5 MobyLives.com


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

This week's list is from the That Bookstore in Blytheville in Blytheville, Arkansas . . .

1. Gods in Alabama
Joshilyn Jackson
(Warner Books, 2005)

2. Looking Back to See: A Country Music Memoir
Maxine Brown
(University of Arkansas Press, 2005)

3. The Three Miss Margarets
Louise Shaffer
(Ballantine Books, 2004)

4. Being Dead Is No Excuse: The Official Southern Ladies Guide to Hosting the Perfect Funeral
Gayden Metcalfe & Charlotte Hays
(Hyperion Books, 2005)

5. Life's Journeys According to Mister Rogers: Things to Remember Along the Way
Fred Rogers
(Hyperion Books, 2005)

6. The Notebook
Nicholas Sparks
(Warner Books, 1998)

7. Our Mothers' War: American Women at Home and at the Front During World War II
Emily Yellin
(Free Press, 2005)

8. Kitten's First Full Moon
Kevin Henkes
(Greenwillow Books, 2004)

9. On the Up and Up: A Survival Guide for Women Living with Men on the Down Low
Brenda Stone Bowder & Karen Hunter
(Dafina Books, 2005)

10. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
J.K. Rowling
(Scholastic, 2004)

That Bookstore in Blytheville
316 W Main
Blytheville, AR 72315
Tel: 870–763–3333
bookstbly AT missconet.com

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Friday 10 June 2005

Wal–Mart exec leaves company over ad comparing Wal–Mart opponents to Nazis . . .
In the wake of a furious controversy set off in Arizona by a newspaper ad that seemed to equate voting against a proposed Wal–Mart with Nazi book–burning (see the 17 May MobyLives digeststory by Michael Barbaro reports that company spokesperson, Daphne Moore, when asked if Peter Kanelos had been forced to leave, would say only "I can tell you he resigned." Why only Kanelos has been singled out remains unclear, as Barbaro reports "Wal–Mart has said it reviewed and cleared for publication," and approved for payment the ad that brought down the wrath of numerous local residents, civic groups, "the Anti–Defamation League, members of Congress and Wake–Up Wal–Mart, a union–funded organization" — "a full–page advertisement in the May 8 edition of the Arizona Daily Sun featuring a 1933 photo of Germans throwing books on a pyre at Berlin's Opernplatz. The ad was part of a campaign, funded by Wal–Mart, to defeat a Flagstaff, Ariz., ballot initiative that would have restricted the chain's growth." As Barbaro notes, "Voters later narrowly rejected the measure."

The real mystery: Why notice this particular problem over so many others? . . .
"A technical glitch caused online retailer Amazon.com to suffer at least two periods of extended slowdowns Thursday, one during late morning and a second during the peak lunch-time browsing period," according to a CNN/Money report. At its worst, the site was only available to 23 percent of its users, says the report for at least a 40–minute period. While experts agreed "Amazon.com's troubles Thursday could impact overall sales for the day," company spokeswoman Patty Smith would only say the slowdown was due to a "technical problem."

Newspaper caves: Agrees to pay compensation for talking to author outside the promo zone. . .
"The London Evening Standard has paid undisclosed compensation to publisher Jonathan Cape" for breaking an embargo and running an interview with Ian McEwan two weeks before the release of his novel, Saturday, according to a Guardian report by Stephen Brook. The report says after The Evening Standard broke the embargo, "other newspapers demanded the right to run their features on the novel before its official release date of January 31. The publisher, a division of Random House, agreed but faced the nightmare scenario of a glut of publicity at a time when copies of the book were stuck in warehouses. It spent £8,000 rushing the book into the shops." Neither side would reveal the amount of the settlement, but it does prevent the case from going to court, which, Brook notes, "could have led to a test case on the legal status of press embargoes, an untested concept in law."

