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Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Saturday, December 27, 2008
A collection of E H Shepard's original drawings for the children's books has fetched one-point-two-six million pounds at auction.
Thursday, December 25, 2008
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Last Sunday's book section of the New York Times features an alarming story by Dave Itzkoff. The Man Group, a publicly traded investment company and hedge fund that has sponsored the Booker Prize since 2002, announced that it had about $360 million in funds linked to the rogue Wall Street executive Bernard L. Madoff (pictured).
Former Nasdaq chairman Madoff was recently arrested on a charge of making off with fifty billion dollars entrusted to his companies by trusting investors, in the most high profile collapse of a hedge fund to date. Breaking news is that a New York-based money manager who may have lost $1.4 billion of client funds in Madoff investments has killed himself in his Madison Avenue office. By contrast, Madoff, who appears to have no conscience at all, is probably headed for a comfortable white collar prison.
His shenanigans have sent two European banks to the edge: Royal Bank of Scotland and Santander have lost hundreds of millions of dollars. "Madoff has single-handedly turned an already very bad year for hedge funds into a catastrophe," said one commentator, according to Times On Line. So is it a catastrophe for the Man Booker, too?
Apparently not. Man Group's loss, though it appears huge to ordinary folks like you and me, wipes out only 1.5% of its assets, and the company insists that the sponsorship deal will not be changed or cancelled.
Borders announced yesterday that they have extended the deadline by one month on both the repayment of their $42.5 million senior secured term loan to Pershing Square, as well as the "put" to require Pershing to purchase their Paperchase subsidiary for $65 million. Both deadlines have been extended to February 16. In late November when reporting quarterly earnings Borders said they were "in discussions with Pershing Square regarding an alternative financing transaction."
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Two senior figures in the process that chose Harald zur Hausen for this year's Nobel Prize for Medicine have strong links with the London-based multi-national pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, which has also recently begun sponsoring the Nobel website. The company strongly denies any wrongdoing.
It is not the only question mark hanging over the probity of the Stockholm-based foundation. The Swedish prosecutor yesterday opened a parallel investigation into bribery allegations after several members of Nobel committees admitted enjoying expenses-paid trips to China to tell officials how candidates are selected for prizes.
Other members of the Nobel Foundation are said to be gravely concerned that the reputation of an organisation that honours the highest achievements in human endeavour is under threat from companies and nations hungry for Nobel glory.
So far, the literature prize has not been implicated, thankfully, but ramifications could lurk in the wings.
Horace Engdahl, the permanent secretary of the Nobel Prize-distributing Swedish Academy, has just announced that he will leave his post in June. A couple of months ago, I posted a report that Engdahl had dismissed American literature in a couple of impolite sentences: "The U.S. is too isolated, too insular ... They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature."
Have the chickens come home to roost?
BRITON SAVAGED FOR BOOK ON SEEDY SIDE OF GREAT WRITER
CRITICS IN TURN ACCUSED OF 'CONSPIRACY OF CENSORSHIP'
Thus run the sub-headers in a story written by Kate Connolly which was published in The Guardian on Friday, August 15, this year. Old news, but new to me. Apparently, it is hotly debated in the blogosphere (to which I return after being stranded for days with very limited internet connection. Don't, whatever you do, download a program called "iTunes," as it monsters your internet usage without you knowing it, and you can end up with an enormous bill.)
Well, it seems that a collection of pornography owned by Franz Kafka was recently discovered at the Bodleian Library (Oxford University) and the British Library, by Kafka authority James Hawes. Hawes revealed some of this erotic material in his recently published book Excavating Kafka. According to the story, this stash was concealed by scholars in an attempt to preserve the writer's image, and the content is definitely sensational, in an upmarket sort of way. "These are not naughty postcards from the beach," Mr. Hawes is quoted as saying. "Some of it is quite dark. It's quite unpleasant."
Understandably, German academia is outraged.
