Crazy, doomed, but slightly hopeful

This description could be applied to me, but on this occasion it is how Anthony Cheetham (chairman of Quercus and The Friday Project) is applying it to a publishing system out of touch with reality and inefficient, in his Bookseller column (15 June page 22).

He asks why booksellers aren’t making more money (in the UK). The chain stores are getting as good a deal as is possible from the suppliers (60 per cent discounts, return of stock for credit, and shelf space, as we know, billed to the publisher). The way Mr Cheetham sees it, there is too much attention given to the 1 per cent of books that are mass-market. "The industry’s big players are relentlessly focused on seeking out that fraction of 1 per cent, piling them high, and discounting them as deeply as they dare".

The craziness of this is that readers are not a homogeneous mass market, he writes, but a "complex series of layered and overlapping communities with different tastes and interests." It can’t last (hence the "doomed"). The internet is fostering special interest communities at an exponential rate; in the USA, mass market sales are greatly reduced, and in the UK, Borders is now looking at ways to restore autonomy to branches rather than to control from the centre.

Under the skin by Michel Faber

Melanie Stacey of Thames and Hudson is the guest in the Bookseller’s "reading for pleasure" column for 15 June. She chooses Under the Skin by Michel Faber. She writes that the book is based around a woman called Isserley, who drives through the Scottish Highlands in search of male hitch hikers to pick up. "The atmosphere is strange from the outset, and the reader knows that something is not quite right, but the shock that Faber introduces around 20 pages in is completely unpredictable. This is a beautifully crafted and disturbing book………It’s not like anything else I have ever read……as a piece of truly imaginative fiction, it is a cumulatively stunning work. I’ve loaned or recommended this book to so many people now, who have all loved it."

I’m going to have to read this book. You can read an author profile and interview here, at BookReporter.com , and a review of the book here, at the same site. Here’s the Guardian review, from the year 2000 (how come I’ve never come across this book before? Or, rather I wonder why it has never stuck in my mind — as it is apparently on those "1000 books you must read before you die" lists, its title must have passed before my eyes a few times). One final alternative, the Powell’s review is here.  For fear of spoilers, I haven’t read any of these reviews, but shall enjoy doing so after I’ve read the book (one of my life’s little pleasures).

Short short stories at normblog

Do you remember last year’s normblog short short story competition, where the maximum number of words per story was 250 ? Well, now Norm (Norman Geras) is doing it again: see normblog: Short short story – second series. He writes:

"I must do what I can to encourage you all in the path of Jane Austen, George Eliot, Fyodor Dostoevsky, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Saul Bellow, Cormac McCarthy and… er, Salman Rushdie. It’s the same deal as last time. Your story must be…

… no more than 250 words, excluding your title – for which, however, you may not use more than 10 words. I will post a selection of the stories sent (and sending one will be taken as giving your permission to post it); and if there’s enough of an entry, I’ll put them before a panel of judges, not including myself and to be announced in due course, for selection of the best three. There will be prizes.

All I need add is that, whatever its quality, your story will be received at normblog as a vote in favour of the glory of literature."

So, do give it a go! Here is where to go to enter, and here are last year’s winners, with judges’ report and links to the stories. From there, you can also find all of last year’s entries. I can’t find the deadline, but the normblog’s email address is here for entries and competition-related enquiries.

The Book Depository on POD

Mark Thwaite of The Book Depository posts about the POD discussion we have been having on Petrona, and others have been having elsewhere. Mark writes:

"Print on Demand (POD) technology is getting better all the time. And it is going to keep getting better (smaller, faster, cheaper, as well as simply giving a look and feel that is as good as anything traditional printing can offer) in the coming years. Indeed, the time frame for when great (as opposed to adequate) POD books will be the norm for the majority of backlist titles is shrinking all  of the time………….

With POD an author need never fear that her book will be unavailable. With 10,000 books published every month, books are rarely given enough time to enter book-buyers’ awareness before they are taken off the bookshelves to be replaced, just a week or so later, by the next bunch of hopefuls. (The advantage of an internet bookshop like The Book Depository is, of course, that we can hold millions of books on our virtual shelves.) At least with POD, a book doesn’t have to have itself rushed quite so quickly through the bricks and mortar bookshop and onto the remainders pile."

If you don’t know it, do check out the Book Depository, "founded in 2004 with the aim of making "All books available to All" through pioneering supply-chain initiatives, republishing and digitizing of content. It is a continuing project, still in its infancy and one of the most ambitious ventures in the Book Industry." You can order books, read Mark’s "editor’s corner" blog, read publishing news, interviews and reviews, and so on.

I hope no-one reads this

View From The Pundy House: I hope no-one reads this. Yes, Pundy is back! Break out the Champagne.

All I need now is for Sand Storm (Steve Clackson, but the link is defunct) to return and the blogging part of my heart will be content.

Great to see you in the RSS neighbourhood, Pundy. It’s been too long, even though it only took you about 5 minutes to start writing about sex.

