Readersforum's Blog

January 31, 2012

How we made: Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler on The Gruffalo

Filed under: Children's books — Tags: , , , , — Bookblurb @ 4:10 pm

If I did the forest today, I’d make it far murkier' … An illustration from The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. Photograph: copyright Alex Scheffler 1999

‘My original Gruffalo was scarier, with bigger claws – and the mouse had a Bavarian hat and lederhosen’.

Interviews by Sarah Crown

Julia Donaldson, writer

I used to write short plays for schools. In 1994, I was asked by a publisher if I could come up with something based on a folk story. I unearthed this tale about a girl who goes for a walk in a forest and meets a tiger who threatens to eat her. Thinking quickly, she says: “I’m the queen of the forest: if you eat me, everyone else will take revenge on you.” It’s a lesson in how to harness a greater power than your own. I decided to turn the girl into a mouse and add some more predators – and at that point I thought: “This has the makings of a good picture book.”

I quickly realised that using a tiger would be a problem; I had to invent a predator who wouldn’t really have been in the wood. It was then that I came up with the “Silly old fox, doesn’t he know/ There’s no such thing as a …” couplet. “Gruffalo” just fitted the rhyme.

I submitted the story to the publisher, and they sat on it for a year. I started to think it would never see the light, but one day my husband said: “Look, it’s so good. Why don’t you just send it to Axel?” So I did, although I hardly knew him; he’d illustrated my first book, but I’d only met him once or twice. Within a week I got a letter from Alison Green, Macmillan’s picture book editor, saying he’d shown it to them and they were desperate to publish it.

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Carol Ann Duffy is ‘wrong’ about poetry, says Geoffrey Hill

Filed under: Poetry — Tags: , , , , , — Bookblurb @ 4:02 pm

Oxford professor of poetry Geoffrey Hill: "Bits of oligarchical commodity English such as is employed by writers for Mills & Boon" Photograph: Eamonn McCabe

Oxford professor of poetry attacks Duffy’s praise of text language, and compares hers to Mills & Boon.

By Alison Flood

Carol Ann Duffy might have won numerous literary awards and become the country’s first female poet laureate, but Oxford professor of poetry Geoffrey Hill has nevertheless compared her writing to that of a Mills & Boon author.

Hill, who frequently earns the sobriquet of the English language’s greatest living poet but whose learned poems are also often described as “difficult”, was giving a lecture at Oxford University when he laid into Duffy. Taking umbrage with an interview the laureate gave to the Guardian in September 2011 , in which she said that “the poem is a form of texting … it’s the original text”, Hill sonorously laid out his reasons for disagreeing to gathered students.

“When the laureate speaks to the Guardian columnist to the tremendous potential for a vital new poetry to be drawn from the practice of texting she is policing her patch, and when I beg her with all due respect to her high office to consider that she might be wrong, I am policing mine,” said Hill, in a lecture entitled “Poetry, Policing and Public Order”. The Oxford professor of poetry has previously described difficult poems as “the most democratic because you are doing your audience the honour of supposing they are intelligent human beings”, saying that “so much of the popular poetry of today treats people as if they were fools”.

Speaking in Oxford, he said that he “would not agree that texting is a saying of more with less, and that it in this respect works as a poem”. “As the laureate says, poetry is condensed. Text is not condensed, it is truncated,” said Hill. “What is more it is normally an affectation of brevity; to express to as 2 and you as u intensifies nothing. Texting is like the old ticker tape: highly dramatic and intense if it’s reporting the Wall Street Crash or the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, not through any inherent virtue of the machine. Is the breaking news which runs at the foot of the screen on the BBC news channel condensed and consequently poetic? I fail to see how anyone could rationally claim that it is. Again texting is linear only. Poetry is lines in depth designed to be seen in relation or in deliberate disrelation to lines above and below.”

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Mulberry Street May Fade, but ‘Mulberry Street’ Shines On


SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — “I’ll take you to see Mulberry Street,” said Guy McLain, the director of the Museum of Springfield History.

He meant the real Mulberry Street, the one that inspired the first of Dr. Seuss’ 44 children’s books.

I started to think what I might see on Mulberry Street. Truffula trees? Gerald McGrew? Gertrude McFuzz? A Once-ler or two?

That’s the thing about Dr. Seuss. He gets in your head and stays there.

I was listening to the radio last week when I heard an announcer say that this year is the 75th anniversary of the publication of “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.”

Dr. Seuss has sold 600 million books, so I figured there had to be something going on Mulberry Street. Springfield is where Ted Geisel was born in 1904 and thought his formative thoughts, before going off to Dartmouth in 1921 and becoming Dr. Seuss.

