England’s 17th century was a ferment of ideas and revolution

From The Economist:

Writing an accessible history of Britain in the turbulent 17th century, as Jonathan Healey sets out to do in “The Blazing World”, is a noble aim. Starting with the seeds of one revolution and ending with a second, the period teems with ideas about what it means to be a citizen as opposed to a subject, and about how God should be worshipped. By the end of it, a modern concept of the state was emerging. Yet even in Britain it is neglected.

At the turn of the century nine out of ten people lived in the countryside. A tiny minority were literate. Famine and plague were regular scourges; a rising population and stagnant economy spelt misery. Fear of witchcraft was common, as were executions for petty crimes. Fornication could land you in court. By 1700 trade had replaced farming as the mainstay of a burgeoning market economy. Relief from extreme poverty was mandated by Parliament. Towns were hubs of commerce and culture; religious dissent was accepted by a relatively tolerant Anglican elite. Rich Protestant England was a force in Europe.

A continuous thread runs from the accession of England’s first Stuart king, James I, in 1603, to the dynasty’s fall in the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688-89. Yet historians often balk at telling the tumultuous, ideologically charged story in one go. Often it is divided into three chunks. First come increasing resistance to absolutism and religious intolerance, civil war, the parliamentary army’s victory, the execution of Charles I, and the establishment of the Protectorate under Oliver Cromwell. Next, the monarchy’s restoration under Charles II; finally, the disastrous reign of James II and invitation to William of Orange to take his place and establish a proto-constitutional monarchy.

Mr Healey takes on the whole saga in under 500 pages. It begins when the first James acceded to the throne and was struck by England’s apparent wealth compared with his native Scotland. But the monarchy itself was chronically broke, a condition made worse by the excesses of his court. Tension ensued between his need for cash (he even sold peerages) and Parliament’s traditional control over the royal purse strings. In an era in which absolutism had become the norm across Europe—but was a relatively newfangled notion in England—such restraints were seen first by James, then by his son Charles, as a direct challenge to the “divine right of kings”. All the dynasty’s calamities sprang from this clash.

A far less canny operator than his father, the priggish Charles I was widely seen to be trampling over ancient English liberties. Initially, this was a bigger cause for rebellion than the novel idea of government by and for the people: that developed later, particularly in the ranks of the radicalised parliamentary army. When the civil war began in 1642, nobody thought it would lead to the decapitation of a king and advent of a republic (albeit a short-lived one).

Wily and pragmatic as well as louche, Charles II may have been the only Stuart to see that public opinion, fed by the proliferating news-sheets and pamphlets, could confer or deny legitimacy.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Knopf Press Report Card
Strategy by Random House
No Look Inside FeatureF
Posting the Book Almost Three Months Prior to ReleaseF
Pricing F
Likelihood of Significant Commercial SuccessF
Final GradeF


From The Wall Street Journal:

On Sept. 21, 1588, a savage storm lashed the western coast of Ireland. As the gale intensified, three bulky ships ran aground on the sands of Streedagh Strand, north of Sligo. Part of a formidable “Armada” sent by King Philip II of Spain to conquer the kingdom of his archenemy, Queen Elizabeth I of England, the armed merchantmen had already made a remarkable odyssey. The mission had taken them from Portugal, through the English Channel in a running fight with the nimble and well-armed warships of the “Virgin Queen,” and then around Scotland on a hazardous homeward passage. Now pulverized by the unrelenting Atlantic surf, the stricken vessels broke apart, with the loss of more than 1,000 lives.

In “Armada: The Spanish Enterprise and England’s Deliverance in 1588,” Colin Martin and Geoffrey Parker trace the genesis, fate and legacy of a venture that is remembered as a disaster but that, in their estimation, came close to achieving its objective. The authors first met in 1973, and in the half-century since have maintained a fruitful academic collaboration. In a revised and expanded version of a book first published in 1988, the two deliver what will surely become the definitive account of what the Spanish called “the Enterprise of England.”

Mr. Parker, a professor of history at Ohio State University, draws upon his unrivaled mastery of the extensive documentary sources. Mr. Martin, a retired reader in maritime archaeology at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, deploys knowledge he has gained in directing the exploration of three Armada wrecks. Distinguished by incisive analysis, “Armada” fuses the complementary skills of the historian and the underwater archaeologist, exploiting the latest discoveries from the archives and seabed alike to help explain why the endeavor ultimately failed.

The original proposal for the “Enterprise of England,” drawn up in 1586 by its designated commander, the experienced marquis of Santa Cruz, envisaged a single amphibious task force. Philip, an inveterate “micromanager,” could not resist meddling with the plan, making it dependent upon close cooperation between the fleet and an entirely separate army. The authors show how this made the mission much more complicated.

Philip was adamant that the Armada should sail up the English Channel and rendezvous in the narrow Straits of Dover with the Spanish “Army of Flanders,” which would be stationed in the Netherlands. Whatever the provocation, the Armada was to save its strength until positioned to escort almost 30,000 veterans, packed aboard specially prepared barges, to a beachhead in Kent.

The invasion would be commanded by the king’s nephew, Alexander Farnese, duke of Parma. Supplied and reinforced by the Armada, Parma’s army was to push inland against London, its flank braced by ships probing the Thames estuary. The king’s strategic vision may have been compromised by his religious piety; the extremely devout Philip was confident that God’s favor would overcome all difficulties.

The Armada’s departure was delayed by the logistical challenge of assembling and supplying such a vast undertaking. In 1587, Francis Drake hampered Spanish preparations by torching stores stockpiled at Cadiz in a pre-emptive strike that he described as “singeing the King of Spain’s beard.” When the marquis of Santa Cruz succumbed to typhus, the role of organizer was assumed by the duke of Medina Sidonia, despite his reluctance to accept what he regarded as a poisoned chalice. The duke’s administrative ability put the Armada on an even keel: By the time it eventually left Iberia, the revitalized force mustered 130 ships carrying 27,000 men. Significantly, though, two-thirds of them were soldiers with scant experience of life afloat.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

UPDATE: The first comment on this post mentioned that this book may not be quite so new as the WSJ lead PG to believe.

PG searched Amazon with the following query: the armada garrett mattingly and found Mr. Mattingly’s name on several earlier Armada editions without a co-author dating back to 1959.

PG then clicked on the link from the co-author, Geoffrey Parker. Again, the link didn’t go to an author page, but rather a collection of books. The first was Operations Management for Dummies for which Mr. Parker was the third of three co-authors. The second listing was for The Cambridge Illustrated History of Warfare (Cambridge Illustrated Histories) for which Mr. Parker was the editor. The Armada book in the OP was far down the list for Mr. Parker.

The author links seem a bit dodgy and PG found some other Geoffrey Parkers that may or may not have been the Geoffrey Parker in the OP.

PG hereby offers to show anyone from the Yale University Press how to set up a proper author page on Amazon. Even though he’s not a Yalie, he will not charge a fee to the university for what should be a telephone call lasting about ten minutes or a maximum of three emails.

Publisher: Yale University Press

Yale University Press Report Card
No Look Inside FeatureF
Hardcover OnlyF
Likelihood of Significant Commercial SuccessF
Final GradeF

“A life lived to the full”, Philip Kogan remembered at packed funeral

From The Bookseller:

Family, friends, and colleagues from across the trade gathered at Golders Green Crematorium last week (18th January) to pay tribute and say farewell to Kogan Page founder Philip Kogan, who died on Christmas Eve aged 92. Eulogies were read by his three children, including current Kogan Page m.d. Helen Kogan, who described her father as “an extraordinary man” who had lived life to the full.

There was standing room only at the Chapel—and party thereafter, held at The York and Albany Hotel—with trade attendees including Richard Charkin, Bridget Shine, David Taylor, Jonathan Nowell, Tony Mulliken. Toby Faber, Gloria Bailey, Ian Taylor, Jo Howard, Nicholas Brealey, Alan Leitch, Kyle Cathie, Anne Dolamore, John Davies, Philip Cotterell, David Hicks, and John Parke. 

One tribute described him as having “written the agenda for independent publishing over the late 20th century”. He was variously described as cantankerous, gruff and prickly, but under it all remembered also as “kind and thoughtful” with a willingness to share information—a true “original”, as one tribute put it. His children talked of his love for classical music, his approach to DIY and gardening, his publishing business, his generosity, and his fondness for “the buzz”, manifesting in publishing and family parties, or simply nights out.

His early life in the East End of London was recalled, as was his first career as a scientist, ultimately rejecting the safety of steady job progression for the riskier pursuits of books and independent publishing, supported throughout by his wife Gillian. Business book publisher Kogan Page was founded in 1967, with journalist Terry Page.

Helen Kogan said: “Dad didn’t split the personal and professional, He made lifelong friendships with fellow publishers and colleagues and the company became inseparable from the family’s life.” Kogan said she had asked her mother, Gillian, what had drawn Kogan into publishing, and she had responded that as a research physicist he might have one eureka moment every 10 years, but as a publisher he could have one every day. He was always way ahead of everyone, added Kogan, but he allowed his team space to turn these eureka moments into reality. “His energy was a magnet,” she recalled, remembering the moment she joined the family firm and could experience it first hand.

“He could be hard work, demanding, and got frustrated easily. Something of the East End boy still remained. His irreverence certainly rubbed some people up the wrong way, but those who got him, really got him. He loved the idea of being an independent and seeing others being successful in building their own companies. At the end of day, publishing aside, he was also a loving husband, a challenging and brilliant father, and a doting grandfather. He was loved and he loved us: [it was] an extraordinary life, a life lived to the full. We shall miss him more than words can say.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

A Big Wake-Up Call

From Publishing Perspectives:

In our January 6 interview with the Brazilian publisher Karine Pansa—who this month has begun her two-year term as president of the International Publishers Association (IPA)—she stressed the challenge faced by the world publishing industry to generate and analyze coherent data among international markets.

On Monday (January 16), in giving a keynote address at the Digital Book World conference in New York, Pansa expanded on the case for her emphasis on getting past an apples-and-oranges juggling act when it comes to collecting and interpreting data across the international spectrum of the book business.

As she put it, the issue “demonstrates both how many opportunities there are in the digital publishing market but also how we have to work harder to build a compelling external narrative about the innovation in our sector.”

Pansa noted that in putting together her presentation, she and IPA have had the support of IPA’s partner in Geneva, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), as well as Nielsen BookData, and some of the 92 national publishers’ caucuses that are member-associations of the 76-nation program she leads. She and IPA have shared with Publishing Perspectives (we are IPA’s global media partner) Pansa’s presentation for our report today (January 17).

What Pansa had come to say on Monday, was, “We know market data of some type exists for about 40 countries. That means there is a lot of data darkness.”

. . . .

Turning first to an example she had mentioned in our interview—incompatible datasets from markets in Latin America—Pansa presented to her audience illustrations of how in her region, data is available “for just three markets”: Brazil—where she directs publishing at Girassol Brasil in São Paulo—as well as Colombia and Mexico.

In terms of digital books, Pansa pointed out, Colombia surprisingly appears to lead, available data showing a 15-percent share of market for digital books over 4 percent in Mexico and 6 percent in Brazil.

The reason? “In Colombia,” she said, “the digital book is not just an ebook or audiobook but also educational platforms. Obviously boosted by the pandemic, these platforms have a real impact on the numbers in Colombia where audiobooks are almost negligible. In Mexico, audiobooks are even less present, and print is very much still king.

“Across these three markets,” she said, “we have different definitions of digital books, we are at least comparing revenues, but we have vastly different degrees of granularity.”

And perhaps most important relative to these three Latin American markets, she made the point that “Developing countries still struggle to grow their markets because there is a structural barrier for their demand. Aspects like reading habits and reading skills are top difficulties and are only part of the discussion.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

While PG was reading the OP, he realized that he didn’t have a good (or even mediocre) sense of how the various English-speaking book markets differ from each other.

Feel free to share information or opinions in the comments.

In passing, PG wondered how many different times he had heard/read the term, “wake-up call.”

In his experience, the term is immensely overused at least in the United States to the point at which it has moved beyond cliché into some sort of noise word or noise phrase.

Digital Book World Focuses on Data and Accessibility

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Digital Book World, a conference focusing on innovation in publishing, returned to New York City for the first time since 2016 and runs through Wednesday. The event drew several hundred attendees to the Sheraton Hotel in Times Square for an opening talk by Karine Pansa, Brazilian children’s book publisher and new president of the International Publishers Association. In her remarks, Pansa said that the main areas of focus for her two-year term, which started January 1, will be on collecting data to get an objective baseline of the what is happening in the industry. “We will have a new beginning, driven by data,” said Pansa.

As Pansa noted, the adoption of digital publishing practices, both in production and retailing, vary wildly. In Japan, for example, digital audiobooks account for 35.8% of the total revenue of the book market, while they represent less than 1% of sales in other countries with large book markets, such as Mexico and Colombia. In Spain, digital publishing is growing in popularity, but fully 50% of the material being consumed by readers are being downloaded for free, suggesting piracy is rampant. Piracy also continues to vex Middle Eastern and Africa publishers, which has stalled digitization in the region.

Digitization also impacted retailing, said Pansa, with online bookselling now dominating in Italy, Korea and the U.K. Meanwhile, some regions of the world, such as Africa and the Arabic-speaking countries, remain reticent to engage with digital publishing due to the prevalence of digital piracy in the region.

Part of the IPA’s mission is to educate publishers globally and sometimes this comes down to a simple reminder: not everyone is wealthy enough to afford an e-reader, high-speed internet or even consistent access to books. In the U.K. for example, “75% of people are using e-readers or tablets to access digital material,” said Pansa, “while for many people, like those in my part of the world–Latin America– purchasing a dedicated e-reader is not possible with their salaries.”

Part of Pansa’s message was about making books more accessible to a broader demographic of people. She noted that with its population growth, Africa “offers a big opportunity for publishers to reach a growing audience” while to reach the disabled community, publishers need to make their books “born accessible.” Pansa noted that with the passage of the European Accessibility Act, publishers will be required as of June 2023 to make all of their digital books accessible should they want to sell them in Europe.

. . . .

Accessibility was also the subject of a panel on the first day. On the subject of making print and books accessible, Benetech’s Michael Johnson, v-p of content, said, “It’s just the right thing to do.” He noted, “There are more people in the world who are blind than have red hair. There are more people who are dyslexic than are left handed. So this is a huge group of of people who cannot read your books unless they are accessible.” He said that it may be as much as 20% of the population. “When we talk about DEI [diversity, equity, inclusion] efforts, you cannot leave out the letter, A, for accessible.”

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

The Half-Madness of Prince Harry

From The Wall Street Journal:

Prince Harry’s book is odd. There’s even something half-mad about it.

He opens with a dramatic meeting at Frogmore, his former mansion on the grounds of Windsor. It is just after the death of Prince Philip, Harry’s paternal grandfather. For months Harry has been estranged from his father, Charles, and his brother, William—a “full-scale public rupture.” Harry has flown in from America and requested a meeting. The day is overcast, chilly. Charles and William arrive late looking “grim, almost menacing,” and “tightly aligned.” “They’d come ready for a fight.” Harry is tongue-tied, vulnerable, leaves heartbroken. “I wanted peace. I wanted it more than anything.”

You feel such sympathy. What could have driven them so far apart? Why are Charles and William so cold? Then you realize, wait—Philip died just a month after the Oprah interview in which Harry rather coolly portrayed his family as remote and hapless puppets and implied they were racist.

Harry forgets, in the opening, to tell us that part. But you can see how it might have left Charles and William a little indignant.

This is the book’s great flaw, that Harry doesn’t always play it straight, that he thinks “my truth” is as good as the truth. There are other flaws, and they grate. There’s a heightened-ness to his language—he never leaves a place; he flees it “in fear for our sanity and physical safety.” He often finds his wife “sobbing uncontrollably” on the floor and the stairs, mostly over what he fails to realize are trivial things. He is grandiose: “My mother was a princess, named after a goddess.” “How would I be remembered by history? For the headlines? Or for who I actually was?” Lord, he was an attractive man fifth in line for a largely ceremonial European throne; it would hardly remember him at all. (Unless he wrote a scalding book and destabilized the monarchy!) He repeatedly points out that he’s a Windsor and of royal blood. His title means a lot to him. He is exhibitionistic: “My penis was oscillating between extremely sensitive and borderline traumatized.” (Frostbite.)

There are gaps in his knowledge-base that wouldn’t be irritating if he weren’t intent on establishing that he’s giving you the high-class rarefied inside dope. “Never complain, never explain” has been an expression of the old American upper class since forever, and I’m sure the British one too. It isn’t special to the Windsors. “An heir and a spare” is old Fleet Street tabloidese. It doesn’t mean, as he suggested on book tour, he was bred for body parts.

Famous families often have internal communication problems. The children of those families learn much of what they know from the many books written about the clan. They internalize and repeat observations and stories that aren’t quite right but are now given their insider imprimatur.

Harry’s anecdotes tend to undermine the institution of the monarchy. When he was a teenager Britain’s biggest tabloid told the palace it had evidence he was doing drugs. In fact, as Harry tells us candidly, he did do drugs when he was young. The palace, no doubt knowing this, opted to “play ball” with the newspaper and not deny all aspects of the story. This made Harry feel thrown under the bus.

His father, he believes, used him as a “sacrifice,” to appease a powerful editor and bolster his own sagging reputation. “No more the unfaithful husband, Pa would now be presented to the world as the harried single dad coping with a drug-addled child.” He reports Charles and his wife, Camilla, were jealous of William and Kate’s “drawing attention away from them.” His stories of jealousy sound like projection. But they also make the book feel less like “Clown Turns on Circus” than something more deadly, especially just before Charles’s coronation this May.

Harry accuses the tabloids of violating his privacy, and no doubt they often did. What is almost unbelievable is that he is so unmoored and destabilized by this inevitable aspect of fame, especially royal fame. He implies he left Britain primarily because of the newspapers and their criticism of his wife.

But the odd, half-mad thing about this book is that in it he violates his own privacy, and that of others, more than Fleet Street ever could.

He is careful throughout to say he is telling his story in order to help others, those who’ve struggled with mental illness or been traumatized by war. It is hard to know another person’s motives; it can be hard to know your own. But I don’t think this book is about others. I think it’s about his own very human desire for revenge, to hurt those who’ve hurt him. And to become secure in a certain amount of wealth. And to show his family and Fleet Street that their favorite ginger-haired flake could make his own way, set up his own palace, break free, fly his own standard, become the duke of Netflix. This book is classic Fredo: “I can handle things. I’m smart. Not like everybody says, like dumb, I’m smart and I want respect!”

It is all so contradictory. He says he wants reconciliation but writes things that alienate, he says he reveres the monarchy and isn’t trying to bring it down but he has gone beyond removing bricks from the facade and seems to be going at the bearing walls.

I close with a thought on privacy. Prince Harry violates his own. He tells us too much about himself and others.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

For visitors from overseas, The Wall Street Journal is by far the largest-circulation newspaper in the United States. In daily print circulation WSJ is about twice as large as that of the New York Times. USA today has a larger print circulation than the Times does.

If you combine print products, digital subscriptions and other papers that include their branded content, USA Today is in first place, WSJ is in second place and NYT is third. USA Today’s circulation numbers includes a large percentage of readers/viewers who read the paper at no charge.

