Overall 2020 Downturn in China: 5.08 Percent

From Publishing Perspectives:

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Rowman & Littlefield aims for international digital growth

From The New Publishers Standard:

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

Link to the rest at The New Publishers Standard

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

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

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

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

From Publishing Perspectives:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Offbeat European Children’s Books For Adults

From Electric Lit:

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

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

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

. . . .

The Moomin Series by Tove Jansson

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Lockdown made our library better

From The Bookseller:

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

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Who Killed Nordic Noir?

From Public Books:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

Link to the rest at Public Books

A love letter to European literature

From The Bookseller:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

House of Trelawney

From The Wall Street Journal:

In a song of 1938, Noël Coward wrote:

The stately homes of England

How beautiful they stand,

To prove the upper classes

Have still the upper hand.

Though the fact that they have to be rebuilt

And frequently mortgaged to the hilt

Is inclined to take the gilt

Off the gingerbread

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

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

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

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

More bookshops to close doors as further areas enter Tier 4

From The Bookseller:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Survival Strategies for Unsupervised Children

From Electric Lit:

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

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

. . . .

Here is what the Crazy 9 love.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Electric Lit:

Tehran Book Fair Uncensored Is Now Underway in Its Fifth Edition

From Publishing Perspectives:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

BA and Bookshop.org respond to bookseller criticism

From The Bookseller:

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

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

From the BBC:

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at BBC

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

Best books of 2020

From The Guardian:

Fiction

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

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

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

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at The Guardian

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

From The New Publishing Standard:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

The Libraries of My Life

From The Paris Review:

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

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

From Scroll.in:

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

Link to the rest at Scroll.in

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

From The New Publishing Standard:

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

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

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

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

The UK Publishers Association CEO Stephen Lotinga explained,

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

Lockdown named word of the year by Collins Dictionary

From The Guardian:

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The Guardian

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

From The Bookseller:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If so, what has been your reaction?

HC signs book for stressed women

From The Bookseller:

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Parlez moi D’amour

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

Lucienne Boyer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

en anglais – 1

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

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

[Refrain]

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

en anglais – 2

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

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

Each translation is from https://lyricstranslate.com

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

Stalin: Passage to Revolution

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

From The Wall Street Journal:

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

French Publishers Appeal to Government: Leave Our Bookstores Open

From Publishing Perspectives:

In an extraordinary appeal to the Emmanuel Macron government today (October 28), France’s publishers’ association, the Syndicat national de l’édition (SNE), has joined with two of its associated organizations in issuing a “solemn, united, and responsible” request that French bookstores be allowed to remain open despite the anticipated announcement of new pandemic lockdown restrictions.

Perhaps the most compelling part of their letter: “We are ready to assume our cultural and health responsibilities.”

. . . .

Emmanuel Macron has been expected to make a televised address to the French people this evening, announcing new coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic restrictions that may go as far as a second national lockdown. Lauren Chadwick at EuroNews writes that such a confinement would not be expected to be as stringent as the spring lockdown but Kim Willsher’s write at The Guardian agrees with other press reports that the new constraint could be set to last as long as four weeks.

A curfew already has been imposed for at least eight major urban centers in the country, and the Worldometer tracking regime reflects the soaring numbers of new cases being registered in the French market. 

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Library ebook lending surges as UK turns to fiction during lockdown

From The Guardian:

They may have been closed for months during lockdown, but amid long days and many on furlough it has emerged that the nation turned to local libraries for cultural sustenance – with a surge in the lending of ebooks, and crime thrillers in particular.

In total, more than 3.5m additional ebooks were borrowed between the end of March and mid-August, according to the charity Libraries Connected, an increase of 146%. Adding audiobooks and e-comics, there was an increase of 5m digital items borrowed.

Gillian Galbraith’s Blood in the Water, the first of the Alice Rice mysteries featuring the Edinburgh detective, and published in 2007, was the most requested adult ebook. The former first lady Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming, was also among the most popular lends. The comedian and TV show judge David Walliams claimed three of the top 10 slots in most-borrowed children and young people’s ebooks.

Library online membership in the UK increased more than six-fold during lockdown, with demand for ebooks and audiobooks one of the main drivers.

“Library membership has surged,” said Nick Poole, the chief executive of the UK library and information association CILIP. “The increase in registration for online membership cards was huge, between 600 and 700%, which is amazing.”

With library buildings closed for up to four months, and people at home, services had to move swiftly online. A survey by Libraries Connected found audiobook checkouts increased, overall, by 113%, magazines by 80%, newspaper by 223% and comics by 497%.

There was growth in digital offerings across many areas including rhyming and reading sessions for young children, instruction sessions to access online services, author-led events, school readiness programmes, and jobs and arts clubs.

More than 75% of libraries delivered online services during lockdown. Some reached more than 20,000 views, according to Libraries Connected. One toddler reading event, which was staged on Facebook, had a 400% increase in views.

While the borrowing of physical books still massively outnumbers that of ebooks, a report by the charity suggests digital borrowing is not just an early lockdown “fad”. After experiencing an initial surge, the higher level of demand has been sustained.

. . . .

As the licensing model for digital services continues to operate restrictively for public libraries, public expectation of availability may outstrip supply

. . . .

“One of the brilliant things that happened was publishers really stepped up,” said Poole. “Ebooks cost a lot of money. Publishers, during the lockdown, said they would either waive or reduce licence fees so they really helped us out in terms of making ebooks available.”

. . . .

“People might think we don’t need the physical places any more, which obviously we really, really do because the library is doing so much more to support the community than just reading,” he said, adding: “Yes, absolutely we have found this new digital audience [but] we also need to continue supporting [the] face-to-face audience.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to C. for the tip.

PG notes that the “Ebooks cost a lot of money” really means, “Traditional publishers charge public libraries extraordinary high fees for a license to lend a copy of an ebook.”

Duplicating the ebook itself and delivering it costs a fraction of a second of computer time and, depending upon the speed of the internet connection at the library on the receiving end, pennies at most to deliver (and more probably, no extra cost at all if the publisher or wholesaler has not been dumb in negotiating the terms of its access to the internet.)

As regular visitors to TPV will immediately understand, library licensing practices of traditional publishers are designed to prop up their sales of dead-tree-to-hell-with-climate-change printed books.

Graphic novels are overlooked by book prizes, but that’s starting to change

From The Conversation:

In the midst of a global pandemic, almost nothing is proceeding as normal. And yet, on a dim October morning, the Scotiabank Giller Prize shortlist announcement went brightly, briefly and virtually streaming into homes and revealing the five books that had moved one step further towards winning Canada’s largest and arguably most prestigious literary award.

In some ways, however, this business as usual was a disappointment. After all, the Giller recently changed its submission guidelines to allow graphic novels to be submitted to the prize, and even more recently announced that a graphic novel was, indeed, included on the longlist — Clyde Fans, by highly acclaimed Canadian author and cartoonist Seth.

But after raking in praise and aplomb for featuring a graphic novel on its longlist for the first time, the Giller — like so many other book prizes — just couldn’t bring itself to put Clyde Fans on the shortlist. Business as usual, indeed.

Link to the rest at The Conversation

PG couldn’t find an ebook for Clyde Fans, but did discover some other ebooks written by Seth which included Look Inside feature, but that didn’t work with a WordPress embed block.

Here’s a link to Seth’s books on Amazon

HarperNorth in Manchester

From Publishing Perspectives:

Editor’s note: In recent years, a strong pushback against the London-centric structure of publishing and other creative industries has gathered energy in the United Kingdom. That dynamic is, in part, behind the creation of HarperCollins UK’s new HarperNorth division in Manchester–a development that has found itself arriving in a most challenging year for the business.

. . . .

On January 21, HarperCollins UK announced that it was launching a new publishing division in one of Europe’s fastest growing cities, Manchester. The next day, Public Health England raised the coronavirus risk level from very low to low. Two months later, the United Kingdom was in lockdown.

“I’ve always talked about trying to do things differently, but I never imagined just how different it would be,” Genevieve Pegg says with a laugh. She’s the publishing director for HarperNorth and a former editorial director of Orion.

Despite the twin challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown, HarperNorth’s editorial and marketing team was recruited and offices were acquired. The division opened for submissions at the end of June and made its first acquisition a month later, Melissa Reddy’s Believe Us, which is scheduled to be published on November 12. Reddy is a senior football correspondent for The Independent.

“HarperCollins was moving at pace and keen to make it happen,” Pegg says. “I’m all the more grateful for that now, because if we’d been operating at the glacial pace that can happen in parts of this business, we wouldn’t have got over the starting line before lockdown.

. . . .

The question for cynics is how much North is there actually in HarperNorth. When the BBC opened its studios in the city of Salford, near Manchester, so many of its presenters commuted from London rather than live in Manchester that it became something of a joke.

“We’re not slingshotting people from London to a strange and unknown land” at HarperNorth, Pegg says. “It was about finding a bunch of people who feel connected to the place and were either already living here or were in the process of moving anyway.”

