What big data can tell us about how a book becomes a best-seller



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Factors ranging from the timing of a book’s release to its subject matter can determine whether it will crack the vaunted list.
Billion Photos/Shutterstock.com

Albert-László Barabási, Northeastern University

The average American reads 12 or 13 books a year, but with over 3 million books in print, the choices they face are staggering.

Despite the introduction of 100,000 new titles each year, only a tiny fraction of these attract a large enough readership to make The New York Times best-seller list.

Which raises the questions: How does a book become a best-seller, and which types of books are more likely to make the list?

I’m a data scientist. Recently, with help of Burcu Yucesoy, a postdoc in my lab, I put the reading habits of Americans under our data microscope.

We did so by analyzing the sales patterns of the 2,468 fiction and 2,025 nonfiction titles that made The New York Times best-seller list for hardcovers during the last decade.

Real lives, imaginary action

The first thing the data reminded me is just how few books in my favorite category, science, become best-sellers – a paltry 1.1 percent. Science books compete for a spot on the nonfiction list with everything from business to history, sports to religion.

Yet, on the whole, hardcovers in these categories don’t fly off the shelves, either.

Which nonfiction titles do? Memoir and biographies, with almost half of the 2,025 nonfiction best-sellers falling into this category.

Then we examined the fiction list. Much of the press focuses on literary fiction – books we see debated by critics, lauded as important and culturally relevant, and eventually taught in schools.

But in the past decade, only 800 books categorized as literary fiction made the best-seller list. Most best-sellers – 67 percent of all fiction titles – represent plot-driven genres like mystery or romance or the kind of thrillers that Danielle Steel and Clive Cussler write.

Action sells – there’s no surprise there.

But it was unexpected the degree to which only a handful of authors repeatedly appear: Eight-five percent of best-selling novelists have landed multiple books on the list. Mystery and thriller novelist James Patterson, for example, had 51 books on the best-seller list in the period we explored.

James Patterson has sold over 100 million copies of his book, grossing more than US$1 billion in sales.
AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

By contrast, only 14 percent of nonfiction authors had more than one best-selling book. Perhaps this is because the genre often requires expertise on a specific subject matter. If an author primarily writes about football, or neuroscience, or even her own life, it’s difficult to generate 10 books on the topic.

A universal sales curve

Publishers eagerly slap “New York Times Bestseller” stickers on each book that appears on the list’s 15 slots.

A quarter of those, however, have only a cameo appearance, briefly grabbing a spot at the bottom of the list and dropping out after a single week. Only 37 percent have some staying power and spend more than four weeks on the best-seller list. Even fewer – 8 percent – attain the number one spot.

Some rare exceptions can lease out a spot for years: “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett lingered on the fiction list for an astonishing 131 weeks, while Laura Hillenbrand’s “Unbroken” stayed on the nonfiction list for a record 203 weeks.

One big misconception is that you have to write a mega-seller to make the list. The majority of titles on The New York Times best-seller list only sell between 10,000 and 100,000 copies in their first year. “The Slippery Year,” a 2009 memoir by Melanie Gideon, made the list with a yearly sale of fewer than 5,000 copies.

How is this possible?

Our data set shows that just about your only chance of making the list is right after your publication date.

That’s because book sales, we discovered, follow a universal sales curve – there’s a single mathematical formula that captures the weekly sales of all books. And that sales curve has a prominent peak right after the release, meaning you sell the most copies during the first weeks after your book’s release. Fiction sales almost always peak within the first two to six weeks; for nonfiction, the peak can come any time during the first 15 weeks.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/A6uG3/1/

While you might assume that there would be overlooked books that build their audiences slowly and eventually make it onto the hallowed list, there really aren’t.

It’s all about the timing

In other words, what happens during a brief window of time can foretell a book’s success.

For this reason, the timing of the release matters a great deal, especially since the threshold to reach the list varies throughout the year.

In February or March, selling a few thousand copies can land a book on the best-seller list; in December – when sales skyrocket during the holidays – selling 10,000 copies a week might not guarantee a book a spot.

