Monday, December 29, 2003

Best mysteries of 2003
Oline H. Cogdill

December 21, 2003

1) Shutter Island. Dennis Lehane. (Morrow). Shutter Island is the home of a foreboding federal institution for the criminally insane where, in 1954, two U.S. marshals are assigned to hunt for a female patient who has done the impossible -- disappeared from a prison from which there is no escape. Twists, secret codes, an off-limits hospital ward and a creepy lighthouse lead to a logical, yet totally surprising ending.

2) No Second Chance. Harlan Coben. (Dutton). Coben has become one of the top thriller writers with his emotional, harrowing plots as realistic as your daily routine. In his 10th novel, a doctor's search for his missing infant, kidnapped when his wife was murdered, centers on the foundation of bonds between parents and children, lovers and friends and the consequences of one's actions.

3) Every Secret Thing. Laura Lippman. (Morrow). The death of a child at the hands of two 11-year-old girls launches this tale about how this horrific event could have happened to normal families and how it defines lives. A disturbing subject explored with depth, compassion, heartfelt sincerity and with little violence.

4) Close to Home. Peter Robinson. (Morrow). Teenage memories abound as Yorkshire Detective Inspector Alan Banks realizes just how little of his world he knew when skeletal remains are identified as a friend who disappeared more than 35 years ago. This series keeps getting fresher.

5) The Distant Echo. Val McDermid. (St. Martin's Press). Four British college students are forever tainted when they are falsely accused of murder in this elegantly plotted look at the bonds of friendship and the insidiousness of revenge.

6) Resurrection Men. Ian Rankin. (Little, Brown). Edinburgh detective John Rebus is assigned to The Resurrection Men -- a group of Scottish cops with a propensity for bucking authority -- as this police procedural focuses on the politics and corruption that have seeped into the detective squad.

7) Off the Chart. James W. Hall. (St. Martin's Press). Long considered a leader in the "Florida School of Mystery Writing," Hall delivers a rousing tale of modern-day pirates while excavating the depths of personal change of his singularly named hero, Thorn. A fine addition to the author's superior body of work.

8) The White Road. John Connolly. (Atria Books). Irish author Connolly superbly combines crime fiction with the supernatural for a thoroughly American darker-than-noir series. The White Road leads private investigator Charlie Parker to South Carolina, where a young black man is accused of murder.

9) Winterkill. C.J. Box. (Putnam). Few mystery authors who use the environment as a plot foundation are as even-handed and clear-eyed as Box. In his third novel, Box blends the hot-button issue of survivalists, the FBI interventions at Waco and Ruby Ridge and personal freedom into a thrilling and heart-wrenching plot.

10) Dead Famous. Carol O'Connell. (G.P. Putnam). NYPD Detective Kathy Mallory, a sociopath who's a hard-as-nails cop, navigates the harsh spotlight on shock radio, reality shows and celebrity trials gone terribly awry. Dead Famous pulls together far-flung, often incongruous, story threads that have been finely kneaded into a cohesive plot.

11) Lost Light. Michael Connelly. (Little, Brown). Connelly continues as his generation's answer to Raymond Chandler. Rogue LAPD detective Harry Bosch's career -- and life -- take a drastic turn when he investigates a 4-year-old, once-high-profile case.

12) The Last Detective. Robert Crais. Doubleday. Robert Crais theme of family has never been more evident than in The Last Detective in which the L.A.-based Elvis Cole makes a much welcome return investigating a kidnapping.

13) Done for a Dime. David Corbett. (Ballantine). The murder of an aged black saxophonist who used to play with the greats of blues music lays the foundation for a look at a community under siege, family ties, greed and lost ambitions in Done for a Dime.

14) Man Eater. Ray Shannon. (Putnam); and Scavenger Hunt. Robert Ferrigno. (Pantheon). The cliche of Hollywood as a vapid, back-stabbing, ruthless industry gets fresh turns in these two novels. Each channels Elmore Leonard with realistic characters, snappy dialogue and wry looks at criminals and moviemakers. Sometimes, there's no difference between the two. (Ray Shannon is the pseudonym for Gar Anthony Haywood).

15) Scaredy Cat. Mark Billingham. (Morrow). Heady psychological suspense runs through this flawlessly plotted police procedural in which a squad of dysfunctional London cops hunt a serial killer. British writer Billingham again creates a contemporary twilight zone that feels all too real.

16) Mr. Timothy. Louis Bayard. (HarperCollins). In his mystery debut, novelist and critic Bayard delivers an enthralling, dark thriller that is also full of optimism and the strength of the human heart featuring the iconic characters of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. The hero in Mr. Timothy is "mostly able-bodied" Timothy Cratchit, all grown up at age 23, living in a brothel, teaching its madam to read and, with Christmas nearing, dealing with quite a few ghosts of his own.

17) Blood Is the Sky. Steve Hamilton. (St. Martin's Press). A tale about a missing person ratchets up into a complex novel about friendship, betrayal, hate, heritage and the coldness of revenge.

18) A Faint Cold Fear. Karin Slaughter. (Morrow). The alleged suicide of a student at the local college catapults the residents of a small Georgia town into a tension-laden, often grisly tale about the vagaries of family, the psychology of abuse and the treatment of victims.

19) Dirty Laundry. Paula L. Woods. Ballantine Books. A campaign strategist's murder sets the stage for Paula Wood's continued, forceful look inside Los Angeles' ethnic enclaves.

20) The Da Vinci Code. Dan Brown (Doubleday) This best seller about a symbologist on the trail of a secret society is like a potato chip -- 10 minutes after finishing it I couldn't tell you any plot details. But the pacing, the energy and the characters sure were enjoyable.

Best debuts

Haunted Ground. Erin Hart. (Scribner). The body of a young woman, buried for centuries in Ireland's peat bogs, intensifies the search for a young wife and her infant son who disappeared two years ago. This highly atmospheric mystery is complete with a creepy castle, Irish history and realistic characters.

Rendezvous Eighteenth. Jake Lamar. (St. Martin's Press). Ricky Jenks found a home and a cobbled-together family among other black Americans living in Paris until his arrogant cousin arrives.

Judgment Calls. Alafair Burke. (Henry Holt). Portland, Ore., deputy district attorney Samantha Kincaid is pulled into a swamp of office and sexual politics as she investigates the beating of a teenager. A personal story wrapped around a likable heroine also dives into the ethics of law.

Mystery Columnist Oline H. Cogdill can be reached at
Copyright © 2003, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Sun-Sentinel: Books

Sunday, December 28, 2003

From the Los Angeles Times

Book marketing campaigns borrow glitz from TV, movies
As book sales slip, publishers turn up the hype with Hollywood-style events, toy tie-ins and contests.
By Renee Tawa
Times Staff Writer

December 28, 2003

Meet Stephen King! Put your beagle on the cover of a best-selling book! Win $4,000 (and a free paperback)!

Ah, the gentle art of book-ish persuasion. This was a year in which the publishing industry kept its literati tendencies in check and infused a Hollywood-style razzle-dazzle into contests and other promotions intended to nudge books into at least a glimmer of the popular culture spotlight. With book sales down from last year, publishers are being forced to abandon their high-brow position above the fray and dive right in with movies, TV and other competing forms of popular culture.

"Publishing for so many years was viewed as a fussy gentleman's business, as an academic corner," said Jacqueline Deval, publisher of Hearst Books and author of this year's Publicize Your Book (Perigree). "That hasn't completely gone away, but it's certainly attenuated. Publishers are becoming more slick and savvy on reaching potential audiences."

The hype doesn't take the shine off books, doesn't diminish the importance of literature in our culture, she said. "It's a mistake to treat books as precious things, as part of that rarefied academic realm of the world. That's the kind of thinking that makes books feel inaccessible."

Who says new books aren't fun in a movie premiere kind of way?

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) promoted her memoir, Living History (Simon & Schuster), on a Barbara Walters TV special this year. In November, Madonna talked up her second children's book, Mr. Peabody's Apples (Callaway), on Late Show With David Letterman.

There also were troubling signs that a book alone, minus the celebrity, isn't sexy enough to turn a consumer's head. In June, after Oprah Winfrey featured John Steinbeck's East of Eden on her show, for instance, Penguin released a new edition of the classic with this plug: "The book that brought Oprah's Book Club back."

Even publishers with sure-fire hits on their hands tried to come up with new ways to cannonball their books into the public consciousness.

In June, a moving billboard on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood and an electronic sign on Times Square in New York were timed to mark the exact moment that Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Scholastic) was released. It's impossible to say whether the marketing of J.K. Rowling's latest added to the novel's star power, but it didn't hurt -- and more than 11 million copies have been sold in the United States.

Largely, though, big-splash publicity campaigns didn't pay off. In the first 10 months of the year, for instance, sales of adult hardcover books were down 5.8 percent, to $965 million, compared with the same period last year, according to the Association of American Publishers.

In this uneven economy, consumers consider new books to be luxury items, noted Robert Baensch, director of New York University's Center for Publishing.

As a result, major publishers are forced to think globally, Baensch said. "The big guys are taking the lead of saying, 'I'm not just publishing a book. I can have a miniseries [tie-in] on TV, a mega-event with movies, plastic figures at McDonald's or Burger King, and the fluffy toys at Toys R Us.' "

In the past few years, the industry's expansion has perpetuated the frenzy. Last year, U.S. publishers released 150,000 new books, up 5.86 percent, according to a recent study.

Publishers are taking no chances with even brand-name authors, designing marketing campaigns to build and sustain buzz.

In a contest promoting the latest volume in The Dark Tower, the series of novels by Stephen King, Simon & Schuster and Penguin invited readers to submit videotapes dramatizing an excerpt from one of the books. The winner will meet King in New York next year -- travel expenses are not included -- have one photograph taken with him and can ask "one or two questions."

Dan Brown's colossal bestseller The Da Vinci Code (Doubleday) already is on its second contest since its publication in March. In the first one, participants worldwide had to solve a complicated puzzle based on the book's plot. Brown will name a character in his next novel after the winner. The second contest is offering a three-night stay in Paris.

Books with lower profiles got into the game too. The winner of an online sweepstakes for This Book Will Change Your Life (Plume) by Ben Carey and Henrik Delehag will receive $4,000 and a copy of the book.

In time for the holidays, DK Publishing is offering to put readers' snapshots on the cover of America 24/7, a photography book put together by the team behind A Day in the Life of America. Submit a digital photo to a DK Publishing Web page, and the publisher will send America 24/7 with a custom jacket for about $6 extra.