Pegg was born in Liverpool and grew up in North Wales. She gave up her job at Orion in London five years ago to move back to the North of England with her family and begin a new stage of her career, this time as a freelance editorial consultant.

“I kept having conversations with people like, ‘Oh, you live up in Cheshire now. One day publishing will catch up.’ It was only at the start of this year that the conversation felt different, like there was a sort of commercial aspiration to it, as well.”

“Publishing in the North has its own traditions,” she says. “There’s already an amazing tradition of the university presses and a bevy of really bold and inventive independents who are blazing a trail. There are also a lot of indie authors who’ve not gone down the traditional publishing route. There’s a lot of artistic energy here.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG recommends Des Moines as New York Publishing’s Manchester. PG has a number of relatives living in Iowa, so he visits from time to time.

He finds many Iowans to be intelligent, well-educated (Iowa has a long tradition of a lot of small colleges, some of which are very innovative, plus a couple of large state universities) plus you can live in a decent house in Des Moines for less than a cheesy apartment with roommates and rats would cost in NYC.

PG hasn’t seen any statistics, but he would bet that Iowans on average have a higher literacy rate than the the citizens of NYC. They certainly commit far fewer crimes and are much friendlier to strangers.

PG understands that an English Lit major from Wellesley might not find Des Moines an attractive location at which to intern with a publisher, but, on the whole, that might not be a bad thing.

A Des Moines publisher would find a lot of graduates of Grinnell, Drake, Coe and Cornell (the real one in Mt. Vernon, Iowa, not the poser in New York) who would work harder, perform just as well and not have that entitlement attitude going on.

C:\ Thinking in an http: World

From Publishing Perspectives:

The “Battle for Attention”—part of the title of Bookwire‘s conference report from Frankfurter Buchmesse—became a lot more vivid for many professionals participating in the digital evocation of the trade show last week.

That’s because the enormous fair, which draws more than 250,000 people annually in its physical setting at Messe Frankfurt, was, for once, almost entirely online.

. . . .

Without those beloved print volumes propped on shelves in stand and after stand, without the gliding moving sidewalks between halls, and without the beeping of catering trucks moving in reverse, the center of international publishing for a week was just a click or two from your Netflix and Amazon Music accounts.

. . . .

[W]hat Videl Bar-Kar, who heads up audio at Bookwire GmbH in Germany, presented Thursday (October 15) was the result of survey work that reached 2,335 people in Germany aged 16 to 65 about their media use. In addition, 1,000 consumers of ebooks, audiobooks, and/or podcasts were surveyed about their usage patterns.

A recording of Bar-Kar’s presentation, like others in the Frankfurter Conference series, has not been posted for review, so as yet we can’t offer you a link to see it. Frankfurt’s organizers say that these recordings of four days of conference programming and other events will be available “soon.”

. . . .

What develops as you look at the report is a question of the wisdom of gauging podcasts along with audiobooks and ebooks. Podcasting is not necessarily in the same vein as audiobooks and ebooks because a podcast (unless someone sits at the mic and reads a book to listeners) is not the delivery of a book. There are variations and content hybrids, of course—and a podcast certainly may make a powerful marketing tool for a book—but the inclusion here of podcasts with audiobooks and ebooks presents something like one apple (podcasting) and two oranges (audiobooks and ebooks).

. . . .

Digital Content Becoming ‘Mainstream’

What Bar-Kar and his research refer to as “mainstream” refers to people using two or three of the digital media in question—ebooks, audiobooks, and podcasts. It’s not clear from this work if it’s possible to know what percentage these formats’ usage comprised of a user’s overall media array. If a user said she’d used an ebook or audiobook in the last six months, how does that compare with how many print books she’d read, how many films or television series she’d viewed, and so on?

  • Of those surveyed, 43 percent said they’d used at least one ebook, audiobook, or podcast within the last six months. Some 48 percent reported using “a number of these in parallel.
  • Twenty-one percent said they use all three formats, and 27 percent said they use two of them.

. . . .

A favorite question, of course, is whether audiobook, ebook, and/or podcast consumption tends to preclude a user’s consumption of other content. The standard response of those who work in audiobooks, ebooks, and/or podcasts is, “Of course not!” And this survey doesn’t disappoint.

“They only cannibalize each other to a minor extent” is the charming lead answer here. Nibbling on each other’s toes, as it were, nothing worse than that.

“Ebooks, audiobooks, and podcasts hardly cannibalize each other at all,” the survey writers say. “A maximum of 14 percent of users said that they use ebooks, audiobooks, or podcasts at the expense of one of the other two media. While ebooks and audiobooks are used for relaxation and entertainment more so than podcasts, podcasts tend to expand knowledge and education and/or are more informative about current issues.”

Well-intended as it may be, this commentary is probably the least reassuring in the report. Unless one has a chart of one’s format usage and thus can tell, “Gosh, a half-hour of my podcast time was eaten up by my e-reading,” it’s quite subjective as to how much a user might feel is going into one mode or another.

And the more important area of inquiry here is about the challenge that other media (including podcasting may present to reading in various formats. Many people today say that with so much beautifully produced storytelling available in television and film formats, their reading in all modes is taking a hit. By contrast, attrition to other forms of reading is less a worry. If publishing “loses” someone from print to ebooks, publishing should feel relieved that they didn’t move to Streamer City and stop reading entirely.

. . . .

The survey does offer this comparatively useful point—still inside the publishing sector, but going beyond the three key formats in question: “Looking at cannibalization effects on traditional media, just under half of ebook users (44 percent) said that they read fewer printed books because of their digital counterpart. This figure was 25 percent among audiobook listeners.”

. . . .

In short, things are still unsettled in terms of where podcasts stand next to books, especially in the audio space.

If you’re fond of podcasts, you may call them complementary. If you’re not, you might call them competition.

. . . .

Perhaps easier to get our publishing heads around, a section of the survey asked “Which are Your Favorite Media”? Here, it looks as if reality has arrived at the door to reading’s future in this particular survey.

By far, the respondents went for video streaming and television as their favorite of several media.

Radio and print books were next, followed by gaming, online news, and newspapers.

Digital audiobooks and podcasts came in behind all of those. Ebooks fared a bit better, beating out online news and newspapers.

Not even those podcasts were competitive to media outside the trio in the survey, except for physical audiobooks, which in most markets have long been on the decline as downloaded audio took over.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Although downplayed, the author of the OP seems to be feeling what came to PG’s mind as he read the OP:

WHAT CENTURY ARE GERMAN (AND MAYBE OTHER NATIONALITIES) PUBLISHERS LIVING IN?

Podcasts vs. print books?

PG is suspect of “cannibalization” studies in general.

The fundamental proposition is that if people start doing more of something, they are doing less of something else.

This assumes that “something” = an activity that makes someone, usually a large commercial organization, money directly or indirectly.

So, for example, if a meaningful portion of the populace starts spending more time in voluntary charitable activities, that activity is not part of the cannibalization equation.

Ditto if someone starts taking Yoga seriously and spends time thinking of Oneness.

Second Ditto if someone who is feeling overly confined due to a life-threatening pandemic goes to a restaurant that observes social-distancing by closing half of its seating, and hangs out while having a good conversation after lunch with someone else. (Coincidentally, this is exactly how PG and Mrs. PG spent a couple of hours this afternoon. The conversation included, but was not limited to, PG’s mostly-useless comments as Mrs. PG read a couple of the most recent chapters from her WIP.)

Podcasts?

PG is not a podcast person, but wonders if people who listen to podcasts do so instead of reading books of either the electronic or let’s-cut-down-another-forest variety.

PG is happy to be instructed/corrected/updated/straightened-out/brought-into-the-21st-Century, etc., by podcast people.

The switch to coal changed everything in Britain

From The Wall Street Journal:

The grimy furnaces and coal-stained cheeks of Dickensian Britain seem like an indelible birthright, but it wasn’t always so. As Ruth Goodman writes in “The Domestic Revolution,” Britons had for ages burned wood as well as peat and other plant fuels to heat their homes and cook their food. Then, in the late 16th century, London switched to coal.

This revolutionary change was carried out by ordinary families, the “ ‘hidden people’ of history,” as Ms. Goodman calls them. They switched to coal for the most prosaic of reasons—personal comfort, convenience, a small savings.

Yet the “big switch” set in motion a series of large transformations. Thousands of Britons found new work as miners and as merchant seafarers. The island’s fabled heathland, site of all those chest-throbbing novels, faded and disappeared as woodland, no longer needed for fuel, was given over to agriculture. To vacate sulfurous coal fumes, chimneys sprouted all over London, prompting homeowners to build more spacious layouts and second and third stories.

Since coal fires required a different sort of cookware, investment poured into brass and iron, hastening the development of pig iron—hastening, that is, the onset of the Industrial Revolution. Wall tapestries came down (in a coal-fired home, they quickly stained) and were replaced by smoother, washable surfaces and paint. There was a bull market in soap.