The author of the OP is Peggy Noonan, long-time WSJ columnist, Pulitzer prize winner, author of nine books on American politics, history and culture. Noonan was a special assistant and speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan. She has also been a fellow at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, and has taught in the history department at Yale University. Prior to entering the Reagan White House, Noonan was a producer and writer at CBS News in New York and an adjunct of Journalism at New York University.

PG has enjoyed Ms. Noonan’s commentary for a long time.

Sonic Boom: Spanish-Language Audiobooks Are Soaring

From Publishing Perspectives:

Javier Celaya‘s Bilbao-based consultancy Dosdoce is reporting striking gains in the Spanish-language markets’ audiobook consumer base, reaching levels of more than 500,000 paying subscribers by year’s end 2022.

In 2017, he tells Publishing Perspectives, there were fewer than 15 audio channels in the Spanish-language markets, which include Spain, Latin American nations, and the Hispanic population of the United States. In under five years, Celaya says, that number of channels has ballooned to more than 60, as the world’s most aggressive and well-heeled audio subscription services have opened services to lure customers in these markets.

Citing a PricewaterhouseCoopers study, Celaya says the industry is anticipated “to reach 26.6 million listeners in 2026, generating an income of €590 million (US$632 million) in the Spanish markets through advertising, branded content, income derived from subscriptions, and more.

Not the least of the attractions for subscriber-hungry audio vendors, of course, is the geographical reach of the Spanish markets: Europe as well as the Americas.

“In my view,” Celaya says, “the fast-forward audio growth that we’ve experienced in the Spanish markets is a consequence of three main factors.” He sees these factors as competition in these markets among major audio subscription players; investments by key publishers in Spanish-language content; and a “subscription culture” driven by streaming services both in television and in music.

Celaya cites the arrivals in the Spanish-language markets of “the main international platforms” as the first factor, nourished by offers of unlimited-listening subscription services highly competitive pricing from €3.99 to €9.99 per month (US$4.28 to $10.71). It’s a listener’s market.

One result of the clamorous competition has been—and has driven—a burgeoning catalogue of Spanish-language audiobook content.

“The Spanish audiobook catalogue of more than 20,000 titles that we now enjoy is a result of two intense parallel production processes,” Celaya says. “During the last five years, leading publishers have heavily invested in the production of new Spanish audiobook titles:

  • “Penguin Random House has produced more than 4,000 titles
  • “Planeta has produced another 2,500 titles
  • “Saga Egmont has produced another 2,000 or more titles

“Parallel to this publishing audio sprint,” he says, “the leading platforms—Audible, Storytel, Podimo, and so on—have also produced their own exclusive audiobook and podcast catalogs reaching another 8,000 and more exclusive titles.” In fact, Celaya says, around one-third of the total offering is exclusive content. Podcasts in the Spanish language, he says, now number more than 100,000.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

A Canadian writer visits Chinese restaurants around the world

From The Economist:

Many people in Outlook, a tiny prairie town in Saskatchewan, hoped Noisy Jim would run for mayor, but Jim didn’t want the bother. In Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago, Maurice wanders through an empty school, reminiscing about his childhood love of learning. And late one morning in Istanbul, Fatima and Dawood, now getting on in years, sit across from each other at a table—she is peeling beans, he is “methodically numbering and stamping a receipt book, page by page”.

What links Jim, Maurice and Fatima is that they all ran Chinese restaurants. In his new book, “Have You Eaten Yet?”, Cheuk Kwan tells their stories, along with those of Chinese restaurateurs from 13 other cities outside China, from Tromso, north of the Arctic Circle in Norway, to Toamasina, on the east coast of Madagascar. The result is a charming (if sometimes also meandering) book that weaves its profiles together into an extended meditation on identity, belonging and a sense of home.

Like the restaurateurs he meets, Mr Kwan is a multilingual wanderer: born in Hong Kong, brought up there and in Singapore and Japan, he worked in America and Saudi Arabia before settling in Toronto. He has a fluid, plural identity: “My speech and mannerisms change with the environment: Singaporean-accented English, Hong Kong-Cantonese loudness, Japanese quiet deference and straight-talking American mojo.”

His diasporic life gives him an instant connection with his subjects, which he exploits to his readers’ benefit. Food, he explains, “is just an entry point”; although he is a discerning and enthusiastic eater, his real interest is in the people behind the stoves. “As I travelled the world meeting with far-flung members of the Chinese diaspora, one question always came to mind: Are we defined by our nationality or by our ethnicity?”

The answer, of course, is both. Some of the people he speaks with talk wistfully about wanting to be buried in China; others are more circumspect. Mr Kwan asks Johnny Chi, the head waiter at Ling’s Pavilion in Mumbai, whether “he is ambivalent about his identity”. Mr Chi says no: “Wherever you are born, that’s your land.” He thinks of himself as Indian, “except when I look at myself in the mirror. I say, ‘Oh no, I’m not.’”

Mr Chi expresses a sense of not-belonging. But most of Mr Kwan’s subjects, like many diasporic people, instead have a sense of multiple belonging. At a braai (a barbecue, and a staple of South African culinary identity) in Cape Town, Francis Liang, raised in the Eastern Cape, describes himself as “Chinese…a Chinese South African, definitely I am a South African”. Mai and Dao Wong, whose father ran a restaurant in Haifa, both served in the Israeli army, and Mai, says her friend, “has an Israeli temper”.

Link to the rest at The Economist

PG apologizes for the Free Preview link not working – blame the publisher, Pegasus Books (Berkley and Oakland). Look inside does work on Amazon, although in a slightly clunky manner.

The Siege of Loyalty House

From The Wall Street Journal:

On Oct. 14, 1645, at the height of the English Civil War between Charles I and his defiant Parliament, Gen. Oliver Cromwell unleashed a brigade of the New Model Army against the most notorious remaining royalist outpost. For more than two years, Basing House—a sprawling estate in Hampshire, 55 miles southwest of London—had been held for the king despite repeated efforts to subdue its garrison. Now, at last, the strongpoint was stormed, and all inside were slaughtered or captured.

In “The Siege of Loyalty House,” Jessie Childs tells the compelling story of a place that acquired a mystique far beyond its strategic significance, mounting a staunch resistance justifying the sobriquet recalled in her title. Underpinned by meticulous research, this finely crafted narrative unfolds in evocative and often poetic language, transporting readers back to a “terrifying, electrifying time” and breathing fresh life into the men and women who endured it.

Ms. Childs, a historian whose previous works have focused on the earlier Tudor period, shows how the hardships of enforced confinement revealed the best and worst of Basing’s defenders. It was a “garrison of all the talents,” she writes, and included individuals whose backgrounds as artists, scientists and merchants open vistas into a tumultuous age. The fight for Basing House becomes a prism to view the English Revolution, a much-debated episode encompassing the execution of Charles I in 1649 and the monarchy’s replacement by a decade-long republic. For bewildered witnesses, it truly was a world “turned upside down.”

Highlighting key flashpoints, Ms. Childs traces the gradual polarization of loyalties and the inexorable slide into war. The stubborn, duplicitous Charles Stuart believed in his divine right to rule as he pleased, but Parliament refused to bend to his will, suspecting him of seeking to revive the elaborate “papist” rituals of the pre-Reformation Catholic Church. As tensions escalated in London, the king’s swaggering Cavalier supporters confronted gatherings of Roundheads (a mocking reference to the city’s short-haired apprentices who favored Parliament).

Ms. Childs charts the Civil War’s unspooling tragedy with insight and compassion. Shocked by the opening clash at Edgehill, in October 1642, Parliament’s commander in chief, Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, was unable to compose the customary postbattle report. After experiencing the carnage, the earl’s “mind and body shut down.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Richard Charkin: A Selective Year-End Assessment

From Publishing Perspectives:

Each year, The Economist publishes a special edition in which it encapsulates the state of the world as expressed by numbers. These articles are authoritative, accurate, well-researched, and comprehensive. I couldn’t hope to emulate them in a review of the world in publishing. But a few numbers, randomly chosen and sometimes more approximate than precise, may serve to illustrate some elements of our industry in 2022.

After having only one woman—Argentina’s Ana Maria Cabanellas—among the 35 presidents of the International Publishers Association (IPA), we’re enjoying a run of three female presidents in a row. The United Arab Emirates‘ Bodour Al Qasimi‘s two-year term ends with 2022; Brazil’s Karine Pansa opens her term with the new year; and the Republic of Georgia’s Gvantsa Jobava is starting her term as vice-president, traditionally a role that leads to the presidency. It’s taken a long time for women to play significant roles in our industry, and we should celebrate them.

Thinking of diversity, there are any number of audits being issued by major publishers, either to prove their commitment to a good cause or at least to answer potentially difficult questions.

Here are some positive and practical numbers from the IPA, our international trade association. In the last decade, the number of countries represented by the association has risen from 51 to 76, thus increasing the markets represented—per the IPA’s estimates—from 52 to 83 percent of the world’s population. The remaining 17 percent may be hard to land while Russia pursues its war against Ukraine.

. . . .

Here’s a number from the Publishers Association in London for the United Kingdom’s publishers to think about. The British market’s export sales are some £3.8 billion (US$4.6 billion) out of a total £6.7 billion (US$8.8 billion). That’s to say that roughly 57 percent of all sales are not made in the UK.

In addition, a material portion of the sales in the United Kingdom are then exported by UK booksellers, and export discounts are typically higher, in order to take account of freight and double warehousing, likely putting the total level of sales outside the home market in excess of 70 percent of British publishers’ output of books, journals, and databases. To paraphrase Marilyn Monroe, 25 makes a girl think–70 percent should make us think even harder.

. . . .

Inflation and Pricing

And now turning to inflation, one of the scourges of 2022 in many countries, the UK’s inflation stands at above 10 percent, according to some estimates, for example those reflected in Richard Partington’s reporting at The Guardian. That 10 percent is a shock in recent times, but inflation levels even higher than this have plagued my publishing life.

. . . .

What has changed is the pricing. The book, on release, cost £3.25 for a 300-page hardback (US$3.92). The average discount granted was 40 percent—more for WH Smith, less for independent bookshops, of which there were many. To maintain the same income in 2022 for the publisher, and thus the author, the book would have to be priced above £50. Not a chance.

. . . .

Numbers and Numeracy

My next set of numbers also encompasses a perennial and personal grump. When I started in publishing I was astonished by the lofty contempt shown to the concept of numeracy. It was as if literacy and numeracy were mutually incompatible. An accountant could never have a valid opinion about a book and an editor could not be expected to perform simple arithmetic calculations. Statistical analysis is not always simple but it’s extraordinary, to me, at least, how happily some publishers and journalists almost willfully misinterpret numbers.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

“I’m a bigshot publisher and you expect me to analyze numbers? I have people who do that sort of thing for me, but not one of them has ever been able to identify a future best-seller by looking at a manuscript. Publishing is an intuition business – you either have it or you don’t – not a numbers business.”

How e-books and audiobooks are expanding options for consuming Arabic literature

From Arab News:

  • While many Arab readers prefer the printed book, others say ebooks and audiobooks save time, space and money
  • Growth of digital-literature market evident in production of 8,000 Arabic-language audiobooks in 2022 alone

DUBAI: As technology advances, bookworms are finding more options to consume literature than just through the printed word. Though e-books in Arabic are far fewer in number than those in English, publishers and translators are working to bridge the gap.

In 2018, Amazon announced Arabic-language support for the Kindle e-reader, opening the door of literature to a much larger audience.

From novels to self-help books, biographies to poetry and more, an increasing number of Arabs are finding affordable means to gain knowledge in e-books and audiobooks. Yet, reading a printed book is still the most favored option for the vast majority.

“Honestly, I don’t think there is a problem of reading books in the Arab region as some might think, as much as there is a problem in selling books,” Salah Chebaro, CEO of Beirut-based Neelwafurat, told Arab News.

Neelwafurat, one of the biggest online bookstores in the Arab world, is a word merging the two Arabic names of the Nile and Euphrates rivers.

The bookstore sells printed books from Arab publishers to different cities around the world. It boasts a stock of 15,000 e-books for sale that can be read through the iKitab application, as well as 800,000 printed books.

. . . .

“When you look at the number of the pirated books that were downloaded, they are in the millions,” Chebaro said in an online interview from the Lebanese capital. “People like to read, but they don’t like to pay to read.”  

However, “the predicament for publishers, distributors and bookshops in the Arab world … is in shipping (books) and other logistics related to the geography of the Arab region.”

For instance, the cost of shipping a consignment of printed books weighing a total of 2 kilograms from New York to Los Angeles in the US is roughly the same as, say, sending it from Cairo to Amman.

Saving on shipping costs is among the main factors behind the increasing popularity of e-books in the Arab region. Other factors include saving the space needed to store and carry around print books, as well as the speed of buying a book online, which can be finalized in the blink of an eye.

While some continue to maintain their preference for the printed word, reading on gadgets has many advantages. Yemeni-British Dhuha Awad, a creativity facilitator based in Dubai, says she likes the dictionary function in digital English books.

“I can type the word I am looking for, and the gadget will display all the lines that have that word (in the digital book). Also, I don’t need to carry the book I am reading with me all the time,” Awad told Arab News.

Her library consists of roughly equal numbers of digital and printed books, and she uses the e-book format to further save time and physical space. “If I like a certain book and want others to read it, I make sure I have it in paper. But if I am not sure, I will buy the digital format first,” she said.

. . . .

The growth in the e-books market in the Arab region is led by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt, Ali Abdel Moneim Ahmed, digital publishing consultant with Liberty Education in the UK, Egypt, and UAE, said during a panel discussion at the Sharjah Publishers Conference on the sidelines of the 2022 edition of the UAE’s Sharjah International Book Fair, held every November.

Link to the rest at Arab News

Parody under copyright and trade mark law: key guidance from Zorro .. and the Italian Supreme Court

From IPKat:

Last week, the Italian Supreme Court issued an important – if not truly seminal – judgment on the interplay between IP and freedom of expression (decision 38165/2022, CO.GE.DI. International – Compagnia Generale Distribuzione s.p.a. v Zorro Productions Inc.).

. . . .

Back in 2007, US company Zorro Productions sued CO.GE.DI. over a TV and radio advertisement which the latter had commissioned on behalf of bottled water brand Brio Blu. Said advertisement featured actor Max Tortora dressed up as popular character Zorro.

Zorro Productions claimed that it owned copyright and several trade marks over the character of Zorro and that the advertisement inter alia infringed its rights under both regimes.

Further to a victory for Zorro Productions at first instance, the Court of Appeal of Rome sided with CO.GE.DI., holding that the character of Zorro had fallen in the public domain.

In 2017, the Italian Supreme Court rendered a first judgment, holding that Zorro would be still protected by copyright, as the 70-year post mortem auctoris term available under Italian law should also apply to foreign (in this case: American) authors. The Supreme Court thus sent the case back to the Court of Appeal for a new assessment.

In 2018, the Court of Appeal ruled that Zorro is a protected fictional character and its alleged parody in the advertisement would be prohibited given that:

  • Italy did not expressly transpose Article 5(3)(k) when it implemented the InfoSoc Directive into its legal system; and
  • A parody requires in any case a creative re-elaboration of an earlier work.

In all this, the Court of Appeal held that no trade mark infringement had occurred, since the reference to Zorro had been done without any “distinctive intent” (intento distintivo), that is: the use of the sign had not been undertaken as a trade mark.

At this point, a further appeal to the Italian Supreme Court could not but follow.

Parody under copyright

Insofar as the copyright status of Zorro is concerned, the Supreme Court noted that – under Italian law – the very protectability of characters under copyright is a settled (pacifica) issue: both courts and scholars agree that protection is available irrespective of the copyright status of the works in which they appear.

Turning to parody, the reasoning of the Supreme Court is enlightening and can be summarized as follows:

  • A parody does not need to be a creative re-elaboration of an existing work since – by its very nature – it implies an “unavoidable parasitic character” (ineliminabile carattere di parassitismo). A parody is a work that is autonomous from the earlier one because it is characterized by a different spirit, something that the court referred to as a “conceptual overthrow” (rovesciamento concettuale).
  • It follows that a parody is not a derivative work like, e.g., a translation: holding otherwise is not only wrong as per the above, but is also contrary to freedom of expression and freedom of artistic expression, as enshrined in – respectively – Articles 21 and 33 of the Italian Constitution.
  • It is true that Italy did not specifically transpose Article 5(3)(k) of the InfoSoc Directive, but the reason of all that is that the Italian legal system already allowed what is covered by that provision.
  • More specifically, a parody is a type of quotation for purposes of criticism or review, in accordance with Article 70(1) of the Italian Copyright Act. The right to criticize and review can be exercised in different ways, including by means of a parody.
  • Article 5(3)(k) of the InfoSoc Directive is consistent with this interpretation, and the CJEU Deckmyn decision [Katposts here] demonstrates that. The fair balance mandate that the CJEU refers to is the “limitation which the parodic exploitation of a third-party work or character is subject to” (limite cui soggiace lo sfruttamento parodistico dell’opera o del personaggio altrui), also considering that the CJEU has repeatedly held that the protection of IP under Article 17(2) of the EU Charter is not absolute.
  • The three-step test is part of the fair balance mandate: the circumstance that a parody is made for profit does not rule out the very applicability of Article 70(1): what matters is not that circumstance, but rather whether the alleged parody unduly conflicts with the normal exploitation of the earlier work.

In light of all that precedes, the Supreme Court concluded that the Court of Appeal had erred in its assessment of parody under copyright, by envisaging requirements that are not to be found in the law. Hence, a new assessment will need to be conducted to determine if the advertisement at issue would satisfy the conditions above.

Link to the rest at IPKat and thanks to C. for the tip.

There are lots of links in the OP if you are interested in a deeper dive.

PG and Mrs. PG truly love Italy and have enjoyed more than one trip there. The landscapes, the ancient buildings, the art, the people – the PG’s are Italophiles through and through despite neither of them having having inherited a drop of Italian blood from any of their ancestors.

That said, the OP confirms for PG that he never wants to practice Italian law or be a party in an Italian lawsuit.

Something is afoot with copyright this Public Domain Day

PG Note: The OP was published on January 1, 2023

From The Guardian:

On New Year’s Day, copyright in the US expires on a new clutch of artistic works. But shady legal shenanigans mean it’s a little overdue…

Here’s a reason to be cheerful this morning: it’s Public Domain Day, ie the day on which a new batch of hitherto copyrighted works comes out of copyright and enters the US public domain – the zone that consists of all the creative work to which no exclusive intellectual property rights apply. For those readers who do not reside in the US, there is perhaps another reason for celebrating today, because copyright terms are longer in the US than they are in other parts of the world, including the EU and the UK. And therein lies a story about intellectual property laws and the power of political lobbying in a so-called liberal democracy.

Among the works liberated for the delight of American citizens this morning are: Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse; the final Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle; Fritz Lang’s seminal science-fiction film Metropolis; Alfred Hitchcock’s first thriller; and compositions by Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller. The interesting thing is that these were originally supposed to enter the public domain in 2003, but as Jennifer Jenkins, director of Duke University’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain puts it, “before this could happen, Congress hit a 20-year pause button and extended their copyright term to 95 years”.

