Anger is growing over Conservative Justice Secretary Chris Grayling’s decision to prevent prisoners from receiving books sent to prisons by family and friends. Under rules introduced by the Ministry of Justice last November, inmates are now forbidden to receive any kind of small parcel from outside prison walls other than in exceptional circumstances, such as the shipment of medication. Prisoners are still allowed to buy books with their weekly wages and check books out of the prison library, although given that the cost of even a paperback book would require most of that weekly wage, and the continuing strain put on libraries by local authority budgets, that may reasonably be seen as small comfort.
Back in December, a couple of weeks before Christmas, news emerged that Jason Segel would star as the late David Foster Wallace – the revered American author of Infinite Jest, Consider the Lobster and A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, amongst others – in a kind-of-biopic based on Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace, David Lipsky’s account of the five days he spent interviewing Wallace on the 1996 press junket for Infinite Jest. Jesse Eisenberg would co-star as Lipsky, and the film would be directed by James Ponsoldt, most recently responsible for The Spectacular Now.
In an editorial published yesterday, The Independent on Sunday’s literary editor Katy Guest outlined the manifold problems – artistic, societal and commercial – inherent in publishing children’s books aimed explicitly at one gender over another. You know the kind of thing: How to be a Glittery Pink Fairy Who Also Cooks and Is a Great Mother, or 100 Great Stories About Footballing Soldiers With Blue Wallpaper. Having reeled off the many exasperating qualities of instilling that kind of binary divide from a young age and concluded that ‘What we are doing by pigeon-holing children is badly letting them down’, Guest then expressed her happiness at being in a position to be able to do something about it:
I promise now that the newspaper and this website will not be reviewing any book which is explicitly aimed at just girls, or just boys. Nor will The Independent’s books section. And nor will the children’s books blog at Independent.co.uk. Any Girls’ Book of Boring Princesses that crosses my desk will go straight into the recycling pile along with every Great Big Book of Snot for Boys. If you are a publisher with enough faith in your new book that you think it will appeal to all children, we’ll be very happy to hear from you. But the next Harry Potter or Katniss Everdeen will not come in glittery pink covers. So we’d thank you not to send us such books at all.
Today in ‘yeah, that sounds about right': Stephin Merritt, the synth-pop Sondheim frontman of The Magnetic Fields, The Gothic Archies, Future Bible Heroes and The 6ths, is releasing a book of poetry later this year. In keeping with much of Merritt’s discography, the book will rest upon an appropriately high concept hook: 101 Two-Letter Words is a collection of four-line poems consisting exclusively of two-letter words deemed permissible for play in a game of Scrabble. It should come as absolutely no surprise that the man responsible for such lyrics as ‘Reno Dakota / I’m no Nino Rota / I don’t know the score’, ‘A pretty girl is like a violent crime / If you do it wrong you could do time / But if you do it right it is sublime’ and ‘I want to be an artist’s model / An odalisque au naturel’ is into word games.
Independent Glasgow publisher Cargo has announced several changes to its board, effective immediately. Mark Buckland, who founded the company in 2009, has stepped down from the role of Managing Director he has held for the past five years, with editors-in-chief Helen Sedgwick and Gill Tasker now filling the MD position jointly. Buckland remains involved with the company as Director of Special Projects, and Murray Buchanan – Cargo’s director and a previous executive at the Virgin Group – is now Chairman.
Fans of American indie stalwarts The Mountain Goats already know that frontman John Darnielle is one of that country’s finest lyricists, unfolding songs that more often play like short stories with poetic economy and an empathetic eye over the course of 14 albums since the mid-1990s. It should come as no surprise then, but a pleasant revelation all the same, to discover that Darnielle has written a novel, entitled Wolf in White Van, which will be published in October by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in the USA and Harper Collins in Canada.
In news we would have covered last week were we not recovering from dental surgery and as such too hopped up on goofballs to string together a coherent sentence, the line-up has been announced and tickets are now on sale for the ninth year of Aye Write!, Glasgow’s annual springtime literary festival, which this year runs 4-12 April. As usual, the programme offers an eclectic mix of well-regarded local talent and popular authors from further afield, participating variously in straightforward interviews, politically-engaged debates and workshops.
