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The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 31 October

21 October: Big Read reactions | Simon Winchester's second OED book | New Biblio ... maybe
22 October: An Unpardonable Crime ? | The end of Book ? | The Paris Review, post Plimpton
23 October: Prix Goncourt 2003 | James Wood on Coetzee | More Coetzee reactions | Translation notes
24 October: New Persimmon | Kluge prepares for the Büchnerpreis | Grünbein's Descartes-novel
25 October: James Wood at Harvard | Juan Goytisolo | More Manuel Vázquez Montalbán
26 October: Peter Carey's My Life As a Fake
27 October: Coetzee reactions | Sontag's speech | Dale Peck article
28 October: Elias Canetti's last memoirs
29 October: Book content search wars | Yellow Dog in the US | White Chameleon review | More French literary prizes
30 October: adopt a book scheme | Differing critical attitudes
31 October: Buy shares in a bookstore ? | Finnish books

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31 October 2003 - Friday

Buy shares in a bookstore ? | Finnish books

       Buy shares in a bookstore ?

       It ain't the most impressive IPO, but Ruminator Books is hoping to raise some much-needed cash through a stock offering. As Tim Huber reports in the Pioneer Press yesterday, they're trying out "a little-used tool called the Small Corporate Offering Registration, or SCOR, that allows small companies to raise money without the complications of full-fledged securities offerings."
       There's also a report from PW Daily -- and you can get some information at the Ruminator site too. It doesn't sound like a great get-rich-quick scheme for investors, but it does offer an easy opportunity to support a worthy bookstore (and certainly sounds better than holding stock in, say, Barnes & Noble).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Finnish books

       In his column in The Independent today Boyd Tonkin writes about visiting the Helsinki Book Fair and about Finnish literature in The "amazing wine" of the Finnish language. Not a great deal, but noteworthy, since any mention of Finnish literature is a rarity. (As he notes: "English translations sometimes seem as scarce as lemon trees in Lapland".)
       For additional information, check out the Finnish Literature Information Centre.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

30 October 2003 - Thursday

adopt a book scheme | Differing critical attitudes

       adopt a book scheme

       Helen Brown reports about the British Library's adopt a book scheme in the Telegraph.
       Well, it's for a pretty good cause -- and you do get a certificate .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Differing critical attitudes

       Kate Taylor discusses The need for snarks and other literary beasts in yesterday's issue of The Globe & Mail (link first seen at Arts Journal), considering the different approaches to book reviewing on the two sides of the Atlantic. Dale Peck, Tibor Fischer on Martin Amis' Yellow Dog (though we remind readers, yet again: that wasn't a review ...), "mealy-mouthed reviewers tiptoeing around the books they are reviewing" (that would be the Canadian reviewing community), Heidi Julavits and The Believer: it's all here.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

29 October 2003 - Wednesday

Book content search wars | Yellow Dog in the US
White Chameleon review | More French literary prizes

       Book content search wars

       Much has been made of the new search tool: Amazon now allows not only searches of title and author information, but actual content (from the complete texts of a considerable percentage of the books available through Amazon; see their FAQ page). It's obviously of some use, though we don't understand why they couldn't set up a separate search-box for these types of searches, thus preventing the avalanche of results that now appear even when we only want to find books by a specific author.
       Publishers Weekly now reports on The Amazoning of Google ? Apparently:
For the last few months, Google has been courting publishers, hoping to convince them to turn over book content that could be used in Google's database
       Not much information on how they plan to present search results, but this also might have some potential.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Yellow Dog in the US

       It's apparently arrived: Martin Amis' Yellow Dog is about to make its American splash.
       After the very, very, very mixed reviews it received in the UK it looks like we're in for a repeat in the US. The Kakutani got things rolling nicely in yesterday's issue of The New York Times (sorry, no link to the registration-requiring page), concluding:
It reads not as a satire or a dark parable of modern life, not even, really, as a fully fashioned novel, but as a bunch of unsavory outtakes from an abandoned project: nasty bits and pieces best left on the cutting room floor.
       Other choice bits -- there are almost too many to choose from -- include: "It bears as much resemblance to Mr. Amis's best fiction as a bad karaoke singer does to Frank Sinatra".
       So is Amis in for a worse time in the US than the UK ? Hardly. At least one review beat the Kakutani to the punch -- Michael Pakenham's in The Baltimore Sun (19 October) -- and saw things entirely differently, maintaining:
It is raucously funny, relentlessly fast-paced, delightfully intricate in its internal plays on the best traditions of 18th and 19th century fiction -- and, finally, a deeply moving novel of seriousness and important values.
       We wouldn't be surprised to find a whole number of similarly divergent views expressed over the coming weeks. (Eventually, once we get our hands on a copy, we hope to review it too.)

