A look at bestseller lists from the nation's best independent bookstores.

This week's list is from the Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle, Washington


1. Hannah Coulter
Wendell Berry

2. The Namesake
Jhumpa Lahiri

3. The Pacific & Other Stories
Mark Helprin

4. Hoot
Carl Hiaasen

5. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Mark Haddon

6. The Darling
Russell Banks

7. Runaway
Alice Munro

8. Oh, Play That Thing
Roddy Doyle

9. The Kite Runner
Khaled Hosseinin

10. The Sinister Pig
Tony Hillerman

11. Angels and Demons
Dan Brown

12. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell
Susanna Clarke


1. Don't Think of an Elephant
George Lakoff

2. America: The Book
Jon Stewart and the writers of The Daily Show

3. Citizenship Paper
Wendell Berry

4. Danger on Peaks
Gary Snyder

5. The New Best Recipe
Cooks Illustrated Magazine

6. An Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire
Arundhati Roy

7. The Open Space of Democracy
Terry Tempest Williams

8. Chronicles, Volume I
Bob Dylan

9. The Impossible Will Take a Little WHile
Paul Loeb

10. Gilgamesh
Stephen Mitchell

11. The 9/11 Report 12. The Future of Ice Gretel Erlich

Elliott Bay Book Company
101 South Main Street
Seattle, Washington 98104

Previous column; IT IS WHAT IT IS: KID LIT ... Guest columnist Jackie Corley talks about her experience of the strange pressure put on young writers today to write like old–timers.

Previous column; THE FICTION OF THE DEMISE OF THE WOMEN'S REVIEW OF BOOKS ... What's the significance of the demise of The Women's Review of Books? Former editor Lynn Walterick talks about it in a MobyLives guest column.

Previous column; MOODY IN SOLITUDE ... What happens when you ask Rick Moody to judge a fiction award contest? Our intrepid reporter goes down river to find out.

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Friday 10 December 2004

Complaints continue about Amazon outages . . .
After Monday's "embarrassing outage," Amazon.com "promised customers that problems with its IT systems had been rapidly fixed," Ashlee Vance reports in a story for The Register that "Many members of Amazon's Seller marketplace say the company has been suffering from long–standing problems during the peak holiday shopping season. And, to the dismay of Amazon PR, the company's IT staff agrees." Vance notes Amazon claimed outage problems Monday lasted only for "a morning," but " It could be the longest morning in Public Relations history, however, as the problems stretch back over 11 days." She says "Numerous Register readers complained that Amazon's statements about the problems being fixed were simply false. This reporter tried to access his Amazon account page after the "fix" and experienced similar issues to our readers. . . . A flood of complaints have filled the Amazon seller message boards, decrying slow order processing times, slow payment processing times and lagging inventory updates. Tasks that typically take close to 30 seconds are requiring hours." Meanwhile, Vance runs e–mails from Amazon's IT team admitting "we are continuing to experience impacts" after the company said problems had been solved. "It took four calls to Amazon.com PR Craig Berman to get a response," writes vance. "He broke his silence with the comment, 'Oh yeah, what is it — biting the hands that feeds IT, right?'"

Woman who'd never heard of Catcher in the Rye says author should be drawn and quartered . . .
Over fifty years after its publication, J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye still often sparks controversy, and appears regularly on the American Library Association's Most Frequently Challenged Books. The latest fuss is occurring at Noble High School in North Berwick, Maine, where Andrea Minnon says "she had never heard of" the book until her fourteen–old–son Spencer was assigned to read it. As Jen Rish reports in a Portland Press Herald story, Minnon promptly went online to research it "with her husband" and "she concluded that it espouses immoral ideas that are inappropriate for freshman-age students." However, even though Noble High students are allowed to opt out of reading books they disagree with, Minnon wants the book banned from the entire freshman curriculum. The school district is required to form a committee to review the complaint, and will make a recommendation to the school board in January. "The book will not be used in classes until the board has made its final decision." Meanwhile, Fish reports, "Some of Spencer's classmates said the controversy has piqued their interest in the novel." As for the language that upsets Minnon, "we hear worse things in the hallways of school," says one of the students. "I don't think one parent should be able to ruin it for the whole freshman class."