Not least, British cooking, which Ms. Goodman stoutly defends, was forced to adapt. Stirring a pot precariously dangled over a row of coals was difficult. Thick, starchy fare gave way to boiled puddings and kidney pies, which the author forgivingly describes as “democratic.” Thanks to the pleasing effects of roasting on an open grate, Ms. Goodman maintains, coal even led to the “modern British love affair” with toast. The new energy source touched every corner of life.

. . . .

Whatever the causes, the changeover to coal happened quickly. When Elizabeth ascended the throne, in 1558, London homes burned wood. A generation later, the increasingly crowded city was importing 27,000 metric tons of coal per year. By roughly the time of Elizabeth’s death, in 1603, imports had soared to 144,000 tons.

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

Vietnamese Publishing House Co-Founder Arrested

From Publishing Perspectives:

Scheduled to address an October 15 discussion at Frankfurter Buchmesse on the freedom to publish, a co-founder of the 2020 Prix Voltaire-winning Liberal Publishing House has been arrested. An alert from Amnesty International issued within an hour of this writing warns that Pham Doan Trang is “at grave risk of torture.”

Amnesty’s director of campaigns, Ming Yu Hah, says that Pham Doan Trang “may face up to 20 years in prison” as “an internationally-recognized author and human rights defender who has been repeatedly targeted by the Vietnamese authorities solely for peacefully exercising her right to freedom of expression.”

. . . .

One of the participants in the upcoming event at Frankfurt, Will Nguyen, has tweeted out a letter left by Pham Doan Trang in case of her detention. In “Just in Case I Am Imprisoned,” she writes, in part, “If prison is inevitable for freedom fighters, if prison can serve a pre-determined purpose, then we should happily accept it.”

. . . .

“The men and women who work for the Liberal Publishing House every day risk their freedom and even their lives just to publish books. The award that we receive today does not just recognize our tireless efforts but it represents the bravery of tens of thousands of Vietnamese readers who have been harassed, who have been arrested, and interrogated simply for reading our books.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG suggests we all remember Pham Doan Trang in our thoughts and prayers and be thankful that many of us live in countries like the United States whose First Amendment to its Constitution reads as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

and the European Union, within which Article 11 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights applies. Article 11 reads as follows:

Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.

This also means the freedom and pluralism of the media shall be respected.

PG was going to insert similar statements concerning freedom of expression in the UK and Canada, but his research did not locate any similar statement that does not include some parliamentary or judge-made exceptions.

It appears that libel and slander laws (which are also present in the United States) have been and, apparently, continue to be usable as a bludgeon to constrain freedom of expression to a greater extent than similar laws can be applied for such purposes in the US.

PG is happy to be corrected or have his understanding clarified by those who know more about this subject in Canada and the UK.

Resisting censorship

From The Bookseller:

Last month, 58 writers, journalists and artists signed a letter in the Sunday Times in support of JK Rowling, condemning the ‘onslaught of abuse’ she has received regarding her views on sex, gender and trans rights. Signatories included Tom Stoppard, Ian McEwan and Lionel Shriver. Three days later, more than 200 writers, agents, editors and publishers published a statement in support of trans and non-binary people and their rights in a message of ‘love and solidarity’. Signatories included Jeanette Winterson, Malorie Blackman and Nikesh Shukla. The worrying implication in the timing of their statement appears to be that any public support for JK Rowling is perceived to be an attack on the transgender community. The magazine Mslexia dropped the author Amanda Craig as a competition judge following her signing the Sunday Times letter, because of views ‘that threaten to undermine Mslexia’s climate of welcome and inclusivity’.

All writers and publishers should be speaking out in support of JK Rowling, no matter where they stand on the transgender issue: whether they believe like Jeanette Winterson and fellow signatories that ‘transwomen are women’ or, like JK Rowling, that ‘if sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased’. The treatment of Rowling is an attempt to censor, by intimidation as well as by discrediting her opinions as hate speech and discrimination. While it may not, fortunately, be possible to silence one of the most successful writers in the world, there are others whose livelihoods are at risk for daring to voice similar views. Anyone in the business of publishing or writing should defend Rowling’s right to express her opinions in support of the principle of freedom of expression. It is the principle that enables every writer and publisher who signed the statement in support of the trans and non-binary community to do their work – and also to sign such a statement.

We are currently witnessing a dangerous flight from that principle. It is group rights that now trump a precious universal right. The idea of tolerating views that you may disagree with or find offensive has been abandoned. That act of toleration, however uncomfortable, is essential for safeguarding an open society where ideas can be freely expressed, challenged and tested. Freedom of expression has always been one of the most vulnerable of all human rights, partly because it is not absolute, and it has taken decades to push the boundaries, often through the creativity and courage of writers, artists and publishers.

The current trend towards conformity risks creating a bland and fearful culture, and we can already see the damage: from the cancelling of the Philip Guston exhibition last month by four museums, including Tate Modern, to Hachette’s decision to drop Woody Allen’s memoir earlier this year. All these institutions, no doubt, will consider their decisions to be enlightened, wishing not to cause offence to vulnerable groups. But the right to freedom of expression includes the protection of speech that may offend, shock or disturb. If you close it down, then you also limit the ability of minorities to speak out.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Lover, Mother, Soviet Spy

From The Wall Street Journal:

Though little known to the broader world, Ursula Kuczynski, born in 1907 into a wealthy, cultured Jewish family in Berlin, was one of the most successful spies of the 20th century. She worked for the GRU—Soviet Military Intelligence—in China, Eastern Europe, Switzerland and, most damagingly, Britain. Beginning in the early 1930s as the provider of a safe house for spies to meet, she was soon trained as a radio operator, courier and liaison between communist underground activists and Moscow. Eventually she ran her own network of Soviet spies in Nazi Germany and, after war broke out, in Britain. There she served as a courier for Klaus Fuchs, the émigré physicist who later worked at Los Alamos and betrayed its secrets to the Soviet Union.

Kuczynski—whose code name was “Sonya”—never endured prison or torture or the other gruesome fates that befell many of her comrades, though she was pursued by the security services of the Chinese Nationalists, the Japanese, the Nazis and various British governments. She spent most of her 20-odd years as a spy living in fairly comfortable surroundings with her children, posing as a middle-class foreigner and friendly neighbor. Only when Fuchs himself was arrested in 1950, and she faced the possibility of exposure and arrest, did she board a plane to return to East Germany. She then transformed herself into a novelist and published, under a pseudonym, an autobiography that resulted in a triumphant book tour in Britain, the country that had given her refuge and that she had betrayed.

With “Agent Sonya,” Ben Macintyre, the author of several popular works about espionage, has written a lively account of Kuczynski’s remarkable career. He has been aided by the cooperation of her family and by his research in the British and (in a limited way) Russian archives. Inevitably, as the reader should keep in mind, much of Kuczynski’s life is filtered through her autobiography, which was written in East Germany under the scrutiny of censors by a woman whose survival depended on lying about many of her activities. Her account of Stalin’s purges of the GRU, for example, is limited to the statement that, “unfortunately, comrades in leading positions changed frequently at that time.” While government files and private letters offer a partial reality check, GRU archives remain inaccessible, limiting the best source for our knowing how far-reaching her career was.

Kuczynski was an early rebel, Mr. Macintyre tells us, participating in communist demonstrations in Berlin at age 17. Her father, a demographer, and her brother, an economist, had connections to many government officials throughout Europe and the United States, and both later fed her information for transmission to the U.S.S.R. Jurgen, her brother, led the underground Communist Party in Britain during World War II and was the first to put her in touch with Fuchs.

Her entry into espionage came in Shanghai, where she was living in 1930 with her husband, Rudi Hamburger, an architect. Appalled by the poverty and brutality of the city, and repulsed by the racism and luxurious lifestyle of the Western community there, she was recruited by Agnes Smedley, the American journalist, and Richard Sorge, the legendary Soviet spy. Kuczynski and Sorge (a compulsive womanizer) ended up having a passionate affair. Mr. Macintyre observes that she was “intoxicated by the thrill of her own destiny, the entwining of danger and domesticity, living one life in public and another in deepest secrecy.”

. . . .

Fearing deportation from Switzerland to Germany in 1940, she concluded that marriage to a British citizen would enable her to obtain a British passport. She arranged to divorce Rudi and married Len Beurton, a veteran of the International Brigades in Spain.

One of the great mysteries of Kuczynski’s career is how she managed to avoid detection by British authorities. 

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

Smith lands Instagrammer’s guide to planning for Ebury

From The Bookseller:

Ebury Press editorial director Emma Smith has acquired Happy Planning, a “practical guide for those who like to prep” from Charlotte Plain, a.k.a. Instagrammer Princess Planning.

Smith bought world all language rights to the title directly from the author.

Plain is the person behind Instagram account and website Princess Planning, where she sells diaries, planners and stationery which aim to help organise and inspire positivity. Happy Planning will give readers the tools they need to plan every aspect of their life, from the weekly shop and daily meal prep to big occasions like weddings, parties and holidays.

