Category: Round-up

Round-up, 5 October 2012: Nigella, Anna, Huck and covers

Look at these gorgeous book covers designed by 100 artists from 28 countries gathered together in the collective DoeDeMee by Belgian design studio beshart. Even better, buy one of their posters for that bare wall on your landing; five euros from each one goes towards fighting illiteracy.

If there’s anything more fabulous than beholding a truly great book cover, it’s the shock and awe of wondering how a truly atrocious one ever came to be. (But maybe you never sat through the tedious hivemind that can be a cover meeting …) The Caustic Cover Critic is a new find I shall be revisiting regularly. I was particularly thrilled by its caustic coverage of these horrors inflicted upon Henry James by Tutis Digital Publishing. Never heard of em. I am baffled as to what happened here – the images in many instances bear absolutely no relation to the book’s content. They look like some error in translation. Enjoy! (More gems here.)

While we’re romping through awesomeness, also stop to take a look at Flavorpill’s 10 Books To Restore Your Faith In Print. Oo, ah, don’t you wish the Internet did pop-up books?

This Guardian story on Mark Twain’s inspiration for Tom Sawyer took me back to studying Huckleberry Finn for O level. I downloaded an ebook version, because it’s one of those books I ought to be carrying with me at all times, and in doing so realised it’s one of the first times I’ve looked at the book since I’ve entered mondo creative writing, and this time round I really noticed the magic of that voice. Tom Sawyer he hunted me up and said he was going to start a band of robbers, and I might join if I would go back to the widow and be respectable. Ah! Strange (or not so, I was well taught – thanks, Mrs Blakemore!) how lots of phrases were familiar. This was probably where the term dramatic irony was first explained to me, too, I reckon.

An intriguing take from The Week on Nigella’s new show Nigellissima, in which someone doing her PhD on sadomasochism and romantic love comments on the Nigella-baiting by mostly male critics. It’s a welcome take that goes delightfully too far in making a claim for her work as performance art. Nigella is one of my idols; I admired her for a long time, but then fully converted when, discussing guilty pleasures, she stated that ‘I don’t believe anything pleasurable should feel guilty’. Back off, haters. (Remember, Love not Envy.)

I forgot last week to mention that I’d seen and enjoyed Anna Karenina. It’s a sumptuous production, with some rich touches that I shan’t describe in case you have not seen yourself, or know nothing about its take (you should only read these articles from a Guardian supplement if you have already seen it). Have to admit that Anna has always reminded me of one of those annoying heroines from opera (not sure that’s a spoiler … not sure spoilers apply, do they?!), but Keira is very well cast and does a good job here. I am sure we could quibble about any number of things (some of the commentariat was griping that the actors had Russian accent; what did they want, for them to talk like meerkats?). But I just surrendered to it; sometimes I think it’s simply good to decide you’ll like a film, and I loved the central conceit and execution of this version. Enjoy the trailer below (note: spoiler-ish, though I had seen this without realising that that central conceit was revealed in it – but then I am sometimes really dumb).

But first: on a related topic, you might want to join some of my weekend reading: an old article by David Remnick from the New Yorker on translation, including various whys and wherefores of translating some of the Russian classics.

Round-up, 28 September 2012: Rejected Manuscripts, Ghosts, Britishisation, J.K. Rowling, and Indexers

Apparently Penguin is asking some writers to return advances for manuscripts that were never delivered. Too right! (More for those who can deliver.) Some of the Guardian commentariat reveals a certain ignorance of what an advance really is. The posts by cstross usefully clarify things such as contracts and advances usually being broken down into payments on signature of contract, delivery of manuscript, hardback publication, and paperback publication. One agent quoted in the article refers to books rejected for editorial reasons, though the works referred to here seem to be books that were simply not delivered (which suggests the agent seems to be stirring things, as one comment suggests).

But it makes me think of the time when Joan Collins was taken to court for delivering an ‘unreadable’ manuscript. I remember seeing a super documentary on the trial, where ghostwriter Lucianne Goldberg, called as expert witness, wrily dismissed the manuscript’s inconsistencies as things that are fixed as a matter of course during the editorial process. (‘It’s a miracle’ was one explanation for, I think, someone returning from the dead – I thought the judge was going to say she was in contempt of court … but this was fiction, your honour.) If anyone knows where to find that documentary, let me know! But meanwhile enjoy Lucianne Goldberg discussing the trial and celebrity publishing with Judith Regan (e.g., note some fascinating arguments about fiction vs nonfiction writers using/needing ghost writers). I guess one major issue was that the perceived value of a Joan Collins novel, even if expertly rewritten/doctored, was diminished in the eyes of the publisher between the time the book was signed up and the time it was delivered. Writers: take note …

A good interview with Jeffrey Eugenides appeared in Salon this week. I enjoyed the discussion of his first sentences. It occurs to me they work as wonderful little elevator pitches.

Neologism alert! The BBC reports on the Britishisation of American English (and with an -ise ending at that).

A brief feature in Forbes on a boutique publisher using a subscription model, a form of underwriting production that’s also used successfully (to some degree or other) by, e.g., the wonderful Peirene Press and And Other Stories.

Apparently, there were some problems with the formatting of the ebook of J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy. Ow!

Following my own post earlier this week, more on the value of book bloggers in the Guardian. (You know, the more I think about it, I’m more likely to read – and trust – a books blog than a conventional book review.)

Also from the Guardian: John Sutherland on one of the great unsung heroes of publishing: the indexer. (Or should I say unsung heroines, as so often they are women. I never know whether women prefer to be heroes or heroines, actors or actresses, and whether it’s right/wrong to use either.)