Google acquires Zenter

Google Docs&Spreadsheets continues to improve, but I am not sure if it can yet compete with the dreaded, ubiquitous Microsoft Office. Google is always adding new features, and of course the big advantage to the user over Word and Excel is that with Google you can work on the same document with your online collaborators, wherever they are. Google apps can sometimes be a bit flaky, however, and I am still unconvinced of the stablility and functionality of the Google "office suite". Now, via this link: paidContent.org: The Economics of Content , Google has acquired Zenter, a small company that makes software for creating online slideshows. According to the paidcontent post, Google also bought Tonic Systems, another presentation-creation service, back in April. So expect some PowerPoint-like function to be added to GD&S soon, increasing the similarity to the MS Office suite.

I never used to worry about using MS Word, it does what it says on the can, and although there is lots of spurious code in it, you can strip that out pretty easily while retaining your formatting before pasting it in anywhere on the web or in a print publishing/typesetting mode (use "notepad" or "wordpad" from the accessories menu). But that was all before Word 2007, which is incompatible with, well, too many things. I wonder if GD&S will ever be good enough for commercial applications, or perhaps I should rephrase that to asking whether GD&S will ever tempt anyone, given how wedded they (businesses) and their systems are to Office?

There is more information about the Zenter purchase at the official Google blog, which states:  "when you create a document — whether it’s a text document, a spreadsheet, or a presentation — you usually want to share it, collect feedback, or communicate about it in some way. We on the Google Docs & Spreadsheets team focus on making this experience easier and more powerful for you. In particular, we’re working to add presentation-sharing capabilities to Google Docs & Spreadsheets, and we’re excited about the addition of Zenter’s technology and team to that effort."

Local Explorer maps new horizons

The Washington Post has taken map mash-ups to the next level. Google Maps have redefined the ways in which we find out about local events, holiday or business destinations, and more, by location. In Local Explorer, WashingtonPost.com has now connected this mapping to city-based information, and is displaying it in ways that make the searching and finding useful and intuitive.

To get an idea of what it is all about, here is a sample page from Alexandria, Va.The dots include restaurants, shops, hospitals, libraries, cinemas, museums, places of worship, post offices, recent home sales, schools, crime statistics and bus/train stops. Visitors can use the basic Google map as a point of departure for all that information, some of which has been created by the Post. You can click from the map to the Post’s review of a restaurant, for example. You can see the commercial sense (if it works!) of bringing readers more directly in touch with relevant local information, whether buying second-hand goods or looking for houses and schools in the area.

For other news-oriented mapping trends, take a look at "Cool Google Map Uses".

Big Brother is full of juice

Somewhat old news that I haven’t found time to report, but I just have to do so: French government officials have been ordered not to use handheld Blackberry devices amid fears that foreigners could spy on them. According to a report in Le Monde (via the BBC, link above), France’s SGDN security service is worried because Blackberries use US- and UK-based servers.

But some officials are flouting the ban and using them in secret. "They tried to offer us something else to replace our Blackberries but it doesn’t work," one unnamed official told Le Monde.

Here’s the Le Monde article, if you read French and have a subscription.

If you really want to know more about Blackberries, you can go here.

Your autumn paperback reads

Paul Henderson has selected the paperbacks due to come out in the UK in the second half of 2007 that he thinks will sell the best (Bookseller’s Paperback Preview, Autumn). He defines "giant" as a book that will be in the top 100 paperbacks of the year and sell more than 100,000 copies (total consumer market); "bestseller" as in the top 10 for at least a week and sell more than 50,000; "bubbling under" as not quite top 10 but selling around 30,000; and a few "breakthroughs", either an author who is making a mark or one who is selling at a higher level than previously. He points out that his predictions are by volume, so he hasn’t included books from many small publishers. He also made his selection before the Richard and Judy summer reads were announced, which will have a huge effect — last year’s six sold 2.5 million between them and were in the charts for many weeks.

I am picking out just a few of Paul’s selections that I recommend, either because I’ve read them already or because they are on my list to be read, or because they just look good.

July

Giants: The Naming of the Dead by Ian Rankin It’s Rebus, possibly for the last time (I don’t believe that myself, but others do). Can’t wait.

One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson A second outing for Jackson Brodie of Case Histories. Being repackaged to look more like a crime novel.

Bubbling under: In the Evil Day by Peter Temple. A standalone, not a Jack Irish novel.

August

Giants: Atonement by Ian McEwan. His masterpiece. The film is due for UK release in September. A deeply wonderful book.

Bestselling: The Other Side of the Bridge by Mary Lawson. I enjoyed her Crow Lake. I didn’t know she’d written another until I read a discussion on a blog the other day. Sounds good from that.

Bubbling under: The Moment you were Gone by Nicci Gerrard. Can’t wait! One, or should I say two?, of my favourite authors. I keep gazing at the hardback when I’m in a bookshop, but am enforcing self-restraint.

The Judas Heart by Ingrid Black. I read her first novel, which wasn’t what I was expecting (not that I was expecting anything, but it was a bit different). I haven’t read the second yet, though I do have it, somewhere. So I’ll keep an eye on this one, pending my verdict on number two.

