Wizarding World launches free Harry Potter hub for school summer holidays

From The Bookseller:

Harry Potter online home Wizarding World has launched has launched a free virtual hub for the school summer holidays.

Called Harry Potter Reading Magic, it is billed as “a destination to discover more about the exciting story and themes of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Bloomsbury) and have some fun along the way”.

The initiative sits alongside Bloomsbury’s rescheduled seventh annual Harry Potter Book Night on 24th June, with fans all over the world joining in magical events and activities themed around Diagon Alley.

With the new hub, over five weeks, young audiences will be able to get to know more about the iconic characters of J K Rowling’s books alongside chapter challenges, quizzes, craft activities and weekly themes.

Housing easy to follow tips, the Harry Potter Reading Magic hub will also feature handy and helpful guides for parents, carers and teachers. This content comes from a partnership between all Harry Potter publishers, including Bloomsbury in the UK, Scholastic in the US and Pottermore publishing.

The initiative is set to become an annual fixture. It follows the success of the Harry Potter At Home hub launched by Wizarding World for lockdown during 2020, which attracted more than seven million visitors.

Additionally, the first Harry Potter audiobook is available to stream free on Alexa from Audible beginning on 23rd June and throughout the month of July by saying: “Alexa, read Harry Potter Book One.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Inspiration for The Last Bookshop In London

From Woman Writers, Women’s Books

Inspiration as an author can come in many forms. It can be an event that once happened or a person you know or have read about, it can even be an experience you yourself have had that manifests itself into a scene for your next book. All it takes is a grain of sand caught in the folds of your brain to work itself into a gleaming pearl.

I had many inspirations when writing my recently released New York Times bestselling historical fiction, The Last Bookshop in London. But then, it’s so easy to draw ideas from history with its powerful impact and incredible stories. 

The event which really began to spin the idea for my story was the bombing of Paternoster Row. This particular area of London is known for its history in the book trade that dates back to the 17th century when the area was wiped out by the Great Fire of London. The book publishing industry rose from the ashes like a literary phoenix and publishers and booksellers continued to flock to Paternoster Row.

During WWII, however, when the Nazis bombed London for seven months straight during the Blitz, Paternoster Row received a direct hit. Countless bombs and incendiaries rained down on the publishing district and reduced it to rubble and ash with a fire that took days to fully extinguish.

This attack resulted in the destruction of over 5 million books. It was a heartbreaking loss made all the more devastating in light of the paper ration which prevented more books from being printed to replace the ones that were lost. As a book lover, this struck me in the heart. But through incredible loss can come the greatest hope and that inspired the bookshop where I had Grace work for Mr. Evans. 

As far as characters go, I received most of my inspiration from the Mass Observation. This was an initiative funded by the men who came up with the concept where hundreds of people were paid to record their daily life in journals and diaries before, during and after the war. It was a truly unique opportunity to have an inside look into the lifestyle of the time as well as how the daily bombings affected the overall mindset.

But in reading those detailed accounts, characters began to take shape in my mind. The naysayer who always had an opinion (like Mr. Pritchard), the woman who unexpectedly finds purpose in her war efforts (like Viv) and then there is Colin’s character who is an especially dear one to me. 

He came to me after one entry I read where a mother lamented over her son who was being conscripted into the military and was scheduled to depart the following day. She observed his gentleness with the family dog (one he had saved, cared for and kept as a boy) and went on to bemoan how tender-souled men are not meant for war. It was a heartbreaking observation and one I wanted to push forefront in my story. I wanted to highlight those men forced into war when their spirits were never meant for battle. 

Link to the rest at Woman Writers, Women’s Books

Amplified Publishing

From Publishing Perspectives:

While one of the main tenets of Amplified Publishing at this point is that we don’t yet know exactly what we mean when we say the phrase, Kate Pullinger does know what her key interest is in this, her latest project in exploring creativity and technology.

“Creative work, yes,” she says, “but also the bottom line. I’m interested in helping creators in the broad publishing sector figure out how to earn a living.”

. . . .

What Amplified Publishing is trying to discern is how creative forms could be developed to reach audiences through technologically enriched means. What has the emergence of Zoom and Teams and other platforms during the pandemic meant in terms of a potential for creativity and its search for audience? Has that “digital acceleration” ended? Or is there more to be found once the world of conference calls and panel discussions stops owning the Zoom world?

Is there more—better yet, isn’t there more—that we could do with these communications technologies?

Where she starts to look at the issue is by turning around, if you will, not to face the creator but to face the people the creator is looking for: “How to find an audience” is, as her writing on the project points out, the common denominator.

“We live in a world where everyone with access to technology can publish,” the opening backgrounder says. “From YouTubers to Instagram-influencers, from gamers watching each other play online to writers self-publishing, content is everywhere. And yet, the biggest company with its most promising title and the podcaster putting their first episode online share the same problem: how to find an audience?”

. . . .

The Amplified Publishing program’s background materials tell us:

“Digital technologies have fostered the proliferation of new platforms for publishing as well as new platforms for broadcasting, and the rise of video streaming has further dissolved the boundaries between these two modes.

“The music and games sectors include publishing as part of their workflows, though what publishing means in practice varies widely across these sectors. New models of content creation in virtual, augmented, and mixed reality environments further adds to the possibilities for blue sky research. The rise of audio along with voice activation via smart speakers in the home also provide multiple opportunities for R&D.

“While the COVID-19 crisis has delivered rapid change, increasing our use of video conferencing tools, pushing teaching and learning online, boosting sales for some sectors, while decimating delivery models for others, we are asking big questions: What does ‘publishing’ mean in the 21st century? How will the increased availability of seamless and synchronous visual and audio media enhance and expand traditional media, like books and magazines? What does personalization offer to both content creators, their publishers, and their audiences? With the rise of visual storytelling, what is the future of reading?

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG’s initial reaction to the story and, especially to the quotes from Ms. Pullinger is that she is seeking gigs as a paid consultant or a paid speaker in the publishing world.

But he could be wrong.

The boy who lived and lived and lived

From The Bookseller:

In every skirmish in the ‘culture war’, be it fought in universities, Twitter or Parliament, there’s an inevitable reference to Harry Potter. The Potter references can seem like a joke; the perpetual furore around the politics of a ‘mere’ children’s author more so. But it is no laughing matter. Harry Potter is a cultural force and a financial powerhouse, one that is, ultimately – and for some, frustratingly – ‘uncancellable’.

According to YouGov, British Millennials have a 95% awareness of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. For context, this puts Harry Potter significantly above classics such as Winnie the Pooh (90%) and Alice in Wonderland (85%), or, for that matter, Marvel movies. It is uniquely high among all publishing properties. By comparison, The Hate U Give – a stunning contemporary book with massive cultural ramifications and prolonged sales dominance – has a 24% awareness in the same demographic. That level of familiarity is, for a book, incredibly impressive. But Harry Potter is a universal cultural touchstone.

And, again for context, “Millennial” means anyone born between 1980 and 1994, a group that now makes up nearly 14% of the population of Britain (and 90% of the headlines). The eldest Millennials are now in their late 30s and early 40s, and have children of their own. Yet, despite countless efforts by publishers and creators of all types, there is no “new” Harry Potter; no other property with the same ubiquitous cultural presence. 

How is it that a children’s book from three decades ago has successfully remained at the heart of every conversation?

The first reason is found in the story itself. There have been countless theses written on this very subject, but there is, unquestionably, something special about the boy. Henry Jenkins has examined the phenomena at length, and argues (to paraphrase) that the series’ appeal stems from its ability to allow readers to see themselves in Rowling’s world. It is, again, to paraphrase, just rich enough: readers are fascinated by the world, but there’s still room for them to fit in. It is welcoming, and more than that, participative. The loose fabric of the Potterverse invites its readers to indulge in passionate meddling, a form of imaginative activism that has translated to a long lasting, and real world, belief in the power to make change.

Secondly, it is impossible to underestimate the cultural supernova that was the release of individual Harry Potter books when they were first published. By the end of the series, it was a national obsession akin to, one suspects, Beatlemania. Pottermania united the British public – often in the queue at Sainsbury’s, where they would be patiently waiting to snatch up a copy. Readers – and even non-readers! – were all feverishly tearing through books on buses and trains, during lunch breaks and all through the night.

Potter’s explosion also took place before online retailers dominated the scene – in those innocent days when supermarkets were seen as the Dark Lords of book retail. People crammed into brick and mortar retailers, all physically coming together in their need for the book. This increased the visibility of the moment, and the sense of cultural unison. Wanting, buying, reading Harry Potter was the thing to do. Potter’s moment was made all the more unique, and bittersweet, by the fact it will not – and cannot – ever happen again. The retail and media landscape have fragmented too much, and take place in quieter, more personal, and less visible ways. It was, again to borrow from Jenkins, the “last gasp of mass culture”.

. . . .

The result is a creative property that is both culturally influential and an unavoidable, arguably essential, pillar of the publishing sector. Harry Potter is deeply woven into our culture. And Harry Potter is also a financial juggernaut, one that single-handedly keeps publishers and retailers afloat.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

June 10, 1942: The Lidice Massacre

From Fishwrap:

The village of Lidice was located in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (present-day Czech Republic) during WWII. In reprisal for the assassination of a Nazi official in the Spring of 1942, Adolf Hitler ordered the assassination of all men in Lidice, aged 16 and older. The women and children were taken to concentration camps or gassed, and the village of Lidice was destroyed.

In 1939, the area around Lidice came under Nazi control. Reinhard Heydrich, a high-ranking German official, was appointed Deputy Reich Protector of the area. Heydrich was one of the principal architects of the Holocaust. He was known for brutality, murder, and efforts to destroy any Nazi resistance. On May 27, 1942, Heydrich was being driven to his headquarters at Prague Castle when his car was attacked by two Czechoslovak resistance operatives. The operatives were trained in Great Britain and operated under the approval of the Czechoslovak government. Heydrich was wounded and died less than a week later.

German officials declared a state of emergency and established a curfew in Prague. They began a massive search for the attackers, promising that anyone involved, and their families, would be executed. Days later, when they failed to locate any conspirators, they decided to destroy the village of Lidice in reprisal. They chose Lidice because its residents were suspected of harboring members of the local resistance.

On June 10, 1942, German police and SS officials surrounded Lidice to block off any escape route. They rounded up 192 boys and men from Lidice and marched them to a farm on the edge of town, where they lined them up and shot them in groups.

Nazi officials separated the women and children and loaded the women onto rails cars for transport to concentration camps. Most went to Ravensbrück, where 60 died. A few of the children considered racially pure were handed over to SS families. The rest were likely killed in late June when Nazi official Adolph Eichman ordered the children to be gassed to death at Chelmno extermination camp.

In all, some 340 people from Lidice died and the town was destroyed. Nazi officials shelled the village, set it on fire, and plowed over the remains. To further erase the memory of Lidice, the name of the village was removed from all local municipal records.

Link to the rest at Fishwrap

More grisly details from Wikipedia:

Men

Horst Böhme, the SiPo chief for the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, immediately acted on the orders. Members of the Ordnungspolizei and SD (Sicherheitsdienst) surrounded the village of Lidice, blocking all avenues of escape. The Nazi regime chose this village because its residents were suspected of harbouring local resistance partisans and were falsely associated with aiding Operation Anthropoid team members. Post-war memorial ceremony to honour victims

All men of the village were rounded up and taken to the farm of the Horák family on the edge of the village. Mattresses were taken from neighbouring houses where they were stood up against the wall of the Horáks’ barn to prevent ricochets. The shooting of the men commenced at about 7:00 am. At first the men were shot in groups of five, but Böhme thought the executions were proceeding too slowly and ordered that ten men be shot at a time. The dead were left lying where they fell. This continued until the afternoon hours when there were 173 dead. Another 11 men who were not in the village that day were arrested and murdered soon afterwards as were eight men and seven women already under arrest because they had relations serving with the Czech army in exile in the United Kingdom. Only three male inhabitants of the village survived the massacre, two of whom were in the RAF and stationed in England at the time. The only adult man from Lidice actually in Czechoslovakia who survived this atrocity was František Saidl (1887–1961), the former deputy-mayor of Lidice who had been arrested at the end of 1938 because on 19 December 1938 he accidentally killed his son Eduard Saidl. He was imprisoned for four years and had no idea about this massacre. He found out when he returned home on 23 December 1942. Upon discovering the massacre, he was so distraught he turned himself in to SS officers in the nearby town of Kladno, confessed to being from Lidice, and even said he approved of the assassination of Heydrich. Despite confirming his identity, the SS officers simply laughed at him and turned him away, and he went on to survive the war.

Women and children

Maria Doležalová, one of the children kidnapped from Lidice, testifies at the RuSHA trialMemorial to the murdered children of Lidice

A total of 203 women and 105 children were first taken to Lidice village school, then the nearby town of Kladno and detained in the grammar school for three days. The children were separated from their mothers and four pregnant women were sent to the same hospital where Heydrich died, forced to undergo abortions and then sent to different concentration camps. On 12 June 1942, 184 women of Lidice were loaded on trucks, driven to Kladno railway station and forced into a special passenger train guarded by an escort. On the morning of 14 June, the train halted on a railway siding at the concentration camp at Ravensbrück. The camp authorities tried to keep the Lidice women isolated, but were prevented from doing so by other inmates. The women were forced to work in leather processing, road building, textile and ammunition factories.

Eighty-eight Lidice children were transported to the area of the former textile factory in Gneisenau Street in Łódź. Their arrival was announced by a telegram from Horst Böhme’s Prague office which ended with: the children are only bringing what they wear. No special care is desirable. The care was minimal and they suffered from a lack of hygiene and from illnesses. By order of the camp management, no medical care was given to the children. Shortly after their arrival in Łódź, officials from the Central Race and Settlement branch chose seven children for Germanisation. The few children considered racially suitable for Germanisation were handed over to SS families.

The furore over Lidice caused some hesitation over the fate of the remaining children but in late June Adolf Eichmann ordered the massacre of the remainder of the children. However Eichmann was not convicted of this crime at his trial in Jerusalem, as the judges deemed that “… it has not been proven to us beyond reasonable doubt, according to the evidence before us, that they were murdered.” On 2 July, all of the remaining 82 Lidice children were handed over to the Łódź Gestapo office, who sent them to the Chelmno extermination camp 70 kilometres (43 miles) away, where they were gassed to death in Magirus gas vans. Out of the 105 Lidice children, 82 died in Chełmno, six died in the German Lebensborn orphanages and 17 returned home.

Lidice, die Zerstörung (The Destruction of Lidice) – Wikimedia Commons – This image was provided to Wikimedia Commons by the German Federal Archive (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)
The destruction of Lidice, Czechoslovakia, in 1942, in a propaganda photograph released by the Nazis. (Archive, Lidice Memorial)
Maria Doležalová, one of the children kidnapped from Lidice, testifies at the RuSHA trial – The RuSHA trial against the SS racial policies (officially, United States of America vs. Ulrich Greifelt, et al) was the eighth of the twelve trials held in Nuremberg by the U.S. authorities for Nazi war crimes after the end of World War II. (via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)
This is Nazi Brutality, poster by Ben Shahn, 1943, published by the US Department of War Information, via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain
Eighty-two statues of children are depicted in Marie Uchytilová’s “A Monument of children’s war victims.” (Archive, Lidice Memorial via Wikimedia Commons)

PG hasn’t put together this litany of horrors to ruin your day.

He is concerned that the great wars of the Twentieth Century and their aftermath are being forgotten. Virtually all of Europe and large swaths of Asia were terribly damaged. The exact number of deaths will never be known, but an estimated 20 million deaths were caused by World War I and 70-85 million people were killed in World War II. In each case, the civilian deaths exceeded deaths of members of the military.

In addition to deaths by violence, there were 19 to 25 million war-related famine deaths in the USSR, China, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and India caused by World War II that are not usually included in war casualty figures.

Like others, PG is sometimes disturbed by Wokesters who are triggered by seeing the statue of a Civil War General and claim deep hurt and lasting harm from this experience.

How Tove Jansson’s love of nature shaped the world of the Moomins

From The Guardian:

In 1964, when she was in her 50s, the Moomin creator Tove Jansson settled on her dream island. Klovharun in the Finnish archipelago is tiny – some 6,000 sq metres – and isolated, “a rock in the middle of nowhere”, according to Jansson’s niece, Sophia. It has scarcely any foliage, no running water and no electricity. Yet for Jansson, it was an oasis. For 18 years she and her partner Tuulikki Pietilä spent long summers there, heading out from Helsinki as soon as the ice broke in April, leaving only in early October. The island meant “privacy, remoteness, intimacy, a rounded whole without bridges or fences”.

Klovharun encapsulates something of Jansson’s originality as an artist and writer – and her human presence. Her illustrated Moomin books, which began to be published just after the second world war, brought her phenomenal acclaim and devotion. The tales of amiable troll creatures have been taken to generations of hippy hearts; their pear-shaped faces have adorned a million ties. Their marketing triumph – in which Jansson enthusiastically participated – has overshadowed her other achievements as a painter, novelist, short-story writer, anti-Nazi cartoonist, and designer of magazine covers

. . . .

In the last decade nature writing has surged in Britain, and proved extraordinarily varied. Robert Macfarlane has caused us to look at paths as revealing “the habits of a landscape”. Tim Dee has reminded us to look up at the sky and listen to the birds; Merlin Sheldrake’s studies of fungi are making us consider what fusions are going on under our feet; Alice Oswald’s poetry can make you hear water moving as if it were the blood in your veins. These investigations have reverberated strongly in cities over the last year, with lockdowners thrilling to the idea of unreachable wide open space and to the miniature excitements of their own neighbourhoods, the individual blooms they can entice into their flats.

. . . .

Tove Jansson’s writing is different. She has wonderful passages in which entire landscapes are made by peering at blades of grass and scraps of bark. Yet her main Moomin adventures are startlingly catastrophic. For all the light clarity of the prose – which is comic, benign and quizzical – these books show places gripped by ferocious forces, laid waste by storms and floods and snows. They speak (but never obviously) of characters resonating to the winds and seas around them. They include visions that now read like warnings of climate change: “the great gap that had been the sea in front of them, the dark red sky overhead, and behind, the forest panting in the heat”.

