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The Washington Post expands book coverage

Starting Jan. 23, The Washington Post is expanding its Sunday book coverage to include two new specialized reviews.

The additional coverage is part of The Post’s decision to split the Arts and Sunday Style sections, the latter of which will now come as a pull-out tabloid. The Arts section will feature a review of an arts-based book, while the Sunday Style section will get its own pop culture-themed book review. Book news and criticism featured in the newspaper’s Outlook section won’t be affected by the changes.

In a press release, Post publisher Katharine Weymouth said the expansion reflects the publication’s “commitment to providing [the metro Washington] community with news and information that is compelling, informative and engaging in our Sunday package.”

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Two views of Arundhati Roy

Arundhati Roy, the Booker Prize–winning author of The God of Small Things, has been in the news recently for her outspoken comments about Kashmiri secession from India. Last week, rumours began circulating that the author might be charged with sedition for a speech in which she said, in part, “Kashmir has never been an integral part of India. It is a historical fact.”

Although the Indian government appears to have backed away from charging Roy with sedition, on Sunday a mob gathered at the author’s Delhi home to demand she retract her statements. From the Guardian:

Around 150 members of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s women’s organisation surrounded the house chanting slogans such as: “Take back your statement, else leave India.” The BJP is fiercely opposed to Kashmiri independence.

Although Roy has received support from left-leaning commentators at the Guardian and on other websites (notably that of fellow author Hari Kunzru), Leo Mirani, also writing in the Guardian, feels the author’s overheated rhetoric has made her statements “irrelevant in Indian public discourse.” Mirani writes:

Who would want to live in Arundhati Roy’s India? Who would even want to read about Arundhati Roy’s India? The government of India has many faults, but even Roy has to admit that living in this country isn’t entirely intolerable. Confronted with the relentlessly bleak picture she paints, one in which the only good guys are murderers and mercenaries, who can blame middle India for retreating into their iPods and tabloid newspapers?

Roy has important things to say, but her tone and bluster ensure the only people listening are those who already agree with her. She is preaching to the converted. To the left-leaning publications of the west, she is an articulate, intelligent voice explaining the problems with 21st-century India. For the university lefties in India, she confirms their worst fears of a nation falling apart. But to any intelligent readers who may be sitting on the fence or for anyone from middle-class India taking their first tentative steps towards greater political involvement, her polemic serves to terrify and alienate.

Clearly, the 150 people who stormed Roy’s house on Sunday don’t feel that her statements are irrelevant. As for Roy herself, she has issued a press release in which she insinuates possible collusion between the protestors and the media (TV vans had appeared in the neighbourhood prior to the demonstrators descending upon her house):

What is the nature of the agreement between these sections of the media and mobs and criminals in search of spectacle? Does the media which positions itself at the “scene” in advance have a guarantee that the attacks and demonstrations will be non-violent? What happens if there is criminal trespass (as there was today) or even something worse? Does the media then become accessory to the crime?

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The Atlantic kindles a new relationship with Amazon

Edna O’Brien, Curtis Sittenfeld, and Paul Theroux are among the writers who will be making their short fiction available exclusively to Kindle users thanks to a new deal between online retailer Amazon.com and the general interest magazine The Atlantic. The first two of these stories, O’Brien’s “Shovel Kings” and Christopher Buckley’s “Cynara,” are available today. From the press release:

As outlets publishing fiction rapidly dwindle, The Atlantic asserts its historic commitment to the form by introducing two new short stories each month via Amazon’s Kindle – becoming the first magazine to deliver fiction exclusively to Kindle readers…. These works will also be available for purchase and reading with the Kindle for iPhone and Kindle for PC apps, as well as planned Kindle platform expansions for Mac and Blackberry.

At the risk of sounding snarky, this Quillblogger would like to point out the irony in the first clause of that opening sentence, given the magazine’s decision in 2005 to cease publishing short fiction on a monthly basis and to group fiction into a kind of annual gulag in their summer issue.

Moreover, The New York Times points out that authors who have their work published as part of this agreement will have access to a rather exclusive audience:

For authors who sign with The Atlantic for the Kindle deal, their contracted work is limited to that one format, since those who don’t own a Kindle – or an iPhone, on which readers can install a Kindle app – won’t be able to read it.

Participating authors, who have been paid what the NYT refers to as “a four-figure fee,” may at some future time reprint their stories in collections or other periodicals, but they are prohibited from allowing them to appear on competing e-readers.

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Barnes & Noble launches world’s biggest e-book store

U.S. mega-chain Barnes & Noble announced in a press release yesterday the creation of the world’s biggest e-book store comprising “more than 700,000 titles, including hundreds of new releases and bestsellers at only $9.99.” Unlike Amazon’s Kindle-only e-books, e-books purchased through B&N’s store will be compatible with a number of platforms (aside from the Kindle, of course): iPhone, BlackBerry, and most Windows and Mac computers. Through a partnership with Google Books, the B&N e-book store will also offer more than 500,000 free and downloadable public domain e-books.

