Thursday, February 25, 2010

Able to Leap Seven Figures in a Single Bound

Accent on Books doesn't deal in used books (it really is a very different type of business), nor do we sell comics, but maybe we should reconsider. This past Monday a new record was set when a single comic book sold for $1 million. That is more than three times the previous record, which was $317,000. What's more, the sale took place after the comic was posted on a web site for all of one minute.

What was this miracle publication? "Action Comics #1", which featured the first appearance of Superman. (The $317,000 comic was another copy of the same thing, but not in as good condition.) Evidently the Man of Steel is to comics what Honus Wagner is to baseball cards.

And how much did "Action Comics #1" cost when it was first published back in 1938? About 10 cents. You do the math.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Gold Mine for Writers

Are you a writer, or do you aspire to be one? If so, then The Guardian has quite a gift for you. For a feature called, "Ten Rules for Writing Fiction," the British newspaper canvassed a wide variety of writers to get their basic rules for how to succeed at their craft. Among those who participated were Margaret Atwood, Roddy Doyle, Richard Ford, Neil Gaiman, P. D. James, Elmore Leonard and Joyce Carol Oates. The title of the article is somewhat misleading as not every author supplied exactly ten rules, and they work as well for nonfiction as for fiction.

There are far too many great rules to even highlight the best, so I'd just suggest you check it out for yourself. You can do so here.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Panic on Martha's Vineyard!

Can't resist passing on this anecdote conveyed in 140 characters or less via Twitter, from Katherine at Bunch of Grapes Bookstore on Martha's Vineyard:

"Just sold stack of books to panicked vacationer whose Kindle broke. *booksdon'tbreak*"

What more needs to be said.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

She May Not Be Original, But She's "Authentic"!

Plagiarism seems to have become a more serious -- or at least more high profile -- issue in recent years, no doubt due in part to the growth of the internet and all the material found there which can be easily appropriated. Just this week the New York Times uncovered plagiarism by one of its reporters, and J. K. Rowling found herself the the defendant in yet another -- quite possibly frivolous -- lawsuit, in which the estate of the author of a previously unknown children's book accused the "Harry Potter" author of stealing his material.

And then there's the case of Helene Hegemann. As the Times itself reported earlier this week, Hegemann, a 17-year-old German writer who has already had quite a bit of success, was found to have lifted whole pages of another novelist's work and included them in her new novel, Axolotl Roadkill. But here the story takes an unusual twist. Instead of trying to deny the accusations, or concede she'd made a mistake, Hegemann owned up to the appropriation of the material and insisted she didn't do anything wrong. "There's no such thing as originality, only authenticity," Hegemann has been quoted as saying. "I myself don't feel it is stealing, because I put all the material in a completely different and unique context." And Hegemann has gotten at least some support from the German literary establishment. Her novel had been nominated for the Leipzig Book Fair fiction prize, and remains in the running even after the recent revelations.

So is it stealing? Hegemann seems to see herself as the literary equivalent of a hip hop DJ, "mixing" materials from other sources to make something new. And the Jacket Copy blog quotes Jonathan Lethem as still appreciating William S. Burrough's originality even after discovering that Naked Lunch had numerous snippets of other authors' material. ("Burroughs was interrogating the universe with scissors and a paste pot.")

Of course attribution is key here: it isn't plagiarism if you acknowledge your source. But Hegemann didn't acknowledge her "authentic" borrowings until she was confronted with the evidence. Personally, I agree with Lee Ellis' conclusion as posted on The Book Bench: "Cutting and pasting shouldn't be considered writing. And though 'mixing' has a nice ring to it -- what about blending? Or melding? -- it doesn't hide the dirty reality that someone is getting robbed."

Thursday, February 18, 2010

"The Book"

I have added a new item to the "Links" area of this blog: a new website for us book geeks to get lost in (great -- just what we needed). It is a site created by the New Republic magazine and is simply called, "The Book." In addition to reviews of current books by New Republic staffers, it also features book-related articles from other websites and a feature which takes a second look at older titles. All fairly standard, but there are other features of a more historical nature which I find particularly appealing. One is a series of archived articles from nearly 100 years of TNR's history; currently up are articles by E. M. Forster on Jane Austen and Richard Hofstadter on Abraham Lincoln. The other feature is vintage video links of famous authors. So far, videos featuring such luminaries as Nabokov, Beckett and Berryman have been featured, and currently on the page is an interview with (a possibly drunk) Jack Kerouac.