The mechanism by which this legal heist was implemented was the 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act (AKA “The Sonny Bono Act” or “The Mickey Mouse Protection Act” depending on your satirical tastes). In passing it, American legislators were simply continuing business as usual in the intellectual property business. The story began in 1790, when Congress enacted the first copyright law, which provided protection for authors for 14 years (plus a further 14 if the author requested it). The term was gradually lengthened in small increments by Congress until 1976, when it was extended by 19 years to 75 years and then in 1998 by the Sonny Bono Act. So, as the legal scholar Lawrence Lessig puts it, “in the 20 years after the Sonny Bono Act, while 1m patents will pass into the public domain, zero copyrights will pass into the public domain by virtue of the expiration of a copyright term”.

You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out how this happened. (Hint: an inspection of campaign contributions to US legislators in the relevant years may be illuminating. And of course there was also the fear that Mickey Mouse might make his escape into the public domain.) But the end result is that American citizens have had to wait two decades to be free to adapt and reuse works to which we Europeans have had easy access.

As it happens, Sherlock Holmes has a topical relevance, because today the US copyright on the last two Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle – from The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes – expires. This must be depressing news for the Conan Doyle Estate Ltd, which has been almost as assiduous an enforcer of intellectual property rights as was James Joyce’s grandson, Stephen Joyce, in the years when Ulysses was in copyright.

As Jenkins tells the story, the estate’s claim was that the characters of Holmes and Dr Watson remained protected by copyright even if the books themselves had escaped to the public domain. This was eventually challenged by Leslie Klinger, a lawyer and Sherlock Holmes scholar of some renown. The case went through a series of American courts until 2014, when it finally ran into the immovable object known as Judge Richard Posner of the seventh circuit.

“The Doyle estate’s business strategy,” Posner ruled in a characteristically acerbic judgment, “is plain: charge a modest licence fee for which there is no legal basis, in the hope that the ‘rational’ writer or publisher asked for the fee will pay it rather than incur a greater cost, in legal expenses, in challenging the legality of the demand … only Klinger (so far as we know) resisted. In effect he was a private attorney general, combating a disreputable business practice – a form of extortion … It’s time the estate, in its own self-interest, changed its business model.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Assessing the Profession(s): How Much Do UK Writers Earn?

From Publishing Perspectives:

A ‘Devaluing of Creative Labor’

As we near our start of publication for 2023 (on January 3), you’ll note that Richard Charkin’s year-ending column mentions the recent report commissioned by the United Kingdom’s Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS). The researchers who wrote the report did so under the auspices of the “CREATe” Centre at the University of Glasgow. (The name is an acronym for Creativity, Regulation, Enterprise, and Technology, and the program was established in 2012. More information on it is here.)

The new report, released this month, is titled UK Authors’ Earnings and Contracts 2022: A Survey of 60,000 Writers. Our Publishing Perspectives readers will recall that we and other various news media did a good deal of reporting in 2018, when an earlier report in this series found that in the United Kingdom, a “median annual income of a professional author [was] £10,500 (now US$12,699), well below the minimum wage,” reminding readers that “the equivalent figure in 2013 was £11,000 (now US$13,304) and in 2005 it was £12,500 (now US$15,118).”

The top-line figure in the new 2022 report paints an even less felicitous picture at the end of 2022, putting median earnings from self-employed writing in the UK at £7,000 (US$8,466), obviously a substantial drop.

. . . .

“We chart a decline in median (typical) earnings from self-employed writing among primary-occupation authors of 38.2 percent (in real terms),” write Thomas, Battisti, and Kretschmer, “since the last survey in 2018 (i.e., from £11,329 to £7,000).

“Even more dramatically, we see a sustained downward trend over the past two decades that seems to be associated with changes to creative labor markets in the digital environment.”

Here’s a simple graphic representation of that downward trend in figures that come from reports released:

  • In 2006: Authors’ Earnings From Copyright and Non-Copyright Sources: A Survey of 25,000 British and German Writers
  • In 2014: The Business of Being an Author: A Survey of Authors’ Earnings and Contracts)
  • In 2018: UK Authors’ Earnings and Contracts 2018: A Survey of 50,000 Writers

There are three key classifications of writers and/or authors in play here.

  • The “full-income author” is defined as a writer who receives all of her or his individual income from “the profession of writing.”
  • The “primary-occupation author” is one who spent at least 50 percent of his or her working time writing.
  • The “main-income author” is defined as someone who earns 50 percent or more of her or his total individual income from writing.

Across all these classifications, the demographic profile drawn from this 2,759-person sample comprises a divide of 51 percent of respondents identifying as men and 45 percent identifying as women. However, “For primary-occupation authors,” the researchers write, “we see that the gender difference is reversed, with 50 percent identifying as women and 46 percent as men.”

At 86 pages, the report acknowledges the contextual impact of “two hugely disruptive events for UK authors: the COVID-19 pandemic (the first UK lockdown started on March 23, 2020), and Brexit (the transition period ended on January 1, 2021). We find that, despite being sometimes heralded as great equalizers, these events had significant
and disproportionate effects on certain groups of authors.”

The work is also “situated,” they write, “amid an arguably global trend toward the devaluing of creative labor.”

The range of writing endeavors represented here is broad, with 65 percent of the respondents’ income reported to come from the book business.

Image: ‘UK Authors’ Earnings and Contracts 2022: A Survey of 60,000 Writers’

And yet, despite the lead in books as income in the previous question, in terms of what sectors those responding may see as the sources of most of their income, academic writing is at the fore. These classifications are referred to as “genres” in the study, but of course, “genres” form a different index in the standard usage of the term in book publishing, where this list might be more readily recognized as sectors.

There’s an interesting section on Page 67 of the report, in fact, on audio-visual authors, including a look at the flux generated during the still-ongoing coronavirus pandemic. In that section, the researchers write that they see “changes to the points in payments to audio-visual authors becoming more stratified, rather than representing long-term or steady earning potential.”

What’s more, they write, “Audio-visual authors also increasingly discuss their relationship with large streaming platforms [that] influence the nature of the operation of contracts in this industry.” They write of a trend put forward by respondents in these industries “to opt for complete buy-outs in audio-visual writings, rather than long-term earnings through repeat fees.”

Image: ‘UK Authors’ Earnings and Contracts 2022: A Survey of 60,000 Writers’

Publishing Perspectives’ primary readership, of course, is in the international book publishing executive and rights-director/agent/scout sector. Our readers thus follow analysis of this kind as part of their assessment of the conditions creative workers in the field of book publishing are encoutering. Assessing those conditions is important for industry players if they’re to have an understanding of the evolving economic milieu in which the writers’ corps is working.

‘The Writing Profession[s] and Sustainability’

One feature of the difficult task set for these researchers is managing the broad range of occupational (or too often aspirational) areas of endeavors under the uber-heading of “writing.” An interesting graphic illustrates how the researchers say they “accounted for differences for earnings of authors across different occupations as certain sub-sectors or genres may produce higher or lower incomes.” You’ll notice that one “sub-sector” is classified as “Academic/Teacher.”

Image: ‘UK Authors’ Earnings and Contracts 2022: A Survey of 60,000 Writers’

Our publishing-industry readership will recognize a parallel here. An Aldus-Up program led by Fundación Germán Sánchez Ruipérez’s Luis González is working to bring coherence to publishing industry statistical research from market to market in Europe. Until now, myriad apples-to-oranges comparison problems have kept sectors of the international book publshing industry from effectively appraising its shared challenges and progress.

Similarly, the sheer breadth of career formulations and roles that fall under the umbrella term “writer” are daunting, as are the range of contractual models. This makes it difficult to assess fully what can be learned from the best-intentioned and executed survey work. As the researchers, themselves, write, “Due to the lack of a stable definition of an ‘author,’ we did not apply any statistical weights to make the survey more representative for the total writing population.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

The First Romantics

From Aeon:

In September 1798, one day after their poem collection Lyrical Ballads was published, the poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth sailed from Yarmouth, on the Norfolk coast, to Hamburg in the far north of the German states. Coleridge had spent the previous few months preparing for what he called ‘my German expedition’. The realisation of the scheme, he explained to a friend, was of the highest importance to ‘my intellectual utility; and of course to my moral happiness’. He wanted to master the German language and meet the thinkers and writers who lived in Jena, a small university town, southwest of Berlin. On Thomas Poole’s advice, his motto had been: ‘Speak nothing but German. Live with Germans. Read in German. Think in German.’

After a few days in Hamburg, Coleridge realised he didn’t have enough money to travel the 300 miles south to Jena and Weimar, and instead he spent almost five months in nearby Ratzeburg, then studied for several months in Göttingen. He soon spoke German. Though he deemed his pronunciation ‘hideous’, his knowledge of the language was so good that he would later translate Friedrich Schiller’s drama Wallenstein (1800) and Goethe’s Faust (1808). Those 10 months in Germany marked a turning point in Coleridge’s life. He had left England as a poet but returned with the mind of a philosopher – and a trunk full of philosophical books. ‘No man was ever yet a great poet,’ Coleridge later wrote, ‘without being at the same time a profound philosopher.’ Though Coleridge never made it to Jena, the ideas that came out of this small town were vitally important for his thinking – from Johann Gottlieb Fichte’s philosophy of the self to Friedrich Schelling’s ideas on the unity of mind and nature. ‘There is no doubt,’ one of his friends later said, ‘that Coleridge’s mind is much more German than English.’

Few in the English-speaking world will have heard of this little German town, but what happened in Jena in the last decade of the 18th century has shaped us. The Jena group’s emphasis on individual experience, their description of nature as a living organism, their insistence that art was the unifying bond between mind and the external world, and their concept of the unity of humankind and nature became popular themes in the works of artists, writers, poets and musicians across Europe and the United States. They were the first to proclaim these ideas, which rippled out into the wider world, influencing not only the English Romantics but also American writers such as Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman. Many learned German to understand the works of the young Romantics in Jena in the original; others studied translations or read books about them. They were all fascinated by what Emerson called ‘this strange genial poetic comprehensive philosophy’. In the decades that followed, the Jena Set’s works were read in Italy, Russia, France, Spain, Denmark and Poland. Everybody was suffering from ‘Germanomania’, as Adam Mickiewicz, one of Poland’s leading poets, said. ‘If we cannot be original,’ Maurycy Mochnacki, one of the founders of Polish Romanticism, wrote, ‘we better imitate the great Romantic poetry of the Germans and decisively reject French models.’

This was not a fashionable craze, but a profound shift in thinking, away from Isaac Newton’s mechanistic model of nature. Despite what many people might think today, the young Romantics didn’t turn against the sciences or reason, but lamented what Coleridge described as the absence of ‘connective powers of the understanding’. The focus on rational thought and empiricism in the Enlightenment, the friends in Jena believed, had robbed nature of awe and wonder. Since the late 17th century, scientists had tried to erase anything subjective, irrational and emotional from their disciplines and methods. Everything had to be measurable, repeatable and classifiable. Many of those who were inspired by the ideas coming out of Jena felt that they lived in a world ruled by division and fragmentation – they bemoaned the loss of unity. The problem, they believed, lay with Cartesian philosophers who had divided the world into mind and matter, or the Linnaeun thinking that had turned the understanding of nature into a narrow practice of collecting and classification. Coleridge called these philosophers the ‘Little-ists’. This ‘philosophy of mechanism’, he wrote to Wordsworth, ‘strikes Death’. Thinkers, poets and writers in the US and across Europe were enthralled by the ideas that developed in Jena, which fought the increasing materialism and mechanical clanking of the world.

So, what was going on in Jena? And why was Coleridge so keen to visit this small town in the Duchy of Saxe-Weimar that had become a ‘Kingdom of Philosophy’? Jena looked unassuming and, with around 4,500 inhabitants, it was decidedly small. It was compact and square within its crumbling medieval town walls, and it took less than 10 minutes on foot to cross. At its centre was an open market square, and its cobbled streets were lined with houses of different heights and styles. There was a university, a library with 50,000 books, book binders, printers, a botanical garden and plenty of shops. Students rushed through the streets to their lectures or discussed the latest philosophical ideas in the town’s many taverns. Tucked into a wide valley and surrounded by gentle hills and fields, Jena was lovingly called ‘little Switzerland’ by the Swiss students.

Back in the 18th century, Jena and its university had been part of the Electorate of Saxony but, because of complicated inheritance rules, the state had been divided up and the university was nominally controlled by no fewer than four different Saxon dukes. In practice, it meant that no one was really in charge, allowing professors to teach and explore revolutionary ideas. ‘Here we have complete freedom to think, to teach and to write,’ one professor said. Censorship was less strict compared with elsewhere, and the scope of subjects that could be taught was broad. ‘The professors in Jena are almost entirely independent,’ Jena’s most famous inhabitant, the playwright Friedrich Schiller, explained. Thinkers, writers and poets in trouble with the authorities in their home states came to Jena, drawn by the openness and relative freedoms. Schiller himself had arrived after he had been arrested for his revolutionary play The Robbers (1781) in his home state, the Duchy of Württemberg.

On a lucky day at the end of the 18th century, you might have seen more famous writers, poets and philosophers in Jena’s streets than in a larger city in an entire century. There was the tall, gaunt-looking Schiller (who could only write with a drawer full of rotten apples in his desk), the stubborn philosopher Fichte, who put the self at the centre of his work, and the young scientist Alexander von Humboldt – the first to predict harmful human-induced climate change. The brilliant Schlegel brothers, Friedrich and August Wilhelm, both of them writers and critics with pens as sharp as the French guillotines, lived in Jena, as did the young philosopher Friedrich Schelling, who redefined the relationship between the individual and nature, and G W F Hegel, who would become one of the most influential philosophers in the Western world.

Link to the rest at Aeon

Children’s Books and Creators of Color: BookTrust Reports

From Publishing Perspectives:

The United Kingdom’s BookTrust, a nonprofit agency engaged in promoting and supporting children’s reading, has presented two late-autumn reports on young people’s books and creators of color—writers and illustrators.

They arrive near the time when schools are emptying for a holiday break. There’s time, we’d all like to think, for contemplation of what might be done in a new year. These studies—one qualitative and one quantitative—offer a look into a major international market’s experience in searching for the wholeness so many societies need to develop, through young people’s literature and its producers.

Children’s literature in recent years has served as a robust communications channel in topics of diversity and inclusion. Many parents and educators appreciate the assistance that books can offer in helping to raise children less encumbered than earlier generations with bias, however unconscious.

In its new studies released in England, the BookTrust program has focused on what children’s reading and reading-education programs reveal about racial diversity questions, specifically about who is writing and illustrating young people’s content.

Issues of diversity are among those that British publishers, led by the Publishers Association, are admired for having taken especially seriously among international markets. On the other hand, research commentary from BookTrust’s reporting indicates, “Creators we spoke to raise[d] concerns that some publishers are engaging superficially with issues of exclusion and under-representation. They worry that the push to publishing creators of color has become either a trend or a tick-box exercise and that engagement with representation will not be sustained.”

As in so many difficult and pressing social issues, earnest viewpoints can be miles apart.

Needless to say, a 43-page and 23-page study, landing at once on journalists’ desks is not something those journalists can fully encapsulate in the news media. We recommend that, if interested, you have a look at both.

The first examines those who write and/or illustrate children’s books in the UK market—how many of them are of color?

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG asks if annoying and oh-so-polite terms like, “how many of them are of color?” originated in the United States or sprang up independently in Britain, then crossed the Atlantic like the redcoats of George III.

PG is not going to enter the waters of diversity, equity and inclusion, but one of the genre’s most annoying characteristics (at least for PG) is the precious circumlocutions that have sprouted along its path. The rules of DEI speech are more rigid and complex than the court rules of Louis XIV.

Louis XIV
George III

Legally bookish: Reese Witherspoon and the boom in celebrity book clubs

From The Guardian:

Every novel I’ve ever read as part of a book club has involved a sprint to the finish. My latest group is no different, except for the possibility – at least as I understand it – of being publicly shamed by Reese Witherspoon. Which is why I am speed-reading the new novel by Celeste Ng, an hour before I am due to discuss it with my fellow members of Reese’s Book Club.

Already I am mentally drafting my apology to our host. “Sorry, Reese. It’s just been a really busy month” – not least because of all the celebrity book clubs. Today, more than 25 years since Oprah Winfrey launched hers, everyone is leading their own community of readers, from the Queen Consort to rapper Noname, from former NFL quarterback Andrew Luck to singer Amerie, from ex-vampire slayer Sarah Michelle Gellar to late-night host Jimmy Fallon.

This does not mean hosting monthly sessions at their mansions, putting on a spread and leading a debate about themes. From the talkshow-discussion-and-book-jacket-sticker-endorsement format pioneered by Winfrey (and, in the UK, Richard and Judy), today’s celebrity book clubs are conducted via social media.

Each celebrity’s involvement varies massively, from merely posting a picture of the cover on their Instagram Stories, to interrogating authors about their intent, live before their millions of followers. Likewise, the expectation of “members” can be as minimal as following the discussion without having to read so much as the blurb. And yet, for all their informal organisation, these virtual reading groups led by a famous figurehead have emerged as a driving force within the publishing industry, and a factor in many of its biggest recent successes.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (Witherspoon’s inaugural pick, back in 2017), Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason (selected by Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop club), Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid (chosen for news anchor Jenna Bush Hager’s group) and Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur (spotlit by Emma Watson) have all been helped to success by famous readers and their followers. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens has now sold nearly 1m copies in the UK, according to Nielsen BookData, the majority long before this year’s film adaptation – and many due to the Witherspoon effect.

In the social media age, Witherspoon has actually overtaken Winfrey as publishing’s starriest powerbroker, having turned good taste in books into one arm of a media empire. Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild, Ng’s earlier novel Little Fires Everywhere and Where the Crawdads Sing were all Reese picks before being subsequently adapted by the actor for the screen. Daisy Jones & the Six is in production for Amazon Prime.

For Witherspoon, the value is obvious. She was nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of Strayed in 2014’s Wild, providing the seed for her Hello Sunshine production company. This August, she sold it for a reported $1bn. But, says Bea Carvalho, head of fiction at Waterstones, although the benefit of any celebrity endorsement on sales is hard to measure precisely, there is a net benefit for the publishing industry, too. “Crossover with film and media always has a positive impact,” she says, “and her conversations on social media raise that profile further. Her voice is a strong and trusted one.”

For Shannon Theumer, one of the first members of Reese’s club and founder of an unofficial Facebook group numbering around 100,000 members, Witherspoon was her “way into the book world”. Theumer started reading along with the actor in 2014, when she was a teenager in rural Germany and Witherspoon was just posting recommendations on her Instagram. “I grew up reading All Quiet on the Western Front, To Kill a Mockingbird, all these things,” says Theumer, now 25 and living in London. “It got to a point where I loved reading, but I wanted to read more about me.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Children’s booksellers and librarians urge that momentum from Cottrell Boyce debate continues

From The Bookseller:

Booksellers and librarians are urging that the momentum of the debate sparked by authors Frank Cottrell Boyce and Robin Stevens — who recently told BBC Radio 4’s “Today Programme” that a lack of critical discourse around children’s literature because of squeezed review pages and underfunded libraries was “narrowing down” choice for children — should continue.

