Why A 19th Century American Slave Memoir Is Becoming A Bestseller In Japan’s Bookstores

16 November 2017

From Forbes:

No one imagined that the Japanese translation of the book, Incidents In The Life Of A Slave Girl by Harriet Ann Jacobs (1861), would become a long-selling hit in Japan when it was first published in 2013. It is the life story of a slave girl in the United States in the 1800s, and not something one would expect to strike interest in Japan, which while struggling with its own issues of race, has a 98% ethnically Japanese population.

And the woman who would push for the book to be translated and published in Japanese, Yuki Horikoshi, had no background in literature or translation, and at first found it difficult to find a willing publisher. “I didn’t meet the profile for what an author should be and it was hard to explain why this book was so compelling.”

The book is now on its eighth edition in hardback and was published in paperback this summer. In its first month in paperback, it sold 25,000 copies, a remarkable feat for a book of its genre. It’s what in Japan is called “a quiet bestseller.”

. . . .

“I had gone to school in the United States and yet I had never heard of this book, nor really understood slavery. It was an eye-opening experience.”

. . . .

In the protagonist’s resolution to fight against inequality and make herself a place in the world, Horikoshi saw inspiration for young Japanese people, especially women.

. . . .

In order to make the book accessible and appealing to Japanese young women, she hired her own illustrator, Brian Cronin, who’s worked with Oprah Winfrey, and paid him out of her own pocket. “I specifically told him: don’t put a slave theme on the cover.”

. . . .

In the slave’s description of her life and the persistence of her master, Horikoshi sees a statement of modern problems for many women.

“If God has bestowed beauty upon her, it will prove her greatest curse. That which commands admiration in the white woman only hastens the degradation of the female slave. … My master met me at every turn, reminding me that I belonged to him, and swearing by heaven and earth that he would compel me to submit to him.”

Link to the rest at Forbes

Seamus Heaney’s biographer races to see poet’s faxes before they fade

15 November 2017

From The Guardian:

A race is on to track down faxes sent by Seamus Heaney before they fade. The outdated technology was the preferred form of communication for the late Nobel laureate and will be a vital source for Fintan O’Toole, who has just been signed up to write an authorised biography of the Irish poet.

“My one terror is that his favourite communication mode was the fax, and faxes fade. So I’m going to have to find out who has faxes from him, and read them quickly. At the end, [Heaney’s publisher] Faber had a fax machine that was kept just for Seamus,” said O’Toole.

. . . .

He added that another challenge would be to avoid portraying him as a saint: “I’ve talked to the family and they don’t want a hagiography – it would be a bad book. Because he had an extraordinary warmth, and was so loved, it distracts from the fact that the poems are actually quite dark. And that didn’t come from nowhere. He was a psychologically complex person. The challenge of the book will be to do justice to the darkness as well.”

Faber & Faber, which will publish the biography, said that a launch date had not yet been scheduled, and that O’Toole would be “engaging in years of original research, interlacing archive, oral and literary work, and correspondence” in its writing.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

PG peeped into his office closet (which is even more creatively arranged than his office proper (or improper)) and discovered that he did, indeed, still have a fax machine. While he doubts the fax machine is worth much, perhaps PG has rare and valuable antiquities he has squirreled away in the closet and forgotten, gaining value as fast as they gather dust.

Taking Photographs in Instanbul

14 November 2017

From The Literary Hub:

In 1962, my father bought me a camera. My brother had been given one already, two years before. His was like a camera obscura, a black, metallic, perfectly square box, with a lens on one side and a glass screen on the other, on which you could see projected the image inside. When my brother was ready to transfer that murky image onto the film inside the box, he would push on the lever—click!—and as if by magic, a photograph would be taken.

Taking a photograph was always a special occasion. It called for preparation and ceremony. In the first place, film was expensive. It was important to know how many exposures would fit on a roll, and the camera kept a running tally of photographs taken. We spoke of rolls and exposure counts as if we were soldiers in some ragtag army running out of ammunition; we chose our shots carefully, and still wondered whether our photos were any good. Every photograph required a degree of thought and deliberation: “Does this look right?” It was around this time that I began to think about the significance of the photographs I took—and why I took them at all.

