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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas scoop for Cambridge University Library

After a drive to raise 1.25 million pounds, Cambridge University Library has taken delivery of the Siegried Sassoon papers.

A while ago, there was a short discussion about books that changed one's life. I didn't think of poetry at the time, but reading Sassoon poetry in class certainly changed my ideas about war -- for good, and for ever. Aimed at adults, it stirred the soul of a nine-year-old.

Anyway, according to a BBC report, the university library scooped the archive by raising all that money, helped by a grant worth just over a half million from the National Heritage Memorial Fund. Other donors were the Monument Trust, the JP Getty Jr Trust, and Sir Siegmund Warburg's Voluntary Settlement.
Sassoon was an undergrad. at Cambridge, and became an honorary fellow of Clare College. Author Sebastian Faulks, whose novel Birdsong is set in the battlefields of WW1, said, "This is a major coup for Cambridge University Library, and the papers will be of huge benefit to scholars both of literature and of history."

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Poet wins short story award

Again, the big names are edged out.

Poet Kate Clanchy (44, pictured) has won the 2009 BBC National Short Story Award with only her second attempt at a short story, earning herself fifteen thousand pounds.

Others shortlisted were past Orange Prize winners Lionel Shriver and Naomi Alderman and Bafta-nominated writer Jane Rogers.

The chair of judges, Tom Sutcliffe, said that Kate Clanchy's story was the unanimous choice.

Named The Not-Dead and The Saved, it is a story about parental love and sacrifice set in a hospital ward,

"We were all impressed by its acute control of emotional tone and by the vividness and generosity of the writing," said Sutcliffe.

More than 600 entries were received for the 2009 award, which is open to authors who have a publication history and are residents of the United Kingdom.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

First novel wins John Llewellyn Rhys book prize

Evie Wyld, 29, has edged out big names Aravind Adiga and Chimamanda Ngozi to win the prestigious award.

Her novel, After the Fire, a Still Small Voice, is set in eastern Australia, and tells the story of the convoluted relationship between a father and his son through a series of wars.

Louise Doughty, the chair of the judges, said this novel is truly remarkable, capturing "the inflections of male speech and male bonding in a way that feels both acute and realistic."

Click here for the shortlist, and the BBC report.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

You don't actually have to be a Booker winner to write bad sex, but it helps

Following the announcement of the winner of the 17th annual Bad Sex in Fiction Award, Tom Geoghegan asks in the BBC News Magazine whether sex in books really does have to be so bad - and whether it helps to be an acclaimed literary novelist.

Singer turned author Nick Cave, Booker winner John Banville and novelist Philip Roth were all shortlisted for this year's award, which was won by Jonathan Littell (pictured, looking wry), for his novel The Kindly Ones.

Littell's book, originally published in French (what else?), won the Prix Goncourt in 2006. It has also sold over a million copies - but not, apparently, for the glowing, inspirational sex scenes.

Judges at the Literary Review gave Littell the prize for a passage that begins, "This sex was watching at me, spying on me, like a Gorgon's head." (Was something lost in translation, perhaps?) He also describes an energetic act as "a jolt that emptied my head like a spoon scraping the inside of a soft-boiled egg."

The Literary Review hopes that the author will take the dishonor in "good humor." Who can tell? The award has been accepted by his agent, but Littell is yet to comment.

The magazine story, which explores the reasons why writers write about sex so badly, includes lots of quotes. The one I like the best, however, is a comment from a reader, Edward James, of Southport, who says:

"Thank you for thrusting the rapier of enquiry into the delicate flower of this subject."

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Instore chaos as Borders UK files for bankruptcy

Borders UK filed for "administration" (the UK equivalent of bankruptcy) last week, with the firm MCR overseeing the process after another company, BDO, pulled out at the last minute citing an unspecified conflict. Stores started offering discounts to help sell off existing merchandise -- but if you think you scent a bargain, think again.

The Bookseller's anonymous blogger "Borders Insider" has posted an amazing account of lack of leadership, lack of communication, orders issued that are almost instantly countermanded, and banners advertizing competing discounts for the same book. The receivers, MCR, might be hot with the accounts ledgers, but booksellers, they ain't. Their ploy seems to be to send out POS (point of sale) banners, and then wait to see what happens. "'Up to 50% off everything' signs go up everywhere (confusingly alongside the 20% ones," writes the blogger. Then, according to him or her, "things get seriously weird. Having removed all other offers many books are now more expensive than they were but this fact seems lost on customers."

Or perhaps not. Over the first weekend, as the shop is "quickly devastated" by bargain-hunters, the penny drops for some. But who gets accused of being "money-grabbers"? Not Borders administration (which has gone deathly silent), or the resident MCR rep., who is bereft of useful information. No, it is the poor guy or gal behind the counter who cops the blame. "Booksellers are reduced to tears. Many are angry and there is much gritting of teeth but no one is rude or abusive."

Click the Bookseller site for this eye-opening post.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Palin memoir number one

Good lord, she is going to earn out that massive advance.

Sarah Palin's Going Rogue will be Number One on the New York Times bestsellers chart this week.

Dave Itzkoff reports for the NYT that the newly released memoir sold 469,000 copies in the first week of release, shoving Names like James Patterson, Stephen King, and Dan Brown further down the ratings chart.

Palin's book had the second-best first-week sales of any memoir of a president or [vice]presidential contender, according to Nielsen BookScan. Bill Clinton's My Life sold 606,000 in the first week of release, marginally outselling his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose Living History sold 440,000 copies, and now sits at number three.

HarperCollins estimated larger sales, at about 700,000. As pointed out before in this blog, Nielsen Bookscan does not cover the entire market, because of client constraints. In this case, they did not use figures from some mass-market outlets like Wal-Mart and Sam's Club.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

MS of A CHRISTMAS CAROL on display

The messy, rushed manuscript of the beloved Dickens morality tale, A Christmas Carol, is on display at the Morgan Library and Museum, reports Claire Prentice in New York.

Charles Dickens scribbled the story at a frantic pace, impelled by a personal financial crisis, getting it down on paper in just six weeks. "The manuscript is a mess," says the Morgan's curator, Decian Kiely. "It's a mess because Dickens was trying to get everything down on paper really fast."

