Latvian Publishers Association Demands a Cut in the VAT Rate on Book

15 August 2019

From Publishing Perspectives:

The Latvian Publishers’ Association has called on the country’s government to cut the VAT on books to 5 percent, restoring the rate to what it was prior to 2008–when the tax skyrocketed to 21 percent.

Founded in 1993, the association has some 35 publishers responsible for about two-thirds of the titles published in Latvia, and close to 75 percent of the industry’s annual revenues. Over the past years, the association has engaged in a number of initiatives to promote Latvian authors in various foreign markets. In 2018, Latvia joined Lithuania and Estonia in a three-way Market Focus program at the London Book Fair.

. . . .

Renāte Punka, the association’s chair, says that the impact of the 2009 spike in VAT has been crippling. Originally put into place at 5 percent in 2004 in alignment with European Union guidelines, it was raised to a staggering 23 percent on January 1, 2009, before being reduced only to 21 percent and later to 12 percent.

The country’s book sales and the number of new titles published each year have never returned to their pre-crisis levels, Punka says.

. . . .

“The discussions about the VAT have been on the agenda of Latvian publishers since the end of 2008,” Punka says, “when, at the height of the economic crisis, the Latvian government–among other drastic measures to stabilize the situation that were implemented over a fortnight–canceled the reduced VAT on books, and the VAT rate rose from 5 percent to that 21-percent point.

“During the next eight months, the book market almost crashed,” Punka tells Publishing Perspectives. “We have raised the question about the possibility to reduce the VAT on books, including ebooks, which are taxed at a full rate of 21 percent at the moment.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Indigo Sees Another Quarterly Sales Drop

14 August 2019

From Publishers Weekly:

Sales at Indigo, Canada’s leading book retailer, continue to slide. The company reported a total comparable sales decline of 7.6% for the first quarter of its current 2020 fiscal year compared to a year ago, a figure that covers both physical and online sales. Revenue for the first quarter ended June 29, 2019 was C $192.6 million compared to C $205.4 million for the same period last year, a decline of 6.3%. In the last quarter of fiscal 2019, ended March 30, 2019, revenue fell 7.4% compared to the final quarter of fiscal 2018 and comp store sales dropped 8.7%.

Overall, the company reported a first quarter loss of C$19.1 million up from a net loss of C$15.4 million last year.

The sales decline was blamed in part on a “reduction in promotional activity,” while the higher loss was pinned on the decline in sales combined with ongoing restructuring and renovation costs.

CEO Heather Reisman said: “This quarter’s results were in line with our expectations. While we continue to face many of the same headwinds from last year, strategic steps to recharge growth, increase productivity and improve profitability are well underway.”

. . . .

What specific “headwinds” Reisman is referring to was unclear, though as has been noted, the dearth of new bestselling titles may be contributing to the overall fall off in sales.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly


Olga Tokarczuk’s Novels Against Nationalism

12 August 2019

From The New Yorker:

The Warsaw Book Fair takes place each May in the National Stadium, a basketlike structure flecked with the red and white of the Polish flag. On a bright Saturday morning, hundreds of orange balloons given out by an audiobook company bobbed from children’s hands, and crowds of readers browsed the booths of publishers from across Europe.

. . . .

A long line of people snaked out of the booth of the venerable publishing house Wydawnictwo Literackie and around several of the other displays. They were waiting for a signing by Olga Tokarczuk, who in recent years has established herself as Poland’s preëminent novelist and is frequently mentioned as a contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Tokarczuk herself was outside: crowds make her anxious, and she was steeling herself. After staying out late the night before, she had had trouble sleeping. Tokarczuk, who is fifty-seven, is petite and striking, with the focussed energy of a yoga teacher.

. . . .

I stood with her as she smoked a chopstick-thin Vogue cigarette under the stadium’s basketwork. The building opened in 2012, and has lately become the focal point of an annual March of Independence, in November, at which members of far-right and nationalist groups have carried banners with slogans such as “Poland for the Poles” and “Stop Islamization.” It replaced a Communist-era stadium, which had become thoroughly dilapidated by the mid-nineties, when I spent most of a year in the country, learning Polish before going to graduate school. As Poland shifted to a capitalist economy, the site turned into an open-air market for counterfeit and secondhand goods, infamous for its garbage and crime. I was warned never to set foot there.

. . . .

Excavating something forgotten from Polish history and reframing it in a contemporary context has become Tokarczuk’s signature. She is best known internationally for “Flights,” her sixth novel, which was published in the United States last year, more than a decade after it appeared in Polish, and won the 2018 Man Booker International Prize. Tokarczuk calls the book—a genre-crossing agglomeration of fiction, history, memoir, and essay—a “constellation novel.” Its overall preoccupation is with the idea of journeying, but its sections are often linked by just a word or an image, allowing readers to discover their own connections. “When I first submitted it to my publishing house, they called me back and asked if perhaps I mixed up the files in my computer, because this is not a novel,” she said.