So when should authors publish?

It depends on their circumstances. If they lack a strong fan base, and their hope is to simply make it onto the best-seller list, it’s best to aim for February or March.

At the same time, appearing on The New York Times best-seller list doesn’t necessarily guarantee that a book will sell more copies. Research shows that appearing on the list tends to boost sales only for unknown authors, and the effect disappears after one to three weeks.

So for well-known authors or celebrities who already have built-in fan bases, appearing on the best-seller list might not matter as much. Instead, they’ll likely want to maximize sales – in which case, it’s best to publish in late October: The release will coincide with peak sales in December, when bookstores are packed with Christmas shoppers.

The good news is that if you’re like me – and have written several books that didn’t end up as best-sellers – you still have a chance to break through: Our analysis shows that only 14 percent of novelists made the list with their first book.The Conversation

Albert-László Barabási, Robert Gray Dodge Professor of Network Science, Northeastern University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Milkman by Anna Burns & Difficult Books


The link below is to an article that explores the need for difficult books and comments on the 2018 Man Booker winner, ‘Milkman,’ by Anna Burns.

For more visit:
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/nov/10/anna-burns-milkman-difficult-novel

The New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2018


The link below is to an article that lists the 100 notable books of 2018 according to The New York Times.

For more visit:
https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/11/19/books/review/100-notable-books.html

Bibliotherapy: how reading and writing have been healing trauma since World War I



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Viacheslav Nikolaenko via Shutterstock

Sara Haslam, The Open University; Edmund King, The Open University, and Siobhan Campbell, The Open University

Bibliotherapy – the idea that reading can have a beneficial effect on mental health – has undergone a resurgence. There is mounting clinical evidence that reading can, for example, help people overcome loneliness and social exclusion. One scheme in Coventry allows health professionals to prescribe books to their patients from a list drawn up by mental health experts.

Even as public library services across Britain are cut back, the healing potential of books is increasingly recognised.

The idea of the healing book has a long history. Key concepts were forged in the crucible of World War I, as nurses, doctors and volunteer librarians grappled with treating soldiers’ minds as well as bodies. The word “bibliotherapy” itself was coined in 1914, by American author and minister Samuel McChord Crothers. Helen Mary Gaskell (1853-1940), a pioneer of “literary caregiving”, wrote about the beginnings of her war library in 1918:

Surely many of us lay awake the night after the declaration of War, debating … how best we could help in the coming struggle … Into the mind of the writer came, like a flash, the necessity of providing literature for the sick and wounded.

The well-connected Gaskell took her idea to the medical and governmental authorities, gaining official approval. Lady Battersea, a close friend, offered her a Marble Arch mansion to store donated books, and The Times carried multiple successful public appeals. As Gaskell wrote:

What was our astonishment when not only parcels and boxes, but whole libraries poured in. Day after day vans stood unloading at the door.

Gaskell’s library was affiliated to the Red Cross in 1915 and operated internationally – with depots in Egypt, Malta, and Salonika. Her operating principles, axiomatic to bibliotherapy, were to provide a “flow of comfort” based on a “personal touch”. Gaskell explained that “the man who gets the books he needs is the man who really benefits from our library, physically and mentally”.

Her colleagues running Endell Street Military Hospital’s library shared similar views about the importance of books in wartime. On August 12, 1916, the Daily Telegraph reported on the hospital, calling the library a “story in itself”. Run by novelist Beatrice Harraden, a member of the Womens Social and Political Union and also, briefly, the actress and feminist playwright Elizabeth Robins, the library was a fundamental part of the treatment of 26,000 wounded between 1915 and 1918.

“We learned,” Robins wrote in Ancilla’s Share, her 1924 analysis of gender politics, “that the best way, often the only way, to get on with curing men’s bodies was to do something for their minds.”