We took photographs so as to have something to remember the moment by. As subjects, we faced the camera and posed for others—mostly our friends and families but also our future selves—who would be looking back at this image months and years later. So really, we were having our photographs taken in anticipation of our own gaze back. When we faced the camera, we were “posing” for the future.

. . . .

In 1949, my father returned from a trip to America with a camera. On this trip, he’d also acquired a fervent belief in the importance of smiling for photographs. If we didn’t feel like smiling, all we had to do was say “cheese” (which we pronounced çiyz and which, we learned, was the English equivalent of what we called peynir), and it would look close enough to genuine smiling. It must have been then that I first began to reflect on the relationship between photography and reality, between representation and authenticity. A photograph supposedly taken to record the truth was in fact no more than a device with which to deceive a pair of eyes in the future.

. . . .

“Smile, Orhan; move to the right, Şevket; now all of you, stop fidgeting!” and I’d begin to despair of the photograph’s ever being taken. Sometimes, when we could no longer stand all the contrived solemnity, one of us would stick his fingers up behind his neighbor’s head to furnish him with horns, and soon, despite my father’s admonitions, we would all start prodding and poking one another. Much like the rest of Turkish society, which was self-consciously striving to become more westernized, our family found that our every effort to appear modern and happy seemed to end in frustrating affectedness and hollow ritual. The camera was both a symptom of this problem and one of its triggers.

. . . .

Even after all this hard work, we still had to get our photographs developed at a photo studio before we could actually see them. This too could take quite some time: Once the current roll of film was used up, someone had to drop it off at the studio, and return a week later to collect the prints.

. . . .

Every time I picked up a new batch of photos, I would feel momentarily disoriented. There were often long intervals between visits to the studio, and to be confronted all at once with memories of Bosphorus cruises, birthday parties, and holiday get-togethers that had actually taken place weeks or months apart, always left me with an eerie sense of recurrence. The clothes we wore and the places we posed in may have differed slightly, but the beaming optimism on our faces was always the same. When I compared the prints to the negatives, I discovered that some frames had been left out, perhaps because the image was deemed too blurry, too dark, or too faint. Thus I came to see that the joy of taking photographs must always be at odds with our yearning for authenticity.

. . . .

All those trips, weddings, parties, and gatherings we had so looked forward to and then relished had already come and gone, belonging now to the past. We were left with our memories, and the erratic record of these photographs. Like our other memories, everything we had experienced, seen, and felt would one day be forgotten.

. . . .

By the time I had turned 20, no one in my family was taking souvenir photos anymore. Perhaps this was because the family—no longer a happy one—had long since disbanded; gone were those childhood days when we would pile into the car for a drive along the Bosphorus, and neither did we have much happiness or familial joy left to display.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub which includes several interesting photos of Istanbul a half-century ago. The author is Orhan Pamuk and you can find his books here.

What a change from film to digital photos.

PG remembers the first time he saw a professional photographer using a 35 mm camera with a motor drive.

In contrast with PG’s childhood experience with photography, which was similar to that of the author of the OP, the studio photographer with the motor drive was taking photo after photo very rapidly while giving the model instructions on how to move.

When the camera ran out of film, an assistant handed the photographer a new camera, fully loaded and ready to shoot and the photographer continued his work while the assistant reloaded the original camera with film so he could hand it back to the photographer a couple of minutes later.

In addition to the 35mm cameras, a couple of expensive Hasselblad cameras sat on a table, loaded with larger format film so they would be instantly available if needed.

PG was working in a large advertising agency during this time and examined the contact sheets from the photography session a few hours later. Unlike the photos from PG’s childhood, each of which was distinctly different, the many of the photos on the contact sheet were very similar, sometimes appearing identical. The photographer had circled the photos he recommended with a black grease pencil, but there were sometimes (for PG) no discernible differences between the selected photo and the ones before and after it.