In the U.K., this year's out–of–nowhere Christmas hit a self–published book . . .
A history book rejected by so many publishers that the author self–published is the top selling Christmas book in England, according to a Daily Mirror report by Vanessa Allen. "It went into shops last week and already thousands a day are being sold," she says. Says author George Courtauld of his The Pocket Book of Patriotism, "So many publishers turned it down it was a leap of faith to do it myself." The major U.K. chain Ottakar's just ordered an additional 30,000 copies, says Allen, and a rep for the store tells her, "It's this Christmas's must–have book."

They're still lining up to get into Russia's only writing program . . .
While college writing programs have proliferated in the West, there's only one such in Russia: Moscow's Literary Institute. As Anna Malpas reports in a Moscow Times story, "The institute was founded in 1933 by writer Maxim Gorky, and began by providing evening courses for workers." Writes Malpas, "Housed in an 18th-century mansion on Tverskoi Bulvar, the institute looks as if it has seen better days. Ceiling tiles are peeling off, and the yellow corridors are dimly lit." One classroom is hung with portraits of Ivan Turgenev, Pushkin and Mikhail Lermontov." But even though the school seems to be falling apart, and "Despite the low market value of poetry these days, the institute continues to attract students to its five–year program in creative writing." Rector Serge Yesin says that "There can be as many as 10 applicants for each student's slot." However, he says, "Of course it's difficult, but everyone wants to take the risk, because the prize is very big. The prize is to go down in history."

Shakespeare the bigot . . .
"Every time The Merchant of Venice is staged, the debate is restaged along with it. Does Shakespeare's play merely depict anti–semitism, or does it reek of it?" observes Jonathan Freedland in a commentary for The Guardian. "Is the Bard describing, even condemning, the prevalent anti–Jewish attitudes of his time — or gleefully giving them an outlet?" But now, a new film version of the play starring Al Pacino has been released, and for Freedland the question is resolved. "It's about time we stopped making excuses for Shakespeare," he declares. "As [the] new film version of The Merchant of Venice proves, the play is indeed anti–semitic."

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

Thursday 9 December 2004

Amazon stonewalls while complaints mount . . .
Chatter and complaint about the variety of problems and outages at Amazon.com on Monday continued yesterday on both the Internet and Wall Street, and the company's failure to explain the problems are exacerbating the situation, according to many. "Amazon.com got caught with its virtual pants down this week," writes one anonymous critic in a commentary at Connected Home Mag. "To date, the company hasn't explained its outage, other than to say, 'These are complex systems that have problems sometimes.' Hey, that sounds professional. I guess we're in an era now in which 'the computer has problems' is just an excuse we should swallow without question." Juan Carlos Perez in an IDG News Service report, also notes the company's reluctance to address the problems. According to Perez, company spokesman Craig Berman would only admit to having "complicated systems that have problems from time to time. That's what we're saying." But Perez says industry observers are critical of not "providing more details about the outage . . . for the sake of customer and investor confidence." Says Patrick Mahoney, a technologies and services analyst at The Yankee Group, "I hope Amazon doesn't just try to let this blow over and not explain what happened because obviously it happened at a critical time for their business. Consumers and investors really want to know what Amazon is doing to rectify this, so that problems like this one don't happen again." Mahoney experienced the problem first hand, when the site gave him an error messages just after he had entered his credit card information for a purchase. "If you have entered your credit card number and it does appear to have gone through but you can't doublecheck that, then you might go back and do it again, and Amazon could then potentially have issues with double–purchasing and problems like that," he explains. Meanwhile, reports Perez, "Amazon's Berman said he wasn't aware of any customer concerns tied to Monday's outage."

RELATED: Another online retailer that sells a lot of books at its site, Walmart.com, also experienced some outages Wednesday, according to a PC World report, but the problems were "much less serious than the ones that affected Amazon's Web site Monday."

