The link below is to an article that takes a look at book deals.
The link below is to an article that takes a look at some creepy book trivia.
The Nobel Prize in Literature for 2015 has been awarded to the Belarusian author Svetlana Alexievich. Her writing, until now not well known in the Anglophone world, is difficult to categorise. In works such as Voices from Chernobyl and War’s Unwomanly Face, Alexievich develops a distinctive kind of documentary writing, drawn from large numbers of interviews, which gives an intimate picture of what it is like to be the victim of war, of state negligence, brutality or totalitarianism.
Neither fiction nor non-fiction, the work develops what the secretary to the Swedish Academy Sara Danius calls a “new literary genre”, which gives us “a history of human beings about whom we didn’t know that much”.
This is surely a welcome and brave award, for at least two reasons. The statement from the academy announces that the prize was awarded “for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time”.
The stress on the “polyphony” of her writing is significant; if it is the case that Alexievich is little known in the English-speaking world, this is partly because the financial pressures on contemporary publishers make it very difficult to publish work that does not conform to a very narrow set of generic and formal norms.
Alexievich’s work is difficult to categorise, and hence difficult to sell, and so nearly invisible. The prize will change this, and will at the same time do much to alert us to the growing importance of documentary writing elsewhere in Europe.
Equally significant is the assertion that Alexievich’s work represents a monument to a kind of experience – a kind of suffering – that ordinarily goes undocumented. In awarding Alexievich the prize, the academy has helped to ensure that the voices she records are heard on a much bigger stage.
With the award of this prize, the Academy is likely to bring an important body of writing to new audiences – something that is much harder to achieve with the better known contenders for the prize, such as Haruki Murakami or the perennial outsider Philip Roth.
So this is a progressive and exciting choice. But it is also one that is mired in the contradictions that surround the prize – contradictions that are perhaps inherent in the concept of literary prizes in general, but which are sharpened by the terms of Alfred Nobel’s original bequest.
Nobel specified in his will that all five prizes were to be awarded to those who, in a given year, “have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind”. The prize for literature, he goes on, is to be awarded to “the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction”.
The history of the prize has been the history of attempts to interpret this stipulation. How are we to quantify or to characterise the benefit that art confers on mankind, and what does it mean for literature to take an “ideal direction”? There has been a long tradition of awarding the prize to writers, such as Alexievich, whose work “benefits” us by drawing attention to the injustices which are perpetrated against the weak, the powerless or the dispossessed.
We might think that the award of the prize to Samuel Beckett in 1969 and to J M Coetzee in 2003 belongs to that tradition. These writers, like Alexievich, might be seen to erect a “monument to suffering”.
But in awarding the prize to writers who give us such naked and powerful accounts of the privations of human beings, the academy might appear to be in breach of that second stipulation: that recipients should travel in an “ideal direction”. In awarding the prize to Coetzee, the academy wrote that the value of his work lay in part in his principled refusal of ideals, his absolute commitment to depicting suffering as it is, rather than as we would like it to be.
“His intellectual honesty”, the academy wrote, “erodes the basis of all consolation, and distances itself from the tawdry drama of remorse and confession”. This is work that resists the consolations or ornament of lyricism; but in recognising the power of this kind of vision, the academy is led to betray its spirit, to transform a difficult, bleak vision, into a redemptive one, one which leads in an “ideal direction”.
In honouring Alexievich, the academy has done a great service to literature, giving new audiences to a writer who has dedicated her life to speaking for those who have few means of articulating their own experiences. But it has done so in a way that exposes, again, the contradictions in Nobel’s bequest – contradictions that are absolutely central to the idea that we should think of art as conferring a benefit to mankind.
The Nobel Prize seeks to weaponise art, to deploy it in a battle against social injustice. This is a noble aim, but it leads us again and again to make something consoling out of a picture of suffering, or to imagine that art is a kind of alchemy that can make of the terrors it witnesses something restorative, or palliative.