I planned to reread several Seuss books for the visit, including “The Sneetches,” but could not find our copy. It turned out that one of my 21-year-old twins, Adam, had taken it with him to college.

Dr. Seuss books aren’t primarily schoolbooks. They’re read-to-your-children-in-bed books. Christin LaRocque, a librarian at the Central branch in downtown Springfield, says Seuss books need to be replaced more often than any others — they wear out or disappear.

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The Help triumphs at SAG film awards

Filed under: film adaptations — Tags: , , , , — Bookblurb @ 3:29 pm

The Help takes top honours at the Screen Actors Guild awards

Civil rights drama The Help has won three prizes at the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) awards, including best cast and best actress for Viola Davis.

Another of the film’s stars, Octavia Spencer, was named best supporting actress.

“Dream big and dream fierce,” Davis told the audience at Los Angeles’ Shrine Auditorium on Sunday.

Silent movie The Artist, tipped for Oscar glory, could only manage one win, a best actor prize for Jean Dujardin.

The SAG awards are seen as a key indicator of which films and stars may come out on top at the Oscars.

Actors make up the biggest voting group in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which picks the Oscar recipients.

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January 30, 2012

The self-epublishing bubble

Unlikely to last very long ... a bubble rises. Photograph: Dylan Martinez/Reuters

In August 2011, Ewan Morrison published an article entitled Are Books Dead and Can Authors Survive?. Here, he tracks the self-epublishing euphoria of the last five months and argues that we are at the start of an epublishing bubble.

The internet is full of ironies. I, for one, could never have guessed that writing about the end of books would generate more income for me than actually publishing the damn things. I’ve been on an End of Books reading tour since August and it turns out that what the internet gurus say about consumers being more willing to pay for events, speeches and gigs, rather than buying cultural objects, is now becoming true.

At the other end of the political spectrum from me, among the epublishing enthusiasts and digital fundamentalists, similar ironies are playing out: there is now a boom industry in “How to get rich writing ebooks” manuals, as well as a multitude of blogs offering tips and services, and a new breed of specialists who’ll charge you anything from $37 to $149 to get your ebook into shape.

This all seems like a repeat of the boom in get-rich-quick manuals and “specialists” that appeared around blogs and etrading. Did anyone actually get rich from writing blogs, you may ask? Well, according to Jaron Lanier (author of You are not a Gadget) there are only a handful of people in the world who can prove that they make a living from blogging: it’s entirely possible that more money was made by those who wrote and sold the how-to manuals than by the bloggers themselves. But who cares, right? It’s all part of the euphoria of digital change, and technological innovation is as unstoppable a force as fate. Reports show that paper book sales are “tanking” – down a massive 54.3% while ebook sales are up triumphantly by 138%. The revolution will be epublished, and we’re all going to be part of it.

All of this ebook talk is becoming a business in itself. Money is being made out of thin air in this strange new speculative meta-practice: there are seminars, conferences and courses springing up everywhere, even at the Society of Authors (a writers’ union which, until recently, was largely against epublication). Television and radio programmes are being made about self-epublishing.(I’ve personally been asked to speak about it on 12 occasions since August). Everyone can be a writer now: it only takes 10 minutes to upload your own ebook, and according to the New York Times “81% of people feel they have a book in them … And should write it”

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Jonathan Franzen: e-books are damaging society

Jonathan Franzen, author of Freedom, is being hailed as one of America's greatest novelists Photo: AP

Jonathan Franzen has launched a passionate defence of the printed book, warning that our desire for the instant gratification of e-books is damaging for society.

ByAnita Singh

The author of Freedom and The Corrections, regarded as one of America’s greatest living novelists, said consumers had been conned into thinking that they need the latest technology.

“The technology I like is the American paperback edition of Freedom. I can spill water on it and it would still work! So it’s pretty good technology. And what’s more, it will work great 10 years from now. So no wonder the capitalists hate it. It’s a bad business model,” said Franzen, who famously cuts off all connection to the internet when he is writing.

“I think, for serious readers, a sense of permanence has always been part of the experience. Everything else in your life is fluid, but here is this text that doesn’t change.

“Will there still be readers 50 years from now who feel that way? Who have that hunger for something permanent and unalterable? I don’t have a crystal ball.

“But I do fear that it’s going to be very hard to make the world work if there’s no permanence like that. That kind of radical contingency is not compatible with a system of justice or responsible self-government.”

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Goodreads quits sourcing data from “restrictive” Amazon

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , , , , , — Bookblurb @ 5:23 pm

By Dennis Johnson

More signs of push-back against Amazon this weekend: Goodreads, the literary social networking site that not only allows readers to discuss books they’re reading, but offers core data about those books, allows readers to store and share information about what they’re reading, and facilitates buying those books, announced on Friday that new terms from Amazon for buying that data were “so restrictive” that Goodreads is taking its business elsewhere.

