Alice Oswald Elected Oxford Professor of Poetry

21 June 2019

From The Guardian:

Alice Oswald has won the race to be Oxford’s latest professor of poetry. She will be the first woman to serve in the position, established more than 300 years ago.

Speaking to the Guardian after the announcement, Oswald said that after a “distinctly unsettling process” she was “very pleased, daunted, grateful to my nominators”.

“I look forward to thinking about all forms of poetry,” she said, “but particularly the fugitive airborne forms.”

Celebrated for their exploration of nature and myth, Oswald’s nine books of poetry have already brought her prizes including the TS Eliot, Griffin and Costa poetry awards. The former poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy has hailed her as “the best UK poet now writing, bar none”, while Jeanette Winterson has called her Ted Hughes’s “rightful heir”, a poet not “of footpaths and theme parks, but the open space and untamed life that waits for us to find it again”.

. . . .

Established in 1708, the Oxford position is one of the UK’s top accolades for poetry, with former professors including Seamus Heaney, Robert Graves and WH Auden. Candidates must win the support of at least 50 Oxford graduates and be “of sufficient distinction to be able to fulfil the duties of the post”, which include one lecture a term during an appointment lasting four years.

. . . .

The contest was marred by controversy surrounding [poet and Oxford contestant Todd] Swift, who founded the independent poetry imprint Eyewear Publishing in 2012. Last year the Bookseller reported that the firm’s contracts included clauses forbidding authors from contacting the Society of Authors, with the imprint’s behaviour on social media also attracting criticism. The poets Claire Trevien and Aaron Kent wrote to Oxford University suggesting Swift should be removed from the contest, arguing that he was “unsuitable for the role of Oxford professor of poetry, and the level of prestige it offers”.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

From The Bookseller, July 25, 2018:

Independent press Eyewear Publishing has drawn criticism from the Society of Authors (SoA) over its treatment of poets, including contracts “constituting an unwarranted interference with their civil rights”.

Poets have complained about some of the London-based press Eyewear’s contracts, seen in full by The Bookseller, demanding its authors not engage with the SoA which it said was “biased against small press publishing and unduly aggressive”.

. . . .

The contract clauses, seen in a contract from this year, state: “Under no circumstances shall the author refer these matters to ‘The Society of Authors’ as the publishers consider them biased against small press publishing and unduly aggressive.

“The author may not claim any breach on the grounds of ‘irreconcilable’ or ‘personal’ differences, unless these can be clearly documented over a period of time and only if the grounds are such as would normally end a marriage or other serious relationship – ‘rude emails’ or ‘hurt feelings’ are not enough.”

Solomon described the clauses as “extraordinary” and unprecedented and revealed that Eyewear poets had contacted the society in the past in need of assistance.

“To prohibit authors from contacting the SoA is to prevent them from taking independent advice from their trade union,” she told The Bookseller. “Not only is this unenforceable, it constitutes an unwarranted interference with their civil rights. The termination clause is also extraordinary – the fact that it explicitly mentions the possibility of the publisher sending ‘rude emails’ that cause ‘hurt feelings’ speaks for itself.

“The SoA’s role is to defend writers’ interests, and poets contacting us in the past about Eyewear contracts have always been grateful for our input. We have not seen a clause before now forbidding the author to speak to us. I would advise any author not to sign such a contract.”

Swift told The Bookseller the contract clauses were often deleted if a writer objected to them.

“Each contract we have signed since 2012 is bespoke, we try and base on industry standard templates,” he said. “They are all discussed with the authors. We are very short on resources and usually if authors object to a clause we delete.

. . . .

Last week Eyewear prompted a strong reaction on social media from its poets when it published a tweet saying: “In light of the decision by several Eyewear poets to happily announce new books with rival presses today without warning director [Todd Swift] has suspended all further poetry projects. Poets who abandon their debut presses do severe damage in terms of sales and funding to them.”

However, Swift told The Bookseller the since-deleted tweet had been “misread” and the poetry list would not be suspended.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG is not familiar with any of the parties mentioned in either of the stories quoted above and cannot provide any personal reactions to the events described therein.