The authors’ appearance on the radio show prompted The Daily Telegraph arts desk to pledge to review a new children’s book every week, and Cottrell Boyce has indicated that he’s had a substantial response to his call for change, writing on Twitter last week: “It feels like after years of remote rumbling, something seismic might be about to shift the landscape of children’s books.”

Annie Rhodes, bookseller at Norfolk Children’s Book Centre, told The Bookseller that the team “heard the radio programme and it has got us all talking.” She said they were “encouraged by the recent light shone on the children’s book world” and “do think it is important that children’s books receive as much attention and are as much a part of the literary world as books for adults.

She continued: “Any conversation that highlights the quality of good children’s literature can only be beneficial for children’s reading — the adults in their lives may learn a bit more about really good books from the reviews and will be able to buy or borrow books for children that go beyond what you see in the supermarkets and bestseller lists.”

Of the Telegraph’s reviews pledge, she added: “Any commitment like this from a major newspaper is good news for the children’s book world and for booksellers — a lot of our customers primarily read traditional print newspapers and learn about what is good from the reviews and we often see customers coming through the door asking for the book that was reviewed as the Times children’s book of the week, for example.”

Rhodes said she is “hopeful that this isn’t a brief conversation in the public eye”, that the “momentum” isn’t lost and that the debate “carries on, and that other newspapers and media outlets follow suit.” “We are excited to see what happens next,” she said.

Dee Lalljee, c.e.o. of The Bookery, which won Independent Bookshop of the Year at the 2022 British Book Awards, likewise said the team at the Crediton-based children’s bookshop “completely agrees” with Cottrell Boyce that a debate is long overdue.

“Not only is there zero national conversation about children’s books, but this is underpinned by a woefully inadequate understanding of the skills required to write and illustrate good children’s books, and the influence they have on children’s lives,” she told The Bookseller.

“As independent booksellers we work hard to champion new books and authors. Our schools team are committed to reviewing new children’s books and they collate annual lists to inspire reading for pleasure, taking these curated book lists to thousands of primary school children (and their teachers) across the county. With the pull of video games and screens, we need to be putting more effort into getting children reading. It’s absolutely crucial for good new authors to be supported and reviewed, and so important to children’s emotional well-being and development that they read.”

Likewise, Natasha Radford, co-owner of Chicken and Frog Bookshop in Brentwood, Essex, “completely agreed” that a conversation around which books find themselves in children’s hands and why was overdue, saying: “We steer away from celebrity titles. This is for several reasons, but mainly because I feel it’s important to provide more choice. Celebrity authors get an unfair percentage of the publicity budget, which pushes others out. If you’re already a big name, do you need so much publicity? I don’t think so.”

She continued: “I hope that [Cottrell Boyce] is right about the shift. It’s down to publishers — especially the big ones — to start celebrating their less-known authors. There’s a stigma around being ‘just’ a children’s author. This needs to be challenged. High-profile awards, broadsheet reviews, etc will help with this.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

The Battle for Bakhmut

From The Wall Street Journal:

BAKHMUT, Ukraine—Russian shells slammed closer and closer as Ludmyla Bondarenko and Zoya Shilkova, clad in fur coats atop layers of clothing, sat on a bench outside their apartment block, chatting and getting some fresh air on a frigid afternoon in what remains of this eastern Ukrainian city.

At an intersection nearby, Ukrainian troops used a crane to emplace concrete slabs, fortifying the neighborhood. Three freshly arrived tanks roared by, blue-and-yellow flags fluttering from their turrets. A distant staccato of machine-gun fire could be heard amid the thumps of artillery.

“We’re so used to it by now, we no longer pay much attention,” Ms. Bondarenko, 76, said as she pointed to a nearby crater left by a Russian shell in the morning. “It’s been going on for months. When is it going to end?”

“It’s probably never going to end,” replied Ms. Shilkova, 75.

Their apartments have had no heating, power or running water for months. The only available food comes from volunteers. “It’s a humanitarian catastrophe. That’s how we live,” Ms. Bondarenko said.

Russian soldiers and fighters from the Wagner private military company have been fighting to capture Bakhmut, a town of 70,000 people that was best known for its sparkling wines before the war, for nearly six months now.

Daily Russian pounding has turned the once-elegant city center into a succession of obliterated facades, with debris strewn on the streets amid freshly dug-out trenches and antitank barriers.

The Russians reached the eastern outskirts of Bakhmut in early July, in the wake of their last successful offensive, the seizure of nearby Lysychansk and Severodonetsk. The tide of war has dramatically turned in Kyiv’s favor elsewhere in the country since then, as Ukrainian forces ousted Russian troops from vast areas of the Kharkiv, Donetsk and, last month, Kherson regions.

Now, Bakhmut has become the war’s main battlefield, with Ukraine and Russia alike pouring in troops, tanks and artillery, in a concentration of firepower rarely seen since the invasion began 10 months ago. Wagner’s owner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has recruited tens of thousands of criminals in Russian prisons for the storming of Bakhmut. Moscow has also sent some of the 300,000 new troops mobilized since October.

The future of Bakhmut is vital for Mr. Prigozhin, a confidant of President Vladimir Putin who criticized regular Russian military commanders as inept, touted Wagner as the country’s best fighting force and secured access to Russian prisoners and generous state funding after promising to capture the Ukrainian city months ago.

The new Russian military commander in Ukraine, Gen. Sergei Surovikin, also has much at stake here. Appointed in early October, Gen. Surovikin justified last month’s withdrawal from Kherson in part by citing the need to use those troops for offensive operations elsewhere.

“Surovikin must show some sort of victory somewhere since his appointment,” said Fedir Venislavskiy, a member of the Ukrainian parliament’s national-security, defense and intelligence committee. “What the Russian military and political leadership desire very much is a capture of Bakhmut. And that’s why both Surovikin and Prigozhin are throwing all their forces at it.”

Ukraine’s calculation is also not purely based on a strictly military rationale. If Bakhmut were to fall, the town of Chasiv Yar on heights just to the west of it could provide a convenient line of defense for the Ukrainian-controlled 40% of the Donetsk region that Russia claims as its own.

 “From the military standpoint, Bakhmut doesn’t have strategic significance,” the commander of Ukrainian land forces, Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrsky, said in a Ukrainian TV appearance this month. “But, at the same time, it has psychological significance.”

Indeed, a retreat from Bakhmut would signal Ukraine losing the initiative after four months of steady advances, raising Russian morale and making it harder to pursue further Ukrainian offensives in Donetsk and the nearby Luhansk region. That is why, in the past three weeks, Ukraine has saturated the area with fresh troops and equipment.

Through most of the war, Ukraine usually tried to avoid set-piece battles where both sides concentrate their resources, aware that this type of warfare can play to Russia’s advantages.

“Some of the things that make us strong, such as independence, initiative, the ability to act even when without clear orders, can also become our weaknesses when many units are in the same place, and each has their own view,” said Mykola Volokhov, commander of the Terra drone-reconnaissance unit that, among other Ukrainian forces, was relocated to Bakhmut from the Kherson front this month. “The outcome in Bakhmut will depend on the ability of our forces to achieve coordination.”

Another part of the puzzle is what happens on the Kreminna-Svatove front to the north, where Ukrainian offensive operations have been literally bogged down because of weather that has made unpaved roads impassable. A sustained drop in temperatures, Ukrainian commanders say, could freeze the ground and allow Ukrainian forces to resume their push eastward.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

TPV isn’t a current events or political blog, but PG thought the beginning of this article was a well-written way of putting the Ukrainian war into more human terms.

The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, did a masterful job early in the war of putting the invasion into human terms and gaining a great deal of Western sympathy and support for his nation. Zelenskyy personalized the war and has not attempted to disguise the difficult circumstances most of the people in Ukraine are dealing with due to this war.

PG doubts that Ukraine had the ability to remove many of its citizens out of harm’s way and, based on his reading, PG’s perception is that, unlike some other wars, there is nothing like a war zone separate from the general populace.

Hence, in our mind’s eye, we see Ludmyla and Zoya, two elderly women, chatting on a bench while tanks roar past and approaching explosions of Russian artillery shells provide an aural backdrop for their conversation. And we hope nothing bad will happen to them.

What the Paris Review Staff Read in 2022

From The Paris Review:

The sadness of thinking about a year in reading is how little of it endures! As I try to recover lost time by rereading the terrible handwriting in my journal I find so many abandoned or forgotten books, and even the ones that remained in my memory are now reduced to an image or a sentence or a feeling—but maybe this is universal, and therefore not so sad.  

The book that stayed with me the most this year was Tove Ditlevsen’s The Copenhagen Trilogy, not just because of how moving it is and how it performs such relentless moves with doom as she details her struggles with external demons (family, class, addiction) but because I still don’t understand exactly how she accomplished this. Whenever I’ve tried to define it in conversation, I end up saying something hopelessly abstract, like, “The series invents its own authority.” This hopelessness made me want to come up with a corresponding new aesthetic category, something that would precisely and permanently define the compulsive.  

In a very different mode: I keep remembering images from Jean-Patrick Manchette’s crime novels, which I read this summer in some of NYRB Classics’s reissues. My favorites, perhaps, were No Room at the Morgue and Nada, which aren’t so much noirs as rapid phenomenologies of politics. There are dense technical descriptions of guns and scenes of people waiting in dark rooms, but operating through these minute details is a sense of a larger system.  

These, I’ve realized sadly, are the memories of reading I’m left with now. But maybe this awareness of forgetting has been prompted by an experience I loved at the beginning of the year—listening, online, to Alice Oswald’s lectures on poetry at Oxford. The first, from 2019, is called “The Art of Erosion,” and uses the seventeenth-century poet Robert Herrick as an example of a writer with a way of working that she admires. It wasn’t only her argument about poetry and erosion that I found both moving and invigorating, her idea that there is a poetry that builds up and a poetry that uncovers or erodes; it was the use of Herrick—someone so apparently outmoded and forgotten!—as her model for thinking through those subjects. Of course, I’ve forgotten many other aspects of those nighttime lectures. So much is already eroded at the moment of listening, or reading. How any writer makes something survive—even for a year—is still a mystery.   

—Adam Thirlwell, advisory editor

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

The Art of Erosion – Lectures on Poetry by Alice Oswald

Audio Only

Digitizing ‘Christmas Books’ at the UK’s Cambridge University Press

From Public Books:

In an interesting point of irony, Cambridge University Press’ 34 “Christmas Books” series was started by university printer Walter Lewis in the early 1930s, in hopes of showing off the press’ printing and design skills as the British economy slowed. And now, just in time for another economic downturn—as well as for the holiday season, of course—these highly specialized editions, “privately printed at the University Press,” have been digitized by the press to preserve a remarkable collection of limited editions.

These are not Christmas books in the sense of titles themed on Christmas. They’re called the press’ Christmas books because they were given to industry associates and customers at Christmas, in no small part as promotional pieces.

In most cases, only some 100 copies were made of a single title, and all of them were given away to “friends in printing and publishing.”

This meant that Cambridge University Press itself didn’t have a complete set of these rare editions, the last of which was produced in 1973. Starting in 2014, the press has been working to pull together a complete set of its own, drawing on “a mixture of donations and detective work.”

Ros Grooms, the press’ archivist says, “The books were published for a long time, with a pause for the Second World War, and demonstrate real excellence in the way they are put together. They aren’t showy, but all the signs of quality in printing, typography and design would have been obvious to the people receiving them.

“Great care was taken over the books but their secret was really in the experience and skill of the press’ compositors and printers. People were chosen to work on the books in recognition of their skill and they worked together to produce something really special.

“Looking through the pages, it’s easy to imagine the pleasure that these little books would have given to someone opening one for the first time at Christmas.”

In most cases, the books have a connection with Cambridge. Brooke Crutchley Walter Lewis as university printer in 1946, and continued the tradition of producing the books which, by then, had gathered a reputation. About a third of them reprint historical texts and most, of course, are related to printing and publishing since the intent was to demonstrate the company’s capabilities.

Gavin Swanson, who last year left the press’ academic publishing group—and now is editorial development manager in the journals division—was instrumental in searching out the books.

“Initially, I got a list of the books that we didn’t have and used that,” he says, “together with what was essentially a catalogue, containing a couple of paragraphs of description for each of the Christmas books, their titles and a list of illustrations.

“I would trawl through the sites of book dealers to find the missing volumes and finally came up with an original copy of the last book we needed, 1939’s From London to Cambridge by Train, just before I left the press, so I snaffled it as quickly as I could and that thankfully completed the collection.”

“These are an important piece of our heritage,” Grooms says, “and we are very grateful to Gavin for his hard work and to all those who kindly donated what must have been much-loved items, to allow us to preserve them for many Christmases to come.”

The press’ digital content team made archive-quality photos of the books and their slipcases that were made for many of the books.

Some of the volumes were photographed on a conservation cradle at higher resolution than others, including the “lift-the-flaps” Bridges on the Backs pictured at the top of this article.

Johanna Ward from the digital content team is quoted, saying, “The majority are robust enough to be digitized on a book cradle, which supports the book to allow for the high-resolution digitization of two pages at once, while not applying much pressure to its structure. … Archival photography is based on specific color calibration methods to faithfully reproduce the book as seen. We’re also digitizing at a ratio of 1:1 and so the image should also be a faithful reproduction of the size of the book.”

She points out that a file from such work isn’t as large as it might have been because these books aren’t large.

. . . .

Publishing Perspectives has asked Cambridge University Press how to see the digitized collection of Christmas books, and unfortunately the archive has yet to post the collection to its site, although they have approached the news media for coverage.

We’ve asked the company to let us know when it’s available, and we’ll revisit and update this story when they have the collection ready for viewing on the archive, perhaps on a Christmas Future.

Link to the rest at Public Books

From the murky attics of PG’s mind, an old advertising slogan appeared as he considered the inability of the Cambridge University Press’ to provide a peek at their Christmas book collection, despite of the huge number of books purchased as holiday gifts during this season and the attractiveness of the idea of giving someone a book from the Cambridge University Press Christmas book collection.

(Yes, PG realizes that the previous sentence/paragraph is overlong, but he was thinking of a 40+ year old advertising campaign for Paul Masson wine. The campaign featured Orson Wells and his delivery of the company’s slogan was epic. “We will sell no wine before its time.”

The Culture Transplant

From The Wall Street Journal:

In “The Culture Transplant,” Garett Jones argues that cultural traits can persist for generations after migrants arrive in a new country. Newcomers don’t simply assimilate to their new homes; as the book’s subtitle puts it, they “make the economies they move to a lot like the ones they left.” It’s a thesis that is at once highly provocative and a restatement of common sense: Poorly chosen immigrants can undermine a country’s success; cultures don’t disappear when people move from place to place.

If it is obvious that cultures and institutions persist when people cross national borders, the real question is: To what extent? One approach to finding the answer is to see how various attitudes endure. Trust, for instance, is one of the more commonly studied attributes: economic cooperation relies upon it, yet it varies substantially from culture to culture. Mr. Jones, an associate professor of economics at George Mason University, notes that, even after four generations in the U.S., immigrants continue to hold attitudes toward trust that are significantly influenced by their home countries. On a host of other matters, such as family, abortion and the role of government, fourth-generation immigrants on average converge only about 60% of the way to the national norm. “Overall,” Mr. Jones contends, “that low level of conformity is a bad sign, unless you think most immigrants come from countries with better political attitudes than Americans currently have.”

Earnings in the U.S. also correlate with historical earnings by ancestry: In their respective home countries, for example, Norwegians outearn Poles, who outearn Filipinos; the same applies when comparing U.S. counties dominated by each of these ethnicities. How long after migration can we still detect such effects? Mr. Jones pays special attention to the Deep Roots theory of economic development, which holds that a nation’s present per capita income is strongly correlated with the state of the world in 1500, particularly as influenced by three factors: political development, farming experience and technological prowess. Using these three variables, Mr. Jones calculates a migration-adjusted state, agriculture and technology—or “SAT”—score and finds that it predicts more than 60% of modern-day income differences. He notes other research suggesting that these historical variables have a big effect on modern government quality, too.

Of the three variables, Mr. Jones tells us that the strongest predictor of income is a country’s history of technological development. Technology also seems to be the best long-run predictor of government quality. So the main story seems to be about technological development persisting over time, and of people bringing their technological capabilities to new places. Mr. Jones points out, however, that the three factors are not completely independent: “Places with centuries of organized states and a long history of settled agriculture were likely, at least by the year 1500, to be using a lot of the world’s best technology.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

NPD Books: US Market Underperforming in the Holidays

From Publishing Perspectives:

Following Monday’s report (December 5) on the Association of American Publishers‘ (AAP) September 2022 StatShot report, we look today at the new report on the United States’ market conditions in November from NPD Books‘ Kristen McLean.

As you’ll remember, the NPD BookScan track runs much closer to date than StatShot, and McLean is looking this time at the month of November. What she sees prompts her to write, “It’s now clear” that the 2022 holiday book sales season “is underperforming 2021—and not just due to a later start.

“In the latest retail numbers from our macroeconomic team, the 2022 Black Friday week underperformed compared to the past three years, only exceeding the sales revenue results during the same week in 2020, during the first year of the pandemic. While increases in foot traffic were reported widely in the press, that didn’t necessarily translate into more sales on either a revenue or a unit basis.”

. . . .

Turning back to books, McLean writes in her report to the news media, “The book market was right in line with these trends. At the top line, the United States’ book market finished November at 6 percent below 2021, on a monthly volume of 61.8 million units. That’s 8.5 million units higher than October, but 10.4 million units under November 2021.

“In the book market, the overall numbers are still within historic norms, but key categories like adult nonfiction and juvenile fiction are definitely underperforming so far this season. Nothing seems to be breaking out this year compared to what we’ve been seeing in adult fiction.

“There are still five more weeks left in the year. It’s hard to remember it now, but in 2018 and 2019, we spent a lot of time talking about how the peak of holiday shopping was slipping later and later in the year as consumers came to depend on just-in-time shipping from online retailers. It will be interesting to see whether this kind of pattern reemerges in 2022.

“As I said in last month’s update, I believe the lower level of spending this year is fundamentally about consumer economics and sentiment. I also still believe the most likely scenario for the total market finish is exactly where we are now: 6 percent below 2021.”

And in an interesting parallel, we’ll just note that while the American market is showing those November sales at 6 percent behind last year, the United Kingdom’s market is neck-and-neck, with a 7-percent slowdown compared to November of last year, per Nielsen data, as The Bookseller editor Philip Jones discusses in his Friday edition leader piece.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

A Private Spy

From The Wall Street Journal:

A Private Spy,” a 630-page collection of the letters of John le Carré—David Cornwell in real life—is not as revealing of this secretive, canny man as Adam Sisman’s 2015 biography or as engaging as le Carré’s own episodic memoir, “The Pigeon Tunnel,” published a year later, partly in response to that “intrusive” biography. But what makes the letters so fascinating is their real-time immediacy, most palpable in the earlier years. Here is a man, not yet renowned as John le Carré, trying to find a way in the world, from student in England and Germany, to impoverished married man and father, would-be commercial artist, schoolmaster, diplomat (spy) and—before “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold”—middling novelist. Even when fame arrived, he could not know its eventual upshot, that countless journalists would dig into his past, eventually outing him as a former spy for both MI5 and MI6, or, indeed, that his celebrity—though not his fortune—would become a scourge culminating, as he wrote to Ian McEwan in 2013, in “a kind of exhaustion at being asked for the last fifty years whether Mossad is better than the CIA, what it’s like—oh Christ!—to be a spy.”

