Yesterday, executives from Random House and Penguin announced their plans to combine the two companies. The combination, which will be called Penguin Random House, will, the two companies hope, "be better able to deal with the digital transformation of the book industry." The Wall Street Journal also points out that the decision comes at a time when Penguin is still fighting the U.S. Department of Justice's antitrust suit, which alleged price-fixing on e-books.
Well, the worst of Hurricane Sandy has passed, and New York is now assessing the damage. So how are things looking on the indie bookstore front? According to the Twittersphere, it's a mixed bag: In Brooklyn, the Community Bookstore, Word, BookCourt and Greenlight Books are okay and open for business, while sadly, PowerHouse Books in the low-lying Brooklyn neighborhood of DUMBO has been flooded and "devastated," according to blogger Edward Champion. In Manhattan, St. Mark's in the East Village has lost power but does't appear to be damaged, Mercer Street Books is open, and Housing Works in SoHo is closed for the day. (They're not yet sure if the store sustained any damage). Melville House is also closed—they also don't know if the store is okay—and so is McNally Jackson. If you live in the New York City area, keep us posted on the bookstores in your neighborhood by tweeting @bookforum and stay dry!
Cultural historian Jacques Barzun
Is Rupert Murdoch planning to buy Penguin? Last week it was reported that the publishing giant was in talks about merging with Random House (a deal which would “create a combined entity that would control nearly 25 percent of the United States book market”), but this weekend, news emerged that News Corporation will likely make a bid on Pearson, Penguin’s parent company, for around £1 billion. Murdoch already owns HarperCollins, one of the other “big six” publishers.
J.K. Rowling and Hilary Mantel have both taken the UK government to task for rolling back welfare benefits. In a recent interview, Mantel said that Britain was “going back to the Middle Ages,” in its treatment of the poor, while Rowling told the Daily Show that she wouldn’t have been able to start writing without government support.
An entity called Faulkner Literary Rights, LLC, which may or may not be associated with William Faulkner’s estate, has sued Sony Pictures because Woody Allen’s recent movie Midnight in Paris quotes Faulkner in passing. At the Rumpus, Michelle Dean senses something strange going on: “That’s pretty textbook fair use; it’s curious they found a lawyer willing to take this on. It’s further curious that in all the press I can find of anyone working with the Faulkner estate before, the executor is listed not as 'Faulkner Literary Rights, LLC,' but a lawyer named Lee Caplin...”
In the New York Times opinion pages, literary critic and A Jane Austen Education author William Deresiewicz argues that food has replaced art as an indicator of high culture: “Foodism has taken on the sociological characteristics of what used to be known—in the days of the rising postwar middle class, when Mortimer Adler was peddling the Great Books and Leonard Bernstein was on television—as culture.”
Spanish author Javier Marias has turned down a 20,000-euro prize from the Spanish government on the grounds that he doesn’t believe in public prizes. "All my life I have managed to avoid state institutions, regardless of which party was in government, and I have turned down all income from the public purse," he said. "I don't want to be seen as an author who is favored by any particular government." Earlier this year, Marias rejected a 15,000-euro award.
Historian, cultural critic, and public intellectual Jacques Barzun died last week. He was 104. Barzun was the author of dozens of books, including the nearly 900-page From Dawn to Decadence, which argued that Western civilization was in a state of decline.
The Financial Times reports that Penguin and Random House—two of the “big six” publishers—are in talks about merging. Pearson, which owns Penguin, confirmed on Thursday that they have been meeting with Bertelsmann, which owns Random House, about the possibility of a consolidation that would “give Bertlesmann more than a 50 percent stake in the mega-publishing company that would form.” But according to Pearson, this is not a done deal: “the two companies have not reached agreement and there is no certainty that the discussions will lead to a transaction.”
Why do American novelists take so long to finish their books, wonders the Guardian?
A San Francisco court has ordered that the FBI pay journalist Seth Rosenfeld almost half a million dollars for refusing him information that he requested under the Freedom of Information Act. The files in question concerned the FBI’s involvement with Ronald Reagan over a crackdown against student radicals at UC Berkeley during the 1960s. The documents, which Rosenfeld eventually obtained after a legal battle with the FBI, were used in his book, Subversives, which was reviewed in our Fall issue.
