Wednesday, June 30, 2010
by: Rowan Pelling
loved escaping lessons for my "turn" to peruse the shelves, breathing in the musty scent of ageing paper in the breathless anticipation that some child at another school in Kent had finally released Alan Garner's thrilling Elidor. And then dawdling back to maths, comparing your choices with those of your friends: Nancy Drew vs Tintin. My introduction to Greek myth came when I plucked Leon Garfield's The God Beneath the Sea from the shelf, drawn by Charles Keepings's mesmerising illustrations.
A friend of mine recalls her father was so ecstatic when the mobile library visited their village in Essex that he used to say his dream was to stow away behind a book stack and spend the remainder of his days travelling the land in the van, breathing literature and spying on readers.
Rather less romantic, but no less gratifying, were the hours I spent at little Riverhead library, on the edge of Sevenoaks's sprawl. The librarian must have dreaded our visits, as there were five Pelling siblings, and we used to pick the shelves clear of Asterix and Roald Dahl like locusts.
Later, no working days were happier than those I spent in the British Museum's glorious domed reading room, before the whole operation moved to the new British Library, thinking how legendary bottoms, from Rudyard Kipling to Mahatma Gandhi, had polished the seats before me. I don't know a single adult writer who doesn't owe a vast debt to the public library system.
So I rally with cutlass drawn to Neil Gaiman's battle cry to save our libraries from austerity cuts. The Carnegie Medal-winning author said this week that closing libraries "would be stealing from the future to pay for today, which is what got us into the mess we're in now". He's right. No modern society can call itself civilised if it denies free and universal access to works of literature.
One of my favourite book titles of recent years is The Child That Books Built, by Frances Spufford, because it wonderfully encapsulates the fact that for millions the very building blocks of identity are found on bookshelves. One study carried out by American academics, involving 70,000 case studies in 27 countries, found the biggest determining factor in children achieving academic success was not wealth or class, nor parents staying together, but the presence of books in the home.
Since buying books is an unimaginable luxury to those struggling to buy groceries, the only viable route towards improving those children's chances in life is the local lending library. But we all need to support the institution. When user numbers fall and cash-strapped councils have to weigh the claims of libraries against social services, the former can be a soft target unless demand is visibly high. In the spend and splurge years, the middle classes found books were relatively affordable compared to income, particularly when shopping on Amazon, and many people lost the library habit.
A writer friend tells guiltily how she only recently enrolled her teenage daughter at Cambridge's refurbished central library in Lion Yard, and when they carried her books to the check-out desk her daughter assumed they were about to pay – she simply had no concept of the glory of free books.
I, too, have been a reprehensible library slacker in recent years, thus denying my sons the pleasure of communal book worship, not to mention the author visits and bi-weekly "storytime".
Just standing in the library made me remember how no other literary experience makes you feel so acutely you are part of a vast community of book-lovers, self-improvers, unfettered imaginations, armchair travellers and generally like-minded souls. Like countless others, I am the adult libraries built.
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
From the press release:
In recognition of Library Advocacy Day, Sony today unveiled the Reader Library program, a new initiative to support the work of public libraries as they expand and promote their eBook collections. The program provides public libraries with training on digital reading devices, educational materials to help readers learn about the eBooks and digital texts available to them through their local libraries, and digital reading devices for library staff use. …
The Reader Library program is open to public libraries with robust eBook lending programs. Program components include:
A training program for library staff developed by Sony. This one-time web-based session covers digital reading formats, an overview of sources for digital materials, and training on Sony’s Reader digital reading devices.
Sony’s Reader digital reading devices for use by library staff and educational materials to provide readers background materials on digital reading devices. Sony will begin the program with a handful of libraries nationwide to tailor educational materials that reflect the content and features of each library’s digital collection.
Bi-annual update sessions designed to keep libraries and their staff current with the latest developments in digital reading content, format and devices.
via: Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, and TeleRead
Monday, June 28, 2010
by: Alison Flood
The way the books industry is interacting with digital media is developing faster than many had foreseen, with the latest example an attempt to offer fans of author Iain M Banks exclusive unseen chapters, his original notes and commentary for his latest novel.
Mobile software company TradeMobile has worked with Banks's publisher Little, Brown to develop the free application for the iPhone, which launches this Thursday (1 July). Readers who have bought the paperback of Banks's latest novel, Transition, will be able to scan a unique barcode on their edition with their iPhone, and companion features for the novel will be transmitted to their screen.
A best-selling author, the publishers also hope the new app may entice readers uninitiated into his complicated universe of difference worlds and civilisations. "For something as complicated as Transition it makes sense," said Banks. "It's very much like a DVD extras."
The app also includes character biographies; after a "slightly anguished" email from his German translator, Banks realised that a character called Bisquitine might need her language and cultural references explaining.
"She appears toward the end of the novel and has an important part to play, and a very eccentric way of expressing herself," says the author. "It took half a day to write and three to explain."
Kirk Bowe at TradeMobile says: "You're able to tap in a page number and get back all the characters, scenes and locations which may be relevant to that page."
Beyond the iPhone
TradeMobile is currently in talks with Little, Brown about extending the application to other handsets as well as the iPhone. "This helps people who aren't particularly familiar with an author, especially an author like Iain whom they might not have approached before ... it will fill in the blanks that may sometimes scare people away."
In March the number of books available as iPhone apps passed the number of games for the first time. "It was a tipping point," says digital editor Dan Franklin at rival publisher Canongate. "The plan is now to be creating something you can only experience digitally" — something which, he admits, defies the instincts of a publisher. "It's our next challenge [but] it's difficult," he says.
TradeMobile's Bowe feels the "companion" approach works particularly well for fiction. "Tolkien for example would be amazing," he says. "Really for authors with rich, detailed characters and locations it's great."
Banks agrees. "It works well for science fiction, especially when you have a universe or place you go back to. These places gradually build up.
"It's there if you want it – and that's the beauty of it, it's an opt-in thing. It's not being forced down your neck; if you just want the story, you can have it," says the author. "We'll see how it does with the science-fiction stuff – if it's successful it's the obvious thing to do to extend it to my other novels."
Little, Brown is part of the UK's largest publishing conglomerate, Hachette UK, which has already launched a similar app for popular crime novelist Martina Cole, and has apps in development for authors including Stephenie Meyer, Patrick Holford and Ian Rankin.
"Anyone can replicate the experience of reading a physical book in an app. Our feeling is that just isn't very exciting," says head of digital George Walkley. "With Iain Banks and Martina Cole we've tried to provide added value and extra material for authors who have very passionate followings."
At Canongate, Franklin is impressed with Little, Brown's new app. "What is cool is that they're getting it to directly interact with a print edition," he says. "It's very clever and something we're looking to do."
Canongate is no slouch in the digital department itself, however, launching a (paid-for) enhanced iPhone app for Nick Cave's novel The Death of Bunny Munro in September, complete with videos of Cave and an audio version synched to the text of the book, scored by Cave himself. The app won second place in MediaGuardian's own innovation awards, the Megas, earlier this year. And in May, it brought out an enhanced app for David Eagleman's short story collection Sum: Tales from the Afterlives, featuring videos of Eagleman discussing the book, and a synched audio version read by the likes of Jarvis Cocker, Stephen Fry and Noel Fielding.
Like Walkley, Eagleman believes it is important for an app to be more than just an electronic version of a book. "An electronic version of a book merely grants portability. But a thoughtful app can open new inroads to explore the material, as well as ways to keep the material updated and fresh," he says.
"By having the option to explore a book beyond the original text — by dint of videos, living links, and so on — it becomes a living, breathing, updating organism, just like the rest of our technology."
Banks adds: "Everyone's feeling around – no one knows what's going to work. It's quite a nervous time to be a publisher. They're trying to do what they can to keep books interesting. We will just see how it goes."
Eagleman agrees. "We're at an exploratory period now, and no one knows where it's going. If you imagine yourself 100 years from now looking back, it's clear that apps are in their infancy and just learning how to crawl. Once they become adults, they might offer such a different experience of the material that they will speciate into an entirely different storytelling animal — as has happened, for example, with movies."
Friday, June 25, 2010
At his Kentucky elementary school, kids taunted Brent on the playground about being gay, whatever that was. By eighth grade, he realized what they meant and came out to a friend - and vice versa.
She was an avid writer, he a voracious reader. They headed to their school library in search of stories that spoke to their lives: gay, gay in the South, gay and fearing stereotypes like "disgusting" and "worthless."