The books the men wanted first were likely to be by the ex-journalist and popular writer Nat Gould, whose novels about horseracing were bestsellers. Otherwise, fiction by Rudyard Kipling, Marie Corelli, or Robert Louis Stevenson rated highly. In the Cornhill Magazine in November, 1916, Harraden revealed that the librarians’ “pilgrimages” from one bedside to another ensured what she called “good literature” was always within reach, but that the book that would “heal” was the one that was most wanted:

However ill [a patient] was, however suffering and broken, the name of Nat Gould would always bring a smile to his face.

The literary caregivers at Endell Street worked responsively, and without judgement, a crucial legacy.

Library on the frontline

Literary caregiving also took place closer to the front. Throughout the war, the YMCA operated a network of recreation huts and lending libraries for soldiers. After losing his only son, Oscar, at Ypres, the author E. W. Hornung offered his services to the YMCA. Hornung – a relatively obscure figure now, but a literary celebrity then – authored the “Raffles” stories about the gentleman thief of the same name.

Longshaw Lodge Convalescent Home for Wounded Soldiers, Grindleford, near Sheffield.
Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums

Arriving in France in late 1917, Hornung was initially put to work serving tea to British soldiers. But the YMCA soon found him a more suitable job, placing him in charge of a new lending library for soldiers in Arras. Dispensing tea and books to soldiers helped him process his grief. Hearing soldiers talk about their favourite books played a key role in his recovery – but he also sincerely believed that reading helped soldiers keep their minds healthy while they were in the trenches. Hornung wrote in 1918 that he wanted to feed “the intellectually starved”, while “always remembering that they are fighting-men first and foremost, and prescribing for them both as such and as the men they used to be”.

Writing a new future

Present-day veterans encounter the potential of reading and writing in equally participatory ways as interventions with the charities Combat Stress UK (CSUK) and Veterans’ Outreach Services demonstrate.

In CSUK, we read widely from contemporary work before undertaking writing exercises. These were designed to help provide detachment from the internal repetition of traumatic stories that some with PTSD experience. The director of therapy at CSUK, Janice Lobban, says:

Collaborative work … gave combat stress veterans the valuable opportunity of developing creative writing skills. Typically, the clinical presentation of veterans causes them to avoid unfamiliar situations and the loss of self-confidence can affect the ability to develop creative potential. Workshops within the safety of our Surrey treatment centre enabled veterans to have the confidence to experiment with new ideas.

Another approach, in workshops with Veterans’ Outreach Support in Portsmouth in 2018, explored the role of writing in training veterans to become “peer-mentors” of other veterans wanting to access VOS services, ranging from physical and mental wellness to housing benefits to job-seeking.

The results show that veterans responded positively to opportunities for imaginative writing. Trainee peer-mentors responding to a questionnaire told us that the exercises helped them to write fluently about their own lives. For people who spend so much time filling out forms to access various benefits, the opportunity to write creatively was seen as a liberating experience. As one veteran put it: “We are writing into ourselves”.

For 100 years now, reading and writing have helped veterans build relationships, gain confidence and face the challenges of their post-service lives. Our current research charts the influence of wartime literary caregiving on contemporary practice.The Conversation

Sara Haslam, Senior Lecturer in English, The Open University; Edmund King, Lecturer in English, The Open University, and Siobhan Campbell, Lecturer of Creative Writing, The Open University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

African elephants in literature — lessons in exploitation and compassion



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Shutterstock

Dan Wylie, Rhodes University

About 15 years ago I was in a Minneapolis conference centre, about to deliver a paper on elephants in Southern African fiction, when I encountered a curious local in an elevator. When I told her that one of my subjects was Wilbur Smith’s thriller, Elephant Song, she enthused,

Oh, I just loved that book; I contribute every year now to the Hohenwald Elephant Sanctuary.

I didn’t tell her that my paper critiqued the novel for being exploitative, and grossly sensationalist. Despite its title, the book is only tangentially interested in elephants – at least in comparison with Dalene Matthee’s famous Circles in a Forest, perhaps South Africa’s most eco-sensitive novel ever.