In the process, he created two absolutely unforgettable characters, Bob Cratchit and Ebenezer Scrooge. The story of Cratchit's incurable optimism and Scrooge's redemption after being visited by a series of ghosts (one pictured, right, as an illustration for the first edition), has inspired many adaptations, including pantomimes for the junior set.

The manuscript has a lot of crossing out, with inserted revisions and corrections, revealing both the writer's inner thoughts and his inspirations, making it one of the most interesting literary artifacts around. It will be on display through January 2010.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Borders UK doomed?

Or so says the Bookseller Magazine, echoed by Publishers Lunch.

Concerns about the fate of Borders UK rose over the past few days, as the Times declared Sunday the struggling chain is "on the verge of collapse" after a potential deal with WH Smith fell apart. Asked for comment by the Guardian, WH Smith "refused to confirm reports that it had pulled out of the deal," but the newspaper joined in warning the company "appeared to be foundering, raising fears for the future of the hard-pressed business."

The company's financial advisor Clearwater advertised "a chain of book and entertainment stores" for sale. The Times added "the lack of appetite for a takeover of the whole company means that Borders could be put into administration this week."

They say that talks are being held with other potential saviors, including Waterstone's owner HMV, but "it is thought that the companies it has approached are more interested in buying packages of stores." The Guardian says those other bidders "are only interested in buying a handful of stores" and are likely to wait for a bankruptcy filing.

Friday, November 20, 2009

No Oprah book club?

It has just been announced. The iconic talk show will end in 2011, at the finish of the 25th season -- which means the end of the iconic Oprah's Book Club, too.
At times her choices were considered bizarre, but she created buzzworthy books, which delighted many a publisher, and made (or broke) many authors. It will be sadly missed.
And the writer whose book is featured in that very last show will gain unusual fame. Obviously, it is a slot to be greatly coveted.
More details will be given on Friday's broadcast of The Oprah Winfrey Show, guaranteeing it a bigger audience than ever.
Oprah Winfrey, 55, started her career in Nashville Tennessee, and Baltimore, Maryland, before moving to Chicago in 1984, to host a morning talk show called "A.M. Chicago," which became so popular that the following year it was renamed "The Oprah Winfrey Show." The year after that, it went into syndication, to become the most successful talk show ever, reaching about 7,000,000 viewers every day.
Oprah is leaving to concentrate on her own cable channel, OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Bestselling Call Girl Lowers the Veil

Dr. Brooke Magnanti, a former call girl who published her memoirs as Secret Diary of a Call Girl, has revealed her true identity.

A brave move, as the book, published last year (and don't you love the jacket!), has become a bestseller, hot on the heels of being turned into a TV series starring Dr. Who's lost love, Billie Piper. However, the writer says that keeping her identity a deadly secret was making her paranoid. (Anything for a decent night's sleep.)

Dr. Magnanti wrote under the penname "Belle de Jour" to describe her adventures as a high-class escort, charging 300 pounds per night to finance her doctoral studies. As she confessed to the Sunday Times, it was a lot more enjoyable (albeit more dangerous) than her other job as a computer programmer.
By day, she is now employed The Bristol Initiative for Research of Child Health, as a highly rated expert in developmental neurotoxicology and cancer epidemiology.
And at night she writes a highly rated blog, and produces racy books.

Andy Warhol's Little Red Hen for Sale

The artist, who became famous for his pop art creations, including multi-colored screen prints of well-known people (think Marilyn Monroe), was a book illustrator early in his career.
One of those books was the cautionary tale of the Little Red Hen, who toiled while the lazy cat, dog, and mouse shirked, and four drawings from this are to go under the hammer.
At a recent sale of contemporary art, a Warhol print of a set of one-dollar bills went for $43,800,000.00.
The Little Red Hen drawings are expected to fetch $600.
Warhol is also known for coining the phrase "famous for 15 minutes."

Monday, November 16, 2009


Occasionally research turns up the most wonderful tidbits of information. Unfortunately, those tidbits are usually irrelevant to the actual topic, but they make the world a really, really fascinating place for a few special moments.

This happened when I started wondering about Parkinson's paints. Parkinson, of course, was Sydney Parkinson, the natural history artist who was employed by Joseph Banks, and voyaged on the Endeavour with Captain Cook and Tupaia. In Tahiti, or so Banks related in his journal, Parkinson was forced to sit under a mosquito net while painting in the open. Because of the fascinated crowd? So he could share his craft with Tupaia (who took up art himself) in semi-private?

It was because of the flies. Wrote Banks, "they eat the painters colours off the paper as fast as they can be laid on." Well, it was not a surprise that there were so many flies, as every nobly born Tahitian carried his personal fly-whisk. But I did start to wonder what the flies ate. They surely were not interested in the water dilutant of the water colors, Tahiti not being the desert, so it must have been the pigment.

Accordingly, I searched the web for anything about pigments and found a lively web exhibit, Pigments through the Ages. The pigments are inorganic, mostly, or so I found. Red, for instance, was mercuric sulphide, while the browns, oranges, and yellows are based on ochres. Surely the flies did not eat that! But then I found that blue came from indigo, or woad leaves, which had been fermented with . . . wait for it . . . human urine.

But there was another, even more fascinating, wrinkle. That urine had to be highly alcoholic, so the dyers prepared for the job by getting thoroughly drunk. The actual dyeing process happened on Sundays. The pieces of cloth were dunked in the tubs of alcoholic urine and left overnight, and on Mondays the hungover dyers hung them up in the air, and the cloth gradually turned bright blue.

Hence the term "Blue Monday."

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Canada's Giller Prize won by priest abuse novel

Linden MacIntyre, an investigative journalist who works for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, is the author of a novel about sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church, which has won the Giller Prize.

The book, called The Bishop's Man, is dedicated to "priests and nuns struggling to do their jobs." MacIntyre believes that those jobs are made much harder because of a "failure of leadership" in the Church.

His novel tells the story of a priest who is given the task of stamping out sex abuse scandals before they hit the press. The jury said it was a "brave" novel (which sounds an understatement), "written with impressive delicacy and understanding."

