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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Jacket copy blog, and Moby-Dick re-imagined

Apologies to Carolyn Kellogg, book blogger for the Los Angeles Times, as the URL I provided for the next post along -- a chat about the hunt for McCain-pro writers -- came up with a ??? message. It should be as follows:

However, a rerouting to the home page of the paper, then to the Books section, and from there to her blog, was most rewarding. Her hot piece of news? They're going to "re-imagine" Moby-Dick!!

Read all about it on today's Jacket Copy blog:

But, oh heavens, is there no reverence?

Are there any authors-for-McCain out there?

Book-blogger of the Los Angeles Times, Carolyn Kellogg,
went hunting for literati who support John McCain, following lots of publicity on her own site, as well as by the illustrious GalleyCat on, for various fundraisers organized by writers for the Barack Obama campaign.

I have already mentioned Young Adult Writers for Obama. There is also Ayelet Waldman, who petitioned authors to send in copies of their own books, which she bundled up in sets of ten and sent out in return for $250 donations to the Obama campaign. The response was overwhelming, including signed first editions from such luminaries as Stephen King. And then there is Steve Almond, who is hosting an Obama-thon in Boston on October 14, which includes appearances by Anita Diamant, Claire Messud, and Robert Pinsky, among others. Four days after that, Almond joins Michael Lowenthal and William Giraldi for a similar effort in New Hampshire.

Well, Kellogg reports that she found exactly three novelists who support McCain: Brenda Joyce, Linda Bruckheimer, and Nelson DeMille (pictured above). DeMille a Republican faithful--at the same time as penning thrillers about right-wing nutters, such as Wildfire? Incredible, I thought. So I checked.

To my astonishment, I found that there is a site which posts political donation histories onto the internet, and DeMille is on it. And did he send money to the McCain campaign? Back in 1999, he did. Since then, he seems to have been a pretty regular supporter of Rudy Giuliani, though he gave money to the John Kerry fund, too. A reasonably evenhanded kind of bloke, all-in-all -- or so I would have commented on GalleyCat, if I could have remembered my password. But I didn't.

While the band plays on, a book festival is held in DC

On Capitol Hill, legislators were wrestling with the fine print of the doomed bail-out bill, but neither that nor the wet weather deterred those determined to put in an appearance at Washington, DC's National Book Festival on Saturday. Created by First Lady Laura Bush, the event has attendance figures that have grown from about 30,000 people in 2001 to approximately 120,000 attendees this year, according to the Associated Press. Post

Scotland Yard Stops Attack on UK Medina Publisher

It reads like a film script. Three men described as "Islamic extremists" put a firebomb in the North London home of Gibson Square publisher Martin Rynja late Saturday night, and were promptly arrested by Scotland Yard in "a preplanned intelligence-led operation."

The Sunday Times says "the suspected terror gang was being followed by undercover police and the fire was quickly put out after the fire brigade smashed down the front door."

The police believe Rynja was under attack for his company's decision to publish Sherry Jones's The Jewel Of Medina. Rynja is now "believed" to be under police protection, and, if so, must sleep easy, in view of the promptness and efficiency of the operation.

Naturally, the attack is supposed to be in retaliation for the content of the book, which is described by extremists as an attack on the honor of Mohammed, which they say carries the death penalty, according to Muslim law.

Jones's agent Natasha Kern tells the Times, "I honestly believe that if people read the book they will see it is not disrespectful of Muhammad, and moderate Muslims will not be offended. I don't want anyone to risk their lives but we could never imagine that there would be some madmen who would do something like this. I'm so sad about this act of terrorism. Moderate Muslims will suffer because of a few radicals."

Author Sherry Jones told Galleycat, "The planting of that bomb is Martin Rynja's letterbox was not about my book. It's not about the content of my book. It's not about the ideas in my book. It must be about the rumors and innuendos." Sunday Times

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Cowboys have best public library in the US

A recent (Sept. 11th 2008) article in The Economist lauds the public libraries in the country "of mountains and cattle." A tiny town in southern Wyoming by the name of Burns might be surrounded by paddocks, boast a population of 300, have just one school, and a main drag that's a little rundown, but its public library is stacked with 11,500 books.

