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March 31, 2012

Donne, Marvell, Memento Mori

On this day in 1631 John Donne died at the age of fifty-eight. Although his earlier poems and life were decidedly joie de vivre, Donne’s last years were all memento mori – his famous “for whom the bell tolls” Meditation was published in 1624, his final sermon was described by contemporaries as his own funeral oration, and his final weeks were spent sleeping beside his funeral shroud.

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March 29, 2012

A new chapter for rare book collecting

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — Bookblurb @ 6:21 am

Book dealing was once, as Graham Greene told me, a ‘treasure hunt’. But the internet has made it all about pots of gold

Buy the book … a first edition bearing an inscription from TS Eliot to Virginia Woolf. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

By Rick Gekoski

I’m not a rare book collector, not anymore. You can’t afford to be when you are a dealer, unless you have a lot more money than I do, or a lot less. When I was doing my DPhil on Conrad I accumulated a number of unprepossessing (dust wrapper presence and condition of book immaterial) first editions of his work, seldom for more than a few pounds. I needed these, I had been informed, because the most reliable text of a novel for scholarly purposes is usually the first edition. But in Conrad’s case (as I knew) the later Collected Works, published by Dent with new prefaces by Conrad, has texts that were approved by him, and hence constituted his final say on the matter.

I bought the first editions anyway, for reasons more sentimental than scholarly. So this was how the books looked when Conrad himself first saw them! There was something satisfying and historically accurate about reading, say, Lord Jim in the light green cloth, stamped in gilt, in which it would have appeared in shops in 1900. (I wonder if it originally had a dust wrapper? I’ve never seen one.) But if you had asked me, at that time, if I was a Conrad collector, I would have denied it. (Evidence that I had no real collecting appetite can be found in the fact that JRR Tolkien lived in the house at 21 Merton Street, where I had resided a couple of years before, and was known to be willing to sign books for Merton men. It never occurred to me to ask, though I was a great fan of Lord of the Rings.)

But only a few years after getting my DPhil, and having started teaching in the English department at the University of Warwick, I began a book on DH Lawrence, which is, to this day, the only piece of work I contracted for but failed to deliver. I’m not sure why this was – academic writing and I didn’t get on very well – though there seemed an obscure connection to the fact that, this time, I was definitely a fully committed DH Lawrence collector.

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How Pottermore cast an ebook spell over Amazon

Digital magic ... JK Rowling at the launch of Pottermore, the website created to sell ebook versions of her Harry Potter books. Photograph: Carl Court/AFP/Getty Images

…And why Harry Potter’s move into epublishing is digital magic

By Philip Jones

Take a look at Amazon’s ebook site and do a search for Harry Potter books and you will see something genuinely marvellous. Something that will warm the cockles of every publisher in the land, and perhaps even a few booksellers too.

Well, for a start, you will see that for the first time since the series began in 1997, official ebook versions of all seven titles in the Potter series are being sold.

But something even more remarkable has happened. In bringing these books to the digital marketplace, Pottermore, the business created to sell the ebooks, has forced Amazon into perhaps the biggest climbdown in its corporate history.

Instead of buying the ebooks through the Amazon e-commerce system, the buy link takes the customer off to Pottermore to complete the purchase, with the content seamlessly delivered to their Kindle device. It is the first time I’ve known Amazon to allow a third party to “own” that customer relationship, while also allowing that content to be delivered to its device. Amazon gets something like an affiliates’ fee from this transaction, much less than it would expect to receive selling an ebook through normal conditions. Schadenfreude doesn’t even come close.


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Poet Adrienne Rich, 82, has died

Photo: Adrienne Rich. Credit: Robert Giard / Norton

Adrienne Rich, a pioneering feminist poet and essayist who challenged what she considered to be the myths of the American dream, has died. She was 82.