The impossible demand that art makes of us is perhaps to recognise that its benefits are not measurable by existing instruments, and are not “conferred” upon mankind by any reliable mechanism. But in the absence of any readily available means of meeting that demand, the Nobel’s recognition of Alexievich’s courageous work is welcome indeed.
Some things never change. One of the perennial features of Australia’s economic and political discourse is how to deal with foreign investment and ownership. Given Australia’s historical reliance on foreign capital to fund national development, this is more surprising than it might seem.
David Uren is one of Australia’s best economic commentators. His excellent analysis of Australian attitudes toward foreign investment in Takeover – Foreign Investment and the Australian Psyche explains how the frequently conflicting views of free traders and protectionists – whether on the political left or right – have shaped public policy.
The “national interest”, at least as far as economic policy is concerned, has always been a contested compromise and a consequence of the relative political influence of these domestic forces. This is an important conclusion that emerges from Uren’s detailed exploration of Australia’s economic history.
If there is one criticism to be made about the book it is that Uren is at times surprisingly reserved about spelling out the implications of his own analysis. Dispassionate disinterest has its merits, but it is somewhat surprising that someone whose day job is writing for The Australian is not more forceful in spelling out the book’s central argument about a liberal investment regime’s possible merits.
As it is, the book has a rather “academic” feel, at least as far as the content is concerned. One of its strengths is in making clear just what a long-standing part of Australia’s economic and political history anxiety about foreign investment actually is, and how this has shaped domestic political debates and attitudes.
As Uren points out, when Joe Hockey blocked the takeover of GrainCorp by the US multinational Archer Daniels Midland in 2013, he employed precisely the same sorts of arguments that were made to justify protectionism in the 1850s.
That the Abbott government could snub a company from the US – Australia’s closest strategic ally – is indicative of the domestic political sensitivity of foreign investment. It’s also a reminder of the Nationals’ enduring influence on trade and investment issues. The rise of China as Australia’s most important trading partner and a growing source of investment adds an additional layer of complexity to the task of deciding what’s in Australia’s supposed national interest.
In this context, at least, Uren is unambiguous. The way questions about the national interest are decided in relation to investment is “a travesty”, he argues, and “lacks transparency, predictability and accountability”. He is especially scathing about the way policy toward Chinese investment has been handled.
And yet, concerns about the nature of China’s form of “state capitalism” are not without foundation. Market forces and a concern about short-term profitability are not the sole determinant of investment decisions by state-owned enterprises. Even if such policies are ultimately misguided and destined to fail, it is important that other governments recognise their potential impact on economic and even strategic outcomes.
Uren gives this possibility short shrift. But even if he’s right about the largely beneficial impact of foreign investment, it might have been useful to give more consideration to the origins of inward capital flows.
It often does make a difference where it comes from, how foreign multinationals operate, and what their relationship is with their countries of origin. Japanese multinationals really did try to shape the resource trade in the 1980s and the possible implications of that experience have not been lost on China’s policymakers.
The key question Australian policymakers have to consider is about the long-term impact of investment decisions that are made elsewhere, but which ultimately help to determine the structure of the national economy. This is no easy task. Some observers think the national economy no longer actually exists as a discrete entity over which policymakers can exercise control.
But even if “globalisation” has transformed an increasingly integrated international economy, politics remains relentlessly local – and so do most people’s jobs.
So while Uren might be right to highlight the rent-seeking behaviour of foreign multinationals in the car industry, for example, the reality is that they provided relatively high-skill, well-paid jobs for many Australians – not to mention the backbone of a national manufacturing capacity.
The problem with letting footloose multinational capital make all the decisions about where investment occurs is that Australia may end up with an economy that is narrowly focused and overly reliant on activities that are prone to cyclical booms and busts. That is precisely where Australia finds itself.
If the national economic interest means anything, it must surely refer to policies and outcomes that benefit the majority of the population who live in a particular place.
