... on books, and music in between


End Notes: Jonathan Franzen, More Nobel News, King Kindle, Barney's Version, and the Problem With Atheists

WELCOME TO END NOTES, Advance Copy's twice-weekly trawl for all the book and publishing news that's fit to print, with some music thrown in for good measure.  Email me at:



In-House: Monday is H-Net Review day here at Current Intelligence.  This week, we bring you Maria Siano's J-History review of Robert H. Phelps' God and the Editor: My Search for Meaning at the New York Times.  Our Reviews page, containing reviews from both H-Net and our own contributors, can be found here. & Current Intelligence: Every Thursday we'll be republishing a FiveBooks author interview.  Stay tuned - the first one, on conflict in the Caucausus, appears later this week.

Freedom.  To mess it up: If you haven't heard, Jonathan Franzen is The Great American Novelist of our era.  His new novel, Freedom, is the most amazing work since the Bible.  OK, that might be overstating it a little bit. I haven't actually read it yet, but it's #2 in the stack of books next to the bed.  And I must confess to having loved The Corrections.  But the hype surrounding Freedom is getting a little out of control, especially since The Oprah made it her selection of the month.  Anyway.  Things are not all tickety-boo with the publication of Freedom in merry olde England.  There are 80,000 copies of the novel in stores, but they are being recalled.  The novel is full of typos and other errors.  Meanwhile, the TLS isn't amused with the Second Coming.

More Nobel News: The Nobel Prize for Literature will be announced on Thursday, 7 October.  The various other Nobel Prizes will be handed out this week, beginning today with Medicine.  The Physics prize will be handed out tomorrow.  Chemistry gets its time in the sun on Wednesday, with the Nobel Peace Prize being handed out on Friday.  Next Monday will see the final Nobel prize handed out in Economics.  The ceremonies will all be carried live on YouTube, which is branching out into streaming video now.  For the gamblers out there, here are the odds for the Nobel Prize for Literature.  

The Kindle's Dominance is Near Complete: On Friday last week, Adobe launched the beta version of a new plugin for its InDesign publishing software that allows users to convert files from that programme so that they're compatible with Kindle.  Books can now be directly published to Kindle.

War-mongering Buddhists: The TLS reviews Buddhist Warfare, a book we featured here at CI a little while ago.  We're not just talking about self-immolating monks, either.  

Barney's Version: Mordecai Richler was the greatest Canadian author ever.  Full stop.  His two late career novels, Solomon Gursky Was Here and Barney's Version rank amongst the great novels of the 20th century. Barney was his magnum opus, an aching, beautiful, and profane examination of the failed life of one Barney Panofsky, a womanising Canadian TV producer who happily turned out the kind of schlock Canadian TV is infamous for.  He was also quite possibly a murderer.  His best friend, Boogie Moscovitch went missing after a violent, drunken row between he and Barney, after Boogie slept with Barney's wife.  Richler died in 2000, three years after Barney's Version was published.  It has now been turned into a film, starring Paul Giamatti, Dustin Hoffman, Rosamund Pike, and Minnie Driver.  Richler's son, Noah, a journalist, spent some time around the set.

Poor Morris: This might be the best short story I've read in some time.

The Problem with Atheists: Some, like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, are just as fervent and zealous as the religious folk they attack.  Somewhere in their rantings and ravings are decent arguments, but I am increasingly losing patience with the pitbull school of atheism.  Nonetheless, Harris has a new book, The Moral Landscape, that argues that science does indeed have something to say about morality.  In fact, Harris argues, only science can help us solve questions of morality and the meaning of life.  I can't say I'm burning with desire to read the book, but I do find the argument intriguing.

Stieg Larsson: When Larsson died of a massive coronary in 2004 shortly after finishing is Millennium Trilogy, he left a mess behind him.  As his estate has accumulated more and more money with the runaway best selling novels, to say nothing of movie rights, a nasty legal dispute has pitted Larsson's father and brother against his long-time partner, Eva Gabrielsson.  Because Gabrielsson and Larsson never married, she has no claim to his fortune under Swedish law, and the father and brother are not inclined to share the loot.  Anna Porter interviews Gabrielsson in The Globe & Mail.