The recipient of such literary awards as the Yale Young Poets prize, the National Book Award, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize and the Dorothea Tanning Award given by the Academy of American Poets, Rich died Tuesday at her home in Santa Cruz of complications from long-term rheumatoid arthritis, said a son, Pablo Conrad.

She came of age during the social upheavals of the 1960s and ’70s and was best known as an advocate of women’s rights, which she wrote about in both her poetry and prose. But she also wrote passionate antiwar poetry and took up the causes of the marginalized and underprivileged.

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Jaber Wins Arabic Fiction Prize

By Louisa Ermelino

Rabee Jaber won the 2012 International Prize for Arabic Fiction on Tuesday night for his novel The Druze of Belgrade at the Rocco Forte hotel in Abu Dhabi. The event took place on the eve of the 22nd Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

The Lebanese writer, who has been shortlisted twice before, takes home $50,000 and the guarantee of an English translation of his novel, to encourage its publication in English. The five shortlisted writers from across the Arab world–Lebanon, Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia–receive $10,000 in prize money. The prizes, supported by the Booker Prize Foundation and funded by the Emirates Foundation for Philanthropy, is in its sixth year and all previous winners have secured English publishing deals. Three previous winners–Youssef Ziedan, Mohammed Achaari, and Abdo Khal–have books coming out this year.

The plum, of course, is to get an American deal. Now, with the Arab Spring and the increased interest in the Middle East in America and the Western world, it seems evident that this is the future for Arab writers. The six writers were present at the awards and were also featured in short video clips in which they discussed their novels on their home turf. While all the books were written before the Arab Spring, all touch on the conditions and political situations in the authors’ countries. Bashir Mefti in Toy of Fire, for example, tackles a generational story of the Algerian civil war. Habib Seimi writes about a humble Tunisian family and the devastation in tunisia of the last ten years in The Women of al-Basatin.

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March 28, 2012

Watch ‘The Hunger Games’ Reenacted by Beanie Babies

By Emily Temple

If you haven’t had enough Hunger Games hype this weekend, we’ve got a pretty plush treat for you. “The Beanie Baby Hunger Games,” created by Jeff Luppino-Esposito & Jamie T. McCelland, is exactly what it sounds like — The Hunger Games acted out by Beanie Babies — and it’s actually remarkably true to the books. Follow stuffed blue jay “Katniss Everbean” as she volunteers at the reaping, heads to the Capitol (which looks suspiciously like Times Square), and is hurled into the games themselves, with good old Peeta, a bright yellow duck, at her side. Not only is this a clever, well-executed idea, we also think it’s a pretty solid way to make use of all those old Beanie Babies — after all, you know you’ve always wanted to set at least a couple of them on fire.

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Mad Men: the most literary show on TV

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , , — Bookblurb @ 6:14 am

Mad Men: Peggy (Elisabeth Moss), Don (Jon Hamm) and Joan (Christina Hendricks) return Photo: BBC / AMC / LIONSGATE

James Walton welcomes the return of Mad Men – a television drama with all the ingredients of the Great American Novel.

An excruciating 17 months after the end of series four, Mad Men will return to our screens this month, to plunge us once again into the irresistibly glamorous world of advertising in Sixties New York. It’s time to brace ourselves for the usual avalanche of paeans to the programme’s immaculate sense of period. The boozing! The smoking! The clothes! Joan’s bottom! Yet, while all these things are worthy of note, there’s one aspect of the show that seems to have been overlooked: Mad Men is one of the most literary television shows of recent times.

For a start, its style is markedly less cinematic than the other big American series of the current golden age. The settings are mostly interiors and the dialogue is deliberately theatrical — as creator Matthew Weiner has said, elevated rather than natural and without any of the overlapping speech used to denote realism in shows like the West Wing. More importantly, within those celebrated Sixties trappings, this is a series that’s always concerned with, and sometimes explicitly refers to, several recurring and often timeless themes in American literature.