The publisher explains: “Planning is about taking away last-minute panic pressure, gaining control and helping you to be the best version of yourself. Charlotte’s everyday approach has been so successful that she launched a business off the back of it, and is now sharing all of her practical and positive know-how in this book. As well as her planning mantras and toolkit, each section of the book is dedicated to an area of life that benefits from planning and is packed with personal learning experiences, planning methods, tips and tricks, practical guidance and interactive elements. It’s simple, positive and practical planning that will lead to a healthier happier you.”

Smith added: “We all need a good dose of practical positive planning in our lives (now, more than ever), so we are incredibly excited to be publishing an Instagram star”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG couldn’t resist visiting Princess Planning Ltd. on Instagram (192K followers). He found several Instagram star gems:

Weight loss is never just about losing the weight.

You have to lose the habits that got you there in the first place and replace them with better ones

Princess.Planning Ltd.

if 2020 was a chocolate it would be a turkish delight

Princess.Planning Ltd.

What would we do without traditional publishers to act as curators of culture?

When the Revolution Left Kate Millett Behind

From Public Books:

In March 1979, the white American feminist Kate Millett landed in Tehran, in the wake of one of the most significant revolutions of the 20th century. Just weeks earlier, the Shah—the monarch of Iran—had been overthrown. Millett arrived with a suitcase of recording equipment and her partner, filmmaker Sophie Kier. While there, Millett methodically recorded her whispered reflections on everything around her: the cups of tea with her hosts, the hours stuck in traffic, and the International Women’s Day celebration, which exploded into major protests against Ayatollah Khomeini’s new mandatory veiling laws.

Millett’s whispers were the raw material for her own Going to Iran (1982), but they have been newly transcribed and examined by Negar Mottahedeh in her new book, Whisper Tapes: Kate Millett in Iran. With the same recordings, Mottahedeh does something in Whisper Tapes that Millett never could. She listens closely to the women speaking, yelling, and demonstrating in Farsi around Millett, centering their voices in a radically new and vital account of the revolution.

By exploring the complexities of what Millett couldn’t hear, Whisper Tapes also reveals the narrowness of her white feminism and her lack of reciprocity. Yet, there is no need to “cancel” Kate Millett (who profoundly contributed to both feminist and literary theory, not least in her pathbreaking 1970 work, Sexual Politics). Instead, it is necessary to explore her particular brand of white, Western feminism critically, asking what Millett’s brief time in Iran might offer contemporary understandings of feminist solidarity.

. . . .

This paradox—between the book’s centering and decentering of its subject—mirrors a wider paradox: the tension between the alleged universalism of Millett’s feminism and the increasingly particular way in which she pronounces it. We might read Millett’s paradox against and alongside a revolutionary slogan pulsing throughout Mottahedeh’s book—one that Millett only “provisionally understood”: “Azadi, na sharghist, na gharbist, jahanist,” or “Freedom is neither eastern nor western, it is planetary.”

. . . .

Mottahedeh identifies the conceptual problem of misunderstanding—of a white ally who just doesn’t get it—largely as a problem of mistranslation. In an elegant anecdote, Millett is given some chaghaleh badoom, which she says on the tape are “beans,” while the women around her suggest—in English—that they are “walnuts.” In fact, neither translation is adequate, Mottahedeh tells us; the best approximation is “green, unripe almonds.”

A thirsty Millett struggles to comprehend going “through a whole revolution and not being able to have a glass of wine after it’s all over?” She declares Iran “joyless,” not understanding that there are so many versions of the good life, so many ways to be joyful. Millett can’t quite grasp why the revolution happened alongside, and so also included, men. “It’s important to ignore men,” she advises a demonstrator. “He is never gonna listen. Why waste your time?”

Millett’s unfamiliarity with Iran allows us, with the benefit of hindsight, to laugh at her presence as an awkward white woman. But this is not really the problem with Millett’s white feminism. What white feminism means, at least in the context of Whisper Tapes, is that Millett considers patriarchy to be the primary organizing structure in women’s lives, globally. This is despite the interactions she has with women who explain otherwise.

Millett reads Iranian women’s heterogeneous experiences of religion, demonstration, and revolution through this lens, and only this lens. It is this focus on patriarchy that allows her to quickly diagnose the women of Iran as being behind white American women on the path of liberation; the path that she herself, through Sexual Politics and her work in the women’s liberation movement, helped to pave. Millett’s white feminism means that she applies the logic and schedule of US women’s liberation to the Iranian revolutionary moment.

Mottahedeh’s careful treatment of Millett reveals that “white feminism” is not just a scolding charge. Instead, Millett’s white feminism is a generative and persistent world view that creates particular behaviors, blinkers, and blinds, while simultaneously proclaiming to be a universalist politics that speaks for all women. It means that Millett’s “ambitions and preoccupations are elsewhere.” She is always waiting for the moment of a radical global women’s uprising. She is “out of sync with what is right in front of her,” be it green-shelled, unripe almonds in their crinkled paper bag, or men’s crucial place alongside women in the ongoing Iranian revolution.

Kate Millett certainly does not understand that she is imposing a presumed universality steeped in the specificity of the American context. Indeed, this is just one of the things that she does not get.

Link to the rest at Public Books

Liu Cixin Writes Science Fiction Epics That Transcend the Moment

From The Wall Street Journal:

Science fiction can be hard to disentangle from the real world. Futuristic tales about advanced technology and clashing alien civilizations often read like allegories of present-day problems. It is tempting, then, to find some kind of political message in the novels of Liu Cixin, 57, China’s most famous science fiction writer, whose speculative and often apocalyptic work has earned the praise of Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg. The historian Niall Ferguson recently said that reading Mr. Liu’s fiction is essential for understanding “how China views America and the world today.”

But Mr. Liu insists that this is “the biggest misinterpretation of my work.” Speaking through an interpreter over Skype from his home in Shanxi Province, he says that his books, which have been translated into more than 20 languages, shouldn’t be read as commentaries on China’s history or aspirations. In his books, he maintains, “aliens are aliens, space is space.” Although he has acknowledged, in an author’s note to one of his books, that “every era puts invisible shackles on those who have lived through it,” he says that he writes science fiction because he enjoys imagining a world beyond the “narrow” one we live in. “For me, the essence of science fiction is using my imagination to fill in the gaps of my dreams,” says Mr. Liu.

In China, science fiction has often been inseparable from ideology. A century ago, early efforts in the genre were conspicuously nationalistic: “Elites used it as a way of expressing their hopes for a stronger China,” says Mr. Liu. But the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution banned science fiction as subversive, and critics in the 1980s argued that it promoted capitalist ideas. “After that, science fiction was discouraged,” Mr. Liu remembers.

In recent years, however, the genre has been making a comeback. This is partly because China’s breakneck pace of modernization “makes people more future-oriented,” Mr. Liu says. But the country’s science fiction revival also has quite a lot to do with Mr. Liu himself.

In 2015, he became the first Asian writer to win the Hugo Award, the most prestigious international science fiction prize. A 2019 adaptation of his short story “The Wandering Earth” became China’s third-highest-grossing film of all time, and a movie version of his bestselling novel “The Three-Body Problem” is in the works. His new book, “To Hold Up the Sky,” a collection of stories, will be published in the U.S. in October. (His American books render his name as Cixin Liu, with the family name last, but Chinese convention is to put the family name first.)

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

The Off-Kilter History of British Cuisine

Nothing to do with books, but PG had never heard of Fanny Cradock before.

From The Paris Review:

On the evening of November 11, 1976, the BBC broadcast the third episode of The Big Time, which followed members of the public as they tested themselves in high-pressure situations. It was what we’d term today a reality TV-style show, and that week was the turn of Mrs. Gwen Troake, a middle-aged woman from rural Devon in southwest England, who was being given the chance to design and cook a special banquet at the world-famous Dorchester Hotel in London. Troake, an amiable, soft-spoken lady any audience would root for, was assigned the most demanding mentor the production team could muster: Fanny Cradock, an extraordinary character who was the face and voice of cooking on British television  from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s, and was once described by one national newspaper as “a preposterous character, the foodie you loved to loathe.”

Cradock built an entertainment brand on her putative brilliance in the kitchen, but also her superciliousness, hectoring her husband, mistreating her colleagues, and patronizing her audience, the great British public, whom she regarded to be gastronomic philistines. Evidently, this included Gwen Troake, the amateur cook on The Big Time. As Troake ran through what she was planning to serve at the banquet—a seafood cocktail, followed by duck, and rounded off with a rum and coffee cream pudding—Cradock rolled her eyes, gulped, and grimaced in a pantomime of disgust and disbelief at the overbearing richness of the menu, at one point blowing her cheeks out as though she were about to be physically sick. When Troake revealed that the duck would be served with a blackberry jam, Cradock could stomach no more and unleashed what she thought was the ultimate insult. “All these jams,” she said, “they are so English.”  Despite being stereotypically English in so many ways, in her mind the only really good English—or, indeed, British—food was really just French food by a different name. “The English have never had a cuisine. There’s nothing English. Yorkshire pudding came from Burgundy.”