PEN fight . . .
A bitter ideological civil war within the ranks of Britain's prestigious PEN organization—famous for helping imprisoned and censored writers around the world—"has provoked a series of virulent outbursts and degenerated into a power struggle," reports Clare Longrigg in a story for The Independent. She writes that meetings regularly break down with people banging on tables and hurling abuse at each other ("Stalinist"... "Troublemaker"... "Buffoon"... "Snob"... "Bureaucrat"), followed by "furious letters . . . drawing equally furious accusations of libel." At issue: "In one camp are the ascetics, who believe that PEN's only purpose is its traditional one of working selflessly and frugally for persecuted writers around the world. In the other are the modernisers — decadents, say their critics — who envisage a rather more glittering future involving celebrities and media events." When "president Alastair Niven pleaded with members to keep their grievances 'in the family'" he was "accused of censorship — embarrassing for an organisation dedicated to freedom of expression." Meanwhile, says Longrigg, " the tension shows no signs of abating" but is actually turning into a "wider, cultural conflict: between what one member calls the 'starry' members and those who find celebrity banal, preferring to work away on behalf of, in the publisher's words, 'writers no one's ever heard of.'"

Dissent over blocking dissent . . .
"Several groups, led by the PEN American Center and including Arcade Publishing, have filed suit in U.S. District Court in New York seeking to overturn" recent regulations from the Office of Foreign Assets Control that "bar American companies from publishing works by dissident writers in countries under sanction unless they first obtain U.S. government approval." As Scott Martelle notes in a Los Angeles Times report, "Violations carry severe reprisals — publishing houses can be fined $1 million and individual violators face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine." The regulations have surprised many: "Historically, the United States has served as a megaphone for dissidents from other countries," says one of PEN's attorneys, Ed Davis. "Now we're not able to hear from dissidents." The sanctions also cover a wider–than–expected variety of books, and "have led publishers to scrap plans for volumes on Cuban architecture and birds, and publishers complain that the rules threaten the intellectual breadth and independence of academic journals." Further, "even if publishers obtain a license for a book — something they are loathe to do — they believe the regulations bar them from advertising it, forcing readers to find the dissident works on their own." Arcade publisher Richard Seaver, who "hopes to publish an anthology of Iranian short stories," tells Martelle, "It's absolutely against the First Amendment. We're not going to ask permission (to publish). That reeks of censorship." But the official response from the government is that the sanctions are "a very important part of our overall national security."

Pullman film to be Godless . . .
References to God and the church will be removed from the film adaptation of the popular trilogy of childrens' book by Philip Pullman, His Dark Materials, according to a BBC wire story. As the report notes, "The books tell of a battle against the church and a fight to overthrow God," but director Chris Weitz says the studio, New Line Cinema, "express worry about the possibility of perceived anti–religiosity." Weitz, whose previous films include American Pie and About A Boy, "said he had visited Pullman," who told him the God figure—called The Authority in the books— could "represent any arbitrary establishment that curtails the freedom of the individual, whether it be religious, political, totalitarian, fundamentalist, communist, what have you." Pullman's agent said the writer remains supportive of the film. "You have to recognise that it is a challenge in the climate of Bush's America," he said.

Protecting rights of China's intellects . . .
One of China's most popular writers for teenage girls has "been ordered to pay 200,000 yuan ($24,170) along with his publisher for plagiarizing another book," according to a Reuters wire story. The report says, "The Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People's Court ruled that Guo Jingming, 21, and the Chunfeng Literature and Art Publishing House, had to stop publishing Falling Blossoms in a Romantic Dream, a story of entangled love between youngsters," because it had found that "12 major plot elements" and "57 paragraphs" were the same or similar to those of a book by Zhuang Yu. The sentence is seen as part of a recent "crackdown on intellectual property piracy . . ." in a country "where pirated DVDs of the latest Hollywood blockbusters can be bought for less than a dollar on street corners," says the report.

This just in: Beatles had sex, lots and lots of sex . . .
One of Paul McCartney's "main confidantes" is "vowing explosive sex stories and shocking revelations" the the biography he's writing of the former Beatle. According to a Female First report, Geoff Baker, who was McCartney's "publicity guru" for almost 20 years, quit "amid reports he'd fallen out with McCartney and his wife Heather Mills."