It is already clear that the vast wealth generated by the resource boom was squandered. It is also evident that the effort to tax the primarily foreign companies that were the resource boom’s principal beneficiaries was, according to Uren:
… one of the greatest failures of public policy in the history of Australian government.
It is not necessary to agree with Uren’s concerns about the possibly negative impact of nationalist sentiment on investment policy and decisions to recognise that this book is a significant contribution to our understanding of why foreign investment remains a contentious area of public policy.
As no less a figure than Malcolm Turnbull declares on the back cover, the book:
… explains the lay of the land today.
Indeed it does, prime minister – even if the author could have been a bit more forthright about his conclusions.
Consider yourself a stranger to fanfiction? It’s unlikely.
So what is it? At its most basic, fanfiction is a genre of amateur fiction writing that takes as its basis a “canon” of “original” material.
This original material is most often popular books, television shows and movies – but can expand to almost anything, from the lives of celebrities to the travels of inanimate objects like the Mars rover.
Fanworks, including fanfiction and fanart, are created by fans who are invested in the source material. They seek to expand the narrative universe and share their personal creations with other fans for free.
Fanfiction in other guises
Mary Blair/flickr, CC BY
The main impulse behind fanfiction has always been a playful desire to engage with original works. Yet authors are still subject to modern copyright laws. In Australia, the US and the EU, copyright exists for the lifetime of the author plus seventy years.
Many early Disney film adaptations were derivative works based on out-of-copyright novels – think Alice in Wonderland (1951) and The Jungle Book (1967). In a way this could be considered a form of fanfiction.
Today, existing restrictions mean those interested in “remixing” copyrighted material create online communities to discuss and distribute their work freely. One of the aims of the fan-led Organisation of Transformative Works is to fight for the validity of fair use laws.
Still, the amateur status copyright law forces on fanworks is one of the reasons fanfiction as a whole is regarded with some derision.
Still, canonical works have remained a source of creative inspiration.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes (1887-1927) series has spawned a veritable industry of derivative works, both sanctioned and unsanctioned. Many successful novelists, including Colleen McCullough with The Independence of Miss Mary Bennett (2009), publish literary reimaginings of Jane Austen’s novels.
The “fanfiction” classification usually results from the context of creation and circulation rather than anything inherent to the subject matter or quality of writing.
It’s fiction, Jim, but not as we know it…
Popular culture academics in the US and the UK trace the beginnings of an identifiable fan culture and community from the 1970s. These tendencies were first identified by Henry Jenkins in Textual Poachers (1992).
MiMiKa Z/flickr, CC BY
Comparable communities formed around anime and manga in Japan during the 1980s. The influential all-female manga artist group Clamp first came to prominence through Doujinshi (amateur, self-published works) based on Captain Tsubasa (1983-1986) and Saint Seiya (1986-1989).
Today, thanks to the internet, connecting to other fans has never been easier. This level of accessibility has lead to a remarkable proliferation of what was once considered an obscure subculture.
In the digital realm, just one popular archival site – www.wattpad.com – currently hosts a staggering 40 million users a month.
It would be difficult to find a pop culture phenomenon today – from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Game of Thrones (2011-present) to K-dramas (Korean dramas) like Coffee Prince (2012-present) and Bollywood movies – that does not have fanfiction written about it.
Why do people write and read it?
Fanfiction enables readers, writers, and sometimes even literary professors to play in an imaginative sandbox, interpreting and reinterpreting events, relationships and characters to flesh out different scenarios.
MiMiKa Z/flickr, CC BY
The power of fanfiction stems from the fact that it actively invites writers to break down boundaries considered “natural” in a broader cultural context – primarily around sex, sexuality, and gender.
Fanfiction communities often critically engage with stories not written specifically for them. With doubts swirling over whether Marvel will ever make a Black Widow movie, is it any wonder female fans feel the need to create their own stories?
These reinterpretations interact with canonical events – actual events from the original text – in different ways, “filling in” unexplored aspects of a scene, or “fixing” things that were dissatisfying or problematic.