It's the same in Cheyenne, a town that still commemorates its place in Western genre fiction by holding an annual rodeo -- their $27 million flagship library (pictured above) boasts 300,000 volumes, along with computer labs and several state-of-the-art meeting rooms. It is no surprise that the Laramie Library system has won the 2008 Library of the Year Award.

At first glance, it seems that these libraries must be funded by billionaires in ten-gallon hats. But no -- they get their annual allowances from public funding. So how do they do it? By gauging their holdings to local reading tastes, it seems. There is a lot of Christian fiction, as well as advice on how to repair and maintain trucks, and manuals on livestock management. People drive long distances, so plenty of books on tape and CD are stocked.

The limited schooling opportunities are kept well in mind, with mobile vans for a constant revolving supply of reading. The central library runs book clubs for home-schooled children and teenagers, which are well-attended.

See this interesting article with graphics and related items at

Friday, September 26, 2008

Life without Harry Potter

It can't all be blamed on the Wall Street meltdown and the credit crisis.

Scholastic has reported a net loss of $44.7 million from first quarter sales. Last year looked a lot different, with a net profit of $3.3 million, helped enormously by $240 million from Harry Potter --and that in what is usually a bleak time of the year for sales, school students being out to play. CEO Dick Robinson reckoned that the difference in the balance sheet was "largely" due to "a challenging market." However, the lack of a Harry Potter must have had a lot to do with it -- in the children's book publishing and distribution division, revenue fell from $296.8 million to $61 million.

What a difference one author and one book can make to one company!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Mission Accomplished

It is amazing how phrases enter the common vernacular, and become part of history. Yes, the Wellington Lions -- our local rubgy team -- won the Ranfurly Shield against Auckland on Saturday night. And our local paper ran the banner headline on the back page: MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

Historians take note

Dick Cheney, arguably the most powerful vice-president in United States history, has been instructed not to withhold or destroy important policy documents as the G.W. Bush presidency winds down its last months.

According to a story in the Washington Post, written by columnist Christopher Lee, after a lawsuit filed by the watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility, federal judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ordered the Vice President to preserve all his official records.

Several historians joined the watchdog group in issuing the warning that Cheney - also arguably the most secretive vice president on record - might feel able to destroy certain records, under the terms of the Presidential Records Act of 1978. If so, it would deprive historians of material documenting the Vice President's prominent role in formulating U.S. policy.

A spokesman for Cheney said his office would not comment, pending litigation.
Despite the secrecy and so forth, an immediate bestseller describing Cheney's vice presidency came out last week. Rather mystifyingly, it is titled Angler, though with a more comprehensible sub-title, The Cheney Vice Presidency. The author is wellknown WP columnist Barton Gellman.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Can you spare a moment?

From Mexican director Alonso Alvarez Barreda, a beautiful, moving short film about the power of the written word. Hit the link below to see it for yourself ---

"The Story of a Sign" won the fourth annual 2008 NFB Cannes Short Film online competition, and was voted the best short film in the Festival Internacional de Cine en Corto. It was an official selection at the San Diego Latino Film Festival, along with many other festivals, and is now regularly programmed on television in Mexico.
Commenting on this poignant work of art, Barreda said, "I always wanted to make this film because I believe in the power of the story."
The music, which is the theme from the film Il Postino, was composed by Luis Enriquez Bacalov.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Peter Jackson in limbo

The financial crisis is striking the world of film: Universal Studios have pulled the plug on Tintin funding. They are not renewing their longstanding option.

This has left Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg, and the cast and crew in Los Angeles in limbo, not to mention Weta Workshop here in Wellington, New Zealand, which was supposed to provide state of the art visual effects for the three-film series.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Universal worked out that the first movie had to make over four hundred million just to break even, and there ain't that kind of money around, any more.

It must have been heartwrenching to have to say goodbye to two of the world's best-known directors, but Hollywood is "trapped between rising costs and levelling revenues."

The financial cost to said directors is by no means small. Jackson and Spielberg had contracted for 30% of the gross revenue, which means that if the first film did break even, they would walk away with one hundred million smackers.

Paramount, which owns Spielberg's Dreamworks company, is debating whether to pick up the project. They should come up with a decision soon.

Young Adult Writers Unite for Obama

GalleyCat on asks, "Who will the YA community vote for?" And a new site, Young Adults for Obama, hopes to start providing answers, as of next week.