Deep Throat, Inc. . . .
"In part because of the success of the first books and their ability to break news between hard covers, books have been the meat and potatoes of the Deep Throat industry, and will continue to be if it is to survive much longer." In evidence, Sheela Kolhatkar and Tom Scocca provide an in–depth anatomy of how the recent Deep Throat story revolved around books, in this report for The New York Observer. They write that for Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, Deep Throat was "an asset waiting to be well harvested: a manuscript, and more money, and a property that would play through the entire media cycle of books, movies, TV, DVD's and beyond." Woodward's Deep Throat book, The Secret Man, is already on the way to the printer, has a first printing of 800,000 copies. Concurrently, 350,000 mass–market paperbacks of of All the President's Men are being rushed into print as well. For Deep Throat himself, however, it is a much sadder story, say Kolhatkar and Scocca. After complaints by the Felt family that Woodward was "getting all the glory," the "admission that the family was seeking a windfall hasn't sat well with the industry, which tends to reassure itself by pretending that money doesn't matter." With Woodward's book almost in stores, a deal for Felt himself seems unlikely. Meanwhile, Ron Rosenbaum writes in his Observer column, "I don't want to spoil the party, but while everyone's celebrating Deep Throat as if he 'solved' Watergate, the real culprit, the perpetrator of the initial crime, the man who actually ordered the Watergate break–in, has escaped." Richard Nixon only admitted to covering up the Watergate break–in, not ordering it, he notes. "In fact, if you accept Nixon's story at face value, as all too many journalists and historians have—the story Nixon repeated in his memoirs, the one he took to his grave—Nixon didn't order the Watergate burglary. Indeed, he was deeply shocked when he learned about it in the papers the next day. And he proceeded to sacrifice his Presidency in order to cover up for the overzealous acts (including the burglary) of his loyal subordinates." Now, says Rosenbaum, "I'd suggest that Woodward and Bernstein reunite for one final Watergate assignment: proving to everyone's satisfaction . . . whether Nixon lied about his lack of foreknowledge of the break–in." As things now stand, he says, "The Deep Throat frenzy plays into Nixon's endgame: He was betrayed by a Judas; he was crucified because he sought to be the savior of his followers like — oh, some other figure in history."

Russian repression leads to literature . . .
Inspired by the sentencing to a nine year prison term of billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the sponsor of "Russia's Booker prize," Victor Sonkin considers whether the imprisonment will have any effect on Russian literature. In an article for The Moscow Times, he calls the occasion "a good time to look back at the role of government repression in Russian literature," because, in Russia, "it seems to have become almost a necessary stage in the development of literary talent." He considers how the state has treated writers from Alexander Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov andFyodor Dostoevsky to Vladimir Nabokov, Anna Akhmatova, Joseph Brodsky and on. Observing that Khodorkovsky wrote a newspaper column during his trial that won praise for its prose, Sonkin observes, "Perhaps we are witnessing the first stages of a successful literary career."

Not so surprisingly, the book opens with the reporter writing "Joey!" repeatedly . . .
They were an astonishing series of hard–hitting investigative reports: the Pulitzer Prize–winning reports about the corruption on the New York waterfront by New York Sun reporter Malcolm "Mike" Johnson, which went on to inspire the movie On The Waterfront, starring Marlon Brando. Now, as John Wihbey reports in a USA Today story (that mistakenly reports the Sun no longer exists), the stories have been collected and are being published as a book by Chamberlain Bros. called, well, On The Waterfront. The book includes a forward by Johnson's son, Haynes Johnson, himself a Pulitzer winner for his sixties civil rights reporting. Says Wihbey, "He recalls the 'profound' effect his father's scathing articles had on their family as gangsters such as Albert Anastasia, head of Murder Inc., threatened them." Says Haynes Johnson, "I remember my father saying, 'I don't think they'll ever kill a reporter.' But I don't think he believed that."

