The Man Asian Literary Prize, which honors the best novel of the year written by an Asian writer and translated into English, is seeking new sponsorship after the Man Group withdrew its financial support.
“We recently announced a program to reduce costs by $100 million by the end of next year, and this decision should be seen in that context," Man Group head of communications David Waller said of the decision.
Man Group CEO Peter Clarke said the company was proud to have been involved with the prize.
"We are committed to supporting the prize organizers in finding a new sponsor to ensure the continued development of this leading literary prize," he told The Bookseller.
The 2012 prize, which will be awarded in March, will be the last given with support from the Man Group.
Executive director of the Man Asian Literary Prize Professor David Parker said that with its current funds, the organization would be able to give out the prize in March, but would need a new source of money after that.
“To put it bluntly, we have got about 16 weeks to find some way of funding the prize, and we are absolutely determined we are going to do it," he told the Guardian. “There is quite a lot of potential value in backing a prize such as this, so we're not entirely desolate at this moment.”
The Man Asian Literary Prize was first given out in 2007, and last year’s went to writer Kyung-sook Shin, the first female winner, for “Please Look After Mom.”
“Of course I was shocked, upset, disappointed to hear about [the sponsorship withdrawal]," Xu Xi, an author who made the shortlist for the prize in 2007 and who is now writer-in-residence at the City University of Hong Kong, told CNN. “There is no other prize in Asia that has any kind of international clout, that helps to bring to the fore writing specifically that is Asia-focused.”
If Amazon is the Hercules of the book world, the leviathan who overshadows all, then publishing is its Achilles’ heel.
Despite its almost mythical dominance in book retailing, Amazon has struggled mightily to crack the publishing business. While it sells millions of copies of other publishers’ books, Amazon can’t quite seem to get its own books off the ground and onto the bestseller charts, according to a recent Wall Street Journal piece that examined the online retailer’s publishing woes.
Case in point: Penny Marshall’s memoir, “My Mother Was Nuts.” The memoir by the actress and director was published by Amazon and was slated to be one of its biggest titles for fall. “In its first four weeks of sale it has sold just 7,000 copies in hardcover, according to Nielsen BookScan,” reports the Wall Street Journal. “By comparison, actor Rob Lowe’s memoir, 2011’s ‘Stories I Only Tell My Friends,’ published by Macmillan’s Henry Holt & Co., sold 54,000 hardcover copies in its first four weeks.”
Granted, there could be many reasons for the memoir’s failure to sell. “Marshall hasn’t been in the limelight for a while,” writes the WSJ, and, of course, not every memoir strikes a chord. But there’s one considerable culprit for the slow sales of “My Mother Was Nuts" and every other book Amazon publishes: “its severely limited availability.”
If readers wanted to find “My Mother Was Nuts” in a bricks-and-mortar store, or simply stumble upon it, the way some books are discovered, they would be hard-pressed to do so. The memoir wasn’t stocked in any of the almost-700 Barnes and Nobles stores across the country, nor in Wal-Mart or Target stores. Most independent booksellers don’t stock the book, and the e-book version wasn’t carried by stores operated by Sony, Apple, or Google. Just about the only place a reader is guaranteed to find the memoir is at Amazon.com.
That’s largely due to a deliberate boycott of Amazon books by retailers resentful of the mega-online retailer’s Herculean dominance of the books market. In a move called a “declaration of war,” Barnes and Noble announced early this year its decision to yank Amazon-published books from its shelves.
“Barnes & Noble has made a decision not to stock Amazon published titles in our store showrooms,” Barnes & Noble chief merchandising officer, Jaime Carey, wrote in an email in February 2012. “Our decision is based on Amazon’s continued push for exclusivity with publishers, agents, and the authors they represent.”
The tactical move was “an attempt to cut off access for the online books behemoth that [Barnes and Noble] says ‘undermined the industry’ by signing exclusive agreements with publishers, agents, and authors,” according to a February 2012 Chapter & Verse post.