However, as a general proposition, when advising his clients, PG suggests that authors not sign contracts with any sort of overreaching provisions.

In the US, these include noncompete clauses by which an author agrees not to write, “any work which might compete” with the work the publisher is licensing from the author. Since the term of the associated contracts is typically “for the full term of Author’s copyright to the Work,” (which, in the US, is the life of the author plus 70 years) this is an attempt to effectively prohibit an author from ever writing another book on the same subject or within the same genre as the book subject to the publishing contract.

PG further suggests that, if a publisher is overreaching in its contracts, it may also treat an author badly in other aspects of the publisher/author relationship.

From Foot-Binding to Feminism: a Millennial Charts China’s Rapid Change

20 June 2019

From The Guardian:

When I sit down with Chinese journalist Karoline Kan to talk about her memoir, Under Red Skies, it is 5 June: the day after the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Kan’s emotional discovery of what is euphemistically referred to as “the June Fourth Incident” forms a moving part of her memoir about life as a millennial in China. “China collapsed for me suddenly,” she writes of the day she used a VPN to skirt web censorship and first learned of the killing and injuring of thousands, as she binged hungrily on suddenly accessible western coverage. “I no longer understood what was in front of me. I had no faith in what I had been brought up to believe.”

She explains: “When you grow up in China, trying to find the accurate details of something that happened before you, sometimes they are not available. And it’s like trying to solve a puzzle.”

Kan was born in 1989, the year of the massacre, and her memoir is a riveting blend of coming-of-age story, family history and cultural commentary, encompassing vast generational differences and the urban-rural divide. Kan is on the frontline of a rapidly changing country, having grown up poor in rural China, then attending university in the capital before working in the New York Times’s Beijing bureau. Her job title was “researcher”, as Chinese legislation does not allow citizens to be journalists for foreign-owned media. These days, she is the Beijing editor of website China Dialogue as well as a published author. It’s been quite the rise.

“Nobody in my family ever wrote a book,” she says. “There isn’t even a journalist in my family or anybody who could be considered intellectual. So to me, it was a nice dream.” She was never concerned about reprisals for her writing: “I was nobody, just a writer, and also writing in English. So unless I decided to write something totally political about the Chinese president or the party, it was pretty much fine.”

Kan was almost never here: under China’s one-child policy, her birth was forbidden. Kan’s mother entered a protracted game of cat and mouse with the Birth Control Office, tricking doctors into believing she had been fitted with the mandatory uterine ring by putting an iron ring in her pocket during an X-ray. She was also able to evade forced abortion and forced sterilisation. Nevertheless, having Kan lost her her job as a teacher.

. . . .

Her great-grandmother had bound feet, and her grandmother narrowly escaped the same fate. Kan writes: “At first, my grandmother, Little Guiqin, was told to practise walking so she could get used to the pain. The torture lasted for a few hours a day. She’d painfully and slowly pace up and down the yard. She’d cry and cry but then she got lucky. Less than a week after the initial binding, revolutionaries put a stop to the tradition.”

She says now: “I grew up in a traditional Chinese family from a small town where women naturally obey men. My teachers would tell me: ‘You should choose a job that suits women, not compete with men.’ I felt unhappy with it. I don’t think I’m any worse than male students. But at the same time I was afraid of being regarded as somebody weird, who doesn’t fit in.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Russian Book Market Players Explore Digital Serialization

20 June 2019

From Publishing Perspectives:

The growing popularity of ebooks in Russia is prompting publishers to look at online serialization as an option for distribution and sales, both for complete titles and writers of works in progress.

. . . .

Russian-language ebook services are beginning to test a format new to this domestic book market, involving publishing books by chapters. This, according to comments from company representatives and industry observers.

. . . .

As Litres’ general director Sergey Anuryev has announced, the new service is known as Chernoviki—the word means “drafts”—and provides an opportunity for authors to publish books in chapters or in other increments, and to discuss the options for the development of the plot with readers.

. . . .

According to Litres officials and representatives of other Russian ebook services, online publishing is gaining popularity in Russia.

. . . .

