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Archives: October 2006

NYT Echoes Its Own Aeneid Coverage

robert-fagles.jpgIf Charles McGrath’s profile of Robert Fagles (right) in Monday’s NYT arts section seems familiar to you, perhaps it’s because you remember a 2004 article by Chris Hedges which mines much of the same territory, namely Fagles’s work on a new translation of Virgil’s Aeneid. The most striking similarity is Fagles’s repeated description of the epic poem as “a cautionary tale”:

2004: “It is one we need to read today. It speaks of the terrible price of victory in war, for Virgil knew that victory is finally impossible, that it always lies out of reach. He saw the unforeseen aftermath, the way war could all go wrong whether from poor planning or because of the gods on high. He knew the sheer accumulation of death, the destruction, the pain we inflict when we use force to create empire.”

2006: “[It's] about the terrible ills that attend empire—its war-making capacity, the loss of blood and treasure both… It’s also a tale of exhortation. It says that if you depart from the civilized, then you become a murderer. The price of empire is very steep, but Virgil shows how it is to be earned, if it’s to be earned at all. The poem can be read as an exhortation for us to behave ourselveslves, which is a horse of relevance that ought to be ridden.”

The two articles even mention the same line of Latin, “forsan et haec olim meminisse juvabit,” which is the real reason I remembered the original article. Fagles was translating the verse as “a joy it will be one day, perhaps, to remember even this” when he spoke to Hedges, but it’s rendered in the McGrath piece as “maybe someday you will rejoice to recall even this.” (I still prefer my very loose rendition: “And maybe one day we can look back at all this and laugh.” But you’ll notice nobody’s offering me a book deal to translate Virgil.) A quick email to McGrath reveals that he came up with that version, not Fagles; he also throws in another bit of Latin at the end—”vitaque cum gemitu fugit indignata sub umbras”—which he then translates rather nicely as “his spirit, groaning with indignation, escap[ed] to the shades below.”

photo: Laura Pedrick/NYT

Bypassing the bookstore

Though the Seattle Times’ piece on authors like Mitch Albom going to Starbucks has been done before, of particular interest was the fact that Albom’s day in town, which began by reading to about 600 employees at Starbucks‘ corporate headquarters, then answered questions from more than 250 fans at the Starbucks at Madison Park and finally read again at a candle-lit literary salon at the swanky Palace Ballroom in Belltown, was organized by someone who’s made an entire career out of “out of the box” book events.

“It’s a win-win situation,” said Kim Ricketts, founder and owner of Kim Ricketts Book Events, who organizes authors to do readings at the workplaces of Boeing, Starbucks, Microsoft and public venues in both Seattle and San Francisco. “When I organize an event at, say, Microsoft, those employees get to hear about something they’re interested in. The author gets an audience with a group of people interested in what he’s doing, and the publisher gets a room full of people who are buying books.” And so she has since 2003, putting together corporate events for books of all stripes at a clip of 20 to 30 a month (with a special eye for cookbooks.) But as Ricketts’ business takes off, what does this mean for booksellers, who devote time and energy to lure big names to their stores – also keep on selling their backlist, the real meat of the publishing industry?

“It’s bad business,” Robert Sindelar, manager and buyer at Third Place Books, says of publishers’ endorsement of literary salons. “They’re excited because it’s new and cutting edge, but these events don’t sell their backlist.” Ricketts, not surprisingly, doesn’t think her business overlaps with that of the bookstore. “A lot of people actually need to be reminded they like to read,” she said. “And when I’m able to do that by going to places where people aren’t actively seeking out books, it’s good for everyone. If people start buying more books, where are they going to go? A bookstore, right?”

“Lit Chick Invasion” Takes Overs KGB

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Novelists Emily Maguire (Taming the Beast), Heather O’Neill (Lullabies for Little Criminals), and Sarah Hall (Haweswater) relax before the official kickoff to Harper Perennial’s “Lit Chick Invasion Tour” last night at the KGB Bar reading series. Perennial threw a pizza party before the reading began, inviting several New York bloggers and publishing types (including both GalleyCats, The Publishing Spot‘s Jason Boog, FSG publicist Ami Greko, Memoirville‘s Rachel Fershleiser and her boss at Smith Magazine, Larry Smith) to meet the authors and their publishing team. The trio will be reading again tonight at the Astor Place Barnes & Noble, then heading out to Cambridge, Ann Arbor, and San Francisco.