The Giller Prize honors the best in Canadian fiction writing, and is worth $47,000 Canadian.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Kindle for your PC

More digital news -- Amazon has launched their Kindle for PC application, and promises a Mac version coming soon.

It ties in to the launch of Windows 7 and is designed to use certain capabilities in the new software, though it also works with Windows XP and Vista. Given the size of that platform, the new application could do far more than the international Kindle to make Kindle files available throughout the world.

Separately, Wired observes: "But the thing that intrigues us is the screenshot above (along with more on the Amazon site) which shows a book with color illustrations. This may mean a color Kindle is on its way, or that Amazon is simply future-proofing its Kindle books. Either way, since when did Kindle books start to get color pictures? It would seem rather bandwidth-unfriendly to a company that restricts international downloads to save on the wireless bills."Amazon release

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Romance goes digital

Is this a chance to express your romantic voice?

Harlequin has announced the launch of Carina Press, a digital-only publishing house that will sell directly to consumers and "operate independently of their traditional publishing businesses."

Angela James is joining the new operation as executive editor. Their call for submissions include both new works as well as "books that have been previously released in print form, but for which the author has either retained digital rights or had digital rights revert to them."

With an expected summer 2010 launch, Carina plans to issue new titles weekly. Harlequin ceo Donna Hayes says, "We expect to discover new authors and unique voices that may not be able to find homes in traditional publishing houses. It definitely gives us greater flexibility in the type of editorial we can accept from authors and offer to readers. As well, we hope to reach a new group of readers with niche editorial."Release

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Jane Austen's letters on show

A major Jane Austen exhibition has opened in New York.

Claire Prentice, reporting for the BBC, relates that over a hundred items, including rare letters and the manuscript of a book, are now on show at the Morgan Library and Museum in Manhattan. Called "A Woman's Wit: Jane Austen's Life and Legacy," the exhibition opened on 6 November, and will run until 14 March.

Interestingly, some of the letters have pieces cut out of them, apparently having fallen victim to some censor in the past. Perhaps they were intimate details of health and other personal matters, but it is also very likely that they were cutting criticisms of Austen's fellow humans.

"Jane Austen was like a guided missile of social satire," colorfully explains Morgan curator Decian Kiely. "She was very frank which is why so many of her letters were destroyed."

Jane Austen's originality and sense of humor are also on display. A letter written to her niece for her eighth birthday has every word written backwards, to give the little girl a challenge.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Design Your Own Envelope

Design your own envelope --

If you are famous, that is.

The Pitney Bowes Pushing the Envelope campaign is an annual event where celebrities are invited to design an envelope, which will be auctioned on eBay for the National Literacy Trust.

The theme for 2009 is "Words that Mean Most to You."

Every one of these is a one-off work of art. The one pictured was designed by someone I have never heard of before, "Ms. Dynamite," and I particularly like the choice of words. Click here to see more!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Lifeboat survivor's diary retrieved

This evocative WW2 photo shows the last throes of the freighter SS Rhexenor, which was sunk by a German U-boat in the middle of the Atlantic on February 3, 1943.
Seventy men piled into four lifeboats after the submarine had taken one of their officers on board, and left the rest to their fate. Incredibly, the chief officer, Maurice Case, kept a diary during the following three-week ordeal, as well as navigating and looking after the 17 men in his boat as well as he could in the grueling circumstances.
The eight-page penciled document has come to light after Mr Case's war-time mementoes sold at auction.
His entry for February 4 read: "Breakfast: 1 biscuit with condensed milk, 2oz water. Midday - Biscuit, milk, 6 raisins and 2oz water. Everybody satisfied." It rained the following day, leaving the men "very wet and miserable."
On February 9 there was a 'very heavy rain storm'. He added: "Everybody wet and cold, blankets and life jackets all sopping. Issued one tablespoon of brandy, all hands."
On February 13, crewman 'Aussie' Corby died from exposure on one of the other boats and was buried at sea.
Despite the conditions and the news of the death, the men's spirits were still high by the second week. Case's entry for February 14 recorded that "thirst beginning to make itself known" among the men. On February 17 the men had an evening meal of either two prunes or nine raisins each.
He added: "All hands cheerful and keeping lookout for aircraft."
The next day the weather changed and the sun glared down. Mr Case noted at this point they made an awning for shade out of a blanket and oars. Their luck finally changed at 4pm on February 20 when the shout of land ahoy went up. Mr Case wrote: "Land sighted right ahead, could not believe my eyes but there it was. The thing now was where were we, I was hoping it was Antigua where we were making for but could not think my reckoning was so accurate."
Although heavy rain fell that night, the men's spirits were too high to be dampened. At 9am the next day their lifeboat made contact with a local fishing boat, which gave them a tow to land as well as a meal of cooked fish. Upon arriving in Antigua, the men were met by US Army officers. They were checked over at a medical clinic before having a bath and more food. Mr Case wrote: "Two members of my crew were rather weak on landing, otherwise everyone was in good health except a bit groggy on the legs."
He finished his log with suggestions on items to put in lifeboats in the future. They included fishing tackle and saltwater soap for cleansing.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Dr. Livingstone, I presume?

Who knows that Sir Henry Morton Stanley, coiner of the famous phrase above, had women in his party when he crossed Africa in 1877? Or that one of his bearers, Uledi, was a strong swimmer who saved many lives?
Such interesting and little-known facts abound in a new exhibition, Hidden Histories of Exploration, staged by the Royal Geographical Society, which is accompanied by a handsomely illustrated catalogue.

If you can't make the actual venue in London, trawling the associated website is a treat. (The link takes you directly to one of the many fascinating pages.) Paintings by unknown explorers as well as more famous names illustrate the informative text, including an amazing portfolio of Easter Island scenes.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Historical thesaurus outdated already, but never mind, think positive

Just to show how quickly a dictionary can be (ever so slightly) outdated, a new word has arrived already.

And the Japanese coined it.

According to Bill Sakovich on his blog, Ampontan, he read on a mailing list for those interested in the intricacies of Japanese-English translation that the new verb, "to Obama," is becoming increasingly popular on the Kyoto University campus.

The contributor to that mailing list wrote, "It means something along the lines of to ignore anything that makes you likely to fail and surge on regardless, preferably chanting 'Yes we can, yes we can.'"