Honest: Final BEA wrap–up . . .
With the industry settled back into routine five days after the close of BookExpo America, two carefully considered and closely observed takes on the convention put it in perspective: Says David Kipen in a San Francisco Chronicle commentary, "Beset by aging readers and stagnant sales, the whole profession resembled nothing so much as 25,000 castaways beached on the west bank of the Hudson River, tending their signal fires and hoping for somebody — Oprah? GooglePrint? — to rescue them before the breadfruit runs out." Kipen says that despite some good books on the horizon, he wasn't necessarily left optimistic about the ability of the more literary end of the business to survive the influence of the conglomerates and homogenized choices. "Will the book business remain as successful as the film business in putting off a reckoning that seems long overdue? For all we know, yes. Publishers, and especially booksellers, will put up with a lot to keep working in their beloved chosen field. But lately, literary publishing is in much the same fix that movies were in a few years ago, before DVDs came along to save the studios' bacon for a while. If some new savior technology is just around the corner for publishing, I didn't see it on the convention floor last weekend." Meanwhile, Sheela Kolhatkar walked that floor for her New York Observer report. "The whole affair was a blur of cheap wine, mini empanadas and free books, punctuated by the odd wannabe author cruising the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center with a toilet seat around his neck," she writes. "The fact that the expo took place in New York, as opposed to Chicago or Los Angeles, only lent a certain world–weariness to the proceedings." She notes tacky promotions, grabbing for galleys, lackluster parties and numerous panel discussions. But she also talks to some genuine enthusiasts who had fun and seem somewhat optimistic, or at least determined, such as Farrar, Straus and Giroux editor Lorin Stein, who tells her, "If the business doesn't get less corporate and become nicer, then we'll need to find ways to make not very much profit on books. We need to publish books that we'll be proud of when we're old and fired."

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

Thursday 9 June 2005

Another big honcho says adios: Karp quits just days after embarrassing himself at the BEA . . .
In a move that caught the New York publishing intelligencia completely by surprise, especially after he'd made a vociferous appearance at last weekend's BookExpo America convention, Jonathan Karp, editor–in–chief of Bertelsmann AG's Random House imprint, resigned late yesterday. In a Publishers Weekly report that calls the announcement a "shocker," Steven Zeitchik says "several sources noted that Karp had been interested in more of a publisher role at the house, with more control over business matters like marketing budgets, and that there had been tension with Little Random executives over this." ("Little Random" is the industry nickname of the imprint, as opposed to the corporate owner, the Random House Group.) And company spokesperson Carol Schneider tells Zeitchik, "It's regrettable we couldn't see eye–to–eye on what his role would be," while other "insiders" denied friction with executive editor–chief Daniel Menaker. But Karp himself tells PW, "I'm sure you're going to hear a lot of things. There's probably some element of truth to all of them. [But] I don't want to reduce it to one simple thing. Sometimes you just need to take a leap, and I want to take a leap." However, in an Associated Press wire report, Karp "acknowledged that he had wanted more autonomy," says Hillel Italie. Karp tells him, "I want to stretch some muscles, and I've stretched all of them as far as I can here." Neither Italie nor Zeitchik were able to elicit reports of what's next for the 41–year–old Karp. Italie notes that Karp left the company once before—in 2000—to work for Hollywood producer Scott Rudin. But he returned to Random House after just seven weeks. In response to Zeitchik's query about what's next, Zeitchik says Karp "cited a Po Bronson book he edited, What Should I Do With My Life? and said, laughing, 'I'm going to be re–reading that book very carefully.'"

Could Internet retail suddenly become, well, fair? Borders has to pay California taxes for online sales . . .
In a decision that could have a significant impact on online book retailing, a California Appeals Court has ruled that Borders "may be forced to pay tax on its online sales for the 2000 and 2001 period" because it has actual, "brick and mortar" stores in the state that are subject to the state's tax laws. As Jim Milliot explains in a Publishers Weekly report, "the court found that because Borders conducts cross–promotions between its stores and online site and permits customers to return items to its stores which were bought online, the company had established enough of a presence." Now, Milliot observes, it becomes "a likelier possibility that other hybrid retailers would be forced to change its policy, as well as that other states might follow California with attempts to enforce sales tax laws of its own." The Borders case got underway when the company sought "a refund for back taxes it paid in 1998 and 1999 on its online sales."

Clinton feels readers' pain . . .
Former president and bestselling author Bill Clinton began touring for the paperback version of his autobiography yesterday, and was once again greeted by long lines of fans. As an Associated Press wire story by Mike Smith reports, people started lining up Tuesday night for the Wednesday book signing at a bookstore in Indianapolis (Smith does not identify the store), and "Clinton received an ovation when he appeared from behind a curtain." Clinton said hoped the less expensive paperback version, which lists for $17.95, as opposed to the $35 hardcover, would make the book "accessible to a new round of readers." He also joked with the crowd that the paperback version of the nearly 1,000–page–long book "would not hurt their shoulders."