Karen Hellekson and Kristina Busse’s study, Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet (2006), found that fanfiction is primarily written by women, of all ages and sexual identities, and tends to explore – or “ship” – intimate and romantic relationships between characters.
MiMiKa Z/flickr, CC BY
Situated within such a demographic, fanfiction becomes a unique space within which a much more fluid approach to ideas of what is “possible” or “realistic” is encouraged.
As a result, fanfiction faces the same criticism as many genres where women predominate, from romance novels to young adult literature. Sarah Rees Brennan, a fanfiction writer who went “pro”, writes about her experiences in this context.
Those fans not engaged in fanfiction sometimes mock fanfiction writers for being “delusional”, questioning the “realism” of the relationships featured in fanworks. Additionally, since a lot of fanfiction is explicitly erotic, it becomes the target of parody.
The sheer volume and variable quality of fanfiction makes it an even easier target. Instead, I’d argue that the uneven quality of fanfiction reflects the low barrier of entry to the community rather than an inherent lack of value in the genre.
What are examples of the pitfalls?
This is not to say that the potential for subversion is always expressed unproblematically.
While transgressive in some ways, fanfiction writers and readers remain enmeshed within social power hierarchies. These communities do engage in self-critique, but issues of sexism and racism still persist.
Liz Mogollon/flickr, CC BY
Most English language fanfiction, whether it involves straight or queer relationships, remains concerned with white characters.
This is partly a reflection of the racial biases that still plague the production of the (mostly US) popular films and television shows that form the basis of these communities.
However, it is a worrying trend that even when non-white characters have significant roles in a canonical work, fanfiction very often fails to register this – or worse, undercuts it.
In Marvel Cinematic Universe fanfiction, characters of colour receive significantly less attention than their white counterparts. Clearly, interracial pairings (red) receive far less attention.
It is not surprising that Steve Rogers (Captain America) and Bucky Barnes’ (Winter Soldier) close canon relationship has prompted a great deal of fanfiction, but the difference concerning the number of stories about Sam Wilson’s (Falcon) pivotal relationship with Rogers is startling. The fact that there is more fanfiction for Rogers and Darcy Lewis, characters who have never met in canon, is further proof of this imbalance.
Although Clint Barton (Hawkeye) and Phillip Coulson barely interact in the films, they have prompted a very significant output of fanworks. Tony Stark’s (Iron Man) close friend James Rhodes (War Machine) is paired with him rarely whereas there are many stories featuring Stark alongside Rogers, Pepper Potts and Bruce Banner (The Hulk).
Similarly, while fanfiction based around non-US media like Bollywood films, anime or K-pop doesn’t have the same problems regarding race and ethnicity, it still must negotiate its own cultural prejudices.
Disrupting the canon
As Alexis Lothian, Kristina Busse and Robin Anne Reid conclude, fanfiction provides a fluid space for (mainly) queer women writers and readers to engage with the various pop cultural narratives that influence their lives.
These negotiations, while messy and problematic, retain the potential to (re)fashion the “canon” to be inclusive of a broader range of human experiences.
Jade Lilly/flickr, CC BY
The link below is to an article that looks at some facts about Barnes & Noble.
The link below is to a book review of ‘After Acts,’ by Bryan Litftin.
A dozen years ago, in his New York Times review of the best-selling British novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Jay McInerney (of Bright Lights, Big City fame) called it “stark, funny and original.” Told from the perspective of a 15-year-old autistic savant, the book is now a Tony Award-winning play.
But what’s hot on Broadway is sometimes too hot for Florida Panhandle high schools.
This past summer, the novel was pulled from the assigned summer reading list at Lincoln High School in Tallahassee, Florida. As reported by the Tallahassee Democrat, “the move was made to accommodate offended parents,” who apparently took offense to the dozens of instances of profanity in the text.
Whether it’s challenging Harry Potter books for promoting Satanism and the occult or wiping Fifty Shades of Grey from the shelves for depicting “mommy porn,”, it’s become all too common for books to be challenged – and sometimes banished – from local libraries and schools.
