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Posts Tagged ‘National Book Critics Circle’

BEA Day Two: Ethics in Book Reviewing

Immediately after moderating the blog panel, Bud Parr took out his video camera and taped the panel proceedings, which he’s edited into the above highlight show. And considering the star wattage assembled for the panel, highlights abounded.

Moderator and Philly Inquirer book critic Carlin Romano began by rattling off all 37 questions asked as part of the National Book Critics Circle‘s revised survey on book reviewing ethics, commenting with tongue in cheek that the only question all 356 responders agreed on was that they were NBCC members. Then each panelist spoke for about five minutes or so on the nature of ethics and starting with Christopher Hitchens, the consensus was that if it’s not okay to review a friend’s work, it shouldn’t necessarily be taboo, either. “Who knows a writer’s body of work better,” said former NYTBR editor John Leonard of what he termed a “friend of a mind”, adding that such questions are “small potatoes compared to the corruption of a culture at large.”

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At Least One Publication is Expading its Book Coverage

As the National Book Critics Circle continues its campaign to save book reviewing, better news comes from England, where the Bookseller reports the Financial Times is set to expand its books section from eight to thirteen pages.

According to books editor Rosie Blau, the expanded section will introduced new elements, including “How to Judge a Book by its Cover”, where a designer explains a book cover each week; “Small Talk”, a weekly Q&A with an author; “Book Doctor”, in which Blau replies to readers’ problems with references from literature; “Once Upon a Time”, where an author reminisces about a favourite children’s book; “What They’re Reading In . . .”, a weekly list of bestselling books from different categories; and a weekly poem. The section will also include more author profiles and reviews, including début fiction, audiobooks, children’s books, paperbacks and coffee-table books. The “Books Essay” feature will continue as before.

Would that other publications follow suit, but it must be noted that the FT likely has more leeway by being a financially-minded publication – one where advertisers still like to appear…

Chicago Tribune Books Section Moves to Saturday

While last week’s news that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution let go its books editor is still very much in play (having kickstarted a campaign by the National Book Critics Circle – of which I am a member, in full disclosure – to “Save Book Reviewing”) now there’s a new piece of book section information to process: the Chicago Tribune announced this week that its Books Section will move to the Saturday edition of the newspaper on May 19.

Books Editor Elizabeth Taylor briefly explains why the move is taking place: “Moving the section to Saturday will separate it from the Sunday newspaper, which already is bursting at the seams with essential reading, and make a prominent place for it on a new day of the week.” Some of the highlights of the new section: “Lit Life,” a column by Tribune Pulitzer Prize winner Julia Keller, which will appear in the Sunday Arts & Entertainment section. The popular “Literary events” calendar will be found on Saturday in Books and Sunday in Arts & Entertainment; A redesigned Books presence at chicagotribune.com is in the works; and website improvements as well as a new book blog, “TribBooks.”

Dateline LBF: Making Global Sense of it

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The New York Times' Alan Riding has been at LBF all week and seems, at least for the purposes of this article, to have a golly-gee approach to the trade show that’s less about celebrating books, he says, and more about “the art of the deal.” And even though the mood is optimistic and lots of agents are getting face time with publishers and their foreign rights crew, the consensus is that, well, there is no consensus book. “You won’t get a ‘book of the fair”as you did 10 or 15 years ago,” said Tom Weldon, managing director at Penguin General, one of Penguin’s divisions. “With the Internet and all the other information that is out there, you no longer get huge deals here. The hard work is about foreign rights and exports.”

Meanwhile, National Book Critics Circle president John Freeman has been filing dispatches from LBF for the NBCC blog (full disclosure: I’m a member) where he reports on Monday’s panel with John Banville and what books are about to be released in the UK this fall, which Freeman finds to be “sort of useful since England’s publishing schedules tend to be a bit ahead of America’s — and they’re packed.”

And over at the Bookseller, Alison Bone reports that UK trade publishers are using the platform of the London Book Fair to make a definitive stance on territorial copyright, with editors pushing hard for world rights deals or if need be, UK/Commonwealth with Canada excluded. “I think it’s a necessary trade-off,” said Picador publisher Andrew Kidd, who has just bought UK and Commonwealth excluding Canada rights for BREATH by Tim Winton. “Ultimately, having European exclusivity is about protecting our own territory–and that’s the most important thing.” But Association of Authors’ Agents president Clare Alexander said some publishers are not good at handling world rights. “It’s a simple ‘solution’ for publishers to control everything but it may not be the right answer,” she said, adding that a policy of exchanging Europe for Canada is “extremely insulting to the Canadians”.