       One thing is impressive: the attention and review coverage Amis gets. Fair enough, in a way, we suppose: he is, after all, the grand old man of British fiction by now, and so there's some due reverence, etc. -- but for quite a while now he has not impressed greatly either literarily or, it would seem, in terms of sales. We have no idea what the American Yellow Dog advance was, but we'd be curious to know if he'll come close to earning it back.
       We also wonder about all the attention the literary pages (and, occasionally, we) lavish on him: it's fun stuff, but does anybody care ? We have five Amis titles under review and the most popular of these last month, Koba the Dread, was only the 222nd most popular review at the site -- and some of the others did considerably worse. The lack of interest in our reviews can be attributable to other things (including the fact that there's lots of Amis-related information available elsewhere on the Internet which people might go to instead), but we're pretty sure that, at least in part, it has to do with a general lack of interest in the author and his work.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       White Chameleon review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Christopher Hampton's autobiographical play, White Chameleon.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       More French literary prizes

       Two more French literary prizes -- the prix Femina and the prix Médicis -- have handed out their awards. The main Femina-award -- for best French novel -- went to Dai Sijie's Le Complexe de Di (winning seven votes, to four for Philippe Claudel's Les Âmes grises), while the minor ones included La Porte by Magda Szabo (best foreign novel) and Une saison de machettes by Jean Hatzfeld (non-fiction -- beating out, among others, Qui a tué Daniel Pearl ? by Bernard-Henri Lévy). The main Médicis-award -- for best novel -- went to Hubert Mingarelli's Quatre soldats.

       Dai Sijie is the Chinese exile now writing in French (he's lived in France for twenty years), a film director turned author who scored a stunning success with Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (see our review) -- a book he's now also turned into a movie. L'Express reports that it's sold 650,000 copies in France alone -- and a stunning 350,000 copies in the US (which, if true, certainly makes it one of the most successful literary translations in the US in recent times). The success of Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress also explains why Alfred A. Knopf paid a reported € 200,000 for the American rights to Le Complexe de Di, even before it won this prize (not that the "prix Femina winner"-sticker on the cover is going to help unload more copies at the local Barnes & Noble).

       For more information about this year's prix Femina and the prix Médicis see also (French) reports in Libération and Le Monde, and profiles in Le Figaro of prize-winners Dai Sijie and Hubert Mingarelli There's also an English-language report on Dai Sijie's prix Femina from AFP (at Expatica).

       For more information about Dai Sijie's Le Complexe de Di see:        We'll probably try to review this, though it'll probably take us a while to get our hands on a copy.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

28 October 2003 - Tuesday

Elias Canetti's last memoirs

       Elias Canetti's last memoirs

       1981 Nobel laureate (see here) Elias Canetti -- none of whose works we have under review (yet) -- has been peripherally in the news regarding various new Iris Murdoch-biographies (as he and Murdoch had what sounds like a simply horrid but very intense intimate relationship). Most of the Murdoch coverage hasn't gone into much detail -- A.N.Wilson's much reviled-book providing enough gossip-fodder (see our previous mention, etc.) so that there's not much need to bring in Canetti.
       Canetti is also the author of several marvelous autobiographical works -- nicely collected in The Memoirs of Elias Canetti (which includes The Tongue Set Free, The Torch in My Ear, and The Play of the Eyes; get your copy from -- but there's relatively little about his later, English years. Now a posthumous collection has been published in German, Party im Blitz, an edited-together version of the memories he was bringing to paper as a very old man. Beside salacious (and not very generous) Murdoch-details, the book is supposed to offer a good look at mid-century English intellectual life. We'll probably try and get our hands on a copy and fill you in then. Meanwhile, some links (sorry -- all in German; no notice seems to have been taken of this book in the English-speaking world yet):        We haven't heard of any US or UK publisher picking up this title, but it seems a sure bet to get translated eventually.
       For additional Canetti information, see the Canetti-page at books and writers.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

