May Wedderburn Cannan

Mrs. PG is finishing up a new book set in Britain during the years following World War I.

PG (and many others) are familiar with the names of many male war poets who wrote about their experiences – Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen, Robert Graves and Siegfried Sassoon will immediately come to the minds of those who are still interested in this sort of thing.

Mrs. PG was interested in female war poets, however, and found one that PG had not discovered, May Wedderburn Cannan.

Ms. Cannan was born in Oxford, England to an intellectual family. Her father was a publisher and scholar, and Cannan and her sisters created a family magazine, even publishing their own anthology The Tripled Crown (1907), with an introductory poem by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, professor of English at Cambridge, editor of the Oxford Book of English Verse, and family friend.

During World War I, Cannan volunteered with the Oxford Voluntary Aid Detachment and helped publish government propaganda with Clarendon Press. She spent a month in Rouen, France in 1915 volunteering at a railway canteen for soldiers, an experience that inspired her most famous poem, “Rouen.” When the Armistice was declared, Cannan was working for MI5 in Paris.

Cannan published three books of poetry: In War Time (1917), The Splendid Days (1919), dedicated to her fiancée Bevil Quiller-Couch who died in the influenza pandemic of 1919, and The House of Hope (1923).

August 1914


The sun rose over the sweep of the hill
    All bare for the gathered hay,
And a blackbird sang by the window-sill,
    And a girl knelt down to pray:
          ‘Whom Thou hast kept through the night, O Lord,
          Keep Thou safe through the day.’

The sun rose over the shell-swept height,
     The guns are over the way,
And a soldier turned from the toil of the night
    To the toil of another day,
          And a bullet sang by the parapet
          To drive in the new-turned clay.

The sun sank slow by the sweep of the hill,
     They had carried all the hay,
And a blackbird sang by the window-sill,
    And a girl knelt down to pray:
          ‘Keep Thou safe through the night, O Lord,
          Whom Thou hast kept through the day.’

The sun sank slow by the shell-swept height,
    The guns had prepared a way,
And a soldier turned to sleep that night
    Who would not wake for the day,
          And a blackbird flew from the window-sill,
          When a girl knelt down to pray.
Source: In War Time (1917)



April 26—May 25, 1915

Early morning over Rouen, hopeful, high, courageous morning,
And the laughter of adventure, and the steepness of the stair,
And the dawn across the river, and the wind across the bridges,
And the empty littered station, and the tired people there.

Can you recall those mornings, and the hurry of awakening,
And the long-forgotten wonder if we should miss the way,
And the unfamiliar faces, and the coming of provisions,
And the freshness and the glory of the labour of the day.

Hot noontide over Rouen, and the sun upon the city,
Sun and dust unceasing, and the glare of cloudless skies,
And the voices of the Indians and the endless stream of soldiers,
And the clicking of the tatties, and the buzzing of the flies.

Can you recall those noontides and the reek of steam and coffee,
Heavy-laden noontides with the evening’s peace to win,
And the little piles of Woodbines, and the sticky soda bottles,
And the crushes in the “Parlour”, and the letters coming in?

Quiet night-time over Rouen, and the station full of soldiers,
All the youth and pride of England from the ends of all the earth;
And the rifles piled together, and the creaking of the sword-belts,
And the faces bent above them, and the gay, heart-breaking mirth.

Can I forget the passage from the cool white-bedded Aid Post
Past the long sun-blistered coaches of the khaki Red Cross train
To the truck train full of wounded, and the weariness and laughter
And “Good-bye, and thank you, Sister”, and the empty yards again?

Can you recall the parcels that we made them for the railroad,
Crammed and bulging parcels held together by their string,
And the voices of the sargeants who called the Drafts together,
And the agony and splendour when they stood to save the King?

Can you forget their passing, the cheering and the waving,
The little group of people at the doorway of the shed,
The sudden awful silence when the last train swung to darkness,
And the lonely desolation, and the mocking stars o’erhead?

Can you recall the midnights, and the footsteps of night watchers,
Men who came from darkness and went back to dark again,
And the shadows on the rail-lines and the all inglorious labour,
And the promise of the daylight firing blue the window- pane?

Can you recall the passing through the kitchen door to morning,
Morning very still and solemn breaking slowly on the town,
And the early coastways engines that had met the ships at daybreak,
And the Drafts just out from England, and the day shift coming down?

Can you forget returning slowly, stumbling on the cobbles,
And the white-decked Red Cross barges dropping seawards for the tide,
And the search for English papers, and the blessed cool, of water,
And the peace of half-closed shutters that shut out the world outside?