At any rate, check it out yourself. You can click on the link in the right-hand column, or simply click here.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Yay, Mr. President! Boo, Mr. President!

Happy Presidents Day! As we celebrate the achievements of George and Abe and all the others, we realize that much of what we know of our earlier presidents is shrouded in myth and partisan interpretation, while we can rely on straightforward biographical facts when it comes to the most recent residents of the White House.

Or maybe not. While it may be a bit harder to sustain utter untruths about our recent presidents the facts of their lives can still be interpreted in startlingly different ways. And as a recent article at the website Slate demonstrated, that difference can be particularly pronounced when books geared towards adults and books intended for kids look at the same incidents from a president's childhood. Take the young Lyndon Johnson's habit of parceling out chores to his friends or siblings or other relatives. While a child's biography of Johnson portrays this as a Tom Sawyeresque game by a youngster showing initiative, Robert Caro, in his famous biography of the future Master of the Senate, describes the young Lyndon as a "harsh taskmaster" who would rather force his mother to gather wood than do it himself. And this seems to be the general difference between presidential biographies for the young and the not-so-young: youthful idealism is transformed into adult disillusionment.

More examples of this difference can be found in the Slate article here.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

"Map-Based Comparative Genomics in Legumes"

No, you have not suddenly found yourself at a blog dealing with the outer fringes of scientific research. The title above is one of this year's entrants in an eagerly awaited contest in bookworld: "The Bookseller/Diagram Prize for the Oddest Book Title of the Year." Administered by the remarkable Horace Bent, a columnist/blogger with the British publication, The Bookseller, this annual award has, since 1978, brought to international attention publications which have taught us such things as How to Avoid Huge Ships and Bombproof Your Horse, as well as the finer points of Living With Crazy Buttocks. As usual, the competition this year is fierce and unrelenting, with choices such as Bondage for Beginners, Collectible Spoons of the Third Reich, Dental Management of Sleep Disorders and Father Christmas Needs a Wee. And unlike many other hoity-toity literary prizes, with this one the public is invited -- nay, encouraged -- to help pick the winner. All you have to do is click on the ballot, check off as many or as few choices as you want and click on "done." It's your chance to help confer a unique and -- judging by the number of weird book titles out there -- highly coveted honor.

By the way, the Diagram Prize has now itself become the subject of a book which is titled, Do-It-Yourself Brain Surgery and Other Implausibly Titled Books. It's available at Accent on Books.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Now, where were we?

It's been a crazy ten days, what with lots of store chores, dicey weather and computer issues but there are at least a couple of items that I thought I would at least note in passing.

First, the death of J. D. Salinger at the age of 91. Since he was strongly associated with New York City it is perhaps appropriate that two publications located there provided some of the best coverage and reaction. The New Yorker's "Book Bench" had tributes from a number of writers including Joshua Ferris, Dave Eggers and A. M. Homes. And the New York Times' "Room for Debate" blog hosted a discussion on the relevance of Holden Caulfield and Catcher in the Rye for today's teenagers.

Second, the Great Amazon-Macmillan e-book price war. This was a crazy, complex two-children-in-the-sandbox kind of thing, but what it basically amounted to was Macmillan wanting to gain a bit of control over the pricing of its e-books sold by Amazon, and Amazon reacting by making it no longer possible to buy any Macmillan books at its site. The two sides have made up, at least for the moment, but Macmillan seems to be the winner here, since they have received support from two other "Big Six" publishers -- Hachette and HarperCollins. The precipitating factor in all this was undoubtedly Apple's introduction of its IPad device two weeks ago, since the new terms Macmillan wanted with Amazon were identical to the ones it had agreed on with Apple for Apple's "IBooks" store. Does any of this have any relevance for the huge majority of readers who still prefer "real" books to e-books? Insofar as this affair has shown a chink in the armor of Amazon's online monopoly I think it may be a good thing. Much cyber-ink has spilled regarding all this, but one of the best articles I've come across is this post from acclaimed young adults books author Scott Westerfeld.

Meanwhile, winter marches on, great books are still being written and published, and Accent on Books will continue to sell them. Real books -- the kind printed on paper with no download or batteries or gadget required to read them.