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Archives: August 2006

Pluto demotion potential boon for textbook publishers?

So postulates LA Times staff writer David Colker, saying that the bad news about Pluto no longer considered a planet might be good for earthbound purveyors of products bearing its image or name. Its takedown last week could provide a heavenly boost to textbook publishers, celestial cartographers, astronomical groups and even an eponymous group of eateries.

First up, cartographers. Rand McNally & Co., long a venerable mapmaker, says that changing the text would not be much of a problem, according to travel division Vice President Kendra Ensor. “Because it’s at the very end, near the edge of the page, it’s easier to delete.” And as for Drexel University physician Steve McMillan, his ASTRONOMY TODAY, a noted college textbook, almost deleted Pluto wholesale – but for one notable objection. “It would have been quite a coup,” he said. “But I told my daughter, who was 10, and she said, ‘You can’t do that to Pluto!’ So we didn’t.”

On a trade publication front, though no deals have as yet been reported on Publishers Marketplace about the rise and fall of the lonely planet, that has to change fairly soon…

Lionel Shriver, Back in Action

lionel-shriver.jpgWhen Lionel Shriver’s Double Fault was first published in the late ’90s, it got good reviews and a 5,000-copy print run, but it had trouble finding its audience at bookstores and faded away without a paperback release. Flash forward nearly a decade later, when Shriver has become a hot commodity thanks to an Orange Prize for We Need to Talk About Kevin, and “there’s now a market for my books where there wasn’t before,” Shriver said as we met for lunch last week to discuss the republication of Double Fault by Serpent’s Tail. “It’s an opportunity for a second lease on life, but mostly it’s nice to have it available again.”

I wondered if Shriver had used the opportunity to “fix up” her novel, but she said no. “I can talk about my old books again, but I don’t want to write them again,” she said. “No writer worth her salt really likes dwelling in the past, but it’s been interesting to me to revisit the book as one of my readers. When I read it, I found myself interested in what happens next.”

“I’m glad that I wrote Double Fault when I did,” she continued, “because I couldn’t have written it now. I’m doing too well. In some ways, I had forgotten just how bleak that time in my life was, how depressing.” At her lowest point, Shriver was convinced that Kevin was going to be her last novel, preparing herself for a career in journalism. “I needed a viable career,” she recalled. “I didn’t want to be a burden to my publishers.” But Kevin changed all that, and not only is Double Fault finally back in print, she’s got a new novel coming out next spring from HarperCollins.

Former Prez Turns Up at Barnes & Noble

billclinton-theplan.jpgIf we’d been able to hit the reading circuit last Thursday night, we’d have been able to catch Bill Clinton at the Lincoln Triangle Barnes & Noble. No, Clinton doesn’t have another book out yet, but just like you and me or anybody else who’s friends with a writer, when his pals have a reading, he comes out to show his support. In this case, the event was for two of his former policy aides, U.S. Congressman Rahm Emanuel (standing) and Democrat Leadership Council president Bruce Reed (far right), as they marked the publication of The Plan: Big Ideas for America. We’re sure he was a lot more interested in their proposed political reforms than he looks in this shot!

Maybe it would have been better to kill the opening paragraph

Which is why, instead of trying to put this in context or find some justification, I’ll let the opening few phrases of Stephen Thompson‘s review of Vikram Chandra‘s SACRED GAMES in Scotland on Sunday speak for itself:

There are certain books that are so similar to one another they almost beg to be grouped together. This is largely true of Indian novels. Look closely at the ones published in the past, say, 25 years, and you’ll see that they’re virtually identical, in theme if not in style and content.

Even though Thompson, a published novelist whose next book is out early next year, tries to clarify his point by saying that such books (which include Salman Rushdie‘s MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN and Vikram Seth‘s A SUITABLE BOY) deal with similar subject matter – the state of Indian society in the wake of independence and partition – it’s kind of like saying that novels written by African-Americans, Muslims, or hell, any non-white ethnic group can be lumped together and deemed “virtually identical.” Can we say incendiary, boys and girls?