"There were tons of books about gangs and drugs and teen pregnancy and there were no LGBT books. I asked the librarian about it and she was like, 'This is middle school. I can only have appropriate books here,'" said Brent, now 15 and heading into his sophomore year of senior high.
So they went to their public library, where they discovered plenty of romantic gay steam between covers - for adults. "We weren't complaining," said Brent, who asked that his last name and hometown not be used.
Turning next to bookstores, they finally found what they'd been looking for - a recent explosion in the publishing world of reads that speak to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning teens.
First came a gem, a book for young people that made them cry: Martin Wilson's 2008 debut, "What They Always Tell Us," set in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The story about a troubled year for two brothers, one of whom finds solace in a relationship with a boy, made him feel less like an "alien on your own planet."
A world of books followed. Brent read his way through Tom Dolby, Robin Reardon, Julie Ann Peters and David Levithan. He soon realized there were lots of coming out stories but he also craved romance, fantasy and paranormal books with characters who just happened to be gay, like Damien in the "House of Night" vampire series he loves by the mother-daughter team P.C. and Kristin Cast.
"I see the characters trickling into the mainstream genres. I really like that," Brent said. "It makes being gay feel natural, which it is, of course. Books give you hope."
Reads that speak to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning teens have traveled light years since John Donovan's "I'll Get There. It Better be Worth the Trip" led the way in 1969, now long out of print. The book on the confused world of 13-year-old Davy and the jock he kisses will be reissued in September from Flux, an imprint of Llewellyn Worldwide.
"This book made Harper & Row (now HarperCollins) very nervous," said Brian Farrey, editor of the new edition. "They weren't sure how people were going to take to it. It was the one that said it can be done for teens and there won't be people with pitchforks and torches waiting for you at the door. It opened the closet to teens and said you are not alone."
Well before gay characters began popping up in the mainstream on TV and at the movies, librarians embraced "I'll Get There," said Kathleen T. Horning, director of the Cooperative Children's Book Center of the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Another important forerunner was Nancy Garden's 1982 "Annie on My Mind" and its unabashedly happy ending for two 17-year-old girls who fall in love.
"Previous to that, there would be some awful car accident or one of the gay characters would die," Horning said, acknowledging that thread in "I'll Get There." "There was a sense that the gay character had to be punished somehow. They were kind of depressing."
Still, until now few LGBT titles became blockbusters. That changed with two boys named Will Grayson and a very large, very GLEE-ful linebacker named Tiny.
"Will Grayson, Will Grayson," by Levithan and John Green, debuted on the New York Times children's best-seller list and stayed there for three weeks after its April release. It's a first for a young adult novel with major gay themes and has delighted hungry teen readers - fanboys and fangirls who were the likely reason the book became a trending topic on Twitter. Penguin has 60,000 copies in print.
In alternating chapters, Green and Levithan write of two 16-year-old boys with little in common, living in separate Chicago suburbs. One's depressed and struggling to come out and the other is straight with a flamboyantly gay friend in Tiny Cooper, a football star on the hunt for love - and stardom in musical theater.
"I AM tiny," said 20-year-old Andrew Casasanta, an English major at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. "It's still very frustrating. I don't think that there's many characters out there that I can personally relate to and they're generally more stereotypes. It's important that this book, while having gay themes front and center, was written well."
It helps that Levithan is a prolific rock star in gay lit for young people with an acclaimed winner in 2003, "Boy Meets Boy." It also helps that Green is revered as a writer for teens, including his "Paper Towns" in 2008, and by fans of the adrenaline-infused videos he posts regularly online.
"Landing as high on the New York Times list as we did with `Will Grayson, Will Grayson' made a big statement to the children's publishing world that gay characters are not a commercial liability," Green said. "This is an important statement to make."
As gay-straight alliances spread in schools and kids reared by gay parents have kids of their own, books remain important survival tools for all young people trying to figure out who they are, said Lynn Evarts, a high school librarian in the farm country of Sauk Prairie, Wis.
"Kids have for the most part become 'Will and Grace'-ified," she said. "Oftentimes I'll hand them a book that has a gay main character and tell them how funny it is, and they take it and like it. These are kids who wouldn't normally touch anything like that. I live in the land of rednecks, but they like it because it's funny and good."
Funny and good is well and good for kids with access to LGBT lit. What about readers like Brent who don't have inclusive libraries, deep pockets or technology to download ebooks? Recent research in Texas, for instance, indicated a strong "I don't serve those teens" attitude among librarians.
"It's the argument that drives me crazy," said Teri Lesesne, who teaches young adult lit in the Department of Library Science at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas.
"It's like, `Yeah, you do.' They might not be coming in and saying, `Hi, I'm gay or I'm bi or I'm transgender or I'm questioning my own identity,' because they're afraid," she said. "But they're there and they're looking for these books."
From: Associated Press
Thursday, June 24, 2010
“THE point of books is to combat loneliness,” David Foster Wallace observes near the beginning of “Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself,” David Lipsky’s recently published, book-length interview with him.
If you happen to be reading the book on the Kindle from Amazon, Mr. Wallace’s observation has an extra emphasis: a dotted underline running below the phrase. Not because Mr. Wallace or Mr. Lipsky felt that the point was worth stressing, but because a dozen or so other readers have highlighted the passage on their Kindles, making it one of the more “popular” passages in the book.
Amazon calls this new feature “popular highlights.” It may sound innocuous enough, but it augurs even bigger changes to come.
Though the feature can be disabled by the user, “popular highlights” will no doubt alarm Nicholas Carr, whose new book, “The Shallows,” argues that the compulsive skimming, linking and multitasking of our screen reading is undermining the deep, immersive focus that has defined book culture for centuries.
With “popular highlights,” even when we manage to turn off Twitter and the television and sit down to read a good book, there will a chorus of readers turning the pages along with us, pointing out the good bits. Before long, we’ll probably be able to meet those fellow readers, share stories with them. Combating loneliness? David Foster Wallace saw only the half of it.
Mr. Carr’s argument is that these distractions come with a heavy cost, and his book’s publication coincides with articles in various publications — including The New York Times — that report on scientific studies showing how multitasking harms our concentration.
Thus far, the neuroscience of multitasking has tended to follow a predictable pattern. Scientists take a handful of test subjects out of their offices and make them watch colored squares dance on a screen in a lab somewhere. Then they determine that multitasking makes you slightly less able to focus. A study reported on early this month found that heavy multitaskers performed about 10 to 20 percent worse on most tests than light multitaskers.
These studies are undoubtedly onto something — no one honestly believes he is better at focusing when he switches back and forth between multiple activities — but they are meaningless as a cultural indicator without measuring what we gain from multitasking.
Thanks to e-mail, Twitter and the blogosphere, I regularly exchange information with hundreds of people in a single day: scheduling meetings, sharing political gossip, trading edits on a book chapter, planning a family vacation, reading tech punditry. How many of those exchanges could happen were I limited exclusively to the technologies of the phone, the post office and the face-to-face meeting? I suspect that the number would be a small fraction of my current rate.
I have no doubt that I am slightly less focused in these interactions, but, frankly, most of what we do during the day doesn’t require our full powers of concentration. Even rocket scientists don’t do rocket science all day long.
To his credit, Mr. Carr readily concedes this efficiency argument. His concern is what happens to high-level thinking when the culture migrates from the page to the screen. To the extent that his argument is a reminder to all of us to step away from the screen sometimes, and think in a more sedate environment, it’s a valuable contribution.
But Mr. Carr’s argument is more ambitious than that: the “linear, literary mind” that has been at “the center of art, science and society” threatens to become “yesterday’s mind,” with dire consequences for our culture. Here, too, I think the concerns are overstated, though for slightly different reasons.
Presumably, the first casualties of “shallow” thinking should have appeared on the front lines of the technology world, where the participants have spent the most time in the hyperconnected space of the screen. And yet the sophistication and nuance of media commentary has grown dramatically over the last 15 years. Mr. Carr’s original essay, published in The Atlantic — along with Clay Shirky’s more optimistic account, which led to the book “Cognitive Surplus” — were intensely discussed throughout the Web when they first appeared as articles, and both books appear to be generating the same level of analysis and engagement in long form.
The intellectual tools for assessing the media, once the province of academics and professional critics, are now far more accessible to the masses. The number of people who have written a thoughtful response to Mr. Carr’s essay — and, even better, published it online — surely dwarfs the number of people who wrote in public about “Understanding Media,” by Marshall McLuhan, in 1964.