B&N als announced an exclusive agreement to provide e-books for the forthcoming Plastic Logic e-reader, a device that is geared toward business professionals. From Fortune:

Plastic Logic vice president of business development Daren Benzi says his device is geared for business travelers, and as such will support the display of PDF files, Microsoft’s MS Word, Powerpoint, and Excel, as well as newspapers and magazines. But e-books are a big part of the game plan. “Will we carry every single one of those 700,000-plus titles? I don’t know. We’ll announce that as we get further along,” said Benzi. “But we will have access to them all.

Elsewhere in the blogosphere, The Book Oven analyzes how B&N’s move will affect the e-book market.

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Publishers as the new newsies?

There’s an interesting piece on the January magazine blog about how the ongoing massacres at traditional newspapers are affecting the way publishers hawk shill promote talk about their books. The piece argues – correctly, in our view – that publishers and booksellers rushing in to fill the content vacuum left by depleted news coverage in traditional media (read: newspapers) can’t possibly take the same unbiased approach to book coverage as an independent journalist:

You cannot expect self-interested parties – publishers, booksellers, even authors – to disseminate unbiased stories about themselves and those they represent. It just doesn’t work that way. And yet, as traditional media fail, that’s exactly what we are increasingly seeing.

The article cites the Barnes & Noble Review and Penguin U.S.’s recent foray into “online programming” as examples of the “mad blurring” that results from “a kind of desperate clutching for something that makes sense when held against traditional standards of doing things.”

Now, before the comments section gets flooded, Quillblog will point out the obvious bias in linking to an article that supports traditional journalism when it comes to book coverage. And we will grant that in the incestuous world of Canadian publishing, finding a completely unbiased commentator is tantamount to finding a nun in a strip club. Nevertheless, we applaud the spirit behind January‘s argument. (Oh, wait: they’re biased too? Never mind.)

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The next of Kindle

After much fevered expectation on the part of tech-heads, nerds, and people with money to burn, the new Star Trek movie big-ass version of the Kindle has finally arrived.

From the Financial Times:

Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, on Wednesday unveiled a new larger format version of its Kindle e-reader, selling for $489, which it says is more suited for reading newspapers, academic periodicals and text books.

The launch of the reader is being supported by the New York Times, Boston Globe and Washington Post, which are launching pilots this summer that will offer the Kindle at a reduced price to readers who live in areas where home delivery is not available and who sign up for a long-term subscription to the Kindle edition of the newspapers.

Sam Grobart at The New York Times‘ Gadgetwise blog wonders why he can’t just try the damn thing out before buying it:

The new Kindle looks impressive, but wouldn’t consumers (and, for that matter, Amazon) be better served if they could handle it before ordering it? I’m not suggesting that Amazon start opening stores – that would be antithetical to the whole nature of the company. But how about a few demo kiosks in major cities (here in New York, you could set up in, say, Grand Central Station or Times Square). No Kindles would be sold there, but you could place an order after checking one out. Or cut a deal with Wal-Mart, Sears, Starbucks or some other national retailer where you could set up kiosks.

Gawker’s Owen Thomas, meanwhile, declares the device mostly okay for what it is, but a bad sign for the newspapers who are helping push it:

The Kindle DX is a fair-looking device — homely in the way that every gadget not made by Apple inevitably is, but passably designed. But will it save newspapers? No. And Bezos is hedging his bets, even as he has managed to scare the press lords into shelling out their precious remaining cash into funding the distribution of his pricey e-reader. Today, he hawked the Kindle DX as a means for reading textbooks, sheet music, novels, and science journals. Newspapers are just one checkbox in a long list of features — and yet he’s cajoled the gullible likes of [New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger] into handing him a pile of cash.

And it’s not like Amazon needs the money. It’s a steady cash generator — especially for Bezos himself. On Friday, he sold $63 million in Amazon shares. On Monday, as news of the Kindle leaked, he sold another $16 million. If he’s such a big believer in supporting journalism, why didn’t Bezos announce he was personally giving away 160,000 Kindles to people who agreed to sign up for a newspaper subscription? He could afford it.

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New Kindle may come with King-sized content

Today, Amazon has announced the release of Kindle 2, the new version of its popular Kindle e-reader. Priced at U.S.$359, the new version of the device includes an improved display, with 16 different shades of grey (who knew?), 25% longer battery life, and the capability of storing 1,500 books.

And, according to the Wall Street Journal, one selling point may be a new work of fiction by Stephen King, produced exclusively (at least in the short term) for the device.

It is possible that the King work — in which a Kindle-like device plays a role in the story — could be published as part of a physical book at a later date by the author’s current publisher, Scribner, an imprint of CBS Corp.’s Simon & Schuster publishing arm. Scribner last November published Mr. King’s most recent book, “Just After Sunset: Stories.”

