5 MobyLives.com


Is Google Print the PATRIOT Act on Steroids?

a MobyLives guest column
by Christopher Allen Waldrop

"Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense." — Gertrude Stein

11 JULY 2005 — It must have seemed like a good idea at the time: Google, via its Google Print program, would digitize library collections, making them more accessible and, probably most important, more searchable.
     Nothing lasts forever, but in spite of the possibility that todayıs Blackberry will become tomorrowıs TRS–80, digitization seems to be here to stay. And since most books produced from around 1860 into the 1990's were printed on unstable acidic paper, digitization is one — though not necessarily the only — way to give older books, including those still protected by copyright, a longer shelf life. Five libraries — the University of Michigan. Harvard University, Stanford University, Oxford University and the New York Public Library — are taking part in Google Print, although only the University of Michigan is allowing Google access to its entire collection. The others have limited the project to items that are public domain.
     The problem is not the idea itself but Google's assumption that publishers would "opt in" to the program in exchange for visibility and revenue from "content–targeted ads". But as Business Week and the American Library Association have reported, publishers aren't buying it.
     John Wilkin, associate librarian at the University of Michigan, has said that, for now, digitized versions of copyrighted materials will remain in a "dark archive", and won't be available.
     If the material's not going to be available for the foreseeable future, why is Google wasting time and money digitizing it? And even if copyright laws eventually allow the release of material Google's digitized without the permission of publishers, who's responsible for keeping it in the dark until then? If the ³dark archive² isnıt secure and material leaks out the University of Michigan or Google could be held liable for distributing protected material.
     There are a lot of 'ifs' surrounding the future of the project, but there are serious questions about its present as well.
     Daniel Brandt, founder of Google–watch, has written about his concerns with Google's lack of privacy protection. For example: In its privacy policy Google admits that it collects and keeps information on all users and their search terms.
     Brandtıs critics (like Google–watch–watch) claim that his gripe with Google is personal; that he feels his own business web site wasn't ranked highly enough.
     But Brandt hasn't tried to hide his reasons for disliking Google, and the concerns he raises about privacy are valid. Googleıs privacy policy states, "We do not rent or sell your personally identifying information to other companies or individuals, unless we have your consent." However, it goes on to say that Google will share information if "We provide such information to trusted businesses or persons for the sole purpose of processing personally identifying information on our behalf."
     What Google does on its own behalf doesn't necessarily serve libraries. If the participating libraries don't use Google to search their new digital archive they'll have to go to the time and expense of creating a new interface since most library catalogs aren't designed for full–text searching. If they use a Google interface then patrons could have their reading habits put under surveillance. This is another 'if', but it's a possibility that should be considered.
     After all the lobbying against the PATRIOT Act's provisions that prevent libraries from even saying whether law enforcement agents have been looking at their records, libraries can't really consider possibly opening patrons' reading habits, not only to law enforcement agencies but any third party that Google chooses.
     Aside from privacy there are still a lot of unanswered (and unasked) questions about the Google Library Project. How will it affect researchers? How much control will Google have? If they're trying to lure in publishers with the promise of ad revenues, how will that affect the results patrons get? Are the searches even reliably returning all the available information?
     Google has paired with OCLC, a consortium of more than 50,000 libraries. Google users supposedly can now use OCLC's WorldCat database to find the library that's closest to them with a specific book.
     This is an amazing idea, but it's not working yet. I searched for the closest library to me with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. The nearest copy, according to Google, was in Jackson, Tennessee, about a two–hour drive away.
     And while the book–finder (if it ever works properly) will serve anyone who knows exactly what they're looking for, Google's one–stop–shopping approach isn't made for research. Its very nature is to rank results by popularity. If you're researching, say, the duckbill platypus, the most popular results aren't necessarily what you want. Even with an advanced search Google can't distinguish between peer–reviewed research papers and stuffed toys.
     In spite of their inherent slowness, organizing information is a job that's still best done by people, and in most places those people are called librarians. I admit librarians can't begin to sort all the available information, but at least for them preserving, categorizing, and creating access to the information that people need is a higher priority than content–targeted advertising. The insistence of librarians on continuing to use what might seem like arcane and antiquated systems — such as the Dewey Decimal or Library of Congress systems — is as much for the benefit of patrons as it is for the librarians who shelve the books. These systems were designed to keep the materials on platypuses in one place and the materials on stuffed toys in another.
     This may seem like common sense, but in the rush to hand everything over to Google common sense is in short supply. The Association of American Publishers asked Google to wait six months before going ahead with the project. Google refused to accept even this short delay, even though they've said the whole project could take as much as ten years.
     Assuming the law will go their way could be costly. The fight's just beginning and no one can say how long it will go on or how it will end. Google's partners need to get their common sense back and take this opportunity to start asking the hard questions about what the Google Library Project means for libraries, their patrons, and the future. It's the one area where the problem is not too much information but too little.