Amazon is feeling the pain now: the Penny Marshall memoir is the first big Amazon title to be published since the boycott began. And though all retailers are not boycotting Amazon books, “the company’s status as a competitor is clearly a factor for some,” writes the WSJ. “I don’t want to be a showroom for Amazon,” Mitchell Kaplan, owner of three Books & Books stores in Florida, told the Journal.
Authors are taking note. After a string of deals with authors like Deepak Chopra, Timothy Ferriss, and James Franco in the spring of last year, Amazon, which entered publishing quietly in 2009, appears to be struggling to attract big names. The Barnes & Noble boycott, it seems, has slowed the number of big-name books Amazon has been able to sign.
“It’s panic time,” Siva Vaidhyanathan, a professor of media studies and law at the University of Virginia, told the WSJ. “The notion that a company as powerful as Amazon has such a tremendous amount of influence on what we read, how much money authors make, and the formats that books appear in is really scary to the book industry and other industries as well.”
In other words, the Herculean Amazon’s very strength has become its greatest weakness.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
A judge ruled that DC Comics and, by extension, its parent company Warner Bros. will keep its rights to the character of Superman, despite the attempt of the heirs of original artist Joe Shuster to retake their rights to the character.
U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright ruled that in 1992, when DC Comics agreed to take care of Shuster’s debts after his then-recent death and pay his sister Jean $25,000 annually for the remainder of her life, the Shuster family lost the right to renegotiate copyright.
“The 1992 agreement, which represented the Shuster heirs' opportunity to renegotiate the prior grants of Joe Shuster's copyrights, superseded and replaced all prior grants of the Superman copyrights,” Wright wrote in his decision.
The lawyer for the Shusters, Marc Toberoff, said in a statement that “we respectfully disagree with [the order’s] factual and legal conclusions. It is surprising given that the judge appeared to emphatically agree with our position at the summary judgment hearing.”
Shuster and his co-artist Jerry Siegel signed over rights to Superman to DC Comics’ Jack Liebowitz and Harry Donenfeld for $130 in the 1930s, with Superman appearing in a comic book for the first time in 1938. A judge ruled that the Siegel family had rights to the character in a 2008 case, but Warner Bros. is still able to use Superman while paying the family (Warner Bros. is appealing that ruling). However, Wright said that the case with the Shusters is different because they entered into the 1992 agreement.
It is predicted the Shuster family will appeal Wright’s ruling.
If Amazon is holiday central, Santa is bringing in the elves – big time.
The fact that Amazon is bulking up its workforce ahead of the holidays is nothing new. The online retailer typically swells its workforce around this time of year. What’s new is that Bezos is disclosing his company’s exact hiring figures. (Until now, he’s always kept this information under wraps.) What’s more, 50,000 seasonal workers is a significant addition for a company that reports having a total of 69,000 full- and part-time employees worldwide, as the Wall Street Journal reports. And Santa Bezos says he expects “thousands” of those hired elves to stay on full-time.
“Temporary associates play a critical role in meeting increased customer demand during the holiday season, and we expect thousands of temporary associates will stay on in full-time positions,” Dave Clark, vice president of Global Customer Fulfillment, said in a statement.
Retailers typically add staff in the lead-up to the holiday season to handle extra holiday demand, but Amazon’s hiring figures are higher than expected. Reading between the lines, we think it’s clear Amazon expects to have a robust holiday season with healthy sales of its new tablets and e-readers like the new Kindle Paperwhite and Kindle Fire. It’s also a sign that Amazon is hoping to clobber its e-reader competition, including the likes of Banes & Noble’s Nook, Apple’s iPad, and Kobo’s e-reader. It may also be a bid to increase efficiency and cut down on time necessary for shipping goods to online buyers.