She was probably wrong about Yorkshire pudding, but she definitely had a point, both about the heaviness of Troake’s menu, and the sorry state of her nation’s cuisine. In the postwar decades of Cradock’s great success, amidst heated debates about what it meant to be British in a post-imperial world, British food was an international laughingstockIt was fitting, then, that Cradock herself seemed to be in a perpetual identity crisis. Her personality was as peculiar as many of her famous recipes, and nobody was quite sure which of the stories she told about herself were true, and whether, despite her constant talk of refined French food, she was half as accomplished in the kitchen as she claimed to be. In the words of somebody who knew her well, “She wasn’t real … she didn’t know who she was. She made herself up as she went along.”

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

Who let the dons out?

From The Critic:

Contrary to what you sometimes read in the newspapers, the media don has been going strong for upwards of 120 years. When English Literature started professionalising itself at the end of the nineteenth century and universities needed to fill their newly-created English departments, they tended to recruit from journalism.

That first wave of English professors consequently deposited such all-round pundits as John Churton Collins (Birmingham) and George Saintsbury (Edinburgh) on the lecture-room podium — all erstwhile hacks who, whatever the glamour of their academic gigs, could never quite abandon the trade that had brought them preferment.

Come the 1960s, as both universities and media doubled in volume, this wave turned into a torrent. Malcolm Bradbury (UEA), David Lodge (Birmingham again), the sociologist Laurie Taylor (often thought to be the original of Howard Kirk in Bradbury’s The History Man) each contrived to build a highly lucrative bridge between academe, the public prints, and the Today programme.

All of a sudden, the don could have it both ways — file that learned 5,000 words for Essays in Criticism and review for the Observer, publish a book with a title such as Foucault and the Structuralist Hegemony and judge the Booker Prize. Bliss it was to be alive in that cross-cultural dawn.

Half-a-century later, alas, the laudable aim of encouraging brainy specialists to share their knowledge with the world at large has turned into a complete disaster. Why is the presence of an academic on a book prize judging panel, fronting a BBC Four arts documentary or even reviewing for a national newspaper generally such an embarrassment? One reason, alas, is that fatal assumption of omnicompetence — the idea that talent translates from discipline to discipline which finds the titans of academe being employed to carry out tasks for which they may not actually be qualified. Mary Beard is a Classics professor. Why should she end up on poetry symposia or presenting arts docs about painting?

Another reason is the sheer inability of most academics to step down from the Parnassus of their specialist subject and engage with non-specialist hoi-polloi. This failing is particularly evident in the bread-and-butter world of book reviewing.

. . . .

As for mother Carey’s chickens, all avidly disporting themselves in the Times Literary Supplement, the Literary Review, the London Review of Books and countless other organs, their main limitation is that they possess all the book reviewer’s traditional faults, only more so. Item one on a pretty considerable list is score-settling (see Terry Eagleton’s decades-long spat with A.C. Grayling, or the multiple vendettas annually conducted by Craig Raine).

Item two, as immemorially practised in the LRB, is simply to use that new volume of essays about Harold Wilson as an excuse to drone on about your own opinion of the postwar Labour Party while barely mentioning the book that started you off.

Readers often complain about book-page glad-handing. No one, it might be said, glad-hands like an academic.

Link to the rest at The Critic and thanks to C. for the tip

The art of the normal

From The Bookseller:

Super Thursday has arrived early this year. Thanks to some overexcited reporting, the annual media frenzy that follows the yearly revelation that a lot of new hardback books are published in the autumn, has been focused on early September, rather than October, as we used to know it.

For numbers people, here are a few. Yesterday (3rd September) around 260 trade hardbacks were released.

. . . .

Come “real” Super Thursday on 1st October, we go again with some 450 trade hardbacks, a healthy increase on 2019, but mercifully down on 2018’s record.

This is not new, of course. For as long as there have been books, there appear to have been more of them than there are readers. Overproduction has often been denounced as a plague, but rarely have we done much about it. For publishers, a book is the thing that can cure all of our ills—just one more, as I’ve been known to say while on my way to the bar. It is easy to scoff, but the media’s fascination with this subject should not be taken too lightly, not least because for all of the smart campaigns that will be launched between now and December, this one costs us not a jot (except perhaps in reputation). In fact, we ought to be revelling in this big moment for books, just as we can take solace from how books kept us entertained and informed during the lockdown.

The trade is not just about big books (though we might like them), but also about the people who write and sell them. As the author Joanne Harris argues, for writers these weeks will likely just be “confusing, stressful and culminating in annihilation”. For booksellers, as pictures circulating on social media of stacks of as-yet-unopened deliveries suggest, it is both a physical and mental assault course.

This time around there is the added spice of having to contend with the new normal. We are often accused, in this sector, of denying the obvious. This year we cannot. In his half-year results address, Penguin Random House chief executive Markus Dohle talked about a world in which online book sales have become more important. He is not wrong; Covid has shown us all how fragile a supply chain can be when it is reliant on customers wanting to visit physical locations together.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG wonders if traditionally-published authors ever question whether it’s a good idea for their books to be released on the same day as hundreds of other books are released.

PG also wonders how good a job underpaid publicity people and unpaid interns do with providing excellent support for a massive launch of so many books at once.

PG will note that the OP is focused on the British book business, but large US publishers have similar and often synchronized book release schedules.

If your debut novel is released on the same day as Delia Owens’ second novel is released and JK Rowling’s US publisher releases a new Harry Potter sequel, guess how much attention your book will receive.

For publishers, building up enthusiasm among the literati and press might be a great idea.

For an individual author’s book dumped onto the market along with a bunch of other new books, maybe not so much.

Nonfiction, and the Past as ‘a Foreign Country’

From Publishing Perspectives:

Nonfiction publishing is often perceived by the outside world as somehow more predictable and less risky than fiction.

It’s certainly the case that betting on untried novelists is very high-risk. It’s even the case that lashing out large advances on established writers carries a degree of risk, should the writer have a declining fan base or say something to upset a special-interest group.

While some areas of nonfiction appear to be risk-free, it’s remarkable how often that’s only an appearance. The reality is that nonfiction is just as risky as fiction, just as hard to predict, and just as affected by vogue, trends, and demographics.

Per the opening line of LP Hartley’s 1953 The Go-Between, “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” But perhaps we can learn something from the past while we look to the future and try to discern how the publishing landscape might be once the clouds of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic have cleared.

. . . .

The first lesson comes from two of my ancestors.

Garment manufacturing in Clapham Square, London, 1910. Image by Toby Charkin, provided by Richard Charkin

One owned a wedding dress factory in Margaret Street, which was then the clothing district of London. The other oversaw the manufacture of underwear and dresses in Clapham Square for the city’s burgeoning middle class. The business principle that guided them both was, “The one who makes the most money is the one who is first out of a fashion craze—not the first in.”

The same might be true in nonfiction publishing.

. . . .

The first book craze I can remember was for illustrated nostalgia. Edith Holden’s The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady . . . was the front-runner, followed by Flora Thompson’s Lark Rise to Candleford.  They sold in their hundreds of thousands of units by satisfying a desire to enjoy what appeared to be a simpler and more perfect world.

Of course, publishers being the owners of excellent rear-view mirrors, they piled into the genre until the profit was eviscerated.

And there was the computer books boom of the 1980s: Fortran, Cobol, and all that.

. . . .

Right now, there seems to be an unquenchable thirst in the English-speaking world for books on politics, political scandal, and racial inequality.

. . . .

The overdue realization that health really matters will ensure that governments will prioritize the funding of primary and secondary health care, public health, and communication with the general public.

I suspect that there will be growing demand in digital and print for reliable and comprehensible information, formerly known as popular medicine.

In addition, we’ll see renewed research activity into all aspects of infectious disease and epidemiology with consequent growth in high-level open-access research and review publications. The distinction between general public, professional, and research information about health will narrow as more people want to know more about their own health—and as more professionals understand the need to communicate outside their own specialist communities.

. . . .

In this age of uncertainty, people will turn to books about happiness, de-stressing, self-awareness, empathy, and human interaction. “Mind, body, spirit” will emerge as a major genre, challenging even the dominance in British bookshops of celebrity-led cookery books.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Science Fiction Epics That Transcend the Moment

From The Wall Street Journal:

Science fiction can be hard to disentangle from the real world. Futuristic tales about advanced technology and clashing alien civilizations often read like allegories of present-day problems. It is tempting, then, to find some kind of political message in the novels of Liu Cixin, 57, China’s most famous science fiction writer, whose speculative and often apocalyptic work has earned the praise of Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg. The historian Niall Ferguson recently said that reading Mr. Liu’s fiction is essential for understanding “how China views America and the world today.”

But Mr. Liu insists that this is “the biggest misinterpretation of my work.” Speaking through an interpreter over Skype from his home in Shanxi Province, he says that his books, which have been translated into more than 20 languages, shouldn’t be read as commentaries on China’s history or aspirations. In his books, he maintains, “aliens are aliens, space is space.” Although he has acknowledged, in an author’s note to one of his books, that “every era puts invisible shackles on those who have lived through it,” he says that he writes science fiction because he enjoys imagining a world beyond the “narrow” one we live in. “For me, the essence of science fiction is using my imagination to fill in the gaps of my dreams,” says Mr. Liu.