Librarian CHIRSTOPHER ALLEN WALDROP is the Serials Coordinator at the Vanderbilt University Library in Nashville, Tennessee. His Googling Libraries appeared on MobyLives in January.

Link to this column.

©2005 Christopher Allen Waldrop

Previous columns:

BOOKSELLER AT LARGE . . . Guest commentator Dan Bloom says he moved to Taiwan and wrote a book that sold thousands of copies — after he took to the streets yelling, "Buy my book!"

ENOUGH ALREADY WITH THE MFA BASHING . . . Regular contributor Steve Almond, an MFA grad who also teaches creative writing, responds to Elizabeth Clementson's column about the influence of MFA programs.

DOWN WITH MFAs . . . In a guest column, MFA dropout and publisher Elizabeth Clementson say MFA programs are ruining literature and the publishing buisness.

TELEVISION WITHOUT PITY . . . Tired of the short story writer's life, guest columnist Steve Almond explains why he's now writing television shows such as "Blog and Order."

READING TO CHAIRS . . . When Quinn Dalton showed up at a bookstore to read from her new book, she was greeted by . . . empty chairs. In a guest column, she asks herself, "Why bother?"

THE KILLER POET . . . When a big haired poet asks the literary gumshoe to whack a librarian, he feels the weight of the whole world of poetry on his shoulder. Will he do the right thing?

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

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

Friday 15 July 2005

Remember the war? . . .
Get ready for a glut of books about the Iraq War, says Sheelah Kolhatkar in her New York Observer column. She says "The publishing industry has fiercely embraced Operation Iraqi Freedom, driven in roughly equal measure by profit motives, do–gooder instincts, genuine interest and herd mentality," and there have already been several six–figure deals—to write about a war that, as is noted, is not yet over. Kolhatkar says books are coming in from soldiers "who are trying to position themselves as the next Anthony Swofford, the former Marine Corps sniper, Gulf War veteran and author of the best–selling memoir Jarhead," and from journalists, "whose accounts include brushes with death, moments of kinship with Iraqi children, and love affairs ignited at the Palestine or Al–Hamra Hotels in Baghdad." But even before most have appeared, she notes that for many, "it's already too much." One besieged editor asks, "Do people go into the war thinking, 'Hey, maybe I can get a movie deal'?"

Incendiary still burning . . .
At The Literary Saloon, Michael Orthofer takes a look at Incendiary, the book that has been the center of considerable press attention of late because it's a thriller about a terrorist attack on London . . . that was released on the day of the actual terrorist attacks on London. (See Tuesday's MobyLives news digest.) In a commentary that also links to some more of the press coverage, and discusses author Chris Cleave's emerging status as a terrorist attack commentator, Orthofer says, 'We feel sort of bad for the guy: a tragic turn of events gets him undreamed–for publicity — of the sort no one wants but from which his book can't help but benefit. We figure that, were it not for this turn of events (and despite the original ad campaign), the book would have attracted some attention but sunk out of sight pretty fast: it's a bad book . . . . Now readers across the globe have heard about it (lots of weblog mentions, too) and many will be tempted to have a look at it." In a separate review at The Complete Review, Orthofer advises against it.

Come to Papa, come to Papa, do . . .
A woman who befriended Ernest Hemingway at an Idaho mountain resort in 1939 and remained friends with the writer until his death, is now, at her own death this year at age 99, being buried "in a plot next to Hemingway's grave" in Ketchum, Idaho. The woman's husband, who died in 1970, has been exhumed from his grave in Iowa and will also be buried in the plot next to Hemingway. The burials will take place on July 21, Hemingway's 106th birthday. But according to John Miller in an Associated Press wire story, the couple—Tillie and Lloyd Arnold—are not the only Hemingway acquaintances who wished to remain close in the afterlife: "Two former hunting guides are just a plot or two away, as is Chuck Atkinson, the Ketchum motel owner who was with Hemingway the day before he committed suicide. Six members of Hemingway's family, including two sons and his fourth wife, Mary Hemingway, are also buried there," reports Miller. "Even before the Arnolds, a Hemingway scholar from the University of North Carolina, John Bittner, asked to be buried in the cemetery as close to 'Papa's' grave as possible when he died in 2002." Says biographer James Plath, "Hemingway inspired in his friends a fierce loyalty."

