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Friday, February 27, 2009


Barnes & Noble Announces Sale of its Interest in Calendar Club

The bargains are proving irresistible, but this one must be a record. Management at the specialty chain Calendar Club -- which contributed $113.5 million to Barnes & Noble revenues last year -- has bought the company from B&N for . . . wait for it . . . just one million dollars in cash, and six million in notes.
Calendar Club operates stores in malls and outlet centers, ranging from a seasonal table to superstores where games, puzzles, novelty gifts, and music boxes are sold in addition to calendars. They also have an e-commerce website,
Barnes & Noble will continue their working relationship with the management-owned company after the handover has been completed.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Big change at Wellington's Dominion Post

Tim Pankhurst has resigned as editor of the Dominion Post newspaper to become head of the Newspaper Publishers' Association, the industry's lobby group in New Zealand.
He steps down after seven years at the helm following the merger of the Dominion and the Evening Post. He also takes on the job of head of the NZPA - the New Zealand Press Association - which is co-owned by Fairfax Media and APN News & Media. Plus, he takes over as head of the National Advertising Bureau.
Quite a challenge, as any newshound would admit.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Phonetic Alphabet

The other day, when I was in a travel agent's office, I was fascinated to listen to her spelling my name on the phone: Delta, Romeo, Uniform, Echo, Tango, Tango. It's a clever way of helping to prevent confusions and misunderstandings, and a practice I normally associate with airline pilots.

A friend reminisces that it was used in the old days by telephone operators, too, when putting through calls on those old plug-in switchboards that involved a bewildering web of wires. (She's actually quite young, so please don't think she is pictured in the charming old scene above!)

However, I find from a recent thread of discussion on the Maritime History discussion list Marhst-L--which is sponsored and administered by the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes, with assistance from Queens University at Kingston, Ontario--that the phonetic alphabet is maritime in origin, and closely connected with flags.

A page on the Naval Historical Center website explains it all.

The practice began in the early 1900s, it seems, and has been adapted as the decades slipped by. Back in 1913, A was Able, then became Affirmative, which reduced to Affirm and finally became the much more gutsy sounding Alfa. Similarly, Boy for B evolved through Baker to Bravo, Dog for D to Delta (one wonders when it will change to Dubya!), and E for Easy to Echo, while Fox for F became the much more bouncy Foxtrot. In the same spirited vein Watch for W eventually became Whiskey. As for R, using Roger (which also means "understood") proved too confusing, and so became the sexy Romeo.

Monday, February 23, 2009

'Slumdog Millionaire' Wins Best Picture

Breaking news from NYTimes.on line is that Slumdog Millionaire won the top prize at the 81st annual Academy Awards ceremony, as well as awards for directing, adapted screenplay, original score, film editing, original song, sound mixing and cinematography.

Kate Winslet won the prize for best actress for The Reader.

Sean Penn won the prize for best actor for Milk.

New Voices of 2009

In February last year Waterstone's picked 12 new writers, predicting their names would dominate the literary landscape for years to come. As Kate Saunders observes in her commentary on the list in Times Online, the company's crystal ball is in pretty good nick - the list included several future prizewinners, including Aravind Adiga, then unknown but now a Man Booker prizewinner.

Spy Mouse, who has read the Ashworth and the de Witt books, is particularly chuffed that these works are included, while I am particularly pleased to see an entry from Serpent's Tail. More than ten years ago, I met the two young women who started this press, and was struck by their dedication and enthusiasm.