Chick Lit: Written by Party-Girls, not MFAs

Other than mentioning the dueling op-eds at the Huffington Post, I’ve avoided the Chick Lit vs. Not Chick Lit debate because, well, I’ve got friends and colleagues in both camps and I’ve always held that “chick lit” is just a marketing label under which there’s some excellent social satire, and that the only thing that separates certain “literary” writers from the chick lit label isn’t even the polish of their prose, just the promotional efforts of their agents and publicists. So even though quite a few book reviewers have taken the opportunity provided by Elizabeth Merrick’s This Is Not Chick Lit to get some elitist condescension towards chick lit out of their system, I haven’t said anything… until St. Petersburg Times reviewer Colette Bancroft let loose some howling whoppers that I just couldn’t let slip.

“The women whose stories are collected here are not the party-girl likes of Plum Sykes and Candace Bushnell, who got their starts writing fashion copy and sex columns,” sneers Bancroft. Funny—you know who else got her start writing fashion copy? Dorothy Parker. Oh, and I guess Bancroft would like to ask Dawn Raffel to hand in her literary credibility card, since working as an editor for Oprah magazine probably means she can’t be a real writer. But wait, Bancroft’s not done yet: “Instead, these women have studied at the Iowa Writers Workshop, taught at Princeton and Sarah Lawrence, published in Granta and McSweeney’s.” Well, if you’ve been through a creative writing program, I suppose you must be a real writer…like Princeton graduate Jennifer Weiner, perhaps?

The banality continues as Bancroft digs into the individual stories. She thinks Jennifer Egan’s “Selling the General,” for example, “could be read as a dark parody of chick lit” because the protagonist’s a disgraced publicist (“a classic chick lit job”) whose only client is an international dictator. Get it? The writer has put fluffy and serious together, so it must be a parody of fluffy! Too bad it’s not particularly innovative: Helen Fielding already put fluffy and serious together ages ago in Cause Celeb. Don’t get me wrong; Egan’s story is good—in fact, it’s a perfect illustration of the arbitrary line between “very good chick lit” and “not chick lit.” Of course, it can’t be chick lit because Egan’s a National Book Award nominee… how soon critics forget, however, that before Look at Me got on the 2001 fiction shortlist, many of them were content to dismiss it as a potboiler about a model whose face gets disfigured in a car wreck. Mind you, they were lazy in doing so, but as Bancroft makes plain here, that’s something of an occupational hazard for book reviewers. (Not to waste too much time on the subject, but to suggest that “Curtis Sittenfeld’s ‘Volunteers Are Shining Stars’ gives a creepy twist to the baby hunger that strikes some childless women” is so deeply fundamental a misreading of the story that it would be enough to call the credibility of the entire article into question if by some miracle there wasn’t all that other evidence.) Fortunately, there’s usually one or two books a season that have already done all the thinking such reviewers need; this season, it appears to be This Is Not Chick Lit.

The impending arrival of Peter Pan, the sequel

The NYT’s Dinitia Smith looks at the hoopla surrounding Geraldine McCaughrean‘s sanctioned sequel to J.M. Barrie‘s classic about the boy who never wanted to grow up – and the lengths publishers will go to embargo the book. The Oxford University Press, which is bringing out the book in Britain, is scheduled to release it with a gala party at Kensington Palace. The publishers have even gone so far as to impose a prepublication embargo on the book. Booksellers and editors receiving galleys have had to sign confidentiality agreements. Emma Dryden, the editor, who is associate publisher of Simon & Schuster‘s Margaret K. McElderry Books imprint, which is bringing out the book in the United States, said both publishers :wanted people to be literally blown away, to come completely fresh to a new story.”

Despite that, Smith got hold of a copy of PETER PAN IN SCARLET and comments that the book “more in keeping with the style of Barrie’s educated, British voice, and her Peter is truer to the original: as selfish and egomaniacal as ever.” So how did it come about? It was a way for McCaughrean to conform to the original book’s dark standards, trying “very, very hard to pick up Barrie’s style and mood.” But for one thing: “I wanted Wendy to be more spunky than she was in the last book. I wanted her to take a hand in the adventures, be a bit more of a feminist. I did not want the kind of female that hangs on Peter’s every word.”

Yes kids, it’s another literary hoax!

Thought we’d had enough what with James Frey (who’s suddenly everywhere, and what’s up with that?) J.T. Leroy and Nasdijj, not to mention a certain young lady named Kaavya? Well add the prankster who fooled A.N. Wilson so badly that the biographer of noted poet Sir John Betjeman published went so far as to publish a letter in the book, calling it “evidence of the poet’s previously unknown ‘fling’” when really it was all made up. The dead giveaway? As the Times reports, the capital letters at the beginning of the sentences in the letter spell out “A N Wilson is a shit”.