The book has been superbly edited and introduced by le Carré’s son Tim Cornwell, who, unhappily, died before it went to press. Extensive though it is, it is only a selection of le Carré’s correspondence. Most of the letters he undoubtedly wrote to his many lovers are missing, destroyed or withheld—a wise choice judging from the embarrassing few that are present. Many letters known to have existed are lost, some of which we would dearly have liked to read. They include, according to Tim Cornwell, a “‘tortured’ sixteen-page letter” le Carré wrote to Timothy Garton Ash on “the morality of spying,” and a couple of dispatches le Carré claimed he sent as a boy to Stalin, one advising the Supreme Commander of his support for opening a second front, the other complaining about his school.

So much for what’s absent. The first letter here finds 13-year-old David Cornwell writing optimistically in June 1945 to his future housemaster at Sherborne School, a place he would leave before finishing. The last was written in November 2020—two weeks before he died—to his old friend, journalist and guide to war-torn regions, David Greenway. Among the hundreds of letters written during the intervening 75 years are loving letters to both of his wives, his children, his brother Tony and half-sibling Charlotte, and Jean Cornwell, his father’s second wife, who had instilled in him a love of books.

There are letters to fellow writers, actors, directors, old British spies—and one former Soviet one—agents, publishers and friends. There are a couple of excruciatingly fulsome letters of gratitude, one to Philip Roth, who had described “A Perfect Spy” as “the best English novel since the war.” And another to Graham Greene, whose praise for “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold” (“the best spy story I have ever read”) helped make the book a bestseller. Later, Greene’s defense of Kim Philby blew up into a public slanging match between him and le Carré. And though the two put it behind them, le Carré, shortly before he died, admitted to writer Ben Macintyre that Greene “still spooks me.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

National anthems have fallen behind the times

From The Economist:

National anthems can be tricky. The funeral of Elizabeth II moved with military surefootedness in every aspect except one: the singing of the anthem. A nation that had dutifully sung the same words for 70 years hesitated. “God save our gracious queen” seemed wrong (clearly, it was a bit late for that). But “God save our gracious king” felt inappropriate, too: she was still lying there, after all. In Westminster Abbey, the congregation compromised. “Long live our noble keen,” they droned; “God save the quing.”

Britain’s anthem offers other thorny problems. When sung in full, it includes a second verse in which God is called upon to “scatter his enemies” and frustrate their “knavish tricks”. When the anthem was first sung in 1745, its sentiments were considered so splendidly sensible that they were greeted by “repeated Huzzas”, encores and “universal Applause”, according to the Daily Advertiser, a newspaper. In the more sensitive atmosphere of 2022, however, and in front of an international audience, such lyrics seemed rather less splendid. That verse was judiciously edited out.

The coronation of King Charles III, which will take place in May 2023, is a perfect opportunity for further updates. And Britain’s is not the only anthem that could do with a little editing. Many were written in the 19th century; few champion equality and diversity as modern minds might wish; and an improbably large number drip with blood. This variously streams generously (Algeria); spills purely (Belgium); dyes the flag red (Vietnam) or waters the furrows impurely (France).

Indeed, few nations present their best selves in their anthems. Consider the anthem of the contested region of Western Sahara. With its bright F-major key and jolly marching rhythm, it encourages patriots to “Cut off the head of the invader!”—and not just once, but twice, which is surely the very definition of overkill. Meanwhile the Vietnamese anthem also assures its people that “the path to glory is paved with the corpses of our enemies”; while the Algerian one opts for musical metaphor to explain (fortissimo) that the Algerians have taken “the sound of machineguns as our melody”. Simon and Garfunkel it ain’t.

Link to the rest at The Economist

The Elizabethan era is not yet at an end

From The Economist:

The death certificate is clear. The form gives all the usual information about the deceased. In one box it gives her marital state (widowed); in another her home postcode (sl4 1nj). In another, beneath the brisk “When died”, it offers: “2022 September Eighth, 1510 hours”. And in another still, with slightly excitable capitalisation, her occupation: “Her Majesty The Queen”.

The queen’s death certificate is right, and it is also wrong. Queen Elizabeth II did die at 3.10pm. But for the world, she continued to live. For over three hours, she was merely “extremely unwell” or “comfortable and at Balmoral”. Her death, for most people, only happened later, at a few minutes past 6.30pm, when a footman walked from Buckingham Palace holding a black-edged sign; when the bbc went black; when the national anthem played. A queen has two birthdays; she also has many deaths.

According to the law she has none: “the King never dies”, as the legal maxim has it. A monarch’s heart might stop; the monarch’s heart does not. The king is dead; long live the king. But the law is not life and a king is more than a man in a crown. Britain did not abruptly change from being Victorian to Edwardian on January 22nd 1901; Charles III did not instantly feel like Britain’s new king at 6.30pm on that Thursday, but like a man playing a part. Kingship comes not in a moment but by the slow accumulation of kingly things.

This has begun. The nation’s pronouns have already changed. Her Majesty’s Government is now His; criminals are now detained in His Majesty’s prisons, not Hers. In Qatar, God is called upon by English footballers to save their gracious king, not their queen. On military buttons and police badges and the breasts of Beefeaters, CIIIR will gradually start to replace EIIR. Shoals of coins bearing the words “Charles III Rex” started to fall from the Royal Mint in October. A king is being made into a coin; a man is being made into a monarch.

The corollary of this is that a queen is being undone. Elizabeth’s “E” will be unpicked from the embroidered tunics of the Beefeaters and replaced with Charles’s “C”; her crest will cease to appear on ketchup bottles as the royal warrants that signify suppliers to the royal household expire; worn banknotes bearing her face will be gathered and shredded on a rolling basis. In the Inns of Court in London, the signs for Queen’s Counsel barristers have been repainted, a fresh coat of cream covering the old qcs. In a constitutional monarchy queens do not so much die as erode.

History, the novelist Hilary Mantel once said, “is not the past…It’s what’s left in the sieve when the centuries have run through it”.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Is Mick Herron the Best Spy Novelist of His Generation?

From The New Yorker:

Mick Herron is a broad-shouldered Englishman with close-cropped black hair, lightly salted, and fine and long-fingered hands, like a pianist’s or a safecracker’s. He wears wire-rimmed glasses, and he is shy and flushes easily, pink as a peony. He does not drive a car and he does not own a smartphone, and, in the softly carpeted apartment in Oxford where, wearing woollen slippers, he writes spy novels—the best in a generation, by some estimations, and irrefutably the funniest—he does not have Wi-Fi. He used to be a copy editor. He has never been a secret agent, except insofar as all writers are spies and maybe, lately, so is everyone else.

Spy fiction got good and going in the years before the First World War, and took flight afterward. In 1927, W. Somerset Maugham wrote “Ashenden: or, The British Agent,” about a writer who is recruited into British intelligence by a handler called R. During the war, Maugham had been a spook; he was recruited after “Of Human Bondage” came out. Writers make good joes (as Herron might say): they’re keen observers, and they tend to know languages. (Maugham had French and German.) “If you do well you’ll get no thanks,” R. tells Ashenden, “and if you get into trouble you’ll get no help.” Editors say the same thing to writers.

Maugham’s best-known successors—Graham Greene, Ian Fleming, and John le Carré—were spies, too. Greene worked for M.I.6, Britain’s foreign-intelligence service; Fleming for Naval Intelligence; and le Carré for both M.I.6 and M.I.5, Britain’s security service. Like le Carré, whose wordcraft about spycraft included “mole,” “spook,” and “Moscow rules,” Herron’s got his own lingo, about “the hub” and “dogs” and “tiger teams” and “milkmen.” But Herron, as he himself might put it, has never been to joe country and lives nowhere near Spook Street.

For the longest stretch of Herron’s professional life, he worked in London in the legal department of an employment-issues research firm, copy-editing journal articles, handbooks, and case reports about employment discrimination and wrongful termination. Nights, he wrote detective fiction, and even got some published, but no one bought it. Then he had a breakthrough. “People say write what you know,” Herron says. “So I wrote about people who are failures.” Bob Cratchitting away at job-discrimination case reports, Herron came up with the idea of Slough House, a place where M.I.5 puts bad spies out to pasture. “Sack the useless, and they took you to tribunal for discriminating against useless people,” one character explains. “So the Service bunged the useless into some godforsaken annex and threw paperwork at them, an administrative harassment intended to make them hand in their cards. They called them slow horses. The screw-ups. The losers.” James Bond they are not.

The Slough House novels have been adapted as an Apple TV+ series called, like the first of those novels, “Slow Horses.” It’s slick and sleek and as star-studded as a summer sky. The first season came out last spring, and the second begins this month. Mick Jagger, a Mick Herron fan, recorded its bluesy theme song, “Strange Game.” Kristin Scott Thomas stars as Diana Taverner, Second Desk at M.I.5, with Jonathan Pryce as her long-retired predecessor, David Cartwright, whose grandson River Cartwright, played by the Scottish actor Jack Lowden, is a slow horse trying to kick over the traces. The cast is headed by the inimitable Gary Oldman, as Jackson Lamb. Lamb is an old joe who’s straight out of Dickens, if Dickens had ever invented a character who used the word “twat” all the time.

Even before John le Carré died, nearly two years ago, people had started calling Mick Herron his heir, which is, as publicists say, very selling, but also something of a burden. Herron suspects that le Carré would find his work facetious. Still, that’s not to say there aren’t similarities. A decade ago, Oldman was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of le Carré’s George Smiley in an adaptation of “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.” Oldman says Jackson Lamb is Smiley if everything had gone wrong, although, arguably, everything has.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

James Gillray

From The Wall Street Journal:

‘The Apples and the Horse-Turds; or, Buonaparte Among the Golden Pippins’ (1808) by James Gillray.

In 1779, Napoleon Bonaparte, having seized power in France, appealed to George III for an end to the eight years of war that had followed the French Revolution. Britain’s foreign secretary, Lord Grenville, replied that France, if it really wanted peace, should restore its legitimate monarchy. Samuel Whitbread, an opposition MP, argued for talks with Napoleon, saying that power, however attained, must be respected.

The episode sparked an especially caustic illustration—what we would call a political cartoon—from the British satirist James Gillray (1756-1815). It showed Napoleon in a peculiar landscape setting. He seems to have rolled down from a dunghill mushroomed with French notables (Voltaire among them) and into a stream where “royal pippins”—a kind of apple here signifying real legitimacy—float alongside him. “We apples,” Napoleon says, though we can see that he doesn’t belong in their number. He is a foul intruder.

Napoleon was the butt of other Gillray drawings. As Tim Clayton shows us in “James Gillray: A Revolution in Satire,” the French emperor—and menace to peace—was depicted as a tinpot tyrant. In a Gillray illustration playing off “Gulliver’s Travels,” a puzzled George III peers through a telescope at a tiny Napoleon standing in an angry pose on the king’s outstretched hand. The French generally come in for rough Gillray treatment. In another drawing, Parisian revolutionaries appear as cannibals.

These works capture Gillray’s style, juxtaposing vulgarity with literary allusion and extravagant caricature with sharp draftsmanship. Mr. Clayton’s well-researched and lavishly illustrated study makes a strong case for Gillray as the creator of a genre of graphic art—and as a forceful commentator. The artist’s caricatures shaped how the public saw politicians and royal figures, not to mention socialites and literary celebrities. Today’s political cartoonists quite properly credit Gillray as a major forerunner.

. . . .

Avoiding grotesque invention, Gillray went beyond simple reality with (in the words of the 20th-century cartoonist David Low) “a discriminating exaggeration of truth.” Thus, in “The Lover’s Dream,” we see the Prince of Wales (in the 1790s) sweetly sleeping on a luxurious royal bed and dreaming of the queen swooping down, like an angel in a Renaissance painting, to pay his enormous debts. Mr. Clayton’s selection takes readers on a journey through Georgian politics and society with a guide who spared no one.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

England: ‘A (Very) Short History’ Wins the £25,000 Royal Society Science Book Prize

From Publishing Perspectives:

At the Royal Society in London this evening (November 29), Nature writer and senior editor Henry Gee has been awarded the £25,000 ( US$29,927) Royal Society Science Book Prize for his A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth: 4.6 Billion Years in 12 Chapters (Pan Macmillan, 2021).

. . . .

The jury chair, neuroscientist Maria Fitzgerald—the daughter of Booker Prize winning novelist Penelope Fitzgerald—in offering the panel’s rationale, said, “This is history like you have never read before.

“Henry Gee takes us on a whirlwind journey through 4.6 billion years through the birth of the planet Earth, the emergence of life, and the evolution of man, a species that is not only aware of itself but also of what will happen next.

“As Gee races through millennia, momentous physical and biological changes are described with immense skill and dynamism combined with almost poetic imagery. The last chapter, ‘The Past of the Future,’ reminds us of our relative insignificance and that each species facing extinction does so in its own way. But ‘do not despair,’ he urges us: ‘The Earth abides, and life is living yet.’”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Monitoring the international publishing scene

From The New Publishing Standard:

Monitoring the international publishing scene can be depressing at times. A lot of times.

Because even in the 2020s a common theme being touted by events organisers, culture ministers, publishing execs and other authoritative figures that really should know better is that young people are not reading because they are too busy with their mobile phones, wasting time on social media when they could be reading a dry, dull-as-possible, micro-font text book written for a 1950s audience.

What is up with the youth of today? Don’t they understand that reading is something you have to do – a daily chore – not something you choose to do because it is pleasurable?

It’s no coincidence that this nonsense is being perpetuated in the least dynamic book markets, while conversely the dynamic book markets openly embrace social media, digital reading and the accessibility of mobile devices to expand reading.

This past week a useful survey from the UK Publishers Association (it happens!) took in the opinions of over 2,000 16-25 year olds (the so-called Generation Z) and confirmed what most of us in the western book markets are already acutely aware of – that social media drives reading and drives book sales.

The focus here was on the social media platform BookTok. Here’s what the PA survey concluded:

  • 59% of 16-25 year olds say that BookTok or book influencers have helped them discover a passion for reading.
  • 55% turn to BookTok for recommendations
  • 66% say that BookTok has inspired them to read a book that they would have never considered otherwise.

And bricks & mortar booksellers need not worry this is only drving digital book sales. From the press release:

The good news is that Booktok can also have a positive impact on physical bookshops, with nearly half (49%) of respondents visiting a physical bookshop to buy a book they have seen on BookTok. 

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

PG notes the OP is based on a research project conducted by the UK Publishers Association and includes a link to the press release describing that research project.

How Ukraine’s artists are taking on Putin’s Russia

From The Guardian:

When I meet him, artist Oleksiy Sai, along with his wife and son, have slept the night in their studio, a warren of rooms tucked behind an unassuming courtyard in central Kyiv. It’s on the ground floor, and with good walls, so they reckon it’s reasonably safe from Russian rockets. Safer, that is, than their apartment: the previous day they were woken by the juddering scream-boom of cruise missile strikes, one cratering a children’s playground a block from their flat. Somehow, their windows survived, though the glass was blown out of most of the nearby buildings. Now, the whole family is busy making work: his son Vasyl is at a screen editing videos; his wife, Svitlana Ratoshnyuk, is making folksy textiles embroidered with “Fuck Putin” in Ukrainian.

Before the war, Sai – slim, intense, wearing a black hoodie – used to make colourful works, based on Excel software, that wryly commented on “office life and global culture”. But when the Russians invaded on 24 February, he says, “I forgot about art completely, I forgot all my plans and started working for the war.” First, he began rolling out designs for protest posters. “I know how to do it fast,” Sai says; he honed the skill nearly a decade ago, during the 2013 Maidan Square protests against the pro-Russian then president, Viktor Yanukovych. Sai’s banner designs have been seen on the streets of London, New York and Berlin. They are not subtle. “Unilever! Quit Russia!” reads one, the familiar corporate logo rendered as a U-shaped spatter of blood. Another depicts a line of Russian medals “For torture”, “For looting” and “For the genocide of the Ukrainian people”.

Later, Sai made a video work. He shows it to me on his computer. Brutal images march across the screen in a grim procession: shattered and broken bodies, twisted and collapsed buildings, the full Goya-esque horror of war. The raw material for the piece was 7,000 photographs from the conflict’s barbaric heart – gathered from journalists, but also from photographers he knew who had signed up as combatants and taken pictures deep amid the raw carnage. “My goal is to terrify people,” he says. “To show that the war is total. To show that it’s fucking serious.” The work has been shown at the Nato headquarters, at the European parliament. Its sound consists of radio intercepts of Russian soldiers talking to their mothers or girlfriends, along with a sort of dull metronomic beat that gives the whole work a “zombified” feel, as Sai puts it. “It’s too scary for news,” he says. “But for art, it’s possible.” None of the images is captioned, there’s no contextual information; it’s designed to cut to the marrow. It’s certainly not intended to be journalism. As an artwork, “it gives you a deeper emotional connection, and a deeper knowledge”, he says. He calls it “propaganda” before checking himself: “It’s not propaganda. It’s not the stuff I want to do, it’s the stuff I need to do.” He adds: “It is practical and useful, and people changed their minds about the war. It worked.” In the resistance against the Russian invasion, Sai’s art is his weapon.

The work is distressing; after a few moments, to my relief, he pauses the video. I can’t help wondering what it was like to live among these images, studying them, editing them together in his small dark studio. “It was three weeks of hell. I dreamed about them. They got into my head,” he says. He developed a nervous tic, started scratching himself obsessively. For relief, he has been making what he calls his Smoke series of drawings – swirls of black that recall the clouds rising from the site of missile strikes. After Russian attacks, Ukrainian outlets show footage not of the affected buildings, but only the smoke – so as not to reveal whether the intended target was hit. There’s a stack of these Smoke works at the back of the studio; he’s given lots away so they can be sold to raise money for the war effort. “I’m lucky to get to edit in this comfortable place, smoking and eating,” he says. “I won’t lose my leg doing it. It’s easier than firing a gun.”

. . . .

Where to begin a story of war? Every war teems with stories: stories of survival and violence, of resistance and compliance, of struggle and terror. They go together: many of the oldest stories that survive (the Iliad, the Odyssey) are stories of war and its aftermath. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is a war full of stories but also a war about a story, about the accepted facts, about the prevailing narrative. Vladimir Putin’s “special operation”, as he calls it, seems to have been intended to provide a spectacle, a kind of war movie, for domestic consumption, drawing the Russians together against what he hopes to frame as a common enemy – described variously as Nazis, terrorists or even, bizarrely, as the forces of Satan. At the same time, the war’s false justification has its own disturbing narrative, its own warped internal logic. Underlying Putin’s military aggression, as his speeches and essays have for years made clear, is his assertion that Ukraine has no distinct existence – that it can be seen only as an adjunct to Russia. In such a war on a nation’s culture, identity and history, it is artists and cultural figures who find themselves the crack troops of the resistance. The war is on one level about borders, and it is being fought with shells, Himars rocket launchers and Shahed-136 drones. But it is, on a deeper level, about culture. And, desperately holding the line, fighting on the cultural front, weaponising their work, are Ukraine’s artists.