. . . .

There is some relish in these extremes: Jansson loved a storm and her island aesthetic is distinctive. Anti-lush, sculpted by the elements rather than softly shaped by a human hand. This is not like living in a garden. Everything is provisional, prey to winds and fogs and being swept away. It is the outdoor equivalent of chucking out your chintz. What’s more, this is writing about nature that provides not only wonder and leisure but a living. Jansson and Pietilä worked hard to support themselves on Klovharun: they chopped wood, made fires, rowed boats, gutted fish. Their attitude reminds me of James Rebanks, the inspiring Cumbrian sheep farmer, who points out that while visitors look at the fells and hills and see beauty, his fellow farmers see sustenance, income and labour.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Without books, we would not have made it

From The Guardian:

I read an article the other day about a computer program that writes fiction. You feed it a few lines, tell it the genre – science fiction, horror – and it produces the rest. And it’s not bad at it. It writes in full grammatical sentences; comes up with metaphors and analogies; emulates a writer’s particular style and so on. The author of the article, who seemed a little too thrilled about the existence of this diabolical toy from the depths of Silicon Valley says, at some point, that this “tool” was going to be the “salvation” for writers who dislike writing, which, according to him, is nearly all writers. I want to say to this writer: you are wrong. And to this robot that writes fiction I want to say … well I don’t want to say anything to it because, you know, robots are robots.

Fiction is one of the most pleasurable of human activities. It’s one of the most difficult, yes; but when it is driven by a deep desire, it is one of the most pleasurable. Fiction is also something quite like a bodily intuition, or an embodied knowledge, something we feel when our minds are able to pierce through the mesh of the present, and imagine someplace/something other. At times, when we try to peer into that other place what we see is too painful, shocking or simply abysmal. But we have to look at it anyway, and make something of it, make something with it. The word fiction, in fact, comes from the Latin fingere, which means “to shape, to form”, and originally, “to mould something out of clay”. Fingere implies the action of making, or rather, giving form. It is not inventing something that is not true, but giving shape to something that was already there. Fiction requires a combination of insight, hindsight and foresight. In other words, it requires experience.

Lost Children Archive is a novel about childhood solitude and children’s boundless imagination, the fragile intensity of familial ties, about tensions between history and fiction, and the complex intersections of political circumstances and personal lives. But more than anything, it is a novel about the process of making stories, of threading voices and ideas together in an attempt to better understand the world around us. It is a novel about fiction. It begins with two parents telling stories – their children physically but also metaphorically riding in the backseat of the family car – but then shifts to the children’s narrative, to them becoming the voices that tell us the story of the fucked-up but sometimes blindingly stunning world that we are always fictioning, as in, always shaping and reshaping.

In this past year of isolation and doubt, and so much fear, my daughter, my niece and I have been reading out loud to each other, for company, for a better sense of togetherness, maybe, beyond cooking and eating meals and cleaning the house. We read to each other the way one seeks company around a fireplace – to be alone, together. Often, we play a game: we sit in front of the bookshelves, and one of us choses a book with our eyes closed, and then we read out loud from it, sometimes just a few lines, sometimes entire chapters.

We’ve been reading Audre Lorde, Marguerite Duras, James Joyce, and even a vampire series the title of which I will never confess. In any case, I can say, without a hint of doubt, that without books – without sharing in the company of other writers’s human experiences – we would not have made it through these months. If our spirits have found renewal, if we have found strength to carry on, if we have maintained a sense of enthusiasm for life, it is thanks to the worlds that books have given us. Each time, we found solace in the companions that live in our bookshelves.

Recently, for a project I’m working on, I interviewed some women in my family about what they feared most. What are you afraid of? I asked. My mother said: “Perder claridad” – to lose clarity. My daughter said: “I’m afraid of being left alone.” My younger niece said: “Expectations.” My older niece said: “I’m afraid of my relationship failing, losing love.”

“And what are you afraid of, Mamma?” my daughter then asked me.

What am I afraid of? I am afraid, like any adult, of many things. Of loss, of not being able to provide for those who depend on me, of political violence, of climate change and Silicon Valley. But I am particularly afraid of our spirits becoming stagnant, of not having a narrative to believe in, of not having a common space in which to listen to each other and understand each other deeply. I am afraid, in other words, of a world without fiction. A world in which we do not share a collective space of imagination.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Spanish-Language Digital Publishing

From Publishing Perspectives:

  • In 2020, ebook and audiobook sales in the Spanish-language markets’ publishers responding to Bookwire and Dosdoce saw increases of 112 percent for ebooks and 137 percent for audiobooks
  • Downloaded ebook sales generated a 97-percent increase in turnover for publishers in 2020 over 2019
  • In all seven years of this report series’ life, gains have been recorded, but in 2020 that aggregate gain among the 840+ publishers was 113 percent
  • Ebook subscription platform revenues for publishers in 2020 in Spanish-language content increased 112 percent

. . . .

  • Digital exports have accounted for 50 percent of digital revenue for Spanish publishers
  • Mexico generates 16 percent of ebook sales by Spanish publishers “across the Atlantic”
  • During the most severe lockdown months in the relevant territories “digital consumption multiplied four times”

By the end of this year, the report’s authors are estimating that there will have been 14,300 Spanish-language audiobook titles available. “Judging by the trends in international markets,” the report’s text reads, “everything points to a 25- to 30-percent increase in audiobook sales in 2021, thus reaching €13 million in Spanish-language markets (US$15.9 million).

The average price in 2020 of a Spanish ebook was €6.06 (US$7.41), and the average price of a Spanish audiobook was €13.49 (US$16.49).

And with all deference to the old sayings about content’s importance, when it comes to audiobook sales channels, the report says, the subscription is king, accounting for 86 percent of sales. The platforms driving those sales, as might be expected, were Storytel, Audible, Scribd, Kobo, and Podimo. In podcasting, streaming platforms of course hold the lead (Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible, iVoox, Podimo).

As for the markets themselves, Spain is anticipated to be seen as the leading Spanish-language market for audiobooks this year, with Mexico as the second driver, and the United States as the No. 3 market for Spanish audio–the rest of Latin America following.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

The Passenger: Lost German novel makes UK bestseller list 83 years on

From the BBC:

A novel written about the persecution of Jews in Germany in 1938 but which was then forgotten about for 80 years has made it onto a UK bestsellers list.

Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz’s The Passenger is about a Jewish man who – like the author – attempts to escape the rise of the Nazi regime.

It was rediscovered in 2018 after the author’s niece told an editor about it.

The book has had stellar reviews and has now entered The Sunday Times list of top 10 hardback fiction bestsellers.

The UK edition sold almost 1,800 copies last week to put it at number 10 on the list.

It was written in the weeks after Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass, also known as the November Pogrom), the outbreak of mass violence against Jews in Germany and Austria in November 1938.

It tells the story of a Jewish businessman called Otto van Silbermann, who hears a knock at his door from Nazi Storm Troopers and quickly realises he must flee.

He and his wife stuff all their money into a suitcase and end up boarding train after train across Germany as they try to make their escape.

Boschwitz himself had left Germany three years earlier after anti-Semitic laws were enacted.

His book was published in the US and UK in 1939 and 40 respectively, but made little impact and soon went out of print. The author died in 1942 at the age of 27 when a boat he was travelling on was torpedoed by the Germans.

. . . .

Boschwitz’s niece contacted German editor Peter Graf after reading an interview with him about another novel he had rediscovered.

She told him about her uncle and the book, the original typescript of which was in the archive of the National Library in Frankfurt.

Graf went there and told the BBC that as soon as he read it, he “knew that this was an important novel”.

He decided to edit and revise the book and it was published in Germany. It has now been released in 20 other languages so far this year.

He believes the novel, written more than 80 years ago, has a powerful message for modern society.

“If you look at the refugee problem today, you see that the willingness to help people in need is low. And the more refugees there are, the less people are willing to help. This terrible and simple pattern runs through history,” he said.

“After the November pogroms in Germany, almost no country accepted Jews. They were trapped. And people who are assumed to leave their country only for economic reasons are even worse off in this respect than those who are persecuted.”

Graf added that the novel was essentially about “the disenfranchisement of a hitherto respected and well-off citizen”. He added: “Anyone who reads the fate of Otto Silbermann will understand a lot about human values and how terrorism and the lack of courage of the masses make terror against individual groups possible.”

Link to the rest at the BBC

Cooking with Sigrid Undset

From The Paris Review:

The most common food in the medieval historical romance Kristin Lavransdatter, written by the Norwegian author Sigrid Undset (1882–1949), is oatmeal porridge, a dish I made elaborate perfection of during my children’s early years. The porridges in Undset’s book are good and nourishing but plain (though in one scene, a young Kristin eats hers with “thick cream” off her father’s spoon). Mine, on the other hand, were ridiculous. I blitzed half the oats in the baby-food blender before cooking. I tried different combinations of milk and water. I made fruit puree swirls. I had a two-year-old daughter, an infant son, and an office job, to which I fled every day in great relief to get a moment to myself and then struggled not to leak breast milk on my work clothes. My husband was unhelpful with the children. Childless people found my travails boring and embarrassing. I’d never thought being a woman mattered much, but suddenly it seemed to. I was miserable, and perfecting the oatmeal made me feel better.

Kristin Lavransdatter, which unfolds over the course of three volumes—The WreathThe Wife, and The Cross—is a woman’s story. It’s also a gripping read and an impressive feat of historical re-creation, which helped Undset win the 1928 Nobel Prize in Literature. The epic’s structural and textual allusions are so numerous that, as the professor Sherrill Harbison dryly remarks in her introduction to The Cross, they “show no signs of being exhausted by scholars.” (She also—correctly, I feel—thinks the book is overlooked.) When writing Kristin Lavransdatter, Undset drew from sagas, ballads, Scandinavian oral tradition, and medieval texts of all types, notably the allegory Le roman de la rose, to tell the tale of a woman in the early fourteenth century, a time when society was changing for women, who takes her newish right to consent to her own marriage a step further and demands her own choice of husband. Not accidentally, Undset was writing in the 1920s, another time of rapid social change.

. . . .

The story follows Kristin, daughter of Lavrans, from childhood to death. Lavrans is a salt-of-the-earth Norwegian, “a strong and courageous man, but a peaceful soul, honest and calm, humble in conduct but courtly in bearing, a remarkably capable farmer and a great hunter.” As the treasured offspring of this strong and good man, Kristin is herself strong and good, and destined to carry on her family’s legacy of virtue. But in the book’s first section, Lavrans takes her up to the mountain pastures with a handful of children and servants to see to some land-management tasks. The group eats lunch outdoors amid the dazzling mountain views—“soft bread and thin lefse, butter and cheese, pork and wind-dried reindeer meat, lard, boiled beef brisket, two large kegs of German ale, and a small jug of mead.” Lavrans gives Kristin “all the ale she could drink, along with frequent sips of mead” and says: “God’s gifts will do you good, not harm, all you who are still growing. The ale will give you sweet red blood and make you sleep well.” The whole party falls asleep in the midday sunshine. Kristin, unaccustomed to drinking, wakes up with a headache and a dry mouth and accidentally wanders off down the wooded slope, where she is first captivated by her reflection in a stream and then sees an apparition, a woman with “a pale face,” “flowing, flaxen hair,” and “full breasts,” which are “covered with brooches and gleaming necklaces.” Kristin flees in terror, but the damage has been done.

The woman is an elf maiden. In Norwegian folklore, Harbison writes, the elf maiden represents “abduction and erotic abandon; her mischief is to lure young girls into the mountain for orgies with the mountain king.” Later, it will be Kristin’s fate to defy the counsel of her wise and good father, the values of her community, and the expectations of her religion, and reject an eminently appropriate betrothed, Simon Darre, for a different man, Erlend Nikulausson, with whom she falls in wild, besotted, sexual love. The reflection in the water is a reference to the myth of Narcissus, an inspiration for Le roman de la rose, which is about a dreamer who falls in love with a beautiful rose at the bottom of a pool but is eventually persuaded to make the more “responsible” choice: to marry a woman and reproduce. Throughout the entirety of Kristin Lavransdatter, the title character struggles with her decision to choose Erlend, herself, and her passion over her community’s values—which are also, with anguish, her own values. The motifs of Narcissus, the elf maiden, and the mountain king continue to appear.

. . . .

Familiarity with the source material invaluably deepens one’s appreciation of the book’s themes, making Harbison’s introduction to The Cross required reading. She explains that even the idea of romantic love the way Kristin experiences it was relatively new in the fourteenth century. Romantic, or courtly, love was “invented by poets in France in the twelfth century” and represented an advance in the status of women, because suddenly they were deemed worthy of inspiring heights of passion. (Prior to this, sex with women was considered a troublesome and low occupation that kept men from their real work.) Courtly love, though, wasn’t quite the same as how we view romance today—it claimed the highest status for doomed, forbidden, secret passions, usually between people who were married, but not to each other. The beautiful, unattainable rose at the bottom of the pool in Le roman de la rose is evocative of this kind of love. In an echo of its symbolism, Kristin and Erlend’s first outing together is in a rose garden.

. . . .

Everywhere there was food in medieval Norway, there was drink, and often many kinds on the same table—wines and meads, ales strong and weak. The ensuing drunkenness is another aspect of the books’ harsh realism and another example of the dual nature of God’s gifts. My spirits consultant, Hank Zona, found me not just meads but a mead trend, which serendipitously reflects both Kristin Lavransdatter’s pagan Catholic spirituality and some of our more modern struggles to live virtuously and situate ourselves in our wider human community. First, I spoke to a home mead maker named Eileen Coles, whom I met through the Norwegian immigrant community in Brooklyn. Coles brews mead as a sacred beverage in the Heathen tradition. (Heathen is a designation for the pre-Christian Scandinavian and Northern European religion.) Coles noted that mead is found worldwide, “wherever one would find beehives, in places as far-flung as India, Ethiopia, and China,” but that it and beer are more prevalent in Northern Europe because of the climate. Since grapes don’t grow well in the cold, “people made do with what was available—grains, herbs, and honey.”

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

Colombia’s pandemic-driven online book sales boom

From The New Publishing Standard:

Chile-based online bookstore Buscalibre saw a 196% increase in sales in 2020, rising from 270,000 to over 800,000 units shifted, as lockdown closed bricks & mortar bookstores.

Three months after the pandemic began, reported La Republica,

Penguin Random House registered an increase in the sales of the book El amor en los tiempo del cholera, by Gabriel García Márquez, in physical and digital version, growing 183% in Spanish and 621% in English.

Of course that does not mean the English-language version outsold the Spanish version by three to one (percentages in the book trade are never that straight forward), but it is indicative of the boom in online sales experienced by the twelve year old company, now also operating in Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Spain and the USA. Juan José Daza, Buscalibre country manager for Colombia, Mexico and Peru, told La Republica that sales in Colombia are expected to be up 20%, from 100,000 to 120,000 units per month.

While the Colombian Book Chamber reported an overall fall of 30% in book sales last year as regular book channels were locked down, 15 regional book fairs that normally pull in large in-person crowds went virtual.

Colombia’s flagship Fil Bogota event was the first major pandemic-induced book fair cancellation of 2020 in Latin America, as early as March. In 2019 Fil Bogota, or FilBo, attracted over 600,000 visitors.

But between July and November the Colombia book trade got its act together and the virtual book fairs pulled in a total of 2.1 million visitors.

No word on how many sales that may have driven, but the shift to online consumer engagement with books is clear, leaving the big question how much that might be reversed as the pandemic’s impact subsides.

Some are optimistic. Take Esteban Restrepo, Natalia Osorio and Alejandro Rubiano, co-founders of the “new” (2019) Colombian online bookstore Bukz, which from a user base of currently 8,000 expects to shift 50,000 books before the end of this year, and is targeting annual sales of 250,000 valued at US$2.7 million by 2025.

. . . .

Digital books have also shown growth, of course, but estimates are they still represent only around 5% of the Colombia book market right now.

Does that mean print is still king? Of course, but what really matters is how consumers will respond as more and more digital options become available and the print and digital choices are comparable. Those 2.1 million online book fair visitors, and the boom in online sales of print books, make clear Colombians are comfortable shopping online.

All it needs now is a serious digital books player to enter the market, but right now there’s no Kindle store here, Apple and Kobo are only notionally present, and local players struggle to find adequate content at appropriate prices.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

Band of Sisters

Female inmates in rows of five.
PHOTO: YAD VASHEM, THE WORLD HOLOCAUST REMEMBRANCE CENTER

From The Wall Street Journal:

Gwen Strauss writes movingly in her book “The Nine” about the courage and luck that enabled nine young women to escape German imprisonment during World War II and return to their homes in France and Holland. Offering incisive images of life inside concentration camps and on death marches, Ms. Strauss relies, as any skilled researcher would, on archives and interviews, but as an accomplished poet and short-story writer, she also calls on her vibrant imagination to portray the emotional and physical traumas visited upon these young women. It is this poetic sensitivity, conveyed through a transparent style, that offers readers a nuanced perspective on what took place more than 75 years ago.

These nine young women—six French, two Dutch and one Spanish; one with a Jewish father, another from a Jewish family—were captured by the Gestapo, then sent to Ravensbrück, Germany’s primary concentration camp for women. Soon they were “loaned out” as laborers to a munitions plant owned by one of Germany’s largest arms manufacturers. It was there that the nine met. In the early spring of 1945, as the Allied fronts closed in from the east and west, Nazi authorities ordered the labor camps emptied, and so began the death marches across Germany. Taking bold chances, the nine women escaped from a casually monitored march and made their way into the fields and woods of Saxony.

Ms. Strauss’s narrative takes place during perhaps the most violent phase of the war in Europe—its final six months—but her book transcends that period and speaks to the humanity of all who are oppressed. “The Nine” is defined by examples of solidarity, empathy and perseverance. As they searched for color in a barren landscape, the women held fast to the belief that goodness had not disappeared.

