The Faces of Britain’s Banknotes

18 July 2019

A comment on a prior post said that Alan Turing would be the face on a new £50 Bank of England note:

From NPR:

The Bank of England’s new 50-pound note will feature mathematician Alan Turing, honoring the code-breaker who helped lay the foundation for computer science.

Alan Turing, the father of computer science and artificial intelligence who broke Adolf Hitler’s Enigma code system in World War II — but who died an outcast because of his homosexuality — will be featured on the Bank of England’s new 50-pound note.

The new note will be printed on polymer and will bear a 1951 photo of Turing, the bank announced Monday. It’s expected to enter circulation by the end of 2021. It will include a quote from Turing: “This is only a foretaste of what is to come and only the shadow of what is going to be.”

Turing was just 41 when he died from poisoning in 1954, a death that was deemed a suicide. For decades, his status as a giant in mathematics was largely unknown, thanks to the secrecy around his computer research and the social taboos about his sexuality. His story became more widely known after the release of the 2014 movie The Imitation Game.

“Alan Turing was an outstanding mathematician whose work has had an enormous impact on how we live today,” the Bank of England’s governor, Mark Carney, said in unveiling the new note. “Alan Turing’s contributions were far-ranging and pathbreaking. Turing is a giant on whose shoulders so many now stand.”

Link to the rest at NPR

From a 2016 edition of The Guardian, other non-politicians featured on British banknotes:

The new £20 note will feature artist JMW Turner, and will be available in 2020.

£10 note featuring Jane Austen, issued in 2017.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Andrea Camilleri Had a Late but Great Career in Crime Writing

17 July 2019

From The Guardian:

Andrea Camilleri, who has died aged 93, was one of the latest starters and latest finishers in crime fiction.

He was almost 70 – after a rich career as a theatre director, TV producer, playwright and novelist in other genres – when, finding himself stuck on a historical story, he distracted himself by quickly writing a detective story. In a sort of literary European Union, he was influenced by three literary heroes: the Belgian Georges Simenon, creator of Inspector Maigret; Leonardo Sciascia, author of The Day of the Owl, who was a native of Sicily like Camilleri; and the Spanish writer Manuel Vázquez Montalbán.

First met by Italian readers in La forma dell’acqua in 1994 (in English as The Shape of Water in 2002), Camilleri’s cop, Commissario Salvo Montalbano shared many traits with his creator: a Sicilian with a love of literature, cigarettes and food. As in Montalbán’s Inspector Pepe Carvalho books, Montalbano – named in homage to the Spanish novelist – uses delicious cuisine as a counterweight to his deathly profession. Eating, Camilleri liked to say, is one of the greatest pleasures the dead surrender.

After his delayed start in the mystery form, Camilleri wrote fast. Their sales accelerated by an atmospheric TV series (seen on BBC4 in the UK and SBS in Australia), 27 Montalbano novels have been published in Italy to date. The 24th will make it to English this September, when The Other End of the Line will be published.

That book starts with Montalbano dealing with a huge group of political refugees arriving on the Sicilian coast – a characteristic topicality in a series of novels that have followed Italy into the eras of the euro, the contentious governments of Silvio Berlusconi (to whom Camilleri was strongly opposed), and Euroscepticism.

“In many crime novels, the events seem completely detached from the economic, political and social context in which they occur. In my books, I deliberately decided to smuggle into a detective novel a critical commentary on my times,” he told me when I interviewed him in Rome – still furiously chain-smoking at the age of 88 – in 2012.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

‘Bletchley Park and D-Day’ Review

15 July 2019

From The Wall Street Journal:

The success of the British code-breakers at Bletchley Park during World War II has become legendary. The technological challenges they faced were huge. Racing against the clock, men and women like Mavis Batey, Dilly Knox and Alan Turing took messages intercepted by Allied intelligence and looked for ways to decrypt the German Enigma codes—which changed daily and Adolf Hitler believed to be unbreakable. Many books have been written about Bletchley, but none has focused exclusively on the significance of its work for D-Day.

