Literature: 'The Ditch I’m Going to Die In'
"Literature is the ditch I’m going to die in. It’s still the thing I care most about."
"Literature is the ditch I’m going to die in. It’s still the thing I care most about."
A fan of Meg Cabot's Allie Finkle series (Scholastic) dressed the part at the San Antonio Barnes & Noble last Friday, where Cabot (l.) autographed her book. The appearance was linked to Cabot's participation in the 15th annual Texas Book Festival in Austin (October 15-16). She spoke at a program on Saturday and encouraged young readers to "follow your dream." Roughly 20% of all book sales (B&N is the fair's official bookseller) go back to the Texas library system.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author and former Newsweek editor Jon Meacham will become an executive v-p and executive editor at Random House Publishing Group effective January 3. His responsibilities in the new position will include acquiring and editing nonfiction titles, focusing on history, biography and religion.
"He's got an idea a minute, he's a terrific editor, his journalistic skills are incredibly helpful in exploring digital initiatives," said his new boss, president and publisher Gina Centrello, in the New York Times. "Is that effusive enough? He's a dream hire."
Meacham's American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House was published by Random House and won a 2009 Pulitzer. The Wall Street Journal reported that he "is under contract to write biographies of presidents Thomas Jefferson and George H.W. Bush."
"He's going to be a strong magnet for writers," Centrello added. "He's got impeccable contacts here and abroad."
In a statement, Meacham said, "For more than a decade, I have had a splendid relationship with Random House as an author, and now it feels natural to extend this relationship into a role as a contributor to their publishing program. I love editing, I love books, and I love the people at Random House, which always has felt like the right place for me. I have benefited enormously over the years as an author from the terrific work of Gina Centrello, my editor Kate Medina, and the greater Random House publishing team."
Barnes & Noble chairman Leonard Riggio is seeking to assure shareholders that a sale of the company "would be conducted with their benefit in mind," Reuters reported. In a securities filing on Wednesday, B&N said "Riggio agreed with the board that he would not form a group to acquire the company, or discuss forming such a group, without the committee's consent."
Riggio said he is "absolutely committed" to seeing the sale process through and will "fully support" a process that maximizes value for shareholders, which would include "ensuring that if the company gets sold, it gets sold to the highest bidder able to consummate a deal in a timely manner. He also said that if an interested investor or group of investors wants him to be part of a group, he would consider participating. But he said he would not team up with anyone else to make a bid for the company, other than through the committee process, in order to assure an even playing field," Reuters wrote.
The CIA has sued a former officer who published The Human Factor: Inside the CIA's Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture under the pseudonym Ishmael Jones. The Associated Press (via USA Today) reported the "lawsuit accuses the officer of breaking his secrecy agreement with the U.S. The former CIA staffer worked under deep cover before publishing the book in July 2008."
The CIA contends that the book "was submitted to the agency's publications review board under a secrecy agreement that covers books written by former CIA officials. Jones ultimately published the book without the CIA's official blessing."
The agent/author told the AP that "CIA censors attack this book because it exposes the CIA as a place to get rich, with billions of taxpayer dollars wasted or stolen in espionage programs that produce nothing. Despite the talented work force, more than 90% of employees now live and work entirely within the United States where they are largely ineffective, in violation of the CIA's founding charter."
Greenlight Bookstore was chosen Best New Bookstore by the Village Voice for its Best of NYC 2010 feature. Greenlight's owners--Jessica Stockton Bagnulo and Rebecca Fitting--"don't even try to compete with Amazon, instead supplying a selection of tasteful, literary reads that appeal to the relatively young and bookish neighborhood," the Voice observed.
In addition, WORD was honored for Best Off-Line Personal Ads: "It's so refreshing and exciting to get out of the online comfort zone when we go to WORD bookstore, where there's a nifty meet-up board on which people post slips of paper noting their favorite authors and books in the hopes of meeting someone with similar interests."
"It isn't about the bottom line. It’s about getting these books, these volumes, in the hands of people who will read them," said Hy Wolfe, director of the Central Yiddish Cultural Organization. He spoke with BBC News "about his mission to keep both the bookshop and his language alive." The secular Yiddish bookstore he oversees in Manhattan must relocate by the end of the year (Shelf Awareness, August 25, 2010).
The book domino effect. Arizona's Bookmans bookstores debuted a new video that "plays on connectedness, cause and effect, and non-linear lines while evoking the feeling of getting lost in a book so deeply that the hustle and bustle of the rest of the world fades away."