DK Publishing calls the offer "the first mass-customization of a best-selling book."

Renee Tawa is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.
Copyright © 2003, The Los Angeles Times Business

Best In fiction
By David Abrams
Long Island Press

It was a great year for fiction.

It was also a good year for truth-is-stranger-than-fiction. Ten months ago, if you'd told me that Stephen King would be hobbling up to the podium to receive a Distinguished Contribution To American Letters medal at the National Book Awards in November, I'd probably have said, "Yeah, right. Next, you're gonna tell me aliens have landed and unleashed a killer flu virus on our unsuspecting population."

But there was Steverino in his tuxedo standing at the microphone, chastising literary snobs for not reading more chunky mass-market paperback novels by his pals Koontz, Clancy and Grisham. "What do you think?" King scolded. "You get social or academic brownie points for deliberately staying out of touch with your own culture?"

A day later, he came down with the flu. Coincidence? I think not.

King's cultural pot-stirring was trivial compared to the Paris Hilton sex video, but at least it got literature in the headlines for a couple of hours. It also got me thinking about the books I read this year—only one of them by a King-approved author (Peter Straub). Still, it's a big world out there, and I believe there's room for both Camus and Clancy.

Here, then, is a list of the best novels of the year. By the way, each of these novels can be redeemed for 10 brownie points.

1. The Clearing, Tim Gautreaux

This is the kind of novel that so completely transports us to another time, another place—the cypress forests of Louisiana in the 1920s—that we emerge on the other side of the story blinking and not quite sure of our surroundings. The story and characters—a man tries to redeem his brother from a swamp of corruption and finds himself getting pulled into the mire as well—will be familiar to readers of Dostoevsky, Steinbeck, Faulkner and countless others who've brought us tales of sibling salvation. In Gautreaux's hands, however, the plot transforms into a lyric, epic experience, and we feel as if we're hearing it for the first time. The best book of 2003.

2. The Time of Our Singing, Richard Powers

My year began with a symphonic cymbal crash when I cracked open Powers' massive portrait of one family coming of age in the mid-20th century. The patriarch is a German Jewish refugee physicist, the mother is a young black woman studying classical music; together, they raise prodigal children and teach them the ways of the world. Using classical music as a springboard, Powers surgically dissects America's race relations.

3. Wonder When You'll Miss Me, Amanda Davis

Perhaps the saddest literary news story of the year came when 32-year-old Davis died in a plane crash while on tour promoting her first novel, a tender story about Faith Duckle, an overweight teenager who's assaulted during her school's Homecoming game then later runs away to join the circus. Just as the Big Top transforms Faith into a girl with a sequin-speckled future, Davis turns her descriptions of circus life into parables about how it's possible to find beauty, even among the sawdust and elephant dung.

4. The Mammoth Cheese, Sheri Holman

Who knew that the story of a 1,200-pound wheel of cheese could be such a funny, moving and accurate portrait of American life? In order to revitalize their local economy, the residents of a small Virginia town decide to deliver a giant hunk of cheese to the President. As she demonstrated in her previous novels, Holman has a keen eye for detail, and even though she's painting on a big canvas here, she never loses sight of the value of the smallest brushstroke.

5. Old School, Tobias Wolff

After a distinguished career in short fiction and memoir, Wolff finally delivers his first novel. The wait was well worth it. Thinly-veiled autobiography, Old School (no relation to the movie) may well be the author's crowning achievement. In his story of a boy's life at prep school, Wolff gently instructs us on how to be better writers and better people.

6. The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger

Niffenegger's debut novel bends a traditional love story into new and unusual shapes. Henry is a time-traveler who drops in and out of various moments in his life; Clare leads a chronologically-normal life. The two of them intersect, in "real time," when Clare is 20 and Henry is 28. Their relationship turns as sweet and tragic as an Emily Dickinson poem.

7. In Open Spaces, Russell Rowland

I'm cheating a bit here, since Rowland's book was published in 2002, but I didn't discover it until this year. Covering one Montana family's story across a broad swath of years, this novel is filled with smothered dreams and unrequited longing. It's a big, potentially messy plot, but Rowland never lets the reins slip from his hands.

8. Slow Monkeys and Other Stories, Jim Nichols

Another cheat with a 2002 book, but I'm willing to bet Nichols' collection had an even smaller audience than Rowland's novel. Nichols' characters inhabit a world of hard reality—the losers, loners and loafers you might find in trailer parks, soup kitchens or even caves. But these people aren't just bums and dregs—they're characters the author invests with compassion, even love. Nichols writes about the sweat-drenched, beard-stubbled, stinking mass of humanity and manages to find a glimmer of beauty in even the worst situations.

9. "Train Dreams" (from the 2003 O. Henry Prize Stories collection), Denis Johnson

The end of every year always brings a small battalion of "Best of" anthologies, and while most of the stories have the too-polished sheen of New Yorker fiction, it's possible to find gems in these collections. This year, Johnson's 52-page novella, "Train Dreams," sparkled like a miniature masterpiece. Grainier, a laborer on a railroad crew in the Pacific Northwest in the early 1900s, suffers Job-like catastrophes as he tries to eke a living from the unforgiving land. The story unspools with slow, deliberate precision, climaxing with a devastating sentence that tells us what we've just read is really about the loss of an era: "And that time was gone forever."

10. Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, ZZ Packer

These eight short stories arrived on the already-crowded short fiction market with all the fiery energy of Flannery O'Connor on a good day. Nothing is wasted in a ZZ Packer story; every word relentlessly moves the reader forward to climaxes that pierce our hearts.

Long Island Press:

A few of their favourite things
National Post
December 27, 2003
We asked some of Canada's best writers to tell us which book they enjoyed the most this year. Here's what they had to say.


J. M. Coetzee's Elizabeth Costello (Secker & Warburg/Random House) is more and less than a typical novel. Its unadorned but seductive prose draws you easily into complex ideas, even as it paints a sympathetic and complex character, and as usual with Coetzee, leaves you thinking, if not reeling.


I was most moved, this year, by The Romantic, by Barbara Gowdy (HarperCollins), a story of serious adolescent romance and tragedy told -- often with humour as well as pathos -- by a life-enhancing, unselfconscious narrator who, as the book progresses, the reader cannot help but come to love.


I would have to pick Distance, by Jack Hodgins (McClelland & Stewart) -- a glorious, funny, redemptive look at the losses of faith we all suffer as we grow older and our need to still try to hold on to what matters.


One of my favourite books of the year was Maneater, by Gigi Levangie Grazer (Simon and Schuster). It was certainly not the deepest book I have read this year, but it's been a long time since I laughed out loud as frequently (almost every page) as I did while reading that book. I brought it to Italy with me and it was the perfect travel read.


Barbara Gowdy's The Romantic (HarperCollins), because of the fine way it balances the folly and beauty of the topic. And Jose Saramago's The Cave (Harvest Books), which will haunt anyone who enters its pages because of its stunning depiction of what happens when the corporate world and government become one and the same, and for its extraordinary portrayal of the quality of one family's love.


My discovery of the year was John Bemrose's The Island Walkers (McClelland & Stewart), a work written with such assurance and felicity that it is hard to believe it is a first novel.


W.G. Sebald's On the Natural History of Destruction (Knopf). Sebald is an archivist of dispossession, all his work is elegiac, deeply provocative, humane, haunted by history and by all the grief of the last century. And Alberto Manguel's Stevenson Under the Palm Trees (Thomas Allen) -- also concerned with wounds of dispossession, but very different -- a novella of beautiful restraint and insight.


My favourite book of the year was Paris 1919, by Margaret MacMillan (Random House). I'm fascinated by the period.


Michael Redhill's book of stories, Fidelity (Anchor Canada), is, without a doubt, the best book I've read this year. These stories resonate. They are rich and complicated and funny, but most of all, they are wise. When you read Fidelity, you feel like you're reading something great. Something that will stick to your guts. Something that will make a difference in your life. Something that will tell you a little bit more about humans ... and frogs and gambling and ex-husbands and old university roommates and sperm banks and ...


Jim Harrison's Off to the Side (Atlantic Monthly Press), a memoir. Brilliant, brilliantly funny and profoundly sad, this poet, novelist and food critic is a compassionate iconoclast with world-class appetites. His style is disarmingly casual and you are made to feel intimate with his engrossing life.


Ignorance, by Milan Kundera (HarperCollins). A profound reflection on exile. Do you have the right to find a new life? For the people who stayed, you may become a traitor even if it took courage to leave, even if the whole country wanted to leave.You did it, they did not. And now they judge you.


My choice is my friend Alberto Manguel's novella, Stevenson under the Palm Trees (Thomas Allen), about the last days of Robert Louis Stevenson in Tahiti. It's an elegy, spare and haunting, on the subject of the creative demons that drive a writer, with the eerie suggestion that the emotional boundaries between life and art are more blurred than we think. It's always inspiring to see a colleague do masterful work and Manguel's book is proof that the novella form can do the novel's job and then some.


Sitting Practice, by Caroline Adderson (Thomas Allen), is about tragedy and how we deal with it -- in this case, a young woman thrust into a wheelchair by a car accident weeks into her marriage. What no one would ever guess is what a richly humorous, sexy and emotionally rewarding novel Adderson finds in this material. And Twenty-Six, by Leo McKay Jr. (McClelland & Stewart), is about a coal mine disaster in a Nova Scotia town, the 1992 Westray mine disaster in thin disguise. McKay does a compelling job of mapping the calamity not just after, but before the methane and coal dust ignite.


My pick is John Updike: The Early Stories, 1953-1975 (Knopf). I cut my literary teeth on Updike and his early work is still the best. A wonderful collection that includes "Pigeon Feathers", "A&P" and "Lifeguard." Updike writes about women and God and sex and death and he succeeds in giving "the mundane its beautiful due." The introduction to the collection is worth the price.


The Cave by Jose Saramago (Harvest Books) is unquestionably the best book I have read in the last year. It may be one of the best books I have ever read. Nothing could be more timely -- nor more timeless. And it is suffused with love. We need it.


My choice is La Heronniere, by Lise Tremblay (Lemeac Editeur). It's a magnificent collection of news, moving and funny, describing the life of a little island in Quebec. Pertinent, caustic, surprising.