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

Wednesday 8 December 2004

Judge dismisses patent suit against Amazon . . .
A Federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against Amazon.com seeking between $50 million and $165 million in damages for patent infringement, according to Bloomberg News report by Kevin Orland. "It's a technical issue on when we obtained complete ownership of the patents," says Philip Beck, the attorney for Pinpoint, the company that brought the suit, which charged Amazon, the Borders Group, and others with "using patented technology that let them customize shopper visits to their Web sites." Pinpoint acquired the patents from the University of Pennsylvania, where two professors worked with the founders of Pinpoint to invent the technology; Judge Richard Posner of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled that the university still owned the patent at the time the suit was filed. However, "The dismissal didn't deal with whether the patents were valid or were infringed, Beck said," and the judge's decision permits Pinpoint to refile.

Holiday gremlins at Amazon . . .
Monday was a long, bad day for holiday shoppers trying to shop at Amazon.com, as the site experience technical difficulties that seemed to get worse as the day went on, according to an Associated Press wire story. One monitoring firm said one in five customers couldn't get through, while others got error messages. One such Internet monitor, AlterSite, said the error messages "suggested an internal computer problem rather than an external hacking attack or unusually high customer traffic. "It looks to me like ... they are having some big system problem and probably have been rebooting all day," said AlterSite v.p. Ken Godskind. Amazon had no comment.

Understanding translation . . .
"American publishers have a duty to bring foreign literature to the United States," says Dalkey Archives Press publisher John O'Brien. But "The reality is that all major publishers in the United States (Random House, Harper Collins, Farrar Straus) have profit as their primary responsibility and therefore translations are at odds with why an American publisher would undertake a title to publish." And even though foreign governments often offer to contribute toward translation fees, the overall numbers still make translation costs prohibitive, O'Brien says in this Context commentary. "When all expenses are taken into account, the cost of publishing a translation is over $30,000, and typically, the cost of the translation itself is only about 5–10% of that cost," he writes. "When a foreign government offers to pay for only part of the translation fee, that means a grant of from $750 to $2,000 . . . . That leaves about $28,000 unaccounted for. And makes for a publisher hesitant to take on yet another translation that will sell, on a good day, 1,500 to 2,000 copies within the first year of its publication." O'Brien, however, has some ideas for solutions: Foreign cultural missions should fund more of a books costs than just translation. He cites, the example of Finland, which gives in–depth support to its translation funding program, works hard to fully understand the market and the publishing costs, and as a result, is seeing three Finnish books coming from Dalkey in the next year.

When words go bad . . .
It's a word that not just politicians, but journalists, authors, and all public intellecctuals have become afraid of: Liberal. As John Lukacs writes in a Chronicle of Higher Education essay, the word "has become soiled, outdated, torn at its edges." To Lukacs, "That is a pity, I must say, as a historian who has never been a liberal. A pity: because consider only the relationship of the word 'liberal' to the word 'democrat.' . . . When it came to the formation of the democracies of the West, the concepts of liberalism and democracy, while not inseparable, were surely complementary, with the emphasis on the former. Among the founders of the American republic were serious men who were more dubious about democracy than about liberty." So how did the degeneration of the word come about? He looks to recent history for the answer, and argues that "the acceptance of the word 'liberal' as a connotation of something damnable, unhealthy, and odious is to be deplored. Liberalism in its noblest, and also in its most essential, sense has always meant (and, to be fair, here and there it still means) an exaltation, a defense of the fundamental value and category of human dignity."

It's a wonderful short story . . .
It's that time of year again—the time when the movie It's a Wonderful Life seems to be on every other cable channel. As Liz Miller admits, "I'm always amazed at how deeply the film strikes home with me, how sacred those screenings seem. Despite the influence of angels, the rosy cheeked glow given to small–town Christian America, the heart of the story — the impact one man can have on the world around him — is universal, untied to issues of faith or culture. How do the lives we lead affect those around us? It's a question infinitely relevant to a time of year when the worst of human nature stands in sharp contrast to the celebration of humanity at its best." All of which leads her to ask: "What was the source for the classic?" In an essay for Bookslut.com, she reveals it was a short story that the writer just couldn't sell. So, author Philip Van Doren Stern printed it up and sent it out with his Christmas cards. Then, he had one of his own miracle moments—as Miller notes, "that would have been the end of it, except that he had a Hollywood agent on his mailing list . . . ."