A form based on fragments is particularly suitable for a novel by an author from Poland, where national borders have changed over and over through the centuries, and where multiple ethnic groups—Poles, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Germans, Ruthenians, Jews—have lived side by side in a cacophony of languages and experience. Central European literature generally, Tokarczuk believes, “questions reality more. It’s more distrustful of stable, permanent things.” In “Flights,” a character says, “Constellation, not sequencing, carries the truth.”

. . . .

Poland, not unlike the United States, is politically split down the middle. Law and Justice’s supporters are balanced by progressives—often younger, city-dwelling, and living in the western half of the country—who seek tolerance, multiculturalism, and a truthful reckoning with Poland’s past. These are Tokarczuk’s readers. “Even my friends who don’t read a lot, who don’t follow the latest young poets or writers, they’re reading Olga Tokarczuk,” Zofia Król, the editor of the online literary magazine Dwutygodnik, told me.

. . . .

Tokarczuk is based in Wrocław, in the southwest of Poland. She was in Warsaw not only for the book fair but also for a literary festival, called Apostrof, which took place at the Universal Theatre, a headquarters of sorts for intellectuals and artists. This year Tokarczuk was a guest curator, organizing a weeklong series of symposiums featuring leading Polish writers and intellectuals.

. . . .

The theme she had chosen was “This Is Not the Only Possible World.” One discussion focussed on what a post-religious Poland might look like. Another was about climate change and other ecological issues. In lieu of the traditional bouquet of cut flowers, each panelist was given a beech sapling as a token of appreciation.

One night, a group of educators debated the future of the Polish school system. Piotr Laskowski, a teacher in his early forties, professed disgust at the way business had co-opted words like “creativity” and “innovation.” Until recently, he’d been the head of a high school at which most decisions are made jointly by a vote of students and faculty. Schools, he said, should aim to free students from thinking about the labor market and prepare them instead to shape the world.

. . . .

Law and Justice has introduced a state-mandated curriculum: history classes are limited to Polish history, narrated from a distinctly nationalist perspective; literature classes emphasize classics of Polish literature, such as the historical novels of Henryk Sienkiewicz, rather than its great nonconformists, such as Witold Gombrowicz and Bruno Schulz.

Laskowski shrugged. A teacher who diverges from the official line “won’t get arrested,” he said, just “intimidated,” perhaps with a threat of forced retirement. Although this probably wouldn’t happen in Warsaw, he added, “if you are a teacher in a very small town or village, with a very conservative population, with a priest who teaches religion in the school, then your position changes radically.” He chuckled grimly.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker and here’s a link to some of Ms. Tokarczuk’s books in translation.

PG is not an expert on Poland, but has learned a great deal about the country from Mrs. PG, who has extensive knowledge of the nation’s history.

In a nutshell, Poland is at a geographical crossroads in Europe and, during its history, has had experiences with a great many armies crossing it, including those comprised of Germans, Balts, Mongols, Prussians, Austrians and Russians. The nation has been divided and reunited on multiple occasions.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, a great many Poles emigrated to United States, Canada, Argentina, and Australia. In Chicago, Poles have long comprised a powerful ethnic voting bloc, along with Irish and Germans.

PG is informed that one can still hear Polish spoken on the streets in “Polish Downtown,” centered in an area known as The Polonia Triangle on the West Side that features Pulaski Park and The Chopin Theater.

Nine Newly Discovered Proust Stories to Be Published

7 August 2019

From The Smithsonian:

Almost 100 years after his death, fans of Marcel Proust will be getting a new book from the late French writer. Publisher Editions de Fallois announced that it will release nine unpublished novellas and short stories by the literary master and author of the epic seven-volume novel In Search of Lost Time this fall.

Agence France-Presse reports that the pieces were originally composed by Proust in his early 20s for inclusion in his first book, Plaisirs et les Jours (Pleasures and Days)a collection of poems and short stories first published in 1896. But for some reason, Proust decided to cut these nine works from the book.

The pieces were discovered by Bernard de Fallois, founder of the publishing house, who died in late 2018. They will be collected together under the title The Mysterious Correspondent and Other Unpublished Novellas. The 180-page book, which will be published on October 9, will include facsimiles of Proust’s original pages.

According to the publisher, most of the stories follow a conventional short story format, though a few are more meandering and meditative, suggesting some elements of his later work. Stylistically, the publisher says, the works suggest inklings of Proust’s future writing, including striking metaphors and wry comedic insights.

