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Fifty Shades of Grey continues sales domination

The public’s appetite for vanilla BDSM/repurposed Twilight fan fiction appears to be insatiable. According to the Guardian, E.L. James is the first author to have three books sell more than 100,000 copies apiece in the U.K. over the course of a single week. Fifty Shades of Grey, the first book in James’s trilogy of erotic fiction titles, also holds the record for the most copies of a paperback sold in the U.K. over one week.

The Guardian has the tale of the tape for Fifty Shades:

The story of the submissive-dominant relationship between a literature student and a business executive, which started life as fan fiction, the Fifty Shades trilogy has sold over 2.75m copies in the U.K., on top of sales of 15m copies sold in the U.S. and Canada. The trilogy, the fastest-selling books of the year in the U.K., has already been reprinted 16 times in the U.K. and publisher Arrow has just signed off on an additional reprint of 2.75m copies.

Of course, the piece goes on to point out that reader reaction is decidedly mixed, with 330 Amazon reviews allotting the book only a single star.

For those readers who have decided to look elsewhere for literary titillation, the Guardian also provides a list of other titles that traffic in what Monty Python referred to as “the naughty bits,” including everything from Sappho’s poetry to novels by Emily Brontë, Jilly Cooper, and Judy Blume.

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Russell Smith on sex and Canadian publishing

Globe and Mail columnist Russell Smith offers his thoughts on sex in Canadian publishing. His conclusion? Despite the fact that it is full of “totally unbelievable hotties,” overall the industry is surprisingly chaste.

The author of six works of fiction (most recently the novel Girl Crazy), Smith goes on to congratulate himself for having resisted the temptations of so many “gorgeous 32-year-olds with graduate degrees from McGill” over the years: “I have never in my whole career made a real pass at one of my colleagues or, I think, been flirtatious to the point of making someone seriously worried about my attention. Even when I was single.”

While Smith’s column is an amusing look at the relationship between an author and his publishing team, it’s most scathing in pointing out the power relationships inside publishing houses that lead to gender imbalances:

It’s an unusual industry: one dominated by highly educated and intelligent women, many of them young. Most of the high-up executives on the commercial side of publishing are still men. The literary side is female. Most of the editors-in-chief of the major publishing houses are women; most of the publicists are women; almost all the agents are women; the powerful CBC Radio programs that discuss books are hosted by women; most of the readers are women; the single powerful bookstore chain in the country is run by a woman. And it is a highly social industry, because social events promote books: Anyone who works for a publishing house must attend, as part of work, frequent evening book launches, book fairs and literary festivals, and they are all soaked in booze. So are most of the writers.

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Salman Rushdie: still banned, still a ladies’ man

Given that the Man Booker shortlist has just been announced, and talk of the Bookers often brings to mind author Salman Rushdie, it’d be interesting to know what he’s up to these days.

Well, there’s good news and bad news.

The bad news is, as columnist Nilanjana S. Roy notes in India’s Business Standard, Rushdie’s notorious 1988 novel The Satanic Verses is still banned in that country:

How practical is the lifting of the ban on the Verses today? The fear expressed by ministry officials in 1988 was not that the book itself was inflammatory — it was that passages from the book might be misused by other forces. You might want to ask the Indian state whether it has learned nothing of how to protect itself against these other forces in the last 20 years.

One aim of lifting the ban would be, eventually, to put The Satanic Verses back into stores, and let people make up their own minds on the book — through indifference, through their interest, through debate or dissent. It is possible that, if a legal action was successful and the ban was lifted, publishers and bookshops would still be wary of publishing or carrying the books.

But overturning the ban would be the first step to doing something we haven’t done so far, that is bigger than any one book or any one author — protecting our right as Indians to free speech. What happened 21 years ago pushed us in the direction of becoming more fearful, more regressive; and surely two decades is enough time for us to undo this old injustice.

It’s astonishing that this ban still stands. But lest you think Quillblog is all about political ideals and high-mindedness, we have to pass on that there’s some good news in Rushdie-land, according to Britain’s The Daily Mail:

When he is seen in public, a beautiful woman is normally never far away.

And Salman Rushdie’s appearance at the Venice Film Festival was no exception.

The controversial author, 61, was spotted at the opening of the film Francesca with Canadian-born former model Carolann Javicoli.

The pair cosied up around the pool of the exclusive Hotel De Bains at a party after the event and happily posed for pictures.

That would be the married Canadian-born former model Carolann Javicoli. Hey, just because you’ve been sentenced to death by a bellicose theocracy, doesn’t mean you can’t be mackin’.

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Borders U.K. targets bookish singles

Quillblogger, with dark hair, eyes, age indeterminate, possessed of a vaguely Byronesque temperament, likes Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Flannery O’Connor, and long walks on the beach. Dislikes Dan Brown novels and anything Twilight-related. Enquiries welcome. Photo preferred.