There’s no telling what people will get out of their reading. Even in our era of super-saturating graphics and television, photography and film, literature still has a considerable effect on public perceptions of environmental issues. Until very recently, of course, reading was the primary mode of information transfer. Many attitudes towards, say, elephants were established through literature, and persist in other media today.

This is the purview of my new book, Death and Compassion: The elephant in Southern African Literature. The book takes the region south of the Zambezi as its stamping-ground. It explores how various genres of literature reflect attitudes towards elephants. It takes literature in a broad sense, probing beyond the standard fiction and poetry into non-fiction forms such as hunting accounts and game-ranger memoirs.

Each chapter asks questions crucial to our understanding of our place in the natural world. It does so conscious that this understanding is the great problem of our times, superseding and enveloping all more localised and political squabbles. What is the relationship between science and compassion? Why do men hunt? How do we educate the young about animals, the environment and us? What sense of “community” might include wild and even dangerous animals?

Conflicting emotions

Elephants raise the conflicting emotions involved in humanity’s ongoing struggle to balance exploitation and well-being, damage and compassion to a particularly intense pitch.

Can we look to indigenous cultures for guidance, as conveyed by rock art, folktales and proverbs? The rock art is relatively opaque, while oral productions are now so refracted through translation into modern literary media that it’s hard to be sure what the originals’ attitudes towards elephants might have been. Reverence, awe, and taboo are evident enough, but it seems that animal compassion is an invention of modernity.

Compassion, at least as it emerges in this literature, seems to develop in response to destruction. It strengthens belatedly but proportionately to the catastrophic decimation of wildlife under invading white firepower, and the consequent sense of loss. I found the chapters on the 18th Century travel accounts (from Pieter Kolbe through François Le Vaillant to John Barrow), and the later nineteenth-century hunting accounts (from Roualeyn George Gordon-Cumming to Frederick Courteney Selous) the hardest to write.

The unremitting slaughter related by these adventurers is stomach-turning to say the least. Not that the hunters were oblivious to an ethical issue: without exception they engage at some level with already-nascent arguments for compassion.

Without exception they find literary methods to evade or suppress any emotions which impede the drive to kill. The genre is distinguished by its evasive manoeuvres designed to avoid thinking about it at all.

The adult fictions, from H. Rider Haggard to Wilbur Smith, are little better, being largely gratuitously gory adventure-tales which come to centre repetitively on a duel-like situation: single hunter versus great old tusker. It seldom ends well for the elephant.

Still, a shift becomes discernible in mid twentieth-century novels. “Conservation” is gaining traction, so the novel, just as it had migrated out of the hunting account, now drifts into some commonalities with the modern game-ranger memoir. The ranger becomes the hero, saving the tusker from poachers.

Of course, shadowing all this is the ivory trade. It had existed for centuries, drove most of the early slaughter and drives the renewed slaughter today. In some estimates, an African elephant is being killed every 15 minutes.

Ironically, because of the colonial-era establishment of game reserves like Kruger, southern Africa’s elephants so flourished that that other side of slaughter – the organised “cull” – for a time became the management tool of choice. The ethics of culling preoccupy both late novels and memoirs by rangers, scientists and managers (such as Caitlin McConnell and Lawrence Anthony).

Perception of elephants

In most recent works, the relatively new perception of elephants not just as mobile repositories of ivory but as emotionally sensitive, uniquely communicative and socially complex – almost human, even a model for humans – achieves unprecedented prominence.

This is especially so in fiction for children, in which compassion and empathy seem more acceptable, as if they are merely childish motivations for action in the world. A disastrous stance.

Poachers and ivory traders are unlikely to be persuaded by literature. Nevertheless, understanding stories – those of the murderous as well as of the compassionate – is vital to generating the critical mass necessary to save natural environments and their multiple denizens, from elephants to herons, from octopi to ants – and ourselves – from the myopia of Mammon.

Compassion alone, unanchored by economic and legislative power, is unlikely to reverse the tide of environmental destruction, but without cross-species compassion, we are surely lost.