Litnet, another Russian ebook service—which also operates in English, Spanish, and Ukrainian—has also expanded into the new format, as confirmed to Publishing Perspectives by company co-founder Sergey Grushko.

He says the first book issued by Litnet in the new format is Swiss: A Better World, written by fiction writer Roman Zlotnikov. It was given a digital-first publication as an ebook on April 23, and hasn’t been published in print until this month.

The spokesman for Vladimir Medinsky, Russia’s minister of science and culture, tells Publishing Perspectives that Medinsky sees a growing audience for digital-first publishing in fantasy, adventure literature, women’s novels, and comics.

. . . .

One thing Grushko likes about serialization, he says, is that it’s less vulnerable to piracy, presumably since until an entire book’s increments have been published, the work is incomplete online. He says he also thinks that serialization can lead to a big boost for publishers in the first year of sales, as users pay to read sections of the work.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Vice and Virtue in the Newgate Novel

18 June 2019

From Crime Reads:

The crux of Claire Harman’s new book, Murder by the Book: The Crime that Shocked Dickens’s London, is that life imitates art. In the dead of night on May 5, 1840, someone slit the throat of Lord William Russell. Suspicions quickly narrowed on Lord William’s valet, Francois Courvoisier, who, it was argued, had been inflamed by reading the sensational crime fiction so popular at the time. In one of his several confessions, Courvoisier revealed himself as a copycat killer, reporting that “the idea [for the murder] was first suggested to him by reading and seeing the performance of Jack Sheppard.” 

The novel, written by William Harrison Ainsworth, an author more well-known at the time than his friend Charles Dickens, whom he “helped to ‘groom’ for literary success,” according to the British Library, was trending at that historical moment. After running as a serial in Bentley’s Miscellany in 1839, it was widely reprinted in pirated editions and adapted into quick plays. The supposedly murder-inspiring plot pulled its hero from history, chronicling the life of a legendary pickpocket and jailbreaker named Jack Sheppard. 

The origin of Sheppard’s story can be found in the ultimate 18th century true crime read, The Newgate Calendar; or, Malefactors’ Bloody Register, which collected the most notorious tales of those confined to Newgate prison and subsequently hanged at Tyburn. It is a volume full of “violent, intriguing and thoroughly addictive true-life cases,” writes Harman. With its illustrated depictions of grisly crimes, The Newgate Calendar was first published in book form in 1773, followed by several other versions, some using the ‘Newgate’ moniker, some not. Prior to that, Londoners would have read the news via ephemeral broadsides. The solid, five-volume book, however, became a useful tool for enforcing the contemporary social ideas about vice and virtue. New editions appeared well into the nineteenth century, some with illustrations by Hablot Knight Browne (aka “Phiz,” Dickens’s favorite illustrator). 

. . . .

“So obtrusive in life, the theme of Newgate and the gallows could not fail to show itself in all the popular arts,” writes Keith Hollingsworth in his 1963 book, The Newgate Novel, which essentially defined the term for English majors everywhere. Only “eight or nine” novels, he believes, truly lived up to the classification. And it all began with Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s fifth and sixth novels, Paul Clifford (1830) and Eugene Aram (1832). Paul Clifford is the novel that famously opens, “It was a dark and stormy night….” The plot follows an orphaned boy who finds encouragement in the lore surrounding highwayman Dick Turpin and turns to robbery as his life’s work until he falls in love. Bulwer-Lytton was known for his heavy-handedness; even as a departure from his previous work, though, this novel still concludes with a moral about corruption, injustice, and redemption. Eugene Aram was less reform-minded, focusing on another real-life Newgate alum, a genteel scholar turned killer. 

. . . .

Oliver Twist, published as a serial from 1837-39, is next on Hollingsworth’s list, although the author, Charles Dickens, would be quick to disagree. “Dickens was disgusted that Oliver Twist became caught up in the [Newgate novel] controversy,” writes Professor Philip Horne. But the novel is filled with street slang and seedy characters that command our respect if not our consent, e.g., Fagin and the Artful Dodger. Plus, the Newgate Calendar is referenced twice in the novel, “the pages … soiled and thumbed with use.” It’s also worth noting that Dickens attended the execution of Courvoisier, as did William Makepeace Thackeray. (There’s an excellent description of this in Harman’s book.) 