Sex and politics . . .
Despite the fact that The Conservative Institute put Alfred Kinsey's 1950s reports on human sexuality near the top of their list of dangerous books published in the twentieth century (see the 2 June MobyLives news digest), Kinsey's reports had little political meaning, according to a review by Jonathan Gathorne–Hardy in the Times Literary Supplement. In a skeptical review of a new book about the political fallout from Kinsey's reports by Miriam G. Reumann, Gathorne–Hardy highlights the fact that "it was axiomatic then (as it is now) that American sexual character was national character. Americans could be defined by what they did sexually. From this it followed that private sexual acts were in fact political acts." But the problem with this logic, says Gathorne–Hardy, is that the "fact is there doesn't seem to be any real connection between sex and politics, or 'national character', or the strength of a nation . . . ." Any argument that there is a connection, argues Gathorne–Hardy, simply ignores the facts and fails to hold up as a "cogent argument."

Love means never having to say — well, anything . . .
A Chinese writer has written a novel "without a single word," but rather with "a set of 14 punctuations," saying he will reward 140,000 yuan ($16,900) to anyone who can decode it. According to a China Daily report by Ng Ting Ting, the author, Hu Wenliang, who has published several books, "insisted that it tells a touching love story, with ups and downs and a complete outline, which he spent a whole year on the novel."

The theory of messiness . . .
Freeman Dyson's long commentary about Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman's biography of Norbert Wiener, "the father of cybernetics," appears in the current issue of The New York Review of Books. Wiener, known early in his life as a child prodigy (he earned his Ph. D. from Harvard at 18) and who later did important work for the U.S. military during WW II, is best known for his refusal to work for government projects after the detonation of atomic bombs in Japan. But Wiener was also a best–selling writer and the author of two autobiographies. Summarizing Conway and Sieglman's biography, Dyson writes that Wiener "understood, more clearly than anyone else, that the messiness of the real world was precisely the point at which his mathematics should be aimed. As an applied mathematician, he worked out a general theory of control systems and feedback mechanisms, a theory which he called 'cybernetics.' Cybernetics was a theory of messiness, a theory that allowed people to find an optimum way to deal with a world full of poorly known agents and unpredictable events."

How to judge a bad book . . .
"You found your child had a book with vivid descriptions of sex, violence, vulgar language or something else objectionable to you," observes the Parents Against Bad Books in Schools website. "You have lots of questions. How dare the school allow this junk! Why? How did it happen? Are there other books like this? Why are they doing this to my child?" Among other helpful postings including a list of text books that have been called "bad books," and a "list of lists" about "bad books," the site has posted a Sample Book Review Documentation Form that helps identify a "bad book." It asks questions such as, "For each type checked above also indicate level of vividness/graphicness using the following as a general guide: Basic (B): large breasts; Graphic (G): large, voluptuous bouncing breasts; Very graphic (VG): large, voluptuous bouncing breasts with hard nipples."

Rejected rejections . . .
At Reader of Depressing Books, an examination of recent rejection letters recieved by the proprietor for some recent short story submissions: "'We're sorry to say that this manuscript is not right for us. Unfortunately, we are receiving so many submissions that it is impossible for us to reply more specifically. We thank you for the chance to consider your work. The Editors'/ this one was from the new yorker/ i think i lied to the new yorker/ i think i put that i had an MFA and that my stories were forthcoming in the paris review / i think it's okay to lie to the new yorker".

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

Thursday 14 July 2005

Osnos stepping down as Public Affairs head . . .
Barely a month after cutting a highly publicized book deal with W. Mark Felt — aka Deep Throat (see the Reuters storyPublic Affairs founder and publisher Peter Osnos is stepping down. Steven Zeitchik reports in a PW Daily story that Osnos is not giving up his ownership share, however, and that he will continue to work for the company as an editor. "I wanted to focus my energies on the thing I really do best, which is acquiring and publishing and editing books," Osnos tells Zeitchik. Public Affairs is part of the Perseus Book Group, and over the years a number of prominent editors worked for Osnos, including Little, Brown editor in chief Geoff Shandler, and Times Books editor in chief Paul Golob.