The Times’ arts editor, Richard Brooks, broke the story
and goes into lots more detail about how the hoax stayed undetected for so long. Basically, it was all about sex – or Bejetman’s obsession with having so little. So when a missive purporting to be from one “Eve de Harben” arrived at Wilson’s door with a heretofore undiscovered letter from Bejetman to Honor Tracy, an Anglo-Irish writer with whom Betjeman worked at the Admiralty during the war, Wilson took it at face value – and only discovered the lie when Brooks told him.

The paper found out when a journalist also received a letter from de Harben, which had the same French address and the same story that she had married a Frenchman. In the letter, de Harben confessed the love letter she had sent to Wilson was “spurious.” She had made the whole thing up – including the rude message – to avenge an attack which Wilson himself had made some years ago on Humphrey Carpenter, a “dear friend of mine” – but in an additional twist, Carpenter’s widow Mari said this weekend she had never heard of de Harben. She also said Wilson and Carpenter had patched up their differences not long before her husband’s death.

So the bottom line? It’s all a big crazy mystery, and though Wilson has an idea who it is, he’s not naming names. “All I’d say is this person must know an amazing amount about Betjeman and his life.”

We’ve Made It into the New York Times!

Well, okay, individually Sarah Weinman and I have already both received mentions in the New York Times over the last two years, but Saturday morning’s “Arts, Briefly” featured an item by Motoko Rich that included the paper’s first-ever recognition of GalleyCat. The story: confirming the Hitleriousness of Norman Mailer’s new novel. And what makes the itme even sweeter is that we owe it all to an insider tip from a reader just like you!

How many times can this dead horse be beaten?

Because I know I’m not the only one to lose count of how many times Tim Waterstone – the founder of the eponymous bookstore chain – gets in the news to say he wants to buy his company back. (It’s seven, for those who still have the ability to count, or care.) And how many times this doesn’t actually happen. So why should this time be any different than the others? Beats the hell out of me, or for that matter, retail analyst Richard Ratner at Seymour Pierce, who said: “Good luck to him. We think HMV should have accepted the 210p offer from Permira. We were amazed that they didn’t get into talks with that. The problem is between HMV and Waterstone’s. They have too many stores. Indeed, with some of HMV’s products they could be better to have some combined stores. I think it could be split quite easily.”

But good ole Tim remains pie-in-the-sky optimistic. “The book market is very different in 2006 from what it was in 1986. But I still believe that if Waterstone’s returned to its core values of selling a high-class literary offering, with passionate staff and good books, it would thrive.” Sure, but the sound of wolves crying get louder, and louder, and louder…

Dog Show: Everyone’s a Critic

doggies-baci.jpg“I got home last night and my dear lab Baci had torn into my new copy of Caleb Carr’s The Italian Secretary,” says Angela Baggetta Hayes, the deputy director of publicity at Goldberg McDuffie. “Is she trying to tell me something?” You can sorta make it out the little bits of torn paper around the book, if you look carefully enough!


We also heard from novelist Whitney Gaskell about her pug, Lulu (above). “What she lacks in brains and the ability to master simple potty training, she makes up for in sparkling personality,” Gaskell writes. “Well, that and the ability to down whole grilled cheese sandwiches in a single gulp. It’s pure talent.”

And then there’s the email we got from Bothwell (below) about life with her mamma, author Ysabeau S. Wilce. “Every morning I herd my mamma into her office, and I sit under her desk ALL DAY long to make sure that she is WRITING,” Bothwell told us, “tho’ I do allow occasional coffee/dog-treat breaks. In the evening, I herd her outside and escort her on a very long walk—writers do need exercise you know—and then it’s back to the desk for more WRITING. Herding writers is harder than herding sheep, for sheep are not constantly wont to wander off to watch Law & Order re-runs, drink so much coffee they vibrate, or cry like babies when they can’t figure out how to end chapter sixteen.” Bothwell’s guidance must have paid off; Wilce’s Flora Segunda comes out next winter.

Thanks again to everyone who sent in their pet photos—we had a lot of fun looking at them and posting them for our readers!