A character in my next novel is thinking a lot about God, so I read John Horgan's Rational Mysticism (Houghton Mifflin). Horgan's search for mystical reality encompasses meditating nuns, psychedelic gurus and scientists measuring where in the brain visions arise. While the religious impulse is near-universal and as varied as we are, whether God is delusion or the truth behind illusion remains unanswered. We might be better off exercising our free will and embracing the wonder of this world, which is as mystical and extraordinary as anyone could possibly desire.


I felt deep respect for T.J. Binyon's biography of Pushkin (HarperCollins). The book is all that biography should be: restrained, fairly impartial, told by a writer with a fine eye for an anecdote, and above all, restorative -- in the sense that it brings a human being (a peculiar one) into closer view and drags his time and place back with him. I envied, while reading Pushkin: A Biography, all those who can read Pushkin in the original, and all who know St. Petersburg.


My favourite book this year was Cosmopolis, by Don Delillo (Simon & Schuster). I loved it because it was magical, unpredictable and desperate and had the best, funniest, sexiest sex scene -- without any actual touching -- that I've ever read, ever, ever, ever.


My choice is Tobias Wolff's Old School (Knopf). It's about a prep-school boy and the trouble he gets into so that he can meet Ernest Hemingway. A contemporary master of the short story, Wolff has written a gem of a novel about truth and deception in life and letters.


Chester Brown's graphic novel Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography (Drawn and Quarterly) is an overwhelming, eye-boggling achievement, my favourite book of the year. What you have here is Brown at the height of his abilities as an artist, his handling of line and composition is absolutely beautiful, and he's made a fascinating and intelligent portrait of one of Canada's most controversial historical figures. To me, this isn't just the best book of the year, it's one of the most important graphic novels ever published.


I've always heard that Charles Ritchie's diaries (McClelland & Stewart) are wonderful and this year, I finally got around to reading his account of his boyhood in Nova Scotia, his time in England at Oxford and then again in London as a young Canadian diplomat during the Second World War. And, yes, the diaries are wonderful -- witty, perceptive and quite moving. My other best book of the year is quite different -- Simon Sebag-Montefiore's Stalin (McArthur & Co.). It uses the new material that has come out since 1989 to paint a grisly picture of the tyrant and his court of sycophants and murderers. A compelling and deeply depressing read.


My favourite book of the year is a book of poems called Persuasion for a Mathematician, by Joanne Page (Pedlar Press). It's a book with fabulous reach and the poems argue life or death with passion, wisdom, and honesty.


My favourite book of the year was Waiting for an Angel, by Helon Habila (Norton). Set in 1990s Nigeria, this memorable first novel by a young Nigerian writer now resident in England tells the story of a journalist and sometime novelist who gets caught up in a demonstration and jailed by the dictatorship. A vivid, compelling portrait of one man's resistance of oppression, but beyond the politics and serious theme it is marked by sparkling, often funny dialogue and precise character portraits.


Against Love: a Polemic, by Laura Kipnis (Pantheon). I loved this skinny diatribe against the pat notions of everyday monogamy and the modern relationship. It was funny, smart and shocking. And unfortunately, probably true.

© National Post 2003

National Post

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Google launches book search service

London, December 18 2003

by Krishna Roy

Google has begun trialing a search tool that enables individuals to search text within 60,000 book titles, following Amazon's launch of a "search inside the book" feature in October.

Dubbed Google Print, Google's service is designed to call up brief excerpts from books, critic reviews, bibliographic and author notes. Result pages include links to publishers including Random House, Knopf Publishing Group, Macfarlane and Walter & Ross, where books can be purchased. The results also include related text ads from Google.

The trial is part of Google's ongoing mission to boost its search features under increasing competition. It has launched a UPS package information tracking tool, personal phone number locator and pop-up add blocking facility in recent months, as well as integrating its Froogle shopping search service into its main search tools.

The strategy appears to be working according to recent research by web analytics firm, which this month reported that Google's global usage has risen from 55.2% to 56.1% over the past six months, putting it way ahead of its next nearest rival Yahoo, at 21.5%.

MSN Search came in at third place with 9.4% global usage, while AOL Search took fourth place with 3.7%. Terra Lycos, Altavista and Askjeeves lagged behind with 2.3%, 1.9% and 1.6% of the global search usage market respectively.

Google has reportedly said that it does not make money from directing users to buy a book as a result of using its search and claims not be charging advertisers if individuals click on their ads. However, that could change as the company is believed to be in talks with several publishers to build out the service.

Amazon, which licenses Google's search technology and keyword-related ads, said last month that books included in its 'Search Inside the Book' outpaced growth for titles not in the program by nine percentage points during the first five days of launch.

Amazon's text search service works with around 120,000 titles from 190 publishers, which translates into some 33 million pages of searchable text.


Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Guinness: Scientist creates world's largest book
At 133 pounds, light reading it's not

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (AP) --A 133-pound tome about the Asian country of Bhutan that uses enough paper to cover a football field and a gallon of ink has been declared the world's largest published book.

Author Michael Hawley, a scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said it's not a book to curl up with at bedtime -- "unless you plan to sleep on it."

Each copy of "Bhutan: A Visual Odyssey Across the Kingdom," is 5-by-7 feet, 112 pages and costs about $2,000 to produce. Hawley is charging $10,000 to be donated to a charity he founded, Friendly Planet, which has built schools in Cambodia and Bhutan.

Guinness World Records has certified Hawley's work as the biggest published book, according to Stuart Claxton, a Guinness researcher.

Hawley has led a number of MIT student expeditions to Cambodia and Bhutan, an isolated country of 700,000 people that is about the size of Switzerland, and thought he could raise money for education there by putting together some of the thousands of photographs he was gathering.

He said he did not set out to make the world's largest book. But playing around in his office at MIT's Media Lab with a state-of-the art digital printer, Hawley discovered just how spectacular large, digital images can look -- especially of Bhutan, a country flush with colorful scenery and dress where even the rice is red.

"What I really wanted was a 5-by-7-foot chunk of wall that would let me change the picture every day," he said. "And I thought there was an old-fashioned mechanism that might work. It's called the book."

Hawley said he's received about two dozen orders for the book, which includes an easel-like stand. Early customers include Brewster Kahle, the inventor of the Internet Archive project, who has known Hawley for years through his computer science work at MIT.

"You deal with a book in a fundamentally new way," Kahle said when asked about the appeal, adding he wasn't certain how he would display his copy. "You meet it eye-to-eye, like a person."

Processing and printing the images took enormous chunks of computing power, much of it donated by companies including Dell, Apple Computers and Kodak. Then there was the assembly. At this size, the normal physics of bookbinding simply don't apply.

"All my traditional techniques for binding books are impossible," said ACME Bookbinding President Paul Parisi. Zeff Hanower, a shop machinist, had to build an assembly line from scratch. ACME also used an "accordion" style of binding to ensure the book folded and held together properly.

Hawley said his research revealed that the biggest book in the Library of Congress was John J. Audubon's 19th century "Birds of America," which is 2.5-by-3.5 feet. - Guinness: Scientist creates world's largest book - Dec. 16, 2003

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Oh, to lie, fabricate, spin, distort, twist . . .

Dennis Byrne.
Dennis Byrne is a Chicago-area writer and public affairs consultant

December 15, 2003

After reading the immensely popular book "The Da Vinci Code," I have decided that its author, Dan Brown, does not exist.

Why? If someone, like the alleged Brown, can distort, fabricate or even wipe out a couple thousand years of political and religious history for the sake of an exciting adventure mystery, then why can't I deny the existence of a single individual for the sake of a good column? If a Dan Brown can capriciously make up a whole bunch of stuff to entertain, why can't I do the same by hitting the delete button on whoever this Dan Brown is supposed to be? Oh, sure, I know there's a picture of someone claiming to be Dan Brown on the book cover, smiling out at us in a writer's uniform of khaki pants, black mock turtle neck and tweedy jacket. And it says right there that he wrote some other books and lives in New England. But I've never seen him. Have you?

Yes, my phone might ring and the voice might say, "I saw your column, and I'm Dan Brown." But I know that would be a lie. The voice can't prove that it's Dan Brown. Someone could come to my door and claim to be Dan Brown, producing a driver's license, voter's registration card and a birth certificate. But that doesn't prove anything. I choose to believe it's counterfeit.

And you people who are about to send me e-mails, telling me I finally have provided incontrovertible proof that I am a moron? You don't exist either. Then who wrote this 454-page book? Offhand, I'd guess that the author was Oliver Stone, a noted fabulist. Except that Stone doesn't exist either. He is the creation of a conspiracy that wants us to think that John F. Kennedy's assassination was a conspiracy plot.

Actually, Kennedy does exist. He lives in a bungalow with Elvis. In France.

So what if I'm selective with facts? Whatever suits my purpose, I say. For example, I don't believe in Des Moines. I do believe in Des Plaines. But why is denying the existence of an entire town more moronic than what this supposed Brown guy is doing? An example. He turns the Star of David into a sex symbol. The bottom half (the V) is a female symbol called the chalice. The top half (the inverted V) is really a phallus symbol "still used today on modern military uniforms to denote rank." And the more such "penises" you wear on your sleeve, the higher your rank, we're told. This, of course, will surprise U.S. sailors and airmen whose higher enlisted ranks are designated by the number of female chalices they wear on their insignia.

Minor mistake, sure. But not so minor are nonsense assertions that the Dead Sea Scrolls talked about Mary Magdalene, that "80" gospels were written, that the gospels portrayed her as a prostitute. Laughable is the assertion that a church which has been criticized for nearly "deifying" Mary the mother of Jesus has engaged in a centuries-long plot to destroy the "sacred feminine."

More absurd is an underlying presumption of this novel, that Christianity, and especially the Catholic Church, would for two millennia knowingly hide theological truth from millions upon millions of believers so--why? Just the fact that any institution could survive for 2,000 years is remarkable enough. That it could survive while hiding some dark secret that is directly contrary to its core belief--the divinity of Christ--is an assertion that can be swallowed only by the incurably gullible.

See, this story, while an exciting yarn, is so filled with errors, you have to start wondering if it was written by an incompetent (whose root, found in the ancient scribblings of Iyioneic lore, means nincompoop). If not, then someone who is trying to make the church's presumed enemies look stupid. Maybe someone who wants to discredit, say, gnosticism, by making up such a foolish story that any examination would expose its absurdities. Someone, maybe, working undercover for the Catholic Church. Maybe not a someone, but a something, a computer, a robotic writer, which compresses all the silliness and goofiness out there into one blockbuster of a book. Yes, it's becoming clear now. Dan Brown really didn't write this book! Because Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" is an anagram for the Vatican's new hidden robo CD.

