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Archives: September 2007

Harvard Bookstore’s Grip on Students Loosening

(Note: This is a story about the Harvard Coop, the college’s official bookseller, not the Harvard Book Store, which is an indie shop just a few blocks away.)

Thanks to boingboing, I’ve been doing my best to keep up on what’s happening at the Harvard Coop since a student was ejected for writing down ISBN numbers and prices so he could check online to see if he could find the books cheaper, then three more students, collecting the same data for the website, were ejected. All along, the Coop has maintained that the ISBNs are its intellectual property. But the director of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, along with another Berkman Fellow and a Harvard law student, has written an op-ed for the Harvard Crimson that says the Coop’s argument is totally bogus. “The Coop neither authored the ISBN numbers on its books nor compiled them in an original selection or arrangement,” the trio writes. “Locking competitors out from price comparison is not part of copyright’s aim. While some courts have protected the creativity of price estimates, they haven’t allowed companies to exclude others from learning market prices or catalog part numbers.”

Weighing In on New NYTBR Lists

LA Times book man Josh Getlin sifts through the industry implications of the NYTBR‘s new bestseller list strategy, which splits trade and mass market paperbacks into two separate categories. The basic question being, “Did the Times create the new list to boost a genre—or its already healthy ad sales?” (Of those cited in the article, only NYTBR chief Sam Tanenhaus entertains the possibility that both motivations are in play.)

Literary blogger and occasional NYTBR contributor Lizzie Skurnick sees “a choice to be made between the conversation about books in this country and the monetization of books,” but agent Sandy Dijkstra, who you’ll recall as the instigator of a letter-writing campaign when her local newspaper announced plans to reduce its book review coverage earlier this year, loves the new list, I’m guessing not least of all because it turned her client Lisa See‘s Snow Flower and the Secret Fan into a NYT bestseller. “Eyeballs on the news page are an extremely important thing,” says Dijkstra. “Creating a new weekly list for paperback fiction is a plus for everybody who cares about the future of good writing.” As long as it isn’t buried in the arts section, you mean?

A Sneak Peek at The Kite Runner Movie

kite-runner-still.jpgLast night, after they let me out of the courthouse, I went over to the Hearst building, where editorial director Ellen Levine was hosting an advance screening of The Kite Runner in the company theater. I’d never read the novel, so various Hearst publicists and editors warned me to expect a tearjerker—but, honestly, it didn’t feel any more emotionally manipulative than your average Hollywood melodrama. If anybody still cares what the Taliban thinks about anything, they’re not exactly going to be thrilled at being depicted as racist pederasts, but apart from an earnest speech here and there, the emotional arcs aren’t too terribly heavyhanded.

(At least not for American audiences; in Afghanistan, the family of the child actor who plays the rape victim fears the movie will bring him shame, alleging that producers told them the scene would be cut—which, if it had happened, would’ve rendered the film pretty meaningless. As it is, the version of that scene shown last night was muted but clear in its implications. Still, according to the boy’s father, “the people of Afghanistan do not understand that it’s only acting or playing a role in a film. They think it has actually happened.” Never mind that this strikes me as the sort of thing that would get a Westerner branded an imperialist bigot for saying; the tail end of the AP suggests the family may have an ulterior motive for kicking up a fuss…like maybe a ticket out of Afghanistan.)

Anyway, as far as my impressions went, David Benioff is pretty much guaranteed a spot on the Academy Awards’ best adapted screenplay shortlist, while Khalid Abdalla could earn a best actor nomination on merit, depending on how crowded the competition gets over the next few months. The box office prospects are a little trickier; it’s one thing for American readers to embrace a novel set in pre-invasion and Taliban-era Aghanistan, and another for American moviegoers to embrace a film where more than half the dialogue is in an Afghan dialect of Persian. But I think it’ll do okay.

elsewhere on Pitching Lisa Hagan

In the latest installment of’s “Pitching an Agent” series, Lisa Hagan of Paraview Literary Agency discusses what it takes to stand out from the 100 or so nonfiction book proposals she receives every day. “When you read something that is so wonderfully written and so moving and know that it’s going to help a lot of people, it makes you feel good,” Hagan tells Rachel Kramer Bussel. But if she likes you, be ready to work; Hagan especially likes authors who can be counted on to deliver a new book every year, or at least every 2-3 years.