PG can’t remember the specific number, but he remembers reading that, thanks to ubiquitous cell phones,  more photos are taken in a single day than were taken during multiple decades in earlier times. Instead of the small slices of earlier lives, this generation and those that follow will experience fully-documented lives.

PG admits to being very happy that many parts of his college life and a few years that followed were not recorded in any way. He thinks it makes reform and repentance easier.

Here’s a mundane photo PG took with his phone a few days ago. He’s post-processed it a little to reflect . . . something deep and meaningful. Or not. Perhaps it should be titled, The Fully-Documented Life – With Cinnamon Roll.


Bookshops have faced a year without ‘walloping bestsellers’ to boost takings, says head of Waterstones

12 November 2017

From The Telegraph:

Bookshops have faced a year without “walloping bestsellers” to boost takings, the head of Waterstones said, as he unveiled a book of the year shortlist dominated by children’s fiction.

James Daunt said 2017 had been notable for the absence of novels from literary heavyweights. There had also been no breakout thrillers in the vein of Gone Girl or The Girl On The Train.

. . . .

“It has been a funny old year. There hasn’t been nearly the number of big, walloping bestsellers coming through,” said Mr Daunt.

“There have been plenty of good books, and John le Carré was a highlight,” he added. “But there wasn’t an Ian McEwan or a Julian Barnes or a Sebastian Faulks, or those sorts of heavyweight.” Le Carré’s A Legacy of Spies was published in August this year.

Fallow years came along every so often, he said. “Every seven years or so you have a slight lull, but it has a benefit in that it gives lesser known names an opportunity.”

Link to the rest at The Telegraph and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Delisting Web Sites

8 November 2017

From The 1709 Blog:

[A] federal judge in California has issued a preliminary injunction preventing Canada’s Supreme Court from forcing Google to de-list websites for Datalink on its American search engine. The Canadian Supreme Court (Google Inc v Equustek Solutions Inc, 2017 SCC 34) affirmed the decision from the Supreme Court in British Columbia and ordered Google to delist a tech company’s website(s) worldwide. The music industry trade body Music Canada welcomed the judgement saying it was “a crucial development given that the internet has largely dissolved boundaries between countries and allowed virtual wrongdoers to move from jurisdiction to jurisdiction in search of the weakest enforcement setting”.

The web giant responded by saying the ruling conflics with the right to a freedom of expression  contained within the First Amendment of the US Constitution, and that the Canadian Supreme Court had no right meddling with the American Constitution. Google’s argued “This is about whether a trial court in a foreign country can implement a law that is violative of the core values of this country … imagine if we got an order from North Korea that said we could not publish anything critical of Dear Leader. Imagine if Russia doesn’t like what people are saying about Putin. It would be very dangerous to deny relief in this instance”.

. . . .

Judge Edward Davila agreed with Google’s request for a preliminary injunction in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. He agreed that “by forcing intermediaries to remove links to third-party material, the Canadian order undermines the policy goals [of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act] and threatens free speech on the global internet” adding that “Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act states that third-party internet hosts, such as Google, cannot be held liable for offensive or illegal material generated by other parties”.

Digital rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation welcomed the ruling, but said more needs to be done to stop other courts from issuing wide-ranging internet injunctions, like that issued by the Canadian Supreme Court in June saying “The California ruling is a ray of hope on the horizon after years of litigation, but it is far from a satisfying outcome. While we’re glad to see the court in California recognise the rights afforded by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, most companies will not have the resources to mount this kind of international fight”.

Link to the rest at The 1709 Blog

On Unread Books

7 November 2017

From The Paris Review:

I recall, though my recollection may be faulty, a magnificent article by Giorgio Manganelli explaining how a sophisticated reader can know whether a book is worth reading even before he opens it. He wasn’t referring to the capacity often required of a professional reader, or a keen and discerning reader, to judge from an opening line, from two pages glanced at random, from the index, or often from the bibliography, whether or not a book is worth reading. This, I say, is simply experience. No, Manganelli was talking about a kind of illumination, a gift that he was evidently and paradoxically claiming to have.