Man who wears pointy hat and robes and feeds dead flesh of his god to chanting acolytes says book about wizards is evil . . .
"Pope Benedict believes the Harry Potter books subtly seduce young readers and 'distort Christianity in the soul' before it can develop properly," according to comments he made to a German writer, reports a Reuters wire story. Author Gabriele Kuby says when she sent the then–Cardinal Ratzinger her 2003 book Harry Potter — Good or Evil?, a book that "attacks J.K. Rowling's best selling series," Benedict wrote back saying, "It is good that you enlighten people about Harry Potter, because these are subtle seductions which act unnoticed and by this deeply distort Christianity in the soul, before it can grow properly."

MORE: LifeSiteNews.com, an anti–Harry Potter website, has posted a translation of the letters, and a commentary that notes that in one of the letters, Ratzinger told Kuby to send a copy of her book to a Vatican prelate, Father Peter Fleetwood (Ratzinger insults him in the letter by calling him "Mr. Peter Fleetwood"), who had made a brief but favorable quip about the Potter books in public. The site has also posted scanned copies of the original letters themselves (both in pdf format, and in German): letter of 7 March, 2003, and letter of 27 May 2003.

RELATED: An Associated Press wire story reports that a W.H. Smith bookstore in London has announced "it would move a launch party planned for the sixth Harry Potter book away from a central London train station that was involved in last week's terrorist bombings." The party was to be held at the King's Cross station, " which features in the books as the home of Platform 9 3/4 from which Harry and other young wizards take a train to the Hogwarts School."

Hail & Farewell: Karim Emami . . .
Karim Emami, an Iranian translator known for his translations of major modern English–speaking writers into Persian, has died of leukemia at his home in Tehran at the age of 75. As a New York Times obituary by Nazila Fathi reports, Emami was also known for translating Persian poetry into English, "and for his work on dictionaries." Among other works, he translated The Great Gatsby and Look Back in Anger into Persian, and the poems of Omar Khayyam into English. Emami studied English literature at the University of Minnesota, and after his return to Iran, "started the Zamineh bookstore in Tehran, a meeting place for book lovers."

Pale Fire burning bright . . .
Writing about Abraham Socher's article in the Times Literary Supplement on Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire , (available in the July 1 print edition only), The New York Observer's Ron Rosenbaum draws attention to the importance of a debt that Nabokov owed to poet Robert Frost. In his Observer column, Rosenbaum observes that Frost's little–known 1958 "Of a Winter Evening" may have the inspired the famous first lines of Pale Fire. These lines read: "I was the shadow of the waxwing slain / By the false azure in the windowpane; / I was the smudge of ashen fluff—and I / Lived on, flew on, in the reflected sky" and are supposed to be the words of fictional character John Shade. Socher, a lecturer at Oberlin College, thinks some of these words are played off language in Frost's poem and shows why and how Nabakov might have adapted some of Frost's language. Rosenbaum, however, stresses that the adaptation was widely successful. He even thinks that the poem, even though it is embedded in Pale Fire, is "perhaps the greatest American verse work of the 20th century . . . . In fact, taken on its own, it surpasses in every respect anything that Frost has ever done."

RELATED: Rosenbaum also discovers and highlights the work of Mister Quickly, an "Amazon epicurean" from Victoria, BC, who writes deadpan, and purposefully clueless, reviews of the world's great literature. His review of Nabokov's Pale Fire, for instance, reads: "Fire — a timeless subject. Perhaps rivaling the wheel in terms of its importance in human development, fire has been an important companion in our teleological quest towards perfection. This book didn't really directly tackle the subject of fire as poignantly as would suit my tastes. If you're interested in furthering your knowledge of fire I recommend the movie 'Quest for Fire,' or the song 'Fire' by Arthur Brown, and 'Backdraft.'" 49 such reviews by Mister Quickly are posted on Amazon.

Missing in translation . . .
Jessa Crispin says "My greatest failure as a reader is my inability to read literature in a second language." She became particularly worried recently when "I saw how many works by Julio Cortázar (1914–84), one of my favorite writers, have not been translated into English." So, as she details in her Book Standard column, when Archipelago released a rare new translation of Cortázar's The Diary of Andres Fava, she called the book's translator, Anne McLean, to discuss the problem. Says McLean, "On the one hand, it is a great shame that more of his work isn't in circulation in English, but it also means there are many, many readers who still have the discovery of Cortázar to look forward to, and that's something I envy."

