad you read about in Publisher's Weekly whose novel starts a big house bidding war, literary first novels are almost impossible to introduce into the marketplace. Bookstores will only order them in small quantities, if at all, and it is difficult to get reviews, especially in places that really matter. Additionally, getting a bookstore reading for a first fiction author is an effort that would make Sisyphus proud. A well–established independent bookseller once told me flat out that he would never book a first fiction author into his store.
     Furthermore, to even have a chance of selling, a first novel has to be classifiable, meaning it has to fit neatly into a genre or niche—mystery, thriller, crime, etc. A one sentence selling line also helps. However, literary fiction often cannot be easily classified or described. Try boiling Ulysses or Crime & Punishment down to one sentence.
     Nowadays, when an "unclassifiable" first novel is submitted to us, we find ourselves considering the book's salability more strongly than the quality of the work. "Excellent writing, good story, can't sell," is the conclusion we often reach. I wish this weren't the case, but we need to make money to stay in business, and, the fact is, first novels don't offer much of a chance of doing that. Furthermore, as a fairly young small press without an impressive fiction backlist, there is not a lot we can do to help a first novel get the attention it needs to succeed.
     Is there anything that can be done, then, to save first fiction? I believe there are a few solutions that could at least give first literary novels a fighting chance. To begin with, alternative review sources—such as the free alt weekly of Anytown, USA—should stop publishing reviews of big press books that are already covered by the mainstream review sources. Do we really need to see another review of Eggers, Moody, etc., after their books have already been reviewed in NYTBR, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, et al? Too many alternative papers go conservative when it comes to the book section, often reviewing the same books as the major newspapers and magazines. While many alternative sources do pay attention to small presses, as a whole, they can do better.
     Then there are bookstores. Though most independents have limited resources, they can be innovative in ways that the chains can't. One example is that of Cindy Dach, of the Changing Hands bookstore in Tempe, AZ, who books "First Fiction" author tours, where groups of first–timers read in bars, which makes the often staid author reading experience a bit more lively, and a lot less sober. These tours are jointly sponsored by publishers and independents, and are a good example of different parts of the book industry working together to benefit first–time authors.
     Even the monolithic evil chains can play a part in promoting first fiction. Borders was partly responsible for the success of For Fucks Sake. First, they actually ordered the book, and second, instead of placing single copies on the back shelves of all their stores, which guarantees high returns, they placed multiple copies in select stores, in this case college and urban areas where For Fucks Sake would be better appreciated. As a result, my book sold several thousand copies through Borders.
     Finally, big publishers can help literary first fiction by not paying for it. Huge advances to first novelists creates the "one and done" phenomena, where an author is dropped by a big house when their book doesn't earn out its ridiculously high advance. One of the worst things about the swallowing of big publishing by international media conglomerates is that big houses have completely lost the concept of building an author's career. They just go for the big hit—or, in most cases, miss. I am willing to bet that the bottom line of many publishers would be improved if they stopped throwing money away on advances that will never be earned back, and instead tried to nurture author's careers. It would make for happier authors, and, in the long–term, happier publishers.
     However, none of the suggestions I have made will matter it we don't increase the appetite for literary reading in this country. And short of destroying every single television set, I don't know what can be done. Literary reading is becoming a lost art, and according to "Reading at Risk," the greatest decline in literary reading is among the young, which is not a good harbinger of things to come. However, if something is not done, soon, not only first fiction, but all literary fiction, will disappear as a viable part of the publishing world.

Robert Lasner is the author of the novel For Fucks Sake and co–publisher of Ig Publishing in Brooklyn, New York. You can write to him at igpublishing AT earthlink.net.

