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From Harry Potter-style mega-hits to controversy over banned books to hot competition for literary prizes, there is never a dull moment in the book world. Chapter & Verse keeps readers up-to-date on the latest in literary headlines. Check in with us daily to learn about books and their people - those who write them and those who love them.

Barefoot Books co-founder and CEO Nancy Traversy said the company faced 'challenges' in their business relationship with Amazon. (Mary Knox Merrill)

Life without Amazon? Barefoot Books is the David that cut ties to Goliath

By Husna Haq / 05.23.13

The lion and the mouse, the underdog and the bully, David and Goliath. However you frame it, it’s big news when a publisher decides to cut ties with Amazon. 

Barefoot Books, a small children’s publishing house in Cambridge, Mass., announced this week that it has decided to stop selling its books on Amazon.

“The challenges we have faced doing business with Amazon over the years are similar to those we experienced selling to the big box retail chains,” Barefoot Books’ co-founder and CEO Nancy Traversy said in a news release. “Personal relationships with buyers are rare, particularly when you’re a small publisher. Our books become commodities that are usually heavily discounted and Amazon often starts selling them before we have even received our advance copies from the printer.”

Since its founding in 1993, Barefoot Books has published more than 500 multicultural children’s books to “help children on their journey to become happy, engaged members of the global community” and to “create a worldwide network of story-lovers who believe in the importance of imagination in children’s lives.”

This isn’t the first time Barefoot Books has walked away from a large distributing partner. In 2006, it stopped selling books to Barnes and Noble and Borders, citing its commitment to its core values, among which is providing “an authentic alternative to the commercialization of childhood.”

If they’ve cut ties with Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and the now-defunct Borders, where is Barefoot selling its books?

As Publishers Weekly writes, the children’s publisher will “focus on selling direct through its bookstore/studios in Concord, Mass., and Oxford, England, and its boutique in FAO Schwarz in New York City.” It will also offer its books on its website, and expand its “Ambassador” network of home-based sellers.

It’s a bold move, to say the least, and one that has us wondering: Might this be the beginning of an exodus from Amazon?

In fact, it’s unlikely many publishers will follow suit, but it’s sure to give other publishers ideas of an existence without Amazon.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

Penguin Books settled with US Attorneys General from 33 states as well as consumers for $75 million. (Tim Ireland/PA/AP)

Penguin Books settles with 33 states, consumers in e-book price-fixing suit

By Staff Writer / 05.23.13

Publisher Penguin Books reached a settlement with US Attorneys General for 33 states as well as consumers for $75 million in response to charges that Penguin and four other major US book publishers had conspired to fix e-book prices.

Penguin had also previously settled a suit brought by the Department of Justice and will not be a part of the e-book price-fixing trial that is scheduled to begin June 3.

In the settlement with the states and consumers, Penguin is not required to state any wrongdoing on its part, according to the current terms of the settlement. The settlement still needs to be approved by a federal judge in New York.

Through the Penguin settlement, the money that will be used to reimburse consumers for funds lost because of the alleged e-book price-fixing has now increased to $165 million total. Penguin is paying by far the most, with publisher Hachette Book Group paying the second-most at $32 million. Of the five, Simon & Schuster is paying the least with $18 million.

The other four publishers involved in the case all settled earlier than Penguin.

Currently Apple alone will be involved in the DOJ case, which comes to trial in June. As reported by Monitor writer Husna Haq, there was recently some back-and-forth between Apple and the DOJ as the trial looms, with the Department of Justice stating that Apple “knew exactly what it was doing” and calling it the “ringmaster” in the alleged price-fixing scheme.

Apple fired back, with Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr stating, “Apple did not conspire to fix eBook pricing. We helped transform the eBook market with the introduction of the iBookstore in 2010, bringing consumers an expanded selection of eBooks and delivering innovative new features. The market has been thriving and innovating since Apple's entry, and we look forward to going to trial to defend ourselves and move forward.”

Apple and the five publishers were accused of trying to fix the prices of their e-books in an attempt to get online bookseller titan Amazon to increase its e-book prices of $9.99.

Lydia Davis is the author of such works as her book 'The Cows.' (Luke MacGregor/Reuters)

Lydia Davis wins 2013 Man Booker International Prize

By Staff Writer / 05.23.13

American writer Lydia Davis was named as the winner of the 2013 Man Booker International Prize.

Davis is most famous for her very brief short stories and has released works such as 2011’s “The Cows” and the 2009 publication “The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis.”

The author won out over nine other finalists, including writers Marilynne Robinson, Yan Lianke, and Vladimir Sorokin. The Man Booker International Prize is awarded every two years and is bestowed on a writer who has contributed “an achievement in fiction on the world stage” and whose work can be found in English or through a widely printed translation. The winner receives about $91,000 (60,000 pounds) during an award ceremony in London.