Amazon released a few more secret – until now – figures in its announcement. It now has 20,000 full time employees at US fulfillment centers, where products are packed and shipped. At the end of last year, Amazon said it had a total of 69 fulfillment centers, according to the WSJ. It said it plans to open 18 new fulfillment centers in 2012, but had opened only six by the end of the second quarter.
Though it didn’t say how many seasonal workers it hired for the 2011 holiday season, it did reveal that this year’s figure is up slightly from last year. That makes us wonder, could Amazon hiring be an economic indicator for the US economy? Is Amazon’s ambitious hiring a sign of good things to come?
That might be a stretch, but we’re still hoping Santa Bezos is bringing more than e-readers to American consumers this holiday. Perhaps a stocking full of tidings of good economic news to come?
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
Mantel won the 2009 Booker Prize for “Wolf Hall,” the first in a planned trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, a member of Henry VIII’s court. “Bring Up the Bodies” centers on Cromwell and his view of the Tudor court as then-queen Anne Boleyn faces her downfall.
“You wait 20 years for a Booker Prize [and] two come along at once,” Mantel said upon accepting the award Oct. 16 at the Guildhall building in London. The author received 50,000 pounds along with the honor.
“There will always be some kind of genre fiction, whether it's whips and chains or boy wizards, making its way to the top,” Mantel said in an interview with Reuters. “But what is important is there's a healthy appetite for what people off-puttingly call 'serious fiction.’”
Chair of the judging panel Sir Peter Stothard told the BBC that he believed “Bring Up the Bodies” surpasses “Wolf Hall” in excellence.
“She uses her power of prose to create moral ambiguity and the real uncertainty of political life,” Stothard said. “We have the greatest modern English prose writer reviving possibly one of the best known pieces of English history. It is well-trodden territory with an inevitable outcome, and yet she is able to bring it to life as though for the first time.”
In a profile of Mantel for the NewStatesman, Sophia Elmhurst called Mantel's Cromwell novels "a combination of wild imagining and unimpeachable accuracy."
Winners of the Man Booker Prize often experience a sales surge after capturing the title, and Mantel’s book “Wolf Hall” had sold 36,000 copies before she won the Booker. Soon after she won, the book reached 600,000 copies sold. Her third installment in her series, “The Mirror and the Light,” is expected to be released in 2015, according to Reuters.
Mantel and author Will Self were regarded as the frontrunners in the race before Tuesday night, with Mantel being seen as slightly in the lead. Self’s novel “Umbrella,” which follows a woman in a psychiatric ward and is written almost without paragraph breaks, may have been regarded as less accessible than “Bring up the Bodies” by some readers.
“Perhaps Umbrella would have been too radical a choice for a prize that, as the country's biggest, cannot help but be a little conservative,” Justine Jordan wrote in the Guardian.
Mantel spent her childhood in Hadfield in northern Derbyshire and wrote her first novel, centering on the French Revolution, while working in a dress shop at 23. She sent it to literary agencies, but she told Larissa Macfarquahr during an interview for a New Yorker profile that she believes the phrase “historical fiction” made editors dismiss it.
“They literally could not read my letter, because of the expectations surrounding the words ‘French Revolution’—that it was bound to be about ladies with high hair,” Mantel said.
She said when she started writing “Wolf Hall” after copious research, she almost laughed because it felt so easy.
“I know the subject matter’s dire, but I was filled with glee and a sense of power, a sense that I knew how to do this,” she told the New Yorker. “It began to unscroll before me like a film; it was in the present tense because I didn’t know what would happen next minute. It was as if after swimming and swimming you’ve suddenly found your feet are on ground that’s firm. I knew from the first paragraph that this was going to be the best thing I’d ever done.”
She told Reuters she’s not worried about bringing her trilogy to a satisfactory close.
“I think I can bring it home in style,” Mantel said.
Check out the video above of Mantel after winning her second Booker Prize.