Mr. Carr spends a great deal of his book’s opening section convincing us that new forms of media alter the way the brain works, which I suspect most of his readers have long ago accepted as an obvious truth. The question is not whether our brains are being changed. (Of course new experiences change your brain — that’s what experience is, on some basic level.) The question is whether the rewards of the change are worth the liabilities.
The problem with Mr. Carr’s model is its unquestioned reverence for the slow contemplation of deep reading. For society to advance as it has since Gutenberg, he argues, we need the quiet, solitary space of the book. Yet many great ideas that have advanced culture over the past centuries have emerged from a more connective space, in the collision of different worldviews and sensibilities, different metaphors and fields of expertise. (Gutenberg himself borrowed his printing press from the screw presses of Rhineland vintners, as Mr. Carr notes.)
It’s no accident that most of the great scientific and technological innovation over the last millennium has taken place in crowded, distracting urban centers. The printed page itself encouraged those manifold connections, by allowing ideas to be stored and shared and circulated more efficiently. One can make the case that the Enlightenment depended more on the exchange of ideas than it did on solitary, deep-focus reading.
Quiet contemplation has led to its fair share of important thoughts. But it cannot be denied that good ideas also emerge in networks.
Yes, we are a little less focused, thanks to the electric stimulus of the screen. Yes, we are reading slightly fewer long-form narratives and arguments than we did 50 years ago, though the Kindle and the iPad may well change that. Those are costs, to be sure. But what of the other side of the ledger? We are reading more text, writing far more often, than we were in the heyday of television.
And the speed with which we can follow the trail of an idea, or discover new perspectives on a problem, has increased by several orders of magnitude. We are marginally less focused, and exponentially more connected. That’s a bargain all of us should be happy to make.
Steven Johnson is an author and entrepreneur. His new book, “Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation,” will be published in October.
From: NY Times
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
by: Laura Miller
When I was 12 years old, I read most of the plays of George Bernard Shaw. That's not to say that I understood the plays of George Bernard Shaw, or even that I passionately loved them. They just happened to be around the house, in a set of neat little green paperbacks left over from my father's college days. I doubt that puzzling over the mysteries of "Pygmalion" taught me much about the British class system, but it definitely got me into the habit of searching for understanding in the pages of challenging books.
A study recently published in the journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility found that just having books around the house (the more, the better) is correlated with how many years of schooling a child will complete. The study (authored by M.D.R. Evans, Jonathan Kelley, Joanna Sikorac and Donald J. Treimand) looked at samples from 27 nations, and according to its abstract, found that growing up in a household with 500 or more books is "as great an advantage as having university-educated rather than unschooled parents, and twice the advantage of having a professional rather than an unskilled father." Children with as few as 25 books in the family household completed on average two more years of schooling than children raised in homes without any books.
According to USA Today, another study, to be published later this year in the journal Reading Psychology, found that simply giving low-income children 12 books (of their own choosing) on the first day of summer vacation "may be as effective as summer school" in preventing "summer slide" -- the degree to which lower-income students slip behind their more affluent peers academically every year. An experimental, federally funded program based on this research will be expanded to eight states this summer, aiming to give away 1.5 million books to disadvantaged kids.
Perhaps the most intriguing part of the USA Today article comes at the very end, where one Chicago schoolteacher tells the reporter that the importance of getting books into the house "seems so simple, but parents see it differently." They're as "excited" as their kids are when the books come in the door. It's not that the parents are hostile or even indifferent to books. Most likely, books and reading feel like the privilege and practice of an unfamiliar world: a resource that's out there somewhere, but not entirely accessible.
The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books -- a big outdoor fair held on the UCLA campus every April -- is an annual reminder that lots of people are interested in books even if they may not feel at home in a bookstore or library. Over 130,000 attendees turned out for this year's festival, a mix of races and classes that often astonishes the authors who trek in from out of town. "If only we could get all of them to come to bookstores," one writer wistfully said to me.
Easier said than done. If you happen to be comfortable in bookstores or libraries -- if you've been to them many times before and know what to expect, what you want and where to find it, or if you know whom and how to ask and feel entitled to bother the staff with your questions -- it can be difficult to appreciate how intimidating these institutions of print culture can seem to someone who has little or no acquaintance with them. I didn't quite get it until I found myself wheedling a comics-loving friend into picking up issues of a comic book I wanted. "I'm never going to go into the comic book store," I told him. "They're confusing and the people who work there are so unfriendly."
Whether or not I was right about all comics stores, my past experience of them was discouraging enough to put me off. I've never even set foot in a gun shop, but it's equally hard for me to imagine venturing into one. The people who work and shop in such stores may not mean to be unwelcoming, but the same thing that makes these places so inviting to the initiated -- the innate clubbishness of human nature -- can scare away novices. As homey as a bookstore or local library branch might feel to you or me, they can make other people feel insecure, out-of-place and clueless.
This is, of course, assuming that poor families have bookstores and libraries in their neighborhoods, and that it's safe and easy for a child to walk to them alone. Furthermore, a single parent working two minimum-wage jobs to keep food on the table may not have the time or energy to make a special trip between shifts. One of the biggest success stories in children's book publishing, after all, is the Little Golden Books: racks of inexpensive kids' books cleverly placed near the registers in five-and-dime stores, where the harried working-class parents of the 1940s could pick them up on impulse while running other errands.
Lastly, poor parents may feel that they just can't afford books. Of course, you don't have to buy a book to read it, but the act of giving someone a book of his or her own has an undeniable, totemic power. As much as we love libraries, there is something in possessing a book that's significantly different from borrowing it, especially for a child. You can write your name in it and keep it always. It transforms you into the kind of person who owns books, a member of the club, as well as part of a family that has them around the house. You're no longer just a visitor to the realm of the written word: You've got a passport.
Referred to in this article: This USA Today story by Greg Toppo describes the book giveaway program being rolled out in nine states this summer. An abstract for "Family scholarly culture and educational success: Books and schooling in 27 nations" by Evans, Kelley, Sikorac and Treimand in Research in Social Stratification and Mobility. This blog post from the Chronicle of Higher Education has a bit more detail on the study.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
The Santa Clara County Library has a long history of letting people borrow items, but now the library is actually giving patrons something to keep.
At the start of this month, the library system became the first in California to offer residents free music downloads.
The county library system, which includes the Cupertino Library, has a new digital music service that lets library card holders search for music and download songs permanently at no charge.
The service, Freegal, is an online database that provides access to songs exclusively from Sony Music Entertainment's catalog of artists. Each library card holder can download three songs each week in MP3 format. The file is permanently saved onto computers, smart phones and other devices with access to the catalog and MP3 capabilities.
"We have been waiting a long time for a service like this that delivers great music, compatibility with lots of devices and simplicity of use. We think this will be incredibly popular with our patrons and will help the library in marketing all its services to the community," said county librarian Melinda Cervantes.
The library system is the first in California to offer the service, which launched the first week of June.
"This is a brand-new type of product that has not been available to libraries before," said Nancy Howe, a deputy county librarian.
Offering music to library patrons isn't new, but this service is on a wider scale than what is currently available.
"We've had CDs you can check out for a long time now and we have had some streaming music, but this is unique in terms of the range of offerings," said Howe. "The library has a been a place where you can check out music for a long time. The formats have been changing on us and we have not been able to offer our patrons the [genres] that suited everyone."
Library officials estimate that there hundreds of thousands of songs available in the collection, which covers all of Sony's record labels.
"We wanted to offer something that everyone can enjoy. This is the one that caught our attention," Howe said.
Users can start downloading another three songs each Sunday at midnight when their account resets. Every song has a sample clip patrons can listen to before downloading. The service will work with any MP3 player, including iPods, and songs can be loaded into iTunes, according to library officials.
Currently the service is available remotely only. The county purchased a subscription to the service for one year at a cost of $23,300.
Howe estimates that there are about 1.6 million digital county-wide retrievals on the system's various collections each year, which include digital books and other media. The library system is trying to keep pace with the evolving technology of the day.
"We've had our toe in the water for a while now," she said.
Santa Clara County Library provides library services to residents in Cupertino, Campbell, Saratoga, Los Altos, Milpitas, Morgan Hill, Gilroy and unincorporated areas of the county. Howe reminds residents that anyone in the county can get a library card and use the system.