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

Tuesday 7 December 2004

Tenet signs 7–figure deal for memoirs . . .
After "an extensive bidding war that involved more than a dozen publishers," former CIA director George Tenet yesterday signed a book deal with the Crown Publishing Group "widely believed to be worth at least seven figures," according to an Associated Press wire story by Hillel Italie. The deal was negotiated for Tenet by Washington attorney Robert Barnett, who also acted as literary agent to Bill Clinton. A statement from the publisher says the book by the Clinton appointee who stayed on into the Bush administration will "candidly discuss what it was like working for two administrations, two political parties, and two very different national security teams." Meanwhile, the final text will have to be cleared by the CIA, but Tenet's former spokesman at the agency, Bill Harlow, says he's "confident that the director will be able to be candid, without running into any difficulties with the clearance process." Harlow will also co–author the book, which is expected to be out in late 2005 or early 2006. Tenet, meanwhile, despite leaving the CIA in July amidst a storm of criticism for "intelligence failures on his watch, including the terrorist attacks and the never–proven prewar allegations that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction," will next week receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Will Amazon's landlord scheme finally help the company turn the corner? . . .
"The people at Amazon think there's money to be made in not making sales," reports Chirs Gaither in a Los Angelese Times story. "Nearly a decade after it wowed millions with online shopping, Amazon.com is betting that the big money on the Web these days lies in connecting buyers and sellers, not necessarily in selling stuff directly." What does that mean? "When Amazon shoppers search for computers, the results might include a link to Dell Inc.'s online shopping site. Browsing for Ralph Lauren duds could get you connected to fashion retailer Bluefly Inc. A digital camera sold by J&R Music and Computer World is sometimes displayed more prominently than the same one sold by Amazon." So how does Amazon make money? Simple: Rent. Explains Gaither, "Its rent is the commission other retailers pay to have traffic steered their way"—the same strategy as eBay. And the "third party seller program" is working: last quarter, it accounted for 28 percent of sales. But more than one significant analyst disapprove. Says Banc of America's Aram Rubinson, "We understand the economics are attractive, but rarely do successful retailers outsource the customer experience — especially one so keen on owning the customer as Amazon."

To review or not to review . . .
"May we offer our mea culpa," asks Pittsburgh Post–Gazette book editor Bob Hoover in an unusual column in which he admits to "a few regrets" about books he "either ignored or otherwise shortchanged" over the last year. In an attempt "to get them off my chest before 2005 slinks in," he mentions a few, such as that he "was moved but passed on these life stories: Memories Are Made of This: Dean Martin Through His Daughter's Eyes by Deana Martin with Wendy Holden," and "Tallulah! The Life and Times of a Leading Lady by Joel Lobenthal." But, in a commentary on the mea culpa, The Complete Review says that "Most disappointing" was Hoover's admission that "The competition for attention was tough and the logical approach was to go with the big names." Says the CR: "We would have thought quality–considerations would rank higher than name–recognition, but what do we know?"

Bronte's secret stairway found . . .
Legend had it that Charlotte Bronte, in Jane Eyre, "based the character of the deranged Mrs Rochester"—who was hidden away in an attic that Mr. Rochester got to through a secret stairway—"on a true story," notes Ian Herbert. "She supposedly heard it during a visit in 1839 to the North Yorkshire country mansion, Norton Conyers." Now, says Herbert in a story for The Independent, "The secret staircase . . . has been uncovered, hidden behind oak panels and just as it was portrayed by Charlotte Brontė." It was found by the current resident of Norton Conyers, Sir James Graham, whose family has lived at the property since befoore Bronte's visit. Herbert says he "recalled older family members speaking about a hidden staircase" and "decided to investigate."