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©2005 Robert Lasner

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Friday 18 March 2005

Battle of the guys with pointy heads: Bishop disagrees with Cardinal about Da Vinci Code, while Doubleday says "Ka–Ching!" . . .
A Catholic bishop in Brazil "has come out against calls by a Catholic Cardinal to boycott the controversial novel The Da Vinci Code," according to a BBC News wire report. A mere two weeks after being nominated to become bishop of Sao Paulo by Pope John Paul II, Jose Maria Pinheiro disagreed with a call from the man identified as the Pope's right hand man, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, for Catholics not to buy, read, or sell the book (see yesterday's MobyLives digest). Says Pinheiro, "It is important to talk to young people about it so that they can differentiate, but I don't think it's necessary to ban its reading." Meanwhile, the publisher of the book, Random House imprint Doubleday, issued a statement saying they "respect Cardinal Bertone, the Vatican and their desire to clarify any factual errors they feel may have been made in The Da Vinci Code." Author Dan Brown is said to be "incommunicado."

Bad quarter for B&N leading off what will be a bad year, says company . . .
America's biggest bookstore chain, Barnes & Noble, yesterday reported an 11 percent drop in its fourth quarter profits, and the company's stock promptly fell nearly 9 percent at the news. As Anne D'Innocenzio reports in an Associated Press wire story, the company was "hurt by the spin off of its Gamestop division," but the bookseller's profits were still lower than expected regardless, sales for its B. Dalton division declined 24 percent from the same quarter last year, and the company "also warned that profits for the first quarter and for all of 2005 will be lower than analysts expected."

Main Kampf a surprise bestseller in Turkey due to resentment over Iraq invasion, say publishers . . .
"Cheap cover prices and a rise in nationalist sentiment have made an unlikely best-seller in Turkey of Adolf Hitler's infamous autobiography, Mein Kampf," says an Agence France Presse wire story. The book has sold over 50,000 copies since its January release by at least two different publishers, and it is climbing the bestseller lists. Publisher Oguz Tektas of Mefisto Editions says his company published it "to make money," and he attributes the fact that they're do so to having slashed the price of the 500–page book from its previous price of 20 New Turkish Lira (about $15) to 5.9 Lira ($4.50). But another publisher, Sami Kilic of the Emre publishing company, attributes the success of the book to something else: "The times we live in have a definite impact on sales," he says. "It is an astonishing phenomenon." Turkish political scientist Dogu Ergil "agreed that the unexpected popularity of Mein Kampf in this Muslim–majority country has its roots in a rise in anti–American sentiment sparked by the occupation of Iraq and anti–Semitism resulting from Israel's Palestinian policy." Ergil warned, "Nazism, buried in the dustbin of history in Europe, is beginning to re–emerge in Turkey."

Skillionaire wins publicity lottery . . .
Ever since Ashley Smith explained that she used readings from Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Life to talk her kidnapper, Brian Nichols, into surrendering to Atlanta police last weekend, sales of the book have skyrocketed, notes an Associated Press wire story. The book, "which urges people to consider their talents and their purpose in life," has leapt to number 2 on the Amazon.com bestseller list, and sales have "skyrocketed" at Barnes & Noble, says a spokesperson. Meanwhile, the book has already sold 21 million copies since its 2002 release and its publisher, Zondervan, says it has no additional printings planned.

This is why they don't call it El Primero . . .
The El Segundo City Council has turned down a request from the El Segundo Public Library to name two meeting rooms at the library after Agatha Christie and Jack London because it "has deemed the two celebrated authors too un–American — literally and figuratively," says a report in The Daily Breeze by Andrea Sudano. Councilman John Gaines objected first, "asking why Christie, a British citizen, and London, a onetime socialist, were selected. El Segundo Mayor Kelly McDowell "echoed Gaines' sentiments, asking staffers to select less politically charged authors," writes Sudano. McDowell explained, "I don't want to make a political statement by naming a room, period. I don't want to use one whose politics, in my view, weren't in line with American ideals."

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

Thursday 17 March 2005

In Letters: More on the first fiction brouhaha . . .
Novelist Christian Bauman writes in to describe his experience as a first–time novelist, and what could have made it better . . . in the MobyLives letters section.