Can I forget the evenings and the sunsets on the island,
And the tall black ships at anchor far below our balcony,
And the distant call of bugles, and the white wine in the glasses,
And the long line of the street lamps, stretching Eastwards to the sea?

When the world slips slow to darkness, when the office fire burns lower,
My heart goes out to Rouen, Rouen all the world away;
When other men remember, I remember our Adventure
And the trains that go from Rouen at the ending of the day.
Source: In War Time (1917)

After the War


After the war perhaps I’ll sit again
Out on the terrace where I sat with you,
And see the changeless sky and hills beat blue
And live an afternoon of summer through.

I shall remember then, and sad at heart
For the lost day of happiness we knew,
Wish only that some other man were you
And spoke my name as once you used to do.
Source: In War Time (1917)

N. K. Jemisin’s Dream Worlds

From The New Yorker:

Several years ago, N. K. Jemisin, the fantasy and science-fiction author, had a dream that shook her. In her sleep, she found herself standing in a surreal tableau with a massif floating in the distance. “It was a chunk of rock shaped like a volcanic cone—a cone-shaped smoking mountain,” she recalled. Standing before the formation was a black woman in her mid-forties, with dreadlocks, who appeared to be holding the volcano aloft with her mind. She was glaring down at Jemisin and radiating anger. Jemisin did not know how she had triggered the woman’s fury, but she believed that, if she did not ameliorate it quickly, the woman would hurl the smoldering massif at her.

Jemisin awoke in a sweat and jotted down what she had seen. “I need to know how that person became who she is—a woman so angry that she was willing to move mountains,” she told me. “She was angry in a slow burn, with the kind of anger that is righteous, enough to change a planet. That’s a person who has been through so much shit that she has been pushed into becoming a leader. That’s an M.L.K. I needed to build a world that would explain her.”

Jemisin’s writing process often begins with dreams: imagery vivid enough to hang on into wakefulness. She does not so much mine them for insight as treat them as portals to hidden worlds. Her tendency is to interrogate what she sees with if/then questions, until her field of vision widens enough for her to glimpse a landscape that can hold a narrative. The inspiration for her début novel, “The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms” (2010), was a dream vision of two gods. One had dark-as-night hair that contained a starry cosmos of infinite depth; the other, in a child’s body, manipulated planets like toys. From these images, Jemisin spun out a four-hundred-page story about an empire that enslaves its deities. The book established her as a prominent new voice.

Jemisin is black, in her mid-forties, and wears her hair in dreadlocks. In her author photo, she gazes sternly at the camera, as if ready for literary combat. In person, she is much warmer, but she likes the picture. Typically, at the center of her fiction, there is a character with coiled strength. Jemisin, who has a degree in psychology, is interested in power and in systems of subjugation. In her books, the oppressed often possess an enormous capacity for agency—a supernatural ability, even, that their oppressors lack—but they exist in a society that has been engineered to hold them down. Eventually, the world is reordered, often with a cataclysm.

. . . .

J. R. R. Tolkien once argued that the creation of an imaginary world was the highest form of artistic expression, but that it was also easily undervalued. If it is done well, much of the labor remains off the page. Before Tolkien wrote “The Lord of the Rings,” he invented a mythology, a history, and even languages for Middle-earth; he explained to a friend, “I wisely started with a map, and made the story fit (generally with meticulous care for distances). The other way about lands one in confusions and impossibilities.” It annoyed him that people “stupidly and even maliciously confound Fantasy with Dreaming, in which there is no Art.” He wrote about elves. He wanted to be taken seriously, too.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

Can Nielsen BookScan Stay Relevant In The Digital Age?

From Forbes (January 2013):

When Colleen Doran, an author and artist who has worked with luminaries such as Neil Gaiman and Warren Ellis, recently compared her Nielsen BookScan sales figures with her actual sales figures, she got a bit of a shock.

Nielsen’s BookScan is one of the publishing industry’s key metrics service, providing book sales numbers for the US, UK, Australia and other countries. It does this by collecting sales information from retailers every Saturday night, aggregating them, and then selling the results. Without an expensive subscription to BookScan, it used to be impossible to see your own figures, but now BookScan feeds its data into Amazon where authors can access it through Author Central.

When Doran did the maths on her BookScan numbers, she found that for some of her books, Nielsen was underreporting by quite a bit:

OK, so let’s have a look at one of my books published after Amazon linked to Bookscan. I am not going to tell you what this book was, just that it is a book from a major publisher.

According to Bookscan, it has sold 542 copies in hardcover. Ouch. What a bummer! This is accurate as of yesterday.