RELATED: A MobyLives column from the archives asks how you know it's a good translation if you don't know the original language?

But no pets . . .
Scott McLemee says he picked up A Nation of Realtors: A Cultural History of the Twentieth Century American Middle Class by Jeffrey M. Hornstein "expecting a mixture of social history and Glengarry Glen Ross. It's actually something different: a contribution to understanding how certain aspects of middle–class identity took shape — both among the men (and later, increasingly, women) who identified themselves as Realtors and among their customers." In his Inside Higher Ed column, McLemee interviews Hornstein, and also notes of the book: "Particularly interesting is the chapter 'Applied Realology,' which recounts the early efforts of a handful of academics to create a field of study that would then (in turn) bolster the profession's claims to legitimacy and rigor."

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

Wednesday 13 July 2005

Records show author of book about abuse by nuns was never in their care, says Church . . .
It has been the "surprise best–seller on the summer book market" in Ireland: Kathy's Story: A Childhood Hell Inside the Magdalene Laundries, by Kathy O'Beirne, "a bleak tale told by a brave survivor of rape and abuse" at the hands of nuns. According to a report by Lara Bradley for the Irish newspaper The Sunday Independent, O'Beirne, now 45, says she was beaten so badly her pelvis was broken, and that she was raped and made pregnant, in incidents that occurred at two different facilities—laundries with residences—run by the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity. But the Sisters say their records show she was never a resident, and have called for an investigation. O'Beirne counters that she has "documentary proof" but would not produce it for The Independent. She says, "Of course I have all the proof I need. The best wine is kept till last. I'm keeping it for the High Court. I'll sue them." Her publisher, Mainstream Publishers, is backing her up. Says Mainstream's Bill Campbell, "We are satisfied Kathy's Story is 100 per cent true. . . .We have done our own investigations, which are very stringent. There is no question of us pulling this book." O'Beirne, meanwhile, has told The Independent of more rapes she didn't report in the book, and says she's writing a sequel.

No dough for non–doodlin' Diddy . . .
Random House and Sean "P. Diddy" Combs have settled a lawsuit over a $300,000 advance given to Combs for a memoir he never wrote. In an Associated Press wire story, Hillel Italie reports that "According to the court papers, Combs signed with Random House in 1998" and a "manuscript was to be completed by Dec. 15, 1999, but the deadline passed and, in early 2000, Random House notified Combs that he was in breach of contract and that the publisher wanted the money back." According to court papapers Random sent follow–up notices to Combs "Year after year." Neither Combs nor Random House would say how the suit was resolved, however — i.e., whether Combs had to pay back the money. Meanwhile, Italie notes it isn't the first time a music star took a huge advance for a memoir he never wrote: "Years ago, Mick Jagger received a seven–figure advance to write his memoirs, but eventually returned the money, saying he couldn't remember anything of significance."

Trotsky's point that capitalism corrupts definitively proven . . .
The ice pick used to assassinate the leading theorist of the Russian Revolution, and early Communism's most brilliant writer,Leon Trotsky, "may have resurfaced after being lost for decades." Mark Stevenson reports in an Associated Press wire story (photo included) found at The Moscow Times, that the ice pick was discovered to be in the possession of Ana Alicia Salas, who says she got it from her father, a Mexican "secret police commander" when Revolution and Literature author Trotsky was murdered at his home near Mexico City on 20 August 1940. (Salas says her father was just protecting the historic weapon so someone else wouldn't steal it.) The pick has "faint, reddish–brown stains" on it, "But there's only one sure way to prove whether those stains are Trotsky's blood, and Esteban Volkov, Trotsky's grandson, holds the key: his DNA." Volkov won't give a sample until Salas promises to donate the weapon, if authenticated, to the museum displaying Trotsky's writings that has been made out of Trotsky's home, reports Stevenson. Salas, who keeps the ice pick in a cardboard box labeled "Kenmore Electric Heating Pad," "refuses to consider such a donation, saying people value only the things they pay for."

The real damage will hit us soon, says McEwan . . .
Ian McEwan comments on life in his home city in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on London's mass transit system, in a brief essay written the day after the attacks for The Guardian: "In London yesterday, where crowds fumbling with mobile phones tried to find unimpeded ways across the city . . . . While rescue workers searched for survivors and the dead in the smoke–filled blackness below, at pavement level men were loading lorries, a woman sold umbrellas in her usual patch, the lunchtime sandwich makers were hard at work," he observes. But, he continues, "It is unlikely that London will claim to have been transformed in an instant, to have lost its innocence in the course of a morning. It is hard to knock a huge city like this off its course. It has survived many attacks in the past. But once we have counted up our dead, and the numbness turns to anger and grief, we will see that our lives here will be difficult."

