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Archives: November 2006

Take That, National Book Awards!

The New York Times Book Review has just released its list of 2006′s ten best books, and it’s worth noting that their fiction slate—Gary Shteyngart’s Absurdistan, The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel, Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children, Richard Ford’s The Lay of the Land, and Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics—has exactly no overlap with the shortlist for this year’s National Book Award for fiction (which, you’ll recall, was won by Richard Powers for The Echo Maker).

The Times was able to find some common ground with the Award’s nonfiction committee, selecting Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower, but after that went off in its own direction, with books by Danielle Trussoni, Michael Pollan, Nathaniel Philbrick, and Rory Stewart. Please bear in mind we’re not knocking them for these choices, by any means—well, okay, maybe the Pessl mystifies us a teensy bit. We know how much the literati have swooned over it, and even I think it shows some skillz, sure, but is it really better than Powers? or Edward P. Jones? or Charles D’Ambrosio? (You may have other candidates, and that’s okay, too!)

On the other hand, it becomes that much harder to press the argument that the Review isn’t paying attention to serious, literary women writers…and we’re all for anything that gets people reading Amy Hempel and keeps Richard Ford from spitting on book reviewers, so really we have no beef with the Times here.

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Which Celeb Reading Will You Attend Tonight?

Actually, if you haven’t gotten tickets for Richard Gere & Carey Lowell reading a selection of poems and essays by writers in the American prison system, you’re probably out of luck, as that New School event has been sold out for a while. The reading is part of a two-day conference called “Punishment: The U.S. Record,” co-sponsored by Social Research to examine “the foundations of American punishment, the effects of current punishment practices, and alternatives to our incarceration-driven state.”

So if you can’t get into that, maybe you can work your way uptown to the 92nd St. Y’s annex event spot at the Steinhardt Building (35 W. 67th), where former Nerve.com “sexperts” Em & Lo, having spun themselves off into their own successful franchise, will be fielding questions from the audience. For a second there, I thought this was going to be at the actual 92Y, and given the audiences I usually see when I go to events there, I imagined some little old lady raising her hand and asking, “Does your mother know you do this sort of thing?” Either that or trying to play matchmaker for their grandsons.

What, No “Sherry for the Cook” Joke?

julie-powell.jpgWhat’s Julie and Julia author Julie Powell been up to lately? She’s making skirt steak on YouTube, as part of a feature she’s writing for Food & Wine. She also worked on a roast leg of lamb, but describes that effort in her narration as “an excellent demo of how not to make a video,” as she managed to press STOP and RECORD at the wrong times. I dunno; I think it’s some nice “moment of Zen” footage of an oven…

Anyway, Julie is also one of mediabistro.com’s featured guests at our upcoming panel on how bloggers can land book deals. She’ll be joined by fellow authors Michael Malice, Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan, and Robert Rummel-Hudson, along with Seal Press managing editor Laura Mazer and ICM agent Kate Lee, known for repping some of the more prominent bloggers. And blogger/journalist Rachel Kramer Bussel presides over the whole affair. Who knows what other New York bloggers, hoping to land their own deals, might show up in the audience?

Digital Rights still up in the air

The Bookseller’s Alison Bone reports that negotiations between agents and publishers over digital contracts, which began in January, have stalled after failing to reach agreement on which rights should be granted to publishers. However, both sides stressed that this didn’t mean negotiations couldn’t resume at a later date, though talks are now likely to continue between individual publishers and agents rather than as an overall trade body initiative.

Association of Authors’ Agents president Clare Alexander acknowledged that “different special interest groups had different agendas”, adding that the digital world was changing so fast that “as quickly as we discuss one thing, another comes to the fore”. She said: “I think this was too ambitious, too early. We have covered a lot of ground and there will be things that come out of it that are positive. But I think we were trying to build the whole building before what we knew what the bricks are made of.” She said the discussions were likely to continue, “but not in quite the way we envisaged”. Publishers Association president Stephen Page said the discussions had reached the point where it was sensible “for individual businesses to be making their own progress”. He said it had been “a very useful conversation . . . for authors and agents to put their views has only been useful. It now becomes a more straightforward commercial issue, but the dialogue is still open.”

Yahoo Totally Rejects Google’s Search Terms

The legal struggle between the publishing industry and Google over Google Book Search took a chilling turn yesterday as Yahoo refused Google’s request for info on how it copies books digitally. As the Associated Press notes, Amazon.com gave Google a similarly cold shoulder last month, puncturing Google’s plans to defend itself against charges of copyright infringement by comparing “its plans to provide online access to millions of library books” to “similar projects involving some of its biggest rivals.” As far as Yahoo’s concerned, that’s just an excuse to try to get hold of its trade secrets, and they aren’t falling for it.

SF Pros Make Their Literary Selections

Responding to the outbreak of public attention, the Library of America has revealed the contents of its Philip K. Dick collection, and it turns out I correctly predicted all four novels. And while I was at the computer yesterday, I emailed a couple science-fiction writers and other industry pros and asked them what other authors they’d install in the Library’s canon of great American literature. “I would be happy to do another volume of PKD,” replied Tor editor David Hartwell, listing Solar Lottery, Time Out of Joint, Martian Time-slip, Dr. Bloodmoney, and Clans of the Alphane Moon—and then sketching out not only a third collection for the visionary works of Dick’s later career, but a fourth rounding up the best of his attempts to write “mainstream” fiction.

Hartwell had a lot of other great suggestions, including a tribute to Alfred Bester that puts The Demolished Man and The Stars My Destination together with his best short stories. Coincidentally, Fantasy & Science Fiction editor Gordon Van Gelder also mentioned The Stars My Destination, but put it in a multi-author collection that included Dimension of Miracles by Robert Sheckley, The Space Merchants by Frederick Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth, Theodore Sturgeon’s More than Human, and Of Men and Monsters by William Tenn.

