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Archives: December 2006

From Book to Movie, “Children of Men” Style

The New York Times’ Caryn James goes off and running with the book-to-movie concept, comparing and contrasting the two versions of CHILDREN OF MEN – the original 1992 novel by P.D. James, and the new movie directed by Alfonso Cuaron starring Clive Owen & Julianne Moore, which has been getting mostly very good reviews. It’s not quite a book review, not quite thorough analysis, but James makes equal yet different cases for the novel, which she calls a trenchant analysis of politics and power that speaks urgently to this social moment, a 14-year-old work that remains surprisingly pertinent” and an “extraordinary novel [that] deserves to be rediscovered on its own.”

Last week, Cuaron explained to the Toronto Star’s Geoff Pevere that James’ book (which he loved but initially “couldn’t see a movie he could make out of it”) stayed with him, but required much divergence:

I realized (it) could serve as a metaphor for a fading sense of hope. And that comes together with what I think is a human lack of historical experience. So I realized it could be an amazing point of departure to do a film. Not necessarily science fiction. I wanted to something that was an adventure of some sort, but in the mythical way that would rescue myth out of adventure …Like the ancient myths, but that could also be an adventure that could take you through the state of things that are shaping the very first part of the 21st century.

Lust-ful Librarian Takes It Online

nancy-pearl.jpgIf you were wondering what Nancy Pearl (right), the Seattle librarian who parlayed “book lust” into several books and her own action figure, has been up to lately, wonder no more! She’s created a new wiki-format website, also called Book Lust, that invites readers to make up lists of the ten books they’d take to a desert island, comment on book club recommendations, and find out what Pearl herself is reading (although it appears she hasn’t had a chance to update that page since September, maybe because she’s been too busy having fun on her Australian tour). The site is hosted by Wetpaint, a Seattle-based technology company that claims to “combine the best aspects of wikis, blogs, forums and social networks” for personal websites on all sorts of subjects.

Blame the System, Not the Bosses

Former Dallas Morning News book critc Jerome Weeks has plenty to say about yesterday’s LA Times piece on “publishing assistant lit” (or whatever moniker you want to use, as long as it’s less unwieldy) and how the real fault may lie in how the industry is structured: by a revolving door of assistants who aren’t likely to stick around longer than a year. While speaking with several publicity and marketing folks, “half a dozen of them told me flat-out that unless someone climbs through the system, they’ll find it hard to enter publishing because this is how publishing trains people. And it’s designed to exploit young women as serfs.”

Plus ca change, especially as the starting salaries for editorial assistants aren’t that much higher than documented by an anonymous publishing up-and-comer almost ten years ago. And change, especially on the publicity side, is unlikely, says Weeks. “It’s systemic. And it continues, in part, because publicity has little glamor or clout in publishing; most people don’t want to do it, even though, if publishers had any brains, they’d realize that marketing these days is almost the whole game.”

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda

Every year the Sunday Observer gets Kate Figes to ask various publishers what books they wanted to do well, but didn’t, and which they could have bought but didn’t have a chance (or turned down.) Said Transworld‘s Marianne Vellmans about Nina Lugovskaya‘s I WANT TO LIVE: “We worked hard to make the text accessible, as I believe there is nothing as effective to bring a dark period of history to life than this kind of eyewitness account by an innocent participant. We had fantastic reviews and some compared it to Anne Frank‘s Diary. But we sold less than 3,000 copies.” More fascinating was how certain books that were surefire sellers in America – such as Jeanette Walls‘ THE GLASS CASTLE – just about flopped in the UK. “I think it’s because it bucks the trend and doesn’t wallow in the misery,” said Virago publisher Lennie Goodings. “Some seriously awful things happened to her as a child but she chooses to write with pity.”

Jazz Historian Takes Work to the People

devra-hall.jpgDevra Hall saw our item last week about writers accepting no-advance contracts, and although that approach is “all well and good for best-selling authors,” she says, “or writers whose books fit the fad-of-the month, or for hobbyists who have a different career and write in their spare time… it is not of any help to those who need to be paid for their work in the here-and-now.” Including herself in that category, she’s decided to try something different while she works on her biography of composer/orchestrator Luther Henderson, and has become the first author to register with ArtistShare, where fans support artists directly in exchange for a window on the creative process.

Hall’s “People on the Page” venture, launched at her new website, will give paying “participants” a “part behind-the-scenes look at the creative process of writing a biography, part memoir of her life as a writer and the issues with which she grapples as a biographer, and part exploration of what readers and writers of biographies think about.” Now, since she’s doing all that research to write the Henderson bio (which will eventually be published by Scarecrow Press), she’s effectively supporting that book by creating a whole new project. Although the ArtistShare model has only been tested by musical performers so far, Hall’s confident that it can work for writers, too—she’s already got plans to create another book, a tribute to jazz musician and manager John Levy. If this scheme works, it could give a whole new meaning to the term “literary patronage”… at least for those writers talented enough to attract a generous fanbasse.

Taking a Virtual Red Pen to Iraq Report

In one of the first projects from his new desk at Lapham’s Quarterly, Lewis Lapham has teamed up with the Institute for the Future of the Book to publish an online version of the Iraq Study Group Report…but unlike the PDF versions that have previously been made available online, this one is going to have all sorts of notes in the virtual margins from left-wing commentators. For example, radical historian Howard Zinn deconstructs the rejection of “precipitate withdrawal”, noting that “the weak criticism of the Bush policy… reminds us of the criticism of our Vietnam policy, made by ‘liberal’ political figures, which, by foreclosing the idea of withdrawal from Vietnam, helped keep the war going and the casualties piling up for years.” Other annotators include Christian Science Monitor columnist Helena Cobban and former Harper’s editor Matthew Stevenson; more are expected to leave their mark in the future, with the general public getting an opportunity to sound off at some point in January.

