Private Eye this week says that President Bush has had, at last, good noose from Iraq; he was hoping that a big swing in Baghdad would help him in the mid-term elections (though it doesn't seem to have done); and that Saddam Hussein has asked Lord Hutton to be his lawyer (an incomprehensible joke unless you're English).
And the Times this morning has Gerard Baker commenting on the proposed hanging of Saddam as follows: 'Characteristically among most of the world's intellectual and political classes there seems to have been a good deal more sympathy for Saddam than for the man who toppled him. How terribly uncivilised of the Iraqis to put him to death!'
All of which got me thinking about the topic of doing away with your enemies. Personally I don't think Saddam should be hanged. I think he should be shot. In fact I think he should have been shot the day he was captured.
Such a method of dealing with your enemies goes by the name of summary execution. And in case you think that I am being particularly brutal and insensitive, you may wish to know (or be reminded) that the question of summary execution has a longish, and not entirely unrespectable, history.
In my novel Beautiful Lady, written under the pen-name Patrick Read, and which was set in WWII, I wrote the following: 'The British government favoured summary execution for captured Nazi leaders -- put 'em up against a wall and shoot 'em. However, the view of other, more 'civilised' Allies was that legal methods should prevail; consequently the top men were tried for war crimes by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg.'
That was what I thought, then. Having been imbued, however, as a young man, with the firm idea that one should always check one's references, I looked this morning for evidence of that statement, rather than just rely on my memory.
I began with William L. Shirer's 1959 book, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, which is still, I think, a pretty authoritative source. But I can find no trace of a discussion of summary execution. Mind you, the book is 1200 pages long, so I may have missed it.
And then I did a Google. And what I found, of course, was that the question of summary execution in WWII is much more complicated than I had thought. There is a lengthy and interesting discussion of it in Leon Goldensohn's The Nuremberg Interviews. And that book as a whole looks as if it would be well worth reading.
A commenter on my piece about Logan Pearsall Smith says that another writer with a similar approach was Piet Hein, the Danish poet, scientist, and architect. You can sample a few of his many thousands of 'grooks' here.
The Seattle PI (link from Publishers Lunch ) carries a report on an example of the gift, or shared, economy in practice.
Three years ago, 'noted editor Tom Jenks solicited submissions from a few of his writer friends, then published six in the inaugural issue of Narrative Magazine, which was launched during 10 days of labors at a friend's sweltering house on Martha's Vineyard. There was no test marketing, no promotion, no advertising, no nothing other than a new Web site that had a two-page editors' note and six pieces with some formidable bylines, including Joyce Carol Oates, Tobias Wolff, Jane Smiley, and Rick Bass.'
Today this free online magazine, appearing three times a year, has 15,000 subscribers. It is, of course, a pretty highbrow enterprise (at least by my standards), but Jenks's approach seems basically sensible: 'The audience is on the Internet now and the understanding is that it is an open and free medium. To bring people to literary work these days, you can preach to the converted. Or you can bring literary work to those who are not reading it otherwise. Our theme is: Let's make it accessible.'
Back in June I mentioned a conspiracy-theory web site called Operation Emu. On investigation, by a bloke from the Baltimore Sun, this turned out to be a cunning plug for a novel by R. Brandon Barker. Well, now the book's out, and you can buy a signed copy. Wave it at the aliens when they arrive and you should be OK.
Publishers Lunch says that any recommendation from bookseller Bob Gray is worth looking at, and Bob is currently keen on an April 2007 issue (yes, you're going to have to wait) entitled Lone Creek.
Written by Neil McMahon, Lone Creek features, among others, a Native American woman who wears a t-shirt that says 'Homeland Security: Fighting Terrorists since 1492', which I reckon is a darn good start.
Today's Times carries an obituary of John Symonds, a writer whose chief claim to fame seems to have been as the biographer and literary executor of Aleister Crowley -- sometimes known as 'the wickedest man in the world'.
Crowley was involved in magic, drugs, quite a lot of sex, and various other kinds of sin. Opinions of him vary: some see him as an opportunistic charlatan and con man, others as a genuinely dangerous magician who could draw upon dark powers.
Symonds's book on Crowley was published in 1952, and was given quite a lot of attention at the time. In the early part of the twentieth century there was in England a strong interest in magic and all things supernatural: consider, for instance, the Golden Dawn. And literary figures were often involved, from Yeats to Dion Fortune. In due course this led to Harry Potter and a thousand others.
Always trust a French lady
Chantal Burton writes from France to take exception, in the nicest possible way, to my assertion (Wednesday) that you should never trust a Frenchman.
There aren't really 3,000 literary prizes in France, she says. There are only 890. And they aren't all awarded in November.
'I for myself,' says Chantal, 'love to look out for the prizes that "normal" people do give - for example after the selection for "Renaudot" and "Goncourt" (2 of the 4 main prizes in the autumn season) these books are being read in schools by children and their teachers - and the "Prix Goncourt des Lyceens" and "Prix Renaudot des Lyceens" often is different from the one's chosen by the jury - and therefore even more interesting.'
Quite right too. I grovel in apology.
The Book Standard reproduces an article from the Bookseller about sales of romantic fiction in the UK. Mills and Boon are doing well it seems. As I recall, however, from a recent Publishers Lunch, the M&B parent company's annual figures reveal a less healthy position in the small print.
Hope for former colonials
Writers, as we all know, are often desperate to find a publisher. So desperate, in fact, that they even write to me, thinking I might help. And if you live in the US, then you might not think that Macmillan New Writing, a profoundly English firm, would be interested in you. But you might be wrong. David Isaak got a contract, and David Thayer has the story.
Oy! What about us?
Now here's a classic sentence from an article in Publishing News: 'Those of us who are concerned about the future of the book trade -- and that ought to be every publisher, bookseller, wholesaler, library supplier and librarian in the land -- owe a debt of gratitude to the BA Board.'
No mention of writers there, you will notice. Writers? Who needs 'em? Nothing but trouble.
Anyway, the article goes on about digitisation of content, as described in the UK Booksellers Association report, Brave New World. You can download this report for free, or buy a copy for £20. And there must be some ironic comment that I could make about that, if only I could think of it.
Lawrence Lessig is noticed
The Independent (link from booktrade.info.) has an article by Boyd Tonkin about Lawrence Lessig and Creative Commons. Most of the information you will know already, if you've been reading this blog for any length of time.
As for the implications of Creative Commons, I am not too impressed by Tonkins's interpretation. 'The old principle of literary copyright is fast fading away,' he says, which I think is misleading.
Tonkin does us a favour, however, by drawing attention to Lewis Hyde's 1983 book, The Gift, which has just been reissued by Canongate.
Stephen King sings
Stephen King was in London, and, as you would expect, Madame Arcati was there.
Madame, we gather, was not over-impressed by the Hodder and Stoughton arrangements for Mr King's mingling with the masses. 'Are publishers the most cretinous people on this planet?' Madame asks. Well yes, indeed. That is a topic which has oft been debated in these very columns. But then Madame gets really rude, in terms which I could not possibly reproduce here.
Madame also took exception to the fact that Mr King was improperly dressed. (You will find it hard to believe, but the chap was not wearing a tie; and in the Middle Temple, too.)
And then Mr King sang. Or tried to. It was all too much for Madame, who may, just possibly, judging by her comments, have consumed one orange squash too many.
The great and wonderful thing about Madame is that, whenever she goes somewhere, you're jolly glad you weren't fool enough to make the effort to go yourself.