Chair of the judging panel Sir Christopher Ricks praised her work during the ceremony.

“Lydia Davis’ writings fling their lithe arms wide to embrace many a kind,” Ricks said. “Just how to categorize them? Should we simply concur with the official title and dub them stories? Or perhaps miniatures? Anecdotes? Essays? Jokes? Parables? Fables? Texts? Aphorisms, or even apophthegms? Prayers, or perhaps wisdom literature? Or might we settle for observations? There is vigilance to her stories, and great imaginative attention. Vigilance as how to realize things down to the very word or syllable; vigilance as to everybody’s impure motives and illusions of feeling.”

In addition to her fiction writing, Davis is also well known for her translating. Her English translations of classic works of French literature include Proust’s “Swann’s Way” (2004) and Flaubert's “Madame Bovary" (2010).

The author’s newest short story collection, “Can’t and Won’t,” is scheduled for a 2014 release from publisher Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

The 'Harry Potter' and 'Twilight' series are currently two of the most popular inspirations for fan fiction on the popular website Fanfiction.net.

Amazon's Kindle Worlds will allow writers to sell fan fiction

By Husna HaqCorrespondent / 05.22.13

The world of fan fiction – in which fans write stories based on the characters in popular book series, TV shows, movies, and games – has few rules.

For example, in some fan fiction on the popular site fanfiction.net, where users share fan fiction for free, Harry Potter may get pregnant, Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth may share their first kiss on the moon, and Bella Swan might actually be a Soviet spy. 

The one and only rule of fan fiction: you can’t sell it. (Unless the fan fiction is based on work already in the public domain.)

Until now. On Wednesday Amazon announced Kindle Worlds, “the first commercial publishing platform that will enable any writer to create fan fiction based on a range of original stories and characters and earn royalties for doing so,” according to Amazon’s press release.

For the first time, the new digital publishing platform allows writers to write, publish, and sell fan fiction legally, all through Amazon.

“At Kindle, we’re not only inventing on the hardware and software side of the business, we’re inventing new ways to create books,” said Philip Patrick, Director, Business Development and Publisher of Kindle Worlds, in a statement. “Our goal with Kindle Worlds is to create a home for authors to build on the Worlds we license, and give readers more stories from the Worlds they enjoy.”

Here’s how it works: Amazon acquires licenses from the original copyright holder, whether it’s Stephenie Meyer’s publisher, Warner Bros. Television, or a movie production company, and agrees to fan fiction content guidelines, thus opening the way for writers to write and sell their fan fiction on Amazon’s platform. For any works of fan fiction published and sold on Kindle Worlds, Amazon pays royalties to both the copyright holder, as well as the fan-fiction author, who gets 35 percent of net revenue. Amazon retains the rights to any fan fiction published and sold on Kindle Worlds.

Already, Amazon has acquired licenses from several bestselling series, including LJ Smith’s “Vampire Diaries,” Cicily von Ziegesar’s “Gossip Girl,” and Sara Shepard’s “Pretty Little Liars.”  

Kindle Worlds will officially launch in June with more than 50 commissioned works from authors like Barbara Freethy, John Everson, and Colleen Thompson, according to Amazon. Amazon Publishing will set the price for the works, with most priced at $0.99 to $3.99.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

Pearl S. Buck's most famous novel, 'The Good Earth,' won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932.

Never-before-seen Pearl S. Buck novel will be released this fall

By Staff Writer / 05.22.13

A never-before-published book by writer Pearl S. Buck will be released after being discovered in a storage unit.

The person who discovered the manuscript, which is titled “The Eternal Wonder,” gave it to the Buck family this past December. It is thought that Buck finished the novel shortly before her death.

“The Eternal Wonder” is “the coming-of-age story of Randolph Colfax, an extraordinarily gifted young man whose search for meaning and purpose leads him to New York, England, Paris and on a mission patrolling the DMZ in Korea that will change his life forever – and, ultimately, to love,” says publisher Open Road Integrated Media, which will be releasing the book.

Buck’s son Edgar S. Walsh, who is also in charge of her literary estate, said her family is baffled as to how the manuscript made its way to Texas.

“After my mother died in Vermont, her personal possessions were not carefully controlled,” he told the New York Times. “The family didn’t have access. Various things were stolen. Somebody in Vermont ran off with this thing, and it eventually ended up in Texas.”

Jane Friedman, the chief executive of publisher Open Road, told the NYT that the novel has everything Pearl S. Buck fans have come to enjoy.

“All of the themes that were important to Pearl Buck are in this book,” she said. “The main character, the love, the attention to detail of the Chinese artifacts, the relationship this young man has. She writes in a way that is absolutely hypnotic.”