Deep Throat versus Shallow Brainpan? . . .
Mark Feeney finds that Bob Woodward's new The Secret Man upholds Joan Didion's simple description of Woodward's work as comprised of "books in which measurable cerebral activity is virtually absent." Feeney, in a review in The New York Observer, finds that the book is "absorbingly anticlimactic" and "highly diffuse and inconclusive." In particular, he criticizes Woodward for failing to understand why Mark Felt, Woodward's "Deep Throat," even agreed to be a source and, subsequently, for failing to engage Felt, who is now senile by many accounts, before it is was too late. In short, Feeny accuses Woodward of being unable — and unwilling — to connect many of the most important elements of Felt's involvement with the Watergate story. He writes, "What Mr. Woodward can't do — no one can now, not even Mark Felt — is work those elements into a coherent, fully nuanced moral portrait. It's both touching and exasperating to watch Mr. Woodward try — touching because he's striving for a degree of moral imagination otherwise lacking in his work, exasperating because he's so clearly incapable of succeeding."

Nick Tosches ... the new Norman Mailer? . . .
"With the possible exception of Norman Mailer when he's on a roll, Nick Tosches might be the most distinguishable nonfiction prose writer in America today," writes Allen Barra in an essay at Salon. Tosches' work, according to Barra, is "intensely personal and relentlessly idiosyncratic," but his new book, King of The Jews, makes "you feel like an outsider in a strange land." The book tells the story of Arnold Rothstein, a man famous for fixing the 1919 World Series, and for an appearance as a character in The Great Gatsby. Tosches undertook the project of writing a new book on Rothstein to suggest a new image of his character, which Tosches believed had been distorted by previous accounts. In an interesting discussion of how fact and fiction can work in such a biography, Tosches notes that "It is not the artful novelist who has blurred the divide between fiction and fact: it is the professor of learning, the peddler of secondhand misknowing ... It is better to keep away from words, 'facts,' 'knowledge.' They are almost always the carriers of disease."

Christian fiction ... the new Stephen King? . . .
Numerous recent reports have noted the rise in Christian fiction, often with a certain tone of alarm. "But there's no mystery to the popularity of Christian fiction," writes Alex Good in a commentary (second item) at GoodReports. "People want to believe that religion is still a vital force in modern life, that it still means something. Take a look at two of the most wildly successful novels ever published in America: The Exorcist and The Da Vinci Code. I don't think either of these books would be categorized as 'Christian fiction' (in fact they were both criticized by the Catholic Church) but the same buttons are being pushed. They're the same buttons Alice Sebold pushed in The Lovely Bones, and that Stephen King has been pressing for years. Let's face it, the whole Left Behind series is just a clumsy rip off of The Stand. The only thing different is the marketing."

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

Tuesday 12 July 2005

Ads for novel about terrorists attacking London pulled from London bookstores, subway stations . . .
Last week's terror attack in London has precipitated the removal of advertising from subway stations and bookstores for the book Incendiary — a first novel about "suicide bombers creating mayhem in London." As a Reuters wire story by Jeffrey Goldfarb and Mike Collett–White reports, the book was released last Thursday, the very day of the terrorist attacks upon London's mass transit system. A spokeswoman for the book's publisher, Random House imprint Chatto and Windus, tells Reuters the company "acted immediately to remove posters advertising the book from London's underground railway system because it thought it would be insensitive to keep them there." And Charlotte Higgins reports in a Guardian story that the bookselling chain Waterstone's also removed those ads, which feature "plumes of smoke curling above London's skyline." Author Chris Cleave called the timing of the release "macabre and a horrible coincidence." But Higgins reports Chatto and Windus is keeping Incendiary in stores, since the book is about a "woman trying to make sense of her life after a tragedy." Meanwhile, Reuters says Cleave has posted commentary and questions related to it all on his website, including: "Is it on the whole a helpful book, or not? Is it disrespectful to the families of the victims for me to keep endorsing it? Or would it be a greater disrespect if I didn't? Please let me know what you think."