It is a social networking site, uniting readers and writers and other supporters of Young Adult books. Users can post, chat, and upload this neat poster of Obama, Action Hero.

Created by YA author Maureen Johnson, the site has been endorsed by fifty young adult writers, including bestselling authors Judy Blume, Meg Cabot, and Melissa Walker.

Ever wanted to write a book?

The UK newspapers Guardian and Observer are publishing a five-part series of booklets on the art of writing, starting tomorrow.

"Fear not the blank page, that scary A4," they say;
"Fear not writer's block, let it haunt you no more ..."

Have a look at this amazing offer -- the lessons are free!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Shortlist announced for Best Business Book

Ironically, in view of this week's meltdown on Wall Street, the shortlist for the Financial Times/Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award has been announced. The winner will be named October 14 (presumably if other dramatic developments don't intervene):

A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World, by William J. Bernstein (Atlantic Monthly Press)
Cold Steel: The Multi-billion-dollar Battle for a Global Industry, by Tim Bouquet & Byron Ousey (Little Brown Book Group UK)
When Markets Collide: Investment Strategies for the Age of Global Economic Change, by Mohamed El-Erian (McGraw-Hill)
McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld, by Misha Glenny (Knopf)
Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy, by Lawrence Lessig (The Penguin Press)
The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life, by Alice Schroeder (Bantam)

Having read absolutely none of them, I nevertheless predict that it will be a toss-up between McMafia and Warren Buffett. Some of the other titles look doomed.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Printing books in bookstores

Way back on July 5, I posted a news item ("A Book with that Latte") about Blackwell UK installing machines in their stores which allowed customers to download, print, and bind (securely) on demand. ATMs for books, you could say.

Well, they are as imitative as ever, downunder. It has just been announced that NZ/Aus's biggest book chain, Whitcoulls/Angus & Robertson, is installing a -- wait for it -- book printing machine for out-of-print books in their flagship store in Melbourne. (Find it in Bourke Street.)

How will the gadget make money? By eliminating payments to publishers and authors.

What are their plans? Fifty stores are scheduled to stock this gadget, on both sides of the Tasman Sea. (Watch for it in Newmarket, Auckland.)

How long will it take to print a book? Fifteen minutes, complete with four-color jacket and binding with heat-activated glue.

How much will it cost to print a book? Thirty bucks.

How much do the machines cost? One hundred thousand smackers.

Managing director Dave Fenlon reckons the machines will pay for themselves "in a very short period of time."

I can't believe Peter Jackson isn't there!

Esquire magazine is running a slide show of the editors' pick-list of the seventy-five most influential people of the 21st century on their website.

And I am running this post mostly because I am so staggered at how few writers there are.


Go through it, and see if you can correct me.

(It's not fair to count people who write books as a parttime kind of thing, like politicians and financiers.)

But they did include the founder of . . .

And Rupert Murdock.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Reading Agatha Christie faster

Murder can now be solved in fewer pages, according to a story by Eric Pfanner in the International Herald Tribune.

Agatha Christie's whodunits, which have sold two billion copies, have been adapted into
films, television series, plays and even computer games. But she and her heirs have always viewed another kind of adaptation with suspicion, refusing to allow her novels to be abridged.

Until now, that is.

Thirty-two years after Christie's death, the first shortened version of one of the English writer's mysteries has appeared -- an 88-page Death on the Nile. It was published as part of the Penguin Readers series, which is intended for young adult readers, and students of English as a second language.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Double talk with an advertising message

For every sales pitch, you need the right words -- and the right choice of language, according to a story by Alex Mindlin in the New York Times.

A New Delhi study has found that when you are dealing with a bilingual population, you have to be careful what language(s) you choose to promote your product.

If you want to sell in India, the rules are like this:

For luxury products (that Ferrari, mink coat, diamond necklace), use English.
If you're promoting a middle class treat, like chocolate, use an English-rich mix of English and Hindi.
If it's something basic like detergent, use a Hindi-rich mixture of Hindi and English.

"English is the language which is global and cosmopolitan and upper class," said Aradhna Krishna, author of the study and marketing professor at the University of Michigan. "You associate your first language with family, with warmth, with belongingness."

The catch: Something entirely in Hindi backfires. The reader thinks, who the devil is this bloke who thinks he can use my language?

An intriguing complication of globalization -- and a whole new view of the English language. One cannot help wondering if the same rules apply in other countries where English is spoken, written, and read on a daily basis, but as a second language ...