Death & Compassion: The elephant in Southern African Literature is published by Wits University PressThe Conversation

Dan Wylie, Professor of English, Rhodes University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Kristallnacht 80 years on: some reading to help make sense of the most notorious state-sponsored pogrom



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German citizens in Magdeburg the morning after Kristallnacht.
German Federal Archive, CC BY-ND

Martin Goodman, University of Hull

On the evening of November 9 1938 a Nazi pogrom raged across German and Austrian cities. Nazis branded the atrocity with a poetic term: Kristallnacht or “Crystal Night”. In that branding, fiction took hold. In English it translates as “The Night of Broken Glass” but that also tames the horror. Yes, broken glass from Jewish shopfront windows littered the streets, but also hundreds of synagogues and Jewish businesses were burned to the ground while Jews were beaten, imprisoned and killed.

Eight decades later, novelists are still trying to make sense of the pogrom – which was was designed to give the Nazi Party’s antisemitic agenda the legitimacy of public support.

Herschel Grynszpan just after his arrest on November 7 1938.
Bundesarchiv Bild

Kristallnacht marked a new epoch. Earlier pogroms, such as in Russia, were popular riots – now, for the first time, an industrial nation turned the forces of the state against an ethnic group within its own borders. To get away with this, a state needs to control the narrative. In this instance, propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels was the key player. When a young Polish Jew named Herschel Grynszpan entered the German Embassy in Paris and shot a German official, Goebbels saw the possibilities. He used news of the event to trigger Kristallnacht.

Fear and disbelief

The state that attacks its citizens also turns on its writers and free-thinkers – people who can construct a counter-narrative. The future Nobel Prize-winner Elias Canetti and his wife, the writer Veza, were such people. “We shall remember this November”, a Jewish character reflects in Veza Canetti’s novel The Tortoises, “when we are all being punished because a child went wrong and was led astray”.

In the wake of Kristallnacht, the Canettis fled Vienna for Paris and by January 1939 had settled in exile in London, where, in a feverish three months, Veza wrote her novel (unpublished until this century). It provides a window on how intellectuals fought to understand the unimaginable as it unfolded. “The temples are burning!” says one character. “Can you believe that’s possible?” asks another. So why don’t they go and see for themselves? “People haven’t the heart. They feel like criminals. They believe the temple will strike them down if they watch and don’t do anything about it.”

Emil and Karl, the first published novel to feature the pogrom, came out in New York in February 1940. Yankev Glatshteyn, a Polish Jew and immigrant to the US, wrote it in Yiddish to alert American Jewish youngsters to the perils facing their European kindred. It features two friends, one a Jewish boy and the other the son of socialists. Forced to scrub streets clean with their hands after Kristallnacht, both boys learn they must flee their country if they are to stay alive.

Novelist Christa Wolf was 27 when she witnessed Kristallnacht.
Amazon

Christa Wolf, who forged life as a writer in what became East Germany, fed her memories of the night into Nelly, a character in her 1976 novel A Model Childhood. Nelly knew nothing of Jews, but in that pogrom she witnessed a burning synagogue. “It wouldn’t have taken much for Nelly to have succumbed to an improper emotion: compassion,” Wolf reflected. “But healthy German common sense built a barrier against it: fear.” These asides of bitter irony note the chilling reality of the time: those who showed sympathy for the plight of the Jews risked sharing their plight.

Still burning

So to the 21st century. With events such as Kristallnacht locked away in history, what use are we novelists? Novels unlock history. Governments maintain their hold on narratives that justify abuses of power – but novelists can invert that narrative order to reveal neglected viewpoints.

In 2009, Laurent Binet novelised the life and death of Reinhard Heydrich (a man known as “Hitler’s Brain” – the German acronym which gives the book its title: HHhH. Under orders from Goebbels, Heydrich set the November pogrom in motion. Binet maintains clinical control of the story, anchoring it to archived fact. Heydrich is shown measuring Kristallnacht’s efficiency, including the cost of all the broken glass.