. . . .

What happens to art when a war appears as an unwelcome guest in your country? In the short term, war ruptures language and meaning; art seems pointless. No one I speak to in Ukraine can forget the shock of the first day of the invasion – a day that is sealed into people’s memories as surely as a fly trapped in amber, to borrow an image from Maksym Kurochkin, a Kyiv-based playwright turned soldier. Musicians tell me how they seemed to fall deaf, in those early days; novelists, how they started to muddle languages they’d never confused before. Art is no use against rockets or guns. “You could not protect your family from a rifle with your poems,” as Oleksandr Mykhed, a writer I meet at a book festival in Lviv, puts it. Everything collapsed in on itself, in those early days.

The best use of words, as the invasion began, was not to arrange them into elegant poetic forms, but to use them to send a message to your friends that you were alive, or to help someone stay safe. Mykhed speaks of a backpack his wife, Olena, has put together, containing equipment to use in the event of a nuclear attack, along with directions. “If the backpack survives, then we have a piece of nonfiction with instructions for restoring life,” he says. On 23 February, the day before the invasion, he finished writing a book. As the tanks rolled in, he volunteered for the military. On the fifth day of the war he was sleeping in barracks. On the seventh, his home was shelled to destruction. In such a way, war renders a life unrecognisable, over the course of a single week.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

More than half of young readers credit BookTok with sparking passion for reading

From The Bookseller:

A poll conducted by the Publishers Association has found more than half of young readers credit BookTok, a subcommunity on the social media platform TikTok focused on books and literature, with helping them discover a passion for reading.

Of 2,001 16–25-year-olds surveyed by the organisation in October, 59% said that BookTok or book influencers had “helped them discover a passion for reading”, while more than half (55%) said they turn to BookTok for recommendations. Moreover, 68% said BookTok had inspired them to read a book that they would have never considered otherwise.

The research also saw 38% of young people say they turn to BookTok for recommendations ahead of family and friends, while nearly one in five (19%) reported that following the Booktok hashtag helped them find a community. Another 16% reported that they had made new friends through BookTok.

Dan Conway, chief executive of the Publishers Association, said: “It’s great to see that the BookTok phenomenon is igniting a love of reading for young people. Reading can be so beneficial to health and happiness and is a way for all ages to connect over common interests.”

Findings suggest a boost for bookshops, too, with nearly half (49%) of respondents visiting a physical bookshop to buy a book they have seen on BookTok. Book Bar, an independent bookshop and wine bar in London, is among a number of bookshops aiming to cater for this audience.

Due to trends driven by BookTok, the shop now stocks more contemporary books which cater to a broader demographic. Chrissy Ryan, the owner of Book Bar, said: “Launching in the pandemic was challenging but BookTok has been really helpful in driving customers into our store. More and more we are seeing young people come to the shop asking for books they discovered on TikTok.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Nicola Sturgeon on the push for another Scottish referendum

From The Economist:

When I wrote previously for this publication, back in 2015, it would have been all but impossible to predict the course which global events have since taken. We have witnessed Brexit, the election of Donald Trump in the United States and its toxic legacy, a global pandemic, the return of war to the European continent with Russia’s brutal, illegal invasion of Ukraine—and, in the United Kingdom, a cost-of-living and general economic crisis on a scale unseen in many decades.

Any one of these things would have the capacity to be unsettling. Taken together, though, these events have thrown the world around us into a state of flux of a kind rarely seen in modern times.

In Scotland, the government I lead is doing its utmost to protect people in the face of the severe economic challenges we face. However, those challenges have been exacerbated by the reckless actions of the British government, whose policies have sent sterling plummeting to record lows against the dollar, while prompting central-bank interventions to prop up the economy and leading to surging interest rates which are having a punitive impact on ordinary citizens at a time when inflation had already risen to its highest level in around 40 years.

Against such a challenging backdrop, some may ask why the Scottish government is committed to giving the people of our country the choice of becoming an independent nation. The answer, quite simply, is that Scotland cannot afford not to seize the opportunity of independence given the current circumstances.

When people last voted on the issue, back in 2014, they were told by the British government of the day that the only way to protect Scotland’s place in the European Union was to reject independence.

That pledge, like so many other promises of the No campaign in 2014, has proved to be empty. Scotland has been taken out of the eu against our will and removed from the world’s largest single market—a market around seven times bigger than Britain’s.

No one can now seriously claim, given the chaotic nature of British governance in recent times, and especially in light of the turmoil of recent months, that Scotland’s future is in safe hands for as long as we remain subject to rule from Westminster. The fact that the uk is now predicted to have the slowest growth of any G20 economy in 2023, with the exception of sanctions-hit Russia, is further proof.

At the time of writing, Scotland’s ability to hold a referendum without agreement from Westminster—in line with the overwhelming democratic mandate for one secured in the 2021 Scottish Parliament election—is in the hands of the UK Supreme Court. The court is having to rule at all only because the British government is seeking to block that electoral mandate.

Link to the rest at The Economist

PG notes that the author of the OP is Nicola Sturgeon, first minister of Scotland.

While having Scottish and English ancestry, PG and his forbearers have lived in the United States for quite a long time, so PG is not in any position to comment on an internal matter of the UK.

PG realizes that UK internal politics are not the usual subjects for TPV, he will note that the Thanksgiving holiday tomorrow, extending through the weekend, puts a lot of US book talk on hold, so he ranges farther afield than usual.

How “offshore journalists” challenge Vladimir Putin’s empire of lies

From The Economist:

The Kremlin banned them, branded them “foreign agents”, criminalised them and chased them out of the country. It cut off their finances and tried to isolate them from their audiences. But they have regrouped, rebuilt and come back stronger. Never in the past 30 years have Russian journalists been under such assault and never have they fought back with such vigour, calling out the Kremlin’s lies, exposing its corruption and unearthing evidence of its war crimes.

Vladimir Putin’s dictatorship does not leave much scope for street protests, but independent reporters have formed a virtual resistance movement, lobbing explosive stories at his war machine and supplying news and opinions to those who look for them. Most are doing so from outside Russia, something they call “offshore journalism”. At least 500 journalists have left Russia since the invasion, according to Proekt Media, an investigative outlet.

Scattered across Europe, in cities such as Riga, Tbilisi, Vilnius, Berlin and Amsterdam, such journalists reach a large audience, most of them under the age of 40. “Our job today is to survive and not let our readers suffocate,” says Ivan Kolpakov, the editor-in-chief of Meduza, a news website.

Meduza has reported on the massacre of Ukrainian civilians in Bucha, and the extraordinary number of convicts being pressed to join Wagner, a mercenary group run by a crony of Mr Putin. Mediazona, an online outlet founded by two members of Pussy Riot, a punk band, is trying to count the true number of Russian casualties. It has also found an ingenious way to work out how many Russians have been conscripted, by analysing open-source data on the unusually high number of marriages since mobilisation began. (Draftees are allowed to register their marriage on the same day as they are enlisted, and often do, since they don’t know when they will see their partners again.) Mediazona estimates that half a million people have already been drafted—far more than the 300,000 the Kremlin said would be.

For the Kremlin, suppressing real news is an important part of its war effort. Some outlets remain in Russia that are not propaganda organs, such as Kommersant, a private newspaper. But they are highly constrained—they cannot call the war a war, for example. Since Mr Putin invaded Ukraine he has muzzled most independent voices, lest they sow doubt among citizens or induce a split within the elite.

tv Rain, Russia’s best known independent television channel, went dark eight days after the war started. Echo of Moscow, a radio station with 5m listeners, went silent on the same day. Soon after that Novaya Gazeta, the most outspoken newspaper, stopped printing. Alexei Venediktov, the editor of Echo, and Dmitry Muratov, the Nobel prize-winning editor of Novaya Gazeta, stayed in Russia while some of their former colleagues set up operations offshore. tv Rain is back on air, now based in Latvia and broadcasting via YouTube to 20m viewers a month, most of them inside Russia. Echo is in Berlin, streaming news and talk-shows live via a new smartphone app, which the Kremlin tried but failed to block.

A dozen new digital outlets, most of them set up since Mr Putin first started grabbing chunks of Ukraine in 2014, are publishing investigative journalism. A recent probe by The Insider, an online outlet, working with Bellingcat, an open-source intelligence group, unmasked dozens of engineers and programmers who have been directing Russian missile strikes on Ukrainian cities. “Investigative journalism, which is declining in many countries, is flourishing in Russia,” says Roman Dobrokhotov, who runs The Insider. “There is plenty of demand for it, there are people who know how to do it and there is no shortage of subjects to investigate.”

Russians find real news via apps and virtual private network (vpn) services, which can help them bypass censorship. Before the war Russia was the 40th-largest user of vpns; now it is the largest in the world. Nearly half of young Russians use one, according to gwi, a market-research firm. Most are well-educated urbanites. But even in rural areas, a fifth of people use vpns.

Remote working during covid was a good preparation for offshore journalism. “I am physically located in Berlin, but I live in the Russian information field,” says Maxim Kurnikov, the editor of Echo.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Paramount scraps deal to sell Simon & Schuster to Penguin after weeks after judge rejected merger

From CNBC:

Paramount Global said Monday it scrapped its $2.2 billion deal to sell book publisher Simon & Schuster to rival Penguin Random House, weeks after a federal judge rejected the merger.

Penguin, which is owned by German media conglomerate Bertelsmann, said it still believes Simon & Schuster is a good fit for its business, but that it accepted Paramount’s decision.

“We believe the judge’s ruling is wrong and planned to appeal the decision, confident we could make a compelling and persuasive argument to reverse the lower court ruling on appeal,” Penguin said in a statement Monday afternoon. “However, we have to accept Paramount’s decision not to move forward.”

Paramount’s decision to pull the plug on the deal came more than a year after the Justice Department sued to block the deal, saying it would hurt competition for books in the publishing world. On Halloween, after a trial that included testimony from bestselling horror author Stephen King, U.S. District Court Judge Florence Y. Pan on Halloween ruled against the deal, delivering a major victory for the Biden administration’s antitrust agenda.

King, who writes books for Simon & Schuster, said he was “delighted” by the ruling. “The proposed merger was never about readers and writers; it was about preserving (and growing) PRH’s market share. In other words: $$$,” he tweeted.

In its announcement Monday, Paramount said Penguin is on the hook for a $200 million termination fee.

Paramount also indicated that it would still seek to unload Simon & Schuster.

Link to the rest at CNBC and thanks to J. for the tip.


Part 1: Yes, this is the actual CNBC headline. PG checked it on Grammarly, expecting a mild digital uproar over the two “afters”, but Grammarly simply suggested that “judge” and “merger” needed appropriate articles.

Part 2: PG wonders if either side of this deal has decided to move to a different law firm, at least for antitrust matters. In PG’s enormously outsized opinion, this deal screamed of antitrust problems from the first time he read about it and the screaming never stopped until the District Judge put an arrow in its heart.

Of course, there’s no appeal because each party finally consulted adult antitrust lawyers, who likely delivered the news that the case was a loser up and down the legal line and had been since the start.

Part 3: If PG had a financial interest in Penguin, PG would scream bloody murder over a $200 million termination fee. Which officer of Penguin approved this provision? Did the board of directors actually vote to put Penguin on the hook for a busted deal that was dodgy from the very beginning?

Part 4: PG assumes that someone at Bertelsmann, the sole owner of Penguin, approved this transaction. Surely, someone in Gütersloh or several someones in this small German city will be sending out the German equivalent to resumes, résumés or resumés to the entire world.

(PG just learned that the German word for this sort of document is Lebenslauf. Apparently Lebenslauf doesn’t have versions with accent marks.)

Part 5: How are the Mohn family and the managers of various Mohn stiftungs that really own and control Bertlesmann feeling these days? PG doesn’t know whether $200 million is pocket change for these folks or not. He hasn’t looked up the German translation for “You’re Fired!” but expect there is an equivalent term. (He did learn that the German term for “Hit the road!” is Sich auf den Weg machen! or simply, Losfahren!)

(PG apologizes if there is supposed to be an upside-down exclamation point anywhere in all this German. He wasn’t exactly certain how to look that up.)

In Real Life Arranged Marriage is No Joke

From Electric Lit:

How do you discuss something so intimate and uncomfortable as finding a spouse, without laughing or crying or cringing in embarrassment or fear? How do you talk about it without using the L-word? As in Luck. As in, you can plan and strategize as much as you want to, you can prepare as if you’re preparing for battle, you can organize and plan for all contingencies. There is still a certain amount of luck involved.

More on that later.

Frequently it is a different L-word. As in Laugh. It’s a laughing matter — as in when you see it on TV or the silver screen, you end up laughing at either the future groom or the bride, or perhaps both, for all of the misunderstandings and all of the foibles. Sometimes you’re laughing out of relief: As in “Thank god that isn’t happening to me.” Sometimes you’re laughing in recognition: “Been there, done that!”

There is a romantic presumption of happily ever after, of marital bliss. There are the underlying assumptions that maybe your family does know what’s best for you, that perhaps it’s not just two people getting married but two families and two communities coming together. Perhaps it shouldn’t be left to the young and inexperienced to figure out for themselves. Think We Are Lady Parts. Think Indian Matchmaking.

Then there’s the comedy of errors when the groom or bride deviates from the chosen path that is meant to make us laugh, to ease the cringing and the uncomfortable moments. Think of Kumail Nanjiani in The Big Sick or Nia Vardalos in My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

But in real life, arranged marriage is no joke. 

. . . .

It is an accepted practice around the world. Most of the time, in my experience with my family and friends and acquaintances, marriages are arranged with good intentions.

In India, where my ancestral family originates, it is complicated. Here is a nation famous for worshiping female deities such as Durga and Kali, tongues out, weapons in hand. And India had its first female prime minister, Indira Gandhi, decades before the purported democratic ideal, The United States, fielded Kamala D. Harris to the nation’s second highest position. Still, India and the subcontinent remain in the news — so much violence and oppression against women. Child marriage, yes, but also dowry deaths and female infanticide and sexual assault. 

But I digress, again. 

Arranged marriage ultimately becomes something borne out of a visual medium: think picture brides. Someone posing, unsmiling, that is supposed to symbolize a potential bride or groom’s merits and seriousness. There are many stories and books about that concept  — famously, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s short story collection, Arranged Marriage, and The Buddha In The Attic by Julie Otsuka which vividly depicts the lives of Japanese picture brides emigrating to the United States and making their way in the years before World War II. Kiran Desai’s debut novel, Hullabaloo In The Guava Orchard, has one of the best descriptions of the expectations of and for a daughter-in-law that I’ve ever read, and I chuckle every time I have a moment to revisit it.

For as long as I can remember the dominant American culture has looked upon arranged marriage in eastern cultures or non-English speaking parts of the world as something backward or something that was to be treated as abusive or suspicious. Of course everything in the world is a circle/cycle and there are now healthy numbers of Americans  on eHarmony or Matchdotcom or something similar trying out a more modern version of arrangement and the institution of marriage. 

My family and my husband’s family hail from similar backgrounds. We are both academic brats, children of college professors. In fact we were both raised in the U.S., Bengali in origin — and our parents are friends. Yes, we were introduced but as we are fond of saying, “We got married despite our parents and not because of them.”

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Canada’s CBC Books Names Five Finalists for Its 2022 Poetry Prize

From Publishing Perspectives:

Like its annual show and competition Canada Reads, the CBC’s (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) Poetry Prize program is another enviable example of the public services performed by CBC Books.

That program’s literary prizes include not only this poetry competition, but also one in nonfiction and one in short stories. In the case of the Poetry Prize, most of the five finalists announced today (November 17) have considerable experience and are professionally published writers, although the rules for entering the competition requires that an entry be “an original, unpublished poem or collection of poems up to 600 words in length (with no minimum words limit). The program, then, highlights previously unpublished content.

CBC Poetry Prize 2022 Finalists

Links for each finalist’s work are to CBC’s write-ups on the writers selected. On those writers’ pages, you’ll find all or part of each al

  • From the Mouth by Rachel Lachmansingh (Toronto)

Lachmansingh is a Guyanese Canadian writer from Toronto. She’s been published in Minola Review, Grain, the Malahat Review, The New Quarterly, The Fiddlehead, The Puritan and elsewhere. She is currently pursuing her bachelor of arts degree in creative writing at the University of Victoria. Lachmansingh was also longlisted for the 2022 CBC Short Story Prize for The Window of a Stranger’s House.

  • To the Astronaut Who Hopes Life on Another Planet Will Be More Bearable by Brad Aaron Modlin (Guelph, Ontario)

Modlin is a creative writing professor and poet. His work has been used for orchestral scores, an art exhibition in New York, and has been featured on The Slowdown with U.S. poet laureate Ada Limón and Poetry Unbound from public radio’s On Being Studios. His book Everyone at This Party Has Two Names won the Cowles Poetry Prize.

  • Mouth Prayers by Luka Poljak (Vancouver)

Poljak is a Croatian Canadian poet currently in the bachelor of fine arts degree program at the University of British Columbia. He’s a board member of the nonprofit YouthCO and is currently working on his first chapbook of poetry.

  • Grief White by Kerry Ryan (Winnipeg)

Ryan has published two books of poetry: The Sleeping Life and Vs., which was a finalist for the Acorn-Plantos Award for People’s Poetry. Her third poetry collection, Diagnosing Minor Illness in Children, is to be released in the spring. Ryan was previously longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2020 for Driver’s Seat & Grief Knot. 

  • Spell World Backwards by Bren Simmers (Charlottetown)

Simmers is the author of four books, including the wilderness memoir Pivot Point and Hastings-Sunrise, which was a finalist for the Vancouver Book Award. Her most recent collection of poetry is If, When. She was previously longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2013 for I Blame MASH For My Addiction To MLS and in 2012 for Science Lessons.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

While PG is something of a snob about poetry (he hasn’t seen much written after the mid-20th century that he’s liked very well), he wishes the best for each of the Canadian poets listed above.

At what age do they take people to Ukraine?

From The Economist:

In late September, soon after Vladimir Putin announced that there would be nationwide conscription in Russia, I overheard my 14-year-old student ask his father about it. “At what age do they take people to Ukraine?” the boy said, anxiously. His father wrapped him in a hug, reassuring him that he was too young. In all the months I’d been the family’s live-in tutor, I’d never seen my boss display so much affection to his children.

The boy used to be a lot more gung-ho. When the “special military operation” in Ukraine first started in February he would sternly repeat the government line to me (Russia was strong and good, Ukraine wasn’t a real country). At school he and his friends would tell patriotic jokes. Recently, though, I’d noticed that the memes he forwarded weren’t all pro-Russian – some had even come from the Ukrainian side. The other day he made me watch a TikTok of Ukrainian soldiers imitating characters from a popular video game, followed by more clips of him and his friends trying to recreate their moves. I asked him if they realised it was Ukrainian soldiers they were emulating. He shrugged.