David Bowie: Bowie is publishing a new book, Bowie: Object, including images and ephemera from his private collection, designed to give the reader insight into his life.  No release date has been announced.



Trouble for Roger Waters: The Anti-Defamation League is accusing Roger Waters' 30th anniversary tour of Pink Floyd's The Wall of being anti-semitic, as the show uses imagery that could be considered anti-semitic.  For example, during the song "Goodbye Blue Sky," planes drop bombs in the shape of the Star of David, following by money signs.  Waters claims he is criticising the Israeli Security Fence.  

What the?: Mo Tucker, the legendary drummer for the similarly legendary Velvet Underground is a Tea Party Supporter.  How does this happen?  Pitchfork has video proof.  Egads.

What the? 2: When I was 11, Twister Sister were my favourite band.  It was the mid-80s and Kiss, the coolest band of all time, had taken off their make-up.  They weren't nearly as cool when I could see just how ugly Gene Simmons was.  Twister Sister, with its lead singer, Dee Snider, filled that lacuna.  My first concert was Twisted Sister opening for metal legends Iron Maiden at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver.  Today we have news that Snider will be joining "Rock of Ages." 

Nick Freaking Cave: As far as I'm concerned, Nick Cave is a demi-god.  He is currently fronting Grinderman, an off-shoot of sorts of his better known Bad Seeds.  Their new album, Grinderman 2, is nothing short of amazing.

Drake: Can you still be a bad-ass rapper when The New York Times is reviewing your shows?  

I feel ancient: The Beastie Boys are up for nomination to the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame.  I grew up listening to the Beasties.  I give you their classic video for "Sabotage":

The Arcade Fire: The band's new album, The Suburbs, is a concept record, one that will sound instantly familiar, at least lyrically, for anyone who grew up in the 'burbs.  As Win Butler, et al., come to terms with their suburban childhoods, they invite us to get nostalgic for our own with their interactive video for "We Used to Wait."  Using GoogleMaps, we see the main character run down the street through our childhood neighbourhood.  Ivor Tossell is impressed, though he'd rather he wasn't.  He seems to resent the nostalgic aching for our childhood the video is supposed to give rise to.  Me, I just think this is neat.

And finally: I can't seem to stop listening to Underworld of late.  Maybe because their new album is such a massive disappointment (and let's face it, they've been on a steady trajectory downwards since 1998's classic, Beaucoup Fish).  Anyway, I offer you their classic 1996 track, "Born Slippy (NUXX)."  Thanks for reading, I'll be back on Thursday.  


End Notes: Nobel Gamble, Reading in the Digital Age, Simon Cowell's Book, Military History, and the Texas School Board

WELCOME TO END NOTES, Advance Copy's twice-weekly trawl for all the book and publishing news that's fit to print, with some music thrown in for good measure.  Email me at:



Erratum: On Monday, I stated that Barnes & Noble makes the Kindle.  B&N is responsible for the Nook.  It is, of course, that produces the Kindle.  

Nobel News:  Aparently the Nobel Committee for Literature harbours an anti-American bias.  This year, a Swedish poet, Tomas Transtromer, is the odds-on favourite to win the Nobel Prize.  The alleged anti-American sentiment comes from comments made by a committee member in 2008 that Americans are "too insular." As a result, Ladbrokes has declared the Americans on the shortlist longshots.  Either way, predicting the Nobel winner is kind of like tilting at windmills; the Nobel Committee is famously secretive and surprising in its selections.

iTunes: Apple is going to offer up newspaper subscriptions on iTunes for iPhones, iPads, and iPods.  More competition for the Kindle, produced by  And The New Yorker has a new app for your iPad.

From the Department of No Fooling, Sherlock: A new study on reading in the digital age claims that parents think their kids neither engage in physical activity nor read enough.  The blame lies with all their digital devices.  Seriously, people get grants to study this kind of thing.

John Doyle Does Not Heart Simon Cowell:  Doyle, The Globe & Mail's TV critic, is shocked, shocked I tell you, to learn that Cowell's book is the one most often left behind in British hotel rooms. 

