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October 2003


Edward Wadie Said, writer, academic, politician - aged 67

Edward Said, who died of leukemia on 25th September, was professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, New York. Like that other great intellectual, Noam Chomsky, Said was probably much better known for his extra curricular activities, as an articulate voice and representative of the Palestinian people, than for his professional role, Thus what was a nice secure academic tenure became instead a hard road in a city which counts many of its leading citizens as dual US-Israeli citizens. Said however was a true renaissance man, living life to the full and as well as his literary criticism and his most influencial book, Orientialism, which is in fact a cultural history tome, plus his politics, he also distinguished himself as an opera critic, pianist, television celebrity, media expert, popular essayist and public lecturer.

George Plimpton Died Thursday 25th September 2003 Aged 75

George Plimton, like Said, cannot be described as a one-genre artist. He was a co-founder of the Paris Review in 1953, which published early works of the then unknown Jack Kerouac and Philip Roth, was a sportsman who went on to write about sport both as a journalist and author, and made a guest appearance in the Simpsons! He kept the Paris Review going right till the end but it was never a commercial success and was read mostly by a handful of literati. It is as a “participatory journalist” that he will mostly be remembered for, having, among other activities, boxed with the great world champion at 3 levels, Archie Moore, peformed as a trapeze artist in a circus and pitched for a top baseball team, all of which experiences were turned into literary events and in the process brought to audiences which had no interest per se in the subject matter but were drawn by the representation of the activities by Plimton.  

The Booker Prize 2003

This years Booker shortlist is as follows, with Monica Ali, as well as being the biggest seller of the six titles, firm favourite for the prize:

    Monica Ali, Brick Lane
    Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake
    DBC Pierre, Vernon God Little
    Damon Galgut, The Good Doctor
    Zoe Heller, Notes on a Scandal
    Clare Morrall, Astonishing Splashes Of Colour

The Value of a Book
from O'Donoghue Books

Like most goods available in today’s marketplace, books are, with the exception of older or leather bound titles, a commodity which are mass-produced.

However when new, and stacked up in huge piles in Waterstones windows, we all know the exact value of the book - the publisher’s recommended price less a few discounted pounds if they are best-sellers. And if they are not bestsellers but are still in print, they can be ordered from the wholesaler and sold at the publisher’s price. And if you shop in Asda or Tesco, you can get bestsellers at half the publishers price, or perhaps they might even sell them by kilo!! The thing about new books if you don’t like shopping in one bookshop, you can almost certainly buy what you are looking for in the next bookshop.

New books can also be bought for a fraction of the publishers price as “remainders”, in the remainder bookshops which have become as ubitiquitous on the high street as the video shop. These books can often be bought by the container load for pennies each and in recent years the internet bookselling world has become a dumping ground for them, mostly from American dealers. The type of dealer who deals in this category of book is more than likely to be a “business” person, who sees internet bookselling as a means to a quick buck and cannot distinguish between one book and another but can check out going prices on the net. And unless they have bought up all the remaining copies of the titles they are offering, competition is going to be tough because lots of other new-to-the-business dealers have had the same idea and hence the flooding of the internet And generally speaking, the reason these books have been remaindered is because there is no demand for them and the publisher has 100s or even 1000s of them in their warehouse and want to free up the space for their next catalogue titles.

We then have second-hand books. The vast majority of books are out of print and as such cannot be bought new. Since the Gutenberg Bible was printed in Germany in 1455, the first ever substantial publication to be printed, the printing of books has grown exponentially since then. In the year 2002, 125,000 new and revised titles were published in the UK alone. This year 90% of these will be out of print and only available through second-hand bookshops & dealers.

Of the billions of second-hand books around, the vast majority are not worth the paper they are written on. Many of them cannot be given away whil’st many are sold in job lots to low-end dealers for a pittance. That then leaves the minority of second hand books for which there is still a demand and which is the stock in trade of second hand booksellers. Sometimes they are scarce, sometimes not, sometimes expensive, sometimes not. They can range from the humble Penguin to the leather-bound antiquarian title. And experience will inform a bookdealer that just because a book is antiquarian it is not necessary of any great value.

I buy most of my books from second hand bookshops and on my weekly shopping trips, I may have to look through a 1000 titles before I find one book which is the bread and butter of my business and perhaps 5000 before I come across what I consider a gem, a jackpot. This can be very tiring work, spending a day walking along book shelves with your head at an angle of 45 degrees. But it is the chase that is for most bookdealers the best part of the job, far more rewarding that selling the books and getting the money in. I travel mostly within 100 miles radius of my base in London but also Hay on Wye, Scotland, Amsterdam or New York. There is great joy when, having returned from a bookbuying spree in New York and catalogued the books bought there, a number of them are immediately bought by customers in New York.

In my opinion, it is this factor of having only selective titles amongst stock, and having the knowledge and the eye to pick out such stock from the millions or billions of second-hand books on offer that distinguishes a bookseller from a shopkeeper or general trader that sells books. It creates the value-added which makes our business a service to the public, rather than merely a trading opportunity.

Library with no money for books

Buckinghamshire County Council Library service has decided it will buy no more books for the rest of the financial year and will stop buying periodicals and daily newspapers in all but its largest libraries. The reason for this is put down to the huge increase in the cost of videos and DVD's, which because of new regulations concerning public lending rights, now cost 3 times more than they were last year.

Bulyer-Lytton prize for worst opening sentence 2003

The 2003 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest for worst opening sentence has been won by Rephah Berg of Oakland, California, who wins the £170 prize money. She beat thousands of entrants from around the world with a sentence that compares a troubled relationship with a misshapen toilet roll - 'Roller-coaster'

The winning sentence was:
"On reflection, Angela perceived that her relationship with Tom had always been rocky, not quite a roller-coaster ride but more like when the toilet paper roll gets a little squashed so it hangs crooked and every time you pull some off you can hear the rest going bumpity-bumpity in its holder until you go nuts and push it back into shape, a degree of annoyance that Angela had now almost attained."

The prize is named after Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, a British writer whose 1830 book Paul Clifford begins with the now well-worn line: "It was a dark and stormy night..." Click here for previous winners of this prize.

James Tait Black Memorial Book Prize

Authors Jonathan Franzen and Jenny Uglow are the winners of this year's James Tait Black memorial book prize.

Franzen picked up the best fiction award for his novel, The Corrections.
Uglow's real-life tale of the brains behind the industrial revolution, Lunar Men: The Friends Who Made the Future, won her the best biography title.

Franzen had a much-publicised spat with Oprah Winfrey in 2001 when he refused to allow The Corrections to be Winfrey's book of the month for her book club, feeling this endorsement would bring about a lowering of his high-art status.

Louise Gluck will be the next US poet laureate

The New York-born writer has published nine volumes of poetry, and in 1993 picked up the Pulitzer award for her collection The Wild Iris. She takes over from Billy Collins and previous incumbents of the post have included Robert Frost, Gwendolyn Brooks and Rita Dove. The post carries a wage of £22,400 and an office at the Library of Congress at Washington DC.

National Reading Campaign - Swap a book day

The National Reading Campaign launched its Swap a Book theme for 2003 on 8 September, to mark International Literacy Day. The Campaign continues to provide resource packs, posters and postcards to raise the profile of books and reading in the workplace, and to encourage new readers through suggesting and inspiring exciting and original ways of swapping books and reading recommendations. Swap a Book events take place throughout the year, and we hope that many organisations will repeat their swapping events on a regular basis.

Next Month: The feature for November will be by Bagot Books

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