From: Mercury News
Monday, June 21, 2010
It was trash not treasure.
The home-electronics installer accused of pilfering $1 million worth of rare books from a Fifth Avenue mansion owned by the widow of a Vanderbilt heir claimed the precious tomes has been left to rot in the basement.
Timothy Smith, 41, faces a felony grand larceny charge for the alleged theft from the late Carter Burden’s extensive collection of 20th century American literature, including first-edition copies by Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
"These were books [widow Susan Burden] tried to sell and was unable to sell," said Smith’s attorney Morton Katz at his arraignment Tuesday.
"They were kept in the basement of the building and they had been discarded by her as not valuable," he said, according to the transcript made public today.
Smith, a book collector himself who is also president of his condo-board at this East 86th Street building, pleaded not guilty and was released on $125,000 bail.
Burden, a 62-year-old philanthropist and psychologist, didn’t return calls for comment.
Katz also disputed that the 51 books prosecutors say were stolen even belonged to Burden.
"A lot of the books belong to the defendant and belong to his wife," he said. "Many of the books recovered were hers."
But, Assistant District Attorney Matthew Sciariano said they have proof that Smith was caught red-handed stealing the books as he methodically removed them over several days.
Smith is due back in Manhattan criminal court Monday.
Carter Burden, a multimillionaire descendant of robber baron Commodore Vanderbilt died in 1996.
He was a passionate collector of American literature – especially from the 20th century – and his personal library was regarded as one of the finest collections in the world.
After his death his family donated 30,000 of huis books and rare documents worth $10 million to the Pierpont Morgan Library.
From: NY Post
Sunday, June 20, 2010
by: Alison Flood
Andrew Motion, the former poet laureate, has dismissed suggestions from consultancy KPMG that libraries are "not very much used" and should be run by volunteers as foolhardy, outlandish and potentially catastrophic.
A new report from KPMG into public sector reform says that "giving councils total freedom on libraries could mean that they create huge social value from engaging a community in running its own library, backed up with some modern technology, whilst also saving large amounts of money on over-skilled paid staff, poor use of space and unnecessary stock".
Speaking on the Today programme earlier this week, one of the report's authors, Alan Downey, said that although "libraries are hugely important in the national psyche ... there is a problem with libraries, that they are not very much used and very expensive to run".
"We're not suggesting in this report that libraries should be closed down, we are saying that libraries and other community facilities might be better off if they're run by [a] community that values them rather than by the state," he said.
But Motion, who is chair of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, said that if the government were to take up the report's suggestions, it would "harm the most disadvantaged" in the UK. He stressed that maintaining libraries was fundamentally important.
"Of course money must be saved, and it will be saved, in the public library sector, but to put the whole thing at risk is absolutely the wrong step to take," said the former poet laureate. "Good libraries, like good anythings, need expert people working within them. Maybe there is a role for some aspect of volunteering but all the central stuff must be done by people who are qualified to do it ... I think it would be a catastrophe."
"Whether we are traditionalists about libraries or not, and I consider myself not, we ought to be able to accept that libraries are very important pieces of machinery for delivering to human beings what they need – information, pleasure, instruction, enlightenment, new direction in life. They're also joining up with services which help people with difficulty reading, and working with people learning English – to put all that in danger is exactly the wrong thing to do," he said.
Although Motion "completely accept[ed]" that this is a time "when we ought to be able to have a grown-up conversation about how things can be done differently", he felt that "simply not to recognise what libraries fundamentally are, and what their potential is, as this report seems to do, is frustrating, in the view of all the work that has been done and the manifest values of these things".
Motion said he hoped the government wouldn't "waste too much time" debating the "more outlandish suggestions" floated in the report "when there is a very challenging task ahead to deliver relevant, quality library services with less money".
"There is no harm in society periodically asking itself which services should be publicly funded, and how they should be run, but it is a foolhardy notion that a modern economy would wantonly abandon resources that support learning and help build our potential as human beings," he said. "We are at a critical time. A time for big thinking, not big mistakes that would set the country back and harm the most disadvantaged who need the best possible libraries and free access to books."
Saturday, June 19, 2010
by: Brigitte Perucca
In 1964, shortly after many countries had gained independence, Unesco launched the General History of Africa, a project free from "racial prejudices ensuing from slave trade and colonisation, and promoting an African perspective". It took more than 30 years to complete.
More than 350 historians (more than three-quarters of whom are African) contributed, leading to the publication between 1980 and 1999 of eight volumes. Translated into seven or eight languages, some have been published in abbreviated form.
But all this erudition was of little practical value. The political climate changed, with pan-Africanism being overtaken by hard-line nationalism, so the tomes gathered dust on the shelves of government offices. Now Unesco is determined to have a second try and find an educational use for the General History of Africa. With the political backing of the African Union and financial support of Libya, which has promised $2m, Unesco launched a new initiative in March 2009.
Last week an initial conference was held in Tripoli, Libya, bringing together historians, teachers and government representatives, under the aegis of a scientific committee with a dozen members including Professor Elikia M'Bokolo (Democratic Republic of Congo) and Professor Shamil Jeppie (South Africa). The aim, over the next two years, is to draft a set of curricula for primary and secondary schools integrating the pan-African history which currently receives so little attention.
At present South Africa is the only one using the General History as a basis for its teaching.
• This piece originally appeared in Le Monde.
Friday, June 18, 2010
MADRID — Nobel literature prize winner Jose Saramago, who left his native Portugal after arguing with his country’s government, has died at the age of 87, his Spanish publisher said Friday.
Saramago died on the Canary island of Lanzarote where he lived, the publisher said. The outspoken author, whose novels include Blindness and The Cave, had spent several periods in hospital recently, for what Spanish media said were respiratory problems.
Saramago left Portugal in the early 1990s after the conservative government in power refused to allow his controversial novel The Gospel According to Jesus Christ to compete for a European literary prize.
He lived on Lanzarote with his wife Pilar del Rio, a Spanish journalist.
Born to a peasant family in the central village of Azinhaga, he left school at the age of 12 and trained as a locksmith.
Saramago published his first novel in 1947, but his next work, a collection of poems, did not appear until 19 years later. A member of the Communist Party, which was banned at the time, he took part in the revolution that ousted the Portuguese dictatorship in 1974 and published a second novel in 1977.
An atheist and self-described pessimist, his literary career only took off with the publication in 1982, when he was 60, of Baltasar and Blimunda, a historical love story set in 17th-century Portugal.
The Gospel According to Jesus Christ caused a scandal in Portugal, depicting Jesus losing his virginity to Mary Magdalen and being used by God for world domination.
Saramago’s novels, which have sold millions of copies in more than 30 languages, often deal with fantastic scenarios.
His 1995 novel Blindness depicts the breakdown of society after nearly everyone in another unnamed country goes blind. It was made into a movie in 2008 starring Julianne Moore. In his 1986 book The Stone Raft Spain and Portugal break off from the rest of Europe and drift into the Atlantic.
Essay on Lucidity, released in 2004, explored a right-wing government’s violent reaction to an election in which more than 80 percent of votes cast are blank.
The Intermittency of Death, published in 2005, explores the chaos generated in an unnamed country where people suddenly stop dying.
In Cain, published last year, the author absolves the Biblical figure for the murder of his younger brother Abel and puts the blame instead on God.
Saramago launched a blog in 2008 then gave it up a year later to concentrate on a new book.
As well as novels he wrote poetry, essays and plays.
From: National Post
Thursday, June 17, 2010
When I visited the Coolest Bookstore on its last day of operation this school year, I wasn't planning to buy a book. Then I got one at an unbeatable price — 25 cents — and marveled at how one teacher's passion has left its mark on young readers.
It's common for adults to bemoan the lack of literacy among the young, to demand more testing because we doubt lessons do enough.
Those adults haven't visited the compact Room D-1 at Franklin School, a stone's throw from the Santa Clara County fairgrounds.
The critics haven't met second-grade entrepreneurs like Theresa, who walked around with a sandwich board announcing bookstore hours; or Patrick, who ran the cash box with precise zeal; or Julian, who straightened the books.
More important, they don't know Nancy "Nan" Caldwell, the 63-year-old teacher who has kept the store running for 15 years by haunting garage sales and library discard desks.
After 38 years as a teacher — 30 of them in public school — the slim, strawberry-blond Caldwell is retiring. And while another teacher will take over responsibility for the bookstore, it's like Apple Computer losing Steve Jobs.