Political Race Turns into Ugly Literary Debate

Here at GalleyCat, we can usually steer clear of most political hullaballoos and leave them for more appropriate blogs, but the latest twist in the Virginia Senate race between George “Macaca” Allen and James “Jim” Webb has a publishing angle too delicious to ignore. The Washington Post has an excellent summary, which I’ll try to break down even quicker: After failing to get the legitimate media interested in writing about passages in Webb’s novels allegedly demeaning to women, Allen’s campaign staff sent an email to Matt Drudge, and all of a sudden there’s a story. One of Webb’s first responses was to point out that Lynne Cheney put plenty of sexually-tinged material in Sisters, a 1981 novel featuring (as USA Today described it) “brothels, attempted rapes and a lesbian love affair.” Cheney has worked hard to suppress the book, because keeping it out of print is the most effective way to bluff when journalists question her about it, as Wolf Blitzer did on CNN Friday afternoon. (If you’re interested in judging Cheney’s alleged smuttiness for yourself, a PDF version of the novel is still floating around online.)

Over the weekend, Webb came back at Allen, referring to him as part of “a group of unprincipled, small-minded, power-hungry character assassins.” He also observed that Jennifer Allen, the senator’s sister, depicts several instances of her brother’s abusive behavior in her 2000 memoir, Fifth Quarter. Sen. Allen’s response? “People have asked my sister and she said it was a novelization.” At least one attempt to get Jennifer Allen on the record about that characterization has met with failure.

But the real kink in Allen’s argument may well be Webb’s stamp of approval from the United States Marine Corps, which requires every soldier between the ranks of corporal and sergeant to read Fields of Fire, one of the novels Allen’s underlings singled out for attack. In the opinion of the Corps, Webb “conveys the experience of combat with rare lucidity” and “creates a doctrine of combat leadership and a creed for the succeeding generation on how and why Marines fight.”

WSJ Love Letter to B&N

To be fair, a significant portion of Jonathan Laing’s enthusiasm for Barnes & Noble builds off the opinion of Pershing Square hedge fund manager Bill Ackman, who’s carved out an 8% stake in the bookseller because he’s convinced the company “has weathered the competitive threat of the online book retailer Amazon.com and continues to prosper.” And I realize the whole point of the “Barron’s investment insight” is to describe stocks ripe for the taking. But I mean, really, when you get to passages like “with its Starbucks coffee cafes, frequent author visits and children’s reading hours, it continues to offer customers a far richer experience than Internet book sellers or book clubs can,” you have to ask yourself whether you’re reading an article or a press release. But here’s the nut: “Rising earnings should take the stock up into the mid-50s in a year to 18 months and to double its current price three years out.” (As I prepare this post for publication before the Monday markets open, B&N is currently at 41.07, nearly three points higher than Amazon.)

Joyce Maynard wants you to forget about J.D. Salinger…or does she?

Well, at least she says she does, in talking to the SF Chronicle’s Justin Berton, but when she began the event to hawk her new book, INTERNAL COMBUSTION, she spent the first 20 minutes on a post-mortem of sorts about the relationship before even bringing up the book: “You may notice I’m not talking about INTERNAL COMBUSTION yet,” she said to laughs from the 20 people in the audience, mostly women. “But I will. That’s the book I want you to buy today.”

And that’s the paradox of Maynard, who actually found some literary success (her novel, TO DIE FOR, was made into the 1995 Nicole Kidman movie) before blowing the lid off her tumultuous relationship with the notoriously reclusive author. And critics are still after her now, what with a somewhat controversial piece at Salon about her miscarriage and snipings that by not gaining much access to material related to her book, it’s really all about…herself. Maynard, again to the dismay of Salinger’s fans and those wishing she’d felt some shame, said flatly: “I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t need the money.”"Why is being shameless — without shame — a bad thing?” Maynard asked at her home. “Then I like being shameless. I don’t kick dogs, I don’t hit children. But I do screw up — welcome to the human race — and then I write about it. I lived with shame; I won’t now.”