Herewith the list:

Black Rock by Amanda Smyth (Serpent's Tail)

The Vagrants by Yiyun Li (Fourth Estate)

A Kind of Intimacy by Jenn Ashworth (Arcadia)

The Earth Hums in B-flat by Mari Strachan (Canongate)

Ten Storey Love Song by Richard Milward (Faber & Faber)

Ablutions: Notes for a Novel by Patrick de Witt (Granta)

The Street Philosopher by Matthew Plampin (HarperCollins)

Guernica by Dave Boling (Picador)

The Piano Teacher by Y.K.Lee (HarperPress)

An Equal Stillness by Francesca Kay (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

The Rescue Man by Anthony Quinn (Jonathan Cape)

Days of Grace by Catherine Hall (Portobello)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Endangered languages

My announcement of the UNESCO program to retrieve and save languishing languages -- vital because they are the special voice of the people -- inspired a guest blog from Jacqueline Simonds of Beaglebay Books:

Your post on endangered languages reminded me of a conference I attended in Albuquerque. There was one of those breakfast presentations (I am a horrid troll before my coffee is fully assembled, do breakfast presentations are pure torture). They presented a native woman who proceeded to turn a bunch of grumpy school folk into happy parrots.

The language was Tewa, the original speech of the Pueblo. Blue Water was the last living speaker. After she had fun embarrassing us all trying to say simple things, the 94-year-old described how she was putting in 13 hours a day in a sound studio, speaking Tewa so the University of NM could capture it before she passed away. Then she told us 2 creation stories, alternating English with Tewa. It was fabulous.

Not long after, she was killed in a car crash. But not before receiving a National Heritage award.

I think of her whenever I hear that language is dying.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Gold Rush in California

Back in the days when I was a freelance travel writer, it was a standing joke in our family that I could always sell a story about Sacramento, California. There are plenty of fascinating places in the world, but editors (and readers) seemed only interested in that historic but unlikely capital of the goldrush state. So I explored the replica village, roamed thoughtfully about Sutter's Fort, took the mountain trail to Lake Tahoe, rode buses and boat, and wrote, and wrote. I accumulated so much goldrush knowledge that I ended up writing a novel, called Promise of Gold.

Now the real story of goldrush San Francisco is in print, authored by the eminent maritime historian James Delgado. The University of California Press has just released Gold Rush Port: The Maritime Archaeology of San Francisco’s Waterfront, which is as much a history of the port of San Francisco during the 1849 Gold Rush as it is a study of the challenges (both physical and bureaucratic) of maritime archaeology today on the San Francisco waterfront.

Saving endangered languages

Half of the 6,700 languages spoken today are in danger of disappearing before the century ends, a process that can be slowed only if urgent action is taken --or so UNESCO reports.
As they point out, languages are what human use to interact and express the ideas, emotions, knowledge, memories and values that make up a people's intangible cultural heritage; language is essential to the special identity of individuals and groups. Safeguarding endangered languages is thus a crucial task in maintaining cultural diversity worldwide.

An interactive online resource illustrating the problem is the Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger. Freely available, this facility aims to provide speaker communities, policy-makers and the general public with state-of-the-art knowledge, continually updated.

With the help of a dictionary

Times Online reports that the identity of one of Europe's most notorious drivers has finally been pinned down.

He racked up dozens of speeding fines and parking tickets, but they could never find him. Prawo Jazdy left a trail of multiple identities across the Irish police data base -- identities that drove a bewildering variety of cars.

When the total reached fifty, the police decided to take a firm stand -- to reach an unexpected and embarrassing outcome. A traffic division official had a brainwave, consulted a dictionary, and solved the mystery -- the name the booking officers had recorded was not a name at all.
"Prawo Jazdy" means "Driving Licence" in Polish.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Are teens ready for romance?

Back when I was teaching at a girls' boarding school, I took all kinds of eccentric steps to foster a love of reading in my 13- and 14-year-old students, including buying boxes of pulp fiction (mostly sf) from a local used book store. We would sit outside on fine autumn days, read the books, and decide whether they were worth keeping, or were better tossed in the bin. The idea was to assess quality, and I was surprised how quickly and easily the girls developed a facility for criticism.