According to a Paid Content report by Laura Hazard Owen, a company statement says “the terms now required by Amazon have become so restrictive that it makes better business sense to work with other data sources.” So as of January 30, GoodReads is switching over to Ingram, the book wholesaler.

As Own details it, it’s not just the money:

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25 Things I Learned From Opening a Bookstore

Filed under: Bookshops — Tags: , , , — Bookblurb @ 5:57 am

  By jlsathre

1.  People are getting rid of bookshelves.  Treat the money you budgeted for shelving as found money.  Go to garage sales and cruise the curbs.

2.  While you’re drafting that business plan, cut your projected profits in half.  People are getting rid of bookshelves.

3.  If someone comes in and asks where to find the historical fiction, they’re not looking for classics, they want the romance section.

4.  If someone comes in and says they read a little of everything, they also want the romance section.

5. If someone comes in and asks for a recommendation and you ask for the name of a book that they liked and they can’t think of one, the person is not really a reader.  Recommend Nicholas Sparks.

6.  Kids will stop by your store on their way home from school if you have a free bucket of kids books.  If you also give out free gum, they’ll come every day and start bringing their friends.

7.  If you put free books outside, cookbooks will be gone in the first hour and other non-fiction books will sit there for weeks.  Except in warm weather when people are having garage sales.  Then someone will back their car up and take everything, including your baskets.

8.  If you put free books outside, someone will walk in every week and ask if they’re really free, no matter how many signs you put out .  Someone else will walk in and ask if everything in the store is free.

9.  No one buys  self help books in a store where there’s a high likelihood of  personal interaction when paying.  Don’t waste the shelf space, put them in the free baskets.

10.  This is also true of sex manuals.  The only ones who show an interest in these in a small store are the gum chewing kids, who will find them no matter how well you hide them.

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For $2 a Star, an Online Retailer Gets 5-Star Product Reviews

Filed under: e-tailers — Tags: , , , , , , — Bookblurb @ 5:34 am

Bing Liu, a computer science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is trying to devise mathematical models that can unmask fake product endorsements. “The incentives for faking are getting bigger,” he said. “It’s a very cheap way of marketing.”


In the brutal world of online commerce, where a competing product is just a click away, retailers need all the juice they can get to close a sale.

Some exalt themselves by anonymously posting their own laudatory reviews. Now there is an even simpler approach: offering a refund to customers in exchange for a write-up.

By the time VIP Deals ended its rebate on late last month, its leather case for the Kindle Fire was receiving the sort of acclaim once reserved for the likes of Kim Jong-il. Hundreds of reviewers proclaimed the case a marvel, a delight, exactly what they needed to achieve bliss. And definitely worth five stars.

As the collective wisdom of the crowd displaces traditional advertising, the roaring engines of e-commerce are being stoked by favorable reviews. The VIP deal reflects the importance merchants place on these evaluations — and the lengths to which they go to game the system.

Fake reviews are drawing the attention of regulators. They have cracked down on a few firms for deceitful hyping and suspect these are far from isolated instances. “Advertising disguised as editorial is an old problem, but it’s now presenting itself in different ways,” said Mary K. Engle, the Federal Trade Commission’s associate director for advertising practices. “We’re very concerned.”

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Biblical Humor in The New Yorker: A Brief History

A recent New Yorker cover featuring Saint Peter and Steve Jobs..

By L. V. Anderson

Earlier this month, The New Yorker featured a humorous essay by comic wunderkind Simon Rich parodying the Book of Genesis. In Rich’s version—published under the magazine’s humor rubric, Shouts & Murmurs—God attempts to create the universe but keeps getting distracted by his rocky relationship with his girlfriend, Kate. Rich’s piece is about as funny as most of The New Yorker’s comedic essays, but it caught my eye largely because the magazine published another takeoff on Genesis in Shouts & Murmurs less than a year ago—and the rubric has featured at least five other Biblical parodies over the past decade. This may not be terribly surprising; after all, The New Yorker presents itself as a decidedly secular sort of magazine. What’s more surprising is that the magazine’s Bible parodies seem to be a relatively new phenomenon.

As fans of Mel Brooks and Monty Python know, both the Old and New Testaments make for excellent satirical fodder. Such spoofs typically retell Biblical stories in jarringly modern language, relate decidedly non-Biblical stories in faux-scriptural prose, or combine old and new into a jumble of anachronisms. The New Yorker has sent up everything from gentrification to Valley girls to the confusion of the 2000 presidential election this way. Over the years, though, the tone and intent of the magazine’s parodies have shifted—seemingly in concert with America’s own shifting relationship with religion.

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