Tape to come later.



Chicago Tribune: Oh, to lie, fabricate, spin, distort, twist . . .

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Unfinished Aubrey novel discovered among O'Brian's papers
(Filed: 14/12/2003)

Fans of the fictional seafaring hero Jack Aubrey are delighted at the prospect of the 21st story by the author whose work has been turned into a blockbuster film, writes Chris Hastings

Jack Aubrey, the fictitious naval commander played by Russell Crowe in the hit film Master and Commander, is to fight another day after the discovery of an unfinished novel by the author who created him.

Executors of the estate of Patrick O'Brian, who wrote 20 books about the heroic seafarer before his death in 2000, are believed to have found the near-completed novel among his personal papers.

O'Brian, who was still writing in his eighties, is known to have completed at least three chapters before his death and is believed to have made extensive notes about the direction of the novel. These are now being considered for publication in the light of the film's success.

Some friends of O'Brian believe that the author had written several more chapters that have yet to emerge.

The series, which charted the adventures of Aubrey and his ship Surprise during and after the Napoleonic wars, had already sold more than six million copies before O'Brian's work attracted the attention of film-makers.

Sales of the books, regarded by critics as among the best historical novels, have been further boosted by the film, which has grossed more than $100 million (£57 million) in a month.

O'Brian is understood to have begun work on what he referred to as Book 21 in 1998.

The unpublished chapters, which are believed to exist in a handwritten draft and a more polished, typed version, begin in South America, and take up where Blue at the Mizzen, the 20th book in the series, ended.

Farrers, the London law firm acting as the executor of O'Brian's estate, has consulted a literary specialist about publishing the work. The firm refused to comment further.

HarperCollins, the author's British publisher, also has one completed chapter, sent to them by O'Brian soon before his death.

It is understood that both parties have ruled out hiring a ghostwriter to try to emulate the author's distinctive prose style, fearing a backlash from fans who regard O'Brian's eye for historical detail and use of 19th-century language as unique.

Another more viable option would be to publish the unfinished novel as a stand-alone work, or to use it as the centrepiece of a new study into the author.

Starling Lawrence, the editor-in-chief at W W Norton and Co, O'Brian's United States publisher, said: "I am aware that there are the beginnings of a new novel by O'Brian, but I have not seen it myself.

"Patrick would rarely talk about his work and you would only know he had written something when it landed on your desk. As for the new book, if there were enough written I would have no reservations about publishing it unfinished."

The large number of websites dedicated to O'Brian and his work reflects the author's world-wide popularity.

One of the most popular sites, called The Gunroom, runs competitions in which fans try to emulate the writer's style.

Jan Hatwell, 49, a civil servant from Horsham in Surrey, who is a regular user of the site, said that publication of just three or four chapters would be enough to leave fans "foaming at the mouth".

He added: "We would be fascinated to see it. It would provide a unique glimpse into the author's writing style and provide a tiny clue about where he was taking the character."

Friends of the author, however, would prefer the book's contents to remain secret.

Kevin Myers, a columnist for the Telegraph, who befriended the writer in the later years of his life, said: "He was writing up until his death because at that stage all that was left to him was his books and his adulation.

"He did not talk about what he was working on. Anyone who asked him about a work in progress was likely to get their head bitten off.

"I have not seen the unpublished book, but I hope it's not made public. In my opinion, his last published novel was a travesty. It was tragic and was only printed because publishers wanted to cash in on his success. His talent as a writer had been completely exhausted by then."

Helen Lucy Burke, a friend who says she was shown the unfinished book, said: "It is only a draft and it would have been subject to constant re-writes by Patrick if he were still alive.

"It is not my decision, of course, but I would be violently opposed to the idea of anyone ghostwriting the book."

The discovery of the unfinished material is the latest twist in a remarkable literary story that began with the publication of Master and Commander, the first book in the series in 1970.

The books went largely unnoticed outside Britain until The New York Review of Books carried a prominent review of The Reverse of the Medal, the 11th, and described its predecessors as "the best books you have never read".

That article prompted great interest in the author and propelled his entire back catalogue into the spotlight. Subsequent additions to the series throughout the 1990s became big publishing events.

O'Brian's life contained as much fiction as his books. For years he portrayed himself as an Irish-born gentleman from Galway who had learnt to sail on a square-rigged ship.

In 1998 it emerged that he had been born to relatively poor parents of German immigrant descent in Buckinghamshire and had changed his name.

Telegraph | News | Unfinished Aubrey novel discovered among O'Brian's papers

Thursday, December 11, 2003

'Code' deciphers interest in religious history
By Bob Minzesheimer, USA TODAY
This season's most common question at bookstores is: "Do you have anything like The Da Vinci Code?"

Author Dan Brown has two books in USA TODAY's top-selling book list, The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons.

Dan Brown's thriller, which supposes a marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene that produced a royal bloodline in France, is more than just the year's best-selling adult novel. (Its sales are topped only by J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix).

The Da Vinci Code is a publishing phenomenon. It has triggered debates about early Christianity and a prime-time special on ABC last month.

Nine months after publication, there are 4.5 million copies in print. It's propelled Brown's earlier novels onto the best-seller list and is boosting dozens of other books, novels and non-fiction, about religion, history and art.

In 20 years as a fiction buyer for Barnes & Noble, Sessalee Hensley says she has seen nothing like it. The only other novel that comes close, she says, is last year's surprise best seller, Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones, which is narrated by a girl raped and murdered at 14.

"But The Da Vinci Code is outstretching that," she says. "Readers say it kept them up all night. It's the first novel in a long time that people want to lose sleep over."

Its popularity shows that "readers are clamoring for books which combine historic fact with a contemporary story line," says Carol Fitzgerald, president of, a web site for book discussions. "They say, 'I like being able to learn something as well as read a story.' "

It's a novel, but Brown writes in an introductory note that "all descriptions of documents and secret rituals ... are accurate."

Scholars and theologians, both conservative and liberal, dispute that. Some even say Brown is anti-Catholic. But Doubleday Publisher Stephen Rubin says "the accuracy questions have added to the celebrity of the book. People want to read it for themselves."

In a year of poor book sales (adult hard covers are down 6%; paperbacks down 4%, according to the Association of American Publishers), Brown is sending people to bookstores.

Hensley compiled a list of 90 related books — from Katherine Navel's Eight to Singh Simon's Code Book —and says sales are up 25%.

Some stores have tables of other books for Da Vinci Code readers.

Brown's earlier novels have been rediscovered. There were 17,000 paperback copies of Ditigal Fortress in March; now there are 266,000, with a 1-million copy mass-market edition out next month.

Rubin says the paperback of The Da Vinci Code isn't scheduled yet. First, he has his eyes on the record for a hardcover novel: The Bridges of Madison County— 6 million copies.

As for Brown, he's at home, somewhere in New Hampshire, on a month-long hiatus from interviews.

He prefers to keep his hometown a secret. - 'Code' deciphers interest in religious history

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Since it is the time of year for book lists, this one came my way and it's a good one - thanks, Ernie.

New York Public Library's Books of the Century:

"To commemorate our Centennial, librarians identified books that played defining roles in the past 100 years. Included are 'great' books and landmarks in our area of expertise. There are books that influenced the course of events, for good and for bad; books that interpreted new worlds; and books that simply delighted millions of [NYPL] patrons. Our century ranges from 1895 to 1995 -- the Library's first 100 years. The perspective is American urban, but the list ranges worldwide."

Landmarks of Modern Literature:

Chekhov, Anton. The Three Sisters (1901).
Proust, Marcel. Remembrance of Things Past (1913-27).
Stein, Gertrude. Tender Buttons: Objects Food Rooms (1914).
Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis (1915).
St. Vincent Millay, Edna. Renascence and Other Poems (1917).
Yeats, William Butler. The Wild Swans at Coole (1917).
Pirandello, Luigi. Six Characters in Search of an Author (1921).
Eliot, T. S. The Waste Land (1922).
Joyce, James. Ulysses (1922).
Mann, Thomas. The Magic Mountain (1924).
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby (1925).
Woolf, Virginia. To the Lighthouse (1927).
Garcia Lorca, Federico. Gypsy Balads (1928).
Wright, Richard. Native Son (1940).
Auden, W. H. The Age of Anxiety: A Baroque Eclogue (1947).
Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man (1952).
Nabokov, Vladimir. Lolita (1955).
Borges, Jorge Luis. Ficciones (1944/1956).
Garcia Marquez, Gabriel. One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967).
Morrison, Toni. Song of Solomon (1977).

Colonialism and its Aftermath:

Conrad, Joseph. Lord Jim (1900).
Kipling, Rudyard. Kim (1901).
Gandhi, Mohandas K. Satyagraha [Non-Violent Resistance] (1921-40).
Forster, E. M. A Passage to India (1924).
Camus, Albert. The Stranger (1942).
Various. United Nations Charter (1945).
Steichen, Edward. The Family of Man (1955).
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart (1958).
Fanon, Franz. The Wretched of the Earth (1961).
Rhys, Jean. Wide Sargasso Sea (1964).
El-Salih, Tayeh. Mawsim al-Hijra ila al-Shamal [Season of Migration to the North] (1969).
Naipaul, V. S. Guerrillas (1975).
Emecheta, Buchi. The Bride Price (1976).
Kapsinski, Ryszard. Cesarz [The Emperor] (1978).
Menchú, Rigoberta. I, Rigoberta Menchú (1983).
Duras, Marguerite. The Lover (1984).

Protest and Progress:

Riis, Jacob. The Battle with the Slum (1902).
Du Bois, W. E. B. The Souls of Black Folk (1903).
Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle (1906).
Addams, Jane. Twenty Years at Hull House (1910).
Wald, Lillian. The House on Henry Street (1915).
Steffens, Lincoln. The Autobiography of Lincoln Steffens (1931).
Dos Passos, John. U.S.A. (1937).
Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath (1939).
Agee, James, and Walker Evans. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941).
Smith, Lillian. Strange Fruit (1944).
Goodman, Paul. Growing Up Absurd (1960).
Baldwin, James. The Fire Next Time (1963).
Malcolm X. The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965).
Shilts, Randy. And the Band Played On (1987).
Kotlowitz, Alex. There Are No Children Here (1991).

