‘From the Bardo to Beijing’ could sum up a fabulous end to the year for Bloomsbury. Not only did it win the Man Booker with George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo, it also announced Bloomsbury China, to be led by Bloomsbury executive director Richard Charkin. The launch publication of The Complete Dramatic Works of Tang Xianzu next February is surely a historic event: the first time the complete collected works of the ‘Shakespeare of the East’ (who died in 1616, the same year as Shakespeare) have been made available outside China.
Any glance at a train carriage would underline the chief issue raised by Simon & Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy at Frankfurt. It’s not just that most people are on their mobiles; it’s whether they are looking at publisher produced content on their devices. She sees the battle for consumer’s attention and time as the “main thing” facing publishers, “the number one challenge”, and one that video streaming services are not helping. Having said that, surely some people might opt for ‘analogue’ catch-up and buy the Game of Thrones novels instead. One can only hope.
Politics spilled over into Frankfurt, with scuffles between left and right-wing groups. The director of the fair Juergen Boos said: “We categorically reject the political position and publishing activities of the New Right. At the same time, an organiser of the largest international trade fair for books and media, we are obliged to uphold the fundamental right to free expression.”
The Associacio d’editors en llenguar catalana, the Catalan Publishers Association, issued a statement condemning the violence that followed the region’s referendum on 1 October. “[The Catalan Publishers Association] wishes to express its outright rejection of any form of violence and, furthermore, to declare its trust in the strength of the word as the sole tool for resolving conflicts,” it said. “If we devote ourselves to the task of publishing…it is to take action through non-violence, using arguments and ideas, never blows and weapons.”
Once again, there were rallying cries for books from Marcus Dohle, CEO of Penguin Random House, and Heinrich Riethmuller, Chairman of the German Publishers and Booksellers Association. Dohle said that simple demographic change and growing literacy are providing “more potential readers”, but warned that the challenge for publishers was how it changed from being a “publishing to bookseller oriented industry, to being a publisher to reader industry”.
Riethmuller sounded Churchillian in his address. He said that in the face of “increasing social tensions, political uncertainty and fake news, publishers and bookstores function as guarantors of common understanding, reliable information and a diversity of opinion…this is the book industry’s finest hour”. He didn’t quite say booksellers would ‘fight them on the beaches’, but he did add: “In troubled times, publishers and booksellers promote dialogue, provide trustworthy information and foster the ability to form well-versed opinions.”
These sentiments were echoed by Saunders when he collected his prize in the Guildhall in London. “In the U.S. now we’re hearing a lot about the need to protect ‘culture’. Well this tonight is culture. It’s international culture; it’s compassionate culture; it’s activist culture. It’s a room full of believers, through the word, in ambiguity, in beauty and in trying to see the other person’s point of view even when that’s hard. Believers in working to eliminate hatred and meanness and lazy habitual thinking even when – especially when – we find these in ourselves.”
Much celebrating in Sharjah one imagines after this in Chapter 11 of Dan Brown’s Origin: ‘With more than 600 mosques and the region’s finest universities, Sharjah stands as a pinnacle of spirituality and learning…’ A perfect opener to next month’s Sharjah International Book Fair.
Farewell to Richard Wilber, twice US Poet Laureate, prolific poet, children’s book author and illustrator, translator and librettist, a true man of letters. He has died at the age of 96, entering ‘that state…where eyes become the sunlight…the dreamt land/To which all hungers leap, all pleasures pass’.
Finally, with Halloween approaching and all of us being in a spooky mood what with old President Lincoln wandering around that graveyard and meeting all those ghosts, what better way to finish than with the sale of William Peter Blatty’s house in Maryland.
The creator of The Exorcist, which has sold more than 13m copies worldwide, has put his Georgian Colonial residence on the market at $3.2m. You can just hear the estate agent on the tour: “There are six bedrooms – I guess this one we’re in now could be for one of the children.” “Oh goodness,” gushes the wife of prospective buyers. “It’s lovely. Come see, honey! But tell me, why is the bed hovering three-foot off the floor?”
Roger Tagholm writes our Snapshot of the Week.