Women's Review revived . . .
The Women's Review of Books, which ceased publication last December due to dwindling subscribers and soaring debt, will resume publication in January, thanks to the addition of a new publishing partner. As a Boston Globe story by David Mehegan reports, the magazine will return as a bimonthly, rather than a monthly, but with the same editor, Amy Hoffman, and it will still be associated with Wellesley College. But now Wellesley will co– sponsor the publication along with Old City Publishing, previously known mostly for publishing scientific journals. Says Old City owner Ian Mellanby, "I have no doubt that it can be profitable. It has a good editor, a good product, and a good reputation. We would like not just to rebuild it but perhaps have an international perspective . . . and take it to another level." Says Hoffman, "I'm thrilled, just incredibly pleased. We're a place where people can have thoughtful, substantial discussions on feminist thinking and research."

RELATED: In a MobyLives commentary from November, Women's Review senior editor Lynn Walterick outlined what the magazine had been up against — and why it should be saved.

All right, so who do we blame for the songs? . . .
A New York Post Page Six item yesterday quoted an anonymous source saying that Madonna's series of "Kabbalah–themed children's books" were ghostwritten. Said the Post's source, "All of Madonna's books are written by the Kabbalah Center's official ghostwriter, Eitan Yardeni. . . . Last summer, he flew to London to help Madonna write the last book, but she didn't really do anything." Madonna's rep didn't return calls from Page Six, but a rep for her publisher, Callaway Arts & Entertainment, did respond to a call from Publishers Weekly reporter Shannon Maughan for a PW Daily report. The Callaway rep called the Page Six report "completely untrue."

Thompson flight scheduled . . .
It's official: What's left of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson will be shot out of a cannon. As an Associated Press wire story reports, "His cremated remains will be shot into the air Aug. 20 from a cannon installed on a 150–foot–high tower behind his home in Woody Creek." The AP says Thompson's pal actor Johnny Depp " has hired a Beverly Hills, Calif., events planner to oversee the event, which will be closed to the public." Says Depp, I just want to send my pal out the way he wants to go out."

RIP: Byron Preiss . . .
Byron C. Preiss, the man who may have been the first to call what he published "graphic novels," and an early and visionary entrant into the field of digital publishing, died last weekend in a traffic accident in East Hampton, NY, at the age of 52. As a New York Times obituary reports, Preiss "was among the first publishers to release CD–ROM's and electronic books," and he also published books by numerous celebrity authors, including Jane Goodall, Billy Crystal, Jerry Seinfeld, LeAnn Rimes and Jay Leno.

Hail & Farewell: James Haskins . . .
James Haskins, "an educator who in seeking to make up for the dearth of children's books on black historical figures ultimately became one of America's most prolific children's book authors with more than 100 works of nonfiction to his credit," has died at his home in Manhattan at age 63. As Mel Watkins details in a New York Times obituary, Haskins was special education teacher at PS 92 in New York in 1969 when Barney Rosset published Haskins' journal, Diary of a Harlem Schoolteacher, at Grove Press. Haskins went from there to children's books. "If my teachers had followed the official curriculum, I would have grown up thinking that blacks had never done anything in the history of the world except be slaves," he said later. "I knew exactly what I wanted to write — books about current events, black history and important black people so that students could understand the larger world around them. Books written on a level that students could understand."

What we talk about when we talk about Akhmatova . . .
Having her work banned by the Communists for over forty years of her life was, for Anna Akhmatova, like being "buried alive," said Joseph Brodsky. But now, a new biography of the great poet, Anna of all the Russias: The Life of Anna Akhmatova by Elaine Feinstein, is being hailed as brilliant by at least one critic because it avoids the temptations typical of writing about Akhmatova — "Feinstein entirely avoids the queasiness of celebrating her greatness as dependent on her suffering — it was in writing of the very ordinariness of desire, jealousy, guilt and rejection that she was already extraordinary, says Olivia Cole. The book inspires Cole to write this survey of the great poet's life for The Independent.

Truman Capote, at a theater near you . . .
He was widely caricatured while he was alive, so it may seem a surprise that it's taken this long for a caricature to emerge from Hollywood, but now at least two versions of Truman Capote are on the way — Sony Pictures Classics yesterday announced it will release Capote on September 30, beating a British production slated to be released in 2006. A brief Hollywood Reporter story says the Sony release will star Philip Seymour Hoffman as the scribe, and will focus on the period of his life when he was in Kansas writing In Cold Blood. The British version will star Toby Jones.