More on Palin censorship

Today, the New York Times is running a lengthy study by Jo Becker, Peter S. Goodman and Michael Powell, "Once elected, Palin Hired Friends and Lashed Foes," which brings up that censorship issue yet again.

"For years, social conservatives had pressed the library director to remove books they considered immoral," the story runs, and goes on to quote former Wasilla mayor John Stein, Palin's rival and predecessor.

"People would bring books back censored," he recalled. "Pages would get marked up or torn out."

"Witnesses and contemporary news accounts say Ms. Palin asked the librarian about removing books from the shelves," the article continues, adding, "The McCain-Palin presidential campaign says Ms. Palin never advocated censorship."

So, a flat denial. But it seems that back in 1995 Palin told colleagues in the city council she had noticed a picture book called Daddy's Roommate on the library shelves, and she did not believe it belonged there. So we have another title.

Daddy's Roommate, by Michael Willhoite (Alyson books, 1994), is a simple picture book for small children which depicts a two-father family. "Daddy" has divorced, and moved in with a male roommate. The two men cook, clean house, argue, make up, and go to family-type outings, like an afternoon at the zoo. According to reviews of the book, though rather obvious in its message, it provides reassurance and understanding. It is also one of the most banned books in the United States, being number two in the American Library Association's Most Challenged List, 1994-2000.

Go Ask Alice, described in an earlier post, is now standing at 1,462 in the ratings. The Barack Obama campaign has just announced that August was its most successful month for fundraising. The front page of the WORLD section of Wellington's Dominion Post today (16 September) has the banner headline: The $66m man.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Read book reviews, and eat them, too.

A "scan toaster" that prints text or photos from the internet straight onto your bread has been produced by designer Sung Bae Chang. It connects to the internet via a USB, and uses a heated wire powered by a flexible "module" to print captured text or pix onto that basic breakfast item, bread, producing informative toast.

Now you can read world news or book reviews while you eat -- literally.

Who says we can't make politicians (or book critics) eat their own words?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Are we getting closer to Sarah Palin's book list ?

There has been a lot of chat and controversy over an item that was posted on many blogs, including this one, reporting talk that back when Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, was mayor of Wasilla, she asked Library Director Mary Ellen Emmons how one could go about having books removed from the library shelves.

So, was the gossip true? That has been the question. Well, the Anchorage Daily News, which, quite naturally, is full of news about their governor-turned-VP-candidate, weighed in on 4 September with the flat statement that Palin asked not once, but three times, about the possibility of removing "objectionable" books from the library. (see

So, exactly which "objectionable" books did she have in mind? As reported earlier, this matter was muddied when a mischievous commentator posted an irrelevant list on The exact titles also seem unimportant when it is the question of book censorship that is being discussed, not the banning of specific books. However, an ABC report has named two titles which, it seems, Palin's Assembly of God church wishes were not available in libraries and stores. (The video can be viewed on a number of sites, including

So, which books are they?

One is Go Ask Alice, the fictional diary of a fifteen-year-old girl whose drink is spiked with LSD and who goes horribly downhill after that, finally dying from an overdose. Though the author is given as "anonymous," it was probably Beatrice Sparks. First published by Simon Pulse in 1971, it is still in print. Obviously, it has struck a chord in the wider community. Columbia University runs a website answering questions posed by teenagers in need of help, called

Library Journal called Go Ask Alice "an important book," and it is now considered a young adult classic. But, because of its explicit references to drugs and sex, it has always been controversial. The book has been banned in all kinds of places ranging from New Jersey to Florida, a trend that is increasing. Back in the 1990s, it was 23rd in the list of 100 "most challenged books" put out by the American Library Association; in 2001 it was number 8, and in 2003 it was number 6. A testament to the growing power of the Christian right, perhaps? Interestingly, it is currently 4,079 on, perhaps because of the publicity from the ABC report.

The second book is a sensitive study called, Pastor, I am Gay, written by a semi-retired Baptist minister, Howard H. Bess. (Palmer, 1995.) Bess was inspired when he was approached by a member of his southern California church, who revealed that he was gay. Since then, he has devoted his life to challenging Christian churches to accept and minister to lesbians and gays.