The Vatican says Da Vinci Code is evil, Author says, "Ka–Ching!" . . .
"The cardinal leading the Vatican's charge against The Da Vinci Code urged Catholics on Wednesday to shun it like rotten food and branded the bestseller 'a sackfull of lies' insulting the Christian faith," according to a Reuters wire story. In an interview with Reuters' Philip Pullella, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone called the book "the latest in a series of devastating attacks against Christianity" and added that similar writings about other religions would not have been accepted. "This book is a sack full of lies against the Church, against the real history of Christianity and against Christ himself," he tells Pullella, adding, "It's impossible to pull the book off shelves of general bookstores . . . but certainly not selling it in Catholic bookstores would be a good first step." Author Dan Brown, meanwhile, responded on his website to the "small but vocal group of individuals" who have "proclaimed the story dangerous, heretical, and anti-Christian." He writes: "While I regret having offended those individuals, I should mention that priests, nuns, and clergy contact me all the time to thank me for writing the novel. Many church officials are celebrating The Da Vinci Code because it has sparked renewed interest in important topics of faith and Christian history."

Unique plan to encourage students to run up whopping debt to school hits snag . . .
"It's more than just a war of words on the University of Nebraska–Lincoln campus. It's a war between entire bookstores." As an Associated Press wire story by Scott Bauer explains, at issue is the fact that the University does not allow students to use their student IDs to buy books at an off–campus bookstore, The Nebraska Book Co., which has a greater selection of books, often at lower prices, than the on–campus bookstore, which is part of the Follett Corp. chain. The school allows students to use the IDs as debit cards against their university account—meaning "students can use scholarships or financial aid to pay for the books"—at other off–campus retailers, but not the Nebraska Book Co. Now, newly introduced legislation would prevent the school from allowing students to use their IDs at the on&3150;campus store if they can't use them at the off–campus store. UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman says the bill is part of a "smear campaign, implying that the university doesn't care about how much students pay for books and that the university is encouraging higher prices on books sold on campus so it gets a larger commission."

Kiwi MPs query their fellow distinguished statesman: You kiss your mother with that mouth? . . .
In New Zealand, the head of the NZ First party, MP Winston Peters, has been using his parliamentary privileges to attack a gay Auckland bookseller in a sweeping series of accusations that has now grown to include some of his fellow members of Parliament. Haydon Dewes explains in a Stuff report that Peters told Parliament that bookseller Jim Peron "was a paedophile with links to the North American Man Boy Love Association, known as Nambla; ran a porn shop; and had his work visa cancelled in South Africa because of dubious business activities." Peters also went on to attack the Immigration Minister Paul Swain for letting Peron in the country, and MP Rodney Hide , fro writing to Swain on Peron's behalf "to ask him to speed up this fart–blossom's application." Stuff's Dewes notes that Peters attacks continue "despite suggestions that he has no proof to back up his claims." Dewes also notes that "Mr Peters has refused to say outside Parliament whether he stands by his statements in the House."

Google/Harvard plan to do whatever the hell they want hits snag . . .
"Three months after undertaking an ambitious project to digitize thousands of books, Harvard University Library (HUL) and the Google Print project are facing scrutiny from publishing organizations, who claim the project may infringe copyright law," according to a Harvard Crimson report by Beau C. Robicheaux. The debate is over whether it is legal for Google to digitize copyrighted material and place it online without the permission of individual publishers. At present, the plan is to place public domain material online in its entirety, with at least snippets of copyrighted books available, too. But Sally Morris, head of the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers, says she and the 300 not–for–profit publishers she represents object to the posting of any copyrighted material. "The law does not permit wholesale copying (which is what digitisation is) by a commercial organisation of works that are still in copyright," she says. "It is also illegal to make those works available digitally once they have been copied." But the co–director of Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet and Society says, "This is what fair use is designed for. By showing only snippets, the market for the books themselves is not harmed."

More discount mania coming to U.S. bookstores? . . .
At the London Book Fair, HarperCollins CEO Jane Friedman warned that a discounting trend popular in Britain was coming to the U.S., and she did not approve. As Jerome Kramer and Rachel Deahl report in a Book Standard story, the promotion, know as "three–for–two's," whereby stores sell three books for the price of two, has gotten mixed results in England. Some retailers and publishers say it has been a boon to lagging backlist sales, while others have called it over–used and bad for the backlist. Says Friedman, such discounting leads to the "devaluation of the word."