The first issue of Tomorrow, the single-issue magazine edited by former GOOD staffers Ann Friedman, Cord Jefferson, and Nona Willis Aronowitz, among others, is now on sale.
Forget audiobooks—publisher Hamish Hamilton is going vinyl. For the next issue of its literary magazine Five Dials, the UK publisher is including “a 10-inch dub remix of Hollis Hampton-Jones's novel, Comes the Night." By way of explanation, they write, "For this one-off audio experiment, Hollis is backed by Ryan Norris, a member of the Nashville-based band Lambchop. The result is a swirling, moody epic, cut with static, with a fugitive melody or two smuggled into the mix...” Excerpts are available here.
At Page Turner, Sam Sacks reflects on his years as a bookseller, and the “lupine” way that New York’s Strand bookstore acquires its goods. “It is hungry for your books—it wants to buy them cheap and sell them slightly less cheap," he writes. "Watching the process is mesmerizing: A potential seller will appear and present the carefully culled fruits of his library. His books are instantly snatched up and spread like entrails over the counter. The grizzled buyers, who have worked at the store for decades, claw at them for a moment and then shout out a non-negotiable offer. Seconds later the man staggers away with two wrinkled tens and a kick in the behind.”
Publisher Benedikt Taschen
Restructuring at Simon and Schuster means that all of the publisher’s imprints will be lumped into one of four groups: Atria, Scribner, the Gallery, or the Jonathan Karp-led Simon & Schuster. It also means that at the Free Press—which is being folded into the Simon and Schuster group—publisher Martha Levin and editor-in-chief Dominick Anfuso have lost their jobs.
Dissent has launched its snazzy new website.
In a characteristically frank conversation with the Huffington Post, publisher Benedikt Taschen discusses the books that have lost him the most money—including books on Diego Rivera’s murals, car crashes, and the Crusades. Taschen also recalls that in 1994, when books that he didn't like appeared in his catalogue, he branded them with a sticker that said, “Sorry, poor book.”
Just because Newsweek is dying doesn’t mean that the rest of print magazines are going down with it. A new report in the Financial Times notes that while Newsweek’s print ad revenue dropped 70 percent between 2007 and 2011, this was actually extreme, and unusual: analysts expect that that magazine ad revenue will increase overall in 2012.
After falling into “into one of the most protracted developments hells in Hollywood history,” the movie adaptation of Donna Tartt’s cult 1992 novel The Secret History was abandoned. But at BookRiot, Amanda Nelson has come up with a visual storyboard for it anyway.
Are independent presses faring better than their big-house counterparts? “These years are the most exciting times in the US for small-press publishers since the 1960s,” Jeffrey Lependorf recently remarked on a Frankfurt Book Fair panel.
Fran Lebowitz might be getting her own HBO talk show.
Wayne Koestenbaum is a cultural critic, poet, novelist, and Bookforum contributor. And now we can add "painter" to that list. This month, the New York gallery White Columns will show about fifty of Koestenbaum’s artworks, including “some brightly colored self-portraits and a smattering of male nudes.” Speaking to the Observer, Koestenbaum said he paints "in the |“I am nervous about showing the work publicly,” Mr. Koestenbaum admitted. “I’m also entirely ecstatic.|mood| of Joe Brainard or John Wesley, but with the procedure and crazy intensity of obsessive repeaters like Yayoi Kusama." Koestenbaum isn't the only author of note who will be showing his art at the gallery: Kevin Killian, author of the poetry collection Action Kylie and, most recently, the novel Spreadeagle, will also have work on display.
Starbucks is planning to build a library-themed cafe in Tokyo.
An essay published by the TriQuarterly Review is reigniting conversation over where the boundaries lie in what’s often called “literary nonfiction.” “The Facts of the Matter” was written by a anonymous middle-aged man who admits to having sexually assaulted a female student while he was an undergrad. “When we received this anonymous nonfiction submission,” the TriQuarterly editors wrote in an introduction to the piece, “it caused quite a stir. One staff member insisted we call the New Haven, Ct., police immediately to report the twentieth-century crime it recounts. But first, we figured out by the mailing address that the author was someone whose work had been solicited for TriQuarterly. Other questions remained. What animal was this? A memoir? Essay? Craft essay? Fictional autobiography? We thought it was worth publishing for the issues it raises.”