So instead, she accepts her fate. “I could wish it didn’t follow me everywhere,” Maynard said. “It’s certainly not the best, or most important thing I’ve done in my life, but it will follow me, yes, and when I die, it’ll say, ‘When she was 18 she slept with Salinger. When she was 45, she wrote about it.’ It gets reduced to that, but I’m not going to be reduced to it.”

The Barnes & Noble Book Club

We have a little more detail about the bookstore chain’s newest attempt to bring readers together, the Barnes & Noble Book Club. Authors currently in the midst of such discussions include Diane Setterfield, Carl Hiaasen, Michael Cox, Robert Hicks and Jack Canfield, with Nell Freudenberger and Adriana Trigiani on tap next month.

Bill Tipper, editor of the Book Clubs, explained its inception. “To put it all in context, we’ve had online reading groups with authors for about three years now (starting with Michel Faber nearly killing himself trying to respond to all the messages in the discussion of The Crimson Petal and the White, for which I will always revere the guy). For a long time, we’ve been hungering to have a platform that would make these book clubs more accessible, and give us a chance to offer a wider array of author- and moderator-led conversations.” And lo, here is the platform.

Jayson Blair’s Publisher a Hip-Hop Architect?

Little did I suspect when I started reading yesterday’s NYT story about the rediscovery of the Incredible Bongo Band that the funk collective would turn out to have been assembled by Michael Viner, best known to the publishing world for cranking out books related to the O.J. Simpson case in the 1990s at Dove Entertainment, for declaring bankruptcy right around the time that Otto Penzler won a multi-million breach of contract suit against New Millennium, after gambling (and losing) on Jayson Blair’s memoir, and, as Jonathan Bing reported last year in Variety, reinventing himself as Phoenix Books. (For a good look at his early career, check out David Streifeld’s 1998 WaPo profile.)

So it turns out that “Apache,” one of the cuts on the band’s 1972 debut Bongo Rock, became a favorite sampling source for rappers from the Sugarhill Gang to Nas. And Viner, who reacquired the rights to the music back in 1990, has been tracking down bootleggers and samplers in an effort to get his cut…a bit of information that no doubt brinks a wry smile to publishing industry observers.

Make way for the Story Prize

The third annual Story Prize, the book award for short story collections written in English and published in the U.S., will be returning to the New School’s Tishman Auditorium on Wednesday, February 28, 2007 at 7:30 p.m. The winner will get $20,000 and an engraved silver bowl while the two runners-up will receive $5,000 each. Judging the event this year is author Edwidge Danticat (who won the first Story Prize for The Dew Breaker),Mitchell Kaplan of South Florida’s Books & Books, and GalleyCat’s own Ron Hogan.

The Story Prize seems especially important at a time when the other major literary bodies, like the National Book Critics Circle and the National Book Foundation, are shying away from nominating short story collections on their shortlists. Story Prize organizer and founder Larry Dark especially found this year’s NBA fiction list to be “disappointing and surprising,” citing collections by Deborah Eisenberg, Mary Gordon, Edward P. Jones, Thomas McGuane, Antonya Nelson, Joyce Carol Oates, and George Saunders as among the “well-known writers” overlooked. But that just adds extra credence for his own creation: “Of course, one reason The Story Prize exists is because books of short fiction are rarely chosen as finalists by the major awards. So I guess all this justifies our existence.”

A Strong Fourth Quarter for Pearson

The parent company of Penguin Books reports that its first nine months were particularly strong, with total sales up 11% and operating profit up 26%. Underlying sales went up 5% and underlying operating profit up 15%, its highest profits ever. As for the book publishing arm, sales are up 2% thanks to more award wins, such as the Booker Prize for Kiran Desai‘s THE INHERITANCE OF LOSS, after Penguin authors already won the Pulitzer Prize, two Whitbread Book of the Year Awards and two Orange Prizes earlier this year. “For the full year we continue to expect Penguin to achieve similar sales growth as in 2005, with margins improving further,” they predict.

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