As Allied nations commemorate the 75th anniversary of the largest amphibious landing in military history, historian David Kenyon reveals in “Bletchley Park and D-Day: The Untold Story of How the Battle of Normandy Was Won” that the British signals intelligence operation, by then known as “Ultra,” reached its peak performance only immediately prior to the beginning of Operation Overlord, the codename given for the invasion. By the day the first troops landed, Mr. Kenyon writes, Bletchley Park had become “an intelligence factory, with ancillary operations conducted all around the UK.”

. . . .

It all began in the summer of 1938, as war with Nazi Germany loomed. British intelligence purchased the country estate called Bletchley Park and relocated the Government Code and Cipher School there from its headquarters some 50 miles to the southeast in central London. Polish and French efforts to crack the Enigma codes had already begun. But in 1939 the British, laboring in sparsely furnished huts amid the quiet and secluded surroundings of Bletchley Park, began working around the clock on the problem.

Hut 6, for example, was responsible for deciphering German army and air force Enigma codes. The intensive analysis of enemy communications traffic carried out in Hut 6 helped produce a map of German networks, army movements and formulations. Decrypted messages helped locate the headquarters of the elite SS Panzer-Korps divisions and informed the Allied commanders of the locations and strengths of SS units in France.

Mr. Kenyon draws attention to how Bletchley provided the intelligence necessary to ensure the success of the D-Day invasion, as well as corroborating the effectiveness of the false plans laid out to fool Hitler into believing the invasion would happen further up the coast, near Calais.
Among the most valuable sources of intelligence were the decrypted “Fish” messages intercepted from the “Bream” and “Jellyfish” networks. Bream was the communication link between Berlin and Field Marshal Albert Kesselring in Italy. Jellyfish was the teleprinter connection between Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt—Hitler’s commander in chief in the West—and his masters. The first Jellyfish breaks came in April 1944, mere weeks before D-Day, and allowed the Allies to read the top-secret messages and strategic discussions between von Rundstedt and Hitler’s military command.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

‘Police Officers Demanded to See My Books’: Elif Shafak on Turkey’s War on Free-Speech

15 July 2019

From female author, Elif Shafak, via The Guardian:

One day two months ago I woke up to thousands of abusive messages on Turkish social media, many of them generated by bots and trolls. Sentences had been plucked from one of my novels, The Gaze, and were being circulated by people demanding fiction writers be put on trial for “obscenity”. My new novel, 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World, was also targeted. Both books explore difficult subjects – sexual harassment, gender violence and child abuse – and I was far from the only writer targeted in this way. Soon the hysteria turned into a kind of digital lynching of Turkish authors who had even slightly touched on similar issues in their novels and short stories.

I received a distressed call from my Turkish publisher the same week, informing me that civilian police officers had come to the office demanding to see a number of books. Not only my fiction but titles by Duygu Asena, a leading feminist who died in 2006. The books were taken to the prosecutor’s office to be investigated.

. . . .

Since the attempted coup of 2016, 29 publishing houses have been closed by decree, and 135,000 books have been banned from public libraries, including those by Louis Althusser and Nâzim Hikmet, Turkey’s greatest poet. A prosecutor has accused Baruch Spinoza and Albert Camus of being members of a terrorist organisation. Much has been said about the anti-liberal nature of authoritarian populism, but relatively little about two other features concomitant with its rise: anti-intellectualism and anti-feminism. Authoritarian populism likes to divide society into two camps: the pure people versus the corrupt elite. Writers, poets, journalists and scholars are often associated with the latter group. In the populist imagination, being elite has nothing to do with economic power or social status. It is about values. In this way, a university assistant who cannot afford a house in the city and has to commute for hours every day but happens to have progressive ideas can be labelled “elite”, while a hedge fund manager will be called “a man of the people” if he sponsors populist nationalistic movements.

The people are romanticised as pure and innocent. The deputy rector of a newly established university in Turkey, Bülent Ari, claimed on TV: “I’d rather trust ignorant people who have not attended university or better yet, not even attended primary school … because their minds are pure.” Saying he was unhappy to see literacy rates going up, he claimed that people who had higher education and were more cultured also had blurred minds and couldn’t think straight. “If Erdoğan leaves it will be a catastrophe,” he added. Afterwards, he was promoted by the government to the Council of Higher Education.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Only One of the Top 10 Performing Titles on the Canadian English-Language Market in the First Half of the Year Was Frontlist Content

13 July 2019

From Publishing Perspectives:

In one of its periodic market research updates released for today’s editions (July 11), BookNet Canada reports that backlist sales have remained dominant in the Canadian market for the first half of this year.