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

Monday 11 July 2005

Hail & Farewell: Claude Simon . . .
Claude Simon, one of the leaders of the "nouveau roman" movement in the 1950s and '60s, and winner of the 1985 Nobel Prize in literature, has died in Paris at the age of 91. As an Agence France Presse wire report notes, Simon was famed for " writing in a style characterised by interior monologues and an absence of punctuation." As the AFP notes, he lived a peripatetic and adventurous life, from his birth in Madagascar, to his education in Oxford and Cambridge, to his involvement in the Spanish Civil War, to fighting the Nazis as they invaded France in World War II, when he was captured and later escaped. He gained fame for novels about those experiences, such as Histoire and his last book, published in 2001, Le Tramway.

Rushdie calls for end to "culture" of rape . . .
Salman Rushdie has issued a dramatic call for both India and Pakistan to reject the "culture" of rape oppressing women. In a New York Times op–ed piece, Rushdie declares, "In honor–and–shame cultures like those of India and Pakistan, male honor resides in the sexual probity of women, and the 'shaming' of women dishonors all men." Says Rushdie, "Thanks to that code's ruthlessness, raped women will go on hanging themselves in the woods and walking into rivers to drown themselves. It will take generations to change that. Meanwhile, the law must do what it can."

Stop Smiling something to, well, grin about . . .
The newest issue of Stop Smiling Magazine follows many of the most important trends in American publishing in an issue entitled, quite pessimistically, "The Downfall of American Publishing." The issue, which is not available online, profiles many of Americas most venerable book publishers, including Grove Press, City Lights, and FSG. The issues also contains interviews with Harper's editor Lewis Lapham, Simon & Schuster publisher David Rosenthal, and Paris Review editor Philip Gourevitch, as well as writing by André Schiffrin, founder of The New Press. Two features sweeten the deal: A major profile of New Yorker founding editor Harold Ross and "Long Live the High Priest of Gonzo: An Oral History of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson."

What was cool . . .
In a curious reminder of how long ten years can seem, Amazon.com has posted a copy of its must–see 1995 homepage, complete with the company's forgotten logo, a curious monstrosity that featured a river — presumably the real Amazon — flowing through the letter "A." A note on the homepage casually tells users "If you explore just one thing, make it our personal notification service. We think it's very cool!"

Yiddish and Hebrew equals something that speaks Palestinian . . .
A long interview with novelist David Grossman by Mark Sorkin appears in a recent issue of The Nation. Grossman, Sorkin writes, was the first Israeli writer to show "an image of the Palestinians that was rarely seen in the Hebrew press — not as rejectionist 'others' but as poorer neighbors whose idealized past and contemporary struggle for statehood were uncomfortably familiar." Grossman and Sorkin talk politics, but Grossman also talks about writing, how politics affect his work, and his frequent use of protagonists who are also storytellers. When asked how Hebrew helps him write his books, he notes, "I tried to merge the Jewish way of thinking, which is expressed in the Yiddish, and the Israeli way of thinking, which is expressed in the modern Hebrew. Those rhythms are contradictory, because Hebrew is very sharp, abrupt, masculine in a way, and Yiddish is more feminine and ironic and subtle."

The truth about The Truth . . .
After a strong start — selling 27,000 copies in its first week of release, according to Nielsen BookScanEdward Klein's The Truth About Hillary has slowed down considerably, and the author hasn't been making many public appearances except on friendly conservative media. In an in–depth analysis for The Book Standard, Rachel Deahl observes that "questionable explorations into the former First Lady and New York Senator's private life have turned off critics, pundits and now, apparently, book–buyers." Deahl documents some of that reaction — including more BookScan numbers and details of Klein's last–minute withdrawal from some live interviews — to conclude, as the headline to her piece puts it, that "Klein's Trash Tome's Trajectory Suggests There Is Such a Thing as Bad Publicity, After All."

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

Visit the mothership:

What others say about Moby


(from Helen Marx Books)

(from Basic Books)

(from Dalkey Archive)



This week's fiction:

"Fists for Hands"
(from Identity Theory)

(from Slow Trains)

This week's poetry:

"Mohammed X Goes Mex"
(from Exquisite Corpse)

"The Last Surviving Reality Show Contestant Addresses the Colonists from Mars"
(from La Petite Zine)

"The Veil of Ether"
(from Agni)

This week's fiction:

"Fists for Hands"
(from Identity Theory)

(from Slow Trains)

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.