Don’t laugh: Borders U.K. is hoping that lovelorn literary singles will gravitate to its site to connect with other like-minded readers for some off-the-page encounters. The Bookseller is reporting that Borders’ new online dating service, optimistically dubbed “Happily Ever After,” will successfully match “people who share similar interests and hobbies.” And, not incidentally, sell a ton of product:

Visitors to the Borders website can sign up to the new service over the next few weeks for £1 per month. After that period the subscription will be £9.99 per month. The site also showcases a wide range of books for all the latest advice on dating.

Profiting off of others’ unhappiness is obviously nothing new – it’s the raison d’être of the self-help publishing industry – but this seems a bit over-the-top nonetheless. Not that this is the first time anyone has tried to marry dating services and bookselling: Penguin U.K. did something similar last year, in conjunction with the dating web site Match.com.

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Can a commercial printer invoke religion in order to refuse services?

A blog post on Torontoist yesterday looked at Toronto printer Harmony Printing, and its refusal to produce author Adam Bourret’s autobiographical graphic novel I’m Crazy, a story that deals with “histories, secrets, obsessive compulsive disorder, drugs, gay romance, hallucinations, and insanity.” Although Bourret is serializing the novel online, he wanted to do a small run of print copies, and approached Harmony for an estimate, to which he received this reply:

Unfortunately due to the content I am going to have to respectfully decline. The reason is we have a lot of long standing clients who are religious organizations. They are in our facilities all of the time and [we] cannot risk having this content out in the open during production. Please understand that this is not a slight against your artwork or the message that you are trying to convey to your audience. I wish you all the best and I hope you can understand our position.

The biggest unanswered question from Harmony’s reply is what dubious “content” they are referring to, since it is not explicitly mentioned. When the Torontoist contacted Harmony, they clarified that the issue was not the sexual orientation of the writer/main character, but rather the images of people having sex. Either way, is Harmony’s refusal of services legal? The Torontoist sums up the details on both sides of the debate:

A good place to start any discussion about the legality of refusing services is the Ontario Human Rights Code, which guarantees the right to equal treatment with respect to services, goods, and facilities without discrimination because of certain characteristics. After much struggle, sexual orientation was added as a characteristic in 1986.

The flip side, however, is that equal treatment isn’t guaranteed if the characteristic isn’t listed. (Exception: a court may choose to “read in” a new characteristic that has been unconstitutionally omitted, but this is rare.) So a magazine can refuse to print ads for escort services, and a club can have a style code, because the Code doesn’t prohibit discrimination in the provision of services against prostitutes or the unstylish.

If you accept Harmony’s defence–that it feared a backlash from religious clients who would object to images of people having sex–then Harmony is probably in the clear. The characteristic of “having sex” is not listed in the Code, and it is (highly) unlikely to be read in.

This is, as the quote above notes, if you accept Harmony’s defence, and that you don’t instead believe that Harmony feared a backlash from religious clients who would object specifically to images of two men having sex.

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Bookmarks: Shopping lists, the iPhone Kindle app, and the $1-million French novel

  • For those who thought the old adage was a joke: William S. Burroughs’s shopping list showed up on eBay (and was purchased for $400).
  • Do female novelists write about sex less skillfully than men? Author Jane Vandenburgh believes so.
  • A French novel that has already divided audiences in Europe (and which was picked up – at a price tag of $1-million – for North American publication) has been reviewed by The New York Times. The Kindly Ones is “a fictionalized memoir of a remorseless former Nazi SS officer, who in addition to taking part in the mass extermination of the Jews, commits incest with his sister, sodomizes himself with a sausage and most likely kills his mother and stepfather.” Oh-la-la?
  • Amazon has released a free app that allows iPhone (or iPod Touch) users to read e-books originally developed for the Kindle. At last, Canadians can experience what they’ve been missing!

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British women writers get down ‘n’ dirty

What do Fay Weldon, Kathy Lette, and Louise Doughty have in common with the Marquis de Sade, Anaïs Nin, and Georges Bataille? Stumped? They’ve all dipped their ink in the well of pornography.

The Times Online is reporting that Sphere, an imprint of Little, Brown, is set to publish In Bed With, a collection of 20 erotic stories written by acclaimed women novelists under pseudonyms. Dubbed the “cliterati” by Lette, one of the book’s authors and a co-commissioner of stories, the contributors have each chosen a “nom de porn,” such as Minx Malone, Storm Henley, and Minty Mountjoie.

According to the Times article, the contributors are being very cagey about which story belongs to which author:

Lette refused to confirm or deny which story she wrote. “I would luv to help but would have to hand in my ovaries,” she emailed.

Doughty, a novelist and former Booker prize judge, confessed that her story is set abroad (which narrows it down to three) and that her style is a form of literary homage. “Mine is also not that explicit,” she said. “I did, though, find it both a challenge to write and very freeing.” [Rachel] Johnson, whose most recent novel is Notting Hell, revealed that “not even my husband knows which one I did. Although when I told him I’d contributed, he said, ‘Why on earth did they ask you to help as you don’t know anything about sex’.”

Johnson said she would “love to help you identify my story. But my hands are tied while a very big man is doing something unmentionable to me”.

Not everyone approached to contribute to the anthology agreed to participate. Among the abstainers were Jilly Cooper and Joanna Trollope.