Nature's Realm:

Maeterlinck, Maurice. The Life of the Bee (1901).
Curie, Marie Sklodowska. Treatise on Radioactivity (1910).
Einstein, Albert. The Meaning of Relativity (1922).
Peterson, Roger Tory. A Field Guide to the Birds (1934).
Leopold, Aldo. A San County Almanac (1949).
Lorenz, Konrad Z. King Solomon's Ring: New Light on Animal Ways (1949).
Carson, Rachel. Silent Spring (1962).
Various. The Surgeon General's Report on Smoking and Health (1964).
Watson, James. The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA (1968).
Wilson, Edward O. The Diversity of Life (1992).

Utopias and Dystopias:

Wells, H. G. The Time Machine (1895).
Herzl, Theodor. The Jewish State (1896).
Baum, L. Frank. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900).
Barrie, J. M. Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (1906).
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. Herland (1915).
Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World (1932).
Hilton, James. Lost Horizon (1933).
Skinner, B. F. Walden Two (1948).
Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-four (1949).
Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451 (1953).
Burgess, Anthony. A Clockwork Orange (1962).
Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid's Tale (1985).

Mind and Spirit:

Durkheim, Emile. Suicide: A Study in Suicide (1897).
Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams (1900).
Ellis, Havelock. Studies in the Psychology of Sex (1901-28).
James, William. The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902).
Gibran, Kahlil. The Prophet (1923).
Russell, Bertrand. Why I Am Not a Chirstian (1927).
Mead, Margaret. Coming of Age in Samoa (1928).
Sartre, Jean-Paul. Being and Nothingness (1943).
Spock, Dr. Benjamin. The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care (1946).
Anonymous. The Bible, Revised Standard Version (1952).
Tillick, Paul. The Courage of Be (1952).
Kesey, Ken. One Few Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1962).
Leary, Timothy. The Politics of Ecstasy (1968).
Kübler-Ross, Elisabeth. On Death and Dying (1969).
Bettelheim, Bruno. The Uses of Enchantment (1976).

War, Holocaust, Totalitarianism:

Toynbee, Arnold. Armenian Atrocities: the Murder of a Nation (1915).
Reed, John. Ten Days That Shook the World (1919).
Sassoon, Siegfried. The War Poems (1919).
Has? , Jaroslav. The Good Soldier Svejk (1920-23).
Hitler, Adolf. Mein Kampf (1925-26).
Remarque, Erick Maria. All Quiet on the Western Front (1928).
Akhmatova, Anna. Requiem (1940).
Hemingway, Ernest. For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940).
Koestler, Arthur. Darkness at Noon (1941).
Hersey, John. Hiroshima (1946).
Frank, Anne. The Diary of a Young Girl (1947).
Churchill, Winston. The Gathering Storm (1948).
Zedong, Mao. Quotations from Chairman Mao (1966).
Brown, Dee Alexander. Bury My heart at Wounded Knee (1970).
Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr I. The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956 (1973-75).
Herr, Michael. Dispatches (1977).
Spiegelman, Art. Maus: A Survivor's Tale (1986-91).

Economics and Technology:

Veblen, Thorstein. The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899).
Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904).
Adams, Henry. The Education of Henry Adams (1907).
Keynes, John Maynard. The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936).
Friedman, Milton. A Theory of the Comsumption Function (1957).
Galbraith, John Kenneth. The Affluent Society (1958).
Jacobs, Jane. The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961).
Leavitt, Helen. Superhighway-- Super Hoax (1970).
Schumacher, E. F. Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered (1973).
Krol, Ed. The Whole Internet: User's Guide & Catalog (1992).

Popular Culture and Mass Entertainment:

Stoker, Bram. Dracula (1897).
James, Henry. The Turn of the Screw (1898).
Doyle, Arthur Donan. The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902).
Burroughs, Edgar Rice. Tarzan of the Apes (1912).
Grey, Zane. Riders of the Purple Sage (1912).
Christie, Agatha. The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920).
Carnegie, Dale. How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936).
Mitchell, Margaret. Gone With the Wind (1936).
Chandler, Raymond. The Big Sleep (1939).
Metalious, Grace. Peyton Place (1956).
Dr. Seuss. The Cat in the Hat (1957).
Heinlein, Robert A. Stranger in a Strange Land (1961).
Heller, Joseph. Catch-22 (1961).
Capote, Truman. In Cold Blood (1965).
Bouton, Jim. Ball Four: My Life and Hard Times Throwing the Knuckleball in the Big Leagues (1970).
King, Stephen. Carrie (1974).
Wolfe, Tom. The Bonfire of the Vanities (1987).

Optimism, Joy, Gentility:

Jewett, Sarah Orne. The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896).
Keller, Helen. The Stoy of My Life (1903).
Chesterton, G. K. The Innocence of Father Brown (1911).
Jiménez, Juan Ramón. Platero and I: An Andalusian Elegy (1914).
Shaw, George Bernard. Pygmalion (1914).
Post, Emily. Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home (1922).
Wodehouse, P. G. The Inimitable Jeeves (1923).
Milne, A. A. Winnie-the-Pooh (1926).
Cather, Willa. Shadows on the Rock (1931).
Rombauer, Irma S. The Joy of Cooking (1931).
Tolkien, J. R. R. The Hobbit (1937).
Brown, Margaret Wise. Goodnight Moon (1947).
Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird (1960).
Hughes, Langston. The Best of Simple (1961).
Bishop, Elizabeth. The Complete Poems, 1927-1979 (1983).

Women Rise:

Wharton, Edith. The Age of Innocence (1920).
Catt, Carrie Chapman and Nettie Rogers Shuler. Woman Suffrage and Politics (1923).
Sanger, Margaret. My Fight for Birth Control (1931).
Hurson, Zora Neale. Dust Tracks on a Road (1942).
De Beauvoir, Simone. The Second Sex (1949).
Lessing, Doris. The Golden Notebook (1962).
Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique (1963).
Angelou, Maya. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969).
Morgan, Robin, ed. Sisterhood Is Powerful: An Anthology of Writings from the Women's Liberation Movement (1970).
Brownmiller, Susan. Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape (1975).
Walker, Alice. The Color Purple (1982).

The People's Choice:

Faulkner, William. The Portable Faulkner (1946).
Paton, Alan. Cry, the Beloved Country (1948).
Beckett, Samuel. Waiting for Godot (1952).
Kerouac, Jack. On the Road (1957).
Rand, Ayn. Atlas Shrugged (1957).
Wiesel, Elie. Night (1958).
Roth, Philip. Portnoy's Complaint (1969).

Favorites of Childhood and Youth:

Potter, Beatrix. The Tale of Peter Rabbit (1901).
Smith, Betty. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943).
Lewis, C. S. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950).
Salinger, J. D. The Catcher in the Rye (1951).
White, E. B. Charlotte's Web (1952).
Keats, Ezra Jack. The Snowy Day (1962).
Sendak, Maurice. Where the Wild Things Are (1963).
MacLachlan, Patricia. Sarah, Plain and Tall (1985).

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Film directors don't always play by the book
By Claudia Puig, USA TODAY

Andre Dubus III can't believe his good fortune that Ben Kingsley is starring in the movie version of his novel, House of Sand and Fog.

Novelist Andre Dubus III said he had Ben Kingsley in mind for the character of the Iranian emigré when he wrote House of Sea and Fog.

"My wife and I were just talking in a fantasy way: If this were a movie, who would you see?" says Dubus. "Right away, I saw Kingsley."

For his part, Kingsley read the novel, found it "crushingly sad," and moved on to other work. "It didn't haunt me."

Still, he took the part.

"Andre's wife wrote to me and sent me a copy of the book 18 months before it was even considered to be a film," says Kingsley, who is getting Oscar buzz for his portrayal of Massoud Behrani, an Iranian colonel who emigrates to the USA but struggles in his new country. "She very sweetly said, 'No strings attached.' Simply stating the fact that her husband had always envisaged Behrani as me, that I was the scaffolding for the building that was Behrani."

At least nine filmmakers are using successful novels as the scaffolding for their films this month. While there's nothing new about adapting books to the screen, this season has a flurry of them. Master and Commander, Mystic River, The Human Stain and In the Cut are in theaters now. The Missing, starring Cate Blanchett as a woman who turns to her estranged father to find her kidnapped daughter in 1880s New Mexico, opened last week. Still to come:

•Big Fish, starring Albert Finney and Ewan McGregor in a story of a man coming to terms with his storytelling father, who is dying. Dec. 10, New York, Los Angeles.

•Girl With a Pearl Earring, starring Scarlett Johansson as a servant who catches the eye of artist Vermeer, played by Colin Firth. Dec. 12 in New York and Los Angeles.

•House of Sand and Fog, starring Kingsley and Jennifer Connelly. An immigrant sees a house as the realization of his dreams, but it has been wrongly taken from a woman who saw the house as her last hope. Dec. 19, New York, Los Angeles.

•Cold Mountain, starring Nicole Kidman, Jude Law and Renee Zellweger. A wounded Civil War soldier makes an epic journey to reunite with his sweetheart. Dec. 25, nationwide.

Basing a movie on a well-known novel has its perils. Despite a built-in audience of readers, there's always the possibility fans will dislike the way characters they've imagined are portrayed. But if successful, the film portrayal of a literary character can make a character even more indelible — as Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable become the personification of Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler in the movie based on Gone With the Wind.

"If you're adapting a novel that's both widely read and intensely loved, you have a certain responsibility," says Peter Webber, director of Girl With a Pearl Earring, based on the best-selling novel by Tracy Chevalier. "It's also really scary because everybody who's read the book has cast it in their head. Your version has to be more effective than their version. That's a tall order."

The cinematic embodiment of characters has sometimes proved controversial, as with Anthony Hopkins' role in The Human Stain as a light-skinned black man, and glamorous Nicole Kidman playing a janitor. Anne Rice famously blanched at Tom Cruise being cast in the movie of her novel, Interview With the Vampire, but recanted when she saw the film.

"People quarrel with every incarnation of a book on film," says Anthony Minghella, who wrote the screenplay and directed the movie based on Charles Frazier's best-selling Civil War tale, Cold Mountain. "And that's their privilege."

Sometimes casting choices are made that authors did not envision, but then realize enhance their work. Novelist Thomas Eidson was thrilled by director Ron Howard's choice of Blanchett to play the lead role in his western thriller, The Missing, based on Eidson's novel, The Last Ride.

"Cate Blanchett has so much of my sense of Maggie that it almost startled me," says Eidson.