According to the Japanese University Teachers network in Kitakyushu, it means: "To ignore inexpedient and inconvenient facts or realities, think, 'Yes we can, yes we can,' and proceed with optimism."

In a nutshell, it means, "Think positive."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

An interesting research experience

Over August and September, Ron and I completed a lot of primary research at the British Library in London, a new building with many new and interesting features.

It is like a huge concourse, with winding stairs and mezzanine floors. (Actually, rather appropriate, considering that the Library is sited between two major railroad stations.) The foyer is huge, and has a visual impact that forces the visitor to look up, and up.

Everywhere people perch with their laptops, on steps, on benches, or at the many little tables scattered around. Many of them have paper coffee cups and portable lunches. They sit in silent groups, hunched over their keyboards.

Why? It takes a few moments to realize that the whole building has free Wi-Fi, as they call wireless internet access. To all appearances, the people are catching up on their email. The library perhaps hopes that they are scanning the much-touted digital library, instead.

Apart from a central glass column (surrounded by an empty moat, apparently) which is walled from within with shelves of large books, spines outward (how do the librarians inside the column know which book is which, I wonder?), the only books in sight are in the library shop.

It is a relief to an oldfashioned researcher to successfully apply for a library card, and go 'way upstairs to one of the unobtrusive reading rooms, progress through security, apply for reading material, and get down to some oldfashioned research.

Getting hold of documentary material is interesting, though. It is vital to know the shelfmark (having found it out by consulting many books on the subject until one is found that cites the shelfmark in a footnote), as the massive catalogue still needs work in that respect.

Documents and charts, I found, have just a 70-minute waiting time for delivery. Most books take forty-eight hours to arrive. Why? Because space is so limited, most have to be stored offsite. Images of that huge concourse do tend to haunt one while waiting ...

One also wonders if this is where the National Library of New Zealand is heading, the stated direction being digital, except that the plan includes providing expensive-to-maintain, taxpayer funded computers, so clients won't need to bring along their laptops.

Jim Traue, dogged campaigner for the retention of facilities for good oldfashioned research, has published a booklet of his various opinion pieces on the topic, A Library for the Nation or another Wellington tourist attraction? It is obtainable from the author at 16B Hadfield Terrace, Kelburn, Wellington 6012, price $5, p&p free.

So now we know how much she got

Sarah Palin discloses $1.25 million from Harpercollins.

In a disclosure form required under Alaska law, former governor Sarah Palin listed as income $1.25 million received from HarperCollins as a "retainer for book."

The report does not give the date she received the advance, but the disclosure (which includes a lot of other interesting details) covers the final seven months of her term as governor, from January 1, 2009, to July 26.

And the advance is exactly that, just a down payment on what is going to be a much more significant sum. Due, no doubt, to widespread curiosity about what this flamboyant woman is going to say next, Going Rogue is a bestseller already, though it doesn't hit the bookstores until November 17.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Vast historical thesaurus unveiled after 40 years in the making

A forty-year project in the making, the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary is the first thesaurus to include the English vocabulary from the era of Old English to the present. Unsurprisingly, it has been hailed with applause, as a masterpiece worth waiting for.

Compiled the Department of English Language of the University of Glasgow, and edited by Christian Kay, Jane Roberts, Irene Wotherspoon and Michael Samuels, the dictionary helps you find synonyms of words no one might have heard or read for centuries.

* At 4448 pages and close to a million words, it is the largest thesaurus in the world

* It is the very first historical thesaurus, anywhere, ever

* Not only does it give the synonym, it also supplies the date of first recorded use -- and of the last recorded use if the word has become obsolete

* It provides a background for obscure Old English words

* A comprehensive index allows for cross-referencing

* It also includes a fold-out color chart, which shows you how the classification system works

Sunday, October 25, 2009

World's first phonebook brings $170K at auction

The world's first phone book has made history for the second time, having fetched $170,000 at auction. The twenty-page directory was published in November 1878, just two years after Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. It listed 391 subscribers in New Haven, Connecticut.

'Should you wish to speak to another subscriber you should commence the conversation by saying, "Hulloa!",' it instructed the novice chatter. To make it easier to be heard, the speaker should be sure to leave the "lower lip and jaw free." In a ruling I wish was adopted by cellphone companies with subscribers who think long train or bus journeys are a chance to catch up (loudly) with all their mates, the user was commanded never to "use the wire more than three minutes at a time, or more than twice an hour," without first "obtaining permission from the main office."

To see the lively bidding, watch this.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

It's never too late to return a library book

Conscience struck after 70 years, and a book has been returned to the Cubitt Town Library, Tower Hamlets, East London.

The BBC reports that Iris Chadwick (pictured with the book), who used to live on the Isle of Dogs, before moving to her current residence in Dorset, found the book while clearing out her house.
She borrowed the score of the musical Rose Marie from the library in 1939, on the eve of war, when she was just thirteen. Over the next 70 years, as the story poetically relates, "communism rose and fell, England won the football World Cup and man set foot on the moon."
And all that time the book was sitting on (or in) or piano stool, until Mrs. Chadwick found it. "It was part of my childhood," she said. Her first thought was to take it to a charity shop, but then she bit the bullet, set thoughts of library fines firmly aside, and made the trip to Tower Hamlets.
At 10p a day, the fine would have topped a hefty two-and-a-half thousand quid, but to Mrs. Chadwick's vast relief, the council agreed to waive it.
Encouraged by this evidence that it is never too late to return a library book, they have introduced a three-month amnesty for late library books.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

On Martha's Vineyard rivals combine to sell books

Can you imagine Borders and B&N having a I-help-you-you-help-me relationship? Even when the aim is to serve the reading public better?

It's being done on Martha's Vineyard. As Megan Dooley of the Martha's Vineyard Gazette reports, the two reigning bookstores have "tapped into some old Vineyard magic: a sense of cooperation, community and support."

At the suggestion of a Random House rep, Dawn Braasch (left) of Bunch of Grapes and Susan Mercier of Edgartown Books teamed up to create a big enough crowd to entice Richard Russo to visit the island, appearing Friday at the Katharine Cornell Theatre.