September

Giants: Echo Park by Michael Connelly. The wait for this one seems interminable. I’m desperate to read it, especially as his next is now being advertised (in hardback). He is one of the very few authors I usually buy in hardback as I just have to read his books the instant they are published, but the size and quality of my bookstacks has put the brake on this time round.

Breakthroughs: Blood Ties by Sam Hayes. Said to be in the style of Harlan Coben so might be worth checking out.

Sharp Objects by Gillan Flynn. I recently bought this via Amazon after reading a very good review of it on Material Witness. Amazon said that the format was paperback, and the price was a paperback price, but when it arrived, it was a hardback. They’ve done this to me before several times when a book is about to come out in paperback, getting rid of overstocks I suppose. So this is one I won’t have to wait for.

Bubbling under: The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo. I’ve read The Devil’s Star, which I liked but not as much as other Scandinavian noir I’ve read this year. The Redbreast is set before the events of The Devil’s Star so I’m not sure if I’ll read it, but it certainly comes highly recommended by my favourite crime-fiction blogs.

Let the Northern Lights Erase your Name by Vendela Vida. Another one I have recently bought from Amazon in paperback format, though the large format rather than mass market, I presume (good price, though). This book received fantastic reviews when it was first published.

November.

Giants: The Woods by Harlen Coben. Like the Michael Connelly, I seem to have been waiting forever for this. I’m so impatient.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Stetterfield. I have got this in hardback but not read it yet. I must do so before the paperback is out! The cover of the hardback is lovely, but apparently this is being held responsible for the book not having met its expectations (code for marketing budget?) in hardback, so the jacket will be receiving a lot of design attention for the paperback. It has been reviewed by Frank Wilson in the Philadelphia Inquirer and Books, Inq. (liked it), and by Debra Hamel of the deblog (not so keen). (Sorry not to provide links to the reviews but you can find their blogs in the favourites section on the right.) [Later correction and addition: Debra was keen on the book. She’s provided the link to her review in the comments to this post, or you can go to it here. The Philadelphia Inquirer page for Frank Wilson’s review states that the article was online only for seven days, but you can see an extract here.]

Breakthroughs: In the Woods by Tana French. Confusingly, out in paperback the same month as the Coben. Lots of people have recommended this since Adele Geras first tipped me off to it, so it has been in my Amazon list for a while. I’ll definitely be reading this one.

December

Giants: Not Dead Enough by Peter James. I’ve read this, and reviewed it on Euro Crime. Plot-wise, not quite up to the standard of his previous two, but just as much of a rattling good read.

Bubbling under: The Coroner’s Lunch by Colin Cotterill. This is one you simply must read. Brilliant. More on that later.

I have missed out lots of temptingly good books: the above is about 10 per cent of the whole, the "whole" being just the books that Paul thinks will sell at high volume, and restricted to the UK. Would that there were more time in the world.

July hardbacks in the UK

Catching up on a bunch of Booksellers (which are like buses), I have lost count of the number of books that will be coming out in the UK over the next few months. I will highlight a few here that I think will be good reads. I’ll split the posts and because there is a blogger’s rant at the end of this one so it has got a bit long.

July hardbacks.

The Adversary by Michael Walters. Second instalment of the Mongolian crime series from Quercus, my favourite publisher (I think). I haven’t quite started on the first yet, but am looking forward to it.

Damnation Falls by Edward Wright (see this note by Sarah Weinmann).

Dying to Sin by Stephen Booth. I can never decide whether to go back to this series after reading the first three or four and then stopping. I just wish Fry and Cooper would get on with it.

The Past is a Foreign Country by Gianrico Carofiglio, from Bitter Lemon press. According to the Bookseller, the author is visiting the UK in the summer to promote this book and Reasonable Doubts, being published in paperback in July. Based on the first two books by Carofiglio that have been translated from Italian into English, these will be wonderful.

Up in Honey’s Room by Elmore Leonard. Another author I did read avidly but have given up on for his past few. On the basis of Frank Wilson’s Philadelphia Inquirer review of this one, I should return to him.

Kennedy’s Brain by Henning Mankell. Not a Wallender (father or daughter) one, but a thriller set in Mozambique about an archaeologist who refuses to believe her son committed suicide.

A bit off-topic, but another July hardback is Snapshots from my Life by Helen Mirren. I recall that she was the second actress in my life whom I adored from the moment I discovered her at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre many years ago (the first was Julie Christie).

There’s also a new Nigella Lawson, Nigella Express (inevitably for her these days, a TV tie-in), which according to the Bookseller blurb is the "answer to every working mother’s dream, supplying quick-to-prepare recipes, tips on keeping the store cupboard stocked, and the freezer and fridge stacked, thereby leaving time for a bath, a drink or to help the children with their homework." Blood-pressure alert: what are the working fathers doing during all of this domestic squirrelling? At business meetings or down the pub I presume. Much as I like Nigella, will she please shoot her publicists?  They seem to come from a land where a "working mother" is envisaged as a person who helps out at the local playgroup for a couple of hours in the morning. And, by the way, if you want to save yourself £25, the answer is to live off pasta, fruit and salad, and/or do your shopping via the internet’s large store cupboards, fridges and freezers. You can also get your drinks, bath oils and homework guides there too, by the way.