Ms. Strauss is careful to identify geographical markers so that, with the help of a good map, a reader can trace the women’s long trek home. And the author is astute in keeping us mindful of the weather that a rude spring visited upon them. Her meticulous descriptions of the social and surveillance conditions in the horrific camps—gender and racial hierarchies, the treatment of ill and pregnant women, the murderous use of the dreaded daily roll call where dozens would faint or fall and be immediately executed—form the foreground of this narrative of unfathomable courage.

All nine women had been arrested for acts of resistance or for nonviolent political activities while still in their 20s. In fact, it was their youth and good health that allowed them to survive the devastating abuse their bodies would endure before and during their escape. The fugitives traversed a no-woman’s-land of a battered nation, filled with suspicious and resentful inhabitants. Once free of the camp, the greatest threats of their odyssey were hunger and men. Finding potatoes, raw or—less frequently—cooked, is a recurrent theme that encapsulates the anthropology of concentration camps and forced marches. Hunger hung persistently over the lives of the group. They never knew, when they knocked on a farmer’s door, whether they would be chased away or given a good meal. Men are generally depicted as at best indifferent to these women’s plights or, at worst, brutally abusive. The constant fear of being raped, beaten or murdered weakened them as much as their physical distress.

. . . .

From the beginning, Ms. Strauss tells her readers, “I am not a historian. I was trained as a poet.” And though she avails herself of archival evidence, much of her narrative finds her imagining (a word she uses frequently) what it must have been like for nine women to escape annihilation together. Her notes reveal how carefully she intertwines interviews with survivors and their descendants and how she was deeply influenced by two remarkable books: Lise London’s “La Mégère de la rue Daguerre” (“The Shrew of Daguerre Street”) and Suzanne Maudet’s “Neuf filles jeunes qui ne voulaient pas mourir” (“Nine Young Girls Who Did Not Want to Die”). Maudet was one of the nine escapees.

. . . .

Ms. Strauss, an American who has lived in France for more than 20 years, comments several times about the hesitancy that interrupted her writing. “I felt I was breaking a taboo. The voices in my head told me it was not my business; I should be ashamed of myself for exploiting [this] story.” More important, “How do we hold on to the past’s truths without letting the past hold us back from living in the present?”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

PG doesn’t usually give this big a blurb for a given book, but his current reading concerning World War I and his extensive prior reading concerning World War II makes him believe that the stories of the incredible suffering and bravery of so many who were caught up in the World Wars of the 20th Century need to be remembered.

In an era in which many Woke Warriors and Political Correctness Enforcers explode with angry emotions and bitter denunciations at the slightest deviation from whatever standards are current at the moment, PG thinks it’s important to remember and reflect on truly monstrous behavior causing real and often deadly harm and the incredibly brave responses on the part of those whose lives and the lives of their families and friends, not just their feelings, were actually on the line.

Part of PG’s concern is that some of the tactics the Woke direct at their enemies are straight out of communist/fascist playbooks and he believes we need to remember what consequences resulted from similar runaway extreme behaviors and strategies in the past.

For the Nazis, the best-known enemy was the Jews and anyone who associated with or supported them, but Romani, blacks, those of mixed races, Slavs, other members of “the masses from the East” and all manner of other untermenschen, including those of any ethnic group who were regarded as physically or mentally disabled, were also put through horrors we find difficult to imagine today.

“Serbia must die!”

The term “under man” was first used by American author and Ku Klux Klan member Lothrop Stoddard in the title of his 1922 book The Revolt Against Civilization: The Menace of the Under-man.

“Untermensch is usually translated into English as “sub-human”. The leading Nazi attributing the concept of the East-European “under man” to Stoddard is Alfred Rosenberg who, referring to Russian communists, wrote in his Der Mythus des 20. Jahrhunderts (1930) that “this is the kind of human being that Lothrop Stoddard has called the ‘under man.'” [“…den Lothrop Stoddard als ‘Untermenschen’ bezeichnete.”]Quoting Stoddard: “The Under-Man – the man who measures under the standards of capacity and adaptability imposed by the social order in which he lives”.”

. . . .

Nazis repeatedly used the term Untermensch in writings and speeches directed against the Jews, the most notorious example being a 1942 SS publication with the title Der Untermensch, which contains an antisemitic tirade sometimes considered to be an extract from a speech by Heinrich Himmler. In the pamphlet “The SS as an Anti-Bolshevist Fighting Organization”, published in 1936, Himmler wrote:

We shall take care that never again in Germany, the heart of Europe, will the Jewish-Bolshevik revolution of subhumans be able to be kindled either from within or through emissaries from without.

In his speech “Weltgefahr des Bolschewismus” (“World danger of Bolshevism”) in 1936, Joseph Goebbels said that “subhumans exist in every people as a leavening agent”. At the 1935 Nazi party congress rally at Nuremberg, Goebbels also declared that “Bolshevism is the declaration of war by Jewish-led international subhumans against culture itself.”

This poster (from around 1938) reads: “60,000 Reichsmark is what this person suffering from a hereditary defect costs the People’s community during his lifetime. Fellow citizen, that is your money too. Read ‘[A] New People’, the monthly magazine of the Bureau for Race Politics of the NSDAP.”

During the Warsaw Uprising, Himmler ordered the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto because according to him it allowed the “living space” of 500,000 subhumans.

Italicized paragraphs and poster above from Untermensch on Wikipedia

The Aryan certificate (German: Ariernachweis) was a document which certified that a person was a member of the presumed Aryan race. Beginning in April 1933, it was required from all employees and officials in the public sector, including education, according to the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service. It was also a primary requirement to become a Reich citizen for those who were of German or related blood (Aryan) and wanted to become Reich citizens after the Nuremberg Laws were passed in 1935. A “Swede or an Englishman, a Frenchman or Czech, a Pole or Italian” was considered to be related, that is, “Aryan”. Iranians were also considered to be Aryans after an 1936 decree from the Hitler Cabinet which declared Iranians to be “pure-blooded Aryans”.

Light in the Palazzo

From The New York Review of Books:

In 1968 the Roman aristocrat Alessandro Torlonia, Prince of Fucino, applied for a permit to repair the roof of his family’s private museum, a nineteenth-century industrial building just outside the ancient Porta Settimiana in Trastevere that had been transformed by his great-grandfather, another Alessandro, into a sprawling seventy-seven-room venue for the family’s vast collection of ancient sculpture. Decked out in neoclassical splendor, the Torlonia Museum opened in 1876, but only to visitors inscribed in the Golden Book of Italian Nobility, a manuscript in the Central State Archive in Rome that provided the definitive list of Italian peerage. In 1947 Rome’s superintendent of antiquities, Ranuccio Bianchi Bandinelli, made his way into the sanctum by dressing as a janitor. The disguise played a superbly Tuscan practical joke on his unwitting hosts. Bianchi Bandinelli was a Sienese count who could trace his lineage back to a twelfth-century pope. He could have entered the Torlonia Museum as a nobleman, but the Italian Constitution of 1948 had stripped aristocratic titles of any legal significance and rendered the Golden Book of Italian Nobility a relic of the past.

As superintendent, moreover, Bianchi Bandinelli, a fervent Communist, represented this new, egalitarian Republic of Italy. And the republic, in turn, had its eye on the Torlonia collection: 620 statues, 619 of marble and one of bronze, an assemblage second only to the Vatican Museums in size and quality, and jealously hidden from public view. The humble disguise, by making the superintendent invisible to class-conscious eyes, allowed him to take inventory as he never could have done in his official capacity.

Twenty-one years later, armed with his permit to repair the roof, Prince Alessandro threw an opaque construction fence around the Torlonia Museum and turned its galleries into ninety-three mini-apartments (some of them adapted in recent years to provide classrooms for John Cabot University). He crammed the displaced antiquities into three storerooms; in an anguished open letter to UNESCO in 1979, the journalist Antonio Cederna described them as “stacked on top of each other like junk.” By February 1977, with the backing of a new young superintendent of antiquities, Adriano La Regina, the Roman magistrate Alberto Albamonte had charged Prince Alessandro with illegal construction and damaging cultural heritage (the transport from galleries to storage had been anything but careful), charges that gave the Italian state leverage to sequester first the building and then the collection.

In timeless Roman fashion, the statute of limitations for the charge of illegal construction expired, and an amnesty restored the palazzo and collection to its princely owner, but the charge of damage to Italy’s cultural heritage went all the way to the country’s Supreme Court, which ruled in 1979 that “the transfer [to storage] inflicted material and immaterial damage to the collection,” and that the statues were kept “in cramped, inadequate, dangerous quarters…unbelievably crowded together side by side without any historical relationship or principle of consistency,” “condemned from a cultural standpoint to certain death.” Prince Alessandro responded by letting the Torlonia Marbles continue to languish under a growing layer of filthy Roman dust, shrouded in plastic and malign neglect.

In 2015 the decades-long standoff finally began to show signs of shifting, accelerating after Prince Alessandro’s death in 2017 at the age of ninety-two. In October 2020, after years of negotiation, ninety-one Torlonia Marbles (and the bronze), newly restored and carefully analyzed, emerged from their decades of captivity to inaugurate a newly refurbished wing of Rome’s Capitoline Museums, the Palazzo Caffarelli, built over the site of the colossal ancient temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus. “The Torlonia Marbles: Collecting Masterpieces,” an exhibition curated by two eminent classicists, Salvatore Settis and Carlo Gasparri, and designed by the English architect David Chipperfield, opened several months late because of the coronavirus pandemic. Before it closed because of Covid-19 restrictions, a limited number of visitors were admitted into the galleries, but once admitted, they could linger as long as they liked. Wandering among the intimately scaled displays, in that storied setting, with a comfortable number of people rather than a horde, provided as close to a perfect experience as anyone could want. The catalog, in keeping with the momentous occasion, is stylish, dense, and complete in every respect but one: Prince Alessandro has been given the benefit of the ancient Roman rule de mortuis nihil nisi bonum. But at least two of the contributors to the catalog have provided a fuller account of his treatment of the collection to the press.

Link to the rest at The New York Review of Books

The following are from the collection:

Artgate Fondazione Cariplo, CC BY-SA 3.0
Steven Zucker CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Sailko, CC BY 3.0

No logo?

From The Bookseller:

There’s definitely a thing about birds and publishing houses. Not just in the UK, but all around the world. 

Off the top of my head, I could name dozens of publishers who have gone for birds for their logo. Perhaps for obvious reasons – wings can look like book pages, and the ability to fly evokes what we do when we read – many publishers have chosen a feathered creature. 

Forty years ago, when they founded Edizioni E/O (Europa UK’s Italian sister house), my parents picked the stork. There is no particular love for birds in my household as far as I can tell, but the stork is a migrating bird which, in the collective imagination, carries something in its beak (usually a newborn). The stork migrates from east to west, and that’s precisely what E/O stands for, est/ovest (east/west), because, at the time the name of company was chosen, it focused on bringing the very best of Eastern European literature westward, to Italy. 

This bird with its elegant long legs seemed made to grace a book spine. And that’s exactly where you find it on our Italian editions, while the front cover carries only the company’s full name.  

Our stork grew restless and ambitious, and eventually, following the dictates of its nature, migrated again, further west, from Italy to New York, where we established Europa US, and then flew back east to the UK, landing on the front cover of our English editions. As a matter of fact, our stork keeps migrating every which way: altogether we publish authors from around 70 countries, motivated by the deeply rooted belief that literature can and must travel far. 

The reason I’m telling the story of our stork is that there’s also a thing about publishers’ logos appearing – or not – on book covers. Apart from a few exceptions (notably Penguin and Faber), few UK publishers persist in this practice.  There are several sensible reasons for this – to leave enough space for quotes, to stress the author’s importance, to ensure a tidy look, and, ultimately, to convey that every book is unique and should be published to reflect this.

Also, most imprints have over time lost their original identity, adopting an approach which is both more general and more eclectic. So, books are often purposely aesthetically undistinguishable from one another, and branding is an insider game, something that happens within the trade, as a way to communicate publishing and acquisition strategies to fellow publishing professionals.

It would seem that a logo on the front cover is a privilege accorded only to prestigious publishers with a long history: because unless a publisher is renowned among readers, what is the point of having a logo that only a few would be able to recognize?

. . . .

Europa is a UK company founded by and staffed with cosmopolitan people. In continental Europe, where some of us are from, all publishers, from the biggest corporate conglomerates to the tiniest independent houses, from academic to trade to children’s publishers, put their logos on book jackets. It’s always been a straightforward way to communicate to readers that behind every single book there is a unifying editorial vision (in Italy we call it “il progetto”, the project). A way to tell readers that just as every author and every book is unique, every publisher is also unique and follow its own taste and ethos. All tools that can help readers make informed choices. 

In Italy, one can often overhear readers saying things like “I can’t wait to head to the bookshop for the Adelphi promo”, or, “I just adore Sellerio”, and, “I think Feltrinelli have the best books”.  The same is true of readers in France, Germany, Spain and in other countries. When browsing in a bookshop, the publishing house becomes one of the basic criteria for their purchases. The fact that, in addition to having their logo on the cover, publishers almost invariably adopt a coherent overall design policy, makes this process even more radical. In Italian bookshops, books are frequently grouped by publisher, not just on display tables, but on the shelves too. Vertical displays of a publishers’ backlist often provide readers with an overview, a sense of how a list is curated, and ultimately why it exists. Seeing a whole wall covered with titles by a single publisher or imprint focuses attention on “the project”, helping readers discover new authors.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Although PG loves Italy and many of the Italians he has met, he thinks the OP is vastly over-emphasizing the weight most book purchasers place on the publisher of a book which they may find interesting. Or not.

PG admits he may be projecting since he virtually never pays attention to the identity of the publisher when making a book purchase and couldn’t tell you the name of the publisher of any book he has read either recently or in ancient times.

The OP also assumes, like many others before it, that most people are buying/will buy most of their books from physical bookstores.

The runaway digital subscription train shows no sign of slowing

From Boktugg:

Sweden-based unlimited digital books subscription service BookBeat is on target to exceed a half million subscriber in Q2, and is targeting 600,000 by end 2021.

Q1 revenue was up 45% and subscribers up 66% compared to the same period last year.

Total 2020 revenue amounted to SEK 508 million ($60 million) from the core BookBeat markets of Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Germany and Poland. BookBeat is notionally in the UK, but British publishers mostly don’t want to play. BookBeat is also notionally available across the EU, but without a localized presence that’s neither here nor there.

CEO Niclas Sandin said in a press statement at the weekend:

We have never experienced such a high influx of new users at the beginning of a year as in 2021. In recent months alone in our three Nordic markets Sweden, Finland and Denmark, the average number of paying users increased during the quarter by 34,000 compared with Q4 2020. Also outside The Nordic countries in Germany and Poland see a strong start to the year. In total, we expect to soon pass the milestone of 500,000 paying users, which is 200,000 more than BookBeat had last spring.

That’s still a long way behind Storytel, which is at 1.5 million subscribers across 25 markets, but may be ahead of Nextory, which doesn’t share numbers, only percentages.

Link to the rest at Boktugg

Russia Took a 19-Percent Drop in Its 2020 Book Business

From Publishing Perspectives:

A report from the Russian Book Chamber and its statistics division has indicated that in the pandemic year 2020, the publishing market fell by 20 percent.
In units, this represents a decline of 83.7 million titles in Russia. The overall turnover of published books and associated content fell by 19 percent last year, the report says, from some 435.1 million copies in 2019 to 351.4 million copies.

Hardest hit was the religious book sector, which reported a 34.5-percent downturn, to 4.7 million copies. Scientific literature slipped 11 percent, to 6.7 million copies.

Counter to patterns in some markets–in which children’s book sales made a robust showing–books for children and youth declined in Russia by a substantive 18 percent, to 78.1 million copies.

. . . .

Irina Bogat, director of the independent Zakharov publishing house, has a particularly bleak take on the situation and the outlook for what’s to come. She tells Publishing Perspectives, “Fewer and fewer people are buying books in Russia. This is the mayor reason for the current situation in the market, which was significantly hit by the pandemic.

“So in 2020, the market declined and the publishers–those not already bankrupt–were faced with 20-percent drops in their sales.

“Many people have lost their jobs because of the pandemic and they don’t have money to buy books.

“The price of paper and other materials has increased more than 30 percent in just the last three months, which is a record. And at the same time, the exchange rate between the ruble and the euro has been getting worse.

“As a result of this, books have become a luxury item in Russia. We do not expect any restoration or growth this year.”

. . . .

Alexander Nemirov, head of marketing at the Moscow-based Algoritm publishing house, says that while the pandemic has severely affected book publishing in Russia, the trend in the market was headed downward ahead of the outbreaks of the novel coronavirus.

“Book production began to lose momentum long before the pandemic,” Nemirov says.

“Books are no longer a source of information, but just an intelligent habit or a beautiful gift. Therefore, many publishers prefer to reduce their production, personalizing books for certain niche groups.

“That in turn leads to higher costs for printing, while bookstores increase their margins. All these factors lead to fierce competition.

“For example, we recently came across the fact that some publishers abuse online stores,” with bogus negative reviews of their competitors’ titles.

According to Nemirov, while sales of ebooks continue to grow, their growth is insignificant amid falling print sales. Nemirov says he believes there are no reasons to anticipate growth or development of the book publishing sector in the second half of 2021 or in early 2022.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Boys don’t learn shamelessness at Eton, it is where they perfect it

From The Guardian:

It’s 1996 in a perfectly ordinary suburb just north of Heathrow airport. A teenage boy and his sister are on their way to the optician. Walking under a railway bridge, they pass a man who slows down and gives the boy a stare “as startling as scalding water”. He can’t stop thinking about it all through the appointment, and when they emerge – though surely the man won’t still be there? – they walk a different way back to the bus stop, just in case. When the bus arrives, they climb to the top deck, and as it turns the corner, the boy peers out. The man is still there, and smiles as he catches sight of them, before opening his coat wide to reveal a colourful patchwork of swastikas sewn into the lining: red, white, black, purple.