At the same time, I noticed that most of the books I confiscated from girls who were sneakily reading in class were Mills & Boon (aka Harlequin), so we started reading and critiquing those, too. However, I hit a snag when I asked the head of department to stock M&B in the school library. She was shocked, shocked, shocked, though the school inspector urged her to consider it seriously. "Never!" she said.

Now, I have decided I was right. Undoubtedly inspired by the roaring success of Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series (you heard about it first here), Harlequin is launching a romance-for-teens series this coming April.
To help get input from teens, the publisher has set up the online Harlequin Teen Panel -- "hosted by none other than BFF Quin," they say (who on earth is she?).
Teens need to get parental sign-off before they can participate, but once a membership is approved, the panel will send participants free books and invitations to enter sweepstakes.
Excellent idea, say I. I can attest that it works. One of my reluctant readers became addicted to one of the books in my boxes, the first of the wonderful Anne McCaffrey Dragonflight series. As long as she was at school, she and I borrowed each other's books, and then she went on to an innovative career in film.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Dr Who wins again

David Tennant tops theatregoers' popularity poll

Dr Who aka David Tennant has scored a big hit, his return to the stage in the guise of Hamlet being named by drama fans as the event of the year.
Voting for the Theatregoers' Choice Awards was enthusiastic, with 35,000 people taking part. Actor Kenneth Branagh was also very popular, being chosen best actor for Ivanov.
Comedian Eddie Izzard was chosen best solo performer for Stripped.
Best actress in a play was Katy Stephens (The Histories), while Josh Hartnett (Rain Man) was the London newcomer of the year.
Tennant was forced to miss much of the Royal Shakespeare Company season because of back problems, but returned to the stage after surgery.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Paying for nothing?

Andrew Brown, in the Guardian, writes:

Scientific journals are a notorious racket: because they are essential tools for the professions that use them, they can charge pretty much what they like.

The late Robert Maxwell was the first person to understand this, and though he is remembered as a newspaper proprietor, he built his fortune on scientific publishing with Pergamon Press.

University libraries, and even others that have any pretence to scholarship, now spend fortunes on learned journals. Elsevier, the leading publisher in the field, offered 1,749 journals last year at an average annual subscription price of nearly £2,400, and each one is indispensable to specialists.
Of course, the contributors are paid nothing.The effect of this, as many disgruntled radicals have pointed out, is that the government pays universities to conduct research for the public benefit;the measure of this research is publication in peer-reviewed specialist journals; the peer review is done for free, by academics employed and paid by universities. The results are then sold back to the universities who paid for the research in the first place.

This is bad value for governments. It's also extremely bad for anyone outside a university who may want to learn, and that's a situation the web has made more tantalising. Almost all these journals are indexed and references to them will be found on Google Scholar, PubMed Central and anywhere else you look beyond Wikipedia.

So the truth is out there. But it will cost you. I just paid $32 for a printout of one piece and this is by no means exceptional.
I could not agree more.
Many thanks to Brian Easton, who pointed me at this fascinating opinion piece. I shall be looking for more from Andrew Brown.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Writing in secret

One dark evening, in the depths of an otherwise deserted university, a mathematics professor was working secretly on his latest attempt at a novel. In an absentminded moment he sent a particularly erotic chapter to the faculty secretary's printer. Horrified, he raced down the corridor, to see the steamy passages appear one by one in her print tray -- behind a locked grille. A frantic plea to security followed, but finally, to his immense relief, Manil Suri was able to retrieve the incriminating stuff.

Professor Suri was a closet writer, who was convinced that his career was down the tube if his academic fellows ever found out. In an interesting and amusing story published in the Washington Post, he reveals the trials and tribulations of his secret life. What is probably even more amazing is what happened when his first novel was published, and the news of his double life broke.

Tragic loss for book distributor

Jean Srnecz, senior vice president (merchandizing) of the book distributor Baker and Taylor, was one of the victims of a plane crash in Buffalo last night.