Investigating the death of the investigator . . .
Four months after his December suicide, a Los Angeles Times story examines what led Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative reporter Gary Webb to take his own life. Friends and family depict a man in profound despair, and tell the Times' Tina Daunt that Webb slipped into a profound clinical depression after his sensational reporting showing a link between the CIA and Latin American drug dealing was rebutted so vociferously by the CIA, other members of the press, and his own newspaper, that he eventually lost his job. His reporting subsequently became the bestseller Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion, but he never successfully revived his career. Daunt also debunks conspiracy theories about Webb's death, reporting that "He typed out four lengthy suicide notes and put them in the mail to family members. He placed his prearranged cremation certificate and Social Security card on the kitchen counter of his suburban Sacramento home. He put the keys to his cars and motorcycles in an envelope addressed to his oldest son. All his belongings — among them numerous awards from his years as an investigative reporter — were packed and neatly stacked in boxes in a corner of his living room." The suicide notes arrived two days after his death. His ex&3150;wife, Susan Bell, says, "He told us if he couldn't write, then what was the sense of going on."

Russian readers don't need to actually read Big Brother to get the gist of it . . .
Bill Clinton's autobiography is slated to be published in Russia but the publishers don't expect it to sell a million copies as it did in the U.S., says Victor Sonkin in a Moscow Times report, due to "the deep suspicion that Russians harbor toward political autobiographies: They suspect them of being fraudulent, manipulative, boring and, of course, ghostwritten." For this reason, says Sonkin, books by Soviet leaders including Nikita Khrushchev , Leonid Brezhnev , and Boris Yeltsin have not fared well . . . although there was one political book that did well: "Alexander Korzhakov's book, titled Boris Yeltsin: From Dawn till Dusk. Korzhakov, Yeltsin's unpopular chief bodyguard, was fired just before the 1996 election; the book was his revenge, full of nasty details about the president, his family and his friends."

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

Wednesday 16 March 2005

In Letters: Saving first fiction . . .
One bookseller writes in with some suggestions on how publishers can revive general interst in first fiction . . . in the MobyLives letters section.

Resistance is not yet quite futile, but it's close . . .
"Google is planning to launch the UK end of its ambitious project to create access to information from every book in print later this year," according to a report from Publishing News. Google's Tom Turvey says, " Wešre already live on google.com so British publishers owning worldwide rights to titles are seeing their books featured,˛ said Turvey. ŗWešre now collecting and processing data from publishers for the UK site which we aim to launch later this year."

Vatican puts out a hit on Dan Brown . . .
"Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Archbishop of Genoa and a possible successor to the Pope, has been appointed by the Vatican to rebut what the Catholic church calls the'shameful and unfounded errors' contained within The Da Vinci Code," reports Michelle Pauli in a Guardian story. Pauli says the Cardinal will organize a series of public debates at which Bertone will rebut the book. The essential opinion of the Church, says "Catholic author" Greg Watts, is that "Dan Brown's concern is to make money rather than teach theology. He has found a gullible audience and has played on their ignorance. He gives the readers the impression that they understand Christianity when in fact they've been hoodwinked and manipulated." In a Reuters wire story, Philip Pullella observes that Bertone is "the highest ranking Italian Churchman to speak out against the book." Bertone says the book "aims to discredit the Church and its history through gross and absurd manipulations . . . This seems like a throwback to the old anti-clerical pamphlets of the 1800s."

Salon du Livre set to launch amidst book boom in Europe . . .
The 25th Salon du Livre—aka the Paris Book Fair—launches Thursday, and despite all the gloomy forecasts that have become typical in the American press, an Agence France Presse wire report says the Fair comes "amid a global boom in the publishing trade, flouting all the direst predictions of sci-fi writers that the advent of a digital world would spell the end of the written word." The story cites several surveys showing readership is up and so is the number of books being published. However, says the report, "The explosion in the publishing world has in turn given rise to a thought–provoking debate. Are we publishing too many books?" In le Nouvel Observateur, Pierre Assouline asks, " Compared to what? ... To say there are too many books is really the judgement in an affluent country. If there are too many, that's a very good sign." Meanwhile, around 200,000 visitors, and 2,000 authors, are expected to attend the six–day Fair, which will be opened Thursday night by Prime Minister Prime Minister Jean–Pierre Raffarin.