An interesting publishing sidenote: one of Little, Brown’s other imprints is Virago, which publishes feminist books. The authors of the erotic anthology have argued that feminism and pornography are not incompatible.

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The Twilight guide to battling teen pregnancy

The blog Whiskey Fire has directed us to a nutty column by someone named Dr. Miriam Grossman, who feels that Stephenie Myers’ Twilight series has a lot to say on the subject of teen sex in this era of licentiousness and vice.

Here’s the best part (emphasis added, but hardly needed):

When standards are lowered to these abysmal levels, teens get a green light for behavior they’ll regret. Instead, a girl should be encouraged to wait until her own Edward Cullen comes along, a man who has waited for her as she has for him; who will stay at her side, fight battles for her, and prove himself. “Your scent is a drug to me,” Edward tells Bella, while eyeing her neck with hunger. But he doesn’t give in. As Tanya pointed out, he fights the toughest battle – the struggle against himself – in order to keep her safe and whole. This is what our girls are dreaming about, and this is what they deserve.

Now that’s something you can sink your teeth into.

As Whiskey Fire notes: “It’s true – most young women are very much attracted to young men who think they smell nice but won’t really chomp out their aortas.”

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Updike honoured for a lifetime of bad sex

Last week, Quillblog pointed to the Literary Review‘s shortlist of nominees for the annual Bad Sex Award. Rachel Johnson ended up taking the award – a bottle of champagne and a plaster foot, which is apparently meant as “an abstract representation of sex.” Johnson, who said that she “always wanted to win a literary award,” was “honoured” for her novel Shire Hell:

“Johnson won for a passage in her satirical novel Shire Hell that describes a woman in the midst of a ‘mounting, Wagnerian crescendo’ wondering whether ‘the Spodders are, as requested, attending the meeting about slug clearance,’” said the magazine’s deputy editor, Tom Fleming. “Cats and moths also make metaphorical appearances.

“All the passages this year are equally awful, but Rachel Johnson’s struck us because of the mixture of cliché and euphemism. There were a couple of really bad animal metaphors in there.”

But Johnson was not the only award recipient of the night. In an unusual move, the judges also awarded American novelist John Updike, who has been shortlisted four consecutive times, a special lifetime achievement award for his closely observed descriptions of various sexual activities in his novels. He was nominated this year for The Widows of Eastwick, in part for the following extremely NSFW description of oral sex, quoted in The Guardian:

“She said nothing then, her lovely mouth otherwise engaged, until he came, all over her face. She had gagged, and moved him outside her lips, rubbing his spurting glans across her cheeks and chin,” he writes. “God, she was antique, but here they were. Her face gleamed with his jism in the spotty light of the motel room, there on the far end of East Beach, within sound of the sea.”

The judges from the Literary Review said they were attempting to contact Updike “to tell him the good news.”

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Bad Sex nominees cover everything from Adam and Eve to the smell of soup

Paulo Coelho, John Updike, and Isabel Fonseca are on the shortlist for the one award no writer really wants to receive: the Literary Review‘s Bad Sex Award. The award – a plaster foot – was created by Auberon Waugh “with the aim of gently dissuading authors and publishers from including unconvincing, perfunctory, embarrassing or redundant passages of a sexual nature in otherwise sound literary novels.”

This year’s crop runs the gamut from weeping orifices and blue veins to sex between wolves.

Perhaps the most egregious overwriting comes from Brazilian author Paulo Coelho, whose novel Brida includes a scene in which a couple experiences “the moment when Eve was reabsorbed into Adam’s body and the two halves became Creation.”

The Guardian quotes the offending passage, which continues:

At last, she could no longer control the world around her … her five senses seemed to break free and she wasn’t strong enough to hold on to them. As if struck by a sacred bolt of lightning, she unleashed them, and the world, the seagulls, the taste of salt, the hard earth, the smell of the sea, the clouds, all disappeared, and in their place appeared a vast gold light, which grew and grew until it touched the most distant star in the galaxy.

Ann Allestree, who is nominated for her novel Triptych of a Young Wolf, says that her book “is essentially a serious one,” and that the sex is there because of her belief that “every novel’s got to have sex in it.” In this case, sex that is interrupted by the smell of soup:

He raised himself to his knees and bent to roll his tongue around her weeping orifice. He was bringing her to a pitch of ecstasy when she heard Madame Veuve, on the landing, put down the supper tray. Whiffs of onion soup strayed over them as he engulfed her. “Don’t stop,” she clamoured; she was nearly there, it was in the bag.

Allestree will have to wait until tomorrow to discover whether that description is enough to ensure that she has the plaster foot “in the bag.” The complete shortlist:

Ann Allestree, Triptych of a Young Wolf
Russell Banks, The Reserve
James Buchan, The Gate of Air
Alastair Campbell, All in the Mind
Paulo Coelho, Brida
Isabel Fonseca, Attachment
Rachel Johnson, Shire Hell
Kathy Lette, To Love, Honour and Betray
Simon Montefiore, Sashenka
John Updike, The Widows of Eastwick

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Eva Stachniak's Empress of the Night

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