They also work together to serve their customers. Braasch notes, "It's great to be able to say to a customer, if we don't have [a book], 'Let me call Edgartown Books.' My goal is if we don't have it, they will or vice versa. We can't all carry everybody's book, and sometimes you make a judgment call for your store, is it going to sell or not. I think we have different clientele, certainly, in the way that Edgartown is different from Vineyard Haven."

Monday, August 10, 2009

BOUNTY for sale

Yes, the legendary HMS Bounty, scene of the most famous mutiny in British history, and the star of stirring nonfiction books, novels, and film adaptations, is up for sale.

The mutiny led by Fletcher Christian, who seized the breadfruit-laden Bounty after leaving Tahiti in April 1789, and set the captain, William Bligh, adrift in a boat, ranks up there with the Titanic as one of the iconic stories of the sea. The combination of sadism, violent confrontation, a sexy Polynesian paradise, and an epic small boat voyage has an enduringly irresistible appeal.

Ever since March 1790, when Bligh arrived in London to report what he called a "close-planned act of villainy", thousands of words have been written, and miles of film made. To be exact, five films have been made, one―the 1935 Oscar-winner―managing to convince the world that Bligh was a brute who looked just like Charles Laughton, and Christian, portrayed by Clark Gable, was a romantic hero.
Marlon Brando, who played an equally dashing Christian in a 1962 version, was so seduced by the story he married his Boraboran co-star, and bought his own Polynesian islet, which is one of the many coconut palm-studded motu that lie on the reef that almost completely encircles the dramatic peaks and chasms of Bora Bora. The mutiny now has several websites.

The Bounty that provided the romatic and dashing setting for the Brando film (technically known as "Bounty 2") is the one up for sale. Built by MGM studios for Mutiny on the Bounty, the replica sailing ship was due to be scrapped when filming was finished, but Brando had fallen in love with the vessel. Presumably he had spent all his spare dosh on his islet, because instead of purchasing it himself, he persuaded the moguls to spare the vessel for sale to someone else.

The ship has had three owners, including Ted Turner. The current owner is a reluctant seller, but apparently personal circumstances give him no choice.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

More on Covers of Color

Spymouse reminds me that the jacket for Andrea Levy's Small Island showed two young women, well-dressed in the style of the late 40s/ early 50s, passing each other in the street, one white, one black. The novel itself has sold brilliantly, transcending all possible boundaries. Indeed, a two-part TV dramatisation is scheduled for September (starring Naomie Harris - she was in White Teeth a couple of years ago), and sales will probably take off all over again as a result.

Andrea's fifth novel The Long Song is scheduled to come out early next year. It's based on the life of her great- (or possibly great-great) grandmother, who was a slave in the West Indies. No prizes for guessing what ought to be on the jacket!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Blogging works! "Liar" jacket changed

A few days ago I posted a comment about the white girl pictured on the jacket of Aussie author Justine Larbalestier's YA book about a black girl, and I was certainly not alone. Bloggers, along with the author herself, wondered openly about the strange choice of a white girl with long, straight hair for a novel about a black American girl with "nappy" hair.
Karen Springen in Publishers Weekly writes that the blogosphere has power. Pressured by online commentary, the powers that be at Bloomsbury Children's Books have made a decision to change the controversial cover.
"We regret that our original creative direction for Liar-which was intended to symbolically reflect the narrator's complex psychological makeup-has been interpreted by some as a calculated decision to mask the character's ethnicity," ran Bloomsbury's official statement. Accordingly, they are going to rejacket the book in time for its publication in October.
So what will the jacket feature? My bet is that it will be text only, like the Australian Allen & Unwin edition. It would be great to see a photo of a black girl, but I suspect the sales department will balk.
After all, Tony Hillerman's mystery novels, where the detectives were native Navajo policemen, were hugely popular, but not a single volume in my complete collection has a picture of a Navajo man on the cover. Instead, there are stylized figures vaguely reminiscent of tribal art.
And I can't help wondering, too, how the Allen & Unwin editions of my Wiki Coffin books would have sold if they had been brave enough to feature a Maori on the jacket ....

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Wiki Coffin poetry competition

First there was the Booker longlist, and now there is the Wiki Coffin poetry competition!

Yesterday, I received the following very amusing post:

My Mom and I love your Wiki Coffin series and are awaiting the next installment. Last winter she left a message on my phone:

"Wiki Coffin, he's our man
Cooking fish in a frying pan.
Can he solve it?
Yes, I guess.
Wiki, Wiki, yes, yes, yes"

That about sums it up.

Cynthia Allen (daughter)Marcia Caldwell (mother & Wiki inspired poet)

Having had an equally amusing "conversation" with Cynthia and Marcia, I now have permission to post their letter and their poem -- which have inspired the competition. Who can match or outdo Marcia's ditty-making skills? All entries welcomed.

Deadline? How about the last of August?

And the prize? Not exactly Booker level, but a signed copy of Deadly Shoals must be worth something!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Booker Long-lister has Long Battle with Wikipedia

While I said there were few surprises with the long list for the Booker Prize, one of the new names has an interesting and thought-provoking background.

Ed O'Loughlin is a debut novelist but a seasoned writer, accustomed to being under fire as the Middle East correspondent for major Australian papers, including The Australian, Sydney Morning Herald, and The Age. His book, Not Untrue and Not Unkind (and this is not a surprise) is a war correspondent's reflections on his years of reporting from Africa.
What is a surprise is that he has been fighting a battle of his own for some years - a battle with giant internet encyclopedia Wikipedia, which flourishes from contributions by anonymous writers, many (if not most) of them amateur. According to the internet magazine The Millions, he was attacked for his so-called bias against Israel by critics who targeted his Wikipedia page.
It's no good looking it up. The page has been removed. O'Loughlin requested them to do it, in a letter addressed to "Dear whoever you all are.
"My name is Ed O'Loughlin," he wrote; "this is my real name, I stress - and I am the subject of this article.
"The article as it has appeared in its various manifestations in recent months is a starkly one-sided attack on my personal and professional character which is based entirely on highly partisan sources and falsehoods. The moving forces behind it are anonymous people who do not have the integrity to reveal their identities or interests, and whose malicious intent is quite clear ..."
Wow. Follow the link above to read the rest of the letter yourself.
Personally, I have been very suspicious of Wikipedia, starting from the time I looked up Captain Charles Wilkes (1798-1877), commander of the great United States Exploring Expedition, and found that the contributor had confused him with the social activist and British radical politician John Wilkes (1727-97). I corrected the page and went away, never to visit again.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


There are few surprises. The Booker Prize Longlist was announced this morning, and Sarah Hall's How to Paint a Dead Man is the only hope for independent publishers (with Random UK taking 5 slots). Coetzee is a two-time Booker winner; Byatt has won once.