The Digital Age:  Just as record companies have taken a hit from downloading of all kinds, publishers are beginning to feel the brunt of digital books.  They cost less, leaving less for the publisher.  This is causing problems for the agents of "literary authors", who are finding it harder to both land a mainstream publisher and, more importantly, a decent advance.

FiveBooks: Veteran British broadcaster Peter Snow offers up his 5 best books on military history.  I like this piece in particular because Snow chose his son Dan's book about the fall of Quebec in 1759 during the Seven Years' War.

More from the Department of You Can't Make this Up: There is a genuine fear that the Texas School Board's (TSB) latest round of idiocy will trigger a US-wide cascade.  As I noted on Monday, the TSB is concerned about textbooks  it claims to be anti-Christian and pro-Muslim, and has warned its distributors to fix this alleged problem.  Usually the TSB's bizarre slant is countered by California's more liberal outlook (in that Texas' purchasing power is usually countered by California's).  But the latter is famously close to bankruptcy right now, so it won't be purchasing new textbooks this year.  Of course, a real hard-core right winger would see California's financial problems as proof positive that God is punishing the liberals.



The Thin White Duke: The NME gives us 50 things we need to know about David Bowie.  Bowie, of course, is the master of reinvention, and perhaps one of the greatest artists of the past half century.  

OMG: OK, so this is neither book nor music news, but it's too important to pass up here: Star Wars is going to be released in 3D.  I had a hard time not writing that sentence in all caps.  Unfortunately, Lucasfilms is starting with the alleged Episode One: The Phantom Menace.  That's right, we have to first deal with the sub-standard prequels before we get to the good stuff. It'll be in theatres in 2012.  

Lastly: Another one that I can't get out of my head: They Might be Giants' 1990 cover of The Four Lads' 1953 hit,  "Istanbul, not Constantinople."  Actually, this song has been in my head for precisely 20 years, since I first heard in the autumn of 1990.  Enjoy.


Banned Books Week, 25 September-2 October

This week is Banned Books Week, an initiative of the American Library Association, which describes the occasion as "an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment." Showcasing books that have been the targets of campaigns restricting free speech, Banned Books Week "highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States."

The Huffington Post has a list 10 graphic novels that have been targets of such campaigns. It also has an interesting poll that asks whether some books - the kind "that might turn anybody into a censor" - don't actually deserve to be banned.

There's a long history of banning books in Western culture: Martin Luther's 95 Theses in the 16th century; Lady Chatterly's Lover in England in the early 20th century; Alan Ginsberg's poem, Howl, subject of a long obscenity trial in the US in the mid-20th century.  The Catholic Church maintained the Index Libororum Phohibitorum from 1529 until it was abolished in 1960.  At one point, translations of the Bible were on the Index.  And while Banned Books Week is an American event, it behoves us all to stand up and take notice.

The ALA has a blog and a Twitter feed pointing readers towards news, events, and items related to Banned Books Week. It also has a listing of events at libraries and bookstores around the US.


End Notes: The Boxer, The Playwright, The Archer, The Oprah, Kobo, Kindle, and the Middle East

WELCOME TO END NOTES, Advance Copy's twice-weekly trawl for all the book and publishing news that's fit to print, with some music thrown in for good measure.  Email me at:



In-House: Monday is H-Net Review day here at Current Intelligence.  This week, we bring you David Bulla's J-History review of James McGrath Morris' Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power.

The Boxer & The Playwright: In The New York Times, Charles McGrath reviews Jay Tunney's book about George Bernard Shaw's friendship with Tunney's father, boxing heavyweight champion Gene Tunney.

Britain's Most Notorious Novelist: the Globe & Mail interviewed him last week -  at 70, Jeffrey Archer has embarked on an ambitious plan to write a five volume series on the plight of the son of a Bristol docker who discovers he has remarkable powers.  In discussing Hollywood fads, Archer definitively states "I don't do vampires."