Evidently there is at least one branch of the Assembly of God in Alaska that would turn a deaf ear to his message.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Booker shortlist: surprises galore

Booker Shortlist Announced

What a shock. Salman Rushdie and John Berger did not make the final cut!
Nor did Tom Rob Smith's Child 44, which was a surprise in itself, just by being held up as a possible nominee. Also left aside were Netherland by Joseph O'Neill and books by Gaynor Arnold, Michelle de Kretser, and Mohammed Hanif.

Finalists are:

Aravind Adiga, The White Tiger (Atlantic)
Sebastian Barry, The Secret Scripture (Faber and Faber)
Amitav Ghosh, Sea of Poppies (John Murray)
Linda Grant, The Clothes on Their Backs (Virago)
Philip Hensher, The Northern Clemency (Fourth Estate)
Steve Toltz, A Fraction of the Whole (Hamish Hamilton)

Monday, September 8, 2008

International conference on the book

The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., USA
25-27 October 2008

This conference serves as a forum for examining the past, current and future role of the book. Recognizing that although the book is an old medium of expression, it embodies thousands of years' experience of recording knowledge, the Book Conference also examines other key aspects, including publishing, libraries, literacy, and education.

The Book Conference welcomes a wide range of participants from the world of books - authors, publishers, printers, librarians, IT specialists, bookretailers, editors, literacy educators, academic researchers, and scholars from all disciplinary traditions.

Deadline for papers is 11 September 2008. See the website for details.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

A new way to share or find your love

The majority of classic romantic novels end with either marriage or heartbreak. Now, book lovers around the world will have the chance to plot and develop their own real-life romantic stories as a major publisher launches the first online dating site aimed purely at literary enthusiasts. was developed in conjunction with the established online dating provider after the publisher's online team came up with the initial idea as a way to extend the brand and pique the interest of readers. While sites such as GoodReads provide a virtual community for avid book readers, the Penguin site focuses primarily on lonely hearts. The service – which went live last week – has already attracted more than 500 subscribers in its first three days, and will be promoted at the end of more than two million paperback novels.

Journalists arrested at Republican convention

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemned the arrest of at least seven journalists covering protests out side the US Republican Party convention and is calling for the release of three journalists still being held and for all charges against them to be dropped.

The seven journalists were arrested last Monday in the city of St. Paul, where the Republicans were officially nominating their Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates. Other independent journalists have been pepper-sprayed and even held at gunpoint during "pre-emptive" raids aimed at disrupting protesters, said US media reform group Free Press.

Amy Goodman, host of the Democracy Now! television and radio show, was arrested after trying to get information about two producers from her show, Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar, who were arrested while filming protestors. A photographer for the Associated Press, Matt Rourke, was also arrested at about the same time. The Democracy Now! journalists and Rourke were released hours after being arrested. Goodman was officially charged with "obstruction of a legal process and interference with a peace officer."

Student journalists Edward Matthews and Britney McIntosh from the University of Kentucky and university newspaper advisor James Winn were also arrested. All three had press credentials with them. They are still awaiting formal charges and may be released soon, according to reports.

The Newspaper Guild-CWA, a US affiliate of the IFJ, said it is joining with Free Press and other organizations in demanding that all charges be dropped against the journalists arrested while covering the Republican Convention and related protests, in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Click here to sign the Free Press online petition calling for charges to be dropped against the journalists: petition

Saturday, September 6, 2008

NYC inspires the most atrocious opening sentence

So the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest for the worst opening sentence for a novel (inspired by that deathless phrase, "A Dark and Stormy Night") went ahead, despite the most strenuous efforts of a Bulwer-Lytton descendant. (See older post.)

In a story in the New York Times, Clyde Haberman muses that "New York, warts and all, has long inspired great writing." But an awful opening sentence?

Indeed. And here it is. A chorus of trumpets, if you will.

“Theirs was a New York love, a checkered taxi ride burning rubber, and like the city their passion was open 24/7, steam rising from their bodies like slick streets exhaling warm, moist, white breath through manhole covers stamped ‘Forged by DeLaney Bros., Piscataway, N.J.’ ”

This gem was composed by a Mr. Spik (pronounced "speak"), 41, who lives in Washington, where he is the communications director for a diamond-importing company. But he has visited New York often enough to know the billows of steam that rise from the subway that snakes beneath the streets. As for the manhole covers, when interviewed by Haberman over the phone, he said, “I just thought DeLaney Brothers had a funny ring to it. There’s no hidden meaning, no Salman Rushdie kind of stuff. And Piscataway just sounds funny.”