Totally vapid group of people with no shame, soul or scruples agrees to capitalize on a crime . . .
"Fresh from copping a plea to faking her own abduction," "Runaway Bride" Jennifer Wilbanks is reportedly close to a book deal with Judith Regan, according to a brief report in Lloyd Grove's "Lowdown" column (third item) in The New York Daily News. Grove says Regan is "close to inking a mid–six–figure deal" with Wilbanks and her "on–again, off–again future husband, John Mason," for a a package including "movie–of–the–week rights (possibly for NBC) and a network television interview — maybe with Katie Couric."

New distributor could have huge impact on where books are sold . . .
"The traditional heavy–hitters of book distribution have been joined — seemingly overnight — by a new mammoth competitor," observes Ed Christman. In an in–depth report for The Book Standard, he profiles Source Interlink, "which has been transforming itself from a traditional magazine distributor, supplying publications to specialty chains such as Borders and Barnes & Noble, to a full–service wholesaler and rackjobbing operation that can also offer music, movies, and — yes — books to a growing customer base that includes grocery, drug, and discount department stores." As Christman notes, the company can't wholesale books to independent stores as does industry heavyweights Baker & Taylor and Ingram, but "Source Interlink can now compete with B&T and Ingram in supplying books to general merchandise accounts." For example, Source Interlink "controls the checkout area in 70,000 supermarket and drug stores, with a total of about 250,000 racks, which up until recently were stocked only with magazines. But with its extended product line, Source Interlink executives say they plan on cross–selling all of their products to all of their accounts."

Totally vapid group of people with no shame, soul or scruples, Part Deux . . .
"For the past several months," one of Canada's largest publishers of college textbooks, McGraw–Hill Ryerson, "has been quietly trying to coax companies into buying advertising space in their texts," reports Rick Westhead in a story for Toronto's The Star. Westhead says the publisher "has made presentations about its prospective textbook ads to more than a dozen advertising agencies," and even brags in one brochure that ads "can be so targeted, you can even buy a specific major." The brochure also tells potential advertisers that the ads, which cost up to $1.40 per book, will help them "Reach a hard to get target group where they spend all their parents' money." But even some ad companies are rebelling against the idea, says Westhead. Randy Stein of Toronto's Grip Media ad agency tells him, "Textbooks are one of the last bastions. There are some things that should remain pure and sacred. What's next, university professors with logos on their blazers like NASCAR?" A rep from J. Walter Thompson predicts "The reaction would be horrible. It'd be a disaster." And University of Toronto student Heather Campbell says, "this is supposed to be a place of learning . . . textbooks should be free of corporate influence." Meanwhile, after granting Westhead only a "brief interview," a McGraw–Hill spokeswoman, Diana MacDonald, contacted him again to say that the idea of the ads was to bring "beneficial corporate and social awareness campaigns to the attention of students" and to "generate revenue to support programs which help professors and teachers cope with the rapid changes in their environment."

Another new distribution method that could influence where books are sold . . . or not . . .
"Giving away your books in the street isn't a marketing approach that's embraced by many authors," but after publishing two novels to critical acclaim and few sales, Robert Chalmers has taken to offering people on the street copies of his books—for free. Chalmers explains to reporter Rhodri Marsden in this profile in The Independent, he doesn't blame his publisher, Atlantic, for the situation. "The likes of HarperCollins and Macmillan can blanket–bomb towns with those huge bookshop displays. I've always wondered whether 'ordinary people' with no influence or literary connections would actually like my books — I mean, it's not like they're Dostoyevsky or something. So, we had this joke in the pub a while ago... and now, well, here we are." Marsden reports that, "Inspired by finding novels littered on Manhattan subways by authors trying to create a word–of–mouth buzz, Chalmers devised a scheme to help promote his new book, East of Nowhere. 'It's putting the litter back in literature. I had this idea of bombarding a small town with books, so they end up everywhere and can't be avoided.'" But as Chalmers is finding out in the small town of Otley, some people are more receptive to free books than others: "'No thank you,' snaps a woman, eyeing the cover suspiciously as if it's some extreme religious propaganda. A grey–haired man is approached at the checkout. 'Would you like a book?' 'What, free? Aye.' He slips it into his bag with the oven chips. Another satisfied customer."