E-book readers may still be a minority, but "their ranks are growing and transforming the definition of reading and books," USA Today reported in its exploration of digital trends.
Stephen King predicted that e-books will comprise 50% of the market "probably by 2013 and maybe by 2012," but cautioned: "Here's the thing--people tire of the new toys quickly."
Simba Information analyst Michael Norris envisioned "gradual, uninterrupted growth in e-books, but tipping point implies there will be something overnight which will instantly change the character of the publishing business. Thousands of new consumers are showing up in the e-book 'yes' column every day, but on the other hand, there are still over 120 million people who buy print books."
Morgan Entrekin, president and publisher of Grove/Atlantic, said, "the change will not happen as fast as it has happened in the music business or even in the newspaper and magazine world.... but eventually, 30, 40 or 50 years from now, e-books will be the predominant form."
King managed to get in the last, appropriately foreboding, words on the subject: "Let's just hope there won't be a terrorist EMP (electromagnetic pulse) that'll wipe them all out. They are ephemeral. In a very real sense, not books at all. Of course, books themselves are hardly indestructible: The Germans burned plenty. Not to mention the fundamentalists, who have cheerfully burned some of my own."
Despite the increasing availability of digital alternatives, many college students "are still hauling around bulky, old-fashioned textbooks--and loving it," the New York Times reported.
"The screen won't go blank," said Hamilton College sophomore Faton Begolli. "There can't be a virus. It wouldn't be the same without books. They've defined 'academia' for a thousand years."
In recent studies by the National Association of College Stores and the Student Public Interest Research Groups, "three-quarters of the students surveyed said they still preferred a bound book to a digital version. Many students are reluctant to give up the ability to flip quickly between chapters, write in the margins and highlight passages, although new software applications are beginning to allow students to use e-textbooks that way," the Times wrote.
"Students grew up learning from print books," said Nicole Allen, the textbooks campaign director for the research groups, "so as they transition to higher education, it's not surprising that they carry a preference for a format that they are most accustomed to."
"I believe that the codex is one of mankind's best inventions," said sophomore Jonathan Piskor.
The New York Times profiled Ernest J. Gaines, whose books include author of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman and A Lesson Before Dying. Gaines and his wife now live on the River Lake plantation in Oscar, La., where five generations of his family were born. They built a house and restored the cemetery "from near oblivion and they intend to be buried here themselves."
Gaines, 77, is no longer writing because he says he has "nothing original left to say." Referring to the cemetery, he added, "This is what I do instead of writing.... If I didn’t have those people back there, I would never have had anything to write about. That’s where I got all my stories from. My life is from them."
Boing Boing showcased Out of Print Clothing, which "sells T-shirts emblazoned with iconic or vintage book covers like Death of a Salesman, Animal Farm, Walden, Moby Dick, Fahrenheit 451 and a slew of others." For every shirt sold, one book is sent to a child in Africa through their charity partner Books For Africa.
"In October 2010, we fully sponsored and sent a 40-foot sea container (560 boxes) of donated text and library books to be distributed to schools and libraries in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania," said Out Of Print founder Todd Lawton.
Charles Yu, author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, chose his top 10 time travel books for the Guardian. "There are two kinds of stories: those that are explicitly about time travel, and those in which the time travel is hidden," Yu wrote. "Unless a narrative is supposed to represent a single, unbroken, continuous stretch of duration in the timeline of the actions portrayed (in which case it's probably either a court transcript or pornography), there is always, in any story, some element of compression, dilation, distortion or deformation of time."
Quillblog featured one "Canadian icon," actor Gordon Pinsent, reading selections from First Step 2 Forever: My Story by "another famous Canadian," Justin Bieber.
Book trailer of the day: For Time and Eternity by Allison Pittman (Tyndale House), the first in the Sister Wife series.
In another tough year economically, Independent Publishers Group had some good news to report: through September net sales rose 13% and returns were 16% of sales. The increase was not attributable to adding publishers, president Mark Suchomel stressed in a letter to the distributor's publishers. "Forty-three of our top 50 publishers are up over last year at this time. Only one of the top 50 is new to us this year." In addition, the company had a modest increase in sales in the previous year, making comparisons all the more solid.
Suchomel said that in addition to its publishers creating "good, salable books," the increase in revenue stems in part from "costly ongoing investments we've made for many years to develop markets outside the book trade and to create better tools to present a more personalized selection of titles, which have allowed us to better sell to all accounts including those in the trade." These investments include "sophisticated point-of-sale and analytical databases that allow IPG to give its publishers really solid information on which to base reprint decisions, and to give our customers comparative sales analyses that improve their stocking and restocking decisions."