In China, science fiction has often been inseparable from ideology. A century ago, early efforts in the genre were conspicuously nationalistic: “Elites used it as a way of expressing their hopes for a stronger China,” says Mr. Liu. But the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution banned science fiction as subversive, and critics in the 1980s argued that it promoted capitalist ideas. “After that, science fiction was discouraged,” Mr. Liu remembers.

In recent years, however, the genre has been making a comeback. This is partly because China’s breakneck pace of modernization “makes people more future-oriented,” Mr. Liu says. But the country’s science fiction revival also has quite a lot to do with Mr. Liu himself.

In 2015, he became the first Asian writer to win the Hugo Award, the most prestigious international science fiction prize. A 2019 adaptation of his short story “The Wandering Earth” became China’s third-highest-grossing film of all time, and a movie version of his bestselling novel “The Three-Body Problem” is in the works. His new book, “To Hold Up the Sky,” a collection of stories, will be published in the U.S. in October. (His American books render his name as Cixin Liu, with the family name last, but Chinese convention is to put the family name first.)

. . . .

His first book appeared in 1989, and for years he wrote while working as an engineer at a state-owned power plant. The publication of “The Three-Body Problem,” in 2006, made him famous, and after a pollution problem shut the plant down in 2010, he devoted himself to writing full-time.

Mr. Liu’s renowned trilogy “Remembrance of Earth’s Past,” published in China between 2006 and 2010, tells the story of a war between humans on Earth and an alien civilization called the Trisolarans who inhabit a planet in decline. The story begins in the 1960s, in the years of the Cultural Revolution, and eventually zooms millions of years into the future. The aliens’ technological superiority and aggressive desire to exploit Earth’s resources have made some readers see them as a metaphor for the colonial Western powers China struggled against for more than a century. But Mr. Liu says this is too limited a view of his intentions. What makes science fiction “so special,” he says, is that its narratives often encourage us to “look past boundaries of nations and cultures and races, and instead really consider the fate of humankind as a whole.”

The English version of “The Three-Body Problem,” the first book in the trilogy, differs from the original in a small but telling way. In this 2014 translation, the story begins with an episode from the Cultural Revolution, in which a character’s father is publicly humiliated and killed for his “reactionary” views. The translator Ken Liu (no relation to the author) moved the scene to the start of the book from the middle, where Mr. Liu admits he had buried it in the original Chinese because he was wary of government censor

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

The Conspiracy on Pushkin Street: The Costs of Humor in the USSR

From The Los Angeles Review of Books:

“IF THEY COME for me, I won’t give you up. I won’t tell them what happened in this room.” Vasily Babansky let out a sigh and locked eyes with the four young men around him. It was February 1940 and 18-year-old Vasily had become increasingly sure that the NKVD was closing in on him.

The silence hung thickly in the air, so at odds with the laughter they usually shared here. The five students were gathered together in their usual haunt — one of the dormitories at the Zoological Institute in Stavropolsky District, southwestern Russia. The door was locked, as it always was when they wanted to speak freely, but now the bolt seemed woefully inadequate. If the NKVD was coming for them, all they could rely on was silence and their loyalty to one another.

Silence would be a problem, though. They’d have to tell the NKVD something if they were arrested; Stalin’s secret police didn’t take “No” for an answer. Aleksandr Mitrofanov proposed they should tell the truth, but not the whole truth — they would come clean about anything they’d said or done in front of witnesses at the Institute, “but keep quiet about what went on in our room,” recalled another of the students, Pavel Gubanov.

They all solemnly agreed, and then Mitrofanov rushed off to find the poem he’d written criticizing the Soviet regime. He was proud of his work, and the group had hoped to make anonymous copies and spread them across campus. Instead, after relocking the door behind him, he would ritualistically read the poem aloud one last time to his comrades, then set the paper alight and watch the flames consume his words.

It would be another 11 months before the NKVD descended, but when they did, the lives of these young men would be torn apart. Despite their earnest pact not to inform on each other, in the end they had little choice. The NKVD has gone down in history for its brutality and willingness to extract confessions by any means necessary. All five would break their vow of silence as the interrogators raked through the ashes of their lives at the Institute. Aleksandr Mitrofanov, Vasily Babansky, Mikhail Penkov, and Pavel Gubanov would all be sentenced for the crime of “anti-Soviet agitation” and for being part of a “counterrevolutionary organization” that, the authorities were sure, was actively plotting the downfall of the Soviet regime. Mitrofanov and Babansky received 10 years, Penkov eight, and Gubanov seven. The fifth man, Damir Naguchev, was for some reason treated with a touch more leniency: he received “only” three years for failing to denounce his comrades.

Locked doors, burnt evidence, and a plan for resisting interrogation: at first glance, it certainly sounds like conspiracy was afoot at the Institute. But if we take a closer look at the evidence left behind in the formerly secret Soviet archives, the fate of these five teenagers reveals a very different story. A story of how, under Stalin, a poem, a few jokes, and five open minds could spell disaster.

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Review of Books

As PG reviewed the OP and thought of a novel he is reading that is set, in part, in the all-female 588th Night Bomber Regiment of the Soviet Red Army Air Forces. One of the characters has to flee from her regiment because her father has been convicted and executed for anti-Soviet, anti-Stalin outbursts and all his family members are to be arrested.

Back to the 588th regiment. This group, which flew all of its bombing missions at night, were called the Nachthexen, or “night witches,” by their targets in the Wehrmacht because the whooshing noise their wooden planes made as they dived into their attacks resembled that of a sweeping broom. There was no other noise because the pilots were instructed to idle their engines at altitude, prior to beginning their bombing glide to drop their bombs on the German troops.

The antiquated bombers, 1920s bi-plane crop-dusters that had been used as training vehicles prior to being repurposed for night bombing were effectively invisible to German radar or infrared defense systems. They were unarmored, built of plywood with canvas stretched on top and most had no guns for defense. Machine guns and ammunition would be too heavy to carry in addition to the weight of a single bomb attached under each wing. Parachutes were also too heavy to carry.

These planes had a top speed of 94 mph and a cruising speed of 68 mph. The most common German fighter plane the Night Witches faced in battle was the Messerschmitt 109, which had a top speed of 385 mph. The maximum speed of the bombers was slower than the stall speed of the German planes, which meant these wooden planes, ironically, could maneuver faster than the enemy, making them hard to target.

The Night Witches continued their attacks through three winters, 1942-43, 1943-44 and 1944-45. Their planes had open cockpits and no insulation. Flying them exposed their pilots and navigators to almost unimaginably bitter cold temperatures. During those Russian winters, the planes became so cold, just touching them would rip off bare skin.

The Night Witches ended the war as the most highly decorated female unit in the Soviet Air Force.

On average, each pilot/navigator crew flew about 800 missions. For comparison, United States heavy bomber crews flew bomber crews’ obligations were between 25-35 combat missions.

(In fairness, since the Night Witches were stationed at airfields so close to the front lines, the flight time spent on each of their missions was much shorter. Many US crews spent far more time in the air because their missions involved much longer flights to reach their targets. On the other hand, the Night Witches were under direct enemy fire far more frequently, sometimes flying 8 missions in a single night.)

Kuwait amends censorship law for books, but many questions remain unanswered

From The New Publishing Standard:

Prior to the new law a 12-member censors committee met twice a month and decided which books would be permitted or banned. Now books can be published first, and banned after. Previously banned books remain banned.

Amendments to Kuwait’s notoriously restrictive press and publications laws were passed by the Kuwait National Assembly this week, in what was described as “an important step in terms of increasing freedom with a balanced commitment to moral, legal and national controls (and) a gift to writers, intellectuals, creators and everybody involved in culture.”

Amendments include a condition that for imported books the importer will bear the legal responsibility for the ideas and opinions expressed in the publication.

. . . .

Kuwaiti activist Abdullah Khonaini told Gulf News:

The freedom of expression is already restricted in Kuwait on multiple levels, this law doesn’t fix it. The amendment shifts the power of censorship away from the executive branch and to the judicial branch. We still need to work on the prohibition section in the law, which needs a stronger political lobby and mature political and societal awareness.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

The 22-Year-Old Blogger Behind Protests in Belarus

More under the category, “There are worse things than Covid.”

From The Atlantic:

In the videos posted last Sunday from Belarus, thousands of people can be seen streaming into the center of Minsk, walking up the broad avenues, gathering in a park. In smaller cities and even little towns—Brest, Gomel, Khotsimsk, Molodechno, Shklov—they are walking down main streets, meeting in squares, singing pop songs and folk songs. They are remarkably peaceful, and remarkably united. Many of them are carrying a flag, though not the country’s formal flag, the red and green flag used in the Soviet era. Instead, they carry a red-white-red striped flag, a banner first used in 1918 and long associated with Belarusian independence.

