Books in General

Sir Ian McKellen calls for a living wage for actors

22 July 2014

From The Independent:

Struggling actors who scrape a living working in repertory theatres should get paid a “living wage”, Sir Ian McKellen has claimed.

The Lord of the Rings star said actors deserved the same economic recognition as other low-paid workers. A recent report found just one actor in 50 earned more than £20,000 a year.

“Most actors are not rich – they are very poor indeed. What keeps them going is that they just love the job,” Sir Ian told Radio Times.

He said: “I know actors who have had to turn down good roles because they just don’t pay enough. It’s hard. The one thing you can ask, I think, is that actors get paid a living wage. I would like it if all the repertory theatres that currently exist could do that. It would make a huge difference.”

Link to the rest at The Independent and thanks to Robert for the tip.

PG suspects the earnings of painters and sculptors would present a similar picture.

The Decline of Harper Lee

22 July 2014

From Vulture:

For Monroeville, Alabama, population 6,400 and shrinking, the summer of 2010 was momentous. Over a long July weekend, locals reenacted historical vignettes, held a silent auction, cooked a southern feast, and led tours of local landmarks. There was a documentary screening, two lawn parties, and a marathon reading of the novel whose 50th anniversary was the grand occasion.To Kill a Mockingbird, which needs no introduction — because it is the introduction, for most American children, to civil rights, literature, and the justice system — had sold nearly a million copies for each year in print. There were at least 50 other celebrations nationwide, but the epicenter was Monroeville, a place whose only real industry (the lingerie plant having recently shuttered) was Mockingbird-related tourism. It was not only the model for the novel’s fictional Maycomb but the home of its author, Harper Lee. She lived less than a mile from the festival, but she never came.

If our country had a formalized process for anointing literary saints, Harper Lee might be first in line, and one of the miracles held up as proof would be her choice to live out her final years in the small town that became the blueprint for our collective ideal of the Small Town. But at 88, the author finds her life and legacy in disarray, a sad state of litigious chaos brought on by ill health and, in no small part, the very community she always believed, for all its flaws, would ultimately protect her. Maycomb was a town where love and neighborly decency could overcome prejudice. To the woman who immortalized it and retreated to it for stability and safety, Monroeville is something very different: suffocating, predatory, and treacherous.

For much of her life, Nelle Harper Lee (known to friends as Nelle) spent more time in the comforting anonymity of New York than in the Monroeville redbrick ranch house her family had occupied since 1952. Then, in 2007, a stroke left her wheelchair-bound, forgetful, and largely deaf and blind — forced to sell her Upper East Side apartment and move into a Monroeville assisted-living facility. It was a loss but also a homecoming: For decades she’d relied on another local living legend, Alice Lee — her older sister, part-time housemate, and lawyer — to maintain her uneasy armistice with her hometown and her fame.

. . . .

It wasn’t just infirmity that kept Nelle from basking in those 2010 celebrations; it was disillusion. Allergic to both attention and commerce, she’d always found the Mockingbird industrial complex tacky and intrusive, but had managed to carve out a separate existence in its shadow. Now too many “well wishers” were stopping by her new apartment — including her literary agent, whom she eventually barred from the facility. (He’d already had her sign over her copyright.) Just a month before the anniversary, a family friend entered her room with a Daily Mail reporter in tow. The journalist flew back to London with an unflattering photo and a cruel 2,000-word profile to match. Monroeville had finally confirmed her fear that there really was nowhere to hide. She’d once explained to Oprah Winfrey, over lunch in a private suite at the Four Seasons, why she’d never appear on her show: Everyone compares her to Scout, the sweetly pugnacious tomboy who narrates Mockingbird. But as she told Oprah, “I’m really Boo” — Boo Radley, the young recluse in the creepy house who winds up saving the day.

. . . .