The boy is Musa Okwonga, and he goes to school at Eton College, just the other side of the M25. Over there racism may not announce itself with swastikas, but it’s a constant background hum, with something of the same menace as the man in the coat: just when you think you’ve evaded it, surprise! Here’s a moment to chill you to the bone, like when a fellow pupil boasts about the fact that his ancestor was a slaver.

Nevertheless, Okwonga thrives at the school, which he set his heart on after being dazzled by a documentary he saw as a child. He wins a scholarship and aged 13 becomes a boarder, putting on the school’s distinctive morning suit every day: “The greatest proof of my status is my uniform. It consists of a black tailcoat, a black waistcoat under which I wear a white shirt with a starched collar and thin white cotton tie, a pair of black pinstriped trousers and black shoes.”

. . . .

He becomes a model student, almost to a fault. But he’s carrying around a double burden of responsibility: first to his father, who was killed amid political violence in Uganda when he was four, and his widowed mother, who works hard as a doctor to pay his fees. Then there’s the second, crushing weight imposed by society’s expectations of young black men and the mostly white environment of the school. “I think it is unlikely that many of my contemporaries,” Okwonga writes, “have had a close black friend, and so I don’t want to conform to any of the stereotypes they might have about black people. I resolve never to get drunk around any of them, never to get stoned in their company. I don’t even risk getting a haircut that I might enjoy.” Much of his time, then, is spent conducting himself with “a military level of self-restraint”, although he admits “it is unclear whether my classmates either notice or care”.

Okwonga tries to make sense of the pressures, absurdities and rewards of his schooldays in his latest book, One of Them: An Eton College Memoir. He talks to me over Zoom from his flat in Berlin, where he has lived for the past six years. As well as being a poet and writer, he presents a successful football podcast, and a big red professional microphone juts into shot. His conversation is more laidback than his prose, which can have the disconcerting quality of feeling both buttoned-up and incredibly raw. I ask why he wanted to write about Eton now, more than two decades after he left.

. . . .

Okwonga describes the gallery of busts in the 17th-century building known as “Upper School” on the sprawling campus outside Windsor (he writes: “No one here ever tells us out loud that we Etonians are natural leaders: that is what the architecture is for”). Prime ministers from Walpole to Earl Grey to Gladstone are immortalised in marble. The prospect of Cameron and Johnson joining them one day makes him queasy. The school smooths the path to power, but seems to evade responsibility for how it is wielded.

. . . .

He thinks there are serious questions to be asked about the charitable status of private schools on the basis of public benefit, given their role in the reproduction of a conservative establishment that tends to strip the public realm of resources. But mostly he wants to start a series of conversations that have largely been avoided. In the book he writes, “I keep reflecting on what Eton doesn’t talk about”, from the part it played in the creation and maintenance of empire, to the function it serves today. He tells me: “The school explicitly prides itself on leadership, right? But if you’re not creating the kind of leaders that are moving the world forward – that’s the most pressing conversation to have, I think.” Of private schooling in general, he asks: “As a structure, as a system, is it serving our society best? I don’t believe it is. And I say that as someone that’s benefited hugely from that world.”

. . . .

Okwonga started thinking about school again when he was invited to his 20-year reunion. It was the prompt for a fairly unforgiving bout of introspection. He was embarrassed at how his penurious life as a single writer nudging 40 compared with his fellow alumni, by then wealthy executives with houses and families. In his autobiographical novella, In the End It Was All About Love, published earlier this year, the protagonist says: “There is not a week when you do not look in the hallway mirror and think, my God, what have I done.” But unlike in the Talking Heads song, there is no beautiful house or large automobile in sight.

When I ask him what psychological marks Eton left on him, Okwonga says: “You’re taught to compete all the time. And once you leave a world where you can readily compete against others, you kind of turn that competition inward. So you’re pushing yourself constantly, you’re just brutal with yourself. And sometimes things don’t feel satisfying unless they’re difficult.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

PG is not competent to comment on the benefits and detriments of expensive British public schools.

However, he has to admit that the Guardian review makes him think this may be a book whose conclusions were foreordained before the author even thought of writing it.

Though this is from the Guardian, PG could imagine the same type of review of the same type of book about the same US subject from The New York Time.

Translators in the UK Call for Racial Equality in Literary Translation

From Publishing Perspectives:

In what has developed as a healthy debate, the Translators Association and the Society of Authors in the United Kingdom have stepped forward to take an eloquent stand on issues of race and access to work and opportunity in their profession.

. . . .

Briefly, the translators are writing to two points deeply important to workers across all the creative industries, fully inclusive of both international book publishing and literary translation.

  • First, they argue that anyone can translate anyone. That is to say, the rejection of one or another translator based on a factor such as race is, they say, unacceptable. (If you’ve ever stopped to admire how deftly a male translator like David Hackston can handle the most sensitive work of a female author like Finland’s Katja Kettu in The Midwife (Amazon Crossing, 2016), you know what they’re talking about). The translators write, “We believe an individual’s identity should never be a limiting factor.”
  • Second, the translators are addressing “structural racism and access to publishing” on a wider scale. As they phrase it, this involves “the urgent need for more openness and opportunities in publishing, more visibility of translators of color and more proactive intervention to help dismantle the institutional barriers faced by early-career translators.”

If anything, the arrival of this inflection point represents a kind of backfire on an attempt to impose limitations on literary work. And for those of us who know translators and work with them or cover their work, the moment is exhilarating because this discussion puts them at centerstage, for once, not cordially shooed to the sidelines.

. . . .

You may recall that in the January 20 inauguration in Washington of Joe Biden as the United States’ new president, the activist poet Amanda Gorman delivered her inaugural poem, The Hill We Climb.

When the Dutch publisher Meulenhoff in Amsterdam was preparing to have its Dutch edition of The Hill We Climb translated, it recommended to Gorman that the translation be made by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld. As Publishing Perspectives readers know, Rijneveld is the gifted author of De avond is ongemak (The Discomfort of Evening). Its English translation by Michele Hutchison won the 2020 International Booker Prize. The Discomfort of Evening is published in the United Kingdom by Faber & Faber, and in the United States by Graywolf.

Rijneveld, at 29, is the youngest author to have won the International Booker, and her book is the first debut effort to find top favor with the jury.

An objection to Rijneveld’s selection to translate Gorman, however, came from journalist Janice Deul in a piece at deVolkskrant. Deul, as Anna Holligan wrote from The Hague for BBC News last month, argued that a white translator for Gorman’s work was wrong.

In her column of February 25, Deul wrote, “Isn’t it—to say the least—a missed opportunity to hire Marieke Lucas Rijneveld for this job? … white, non-binary, has no experience in this field, but according to Meulenhoff still the ‘dream translator’?” (Rijneveld identifies as non-binary and prefers the pronouns they and them.)

“Nothing to the detriment of Rijneveld’s qualities,” Deul wrote, emphases hers, “but why not opt ​​for a translator who—just like Gorman—is a spoken word artist, young, woman, and: unapologetically Black ? We … are blind to the spoken word talent in [our] own country.”

Rijneveld would end up withdrawing from the Gorman translation assignment.

. . . .

Rijneveld’s step-aside from the translation work on Gorman was followed by news that the Catalan translator Victor Obiols, as he described it, was informed that his finished translation would not be used because, being a white man, he “was not suitable to translate it,” as reported by Sindya Bhanoo at the Washington Post on March 25.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Yet another problem facing traditional publishing. Fortunately, there is an alternative.

PG wonders whether anyone thought to ask the author of The Hill We Climb, Ms. Gorman, who she would like to have translate her poem into Dutch and whether she thought the translator should be an African-American like she is or whether a translator who is any other color that the large majority of the Dutch population would do.

PG recalls a friend he worked with many years ago who was Nigerian and had received his undergraduate degree from a Nigerian university and his MBA from a very good school in Chicago.

PG’s friend said he felt no affinity for anyone he had met in the large African-American community in Chicago. For him, the culture and values of Nigeria and the culture of the African-American community to which he had been exposed differed in many significant ways. They were not the same as all.

The roots of Nigerian culture reach back to a time when the Roman Empire was also developing. Islam reached Nigeria long before any European explorers and Christian missionaries appeared.

Suffice to say, culture and skin color/race are two different things. Russia has a different culture than France. Japan has a different culture than China. Scotland and Canada have different cultures than the United States.

So, who’s a better translator of a wonderful poem written by an African-American into Dutch – someone with a skin color other than white or someone who is experienced with the nuances of both the English and Dutch languages?

PG will conclude with an excerpt from Ms. Gorman’s poem which, to him, seemed apt for this discussion.

We are striving to forge a union with purpose,
to compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and
conditions of man.
And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us,
but what stands before us.
We close the divide because we know, to put our future first,
we must first put our differences aside.
We lay down our arms
so we can reach out our arms
to one another.

Amanda Gorman, “The Hill We Climb”

‘She showed what poetry can do’: young London laureates feel the Amanda Gorman effect

From The Guardian:

Cecilia Knapp

“I came to poetry by accident, through a workshop at Camden’s Roundhouse. I was 18 at the time, had no money, and was living alone in London. Poetry had not been in my life before. I was awful when I started. But I was so thirsty to get better.

I’m working on my first collection now. I lost my mum at a young age, so a lot of the collection looks at how that might impact a young woman. And I lost my older brother to suicide in 2012. He had a long battle with addiction, and also his sexuality, and I was a carer for him for a really long time. A lot of the poems in the book that I’m working on are looking at his life. I’ve always used writing as a way to figure things out: not necessarily to find answers, more to ask questions about them.

When young people see a poem or film on YouTube or social media, it gets rid of that preconception that poetry has to be this isolated, solitary act of opening a book and reading something old fashioned. I love reading poetry myself, and I believe that young people can, too, but they can also love spoken word or performance poetry, poetry on film or poetry with music.

I’ve worked with young people for almost a decade now, and I’ve experienced first-hand the impact poetry can have on them – something happens when you let yourself be free and creative, it is magic. It’s really empowering for young people to be told that what they have to say is important and valid. We need young voices contributing to the canon, because they usually reflect what’s really going on in the world a lot of the time.

Someone who I use as a springboard for young people is Danez Smith, a non-binary African American poet who talks a lot about race, class, sexuality and gender in their collections Don’t Call Us Dead and Homie.

Roger Robinson’s book A Portable Paradise responded so amazingly to the injustice of Grenfell, as did Jay Bernard’s book Surge. There are so many amazing writers at the moment.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Finland’s 2020: Audiobook Sales Doubled, Ebooks Up 84 Percent

From Publishing Perspectives:

As we continue to receive assessments from various international markets of coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic impact in 2020, Tiia Strandén at the Finnish Literature Exchange, FILI,  has provided Publishing Perspectives with a report from the Finnish book market.

. . . .

“While sales of printed books increased by just 2 percent” in Finland, the report tells us, “demand for audiobooks and ebooks was far greater, leading to an overall increase in trade book sales of 12 percent over 2019 figures.”

Audiobooks did particularly well, even over what’s described as strong growth for several years prior to the pathogen’s outbreaks.

In 2020, audiobook sales in Finland “more than doubled,” the report says. “While many Finns commuted less than before as they switched to working from home, they also focused on exercise and spending time outdoors, which provided more opportunities to listen to audiobooks,” per the report’s text. This brought audio up to “nearly a fifth of trade book sales” last year.

What the FILI information says was “most surprising of all in 2020” was a “whopping 84-percent increase in ebook sales. “Ebooks made up only a small share of the total market,” the report clarifies, and a smaller share than audiobooks, “but that growth far outstripped their previous year-over-year increase of 32 percent.”

One dynamic behind the advances in ebooks in Finland is thought to have been an expansion of subscription book and audio services. And the entry point—not surprisingly in the audio-friendly Nordic markets—was on the audio side. “While people usually sign up for these services in order to access audiobooks,” the report points out, “ebook libraries are included for the same fee. The ease of swapping between audiobooks and ebooks helps to diversify usage across formats.”

All of this added up to something of a leveling effect between fiction and nonfiction. “Among printed books,” the report says, “nonfiction represents a larger segment than fiction. In audio and ebook formats, however, fiction is bigger, and the gap grew even further in 2020, as sales of fiction ebooks and audiobooks increased more than sales of nonfiction in the same formats.

“Sales of printed fiction titles increased by 11 percent last year, while sales of printed nonfiction decreased by 6 percent.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

France’s Publishers and Reed Announce Cancellation of Livre Paris 2021

From Publishing Perspectives:

Citing “the uncertainties of the coming months” and “the health measures in force which don’t allow the organization of a public event of this magnitude,” the Syndicat national de l’édition (France’s publishers association, SNE) and Reed Expositions France have today (March 18) announced a no-go for Salon du Livre Paris.

This is the second year of cancellation for Paris, the announcement last year coming on March 2.

The annual public-facing book fair–which does have a robust professional program attached–had been holding dates of May 28 to 31 at the Porte de Versailles, after moving its dates from its normal berth in March shortly after what is customarily London Book Fair’s early-to-mid-March run.

“The decision to cancel this year’s show was finally made because it was considered unfeasible to mobilize thousands of people–exhibitors, publishers, authors, speakers, communities and ministries, partners from more than 50 countries–at a later date in the fall, which is still very uncertain.”

“The many exhibitors who had chosen to participate in the 2021 edition,” the announcement says–no mention of how many–will be reimbursed for their advance payments.”

The program, of course, is hardly alone in making such a move, another of the most recent events being the cancellation in February of the Leipzig Book Fair.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG suspects that, after Covid goes away, more than a few traditional trade shows like the one described in the OP may not be able to restart.

During this shutdown, more than a few vendors (who usually pay most of the tab for a show) may have decided that they were able to do OK during the lockdown without the expense and burden on staff involved in putting together an exhibit and that they can spend their money more intelligently elsewhere.

Ditto for attendees, particularly those who don’t get free tickets and/or have to pay their own travel expenses.

Large numbers of vendors and large numbers of attendees go together. If the number of either falls off, a show can swing into a death spiral that’s hard to pull out of. One or two failed shows and the brand can be seriously tainted.

A Lullaby in the Desert: One Woman’s Fight for Freedom

From Self-Publishing Review:

What if by questioning injustice and standing up for the oppressed, your words were met with threats, captivity, and execution? Would you still stand up?

Imagine being born without rights. From bicycle bans and compulsory clothing to mandatory beliefs, what’s worse than being born in a society where your gender alone is a crime? Millions of women are held captive, whether behind bars or behind barriers, for what they believe, what they wear, and what they say. They are suffering at this very moment. Some, like Susan, decided they wouldn’t take being held in the grip of a society’s invisible hands any longer. Some, like Susan, decided to stand up despite the possibility of paying with their lives.

A Lullaby in the Desert isn’t just Susan’s story; it’s the chorus of millions of women, their voices carrying forcefully over the empty sands. Their silent melody can be heard from Iran to Syria, from Indonesia to Morocco. Indeed, their voices ring all over the world. Slavery as we read about it in the history books may be fading into the past, but another kind of slavery lives in the present and threatens to persist into the future if we choose to ignore it.

Some use fear as a weapon to keep others down, forcing entire societies into silence. In some countries, those in power would prefer to destroy the identities of millions of innocent people so long as their grip on power remains intact.

What they don’t know is that fear won’t stop someone who has nothing to lose. In A Lullaby in the Desert, Susan finds herself homeless, penniless, and alone in Iraq, a country on the brink of disaster. When standing on the edge of the abyss, Susan stepped forward, just like the other refugees beside her taking this journey to the point of no return. They all had the same goal: freedom.

Freedom is their fundamental right, their dream, their destination. Like so many others, Susan’s freedom was stolen from her, the shackles thrown over her, covering her body, pushing her down. For Susan, the forces of evil and slavery could be easily seen in the black flags of the Islamic States of Iraq and al-Sham, who some call ISIS, covering her life in a shadow. However, for millions of women, those dark forces are not so obvious, but they are deadly nonetheless.

. . . .

For a long time, I wondered how I could speak for those who could not, for those who had already died, for those who were still enslaved. When the idea first entered my mind, I had to take a step back. Even the thought of telling the world of our plight made me shudder as I remembered my own trauma that began from my earliest days. I remembered the nine-year-old girls sold for fifty dollars in the street to marry strange old men, I remembered a singer assassinated for speaking up about people’s rights, I remembered seeing a woman shot in the head because she wanted to be free. Shame on me if I remained silent.

When I close my eyes I feel no pain because I cannot see anything around me. But my beliefs remain, my story remains. I had to stand in front of my trauma, confront it, release it, because I didn’t choose this life but this is what I know.

When I decided to write Lullaby, one thing pushed me forward: the pain. Pain may stop some, may slow some down, may force some down a different path. For me, I allowed it to open my eyes. 

Link to the rest at Self-Publishing Review

Burning Books: Akram Aylisli on Literature and Cultural Memory

From The Los Angeles Review of Books:


ON FEBRUARY 9, 2013, the works of writer Akram Aylisli were publicly burned in Azerbaijan because his writing upset the Azerbaijani government. Aylisli watched his books burn via the internet, an experience he describes in a 2018
 essay excerpted in this very magazine. Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev stripped Aylisli of the title of “People’s Writer” and his presidential pension; his wife and son were fired from their jobs, and he received death threats. In 2014, Aylisli was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by supporters from several countries. In March 2016, he was invited to address a literary festival in Venice, Incroci di civiltà; however, the 79-year-old writer was detained at the Baku airport, and trumped-up legal charges were filed against him. Those charges are still pending.

. . . .

MARK LIPOVETSKY: In March 2016, you were slated to deliver a speech at a literary festival in Venice, but could not attend because you were denied permission to leave Azerbaijan. You later published the remarks you’d planned to give. At the start of the speech, you write, “Now we are all defenseless before these inconceivably cruel times. There are periods in history when nothing can fill the emptiness of the human heart: not religion, not science, not literature.” Do you feel the same way now, and what does it mean to be a writer in such times?

