Saturday, August 22, 2009

Taking a Break, and Movie Goofiness

Page 854 is going on hiatus for about a week and a half. But we'll leave you with a silly item from The Onion about an unusual movie adaptation of a Famous Russian Novel.

See you in September. (Hm, that sounds like it could be the title of a Fifties rock song.)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Back to School -- or University, Actually

UNC-Asheville is holding its annual "Block Party" this coming Friday, August 21, 6:00-8:00 PM, and Accent on Books will be there. This is a Big Bash on the UNC-A campus shortly after fall classes start with music, food, games and local businesses and organizations setting up displays to introduce themselves to the students and the UNC-A community. We'll have giveaways at our table -- books! candy! weird stickers! -- as well as information about the services we provide to the local community.

So come on by if you're in the neighborhood Friday evening. Accent on Books is proud to be a neighbor of such a fine institution as UNC-Asheville and we are looking forward to being a part of this great event.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Book About Pictures -- Without the Pictures

This fall, Yale University Press will publish, The Cartoons That Shook the World, a book about the Danish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad which caused such a huge -- and deadly -- uproar a few years back. However, the cartoons themselves will not actually appear in the book. In fact, the book will contain no images of Muhammad whatsoever.

This seemingly odd decision was made after the publisher said it consulted with two dozen different authorities on Islam who reached the unanimous conclusion that publishing the cartoons could be inflammatory. The authorities further advised that none of the images of the prophet planned for inclusion, including a print by Dore, an Ottoman image, and an illustration from a children's book, be used.

Not surprisingly, Yale Press's decision has caused a lot of concern, in particular from the book's author, Jytte Klausen, who wondered how her discussion of the cartoons be fully effective if the cartoons themselves weren't shown. In addition, the American Association of University Professors has condemned the press for "acceding to the anticipated demands" of terrorists.

John Donatich, the director of Yale University Press, insists that his company does not shy away from publishing controversial material, but after he received such a strong negative reaction from the experts he consulted he decided he did not want to be left with "blood on my hands." And it should also be mentioned that at the time the controversy erupted, a number of news organizations and commentators discussed the cartoons without showing them. Still, this is a serious scholarly work, not a news article. And the cartoons have been shown a number of times over the years, in publications and on websites, without further problem. At any rate, it seems a bit strange that this controversy should emerge so close to the book's publication date; why wasn't this issue resolved at the inception of the project? All in all, it is not a decision that is likely to add to the prestige of one of this country's most famous university presses.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

"Hey there! elizwoodville is using Twitter"

Or at least that's what it says at the top of a certain page on Twitter. However, as students of English history -- or Shakespeare's history plays -- will tell you, Elizabeth Woodville was actually a fifteenth-century English queen. So has she time-travelled to the 21st century and adopted modern technology? No, it's actually just a publicity tool for a new novel by Phillipa Gregory, who's probably best known as the author of The Other Boleyn Girl. Her new book, The White Queen, is about Elizabeth Woodville, and so this past week Gregory has been posting "tweets" in Elizabeth's voice talking about her many trials and tribulations during the Wars of the Roses. All these posts are available on "elizwoodville's" Twitter page now (you don't have to be a Twitter member to see them) and later on next week will be available at Gregory's website. The book itself -- which, lest we forget, all this stuff is promoting -- will be available at Accent on Books beginning next Tuesday.

By the way, a number of years ago, Byron and I were both in a production of Shakespeare's Richard III with Montford Park Players. I played the title role and Byron played -- Elizabeth Woodville.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Laureate's Job

Earlier in her career, the British poet Carol Ann Duffy expressed disdain for the position of Poet Laureate, saying no self-respecting poet should have to compose poems for such occasions as royal weddings. Then, back in the spring, Duffy herself became Britain's first ever female Poet Laureate.

Now, Carol Ann Duffy seems to have found at least one project suitable for her position. With Britain involved in two Middle Eastern wars -- and beginning to experience a significant number of casualties in Afghanistan -- Duffy commissioned war poetry from a number of her contemporary colleagues. As Duffy says, it is the poets who often give us the most accurate accounting of the genuine experience of war, and, since most famous British poets have not been involved in the conflicts in Iraq or Afghanistan, she broadened the topic to include not just direct experience of war, but meditations on all the implications of armed conflict.

The result is a powerful group of poems, and they recently appeared in The Guardian.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Writer Beware

Book readers are often book writers -- or often at least contemplate writing a book. For such people the rise of self-publishing and print-on-demand technology over the last decade or two would seem to be a boon. Yet the growth of this technology has also led, unfortunately, to the growth of "publishers" and "agencies" who are sometimes misleading, unscrupulous, or downright fraudulent in the promises they make to authors anxious to have their book published. We at Accent on Books have occasionally run into this, and I've heard reports along this line from other booksellers as well.

That's why I feel that it's important to mention a website that I've just heard about, though it's evidently been around for years. It's called Writer Beware, and though it's run by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America its information is important to anyone who's looking to publish a book, no matter what kind of fiction -- or nonfiction, or poetry -- they write. In fact I found out about it through an article announcing that the Mystery Writers of America has decided to join forces with the SFWA and help out with the site.