“The Eternal Wonder” is scheduled for a fall release.

Buck was the first female writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, securing the award in 1938. In addition, her novel “The Good Earth” won the Pulitzer Prize in 1938.

Buck, whose parents were missionaries, grew up in China and lived there until she came to America to attend college. She went back after graduating in 1914 and lived there for some time before returning to the US permanently 20 years later, a few years after “The Good Earth” was published in 1931. Buck died in 1973.

The first-edition copy of 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone' that was auctioned off also contained notes and drawings by author J.K. Rowling. (Matt Dunham/AP)

J.K. Rowling's 'Potter' first edition raises $228,000 for charity

By Staff Writer / 05.22.13

The first-edition copy of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” (better known as “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” to US fans) by J.K. Rowling, with annotations by the author, sold for $228,000 yesterday at Sotheby’s in London.

The book was being sold along with other first-edition books which had been annotated by their authors to benefit English PEN, an organization which supports writers whose ability to write freely is being threatened.

The first edition of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” was bought by a bidder who remained anonymous and sent his or her bid over the phone, according to Sotheby’s. In British currency, the book sold for 150,000 pounds.

The funds from the books sold came to 440,000 pounds, or more than $660,000. One of the other notable items up for sale, a copy of “Matilda” by Roald Dahl that included new drawings by original illustrator Quentin Blake, sold for 30,000 pounds.

“This is a triumphant conclusion to a wonderful project, which has involved the hard work and good will of so many people,” Rick Gekoski, the curator of the collection and an English PEN trustee, told the Guardian. “I am sure that the buyers of the individual books will be thrilled with their purchases."

Carol Burnett will be the 2013 recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. “It’s almost impossible to be funnier than the people in Washington,” says Burnett. (Sam Mircovich/Reuters)

Carol Burnett will receive the 2013 Mark Twain Prize for American Humor

By Staff Writer / 05.22.13

Carol Burnett has been chosen to receive the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor for this year. The award will be given to the comedian in a ceremony this October.

“I can’t believe I’m getting a humor prize from the Kennedy Center,” Burnett said in a statement. “It’s almost impossible to be funnier than the people in Washington.”

Kennedy Center Chairman David Rubenstein praised Burnett's ability to make audiences laugh over many decades.

“From her television program and appearances, as well as her performances on Broadway and in film, Carol Burnett has entertained generations of fans with her vibrant wit and hilarious characters,” Rubenstein said in a statement

Other recent winners of the prize include Ellen DeGeneres, Will Ferrell, and Tina Fey. The award was first given out in 1998 and is often bestowed on an entertainer who has worked as both an actor and a writer. Fey is currently the youngest honoree ever.

During the ceremony, the winner is generally honored with video segments of his or her past work and ribbings from others in the business.  

Burnett came to the public’s attention when she starred in the 1959 Broadway production of the musical “Once Upon a Mattress” and is best-known for her CBS sketch program “The Carol Burnett Show,” which ran from 1967 to 1978. Her film credits include “Annie,” “Noises Off,” and “Horton Hears a Who!” She is also behind a memoir published this year, "Carrie and Me," as well as two other autobiographical works, "One More Time" and "This Time Together."

A sign warns visitors not to enter the New Hampshire property of author J.D. Salinger. (Edmund Fountain/Valley News/AP)

Does a new J.D. Salinger documentary contain 'revelations' about the author?

By Staff Writer / 05.21.13

This year’s Cannes Film Festival saw the screening of a preview of the buzzed-about documentary “Salinger,” which centers on the reclusive “Catcher in the Rye” author.

The movie is directed by Shane Salerno, who has served as the screenwriter for films such as the 2012 film “Savages” and the 1998 movie “Armageddon.” The footage screened during the festival showed interviews with other authors such as E.L. Doctorow and Gore Vidal as well as a reference to “the biggest secret of [Salinger’s] lifetime.”

Salerno is also serving as a producer and writer on the film.

The Weinstein Company is distributing the film and Harvey Weinstein told the Guardian that the movie contains some surprises.

“It depends how you define a great revelation,” Weinstein said when asked specifically whether the movie offered new information about the author, who died in 2010. “I hope the audience will keep the secret of the film, and won't tell their neighbors, just like they did for The Crying Game. If I told you what it was they'd kill me. Shane Salerno directed Savages, so I am definitely not going to tell you.”

However, Salinger’s son Matthew told the New York Times that neither he nor his father cooperated with Salerno and that he doesn’t believe anyone who was close to Salinger worked with the documentary filmmaker, either.

“There were barely enough people to form a circle in the last 30 or 40 years,” Matthew Salinger said of his father’s acquaintances.