For some, total immersion

Actors vary in their use of the source material to inform their portrayals. Firth, who plays the Dutch painter Vermeer in Girl With a Pearl Earring, read the novel closely. When author Chevalier came to the set, "I pounced on her and picked her brain."

Firth explains: "I absolutely got consumed by a desire to discover something about him. I went to look at paintings and read what I could and did as much painting as I could do. I referred to the script, the book, to pictures. It was like a candy store. You do all this stuff and in the end, I don't know how much of it makes any difference to anyone watching the movie. But it made me enjoy it."

Johansson, who played the title character, made a conscious choice to trust her instincts.

"I did not read the book before or during filmmaking," she says. "It's written in a first-person narrative from my character's point of view. I just didn't want to be told what I should be feeling at a particular time."

Johansson read the book after the film wrapped.

"I was dying to read it," she says. "We had a copy of it on the set, and it was very tempting. I would start to look over some dialogue, and my eyes would wander over to the page and then I'd go 'No! Stop reading!' "

Kingsley called upon the cultural expertise of Jonathan Ahdout, the 14-year-old Iranian-American who plays his son in House of Sand and Fog, and the boy's family, to flesh out Behrani.

"Behrani has nothing to do with me or my experience," Kingsley says. "It's wonderful to take that leap into the unknown."

Similarly, directors choose their own approaches to adapting books to the screen. Some, like Webber, keep the novel as an ever-present guide on set.

Others, like Minghella (who also adapted The English Patient and The Talented Mr. Ripley into movies) don't refer to the book during its cinematic adaptation.

"I have a quite radical but well-intentioned and perhaps foolish method of adapting, and I hit upon it with The English Patient, and I'm now doing it perhaps also out of superstition: I don't take the book with me when I go to write the adaptation," says Minghella. He holes himself up to write at a house in the English countryside with a piano and sketchbook nearby.

He explains his strategy: "Cold Mountain is a poem which changes chronology and voice and perspective. If the screenplay tried to follow too closely, it would be absolutely impenetrable."

'I won't change the ending'

Though novelists may not be involved in the adaptation process, some insist upon a shared vision with the director and screenwriter.

Movie vs. book portrayal

Ben Kingsley, House of Sand and Fog Book by Andre Dubus III, 100,000 paperbacks in stores, Back story of Colonel Behrani's life in Iran and political past is just implied in the movie

Cate Blanchett, The Missing, based on The Last Ride by Thomas Eidson, 100,000 paperbacks in stores, Very true to the book; Tommy Lee Jones' character's past is more fully explored in the book

Albert Finney, Big Fish, Book by Daniel Wallace, Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions, 75,000 paperbacks in stores, Finney's character in the book was a serial womanizer. In the movie, that aspect of his character is not depicted

Colin Firth, Girl with a Pearl Earring Book by Tracy Chevalier, 500,000 paperbacks in stores, Firth's Vermeer is informed by his research on the artist. The movie doesn't age the characters, as the book did

Dubus said he had received more than 130 calls from filmmakers inquiring about adapting his book, but he was always disappointed when they wanted to make a substantive change he couldn't support.

"They'd always say 'That ending is so terrible, can we change it?' I'd always say I won't change the ending to make it more palatable."

Finally, director Vadim Perelman promised: " 'I will make the movie that was the book,' " says Dubus. "I knew I was in good hands."

It helps if the filmmaker has a connection with the material.

"Big Fish hit me very strongly," says director Tim Burton about the novel by Daniel Wallace. "I was immediately taken by the fact that it put an image to things that are quite difficult to discuss: the relationship you have with your parents."

The prolific Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Planet of the Apes, Beetlejuice) chose for his first adaptation a slim volume about a charmer who tells tall tales but can't get close to his son.

"To turn a really well-known novel that's 400 pages into a movie can be quite daunting and may rub people the wrong way," says Burton. "Because this wasn't a really well-known novel, or that long, this seemed not quite as daunting. The book was more like a blueprint for what (screenwriter) John (August) did with the script. If I had read the book first, I would never have said, 'Movie.' "

And though the movie has substantive changes from his book, Wallace believed the alterations were wholly necessary.

The main character in Wallace's book is based on his father, a larger-than-life businessman who is dying. The character's womanizing was softened for the movie. And, he says, Finney's characterization "had a more patrician Southern quality (than my father), but his upper-class kind of feel works with the movie completely." Finney captured the mellowing that occurred in his father's final days, he says.

"Big Fish, the book, is not as plot-heavy as the movie is," says Wallace. "But the difference between the movie and the book is necessary. It's like changing a fish to a mammal. You can't expect it to be the same."

Imposing an artistic vision on a well-known work is "not just a filmmaker sucking the life of the book," says Minghella. "All readers are filmmakers in a sense. Reading is personal, particular and wonderful and it's not for me to say my version is definitive. I'm just going to my inner screen and sharing it." - Film directors don't always play by the book

Wednesday, December 03, 2003


The Rules Of the Game

By OTTO PENZLER Mr.Penzler is the proprietor of the Mysterious Bookshop in Manhattan and the series editor of the annual “Best American Mystery Stories.”

This is the first of what will be a regular column devoted to mystery, crime, suspense, espionage, and detective fiction. This is, to me, the genre that transcends genre fiction, the type of literature that has produced some of the most distinguished, as well as the most read, books and stories of the 20th century.

The column will not be a straightforward collection of reviews of new novels (though there will be plenty of huzzahs for good books and warnings about bad ones). I hope to provide all kinds of useful information about the world of mystery fiction: awards, events, gossip, notices of books you’re unlikely to see in the average chain store, or see reviewed in most mainstream media — even occasional news about film, theater, television, and whatever else I hear about.

It’s probably important to get one thing out of the way up front. I’m opinionated. What I most admire is storytellers, especially those who write about human passion so intense that characters resort to that most extreme of all passionate behavior — the brutal extinguishing of another person’s life.

Style — that is to say, literary style — matters. How well an author writes, the use of metaphor, simile, and other literary devices matters. Plot matters. Tell a good and fair story,have an arc that establishes the characters and the ensuing action, maintain intriguing subplots, and reach an inevitable and satisfying conclusion, and I’m yours. Create three-dimensional characters, people I want to know more about, or forget the whole thing. If there are no fully developed heroes, villains, victims, suspects, red herrings, or detectives (official or not), I might just as well be putting letters in little squares in a crossword puzzle. I bring the same set of requirements to a mystery novel as I would to any work of general fiction.

And here’s the deal. If a cat solves the crime, I burn the book. I spit on it with disgust, I rip out the pages in a fury, I stomp on it in a rage until it bleeds, and then I mercifully end its worthless life by burning it. If you love books in which a cat or a dog or even a damned goldfish is smarter than the detective and deduces the conclusion, skip this column. You will never find a moment of joy here, unless or until I lose my mind.

Also, just so you know, my definition of a “mystery” is very broad. Any book (or story) in which a crime, or the threat of a crime, is central to the theme or the plot is a mystery in my eyes.

In the United States, the professional organization for authors of this type of fiction is called the Mystery Writers of America. In the United Kingdom, the equivalent organization is called the Crime Writers’ Association. Many authors belong to both (yes, it’s permissible for non-nationals to join). In other words, the terms “mystery” and “crime” are interchangeable to the folks who write the stuff, so I will recklessly toss them about without making any effort to distinguish between them.

You may well ask which books are the paragons of the mystery writer’s art that others will be matched against? I’m happy to tell you. Here is a handful of what I regard as near-perfect books, in no particular order:

“Red Dragon” (1981) by Thomas Harris is the greatest suspense novel I’ve ever read. It is even better than its more famous sequel, “The Silence of the Lambs,” which is also superb, because its restrained use of violence and gore makes it all the more powerful and shocking when released.

In “Chinaman’s Chance” (1978) by Ross Thomas, his two heroes — to use the term a trifle loosely — pull off a brilliant scam involving a cast of walkon characters so large and perfectly realized that most writers would have saved them for their next dozen books.

“The Hound of the Baskervilles” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Maltese Falcon” by Dashiell Hammett, “The Long Goodbye” by Raymond Chandler, and “The Woman in White” by Wilkie Collins (the finest Victorian novel of them all, including the works of Dickens) are such classics I need say nothing more.

“Breakheart Hill” (1995) by Thomas Cook is a poetic, heart-wrenching story with a moment that will shock you, and is one of the two best mysteries of the past decade (along with Dennis Lehane’s brilliant “Mystic River”).

“A Kiss Before Dying” (1953) by Ira Levin, written when he was all of 23 years old, is as good a mystery as his “Rosemary’s Baby” (1967) is a horror novel. Do not hold the two abysmal movies made from it against the book.

James Crumley’s “The Last Good Kiss” (1978) — isn’t that a great title? — may not be for everyone. It’s got a lot of drugs, violence, cussin’, and other Hemingwayesque stuff. But I think it’s the best private-eye novel I’ve ever read — and I’m devoted to Chandler and Ross MacDonald.

There are many other authors whose work will live beyond the expected life span of most of us (regardless of what the cryogenic experts tell us), some famous, some undeservedly not.

Some famous ones are Elmore Leonard, Robert B. Parker, P.D. James, Michael Connelly, George Pelecanos, James M. Cain, John le Carre, Eric Ambler, John D. MacDonald, and Patricia Highsmith.

Some really, really good authors about whom you may never have heard are Stephen Solomita, Joe Gores, K.C. Constantine, Paul Cain, Leigh Brackett, Henry Bromell, Robert Girardi, and Stanley Ellin.

But, unless you’re already a dedicated reader of crime fiction, you’ve got to start somewhere. So if you a want a reading list that will make you think I’m smart and have good taste, start with titles listed above. You’ll thank me.


The Rules Of the Game

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Stephen King Gets Honorary National Book Award

Thursday, November 20, 2003

NEW YORK — Weakened by pneumonia and still limping from a 1999 road accident, Stephen King (search), accepting an honorary National Book Award (search), received a long standing ovation after making his case for popular writers.

But not everyone cheered his acceptance speech Wednesday night, including Shirley Hazzard (search), whose novel "The Great Fire," a sophisticated romantic novel set just after World War II, took the coveted fiction prize.

The 56-year-old King, whose many best sellers include "Carrie" and "The Shining," acknowledged that some thought him unworthy of a prize previously won by Philip Roth (search) and Arthur Miller (search) among others. He called for publishing people to spend more time reading writers like himself.