"Hawes has given us a look through the keyhole of a Kafka with his trousers down," wrote Kafka researcher Anjana Shrivastava, going on to colorfully scoff that to call those "illustrated magazines ... hardcore porn is like comparing a poem by Heinrich Heine with an advertising slogan for McDonald's." Kafka critic Klaus Wagerbach called Hawes an ignorant idiot. Kafka biographer Rainer Stach said the furore was an "unbelievable marketing ploy."
So, does the pornographic collection exist? Oh yes. No one has ever claimed that Kafka was pure and chaste (though I am surprised that anyone so subject to utter gloom, who so tragically starved to death while those who cared for him stood helplessly by, should be so interested in sex, the source of life). However, says Stach, the "pornographic" pictures are quite innocent, really, being "playful representations, some styled like caricatures."
Hawes, an Oxford graduate who teaches creative writing, has hit back at his critics, accusing them of "a conspiracy of censorship." Why, he demanded, have Kafka scholars deliberatedly ignored this aspect of their idol?
Who knows? The debate continues.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
This weekend, Lorraine Adams reviews Sherry Jones's Jewel of Medina, the highly controversial novelization of the story of Muhammed's fourth wife, for the New York Times
She first goes over the ground already covered in this blog, as well as in a host of newspapers and other internet sites -- the warning issued by a pre-publication reader that the book could incite Muslim outrage -- the decision by the original publisher to halt publication -- the attempted firebombing of the London office of the publisher who took up the project -- and so on and so forth.
Then we get to the nitty gritty of her take on the book itself. In brief, Jones's research gets a B plus, while her writing gets a C minus.
Read it for yourself. Adams did a good job -- apparently a better job than the novel merits.
Friday, December 12, 2008
As GalleyCat comments, it is surely worth a disbelieving shake of the head that "during these topsy-turvy days for publishing, a 9-year-old kid struck gold."
The bookseller showed an operating loss of 9.3 million pounds for the period, 4.5 percent more than last year's loss of 8.9 million pounds, reflecting "a very challenging book market, which contracted by over 5 percent in the period, impacted particularly by poor performance in the non-fiction category."
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
And, sure enough, the eminent politician was surprised by a reporter from The Sunday Age while ferreting around in Readings bookshop in a Melbourne suburb, Carlton, where Mr Rudd bought a copy of Nuns Having Fun, although he tried to pass off his purchase as a "bit of Christmas shopping." Having delivered that prevarication, he headed for the new releases table at the front of the store, and became elaborately immersed in Edward Duyker's A Dictionary of Sea Quotations in an effort to avoid this unseemly interruption by the press.
The public foiled him, however, by demanding that he pose for photos with them, occasionally with babies in tow. The babies, he liked, but the inspection of his choice of reading matter was evidently unsettling. By the time he got to the cashier, Mr Rudd was also carrying Tom Holland's Millennium: The End of the World and the Forging of Christendom and Simon Schama's The American Future: A History.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Friday, December 5, 2008
All eight regional winners -- who will be announced in March 2009 -- will take part in the activities, and visit schools and literary bodies while they are in the country. This Festival is always a big boost for the cultural scene in Auckland, with famous writers, critics, and journalists flitting here and there in the crowd. Next year, obviously, be bigger, brighter, and better than ever, with visitors arriving from all over the world.
While the first deadline for entry has passed, publishers are urged to make late entries. They can do this as long as they notify the relevant chair, and get the books in by December 31, 2008.
Sumner M. Redstone has announced that Viacom would shave seven percent of its workforce, and freeze salaries for top managers, in an effort to save about $200 million next year. NBC Universal, likewise, is going to lay off five hundred staff, including some veteran correspondents.
At Universal Studios, a memo from chairman Marc Shmuger announces that staff numbers will be cut by three percent, and the studios will be "scaling back on travel, overtime, consultants, premiers, conferences, newspaper marketing and general administrative costs."