Caldwell's resourcefulness is legendary: How many teachers organize a public transit day or get grants to let their kids spend the night at the Monterey Bay Aquarium?
"I have a passion for getting books into the hands of kids," she told me in a voice marked by her native Tennessee. "And for second-graders, this is like their first job. I tell them that when they're 16, they can come back and see me for a reference."
The kids already have demonstrated marketing savvy by inventing the bookstore's name. Caldwell has given each second-grader — they alternate by week — a precise task.
That it all works is more remarkable because Franklin School is in one of the poorer districts of San Jose, where a big percentage of the kids qualify for subsidized lunches and where English is often not the language spoken at home.
At noon last Friday, the Coolest Bookstore was organized bedlam: Class by class trooped in to browse the books, which were all going for a sale price of 25 cents. (Ordinarily, new books are $1, while everything else is a quarter.)
At the door, Perla and Arianna worked security. When the kids got a $5 or a $10 bill, they immediately brought it to Caldwell, who cycles all profits back to buying books.
At the table for books, two older girls discussed their selection. "That one's a dollar," said one girl, seeing the blue tag that meant a new book.
"All books are 25 cents," spoke up Julian, who was observing.
"All books?" the girl asked. "All books," Julian responded.
The popular selections were already gone for the summer: the "Goose Bumps" series or the "Magic Tree House" series.
An avid young reader named Toan, however, strolled in with the jackpot. His teacher, Donna Pirrello, had written a $10 check to the Coolest Bookstore, which entitled Toan to a haul of 40 books for the summer. "Forty books?" he asked.
About the same time, a girl came in with $3 and asked how many books she could buy. "Well, you can get four for $1, and eight for $2," Caldwell explained. "See a pattern there?"
"Twelve?" the girl asked. The lessons were being taught on many different levels in the Coolest Bookstore.
From: Mercury News
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
The elusive Lemony Snicket, also known as Daniel Handler, has signed a deal with HarperCollins Canada to follow up his last bestselling series, A Series of Unfortunate Events.
His new series will include four hardcover tomes, and the first will be released in 2012.
Being released in 2011 is Daniel Handler’s first young adult book, which will be published under his actual name rather than his nom de plume.He’ll work with picture-book illustrator Maira Kalman, who also blogs for the New York Times.
“For an entire decade, HarperCollinsCanada has insisted on publishing my dreadful books, despite my strenuous protestations and, I’m told, equally strenuous results,” Mr. Snicket said in a press release. “I hereby wash my hands of the entire matter, and wish HarperCollinsCanada, as I might wish hikers in a Saskatchewan blizzard, the best of luck in their foolhardy endeavor.”
His last series, A Series of Unfortunate Events, has sold more than 60 million copies, been translated into more than 40 languages, and was made into a film starring Jim Carrey and Meryl Streep.
From: National Post
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
With summer upon us, reading lists abound, and to me, that's a good thing.
I love book lists. High-brow, low-brow, no-brow, it doesn’t much matter: I get a kick out of seeing what other people like to buy, or think is influential, or believe are beautifully written, or consider overrated or find funny, or....
While looking for different lists on the web, I came across those compiled by Publishers Weekly of bestselling hard-back books for every year of the 20th century.
Following are the Top 10 lists for the years 1990, 1980, 1970, etc., down to 1910, exactly 100 years ago.
If you come across an adult , teen or child reading list that you find particularly interesting, send it to me at email@example.com and I’ll post them, for adults or kids.
1. The Plains of Passage, Jean M. Auel
2. Four Past Midnight, Stephen King
3. The Burden of Proof, Scott Turow
4. Memories of Midnight, Sidney Sheldon
5. Message from Nam, Danielle Steel
6. The Bourne Ultimatum, Robert Ludlum
7. The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition, Stephen King
8. Lady Boss, Jackie Collins
9. The Witching Hour, Anne Rice
10. September, Rosamunde Pilcher
1. A Life on the Road, Charles Kuralt
2. The Civil War, Geoffrey C. Ward with Ric Burns and Ken Burns
3. The Frugal Gourmet on Our Immigrant Heritage: Recipes You Should Have Gotten from Your Grandmother, Jeff Smith
4. Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book5. Financial Self-Defense: How To Win the Fight for Financial Freedom, Charles J. Givens
6. Homecoming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child, John Bradshaw
7. Wealth Without Risk: How To Develop a Personal Fortune Without Going Out on a Limb, Charles J. Givens
8. Bo Knows Bo, Bo Jackson and Dick Schaap
9. An American Life: An Autobiography, Ronald Reagan
10. Megatrends 2000: Ten New Directions for the 1990s, John Naisbitt and Patricia Aburdene
1. The Covenant, James A. Michener
2. The Bourne Identity, Robert Ludlum
3. Rage of Angels, Sidney Sheldon
4. Princess Daisy, Judith Krantz
5. Firestarter, Stephen King
6. The Key to Rebecca, Ken Follett
7. Random Winds, Belva Plain
8. The Devil’s Alternative, Frederick Forsyth
9. The Fifth Horseman, Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre
10. The Spike, Arnaud de Borchgrave and Robert Moss
1. Crisis Investing: Opportunities and Profits in the Coming Great Depression, Douglas R. Casey
2. Cosmos, Carl Sagan
3. Free to Choose: A Personal Statement, Milton and Rose Friedman
4. Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient, Norman Cousins
5. Thy Neighbor’s Wife, Gay Talese
6. The Sky’s the Limit, Dr. Wayne W. Dyer
7. The Third Wave, Alvin Toffler
8. Craig Claiborne’s Gourmet Diet, Craig Claiborne with Pierre Franey
9. Nothing Down, Robert Allen
10. Shelley: Also Known as Shirley, Shelley Winters
1. Love Story, Erich Segal
2. The French Lieutenant’s Woman, John Fowles
3. Islands in the Stream, Ernest Hemingway
4. The Crystal Cave, Mary Stewart
5. Great Lion of God, Taylor Caldwell
6. QB VII, Leon Uris
7. The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, Jimmy Breslin
8. The Secret Woman, Victoria Holt
9. Travels with My Aunt, Graham Greene
10. Rich Man, Poor Man, Irwin Shaw
1. Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex but Were Afraid To Ask, David Reuben, M.D.