E-book sales continue to rise "exponentially," he noted. The company has sold e-books for nine years, and they are "well integrated" into IPG's sales processes. Unlike some competitors, the company is not branding its e-book distribution operations separately. "We feel it is an essential part of being a good distributor, and that it adds to the definition and offerings of IPG rather than detracts from it."
Another positive sign: the company added several new staff positions and now has more than 170 full-time employees.
Tomorrow on the Martha Stewart Show: Caz Hildebrand and Jacob Kenedy, authors of The Geometry of Pasta (Quirk Books, $24.95, 9781594744952/1594744955).
Also on Martha Stewart: Hoda Kotb, author of Hoda: How I Survived War Zones, Bad Hair, Cancer, and Kathie Lee (Simon & Schuster, $25, 9781439189481/143918948X).
Tomorrow on NPR's Science Friday: Judy Pasternak, author of Yellow Dirt: An American Story of a Poisoned Land and a People Betrayed (Free Press, $26, 9781416594826/1416594825).
Tomorrow night on Real Time with Bill Maher: Nicolle Wallace, author of Eighteen Acres (Atria, $25, 9781439194829/1439194823).
Tomorrow night on the Tonight Show: Jamie Lee Curtis, author of My Mommy Hung the Moon: A Love Story (HarperCollins, $16.99, 9780060290160/0060290161).
Book TV airs on C-Span 2 from 8 a.m. Saturday to 8 a.m. Monday and focuses on political and historical books as well as the book industry. The following are highlights for this coming weekend. For more information, go to Book TV's website.
Saturday, October 23
9:30 a.m. For an event hosted by Diesel bookstore, Malibu, Calif., Susan Casey, author of The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean (Doubleday, $27.95, 9780767928847/0767928849), explores giant waves, the scientists trying to predict them and the surfers riding them. (Re-airs Saturday at 3 p.m.)
12 p.m. Steven Johnson, author of Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation (Riverhead, $26.95, 9781594487712/1594487715), suggests that the process that leads to innovative ideas has remained relatively unchanged throughout history. (Re-airs Sunday at 6 p.m. and Monday at 2 a.m)
4 p.m. Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg, co-authors of Madison and Jefferson (Random House, $35, 9781400067282/1400067286), focus on the third and fourth American presidents' relationship and their effect on the American political system. (Re-airs Sunday at 4 a.m. and 10 p.m.)
5 p.m. Niall Ferguson, author of High Financier: The Lives and Time of Siegmund Warburg (Penguin, $35, 9781594202469/159420246X), discusses the life and influence of financier Siegmund Warburg, whose London bank played an important role in rebuilding post-WWII Europe. (Re-airs Sunday at 3 a.m. and 1 p.m.)
7 p.m. Erick Erickson, author of Red State Uprising: How to Take Back America (Regnery, $27.95, 9781596986268/1596986263), presents his strategy for redefining the Republican Party. (Re-airs Sunday at 11 a.m. and 11 p.m., and Monday at 6 a.m.)
8 p.m. Devra Davis talks about her book Disconnect: The Truth About Cell Phone Radiation, What the Industry Has Done to Hide It, and How to Protect Your Family (Dutton $26.95, 9780525951940/0525951946). (Re-airs Sunday at 1:30 a.m. and Monday at 6:45 a.m.)
9:15 p.m. Alison Dagnes, author of Politics on Demand: The Effects of 24-Hour News on American Politics (Praeger, $34.95, 9780313382789/0313382786), questions whether the American media system is good for our democracy. (Re-airs Sunday at 6:15 a.m. and 4 p.m., and Monday at 4 a.m.)
10 p.m. After Words. Jonathan Alter interviews Dinesh D'Souza, author of The Roots of Obama's Rage (Regnery, $27.95, 9781596986251/1596986255). D'Souza asserts that the president poses an existential threat to the U.S. because he's heavily influenced by his father's anti-colonialist ideology. (Re-airs Sunday at 9 p.m., Monday at 12 a.m. and 3 a.m.)
Sunday, October 24
2 p.m. Gary Noesner, author of Stalling for Time: My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator (Random House, $26, 9781400067251/1400067251), talks about his experiences as former head of the FBI’s Crisis Negotiation Unit. (Re-airs Monday at 1 a.m. and Monday at 5 a.m.)
Johnny Depp wants to remake The Thin Man--based on Dashiell Hammett's novel and the six-film MGM series from the 1930s--with his Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides director Rob Marshal. Deadline.com reported that Depp "sparked to playing the role of Nick, who marries a young socialite and settles into a life of drinking and occasional sleuthing. No word on who'll play Norah."