Link to the rest at Crime Reads

Here are a couple of works by Hablot Knight Browne, per the OP, Dickens’ favorite illustrator.

From David Copperfield, “I am married” By Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz) (scanner di Philip V. Allingham) –, Public Domain,


‘The Shoemaker’, etched illustration by Hablot Knight Browne for A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, Victoria and Albert Museum

Diet Book Pinch of Nom Is Fastest Selling Non-Fiction Title in History

18 June 2019

From The Irish Times:

A book of diet recipes written by two British chefs, Kay Featherstone and Kate Allinson, has become the fastest selling non-fiction book since records began. Pinch of Nom, based on the authors’ food blog of the same name, has sold 210,506 copies, in sales worth more than £2 million, since it was released on Thursday of last week.

The collection of slimming recipes has notched up the biggest single weekly sale for any non-fiction title in the UK, displacing Peter Kay’s The Sound of Laughter, which was released in 2006. Only books by JK Rowling, EL James and Dan Brown have sold more copies in a single week, according to British industry publication, The Bookseller. Pinch of Nom knocked Mary Berry’s latest, Quick Cooking, from the hardback non-fiction number one spot.

. . . .

Featherstone and Allinson previously owned a restaurant in The Wirral, near Liverpool. They started writing their blog in 2016, when they began to follow a Slimming World weight loss programme and identified what they saw as a need for tried and tested diet recipes. “We started Pinch of Nom to provide some helpful information for fellow dieters, to show just how easy diet food is to make,” the authors say.

Their blog quickly earned a strong following, based on a community of regular users and contributors, 20 of which road-tested each of the 100 recipes in Pinch of Nom. It now has 1.5 million followers, and almost half a million Instagram followers, and has been described by their publisher as “the UK’s most-visited food blog”.

Link to the rest at The Irish Times

How Indie Bookshops Are Fighting Back

17 June 2019

From The Guardian:

As global temperatures rise at the rate political standards fall, the news that independent bookshops are reviving gives rare cause for celebration. Last year the number of indies on UK high streets grew for the second year running – by 15 to 883, according to the Booksellers Association. As a reader, writer and literary salon host, I’m delighted.

. . . .

This resurgence is partly thanks to Independent Bookshop Week, which started on Saturday and runs to 22 June. Across Britain and Ireland indies are doing what they do best: hosting readings and signings, cooking up literary lunches and generally feeding curiosity. Bookshop crawls are quite the thing now and you can join one locally or engage in literary tourism farther afield. Check the hashtag or just join a convoy of people with Books are my Bag totes – I refuse to wash the Tracey Emin special edition.

Reading is solitary and social – for over 10 years I’ve hosted literary salons inspired by Madame de Pompadour and the 18th-century salonnières. Now based at the Savoy, my salon is simple – a mix of established and emerging writers read new work, then we talk about it and them too. Nowadays, readers want to meet writers (whether writers like it or not). I’m lucky enough to love it and have toured over 50 indies since my novel You Will Be Safe Here came out in April.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

PG will note that the increase of independent bookstores in Britain by 15 to 883 is an annual growth of 1.7% – not exactly what PG would call boom times.

Here’s a bit of historical perspective, also from The Guardian:

Before 2017, the number in the UK and Ireland had declined every year since 1995, when there were 1,894 independent bookshops. A low of just 867 shops was reached in 2016. . . .

PG further suggests that the population of Britain is also relevant in calculating whether bookshops are actually becoming more interesting to its population.

Here is British population on the two dates mentioned in the OP:

1995 – 58.02 million Britons

2019 – 66.85 million Britons

A bit of calculation demonstrates that the number of bookstore per 100,000 Britons has declined precipitously:



Boookstores per

100,000 Britons

1995     58,020,000                          3.26
2019     68,850,000                          1.28

Wolf Book Postponed in Us as Virago Holds Firm

16 June 2019

From The Bookseller:

Publication of Naomi Wolf’s latest book has been postponed in the US following “new questions” about its contents but UK publisher Virago is standing by its publication.