Fiction writers Anthony Marra, Hanna Pylväinen, and Alan Heathcock are the recipients of this year’s Whiting Writers’ Awards.
From James Greer's tour diary with Guided by Voices
At the New Yorker’s Page Turner blog, legendary publisher Robert Gottlieb predicts upcoming plot twists on Girls by re-reading bestsellers from the ’60s: “We don’t know yet how things will work out for the girls of Girls ... but if it follows tradition, at least one of them will rise to the professional top, having sacrificed True Love; one will marry the nice guy next door and settle down to domestic contentment, if not bliss; and the one who Went Bad will die tragically—in the old days, of alcohol or a car crash or suicide, perhaps today of a transmitted social disease.”
In honor of Chinese writer Mo Yan’s recent Nobel victory, Communist party officials have decided to convert Mo's childhood home into a cultural theme park. According to the Beijing News, local officials visited the Mo house last week and informed the family that they needed to renovate their home to accommodate the “Mo Yan Culture Experience Zone." On a related note, after winning the Nobel Prize for Literature last week, Mo told reporters that he planned to use the $1.4 million to buy a "big house" in Beijing, before he realized that current real estate prices would only permit him to buy an apartment.
If “literary fiction” is a genre, what are its signature markers? At the Millions, Edan Lepucki posits some suggestions, including adultery, a long title, and the following format: “scene, exposition, scene, flashback, scene, cue epiphany.”
At the Believer, James Greer—a novelist, bass player, writer of screenplays, Bookforum contributor, and many other admirable things—has started posting a droll tour diary chronicling his latest adventures with the band Guided By Voices.
After being unable to break into the Brazilian book market (or even buy the domain name amazon.com.br), Amazon is toying with the idea of simply buying the country’s largest chain bookstore. With 102 standalone stores and separate publishing arms, Savaira is the largest bookseller in Brazil, and is part of a powerful publishers consortium that has stonewalled Amazon’s entry into the Brazilian market. While the most likely scenario is that Amazon will drop the plan and go live in Brazil next month, the reports—which were first picked up by Publishing Perspectives—suggest that Amazon is flirting with what Moby Lives calls the “fuck it, let’s just buy the country’s whole book market” approach.
Drafting an outline, researching the story, planning the plot, and so on: the Guardian comes up with a comprehensive guide to writing a novel in thirty days.
Following the disclosure by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency of the full gamut of drug-abuse charges against cyclist Lance Armstrong, a bookstore in Glasgow has elected to reshelve his memoir, Every Second Counts, in their fiction section. Moby Lives is calling upon other bookstores to do the same.
How a book of lectures about the Industrial Revolution became the inspiration for the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games: screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce tells the Telegraph about how “its most striking images—an industrial powerhouse rising before your eyes, a green hill disgorging workers into the arena, rings forged in molten steel” inspired Danny Boyle.
Bill Hill—one of the inventors of Microsoft‘s ClearType screen typography system, the precursor to the e-book—has died.
Twitter will host the first-ever Twitter Fiction Festival in late November. The Festival, (#twitterfiction), "will feature creative experiments in storytelling from authors around the world.”
“I was born in Washington, DC, during a snowstorm in December 1961. My birth was illegitimate: my biological father was married with children, my biological mother much younger and unmarried.” A.M. Homes pens a lovely essay for the New Statesman about growing up in the nation’s capital in the sixties.
Is humor translatable? This year, the annual meeting of the American Literary Translators Association attempted to tackle that question by convening foreign translators of writers like David Sedaris and George Saunders. While some English jokes can transition easily into Japanese or French, “‘nothing is worse than killing the joke by over-explaining,’ said Gary Shteyngart, who has patiently replied to requests for clarification of terms like ‘Negra Modelo’ and ‘stomach stapling’ from scrupulous interpreters, particularly the Scandinavian ones.”
RIP, Newsweek print edition.