Multitudes of people have browsed library shelves without realizing that the books are there because of the distributing firm. Baker and Tayor distributes book, music, and DVDs to schools and libraries all over the world.

The publishing world will miss the well-liked Jean Srnecz, who was described by a spokesperson for the company as "the face of B&T to the publishing industry."

Forty-nine people died when Continental commuter flight 3407 crashed into a house near Buffalo, NY.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Blagojevich memoirs?

Breaking news from Spy Mouse:

Impeached & disgraced former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has just been spotted in the lobby of the Flatiron Building, home of Macmillan publishing ...

Thursday, February 12, 2009

New book from Sri Lankan author

Press release follows.

Dear Joan,

You will be pleased to know that my third novel The Sweet and Simple Kind will be launched in London today by Little, Brown the UK publishers. This is exciting, since it's the first time a novel first published in Sri Lanka is being published in Britain.

Canadian and Australian publication dates will shortly follow, so you will be hearing from Hachette Australia pretty soon. I've asked them to send you a review copy, and hope you will enjoy the book when you read it.

Very best wishes,

Yasmine Gooneratne

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Dramatic cuts at HarperCollins

The surge of bad news has now washed up to the doors of HarperCollins in New York. The Collins division (which specializes in nonfiction) has been chopped, and staff dispersed or laid off.

Spy Mouse adds that all spring book tours have been cancelled. Children's division is moving to the main building. Editor Brenda Bowen is out, and Bowen Press is closed

"Over the last several months, the unstable economy has had a significant impact on businesses and consumer spending," wrote Harpers CEO Brian Murray in a memo issued February 10. "Our industry is not immune to these amrket forces, and there is increasing pressure on us, along with our retail and wholesale partners, to adjust."

Having stated the obvious, he announced the starting cuts. Among those leaving are Steve Ross, who worked on President Obama's Audacity of Hope at Crown before moving to head Collins in 2007.

Also going is Lisa Gallagher, publisher of the William Morrow division.
This bad news follows a strong decade in which CEO Jane Friedman (forced out last summer) had aggressively recruited Ross and other top talent, including Robert Miller (ex Hyperion) and Jonathan Burnham (from Miramax Books).

Both of these gentlemen remain with Harpers.

So far.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Recommended reading from Old Salt Blog

Richard Spilman, on his nautical book blog, features a glowing review of Defying Empire, Trading with the Enemy in Old New York, by Thomas Truxes.

He says, "The book describes the widespread trading with the French by New York merchants during the French and Indian Wars, as the conflict was known in the colonies. The trade, as far as the merchants were concerned, was business as usual. To the Crown and particularly to the military it was little short of treason.
"Defying Empire is a meticulously researched and gripping account of a largely overlooked period of history. Definitely worth checking out." Read more.

JK Rowling knighted

In France, that is. The BBC announces today that the Harry Potter author has been created a Knight of the Legion of Honour, France's highest civilian award.

Speaking in fluent French, JK Rowling thanked President Nicolas Sarkozy at the presentation ceremony in Paris, and apologized to the crowd for giving the evil nemesis of the series a French name. "Voldemort" means either thief or flight of death, which seems wonderfully appropriate. However, she assures her reading public that that bad guy is 100% English, and is grateful to the French for not holding a grudge.
And the President gracefully returned that he is grateful to her for getting French kids to read again.

Rowling received another accolade this very same week -- the highest of compliments from no less than Stephen King, who thinks she's a really good writer as well as being almost as successful as he is. The book blog of the Baltimore Sun reveals that in an interview with USA Today King slammed the newest mega-seller, Stephanie Meyer (who made vampires sexy), saying that she "can't write a damn," unlike Rowling, who is really good.
He also took aim at James Patterson, who is undoubtedly comforted by the news -- also reported by the BBC -- that he is the most borrowed author in British libraries. (One of the Harry Potters is the most borrowed single book.)