27 October 2003 - Monday

Coetzee reactions | Sontag's speech | Dale Peck article

       Coetzee reactions

       Reactions to J.M.Coetzee receiving the Nobel Prize haven't been uniformly enthusiastic, as we recently mentioned. James Wood may have approved of his new novel (see our mention) -- as does Judith Shulevitz in her cover-review in this week's issue of The New York Times Book Review ("Elizabeth Costello is as haunting as anything Coetzee has written") -- but some aren't nearly as enthusiastic about the Nobel laureate.
       Consider, for example, The art and artifice of JM Coetzee by Colin Bower (a "summary of an article: JM Coetzee: Literary Con Artist and Poseur, about to appear in scrutiny2: issues in English studies in Southern Africa (Vol 8 No 2, 2003)") that appeared in the 28 September (South African) Sunday Times. It begins: "Coetzee is a charlatan." ....
       In response to this and other commentaries, Shaun de Waal published The Greta Garbo of South African literature ? in the 17 October Mail & Guardian, arguing that: "The distorted reflections of JM Coetzee generated since he won the Nobel Prize say more about the media than about him". See now also a reader response.
       We're used to the general Coetzee-reverence found in the US and UK press, so we were quite surprised to find such a backlash .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Sontag's speech

       We previously mentioned that Susan Sontag recently received the Friedenspreis des Deutschen Buchhandels (the peace prize of the German booksellers' association), and that the American media has largely ignored this fact. Apparently, however, The Los Angeles Times published the text of Sontag's speech over the weekend -- good for them ! (Because of their ridiculous subscription-registration requirement the piece is not freely accessible, so we can't confirm that it actually is the speech, in full -- though note that The Guardian published it (accessibly) last week).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Dale Peck article

       No doubt, there'll be lots of discussion about the Dale Peck article in yesterday's issue of The New York Times Magazine (sorry, we won't link to the registration-requiring page). James Atlas profiles Peck as "The Hatchet Man" -- and in two obnoxious photos Peck is pictured, axe in hand. (In one of them Peck brings the axe down on a pile of books; we could only make out the names "Charles Dickens", "DonDeLillo", and "William Faulkner"; book-destruction with a pen (i.e. critical cutting to shreds) we can accept -- even welcome -- but we find the physical destruction of books (especially if it's gratuitous -- just for a photo-op) nauseating: shame on all those involved in this cheap stunt.)
       Peck has apparently written some fiction, and has a new novel coming out next month (hence such puff pieces), but as the article-subtitle points out: "it's his savage literary reviews that writers can't stop talking about". That's a bit of an exaggeration -- but, hey, even we made mention of his Rick Moody review (1 July 2002) in The New Republic (see, for example, here), the opening sentence of which ("Rick Moody is the worst writer of his generation.") is also the sentence Atlas opens his piece with. In the spring a whole collection of these Peck-reviews is being published by The New Press, the article warns .....
       So, of course, there's some discussion about nasty reviews (and the recent movement trying to counter what some (led by The Believer folk) see as a disturbing trend), and Atlas discusses reviewing -- especially harsh reviewing -- a bit more generally. There's also some information about Peck's doings at the London Review of Books and The New Republic, as well as less interesting biographical information; overall, the piece is too unfocussed to really get anywhere -- too bad.
       (As to Peck's forthcoming novel: Atlas (or the publicity material Peck's publishers sent him) describes it as: "the tale of a sensitive boy growing up on a Kansas farm and his struggle with the legacy of his family's history of alcoholism and abuse." Peck assures Atlas that: "the books I've published are among the best books published in the last 10 years" -- and that the new one will be "impossible to review badly". Just in case: we guarantee we won't be covering it (or any of his previous, no doubt brilliant stuff -- though we might have a look at the forthcoming review-collection).)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

26 October 2003 - Sunday

Peter Carey's My Life As a Fake

       Peter Carey's My Life As a Fake

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Peter Carey's My Life As a Fake (which has just been published in the US).
       This book didn't even make the Man Booker longlist -- though he's had success there before, picking up the prize twice. My Life As a Fake is flawed, but we preferred it -- by quite a margin -- to True History of the Kelly Gang (see our review), for which Carey last won the Booker. It has gotten very mixed reviews (with most of the American ones still to come) -- some very enthusiastic, others finding it to be a mess.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

25 October 2003 - Saturday

James Wood at Harvard | Juan Goytisolo | More Manuel Vázquez Montalbán

       James Wood at Harvard

       Noted book reviewer (and now also novelist) James Wood is spending the year at Harvard as a visiting lecturer.
       Currently he's teaching English 90lv - Consciousness from Austen to Woolf, and in the spring he'll offer English 168d - Postwar American and British Fiction. The post-war course will include discussions of "novels and stories by Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, Raymond Carver, Henry Green, Muriel Spark, Ian McEwan, Penelope Fitzgerald, and Martin Amis" -- and Wood even offers an added incentive (?): "Some of the selected authors may themselves visit, and address our class."