AKRAM AYLISLI: I’d like to first of all clarify the circumstances of my situation that not everyone understands completely. They made me sign an agreement not to travel, so I don’t have the right to leave the confines of Baku. What’s more, the prosecutor’s office confiscated my proof of identity. Without that proof, a person has no actual rights — can’t take part in elections or anything. The prosecutor’s office was supposed to investigate my case within a year, according to Azerbaijani law. But to this day, the case that was opened in March 2016 hasn’t been reviewed. They simply aren’t processing it. This all weighs very, very heavily on me psychologically, and all of it puts pressure on me. But I think some people are starting to overcome the anxiety they felt about the fact that part of Azerbaijan’s land was, let us say, under the control of Armenia. They’ve calmed down a bit, and I think [laughs] that calm will in some way make a difference in my life. They’ll calm down and finally say: “So what about this guy? How much can we really cut him off from society? This kind of thing isn’t good for him.” I think this will all pass. I’m sure of it.

In terms of how I live in this difficult time, it seems to me that no matter what the circumstances, no matter what situation a writer lives in, he lives in his own world. For example, I didn’t feel the loss of what was taken from me very deeply, and I wasn’t depressed because I never remembered myself being free. I never felt that: not in school, not at university, not at work. I felt myself to be a little bit free only at my work table, my writing desk. They couldn’t take that away from me. It can’t be taken away from any writer. I live now through literature. It’s possible to live through literature — there’s a lot of air there. More, maybe, than there is even in the street, especially during a pandemic.

From your trilogy Farewell, Aylis, which of these novels — YemenStone Dreams, and A Fantastical Traffic Jam — is the most important for you?

If I think about it, Stone Dreams. I wrote Stone Dreams for Azerbaijanis, not Armenians. I wrote it out of the desire that not all of the bridges between our peoples would be burned. So that there would not be this deep alienation, particularly in terms of culture. We are, after all, a Turkic people, but in point of fact we are people of the Caucasus. Our mentality is of the Caucasus — not Turkish, not Central Asian, specifically of the Caucasus. I wrote Stone Dreams out of the desire to bring people closer, so that people wouldn’t think that we have to revile one another, that we have to kill one another.

Who has supported you? Are there writers, cultural figures, who supported you in Russia and Azerbaijan?

In general, the Russian intelligentsia defended me a great deal — Andrei Bitov, Viktor Yerofeyev. That level of writer — important writers — really defended me. A few Russian journalists, also. In Azerbaijan, my support mainly came from young writers. Among them, many people understood things as I understand them, and in the way people will someday understand.

How can we, readers living all over the world, help you?

You’re already helping me. We’re sitting here, today I’m looking at you, at such good-hearted people. That joy is enough for me, if only for a few days. Sometimes you suddenly remember such good moments, and that helps you live. I don’t know how exactly readers can help. Many organizations wanted to help me. In Norway, they even proposed an excellent situation so that I could move there. I didn’t go, because someday these people will understand that I love Azerbaijan more than they do. I think there are individuals among the Azerbaijani people who know that I love Azerbaijan more than the authorities do. It’s dangerous to say so [laughs], but it’s necessary.

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Review of Books

PG thinks its a good idea for him and others who live in liberal Western democracies to reflect on those who do not from time to time. Such an exercise helps to avoid feelings of entitlement and nurture feelings of gratitude, at least for PG.

“Stone Dreams” by Akram Aylisli

From Words without Borders:

The condition of the patient just delivered to the trauma department of one of the major Baku hospitals was very serious.

They took the patient, who was lying unconscious on the gurney, along the very middle of the half-lit hospital corridor that stretched the length of the whole floor to the operating room, which was located in the other wing of the building. There were two women in white lab coats and two men, also in lab coats. The surgeon himself walked beside the gurney, a spare, silver-haired man of middling height, distinguished from his colleagues by his reserve, the compelling sternness of his face, and the particular cleanliness of his lab coat.

If there was anything unusual or seemingly incongruous in this ordinary scene of hospital life, it was the tragic humor in the appearance and behavior of the person who’d brought the patient to the clinic. That small, fidgety man of fifty-five to sixty whose small face was not at all in harmony with his enormous, round belly ran around the doctor constantly repeating the same thing over and over.

“Doctor, my dear Doctor, they killed him! Such a man, in broad daylight, they beat him, destroyed him. It’s those yerazy, Doctor, yerazy. Five or six of those yerazy-boys who fled from Armenia! Those sons of bitches, those refugees simply don’t respect people, Doctor, my dear Doctor. They don’t recognize artists or poets or writers. Just call someone an Armenian—and that’s it! Then they slam him to the ground and trample him like wild animals. They tear him to pieces, and no one dares get involved. I told them: ‘Don’t beat him,’ I said, ‘That man’s not Armenian, he’s one of us, a son of our people, the pride and conscience of the nation.’ But who listens? They didn’t even let me tell them my name. They kicked me so hard in the side that I almost died there, too. Right here, Doctor, in the right side. It still hurts badly now.”

The doctor didn’t really understand what the man who’d brought the patient was saying. Maybe he didn’t want to understand. Maybe he wasn’t even listening to what that fussy, funny man who’d knotted a yellow tie over a brown checked shirt was babbling without pause. However, an observant person might have noticed that the doctor from time to time smiled into his moustache. And not because every word, every gesture of the man who’d brought the patient rose to comedy. But, rather, because the light-haired man lying on the gurney was slender and remarkably tall. And it’s possible that the contrast in appearance between these two reminded the doctor of the very saddest pages of the story of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.

When they reached the doors of the operating room, one of the men wearing a white lab coat blocked the path of the funny man in the yellow tie.

“Let him in,” said the doctor. “It seems he has something to say. Let him have his say.”

Although the operating room was considerably smaller than the corridor, all the same it turned out to be a spacious room with a high ceiling and gigantic windows. The operating table standing directly in the center resembled the linen-covered gurney on which they conveyed the patient. The two men in white lab coats delivering the gurney that bore the patient lifted him, laid him on the table, glanced at the doctor for permission, and silently left the operating room.

“Peroxide!” said the surgeon loudly to the nurses, rolling up the sleeves of his lab coat. “Bring it here, wipe off his face.” Looking at the patient covered in blood, he muttered an oath, and turning to the man’s companion, he asked, “Who did this to him?”

“I already told you, Doctor: yerazy. Those bastard refugees arriving from Armenia. It wasn’t enough to smash his face. They also knocked him to the ground like wild animals and began beating him in the stomach. It’s a good thing, Doctor, that I arrived in time. I went out this morning to get some air in the city. I’m coming down from that cursed place they call the Parapet when I see five or six mustachioed scoundrels beating up a man at the edge of the fountain. And people just standing by and watching in silence . . .” Then he suddenly hesitated. His lips continued to move, but the words, it seems, died in his throat.

“There’s no more peroxide, Doctor,” said one of the nurses in an apologetic voice, as quietly as possible. (One of them was elderly, the other quite young.)

“There should be some alcohol,” said the surgeon without hope.

“No, Doctor. Everything we had was used up yesterday.”

“Fine, clean him with water. Don’t use too much manganese.” The doctor washed his hands with soap at the sink standing in the corner of the room and then went up and stood in front of the operating table. “Take everything off of him. Leave only his underwear.”

The patient—his face, nose, chin, the collar of his orange wool shirt, the lapels of his bluish jacket covered in scarlet blood—was lying so calmly on the operating table that it was as if his most evil enemy rather than he himself had been beaten up in the aforementioned Parapet Square. He was sleeping deeply, although frequent, harsh moans escaped from his chest. Not only did he sleep but, apparently, also dreamed, and it seemed that his dreams gave him great satisfaction.

While the women washed the dried blood off the patient’s face, the doctor checked his pulse. When the nurses had stripped the patient, he began to examine him attentively, as if compiling a report for himself or dictating to someone.

“Put two stitches in his lower lip. No fractures noted in the area of the jaw. Two dislocations in the left hand at the elbow and wrist. Two fingers dislocated on the right hand: the thumb and middle finger. Severe muscle trauma in the left leg. A fractured kneecap in the right leg. No serious anomalies noted in the back, rib cage, or spine. No skull fractures observed.” The doctor fell silent and again cursed angrily. “A concussion!” He said this loudly for some reason and in Russian, then pulled a handkerchief from the pocket of his trousers, slowly wiped the sweat from his brow, and added in Russian, “A brutal beating!”

After every word the doctor said, the face of the man who’d brought the patient reflected all his feelings, all his pain and suffering. With difficulty, he held himself together, so as not to burst out sobbing. When the doctor had finished his exam, the man’s self-possession was also at an end. He wept violently, like an aggrieved child.

The eyes of one of the women in the white lab coats standing beside the operating table (the younger one) filled with tears. The elderly nurse was also upset and shook her head woefully. And the doctor was very sorry for the man. He began to calm him.

“There, there, this isn’t good . . . It’s nothing terrible. In fifteen days your friend will be like new, I’ll make a beauty out of him.” Lowering his head, he thought a bit and then again lifted his head and asked cautiously, “So, you say this man is Armenian?”

The eyes of our comic hero bulged in surprise.

“Really, you don’t know him?! You don’t know Sadai Sadygly? The pride of Azerbaijani theater! Our number one artist! You really don’t know this great master, Doctor? You haven’t even seen him on television? You’ve even seen me on television more than once, Doctor. Maybe you just don’t remember—Nuvarish Karabakhly, a well-known actor of comic roles. Maybe you don’t know me. I’m not offended by that. But there’s no one who doesn’t know Sadai Sadygly. You see, no one else in the world has played Hamlet, Othello, Aidyn, and Kefli Iskender like he has.”

Link to the rest at Words Without Borders

Lesya Ukrainka’s Revisionist Mythmaking

From The Los Angeles Review of Books:


February 25, 2021, marks the 150th birthday of the modernist poet at the top of the Ukrainian literary canon, Lesya Ukrainka (Larysa Kosach, 1871–1913). Having chosen, at the age of 13, the pen name “Ukrainian woman,” she went on to reinvent what it meant both to be a Ukrainian and a woman.

. . . .

“I am quite well aware that this is impudence,” she admitted with a sense of delicious irony in a letter to a friend, interlarding her mock-confessional Ukrainian with German words and quotes from Alexander Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, “yet ’tis ‘has been pronounced on high’ that I must mit Todesverachtung throw myself into the maze of global themes […], which my countrymen, except two or three brave souls, dare not enter.”

As a modernist, she broke with literary tradition in two significant ways. First of all, she rejected a provincializing paradigm imposed upon Ukrainian culture by the Russian Empire. During her time, the only acceptable image of the colonized people was that of ignorant peasants, and stir Ukrainka’s fancy it did not. A polyglot in command of nine European languages, she populated her poetic dramas with archetypal characters from classical mythology, Scripture, medieval legends, and Romantic poetry. Twining Ukrainian anticolonial subtext and European cultural context, Ukrainka also undermined the masculinist underpinnings of some familiar plots. A turn-of-the-century writer in a ruffled-collar blouse, she revised the key myths of Western culture from a woman’s point of view, venturing into literary territory later to be explored by second-wave feminists.

. . . .

Ukrainka’s poetic drama Stone Host (1912) became the first story of Don Juan in European letters written by a woman. Tirso de Molina, Molière, E. T. A. Hoffmann, Lord Byron, and Alexander Pushkin were among her predecessors. Ukrainka’s version transforms the fabled libertine, the great Romantic sinner and seducer into his supposed conquest’s plaything. Donna Anna is the unmistakable New Woman of the fin de siècle, albeit dressed in Spanish courtly garb. Confused by her rationality, Ukrainka’s Don Juan cries out, “You are indeed stone, without soul or heart,” only to hear in response, “Though not without good sense, you must admit.” Don Juan agrees to sacrifice his freedom and become Donna Anna’s sword in the fight for the throne. Donna Anna’s manipulative power compensates for her overall powerlessness within a male-dominated society, which can silence her no longer. Ukrainka’s heroines seize the right to tell their stories.

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Review of Books

PG doesn’t wish to rain on the triumphant parade of Ukrainica’s heroines, but must point out that Joseph Stalin did a pretty thorough job of crushing millions of Ukrainian women and men during the 1932-33 Ukrainian famine (The Holodomor, “to kill by starvation” or Terror-Famine).

Powerlessness is not always gender-related.

Starved peasants on a street in Kharkiv, 1933. In Famine in the Soviet Ukraine, 1932–1933: a memorial exhibition, Widener Library, Harvard University. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard College Library: Distributed by Harvard University Press, 1986. Procyk, Oksana. Heretz, Leonid. Mace, James E. (James Earnest). ISBN: 0674294262. Page 35. Initially published in Muss Russland Hungern? [Must Russia Starve?], published by Wilhelm Braumüller, Wien [Vienna] 1935.

Venice’s Mauri School 2021: ‘The State of the Book’

From Publishing Perspectives:

As Publishing Perspectives readers will remember, the 38th Scuola per Librai Umberto e Elisabetta Mauri program, a “School of Booksellers,” was held at the end of last month in a digital format rather than in its customary venue at Venice’s Fondazione Giorgio Cini in the former San Giorgio Monastery.

Titled “The State of the Book in Europe,” the event on January 29 drew as many as 1,200 attendees from many parts of the world, an unusual chance for many to get a look at this normally much more exclusive symposium.

. . . .

Host Nana Lohrengel, secretary-general of the Umberto and Elisabetta Mauri Foundation, opened the day and handed off to the foundation’s chief, Achille Mauri. He described what’s normally the boat ride to “the most beautiful island in the world–Palladio and Brunelleschi’s San Giorgio Maggiore—with “a breakfast of warm pastries” and “a drink of Grignolino,” the red varietal of the Piedmont, “by the labyrinth early in the morning.”

One of the most gracious comments of the entire day came in this brief welcome from Achille Mauri when he explained the special value of the symposium’s traditional, opulent setting. “Luxury,” he said, “is so therapeutic. Zoom can’t compete with that experience.”

. . . .

As the early lockdowns hit, bookseller Linzalone says “We succeeded by drawing not only on our internal resources but also by using the Libri da Asporto service [a book delivery company] in the beginning. That allowed us to keep selling at a level we never expected,” even while applying for supplemental small-business support.

“We realized it was possible and we kept selling, not just in the store but also by visiting the customers at home.”

He adds with a smile, “I wouldn’t call it clandestine selling, but we were literally selling books in the street.”

. . . .

And while the top-line news there was that the Italian book industry saw sales grow by some 2.4 percent last year, Prometeia’s Tantazzi does warn in his new presentation that “It’s virtually impossible to say how 2021 is going to pan out.”

Levi, speaking for AIE, makes the interesting point in his comments that in 2020, while fiction accounted for a third of the market, foreign fiction fared slightly better than Italian fiction. And yet, as has been reflected in many world markets, “The biggest increase during the pandemic year was seen in specialist nonfiction—law, management, literary criticism.”

What may be contrary to many other markets’ experience is the fall tracked in Italy’s children’s book sales in 2020. But Levi notes that this decline had been underway for several years prior to the pandemic.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG loved the quintessentially Italian observation that “Luxury is so therapeutic.”

He’s not certain exactly when he and Mrs. PG will be able to corral the funds and energy for a long flight to Italy, but Venice and Florence are certainly powerful incentives to do so.

Waiting for the Plane Tickets: Rights Pros on Digital Events

From Publishing Perspectives:

Almost every time you look into your inbox, another invitation has arrived to a publishing industry event online, right? And as you may have noticed, the specialized rights sessions appear to be gaining on many of the other types of programs vying for your attention.

As the impact of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic wears on, more and more niche rights events are being produced, and they’re drawing increasing levels of participation among agents, scouts, editors, and even rights-savvy authors.

Today, for example, Finland’s Oulu Writers Association has opened its two-day event for rights professionals, focused on northern Finnish writers and their works. We were alerted to this one by Urtė Liepuoniūtė at the Helsinki Literary Agency the program, Black Hole: Books Meet Rights, offers one-on-one business meetings Saturday (February 20).

What we’ll do today is hear from some industry players about how these programs work for them—and how they compare to the physical book fair, rights center, and trade show experiences made impossible for a year now by the pandemic. And we’ll look at several other events coming up this spring.

LeeAnn Bortolussi at Giunti Editore

Giunti Editore international rights manager LeeAnn Bortolussi in Milan says that in her experience, smaller events online seem to be working better than the larger ones.

“They’re more personal,” she tells us, “and I’ve actually met new people this way.”

These digital events, Bortolussi says, “can never replace physical events, but I’m thinking that in the future if one is busy and a long trip to a far-away event is not possible, then a virtual trip can be an excellent way to participate.”

When asked what the key difference is for her between a physical in-person event and a digital one, she says, “We’re all saying that online is not good for meeting new people and making new contacts and that the serendipity of a physical fair can be lost; on the other hand, we’ve had some great, long and in-depth meetings via video chat that would not have been possible during a chaotic fair.”

And her verdict? Bortolussi sees a place for both kinds of events once the physical fairs are re-engaged. “We’ll find a perfect balance and blend of both methods as they both have positive qualities.”

Michele Young at Macmillan Children’s Books

In London, Pan Macmillan Children’s Books rights director Michele Young tells us that her team “responded quickly to the changing circumstances brought on by the coronavirus.” Her comments are quite indicative of what we hear from many, and Young parses the pros and cons succinctly.

“We immediately embarked on the virtual Bologna book fair in March 2020,” she says, “followed in the year by virtual sales trips to assorted markets undertaken by different members of the team, and then the virtual Frankfurt 2020—by which time our meetings had more than doubled compared to the virtual Bologna across every time zone. We’re now preparing for a virtual Bologna 2021, and virtual fairs have now become business as usual for us.

“We’ve worked closely with the publishers to develop new-style digital sales materials, including video content to showcase our preschool and novelty offering.

“We’ve also expanded into celebratory online events with our international partners,” Young says, “We marked our bestselling picture book The Gruffalo reaching 105 translations.