Except I got a royalty statement on this thing. And according to my royalty statement, this book sold 7181 copies by end of the accounting period, which was last summer. As of now, it has sold over 10,000 copies in hardcover. Respectable numbers. Not tearing up the charts, but enough to issue a new edition.

It’s widely recognised that BookScan doesn’t and cannot count every single book sold in every single outlet, but it’s usually assumed to capture a decent percentage, anywhere up to 70 80 (see update below) per cent of US sales to 95 per cent of UK sales, according to one British publisher who wished to remain anonymous. He went on to explain Bookscan’s major limitations:

[In the UK] BookScan has almost complete coverage of the major indie and high street booksellers, Amazon and supermarkets. But it doesn’t capture specialist retailers [such as] the specialty comics trade. For most books that’s not an issue, but in science fiction, which is sold into specialists like . . Page 45, we had very good sales but they weren’t visible to Bookscan.

. . . .

Ottaviani, whose recent book, Feynman, debuted at the top of the New York Times Bestseller list for graphic novels, started out in non-fiction self-publishing in 1997. Both Feynman and his upcoming book, Primates, are published by First Second, a division of Macmillan. He told me:

Most publishers, both within comics and in the prose world, had no idea what to do with my books at the time. So I published them myself; I’m glad I did, and that the comics world — from readers to distributors — has always been more accepting of self-published work than the rest of the book trade.

In my discussion of numbers I’m talking mainly about that self-published work, and I know that sales numbers for those books put me squarely in the so-called midlist author range.

And midlist authors are the most vulnerable, not quite successful enough to guarantee a continued relationship with their publisher, but not bombing to the point where they know they are going to get dropped regardless. For a midlist author, their career could go either way and so large discrepancies in how their sales are reported to the industry are frustrating and alarming. No one wants the world, or the industry, to think their book is underselling when in fact its doing quite well.

For tech author Tom Hughes-Croucher, the key problem with BookScan is that it doesn’t count ebooks:

For technical books, ebooks greatly outweigh physical books now, and I think that’s an increasing trend everywhere. I’ve also noticed that my publisher, O’Reilly, sell a fair amount of e-books directly because it means they deliver it in more formats than just Kindle.

According to the British publisher I spoke to, digital sales are now expected to be between 25 and 55 per cent for general trade fiction, which is a huge problem for BookScan.

Link to the rest at Forbes

Can Amazon Finally Crack the Bestseller Code?

From The New Republic:

As the last decade concluded, book publishers breathed a sigh of relief. The 2010s were characterized by a series of Amazon-related shock waves—the growing power of the retail behemoth, the rise of e-books, a related Department of Justice antitrust lawsuit, and the decimation of bookstores both large and small. But publishers had survived. Once viewed as competitors to physical books, e-books and audiobooks were now considered just two formats among many. Indie bookstores saw a dramatic rebirth during the decade’s final years, while Barnes & Noble appeared to be in the early stages of a resurgence.

Amazon remained an existential threat, but it was one that publishers had learned to live with. Sure, adult fiction sales were cratering, but who cares when you’re raking in cash selling books about the president?

But the conventional wisdom that now governs book publishing—that things are, for the first time in a long time, not that bad—is wrong. At the very least, it overlooks the fact that Amazon has spent the last decade accumulating yet more power and leverage, and that its ambitions have since moved past simply being the world’s largest bookstore. On Tuesday evening, The Wall Street Journal surveyed one of the most important recent developments in the industry: Amazon is finally publishing work by some of America’s biggest authors.

Dean Koontz and Patricia Cornwell’s Amazon-published books won’t be found in most bookstores—they are being blacklisted by many booksellers, in protest of the company’s market dominance and rapacious business practices. The books are, however, available on Amazon, which is integrating every stage of the publishing process: It is acquiring and publishing books, then marketing and selling them to customers. It is creating a marketplace that omits publishers altogether.

The deal between these authors and Amazon would have been unthinkable a decade ago. Amazon’s early forays into blockbuster publishing were a disaster. In 2011, the company hired industry vet Larry Kirshbaum to helm its first publishing venture. He inked expensive deals with actress Penny Marshall and wellness guru Tim Ferriss, but their books failed to meet expectations, with Marshall’s memoir becoming one of the decade’s biggest flops. (Kirshbaum left Amazon after being accused of sexual assault in 2013.)

In response, Amazon’s publishing arm turned to a Moneyball approach. Rather than compete with traditional publishers for authors, it targeted areas overlooked by the industry, such as commercial fiction in translation. Over the 2010s, Amazon became the largest publisher of translated works in America and, in doing so, learned how to market its books to its gargantuan audience.