2. The New English Bible
3. The Sensuous Woman, "J"
4. Better Homes and Gardens Fondue and Tabletop Cooking
5. Up the Organization, Robert Townsend
6. Ball Four, Jim Bouton
7. American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, William Morris
8. Body Language, Julius Fast
9. In Someone’s Shadow, Rod McKuen
10. Caught in the Quiet, Rod McKuen
1. Advise and Consent, Allen Drury
2. Hawaii, James A. Michener
3. The Leopard, Giuseppe di Lampedusa
4. The Chapman Report, Irving Wallace
5. Ourselves To Know, John O’Hara
6. The Constant Image, Marcia Davenport
7. The Lovely Ambition, Mary Ellen Chase
8. The Listener, Taylor Caldwell
9. Trustee from the Toolroom, Nevil Shute
10. Sermons and Soda-Water, John O’Hara
1. Folk Medicine, D. C. Jarvis
2. Better Homes and Gardens First Aid for Your Family
3. The General Foods Kitchens Cookbook
4. May This House Be Safe from Tigers, Alexander King
5. Better Homes and Gardens Dessert Book
6. Better Homes and Gardens Decorating Ideas
7. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, William L. Shirer
8. The Conscience of a Conservative, Barry Goldwater
9. I Kid You Not, Jack Paar
10. Between You, Me and the Gatepost, Pat Boone
1. The Cardinal, Henry Morton Robinson
2. Joy Street, Frances Parkinson Keyes
3. Across the River and into the Trees, Ernest Hemingway
4. The Wall, John Hersey
5. Star Money, Kathleen Winsor
6. The Parasites, Daphne du Maurier
7. Floodtide, Frank Yerby
8. Jubilee Trail, Gwen Bristow
9. The Adventurer, Mika Waltari
10. The Disenchanted, Budd Schulberg
1. Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book
2. The Baby
3. Look Younger, Live Longer, Gayelord Hauser
4. How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling, Frank Bettger
5. Kon-Tiki, Thor Heyerdahl
6. Mr. Jones, Meet the Master, Peter Marshall
7. Your Dream Home, Hubbard Cobb
8. The Mature Mind, H. A. Overstreet
9. Campus Zoo, Clare Barnes Jr.
10. Belles on Their Toes, Frank Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey
1. How Green Was My Valley, Richard Llewellyn
2. Kitty Foyle, Christopher Morley
3. Mrs. Miniver, Jan Struther
4. For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway
5. The Nazarene, Sholem Asch
6. Stars on the Sea, F. van Wyck Mason
7. Oliver Wiswell, Kenneth Roberts
8. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
9. Night in Bombay, Louis Bromfield
10. The Family, Nina Fedorova
1. Cimarron, Edna Ferber
2. Exile, Warwick Deeping
3. The Woman of Andros, Thornton Wilder
4. Years of Grace, Margaret Ayer Barnes
5. Angel Pavement, J. B. Priestley
6. The Door, Mary Roberts Rinehart
7. Rogue Herries, Hugh Walpole
8. Chances, A. Hamilton Gibbs
9. Young Man of Manhattan, Katharine Brush
10. Twenty-Four Hours, Louis Bromfield
1. The Man of the Forest, Zane Grey
2. Kindred of the Dust, Peter B. Kyne
3. The Re-Creation of Brian Kent, Harold Bell Wright
4. The River’s End, James Oliver Curwood
5. A Man for the Ages, Irving Bacheller
6. Mary-Marie, Eleanor H. Porter
7. The Portygee, Joseph C. Lincoln
8. The Great Impersonation, E. Phillips Oppenheim
9. The Lamp in the Desert, Ethel M. Dell
10. Harriet and the Piper, Kathleen Norris
1. The Rosary, Florence Barclay
2. A Modern Chronicle, Winston Churchill
3. The Wild Olive, anonymous (Basil King)
4. Max, Katherine Cecil Thurston
5. The Kingdom of Slender Swords, Hallie Erminie Rives
6. Simon the Jester, William J. Locke
7. Lord Loveland Discovers America, C. N. and A. M. Williamson
8. The Window at the White Cat, Mary Roberts Rinehart
9. Molly Make-Believe, Eleanor Abbott
10. When a Man Marries, Mary Roberts Rinehart
From: Washington Post
Monday, June 14, 2010
Thursday, June 10, 2010
by: Deborah Orr
A decisive victory for the girls at the weekend, when they captured the top five slots in the Sunday Times best-selling paperback fiction list. True, three of the five titles invoking girls were alluding to the same one – Lisbeth Salander from Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy. But the other girls – Kit from Jane Green's Girl Friday, and Annie and Kate from Martina Cole's Hard Girls – were considerably older than young Salander, who is styled "girl" ironically, precisely because her character is a rejection of feminine stereotypes.
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
by: Tatiana Segal, Josh Getlin
As the adult-skewing drama becomes an endangered species at the studios, is there any hope for that venerable subcategory, the literary-book-to-screen adaptation?
Such books -- with their focus on characterization and ideas rather than plot -- have proven awards fodder for decades, in both book and film form. The pics also helped give studios and audiences a balanced diet by offering quiet and thoughtful fare that was uplifting, enlightening -- and entertaining. Pics such as "Greed" and "All Quiet on the Western Front" drew from literary sources in the early days of film. In the last few years, there has been a wide range of such prestige projects, including Dennis Lehane's "Mystic River," Laura Hillenbrand's "Seabiscuit," Michael Cunningham's "The Hours," Ian McEwan's "Atonement," Cormac McCarthy's "No Country for Old Men" and just about any manuscript Scott Rudin gets his hands on.
But what was once a steady stream of bigscreen book adaptations has become a trickle. As one exec wryly notes, "Clint Eastwood is single-handedly holding up the adult drama at the studio level."
According to the Publishers Marketplace database, 205 Hollywood book deals were reported between June 1, 2008 and June 1, 2009. That number declined to 190 over the same span in 2009-2010. The biggest drop was in literary fiction, from 30 in 2008-09 to just 17 in 2009-10.
However, some book genres are doing well. The action-thriller-suspense field rose from 19 to 21. The number of deals held steady for vampire and zombie books, comic tomes, chicklit (think Nicholas Sparks or "The Devil Wears Prada") and for kids' fantasy (tomes in the style of "Percy Jackson," "How to Train Your Dragon").
The biggest growth area for Hollywood acquisitions? Young adult (YA) books, which grew from 21 pickups to 36 during the timeframe.
That may be in large part due to TV, which has been a voracious consumer of young adult novels ever since "Gossip Girl," which was based on a book series by Cicely von Ziegesar, started to sizzle for the CW.
While book-to-film deals are still being done, the style and scope of these deals has changed.
"Studios are clearly not interested in anything that's considered small, and anything under a $50 million or $40 million budget is considered small," says Bill Contardi, a lit and dramatic rights agent with Gotham-based Brandt & Hochman. "Serious fiction is often considered'not big enough,' and there are fewer buyers for this material now. Many producers have lost their deals and they don't have the ability to option material on their own. They really need a studio backing them, and the studios want all the elements laid out in advance. So producers now have to do a lot of preliminary development on a book-to-film project that they wouldn't have done before, before they can even get a studio to pay attention."
Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, head of worldwide literary for William Morris Endeavor in New York, adds, "The biggest change we've seen is the need to internally package our books before going out to buyers. We feel like we're an inhouse production company, from the beginning of a book proposal or blog, to the point where we match up material with our writers, directors and other talent."
The reason for the shifts are not surprising. Many of the most voracious acquirers of highbrow material -- from Miramax to Warner Independent to Paramount Vantage -- have either shuttered or stopped developing. Rudin, the genre's biggest champion for the past decade, has a first-look relationship with a Miramax-less Disney that's focusing on family fare. Studio development spending is down, while discretionary spending is being slashed.
And many studios are looking for multiplatform-generating franchises, and are banking on games like "Battleship" and "Monopoly," rather than books, to help them with presold titles that they hope to turn into huge hits.
"The pressure now seems to be not just that the book is a bestseller, it has to be a mega-bestseller," says Richard Curtis, prexy of lit agency Richard Curtis Associates. "The publishing and movie businesses are converging, and they both have the same thing in common: They're running scared."
But hope springs eternal. Stieg Larsson's "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" marked a big recent sale, with Columbia Pictures and Rudin ramping up a David Fincher-helmed film for 2012. With such paydays in mind, the tome-to-film teams were among the thousands who gathered May 23-26 in New York at Book Expo, North America's largest booksellers convention.
A contingent of studio scouts, independent producers, literary agents, book-to-film agents and other players descended on the sprawling Jacob Javits Center. While this year's confab was dominated not by hot fiction titles but by debates over e-books and the future of publishing, the showbiz contingent was there to scope out newly published books, assess the buzz on bestsellers and angle for a crucial early look at manuscripts that could eventually become hot film properties.
"We try to get a look at literary material as soon as the studios get it, and maybe earlier," says producer Paula Mazur, who hit the expo to meet with agents, publishers and authors along with her business partner, South Florida bookstore owner Mitchell Kaplan. The duo have "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society," from authors Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, in development at Fox 2000.
The urgency to find and package a "sure thing" has only ramped up, say producers and lit agents.
Many hope that the constricted market is temporary. Jane Dystel, president of Gotham-based Dystel & Goderich Literary Management, laments the current state of the books-to-screen biz.
"Nobody is spending money the way they used to, not the Hollywood studios, not the networks," she says. "I'm finding that it's just harder to place feature films, to get options on wonderful books.
"How bad is it? I haven't ever seen the market down this far, and I've been doing this work for over 20 years. It's a new bottom."
Some see TV as a salvation, though not on the scale of some bigscreen deals that a decade ago earned high-six- or seven-figure paydays. For the most part, TV's greatest book appetite is for the kind of genre fare that tends to draw modest acquisition fees -- but can pay off big for publishers down the road in extending the life of a book series.
The success of the CW's "Gossip Girl" ignited interest in the potential of young-adult novels as TV adaptations. Gotham-based Alloy Entertainment, which produces "Gossip Girl" with Warner Bros. TV, has become a specialist in developing book series that are designed from the get-go for TV adaptations, which in turn spur sales of the books.
Alloy fielded another hit for CW this past season based on the "Vampire Diaries" series. The company has two book-derived series in the works for ABC Family: "Huge," which revolves around the teenagers and staff of a weight-loss camp; and "Pretty Little Liars," a mystery potboiler about friends who are reunited when the leader of their group disappears.