Hazzard, who writes in longhand on yellow legal pads and took more than a decade to complete her winning novel, rejected the notion.

"I don't think giving us a reading list of those who are most read at this moment is much of a satisfaction," said Hazzard.

Other winners Wednesday included Carlos Eire (search), who received the nonfiction prize for "Waiting for Snow in Havana"; Polly Horvath, winner in the young people's category for "The Canning Season," and C.K. Williams, the poetry winner for "The Singing."

Each received $10,000. Finalists got $1,000.

The National Book Awards are both dress-up time for the publishing industry, with a red carpet laid outside, and a fund-raiser for the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization that charged $1,000 a seat.

For the most part, it was King's kind of crowd. At $12,000 a table, the horror author had bought up five, and several of the night's nominees praised him as a gifted storyteller and a friend to fellow writers.

"He is one of the sweethearts of literature," fiction finalist T. Coraghessan Boyle told The Associated Press. "He has done so much for other writers."

King's speech was humorous, sentimental and defiant. He remembered his early years of writing, the typewriter sandwiched in the laundry room between the washer and dryer. He said he had been ready to give up on "Carrie," now a modern horror classic, only to be talked out of by his wife, Tabitha.

He also urged the book foundation not to make his award a case of "tokenism," an isolated tribute to commercially successfully writers. And he called on the industry as a whole to pay more attention, saying he had no "use for those who make a point of pride in saying they have never read anything by John Grisham, Tom Clancy, Mary Higgins Clark or any other popular writer."

"What do you think," he asked, "you get social academic brownie points for deliberately staying out of touch with your own culture?"

While King and Hazzard both celebrated the diversity of literature, you couldn't ask for two more different writers. King has written dozens of novels. Before "The Great Fire," Hazzard had not completed a work of fiction since the early 1980s. King was an early champion of the e-book. Hazzard does not own a television or even an answering machine.

And she has never read a Stephen King book.

"I just haven't had time to get around to one," she said, citing Shakespeare and Joseph Conrad as current priorities.

Just about everyone Wednesday seemed to have a point to make. Eire noted that he could have never published his book, a memoir about growing up in Cuba and his departure after the rise of Fidel Castro (news - web sites), back in his home country. The head judge for the young people's prize, Susan Campbell Bartoletti, said the boundaries between children's literature and books for grown-ups were breaking down. Mystery writer Walter Mosley, who hosted the ceremony, had special praise for the poetry finalists.

"Without our poets, we really don't have a heart," he said.

National Book Award Winners Announced

The winners of the 2003 National Book Awards were announced last night, November 19, at a ceremony at the New York Marriott Marquis Hotel in New York City. The annual awards are given by the National Book Foundation to recognize achievements in four categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Young People's Literature. The night's ceremonies included the presentation of the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters to Stephen King.

This year's winners by category were:


Shirley Hazzard, The Great Fire (FSG)

Carlos Eire, Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy (Free Press/S&S) -- a March/April 2003 Book Sense 76 Pick

C.K. Williams, The Singing (FSG)

Polly Horvath, The Canning Season (FSG)

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Take this McJob
By Jan Freeman, 11/16/2003

TO JIM CANTALUPO, chairman and CEO of McDonald's, finding McJob in the new Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary was like spotting a cockroach in the kitchen. Kill it, he ordered the lexicographers, calling the definition of McJob as "low-paying and dead-end work" (in his paraphrase) inaccurate and insulting to restaurant workers everywhere.

Cantalupo had no use for M-W's citations of McJob, either -- the people using the word, he said, were just "assorted academics, pundits and random news stories."

Besides, McJob (at least in the plural) is a trademark, said Cantalupo in his letter to M-W, which was also published in Nation's Restaurant News. McJobs, launched in 1984, is the company's own program for training people with disabilities. Trademark infringement, insulting the disabled, mocking happy restaurant workers -- how low can a dictionary go?

Cantalupo hasn't actually threatened to sue (maybe he remembers Fox vs. Franken), but he seems to think a dictionary can declare a word nonexistent, as if it were a slow-selling sandwich. And nobody seems to have warned him that a head-on attack might help revive the very usage he wants to stamp out.

It's only natural, granted, that McDonald's would like to control its eponymous offspring. Who wouldn't? The Disney Co. can't be pleased that "Mickey Mouse" means trivial or simple, as it has since the '30s (one of its early users, in fact, was that eminent eponym George Orwell). And the American Legion probably wishes someone else had come down with the bug now called Legionnaire's disease.

But eponyms have lives of their own. True, we've abandoned some eponymous national and ethnic slurs -- paddy wagons and welshing are frowned upon by editors -- but most of the time we don't ask permission to eponymize. Argyles, boycotts, and sandwiches belong to us now, not to the men they were named after.

And McDonald's was a particularly fat target for eponymy. Not only had it created dozens of its own McCoinages -- McScholar, McPollo, McWorld -- but the company prides itself on the kind of standardization such names suggest, prescribing routines and recipes practically down to the number of seeds on a bun. A slot in a copy shop or video store can be a McJob, but as the icon of replicability, McDonald's was the natural choice to epitomize (and eponymize) such work.

(I'm aware, keen-eyed readers, that eponym originally applied only to the person after whom something was named: "Emma is the eponymous heroine of Jane Austen's novel." I'm using it more loosely here, with reasons to come when space allows.)

If McDonald's couldn't accept satire as the price of fame, though, why didn't it protest the McJob coinage long ago? The first use in the Nexis database, it's true, wouldn't have raised hackles: It was an innocent play on words in a 1985 UPI story on the labor shortage. "Ronald McDonald has a mcjob for you," it began, with no scorn intended.

But McJob in the "robotic, dumb" sense popped up in the Washington Post just a year later, the work of an editor who headlined a 1986 opinion piece "McJobs Are Bad for Kids." The term was instantly adopted by economic commentators: They disagreed (as they still do) on whether such low-wage jobs are truly dead-end soul-killers or steppingstones to fulfilling careers, but both camps called them McJobs.

Though Doug Coupland often gets credit for coining McJob, he didn't join the chorus till 1991, when his best-selling novel "Generation X" made McJobs one element of the post-boomer cohort's disaffection. The term spread rapidly, and in 1993 the American Dialect Society, at its annual meeting, voted it "most imaginative" of the year's buzzwords.

McJob peaked in print, however, in 1994, with more than 100 US citations; in the years since, it has leveled off, never again topping 50 mentions. But it remained common enough to rate inclusion in the American Heritage Dictionary (2000) and the online edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.

So why the current McFlurry from corporate HQ? Perhaps because Merriam-Webster's publicists cleverly put McJob on its short list of new words in the 11th edition, ensuring that journalists would pick up on it. McJob citations are up sharply this year, on track to break the '94 record. And if the word does get its buzz back, McDonald's will have helped: Its complaint can only keep the debate sizzling and the McJobs tally rising. That's the kind of corporate strategy you'd expect from the clown, not the CEO. / News / Boston Globe / Ideas / Take this McJob">© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Libraries told 'stop lending'

Yoshikazu Suzuki Yomiuri Shimbun
Staff Writer

Authors and public library officials recently discussed the practice of libraries lending out large numbers of newly published books, including best-sellers, to find a way to coexist.

At a symposium organized by the Japan Pen Club in Tokyo last Saturday, both sides discussed the protection of copyrights and lending services of public libraries as they did last year.

On one hand, the number of books sold last year was estimated at 740 million copies, declining for the sixth year in a row.

On the other hand, the number of books lent by libraries in fiscal 2001 reached a record high of 520 million.

The prolonged economic slump lies behind the sluggish book sales, but authors organizations and publishing houses feel public libraries are becoming a problem, too.

They also blame second-hand book stores that are selling relatively new used books, as well as coffee shops with libraries of comic books, which are increasing rapidly.

In last autumn's symposium titled "Debate Between Authors and Libraries," authors said that lending a large number of new books would lead to a violation of their copyrights.

But public libraries refuted this claim, saying that lending out new books would increase the number of readers and the public service did not undermine book sales.

Authors proposed introducing a system requiring libraries to compensate authors financially according to the number of books they lend.

Countries in Europe recognize the right of libraries to lend out books to the public. Britain, for example, has a public lending law.

Authors requested that libraries not lend out new books for three to six months after publication.

Library officials were opposed to the proposal, saying that, with their budgets cut, they could not afford to pay compensation.

They also said a delay in lending books would deprive libraries of the opportunity to offer readers the latest information.

At this year's symposium, Kazuo Nishino, director of the Kawasaki Municipal Nakahara Library, voiced opposition to introducing a delay in lending books on the grounds that libraries guarantee the right of the public to read. He was sympathetic to the authors, though, saying if libraries thrived and book stores went bankrupt, it would be due to a failure in library administration.

Library directors have the power to restrict the number of new books the library lends, he also said.

Last month, the Japan Book Publishing Association and the Japan Library Association released the findings of their first joint survey on library book stocks and library lending practices.

The joint survey is regarded as the first step the two sides have taken toward resolving the problem.

In the past, they did not see eye-to-eye on whether libraries had too many copies of books for lending.

According to the findings, in major cities, each library had an average of 4.2 copies of each of the 11 literary best-sellers. Meanwhile, in towns and villages, each library had about one copy of each best-seller.

The more than 2,700 public libraries are faced with severe financial difficulties. With municipalities in dire financial straits, book-buying funds have decreased, falling below the 30 billion yen mark for the year.

Masahiro Mita, a managing director of the Japan Writers' Association, said that companies publishing a small number of copies would go bankrupt if libraries did not purchase a wide variety of books.

"Let's start a campaign to increase budgets for libraries," he said.

As the chairman concluded that the time of confrontation between authors and public libraries was over, authors and libraries showed signs of reconciliation.

The discussion was productive as both sides tried to increase the reading population and invigorate the publishing culture.

Although this year's symposium was titled "Authors, Readers and Libraries," few people spoke from the viewpoint of readers. How to handle best-sellers, which are in high demand by library users, and the establishment of a respite for lending should be discussed in respect to local situations, including the number of book stores in an area.

Understanding the needs of readers also will be indispensable in discussing this issue.

Copyright 2003 The Yomiuri Shimbun
Daily Yomiuri On-Line

Libraries told 'stop lending'

Yoshikazu Suzuki Yomiuri Shimbun
Staff Writer

Authors and public library officials recently discussed the practice of libraries lending out large numbers of newly published books, including best-sellers, to find a way to coexist.