Most immediately attention-grabbing amongst proceedings is Remembering Iain Banks, an evening of readings and reminiscences commemorating the beloved late author of The Crow Road and The Bridge featuring Ken Macleod, Ron Butlin and others, which will include the first public airing of some of Banks’ hitherto unpublished poetry. Other widely popular Scots in attendance throughout the festival include Alasdair Gray, launching his autobiographical Of Me and Others, national Makar Liz Lochhead granting An Audience With herself, Denise Mina, Sophie Hannah and Alex Gray discussing the longevity of serialised crime fiction, Ewan Morrison presenting a glimpse into the process of adapting his novel Swung into a film, William McIlvanney casting an eye over his long career, James Robertson talking Robert the Bruce and, very excitingly, the great Tom Leonard and Tam Dean Burn presenting Leonard’s new Scots translation of Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage.
From further afield, amongst many others, come infamous music biz lifer Jazz Summers and his autobiography, Chocolat and Five Quarters of the Orange author Joanne M Harris, erstwhile Pub Landlord Al Murray as himself, and House of Leaves author Mark Z. Danielewski, who joins Ben Marcus, author of The Flame Alphabet, to discuss the cutting edge of the novel.
Also running throughout the festival is a strand of events entitled The Books That Made Me, which sees well-kent faces from diverse occupations recount the literary influences that have shaped their lives: politician Tam Dalyell, TV presenter Gail Porter, former half of Arab Strap, inaugural Scottish Album of the Year winner and essential follow on Twitter Aidan Moffat, Booker winner A S Byatt, sculptor Alexander Stoddart, theologian Richard Holloway and comedian Frankie Boyle are all participating.
Anyone who can’t wait for the festival proper to start and has little people to keep entertained at the weekend should know that Wee Write!, the grown-up festival’s child-oriented precursor, takes place this coming Saturday, 8 March, with events including storytelling from Debi Gliori, a celebration of 25 years of David McKee’s Elmer books and a further celebration of 50 years of Roald Dahl’s immortal Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
When Iain Banks died of cancer last June at the cruelly young age of 59, it was widely assumed that The Quarry – the novel whose first reviews started to appear on the day of his death – would be his last published work. This past weekend, however, on what would have been Banks’ 60th birthday, his long-time publisher Little, Brown announced that it will publish a book of Banks’ poetry – much of it never before published, much less collected – in February of 2015. The book will also feature work by Banks’ close friend Ken MacLeod – himself an author – who will serve as the collection’s editor. MacLeod says ‘I’m delighted that Little, Brown is going to publish Iain’s poems, which he wrote over many years. They show a wise and witty mind at work, rational and humane and in love with the world.’ No different from the rest of Banks’ corpus, then.
Since you’ve probably heard already about JK Rowling’s second novel as Robert Galbraith, allow us instead to draw your attention to a more long-awaited book whose forthcoming publication will prove just as exciting as Rowling’s to a certain crowd (albeit probably a significantly smaller crowd). Samuel Fuller – reporter, Purple Heart recipient, pulp novelist and, most famously, writer and director of such bracingly tough films as Shock Corridor, Pickup on South Street, The Naked Kiss and The Big Red One – died in 1997 aged 85, having quit America for France after the release of his 1982 film White Dog and last directed a film full stop in 1990. Fuller wrote novels throughout his life, from his time as a journalist pre-World War II through to the posthumous publication of his autobiography, A Third Face, in 2002. He was capital letters A Fascinating Man. Now, the Hard Case Crime imprint (published through Titan Books) has announced that it is to release Fuller’s “lost” novel, 1993’s Brainquake, on September 9th. This is capital letters Exciting.
Frankly, it can be hard enough finding stuff to blog about the rest of the year*, so if you think BookMachine is going to continue posting over the festive period when everyone who would do the stuff we’d blog about is off not doing stuff we’d blog about, well, you can go stuff yourself. As the publishing industry winds down for 2013, so will we – the site is coming offline for some maintenance work over the Christmas holidays, so if you want to get one last look at the many and varied ways I’ve pissed off Ayn Rand fans this year, for example, or my almost subliminal attempts at shoehorning my own interests into posts that are meant to be about publishing before the calendar turns to 2014, now’s the time to do that. Thanks to all of you from all of us for reading, happy Festivus an’ aw that, and we’ll see you back here in January, as long as none of us suffer from chronic eye injuries over the next couple of weeks.
*(If I’ve learned one thing from this past year, it’s that not everyone reads these posts with the deadpan inflection I imagine and that I should make clear when I’m joking, so consider this your notification of that.)