First-time nominee journalist Will Self and 2009 winner author Hilary Mantel are favored to win the coveted prize, one of English literature’s most respected. (Any doubts? Just check the myriad betting contests.)
Self is nominated for “Umbrella,” “a modernist tale spanning a century and following Audrey Death, a woman who falls into a coma at the end of World War One only to be awoken decades later when Dr. Zack Busner discovers a cure,” according to Reuters.
The book, which has no chapters and few paragraph breaks, has been alternately described as “sprawling,” “draining,” and “moving.”
Mantel is nominated for “Bring Up the Bodies,” a sequel to “Wolf Hall,” which won the Booker Prize in 2009. “Bring Up the Bodies” picks up where “Wolf Hall” left off, following the life of Thomas Cromwell in the backdrop of King Henry VIII’s court in 1535 as the king grows disenchanted with his second queen and Anne Boleyn prepares to stand trial.
Other nominees include Malaysian Tan Twan Eng is shortlisted for “The Garden of Evening Mists,” a tale about the sole survivor of a Japanese prison camp. Eng was nominated to the Booker longlist in 2007 with his debut novel, “The Gift of Rain.”
Playwright and novelist Deborah Levy delves into the harrowing world of depression in “Swimming Home,” which she describes as a “page-turner about sorrow.”
Two first-time novelists are also in the running this year. Indian writer and poet Jeet Thayil is nominated for his debut novel “Narcopolis,” set in a Mumbai opium house in the late 1970s. And short story writer Alison Moore is nominated for “The Lighthouse,” about a man haunted by his abandonment as a child who makes a life-changing trip to Germany to search for his past.
The prize always sparks plenty of debate – and betting. Last year’s contest, of which Julian Barnes was picked for “The Sense of an Ending,” was accused of being “dumbed down” after the chair of the jury said Barnes’s book was chosen for its “readability.”
This year’s list, reviewers say, is more adventurous. As is the betting. Bookmakers William Hill have made Self a 2/1 favorite with Mantel’s odds at 9/4. Moore and Eng are both 4/1, Levy 9/1, and Thayil 10/1, according to the UK’s Independent.
“This has been an exhilarating year for fiction,” judging panel chair Sir Peter Stothard told the Independent. “The strongest I would say for more than a decade. We were considering... novels, not novelists, texts not reputations. We read and we reread. It was the power and depth of prose that settled most of the judge’s debates.”
The final debate – who wins the 50,000 pound ($82,000) prize and the prestige that goes with it – is settled tonight.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
“In the Rye” was acquired by Amy Einhorn Books and will follow the story of a high school senior who is searching in New York City for her missing English teacher. Holden appears to her from the pages of “Catcher in the Rye.”
O’Connell has previously published a short story collection for adults and has a young adult novel, “The Sharp Time,” due for release in November.
There’s no word yet from the estate of “Catcher in the Rye” author J.D. Salinger, but the estate became embroiled in a 2009 fight to prevent Holden Caulfield from appearing in books by other authors. In the 2009 case, an author who went by the name John David California released a book titled “60 Years Later” which featured a protagonist, “Mr. C” – a man escaping from a nursing home – who resembled a later-in-life version of Salinger's Holden. The book was banned from being sold in the US or Canada after a judge said there were too many similarities to Salinger's novel, but the book was made available in Europe.
In a question-and-answer session on the website Random Buzzers, O’Connell said she was inspired to become a writer after reading “Catcher in the Rye.”
Johnny Depp will soon be part of a new publishing imprint.
Depp has partnered with HarperCollins to create the imprint Infinitum Nihil, which already has several releases planned, including a biography of Bob Dylan written by historian Douglas Brinkley which will be released in 2015.
Besides “The Unraveled Tales of Bob Dylan,” which will partially be based on interviews with the singer, Infinitum Nihil plans to release a novel by Woody Guthrie in January titled “House of Earth” which will center on residents of the Texas Panhandle. The novel is being published in collaboration with Guthrie’s daughter Nora and the Woody Guthrie Foundation.