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

Wednesday 8 June 2005

In Letters: Indy booksellers speak out . . .
The letters page is heating up as independent booksellers write in to comment on Steve Riggio and the issue of returns . . . Check out the conversation in the MobyLives letters section.

Jackson juror in book deal, despite state law . . .
Last Friday an Associated Press wire story by Tim Molloy reported that "The granddaughter of one of the jurors in the Michael Jackson case hopes to convince her grandmother to write a book about her experiences, and has already lined up a potential co–author." Molloy reported the woman, Traci Montgomery, had already lined up an author and said she thought her 79–year–old grandmother would go along because "at the beginning of the trial . . . she talked about being on 'Oprah' and '60 Minutes.'" However, Montgomery 'said she has not spoken to her grandmother about the possibility because of a California law that prohibits jurors from making book deals until 90 days after they are dismissed from service." Now, a report on the Contact Music website says that despite the law, the juror has agreed to the deal. The report says Montgomer told ABC News that her grandmother "has agreed in principle to write a book on her experiences," and says she did so "immediately after being picked for the Jackson jury." Montgomery says not only has she got an author lined up, but a publisher has been chosen as well. The article does not discuss the ramifications of this apparent breech of the law cited in the earlier A.P. report. Meanwhile, author Ernie Cariwel says "he has already begun writing the book."

Menendez Pelayo Prize announced . . .
Uruguayan novelist Mario Benedetti has been announced as the winner of the $58,872 Menendez Pelayo Prize for Spanish–language literature. As an Associated Press wire story reports, the author of such novels as Existir Todavia (To Exist Still), Ida y Vuelta (There and Back), and La Tregua (The Truce), was honored for his lifetime achievement and "his commitment to human nature." Previous winners have included Octavio Paz, Carolos Fuentes, and Mario Vargas Llosa.

Shriver wins Orange prize . . .
American Lionel Shriver won the £30,000 ($54,930) Orange Prize for Fiction, "one of the most prestigious awards for female novelists in English," last night in London, according to a Reuters wire story. Shriver won for her book, We Need to Talk About Kevin, "a story about a teenage mass murderer." The Prize was also seen as somewhat of an award for the publisher, Serpent's Tail, "a small outfit which has been causing a buzz in the literary world for its ability to sign critically acclaimed writers such as Shriver and Joolz Denby, who was shortlisted for the Orange prize for her murder story Billie Morgan."

Noted without comment ... unlike some other Anglo–Americans I could mention . . .
Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam says that when he saw, posted on an academic website, a "Call for Papers — Toilet Papers: The Gendered Construction of Public Toilets," his "beeswax detector went off." As he writes in his column, "There can't really be two professors planning to publish a book working from 'the premise that public toilets, far from being banal or simply functional, are highly charged spaces, shaped by notions of propriety, hygiene and the binary gender division' . . . can there?" As it turns out, there can. The book is being co–edited by Olga Gershenson, an assistant professor of Judaic and Near Eastern Studies at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Barbara Penner of University College–London, author of two journal essays on the topic, "'A world of unmentionable suffering: Women's public conveniences in Victorian London" and "Female urinals: Taking a stand." Beam talks with one of the contributors, Dr. Clara Greed of the University of the West of England, "Just back from the WTO meeting in Shanghai — 'the other WTO,' she explained, 'the World Toilet Organization'" Greed defends the book's importance to Beam: "It's an Anglo–Saxon thing, or perhaps an Anglo–American thing, that this research seems like a joke. But it's a very serious issue because everybody needs to go to the toilet."