"The Thin Man has long been a favorite of mine and with Rob at the helm, I know we're in great hands," Depp said. Warner Brothers Pictures Group president Jeff Robinov added: "There is no one more perfectly suited to portray Nick Charles than Johnny Depp."
"The intention is to take elements of the first two films and work them into one film. It will be true to the period, in a Sherlock Holmes-like stylized treatment," Deadline.com wrote. "They also intend to use Marshall’s talents as a choreographer and work in a musical number or two."
Sony Pictures has optioned Emergency!: This Book Will Save Your Life by Neil Strauss to adapt as "a film that will be produced by Robert Downey Jr., Susan Downey, and Michael DeLuca," according to Deadline.com. Allan Loeb (Wall Street 2) will write the screenplay it as a potential star vehicle for Downey.
Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling won the inaugural 500,000 kroner US$93,610) Hans Christian Andersen Literature Prize, which honors "a person who can be compared with Andersen, the Danish writer who was born in 1805 and wrote some 160 fairy tales and poems before his death in 1875," the Telegraph reported. Rowling said Andersen "created indestructible, eternal characters."
The latest Books for Understanding bibliography from the Association of American University Presses focuses on freedom of expression and the First Amendment and includes more than 100 titles from 30 university presses. The books examine the freedoms embodies in the First Amendment--the rights of free speech and dissent politically and religiously, the need for a free press, and the right to petition one's government for redress of grievances--and how they are regarded in the current culture wars.
Arriving in Avignon: A Record by Daniel Robberechts (Dalkey Archive Press, $13.95 Paperback, 9781564785923, October 2010)
Read a Flemish novel recently? For sheer unconventional, thought-provoking oddness, you couldn't do better than Daniël Robberechts's Arriving in Avignon. But don't call it a novel, though you'll probably find it in the fiction section of your local bookstore. It's sort of autobiographical, but not a memoir. Not a book of philosophy, either, although Robberechts's contention that the moment you write about life you falsify it is the most compelling aspect of the book. It's not a history, either, although it chronicles the nightmarish succession of corrupt popes when the papacy moved from Rome to Avignon. Nor is it a guidebook or travel writing, although the author names all the once-walled town's major streets and gates, as well as the train and bus timetables.
What is it, then? Robberechts calls it "a record," and refuses to tailor his work to fit into any genre. Taken for what it is, this is the longest 140-page book you'll read this year, fascinating, daring and boring all at the same time. Ostensibly it records the travels of a shy, horny young man who at age 18 runs away from boarding school hoping for an adventure, an experience that will change him. Between the ages of 18 and 24 he makes nearly 20 visits to Avignon, visiting the surrounding villages; listing all the people he sees; watching attractive women on trains and in cafes, waiting for them to make the first move, too inhibited to admit his helpless, embarrassed desires.
Robberechts's genreless "report" is a troubling, troublesome book, leaping back and forth in time, searching for a plot in real life. The narrative unfolds through blocks of prose without paragraphs, in which chapter numbers may occur mid-sentence and memory is always unreliable. This maddening, experimental book falls somewhere between the existentialism of Samuel Beckett (can anyone ever really know Avignon?) and the scientific detachment of Alain Robbe-Grillet. The book is haunted by a searing loneliness, as the young traveler describes all the people he sees and can't connect with, though the reader knows from flash forwards that he will ultimately marry the nameless blonde girl who fascinates him from the beginning, whom he calls Beatrice.
Dante isn't the only one referenced. Rodin, Rilke and the Marquis de Sade, Meister Eckhart and Thomas Aquinas, Petrarch, the Knights Templar and a procession of those corrupt popes are all included in Robberechts's exploration of the once-papal city, not to mention the constant wars, the torturing of heretics and the devastation of the Black Death.
"We live badly, we live unsatisfactorily," says Robberechts. Life is "the raw material with which we have to make do.... Is art no longer anything but the servant of life?... the more words one writes down... the greater the chance of one's being wrong, the smaller the probability that what has been written tallies with some reality."
No matter how thoroughly Robberechts explores Avignon, he's convinced he can't quite seem to arrive there. Being trapped in Robberechts's mind is scary and upsetting (he took his own life in 1992) and you'll be relieved when you finally arrive at the ending--if it's possible to ever arrive anywhere at all. --Nick DiMartino
Shelf Talker: An unconventional, maddening and thought-provoking book about a young man's search for connection, filled with history, popes, artists, train timetables and existentialism.