More Coverage of the NBCC/Bawer Brouhaha

The New York Times has picked up on the skirmish that developed at the National Book Critics Circle blog, Critical Mass, over nominating Bruce Bawer‘s WHILE EUROPE SLEPT for its criticism award. Patricia Cohen believes this argument mirrors a larger debate over a string of recently published books (by authors like Ian Buruma, Oriana Fallaci and Melanie Phillips) that ominously warn of a catastrophic culture clash between Europeans with traditional Western values and fundamentalist Muslims.

Cohen also gets more scoop on the announcement controversy, when Eliot Weinberger first slammed Bawer’s book for being “criticism as racism.” J. Peder Zane, the book review editor and books columnist at The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., was on the eight-member committee that nominated Bawer’s book He said it “was not a contentious selection.” Zane was furious at the way Weinberger used the nominating ceremony on Jan. 20 as a platform for his views. “He not only was completely unfair to Bruce Bawer,” he said in a telephone interview, “he’s also saying that those of us who put the book on the finalist list are racist or too stupid to know we’re racist.” And after booing the comments, Zane made his way into the crowd to give Weinberger what for. “He flicked his hand at me like I was a flea and walked away.”

AP Says Goodbye to Book Review Package

After getting a tip from a publicist at an unnamed publishing house, Editor and Publisher confirmed with the Associated Press that they have terminated their book review package, which featured reviews and book news from Ron Berthel and Bruce DaSilva. “This is a sad turn of events for book reviews. AP reviews, even small, ran far and wide, and always helped sales,” said the anonymous publicist. In a statement released Friday, the wire service’s director of media relations and public affairs, Linda Wagner, explained the move resulted from revamping its Lifestyles coverage to focus “more resources on topics like food and parenting,” though Wagner added that AP “remains as committed as ever” to covering books — via reviews, features about authors, etc. — through its Arts and Entertainment Department, as well as from coverage by its full-time publishing beat reporter, Hillel Italie.

National Book Critics Circle president John Freeman believes the move is “something of a mixed blessing, especially for freelancers,” as in theory, AP’s decision will make it harder for book editors to check the wires for a particular review, and they will have to assign it – or another book entirely – to someone else. In practice, many newspaper sections used wire reviews only, and if that resource no longer there, they might not run reviews at all, thereby contributing even further to newspapers’ belief that books coverage is increasingly irrelevant.

Then again, with such a significant hole to be filled, who’s to say that a group of dedicated arts & culture writers couldn’t band together and form an alternate wire service of thoughtful, informative reviews and commentary that could then be offered to newspapers en masse? It might just be what the book world needs.

Scene @ NBCC Finalists Announcement Party

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When I arrived a few minutes early to Housing Works for the National Book Critics Circle‘s annual bash to announce their award finalists, I figured – like most parties – there would be a few stragglers and the food & drink stations wouldn’t even be fully set up yet. Guess again. Already packed, within ten minutes the bookstore was fully SRO, and it was impossible to move a square inch without bumping into one notable critic after another. Amy Bloom (left, pictured with independent publicist Kimberly Burns and PW’s Charlotte Abbott) was on hand to announce the fiction finalists, which was met with the usual mix of positive responses and grumbling undertone. Francine Duplessis Gray, in announcing the memoir/autobiography category, remarked that this category honored those with a penchant for self-indulgence, while Eliot Weinberger cracked that the criticism category was “the most prestigious for the most contentious.” The greatest round of applause was reserved for Alison Bechdel‘s FUN HOME, one of two books (the other Michael Pollan‘s AN OMNIVORE’S DILEMMA) voted onto the shortlist by the membership.

Among the many, many literati making the scene were Lizzie Skurnick (who’s recently been hired on by New York Magazine), the Complete Review‘s Michael Orthofer, Viking publisher Paul Slovak, Soft Skull‘s Richard Nash, Eat the Press’s Rachel Sklar, Emily Gordon, Poets & WritersDoug Diesenhaus, and former Balakian winner Scott McLemee, on hand to announce Steven G. Kellman as the category’s newest honoree.