A more serious message seems to be cutting through the jumble of social-media posts. When we were going through his homework shortly after the hug I witnessed, my student abruptly said: “I think Russia is losing the war.” I asked why he thought that. “That’s just what I heard. I think nobody wants to fight there.” We moved on, but the gravity of what he’d said lingered.

. . . .

This teenager is not the only one whose patriotic certainty has faded since the war’s early days. A giant “Z” – the symbol of support for Putin’s invasion – that someone had painted across the front of a building in the city has now gone. People make snide remarks about Russia’s progress on the battlefield, and they go unchallenged. The draft has changed the atmosphere.

Men are becoming less visible in Russia: hundreds of thousands have been conscripted and many more are fleeing conscription. At a café I recently overheard a table of women gossiping about their boyfriends in Turkey. The army isn’t held in much esteem these days (“Russian soldiers are supposed to be the second-best in the world but I think my husband is only third or fourth,” runs one joke) so little shame is attached to draft-dodging.

Some women I know whose partners have left the country are discovering new reserves of toughness. One friend is doing two jobs so that she can send money to her boyfriend, who is lying low in Turkey without an income. She’s so relieved he’s safe from the draft that she doesn’t even seem to register how tired she is. Another is doing the same for her boyfriend. “He supported me for ten years, now it’s my turn,” she says.

. . . .

Others left behind are distraught. One friend called me in tears to say her half-brother had received his summons and was going to Ukraine at the end of October. “He is terrified. He cried with my father when he got the letter. He is too young,” she said. She is convinced he is going to die.

I don’t know any men who have gone to fight, but my boss’s bodyguard, a fit man in his early 30s, is clearly expecting the summons. In the days following the announcement he kept going off to take phone calls in private. We recently found ourselves alone together and I asked him what he was planning to do. “I am stuck here. We don’t speak English,” he said. “My job here is great. In Turkey, what can I do?” He hopes he will at least have a chance to get his wife pregnant before he’s called up.

Link to the rest at The Economist

International Bestsellers, October 2022

From Publishing Trends:

Every month, Publishing Trends runs fiction international bestsellers lists from four territories–France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. This month, our four regular territories are joined by two more: Thailand and the United Arab Emirates. Those books that have been published in English are listed with their official English-language title. All others are translated as literally as possible from the original. Where applicable, the US publisher is listed after the local publisher, separated by a “/”. The lists are taken from major newspapers or national retailers, which are noted at the bottom of each list.

. . . .

Link to the rest at Publishing Trends

Why This Poet Declared War on Her Own Book

From The Walrus:

THEY KILL THE WOMEN and the children first. This is the most cost-effective decision. The captain knows by heart the commodity value of a child, knows the women will be worth less than the men at the auction block. So he picks the obvious choices: he orders the crew to push them, the women and the children, through the cabin windows and into the Atlantic.

It’s September 1781, and having departed the Guinea Coast for a sugar port in Jamaica, the Zong is overloaded with enslaved Africans. Because the captain lacks navigational and command experience, the voyage will take eighteen weeks instead of the usual six; the ship will run low on drinking water; slaves and crew members will take ill and die; the captain will become desperate. Soon enough, he will compensate for his mediocrity with quick and murderous calculations. Over the course of ten days, to conserve resources, he and his crew will sacrifice Africans to the sea—according to some sources, it may have been as many as 150. When the ship docks in Jamaica, the captain will file an insurance claim for the loss of his “cargo.”

Here is how a massacre enters history: as a story of property destruction.

In 2008, the Toronto-based writer M. NourbeSe Philip published a dizzying, fragmented book-length poem entitled Zong!: As Told to the Author by Setaey Adamu Boateng, a seven-year archival project that bears witness to those atrocities and attempts, as the author says, to “defend the dead.” She composed and rearranged the text using words sourced exclusively from the two-page legal case report of the insurance claim she tracked down in the University of Toronto’s law library. In time, Zong! became a widely studied work of contemporary literature, performed dozens of times in at least nine countries and excerpted in arts galleries globally. Critics have described it as a masterpiece.

In early 2016, Philip received an enthusiastic email from a woman called Renata Morresi, a translator and poet who teaches American literature at the University of Padua in Italy. Morresi wanted to translate Zong! into Italian. Her academic research focused on, among other subjects, “slavery and its ‘unconventional’ representations,” and she had been recently awarded Italy’s national prize for translation. She thought Zong! could be valuable to Italians who were striving to make sense of their own contemporary crisis. That year alone, CNN reported, an estimated ninety migrants from North Africa and other Arab countries were drowning every week in the Mediterranean in their bid to escape violence, poverty, persecution, and war. Morresi did not, at the time, have a publisher for the translation or a contract or anything in the way of a plan, and Philip felt the emails gave the enterprise the feel of an unserious project. She advised Morresi to contact Wesleyan University Press, the book’s American publisher, which owned rights to Zong!

“I don’t know whether you speak Italian,” Morresi wrote to Philip, “but if you feel like we can discuss the drafts (it would certainly be an invaluable help for me).”

The next time Philip heard from anyone about the Italian translation of Zong! was five years later, when a small Italian publisher called Benway Series emailed the proofs with an invitation to the book’s online launch. It came as a surprise. Neither Morresi nor Wesleyan had informed her that a formal agreement was signed and subsidiary rights to her book transferred. By then, two other translators had joined the project. The translation was supported by the Canada Council for the Arts, a public funder that serves Canadian artists and arts organizations, but the $13,350 it paid Benway Series had likewise changed hands without the artist’s knowledge. (Part of the CCA’s literary translation program serves international publishers.)

The lack of transparency confused her: it’s professional practice to involve the poet in any translation work. She emailed Suzanna Tamminen, the director and editor-in-chief at WUP, to confirm a contract had been signed, before congratulating the translators on their hard work. “I am honoured,” she wrote to Benway. “It is so important that this work reach European countries, many of which are the ground zero of the trauma that is ongoing.”

And then she saw what they had done to her book.

LITERARY TRANSLATION is an unforgiving balancing act. The Italian saying “traduttoretraditore”—or, “translator, traitor”—captures how any translation is destined to obfuscate the true meaning of the original, sealing the fate of what Miguel de Cervantes in the seventeenth century called a work’s “original luster.” The consequence is both reader and author are betrayed. Vladimir Nabokov famously translated his own novels into Russian to avoid seeing them “degraded and botched by vulgar paraphrases.” He was deeply contemptuous of Constance Garnett, a translator who basically brought Russian literature to the English-speaking world, because by favouring readability, she often elided an author’s idiosyncrasies. If translators seem inclined to fatalism, in other words, it’s because they’re tortured by the idea that their aptitude will be measured by how invisible they can make themselves.

The translator’s presence in Zong!, though, was not quite the object of Philip’s distress; Philip is not a Nabokovian purist. Translators have worked on her books before, with her approval. The problem was of another nature. Among the myriad reasons Zong! has become such a widely studied work are its disjunctive, distinctive visual qualities—a kinetic form charged with spiritual intent. The poetry sweeps across 180 pages in the manner of vocal jazz or a disordered musical constellation. As if carried off by waves, words float away from each other, swirl around, casting off letters like articles of clothing; syllables gurgle or stutter, refuse meaning. Isolated phrases, seemingly at random, tilt into cursive or italics. Submerged at the bottom of each page are imagined African names for the drowned, whose deaths were originally recorded as “negroe man” or “negroe woman.”

It had taken Philip years to find this form. It wasn’t until after a 2006 sojourn to Ghana, the departure point of the slave ship, that the book’s organizational principle began to slowly reveal itself. That principle became associated with a figure she called Setaey Adamu Boateng, who represented the ancestral voices she believed were speaking through the pattern she was painstakingly creating on the page. “Every word or word cluster,” she wrote in the book’s closing essay, “is seeking a space directly above within which to fit itself.” Those spaces are critical for Philip, because they are intended to represent the very air the enslaved were denied as they sank. “The text is attempting to revivify and recuperate what was lost in those last breaths,” Philip told me. “That, for me, is nonnegotiable.”

When Benway Series sent her the proofs in June 2021, the first thing Philip noticed was that this nonnegotiable rule had been broken. The PDF on her computer screen felt cluttered and claustrophobic. The Italian phrases often nearly grazed the lines beneath them. The formal protocols she had painstakingly established to turn Zong! into what she called a “mourning song” had not been respected. Morresi had attempted to capture the poetry’s pictorial shape, but the translator not only missed the logic behind why the text had been arranged that way, she also failed to consider how that arrangement might need to change when adapted into a foreign language. “What I am committed to is that it’s a dynamic action,” said Philip, referring to Zong! ’s form. “The words have to be positioned in such a way that they breathe.”

When Philip raised these concerns in an email to Benway Series, she was rebuffed. Morresi, wrote the book’s editors, was “extremely skilled and multi-award-winning,” and a first draft of the translation had been anonymously peer reviewed “in very positive terms.” WUP’s head emailed to say it wasn’t part of the normal process to send authors permission updates about their books, and that, anyway, “expanding the critical discourse on the book in this way helps to ensure [it] remains on reading lists for years to come.” Morresi emailed to note that any differences between the source text and its translation were attributable to Italian’s cumbersome morphology: the words inevitably run longer, which made it difficult to adhere to Philip’s unique spacing rules. She would have reached out directly to ask questions, Morresi said, but she assumed Philip wasn’t interested, and she didn’t want to disturb her.

. . . .

After weeks of fruitless discussions, as it became obvious Philip would not consent to the translation, Benway Series went ahead with publication. In late August 2021, when Philip received word that the press was preparing to distribute the book, she demanded the publisher destroy it and scrub all mention of the title from their website. WUP’s Tamminen, now swayed by Philip’s concerns, supported the request. Benway Series refused. In an email signed by two editors, the press argued they had done everything according to the letter of the law. Philip went public on social media and drew the support of more than 1,200 people—among them, poets, editors, scholars, publishers, translators, and readers—who petitioned to have the “flawed” translation recalled and destroyed.

Benway posted a rebuttal on its website, in Italian, that described Philip’s demands as reminiscent “of authoritarian and fundamentalist regimes around the world” and said her accusations of racism were “offensive, not so much to us . . . as much as for all the victims of that gruesome violence.”

It seemed to Philip that Benway Series expected her to be grateful for their attention, that the virtuousness of a small Italian press ought to be celebrated rather than contested. But she couldn’t understand why nobody there thought to contact her about the translation. “Even if there weren’t those underpinning spiritual, historical reasons why the structure of Zong! is important,” she said, “as an artist and as a poet, surely my work must be respected.”

. . . .

Moral rights stem from the Berne Convention, the leading international copyright treaty which states that even if an artist cedes economic rights to their work, they retain the legal grounds to “object to any distortion, mutilation or other modification” done to that work. One option, therefore, might have seen Philip file a lawsuit against Benway Series in Canada and, if she won, go to an Italian court to help enforce it. Neither of these actions would have been easy to pull off.

While Italy appears to provide substantial legal protections to writers and artists, there’s very little Canadian case law on the subject, even though the Snow ruling raised the bar for moral rights infringement. “What it did was set a precedent that in order to win in a case of moral rights, you had to prove that it damaged the honour and reputation of the artist,” said Martha Rans, a Vancouver-based lawyer who specializes in copyright law. But there’s a caveat: you need a reputation big enough that any damage to it can be quantified. “It becomes very difficult to mount a case,” said Rans, “because Canada doesn’t have a lot of what might be considered high-profile artists.”

Link to the rest at The Walrus

PG notes that he was unable to find anything in the OP which indicated that Ms. Philip registered her book in any nation’s copyright office.

The publisher of the original book, Wesleyan University Press, is mentioned only in passing in the OP.

For those not familiar with the institution, Wesleyan University is a very expensive private institution located in Middletown, Connecticut. Wesleyan is one of a small group of similar institutions that are sometimes called the “Little Ivies.”

PG wonders if Wesleyan Press actually granted translation rights to the Italian press or not. Small university presses don’t usually have piles of money sitting around, but, if it did not grant a license for an Italian translation of the book in question, one might think that it might think about raising a fuss about the Italian translation.

Here’s a fuzzy copy of the copyright page for the book.

Observant readers will note that Ms. Philip is listed as the owner of the copyright.

Here’s a list of various organizations that helped fund the creation of Zong.

There are a lot of wealthy organizations mentioned in these acknowledgements. The OP didn’t mention whether Ms. Philip sought the help of Wesleyan University or any of her funding organizations for help in this copyright dispute.

Perhaps he missed the copyright registration sentence in the OP, but, suffice to say, as a general proposition, registering a copyright with any western nation’s copyright office increases the options for enforcing the copyright in many other western nations, most certainly including Italy.

See here for a layperson’s explanation of the benefits of registering a copyright in the United States.


This whole situation seemed weird, so PG dug deeper and searched the United States Copyright Office for Zong.

Here’s what he found:

Registration Number / Date:
TX0007043340 / 2008-10-09

Copyright Claimant: Wesleyan University Press, Transfer: Written Contract.

What is a “Copyright Claimant”?

The US Copyright Office helpfully provides a definition:

Please identify all known copyright claimant(s) in this work. The author may always be named as a claimant, even if the author has transferred rights in the work to another person or entity.

The claimant may also be a person or entity that has obtained ownership of the copyright in the work. But to be named as a claimant, a person or organization must own all rights in the work; ownership of only some of the rights is not sufficient. In addition, a claimant must own the copyright in all of the authorship covered by this registration.

PG then searched Canada’s online copyright records (which are, on the whole, easier to access and understand than those in the US copyright office). PG was not able to find any copyright application for Ms. Philips or her book.

Under various copyright conventions and treaties, a registration of a copyright in one signatory nation is automatically recognized on the registration date in all the other signatories to the convention and/or treaty.

Thus, a registration in the US in 2008 would effectively offer backdated protection in all the other countries bound by the convention/treaty. PG is happy to be proven wrong, but he would think that a registration for Zong by Ms. Philips in Italy would be deemed to have been filed in 2008, the date of registration in the US should she wish to push for a shutdown of the illegal translation of her book.

Circling back around to Wesleyan University Press, it appears in that organization’s copyright registration for Zong that Ms. Philips may have signed over her rights under her copyright to the book to Wesleyan University Press.

However, the copyright page of the book shows Ms. Philips as the copyright owner.

PG isn’t certain if the book’s copyright attribution of the copyright to Ms. Philips was simply recognizing her as the author, but that’s not what the copyright page says.

Wesleyan Press, on the other hand, may have screwed up the copyright filing. Small university presses are not generally known as centers of copyright knowledge.

In PG’s mind, it’s possible that somebody at Wesleyan Press who registers a copyright once every 2-3 months max, may have registered the copyright for Zong “the way we’ve always done it,” and failed to change the Presses boilerplate to register the copyright in Ms. Phillips name as is implied by the book’s copyright page.

If any visitor to TPV has actually read down to the end of this quite lengthy post and has any knowledge concerning what actually happened with Ms. Philips and Wesleyan University Press, PG would appreciate any comments to clarify this apparent mess.

Small Nations, Big Feelings

From Public Books:

In March 1930, American author Marcia Davenport arrived at Prague’s Woodrow Wilson Station. She knew not a single Czech word or person, yet she “fell in love” with this newly formed European state. She cherished the ritualistic performance of village festivals, the cautious drives through city streets barely wide enough for cars, the echoing chatter of women in marketplaces, even the smell—“a rich compound of coal smoke, roasting coffee, beer, smoked pork, and frying onions.” For the next twenty years, Davenport returned to Czechoslovakia almost annually, each time amassing more knowledge and friends. During World War II, she worked tirelessly from the US to raise funds for the invaded state and disseminate accurate information about Czechoslovakia on the American airwaves. Her involvement became so intense that she even struck up a romantic (and ultimately tragic) affair with the Czechoslovak Foreign Minister, Jan Masaryk. A faraway place truly became this New Yorker’s “second mother country.”

We often think of those dramatic decades leading up to World War II as a kind of battle between instinctive nationalism and stubborn isolation on the one hand, and a highfalutin universalism and abstract international idealism on the other. The reality, however—at least for Davenport—was less binary. She found her way into international engagement not by walking the halls of the League of Nations but by embracing the intimacy of daily life in a foreign nation. Reminders of a shared human experience and universal political ideologies have their place. But exposure to the particularities of domestic life within nations can cultivate an international perspective.

Feeling patriotism for a foreign country is, when you think about it, odd. Usually our love for country is for our own country, and we roll our eyes at any student who returns from study abroad still wearing a beret. Of course, we care when wars or disasters beset other countries. But we usually do so because of universalistic values, because we care for humanity wherever it may lie. The sort of fervor we feel for our own country typically stops at the border. It’s therefore hard to recall a recent time when many Americans have waved flags for a country that isn’t their own, or with which they didn’t have a diasporic connection. Then this February, Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine.

Already in March, the president of the National Flag Company, Artie Schaller III, spoke to the New York Times on the skyrocketing demand for Ukrainian flags in the US. “This would be the biggest increase in volume for another nation’s flag that I’ve ever seen,” Mr. Schaller observed. “I can only compare it to—in my time—9/11, for just how quickly people are willing to show support and are using a flag to do that.” American enthusiasm for Ukraine extended beyond flags: for months, Instagram feeds have filled with recipes for traditional borscht; choirs for Kyiv have appeared on Saturday Night Live; and a small town in upstate New York has loyally followed the daily trials and tribulations of one Ukrainian man through his column for their local newspaper.

It seems most Americans have rejected Putin’s effort to present the war in Ukraine as an ideological proxy battle between East and West. Instead, they have elected to support Ukraine in a way that looks more like Davenport’s: an embrace of the intimate, the local, the very, very national.

. . . .

Although today’s uptick in foreign-flag purchases may be the biggest that Mr. Schaller has seen, it is not entirely without precedent. In the years of crises clustering around World War II, passionate attachment to a foreign nation became prevalent among internationally minded Americans. The fates of the world’s “small powers,” often referred to as “small nations”—including China (especially the Manchurian region), Abyssinia (now called Ethiopia), Poland, Yugoslavia, and yes, Czechoslovakia—all interested America’s burgeoning cosmopolitans. The attention showered upon these seemingly provincial places did not derive only from the state’s relative position in a broader geopolitical calculation. It came from a fascination—as Davenport experienced in Prague—with the components of a state that give it claim to nationhood: internal complexities, culture, and traditions.

. . . .

Davenport’s fascination with a small European state might have remained a private eccentricity, had it not been for the rapidly unfolding catastrophe of World War II. The infamous Munich Agreement in 1938 gave her personal affair with Czechoslovakia a political hue. Increasingly, she came to see Czechoslovakia not only as a place she loved in and of itself but also as a stand-in for her growing international vision and commitments. When reflecting on the war years, Davenport recalled that “the fate of the small country became common cause with every man and woman who stood up to be counted against Hitler.” She volunteered for Czechoslovak-specific relief organizations and also for groups with more global aims, including The Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies, which lobbied the US government to join in the global fight against fascists. In this way, personal affection for the particularities of a people evolved into a commitment to international ideals.

Link to the rest at Public Books

PG doesn’t know if the American habit described in the OP has counterparts in other nations, but one factor that may trigger this in the United States is that a very large portion of the current population is descended from ancestors who were born and lived in other nations.