Atlas snickered . . .
In a Bonhams auction of books from the personal library of Ayn Rand, this listing for Mary McCarthy's The Humanist in the Bathtub notes some of Rand's marginalia, all of which was composed in red ink. For example, an essay on fiction bears the note, "Good God Almighty! That woman is a sewer!" Another entry, a memoir, says the catalogue listing, "After many exclamation points and expostulations in the margins," has this note appended at the end: "She hates the ex–communists because they do, or pretend to, take ideas seriously. The theory of chance, or 'determinism,' is so obviously her excuse for social-metaphysical drifting and purposelessness that it's shocking to see so clearly in so short an article." Another essays closes with the note, "This is a wonderful key to the psychological corruption of modern writers and of modern intellectuals in general."

Laureates don't get no respect . . .
In Minnesota late last month, Governor Tim Pawlenty decided not to select a state poet laureate, and in a commentary for The Minneapolis Star Tribune, James Lileks says "A wise idea, I think." He continues, "Doesn't mean poetry is useless or lacks intrinsic merit — but people no longer pretend to laud the poet or his craft. The Poet was once the man who wrestled with the Olympian concepts and brought them down to Earth mortal–sized morsels for the Saturday Evening Post. Poetry was the expression of truth and/or beauty professed through the rigors of language and form. When poetry meant Kipling, it had a certain valor and heft in the public mind. Now, that was a poem. By God it rhymed and you could march to it. Then came the new poets who shed the old styles as a useless encrustation of the old dead past, and they lost their claim on the popular mind. . . . But even when the concept of The Poet had respect, there were only a few who were permitted to be public poets without ridicule. Sandburg and Frost, that's about it."

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

Tuesday 7 June 2005

Is opposition to returns reaching critical mass? . . .
While none of the reporting on the just–concluded BookExpo America so much as mentioned it, it's one topic publishers talked about at the convention incessantly, as they do at every BEA, or almost any other gathering for that matter: Returns. But in a Wall Street Journal report, Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg observes: "Returns are the dark side of the book world, marking not only failed expectations, but the crippling inefficiencies of an antiquated business. It's a problem that's only getting worse." Trachtenberg says the rise of the bookselling chains in the 1990s has exacerbated the situation—first instituted during the Depression—and the "reverse tidal flood of books hurts every aspect of the business, one already struggling with weak sales. Authors don't get royalties on unsold books. Publishers sell returned copies at distressed prices after paying to truck them thousands of miles around the country. Books that can't be sold at any price are pulped for a total loss." Plus, he notes, "Worst of all, the increasing rate of returns has helped ignite a destructive cycle. So many books come back that publishers say they have raised prices to compensate for the anticipated lost revenue. That in turn makes many books harder to sell, creating more returns." Almost the entire cost of returns is borne by the publisher, but the impact is creating so great a strain that now, reports Trachtenberg, even Steve Riggio, CEO of Barnes & Noble, says, "We'd like to see this practice discontinued. Any rational business person looking at this practice would think the industry has gone mad." Even though retailers such as B&N bears none of the cost of returns, ending the practice, says Riggio, would "revolutionize the book business and revitalize the book business."

Amazon seems to break contract with Audible, but Audible says the joke may be on Amazon . . .
After "asking publishers for audiobooks for a new download store it says it plans to open," Amazon.com "is being coy about such key details as a launch date," reports an Associated Press wire story. The A.P. reports that the giant Internet retailer refuses to say "when any such sales would start or how it would affect its partnership with Audible Inc., the industry–leader in sales of audio versions of books and other publications." Shares of Audible fell 12.9 percent soon thereafter, reports the A.P. In an interview with Business Week, however, Audible CEO Donald Katz says, "Amazon's plans seem unclear at this point. They remain a partner of ours, though the revenue generated through the partnership remains immaterial." He doesn't seem to feel threatened, however: "Running a first–class service enterprise," says Katz, "is very different from moving boxes."

German cuisine in the age of Schroeder . . .
"A cookery book which includes recipes using stale bread and roadside weeds has become a huge best–seller in Germany," according to a BBC News report. The book, Hartz IV — A Cookbook For Hard Times, "is designed for impoverished Germans hit by the country's tough labour market reforms," says the report, and makes suggestions such as replacing meat with vegetables and using "roadside weeds as a cost–effective way of ensuring the recommended daily intake of greens." Among the recipes included are dandelion salad and "Celery Wiener Schnitzel." Authors Sigrid Ormeloh and Nicole Schlier say the book, which sold out its first printing, was named in honor of Peter Hartz, a businessman and advisor to Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder thought to be behind the reforms.