He said he doesn’t think the finished product will measure up to all the hype. 

“I would only wish this were as serious-minded a piece of work as he would have us believe,” he said of Salerno.

The movie is scheduled to be released Sept. 6.

Bernard Waber was the author of titles such as 'Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile.' (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/AP)

Bernard Waber, author of 'Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile,' dies at 91

By Staff Writer / 05.21.13

Bernard Waber, the author and illustrator of many children’s titles, died May 16 on Long Island.

Waber was behind children’s books such as “Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile,” “The House on East 88th Street,” and “Ira Sleeps Over.” Some of his best known books featured a crocodile named Lyle, who surprises a family named Primm when they discover him in the bathtub of their house on the Upper East Side of New York.

“[His] warmth, energy, artfulness, elegance, and abiding respect for children were epitomized in his books,” Betsy Groban, Houghton's senior vice president and publisher of books for young readers, said in a statement about Weber.

Waber served in World War II and originally was set to study finance but decided to pursue art. His first book was “The House on East 88th Street,” which was released in 1962. The author wrote of how he got into children’s books in an essay for the Houghton Mifflin website, which included memories of how he was entranced by children’s literature.

“Perhaps it was moving about, meeting people of various backgrounds and experience — I don't recall a precise moment — but somehow during those army days my interest shifted to drawing and painting,” he wrote of serving in World War II. “Returning to civilian life, I discarded high finance for enrollment at the Philadelphia College of Art. It was a decision I never regretted…. Several art directors suggested that my drawings seemed suited for children's books. At the same time, I was also having read-aloud sessions with my own three children. I am afraid enthusiasm for 'their' books began, in fact, to cause them occasional discomfort. ‘Daddy, why don't you look at the grownups' books?’ they once chided as I trailed after them into the children's room of our local library.”

The author’s last release was “Lyle Walks the Dog,” a 2010 book which he worked on with one of his daughters.

One thing that may come as a surprise to readers of Hosseini's third novel: There’s far less "Afghanistan" and "conflict" in this book – perhaps a deliberate decision by Hosseini to reframe the country in readers’ psyches.

Khaled Hosseini's 'And the Mountains Echoed' garners rave reviews

By Husna HaqCorrespondent / 05.20.13

Early reviews are in and they’ve confirmed what we’ve known all along: Khaled Hosseini’s latest novel, “And the Mountains Echoed,” is a hit. It’s also a surprisingly nuanced, morally complex, exquisitely told tear-jerker.

Take it from the Washington Post’s book reviewer, Marcela Valdes.

“I’m not an easy touch when it comes to novels, but Hosseini’s new book, 'And the Mountains Echoed,' had tears dropping from my eyes by Page 45,” she writes, positing that Hosseini’s “secret ingredient might be intense emotion.”

Hosseini’s third book, “And the Mountains Echoed,” hits stores Tuesday, six years after his previous two books captivated millions of readers and spent years on the bestseller list. His 2003 debut novel, “The Kite Runner,” was published in 70 countries and spent almost two years on bestseller lists. “A Thousand Splendid Suns” also became a bestseller in 2007. Together, the two books have sold more than 38 million copies.

“And the Mountains Echoed” isn't due out until tomorrow but pre-orders of the book, in both print and e-book versions, have already exceeded those of "A Thousand Splendid Suns" by almost 95 percent on Amazon.com.

Like the previous two, Hosseini’s latest novel is a heart-wrenching story. “And the Mountains Echoed” is set partly in Afghanistan, but action also takes place in California, Paris, and the Greek Islands. Early reviews have called it a story about family, separation, and sibling relationships. It begins with an Afghan tale about a horrific monster called a div who comes to an Afghan village to demand the sacrifice of a child. The consequences of the resulting sacrifice of a favored son echo through the lives of all the characters explored in the book, most importantly siblings Abdullah and Pari.

Unlike “The Kite Runner” and “A Thousand Splendid Suns,” “And the Mountains Echoed” is constructed as a series of stories, each set in a different place and time and told from a different point of view.

“In less skillful hands, this structure might seem more like a compilation of short stories than a novel,” writes the Post’s Valdes. “But Hosseini carefully divvies up details about the circumstances preceding and following Abdullah and Pari’s fateful afternoon, giving the book a satisfying sense of momentum and consequence.”

One thing that may come as a surprise to readers: There’s far less "Afghanistan" and "conflict" in this novel. It appears to be a deliberate decision by Hosseini to reframe the country in readers’ psyches as any other setting and not as a country defined by war, conflict, and turmoil.

“I hope a day will come when we write about Afghanistan, where we can speak about Afghanistan in a context outside of the wars and the struggles of the last 30 years,” he told NPR. “In some way I think this book is an attempt to do that.”

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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