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Archives: December 2005

Here’s to You, Nicola & Bart

As LAT staff writer Jean Pasco tells the tale, a Southern California book collector stumbled onto a letter from Upton Sinclair that rather deflates the martyrdom of Sacco and Vanzetti:

“Sinclair met with Fred Moore, the men’s attorney, in a Denver motel room. Moore ‘sent me into a panic,’ Sinclair wrote in the typed letter that Hegness found at the auction a decade ago. ‘Alone in a hotel room with Fred, I begged him to tell me the full truth,’ Sinclair wrote. ‘He then told me that the men were guilty, and he told me in every detail how he had framed a set of alibis for them.’”

So why did Boston, Sinclair’s novel about the case, maintain the liberal argument that the two men were innocents shoved through the court system and into the execution chamber for their radical political beliefs?* Essentially, the author was afraid that if he told the truth, he’d be killed by left-wing activists as “a traitor to the movement,” but he had another major fear as well: “It is much better copy as a naïve defense of Sacco and Vanzetti because this is what all my foreign readers expect, and they are 90% of my public.”

*Which is still a pretty accurate description of the trial, no matter what their culpability in the robbery-murder they were accused of committing. (And, in fact, one of the more notable aspects of this letter is that it appears to suggest both men were guilty, contrary to the view that has emerged in recent decades that while Sacco was involved in the crime, Vanzetti was completely innocent.)

The biographer-subject relationship just got a bit more contentious

Canadian Celtic singer Loreena McKennitt (who I must admit is one of my all-time favorites) hasn’t liked the fact that a former friend of hers, Neima Ash, self-published a biography of the singer. So much so that she spent over 200 grand to block any further publication of the unauthorized bio, even though it’s only sold about 400 copies in the entire country. Still, UK judges were sympathetic to McKennitt’s plight, granting a temporary injunction unless Ash removes 7 of 34 references under contention.

So what does this mean for future biographies?

In determining the issues, Judge Eady seems to have tilted the balance in favour of privacy. His judgment cites three prior court cases, one involving media photographs of Monaco’s Princess Caroline, that collectively “acknowledge a ‘legitimate expectation’ of protection of private life, on some occasions, in relatively public circumstances.”

And he concludes that “even where there is a genuine public interest alongside a commercial interest . . . in publishing articles or photographs, sometimes such interests would have to yield to the individual citizen’s right to the effective protection of private life.”

As a result, he writes, “if a person wishes to reveal publicly information about aspects of his or her relations with other people, which would attract the prima facie protection of privacy rights, any such revelation should be crafted, so far as possible, to protect the other person’s privacy. This is important particularly, of course, in the context of ‘kiss and tell’ stories.”

In other words, “the ruling implicitly raises questions about where the limits of freedom of speech lie in reporting about, photographing, or writing books about public figures.” Suffice to say that legal eagles will be sorting through the muck for a while to come…

It’s a Mailbag Morning…

First off, we’ve got literary agent Janet Reid answering our call for information on 2005′s notable university press books. “How about [Northeastern University Press's] The Rise and Fall of the Broadway Musical by Mark N. Grant?” she asks.
“Not only did this win an ASCAP-Deems Taylor award (like an Oscar for books about music), it generated a lot of heated discussion on the Broadway show blogs and websites.” Grant talks a bit about the book’s mission in an interview with NewMusicBox: “It is addressed not only to theater aficionados but to educated general readers interested in the arts for whom the questions ‘Whatever happened to musicals? How come they used to sit on the leading edge of popular culture and don’t any more?’ are intriguing.” Now that I’ve heard of it, it’s rather surprising that the NYTBR, which was willing to give a full page to a review of Phyllis Diller’s memoir, completely overlooked this book—maybe they think the musical really doesn’t sit on the leading edge of pop culture these days.

We’re getting some more of your New Year’s resolutions coming in, too. Writer Lisa Coutant is determined to finish revising her first novel and complete a draft of her next one, as well as “meet and conduct intelligible conversations with Salman Rushdie, Charles Baxter, Ian McEwan, and Russell Banks.” (She also wants to increase the hit count on her blog; I guess we’ve contributed to that goal in some small way…)

You can still send us your thoughts on both subjects, and we’ll keep printing them…with or without attribution, your choice!

Talk about long distance editing

But when the cause is to maintain an independent arts & culture magazine in a country that, to say the least, frowns on that sort of thing, there’s no stopping editor and Johns Hopkins graduate student Irina Vidanava:

[...]then there’s what she calls “my night job” — as editor of Student Thought, perhaps the most edgy and professional publication left in Belarus, where the government has been ruthlessly shutting down all independent media. Although Minsk is almost 5,000 miles away, she still works — with cell phone and e-mail — to keep alive the magazine she has edited since 1998. But as Belarus, a landlocked country sandwiched between Poland and Russia, prepares for an election in March, things have never been more difficult.

Last month, the government seized all but a handful of copies of the magazine. And now Vidanava is under investigation for financial crimes and infractions against the country’s draconian press laws.

If charged, the 27-year-old editor could face a huge fine and up to six years in prison. But it’s hard to know exactly what’s happening with her case in Belarus. One investigator is on vacation; another has given no word on where things stand.

The magazine claims it isn’t political, but even its Western-themed pieces seem to have rankled the Belarus government, called “the last true dictatorship in Europe.” So will Vidanava go back to fight her case? If she’s charged, yes:

“I am Belarusian,” she says. “That’s the most important thing, and I love my country. I feel comfortable there despite all the problems. And I want it to be better.”