Osama + Humor = Success

Who would have thought that Osama Bin Laden would figure in Britain’s bestselling humor book of the year? More to the point, why did it take so long for someone to publish an Al Qaeda-esque parody of WHERE’S WALDO? So no wonder Borders reports that WHERE’S BIN LADEN is selling out in record time. In this version, published by New Holland, you have to find the Al Qaeda leader and his henchmen. Sometimes there are weapons to find, such as a scimitar or a bundle of dynamite.

Borders also has no qualms about stocking a book some might see as being in dubious taste. Alistair Spalding, ITS marketing executive, said: “We believe in the basic right of our customers to choose what they want to read, listen to and buy. Our customers are intelligent, curious people who enjoy exploring all types of books, films, and music. Some of the thousands of books and music selections we carry and events we hold could be considered controversial or objectionable depending on individual political views, tastes and interests. However, Borders stands by its commitment to let customers make the choice.”

Regan’s Attorney Unveils Supportive “Ear-witness”

As AP publishing industry correspondent Hillel Italie reported yesterday, Judith Regan‘s former temp claims she overheard that phone call, and if Carmen del Toro is to be believed, Regan never uttered the phrase “Jewish cabal” during her conversation with HarperCollins attorney Mark Jackson. Italie gets a somewhat unusual response from Harper to this evidentiary claim, raised by Regan’s lawyer, Bert Fields, late last week; rather than a simple, corporately bland refutation, spokeperson Erin Crum is quoted as telling the press, “We respect Bert’s loyalty to his client, but unfortunately he continues to be terribly misinformed about the facts.” Zing!

In other Regan news, Art Buchwald files a weird column, which makes the non-controversial assertion that firing Regan just before Christmas was wrong, even if she is a “bad Santa,” and even if Rupert Murdoch didn’t much like her, then suggests a solution: “Judith Regan still sits on the bench. She doesn’t get to play, but she has a very good seat for basketball games.” At least it proves Buchwald’s not the sort to hold grudges; Bert Fields is the guy who repped Paramount in its appeal of Buchwald’s famous lawsuit over Coming to America.

And finally, Sarah says: Radar’s Jeff Bercovici has the scoop on Regan’s latest radio show, where she offered clues (be they serious or facetious) to her future plans. “I’m moving to Dublin, where they do have a sense of humor because they drink too much. I’m Irish, so I can say that.” Right, because the last time she talked about a cultural group, disaster loomed… (Ron, also being Irish, is too busy rifling the fridge for beer to comment.)

Welcome, Mother Jones Readers!

motherjones-illo.jpgIf you’ve come to GalleyCat after reading Alissa Quart‘s Mother Jones article about the increasing professionalism of online amateurs, welcome! (If you haven’t read this story about “the Mike Leighs of MySpace and YouTube, the homespun digital photographers who sell their work to photo agencies for next to nothing, T-shirt designers who are still in high school, ballpoint-pen doodlers who’ve become contemporary artists, and graphic design geniuses who spend their days entering online Photoshop contest” yet, make sure to follow through the link and check it out.) As the co-author of this blog (along with Sarah Weinman, I’m mentioned briefly as an example of somebody who started out by writing for my own website and has moved on to a successful freelance career, although I hasten to mention that I’m not quite as “ambivalent about the idea of joining the ranks of the careerists” as the article makes me sound. I rather enjoy participating in the cash economy, after all, even if it’s in my pajamas. (I wish I could say I look as snappy as the fellow in this Joe Ciardiello illustration doing it, but no such luck.)

That said, I believe it’s absolutely true that some of the sideswipes and direct insults we’ve seen against “amateurs” from professional journalists in the last year or so are about “ironclad defensiveness.” We need look no further than George Will and his contempt for You, or Dave Itzkoff‘s role as the latest member of the NYTBR kulturklatsch to criticize what he calls “the impulsive, first-draft ethos of the blogosphere.” As I’ve maintained all along, though, the rise of talented new members of the creative class from various new electronic media isn’t going to lead to the death of “old media”—just to the elimination of some of its mediocrities, as they’re replaced by better, more talented people discovered online. Not everybody in old media is defensive, after all, there’s a recognized need for innovation now, and although some experiments may fail, others will succeed.

A warning bell for independent bookshops

Yesterday afternoon I walked into Coliseum Books, the first time I’d done so in a few months. The 40%-70% off stickers were everywhere, and the walls were still lined with some books, but many had also been sold off. A gloomy air filled the store because it will be open only a few more days. And as Reuter’s Mark Porter reports, the closure of Coliseum has upset loyal customers. “It’s sad to see these little bookstores disappearing. I’m sorry to see it go. I used to go when it was on the West Side…I’m not happy,” said a woman, who declined to give her name, as she searched for a bargain.

Coliseum owner George Leibson said that while a lot of people were coming into the store to browse, they were not buying. Coliseum has spent the past four years on 42nd Street after moving from its home on 57th Street. “We searched high and low for a high-traffic area, but it hasn’t worked out,” he said. “Chain-store sales and the Internet are far more practical. People will go to places closer to them. Places like Barnes & Noble.” But as Main Street Books‘s Kate Bierce, who is closing her Iowa shop after 12 years in business, said, the customer will ultimately lose. “Customer service is not the same. When somebody walks in this store I know them, their kids, their parents, their grandparents. I put books in their hands. That’s what my customers really like,” she said.