       Joseph DiMento offers a good profile of Wood-at-Harvard in yesterday's issue of the Harvard Crimson, The Critical View.
       Note, however, the disturbing closing sentences:
Ironically, Wood thinks that less reading should be done in American universities. "I feel that you’re reading too much," Wood says. "I’m generally in favor of reading a bit less and knowing it deeply."
       Wood seems completely unfamiliar with the American system of higher education, in which there is admittedly a great deal of textbook reading but where the vast majority of all students (and, scarily, a significant number of students of literature) read no fiction whatsoever. 'Reading a bit' would just be a start (and as for knowing any literature deeply ... well, perhaps he can convince his students, but that seems like expecting entirely too much).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Juan Goytisolo

       The great Juan Goytisolo's recent book, State of Siege (see our review), was published a while back in the US (by City Lights), but only now has a UK edition come out. We haven't seen any British reviews yet, but Gerry Feehily interviewed him in The Independent.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       More Manuel Vázquez Montalbán

       We mentioned a few days ago that Spanish author Manuel Vázquez Montalbán recently died. Today's issue of The Age offers "one of his final interviews", with Michael Kessler, and there's also another obituary in the 21 October The Guardian.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

24 October 2003 - Friday

New Persimmon | Kluge prepares for the Büchnerpreis | Grünbein's Descartes-novel

       New Persimmon

       The Winter issue of Persimmon is now available, with a dozen book reviews (all of titles we haven't covered).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Kluge prepares for the Büchnerpreis

       The Germans seem to like to announce the winners of their big literary prizes way in advance: we had half a year's notice that Susan Sontag was going to pick up the Friedenspreis des Deutschen Buchhandels (the peace prize of the German booksellers' association; see our previous mention), and, similarly, Alexander Kluge was named this year's winner of the illustrious Georg Büchner Preis back in May (see our mention) but the award-ceremony is only (finally) this Sunday.
       In preparation, there is now some Kluge-related coverage, at least in the Geman media: see, in particular, this lengthy conversation (with Iris Radisch and Ulrich Greiner) in this week's issue of Die Zeit, as well as a recent conversation with Claus Philipp in Volltext.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Grünbein's Descartes-novel

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Durs Grünbein's Vom Schnee.
       Grünbein was awarded the Büchnerpreis in 1995, and has published five full-length poetry collections, three non-fiction collections, diverse odds and ends, -- and now this novel-in-verse about Descartes. A few stray bits of poetry have been translated, but so far there haven't been any collections made available to English-speaking readers. This one might be tempting, because it is something of a narrative (rather than 'just' a collection of verse), but whether it's this one or something else, it's high time a book of his gets published in the US or UK.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

23 October 2003 - Thursday

Prix Goncourt 2003 | James Wood on Coetzee
More Coetzee reactions | Translation notes

       Prix Goncourt 2003

       The French apparently take a slightly different approach to handing out their big literary prizes. The winner of the Prix Goncourt, the biggest of them all, celebrating its centenary this year, wasn't expected to be announced until 3 November, but the judges got together at the restaurant Chez Drouant on Tuesday to pare the list of contenders down to a shortlist and instead they pared it down all the way and pronounced a winner then and there: seven votes for La Maîtresse de Brecht by Jacques-Pierre Amette, easily beating out betting favourite Windows of the world by Frédéric Beigbeder (which got two votes) and Dans la Guerre by Alice Ferney (which got one).
       As the Agence France Presse report (in English) notes, it's the timing more than the winner that has made for something of a literary scandal: the big French prizes are all given within a few weeks of each other, and apparently the Goncourt folk were worried about being upstaged by one of the upstart prizes (specifically the Prix Femina) -- hence the pre-emptive strike.
       The book is apparently about Bertolt Brecht's last years, in East Germany, and a Viennese actress, Maria Eich, with whom he become involved -- whereby Eich is, in fact, a Stasi undercover agent sent to spy on the playwright.