. . . .

Publishers felt that this line of business—which is to say, the actual work of publishing—was the one area where Amazon didn’t really scare them. Amazon, many believed, didn’t understand the difference between a book and a dishwasher—to its founder, Jeff Bezos, both were widgets to be sold on its platform. As the novelist Richard Russo wrote in 2014, “Amazon has never clearly and unequivocally stated (as traditional publishers have) that books are different and special, that they can’t be treated like the other commodities they sell.”

Only publishers had the know-how to make books that sell. Amazon had the platform, sure, but it was missing the magical human touch of editors and publicists. Bestselling authors would never abandon big publishers, because doing so would ultimately doom their work.

. . . .

Authors might wander, but they did not stray for long. Books published by Amazon, meanwhile, continued to struggle to reach mass audiences, thanks in large part to the bookstore boycott.

That appears to be changing. The deals with Koontz and Cornwell suggest that book publishers may finally be losing their monopoly on editing and marketing. “We had seven or eight offers, but Amazon offered the most complete marketing plan, and that was the deciding factor,” Koontz told The Wall Street Journal.

. . . .

Cornwell’s latest work, Quantum, isn’t selling particularly well in hardcover—only about 6,000 copies, according to Nielsen BookScan—but Amazon is insistent that its digital muscle makes print sales irrelevant. Quantum, a representative told the Journal, has “reached approximately 600,000 readers across print, audio, and digital sales and downloads.” This is hype worthy of Netflix, whose numbers are routinely inflated, but it underscores an important point: Amazon owns Kindle and Audible, which effectively control both the audio and digital book markets. Combine that with its ever-growing video offerings, which could result in lucrative tie-in deals, and Amazon has a big selling point for famous authors.

To a large extent, book publishers have themselves to blame. Despite arguing that they provided necessary intangibles to the book-publishing process, they have spent the last decade gutting their marketing and editorial departments. It is increasingly common for publishers to work with freelance editors, many of whom recently left or were pushed out of prestige imprints, on projects. The layoffs were a cost-cutting move as conglomerate publishers consolidated imprints, but it has inadvertently leveled the playing field. Dean Koontz no longer has to go to a big publisher to have his needs met; Amazon and Bantam, his former publisher, are drawing from the same talent pool.

Link to the rest at The New Republic

PG was tempted to go on a rant about the OP, but anyone who thinks Nielsen BookScan (which has been NPD BookScan since 2017 in the United States) is a better indicator of overall sales and profitability than Amazon Salesrank doesn’t understand the current book market, at least in the United States. See the article from Forbes that is immediately adjacent to this post.

Downtown Seattle Barnes & Noble store to close Saturday

From The Seattle Times:

The Barnes & Noble bookstore in downtown Seattle’s Pacific Place shopping center is closing this weekend. A sign inside the store announces: “This Barnes & Noble is closing on Jan. 18. Thank you for your patronage over the past 22 years.”

This is the second Barnes & Noble location in Seattle to close within the past 12 months: The West Seattle store, in the Westwood Village shopping center, shut down in January 2018. The once-mighty Barnes & Noble chain has struggled nationally in the age of Amazon; in the past decade, it has closed more than 150 stores. Its University Village location closed in 2011. Barnes & Noble was acquired by Elliott Management, a hedge fund, last summer.

The closure leaves downtown Seattle without a general bookstore.

Link to the rest at The Seattle Times and thanks to D. for the tip.

HUK staff challenged by Quercus guide to confront white supremacy

From The Bookseller:

Quercus is giving a copy of the workbook Me and White Supremacy by Layla F Saad to every member of staff at Hachette UK this month, challenging employees to spend 28 days reflecting on manifestations of white supremacy, including white privilege.

Billed as the book to read after Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge (Bloomsbury Circus) when it was announced last year, Me and White Supremacy started out as a self-published workbook that was downloaded 75,000 times in the first three months. In the expanded and updated book, which Quercus will publish in February, readers are asked to start taking personal responsibility for their “life-long anti-racism work” by spending each of 28 days focusing on a different manifestation of white supremacy, including white privilege, cultural appropriation and tokenism.

Staff who have already taken on the challenge include members of Quercus and Changing the Story, Hachette’s HR department and c.e.o. David Shelley, who said of the challenge it was “powerful, thought-provoking and, at times, quite tough”.

Shelley said: “It opened my eyes in all sorts of ways and I would unequivocally recommend this book and recommend doing the challenge. I know Quercus have big plans to get the book to as many readers as possible and I fully back that, as I think it could be an important catalyst for change.”