The Children's Book, AS Byatt (Chatto and Windus)
Summertime, JM Coetzee (Harvill Secker)
The Quickening Maze, Adam Foulds (Jonathan Cape)
How to paint a dead man, Sarah Hall (Faber)
The Wilderness, Samantha Harvey (Jonathan Cape)
Me Cheeta, James Lever (Fourth Estate)
Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel (Fourth Estate)
The Glass Room, Simon Mawer (Little, Brown)
Not Untrue & Not Unkind, Ed O'Loughlin (Penguin - Ireland)
Heliopolis, James Scudamore (Harvill Secker)
Brooklyn, Colm Toibin (Viking)
Love and Summer, William Trevor (Viking)
The Little Stranger, Sarah Waters (Virago)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Joke finally seen after 79 years

I don't expect you to break out into hysterical laughter at this one, but a joke written by the playwright George Bernard Shaw has been found in an old cupboard seventy-nine years after it was stowed there. Or so says the BBC section on arts & culture.

It probably helps to know that the joke was written on the occasion of the 1930 opening of the Hall at William Morris House; and it probably assists even more when you know that William Morris was a socialist campaigner. And the last bit of vital information is that it was scribbled across the bottom of a photograph of Shaw himself.

The joke reads: "William Morris and I preached the gospel of Labour together on many occasions. Many respectable persons thought we deserved hanging. I am proud to hang in a hall dedicated to him."

Shaw passed away 59 years ago. It's a nice story, but I think I would choose a different joke to be remembered by.

I'd like a really good, enduring rib-cracking bit of humor ... Any suggestions?

Saturday, July 25, 2009


In a very interesting blog, well-traveled Australian YA author Justine Labalestier wonders why the girl pictured on the jacket of the US edition of her latest book, Liar, is white, when the protagonist is black. Curiously, too, the model on the cover has long hair which she uses to veil herself, while the lass in the story has short, bubbly hair.

Labalestier discusses the problem very rationally, I thought. First, as she points out, authors have little or no say about the picture on the jacket -- and, I add, editors don't, either, no matter how committed they are to the book. The final decision, or so I believe, belongs with the marketing department.

And it is definitely the marketing department of Labalestier's book that made the decision. She was told that a book with a black girl on the jacket would either be spurned by bookstore buyers (because black teens don't read? Please!), or, more logically, it would be moved from the YA section to the urban fiction section. Though can one imagine a book by Oprah Winfrey being shifted from the front of the store? Or a book about Naomi Sims, the famous black model, having a jacket picturing a white fashion model instead?

Allen & Unwin, who bought Australian/New Zealand rights, did a much better job. Their jacket has a spare, rather shocking look, with the title written apparently in blood. It would certainly make me pick it up and have a curious riffle through the pages. But I find it striking that they, too, chose not to show a person of color on the cover.

When they published my own Wiki Coffin books, where the hero is half-Maori, they chose to picture a white man on the cover -- and when I investigated, the model was a German! How far from Maoridom can you get? Would the books have sold much better in Australia and New Zealand with a Maori on the cover? Here, where not only is a significant ratio of the population Polynesian, but everything Pasifika is fashionable? I think so.

Friday, July 24, 2009


Considering that the whispers have all been about publishing, Spy Mouse waxed positively -- and most entertainingly -- eloquent in response to my frivolous post about clapping at classical music concerts. Having been granted permission, here is what this very cultured little rodent wrote:

I'd seen that piece by Jonathan Lennie, and am very much in two minds. I'm all for clapping a particularly virtuoso bit of showing-off then and there, but it infuriates me when audiences clap throughout a song-cycle, for instance. Interestingly, I was at a Prom performance of Handel's Partenope (salami-and-cream-cheese sandwiches, and a bottle of something white and Australian), and the half-capacity audience clapped regularly throughout. Mind you, we did have Andreas Scholl singing Arsace. But last night the Proms semi-staged the Glyndebourne production of Purcell's The Fairy Queen, and on only two occasions did they clap a display of vocal fireworks; otherwise, as Jonathan Lennie says, the few seconds' silence afterwards was part of the performance. The audience clapped and stamped and cheered when it was over, though, and the place was packed. Oh, and crab-pate sandwiches and a decent French chablis.

Last week we went to Dvorak's Rusalka at Glyndebourne, which was ravishing beyond words even by Glyndebourne standards (chicken in cream-and-lemon sauce, baby leaf salad and rice with cumin, coriander, pine nuts and almonds, and a bottle of Lanson, with raspberries and tarte au chocolat to follow). So intelligently staged, visually lovely, with nothing to come between the opera and the audience as is so often unfortunately the case, and the cast sang like angels. The only things I've been to there which were more beautiful were Hockney's Magic Flute decades ago, and a bewitching Midsummer Night's Dream (Britten), which I can't imagine they will ever better. Can't remember what we ate but it involved a lot of champagne on both occasions.

I can't wait to go to the proms myself!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

National Library Lecture Series, Wellington



The National Library Auditorium, Aitken Street, Wellington at 5.30 pm

Guests and non-members welcome – gold coin donation
A glass of wine will be offered beforehand. The lectures will start at 6pm.

Thursday 20 August at 5.30 pm
Marguerite Renaud
The World of Self-Publishing

Marguerite Renaud will talk about her company, First Edition Publishing, which offers an easy and affordable way of publishing anything from personal memoirs to poetry.