As Haberman comments, "You just try coming up with something so dizzyingly atrocious."

“It’s challenging to write something that’s intentionally bad,” Spik agreed. “You have to know the mechanics of English to be able to throw a monkey wrench into it.”

Ain’t that the truth, said Scott Rice, an English professor at San Jose State University who has presided over the Bulwer-Lytton competition since its inception in 1982. “Somebody said years ago that the contest calls for something like the equivalent of imitating a drunk on roller skates." It’s certainly not for the untalented or the faint-hearted.

The appeal of Mr. Spik’s submission was “the way it slides downhill,” Professor Rice said. “It starts out a little bit dramatically, with this somewhat unusual metaphor of a checkered taxi ride of a love affair, and it goes right downhill and ends up in a sewer.”

The prize for the major winner in this surprisingly popular contest is in the three figures -- Mr. Spik received a check for $250.

Fixing the English language

In the UK, Tesco is changing its checkout signs after coming under criticism from linguists for using "less" rather than "fewer". As in the sign over the express checkout that reads "LESS THAN TEN ITEMS."

It may seem a minor grammatical point, but language watchdog The Plain English Campaign thinks it's important -- so much so that they helped Tesco come up with an alternative, "UP TO TEN ITEMS," saying it is easy to understand and avoids any debate.

(Though whoops, they still haven't got it quite right.)

Both words are used as comparatives - fewer meaning "a smaller number of" and less meaning "a smaller amount or quantity of" according to A&C Black's Good Word Guide.
Confused? There is plenty of precedent for using less for fewer, argues the Plain English Campaign. It goes back more than 1,000 years, to the time of King Alfred the Great (9th Century), and substituting for fewer is still common in informal speech, especially in the US (and NZ).
THE ANSWER (In case you want to know.)
'Less' means not as much
'Fewer' means 'not as many'
'Fewer' when items can be counted individually

The Plain English Campaign has a simple rule of thumb to help everyone: less means "not as much," whereas fewer means "not as many". Fewer should be used when you are talking about items that can be counted individually, for example, "fewer than 10 apples". Less is correct when quantities cannot be individually counted in that case, e.g. "I would like less water".
But it can be tricky when referring to quantities, says Marie Clair from the Plain English Campaign. For example, we say less than six weeks, not fewer than six weeks, because we are not referring to six individual weeks, but to a single period of time lasting six weeks. Some people get "really roused up" about the misuse of less or fewer, she says, and words that describe quantity, degree or amount seem to perplex people.
Phrases like "10 items or less" or "up to 50% discount" are retail speak and it would be much better to use language "from people on the streets," she adds.

Indeed, Tesco is not alone in committing this grammatical faux pas in public -- the Good Word Guide notes that a Post Office advertisement in the Guardian stated: "Please remember, on Tuesdays and Thursdays there are less queues in the afternoon."
The BBC Magazine, which ran this story, asks readers to send in examples of the grammatical rules or blunders they find most irritating. It would be rather fun if you sent me some, too.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Did Palin attempt to have books banned?

There has been huge interest in the assertion made by several people, and publicized in TIME Magazine, that Republican Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin attempted to have certain books banned from the Wasilla City Library. So, is the claim true?

According to the New York Times for September 2, 2008, it is. Ann Kilkenny, citizen of Wasilla, told a journalist that Palin brought up the idea of banning some books at a meeting. "They were somehow morally or socially objectionable to her," she said.

The librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, pledged to resist all efforts at censorship. Forthwith, Palin fired her, but changed course after residents strongly objected. Emmons left both her job and Wasilla a couple of years later. (She has since married, which accounts for the difference in her name in the TIME Magazine article.)

The full story, straight from the horse's mouth at the Anchorage Daily News, has just been posted on the internet site of the Boston Herald:

"Back in 1996, when she first became mayor," the story begins, "Sarah Palin asked the city librarian if she would be all right with censoring books."

The commentary from the public, which follows the story, and which has appeared so rapidly that it is yet another testament to the timeliness and interest of the topic, makes very interesting reading.