Quercus’ Jane Sturrock, who acquired the book, said: “Working our way through Me and White Supremacy as a group has really brought the book to life. I can’t think of another book that has generated as much self-reflection and challenging discussion among my colleagues and I hope that will inform not just the way in which we publish Layla’s book, but the rest of our publishing from here on.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

AAP’s StatShot for October

From Publishing Perspectives:

A big jump of 20.9 percent to US$317.7 million in the US children’s and young adult books sector pushes the Association of American Publishers‘ (AAP) new StatShot report for October to cite a 3.6-percent rise in the industry, year over year.

At Publishers Weekly, Jim Milliot is attributing this to “the performance of Wrecking Ball“—Jeff Kinney’s 14th book in his world-famous Diary of a Wimpy Kid series from Abrams. Kinney’s show of force, Milliot writes, “helped lift sales of hardcovers, where sales rose 29.3 percent over October 2018. Sales of paperbacks increased 21.7 percent. For the first 10 months of 2019, sales in the children/young adult segment were up 9.9 percent over the comparable period of 2018.”

By contrast, adult books made a 3.7-percent retreat in October, year over year, and it’s in mass market paperbacks that the market saw its most precipitous dive, the format dropping 37.3 percent, year over year.

. . . .

In terms of format, the association offers several newly devised graphics, and reports, “Physical paper formats continued dominate the trade category, accounting for $751.0 million, or 80.0 percent of the category’s $938.7 million in revenue for the month.

. . . .

Although downloaded audio increased 15.1 percent to $49.million for October year over year—and has had a remarkable history of “at least some growth every month since AAP began tracking it in 2012″—the above chart from the AAP shows the format in October was accounting for only 5.3 percent of the overall market. Physical audio, of course, shows up at a scant 0.5 percent of the whole.

This isn’t a fact that should in any way diminish the industry’s pleasure and interest in audio’s rise but it can help to keep the contextual point in place. For all the energy behind growth in the downloaded format and all the gemütlich celebration of its strides and quality output, audio still is limited in its reach by comparison to hardcovers’ dominance at 49 percent, paperbacks’ stance at 27 percent, and even ebooks’ 8.5 percent. And surrounded not only by podcasts and other audio offerings but also by the more visually dependent attractions of downloaded digital work, it’s not illogical to keep a sharp eye on the growth curve over time.

. . . .

FormatOctober 2019October 2018Percent Change
Board Book$21.1$20.72.0%
Mass Market$20.8$33.2-37.3%
Physical Audio$4.4$5.9-24.7%
Downloaded Audio$49.6$43.115.1%
Total Trade$938.7$909.53.2%

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Ex-Librarian and Bookseller Plead Guilty to Stealing Rare Texts Worth $8 Million From Pennsylvania Library

From Smithsonian Magazine:

Between 1992 and 2017, archivist Greg Priore smuggled some 300 documents worth more than $8 million out of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, where he served as sole manager of the rare books room. As Paula Reed Ward reports for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Priore hid illustrated pages or plates in manila envelopes, rolled up larger items, or simply carried books out of the library. He then delivered the items to bookseller John Schulman, who subsequently re-sold them to unsuspecting clients.

On Monday, the two men pleaded guilty to stealing and selling rare books and other documents from the Pennsylvania library. They will be sentenced on April 17 of this year.

full list of the missing documents details texts with an estimated collective price tag of $8,066,300. The total value of the stolen items makes the operation one of the largest crimes of its kind.

Library staff discovered the deception in April 2017, when a routine insurance appraisal revealed 320 missing items, including atlases, maps, plate books, photograph albums and manuscripts, as well as 16 damaged works. When a formal investigation began in 2018, library spokesperson Suzanne Thinnes said the culprit was likely someone familiar with the library’s rare books room who had stolen items over an extended period of time.

. . . .

Among the stolen items were a first edition of Isaac Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica and a 400-year-old Bible, both of which have since been recovered. The Bible was traced to a museum in the Netherlands, per the Associated Press, and returned last year.

The most valuable book lost was a German version of Maximilian, Prince of Wied’s, Travels in the Interior of North America, which was valued at $1.2 million.

. . . .

Authorities recovered 42 of the lost items, 18 of which were heavily damaged, from Schulman’s book shop warehouse during a nine-day search. Per CNN’s Alec Snyder, another 14 titles were found on sale at Schulman’s Caliban Book Shop, while 37 were spotted listed for sale on a rare books website.

Link to the rest at Smithsonian Magazine