How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read, by Pierre Bayard, a psychoanalyst and professor of literature, is not about how you might know not to read a book but how you can happily talk about a book you haven’t read, even to your students, even when it’s a book of extraordinary importance. His calculation is scientific. Good libraries hold several millions of books: even if we read a book a day, we would read only 365 a year, around 3,600 in ten years, and between the ages of ten and eighty we’ll have read only 25,200. A trifle. On the other hand, any Italian who’s had a good secondary education knows perfectly well that they can participate in a discussion, let’s say, on Matteo Bandello, Francesco Guicciardini, Matteo Boiardo, on the tragedies of Vittorio Alfieri, or on Ippolito Nievo’s Confessions of an Italian, knowing only the name and something about the critical context, but without ever having read a word.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review and thanks to Dave for the tip.

PG tries to avoid being a harrumphing lawyer, but gently cautions that unread contracts are not a good idea.

Contracts have a way of being terribly boring until they suddenly become very important.

‘We’re told to be grateful we even have readers’: pirated ebooks threaten the future of book series

7 November 2017

From The Guardian:

According to the Intellectual Property Office’s latest study of online copyright infringement, 17% of ebooks read online are pirated – around 4m books.

Ebook piracy is “a very significant issue and of great concern” to publishers, said Stephen Lotinga of the Publishers Association, which works to take down and block pirated ebooks links and sites. “As an industry we’ve not had the situation that the music and film industries have gone through,” Lotinga said. “But that obviously is 4m ebooks that authors and publishers aren’t getting paid for, and should be getting paid for, and it’s a particular worry for publishers at a time when ebook sales are slightly in decline.”

. . . .

Shannon wrote on Twitter that “the thing that’s really exhausting about piracy is that authors are often not allowed to be upset by theft of their work. If we ask people not to do it, no matter how courteously, we’re told we should have more compassion or be grateful we even have readers. Outside the creative industry, people broadly dislike theft. Within the creative industry, it becomes a grey area where people aren’t sure.”

“Authors who ask you not to pirate are not attacking people who are too poor to afford books, or people who genuinely can’t access libraries,” wrote Shannon – but Lotinga at the Publishers Association said that those people were not often the perpetrators. Ebook pirates “tend to be from better-off socio-economic groups, and to be aged between 31 and 50-something. “It’s not the people who can’t afford books,” he said. “It’s not teenagers in their rooms.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Nate at The Digital Reader for the tip.

As retail rivals retreat, Indigo Books plans five U.S. stores in next two years

3 November 2017

From the Financial Post:

Indigo Books and Music is expanding into the competitive U.S. market at a time when many retailers are scaling back on square footage.

The Toronto-based company, which has managed to mitigate the effects of Amazon on its core categories over the last decade, will open its first store next summer in New Jersey.

“We are going to open three to five stores over two years and test the market response to the concept,” chief executive officer Heather Reisman told a conference call with analysts and investors on Thursday. “We will definitely open a couple before making any commitments (to further growth plans).”

Link to the rest at the Financial Post and thanks to Nate at The Digital Reader for the tip.

Discounting is the True Book Lover’s Enemy

2 November 2017

From The Guardian:

Someone should write a book about the economics of bookselling. Nothing about Britain’s 900 independent bookshops adds up.

I visited half-a-dozen on a book tour last week. Books have never been more beautiful and small shops never more creative in selling these lovely objects. Many indies have sofas or cafes. They all convene book groups (seven a week in the case of Simply Books in Bramhall, Cheshire). They work with schools, open late, host author talks and devote hours to free advice for the nation’s army of aspiring poets, publishers and playwrights.

Several indie owners I met are former teachers. Bookselling is longer hours, they say. One reports that his teacher’s salary matched the entire turnover in his first year of bookselling. “There was only one day I failed to make a sale,” he says cheerily.

Last week, the shops seemed twitchy. Partly this is seasonal: the next eight weeks will determine whether 10 months of losses become a profitable year thanks to the Christmas frenzy. But mostly they’re upset about discounting.