For still more on the controversy, including a very interesting dissection of her career by one of the comment-writers, see:

The Obama campaign has reported that in the hours following Palin's speech they received over eight million dollars in internet donations.

That list of banned books

There have been many questions about the source of the list of books that Republican Vice-President nominee Sarah Palin tried to have banned from the Wasilla Public Library, and which I published in part on this blog.

The complete list was posted by a commentator, Andrew Aucoin, on the blog It turns out that the questions were justified, because his list is lifted from the site It is a summary of books that have been banned at one time or another in the United States, and not the books named by Palin -- though who knows which of them might have been included in her kill list.

While one must admire Aucoin's cut-and-pasting skill, this was nothing less than mischievous, because it distracts from the very real issue of censorship, and whether Palin supports it. As Adler & Robin Books, the originator of the list, comments in their preamble, banning books is far too common in the United States, which is a sad and frightening fact.

"Who bans books?" they ask, replying, "Libraries, schools, entire towns, and sometimes, in the past, the United States government."

It happens nearly every week. Luckily, most of the time concerned citizens rise up and protest, and the book is reinstated, but occasionally it goes unnoticed, "and the banned book stays lost to a school or a country."

"Censorship in the United States is an old pastime and new hobby of the feebleminded," the writer vigorously adds. James Joyce's Ulysses was banned by the government, and copies seized by the U.S. Postal Service, as were Voltaire's Candide, Aristophanes's Lysistrata, Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Confessions, and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. School districts have banned Shakespeare's Twelfth Night and The Merchant of Venice, and Little Red Riding Hood has met the same fate. And of course we all know the history of the banning of Darwin's Origin of the Species.

It is a shameful record, particularly for a country that holds such fine ideals of the sanctity of free speech. It is very encouraging indeed that the possibility that someone who believes in censorship of books should hold the second-highest office in the land has met with such an open outcry.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Palin's attempt to ban books

TIME magazine is running an article on Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin, describing how she tried to fire librarian Mary Ellen Baker for not removing a list of "questionable books" from the shelves of the Wasilla library.

Apparently, Palin went to the library and made inquiries about the procedure for banning certain books, claiming that some voters thought they had "inappropriate language" in them.

"The librarian was aghast," claims the article. The librarian, Mary Ellen Baker, couldn't be reached for comment, but news reports from the time show that Palin had threatened to fire Baker for not giving "full support" to the mayor.

A contributor to (scan the comments following the announcement of the TIME story) names the books Palin tried to ban from the library. The list includes:

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner
The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer
Confession, by Jean Jacques Rousseau
Death of a Salesman, by Arthur Miller
Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes
Lady Chatterley's Lover, by D.H. Lawrence
Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman
Little Red Riding Hood, by the Grimm Brothers
Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
Lysistrata, by Aristophanes
Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
To Kill a Mocking Bird, by Harper Lee
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, by Ken Kesey
The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
Pigman, by Paul Zindel


Anything by Stephen King, everything by J.K. Rowling, just about everything by Roald Dahl, both of Mark Twain's major works, most of Judy Blume, most of William Shakespeare, and (this is truly mind-boggling) Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary by the Merriam-Webster Editorial Staff

GalleyCat@ slyly comments, "Maybe if she didn't want to ban Our Bodies, Ourselves by Boston Women's Health Collective her daughter Bristol wouldn't be having a shotgun wedding." Yes, that book is one of those she wanted to ban.

Mary Ellen Baker resigned from her library director's job in 1999.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Fun and games during NZ Book Month

September Treasure Hunt

A quirky competition has been launched to support NZ Book Month.

Louise Wrightson, and her company New Zealand Books Abroad, is promoting a book lovers’ treasure hunt as her contribution to the event.

“ On 1 September we are planting five fictitious titles among the genuine NZ published books on our webshop,” said Wrightson.

“All people have to do is spot the phoneys and email them to us with their name. All the correct entries will go in a draw to win all 25 finalists in this year’s Montana Book Awards. This fine library of the best in contemporary publishing is worth more than $1300.”

Wrightson said she is a passionate supporter of NZ publishing and that she is delighted with the quality and the range of NZ books on offer.

“Selling NZ books at home and abroad is a serious business. The competition we are running in support of NZ Book Month gives us a chance to have lots of fun on the side.”

And you can buy books (including Island of the Lost and the Wiki Coffin novels) from their site:

And even compare the prices with those charged in the US!