The interior of Fasanenstrasse Synagogue, Berlin, which was burned on Kristallnacht.
Center for Jewish History, New York

In Michele Zackheim’s Last Train to Paris (2013) an American Jewish female journalist is dispatched into Nazi-controlled Berlin. Highlighted here is not the broken glass, but the fires.

[With] no wind, clouds of smoke were perched on top of each burning building. In between the buildings, perversely, as if Mother Nature were laughing at our idiocy, we could see the stars.

Those fires also burn a synagogue in a remote Austrian town in The Lost Letter, the 2017 novel by Jillian Cantor – a novelist who focuses on 20th-century history. Cantor’s novel follows Zackheim’s in looking back over decades, seeking emotional engagement with distant tragedy.

All the toys in the world

Günter Grass was ten on Kristallnacht, the same age as Oskar in his novel The Tin Drum (1952). The Jewish toyshop that supplied Oskar’s drum was burned down that night and the shop owner killed himself – “he took along with him all the toys in the world”. A character akin to Grass appears in John Boyne’s 2018 novel A Ladder to the Sky. In his teens Grass joined the Waffen-SS – a fact he kept secret until old age.

A column of Jews being deported ‘for their own safety’, in November 1938, following the Kristallnacht pogrom.
Federal Archives, CC BY-ND

In Boyne’s book, the central character, a writer, took actions after Kristallnacht that destroyed a Jewish family. Like Grass he contained the story for decades. Of course, the true storyteller must share and not conceal stories. Wolf showed us how fear was a barrier against compassion. Boyne makes us face the consequences of overcoming such fear.

Once people would have said Kristallnacht was unimaginable in a modern context. But they were wrong – do Roma feel safe from the actions of the Hungarian State today? How safe are the Rohingya in Myanmar, Mexicans in the US, the Windrush generation in the UK?

Through fiction we can enter history, encounter suffering and exercise compassion. We close our book, awakened. Fiction sharpens memory for when history repeats itself.The Conversation

Martin Goodman, Professor of Creative Writing, University of Hull

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How the apartheid regime burnt books — in their tens of thousands



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The Railway Depot furnace at Kaserne, Johannesburg in 1971. Banned and confiscated books and magazines were burnt weekly.
Wits Student

Archie Dick, University of Pretoria

On the advice of the State Librarian one fine day in the 1970s, a truck transported thousands of books and magazines from Pretoria’s Central Police Station to a dark hall at the Iscor state steel company, just outside the South African capital. A large mechanical shovel scooped up and dropped them into a 20 metre high oven, causing it to spew flames and smoke. This was another truckload of material that had been banned for political reasons and was routinely burned in furnaces across South Africa from the 1950s to the 1970s.

Historical examples show that books are banned and destroyed because they offend the politics, morals, or religion of the day. Information science academic Rebecca Knuth, wrote in Burning Books and Leveling Libraries that if a regime is racist, it destroys the books of groups deemed inferior; if nationalistic, the books of competing nations and cultures; and if religiously extremist, all texts contradicting sacred doctrines.

Sometimes these forces combine. Recent examples include the destruction of Muslim books and libraries in Bosnia in the 1990s by
Serbian nationalist forces. In 2013 there was the burning by Islamist insurgents of the Timbuktu library and the next year the same happened in Lebanon to Tripoli’s historic Al Sa’eh Library.

The apartheid era – from the middle of the 20th century – had its own variation on the theme. Thousands of books were banned, ranging from Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Insulted and Humiliated to popular Westerns writer Louis L’Amour’s Hopalong Cassidy series.

The fact that books were burnt underscored the state’s desire to make sure the printed word was utterly destroyed. The practice also revealed a darker side of the library profession which connived in the book burning. Between 1955 and 1971 most librarians didn’t protest when thousands of books and other reading material were taken from libraries, and burned at municipal incinerators and furnaces. Some even joined in.

The rise of authoritarianism

State sanctioned book burnings were common as authoritarianism accompanied a growing Afrikanerisation of South African society as the dominant, ruling Afrikaner elite started to impose its culture on all spheres of society. Members of the elite did this first by unifying Afrikaner cultural and church organisations. This took the form of a declaration on behalf of “Volksorganisasies” (Afrikaner people’s organisations) that was signed in 1941 and pledged support for conservative Christian national ideology.