TV has become something of a beacon for literary adaptations, though cable channels have their own particular demands of source material.
"Cable seems to be a possibility, but really only for certain kinds of material, and it's usually nonfiction," Contardi says. "You hear what producers are looking for -- they want books that lend themselves to TV series, which is casting the net wider than it used to be for just movies alone. But TV movies are much harder to set up than they used to be. In TV, there are very few places to go with young adult material, and in features, the buzzword is that the material has to be 'Harry Potter'-esque."
HBO got the book world's attention with its recent acquisition of Rebecca Skloot's nonfiction bestseller "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," for Alan Ball and Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Films to produce as an HBO tele-pic. The book's reps, UTA and Writer's House, were aggressive in shopping the tome to film and TV buyers months before it hit bookstores in February.
Ball received a pre-publication copy in November and fell in love with the story of a poor Baltimore mother of five who died of cancer at 31 but wound up making incredible contributions to medical science through the resiliency of cells that were removed from her body without her family's knowledge. That story would probably be an impossible to sell as a studio picture, but with the Ball-Winfrey imprimatur, it's a natural prestige play for the pay cabler.
HBO, with its deep pockets and strong appeal to top talent, remains the gold standard for the smallscreen.
HBO and Ball scored a huge hit by tapping into the vampire-lit craze with "True Blood," based on the Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris. And HBO's first foray into fantasy-drama fare, "Game of Thrones," is derived from the long-running sci-fi book series, "A Song of Ice and Fire" by George R. R. Martin.
On the film side, even the literary material that draws the attention of Hollywood buyers is getting much closer scrutiny. Gone are the heady days when prestige fiction drew multiple bidders in advance of publication.
"I'm trying to finalize a deal right now for an older book that was a major bestseller," says Dystel. "And even though we'll probably option it for a feature, it will go for a lot less money than it would have two or three years ago."
Still, Hollywood's long ties to literature aren't likely to be severed entirely.
"There will always be (Hollywood) buyers for the written word. It was true 50 years ago when the film business went into freefall after TV came in, and it's true now when there's freefall because of all these new technologies," says ICM's Ron Bernstein. "Great literature and writing still attracts prominent talent in Hollywood, and they always want the best stuff. If you have really good material, there's always someone out there who wants it. Someone who has real passion for it. But it's harder today to find those connections because passion has been beaten out of people in this corporatized environment we're in."
Risk-averse studios are increasingly shying away from material that can't be rendered in 3D or spawn a series of action figures. Even the attachment of big-name talent can't sway a studio head the way a Hasbro toy line can.
That's leaving all but the biggest names in adult fiction in a precarious position in Hollywood.
In marketing Lehane's "Shutter Island," Paramount downplayed the weightier aspects of the book and played up the thriller-horror angle. And Lehane is one of the lucky ones: Other dramatic bestsellers -- including Jonathan Franzen's "The Corrections," Caleb Carr's "The Alienist," Yann Martel's "Life of Pi" and Michael Chabon's "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay" -- have been in development for years with barely a pulse.
"The change in the studio structure has had a direct impact on the kinds of books that they're interested in developing for films," says Simon Lipskar, a lit rep with Gotham-based Writers House, the agency behind Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" behemoth. "I've seen continued and strong business in book-to-film sales. (But) they're clearly looking for franchise properties now much more than adult dramas."
As a result, many lit agents are shifting their focus to different genres, particularly books that skew to the under-18 crowd, like James Frey and Jobie Hughes' young adult novel "I Am Number Four," which is seen by DreamWorks as a potential franchise. Others with adult fiction clients are beginning to spend more time packaging material for TV than film.
Several agents echoed that as the film studios' interest in weightier fare wanes, buyers like Lifetime are picking up the slack. One agent cited the unlikely success of Showtime's "Dexter," which is based on Jeff Lindsay's novel series.
But don't bet against the prospect of a drama comeback at the cineplex.
"Nobody can predict what's going to happen," one New York lit agent cautions, invoking the "Twilight" phenomenon. "If you had asked a random assortment of Hollywood executives five years ago if the biggest film franchise at the beginning of this decade was going to be a franchise whose primary audience is teenage girls, they would have said you're being absolutely ridiculous."
Cynthia Littleton contributed to this report.
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Stephenie Meyer Releases Free Online Version of 'The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner'
by: Jason Boog
This afternoon, Stephenie Meyer temporarily released a free online version of her new Twilight Saga novella, The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner.
Here's more from the free page: "This site will be live from noon EST on June 7th until midnight EST on July 5th. Please keep in mind that you can only read the book here--you won't be able to download it to your e-reader or phone. And you can't print it out."
Over the weekend, Stephenie Meyer fans could buy The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner, a Twilight Saga novella about a character from the bestselling series. The title is currently the third most popular book on Amazon Kindle's Top 100 Paid titles list. Follow this link to find out more about the book.
Monday, June 7, 2010
by: Ed Pilkington
When Thomas Crowel visited a cemetery in Argos, a small town in rural Indiana, a few years ago he had no idea that it would change the direction of his life and lead to the reopening of a cold murder case.
He came across the tombstone of a girl called Brandie Peltz who died in 1986, aged 11. Curiosity aroused, he found out that she had been strangled and sexually assaulted.
It should be said at this point that murder mysteries are not the normal preoccupation of Thomas Crowel. He is a door-to-door salesman who has written several motivational books such as Simple Selling: Common Sense That Guarantees Your Success.
But once he was hooked on the unsolved case, he devoted the next three years to pursuing it. He became interested in the account of a key witness, a passing motorist who, according to newspaper accounts, had noticed smoke coming out of the roof of the girl's house. Brandie was found face down in the bath. She was subsequently taken outside where efforts to revive her failed.
Crowel drew the conclusion that the most likely murderer was not a Brit who had been regarded as prime suspect in the original police inquiry 20-odd years ago. He decided to put his theories into print, writing his account as a novel, which he published himself.
He called it The Passerby, and changed all the names of the individuals to avoid legal trouble. The man he believes murdered Brandie became a character in the novel.
James Ellroy it isn't. Crowel has sentences such as: "You could smell the grass and the cattle manure. It was a sweet smell, not entirely different form the smell of a brewery." But literary quality aside, the book caused quite a stir locally, particularly as everybody appeared to be all too aware who the main characters were.
Among the novel's readers was a state detective, Tom Littlefield, who has reopened the case of Brandie Peltz on the back of it, to the chagrin of the local Sheriff. Littlefield recently told the local TV station WNDU that he was optimistic the murder would now be solved.
"It's a small town and people in a small town talk," the detective said. As for Crowel, he has happily sold 10,000 copies of the book and is confident an arrest will soon be made. "I think they are going to get the guy who killed this little girl. I just believe there was divine intervention and that I was guided where to go."
Sunday, June 6, 2010
by: Shane Richmond
Steve Haber, president of Sony’s digital reading business division, said: "Within five years there will be more digital content sold than physical content. Three years ago, I said within ten years but I realised that was wrong - it's within five."
He said the same patterns that Sony had seen in the digitisation of music and photography were now being repeated in the books market.
Sony announced today that it will sponsor a new category in this year’s Dylan Thomas Prize - the Sony Reader Award for Unpublished Writers. The prize, to be awarded in December, will go to the best book by an unpublished novelist under 30 years old.
Omar Gurnah, Reader category marketing manager for Sony, said: “Being involved in the Dylan Thomas Prize this year is an ideal partnership for Reader. We wanted to take the Dylan Thomas Prize’s ethos of working with young authors a step further by creating a new category to offer Britain’s unpublished writers a unique platform on which to showcase their novel-writing talents.”
Sony believes that the ebook market has now passed the point of no return. Haber said: "I have multiple meetings with publishers and tell them paradigm shifts happen. You can say fortunately or unfortunately you haven't had a paradigm shift in, what, hundreds of years."
He added: "We in the consumer electronics area have a paradigm shift every year or two."
The Sony Reader range consists of two models in Europe - the Sony Reader Touch and the Sony Reader Pocket. In the US there is a third model - the Sony Reader Daily Edition, which is larger and offers wireless connectivity.
While Sony sees its devices as “immersive” readers, Haber says there is room for multi-function devices too, such as Apple’s iPad, which offers a range of ebook-reading apps. Recent research for Sony in the US by Marketing and Research Resources found that 11 per cent of iPad owners bought the device primarily for reading.