       Other links of interest:

        - Information about La Maitresse de Brecht at FranceEditions, in English (note that Greek and Castilian foreign rights have been snapped up -- but not, apparently, English ones)

        - Articles about Jacques-Pierre Amette's La Maîtresse de Brecht winning the the Prix Goncourt in Libération (in French), Le Monde (in French), and Die Welt (in german).

        - A review of La Maitresse de Brecht in Le Temps (in French).

        - A pre-Prix Goncourt interview with Jacques-Pierre Amette (in French)

       And if you'd like to purchase La Maîtresse de Brecht you can do so from (where it was the second most popular title when we checked yesterday, not quite beating out the newest Harry Potter) or

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       James Wood on Coetzee

       The 23 October London Review of Books offers James Wood's review of new Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee's new book, Elizabeth Costello.
       He writes that the book: "a series of philosophical dialogues bound into rather fitful fiction, might initially seem unappetising" -- but then: "Against all likelihood, the book is more affecting than anything else he has written, and, I think, deeply confessional."
       Wood approves -- no wonder: he sees it as a: "highly religious book", concluding:
If it represents the paganisation of belief in God, it also represents the sacralisation of belief in fiction. Because, like suffering and death, fiction, too, is not an idea.
       We look forward to eventually taking on the book too, and mulling over Wood's thoughts on it.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       More Coetzee reactions

       Some people can't but help but notice that, like recent African Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer, J.M.Coetzee's skin colour is of the rather pale variety. The significance and relevance of this (to absolutely anything) is questionable, but, hey, at least it serves as a reminder to consider the literary situation in Africa, so the debate that has sprung up around this fact is worth at least a mention.
       Last week Xolela Mangcu wrote an opinion piece for the (South African) Business Day, arguing that Nobel for JM Coetzee does black African writers no favours (leading, of course, immediately to the question: why on earth should it ?) -- and now Mphuthumi Ntabeni has responded with Literature does not have to be political.
       Mangcu's take is that black African writers got screwed by the Swedish Academy's choice:
my heart sank when I saw the headline about Coetzee getting the Nobel Prize. I felt neither joy nor elation. Instead I was overcome by a feeling of sadness at how the Nobel Prize committee had once again snubbed Chinua Achebe and Ngugi wa Thiong'o.
       Snubbing, surely, is par for the course: the majority of readers surely feel there are authors worthy of greater recognition -- hell, among, Dutch/Flemish writers alone we'd have given the nod to Harry Mulisch and Hugo Claus over Coetzee (and Cees Nooteboom would have been a toss-up).
       Mangcu also suggests:
It is thus perhaps a great irony that Africans should expect affirmation of their literary genius from the very racist European literary institutions from which they sought deliverance.
       Which might sound more convincing if it were some British Commonwealth body that handed out this prize, not the Swedish Academy.
       (We're also a bit confused by his remark that: "we will then worry less about Australians such as JM Coetzee winning the Nobel Prize", a continental disavowal that seems to be taking things just a bit too far.)
       Ntabeni, meanwhile, maintains that: "Africa cannot stagnate in fury against its colonial past" -- which might be a more constructive starting point (though it's stagnation that's the problem, not fury). (As to Coetzee, apparently: "His obtuse pride of social masochism does not flatter political correctness.")

       Meanwhile coverage and discussion of the pan-African literary scene remains extremely limited. Robert Fleming offers something of an overview in a recent Black Issues Book Review, in The Trials and Triumphs of African Literature. Depressingly, he recounts:
"In recent years, the more prominent writers such as Achebe and Soyinka have seen their audience erode and their impact lessen to the point where the sales of their books have dropped dramatically," says Charles R. Larson, chairman of the English department at American University and author of The Ordeal of the African Writer. "They’re virtually unknown in many parts of African society, and not just in the traditional villages. Quality books are published outside of the various African countries. Only the schlock, the bad commercial stuff find their way to the marketplace. Even Okri is almost unknown in his own country. Achebe, the most famous African writer, is largely unknown in the villages."