A.C. Lee was shocked by his daughter’s success. “It’s very rare indeed when a thing like this happens to a country girl going to New York,” he told a reporter. “She will have to do a good job next time.” He died in 1962, after meeting Gregory Peck but before seeing him play Atticus in Alan Pakula’s film. Nelle spent the next couple of years trying to write, but couldn’t shake the fear that there was, as her father had worried, nowhere to go but down. At one press conference to promote the movie, Lee’s humor was edged with tension. “Will success spoil Harper Lee?” asked a reporter. “She’s too old,” Lee said. “How do you feel about your second novel?” asked another. “I’m scared,” she said.

Link to the rest at Vulture and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

Reading Through Someone Else’s Eyes

20 July 2014

From the Page-Turner blog at The New Yorker:

You pick up a novel. If it’s any good, before long it has you trying to get into its characters’ heads. What are they feeling? What will they do? Can they be trusted? But, behind such thoughts, broader and subtler questions arise: What is the author aiming at? What was he or she feeling when these paragraphs were written? As for the book’s perceived inconsistencies: Was the author being inattentive, or were you? Literary reading soon grades into complex efforts at mind reading.

But more complicated still—and, in some ways, more rewarding still—is the attempt to read a book through someone else’s eyes. Your thoughts triangulate. You wonder, What did person X feel when he read Y’s book?

It needn’t be a novel. Maybe it’s a collection of stories, poems, even essays. Somebody you’re interested in—your person X—found this book entrancing. It’s no longer sufficient to know what the author was thinking. Now you want to know what person X thought the author was thinking.

Perhaps you read a book that you don’t much care for. Then you discover that some writer you adore, and with whom you feel psychologically aligned, loved it. So you open it once more, this time attempting to apprehend it through his eyes. “What did he see in it?” you ask yourself. The question provides a rhythmic march through its pages: What did he see? What did he see?

. . . .

I do own a pair of unusual books that I treasure, and which may actually have some monetary worth. They are collections of poems, written by Howard Moss, poetry editor of  The New Yorker from 1948 to 1987. They originally belonged to the poet May Swenson (1913-1989), who has been a favorite of mine since I stumbled on her “Half Sun, Half Sleep” in high school. Swenson was also a great favorite of Moss’s, who over the years published more than fifty poems in the magazine, and, to judge from my pair of books, Moss was a favorite of Swenson’s. The books are “The Toy Fair” (1954) and “A Swimmer in the Air” (1957). Each is heavily underlined, in both pencil and ink—an emphatic, and ugly, green ink, seemingly more suited for some censorious schoolmistress than for Swenson, a nicely calibrated nature poet.

Still, I take great pleasure in her scarring underscorings and in her occasional approving check mark or cryptic annotation. There’s pleasure, too, in contending with her, or amplifying her. Under Moss’s “The Hermit,” Swenson has written one word, “Baudelaire,” and I’ve neatly printed another, “Auden.”

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

Who Has the Right to Write About War?

12 July 2014

From The Daily Beast:

I was buying a book from a vendor in a crowded, fluorescent-lit convention center. The man taking my money—publisher of a small press—was in his mid to late ’60s, with a chatty show-biz manner and a dark purple tie layered over a lilac dress shirt. He squinted at my name-tag and, after finding out that I was a fiction writer, asked what kind of work I did. Pleased, I told him that I had a new novel coming out and that it was about the Iraq War.

He stopped counting out my change and asked, “So did your husband serve?”

“Well—no,” I said, taken aback. Why didn’t I leave it at that? “But my brother did,” I blurted. Which is true.

“Ah,” the man said. The tone of this syllable swooped up briefly, and then down. He gave me a swift friendly smile, and turned to the next customer.

Backing away from his table I felt my face grow hot. I wondered if anyone had overheard the exchange, what they might make of my defensiveness, my oversharing (hadn’t I?). Hurrying past other sellers and browsers, I couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling that I had done something wrong or self-serving, had betrayed someone or sold out, all in the span of a few sentences. About war, about writing.

Who are you to write about war? That’s what I heard the man really asking. And his assumption that a husband must have been its source—indeed, that there was a husband in the first place—is the first thing I latched onto, with righteous anger. After all, as a friend put it later, why didn’t he simply ask if I had served in the war?

. . . .