Advance reversals . . .
"The life of a novelist is a perilous one," observes Jervey Tervalon, "the chance of being published is slight and receiving an advance is even more remote. You'd think that maybe after you'd sold a few books things might get easier, but let me tell you, writing, like pimping, ain't easy." In an essay for the LA Weekly, he tells the story of his second novel, written under contract to Atria. "But when I sent the manuscript, Serving Monster, to my editor, she informed me that, unbeknownst to me, I had violated my contract — that it was late and it wasn't the book they'd wanted anyway. I knew then that I was going to get gotted. That this big–ass publishing house was going to come down on me. Sure enough, Atria, subsidiary of that monster conglomerate Viacom, asked me to pay back the $41,000 they advanced me. I had to sit back, catch my breath and get my mind around the demand." He says, "One day when I'm deep into senior citizenness, I'll be through with my book deal, and if good ol' master is kind to me, I'll be emancipated and free to work for myself. I'll no longer be literary sharecropping, singing spirituals in the cotton–picking fields."

Winterson takes on second job after hearing what happened to Tervalon . . .
Novelist Jeanette Winterson has opened a delicatesen on the ground floor of her home in London's East End, according to a Guardian report by Ed Vulliamy. "I wanted to do something people in the neighbourhood could use, where I could sell things I wanted to buy myself, and take my shopping upstairs," she explains. "Not a lifestyle shop selling sofas and candles." She says she named the place "Verde's," after an Italian importer who ran a business out of the building in the early 18th century. "They were probably a bunch of ruffians. But it's better to keep their name than have some American coffee franchise or an awful sandwich shop."

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

Monday 6 December 2004

Stewart's America named PW's Book of the Year . . .
This week's issue of Publishers Weekly—released today—announces that the magazine has chosen Jon Stewart's America as the book of the year. The issue is only available to subscribers online, but a Reuters wire story reports that the magazine says "in a year defined by political polemics, it seems fitting that PW's Book of the Year be one in which the authors survey the entire political system and laugh." It wasn't just the laughs that impressed them at the book industry's leading publication, however: "America (The Book) offers more than just humor," the PW statement went on. "Beneath the eye–catching and at times goofy graphics, the dirty jokes and the playful ingenuousness shines a serious critique of the two–party system, the corporations that finance it and the 'spineless cowards in the press' who 'aggressively print allegation and rumor independent of accuracy or fairness."' The book is also currently number one on the New York Times Bestsellers list.

No word on the author tour yet . . .
The first chapter of a new novel by the underground Mexican revolutionary known as Subcommander Marcos—"one of the best know Latin American revolutionaries since Che Guevara"—was published by the leftist newspaper La Journada yesterday. According to a Reuters wire story, the novel, Muertos Incomodos (Awkward Deaths), is a work–in–progress being co–written with bestselling crime novelist Paco Ignacio Taibo II. "It is a police novel with strong political content that obviously touches on contemporary issues in Mexican society," says Taibo, who spoke on behalf of Marcos, who is believed to be in hiding in Chiapas. According to Reuters, the book opens "as Zapatista Insurgent and Marcos–appointed investigator Elias Contreras embarks on a quest to track down Maria, a co–rebel who has disappeared." The detective that stars in Taibo's novels appears in the book, too. Explains Taibo, "The two (investigators) cross paths on an issue that we could say is of potent national interest, with national repercussions and having to do with one of the demons on the loose in this country."

Mandela letters from prison finally delivered—back to him . . .
Two notebooks filled with letters written by Nelson Mandela during the decades he was imprisoned but confiscated from him have been returned to him by the police officer " who was tasked with censoring the mail of prisoners and checking it for coded messages," according to a Agence France Presse wire story. The report says the letters "revealed touching details of his life in jail," such as his pain at being prevented from attending the funerals of his mother and son. In one letter he writes, "There are times when my heart almost stops beating, slowed down by heavy loads of longing."