Thursday 17 September at 5.30 pm
Bridget Williams (chair), Jane Connor and Sam Elworthy
Books and Change

Bridget Williams has been publishing in New Zealand for over thirty years – as an editor with Oxford University Press, and as a director of Port Nicholson Press, Allen & Unwin NZ, and the eponymous imprint BWB.
Jane Connor, a founder of Godwit Press, is currently managing director of Craig Potton Publishing, after some years as executive vice-president and publisher of Timber Press in the US.
Sam Elworthy is the director of Auckland University Press, after many years as editor-in-chief with Princeton University Press. This group, all with international experience and all passionate about excellent New Zealand books, explore the challenges and opportunities facing publishing today.

Thursday 15 October at 5.30 pm
Adrienne Kebbell
The Pleasures of reading online

Digital technology expert and former Business Development Analyst at the National Library, Adrienne Kebbell, will draw on her extensive knowledge of internet publications to demonstrate the ease and joy of reading your favourite newspapers and journals online.

Thursday 19 November at 5.30 pm (venue tbc)
John MacGibbon
Writing and Researching Family History

Historian and author, John MacGibbon, will share some of his expertise on discovering and writing social and family history. John is the founder and owner of the Ngaio Press, a boutique publisher specialising in books about New Zealand and New Zealanders.

To Clap or not to Clap

My blog has been neglected (weak excuse: school holidays), and I'm not even going to "talk" about books or the written word now, but pass on a story by Finio Rohrer in the BBC News Magazine that made me laugh out loud.

It is about the perennial problem of when to clap at a classical music concert -- something that was wonderfully satirized in the 2005 short movie The Clap, where an obsessional music fan spent hours studying scores so that he could clap at the precise second the work ended.

I think we've all had the horrible experience of clapping madly in an inappropriate place, simply because the vigor of the ending of a marvelous movement has totally carried one away. The embarrassment starts when (a) you realize you're the only clapper in the entire house, or (b) the conductor turns round and gives you a beetle-eyed stare before deliberately turning round again and lifting his arms, or (c) the orchestra is so startled and disoriented that the players scrape disharmoniously for a second before launching into the next movement.

My own remedy (in Wellington, at anyrate) is to wait until everyone else is clapping before I join in, though I once forgot that I was not in the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, and hollered, "Bravo!" Well, I love the way the crowd goes crazy at the Met., so why not? Placido Domingo does not appear to mind everyone hooting and cheering at the end of each aria, so why should a tail-coated conductor be any different?

In classical music concert circles, however, there is a ban on such spontaneity. Classical editor of Time Out magazine, Jonathan Lennie, has proposed that people shouldn't even clap right at the end. Instead, there should be a reverent pause before the hands are put together.

Lennie has written an open letter to the "Loud Clapping Man Who Sits Behind Me At Concerts," asking why should anyone start "making a racket" the instant the work appears to be ended, when a period of dignified silence is much more appropriate? Some pieces positively demand it, he says. As Rohrer comments (tongue in cheek): "Take Schubert's bleak song cycle Wintereisse. You should apparently not be yelling 'bravo' between the songs, or going bananas at the end." (No matter how much the performers might enjoy it.)

Basic rules of concert-going etiquette:

* If everyone else is clapping, it is probably safe to do it yourself.

* Switch off mobile phone.

* No food in the auditorium (except for cough sweets, and please unwrap them before the music starts.)

* Avoid hacking cough during quiet bits (that's where the cough sweets come in).

I would also add singing along with the music. I paid good pocket money to go to a matinee of Traviata in Wellington when I was in my teens, and the Italian fisherman in the seat in front of me sang loudly along with the tenor.

And there should be another rule, according to the pedants:
* People don't normally clap between movements, they say.
But I'm not sure about this. Some movements positively demand it. In fact, according to Georgia Browne, a historical flute specialist, a lot of works were written with clapping between movements in mind. Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven expected a hiatus between movements two and three, with a bit of ballet or singing to fill the gap. And refreshments. (A glass of wine would do that cough a power of good.) Which leads me to another idle thought -- what food would be appropriate? Champagne, strawberries, and ice cream for Mozart, definitely. Sausages and beer for Beethoven? All suggestions welcome.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Books that change your life

Small press publisher Jacqueline Church Simonds has just posted her list of books that changed her life. Every other book blogger does it, she says, so why not join the throng?

I read her list with intense interest. There were a couple of nods -- Frank Herbert's Dune, and Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions are certainly up there, in my opinion, though I would make a trio by adding Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land.

There were raised eyebrows, too -- I may have a go at Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses, a book I never imagined trying to read. But if it is funny, then I'll certainly give it a try. (Is it as disturbing and compelling as The Kite Runner, I wonder?) But as for Anne Rice's Interview with a Vampire ... A long, wet weekend was spent with that book; it had been loaned by a friend who said, "You have to read this," and she was such a good, compatible friend that I was convinced I was in for a long, luxurious read. Instead, I endured three long days of frustration. I just could not get into the story, no matter how hard I tried. But then again, for me the ultimate vampire book is Richard Matheson's I am legend, which I discovered long before it became a cult novel. And of course there is Dracula ...

So, what about the books that changed my life? The list would certainly include Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War and I am the cheese. The first is a study of power and the ultimate hopelessness of mutiny, the second the strangest and most compelling thriller I have ever read. Another thought-provoker was Kate Wilhelm's The Clewiston Test, which made me wonder deeply about the role pain plays in life.

Chaucer's Canterbury Tales was the first of many wonderful books that have brought the past alive. Melville's Moby-Dick taught me how the facts can be manipulated to create a dark, compelling, multi-layered yarn. Looking at books that stick to the facts, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's A Midwife's Tale has to be the most astonishing piece of research I have ever read.

More to be added as titles come to mind. All suggestions and comments welcome.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Nigerian writer awarded African "Booker"

Now, here is yet another writing prize I've never heard of before, and a very worthwhile and inspiring one, too -- even if some aspects of it are odd.

It is the CAINE PRIZE (named after the actor Michael Caine, apparently because at one stage he was chairman of the Booker committee), and is awarded annually for a short story written by an African writer.

It has to be published in English. Well, I suppose, considering the multiplicity of languages and dialects on the African subcontinent, that has logic behind it. But does the future hold a competition for EU writers that have to be published in English, too?

Despite that little quibble, I was delighted to read in the BBC arts and culture magazine that Mr. E.C. Osondu has scooped the award this year. The Chair of judges, New Statesman sub-editor Nana Yaa Mensah, described Mr. Osondu's story as "a tour de force describing, from a child's point of view, the dislocating experience of being a displaced person."