“Does Manchester United sell new shirts half price? Does Porsche offer 50% off its new model?” asks Richard Drake in Stockton-on-Tees’s Drake the Bookshop. He points at his unsold copy of Philip Pullman’s La Belle Sauvage.

“Why does the book industry flog its flagship products half price?” Independents can’t sell a £20 book they buy (at best) for a tenner. But that’s how it’s been discounted by Waterstones. Amazon sells it for £9.

. . . .

When I last toured indie bookshops two years ago, there was ebullience at the peaking of Kindle sales and popular revulsion at Amazon’s tax arrangements. But no conventional economist could grasp how 900 indies are still in business. They are, because so much bookselling is done out of love. That’s wonderful, but the rest of us – and publishers producing special editions – must love them back.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

So, in a perfect world, would lovers of small bookshops be able to wave a magic wand and make Amazon disappear?

PG suggests earnings of traditionally-published authors would plummet and publishers would lay off huge numbers of staff. Millions of readers with modest incomes would be required to reduce the number of books they purchased and read. Readers living in areas distant from bookshops (quaint or nasty) would also reduce the number of books they purchased and read.

PG is just as susceptible to picturesque communities with quaint commercial districts filled with shops operated by intelligent people with impeccable taste as the author of the OP appears to be. As he wrote the last sentence, he was reminded of several he and Mrs. PG have visited.

However, he will note that such communities are virtually always created for and funded by wealthy people. The communities’ origins may have been humbler, but over time, they’ve definitely moved upscale while carefully preserving their quaintness. The middle class may visit such communities, but they’ll not live in them unless they inherited their homes.

PG suggests that most serious readers love Amazon (secretly in some cases). They can find any book they want on Amazon at a reasonable price (excluding books for which prices are set by the publisher, but used versions of those books are often available at reasonable prices).

Serious readers can also access far more information about prospective book purchases on Amazon (or elsewhere online) than they’re likely to obtain from the proprietor or an employee of a quaint little bookshop.

As regular visitors to TPV have concluded, PG’s bookish tastes are not terribly mainstream. With one exception (Powell’s in Portland, Oregon), PG has never met anyone working in a bookstore who knows more than he does about books in which PG is likely to be interested. He’s lucky if an employee can direct him to the proper section of the bookstore (which, in too many cases, does not even exist).

End of rant. PG has done this for two days in a row. He will be be demure for a bit.

Australian retail’s ‘calamitous’ ecommerce failure sets stage for Amazon’s rise

31 October 2017

From The New Daily:

One in two Australian retailers has failed to develop mobile shopping capabilities, despite massive and growing demand from consumers, a new report from online payment service PayPal Australia has revealed.

The figures come ahead of US ecommerce giant Amazon’s imminent Australian launch, and do not bode well for the domestic retail sector.

One expert went so far as to say the sluggish efforts to modernise reflected in the figures were “calamitous” for the industry, and would allow Amazon to “steal business” from both online and physical retailers.

In its survey of more than 1000 consumers, PayPal found almost three quarters (72 per cent) were now shopping or making payments on a smartphone or tablet.

And a growing number – 48 per cent – were doing so at least once a week. That’s a huge rise on last year, when just 36 per cent were shopping on their mobile devices more than once a week.

. . . .

In the 18 to 34 age group, a massive 89 per cent of consumers were shopping and making payments on mobile devices.

. . . .

Of the more than 400 businesses surveyed, just over half (51 per cent) had built the capacity to receive mobile payments – a 21 percentage point mismatch with consumer demand.

The survey revealed businesses consistently underestimated the extent to which poor online or mobile shopping experiences put their customers off.

For example, 37 per cent of consumers said they were put off by slow page loading. Conversely, just 21 per cent of businesses thought this would be a problem for customers.

. . . .

Mr Kilmartin, who works as an ecommerce consultant to local retailers, said whenever he meets with retailers, the conversation inevitably “gets skewed into Amazon”. And he said retailers were right to be worried.

“I definitely think they [Amazon] are going to open with a bang. They have that Apple-like buzz, and that will drag customers over,” he said.

Link to the rest at The New Daily

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