Take the town where the main character Don Draper lived in the first three series. Of all New York suburbs in which a mysterious but unfailingly charismatic advertising executive could have tucked away his family, the one chosen by Weiner was Ossining: from 1961 until his death in 1982, the home of John Cheever. Dubbed “the Chekhov of the suburbs” or, more extravagantly, “the Ovid of Ossining”, Cheever was, even before Updike, the first American writer to establish the now-familiar literary picture of suburban frustration, status anxiety and marriages cracking under the strain of their own unrealistic expectations. In a 2009 article on Cheever, The New York Times listed the main themes of his work as “secrecy, doubleness, sorrow, the comforts of sex, the perils of alcohol, the suddenness and fleetingness of joy” — which, as a 17-word summary of Don Draper’s life, is pretty hard to beat.

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CILIP Carnegie and Greenaway Shortlists Announced

  Lizzie Ryder, one of this year’s Carnegie Greenaway judges, joins us to tell us what it’s really like judging this prestigious prize – and to reveal this year’s shortlisted books!

People often ask: ‘what’s it like being a Carnegie Greenaway judge?’ The easy answer is that it’s wonderful! But as with all good stories there’s a little bit more to it than that…

First of all, being a Carnegie Greenaway judge is not just a job title – it very quickly becomes a way of life. You live, breathe and sometimes dream the awards for two whole years and even then I don’t think you ever let go. From first introductions through to the medal ceremony and the culmination of a year’s hard work, the books and your fellow judges become an integral part of your life. I’ve spoken to judges at the end of their two years who were half-seriously considering setting up support groups to help with withdrawal symptoms and I’ve listened to past judges, and indeed Chairs, reminiscing about ‘their year’ and the book that won with the same kind of affection reserved for firstborns. This is serious stuff!

It should give you an indication of the passion, dedication and reverence which the judges bring to their role. In many ways this is a necessity: the shortlisting process is incredibly intense. From the announcement of the nominations in October/November we have around three months to make our way through the longlist. No mean feat as this year’s nominations totalled 107 books! With so many books to remember we arrive at our first judging meeting armed with reams of notes. These are vital not only as a quick memory jog (I’m terrible at remembering characters’ names!) but as a way of summarising salient points ready for discussion. It’s a little like revising for an exam – that is until the talking gets underway and it’s clear that this isn’t about individual endeavour but a real collective effort.

The strangest and, in many ways, the most marvellous thing about our discussion is that rarely do we all agree. We’re a big group (one judge from each region of the UK) and, naturally, each of us has different tastes. This, however, is precisely where the CKG magic happens; we’re not making decisions based on our favourite books or ones we know we’ve enjoyed or even books that we think will be popular. We have a very clear set of Medal criteria which form the backbone of our discussions and inform our eventual selections. Unlike other prizes, these criteria are published and everyone can see them – it’s actually a very transparent process and one which allows the shortlisting to happen almost organically. It’s extraordinary how the books which fulfil these criteria naturally make themselves felt throughout the process.

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Julie Otsuka Wins PEN/Faulkner Award


 Julie Otsuka is the winner of the 2012 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction for her novel “The Buddha in the Attic” (Alfred A. Knopf), the directors of the award announced on Monday. The book, which traces the lives of six Japanese mail-order brides who sail to San Francisco in the early 20th century, was chosen from more than 350 novels and short-story collections, all by American authors and all published in 2011.

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James Dickey and Deliverance

Filed under: Today in Literature — Tags: , , , — Bookblurb @ 5:46 am

James Dickey (1923 - 1997)

On this day in 1970, James Dickey’s Deliverance was published. Although praised primarily as a poet — thirty collections by the time of his death in 1997 — Dickey’s tale of four suburb-dwellers on a manly descent into camping nightmare is described as “an allegory of fear and survival” and “a Heart of Darkness for our time” by the critics; son Christopher describes it as the beginning of the end for Dickey himself.

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