Looking Back, Looking Forward: Let’s Begin!

Last week, we asked you to tell us what you’ll remember most about 2005, as far as the publishing industry’s concerned, and what your resolution (or hope) for next year will be. We’ll be running your responses all this week—and you’ve still got plenty of time to share your thoughts with us.*

Like the anonymous literary agent who told us that in the last twelve months, she’s become concerned about “the growing awareness amongst agents that the UK Territory List on US contracts might become a major problem when making separate US/UK deals.” She adds, “The US seems to want everything but Great Britain moved to the Open Market. The UK now wants Europe exclusively. My stomach, it churns.” Her resolution for 2006? Fixing this problem, at least for her own clients. “Fingers crossed.”

*You want to know what we think? We took care of our year-end reflections for Christmas…

Cancel That Order of Freedom Fries?

Over at Reason’s “Hit and Run” blog, Matt Welch conducts a highly unscientific survey of pro- and anti-Europe books. After checking the Amazon sales rankings for the most significant titles in “that whole F***-France publishing boomlet,” he’s not terribly impressed: Our Oldest Enemy: A History of America’s Disastrous Relationship with France is the most popular of the bunch, and it’s all the way back at #31,014. Meanwhile, he observes, titles focusing on Europe as the next superpower are on the rise. The European Dream: How Europe’s Vision of the Future Is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream is up to #10,013 and The United States Of Europe: The New Superpower and the End of American Supremacy is at #16,059.

Of course, there’s a substantial flaw in this analysis: Apart from the fact that only represents a minor portion of all book purchases, its sales rankings aren’t accumulative data, and will only tell you how well a book has performed over the last seven days. Although nobody cites that as a cause for doubt, Reason readers are still treating the “results” with quite a bit of skepticism. “None of them are selling very well,” observes one commenter. “The only thing that this proves is that there are more left-wing pointed-headed intellectuals then there are right-wing pointy-headed intellectuals.” Another reader points out that by Welch’s standard, we shouldn’t even be bothering ourselves about Europe, since books like China, Inc.: How the Rise of the Next Superpower Challenges America and the World are easily outpacing his selections.

On the good ship Book Fair

This idea might seem really cool to some, or really strange, depending on your vantage point. But in any case, the Logos II ship has opened for business with a sizeable book exchange:

After days of controversy, the Logos II floating book fair officially dropped its gangplank and opened doors to the public yesterday in a colourful ceremony involving crew representing 45 different nations.

Premier Alex Scott, MP Walter Lister, Police Commissioner George Jackson, Hamilton Mayor Lawson Mapp, executive vice president of the Chamber of Commerce Diane Gordon and other dignitaries attended the opening at Number Six Shed which was followed by a tour of the ship and the book fair.

Why controversial? Because some booksellers feared the ship would cut into their holiday business:

Backed by the Chamber of Commerce, local bookstores called for a ban on the sale of books from the Logos II until after the holidays as books sold on board are a fraction of their retail value and pose a threat to local Christmas sales. The Chamber also protested the fact that none of Logos II crew have work permits.

Acting Chief Immigration Officer Rozy Azhar on Wednesday said permission was requested by Cornerstone Bible Fellowship, who are acting as the sponsor for the Logos II, for crew to sell books and permission was granted.

And so, get on board and buy your books!

Though some promises are made to be broken

Compare the headline of the Mirror’s story: 7TH HARRY IN 2006, VOWS JK — to the actual contents:

She wrote: “2006 will be the year when I write the final book in the Harry Potter series.

“I contemplate the task with mingled feelings of excitement and dread because I can’t wait to get started, to tell the final part of the story and, at last, to answer all the questions (will I ever answer all of the questions? Let’s aim for most of the questions).”

She plans to start writing the seventh book in January, hinting it may be called Harry Potter and the Pyramids of Furmat.

Whatever the case, she’s only *writing* the book next year, not necessarily finishing it. Big difference, of course…

Now it’s official: blogging is dead

I say that because Amazon’s decided to get in on the act with its new Amazon Connect, designed to “enhance the connections between authors and fans,” according to Edward Wyatt’s piece in the NYT. Folks like Anita Diamant and Meg Wolitzer are on board, but not everyone’s having an easy time with the idea:

Ms. Wolitzer said she still felt somewhat uncertain as a blogger. “I come from a sort of butter churn and scrimshaw background,” she said. “I feel ironic even using the word blog as a verb.”

Nevertheless, she said, she intends to write about writing in a way similar to how she often talks to friends about the subject. “I think so much about writing books,” she said, “so if I just put something like that down, I think it will be a good thing.”

Then again, when I tried to access the author blogs from Amazon’s main page and had a hell of a time finding the entry point, I wonder how popular this new initiative will actually be…

College Libraries Still Safe for Communism

Remember last week, when I wasn’t so sure about the college student claiming his library request drew heat from the feds? Turns out my suspicions were well-founded, as late last week the kid admitted it was all a lie and that Homeland Security had never paid him a visit. In fact, it’s no longer clear that he ever even tried to check out Mao’s “Little Red Book” in the first place.

Too bad news of the hoax didn’t get to Ted Kennedy before he included the story in a Boston Globe op-ed on Bush’s wiretapping antics, but then the senator’s had his own problems with Homeland Security red tape