This sometimes involved the burning of books as a symbol of purification. One of the more worrying aspects was the solid support from ordinary South African librarians for these treacherous acts.

Even when books were burned by public libraries, the profession meekly accepted the situation. This signified support and agreement with what was happening, and reflected the dominant authoritarian mood and spirit in South Africa and the library community at that time.

In October 1955, the city librarian of Johannesburg, exclaimed:

All copies are brought in to me and I destroy them personally.

In the same month, a Cape Town newspaper reported that a couple of hundred books had been burned. Two years later, the deputy city librarian of Cape Town announced the fate of banned books returned from branch libraries to his Central Library:

We will have a big bonfire and burn them.

All-out attack on free speech

What started as the burning largely of imported pornographic books, became an all-out attack on free speech after the findings of a commission of inquiry into “undesirable publications” were made public in October 1957. The inquiry gave the Nationalist government the excuse to destroy books and pamphlets critical of its policies, and of dramatic developments in the country.

Each new issue of the Government Gazette included the latest additions to the list of banned books. Books on communism and those that criticised apartheid dogma were targeted. In 1954 banned titles included the Pravda and Daily Worker newspapers, and Vladimir Lenin’s Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution. Books on innocuous topics about communist countries, like China’s “Railways and Labour Insurance Regulations of the People’s Republic of China”, were also deemed subversive and added to the list.

Even Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 (which, ironically, is the temperature at which book paper starts burning) was burned. From the town of Brakpan in the North to Durban in the East and Cape Town in the South, several thousands of books were removed from library shelves and burned. In July 1964 Cape Town City library services announced that more than 800 books had been burned.

By this time the list of banned publications had swelled to a total of 12 000 titles. In June 1968, a newspaper reported that 5 375 books of the Natal Provincial libraries had been withdrawn from circulation and burned. By April 1971 books were still steadily being burned in Cape Town – at the rate of two per day.

It was only in the late 1980s that successful appeals from a few brave librarians to the state censors saw restricted books unbanned, and saved from apartheid’s furnaces.

In the early-1990s as South Africa moved towards becoming a democracy hundreds of archival documents and public records were shredded and burned by the apartheid state’s security establishment – once again in the furnaces of Iscor.

Could book burning happen again in contemporary South Africa? Given a similar set of circumstances, there is every reason to believe that it can. South Africans should remain diligent and alert to threats to freedom of expression.
The ashes of burnt books tell of the barbarism to which a society can descend.The Conversation

Archie Dick, Head of Department and Professor of Information Science, University of Pretoria

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Growing Up In a Home Full of Books is Good For You


The link below is to an article that looks at a new study that confirms growing up in a home full of books is good for you.

For more visit:
http://mentalfloss.com/article/559956/new-study-confirms-growing-home-filled-books-good-you

DM Thomas’s The White Hotel and why some novels are ‘unfilmable’



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Babi Yar: the World War II atrocity is one of the themes of The White Hotel.
GoldbergShalom

Kamilla Elliott, Lancaster University

There have been several attempts over the years to make a movie out of DM Thomas’s critically acclaimed 1981 novel, The White Hotel. But despite the involvement of such giants of the screen as David Lynch, Bernardo Bertolucci, Terrence Malik and David Cronenberg – who made a name for himself as a director who can adapt so-called “unfilmable books” – the novel has this far proved resistant to film adaptation.

In the absence of a film version, the book was recently adapted for radio by the BBC, directed by Jon Amiel and based on a screenplay written by the late Dennis Potter in the 1980s.

DM Thomas himself wrote in 2004 about the tortuous and sometimes tortured battle over screen rights for his novel, but apart from the saga over rights – so familiar to any novelist whose work has pricked the attention of film-makers – what was it about the book itself that meant a radio adaptation succeeded when film adaptations have failed?