"This kind of message is never easy," said Jeffrey A. Zucker, CEO of Universal (which is owned by the General Electric Company). Executives at the Walt Disney Company, the News Corporation and CBS are preparing themselves to issue that "kind of message," too, as sales and advertising revenue dry up.
Employees who have lost their jobs at Viacom, including those at Paramount Studios, will be paid until December 31, and then get some kind of severance payment. "Saying goodbye to friends and colleagues is always difficult," say the president, Philippe P. Dauman, and Thomas E. Dooley, the chief financial officer. It must be hard for them to feel their pain, though -- their salaries might be frozen, but they will still receive an end-of-year bonus for navigating the firm in rocky financial waters. Last year, Mr. Dauman's bonus was $7 million, and apparently the target this this year's sterling work is to be $9.5 million. Last year, Mr. Dooley's bonus was $5.6 million, and this year it is slated to be $7.6 million.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
According to Publisher's Lunch a memo from the CEO of the publishing house, which in the past has enjoyed huge sales (after paying huge advances) of books written by such glittering stars as Mary Higgins Clark and Stephen King, announces that Simon & Schuster has "enacted a reduction in staff in which 35 positions across the company were eliminated, from areas including our publishing divisions and international, operations and sales.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Intrigued by the rush of adverts. for "Black Friday" which have crammed the online US new papers the last couple of days, I wondered why the term was used. I have always believed that Black Friday fell on the 13th day of the month. My mother used to warn me to beware of accidents and mishaps on that day, and I wore clean underwear in case I had to go to hospital. She didn't suffer from paraskavedekatriaphobia (obsessive fear of the number thirteen), thank God, or I would not have been allowed out at all.
Friday has been considered unlucky since time (written time, that is) began. Chaucer mentioned it in The Canterbury Tales. Seamen refused to sail from port on a Friday, and their captains agreed with them, though the owners of the ships might have griped. Thirteen is equally unlucky, so the combination is particularly dire.
And "black" is the color of mourning. Friday, September 24, 1869, was certainly a day for mourning on Wall Street. A bunch of hotshot financiers tried to corner the gold market, and their abject failure led to a total collapse of the stock market, followed by a depression. The Panic of 1873 also began on a Friday, but apparently it was the 1869 debacle that added the word "black" to the economic lexicon of misfortune. From there, it was just a step to "Black Friday 13."
So why all these ads. for "Black Friday," when it isn't even Friday-the-thirteenth this week, Friday's date being November 28? And why advertise something that is supposed to be unlucky?
Apparently, in the shopping lexicon, Black Friday is the shopping day after Turkey Day. Everyone who is currently employed is off work, there are no games on TV, so everyone goes out shopping. BIGGEST SHOPPING DAY OF THE YEAR, the adverts. blare. It's a lucky day for the owners of the stores, because that their account books finally get into the black, and an unlucky day for the staff behind the counters, because those hungover crowds are grumpy. And, according to the entry for "Black Friday" on http://www.snopes.com/ it isn't really the biggest shopping day, as people go to see the bargains before they start thinking about Christmas.
Happy Window Shopping.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Saturday, November 22, 2008
The Europeana website was attracting more than 10 million hits an hour - more than double the anticipated number.
The site includes paintings, photos, films, books, maps and manuscripts from 1,000 museums, national libraries and archives across Europe. It is expected to reopen in December after technological improvements. Users currently find a message saying the site is"temporarily not accessible due to overwhelming interest after its launch". It adds: "We're doing our utmost to reopen Europeana in a more robust version as soon as possible. We'll be back by mid-December."
"Thousands of users were searching for the words 'Mona Lisa' at the same time", explained a spokesman for the European Commission." It confirms it's worth doing, European culture is more popular than we had anticipated in our wildest dreams," he said. After a massive surge just before Europeana's launch, the system's creators doubled the number of servers from three to six and got it working again for a short time. However they will now perform more tests to ensure the digital library can stay open at peak times.