I am coming to believe there is something else to confront for writers who imagine war—in addition to the extra burden of proof on women who make their way into this male sphere. I think there’s a fear of exposure, an instinctive move to protect what occurs in war from efforts to see it from a perch of easy comfort. After all, what if we get it wrong? What if we’re sloppy and half-hearted and glib? Not just about the names of places and the types of weapons and the endless military acronyms … but about those unable-to-be-replicated events and emotions that make war, war? It’s an extreme human experience, often tangled and confusing even for years afterward, and I understand the desire to keep it private. I think of my brother, when a clueless and beery friend from home pulls him aside at the local bar to ask if he, you know, actually … killed anyone.

Link to the rest at The Daily Beast and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

The Future of Music Is a Love Story

10 July 2014

From singer/songwriter Taylor Swift via The Wall Street Journal:

Where will the music industry be in 20 years, 30 years, 50 years?

Before I tell you my thoughts on the matter, you should know that you’re reading the opinion of an enthusiastic optimist: one of the few living souls in the music industry who still believes that the music industry is not dying…it’s just coming alive.

There are many (many) people who predict the downfall of music sales and the irrelevancy of the album as an economic entity. I am not one of them. In my opinion, the value of an album is, and will continue to be, based on the amount of heart and soul an artist has bled into a body of work, and the financial value that artists (and their labels) place on their music when it goes out into the marketplace. Piracy, file sharing and streaming have shrunk the numbers of paid album sales drastically, and every artist has handled this blow differently.

. . . .

Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for. It’s my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album’s price point is. I hope they don’t underestimate themselves or undervalue their art.

. . . .

In mentioning album sales, I’d like to point out that people are still buying albums, but now they’re buying just a few of them. They are buying only the ones that hit them like an arrow through the heart or have made them feel strong or allowed them to feel like they really aren’t alone in feeling so alone. It isn’t as easy today as it was 20 years ago to have a multiplatinum-selling album, and as artists, that should challenge and motivate us.

There are always going to be those artists who break through on an emotional level and end up in people’s lives forever.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire) and thanks to Joshua for the tip.

Independence Day

4 July 2014

For visitors from outside the United States, today is Independence Day, commemorating the Declaration of Independence formally adopted in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776.

Here is the beginning of that document:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Link to the rest at National Archives 

From The New York Times:

Every Fourth of July, some Americans sit down to read the Declaration of Independence, reacquainting themselves with the nation’s founding charter exactly as it was signed by the Second Continental Congress in 1776.

Or almost exactly? A scholar is now saying that the official transcript of the document produced by the National Archives and Records Administration contains a significant error — smack in the middle of the sentence beginning “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” no less.

The error, according to Danielle Allen, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., concerns a period that appears right after the phrase “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” in the transcript, but almost certainly not, she maintains, on the badly faded parchment original.

That errant spot of ink, she believes, makes a difference, contributing to what she calls a “routine but serious misunderstanding” of the document.

Link to the rest at New York Times


Val McDermid: I would be a failed novelist if I started out today

1 July 2014

From The Telegraph:

Val McDermid, the best-selling crime writer, has claimed that she would be a failed novelist if she were starting out today because the publishing industry no longer allows for slow-burning careers.

McDermid has sold 10 million copies and her series about the psychological profiler Dr Tony Hill was turned into the ITV drama Wire In The Blood.

However, she was far from an overnight success. Report for Murder, her first novel, was published in 1987 but she did not give up her day job until 1991 when she finally secured a two-book deal.

“If I published my first three novels now, I wouldn’t have a career because no-one would publish my fourth novel based on the sales of my first three,” McDermid said.

. . . .

“Back in the day when I started you were still allowed to make mistakes. You got to make your mistakes in public, in a way. I think the world was a more forgiving place when I started my career, in the sense that we got time and space to develop as a writer.

“That is definitely something that wouldn’t happen now. No-one will say, ‘Write half a dozen novels and find yourself.’

“If you don’t make the best-seller list, if you don’t get shortlisted for any prizes, it’s goodbye.”

. . . .