You could look it up in your Funk & Wagnalls . . .
It was one of a tiny farming town's most upstanding and unimpeachable cultural features: the Wagnalls Memorial Library in Lithopolis, Ohio, bequeathed to the town by native son Adam Wagnalls, co–founder of the Funk and Wagnalls publishing empire. He also set up a foundation which "over the years doled out millions for scholarships." But as Joe Danborn reports in an Associated Press wire story, "Last year, the foundation offered a single $1,000 scholarship. And two of four Norman Rockwell paintings in the library — they had originally hung in the Wagnalls home in New York — were auctioned off for $691,000 to pay down debt." What happened? Says Danborn, "Allegations of impropriety by foundation directors even prompted an investigation by the state attorney general."

It's the branding, stupid . . .
Packager Charlie Melcher waxes ecstatic about leveraging established brands for books in an interview with Business 2.0. As Greg Lindsay reports, "The foundation of Melcher Media is brand extension... These lines of business account for roughly two–thirds of Melcher Media's revenue and have much healthier margins than traditional publishing ventures, Melcher brags, because he's piggybacking on his partners for subscribers, marketing dollars, and media exposure."

A new guide to Russia and Russians . . .
In Russia during Soviet times, "the idea of guidebooks was as strange as the concept of travel itself." But things are different now, and a Moscow Times report by Victor Sonkin says, "travel is now a growing industry in Russia," and "Moscow's bookstores are swarming with guidebooks of all persuasions." Unfortunately, however, "almost all are translations, written for a different audience — and the translations themselves are often pathetic." So Sonkin searches out the exceptions to the rule—and discovers "the most interesting player in this niche is the publisher Afisha, which is publishing an unorthodox new series of guidebooks for metropolitan Russians on "the most visited European cities."

For those of you in the book industry who thought mass markets were dying because the price points were too low — it was actually the Boomers' fault for getting old . . .
"The decline of the mass–market paperback book" came about because the Boomer generation suffered the ravages of aging. Or at least, so says David Mehegan in a Boston Globe article about the steady decline in sales for the once prevalent small–format paperback. The reason? Mehegan tells Boomers "it's your eyes. Admit it: You just can't read that tiny type any more." The solution? "Mass upperbacks," a format many small and independent publishers have been using for a long time, but which this article cites as a virtual invention of Penguin. The format features slightly taller books, with a larger typeface and more space between the lines. Penguin, as Mehegan notes, has also used the switch to a larger format as an occasion to raise cover prices.

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

Tuesday 15 March 2005

Restocking the shelves in Iraq . . .
"Around 300 Arab publishing houses will take part in a 10–day book fair in the Jordanian capital this week aimed at restocking Iraqi libraries, victim of UN sanctions and wars," reports an Agence France Presse wire story in the Beirut Daily Star. A statement from organizers says the fair is aimed at "rebuilding Iraqi libraries which have long been isolated from the rest of the world . . . as a result of international sanctions between 1990 and 2003," and as a result of the war. As the AFP report notes, "Iraq's national library — home to a number of rare volumes and the national archives — was ransacked and went up in flames in the days following the collapse of Saddam's regime."

Amazon patents the concept of customer satisfaction . . .
According to a U.S. Patent and Trademark Office filing, Amazon.com has "received a patent for helping its customers buy better gifts," and one critic says, "I can't escape the sheer silliness of this patent, and of the Feds for granting it. In a column for Motley Fool, Tim Beyers explains that Amazon contends it received patent number 6,865,546 for the way its automated system can "get to know you through how and what you order. . . For example, if someone orders items for you at roughly the same time year after year, Amazon's system can infer your birthday." Says Beyers, "The rub: No other automated system is built to know you better than Amazon. And now it seems no one else can even try without Amazon's permission."