The big mystery is why Proust abandoned these works and left some of them incomplete.

Link to the rest at The Smithsonian

Feminize Your Canon: Cora Sandel

5 August 2019

From The Paris Review:

“In everything one writes,” said the Norwegian novelist Cora Sandel, “there is woven in a thread from one’s own life. It can be so hidden that nobody notices it, but it is there and it must be there, I suppose, if it is to be seen as a piece of living writing.” Sandel, born Sara Fabricius in Kristiania (now Oslo), tried to avoid undue conjecture on her fiction’s autobiographical basis by using a pseudonym. When she published her first novel, Alberta and Jacob, in 1926 at age forty-six, she gave her publisher no author photo, nor did she ever agree to be interviewed on television. The two other books in the acclaimed Alberta trilogy appeared shortly thereafter: Alberta and Freedom in 1931, and Alberta Alone in 1939. After Alberta and Jacob drew a wide and appreciative Scandinavian readership, an uncle wrote to her in Sweden, where she was living, to tell her: “I have just read a book by a woman who calls herself Cora Sandel. Everyone here says that it is you.” He had always known, he added, that she would achieve something significant.

The demands placed on today’s authors, the all but mandatory self-disclosure and endless media promotion, would have horrified Sandel. “I have always been of the opinion,” she said, “that no more needs to be expected of an author than she should write books.” Though she lived in Paris for fifteen years she didn’t, on principle, engineer an encounter with Colette, whom she idolized and whose novel The Vagabond she translated into Norwegian. “I considered it too presumptuous to have friends arrange a meeting—Colette was forced to meet so many people anyway.” Sandel valued solitude above all, and spent long hours in silent contemplation of the precise words she needed to capture a mood or sentiment. In the final novel of the trilogy, the eponymous writer-heroine reflects of her manuscript: “Each word had come floating up singly from the unknown depths, where the truth hides itself and then rises again, in different guise, unrecognizable as a dream, but irrefutable.”

The Alberta trilogy follows “fire-worshipper” Alberta Selmer from her frustrated, shame-blighted adolescence in a freezing province of northernmost Norway, to a hand-to-mouth yet infinitely freer vie bohème in left-bank Paris, then to a relationship, motherhood, and finally a return to Norway, where she chooses a precarious independence and commits to becoming an author. “She had finished groping in a fog for warmth and security … She would go under or become so bitterly strong that nothing could hurt her anymore. She felt something of the power of the complete solitary.” Even by the standards of early twentieth-century Modernism, Sandel’s themes—the tyranny of feminine beauty ideals, the sacrifice of safe respectability for artistic fulfillment and emotional freedom, the perilous renunciation of patriarchal frameworks—were revolutionary. The fiercely individualistic Sandel did not wish to be part of an official women’s movement. But aesthetically and politically, her novels count as feminist classics, with Alberta at the era’s literary vanguard alongside Clarissa Dalloway, Dorothy Richardson’s Miriam, and Djuna Barnes’s Robin Vote.

. . . .

No amount of hunger or loneliness is worse than the claustrophobia and entrenched narrow-mindedness of her hometown, depicted so viscerally in Alberta and Jacob. Made to feel “ugly, boring, hopeless and impossible,” not least by her mother, Alberta can never entirely shake off her self-disgust, her apprehension that she is unworthy as a woman. But at least in Paris she is more at ease, less judged. “Was she ugly?” she muses. “Probably. But here in Montparnasse people wandered about with snub noses and many kinds of facial faults and were quite acceptable.”

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

Here’s a link to Cora Sandel’s books

Uk’s National Centre for Writing Turns to Eco-Crime for ‘Noirwich’ Fest

2 August 2019

From Publishing Perspectives:

The National Centre for Writing in Norwich and the University of East Anglia have announced eco-crime as a major component of this year’s “Noirwich” Crime Writing Festival,” which is set to run September 12 to 15 at the Norwich center’s restored, Medieval-era Dragon Hall.

Crime, thrillers, and suspense regularly are ranked as the UK readership’s favorite category of fiction, and festivals based in such genres and sub-genres are plentiful in the market. This year’s event in Norwich, however, is distinguished by a purposeful focus on “cli-fi” relative to the criminal attractions of the idiom, raising interesting prospects for attendees and speakers, as environmental concern escalate around us.

In the event’s sixth year, the lineup features BBC reporter George Alagiah, in a specially commissioned lecture on the impact of environmental change on some of the world’s poorest countries and the subsequent rise in radical activism.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Is PG the only one who is less than tantalized by the idea of crime novels about eco-crime?

For him, this sub-genre sounds like an eat-your-spinach fiction reading experience that would be better served by well-written non-fiction.