“I pledge, on behalf of Infinitum Nihil, that we will do our best to deliver publications worthy of peoples' time, of peoples' concern, publications that might ordinarily never have breached the parapet," Depp said in a statement. "For this dream realized, we would like to salute HarperCollins for their faith in us and look forward to a long and fruitful relationship together.”
Brinkley said he and Depp had thought the Dylan biography was the perfect book to be the first release under the imprint.
“Bob has been very warm and forthcoming with us," Brinkley said of writing the book. "His music has inspired us both deeply since we were teenagers.”
Brinkley and Depp had worked together previously on liner notes for “Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson,” a documentary on the journalist who was a close friend of Depp’s and for whom Brinkley served as literary executor.
Depp is best known for his film appearances in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise and for his collaborations with director Tim Burton, including “Edward Scissorhands,” “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” and “Alice in Wonderland.” He has been nominated three times for a Best Actor Academy Award and will next be seen in “The Lone Ranger” as the hero’s sidekick Tonto.
Tan Twan Eng and I met recently at a rooftop café in Cape Town to chat about his second novel, “The Garden of Evening Mists,” which has been shortlisted for the 2012 Man Booker Prize. (His first novel, “The Gift of Rain,” made the 2007 Booker long list.) The 40-year-old author prefer to winter in Cape Town and spends the rest of the year in his native Malaysia.
As a writer whose novels are categorized as historical fiction, Tan is also concerned with the legacy of the books themselves, with an eye to future generations of readers.
“A book with an historical setting can remain timeless if the story is very strong on human themes,” says Tan. “Relationships, aging, love. [A book like that] has a good chance of standing the test of time.” He cites South African-born novelist J.M. Coetzee’s “Waiting for the Barbarians” as a tale that manages to be both political and timeless.
He’s also finely attuned to writing for readers from different backgrounds. “It's a difficult balance to strike because I'm aware that a lot of readers are non-Malaysians,” says Tan. “Malaysian writers are at a disadvantage because there haven’t been other Malaysian writers being read by a worldwide audience.”
Compared to, say, an Indian writer who can invoke Bombay with a single word, Tan needs to unpack details without slowing down the story for Malaysian readers. For example, one passage reads:
"Japanese troops landed in the northeast coast of Malaya, fifteen minutes after midnight and an hour before Pearl Harbor was attacked. People think that Japan entered the war through Pearl Harbor, but Malaya was the first door they smashed open."
In addition to managing such geopolitical points, “The Garden of Evening Mists” is loaded with rich and diverse set of cultural biographies, including Chinese, Malay, Japanese, Afrikaner, and English characters.
Arguably, “The Garden of Evening Mists” is more about memory than history. The lushly told story investigates the nature of memory through its protagonist, Yun Ling, a just-retired judge with aphasia. Yun Ling’s youth was marked by violence and loss when she was sent to a concentration camp during the Japanese occupation of Malaysia. To honor the memory of her sister, Yun Ling undertakes an apprenticeship with Aritomo, the Japanese emperor’s former gardener, who is now working on his own land in Malaysia.
Yun Ling acknowledges that she doesn’t know much about Japanese gardens. Despite Tan’s own initial lack of horticultural knowledge, the titular “Garden” acts almost a character itself. His research included not just the usual books and interviews, but visits to Japanese gardens in San Francisco, Melbourne, and Sydney.
“I’m not a gardener to start with and I’m not very much into nature,” says Tan. “So when I had the idea for the book, I was reluctant. I had to have the feel of it, so I started some planting too. You have to take your gloves off and feel the soil. It’s very dirty.”
The crash course has left Tan with a greater appreciation for flora. He says he has surprised friends by suggesting trips to national parks; he recently made a trip up South Africa’s West Coast to witness its famous spring wildflowers in bloom.