Author John Scalzi mentions Ray Bradbury, who’s already under consideration by Library gatekeepers. He picks out The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451, and Something Wicked This Way Comes; he also invokes Robert A. Heinlein, as did Paul Witcover, and the three of us pretty much converged on Stranger in a Strange Land, Starship Troopers, and the bulk of the short stories in The Past Through Tomorrow for that collection. Maybe The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress if we can squeeze it in.

Scalzi also has a good batch of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. novels picked out—Slaughterhouse Five, Cat’s Cradle, and Galapagos—though I suspect that when the Library does turn to Vonnegut, they’ll actually put everything from Player Piano to God Bless You, Mister Rosewater into one volume, then possibly build a second around Slaughterhouse, Breakfast of Champions, and then Galapagos, maybe some of the novels in-between.

Literary agent Ginger Clark chose another Golden Age icon, Isaac Asimov, collating his first Foundation trilogy with I, Robot and some of his most important short fiction. She also built an Ursula K. LeGuin omnibus around the first three Earthsea novels, along with The Left Hand of Darkness and The Lathe of Heaven (again, this is one the Library is actually considering). And then, for good measure, she added a Stephen King triptych: Carrie, The Shining, and The Stand. “I leave it up to the Library of America to debate which version,” she says of that last choice. “Perhaps include both so we can see how he changed the ending.”

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Roth to Complete Zuckerman Cycle

While it seems like just yesterday that Philip Roth‘s slim novella EVERYMAN was released, the increasingly prolific writer has another ace up his sleeve. The New York Times reports that EXIT GHOST, to be published in October 2007, will be the ninth and last centered on his protagonist and alter ego Nathan Zuckerman. Houghton Mifflin publisher Janet Silver said that it will be a portrait of Zuckerman as an old man returning to New York after living more than a decade in the rural isolation of western Massachusetts.

The news comes just as the Library of America releases its latest volume of Roth’s earlier works from 1973 to 1977 and reiterates its plans to publish the eighth and final installment in 2013 – the author’s 80th birthday. By our (extremely faulty) math, that means THE EXIT GHOST is either the first or middle entry of volume eight, which means that this may well not be the last book Roth writes…

Indigo + iUniverse = Pay for Play

Indigo Books & Music, the retail chain that pretty much owns every big box bookstore in Canada, has hooked up with iUniverse to feature books by self-published Canadian authors in a special display for 60 days or “longer if the book keeps selling,” the company said. As the Book Standard reports, books from iUniverse are eligible to be featured if they are published through the company’s Premier Plus package and have been given the iUniverse Publisher’s Choice label, a designation bestowed on books that have essential qualities of a professionally published book and meet key cover design standards. They will be featured in Indigo Books & Music, Coles and Chapters stores. Currently, iUniverse, an affiliate of Barnes & Noble, already features books in the same manner in Barnes & Noble stores in the U.S.

In other words, the more the author pays, the better placement he or she gets. Which isn’t that dissimilar from how mainstream publishers operate with co-op for selected titles…

BEA Expands Podcast Coverage

Shelf Awareness reports that Book Expo America, in a bid to make it “a year-round convention without walls,” is expanding its podcasting offerings and launching video streaming coverage of events from the show as well as other material related to books, authors and the industry. Aside from highlights of last year’s event in Washington, BEA now offers podcasts of the National Book Awards ceremony, and podcast and streaming video coverage of the panel “Protecting Privacy, Challenging Secrecy, and Standing Up for the First Amendment,” held September 28 in Washington. For next year’s show in New York City, BEA is setting up the BEA Authors’ Studio; under the program, authors and publishers will be able to record 5- to 10-minute audio interviews for booksellers, other industry members and the general public.

“BEA is about relationships and the exchange of information and ideas,” BEA event director Lance Fensterman said in a statement. “Our new digital ventures extend those principles beyond the three physical days of the show and typify the course I have set for BEA in coming years. The podcast program marks the beginning of a vision for BEA which utilizes the platform we have within the book and publishing industry to better serve the industry 365 days a year.”

In other words, it’s yet another way for BEA to reclaim relevancy when the London Book Fair continues to encroach on territory by pushing its dates back to April, and perhaps to expand its audience base so that it could have a hope and prayer of reaching Frankfurt-style numbers. But this will work if the content is compelling and well-produced – otherwise the general public will turn its back or worse, not even notice…

Hollingshead Surprise Bad Sex Prize Winner

With all the hype going to veterans like Thomas Pynchon, Mark Haddon & David Mitchell, the Bad Sex Prize ended up in the hands of a newbie. Iain Hollingshead took the dubious honor for TWENTY SOMETHING. The Associated Press reports that judges were moved by Hollingshead’s evocation of “a commotion of grunts and squeaks, flashing unconnected images and explosions of a million little particles.” His description of “bulging trousers” sealed the win, the judges said.

“Because Hollingshead is a first-time writer, we wished to discourage him from further attempts,” the judges—editors of Literary Review magazine—said in a statement. “Heavyweights like Thomas Pynchon and Will Self are beyond help at this point.” Hollingshead, 25, who received his award from rocker Courtney Love at a London ceremony, said he was delighted to become the prize’s youngest winner. “I hope to win it every year,” said Hollingshead, who receives a statuette and a bottle of champagne.

When reached for comment, Peter Mayer of Overlook Press, which has just published Hollingshead in the U.S., emailed back, “‘Bulging trousers’ indeed! We’re bulging with pride at the stand-out quality of our author’s libidinal literary efforts. Every part of our international publishing family is standing up and saluting young Iain.” Surely he meant “every member,” no?

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