The American Library Association’s annual Banned Books Week, currently in its 23rd year, officially celebrates and promotes “the freedom to read” by raising awareness of books that are most frequently challenged across the nation.
Perhaps more significantly, however, Banned Books Week also provides both a rudimentary barometer of contemporary cultural concerns – the flashpoint topics, ideas and words that push our censorial buttons – and a test of our core commitment to the First Amendment.
Beware the parental penguins
The challenged books let us take the pulse of American squeamishness and, more bluntly, intolerance. They reveal the concerns of the day that rub some people the wrong way, so much so that they take the time and effort to file complaints rather just averting their eyes or cautioning their own children.
Not surprisingly, sex and sexuality, along with religion, are hot-button topics. Number three, for instance, on OIF’s list of most challenged books for 2014 is And Tango Makes Three. The children’s book, which was inspired by actual events in New York’s Central Park Zoo, tells the story of two male penguins who hatch and raise a female penguin named Tango. Publishers Weekly called it a “heartwarming tale.”
jessica wilson/flickr, CC BY-NC-ND
Those challenging it, however, find it anything but heartwarming. Instead, it is “anti-family” and “promotes the homosexual agenda.” Then again, at least the book was not the most challenged this past year, as it was in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2010 (the 2014 honor goes to Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian).
Culturally, the wrath heaped upon And Tango Makes Three suggests that one recent Supreme Court ruling aside, we are still conflicted when it comes to same-sex marriage (apparently for both humans and penguins).
Into the courtroom
Cultural questions, of course, sometimes spill into courtrooms. While the First Amendment explicitly protects freedom of speech, it also implicitly safeguards our right to receive speech.
As Justice William O Douglas wrote for the US Supreme Court fifty years ago in Griswold v Connecticut, “the right of freedom of speech and press includes not only the right to utter or to print, but the right to distribute, the right to receive, the right to read and freedom of inquiry.”
Griswold’s logic leads to convoluted case law surrounding public schools’ ability to regulate and ban books in their libraries.
In a 1982 case called Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District v Pico, a New York school district sought to remove a number of books from library shelves, including Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice and a Langston Hughes-edited collection called Best Short Stories of Negro Writers.
According to the school board, the titles removed were “anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-[Semitic], and just plain filthy.”
A fractured Supreme Court wrote that “the discretion of the States and local school boards in matters of education must be exercised in a manner that comports with the transcendent imperatives of the First Amendment.”
In other words, school boards have discretion to pick and choose books, but that discretion is confined by minors’ rights to receive a wide swath of ideas and information, not just conformist doctrine.
Library of Congress
The court added that “just as access to ideas makes it possible for citizens generally to exercise their rights of free speech and press in a meaningful manner, such access prepares students for active and effective participation in the pluralistic, often contentious society.”
Lofty rhetoric aside, Justice William Brennan cobbled together a few rules that remain in place today: schools may not exercise their discretion “in a narrowly partisan or political manner,” and they “may not remove books from school library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books.”
The court concluded there was enough evidence to suggest the school district’s reasons for removal violated the principles noted above, and it denied the board’s motion to have the case tossed out.
Indeed, the ALA makes it clear that despite a constant drumbeat to pull books from the shelves, “most challenges are unsuccessful and most materials are retained in the school curriculum or library collection.”
Of course, a few challenges do result in bans.
Ultimately, the problem of book banning and challenging won’t go away. Public libraries and schools with limited budgets must make tough calls on what to buy, remove or put behind the check-out desk. Their choices tell us much about where we stand culturally, while their willingness (for the most part) to combat challenges reflects their unwavering commitment to free expression.
These days, when most of us think of a “book,” we have in mind something around nine inches by six inches, with mass market paperbacks shaving off an inch or two in each dimension.
But digital reading has redefined presuppositions about size and, more importantly, about what format is best for what’s being read: text messages, news articles, textbooks or fiction.