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Translation notes

       The 17 October TLS offers an interesting variety of review comments and reactions to questions of translation.
       Sheila Hale feels "Patrick Creagh's translation is readable and wholly convincing" in her review of Marcello Fois' The Advocate -- translated by Creagh from the Italian --, while Tim Souster praises the translator of Lars Saabye Christensen's much-praised The Half Brother:
Kenneth Steven has helped by translating the novel superbly into precise, fluent English and deserves great recognition for an intimidating task flawlessly achieved.
       Meanwhile, Stephanie Cross doesn't have a word to say about Ian Monk's role in translating Camille Laurens' In those Arms -- but notes that "Laurens is a thoroughly elegant writer", etc. We wonder: might it not be that Laurens is merely thoroughly elegantly translated ?
       The most detailed translation discussion concerns Georges Perec biographer and translator David Bellos and his work on Fred Vargas' Have Mercy on us All. Ruth Morse notes in her review that:
The translator has simplified, adapted and anglicized throughout, diluting the specificity of Vargas's well-modulcated French. (...) David Bellos's translation is so free as to amount to wholesale rewriting, at the expense of the atmosphere. Reading his prose is like watching a hastily dubbed film.
       Morse also opines:
If French books are to attract anglophone readers, surely capitalizing on their Frenchness is more effective than making them seem comfortably familiar.
       Apparently the publisher (Harvill, by the way) disagreed.
       Compare, also, Helen Stevenson's 17 October review in The Independent:
Apart from a good title (the original French was Pars Vite Reviens Tard), Have Mercy On Us All has not lost a great deal in David Bellos's expert translation, although it occasionally seems to have gained too much from Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable
       All of which should serve as a reminder that translation can have an enormous impact on what a book becomes when presented in a different language -- and that the information about what transformation it has undergone can be both hard to get and/or inconsistent.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

22 October 2003 - Wednesday

An Unpardonable Crime ? | The end of Book ? | The Paris Review, post Plimpton

       An Unpardonable Crime ?

       We reviewed Andrew Taylor's novel, The American Boy, when it came out in the UK a few months back. US publication is set for March 2004 -- but the American publisher (Hyperion) can't leave well enough alone and has changed the title to: An Unpardonable Crime ( see their publicity page).
       Okay, maybe it's not unpardonable, as far as publishers' crimes and misdemeanours go, but we still find it fairly annoying -- and can't imagine the ensuing confusion will be of any help in soldifying Taylor's reputation in the US (where he doesn't seem to have ever really caught on).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The end of Book ?

       In a brief item Romenesko reports the demise of the Barnes & Noble co-owned Book Magazine ("Editor confirms to Romenesko. (No official release.)"). Terry Teachout says so too, at About Last Night.
       The November-December issue should still make (or already has made ?) the newsstands: parts are available online, including the Editor's Letter (with no mention of troubles ahead) -- and even a brief mention of a few literary weblogs, including our very own Literary Saloon (described as "earnest").

       It's unclear why Book is folding (well, the reasons are obvious, but the details aren't). They certainly didn't go down without a fight -- which might not thrill all their readers. As DM News reported 7 October:
ClientLogic Specialists Marketing Services was appointed list manager of the new-to-market Book Magazine list of 150,000 active subscribers
       That's right, they sold the subscription list (new-to-market suggests they hadn't until then). The 150,000 people on it can now be added to all sorts of wonderful mailing lists -- you lucky people !
       We remind you also of Book's privacy policy, where they state:
The information we obtain via our subscription pages is intended to facilitate the delivery of our print magazine. Occasionally a portion of our mailing list is made available to carefully screened publishers, book catalog marketers, and other companies whose products or services we think might be of interest to you. Many of our subscribers enjoy this aspect of their subscription
       "Occasionally" ... "a portion "... "carefully screened", etc. Yeah, that sounds exactly like what happened. (It sure looks like they didn't even have the decency to change their privacy policy -- or inform their subscribers -- when they sold out: it was take the money and run time instead.)

       As to Book folding: In his comment Terry Teachout seems to feel sorry about the closing of Book, but he avoids passing judgement, refusing to state that it is a good or a bad thing and noting instead:
the bottom line is this: Yet another publication devoted to books and authors has bitten the dust. All of which strongly suggests (once again, and at least to me) that the future of high-culture journalism is on the Web.
       Of course, this is also the year that saw the introduction of a new semi-literarily focussed periodical, The Believer, -- a print publication with barely any web presence (in the form of content available online) -- making for some sort of quid pro quo. (Both magazines are, incidentally, similar in format: we're admittedly not very discerning, but we could hardly tell the two apart at our local newsstand.)
       Book surely was hardly a bastion of "high-culture journalism" -- so it's demise shouldn't play much of role in shifting that from print to Web (or not) -- but it did offer fairly far-ranging book coverage. And we'll miss any site that provides accessible review coverage on a regular basis (as the Book-site did); we just hope provisions have been made for keeping the online archive alive.