“Pitching an Agent” is only available to’s AvantGuild subscribers. If you’re not a member yet, click here to learn more.

It’s a Big Weekend for Book Festivals!

If you’re going to the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C., or the nearby Baltimore Book Festival, or the West Hollywood Book Fair this weekend, and you take pictures, please feel free to send them my way!

If I’m doing my math right—and the overlap between D.C. and Baltimore’s lineup isn’t too huge—the three events should bring readers in touch with more than 500 authors.

What Scott McCloud Did Before Understanding Comics

zot-headshot.jpgScott McCloud‘s Zot!, one of the best independent comics of the 1980s, has been sold to HarperCollins as a 576-page graphic novel, which will include several issues from the original comic book that have never been reprinted in trade paperback. The book’s publication in the summer of 2008 will coincide with the San Diego Comic-Con. This is pretty much the awesomest book-related news I’ve heard all week.

If you’d like to get a sampling, McCloud created a Zot! webcomic in 2000 called Hearts and Minds that explains all the backstory as it goes along.

All Your Prize Are Belong to Dybek

stuart-dybek.jpgMondayy, Chicago poet and short story writer Stuart Dybek (left) received a “genius” grant from the MacArthur Foundation, which comes to $500,000 spread out over five years. Yesterday, he got the $30,000 Rea Award for “significant contribution in the discipline of the short story as an art form.” Makes you wonder what’s going to happen to him today, doesn’t it?

It’s a Movie Tie-In! It’s an Oprah Pick! (Or Not!)

The first good guess I received at to which book Oprah Winfrey will pick for her book club on October 5 was Dave Eggers‘s What Is the What?, especially since it was already due to come out in a Vintage paperback the following Tuesday. It wasn’t a perfect choice—the list price is $15.95, a dollar more than that for Oprah’s mystery pick—but it was a pretty good one…was, until Local LIT editor Kathye Fetsko Petrie pointed out that a page count had been added to the mystery book’s listing, and on that basis, along with the previously establsihed criteria, she predicted it would be Gabriel Garcia Marquez‘s Love in the Time of Cholera. If true, that should make for an interesting opening weekend when Mike Newell‘s film version is released in mid-November. (And wouldn’t that be right around the time Garcia Marquez would be expected to make his appearance on the show?)

Another reader had suggested that it might be Elizabeth Gilbert‘s Eat, Pray, Love, but an inspection of the Oprah website makes it clear that’s what will be discussed before the big reveal, and anyway it’s a Penguin paperback. Another reader thinks it might be one of Philip Roth‘s Zuckerman novels—on Bizarro World Oprah, maybe—and I got into a mini-debate with slunch over Fire in the Blood, which has barely come out in hardcover.

The Novel That Wasn’t There

hugh-laurie-headshot.jpg“What’s going on with Hugh Laurie‘s novel The Paper Soldier?” asks an anonymous reader. Good question! According to, the sequel to his 1997 thriller-parody The Gun Seller is being published Thursday in the UK by Michael Joseph, but there’s been no review attention in the British press, and absolutely no buzz here in the States—no US edition listed on Amazon, no mention of a US sale in Publishers Marketplace. “Shouldn’t this second novel be a bigger deal by now, given his House fame?” asks our reader.

You’d think, right? I mean, Courtney Thorne-Smith writes a novel, and Gawker gets mileage out of it for weeks, along with all the other media hype it generates, so where’s the love for Hugh Laurie? The answer is simple, according to Laurie’s agent, Anthony Goff of Daivd Higham Associates: “Not only is Hugh Laurie’s new novel not coming out in the UK this week, Hugh hasn’t even started writing it!” Goff writes in response to my email query. “When he does,” he adds, “I’m sure it will find a publisher in the US.”

Damn. I was kinda looking forward to it myself.

Baen, Subterranean Team Up for Sci-Fi Ebooks

Earlier this month, two independent science fiction and fantasy publishers, Subterranean Press and Baen Books, reached an agreement that will create electronic editions of certain Subterranean titles to be sold on Baen’s Webscription site. The Webscription model is notable for releasing ebooks without any digital rights management (DRM) software, which makes it much easier to copy the files. No word yet on which elements of the Subterranean backlist might find their way into the electronic library, but this should be a good chance for readers to get their hands on material previously only available in limited editions.

(Full disclosure: My one short story sale to date was to Subterranean Magazine.)