On Thursday, most hits came from Germany, followed by France and Spain. Four per cent of online requests about Europe's cultural heritage came from the United States.
Friday, November 14, 2008
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Monday, November 10, 2008
Galleances were new to me -- what are (or were) they? I thought of hens and roosters, but Tahiti had plenty of hen and roosters already. (Wallis called them "fowles.") Then again, he could have been playing with a Latin word. Galliformes, I found, are game birds, terrestrial, grain-eating, and ground-nesting. They include the common fowl -- also pheasants, partridges, grouses (grice?), turkeys, guinea fowl, and peacocks.
They were exceptional at foraging for themselves in open country, so were presumably a good bet for acclimatisation, too. They were also very good watch dogs (watch birds?), being even better at the job than geese. One book assured me they make excellent pets, being very affectionate -- but I leave that to someone else to prove.
Saturday, November 8, 2008
The message, headlined, Bound to the Word, is inspirational.
It begins: "If you open up Scripture, the Gospel according to John, it starts: 'in the beginning was the Word.' Although this has a very particular meaning in Scripture, more broadly what it speaks to is the critical importance of language, of writing, of reading, of communication, of books as a means of transmitting culture and binding us together as a people."
Read it all on American Libraries Online.
Saturday, November 1, 2008
Friday, October 31, 2008
On Monday, the Los Angeles Times announced that 75 of its newsroom staff would have to go.
On Tuesday, the Christian Science Monitor announced the end of its weekday print edition. Apart from a weekly magazine edition, you will only be able to read it online.
The whisper, it seems, is that an Australian author is creating a lot of interest in London. This is Stephen Scourfield, whose first novel, Other Country, was in the short list for the 2008 Commonwealth Writer's Prize for Best First Book.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
This is Women Astronomers: Reaching for the Stars, by the rather aptly named Mabel Armstrong. The first in a planned Women in Science series, Women Astronomers describes the fascinating women who strived for the stars, from Hypatia of Alexandria through Maria Mitchell of Nantucket to astronaut Sally Ride.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Though Caucasian, Hillerman very successfully brought two Navajo detectives vividly to life, complete with their inner thoughts and private problems. Ovet the years, Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn, sterling members of the Navajo Tribal police in the gaunt, arid, stunning setting of New Mexico, have almost become members of the family. They were certainly part of the inspiration for Wiki Coffin, the half-Maori detective of my mystery series. And, while the color schemes of the distinctive Hillerman book jackets may not have been as spectacular as the desert the two native American policemen roamed, I have always enjoyed the use of stylized American-Indian figures.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
Tim Winton, I find, writes about the sea, and the impact of the ocean on the human psyche, so it is only logical that the book jacket for Breath should be blue.
Friday, October 24, 2008
So I asked her to send along an image of the cover that had fascinated her so -- which she very kindly agreed to do, adding:
I don't know if you can really see the pic clearly - it is a misty mystery of sepia forest growing up into typewriter keys. Not keys. The arm things that fly back and forth to the ribbon when you bang the keys. Do they have a name? Stampy arm-banging things. Anyway this is the one I want to hug and kiss and stroke every day.
The other one is HB Fenn's latest, and I included it because this is what southwestern Ontario looks like right now and it's beautiful. My route to work involves a lot of countryside and I go past immense fields of pumpkins. They are hidden to me in the dark mornings, but burst forth in the startling sparkly blue afternoons every day.
I would be interested to know what others think of these two catalogue covers. I love the one with the pumpkins. They jump out of the image, and make a statement -- because of perspective, atmosphere, and color. This feeling is confirmed by a conversation I had yesterday with one of Wellington's most wellknown sons, bookseller, publisher, and bibliophile Hugh Price. When I asked him which jackets sold best, he instantly said, "The warm colors -- red, maroon, orange. Blues and greens are cool and uninviting," he added.