“The bestselling titles of 2018,” writes the BookNet staff from Toronto, “are also topping the lists into 2019.”

Specifically cited titles include Yum and Yummer by Greta Podleski (Granet Publishing) and 12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson (Random House of Canada) are seen in the leading slots, although they’ve swapped positions since last year’s publication, with Podleski’s cookbook coming out on top in recent months.

The next three top-selling Canadian titles, per BookNet, are all fiction:

  • The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding by Jennifer Robson (William Morrow Paperbacks)
  • Love You Forever by Robert Munsch and illustrator Sheila McGraw (Firefly Books, published originally in 1986 with a pop-up edition added in 2017))
  • The Quaintland Sisters by Shelley Wood (William Morrow Paperbacks)

Both The Gown and The Quaintland Sisters are historical fiction novels, as BookNet’s memo notes, and Woods’ title is the only book out of all 10 bestsellers that came out in 2019, although The Gown was released on the last day of 2018.

. . . .

It’s in that report that we learned that 60 percent of the print sales in English-language titles in Canada in 2018 were from backlist. And that was a second-year trend. In both 2017 and 2018, only 40 percent of sales were from frontlist.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Why Should Authors Read Your Bad Reviews?

10 July 2019

From The Guardian:

History has yet to find the book that is universally adored – or the author who enjoys reading bad reviews. While Angie Thomas has topped the charts and scooped up armloads of awards for her two young adult novels, The Hate U Give and On the Come Up, her recent request that book bloggers stop sending her their negative reviews saw her on the receiving end of a wave of vitriol.

Thomas wasn’t asking reviewers to stop writing bad reviews. She was just asking that they didn’t give her a prod on Twitter or Instagram to tell her about it.

“Guess what? WE ARE PEOPLE WITH FEELINGS. What’s the point of tagging an author in a negative review? Really?” she wrote on Twitter. “We have to protect our mental space. Too many opinions, good or bad, can affect that … Getting feedback from too many sources can harm your writing process. I have a group of people whose feedback I value – my editor, my agent, other authors who act as beta readers. With the position I’m in, social media is for interacting with readers, not for getting critiques.”

. . . .

Authors have been saying for years that they would prefer not to be tagged in bad reviews on social media. In November, Lauren Groff wrote that “tweeting it [a review] to a writer is like grabbing their cheeks and shouting it into their face”. It even happened before the social media era, such as when Alain de Botton was told about Caleb Crain’s review of The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (“I will hate you till the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make,” wrote de Botton on Crain’s website). And perhaps, Martin Amis’s publishers should have kept him in the dark about Tibor Fischer’s write up of Yellow Dog. (“A creep and a wretch. Oh yeah: and a fat-arse,” said Amis of Fischer.)

But the blowback against Thomas is disproportionate when compared to how reviewers have reacted to this request in the past. As she herself points out: “Plenty of white authors have said the same thing about reviews without getting the same kind of attacks that I’ve received.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

English Library Borrowing Plummets While Us Remains Stable

10 July 2019

From The Bookseller:

New library borrowing figures from the US show how far England is lagging behind other countries because of its facilities’ falling book stocks, according to new analysis from library campaigner Tim Coates.

Using statistics from the Institute of Museums and Library Services, ex-Waterstones boss Tim Coates produced a chart showing English book loans have plummeted year-on-year since 2009/10 while American numbers remain relatively stable.

According to the statistics, book loans in the USA stood at 7.4 per person in 2006/7, peaked at 8.3 in 2009/10 and were 7.1 in 2016/17.

During the same span of time, Coates’ analysis of CIPFA data showed English book loans fell from 5.7 to 3.1 per person, a 46% decrease. Coates said this was well down on 8.6 in 1996/7, while England’s most recent figure available for 2017/18 was just 2.8.