Efforts to elicit an email response from Mr. King were unsuccessful. Spokesmen for Amazon and Simon & Schuster both declined to comment.

This Quillblogger has in the past got into some hot water for daring to criticize the unchallenged ascendency of e-readers, and will refrain from doing so here. Presumably Oprah’s endorsement last fall (which, according to the WSJ might have contributed to the device’s unavailability over the crucial Christmas selling season), along with the King story, will result in healthy sales for Kindle 2.

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Phil Marchand lands at the National Post

Longtime Toronto Star book critic Phil Marchand, who switched jobs with former Star film critic Geoff Pevere at the beginning of this year, has now begun what is being promised as a weekly books column in the Saturday edition of the National Post.

The film beat never quite suited Marchand – as he himself admitted in a first-person piece in a recent issue of Q&Q. If nothing else, it was always a head-scratcher to see his byline, which had previously come at the end of long, thoughtful reviews of new books by Joseph Boyden, Alice Munro, Ian McEwan and the like, now accompanying bemused takes on movies like Troll 2, The Happening, and Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns.

It’s also good to see more original book content in the Post, which tends to fill out its review section with work taken from British newspapers and its fellow CanWest publications.

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United States Conference of Catholic Bishops deep-sixes positive review of The Golden Compass…. sort of

From The Baltimore Sun:

Days after its publication, a largely positive review of the film version of The Golden Compass that appeared in Catholic newspapers across the country was retracted this week by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The bishops, who could not be reached for comment, offered no explanation for the decision. But Catholic groups, including the conservative Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, have urged moviegoers to boycott the film, saying the film and the book on which it is based are anti-Catholic.

“Certainly, there was all kinds of speculation from the day it went up [on the Web site] as to whether or not something like this would happen,” said Jim Lackey, general news editor for the Catholic News Service, a wire service run by the bishops’ conference. He was told Monday to remove the review from the service’s Web site.

However, it would appear that the USCCB – or “uscub” (we just made that up) – has as shaky an understanding of how the web works as they do of art. You see, nothing really disappears from the web, so if you’d like to read the Catholic News Service’s review, go here. You can also go to the main page here and watch the review appear and then disappear a few seconds later. Talk about a tease!

Ironically enough, it’s probably one of the few positive reviews the movie got anywhere.

Here is the money quote from the review:

To the extent, moreover, that Lyra and her allies are taking a stand on behalf of free will in opposition to the coercive force of the Magisterium, they are of course acting entirely in harmony with Catholic teaching. The heroism and self-sacrifice that they demonstrate provide appropriate moral lessons for viewers.

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Review embargoes are all about money

The argument has been made, with respect to last week’s iPhone Tickle-Me-Elmo Harry Potter midnight madness, that breaking the embargo on the book’s contents just ruins it for readers. According to Tim Rutten in the Los Angeles Times, however, review embargoes are usually just about money.

Here it’s necessary to distinguish between the newspaper critics and the cyber crooks, who may have posted sections of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on the Web. That’s theft, and if we don’t protect the intellectual property of even fabulously wealthy creative people like Rowling, they’ll have less and less incentive to produce the things that entertain and delight us. Her publishers are right to go after these looters with laptops with every lawyer they hire.

Embargoes on reviews and discussions are another matter. All the outrage surrounding this particular book notwithstanding, contemporary publishers impose these blackouts not in the interest of readers but to protect the carefully planned publicity campaigns they create for books on which they have advanced large sums of money.

This is the economic imperative that leads publishers to withhold the contents of even nonfiction manuscripts that contain news that the public has a vital interest in knowing.

It’s also why newspapers, including this one, routinely break those embargoes without any pang of conscience. Our first and most compelling obligation is to our readers’ right to know and not to the commercial interests of publishers.

Rutten goes on to note that the before-the-witching-hour reviews that did appear were very respectful in terms of not giving away the book’s shocker ending, in which Harry discovers that he was a ghost the whole time, the ape-planet was really Earth, soylent green is made out of people, Ron was Keyser Söze, and Hermione was a guy.

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Book Pictures

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Eva Stachniak's Empress of the Night

Eva Stachniak poses with a copy of her book, Empress of the Night

Tea and snacks inspired by Eva Stachniak's Empress of the Night

Rimma Burashko with author Eva Stachniak

Eva Stachniak talks to the audience about the best and worst of Catherine the Great's favourites

Eva Stachniak smiles as she signs a copy of Empress of the Night for a fan

Fans wait in line to have their copies of Empress of the Night signed by Eva Stachniak

Fans wait in line to have their copies of Empress of the Night signed by Eva Stachniak

Lesley Strutt, Dean Steadman, Amanda Earl, Alastair Larwill and Frances Boyle

Frances Boyle, Dean Steadman, Lesley Strutt and Alastair Larwill

Amanda Earl

Jewel of the Thames launch

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