Sayanora, Miramax . . .
The ongoing questions about what will happen to Miramax Books as owners Disney and Harvey and Bob Weinstein sever their corporate ties have been answered: "the spoils have officially been divided up among the winners. Or winner," writes Steve Zeitchik in a Publishers Weekly report. "Both the backlist and the frontlist through September will be absorbed into Hyperion. Now sources are saying that the frontlist beyond September will be handled by the house as well instead of leaving with the brothers Weinstein as the basis of a new company—and ending Miramax Books as we know it."

Orange Prize enters its tenth year . . .
The Orange Prize longlist of 20 novels was announced at the London Book Fair yesterday. According to a Sarah Crown story in The Guardian, the list includes "both new and well–established writers, and includes seven first novels as well as books by two authors who have been longlisted in previous years," such as Anita Desai and Joyce Carol Oates. The winner of the prize, "the UK's only annual book award for fiction written by a woman" will receive "a cheque for 30,000 pounds."

Foetry gets covered . . . then it doesn't . . .
It started as one of Foetry.com's more pointed accusations: prominent poet and Harvard University professor Jorie Graham has "awarded prizes to everyone including babysitters, lovers, and friends," reported the site after it investigated a University of Georgia Press poetry prize. An Open Records Act request led to a "disclosure that Georgia was trying to hide," which was that Graham "judged a contest in which she selected her own Harvard colleague, Peter Sacks, as winner of the "open" series. Sure, that looks pretty bad, but even worse is the fact that Sacks is the latest Mr. Graham." But, says a new Foetry report, after the Harvard Crimson interviewed Foetry, then announced a pub date for a story about Professor Graham, the story was mysteriously killed.

China to launch "mammoth" line of classics in translation . . .
Chinese government sources say "Chinese publishing giant" China Publishing Group will launch an unprecedented "giant collection of Chinese classics in English," according to a Xinhuanet wire story. The report says the "mammoth" project will consist of "100–strong copies of ancient Chinese literary, historical and philosophical books and records" translated by some of China's leading scholars, including works dating all the way back to the second century BC. Twenty of the classics have already been translated, and another 30 are expected to be completed this spring.

Remember kids: Write what you know . . .
The subtitle of Louis Eppolito's autobiography, Mafia Cop, told the whole story: The Story of an Honest Cop Whose Family Was the Mob. Except as an Agence France Presse wire story notes, the subtitle may have been inaccurate: New York City prosecutors have indicted Eppolito (one of the NYPD's "most decorated cops") and his former partner Stephen Caracappa, founder of a "special unit investigating the mafia," with being members of the Luchesse crime family "and of taking part in eight mob assassinations."

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

Monday 14 March 2005

Churchill's last stand? Charges of plagiarism, art fraud, and threatening violence mount . . .
Has the University of Colorado found a way to fire Ward Churchill without violating his First Amendment rights—and without having to pay him a huge amount of money to go away? A Denver Rocky Mountain News report by Stuart Steers and Charlie Brennan says that Churchill and the university were in the final stages of negotiation on an "agreement that would have required the professor to give up his tenured position in exchange for a substantial payment," but talks broke off Friday when another RMN story by Laura Frank reported allegations that Churchill had committed plagiarism, then threatened the professor he plagiarized if she went public. Meanwhile, other charges of fraud and the threatening of violence continue to stack up against Churchill: American Indian groups continue to charge that Churchill's claim to being an Indian are fraudulent (see, for example, this report by Jim Adams from Indian Country Today, which notes that the tribe to which Churchill claims membership denies his claim); several art experts and collectors charge that Churchill has committed art fraud in his other career as an artist (see this DMN report by Raj Chohan of Denver's CBS 4 News detailing a allegations that Churchill copied the work of prominent Indian artist Thomas Mails); and, as Steers' and Brennan's DMN story reports, American Indian artist David Bradley says that after he wrote an essay calling Churchill "a white man who poses as a big bad radical Indian and gets paid very well to do so," says that in response the professor threatened his life.