“We were joined by 115 guests who participated enthusiastically in online chat. Some of these guests would most likely not have been able to join in on a physical celebration, so this virtual moment gave us the opportunity to reach more customers and to stay in touch.

“Our online meetings are less hectic than the 30-minute-or-less rushed meetings at a physical book fair,” she points out, “and we can have more in-depth conversations. But physical fairs allow for chance meetings in exhibition halls or at social events after the fair with new or old customers—or an opportune sighting of a book on a stand which a customer falls in love with.

“Digital fairs can never replicate this,” Young says. “While we’ve adapted and embraced this new virtual way of working, we know that our business thrives on our close relationships and that there will always be a place for face-to-face contact.

“And we look forward to that returning.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG notes that human beings as a group are very adaptable. He also notes that methods of doing business that were efficient fifty years ago may not be terribly efficient by today’s standards.

In past lives, PG enjoyed getting on a plane at someone else’s expense and flying to an entertaining location where he ate and drank and slept at someone else’s expense. The experience was very nice and he typically had a good time, particularly if the destination had collected a lot of lawyers in one place. (Having attended quite a few gatherings peopled by individuals in various occupational/professional groups, PG will assure one and all that lawyers have the most fun and are the most fun.)

That said, from the standpoint of operating a well-run business enterprise (which automatically eliminates all traditional publishers), if you can get a job done with a series of phone calls or video conferences while sitting somewhere that is a reasonable commuting distance from your home, more of the money generated from your efforts will fall to the bottom line, either yours or your employers’.

If it’s your bottom line, you can use some of the money to travel to a location entirely of your choosing at the time of your choosing with the person/people of your choosing and spend your time there doing or not doing whatever you like.

PG recommends Florence or Venice, but not everyone will agree with him, which is one of the delights of being a member of humanity.

Overall 2020 Downturn in China: 5.08 Percent

From Publishing Perspectives:

The annual conference produced by Beijing OpenBook—familiar to our readers for its research in our China bestsellers series—this year has reflected, predictably, on the instability of a unique year.
Titled “Crisis and Changes,” the 2020 report on China’s book market was released in a lengthy broadcast with more than 19,000 viewers at the time and at least 25,000 more following its original airing.

. . . .

(F)or the first time since OpenBook began its tracking in 2001, it saw China’s huge book market take a step back. Growth charts showed a -5.08-percent downturn in 2020, especially striking by comparison to 2019’s rise of 14.4 percent.

. . . .

Our colleague Rainy Liu at OpenBook points out that between 2015 and 2019, the Chinese retail market had been growing at more than 10 percent annually, making the 2020 retreat felt especially sharp.

Echoing what we hear from many of the world markets we cover, online retail channels saw a jump of 7.27 percent in book sales, amounting to 76.7 billion yuan RMB (US$11.8 billion), while physical bookstores experienced a plunge of -33.8 percent.

Indeed, the Chinese digital retail channels, while landing in positive rather than negative territory, did see their growth rate struggle, which in fact does not follow the pattern seen in some world markets in which digital retail surged under lockdown pressures on print.

. . . .

One early observation during 2020 from OpenBook was that the “super-size” bookstores in the sprawling Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities of China were experiencing the most daunting downturns in business under pandemic pressure.

. . . .

And in terms of what was being read, the normally robust self-help nonfiction category was seen to suffer most heavily, with a 33.2-percent dive in sales, year-over-year.

While children’s books and school study books saw positive growth, engineering and technology, computer science, medical, economics and management, education, agriculture, and natural sciences went into negative territory in 2020.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Rowman & Littlefield aims for international digital growth

From The New Publishers Standard:

Put simply digital opens up markets where a traditional print-focused strategy, with all the inherent costs involved with printing, warehousing, distribution and remaindered stock, will often be unviable.

. . . .

Rowman & Littlefield’s Alex Kind . . . has pivoted to the newly created role of European and digital sales manager, which will see Rowman & Littlefield take direct account management of Europe for the first time in its history. Kind will also be heading up R&L’s acceleration of digital delivery of content globally.

. . . .

It’s not clear how much this particular decision is down to last year’s pandemic-driven global pivot to digital publishing, but is an example of the way western publishers are looking afresh at digitally-focussed global opportunities.

. . . .

As this year unfolds and the pandemic continues to ravage the planet, we can expect digital to assume an ever more central role in the global publishing ecosystem.

Savvy publishers will, like Rowman & Littlefield, be exploring the global possibilities a hybrid print and digital strategy brings, not clinging to pre-pandemic models that were already in decline before this decade began.

Link to the rest at The New Publishers Standard

PG notes that this took long enough for someone in traditional publishing to notice.

US indie authors have been international with their ebooks since about five minutes after KDP provided checkboxes for Canada, Britain, and Australia. He assumes UK, Canadian and Australian indie authors made similar decisions within similar timeframes.

(PG expresses gratitude that, as opposed to kilometers, pounds, euros, etc., his English-speaking distant cousins around the world all share the same methods of expressing hours and minutes as their kin in the US do.)

Oxford University Press Puts Its Full ‘World Classics’ List Online

From Publishing Perspectives:

This week, the Oxford University Press has announced a new digital resource, bringing together its flagship “Oxford World’s Classics” collection in a single dedicated digital format.

Institutional users will have access to 300 works, “ranging from 18th-century dramas and essays to core Victorian novels, complete with up-to-date supplementary materials,” according to media messaging.

The new online version of the series “is designed with users in mind,” per information from the publisher. The new site’s searching and browsing functionality is said to be easy to “allow researchers, lecturers, and students to pinpoint the material they need.

“Integrated sharing and social media tools also make it easy for readers to distribute precise content with colleagues and students, facilitating seminar discussions and essay ideas.”

. . . .

“In the last year, we’ve really seen the importance of reliable digital products as universities and libraries have come under extraordinary strain.

“Digital products like our online ‘Oxford World’s Classics’ enable research and teaching to continue in these unparalleled times but will also help to permanently expand access, giving users the chance to explore beyond just what’s available in the nearest library.

“It’s great to think that the next generation of humanities students will be able to access reliable, consistent, rigorously prepared editions of key texts, thanks to the technological progress of the 21st century.”

. . . .

Researchers will find translations from the 18th and 19th century—from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Émile Zola’s Germinal, and Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina to Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species and Olaudah Equiano’s The Interesting Narrative.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Offbeat European Children’s Books For Adults

From Electric Lit:

I have a confession to make: with nearly half a century behind me, I still read children’s books. The best are truly ageless—think Alice in WonderlandThe Little Prince, Winnie-the-Pooh. No other genre, to my mind, is as consistently capable of reawakening our sense of wonder and joy, of brushing the dust off our somewhat faded vision of the world.

In fact, I drew on my lifelong love of fairy tales and nursery rhymes in my own fourth novel, The Charmed Wife, a genre-bending mix of fantasy and realism that plays with storytelling conventions as it upends the familiar narratives of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Bluebeard, and many other childhood favorites. True, my book features talking mice and divorce proceedings alike, and is decidedly not for the little ones, but I myself continue to find something deeply soothing in settling down with a cup of tea and a proper children’s book—and even more so now, during these anxious days of health worries, political unrest, and isolation.

So, if, like me, you gravitate toward more innocent pleasures as your comfort reads but have already exhausted all the old staples, here are some lesser-known offerings that may appeal both to the children in your family and to the child in you. Fair warning: many of these are darker, sadder, or odder than your regular boy-wizard, unicorn-princess fare. All are very good.

. . . .

The Moomin Series by Tove Jansson

Quite simply, these are the best children’s books I know. I grew up in Russia, and the Moomin trolls were a vital part of my childhood, as they have been for every child in Scandinavian countries since their appearance some three-quarters of a century ago. They are beginning to gain a devoted following in the U.S. too, but are not a household presence yet. By all rights, they should be.

Written and illustrated by the Finnish Tove Jansson (1914-2001) and inspired by her bohemian upbringing, these books—eight novels, a collection of short stories, and a number of picture books and comics—cover the adventures of the easy-going, fun-loving Moomins and their quirky friends. The stories celebrate family, openness to new things and new people, love of nature, simplicity, hospitality—the most important things in life, in short—and they do so with subtle humor, charm, and wisdom.

The earlier books (Finn Family MoomintrollMoominsummer Madness) are filled with summery pleasures, as delicious as strawberries savored amid carefree laughter at a June picnic. The later (Moominland MidwinterMoominpappa at Sea, and Moominvalley in November) are more somber in spirit, with a distinct vein of wintry sadness running through them, but, in my opinion, they are the most rewarding of the lot. Oh, and whatever book you choose to start with (and once you start, you will read more), it is very important to remember: Moomins are NOT hippos.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Lockdown made our library better

From The Bookseller:

I have seen so many library services just disappear due to lockdown, both in France and England, and I am so proud of what we achieved. Even if not everything worked out the way we wanted to, whether it was in terms of attendance or technical problems, we always managed to find a solution and to take something from everything we did, either a new skill, a new way to work together or a new tool to develop in future projects. I think the best side of all that is that we are already thinking about the future and creating hybrid events, both digital and physical, and new ways to interact with our customers in the future. 

At Kingston Libraries, we’ve been quick to start on a digital programme, even before we closed the libraries. We wanted to stay in touch with our users, support local residents and continue to offer a diverse range of activities for everyone. It all started with our first ever live streamed rhyme time (the first in the country!), and we got an amazing response from the public and library staff. Eight months later, we have more than 350 original videos, 100 000 views on social media, more than 100 interactive events and countless great interactions with our customers.

Starting from this original event, we found a way to reinvent our way of working. We allowed more space for individual skills and experimentation. It was really interesting for me to coordinate all the projects and work with so many new people and partners. I used to be scared of managing a team or project, but this year I have really built my confidence. It was absolutely amazing to discover the many skills and talents of colleagues I had for several years but never got to work with in the way we did. I think the main thing I will take away from all of this is how awesome and creative librarians can be when you create a space to experiment, time to develop new projects and resources to apply them.

. . . .

Now that we have a great programme and that our customers know about it, we are focussing on becoming more relevant to our residents. In the last few months, we reached a population that we could never have reached otherwise. We had participants from the United States and Finland joining our events, which was really interesting for us, but we are now working on different ways to refocus our efforts on local residents. One example of this effort is our new virtual job club, created at the end of the year to replace our usual physical job club, where we welcome a new guest speaker every week to talk about various employment topics, from writing a CV, to where to find pertinent job information, and even wellbeing sessions to manage your stress before a job interview.

. . . .

Seeing how far we have come with our digital offer, we wanted to share with other libraries, but were also eager to learn about how library staff all over the country coped with the situation and what offer they created. This led to the organisation of the first ever Digital Events Bootcamp, in partnership with Libraries Connected in November, where eight libraries all around the country delivered digital events workshops to more than 350 library staff. The programme included how to create a digital escape room, use Minecraft in libraries, and how to create craft videos. This bootcamp was a huge success!

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Who Killed Nordic Noir?

From Public Books:

We begin, as usual, with a dead body. In April 2020 an 84-year-old Swedish woman died in the happily unsuspicious circumstances of old age. Her name was Maj Sjöwall. But to readers of a certain dark bent, she was “the godmother of Nordic noir,” beloved for her creation of a new kind of detective novel. With her partner Per Wahlöö (who died in 1975), Sjöwall wrote the 10-volume Martin Beck series: a set of novels, published between 1965 and 1975, that attempted to map the whole of Swedish society through the ostensibly conservative form of the police procedural.

These were crime novels that dared to be boring. The protagonist Martin Beck—unlike the cynical demigod detectives of American hard-boiled noir—suffered from constant colds, worked on a team rather than alone, and spent most of his time on the job combing through stacks of paper. Patiently realist and sociologically astute, the Martin Beck books presented crime as emanating not from individual pathology but from rips in Sweden’s tightly stitched social fabric. Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s Beck series laid the foundations for one of contemporary literature’s most dominant popular forms: the Scandinavian crime novel.

The Martin Beck books were thoughtful works of art disguised as mass entertainment. In the novels, political critique drew warmth from lovable characters; passages of austere description heightened suspense. This marriage of the realistic and the thrilling, the political and the popular, turns out to have been a fragile achievement. Much has changed since Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s idealistic beginnings. The Scandinavian crime novel has all but abandoned the artistic and political aspirations that once served as the genre’s bedrock.

When “Nordic noir” exploded onto the global literary scene around the time of the financial crisis, the genre did so not in the mode of Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s realism but in a new key of ultraviolence. In the atmosphere of ambient unrest that accompanied the plunging markets, an inked-up, chain-smoking hacker named Lisbeth Salander burst into world literature, her face piercings glinting. Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2008) inaugurated a hunger among readers for tales featuring torture chambers, comeuppance against rapists, and snowy landscapes drenched in gore. Publishers, too, smelled blood. A wave of translations ensued, primarily from Sweden but quickly encompassing writers from Norway, Denmark, and (less so) Iceland and Finland.

. . . .

The time has come to ask what lies ahead for Scandinavian noir, and whether Sjöwall’s passing marks the end of an era. Since its origins in the 1960s, the genre’s visibility and violence have increased. Yet its excellence has faded, and its commercial success seems to be falling off. No great artistic practitioner of Nordic noir has emerged since Henning Mankell, whose 1990s-era series following the moody, introspective policeman Kurt Wallander offers both intelligent rumination on Swedish national identity and a complex portrait of the protagonist’s troubled interior. As for sales, Larsson has come to look like an anomalously titanic figure, with more than 100 million copies of his Salander books sold worldwide. Jo Nesbø, the most successful living author in this genre, has by comparison sold about 40 million copies across more than a dozen novels—spectacular numbers on the order of Mankell, but trending downward; Nesbø’s latest installment, Knife (2019), has sold just over 30,000 print copies in the United States since coming out a year and a half ago.

A mystery of our own, then. Is the Scandinavian crime novel alive and well, at large in some modest disguise—flinging chum and straining at the ropes on a fishing vessel beyond the fjords? Or is it lying dead, tongue swollen, behind a locked door? And if the latter: Who killed Nordic noir?

Link to the rest at Public Books

A love letter to European literature

From The Bookseller:

Aged 15 I got a Christmas job at my local bookshop in Battersea so I could save to go interrailing. My parents’ bookshelves were brimming with mostly Black writers: Chinua Achebe, Buchi Emecheta, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Chester Himes, Terry McMillan, and I was surrounded by ‘consciousness’ (as we then called ‘woke’). I was yet to read European works in translation, and the bookshop opened up to me the rest of Europe and its myriad cities, cultures, languages and complex histories.

I started with French literature and read Anais Nin, Simone de Beauvoir, Georges Perec, Georges Bataille. From there, I explored more of the continent, José Saramago, Italo Calvino, Primo Levi. Reading Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Likeness of Being was haunting and powerful. Kundera confronts readers with questions of exile, identity, belonging and selfhood.

I discovered John Berger, who, although not exiled, was a cultural émigré from Britain to France and his work introduced me to artists, writers and thinkers across Europe. Reading his Once in Europa opened me up to Russian literature and I was that 23-year-old girl in pubs reading Nabokov and Dostoevsky at the table whilst everyone chatted around me. I felt like I was a character in a Mike Leigh film and a total cliché, but I found my first true love and didn’t business what anyone else thought. A few years later when John and I met we became friends and he encouraged me to move to Europe and fulfil my potential. 

From Russia, I went back to Bohemia and discovered the fantastical mind of Franz Kafka. Amerika, which inspired an incredible piece by German artist Martin Kippenberger, The Happy End to Franz Kafka’s Amerika, which I saw at the Tate Modern in 2005. I’d never thought Germany, with its complicated history, as a place that I would find compelling, but after seeing that piece I became curious.

A year later I went to Berlin for the first time and visited an institution called The Literatur Haus in Charlottenburg: a grand villa where the sole purpose is to connect readers with writing and literature. There are eleven Literature Houses across Germany and a European network of cities including Oslo, Copenhagen and Prague, yet not one in Britain. Literature Houses offer a deeper cultural exchange that is very different to libraries. These buildings stand tall as a beacon of the importance of narratives and storytelling. I understood that German culture, Gutenberg to Goethe and beyond, was built on the basis that, without literature, nothing else can be formed. I was hooked. Heading back to London, I enrolled in classes at the Goethe Institute and they helped me to discover the works of Hans Fallada, Hannah Arendt, Joseph Roth, Jenny Erpenbeck, Julia Franck, W.G. Sebald and Stefan Zweig.

What was so striking to me about the literature from the continent was that it seemed to be concerned with progress, difference and change. Outside of Shakespeare, English classics always felt so stuffy to me and obsessed with maintaining the status quo and birth rights. Where forbidden love and class was the order for the day in Britain, central European literature was concerned with surviving regimes and emphasised hard work and humility. Southern European literature seemed full of creativity and bold new ideas, centring humanity. 

It seemed to me that continental European literature reflected the region’s turmoil and revolutions, while Britain maintained elite ruling classes and divided rule from the playbook from the Age of Empire.

Looking towards the publishing industry, where Europe’s biggest nations publish up to 42% in translation, Britain merely publishes 5%. The continent has always been interested in listening, thinking about and understanding the lives of others.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

House of Trelawney

From The Wall Street Journal:

In a song of 1938, Noël Coward wrote:

The stately homes of England

How beautiful they stand,

To prove the upper classes

Have still the upper hand.

Though the fact that they have to be rebuilt

And frequently mortgaged to the hilt

Is inclined to take the gilt

Off the gingerbread

Hannah Rothschild’s new comic novel “House of Trelawney” is about an ancestral home in Cornwall where the gilt has definitely come off. Trelawney Castle, situated on a bluff overlooking the ocean, has belonged to the same noble family for 800 years. “The castle was their three-dimensional calling card, the physical embodiment of their wealth and influence,” writes Ms. Rothschild. “Each Earl added an extension until it was declared the grandest, if not the finest, stately home in the county of Cornwall.”