There are a number of media, cultural and economic conventions that can explain this. But, in general, books that have been called “unfilmable” are books that are hard to read: weighty, ponderous, abstract, complex, convoluted, labyrinthine, densely allusive and excessively long. Or books that treat terrifying, horrifying, revolting or repulsive subjects.

One of the greatest books never filmed: The White Hotel.
Abebooks

The White Hotel is a difficult read – for a start there’s the unreliable, psychologically disturbed, potentially hallucinating narrator, whose obscene and surreal narratives are followed by representations of horrific historical events and natural disasters. The book’s sections shift jarringly across textual forms and styles – rational, psychoanalytic case notes melt into mythological explorations of psychological symbols. Stories of strange mental states jolt into collective, realist histories. It’s a challenging read.

By contrast, mainstream film conventions require a clear narrative structure and a degree of temporo-spatial logic and continuity. They tend not to favour excessively “talky” screenplays, preferring to tell their stories through visuals and structure them via editing.

These and other reasons that books have been considered unfilmable have been widely discussed. They include historical sprawl (Gabriel Garciá Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude), multiple worlds (Stephen King’s Dark Tower series), too many characters (David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest), and multiple unreliable narrators who confuse the story (Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves).

Some novels are written with a stream of consciousness that keeps the story inside a character’s head (James Joyce’s Ulysses and Thomas Bernhard’s Woodcutters); there may be lack of clear plot and dynamic action (Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse), fantasies too elusive for film’s special effects (H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness), or a book may be too distressing or obscene to visualise realistically (Art Spiegelman’s Maus and The White Hotel).

Satisfying the censors

Censorship has also limited the number and scope of books that are allowed to be filmed – as films are more tightly controlled and censored than books. The reasons for this tighter control of visual images have ancient roots in Judaic, Islamic and Protestant Christian religions which represent the word as divine and the visual image as profane.

Babi Yar memorial in Kiev, Ukraine.
Roland Geider

Their legacy persists in secular censorship practices. The US Motion Picture Production Code (MPCC) of 1930 ruled that: “The latitude given to film material cannot … be as wide as the latitude given to book material,” because “a book reaches the mind through words merely; a film reaches the eyes and ears through the reproduction of actual events”. It concluded that:

The mobility, popularity, accessibility, emotional appeal, vividness, straightforward presentation of fact in the films makes for intimate contact on a larger audience and greater emotional appeal. Hence the larger moral responsibilities of the motion pictures.

The MPCC advocated censoring films more stringently than books because film “reaches every class of society”, while other arts have their “grades for different classes”.

Even following the relaxation of the MPPC and similar censorship laws in other nations in the late 20th century, these considerations persist. When James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) was made into a film by Joseph Strick in 1967, it remained banned in Ireland until 2000, whereas the book was never officially banned in Ireland.

Million dollar question

When David Cronenberg filmed William S. Burroughs’s so-called unfilmable Naked Lunch (1959) in 1991, and was criticised for not being faithful to the book, he retorted that a “straightforward adaptation”, featuring all of the book’s far-flung locations and representing its most shocking scatological and sexual passages would “cost US$100m and be banned in every country in the world”. So the book could be filmed, but it could not be financed or pass film censorship laws.

Financing and censorship are interconnected: films have to reach a much larger audience than novels or radio plays to turn a profit, and must therefore appeal to the mainstream. BBC Radio 4 has a much smaller audience and can appeal to other demographics on other radio channels.

For all of these reasons, a word-only adaptation for the niche audience of BBC Radio 4, aired on a Saturday afternoon – a time when listener numbers are close to being the lowest of the week – clearly offered an economically viable and socially acceptable venue for transmitting this brilliant and challenging novel in another media form. For this, at least, we must be grateful.The Conversation

Kamilla Elliott, Professor of Literature and Media, Lancaster University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Length of Books/Ebooks


The link below is to an article that takes a look at the length of books/ebooks – are books/ebooks getting longer?

For more visit:
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/sep/21/the-guardian-view-on-lengthening-books-read-them-and-weep