Search This Blog

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.