Plus, PG thinks its fairly common in many places for people to instinctively have or develop an emotional attachment to the underdog — the David who is confronting Goliath, Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader, etc. Even the Three Little Pigs and Little Read Riding Hood vs. the Big Bad Wolf are examples.

Music That Transcends Everything but His Circumstance

From Electric Lit:

Jai Chakrabarti’s “Prodigal Son” begins as Jonah arrives in Kolkata on his way to visit his guru. Jonah is an American, a white man, and like most American tourists, he is obsessed with proving he isn’t one. When he suspects the taxi driver will take advantage of him, he uses Bengali slang to “convince the driver of his adopted roots.” The possible oxymoron of the statement is lost on him—can roots be adopted? 

For fifteen years, Jonah has been visiting Guruji and his family—his wife Suparna and his son Karna. Jonah considers himself Guruji’s most devoted student and believes Guruji thinks of him as a second son. Which, maybe he does.

Guruji is a skilled flutist, and Karna—now an adolescent boy, or in some lights, a young man—is developing a skill to match his father’s. Jonah is technically proficient but not a natural; the transference Jonah hopes to achieve is not complete. The plan for this trip, which Jonah promised his wife would be his last, is to record Guruji’s first album. 

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Genres for War: Writers in Ukraine on Literature

From The Paris Review:

I was almost done with a draft of my novel when Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. Amid the destruction and devastation that followed, continuing with my novel felt impossible; I turned toward journalism, which had always been a part-time job for me. For seven months, I have been working as a war correspondent in Ukraine. I have found that I can only read war reports: I am constantly turning to On the Front Line by Marie Colvin. I have wondered about the role of literature, especially in wartime: Are we simply supposed to let documentaries and daily news take over? Or do we find—and provide—an escape from the unbearable?

I began to ask other writers these questions and was surprised by the variability of their answers. Five Ukrainian writers from the Donetsk, Luhansk, and Kharkiv regions—the areas devastated by the war—spoke to me about the genres they have been reading and writing during the war. In Kharkiv, a literature professor told me about his rare books being burned in the stove by the Russian military. He also told me about a Ukrainian officer seeking reading recommendations the day before being killed at the front. “I think that an epic work of literature will not come until after the war is over,” writes Serhiy Zhadan. On the other hand, says Lyuba Yakimchuk, “The task of poets is to put the unspeakable feelings in words.” Olga Kryaziach, whose apartment and books were also burned by the Russians, reads and writes on her iPad, taking notes for a different future.

Iya Kiva

I have started to become spatially disoriented because of the war. Once, as I was getting back to a rented apartment, I couldn’t figure out where I was or how I got there for hours. I lived in a Soviet project-style block of flats called khrushchyovka surrounded by identical buildings, and I couldn’t understand which one of those khrushchyovkaswas my home these days; I was shaking and I couldn’t breathe. In another one of my rented apartments, I was always hitting my head while entering. At home, I needed to turn left after entering, but in this new space I had to turn right.

Can I write? Yes and no. On the one hand, I prefer that my story and the stories of my loved ones are not told by others, like the Russian authors who started writing poems during the first weeks of the invasion. But I have been forcing myself to write rather than feeling an inner need; even short diary notes are incredibly tiring. I have also noticed that all my poems are about the inability to speak. This is true both on the thematic and architectonic levels, including pauses and a rather restricted range of ideas. The way I write now feels like a score of silence.

During the first months of the full-scale invasion, reading was similar to learning a new language. Not Ukrainian, Polish, or English, but language as is—as the ability to understand the meaning of particular words, to combine them, make phrases and sentences, to correlate what you’ve just read with your experience. Sometime in March I realized, with surprise, that if merely one word from a page of text aroused associations in my mind, then that was good. It meant I hadn’t unlearned how to think yet.

The only book that I have managed to read from the beginning to the end since February 24 is I Blame Auschwitz by Mikołaj Grynberg. Importantly, I read it in the original Polish. I have noticed that reading comes more easily in foreign languages now. It’s like I am tuning the radio of war to other frequencies.

Serhiy Zhadan

I think that an epic work of literature will not come until after the war is over. For now, there is only enough space and time for direct reflections. Everything else—novels and poems—everything that requires continuity in time—will emerge later. But humor is a completely different matter. It seems to me that even under the circumstances, Ukrainians have no problems with their sense of humor or irony. I think it is evidence of the power of faith, and I am saying this as an agnostic.

I am rereading Bruno Schulz, strange as it may seem. I am reading him despite the fact that he didn’t write about war—but maybe that’s exactly why. I want to continue translating Paul Celan, and I think I will get to it after our victory. But I am not reading him now. For me, Celan’s poems always had an “afterwar” feeling to them. It is unlikely that they could be written in the thirties. During war, there are no poets or non-poets; there are those who are ready to fight and those who are not.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

Planning a book event for 2023? Go hybrid

From The Bookseller:

Hybrid festivals are here to stay – that’s what disabled and chronically ill authors want, after having access to online literary festivals and events during the pandemic. Increasingly the whole writing community is backing that call. That’s why team #KeepFestivalsHybrid and team Inklusion have joined forces to create an online guide to 2023 hybrid literary festivals – and we need festival organisers to tell us their plans.

As co-founder of the #KeepFestivalsHybrid campaign along with publisher Clare Christian, I’ve spoken to so many DCI authors for whom online access has transformed their lives and careers, giving them opportunities to network with other authors, and speak at and attend events. One such writer, Chloe Timms, author of The Seawomen, commented: “I love in-person events as much as anyone but virtual events throughout the pandemic made the literary world more accessible. There’s no reason not to have the best of both worlds for readers and writers.”

This year has seen a clarion call for hybrid events across the publishing profession. Cryptic Arts has published Being Hybrid, a guide to what hybrid events are, their benefits and basic technology for hosting them. Director Jamie Hale describes the guide as explaining “the cheapest and fastest way of offering online as well as offline access to events.” 

. . . .

 “Access should be an integrated, organic framework – the skeleton around which event provision is built, rather than a peripheral facet or last-minute add-on. We want to see event organisers using the guide, taking the onus off disabled authors and audience members. We hope the Inklusion Guide will help make good access the norm.”

A report from The Audience Agency in September 2021, called Focus on Disability, concluded that when it comes to arts activities, “disabled people have been more engaged with digital and look likely to be into the future, but this is in substantial part due to the barriers faced with in-person attendance.” The Agency says the report “highlights the importance of continuing digital channels, since removing these would compound the injustice.” But how can literary festivals market their hybrid events to their target audiences?

It’s not easy for a potential festival-goer to find out whether their local literary festival has a hybrid element, or to discover others that do.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

While reading the OP, it occurred that a someone watching the digital side of a hybrid book festival saw something about a book which attracted her/him and wanted to buy that book, by far the easiest thing to do would be to purchase it online instead of traveling to a local physical bookstore only to find it didn’t have any copies of the book.

The Forgotten Sisters Who Pioneered the Historical Novel

From Smithsonian Magazine:

If one were to pinpoint the precise moment the Porter sisters experienced the pinnacle of literary fame, it would likely be the year 1814. By then, Jane and Anna Maria Porter were in their late 30s and living together outside London. They’d published 17 books, including several international bestsellers, and gained reputations as two very different paragons of feminine talent. Jane’s looks and personality proved a tall, dark and serious contrast to Maria’s, as light, bright and sparkling. With no more than a charity-school education, the sisters had grown up nurturing each other’s ambitions, editing each other’s writing and turning themselves into household names.

The Misses Porter (as they were sometimes called) arguably created the modern historical novel, weaving fascinating, romantic tales out of facts and events culled from history books. The sisters were certainly the first to achieve critical acclaim and bestseller status with such novels, starting with Jane’s Thaddeus of Warsaw (1803), Maria’s The Hungarian Brothers (1807) and Jane’s The Scottish Chiefs (1810). Their protagonists—a mix of historical figures and invented characters—participated in bloody conflicts on past battlefields, then faced domestic hardships at home and abroad. Both sisters used compelling flourishes, and an undercurrent of clear moralism, to bring history’s heroes and despots to life.

It’s no accident that Jane and Maria made these contributions to literature during the Napoleonic Wars, when the threat loomed of a despot’s global domination. Their novels about liberty and independence, set in threatened nations of decades and centuries past, couldn’t help but shed light on the situation near at hand. Indeed, Napoleon himself understood the dangers the sisters’ books posed to him: He banned Jane’s novels from publication in France, presumably because they might encourage popular uprisings. The narrator of Thaddeus of Warsaw describes the hero’s thinking in a way no tyrant would have approved of: “He well knew the difference between a defender of his own country and the invader of another’s.”

When Jane died in 1850, she was called “one of the most distinguished novelists which England has produced” and “the first who introduced that beautiful kind of fiction, the historical romance.” The Porter sisters’ careers ended just as the Brontë sisters were getting started in the early Victorian period. And over the next century, as the Brontës became literary history’s most visible sisters, the Porters were gradually—and then almost entirely—forgotten.

Link to the rest at Smithsonian Magazine

European Publishers Hear of a ‘Perfect Storm’ Ahead

From Publishing Perspectives:

Publishers in Europe may be facing a proverbial “perfect storm” of resurgent demand, bottlenecks in supply, rising paper costs, and the energy crisis.

At the Federation of European Publishers’ (FEP) overview of the European market before and during the still-ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, Enrico Turrin, deputy director of the federation, warned “We don’t know what the full impact of this ‘perfect storm’ will be, but it is coming.”

His overview of the market contained good, bad, and good-again news. “The pandemic was good for book sales overall,” he said, “perhaps because people rediscovered reading.”

. . . .

Not surprisingly, sales in bookstores fell from 50 percent in 2019 to 43.6 percent in 2021 as so many stores were forced to close. He also noted that print sales overall in Europe hadn’t recovered to pre-pandemic levels.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Latvian Literature at Frankfurt: When Introversion is a Bold Choice

From Publishing Perspectives:

To be internationally recognized for its award-winning #IAmIntrovert campaign, Latvian literature—and its platform of that name LatvianLiterature.lv—will be touting some distinctly extroverted success at Frankfurter Buchmesse.

. . . .

The state-supported LatvianLiterature.lv platform is designed not only to promote international recognition for Latvian writings and talents but also to offer translation grants to publishers and translators; present cultural programming abroad; lead Latvia’s participation at international book fairs and trade shows; and organize literary visits to Riga.

But with almost poetic irony, all this friendly outreach and sociable interaction with world markets is now buoyed on the internationally popular #IAmIntrovert dynamic.

To quote from the ‘#IAmIntrovert manifest’: “Latvians can feel deeply confused when kissed on both cheeks or when suddenly talked to on a public bus or tram. If someone compliments a Latvian, he will turn red-white-red,” a subtle reference to the colors of the Latvian flag. “Latvia is one of the world’s most introverted nations and so are our writers, of course. And we’re proud of that. We allow our books to speak for us, since literature is the perfect world for introverts.”

Latvian Literature’s representative Ildze Jansone tells Publishing Perspectives, “When the #IAmIntrovert campaign was launched in 2016, it mainly targeted UK publishers, audiences, and media prior to the London Book Fair of 2018,” at which the Baltic nations of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia were the show’s combined Market Focus.

“Now the ongoing campaign,” she says, “targets  anyone who loves literature. Our initial marketing campaign has become the strongest brand for promoting Latvian literature.”

And as it turns out, Jansone says, genuine cultural context underlies the success of the brand.

One upshot of the durable popularity of #IAmIntrovert is that Latvia’s writers and illustrators aren’t the only ones receiving accolades for their work—so is the campaign itself and the LatvianLiterature.lv platform.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Why Art Was Such a Powerful Tool for England’s Tudor Monarchs

From Smithsonian Magazine:

In a gallery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, paintings of a father and daughter hang face to face. Larger than life, the monumental portraits present competing conceptions of royal power. The father, Henry VIII, looks directly at the viewer, conveying aggression through his wide stance, bulging leg muscles and excessively padded clothing. The daughter, Elizabeth I, is more coy, refusing to meet the viewer’s gaze and relying on layers of symbolism to allude to the strength of her rule.

Painted decades apart by artists of different generations, Elizabeth’s likeness is clearly in conversation with Henry’s. “Her whole body has been padded and shaped to create a silhouette that echoes … her father’s, and she’s actually wearing a series of ‘truelove’ buttons that she inherited from [him],” says Adam Eaker, a curator in the Met’s European paintings department. “She’s working within a very different idiom as an unmarried, childless woman to create an iconography that will position her as the heir to her father’s throne.”

Both of these works—a portrait of Henry by the workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger and Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger’s Ditchley Portrait of Elizabeth—testify to the rapidly evolving artistic landscape of Tudor England. From Henry VII’s usurpation of the throne in 1485 to the death of Elizabeth in 1603, Tudor monarchs relied on paintings, sculptures, tapestries and other art forms to legitimize their nascent dynasty. “The Tudors: Art and Majesty in Renaissance England,” on view at the Met through January 2023, showcases this opulent era through more than 100 objects, including a Holbein sketch of Anne Boleyn and an intimate portrait miniature of one of Elizabeth’s favorite courtiers.

“The highest caliber of artistry is being acquired and shared in the Tudor courts,” says Elizabeth Cleland, a decorative arts curator at the Met. “[It was] really this wonderful moment when they are soaking up as much as they possibly can, from travel and trade going to Europe and beyond.”

. . . .

Co-curated by Cleland and Eaker, “The Tudors” doesn’t simply provide a visual “who’s who” of 16th-century England. Instead, the show examines how the eponymous rulers strategically used art to shape their image both at home and abroad. From Henry VIII’s attempts to outdo French king Francis I, whose court boasted such renowned artists as Leonardo da Vinci, to Elizabeth I’s development of portraits that asserted feminine authority in a male-dominated world, the Tudor period’s culture was inextricable from its political intrigue.

Link to the rest at Smithsonian Magazine

Here’s a link to the Metropolitan Museum of Arts’ page for this exhibit.

PG notes that the Met not only provides lovely photos of the individual works on its page, it also includes both written and audio discussions of each painting in the exhibit.

What Comes after #NameTheTranslator?

From Words Without Borders:

I have been thinking lately about the infamous “three percent problem” of the publishing landscape, the notion that only three percent of books published in the United States are books in translation. This figure has done a lot of work as a rallying cry among translators and publishers—statistics are good for that—but I can’t help feeling that the statistic actually masks more than it reveals. So here are some further statistics worth pondering: a cursory glimpse at the data from the translation database established by Chad Post of Open Letter and now maintained by Publishers Weekly reveals that, between 2018 and 2022, 58% of books published in translation came from French, Spanish, German, or Italian. To my shock, this figure has only increased over time: between 2008 and 2017, for instance, 48% of translated books were translated from these Big Four languages. I remain astonished that the diversity of books published in translation seems to be diminishing, rather than growing. And yet, it is not surprising: as large publishers attempt to consolidate monopolies, “risk aversion becomes systemic,” preventing smaller publishers from taking chances on new kinds of works.

And so when we celebrate the increasing visibility of translation, we should also ask about what languages and literatures—and, consequently, what human experiences—are afforded visibility. If translated literature still makes up only three percent of the market in the United States, what does it say about the state of publishing that literature from thousands of languages beyond the Big Four has been relegated to a single, dwindling percentage point? How can translators from “lesser” translated languages garner visibility when the Big Four languages have only increased their share of the translation market over time? What good is a World Literature that privileges western languages, that reproduces existing global hierarchies, that retrenches European hegemony over cultural production? Why are publishers increasingly consolidating around these Big Four languages and increasingly excluding all others? The crucial work ahead lies in the hands of publishers and editors, to diversify their catalogs with braver acquisitions and more critical awareness of the inequities they perpetrate. Diversifying catalogs would mean greater opportunities for emerging translators, translators of color, and translators beyond North America and Europe. Championing linguistic diversity would stave off the reduction of any and all publishing decisions to mere actuarial science, and it would challenge the corporatization of literature itself. We deserve more than three percent, of course, but we also deserve a World Literature that represents more than the Big Four languages.

—Translator Nicholas Glastonbury

A really great question, in terms of what should be the next priority for the translation community. There are so many things that I still think need to be addressed, but if I had to choose one or two, I would say royalties from the first book sold should be standard practice for every publisher. The times this has happened with me, it’s been tremendously rewarding in every sense of the word. I also find that for translators to access publishers and editors, to get their work in front of them, still remains very much a game of “who knows who” or “who knows you.” If you don’t know the right individuals, you can’t get your work seen by the right pair of eyes. This needs to change.

—Translator Sawad Hussain

Link to the rest at Words Without Borders

Annie Ernaux wins the Nobel prize in literature for 2022

From The Economist:

Annie Ernaux is surely the only winner of the Nobel prize in literature to have written nostalgically—even ecstatically—about the London suburb of North Finchley. Her book of 2016, “A Girl’s Story”, is typical of the French writer’s approach. As the author recounts formative late-teenage experiences in Normandy and as an au pair in London, she blends deeply personal memoir with social and historical insight. Decades later, she returns to the city for a literary event; while her fellow delegates consume culture, she takes the Tube and plunges “back into my past life”. As she writes, “the only thing that matters to me is to seize life and time, understand, and take pleasure.”

Ms Ernaux’s forensic but lyrical French prose has been seizing life and time, and mining literary pleasure from even the most harrowing memories, for almost half a century. On October 6th the Swedish Academy chose her as its Nobel laureate for 2022 “for the courage and clinical acuity with which she uncovers the roots, estrangements and collective restraints of personal memory”. She is a prose poet of everyday hopes and fears; she probes how change and conflict affect the most “ordinary” of folk, especially women of supposedly low status. Many of her books channel the life she has led not around Left Bank cafés and salons, but in Cergy-Pontoise, a new and unglamorous suburban town north-west of Paris.

Born in Normandy in 1940, Ms Ernaux’s parents ran a café-grocery. She studied in Rouen and Bordeaux, taught in secondary schools and then, for 23 years, worked for a French distance-learning university, cned. Her shelf of two-dozen books began with fiction (“Cleaned Out” in 1974) but soon moved into a form of creative autobiography in which rigorous, unsparing accounts of private life enter the flow of shared social experience.

“A Woman’s Story” (1987), a searing account of her mother’s life and death from Alzheimer’s, helped secure her reputation in France. The injustices of class, gender and background loom large in her work, but never as political abstractions. This is history felt on the body, not just processed by the intellect. “I believe that desire, frustration and social and cultural inequality are reflected in the way we examine the contents of our shopping trolley or in the words we use to order a cut of beef,” she has said.

Desire, shame, sickness, loneliness and depression may brand her own and other lives. But, within and behind the most intimate feelings, she traces the marks of a whole culture and an epoch. This unique angle of vision broadened into “The Years” (2008), the book that ranks as her masterpiece. Its autobiographical trajectory widens into a collective psycho-social history of France between the 1940s and the turn of the millennium. Decades, governments and attitudes pass, but adverts, catchphrases and fads lodge in the collective memory as much as big ideas or great events. Translated by Alison Strayer, it won the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation in 2019 (of which your correspondent was a judge): to date, one of Ms Ernaux’s few honours in the Anglosphere. In France, her many awards include the Prix de la langue française and the Prix Marguerite-Yourcenar, both for the entire body of her work

Link to the rest at The Economist