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       The Paris Review, post Plimpton

       For almost all the years it was under the recently deceased George Plimpton's stewardship The Paris Review was, as they put it on their website: "a for-profit corporation that operated at a considerable annual loss" (i.e. a vanity publication, much like Salon, the New York Post, The Washington Times, and many other money-losers propped up by rich folk who happen to be willing to blow their money on this sort of thing). Literary and uncommerical in ambition it was, of course, among the more appealing of these vanity publications.
       There's been considerable concern and interest in what might happen to The Paris Review in the post-Plimpton era. For one, alas, for the past few years it has become a taxpayer ripoff institution, taking on the dreaded 501(c)3 so-called nonprofit status, run by something called the Paris Review Foundation (who nicely misspell "Pierrepont-Morgan Library" -- that's where the archives went -- on that page).
       Cynthia Cotts describes the succession-question and some of the hopes for the future of this institution in more detail in this week's issue of The Village Voice, in Paris Review Rebounds.

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21 October 2003 - Tuesday

Big Read reactions | Simon Winchester's second OED book | New Biblio ... maybe

       Big Read reactions

       They pared the BBC's Big Read down to the top 21 over the weekend. What excitement !
       The whole enterprise is so easy to attack, on so many fronts, that we haven't even gone in for the shoot-the-fish-in-the-barrel exercise -- but David Sexton does so admirably in yesterday's issue of the Evening Standard, in The Big Read, the big insult. Among the points of interest:
It was disclosed that the rules had been arbitrarily changed to ensure that each author could only be represented by one novel -- quite simply, to stop Rowling getting four titles on to the short list and Tolkien two, so making The Big Read even more of a howling embarrassment to any real lover of literature than it is as we now know it.
       (It's true -- the rules now mention: "Only one book per author -- the highest scoring -- has been allowed in the Top 21." -- a pretty outrageous stunt to pull.)
       Sexton also notes:
More deeply disheartening is the adolescent tone of the list as a whole. It's not just that there are so many children's classics there. As Anderson's unruly panel complained, most of the "adult" novels are also books best read in our teenage years, not later. What we have here is just a list of the books people can remember reading way back when and have scarcely supplemented since.
       Alex Good also discussed this, way back when the top-100 list first came out, in Kid Stuff. David Smith also noticed, but in his 19 October piece in The Observer interprets it a bit differently:
A new golden age in children's literature was confirmed last night when fiction for young people colonised a third of the BBC's Big Read shortlist to find the nation's favourite book.
       Meanwhile in The Independent (19 October) James Morrison and Hannah Forbes Black found that it was big-screen adaptations that dominated the list (something Sexton also touches on).

       Sexton closes his piece:
The Big Read ? No thanks. It is the biggest insult to readers for years.
       We agree with the: No thanks. As for it being the biggest insult to readers -- well, there's a lot of competition for that title.

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       Simon Winchester's second OED book

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Simon Winchester's Story of the Oxford English Dictionary, The Meaning of Everything.
       Winchester is the author who wrote the bestselling OED-story about The Surgeon of Crowthorne (The Professor and the Madman in the US), and here he offers a broader look at the history of this magnificent work.
       Quite the year he's having: his impressive Karakatoa came out just a few months ago and made it onto the bestseller list, and it looks like this new book might as well. (Our review of The Professor and the Madman continues to be one of the most popular on the site, and we imagine that user-interest in this volume will also be great.)

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       New Biblio ... maybe

       So after more than half a year in which the January-February issue was the newest one online, the new issue -- May-June -- of Biblio is, sort of, available. Unfortunately, the links don't quite seem to work: when we last checked (04:00 GMT today) the 'Full Table of Contents'-link led nowhere -- and the 'Next Issue'-link led to a preview of the Forthcoming Issue March - April 2003 (huh ?).
       But at least there's something happening on the site, and maybe the content (maybe from both the March-April and the May-June issues !) will soon be available.

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