Haber said: "Now more and more devices are enabling digital reading, which is to be expected. It's just like digital imaging, where you can take pictures with a cellphone - and many people take pictures with cellphones - but if they want the best possible picture they'll use a point-and-shoot camera or a digital SLR."
Haber believes people will apply a similarly flexible approach to reading: "You have your multifunction devices - like a tablet - that are available for reading and then you'll have devices that are immersive. People will choose different devices for different experiences."
Saturday, June 5, 2010
Can a $50 stack of paperback books do as much for a child's academic fortunes as a $3,000 stint in summer school?
An experimental program in seven states may help answer that question this summer as districts from Nevada to South Carolina give thousands of low-income students an armful of free books.
Research has shown that simply giving children books may be as effective as summer school — and a lot cheaper. The big question is whether the effect can be replicated on a larger scale and help reduce the USA's nagging achievement gap between low-income and middle-class students.
Getting kids to read in summer
Schools have always tried to get students to read over the summer. For middle-class students, that's not as big a deal with their access to books at home, public libraries and neighborhood bookstores, says Richard Allington, a longtime reading researcher at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.
Over the past 20 years, researchers have shown that low-income students simply have less access to print. In some cases, even walking to the local public library may be too dangerous.
"A lot of parents say, 'When we're gone, you can't go to the library.' It's not an option," says Rebecca Constantino, a researcher and instructor at the University of California-Irvine.
The result: a well-documented "summer slide" in academics that, by sixth grade, accounts for as much as 80% of the achievement gap, Allington and other researchers say. Researchers note that low-income students lose about three months of ground each summer to middle-class peers.
"You do that across nine or 10 summers, and the next thing you know, you've got almost three years' reading growth lost," Allington says.
For a study to be published later this year in Reading Psychology, Allington and colleagues selected students in 17 high-poverty elementary schools in Florida and, for three consecutive years, gave each child 12 books, from a list the students provided, on the last day of school.
In all, 852 students received books each year, paid for mostly by federal Title I money. Three years later, researchers found that those students who received books had "significantly higher" reading scores, experienced less of a summer slide and read more on their own each summer than the 478 who didn't get books.
Constantino, who in 1999 founded Access Books, a group that has given away more than 1 million books, says the cause-and-effect is simple: "When kids own books, they get this sense, 'I'm a reader,' " she says. "It's very powerful when you go to a kid's home and ask him, 'Where is your library?' "
The program, piloted last year in Richmond County, Ga., and Charleston, S.C., expands to eight more cities this summer, and 1.5 million books are expected to come home with students, says Greg Worrell of children's book publisher Scholastic, which is offering the books at a discount.
Like Constantino, Worrell says many low-income families "just don't have books in their home at all." But when books come home, parents are inevitably as excited as their children, says Carmel Perkins of Chicago Public Schools, which plans to hand out books to 8,600 students this summer.
"It seems so simple, but parents see it very differently," she says.
Friday, June 4, 2010
by: Andrew Hough
Students in Manchester are having their thumbprints digitally transformed into electronic codes, which can then be recognised by a computer program.
Under the scheme, pupils swipe a bar code inside the book they want borrow then press their thumb on to a scanner to authorise the loan. Books are returned in the same way.
The scheme is being trialled on junior classes at Higher Lane Primary in Whitefield, Bury, Greater Manchester.
Officials confirmed it is due to be extended to all pupils at the school, one of the areas largest primary schools, with 453 pupils aged four to 11.
School authorities defended the scheme on Thursday, and moved to reassure parents that the voluntary system, is heavily encrypted or coded and that no images of fingerprints would be stored.
But critics said they were “appalled” at the system, developed by Microsoft which is also being trialled in other parts of the country.
“This is quite clearly appalling,” said Phil Booth, national coordinator of NO2ID, a privacy campaign group.
“For such a trivial issue as taking out of library books the taking of fingerprints is way over the top and wrong.
“It conditions children to hand over sensitive personal information.”
He added: “The money for such a system could be spent on actual school resources. How about some more books for the library instead?
“This needs to be rolled back or stopped. I would argue there is no justification for such a scheme.
But Lesley Isherwood, the school headmaster, defended the system, saying it was introduced as a more efficient way of books being borrowed from the recently renovated library.
She confirmed it would be extended to all pupils, adding that parents would be given the choice to opt in or out.
"We have researched this scheme thoroughly. It is a biometric recognition system and no image of a fingerprint is ever stored. It is a voluntary system,” she said.
"The thumbprint creates a mathematical template. All parents have been written to and we have told them what the system is all about. From the responses we have had there has been overwhelming support."
She added: "We hold a lot of information about children because we are a school. This is no different."
All pupils' details are erased when they leave school.
It comes after schemes to fingerprint children as part of payment for their school dinners was introduced around the country.
Thursday, June 3, 2010
The British writer's best-selling series about boy wizard Harry Potter found millions of readers in Asia, but no Asian author of children's books has made a similar breakthrough in the West.
With more than half the world's population, high literacy rates, increasingly affluent consumers and a rich storytelling tradition, Asia is a growth market, a publishing festival in Singapore heard this month.
But western authors continue to dominate bestseller lists in the region, and Asian writers often have to get recognised first in the United States or Europe before being appreciated back home.
"I have a feeling that the time now is quite ripe for Asian books to start moving," said Indian writer Anushka Ravishankar, who attended the Asian Festival of Children's Content in Singapore.
"People are opening up more to multicultural experiences. It's taken longer to work the other way, but it will," she told AFP, referring to the prospect of a breakout Asian children's author who will make it big worldwide.
Asian writers have made it to international bestseller lists include India's Arundhati Roy who wrote "The God of Small Things," and Japan's Haruki Murakami, author of "Kafka on The Shore," but the region has yet to produce a world-famous children's author.
More than 400 delegates, from writers to agents and publishers, took part in the Singapore festival, which was devoted to all forms of children's content, including videogames, films and music in English and other languages.
"Concepts like Hello Kitty, Doraemon and Pokemon all have crossed borders," said Phan Ming Yen, general manager of The Arts House, an exhibition and performance centre which helped organise the festival.
He was referring to made-in-Japan fictional characters that have taken world pop culture by storm, appearing on everything from lunch boxes to videogames.
"Then the question is - what else can we learn from other countries in Asia?"
Asians can draw inspiration from a non-western name in the New York Times list of top children's books - Jordan's Queen Rania is the co-author of "The Sandwich Swap" with established writer Kelly DiPucchio.
But - apart from the fact that being royalty helps sell books - the Asian children's book industry faces several challenges, including the lack of an integrated publishing infrastructure.
"We have not been promoting them. We do not have good distribution facilities and translation possibilities," said festival director R. Ramachandran of Singapore's National Book Development Council.
The Harry Potter books published by Bloomsbury have been made into six movies, with distribution in over 200 territories and translations in 67 languages, according to Rowling's website.
The world media market, which includes books, was estimated by market research agency Datamonitor at 755 billion US dollars in 2009.
Asia's share of the global media market is about a quarter of this, according to organisers of the Singapore publishing festival.
Trade magazine Publisher's Weekly sees Asia as a growth market for children's books, driven largely by China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan, due to its increasing production of original titles and translations.
"The huge Asian presence at the Bologna Book Fair every year attests to the region's burgeoning children's segment and its appetite for deals, imports or exports," it said in a 2009 report, citing the world's largest children's bookfair.
Nury Vittachi, the Hong Kong-based author of "The Feng Shui Detective" series, who also writes children's books, said key elements for success were missing in Asia.
"The editors, literary agents, the distributors, the illustrators, the promoters, even the writers - all those elements in the chain have been missing," said Vittachi, whose books have been published in Europe, the United Sates and Australia.
He said ancient Asian fairy tales may need to evolve, citing the example of the box-office hit "Shrek" which turns traditional Western storybook characters on their heads.
"You see a lot of these books in Asian shops but they haven't been developed much. They're still in the shape they were 2000 years ago, but if you look at the example of Western fairytales, Shrek has moved on with parody and irony."
Ravishankar, dubbed in reviews as "the Asian Dr Seuss" for her "nonsense verse" writing style, said cross-translations have to be stepped up to promote Asian works and enlarge the market.
"We just don't have enough. We should probably be doing more translations from other languages into English and vice-versa. It's a matter of reaching that critical mass and then things will start moving," she said.
"We also need more stories about today's world and the problems that children face," said the English-language author, whose works have dealt with modern themes like conservation.