Today I am inaugurating a new article’s category, which I hope you will like: the News of the week. Every week, in my News of the Week article, I am going to pick up 3 news related to books which got my attention and comment them. Please also feel free to tell me what you think about these news in the comments and/or to let me know about your own book-related news of the week.
So, what happened this week in the news industry?
To start with very positive and encouraging news, James Patterson has just announced the first round of the school libraries that will receive grants in the United States thanks to the funding programme that he launched in March with the Scholastic Reading Club. This programme aims to financially support school libraries but also independent booksellers in the country. Originally set at $1.25m, the programme now amounts to $1.75m and last Tuesday was the second time that James Patterson significantly increased funding for this programme. I believe that this is deeply encouraging to see that some best-selling authors fight for the survival of the book industry in a country where independent bookshops now barely exist, and commit themselves to support diversity in publishing. This should obviously be a primary concern for the State, but unfortunately it doesn’t look like the American government considers cultural industry as a priority. Let’s remember that the Fixed Book Price has never existed there, which accounts for the disappearance of most of the independent bookshops of this country. Even if it is a shame to see that the responsibility for the survival of a rich and varied book industry now rests more than ever with private “patrons”, it is a good thing to see that some successful writers such as James Patterson do their best to meet this challenge.
This week was also marked by a new twist in what is turning into the Go Set a Watchman’s affair. To go back to the beginning of the story, as most of you already know, a manuscript that is a sequel to Harper Lee’s best-seller To Kill a mockingbird was discovered last August and is to be published by HarperCollins in two weeks. Despite the joy of millions of fans when the news came out, polemics arose very quickly too. Many journalists have speculated on Harper Lee’s involvement (not to say consent) in this publication, highlighting that the author had said several time that she had no intentions of publishing another book and that it was quite hard to believe that she was lucid enough to make this decision because of the stroke she suffered some years ago… And this week we heard with stupefaction that HarperCollins and Tonja Carter, Lee Harper’s lawyer, may have lied about the date and the circumstances in which the manuscript was discovered. Last August, it was claimed that the manuscript had just been found by Tonja Carter as she had been rummaging in the author’s old documents. However, according to an article published by The New York Times this week, the manuscript was found almost three years earlier, in October 2011, by Justin Caldwell, a rare books expert from Sotheby’s auction house. Justin Caldwell then met with Tonja Carter and Samuel Pinkus,who was at that time Lee’s literary agent. During this meeting, the three of them would have read and discussed Go Set a Watchman’s manuscript. Tonja Carter maintains that she had left the meeting to run an errand when the manuscript was shown and that she had no idea of its existence. And the reason why these circumstances matter so much is that when this meeting took place, Harper Lee’s sister, Alice, was still acting as the prime legal supervisor to Lee’s estate, but passed away last November. This is now Tonja Carter who is in charge of Harper Lee’s estate… This obviously deepens the mystery around the question that underlies the novel’s publication: does Harper Lee really want to see Go Set a Watchman published? What is sure is that we will hear about that again and I hope that this polemic is not going to override the book itself when it is released. In two weeks, I hope to read reviewers reviewing the book instead of speculating about how Harper Lee has been or not been manipulated and swindled.
And to finish on a lighter note, I’d like to talk about the reception of Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey as Told by Christian by E.L. James. I have not read the book myself, only very short extracts, so I may have a very superficial and invaluable opinion about it. However, it really seems to me that this book reflects a real lack of originality from the author’s part and is clearly an attempt from her and the publishing house to get easy money by resting on the Grey trilogy’s success. Reviewers have not been soft with this book and have unanimously underscored the poorly style with which the book was written. That didn’t prevent the book from quickly becoming a bookseller (what a surprise!): it sold over 1 million copies in the first week after it was released. This was the big literary phenomenon of the month: everyone read, or at least talked about Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey as Told by Christian. You couldn’t escape it: the commercials for the book were everywhere, all the newspapers (including the free ones) reviewed the book etc etc. Even if it was not to praise its quality, the book got a huge attention from all the media, that’s the least we can say. And this is why I really like the initiative taken by The Jerwood Fiction Uncovered prize this week. They launched the social media campaign using the hashtag “BritishwritingisnotallGrey” in order to remind us that there are plenty of British talented authors who do not get the attention that they deserve when the focus is concentrated on this book… If you also feel like supporting this campaign, you know what you have to do!
See you next week!