Friday, February 6, 2009

A very Interesting Life

The Oxford Dictionary of Biography has a more-than-interesting life featured today.
This is of a favorite character of mine, Ann Jane Thornton. I wrote about her -- and the ballad she inspired -- in She Captains, my study of enterprising females in the history of seafaring.
I will unfold a circumstance that does to love belong
Concerning of a pretty maid who ventur'd we are told
Across the briny ocean as a female sailor bold.

In February 1835, 16-year-old Ann Jane Thornton was summoned by the Lord Mayor of London, who had read about her strange career at sea. He wondered if she had been mistreated, so also summoned her erstwhile boss, Captain McIntire of the Sarah.

He had met Ann in St. Andrews in North America, McIntire testified. She had been dressed as a sailor, and he had given her the job of cook and steward, for the fair wage of nine dollars a month under the impression that she was a lad. The crew, he said, had been suspicious about that, on account of she wouldn't sink her grog like a man. Then they glimpsed her rounded form as she washed herself in her berth.

Her sex was then discovered which the secret did unfold
And the captain gaz'd with wonder on the female sailor bold

Well, the ship was in the middle of the Atlantic, the sea was rugged, and McIntire needed every hand, so he told her to carry on as before. The crew was unhappy about that, because she couldn't work like a man, they reckoned, even when helped along with the occasional clout. Ann made no complaints, and McIntire had nothing to complain about, either. She would run up to furl the topgallant sail in any kind of weather, he said, and in his opinion would make a capital seaman -- if a man.

With pitch and tar her hands were hard, tho' once like velvet soft
She weighed the anchor, heav'd the lead and boldly went aloft
Just one and thirty months she braved the tempest we are told
And always did her duty, did the female sailor bold

The Lord Mayor was naturally intrigued. Why had she chosen this strange career? Ah, it was love - love was the problem. At the tender age of 13 she had become besotted with an American shipmaster, Alexander Burk, and when he sailed she dressed as a cabin boy and worked her passage to join him -- to find that he had died.

That her love had been dead some time they to her did unfold
Which very near broke the heart, of this female sailor bold

To get home to Ireland, Ann had shipped on a couple of vessels as cook, but it wasn't until she met McIntire that she found a craft that was heading in the right direction. But now she was stranded in London -- because she hadn't been paid. McIntire had weasled out of it, claiming that the law only required him to pay seamen, not sea-ladies. Profoundly touched, the Mayor gave her enough money to rejoin her father in Donegal, and that is the last we hear of her.

It was love caused all her troubles and hardships we are told
May she rest at home contented now, the female sailor bold.

Maybe the ODB will publish the interesting life of Elizabeth Stephens next. She was another to go to sea as a cook, and do a seaman's duties, too, only she didn't cross dress to do it. She went to court in December 1821 to file a suit against Captain Chandler, master of the Jane and Matilda, for monies dues for three voyage between England and Spain. He, like McIntire, got away with it because of her sex. Nothing in the law said that he had to pay a woman for doing a man's work.

Think about it. If getting one's rightful pay depended on being taken for a man, it was a good reason for cross-dressing -- and for being sure not to be found out.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Replace the newspaper with the kindle?

Silicon Alley Insider (Digital Business, live!), Nicholas Carlson, has done some arithmetic, and reckons it would be cheaper for the New York Times to send everyone an amazon kindle than print and deliver the paper each day.

Not that he recommends it to the publisher, but after doing his sums he came up with a figure of $644 million delivery costs per year. This is on the basis that the NYT spends $63 million per quarter on raw material and $148 million on wages and benefits. (What about the trucks that deliver the bundles to the stands? And the man who tosses the paper on your stoop?)

In a recent open letter NYT spokesperson Catherine Mathis said that there are 630,000 loyal readers who have faithfully subscribed for more than two years.

Sending all those people a free kindle would cost a little less than half, apparently.

What Carlson hasn't factored in is that the NYT comes online everyday, so is already absolutely free. One wonders how they do it.