Which books you can sell in Brunei—and which ones you can't . . .
Government officials in Brunei have cautioned the country's booksellers that "legal action would be taken" if they are found to be selling "unauthorized" books. According to a report in the Borneo Bulletin by Dk Suria Rina, the acting director and other "senior officers" from the Ministry of Education held a "briefing session with some 20 registered book vendors" to give them "a better understanding on the rules and regulations." It was also announced that the Publication Unit "will conduct checks at all bookstores throughout the country to ensure that book vendors abide by the rules and regulations."

Catastrophe analyst explains how "Ya–Ya Sisterhood" become besteller . . .
A UCLA physicist who specializes in "the scientific prediction of catastrophes" says he can analyze the phenomenon of a book becoming a bestseller using a model for analysis that is "very similar to the one he uses to understand earthquakes." According to a report in Science Daily, Didier Sornette of UCLA's Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics says, "Complex systems can be understood, and the book market is a complex system. Each buyer is not predictable, but complex networks have a degree of predictability." Sornette says bestsellers "typically reach their sales peaks in one of two ways": One is via an "exogenous shock," which he says is short–term and exemplified by a spike in sales for his own book (Why Stock Markets Crash) after good reviews on CNBC and TheStreet.com. The other way is via an "endogenous shock," which he described as "favorable word–of–mouth." These books "rise slowly, but the sales results are more enduring, and the decline in sales is slower and more much gradual." The example he cited: The Divine Secrets of the Ya–Ya Sisterhood, which hit bestseller lists two years after being published.

Danish TV reporter says his dog peed on manuscript so he had to substitute someone else's . . .
Amidst continuing accusations of plagiarism, a biography of Henry Kissinger by Danish TV journalist Frank Esmann has been pulled off bookstore shelves for a second time in Denmark. As an Agence France Presse wire story reports, the publisher of Kissinger, Aschehoug first retracted the book in mid–October just days after its release when Esmann was "accused of having copied at least 20 passages of the biography from a book written by American Walter Isaacson." Then it was put back on sale after the publisher put "extensive new end notes to the biography on its website in an attempt to better document Esmann's use of Isaacson as a source." The publisher capitulated when criticism continued, and is now "planning to launch a probe into the extent of the plagiarism to determine if Esmann should be made to repay money he received to write the book." Esman, meanwhile, says he is the victim of "genre confusion." He explains, "'Kissinger' is informative literature. That is the way I wrote it. Now it is being judged as if it were (scientific research) and not a journalistic work. I find that unfair and unreasonable."

Young adult fiction revealed to have had an overlooked but impressive renaissance ten years ago . . .
Asking its readers to remember their "favorite books from eight to 10 years ago, editors at the Cadenza, the student newspaper at Washington University in St. Louis, then says it went looking for the authors of some of those books to see where they were now. According to the final report, the results of the search was 'a fine group of aging hippies and grizzled iditarod racers." Among them: Goosebumps author R.L. Stine is "a rather nebbish–looking man with big glasses and several prominent moles who lives a quiet life with his family in New York"; Dogsong author Gary Paulsen "has been everything: a drunk, a soldier, an actor, a farmer, a rancher, a truck driver, a trapper and a sailor"; and Søren Kierkegaard "has been dead since 1855."

Busy year for the PC police . . .
The "word usage group" Global Language Monitor has issued its top 10 list of the most politically incorrect terms of the year. The winner, as a Reuters wire story reports, was the computer term "master/slave," which "refers to primary and secondary hard disk drives." Also on the list: "non–same sex marriage," to refer to heterosexual marriage; "waitron" and "barista" to refer to waiters and waitresses; "progressive" instead of "liberal"; "incurious," as the report explains, "rather than more impolite invectives for President Bush"; "insurgents" instead of "terrorists"; and "higher being" as a reference to God, "a term some people found too religious."

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

GoodReports: Canadian book news

Poetry Daily

Librarian.net: Putting the rarin' back in librarian

Everyone Who's Anyone in Adult Trade Publishing

The Collins Library Almanac

Author interviews at IdentityTheory.com

Stump the Bookseller

Online Etymology Dictionary

Visual Thesaurus

Project Gutenberg

Columbia World of Quotations


Herman Melville's Arrowhead

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All material not otherwise attributed ©2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 Dennis Loy Johnson.