Conventional wisdom (including my own) typically suggests that serious digital reading calls for ample screen size (at least a tablet or e-reader), while one-off encounters with sports updates or tweets are fine on mobile phones.
But these rules of thumb are crumbling as users increasingly abandon larger mobile devices like Kindles and Nooks in favor of an all-purpose phone. While sales of e-readers and tablets are slowing, the real growth is in smartphones. In 2014, 1.2 billion smartphones were sold worldwide. With many newer generations of smartphones offering bigger screens – along with continued advancements in screen resolution – readers are turning to their mobiles for more and more of their onscreen reading.
Does size matter? For most of us, yes. When the reading platform size shrinks, it’s harder to focus on complex arguments or story lines. No wonder the bestselling e-books tend to be romance and erotica.
‘Stack’ via www.shutterstock.com
It’s become commonplace to invoke Herman Melville or Leo Tolstoy when arguing about what kinds of reading work (or don’t work) on which digital media. “No one would read War and Peace on a mobile phone,” you might say – but that’s exactly what journalist Clive Thompson did earlier this year. Expediency was his basic motivation – knowing he was unlikely to lug the print version around with him, he turned to the device he was already carrying: his phone.
Thompson’s success story (he went on to polish off Moby Dick and Crime and Punishment on the phone) can be interpreted two ways: “I told you so” or “the exception proves the rule.” Knowing Thompson’s work, I’m confident he proved a serious reader of these meaty texts. But when my university students try the same feat, they often admit the results are more questionable.
To be fair, the main challenge of reading on mobile phones or smartwatches isn’t size, per se. (Historically, readers have been absorbed in books fitting in the palm of their hand – especially prayer books or poetry.) Rather, for the majority of readers, the issue is mindset. For those lacking self-discipline, there is Freedom software, which blocks internet access on digital devices if you’re trying to get some work done. Either way, reading serious literature on a mobile phone (rather than restaurant reviews or gossip) takes a level of concentration and self-discipline that few have.
Five hundred years ago, when people prayed using a book no larger than a mobile phone, there was no chance of being interrupted by a text message or a tweet. Today, our handy pocket devices are laden with temptations that snatch our attention away from an author’s words.
And distractions aside, there’s still the question of whether or not we can comprehend text on small screens at a level comparable to text in printed books or magazines. Here, there are several intertwined components: size, text length and the digital (as opposed to print) medium.
For size, when reading on a small digital device, the number of characters visible at one clip is abridged, from around 200 (on a mini-tablet or large smartphone) to, at best, a few dozen on a smart watch. Digital reading entails continual scrolling, and there’s little prospect of seeing a two-page spread (an essential format of the codex for nearly 2,000 years). Reading specialist Anne Mangen argues that constant scrolling on digital devices undermines mental absorption.
Now think about how much text people are willing to tackle in the first place. In the age of tl;dr (“too long; didn’t read”), those who read onscreen – even comparatively big screens – show less patience with lengthy prose (longreads.com informs time-conscious readers how many words each piece contains and how long it should take to work through them). As screens get smaller, it’s wildly unlikely that even our current attention spans will hold steady.
Finally, consider the medium itself. My research on university students in five countries revealed that 92% believed they could concentrate best when reading in print, not on digital devices.
If you’re reading on a laptop or average-sized tablet or e-reader, at least the physical spread of text offers an in-your-face inducement to read. As screen size shrinks, so, I’ll wager, does the mental holding power of a tiny window that displays only a small amount of text at a time.
‘Book’ via www.shutterstock.com
Once upon a time, reading was literally a big deal. Children actually learned to read by following the adventures of Dick, Jane and their dog Spot. My own first Dick and Jane primer was physically outsized – picturesquely called an elephant folio – measuring about 20 square inches and set in what seemed like 200 point type.
For me and others of my generation, those mammoth folios were a sign of the importance of reading. With today’s small-screen digital devices, can reading still be a big deal? For most of us mere mortals who yield to distraction and assume size matters, the answer will often be “no.”