Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Shorts

Pulitzer prizes

The Pulitzer prizes for 2006 have been announced. I said my bit about this last year and I won't repeat it here. Sufficient to say that the fiction winner is March by Geraldine Brooks. Unsurprisingly I have never previously heard of either writer or book.

Fulfilment with Amazon

Or fulfillment, if you're American. Anyway, whatever you call it, Amazon are offering a new service to their third-party vendors. I'm not entirely sure how it works, but a number of writers have noticed that Amazon starts offering 'new and used' copies of a book, at cheaper than Amazon prices, almost as soon as the book appears, if not actually before the damn thing is officially published. (See for instance, my own latest offering.) How does this work?

Well, I think it works because some small-time operators, without Amazon's overheads, are able to use Amazon to advertise/sell new books, sourced from the same suppliers as Amazon. And -- because these small operators don't have the overheads -- they are able to cut the price even below Amazon. (See Clive Keeble's comment on my post of 14 April 2006.)

What does this mean? Trouble for small booksellers, for a start.

Viktor Janis

Viktor Janis recently sent me an entertaining email to let me know about a device available from Palm, a PDA or handheld reader which he has found more than useful.

One of Viktor's jobs is to review mss for Czech publishers, and he drew my attention to Gordon Dahlquist's forthcoming The Glass Book of the Dream Eaters. I hadn't heard of this before but NY publishers certainly have. Publishers Weekly reported that Bantam paid $2 million for the rights (plus a $500,000 bonus on a two-book deal), and it's out next August. A mere 768 pages, it has been described as 'Philip Pullman for adults'. Penguin UK have paid a reported £400,000.

Viktor thinks that Dahlquist will soon become as famous as Susanna Clarke. And he should know, because he is currently translating Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell into Czech. (That book, by the way, weighs a good three pounds in print, but only one tenth of that weight when read on a PDA.)

Speaking of PDAs (again), Viktor's view, with which I wholeheartedly agree, is that publishers are still doing it all wrong when it comes to selling ebooks, or ebook versions of successful novels. Their prices are way too high.

And who is Viktor Janis, you may be wondering. Answer, he is a freelance literary translator and editor from Prague. Radio Prague has interviewed him in English in 2002, and again in 2005. He has translated 45 books, mainly by big names such as Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Grahame Greene, et cetera. He says that he has edited more books than he can remember, including the Czech version of Banville's The Sea -- which he says is the longest 200-page book that he ever read in his life.

Yes indeed, Viktor. That's rather the way I feel. And I haven't even read it.

Posh Bingo

Professor John Sutherland has an eminently sensible article in the Telegraph about the Booker Prize (link from booktrade.info). Quoting Julian Barnes's dismissive remark that the prize is a form of posh bingo, Sutherland concludes: 'Given the diversity of the contending novels, and the necessary subjectivity of readers, it could hardly be otherwise.' Thus Sutherland recognises, at least implicitly, that success in the Booker is, to a large extent, determined by randomness.

Of course the problem -- if problem there be -- is not how the prizewinner is selected; it is how the public and press react. Sensible people like Sutherland know perfectly well that the 'best' novel in any given year -- even the best literary novel -- cannot be decided in the same way that the longest piece of string can be decided, by measuring it with a ruler. But, once the winner is announced, the press and public proceed to behave as if the winner is the best novel of the year, in some absolute scientific sense. And it is the fortunate winner who enjoys the benefits of this winner-take-all reaction.

All of which was discussed in some detail in my post of 24 January 2005. That essay, incidentally, was included in Tim Worstall's anthology of bloggery, 2005: Blogged.

2 comments:

kimbofo said...

Perhaps you haven't heard of Brooks because she's Australian. When it comes to the world stage Australian authors get little or no exposure - different story if you're British or American.

Keziah Hill said...

Although I was surprised when I heard she won. I thought March interesting but flawed. Her earlier book, A Year of Wonders was terrific.