Once again the shortlists for The London Book Fair’s International Excellence Awards (IEA) offer a tariff-free tour of the global book business from the Baltics to Brazil, with stops this year in the Gambia, Mexico, India and Australia en route.
Just as the Bookseller drops its UK-only Library of the Year award, it’s good that this year the IEA will see the inaugural, international Library of the Year award, with a shortlist comprising the National Library of Latvia in Riga, the children’s library Biblo Toyen in Oslo, Norway, the hyper modern Dokk1 in Aahus, Denmark and Sao Paulo Library in Brazil.
Libraries are in the news, in fact. In the US they received a rousing endorsement from former Deputy US Attorney General Sally Yates at the 2018 Public Library Association Conference in Philadelphia. “There is such a thing as objective truth…,” she said to applause from the assembled librarians. “You all are the keepers of the gateway to the truth. An informed electorate is essential to our system of checks and balances, to holding our elected officials accountable. But an informed electorate requires access to information, and the tools necessary to be able to determine what’s true, and what isn’t.”
It has been a rather uncomfortable month for UK publishers, particularly the conglomerates. First Nicola Solomon, chief executive of the Society of Authors called for them to reveal what they pay their authors; then the Bookseller published the results of its salaries investigation which shone a revealing light on gender pay gaps, particularly at Hachette and HarperCollins which reported median gender pay gaps of 24.7% and 10.4% respectively. Penguin Random House came out rather well, reporting a median gender pay gap of minus 1.6%: women at Penguin Random House UK on average earn 1.6% more than men working at the company.
Meanwhile, the ripples from the Harvey Weinstein affair continue to reverberate far and wide in the book industry. The Australian Publishers Association, the Australian Booksellers Association, the Australian Society of Authors and the Australian Library and Information Association issued a joint statement promoting ‘safe workplaces’. It reads: ‘The Australian book and publishing industry peak bodies endorse safe workplaces, embrace diversity, accept no form of harassment, and encourage respectful behaviours.
We have a shared policy to ensure that people in positions of authority do not abuse their powers; managers listen to and support their staff; staff behave appropriately to one another and to their customers and there is a fair and independent channel for reported issues.”
On the same note, the American Indian Literature Association has rescinded the 2008 YA Book of the Year Award given to Sherman Alexie for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, following allegations of sexual harassment made against the author, and Alexi himself has declined the American Library Association’s 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Non-Fiction for his book You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me: A Memoir.
Understated drama at the Salon du Livre in Paris where Russia was Country of Honour. Following the French government’s statement of support for the UK after the nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, President Emanuel Macron cancelled a scheduled visit to the Russian stand. This led to discussions on the aisles over whether publishers should be penalised over the alleged actions of their government.
Natalie Turine, who owns Librarie du Globe which was the official bookshop of the Russian stand, wrote an open letter to Macron in protest. She said his actions had penalised her “as an entrepreneur and as an intellectual”. The organisers of the Salon apologised to staff on the Russian stand, who at least had the compensation of seeing sizeable crowds despite, or perhaps because of, the controversy.
Some titles will be watched with particular interest at The London Book Fair. Booksellers everywhere will be delighted that Max Porter has a new, untitled novel from Aitken Alexander coming, while there will be attention for obvious reasons on The Moscow Sleepers by former head of MI5 Stella Rimington, which has her heroine Liz Carlyle investigating a “sinister Russian plot”. And are we detecting a new trend this year for what is being called ‘up lit’ – uplifting, feel good fiction? Hodder has bought The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village which has a 79-year-old heroine taking life by the scruff of the neck and seizing a last chance, and Kate Burke at Diane Banks Associates has Fiona Ford’s The Time of Our Lives which is a “heartwarming, on-trend” novel about a house-share between 26-year-old Erin and 76-year-old Lydia.
Roger Tagholm writes our Snapshot of the Week.