E.C. Osondu was born in Nigeria, worked for an advertising firm in Lagos, and then moved to New York to study creative writing at Syracuse University. He currently teaches literature at Providence Collge, Rhode Island.

The story is called Waiting, and was published in Read it yourself: It is funny; it is shocking; it is tragic; the characters are so swiftly and surely drawn that they are unforgettable. You will come away from it changed.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Important new Captain Cook book

New Zealand's own expert on the life of James Cook, John Robson, has a new volume coming out in the UK, lovingly produced by Seaforth Publishing.

According to the publisher's website, this new book reveals that James Cook was chosen to lead the Endeavour expedition to the Pacific in 1768 because by that date he had become supremely and uniquely qualified for the exacting tasks of exploration.

This was a period when who you were and who you knew counted for more than ability, but Cook, through his own skills and application, rose up through the ranks of the Navy to become a remarkable seaman to whom men of influence took notice; Generals such as Wolfe and politicians like Lord Egmont took his advice and recognised his qualities.
During this period Cook added surveying, astronomical and cartographic skills to those of seamanship and navigation. He was in the thick of the action at the siege of Quebec during the Seven Years War, was the master of 400 men, and learned at first hand the need for healthy crews.

Highly readable and displaying much new research, this is an important new book for Cook scholars and armchair explorers alike.

Long-awaited sequel

Twenty years ago a novel set against the political backdrop of the newly independent India of the 1950s was published, and went on to sell more than a million copies.

It's quite a gap, but according to the BBC NEWS, a sequel is finally on track. Yes, Vikram Seth is writing the follow-up to his epic bestseller, A Suitable Boy.
In the original story, Lata's mother is looking for an acceptable bridegroon for her daughter. In this "jump sequel" Lata is an old woman searching for a "suitable girl" for her grandson, so the setting is a lot more modern, taking into account the great changes in India since 1952.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Whale Tale wins BBC non-fiction prize

Whales, it seems, are the flavor of the month. A book named Leviathan has won the twenty-thousand-pound BBC Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction.

No, not the acclaimed account of the history of whaling in America, also called Leviathan, written by Eric Jay Dolin, which has won the John Lyman Award and L. Byrne Waterman Award, both for excellence in American maritime history.

This particular prizewinner is Leviathan, Or The Whale, the story of a man's lifelong obsession with whales, by Philip Hoare. According to the BBC announcement, Hoare describes his travels about the world in pursuit of whales, an odyssey he compares to Herman Melville's Moby-Dick, Or The Whale. Which must account for the coincidence in titles.
And no wonder Greenpeace has ordered another ship.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Those galleances again

Those loyal souls who have been reading this blog since it first began may remember a mystery I posed when reading the logbook kept by Capt. Samuel Wallis of the Dolphin in 1767, during the first European "discovery" of Tahiti.

Discovering also a woman he assumed to be the "queen," (Purea, aka Oborea), he presented her with a number of things, including three galleances.

Galleances? What the heck were galleances? Some kind of fowl, from the context. I posed the theory that they were guinea fowl: see "Galleances and guinea fowl" for the entire discussion.

And I received all kinds of interesting comments and suggestions -- but now I can triumphantly declare the mystery solved. And I was right! Three guinea fowl, they were.

My evidence comes from the private journal of James Burney, who sailed on the Adventure on Cook's second expedition. It was published by the National Library of Australia in Canberra in 1975, and edited by Beverley Hooper. On page 69, Lt. Burney is in Tahiti, making the observation that "Obreea" (Purea, the so-called queen) had fallen on hard times. "Captain Wallace had given Obreea a great many things amongst which were 2 Geese - 3 Guinea Hens - a Turkey cock & Hen & a Cat - of these the Indian [Omai] on board us, gave the following account. 1 of the Geese died - the Guinea hens were Stole from her & killed - the Turkey hen had 5 young ones but th cat killd them all. the Cat who was kitten miscarried, was stole & carried away to another Island & the Turkey hen is since dead -- So unlucky has Obreea been with these presents."

Those three poor guinea hens were unlucky, too. Doubtlessly they were cooked in an earth oven and eaten. I wonder what they tasted like?

Sailor's diary from Nelson's time

Anna Brady reports in the Antiques Trade Gazette that a treasure from the Nelson era has been sold for a record sum.
This is a very rare bird indeed -- the diary of an ordinary sailor, lavishly illustrated with his own watercolors.
Seaman George Hodge first went to sea in 1790, at the age of 13, and commenced his diary at the same time. By 1833 it had grown to 500 pages, and recorded Hodge's service in the Napoleonic wars and the American War of 1812.
Life in the forecastle was precarious in the extreme. Hodge was held twice as a prisoner of war by the French, and was press-ganged back into the navy after being released the second time.
The diary, offered with more than 600 other maritime items from a private estate, was listed for sale by Northeast Auctions in Portsmouth New Hampshire. Because of its rarity, the seaman's journal roused a great deal of interest, which was matched by the price received. Estimated at up to $50,000 it sold for $110,000.

Long time, no blog

Yes, yes, I know it has been a while. I have been sailing in Tupaia territory, including the island of his birth, Raiatea (pictured), where a breathtaking 4WD adventure took us across hills and through craters to his alma mater, the great marae Taputapuatea, on the southern coast at Opoa. This -- with Tahiti (and Samoa and Tonga) -- was an amazingly inspiring experience.
It was accomplished by cruise ship, which might seem bizarre. I have to admit that my spirit quailed before we boarded, as it seemed a crazy way of doing it (though very cheap, particularly considering prices in French Polynesia). However, it worked well, because I found that the cabin of a cruise ship is the Ideal Writing Environment. No phone, no internet, no meals to cook, no house to clean, nothing to do but write, save for the rushes up the deck to watch for island profiles. It was the closest I could get to Tupaia's voyaging in his home island network, without the prohibitive expense of a yacht. And there were other writers on board, after that Ideal Writing Environment. Joy Cowley was spied. And Graeme Lay was there, too, promoting his beautiful new book In Search of Paradise (Random House). Great fun.