Still no word on who inspired Nemo, though . . .
The underwater vessel that might have been the inspiration for Captain Nemo's submarine, the Nautilus, in the Jules Verne classic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, has been discovered by a British explorer just off the coast of Panama beneath not 20,000 leagues but a mere three meters of water. As Steven Morris reports in a Guardian story, the cigar–shaped, cast–iron sub, The Explorer, originally constructed five years before Verne's book for use by Union forces in the American Civil War, was found by Colonel John Blashford–Snell of the Scientific Exploration Society. Like the Nautilus, the Explorer "has a lock–out system, which allows submariners to leave, collect items from the seabed and then return to the vessel," notes Morris. Says Blashford–Snell, "As far as I'm aware the Explorer possessed the world's first lock-out system and its very uniqueness might have stimulated Verne's imagination."

Oprah, Oprah, Oprah . . .
In the wake of Oprah Winfrey choosing three books by William Faulkner for her Oprah's Book Club, and thereby creating yet another massive media stir, novelist Marianne Apostolides says, "What I want to know is why we can't let it go—why this need, within the literary community, to focus on the lady?" In an animated discussion at Bookninja, Apostolides and novelist Heather Birrell debate the significance of the Oprah phenomenon. Apostoolides says that "what's really wrong" with the phenomenon is: "1. The concentration of power over what gets read. 2. The homogenization of literary culture (i.e. what gets published). 3. The cooptation of literature by electronic media–movies, TV, computers, video games, and other gadgets that fit snugly into palms or other body parts, I'm sure. 4. The cult of personality." Replies Birrell, "I like Oprah because even though she reads it, she's not Literature."

How to get yourself in more trouble at home . . .
"The truth is that men will not, on the whole, read books written by women," according to a new report by British academics Lisa Jardine and Anne Watkins. As Sinclair McKay reports in a Daily Telegraph story, Alarmingly, their survey covered about 100 writers, academics and critics — ie, people who have a vested interest in not looking like the idiot who has failed to read the great novel." Says McKay, "This is a social as much as a literary question. If the best fiction is about searingly truthful exploration of the inner recesses of the human heart, then it is obvious that your average chap is going to go nowhere near it. We get enough of that at home."

Calling Foetry . . .
A brief report at CNET News notes that MacKenzie Bezos, wife of Amazon.com head Jeff Bezos has a first novel called The Testing of Luther Albright coming out from HarperCollins, and "While not everyone was impressed by it, you'll find nothing but rave reviews at Amazon.com." Among the book's testimonials: one from Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison . . . for whom MacKenzie Bezos once worked as a personal assistant.

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

Monday 6 June 2005

BEA consensus: The Missing Customer . . .
After reporting on the BookExpo America for three days, Hillel Italie notes in an Associated Press wire story, "As the book world winds up its annual national convention, some retailers are wondering about the fate of a cultural institution. It's not a book or a publisher, but a customer — the old–fashioned bookstore browser who picks and pokes and doesn't care about the critics or Oprah or the best–seller charts." Italie says "booksellers and publishers agree that an accelerated society can't help affecting an industry known for taking its time," and both "speak of a more 'focused' consumer who knows what he or she wants, which is often the same as what others want . . . " On other matters, Italie reports that the consensus as to which upcoming books would be "must–reads": Harry Potter and the Half–Blood Prince, he says, and "Bob Woodward's Deep Throat memoir, The Secret Man, were buzzed to the sky even before the convention." But there were some others: "The Tender Bar, a memoir by J.R. Moehringer; Julie Powell's "Julie & Julia," in which the author works through the recipes of Julia Child; and The Widow of the South, a Civil War novel by Robert Hicks."

Small publisher gets much needed boost for its obscure author . . .
Just as American booksellers and publishers began their biggest annual gathering — the BookExpo America convention — Oprah Winfrey surprised them by announcing her latest Oprah's Book Club choice as not one but three books—all by William Faulkner. In a brief Publishers Weekly report, Charlotte Abbot notes that "Vintage has already shipped 500,000 copies and ordered a further 100,000 of a $29.95 boxed set: As I Lay Dying, The Sound and the Fury and Light in August, plus a reading group guide."

