Well, as I mentioned the other day, J. K. Rowling is rolling out a new Harry Potter-themed project called “Pottermore.” I had speculated that it was going to be the long-awaited official encyclopedia of the Potterverse. Sadly, in my view at least, Pottermore has turned out to be nothing quite that exciting. As it turns out, Pottermore is essentially a proprietary eBook sales site, with some background notes on the setting thrown in to create an online community and ensure that diehard Harry Potter fans keep coming back to the site. That’s fine, nothing wrong with any of that, but I had just been hoping for something more.
eBook editions of all seven books will be out in October, and if you’ve ever wanted to read 18,000 words of notes on Professor McGonagal’s backstory, you’ll be able to do that too.
Haven’t heard much from J. K. Rowling lately, but she has resurfaced with a big new surprise for fans of Harry Potter: there is now a mysterious new website called Pottermore. No real content there, but if you click on the that provides an owl-themed countdown toward some announcement in a few days time.
I expect that rather than new Potterverse fiction, this is the long-awaited official Harry Potter encyclopedia. Rowling has been quoted in the past saying “I might do an eighth book for charity, a kind of encyclopedia of the world so that I could use all the extra material that’s not in the books … we’ll see!” You will also recall that Rowling sued the author and publisher of a proposed Harry Potter Lexicon, stating that she intended to one day undertake such a project herself. This may be it. If so, my concern is that Rowling will insert more silliness about the characters and setting that doesn’t actually appear in the novels, like the absurd “Dumbledore is gay” concept.
In any case, should be interesting to see what Pottermore turns out to be.
Well, aside from the obvious — books, of course — here’s a British site (courtesy of my wife) that has a huge array of items that booklovers of all kinds would like. I especially like a couple of the t-shirts (“Careful or you’ll ed up in my novel,” “Hollywood: Ruining the Book Since 1915,” and “Unreliable Narrator.”)
Or, if you really love the bibliophile in your life, you could buy them a house made out of bookshelves.
Doc Savage is one of the best known of the old pulp heroes, and while I’ve never reviewed any of the Doc Savage novels (I really should correct that obvious oversight), I have posted links to some great spoof Doc Savage covers as well as to an interview with James Bama who illustrated about sixty of the Bantam reprint edition covers of the Doc Savage novels.
The late, great Lester Dent wrote most of the original Doc Savage novels (using the pseudonym Kenneth Robeson), and his literary executor Will Murray completed and published seven Doc Savage manuscripts left unfinished by Dent in the early 1990s. Those were the last Doc Savage novels the world has seen.
I am very pleased to report that, confirming some rumors and rumblings we started hearing a year or so ago, Will Murray will publish seven all-new Doc Savage novels, starting in July 2011 with Altus Press. The first title is The Desert Demons and looks like a class Doc Savage adventure. The second will be called Horror in Gold, and should come out in late summer. No word yet on the other titles. This press release includes a few more details. Needless to say, Will Murray is the right author for the job and Altus Press, famous for its support of pulps, is the right publisher. This is a good day for fans of Doc Savage.
Way back in 1992 (has it really been almost twenty years ago?), Kim Newman published Anno Dracula, the first in a fascinating and influential series, that posited what might have happened if the heroes of Dracula had failed to stop the good count from conquering Britain. The Anno Dracula books are interesting not just because of their plots and characters, but also because of the sheer number of references to both actual historical figures as well as other fictional characters and situations. This page nicely summarizes all of the characters, fictional and historical, referenced in Anno Dracula (beware spoilers on that page if you haven’t already read it).
I was delighted that Titan Books is reprinting the series which has been out-of-print for a while now, along with the long-awaited fourth novel in the series. Kim Newman has kindly provided an annotated list of the ten classic vampire novels that inspired him to write Anno Dracula. This list, coincidentally, provides a very nice starting point for those interested in reading the classic vampire tales. I am ashamed to admit that — much as I love vampires — I haven’t actually read four of these ten novels. There are certainly additional novels that should be included in a list of critical vampire fiction (perhaps I should assemble my own list some day), but this is a great start.