Jonny Geller, the literary agent and joint CEO of Curtis Brown, said McDermid “has got a point”.

“It’s never quite as bleak as that but publishing is a lottery. What they are doing is putting big bets on some unknowns and it’s all or nothing. There’s a whole mid-range of novels that don’t have a hook or spectacular angle that would have been published five years ago, but fewer publishers want to take the risk,” Geller said.

“When I started in the 1990s it was a boom time for debut novelists and they were getting lots of money.

“But when the Borders and the Ottakars [bookshops] started closing, the market for more experimental novels and novelists with no track record got smaller.

“One of my authors is Tracy Chevalier. Her first novel didn’t do much business – her second was Girl with a Pearl Earring and it has sold five million copies. Perhaps these days it would have been difficult to get the second novel published.”

Link to the rest at The Telegraph

The literary films of summer 2014

30 June 2014

From The Los Angeles Times:

Book-loving moviegoers saw the summer of 2014 get off to a great start with the adaptation of John Green’s young adult novel “The Fault in Our Stars,” which topped the box office during its opening weekend earlier this month.

The success of “The Fault in Our Stars” cuts through the notion that literary films should be serious winter movies and released around the holidays for contention in the Oscar race. This summer we’ll see more young adult books made into films, several literary thrillers and some surprises.

. . . .

Literary films of summer 2014 include adaptations of books by Patricia Highsmith, Elmore Leonard, Nick Hornby and Cormac McCarthy. And some films aren’t adaptations but are still awfully bookish.

. . . .

“The Congress,” starring Robin Wright. Wright plays an actress who sells a complete digital version of herself to a movie company, later winding up partly in a digital world and partly in a strange dystopia. Very loosely based on Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem’s “The Futurological Congress.”

. . . .

The Hundred-Foot Journey,” which stars Helen Mirren, is from the novel by Richard C. Morais set in the south of France; French and Indian cuisines and cultures collide.

. . . .

The Two Faces of January” is adapted by from the novel by Patricia Highsmith. Like her Ripley series, this involves travel, love and deceit. Starring Viggo Mortenson, Kirsten Dunst and Oscar Isaac.

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Times

Free books for donation to charity and the needy

30 June 2014

From The Boston Globe:

When the Concord Free Press was just a radical idea with a one-title book list, founder Stona Fitch nervously pitched Wesley Brown , hoping to persuade the acclaimed author to let him publish Brown’s latest novel.

“You want me to give you this novel I’ve been writing for years,” he recalls Brown saying. “You’re not going to pay me. And you’re going to give it away for free and hope that readers donate money to something else.”

“I said, ‘Wes, yeah, that’s pretty much it.’ There’s this long pause and I’m waiting for something bad to happen. And he said, ‘I’m in.’ ”

Six years later, the Concord Free Press is about to publish its 10th book. Each copy in the 3,000-print run will be marked $0.00. The back jacket will announce: “This book is free.”

In return, readers agree to give away money, in any amount: to a charity, a stranger on the street, or someone who needs it. Donations since 2008 total $409,250 — and that is just those reported back to the publisher. Readers are also asked to pass along the book once they are finished, so donations continue to multiply.

Amidst so much negative news about the future of publishing, Fitch is trying to create a way for authors to get their books to readers, the guiding goal of any writer. At the same time, Fitch hopes to encourage generosity among readers.

Link to the rest at The Boston Globe and thanks to Joshua for the tip.

Are you optimistic about the future of books?

26 June 2014

From author Nathan Bransford:

Something strange has been happening lately: not many of my friends are reading books.

It has happened gradually, almost imperceptibly, but the number of my friends who are reading is on the decline.

Some of this may be my age. Now that I’m approaching my mid thirties, a lot of my friends are in baby zone and are using their rare spare time to sleep.

But a lot of people I know have switched to reading more articles, they binge watch Netflix in their free time, and even smart thinking people don’t feel the need to be catching up with the latest hot novel.

. . . .

With tablets and electronics everywhere, with the Internet evermore at our fingertips… will people still read books like they used to? Will our attention spans survive?

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

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