Over a period from 2007/8, loans in Australia have also fallen, but far less sharply, from 8.2 per person to 6.6, a 20% drop, according to National and State Libraries of Australia data analysed by Coates.

He said the figures lend weight to his argument that library use in England is dwindling because there has been a move from making their sole focus books – something he claims has not happened elsewhere.

. . . .

Coates said: “25 to 30 years ago the public library sector in the UK, which means the leaders of the profession, the local and national politicians and government officers responsible for the service, consciously and deliberately allowed the number of books available for lending in public libraries to fall. It happened in every council.

“Across the UK the number has fallen from 90m to less than 60m and what remains is of low quality. They did it because they believed, and continue to believe, that libraries are more than about books’ and they should concentrate substantial resources to all kinds of other activities and purposes. In Australia and the US, while there was similar desire to widen the scope of the library service, they have not reduced the book collections at all.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

New Ways of Selling Books Clash with France’s Old Pricing Rules

6 July 2019

From The Economist:

A book is so much more than mere ink and paper. So insist French booksellers, who for nearly four decades have successfully lobbied to keep the forces of the free market at bay. A law passed in 1981 bans the sale of any book at anything other than the price decreed by its publisher. Authorities are cracking down on those trying to flog the latest Thomas Piketty or j.k. Rowling at a discount.

The fixed-price rule is meant to keep customers loyal to their local bookshop and out of the clutches of supermarkets and hypercapitaliste American corporations. But the advent of e-commerce and e-readers has prompted questions worthy of their own tomes. Can you fix the price of a book if it is part of an all-you-can-read subscription service? Are audiobooks books at all? And what of authors who self-publish?

Tweaks have been made to preserve the principle of one book, one price. In 2011 the rule began to apply to digital tomes. Free delivery by online sellers was prohibited on the grounds it implied a subsidy on the delivered books (prompting websites to charge all of €0.01 for postage). But a new challenge to the policy is proving thornier.

Used books are exempt from the pricing rule. Third-party sellers on Amazon are accused of using this as a way to apply forbidden discounts: selling brand-new books as “second-hand” to make them cheaper. So fans of bleak fiction can purchase a copy of the latest Michel Houellebecq novel, “Sérotonine”, for €11.71 ($13.21) on Amazon, roughly half its mandated price. Its seller claims it is in “perfectly new” condition.

Amazon claims its practices are legal. But booksellers are fuming, and their political allies with them.

. . . .

Even with a plethora of subsidies, bookshops are among the least profitable retail businesses. Books are expensive in France—an odd way to encourage people to buy more. For now, constraining the market in the name of l’exception culturelle remains an article of faith for French policymakers. “On the internet you find what you look for,” Mr Riester told his literary allies. “But only in a bookshop do you find what you were not looking for.”

Link to the rest at The Economist

PG suggests that ebooks and the Internet make protectionist laws difficult, if not impossible, to enforce without governments attempting to disable the Internet.

PG has always loved books and bookstores, but acquiring a book through a physical bookstore is becoming a rarer and rarer practice for him (and, from the looks of the physical bookstores he has entered in the past couple of years, for a lot of other readers as well).

Amazon has spoiled PG by feeding his appetite for books on obscure and exotic topics (as perceived by most other readers) and, fortunately, PG’s local library offers an enormous online collection of ebooks through a regional library association, so an unrealistically high online price set by a publisher can also be avoided.

As an example, via Overdrive through his local library, PG is currently reading the ebook version of the English translation of Stalingrad, by Ukranian author (and Jew) Vasily Grossman, a long-suppressed book about the epic siege of that city by the German army during World War II. (PG first mentioned the book here.)

Given the publisher’s price for the printed version of Stalingrad, PG might not have risked adding it to his large collection of abandoned-partway-through-because-it-turned-out-not-to-be-PG’s-cup-of-tea physical books. Also, PG is less entranced by the chest-loading involved in reading thousand-page printed books while lying in bed than he was in former days.

Regarding the OP’s characterization of happy accidents of discovery in price-fixed physical bookstore, PG thinks most readers are far more likely to experience such discoveries online rather than in meatspace.


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