Wolf was initially alerted to errors in Outrages: Sex, Censorship and the Criminalisation of Love during an appearance on BBC Radio 3 last month.

Historian Dr Matthew Sweet pointed out she had misunderstood the legal term “death recorded” to mean executions when it actually meant judges abstained from pronouncing a death sentence. Sweet also claimed she was wrong about the reason for the sentences. The error called into question her claim that “several dozen” men had been executed for homosexual sex in the UK.

After initially standing by the book, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt told the New York Times on Thursday (13th June) it was delaying the release. A spokesman told the paper: “As we have been working with Naomi Wolf to make corrections to Outrages, new questions have arisen that require more time to explore. We are postponing publication and requesting that all copies be returned from retail accounts while we work to resolve those questions.”

. . . .

A Virago spokeswoman said: “Though the book received excellent reviews it also attracted criticism. As a result, Houghton Mifflin have decided to postpone their June publication ahead of their books going on sale while they explore the questions that have arisen. Virago will be making any necessary corrections to future reprints.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

From The Guardian:

Naomi Wolf’s US publisher has postponed the release of her new book and is recalling copies from booksellers, saying that new questions have arisen over the book’s content.

Outrages, which argues that the Obscene Publications Act of 1857 led to a turn against consensual sex between men and an increase in executions for sodomy, was published in the UK on 20 May. Wolf has already acknowledged that the book contains two errors, after an on-air challenge on BBC Radio 3 during which the writer and broadcaster Matthew Sweet told her that she had misunderstood the term “death recorded” in historical records as signifying an execution. In fact it denotes the opposite, Sweet pointed out, highlighting that a teenager she said had been “actually executed for sodomy” in 1859 was paroled two years after being convicted. Wolf said last month that she had thanked Sweet for highlighting the mistakes, and was correcting future editions.

. . . .

Wolf said on Friday morning that she strongly objected to the decision to postpone and recall, and that she would “do all I can to bring Outrages to American readers”.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

From The New York Times:

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is postponing the publication of Naomi Wolf’s forthcoming book “Outrages” after questions have been raised about the accuracy of her research.

The book, which explores how 19th-century British laws gave the government new ways to punish and criminalize same-sex relationships, was expected to go on sale in the United States on June 18, with an announced first print run of 35,000 copies.

The publisher initially stood by Ms. Wolf last month after an embarrassing on-air correction to her interpretation of historical records occurred during an interview with the BBC. Now, the company is taking the extreme step of recalling copies from retailers.

. . . .

The blowback against Ms. Wolf was swift after the BBC Radio host, Matthew Sweet, revealed a critical error in her book that undermined her thesis. During the interview, Wolf told him that she found “several dozen executions” of men accused of having sexual relations with other men.

“I don’t think you’re right about this,” he said.

Mr. Sweet said that Ms. Wolf had misunderstood the legal term “death recorded” as an execution, when in fact it meant that a death sentence was not carried out.

“It was a category that was created in 1823 that allowed judges to abstain from pronouncing a sentence of death on any capital convict whom they considered to be a fit subject for pardon,” Mr. Sweet said. “I don’t think any of the executions you’ve identified here actually happened.”

Ms. Wolf said she would look into the records in question and correct future editions, noting that the issue Mr. Sweet raised was “a really important thing to investigate.”

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt initially called the mistaken number of executions an “unfortunate error” but said, “we believe the overall thesis of the book ‘Outrages’ still holds.”

It wasn’t the first time Ms. Wolf has been questioned over the accuracy of her research and analysis. Known for books such as “The Beauty Myth” and “Vagina: A New Biography,” she has been called out in the past for vastly overstating the number of women who die from anorexia and for making dubious claims about female biology.

But the errors in “Outrages” appear to be more grave, given that Ms. Wolf’s publisher is taking the costly step of recalling finished copies, a rare measure that is usually only undertaken for books that contain fatal factual flaws or other more serious transgressions. In 2012, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt recalled books by the journalist Jonah Lehrer after evidence surfaced that he had fabricated quotes and plagiarized.

. . . .

Publishers often rely on authors to verify material in their books, and if fact checkers are used, it is typically at the author’s discretion and expense.