Oh and by the way, vampires are inhuman, if seductive, monsters. They don’t sparkle and they don’t fall in love with high-school girls. They eat them.
I’ve posted about bookshelves before. They fascinate me, as I find the physicality and aesthetics of books as artifacts and art to be very important, almost as important as their content. (I know I’m not alone in this, and that’s one reason why eBooks will never fully replace books for folks like me.) I think that my wife first realized how much I love books — and how crazy I am — when I bought a copy of Henry Petroski’s The Book on the Bookshelf. She was in disbelief that even I would be interested in such a book. (To be honest, this book is also evidence of another book-related problem I have: though I bought it years ago, I have yet to read it, but I really do mean to read it some day.)
Bookshelves are also a constant source of frustration for me because I don’t have enough to properly display my books. I have a bunch of cheap bookshelves, as well as a few nice built-in bookshelves in my home, but far too many of my books have to be boxed-up right now because there’s no room for them. And that’s why I’m always envious of private libraries where the owner has managed to create a really special environment for books and reading. I’ve come across a compilation of twenty really neat, creative bookshelf configurations. I’ve seen one or two of these before (the Pac-Man one, for instance), but it’s a really nice set.
And speaking of some people who are in desperate need of bookshelves, creative or otherwise, here’s a couple that has acquired what they say are 350,000 books. They’ve had a second house trucked in to house them (why not get a barn or shed or something instead?), but now that house is being crushed under the weight of the books. To be honest, I doubt they actually have 350,000 books. We have 6,000 books in our home, and know how much space and weight those take up. I also know someone who has 30,000 books stored in a separate house, and those basically fill up that entire building. Suffice it to say, they have a lot of books.
The book industry is obviously in a state of turmoil (to say the least) and eBooks are increasingly playing an important role in how readers consume books. There are as many opinions about the future of books and eBooks as there are commentators, but no one really knows for sure how this is all going to shake out. There are, inevitably, those who point out the shortcomings of eBooks (and I have been a part of this camp for a while now, though since I’ve begun using my Kindle, I am less dogmatic about it). This article by John C. Abell has been getting a good deal of attention lately. Abell points out five reasons why eBooks just aren’t there yet as mechanisms for conveying book content to readers.
So that’s the pessimistic side. But there are others who are already looking to the future of eBooks — toward eBook 2.0 perhaps? This forward-looking piece by Shane Richmond suggests that publishers who really want to capitalize on the advantages of eBooks (and there are as many advantages to them as disadvantages, to be sure) might want to start thinking of eBooks as apps and not just digital copies of analog books.
I haven’t read anything by author V. S. Naipaul (he writes that dreaded “literary fiction,” so I’m unlikely to do so), but he comes across as kind of a jerk in a recent interview. He dismissively describes female authors as “sentimental” and “unequal to me.” He also says that he can tell in a paragraph or two the gender of the author. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t read a lot of female authors, and thanks to LibraryThing, I know that less than 12% of the 4,900 books I own were written by female authors. So I decided to take the quiz that The Guardian created to determine whether, as Naipaul says, I could detect a female author. Here’s the quiz. It seemed a fair quiz to me as I haven’t actually read any of the works quoted. Guess what I scored? 1 out of 10. That’s right, I guessed correctly 10% of the time. Raw probability would suggest that I should have scored 50%. Not sure what’s going on here, save to suggest that whenever I thought an author was female based on the writing style or content, I was almost inevitably wrong. Probably says more about me than the quiz, but needles to say, I think Naipaul is flat out wrong. What do you think?
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We all know that the book industry is in turmoil, with independent and used bookstores going under by the droves, the big chains have not been doing particularly well compared with Amazon, traditional publishers seem clueless about eBooks, and eBooks as a whole seem to represent a paradigm shift in how books’ content is delivered to readers. None of us really knows what the state of the book will be next year, much less five or ten years hence.
The good folks at isthebookdead.com now have the definitive answer to the question, “Is the book dead?”