Lady Chatterley’s Legal Case: How the Book Changed the Meaning of Obscene

1 August 2019
Comments Off on Lady Chatterley’s Legal Case: How the Book Changed the Meaning of Obscene

From The Guardian:

The 1960 obscenity trial that lead to the acquittal of Penguin Books for publishing DH Lawrence’s novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover is a seminal case in British literary and social history.

The verdict was an important victory for freedom of expression, and saw publishing in Britain become considerably more liberal.

. . . .

The trial highlighted the gap between modern society and an out-of-touch establishment, demonstrated most tellingly in the opening remarks to the jury of the prosecutor, Mervyn Griffith-Jones: “Is it a book that you would even wish your wife or your servants to read?”

Now, almost 60 years later, the trial remains the landmark case in British obscenity law, and its wider cultural and historic significance was demonstrated earlier this year. An annotated copy of the book used by the trial judge, Sir Laurence Byrne, was sold at auction to an overseas bidder for £56,250, but the then arts minister, Michael Ellis, placed a temporary bar preventing its export.

. . . .

Philippe Sands QC, the writer, human rights barrister and president of English Pen, says that Lawrence is “unique in the annals of English literary history” and that the book “was at the heart of the struggle for freedom of expression” in the courts and beyond. Calling for support to keep the book in the UK, he says it is “a symbol of the continuing struggle to protect the rights of writers and readers at home and abroad”.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover tells the story of an affair between the young, married and upper-class Lady Chatterley and her married, working-class gamekeeper, Oliver Mellors.

. . . .

The book challenged establishment values and, although it had been published elsewhere in Europe in 1928, remained unpublished in the UK for 30 years following Lawrence’s death in 1930, as publishers were fearful of prosecution.

Penguin’s co-founder Allen Lane wanted to publish an unabridged cheap paperback version for three shillings and sixpence, the same price as 10 cigarettes, to make it affordable for the “young and the hoi polloi”.

The previous year had seen the enactment of the Obscene Publications Act 1959, which introduced a defence for publishers if they showed that a work was of literary merit and for the public good. The trial of Penguin Books was a test case of the new law.

The defence called 35 professors of literature, authors, journalists, editors, critics, publishers and child education experts, and four Anglican churchmen, who each declared that the book had sufficient literary merit to deserve publication for the public good.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

A Measure of Progress

28 July 2019

From The Bookseller:

Will we see this week as the moment when everything changed, a peek through the looking glass into a new era? I speak not of the sometime author and Conservative MP Boris Johnson becoming the UK’s Prime Minister, but the release of Amazon’s new weekly charts showing, for the first time, the impact of the huge but opaque digital sector on book sales.

There are plenty of known knowns from the first week’s release. Rachel Abbott, the author behind the biggest-selling fiction title of the week, And So it Begins, has long been a digital hit-maker. Her début thriller, Only the Innocent, was self-published in 2011, with Amazon revealing in 2015 that she was its bestselling “indie” author in the five years since Kindle launched. Like many of these authors, however, she has been largely absent from Nielsen BookScan’s bestseller universe, her top-seller having shifted just 6,955 copies in print. The chart also highlights the success of new digitally-led publishers such as Joffe Books and the more familiar Bookouture, which feature along with Amazon imprints Lake Union Publishing and Thomas & Mercer.

There is also the impact of audio, particularly in the most read/listens chart, where Audible’s release of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection, read by Stephen Fry, sits in 10th, below the seven Harry Potter titles, their popularity also augmented by the Fry-narrated audio editions. That so many readers are listening to backlist audio shows the potential of the market, but also that it may need a different approach.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Amazon UK book charts top 10 most read non-fiction books this week (across digital, audio and subscription service books)

1. Becoming – by Michelle Obama

2. This is Going to Hurt – by Adam Kay

3. Sapiens – by Yuval Noah Harari

4. 12 Rules for Life – by Jordan B. Peterson

5. The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*** – by Mark Manson

6. Can’t Hurt Me – David Goggins

7. The Secret Barrister – by the Secret Barrister

8. The Chimp Paradox – by Professor Steven Peters

9. The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read – by Philippa Perry

10. Educated – by Tara Westover

Amazon UK book charts most sold fiction books this week (across physical, digital, audio and subscription service books)

1. And So It Begins – by Rachel Abbott

2. Darkness on the Fens – by Joy Ellis

3. The Winner – by David Badalcci

4. The World’s Worst Teachers – David Walliams

5. The Things I know – Amanda Drowse

6. The Lemon Tree Hotel – Rosanna Ley

7. I Looked Away – Jane Corey

8. Child’s Play – Angela Marsons

9. What You Did – Claire McGowan

10. The Perfect Child – Lucinda Berry

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