It sounds wonderful. It’s not. The novel opens in 2008, and the castle has fallen into “chaos and decrepitude.” The bungling and ineptitude of the last eight dissolute earls, “along with two world wars, the Wall Street Crash, three divorces and inheritance taxes” has eaten up the estate. There were once medieval oak woods, meadows and waterfalls on the 500,000 acres known as “Trelawneyshire.” Now ponds have silted up, hedges are bedraggled, and arches are covered with vines. Inside the castle, which has a room for each day of the year, empty squares discolor walls where great paintings once hung. In the rooms “the huge side tables were covered in a layer of dust and detritus, and a grand piano sat in a pool of water.” And the decay is accelerating: “Occasionally a great crash of avalanching plaster could be heard falling like a tree in a faraway wood.”

In 1988 the 24th Earl of Trelawney, now aged 85, handed the pile to his feckless son and heir, Kitto. His oldest and smartest child, Blaze, couldn’t inherit because she was female. Such were Britain’s archaic rules of primogeniture. With no funds left for its upkeep Kitto, like many an earl or duke before him, was forced to marry for money. Jane, his dowdy bride, possessed a fortune. But, inevitably, Jane’s money ran out. So did the heating and hot water. Now she is martyr to the cause, the house “skivvy,” feeding her aging parents-in-law and three teenage children cut-price mince (ground beef). She delivers pots of hot water to the freezing elderly earl and countess who reside upstairs in a fantasy world peopled with imaginary housemaids and butlers. They still change into formal clothes (now rather shabby) for dinner.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

More bookshops to close doors as further areas enter Tier 4

From The Bookseller:

More areas in England will be added to Tier 4 from Boxing Day, with non-essential shops closing their doors, the government has announced.

In a press conference on 23rd December, health secretary Matt Hancock said Sussex, Oxfordshire, Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, the parts of Essex not already in tier 4, Waverley in Surrey and Hampshire (excluding the New Forest) would be subject to the highest level of restrictions. Some other areas, including Gloucestershire and Cheshire, will be bumped up to Tier 3, while Cornwall and Herefordshire will rise to Tier 2, he said.

The restrictions will come into effect at 12.01 a.m. on Boxing Day.

London, Kent, parts of Essex and Berkshire had already entered Tier 4 on Sunday, requiring all non-essential retailers to shut, although bookshops can still offer a call/click and collect service. Wales has also entered Tier 4, while Scotland will do so from Boxing Day. Northern Ireland will enter a six-week lockdown from Christmas Eve.

. . . .

“We simply cannot have the kind of Christmas that we all yearn for.”

. . . .

Patrick Neale at Jaffe & Neale bookshop in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, said he had mixed feeling about the news. He told The Bookseller: “We just felt that was an air of inevitability about it and it’s better that it happens. I’m very conflicted about it because I want us to solve this horrible problem but commercially I didn’t want to lose any big trading days. So that will be difficult in that we normally are very busy between Christmas and New Year and certainly the first year of January but we also want to solve this problem and don’t want to be part of the problem.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Survival Strategies for Unsupervised Children

From Electric Lit:

We’re called the Crazy 9, but there are not always nine of us. We were nine before la policía took Tuki. We called him Tuki because he loved to dance all weird. Every time he heard the tuki-tuki of electronic music, he flailed his arms and raised his knees like some sort of strange bird. Tuki was funny but a little mean. I miss him, but not too much.

I feared we would be seven soon. Ramoncito hadn’t been feeling well, throwing up everywhere. He smelled really bad because he pooped his pants the other day and hadn’t been able to find new ones, so we didn’t like to stand next to him. Or sometimes we made fun of him and yelled, “Ramoncito, pupusito!” and everyone laughed and laughed and laughed, but inside I wasn’t laughing too hard; inside I felt bad. When the others were asleep, I pinched my nose with my finger and thumb and went to Ramoncito. I used to bring him something to eat too, but the last two times he threw up right after, so I didn’t bring him food anymore—why waste it, is what I say—but I still asked, “How are you feeling, Ramoncito?” and “Is there anything I can do, Ramoncito?” My voice sounded funny because of the nose pinch, and sometimes he smiled. Before, he would talk to me a little, but now he didn’t talk much. He could still walk around and go with us on our missions, but he was very slow. His eyes were sleepy all the time, and they looked like they were sinking into his skull. But we also laughed at him because he’s the youngest, only seven and a half, and everyone always gives the youngest a hard time. I was the youngest before Ramoncito came along, but even if Ramoncito didn’t last much longer, the others wouldn’t treat me like the youngest because I was the one that found the knife, and I’m the best at using it.

. . . .

Here is what the Crazy 9 love.

We love our name, and we won’t change it, even if we are really eight, or seven—we love it because it sounds crazy and because we scrawl it all over the place—when we find spray cans, or markers, or pens.

We love the knife. We found it one night after running away from the lady who wouldn’t give us any money, so we pushed her and took her purse. As we gathered to inspect our loot on the banks of the Güaire River, I pulled it from a secret pocket, shiny and dangerous. We love to take turns and unfold the blade from its wooden handle and scream, “Give me all your money!” but we are just practicing. I carry the knife most of the time because I found it, but also because I can throw it at a tree and almost always get it to stick, and I can also throw it in the air and almost always catch it by the handle without cutting my hand.

We love Pollos Arturos, it’s everyone’s favorite, but we almost never get to have any, because if the guard sees us he screams and chases us away—but sometimes we will beg and someone will give us a wing. One time Ramoncito got a leg, but that was before he was throwing up. He got a leg because the youngest always does the best begging. But we have rules in the Crazy 9, so we didn’t take the leg away from Ramoncito. He ate it all by himself.

We love going to the protests. We don’t go to the front too much because that’s where the police fight the protesters—the protesters wear their T-shirts tight around their faces, or they make gas masks out of junk, or they wear bicycle helmets and carry wooden and zinc shields with the colors of the flag painted on them; they throw mostly rocks at the police, but sometimes they shoot fireworks at them. One of them holds the cohetón parallel to the ground—aimed straight at the line of men in their green uniforms and their plastic shields and their big shotguns—while another lights the fuse. They only let it go when the whistling is loud, and we think they might be holding on to it for too long, long enough for it to explode in their hands, but then we see it fly like a comet straight into the green and plastic wall of soldiers that stands down the road. We always cheer when we see that.

Sometimes we stand next to them and yell at the police. We wrap our T-shirts around our faces and scream “¡Viva Venezuela!” and “¡Abajo Maduro!” and jump and throw rocks. It’s fun, except for when the tear gas comes and we have to run away or else cough and cough and cry and cry. But we mostly stay at the back of the protests because we can beg or steal better. Because the women are there, or the older men, or the cowards that don’t want to fight in the front, like us. The begging is good at the protests. The lady will see us and tell her friend in the white shirt and the baseball cap with the yellow, blue, and red of the flag, “Our country is gone, isn’t it? Poor child. I swear, chama, I don’t remember it ever being this bad!” That’s the moment when I try them, and most of the time I get a few bolivares. But we have rules in the Crazy 9, so we always share the money we get from begging or stealing.

We love each other. We say “Crazy 9 forever!” and exchange manly hugs. I love that feeling you get when you hug someone and you mean it. But it also makes me remember things I don’t like remembering, so let’s not talk about that.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit:

Tehran Book Fair Uncensored Is Now Underway in Its Fifth Edition

From Publishing Perspectives:

The London-based founder of Nogaam Publishing, Azadeh Parsapour, has messaged the news media today (December 8) that the fifth edition of the Tehran Book Fair Uncensored is running through Sunday (December 13).

Under normal circumstances outside of a coronavirus pandemic, this event is held in the spring and moves from one city and country to the next, hosted by a network of independent publishers of literature-in-exile, if you will.

The Tehran Book Fair Uncensored was founded in 2016 by Iran’s Parsapour. She’s the winner of the Association of American Publisher’s 2018 Freedom to Publish award for her work in producing the writings of banned, blacklisted, or exiled Iranian authors. Parsapour also has been shortlisted three times for the International Publishers Association’s Prix Voltaire shortlist, which rewards courage “in upholding the freedom to publish and in enabling others to exercise their right to freedom of expression.”

That network of independent publishers of Persian-language literature (Farsi) this year has created the first digital edition of the fair.

. . . .

“Now 12 publishers of Persian books from different parts of the world have joined us for this big event.  More than 30 programs are being held through December 13, on our Instagram, Facebook, and Zoom platforms.” Those programs include book launches, interviews, and discussions.

An advantage of the online program, she notes, is that “Iranians inside the country can also participate in all of our programs and connect with exiled authors and translators.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

BA and Bookshop.org respond to bookseller criticism

From The Bookseller:

he Booksellers Association and Bookshop.org have responded to criticism following the launch of the online website in the UK in November. The criticism, which is focused on how effective the website will be at supporting independent bookshops and the BA’s role in facilitating the launch, came in the form of a letter from bookseller Tamsin Rosewell to BA m.d. Meryl Halls following a social media discussion about the website. The letter was subsequently leaked to the press.

The letter, seen by The Bookseller, states that there is “discontent” among booksellers and publishers that is growing and “increasingly bitter”. Rosewell wrote that she had had numerous questions over how the affiliates scheme would work for indies, publishers, and authors, and described the launch marketing as “far more aggressive than is appropriate”. She also raised concerns over the BA’s own role in bringing Bookshop.org to the UK, as well as the requirement that participating bookshops should be members of the BA. Rosewell also queried what the impact would be on established bookshop websites such as those operated by Waterstones and Blackwell’s. “This general lack of transparency and accountability raises more complex questions.”

When approached by The Bookseller, Rosewell declined to comment further, and denied being the source of the leak. The letter is wide-ranging and contains a number of criticisms, some of which have been repeated in a New Statesman article. Speaking to The Bookseller, Meryl Halls, m.d. of the Booksellers Association, said the exchange of letters had been with Rosewell, and not with a number of booksellers as was being implied by the New Statesman.

In response to the letter from Rosewell, Halls wrote: “I understand that you remain unconvinced about Bookshop.org – plenty of booksellers remain unconvinced, I know – we have a pluralist membership and they will all have a different view. There is nothing compulsory about any of this; on the contrary, it is all optional.” On the question of the BA’s links to Bookshop.org–Halls sits on the board of the UK company—she said that the BA has no financial interest in Bookshop.org, and received no income from sales made. “We have made no investment, we have given them no funding, there is no introducer fee coming to the BA from Bookshop.org, or anything of the sort. We have no financial arrangement with Bookshop.org.”

On the criticism that indies had to be members of the BA, Halls responded that it was the same model as used in the US where indies must be part of the American Booksellers Association, and that its intention was to make sure that “only genuine, bricks and mortar indie bookshops would benefit”.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG Wodehouse: Why India still holds a flame for the English author

From the BBC:

Navtej Sarna had a highly distinguished career in the Indian Foreign Service. There were stints as ambassador to both London and Washington DC.

But before that he spent a short time with the Indian industrial conglomerate Tata. He recalls the final paper of the entrance exams, which he sat in 1980. Applicants were required to select one essay to write from various options supplied.

“I looked unhappily at this list of rather involved economic and business topics,” he says, “all of which I knew I might struggle with. And then I was saved by the last one: ‘A Wodehouse a Day Keeps the Doctor Away’. So that’s what I wrote about and it got me the job.”

It might seem odd that 40 years ago a massive South Asian business concern would assume job applicants might still be familiar with such utterly English works.

In fact Pelham Grenville Wodehouse (1881 – 1975) became an Indian favourite even as quite a young writer – though he never went there and he barely mentions India in 71 of his novels or in his many short stories. Yet he was read there avidly and his most popular books still sell in English-language bookshops.

. . . .

Sarna says being taught in schools in India where the teaching is all in English his first reading in the 1960s wasn’t so different from that of British children a few years before – Enid Blyton, Jennings and Billy Bunter.

“But I began to outgrow them and then I discovered Wodehouse. It wasn’t difficult because my father had at least 40 of his books – I just fell in love with his characters and humour and especially with the way he used words. I think that may be his appeal for English-speaking Indians – his delight in the English language.

“We had old Penguin paperbacks and some of the original hardback copies published in London by Herbert Jenkins like Uncle Fred in the Springtime. We read them so much as a family that we had to go into the market in Dehradun and ask to get them rebound – they were falling apart.

“Although the English left after independence (in 1947) there was still a close intellectual linkage with India’s English-speaking administrative and professional class. The fondness for Wodehouse was part of that.

“I think one must admit that the world has changed and people under 40 now are perhaps less likely to read him in India. They exist in a world of iPhones and Netflix and social media – perhaps Wodehouse is too much from a different time.”

. . . .

Another long-standing fan of Wodehouse is Sushmita Sen Gupta. She lives in Delhi but has been a member of the UK Wodehouse Society almost since it began. She agrees with Sarna that younger Indians now have less time for the gentle comedies of Plum Wodehouse, as he was known. (Indian fans refer to themselves as plummies.)

“But the positive news is that in other ways the internet helps we plummies too. India is a vast country with a vast population so it used to be that fans could only discuss their Wodehouse addiction with their family or a few friends,” she says.

“Now we have online groups and even in lockdown we’ve been keeping our Wodehouse discussions going online.”

. . . .

Sarna thinks an overlap remains between British humour and the humour enjoyed by Indians who grew up speaking English at home and in school.

“I know people sometimes say the world Wodehouse described hasn’t existed for many years. As I grew up, I think I realised that his world had perhaps never existed at all,” he says.

“But for instance, families such as mine would play the board game Monopoly and we would see street names such as Piccadilly and Pall Mall – it all seemed part of the same world as Wodehouse with its clubs and the bobbies in their helmets and the red London buses.

“There are generations of Indians who grew up with an affection for those things. Later on in life you realise that much water has flown. But it doesn’t change the fact that a book like The Code of the Woosters is an absolute classic with sheer joy in his use of language.”

Link to the rest at BBC

PG notes the OP contains several photos of PG at various ages.

Best books of 2020

From The Guardian:

Fiction

As the first lockdown descended in March, sales of Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year and Camus’s La Peste soared, but there were uncanny echoes of Covid-19 to be found in this year’s novels too.

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Maggie O’Farrell’s tender, heartbreaking Hamnet (Tinder), which went on to win the Women’s prize, illuminates life and love in the shadow of death four centuries ago. Focused on Anne Hathaway rather than her playwright husband , it channels the family’s grief for son Hamnet, lost to the plague, with a timeless power. From public information slogans to individual fears, Emma Donoghue’s The Pull of the Stars (Picador), set in a Dublin maternity hospital during the 1918 flu pandemic, shows how little our responses have changed. Don DeLillo completed The Silence (Picador) just before the coronavirus hit; but this slim, austere vision of what it’s like to be in a room as screens go dark and disaster unfolds outside chimes with current fears.

Unfolding disaster was the theme of novels that spoke explicitly to the present moment, too: Jenny Offill’s Weather (Granta) assembles shards of anecdote and aphorism into a glittering mosaic that faces up to Trump’s America and climate collapse with wit, heart and moments of sheer terror. Naomi Booth’s Exit Management (Dead Ink) expertly dramatises the crisis in housing, jobs and community. Sarah Moss’s menacing Summerwater (Picador) is set over one rainy day in a Scottish holiday park: catastrophe lurks in the near future as we dip into the minds of various daydreaming, dissatisfied holidaymakers, in a sharp investigation into the meaning of community and otherness. Also deeply attuned to the anxieties of both Brexit and our long, slow post-industrial collapse is M John Harrison’s masterly The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again (Gollancz). An unsettling and multilayered narrative foregrounding two lost souls in a haunted, unheimlich England who don’t know how lost they are, it took the Goldsmiths prize for innovative fiction.

. . . .

In translated fiction, Elena Ferrante returned to her emotional heartland, the psyche of the teenage girl, in The Lying Life of Adults (Europa, translated by Ann Goldstein). As Giovanna tackles parental hypocrisy, self-disgust and the disconnect between upper- and lower-class Naples, the novel builds into what feels like a portrait of the artist as a young woman. Originally conceived as a true crime story, Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor (Fitzcarraldo, translated by Sophie Hughes) is a savage, unstoppable chronicle of misogyny and murder in a small Mexican village. Another rawly compelling novel won the International Booker: young Dutch writer Marieke Lucas Rijneveld’s The Discomfort of Evening (Faber, translated by Michele Hutchison) focuses on a girl in a deeply religious family that is falling apart in the wake of her brother’s death.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Storytel Norway denies rumour it plans to pay publishers by the minute rather than a fixed rate per download

From The New Publishing Standard:

Storytel Norway is the only one of the 21 Storytel markets where it still pays a fixed rate per download to publishers, rather than compensating by the minute consumed. The reason being Norway’s fixed price book law.

Norwegian newspaper Klassekampen, per a report in the Norwegian publishing journal Bok365, claims to have seen an internal memo between Norwegian publisher Gyldendal and Storytel NO which asserted,

Storytel will switch to a time-based royalty model, where the author receives NOK 1.25 ($0.14) per hour played.

Storytel NO currently pays a minimum of NOK 10 ($1.13) per unit played after 20% consumption, and told Bok365:

We operate in the Norwegian market according to the agreements that apply here, and have not changed to time-based royalty settlement (adding that) Storytel Norway has been through a somewhat challenging third quarter.

A challenging third quarter, when elsewhere Storytel appears to be thriving amid the pandemic? That would appear to be directly related to the fixed-rate payout. Per Bok365:

Short books that are listened to by an increasing number of subscribers become bad business and cannibalise the earnings of longer audio books.

This of course exactly the imbalance the by-the-hour compensation was intended to remedy.

Havik happily admits he would prefer Storytel NO have the same payments system as the rest of the Storytel empire, but said Storytel NO would observe the local law. He explained to Bok365 that the Klassekampen story arose from a specific incident where a Norwegian publisher offered a dozen short children’s stories, which are a classic problem for the fixed rate unlimited subscription model where an audiobook of perhaps thirty minutes duration will be paid the same as one of twenty hours, leaving the subscription service in the red. 