At a symposium organized by the Japan Pen Club in Tokyo last Saturday, both sides discussed the protection of copyrights and lending services of public libraries as they did last year.

On one hand, the number of books sold last year was estimated at 740 million copies, declining for the sixth year in a row.

On the other hand, the number of books lent by libraries in fiscal 2001 reached a record high of 520 million.

The prolonged economic slump lies behind the sluggish book sales, but authors organizations and publishing houses feel public libraries are becoming a problem, too.

They also blame second-hand book stores that are selling relatively new used books, as well as coffee shops with libraries of comic books, which are increasing rapidly.

In last autumn's symposium titled "Debate Between Authors and Libraries," authors said that lending a large number of new books would lead to a violation of their copyrights.

But public libraries refuted this claim, saying that lending out new books would increase the number of readers and the public service did not undermine book sales.

Authors proposed introducing a system requiring libraries to compensate authors financially according to the number of books they lend.

Countries in Europe recognize the right of libraries to lend out books to the public. Britain, for example, has a public lending law.

Authors requested that libraries not lend out new books for three to six months after publication.

Library officials were opposed to the proposal, saying that, with their budgets cut, they could not afford to pay compensation.

They also said a delay in lending books would deprive libraries of the opportunity to offer readers the latest information.

At this year's symposium, Kazuo Nishino, director of the Kawasaki Municipal Nakahara Library, voiced opposition to introducing a delay in lending books on the grounds that libraries guarantee the right of the public to read. He was sympathetic to the authors, though, saying if libraries thrived and book stores went bankrupt, it would be due to a failure in library administration.

Library directors have the power to restrict the number of new books the library lends, he also said.

Last month, the Japan Book Publishing Association and the Japan Library Association released the findings of their first joint survey on library book stocks and library lending practices.

The joint survey is regarded as the first step the two sides have taken toward resolving the problem.

In the past, they did not see eye-to-eye on whether libraries had too many copies of books for lending.

According to the findings, in major cities, each library had an average of 4.2 copies of each of the 11 literary best-sellers. Meanwhile, in towns and villages, each library had about one copy of each best-seller.

The more than 2,700 public libraries are faced with severe financial difficulties. With municipalities in dire financial straits, book-buying funds have decreased, falling below the 30 billion yen mark for the year.

Masahiro Mita, a managing director of the Japan Writers' Association, said that companies publishing a small number of copies would go bankrupt if libraries did not purchase a wide variety of books.

"Let's start a campaign to increase budgets for libraries," he said.

As the chairman concluded that the time of confrontation between authors and public libraries was over, authors and libraries showed signs of reconciliation.

The discussion was productive as both sides tried to increase the reading population and invigorate the publishing culture.

Although this year's symposium was titled "Authors, Readers and Libraries," few people spoke from the viewpoint of readers. How to handle best-sellers, which are in high demand by library users, and the establishment of a respite for lending should be discussed in respect to local situations, including the number of book stores in an area.

Understanding the needs of readers also will be indispensable in discussing this issue.

Copyright 2003 The Yomiuri Shimbun
Daily Yomiuri On-Line

Sunday, November 09, 2003

November 4, 2003
How's That New Best Seller? Well, the Author's Famous

Two weeks from tomorrow at a black-tie gala, the National Book Foundation will bestow on Stephen King a Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. In that setting Mr. King's latest novel should make an interesting conversation piece. "Wolves of the Calla" is the rollicking 714-page fifth installment of a projected seven-volume "Dark Tower" fantasy series, illustrated with images not normally associated with distinguished contributions to letters. For instance there's the naked woman in the forest biting the head off a frog.

Apoplexy time? Hardly. Mr. King deserves his due. It takes a certain skill to write books (in his case more than 40) so much in demand that no American airport — or library — is complete without one. Writers this popular are such cultural fixtures that they practically create their own weather.

Why determine the season via autumn leaves or diminishing daylight? When the best-seller list is as packed with brand names as it is now, it becomes its own kind of calendar. At the moment we're two weeks shy of James Patterson, and here comes Jackie Collins, too. "Leaving her readers to guess which real celebrities she has used as models for her fabulous characters," its jacket copy says, her "Hollywood Divorces" will soon bring an ambitious "sexy Latina superstar" who is called Lola Sanchez. Note the clever use of "Lo" in this roman-à-Collins name.

Right now Nora Roberts ("Birthright") has peaked, but John Grisham is everywhere. (Both "Bleachers" and a reissue of "Skipping Christmas" are out, with a new legal thriller due in February.) And Anne Rice has brought her bloodsucking meal ticket, the Vampire Lestat, back for yet another encore in "Blood Canticle."

The current crop of heavy-hitting best sellers divides into distinct categories. Like Jumbo: "Wolves of the Calla" and Neal Stephenson's 927-page "Quicksilver" (the first of three volumes), require major investments of time, energy and interest. For the reader who stumbles over Mr. Stephenson's showy prose (on board a ferry, "the sky's a matted reticule of taut jute and spokeshaved tree-trunks"), rest assured that "Quicksilver" is also larded with lessons in science and history.

More wit would have been welcome, and his long-winded storytelling skills seldom measure up to his erudition. But this is the place to confirm that Lima, Manila, Goa, Bandar Abbas, Mocha, Cairo, Smyrna, Malta, Madrid and the Canary Islands were all using Spanish coinage in 1713.

Other popular books fall into a Mini category, to the point where their size is a selling point. Sure, Mitch Albom's "Five People You Meet in Heaven" could have been about 23 people you meet in heaven instead. But Mr. Albom, the author of "Tuesdays With Morrie" — who may have an even bigger hit with this new book, since it taps into the baby boom generation's fear of death — chooses to keep this book short, sweet and colorful. You may not even want to wait for the movie version to discover that one of the five people is blue.

Short books — or those, like Mr. Patterson's, with chapters that can be finished in the time it takes to watch a few television commercials — are meant to be read easily. They ought to be less easy to write. But Ellen DeGeneres, whose "Funny Thing Is . . ." is liable to capitalize on the good will prompted by her new daytime talk show, is only on Page 2 when she resorts to talk of dental flossing. By Page 3: "I enjoy the smell of a freshly washed monkey."

This is not to say that Ms. DeGeneres isn't entertaining (on Eminem, supposedly her regular brunch guest: "I call him `Em.' I even call him `Auntie Em,' like from `The Wizard of Oz,' and he laughs — sometimes.") It's just that her position as a comedy all-star goes only so far. Steve Martin, whose second best-selling short novel ("The Pleasure of My Company") is much less captivating than his first ("Shopgirl"), this time also writes lines that aren't complete without the sound of his vocal delivery.

Two other breeds of best seller dish dirt and sling mud, respectively. A gossipy book in the first genre is almost certain to be popular, provided it trades on movie stars or Kennedy cachet. Even the sleaziest of these ("The Kennedy Curse" by Edward Klein recently showed the curse meant being vandalized by biographers) may just sell. Now it's open season on Caroline Kennedy with "Sweet Caroline: Last Child of Camelot." The author is Christopher Anderson, who counts "The Day John Died" and "The Day Diana Died" among his accomplishments.

Presumptuous as he is (does this author really have any business referring to Senator Edward M. Kennedy as "Uncle Teddy?"), Mr. Anderson has a way with the buzzwords of sob-sister hagiography. "They were impossibly attractive, outlandishly wealthy, elegant, witty, headstrong, exciting," he writes of Ms. Kennedy's parents. As for the children, they are "the freckle-faced girl sitting confidently astride her pony, Macaroni" and her brother John, "the tousle-haired scamp."

But this is a livelier crime against Camelot than "The Georgetown Ladies' Social Club" by C. David Heymann, who is brazen without verve. Nose pressed to the glass, he often seems to be describing parties to which he would never have been invited. In any case, the reader who joins in invading Ms. Kennedy's privacy with Mr. Anderson can have a certain solace. At least you're not buying a book by the big-mouthed butler to Diana, Princess of Wales.

Seldom have bare-knuckled political diatribes enjoyed the kind of list-topping popularity they share at the moment. At this rate Bill O'Reilly, Laura Ingraham or David Limbaugh (pick one) may still be trading sweet nothings with Michael Moore, Al Franken, Molly Ivins or Lou Dubose (pick one) on Valentine's Day.

Mr. O'Reilly emerged as the noisiest of the bunch (no mean feat) on the strength of sheer vehemence and the occasional unpredictable touch. His "Who's Looking Out for You?" can both quote Neil Young ("Keep on rockin' in the free world") and blast: "Problems will hunt you down, slap you around, and leave you disillusioned and sometimes broke. That is, unless you meet them at the door and knee them in the groin."

The presidency looms large in these books, but it's also a hot topic in fiction. For Richard North Patterson, whose "Balance of Power" is the heftiest of current imaginings from the Oval Office, President Kerry Kilcannon is a plausible crusader again the gun lobby. David Baldacci's flimsier "Split Second," like his "Absolute Power," leads from the shooting of a presidential candidate into a Secret Service-related story. Then there's Stuart Woods, the writer likeliest to include a nice bed-and-breakfast, single malt Scotch and a pretty, flirtatious proprietor in a thriller about the First Family.

Mr. Woods may like things cushy, but he is the antithesis of Patricia Cornwell, whose "Blow Fly" trades on a taste for the stomach-turning. Ms. Cornwell provides a dead maggot in her book's first sentence, then a letter-writing prisoner of the Hannibal Lecter school ("Oh, the longing, the longing, the anxiety he cannot relieve because he cannot relive, relive, relive their ecstasy as they died") and much more in a similar vein.

If this is mainstream, where are the simple best-seller basics? (Good yarn, good characters, good time.) For now at least, they're in the South. Both James Lee Burke's "Last Car to Elysian Fields" and Stephen Hunter's "Havana" feature dynamic plotting. (Mr. Hunter opens with a gangster shooting a horse in Times Square.) And they present the authors' familiar, likable leading men, heroes who hail from New Orleans (Mr. Burke's Dave Robicheaux) and Arkansas (Mr. Hunter's Earl Swagger, who winds up in Cuba).

In these energetic, atmospheric Southern-based, thrillers, three ingredients are indispensable. The hero must be a brooding onetime alcoholic. He must have pain in his past. And there must be a Cadillac somewhere in the story. Put them all together, and you've got yourself a hit.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company
Books of The Times: How’s That New Best Seller? Well, the Author’s Famous

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