It was a marvelous feat of coordination: Just as in Hong Kong a few months ago, the crowds knew when to arrive and where to go. They knew what they were marching for: Many people carried posters with slogans like leave—directed at the Belarus dictator/president, Alexander Lukashenko—or freedom for political prisoners! or free elections! They carried the flag, or they wore red and white clothes, or they drove cars festooned with red and white balloons.

And yet, at most of these marches, few leaders were visible; no one ascended a stage or delivered a speech into a microphone. The opposition presidential candidate, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who probably won the contested election held on August 9, fled the country last week. How did everyone know exactly what to do? The answer, improbably, is a 22-year-old blogger named Stsiapan Sviatlou, who lives outside the country and runs a channel called Nexta Live on the encrypted messaging app Telegram.

On Sunday morning, Nexta—the word means “somebody”—posted a red and white invitation to the march. “Ring the doorbells of your neighbors, call your friends and relatives, write to your colleagues,” the message instructed them: “We are going EXCLUSIVELY peacefully to the center of town to hold the authorities to account.” The invitation also contained a list of demands: the immediate freeing of political prisoners, the resignation of Lukashenko, the indictment of those responsible for a shocking series of political murders.

People went to the Minsk march, and to dozens of smaller marches across the country, because they saw that message. On subsequent days, many went on strike because they saw another message on that channel and on channels like it. Over the past 10 days, people all across Belarus have marched, protested, carried red and white flags and banners, and gathered at factories and outside prisons because they trust what they read on Nexta. They trust Nexta even though Sviatlou is only 22 years old, even though he is an amateur blogger, and even though he is outside the country.

Or to put it more accurately, they trust Nexta because Sviatlou is only 22, and because he is an amateur who lives outside the country. In Belarus, the government is a kind of presidential monarchy with no checks, no balances, and no rule of law. State media are grotesquely biased: Memo98, a media-monitoring group, reckons that Belarus state television devoted 97 percent of all political news programming to Lukashenko in May and June, with only 30 seconds devoted to opposition presidential candidates. Political leaders in Belarus are routinely repressed, and their voices are muffled: Tsikhanouskaya was running for president because her husband, Siarhei Tsikhanouski, was arrested before he could start his own presidential campaign. Other candidates and politicians were also arrested, along with their staff. Some are still in prison. Human-rights groups have evidence of torture.

. . . .

Paradoxically, the Lukashenko regime is also the source of his unusual power. By suppressing all other sources of information, it has given him unprecedented influence. This also has its downsides. One member of the tiny but determined community of independent journalists in Belarus—I am leaving him unnamed because he remains in Minsk—pointed out that the administrators of Telegram channels outside the country (Sviatlou is one of several) have no way to check whether what they are publishing is true, and no way to coordinate what they are doing with anyone else. Although he does communicate with other channel administrators, as well as with coordinators in Minsk, mistakes are sometimes made. A couple of days ago, crosscurrents of information nearly led one group of opposition protesters into a public brawl with another.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

Belarusian Writers Stand By Their People

From Publishing Perspectives:

As the Belarusian election protests expand, opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has spoken from her exile in Lithuania today (August 21). She is urging widening strikes, asking citizens not to be “fooled by intimidation,” as reported by the BBC.

Days before the now-disputed election of August 9, PEN International issued a joint statement–writing for the 24 PEN centers that stand in various parts of the world. That statement of concern is focused on what the Belarus PEN Center’s Sviatlana Aleksievič has said were two dozen political prisoners whose freedom of speech the center believed was being suppressed.

“Among them are bloggers and journalists, patrons of culture, Aleksievič wrote, “those who in 2020 awakened the Belarusian society, and for the first time in 26 years create serious competition for the authoritarian regime of Aliaksandr Lukašenka [longtime Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko].

“Today, Belarusian writers stand by their people as the story is being written in the streets and squares, not at desks.”

. . . .

Indeed, this morning (August 21), The Economist (which does not allow its writers bylines) has released a story describing, as other media have reported, how “prisoners were forced to kneel with their hands behind their backs for hours in overcrowded cells. Men and women were stripped, beaten, and raped with truncheons.”

“The repression was ostentatious,” The Economist piece continues. “Some victims were paraded on state television. By August 19, at least four people had been killed. The aim was both to terrorize citizens and to bind the regime’s officers by having them commit atrocities together, a tactic used by dictators and mafiosi to prevent defections.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Alert visitors will have noted that there are worse things than Covid.

Literary world overwhelmed by 600 books to be published on one day

From The Guardian:

Over the summer, novelist and screenwriter David Nicholls has been something of a hero. With a humorous nod to the less glamorous aspects of publishing life – hastily defrosted canapés and eked-out warm white wine – the author of One Day and adaptor of the Patrick Melrose novels has thrown a series of Twitter book launches, amplifying new releases from writers including (but far beyond) the big names who will automatically elicit review space and window displays. The responses from the authors, especially the debutants, to gaining the imprimatur of a much-loved and huge-selling colleague, and from readers to discovering books to connect with in a time of such immense disconnection, has been powerful and touching. It’s a particularly nice example of someone paying it forward.

Nicholls’s virtual launches have been held every Thursday, the day new books are traditionally published in the UK, but this week’s will be his last. Quite possibly, his publishers have reminded him that the paperback edition of his own book, Sweet Sorrow, needs some love, or perhaps he wants to get on with writing another.

It’s fortunate for him – although arguably less so for the world of books – that he’s bowing out before 3 September. On that day, in a development that has provoked anguish among booksellers, editors, reviewers and readers, almost 600 new books will be published, an increase of about a third from last year. There is such a thing as a crowded market, and then there is this: an avalanche of words that no retailer or media outlet could hope to accommodate. Even Waterstones Piccadilly, the chain’s flagship London store, is feeling the strain, one of the team writing on Twitter: “We are big and I doubt we’ll stock them all. No one has enough space for this.” They added: “We’ll do what we always do. Choose the books we think our Piccadilly customers will love most and those that we can honestly recommend.”

Why the surge? Largely, of course, it’s the pandemic: with bookshops closed and literary festivals and events cancelled or significantly shrunk and moved online, publishers moved swaths of their publication dates to later in the year. Festivals are still in abeyance, albeit with virtual events, but publishing houses – and their authors, many in extreme need of their publication payments, which usually represent a third of their advance against royalties – had to do something. To shift entire programmes to next year, its landscape still highly uncertain, would be to kick the can down a highly congested road.

But 3 September – just the first of a series of similar days throughout the autumn – is a problem. Waterstones Piccadilly has vast premises, but others – including the independent bookshops attempting to weather 2020’s storm – must rely on heavily curated selections and hard choices. For an industry that has suffered a series of shocks – including the collapse of wholesaler Bertrams, owing £25m to its creditors – autumn will be tough. For literary editors presiding over fewer pages for book reviews the issues are similarly intractable.

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to DaveMich for the tip.

Perhaps PG didn’t read the OP carefully enough, but he doesn’t see a lot of author nurturing going on with this plan.

Why Organizing Workers in the Book Industry Is So Damn Hard

From Jacobin:

Workers in the book industry often suffer poor conditions and low pay, but are supposed to feel grateful for the privilege of working near books. Casting off such illusions is the first step to organizing publishers and booksellers, and fighting the exploitation that thrives in the hallowed culture industry.

. . . .

As book industry workers around the world experience destabilizing changes to their employment because of COVID-19, we’re reminded of how fragile workers’ rights can be in industries that are yet to properly organize. In Australia, when book industry workers need collective action more than ever, organizing even the smallest workplaces has proven difficult.

Compared to other creative or retail industries, union membership in the book industry has been slow, with the lack of union support placing workers in vulnerable positions. But why is organizing the book industry such hard work?

Along with the suppression and stigmatization of unions in the book industry, one of the steepest barriers to organizing is the myth of “doing it for the love of books,” which employers perpetuate to create the illusion that publishing workers are somehow exempt from the inherent exploitation of wage labor. Add to this the exclusivity of jobs in publishing and bookselling, and you’ve got yourself a submissive workforce that is largely averse to rocking the boat.

. . . .

In 2019, Penguin Random House (PRH) achieved the first union-negotiated enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) in publishing, facilitated by the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), while in 2018, workers at bookshops across Melbourne successfully won a landmark protection of penalty rates and higher health and safety standards through the new but militant Retail and Fast Food Workers Union (RAFFWU).

As union delegates in these cases, we learned firsthand what the barriers to unionizing the book industry look like, and how they might be overcome.

. . . .

Wage stagnation nonetheless reflects the relative weakness of the modern union movement which is especially pronounced in the publishing industry where salary secrecy is rampant and wage theft obscured.

Meanwhile, bookshop workers are subject to the same issues of wage theft, unsafe working conditions, and precarity as their comrades in other retail work. Some Melbourne bookshop workers are among a group of retail, fast food, and hospitality workers who recently won protection of their penalty rates — despite a 2017 ruling by the Fair Work Commission allowing employers to reduce them — and this was only achieved because they unionized.

. . . .

At PRH, management actively repressed past efforts to organize, fostering a culture of secrecy that left staff feeling understandably anxious about criticizing workplace culture because of fear of retribution.