Amazon settles huge securities lawsuit, still faces more . . .
In its annual report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Amazon.com has revealed that it "has settled a securities class action for $27.5 million that alleged its executives lied about the company's financial condition." And that's not all, according to an Associated Press wire story. The SEC report also revealed that "it is facing another lawsuit alleging that it made false or misleading statements in connection with a February 2000 offering of convertible bonds." Also, a company that had filed a multi–million dollar patent infringement lawsuit that was dismissed last year— Pinpoint, Inc.—has refilled that suit. On the bright side, the SEC report also revealed that a similar patent infringement suit brought by Cendant Publishing Inc. was "voluntary withdrawn," and that "most, if not all" of the $27.5 payment in the $27.5 class action would paid for by Amazon's insurers.

Proprietor of business $2 billion in debt caught planning escape route . . .
Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos has purchased 165,000 acres of "desolate" West Texas ranch land on which he plans to build "a spaceport for commercial travel into the beyond." An Associated Press wire story by Michael Graczyk reports that Bezos has given an interview on his plans to the local newspaper, the weekly Van Horn Advocate (which does not have the interview available at its website). "He walked in and said: 'Hi, I'm Jeff Bezos,' and sat down right in that chair there," Advocate editor Larry Simpson tells the AP from the newspaper office in the back of his Radio Shack store. The AP reports, "Over the next 30 to 40 minutes, Simpson said Bezos told him the goal of his venture — known as Blue Origin — was to send a spaceship into orbit that launches and lands vertically, like a rocket." Says Simpson, "He told me their first spacecraft is going to carry three people up to the edge of space and back. But ultimately, his thing is space colonization."

Peter Pan II: The Quarterlife Crisis? . . .
The authorized sequel to Peter Pan will come from British author Geraldine McCaughrean , according to a Reuters wire report by Paul Majendie. McCaughrean, who won her third Whitbread Children's Book of the Year prize in January for Not The End of the World, was selected from 100 writers by the Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital in London, which holds the rights to J.M. Barrie's classic tale. According to the Majendie, the hospital "launched the search for a sequel last year to mark the centenary of the classic and to keep much needed funds flowing when the copyright runs out — in Europe in 2007 and in the United States in 2023."

That whale isn't out there, man . . .
The Limestone County School Board in Alabama has voted to ban the book Whale Talk after a parent complained that the book—"about a 17–year–old boy confronting his multicultural heritage while creating a swim team at a high school that has no pool"—contains "several curse words." As an Associated press report in the Tuscaloosa News notes, district superintendent Barry Carroll argued that the book shouldn't be banned because "its message was more important than the language used," and because "banning one book could lead to banning others." But he was overruled by board members such as James Shannon, who explained, "We can't allow students go down our halls and say those words, and we shouldn't let them read it. That book's got a lot of bad, bad words in it."

What Stalin read when he wasn't reading Whale Talk . . .
A biography of Adolf Hitler commissioned by Josef Stalin and presented to him in 1949 will be published by Lubbe in Germany later this month and in the UK by John Murray in November 2005, according to a Reuters wire story. The report notes that "the biography was based on two years of interrogation in Moscow with two of Hitler's close associates — his butler Heinz Linge and SS adjutant Otto Guensche," and that "Stalin commissioned the book because he wanted to understand the psychology of Hitler as well as being sure the Nazi dictator was dead."

Lonely Planet founder didn't want to travel to new office, quits . . .
The founder of Lonely Planet, the popular travel guide line, is leaving the company, although reasons why remain murky. An extremely brief Booktrade Info report says both founder Katharine Leck and Sales & Marketing Director Andy Riddle are both leaving but it doesn't really say why, except that Leck's position of "Global Publisher, Guidebook & Maps" is being "relocated back to Melbourne" from London, and "Leck has in turn decided not to move with the job."

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 Politics of Reviewing, and The Reviewing of Politics," a discussion featuring Liza Featherstone, Jim Holt, Rick Perlstein, Sam Tanenhaus, Art Winslow and MobyLives editor Dennis Loy Johnson, will take place on Friday, 18 March at 11:00 am, at the New School, 66 W. 12th Street, room 510. Admission is free.


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.