Along Publishers Row

By Campbell Geeslin

An essay in The Wall Street Journal by Davis Skinner, author of The Story of Ain’t: America, Its Language, and the Most Controversial Dictionary Ever Published, had in its title: “Do slang and vulgarity belong in the dictionary?”

Skinner wrote: “As words test the invisible barrier between slang and conventional English, newbs like me (newb is gamer slang for newbie or neophyte)
are forced to wade in against a constant tide of non-standard English.”

He concluded with the observation that some highly offensive language has become colloquial even as it remains offensive. “At a family restaurant recently I saw a young man dressed in a T-shirt with an F-bomb across the chest. Language is very complicated, Philip Gove [editor of Webster’s Third] liked to say. Which is true. Perhaps, then, his dictionary needs more labels, not fewer.”

LUCKY FELLOW: T. C. Boyle’s latest novel is San Miguel. At 64, he is the author of 14 novels and seven published short story collections.

In an interview with The Guardian, Boyle said that he worries about everything in our environment, but that he has been lucky in his career. “Nobody has ever said ‘no’ to me. I don’t require much editing. The book you see on the shelves is pretty much the book I turned in. . . . I’m enslaved to writing to the point where I sacrifice almost everything else.”

STATUS: Larissa MacFarquhar wrote an article about Hilary Mantel for The New Yorker and said of the British author: “She deeply believes that a writer is only as good as her next paragraph.”

NEW LISTING: Over the past couple of years, PW has been listing titles and short reviews of self-published books in increasing numbers. Beginning in February, it will publish that kind of list six times a year. In the first issue in October 194 titles were noted.

The reviews are brief descriptive summaries. A sample for a novel, My Way Home by Cynthia Lee Carter: “Cammy’s lost as she faces the end of her 25-year marriage, but an abandoned lodge on an island gives her new dreams.”

DECISION: “An Israeli judge has ruled that a huge trove of documents written by Franz Kafka and his friend Max Brod that have been kept from view for decades must be turned over to Israel’s national library,” The New York Times reported from Jerusalem. The library plans to publish them online.

The letters and other documents have been in the possession of Esther Hoffe, the daughter of Brod’s former secretary. Hoffe sold Kafka’s manuscript of The Trial for $2 million in 1988. The archive has tens of thousands of pages, most written by Brod, who was a journalist and novelist himself.

Hoffe’s lawyer says she plans to appeal the decision.

ON DIALOGUE: Alexander McCall Smith’s latest novel is The Impor­tance of Being Seven. In an essay for The Wall Street Journal, he took up the subject of dialogue. Realistic dialogue will not work. “So a writer,” Smith wrote, “should not be afraid to have characters talk in a way that’s more formal or correct than is common in real life. This means cutting out all the verbal tics, sputterings and clichés that litter everyday speech in these days of verbal decline. . . .

“Dialogue can be beautifully crafted, ornate and colorful. That is not how most people speak, but it makes for good reading.“

Magnificent dialogue can make a book great, Smith concluded. It should be “informative, cogent and poetic. It works. And readers want it.”

THE RIGHT TIME: When do you write your autobiography? Evelyn Waugh said, “Only when one has lost all curiosity about the future has one reached the age to write an autobiography.”

LOVE STORIES: Beth Ciotta is the author of novels that PW called a “steampunk series.” It began with a novel titled Her Sky Cowboy.

In an interview, Ciotta was asked what kind of romance she emphasized. The author said, “I champion the cliché that love conquers all. The best love stories involve a seemingly insurmountable challenge; if one is determined and passionate and willing to take a chance, anything is possible.”

BIG DEAL: “Random House and Penguin Merger Creates Global Giant,” said a headline in The New York Times. The deal “could set off a long-expected round of consolidation as the industry adapts to the digital marketplace.” It should be concluded in the second half of 2013.

Publishers are increasingly worried about the leverage wielded by Internet giants like Amazon, Google and Apple. Consolidation may be the only route to survival.

PUSH BACK: Booksellers are pushing back against Amazon’s power grab “by scorning the imprint’s most prominent title, Timothy Fer­riss’s The 4-Hour Chef.” That quote is from another article in the Times. The book came out before Thanks­giving into a fragmented bookselling landscape that Amazon has done much to create but that eludes its control.

“The future looks angry and a mess,” the Times said. Barnes & Noble has said that it would not carry Amazon’s books. Many independent stores will do nothing to help sell Ferriss’s book if it involves helping a company they feel is hell-bent on their destruction.

Michael Tucker, owner of the Books Inc. chain in San Francisco, told the Times: “At a certain point you have to decide how far you want to nail your own coffin shut. Amazon wants to completely control the entire book trade. You’re crazy if you want to play that game with them.”