Recently, questions have arisen about the accuracy of books by other major nonfiction authors, including Jared Diamond and Michael Wolff, who was called out in an interview for errors in his new book about the Trump administration, “Siege: Trump Under Fire.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

PG was reminded about the old saying attributed to a newspaper editor, “If it bleeds, it leads.”

The Soviet Tolstoy’s Forgotten Novel

14 June 2019

From The Paris Review:

Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate has been hailed as a twentieth-century War and Peace. It has been translated into most European languages, and also into Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Turkish, and Vietnamese. There have been stage productions, TV series, and an eight-hour BBC radio dramatization. Most readers, however, have been unaware that Grossman did not originally conceive of Life and Fate as a self-contained novel. It is, rather, the second of two closely related novels about the Battle of Stalingrad—it is probably simplest to refer to it as a dilogy. The first of these two novels was initially published in 1952, in a heavily censored edition and under the title For a Just Cause. Grossman, however, had wanted to call it Stalingrad—and that is how we have titled it in the novel’s first English translation.

The characters in the two novels are largely the same, and so is the story line; Life and Fate picks up where Stalingrad ends, in late September 1942. Ikonnikov’s essay on senseless kindness—now a part of Life and Fate and often seen as central to it—was originally a part of Stalingrad. Another of the most memorable elements of Life and Fate—the letter written by Viktor Shtrum’s mother about her last days in the Berdichev ghetto—is of central importance to both novels. The actual words of the letter were probably always intended for Life and Fate, but it is in Stalingrad that Grossman tells us how the letter reached Viktor and what he felt when he read it.

Grossman completed Life and Fate almost fifteen years after he first started work on StalingradLife and Fate is, among other things, a considered statement of his moral and political philosophy—a meditation on the nature of totalitarianism, the danger presented by even the most seemingly benign of ideologies, and the moral responsibility of each individual for his own actions. It is this philosophical depth that has led many readers to speak of the novel as having changed their lives. Stalingrad, in contrast, is less philosophical but more immediate; it presents us with a richer, more varied human story.

Grossman worked as a frontline war correspondent throughout nearly all the four years of the Soviet–German war. He had a powerful memory and an unusual ability to get people from every walk of life to talk openly to him; he also had relatively free access, during the war years, to a wealth of military reports. His wartime notebooks include potted biographies of hundreds of individuals, scraps of dialogue, and sudden insights and unexpected observations of all kinds. Much of this material found its way into Stalingrad and it endows the novel with great vitality and a certain democratic quality; Grossman writes with equal delicacy and respect about the experiences of a senior Red Army general, a newly recruited militiaman, or a terrified housewife. He even devotes a surprising amount of space to the effects of the Battle of Stalingrad on the lives of dogs, cats, camels, rodents, birds, fish, and insects in the surrounding steppe.

. . . .

War and Peace has probably never been as widely read as in the Soviet Union during World War II. The authorities had every reason to promote the novel. Tolstoy was seen as a forerunner of socialist realism and the novel’s implications for the outcome of the war were obviously positive. War and Peace was broadcast at length on the radio. The two generals who played the most important roles in the defense of Stalingrad both spoke afterward about how important Tolstoy had been to them; General Rodimtsev said he read the novel three times and General Chuikov said in a 1943 interview that Tolstoy’s generals were the model by which he judged his own performance. The People’s Commissariat for Education printed brochures with instructions on how to summarize War and Peace and explain the novel to soldiers.

In late August and early September 1941, Grossman’s mother, Yekaterina Savelievna, used a French translation of War and Peace to teach French to the children of the doctor with whom she lived during her last weeks in the Berdichev ghetto, before being shot by the Nazis. As for Grossman himself, he wrote, “During the whole war, the only book that I read was War and Peace, which I read twice.” And Grossman’s daughter, Yekaterina Korotkova, concludes a brief summary of her volume of memoirs with the words: “I remember a letter of his from Stalingrad: ‘Bombers. Shelling. Hellish thunder. It’s impossible to read.’ And then, unexpectedly: ‘It’s impossible to read anything except War and Peace.’ ”

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

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