If you missed our panel at the New School on Monday—the one with Lynne Tillman, Sheila Heti, Émilie Notéris, and Wendy Delorme, and Chris Kraus—you can read all about it at Capital New York.
In spite of all the muscle they’ve put behind their publishing imprint, Amazon is having a tough time getting their books on bestseller lists. Amazon’s big fall release, a memoir by actress Penny Marshall, sold only seven thousand copies during its first four weeks of sales—in part because it wasn’t stocked in any Barnes and Noble stores, or any big-box chains. Nor was it on shelves in most independent books, or in e-stores operated by Google, Amazon, or Sony. In fact, notes the Christian Science Monitor, “just about the only place a reader is guaranteed to find the memoir is at Amazon.com.”
The Man Asian Prize suffered the same fate as the Orange Prize this week when the investment firm Man Group announced that they would no longer sponsor the five-year-old prize for Asian writing published in English. Moby Lives notes that “he timing of the news was strange, coming as it did just hours after the award of the Booker [which Man also sponsors] to Hillary Mantel.”
CUNY’s j-school and OR Books are teaming up to launch the CUNY Journalism Books imprint. The aim is to publish three to five books a year, and authors on tap for next year include NPR media strategist Andy Carvin, former New York Times counsel James Goodale, and journalism professors Steve Weinberg and David L. Lewis.
The last-ever print issue of Newsweek will be dated December 31, 2012, editor Tina Brown announced this week, marking the end—sorry! next chapter—of the 79-year-old-magazine. Rather than closing entirely, Newsweek will “transition to an all-digital format” and be renamed Newsweek Global. The magazine is reported to be losing $40 million a year.
Here’s the official trailer for the adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children.
In response to Johnny Depp's new line of books, Laura Miller asks: Are boutique publishing imprints for celebrities going to be the literary equivalent of endorsing a fragrance?
After accepting her second Booker Prize on Tuesday, Hilary Mantel announced that her novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies are not only serving as the inspiration for a six-part BBC series, but are also being adapted for the stage.
Chuck Wendig offers some tips about how “not to suck” at a writers’ conference.
Along with the thousands of publishers, writers, and literary agents that turned up for last week’s Frankfurt Book Fair were the electronics giants: Amazon, Sony, Samsung, and Nintendo. Says Deenah Vollmer at Page Turner: “The book publishers are doing digital products and the video-game makers are doing books. This is the awkward adolescence of interactive media. The book is in transition.”
“You should totally say hello to your favorite writers... but seriously, don’t be a fuckin’ weirdo about it.” Chuck Wendig offers some tips about how “not to suck” at a writers’ conference.
Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei guest-edits the October issue of the New Statesman.
Hilary Mantel has become the first woman to win the Man Booker Prize twice. Mantel was awarded the Booker on Tuesday for Bring Up the Bodies, the second installment in her trilogy on Thomas Cromwell, and the sequel to her novel Wolf Hall, which won the Booker in 2009. The only other authors to win the award twice are J.M. Coetzee and Peter Carey.
Despite his near-rock-star popularity outside of Japan, Haruki Murakami has delivered only one reading in his home country. He doesn't do TV or radio interviews there, and he won't appear on the cover of magazines. "In short, Murakami in Japan is a commercially successful cipher,” writes Roland Kelts.
Johnny Depp (yes, that Johnny Depp) is getting his own Harper Collins imprint dedicated to "authentic, outspoken, and visionary" books. Over the next several years, Infinitum Nihil will publish a biography of Bob Dylan and a previously unpublished novel by Woody Guthrie.
“Facebook knows who your friends are. Google knows what you’re interested in finding on the internet. Amazon knows what you’ve bought, and has a pretty good idea of what you might want to buy next.” Guess which of the three is becoming most valuable to adverters. Wired reports on Amazon's latest big business venture.
French critics are not impressed by the watered-down sadomasochism of Fifty Shades of Gray, which has been described as "flavorless," "insignificant, consensual and cliched," and full of the "fantasies of a cheap sex-shop." Still, that hasn’t dampened optimism about the book’s commercial prospects: The book’s French publisher has ordered a first run of 500,000 copies.