So if you or someone you know is interested in having a book published I urge you to check out Writer Beware. You may still decide to go the self-publishing/print-on-demand route. But at least you'll have a bit more of an idea of what you're getting into.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Kindle Ate His Homework

Several weeks back, Amazon put that old phrase, "There's no such thing as bad publicity" to a real test. After discovering that it had mistakenly sold electronic versions of two books to owners of its Kindle e-reader without permission of the copyright holders, it remotely wiped those books off the Kindles onto which they had been downloaded. What made the incident even more embarrassing: the books in question were 1984 and Animal Farm, by George Orwell. The irony of two books about totalitarianism suddenly disappearing from Kindles was of course not lost on any of the journalists or pundits covering the incident. Amazon did credit the accounts of those customers who no longer had access to the books, but CEO Jeff Bezos later issued an apology, calling the action "stupid, thoughtless and painfully out of line with our principles."

However, that wasn't enough for at least one Kindle owner. Justin Gawronski, 17, had purchased a copy of 1984 for summer reading, and had made electronic notes on the Kindle as he was reading. As he watched the text of Orwell's classic slowly disappear from his screen he realized those notes were now useless. So he's sued Amazon, and his lawyers are seeking to turn it into a class action suit covering any others who lost work related to the removal of the books. " had no more right to hack into people's Kindles than its customers have the right to hack into Amazon's bank account to recover a mistaken overpayment," said one of the lawyers handling the case. "Technology companies increasingly feel that because they have the ability to access people's personal property, they have the right to do so. That is 100% contrary to the laws of this country."

More information can be found here.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Malcolm Gladwell's Southern Problem

Malcolm Gladwell is a writer who has gained fame by suggesting innovative new ways at looking at the world around us. In his books The Tipping Point, Blink, and, most recently, Outliers, Gladwell has used the tools of the social sciences to promote new perspectives and suggest new possibilities.

All of this makes a new article by him all the more puzzling. In the latest issue of The New Yorker, Gladwell writes about Atticus Finch, the lead character of To Kill a Mockingbird, and complains that he is, well, Atticus Finch. Near the beginning of the article -- which is titled, "The Courthouse Ring: Atticus Finch and the limits of Southern Liberalism" -- Gladwell points out that Harper Lee's famous novel was published in 1960 and is set even earlier in the century. He then seems to immediately forget this point and complain that Atticus represents a mode of Southern thought that is more at home in the era of Jim Crow than it is the era of the Civil Rights movement.

Well, of course; Mockingbird is set in Jim Crow Alabama. It is not a novel of the Civil Rights era, nor, to my knowledge have such claims ever been made for it. Gladwell says that the character of Atticus Finch "has become a role model for the legal profession," though he doesn't say how or why. Not being a lawyer myself I can't speak to this, but Gladwell's problems with Atticus go beyond his role as attorney. Atticus represents "old-style Southern liberalism -- gradual and paternalistic," and thus not as confrontational and transformational as the liberalism of Civil Rights.

Again, all this is true enough, but how is this a criticism of Atticus the literary character? Gladwell discusses George Orwell's criticism of Charles Dickens for being too much a product of his Victorian times despite his desire for reform, and implicitly casts himself as Orwell and Harper Lee as Charles Dickens. "Orwell didn't think that Dickens should have written different novels," says Gladwell, "he loved Dickens." Yet Gladwell does seem to think Harper Lee should have written a different novel; otherwise, what's the point of his article?

Part of my problem with this article may be that I see the same trait in Gladwell that he criticizes in Atticus Finch -- paternalism. His disparaging view of "Southern liberalism" -- which, of course, is seen as inferior to just plain "liberalism" -- and an oversimplified view of Southern modes of thought suggests someone who thinks that all of us below the Mason-Dixon line are still sitting on our verandas sipping juleps and complaining about the War of the Northern Aggression. All of this is particularly ironic in view of what recently happened to Henry Louis Gates -- last time I checked, Cambridge, Massachusetts is not normally considered part of the Deep South.

But judge for yourself -- Gladwell's article is here.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Where Am I, Anyway?

The Big Sale. Dental surgery. Inventory. Early morning meetings with sales consultants. Not so early morning meetings with sales reps. It's been a busy time, and Page 854 has been paying a bit of a price. But, in the words of the Governator, "Ah'll be bock."

In the meantime, new novels arrived today from Thomas Pynchon and Richard Russo. And Pat Conroy's new one goes on sale a week from today. Things are still hopping at Accent on Books. So, come on by!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Thomas Pynchon and the Midnight Party.

The Harry Potter books. The Twilight series. The Eragon books.

The Thomas Pynchon books?

Pynchon's new novel, Inherent Vice, goes on sale this coming Tuesday, August 4. Not necessarily the kind of occasion, one would think, that would bring eager readers flocking to bookstores at 12:01 AM on the on-sale date. Don't tell that to Frank Reiss, the owner of A Cappella Books in Atlanta -- he indeed is having a midnight party for the release of Inherent Vice. Not that he's expecting mobs of Pynchon fans to descend on his store: "I'm hoping a couple dozen people show up," he says. Who knows, maybe the famously reclusive Pynchon himself will show up -- disguised as J. K. Rowling.

More about Reiss' party can be found here. And if you want to purchase a copy of Inherent Vice at a decent hour, Accent on Books will have it on sale August 4 beginning at 9:30 AM.