As Australian writer and book editor Samantha Forge wrote in 2018, “There is a sense among well-meaning, book-loving publishing workers that to ask for more, collectively, would be to imperil literary culture itself.” This atmosphere holds back discussion about the actual issues workers are facing.

Because organizing itself is considered so taboo, workers trying to build a movement are often stuck making the most elementary argument: that a union is necessary or helpful at all.

. . . .

We found that one simple but powerful method for overcoming this was to privately ask our comrades at work to describe their frustrations in their own words. At PRH, staff had made repeated requests for increased wages and paid overtime, using all the “appropriate” channels, but were stonewalled.

After inviting colleagues to speak openly about their conditions, delegates could then point to union action as the next reasonable and effective avenue for making improvements. Hardie Grant likewise refused workers’ demands for negotiations and set up a “suggestion box” instead — which members flooded with suggestions that management come to the table.

The same dynamic was apparent in bookshops, where we had to rapidly educate ourselves — and, very often, management — about our legal rights. To our knowledge, no Australian bookshop has successfully organized and negotiated an EBA with a union. The book industry has little literacy about how organized labor interacts with management, which can cause initial confusion about which union to join, what to expect, or how formal negotiations work.

. . . .

Perhaps the most persistent canard in the book trade — and one of the biggest obstacles to organization — is the idea that the work itself is pleasurable enough to justify low wages and precarity.

Bookshops in particular glamorize themselves and present shop work as something other than the alienated labor it truly is. Anyone who has worked in a bookshop can attest to the typical comments made by customers about how they would love to spend “all day reading.”

As James Daunt — the millionaire CEO of Daunt Books, Waterstones, and now Barnes and Noble — said last year, in response to the campaign waged by Waterstones’s staff for a real living wage, “To retain the best and most talented booksellers, we have to reward them, and we reward them as well as we can with pay, but we mainly reward them with a stimulating job.”

This is not to overstate the difficulty of bookshop work compared to any other kind of shop work — but rather to stress that it is just that: shop work, requiring the worker to sort, shelve, and sell products.

Daunt’s attitude is emblematic of the ideological mystification employed in the culture industry to disguise this fact. In the words of one former Waterstones employee, the fact that “many staff members didn’t put themselves in the same category as McDonalds staff or Tesco checkout assistants” undermined their last attempt at unionizing.

Link to the rest at Jacobin

Once again, a reason for right-minded people to avoid physical bookstores altogether.

Tate to cut over 300 jobs at commercial arm

From The Bookseller:

Tate has announced it is making 313 redundancies in its commercial operations, Tate Enterprises, including at its bookshops and publishing branch.

An email to staff, leaked online, from director Maria Balshaw and c.o.o. Vicky Cheetham, was sent on Tuesday announcing the job cuts at Tate Enterprises, due to be finalised by mid-September. The figure represents more than half of the commercial branch’s employees.

Referring to “painful and difficult decisions”, the email said: “While we have done everything we could to save as many jobs as possible, we simply cannot afford to keep employing as many colleagues as previously. The long-term drop in visitor numbers we are expecting for the foreseeable future, and the consequent loss of revenue, have left us no option but to resize our businesses in line with future demand.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

The mother load

From The Guardian:

Never in my life had I been so high.

I’d just given a reading in Amsterdam after which the gracious hosts of the evening took me out for drinks. Three young women asked me questions about sex and love and desire as though I were an expert and it was nice but I was tired and unused to being considered an expert in anything but panic.

I thanked the hosts and slipped out. I’d always wanted to visit Amsterdam and I had only two nights. I wanted to walk the streets alone. I wanted to walk across the bridges and look at the waving water and look inside the windows of the closed shops. I wanted to find the loveliest cafe and mark it for the morning. I wanted to eat bitterballen and wash them down with stroopwaffel. And I wanted to get high.

The streets were dark with rain. I found a deli. It wasn’t one of the coffeeshops with the meticulously bagged furry sativa. This was just a deli, cartons of milk, packs of gum. Before leaving I bought one large plastic tub of marijuana brownies. It seemed wasteful not to, and the man assured me I absolutely could take the cookies on my flight to Romania early the next morning. OK yes why not yes yes is OK yes. He was equal parts aloof and confident and not understanding what I was saying. So it felt right.

In the hour that followed I held the joint with one hand and a broken umbrella with the other. I walked and smoked and the cherry kept going out on the joint and I didn’t have a lighter and so twice I stopped to ask strangers for a light and tried to balance the umbrella and the joint and the unwieldy weight of my embarrassment. I got so high that I didn’t feel panic about my imminent flight. I got so high that I didn’t get lost. I found my pretty hotel but had gotten so high that I forgot my four-year-old daughter was sleeping in a room upstairs.

Hang on now. Her father was in the room with her. But I almost forgot I was a mother. But that’s not it. I forgot enough about my panic that I wasn’t acting like the neurotic mother that I am. I rarely drink and when I do, I don’t drink much. So that getting high (so high) felt like a real breach. I got so high that I didn’t care that I got so high.

To some (or many!) I’m sure I would be considered in that moment (or many!) a bad mother. I know it for a fact because I spoke to hundreds of women for my book – many of them mothers – and they all had at some point been called “bad”. Many of them believed it to the extent that they felt they weren’t good enough for their children.

One of the women I spoke to was a talented musician. She told me that the only one of her singles that underperformed told the story of a bad mother. It was one of her favourite songs, but she had to stop singing it at concerts because she would receive death threats on Twitter. One listener threatened to kidnap her child, because she was too bad a mother to keep her.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Nigel Roby Sells the UK’s ‘The Bookseller’ to Stage Media Company

From Publishing Perspectives:

The United Kingdom’s longstanding news medium of record for book publishing, The Bookseller, has announced this morning in London (August 7) that it has been acquired by Stage Media Co., publisher of The Stage–the counterpart trade medium to The Bookseller for the British theater and performing arts industry.

Terms of the deal have not been made public, and media messaging from The Bookseller says that the new ownership is effective immediately, a result of talks that began in the autumn.

While The Bookseller is only being sold for the third time–a remarkable thing in itself for a an operation more than 150 years old–some may feel it’s had too short a time under the leadership of Nigel Roby, who bought the publication 10 years ago when Nielsen was divesting itself of its magazines, which included  The Hollywood Reporter and Billboard.

. . . .

“This is a bittersweet moment,” Roby says in a prepared statement for today’s news. “Owning and running The Bookseller has been the greatest privilege of my working life.

“I have put all of my care and energy into The Bookseller so leaving was never going to be easy. And it isn’t.”

. . . .

The Bookseller staff is expected to relocate, physically, to The Stage office space in Southwark’s brick-solid Bermondsey Street in the autumn.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

When PG first saw the headline of the OP, his initial thought was that The Bookseller is another victim of the Coronavirus.

If negotiations for the sale began last Autumn, that would seem to scotch questions about the victim narrative. However, finally coming to terms during the pandemic might imply tight finances at the publication helped move sales negotiations forward when they otherwise might have stopped.

All conjecture, however, on PG’s part.

3 New Thought-Provoking Horror Novels

From Book Riot:

I love how thought-provoking horror novels can be. Along with romance, horror is probably my favorite genre to read, and for similar reasons. That may seem counterintuitive, but I promise you it isn’t! Horror novels do not always end optimistically, the way romance novels guarantee. When they don’t, it’s a call to examine what justice looks like in the world of the novel. If, at the end, the monstrous force is winning, perhaps it’s not so monstrous after all. We should always be asking who the monster really is, what made it, and what it wants. That process of reckoning with monsters is a kind of optimism, because we believe it can be done.

Some readers are eager to “elevate” certain pieces of genre fiction from their genre into the realm of capital-L Literature. I don’t think that’s a worthwhile distinction to make. All fiction, genre or literary, makes a comment on the time of its writing and the society that produced it. The best thought-provoking horror novels are, like these, ones not trying to defy their genre. Completely entrenched in horror, the books celebrate and subvert tropes in turns. The authors are giving faithful horror readers the monsters, demons, and frights they desire, all while leaving eager readers with plenty of grist for the old brain mill.

. . . .

MEXICAN GOTHIC BY SILVIA MORENO-GARCIA

Mexican Gothic is, in many ways, a more honest version of classic gothic novels like Jane Eyre and Rebecca. The story begins when Noemí receives a letter from her newlywed cousin indicating she’s in mortal peril. This prompts Noemí to travel to the creepy manor her cousin lives in, where she too gets tangled in the mystery.

When a Gothic manor sits on a windswept moor, far from the place where the wealth was extracted to fund it, it’s tougher to see why it should be haunted. High Place, the house in Mexican Gothic, is in Mexico, a monument to a mining empire and geographically close to the mines themselves. The supernatural forces don’t have as far to travel. The connection becomes clearer. This book elegantly ties rotten families, marriage, childbearing, race, and capitalism together, without ever forgetting to be a wild, spooky, trope-y gothic ride.

Link to the rest at Book Riot