In the book, Aritomo’s garden signature is his deft use of borrowed scenes, such as a wall of hedges with a break in it that perfectly frames a view of a mountain in the distance.
“Borrowed scenery is one of the pillars of Japanese gardening. Due to space constraints, you use the neighbor's trees to give depth to the gardens,” says Tan. “You place every stone carefully to achieve maximum effect. With writing, it's the same. You don't just describe the character. You use the past, memories, borrowed locations, to create this character in the reader’s mind.”
Tan’s stories usually begin with one character. “I can see the first scene, and I know what happens in the last chapter, but I don't know how I'll get from A to Z,” he says. “I hate the word 'organic,' but I don't plan my chapters.”
“I enjoy rewriting tremendously,” Tan, who says that “Garden” was difficult to complete, said of his process. “With the first [novel], nobody knew I was writing. I could write whatever I wanted. With the second, I had my editor's voice in my head. ‘The Gift of Rain’ was a millstone in the early stages. I spent some time second-guessing myself. It was only about halfway through the book that I ignored that. My sense of confidence is stronger.”
Until he moved to Cape Town for graduate school, Tan worked as an attorney in Malaysia. While many students who pursue an MFA in creative writing aren’t able to finish a novel, Tan managed to write his first while studying for a master’s degree in law.
“For an Asian student who had been trained to study, coming here was sort of like a holiday,” says Tan with a smile. “Once I did my work for the course, I had a lot of free time. I told myself, ‘This is your opportunity, don't waste it.’”
Prior to that, he says that his only creative outlet was drafting legal documents. “I always wanted to be a writer. But a lot of people say that.”
Clearly, the focused dedication paid off. Tan now writes full-time, albeit with a bit of a hiatus at the moment due to the keen interest that “The Garden of Evening Mists” has garnered since arriving on the Booker short list. Having just participated at the Open Book Festival in Cape Town, Tan heads next to London and Kuala Lumpur for more literary events. Tan notes that South Africa has a longer publishing tradition, while the Malaysian scene is smaller but quite active.
“Here, I'm in a good position of being an outsider,” says Tan. “In Malaysia, I'm a bit of an outsider as well.”
Rebecca L. Weber is a journalist based in South Africa and an occasional correspondent for the Monitor.
If you’re a Kindle user, you may have some money coming your way.
Kindle owners are eligible to receive refunds of from 30 cents to $1.32 for e-books purchased between April 2010 and May 2012. (According to the official website for the State Attorneys General e-book settlements, customers will receive $1.32 for each title that was on the New York Times bestseller list during the claim period and 30 cents for each title that was not a bestseller.)
The books must have been purchased through Amazon and published by one of the three settling publishers: Hachette, Harper Collins, and Simon & Schuster. According to an email Amazon sent out to Kindle owners Saturday, the refunds will be automatically credited to users’ Amazon accounts (allowing readers to sink it back into more books). Customers can also ask for their refund to be paid as a check.
“We think these settlements are a big win for customers and look forward to lowering prices on more Kindle books in the future,” Amazon told customers in the emails.
Sit tight and don’t expect any extra cash ahead of the holidays. Refunds won’t be made until the courts approve the settlements at a hearing scheduled for February 2012. In all, expected refunds total about $69 million.
The settlements are the result of a legal suit filed by the Department of Justice against Apple and five publishers for illegally colluding to fix prices in an effort to fight Amazon’s dominance in the e-book market. Though they denied wrongdoing, three publishers (HarperCollins, Hachette, Simon & Schuster) decided to settle to avoid the costs of going to trial. Apple and the remaining two publishers, Penguin and Macmillan, will fight the suit in court next year.
More good news: Barnes and Noble is preparing a similar arrangement for Nook users who purchased affected e-books, according to the Wall Street Journal. And e-book prices are expected to fall following the settlement, of which we’ve already seen evidence.
Check out Amazon’s FAQ page on the settlements and refunds to learn if you’re eligible.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.