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

The Libraries of My Life

From The Paris Review:

I was thirteen and wanted to work. Someone told me that you could get paid to referee basketball games and where to go to find out about such weekend employment. I needed income to bolster my collections of stamps and Sherlock Holmes novels. I vaguely remember going to an office full of adolescents queueing in front of a young man who looked every inch an administrator. When my turn came, he asked me if I had any experience and I lied. I left that place with details of a game that would be played two days later, and the promise of 700 pesetas in cash. Nowadays, if a thirteen-year-old wants to research something he’s ignorant about, he’ll go to YouTube. That same afternoon I bought a whistle in a sports shop and went to the library.

I wasn’t at all enlightened by the two books I found about the rules of basketball, one of which had illustrations, despite my notes and little diagrams, and my Friday afternoon study sessions; but I was very lucky, and on Saturday morning the local coach explained from the sidelines the rudiments of a sport that, up to that point, I had practiced with very little knowledge of its theory.

My practical training came from the street and the school playground. My other knowledge, the abstract kind, stood on the shelves of the Biblioteca Popular de la Caixa Laietana, the only library I had access to at the time in Mataró, the small city where I was brought up. I must have started going to its reading rooms at the start of primary school, in sixth or seventh grade. That’s when I began to read systematically. I had the entire collection of The Happy Hollisters at home, and Tintin, The Extraordinary Adventures of MassagranAsterix and Obelix, and Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators at the library. Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie were devoured in both places. When my father began to work for the Readers’ Circle in the afternoons, the first thing I did was buy the Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple novels I hadn’t yet read. That’s probably when my desire to own books began.

The Biblioteca Popular de la Caixa Laietana acted as a surrogate nursery. I don’t think children today have to write as much as we did in the eighties. Long, typed-out projects on Japan and the French Revolution, on bees and the different parts of flowers, projects that were a perfect excuse to research in the shelves of a library that seemed, then, infinite and boundless; much greater than my imagination, then anchored in my neighborhood and still restricted to three television channels and the twenty-five books in my parents’ tiny library. I did my homework, researched for a while, and still had time to read a whole comic or a couple of chapters of a novel in whatever detective series I happened to be enjoying. Some children behaved badly; I didn’t. The twenty-five-year-old librarian, a pleasant, rather custodial type, who was tall, though not overly so, kept an eye on them, but not on me. I’d go to him when I needed to find a book I couldn’t track down. I also began to hassle Carme, the other young librarian, who saved us from her older, pricklier colleagues with clever bibliographical questions: “Any book on pollen that doesn’t just repeat what all the encyclopedias say?”

I mentioned my parents’ micro-library. “Twenty-five books,” I said. I should explain that Spain’s transition from dictatorship was led by the savings banks. Municipal governments, busy with speculation and urban development, delegated culture and social services to the banks. Mataró was a textbook case: most exhibitions, museums, and senior centers, as well as the only library in a city of a hundred thousand inhabitants, depended on the Laietana Savings Bank. At the beginning of this century, during my (now real) research into Bishop Josep Benet Serra for my book Australia: A Journey, Carme, who has since become an exceptional librarian in Mataró, opened the doors of the Mataró holdings to me. I wasn’t then aware of that defining metaphor, the 2008 economic crisis hadn’t yet revealed the emperor’s nakedness: Mataró’s document holdings, its historical memory, wasn’t in the municipal archive, wasn’t in the public library, but in the heart of the Laietana Saving Bank’s People’s Library. During the Spanish transition to democracy, the so-called duty to look after culture was assumed by the savings banks without anyone ever challenging them; it only became evident when one of them published a book, which they sent to all their customers as a free gift. I have one in my library that I inherited or purloined from my parents’ house, Alexandre Cirici’s Picasso: His Life and Work. The title page says: “A gift from the savings bank of Catalonia.” It is the only institutional message. Although it’s hard to credit, there is no prologue by a politician or banker. There was no need to justify a gesture that was seen as natural. Over half of my parents’ books were gifts from banks.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

As book publishing shrinks during the pandemic, how are India’s printing presses coping?

From Scroll.in:

Anand Limaye of Indian Printing Works in Mumbai is a book printer and publisher. Every year during the festival season, he is “super-duper busy” with Diwali Anksthe bumper-size magazines published in Marathi during Diwali, featuring literary writings and ads in equal measure. “This year, instead of 19 Diwali Anks, we have printed 11,” Limaye said.

This is not too bad for Limaye’s press, which has been operating a single shift in its Wadala and Bhiwandi factories since March. For Limaye and many others like him, the factories are running again post-lockdown. Printing equipment is the life-blood of any printing factory. These machines are expensive and need regular running and maintenance. That they were unable to do this during the lockdown was the biggest problem faced by printers when things came to a standstill.

. . . .

To combat the situation, leading publishers mooted the idea of selling five leading issues at a combined sum of Rs 1,000, plus one free Storytel gift card. The scheme evoked overwhelming response.

The traditional Mecca for print in Mumbai, Shah & Nahar, in Lower Parel, is eerily quiet. Roopesh Sawant of Superlekha, a Mumbai-based printer, says, “After seven months, we are seeing 25%-30% of pre-Covid levels. Promotions are at an all-time low.”

. . . .

Since printing is essentially ink-on-paper, a cursory look at the demand for paper since March gives us a fair idea of how book printers are doing. Deepak Mittal, a paper trader in Bengaluru, said, “Shrinkage of demand has been swift, in a way that has never been experienced by the industry. The writing and printing segment has been the worst-affected owing to its reliance on the education sector, which contributes close to 60% of the demand.” With schools and colleges, barring Classes 10 and 12, unlikely to reopen in this academic year, the situation is grim.

“To add to the problem, commercial and promotional printing, like diaries, calendars, brochures, catalogues, etc have been badly impacted, as a lot of companies have either cancelled their requirements for this year or gone digital,” Mittal said. “The big daddy of diaries, LIC, has called off printing diaries this year, and many other government departments and companies have followed in their footsteps.”

Link to the rest at Scroll.in

UK: Ebooks and audiobooks head for all-time high in 2020. So much for “screen fatigue”

From The New Publishing Standard:

The head of the UK’s Publishers Association puts a brave face on the latest numbers from Nielsen, which show digital heading for an all-time high as this year winds down.

Despite a significant drop in print sales, as we’d expect with the country’s “nations” (England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland) in varying stages of lockdown, UK publishers have been doing surprisingly well this year, and that is in large part due to online print sales, and to sales of ebooks and audiobooks.

Per the UK’s The Guardian, summarising the latest Nielsen stats,

The pandemic has revived the fortunes of the consumer ebook. The format once touted as the future of reading has suffered six straight years of sales declines since peaking in 2014 but this year has been different, with sales home and abroad up 17% to £144m in the first half. UK publishers can now expect consumer ebooks to enjoy their best year since 2015, when sales were just under £300m.

The UK Publishers Association CEO Stephen Lotinga explained,

In a challenging year for the UK publishing industry, growth in digital has helped counterbalance print decreases. These figures really emphasise the enduring nature of books and reading – and that readers continue to embrace books in all their forms.

So let’s get this straight. With people confined to their homes, with endless time to spend on their screens on social media or playing mobile games or watching Netflix… The enduring nature of books and reading prevails, says Lotinga.

That’s great. Nothing to disagree with there. Only… Whatever happened to screen fatigue, Stephen?

Screen fatigue? That was the buzzword in the publishing industry a few years ago when the digital naysayers were eager to explain slowing ebook sales without admitting publishers had artificially warped the market against the format.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

Lockdown named word of the year by Collins Dictionary

From The Guardian:

Lockdown, the noun that has come to define so many lives across the world in 2020, has been named word of the year by Collins Dictionary.

Lockdown is defined by Collins as “the imposition of stringent restrictions on travel, social interaction, and access to public spaces”, and its usage has boomed over the last year. The 4.5bn-word Collins Corpus, which contains written material from websites, books and newspapers, as well as spoken material from radio, television and conversations, registered a 6,000% increase in its usage. In 2019, there were 4,000 recorded instances of lockdown being used. In 2020, this had soared to more than a quarter of a million.

“Language is a reflection of the world around us and 2020 has been dominated by the global pandemic,” says Collins language content consultant Helen Newstead. “We have chosen lockdown as our word of the year because it encapsulates the shared experience of billions of people who have had to restrict their daily lives in order to contain the virus. Lockdown has affected the way we work, study, shop, and socialise. With many countries entering a second lockdown, it is not a word of the year to celebrate but it is, perhaps, one that sums up the year for most of the world.”

Other pandemic-related words such as coronavirus, social distancing, self-isolate and furlough were on the dictionary’s list of the top 10 words. So was the term key worker. According to Collins, key worker saw a 60-fold increase in usage over the last year, which reflects “the importance attributed this year to professions considered to be essential to society”.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Who’s afraid of the big (good) Second Life Book Club?

From The Bookseller:

On average I devour 120 books per year, mostly literary and genre novels. I have time to do this because I don’t watch TV and my Facebook account has been deactivated years ago.

Reading is my meditation. It grounds me. But e-Books are verboten. For me, it’s strictly paper books. This may seem contradictory for someone who spends a significant portion of his life working with and engaged in technology. Specifically, a virtual world where my avatar (Draxtor Despres) runs a book community called the Second Life Book Club.

The Second Life Book Club’s flagship offering is an hour-long program every Wednesday at 12 pm Pacific Time (8pm UK time), where I have conversations with writers about their work, the craft and the business. The book club venue “seats” an audience of 50 in-world, and reaches an average of 3000 viewers through simultaneous live broadcasts on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

The conversation is followed by a “post-game hangout”, where writers and audience members can converse. Since April 2020 my guests have included Charles Yu (National Book Award Finalist with Interior Chinatown), Yvonne Battle-Felton (longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019 with Remembered), famed children’s book illustrator from Syria, Nadine Kaadan, and star of Indian speculative fiction, Samit Basu.

The book club grew out of the collaborative effort of Second Life Maker Linden Lab and myself, a Linden Lab contractor, as a way to demonstrate the viability of a virtual book tour in response to the impact of Covid-19 lockdown measures on the publishing industry.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller, including links to all the programs, sites, etc., mentioned in the excerpt.

PG hadn’t heard bout the Second Life Book Club before, perhaps because he has been sheltering in place from the US Presidential Election and the bits and pieces flying off therefrom and bouncing around the internet.

Has anyone ever listened to, watched, seen, streamed, etc., the Second Life Book Club?

If so, what has been your reaction?

HC signs book for stressed women

From The Bookseller:

HarperCollins has acquired a guide to help women beat stress, Stressilient, by clinical psychologist Dr Sam Akbar.

World English language rights for Stressilient: How to Beat Stress and Build Resilience were acquired by PR and publishing director Michelle Kane at Fourth Estate from Claudia Young at Greene & Heaton. Publication is scheduled for spring 2022.

In the book, Dr Akbar will draw on her own professional expertise–with over 10 years’ experience as a clinical psychologist–providing “sensitive guidance and practical tools for women who are looking to feel calmer, less stressed and more resilient to life’s challenges”.

Kane said: “While life affirming insta-quotes might provide a quick fix, now, more than ever, we need the voices of experts to help us deal with our mental wellbeing in the long term. Sam’s professional experience positions her as a real voice we can trust in and this essential little book will provide tools that the reader will use for life!”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Parlez moi D’amour

PG was intrigued by the origin of the title of one of books by Raymond Carver about whom PG posted yesterday.

Lucienne Boyer

It appears the title of Carver’s book is taken from a popular French song from the 1930’s, Parlez moi D’amour. The French singer who performed as Lucienne Boyer was born in 1901 in Paris and learned to sing in the cabarets of Montparnasse. She made Parlez moi D’amour her trademark in the 1930’s.

In 1939, Ms. Boyer married another cabaret singer, Jacques Pills, who was Jewish. They had a child, Jacqueline, born in Nazi-occupied Paris in 1941 and stayed in the city throughout the war. In 1951, they divorced and Pills married Édith Piaf the following year.

Lucienne continued her successful singing career through the 1970’s and died in 1983.

In the movie, Casablanca, Sam, the piano player, is playing Parlez moi D’amour in the background when Ingrid Bergman enters Rick’s Café Américain for the first time.

It appears that the title and lyrics may fall into the category of “You can’t really understand unless you speak French and have a bone-deep knowledge of the culture and the times in which it was composed and performed.”

Here are the original French lyrics followed by two English translations which PG located online:

Parlez-moi d’amour
Redites-moi des choses tendres
Votre beau discours
Mon coeur n’est pas las de l’entendre
Pourvu que toujours
Vous répétiez ces mots suprêmes :
“Je vous aime”

Vous savez bien
Que dans le fond je n’en crois rien
Mais cependant je veux encore
Écouter ce mot que j’adore
Votre voix aux sons caressants
Qui le murmure en frémissant
Me berce de sa belle histoire
Et malgré moi je veux y croire

Il est si doux
Mon cher trésor, d’être un peu fou
La vie est parfois trop amère
Si l’on ne croit pas aux chimères
Le chagrin est vite apaisé
Et se console d’un baiser
Du coeur on guérit la blessure
Par un serment qui le rassure

en anglais – 1

Speak to me of love
tell me tender things once more
your beautiful speech
my heart doesn’t get tired of listening to it
provided that you always
repeat those supreme words:
“I love you”

You know well
that deep inside me I don’t believe any of them
but nonetheless I still want to
listen to those words which I adore
your voice with its caressing sounds
which whisper tremblingly
deludes me with its beautiful story
and despite myself, I want to believe in it

[Refrain]

He’s so sweet
my beloved treasure, he’s a bit crazy
life is sometimes too bitter
if we don’t believe in chimeras
grief is soothed quickly
and consoles itself with a kiss
we heal the wound of our heart
with an oath which reassures it

en anglais – 2

Speak to me of love
And say what I’m longing to hear
Tender words of love
Repeat them again
I implore you speak to me of love
Whisper these words to me, dear
I adore you.

I want to hear,
to hear those words that are so dear
I want to hear you say I love you
By all the little stars above you
Your voice is like a fun caress
It thrills me till I must confess
I long to hear the voice that brings me
Such thrilling love and happines

Each translation is from https://lyricstranslate.com

The following video features Ms. Boyer singing her trademark song. PG picked the video because of its inclusion of some grainy and scratched clips from post-war and 1960’s French cinema.

Stalin: Passage to Revolution

The information card on “I. V. Stalin”, from the files of the Imperial police in Saint Petersburg, 1911
via Wikipedia

From The Wall Street Journal:

Not surprisingly, Joseph Stalin has been the subject of many biographical studies, in recent years in particular, when formerly closed Soviet archives became open to students of history. Decades before, Leon Trotsky, Isaac Deutscher, Adam Ulam and Robert Tucker, to name a handful of prominent authors, wrote hefty volumes on Stalin’s life, attempting to tell the story with limited information. Their work has been surpassed by another generation of scholars, led by Dmitri Volkogonov, Robert Service, Oleg Khlevniuk and Stephen Kotkin. They have plumbed the archives and benefited from a host of memoirs that have deepened our understanding of a murderous dictator whose legacy, nearly 70 years after his death, still haunts the countries he once ruled.

Ronald Grigor Suny’s “Stalin: Passage to Revolution” is a worthy contribution to this continuing enterprise. “The telling of Stalin’s life has always been more than biography,” Mr. Suny writes. “There is wonder at the achievement—the son of a Georgian cobbler ascending the heights of world power, the architect of an industrial revolution and the destruction of millions of the people he ruled, the leader of the state that stopped the bloody expansion of fascism.” It is the story of how the Romanov dynasty, convinced of its own divine right to rule the Russian Empire, confronted “a newly emerging social class” of industrial workers, a clash that “exploded into violence, bloodshed, and eventually revolution.” Reading Mr. Suny’s chronicle, one can’t help recalling John F. Kennedy’s remark, in a 1962 speech, that “those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”

. . . .

Mr. Suny’s focus is Stalin’s early decades, from his birth and education to the eve of revolution in 1917. Born in 1878 in the Georgian town of Gori, on the southern periphery of the Russian Empire, Ioseb Jughashvili, as he was christened, was raised in a poor family. His father scratched out a living as a cobbler; his mother was a religious woman who worked as a seamstress. The couple had lost their first two sons in infancy, driving his father to become “violent, erratic, and drunk,” Mr. Suny says, and to abandon the family. Convinced of Joseph’s abilities, his mother worked to gain his admission to a seminary so that he could become a priest.

Using his access to archives in Georgia, Mr. Suny describes the milieu in which the young Joseph grew up—the children’s games he enjoyed and the literature and myths that animated his imagination. It was at the seminary in the Georgian capital of Tiflis that the teenage Joseph confronted the obstinacy of his teachers, who denigrated Georgian culture and insisted on the primacy of Russian language and history. Life at the seminary, Mr. Suny writes, was “colorless and monotonous . . . , a strict routine designed to inculcate obedience and deference.” It proved to be as much a “crucible for revolutionaries as for priests” and pushed “an intelligent but still quite ordinary adolescent into opposition.” At the seminary, Joseph “came to socialism through reading and the fellowship of classmates.”

. . . .

Stalin, known as Koba to his comrades, made a name for himself as a party organizer in the Caucasus, among miners and oil workers. Here confrontations with czarist officials were violent and bloody, marked by heists and assassinations.

Stalin closely studied the works of Marx and, not least, the writings of Lenin before he met the Bolshevik leader in 1905, an encounter that began a close and fateful association. Mr. Suny’s close study of these years uncovers the traits of suspicion and intrigue that came to define Stalin in power. Koba, he writes, “was not above using dubious means against comrades with whom he disagreed,” lying about them behind their backs to compromise their standing. In his encounters with Mensheviks, he indulged in anti-Semitic insults, knowing that there were more Jews among them than among the Bolsheviks he favored.

Mr. Suny’s account of the tensions between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks is spirited and compelling, especially when he describes these ostensible allies splitting into “antagonistic cultures,” each demonizing the other over their motives, making reconciliation ever less likely. Lenin is often at the center of this story, engaging in vicious polemics against his ideological adversaries. 

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)