The Oprah Speaks: (Anyone remember Tim Meadows' send-ups of Oprah on SNL back in the day?)  In choosing Jonathan Franzen's new novel, Freedom, for her book club, Oprahhas buried the hatchet with the author, who publicly dissed her a decade ago when his first novel, The Corrections was all the rage and a selection for her book club.  Also, Ms. O, announced this will NOT be the final pick of her club, but that she will continue to offer her suggestions as she takes the book club with her to her new network.  Laugh all you want, but I am a big fan of anyone who encourages people to pick up a book and read.

Book Blog Tours:'s blog reports that blog tours are all the rage amongst authors.

Kobo v. Kindle: The CBC reports on the attempts of Kobo, a Canadian joint venture funded by Indigo and Borders, to catch up to and prevent Barnes & Noble from running away with the e-book market with the Kindle.  

From the Department of You Can't Make This Up. The Texas School Board (TSB) is at it again.  Not content to re-arrange history to suit Tea Party desires, the TSB is now concerned that textbooks are "too nice" to Muslims, and is warning its textbook producers to cut back on the pro-Muslim, anti-Christian stance it rather bizarrely sees in the books.  Seriously.  I don't know whether to laugh or cry at this news.

From the Middle East.  The New York Review of Books is rather obsessed with the Islamic Middle East this week.  First, Jeremy Bernstein reminisces about his road trip through the Hindu Kush in the 1960s.  Can Yeginsu reflects on the recent referendum and constitutional change in Turkey.  Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick worries about what will happen to the victims of the Iraq War.  Finally, and tangentially connected to this, David Cole wonders what to do about Guantánamo.  



Long Live the Independent Record Store: offers up its take on the 25 best record stores in the USA.  Included are my two favourite record stores in the US: Amoeba Records (which claims to be the world's largest indie record store) in Berkeley, CA, and Newbury Comics on Newbury St. in Boston.  My other favourite record store is SoundScapes in Toronto.

Oh dear. Oklahoma's favourite leftfielders, the Flaming Lips, are going to get in trouble for this.



Charlotte Gainsbourg. I leave you with the song that won't get out of my head this week, Charlotte Gainsbourg's "Heaven Can Wait."


Advance Copy: The Introduction

Welcome to Advance Copy, a blog on books, and music in between. I'll be writing about books, music and publishing, and providing twice-weekly news round-ups, on Monday and Thursday mornings.

The publishing and music industries, you may have heard, have to contend with this not-so-new digital age.  Kindles, Kobos, Nooks, iPods, iPhones, iPads, to say nothing of good old fashioned computers, allow us to read from electrons instead of paper.  Magazines and newspapers are seeing their circulation numbers dip, at least in traditional print formats.  The independent book store is quickly becoming a thing of the past in most major cities, bought out and swallowed up by massive chains like Barnes & Noble (it's been going on for a while).  With convergence comes a decrease in choice. Books are slickly marketed, not just by the publishers, but also by the big chains.  If they don’t want to sell it, it quite often won’t get published. 

Meanwhile, the music industry is in crisis.  Sales are down, as the kids download music in various formats, not all of which are legal.  Even legal media like iTunes have taken a bite out of record companies. They pay lower royalties; indie musicians, on the other hand, love iTunes because it gets their music out there, and because its fee structures mean they get to keep the royalties for themselves.  The solution for some has been reactionary and, quite frankly, stupid: the Recording Industry Association of America, rather than encourage its members to adapt their business model, blithely sues illegal downloaders.  

In the midst of all of this, artists and some forward thinking industry executives have sought more creative ways of reaching their audiences. 

Novels now have websites that turn text into multimedia.  One of my favourites, Charles Bock’s 2008 novel, Beautiful Children, involves all kinds of creative devices for enhancing the reading experience - including a soundtrack, resources for kids on the street, faux bootleg alternative versions, as well as the standard front and back matter details. (Disclaimer: I know Bock - we met through our spouses, though that doesn't make the website any less cool).

Musicians have come up with creative methods for getting their music out there, record companies be damned. We all know about the pay-what-you-want model for Radiohead’s 2007 record, In Rainbowswhich was apparently a massive financial success for the band (I wouldn’t know, I downloaded it for free).  Since then, artists as diverse as Manchester legends The Charlatans and indie rockers like Chicago’s Office and Montreal’s Hollerado have offered up their music for free. 

That's what this blog's about. Stay tuned.

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