It's official: Possession of Harry Potter books bad for your health . . .
"Two men were arrested after shots were fired in a terrifying gunfire incident after a Sun reporter went to meet two men selling a stolen copy of the long-awaited new Harry Potter novel," reports Claire Cozens in a Guardian story. She writes that "Veteran reporter John Askill was chased by two armed men after he tried to snatch the book without handing over any money in a classic sting operation." The report does not name the suspects, nor does it say how copies were obtained, but it does note that: "40 guards backed by CCTV cameras have been brought in to scan production lines at a secret Potter plant in old East Germany. Staff are scrutinised on the way in and out of the printing works, with mobile phones and recording devices also banned to prevent the contents of the book being read out or photographed. The book is also said to have been produced in separate chunks to stop workers leaking the plot before its official release."

HarperCollins to offer, er, free lunch . . .
HarperCollins "plans to launch a pilot program aimed at creating wireless Internet hotspots in and around bookstores for use by consumers," according to a brief report in Crains. The publisher, which offered free wireless service at the just–concluded BEA convention, "will debut as a four–month trial starting this fall and is slated to roll out to larger groups of booksellers next year," says the report. "HarperCollins Connects" will "provide wireless Internet hotspots near participating booksellers to help attract customers to the stores and register them for future marketing efforts."

New Dumas . . .
A previously unknown, 1,000–page novel by Three Musketeers author Alexandre Dumas has been published in France, reports an Agence France Presse wire story. The novel, Le Chevalier de Sainte-Hermine, was published as a serial in a French newspaper but was left incomplete when Dumas died in 1870. The AFP says, "Claude Schopp, the Dumas expert who found the book at France's National Library, has added a short section to bring the tale to its conclusion." In a Guardian report about the book, Schopp tells the papers Sophie Nicholson, "It's like a testament. He knew he was ill and that he was going to die," Mr Schopp said. "The text is beautiful because we can feel that he was struggling with the mass of historical material he was working with."

Foreign reading . . .
"Why are fewer translated works being published these days, and what can be done to reverse the trend?" In a report for The New York Sun, Gary Shapiro covers the recent talk show on the business and cultural challenges facing works in translation, which was hosted by Melville House co–publisher (and MobyLives editor) Dennis Loy Johnson and featured publisher Chad Post of the Dalkey Archive Press, bookseller Margarrita Shalina, and critic Michael Orthofer of The Complete Review. According to Post, "an emphasis on the bottom line" has kept conglomerate publishers away, and "The burden has now fallen more on independent publishers like Melville House, nonprofit presses like Dalkey, and university presses." But, Shapiro notes, "It costs about $35,000 for Dalkey to publish a translation, Mr. Post said, and if 2,000 copies sell, the publisher earns back $12,000–$13,000. Selling 3,000 copies is considered a 'wild success,' he said." Why do it if there's a guaranteed loss? Said Shalina, "We need to know viewpoints from different countries. Beyond that, they're great books."

Dictatorship and literature . . .
The BBC News offers a profile of Ismail Kadare, the winner of the recently awarded, first–ever Booker International Prize. According to the Beeb, the expatriate writer is "often cited as a potential future winner" of the Nobel Prize for literature, but "it was only after he left Albania in 1990 to live in France that the world started to take notice of his distinctive voice." Kadare fled to France after years of having his work banned by the Communist government of Enver Hoxa. As Kadare said when he was granted asylum by France, "Dictatorship and authentic literature are incompatible. The writer is the natural enemy of dictatorship."

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 Dalkey Archive)

(from Soft Skull)

(from Helen Marx Books)

(from Washington Square Press)



This week's poetry:

"The Ball Between Us"
(from GwynethLewis.com)

"Night, Open Field"
(from Fence Magazine)

"||||| ||||| |||||"
(from Aught Magazine)

This week's fiction:

"The Only Travel Guide You'll Ever Need"
(from Potion Magazine)

"Beneath the Shingles"
(from 12 Gauge)

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.


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