And yay, the Kerouac Scroll is coming to the British Library! Next week, at that.

Final comment, amid all the coverage this week of The Casual Vacancy (which I’ve yet to read): aren’t we glad that J.K. Rowling 1. took pen to paper, and has 2. such a public profile, and 3. a voice that she uses to good purpose? I gather from those in the know that 4. she is a truly lovely person, too. Which just goes to show. (Haters: remember what Zadie said – we have to write from Love, not Envy.)

Round-up, 21 September 2012: Gay heroes, copyright, small press successes, and hobbitses

So the other week I was passing comment on gay elves. I guess what the world really wants and needs, but some literary agents seem to want to suppress, is a gay hero. Or maybe a just-happens-to-be-gay hero. All credit to Viking Penguin, who just signed up a post-apocalyptic young adult novel with what sounds like a just-happens-to-be-gay protagonist.

(While on the subject, we mustn’t forget that J.K. Rowling’s Dumbledore was apparently a just-happens-to-be-gay wizard.)

Here’s a detailed but useful assessment of how and why academics and teachers should defend their own copyright and the use of their own content: ‘Copyright for Academics in the Digital Age’.

Some good coverage from the BBC and the Guardian on the small presses (and alternative publishing models, e.g., subscription at And Other Stories) who have been brought to wider attention by the shortlist of the Man Booker Prize. Ra ra for the Man Booker judges! This year has a particularly interesting selection of titles, I feel. Am particularly keen to read both Deborah Levy’s Swimming Home and Alison Moore’s The Lighthouse (from the very excellent Salt).

(I keep wondering: do those small presses have to pay for their seats at that flash dinner at the Guildhall. I did note the conditions of entry of the prize, which include the publisher putting up £5,000 as a contribution to publicity if a book makes the shortlist, and another £5,000 if it wins. Hope those small presses have good cash flow – we’d better get buying!)

The Guardian pays tribute to the 75th anniversary of the publication of The Hobbit, which includes its first publication in Latin (Hobbitus Ille … ‘in foramine terrae habitabat hobbitus’).

And in case you were hiding away in a hobbit hole yourself this week, here’s the trailer for the forthcoming film of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (which is now the first of a trilogy).

And as I finish typing this, my fall issue of Paris Review arrives with a thud. Gosh, it’s beautifully produced – print that creates a dent in the doormat. I love me some Kindle, but thank heavens for print (I imagine my eyeballs are thankful too). Some excellent content to look forward – I always love their ‘Art of …’ interviews in particular (James Fenton and Roberto Calasso here), and this issue also has poetry from Bernadette Mayer, a whole novella from Sam Savage, and some curious collages.


Round-up, 14 September 2012: V****a, gay elves, digital distractions, and the occupational hazards of being an agent

How NOT to treat an agent who rejects your work (aka take care how you use social media, always keep the nutters’ addresses, and get a dog that bites).

Another biography of Jack Kerouac, this time from Joyce Johnson, whose feature in Publishers Weekly includes some valuable observations on life writing, e.g., ‘I feel that writing a biography should be the process of discovering a life rather than trying to prove a thesis’.

Poor Naomi Wolf. Not only has Vagina been described as the ‘Eat Pray Love of private parts’, but it’s been censored in the iTunes store. It’s just a word, folks – and I thought it was one of the acceptable ones. And she’s also under fire from some (some) feminists. But she’s fighting back in the Guardian. (Know how she feels. I remember the week we did feminism in Critical Theory at Naropa, and I got into trouble for asking about working women left to look after the babies. I was essentialist, apparently. I definitely wasn’t going to do a whole semester of Feminist Theory after that; the discussions seemed to get very anecdotal very quickly. The risks of scholarship that involve identity politics.)

Last weekend I was bemoaning the cliché of the gay elf in fantasy fiction. (Okay okay, I am sure their authors’ GBFFs love them. And it’s not that prevalent. But it has cropped up enough in my reading for me to wince a bit.) Anyway, a fresh perspective in fantasy from the Los Angeles Review of Books: Arab-American and Egyptian fantasy novels that make us rethink the ‘casual orientalism’ of the genre. (Still think the Dothraki are pretty fabby, though.)

An announcement in the Bookseller that the editors at Voyager are considering unagented manuscripts for two weeks in October. (Best get brushing up those novels about gay Arab elves: not come across any of them yet.)

Get! Offline!! Now!!! And Get Writing! From the Telegraph: how the digital world can be one great big distraction. (Note to self: you own Freedom.)

Why it often makes sense to ignore the advice of the professsionals: how Breaking Bad made it to the screen.

How some of the mandarins running Wikipedia can get a little carried away with themselves, plus some back story from Philip Roth on the writing of one of his novels.

Cute animal picture of the day is a wise animal picture. Sooey!


Round-up, 13 September 2012: Dictionaries, Otters, Pitching, And Why The Wire Is Not Dickens

An excellent piece in Salon on why The Wire is not like Dickens. A common weakness in many manuscripts is that they’ve overdosed on showing rather than telling, with the result that they read like madcap episodes of Dr Who: everything is foreground action. Laura Miller states the case for the particular form of storytelling that is the novel, and points out how stories are told differently on screen. (Should you be writing a screenplay instead?) Some great insights.

Why dictionaries are not wiktionaries, from the Guardian.

Also from the Guardian: Top Ten Literary Otters.

And a fun book trailer (for Where’d You Go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple), which illustrates the challenges of getting the pitch for your book right.