Thursday, December 31, 2009


Rubiner's Cheesemongers & Grocers
264 Main Street, Great Barrington, MA

These guys specialise in hand-crafted cheeses, cured meats and artisan groceries. Matthew Rubiner was impressively knowledgeable and most helpful. We tasted a variety of cheeses and staggered away with a great haul including a large chunk of Stilton, some mature cheddar and a whole fat round of soft cheese. Fabulous place, a must visit if you are anywhere nearby.

Strongtree Organic Coffee Roasters
60 South Front Street, Hudson, NY.

Great cafe across the road from the Hudson railway station where twice we enjoyed double shot lattes while we waited for the train to arrive. And interestingly a young kiwi lass by the name of Jo works here............

Hudson City Books
553 Warren Street, Hudson, NY

Long, narrow bookstore that deals in used and rare books, about 15,000 titles in stock. Fossicking around in the literary criticism and literary biography section down the back of the store I found a first edition of the US edition of The Letters of Katherine Mansfield edited by J.Middleton Murry. Two hardback volumes in slipcase published by Alfred Knopf in 1929.
I felt almost guilty paying only $20 for the set. It is over 40 years since I first read the KM letters and thus I spent a happy evening by the fire (eight below outside) reading some of them again. What delightful language, easy to understand why she is still so widely read and studied around the world 86 years after her death at the age of 34.

Here is the publishers blurb from the outside of the slipcase, written remember by an American editor 80 years ago:

These letters reveal to an unforgetting public the Katherine Mansfiled known to her friends during the last ten years of her life. They share with everything else she wrote a beauty and freshness of expression and spirit about which there is no need to remark. One realises anew in reading them how great was their writer's joy in "things" for their own sake, and how sensitive her perceptions. The allusions to her work, fewer than in the Journal, are as valuable in leading one to her estimation of herself. Together with the Journal, these letters form as complete and intimate an autobiography of a genius as the world has had.

440 Warren Street, Hudson, NY

What a great idea, a bar (selling beer and wine) within a bookstore. I had two half pints of an unfiltered wheat beer (delicious) and bought the following three books (how am I going to get all these books back to NZ?):

Word Fugitives - in pursuit of wanted words Barbara Wallraff Collins - Hardback $14.95
Great fun, mind and vocabulary expanding.

Entre Nous A Woman's Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl Debra Ollivier St.Martin's Griffin - $12.95
This one for Annie.

A Day in New York
Photography by Andre Fichte
Ear Books - $5 (in the sale section)
New York, one of the world's great great cities, and in this colourful and appealing photographic hardcover book Fitche documents a day in its life.

A wonderful souvenir at a bargain price especially since I have seen it on sale at full price in NY city bookstores at $44.95 and in NZ at NZ$75.


Visited these two enormous buisnesses this morning with my daughter. These places represent big shed shopping on a scale we do not see in New Zealand. Imagine if you will the largest Bunnings store in New Zealand, double that in size and then make it two storied and you will have some idea of the size of the Brooklyn branch of Costco. The shopping trolleys are twice the size of a NZ supermarket trolley and they need to be as everying is sold in bulk.
Then Ikea, as large as a medium size mall. I remember going to one in Melbourne once, well you could fit the Melbourne store into one corner of the Brooklyn store.
Dissertations on His Dudeness
By Dwight Garner
Published New York Times: December 29, 2009

Joel and Ethan Coen’s 1998 movie, “The Big Lebowski,” which stars Jeff Bridges as a beatific, pot-smoking, bowling-obsessed slacker known as the Dude, snuck up on the English-speaking world during the ’00s: it became, stealthily, the decade’s most venerated cult film. It’s got that elusive and addictive quality that a great midnight movie has to have: it blissfully widens and expands in your mind upon repeat viewings.

Pic left - Merrick Morton/Gramercy Pictures
Jeff Bridges, left, and John Goodman in “The Big Lebowski.”
"It's fine to have classes and books about The Dude since, arguably, there are some things about human life that it treats that Shakespeare doesn't."

“The Big Lebowski” has spawned its own shaggy, fervid world: drinking games, Halloween costumes, bumper stickers (“This aggression will not stand, man”) and a drunken annual festival that took root in Louisville, Ky., and has spread to other cities. The movie is also the subject of an expanding shelf of books, including “The Dude Abides: The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers” and the forthcoming “The Tao of the Dude.

Where cult films go, academics will follow. New in bookstores, and already in its second printing, is “The Year’s Work in Lebowski Studies,” an essay collection edited by Edward P. Comentale and Aaron Jaffe (Indiana University Press, $24.95).
The book is, like the Dude himself, a little rough around the edges. But it’s worth an end-of-the-year holiday pop-in. Ideally you’d read it with a White Russian — the Dude’s cocktail of choice — in hand.

More than a few of this book’s essay titles will make you groan and laugh out loud at the same time (“ ‘The Big Lebowski’ and Paul de Man: Historicizing Irony and Ironizing Historicism”). But just as often, the writing here is a bit like the film: amiable, laid-back and possessed of a wobbly Zen-acuity.

In one essay Fred Ashe — he is an associate professor of English at Birmingham-Southern College — profitably compares the Dude to Rip van Winkle, for both his “friendly charisma” and what Washington Irving described as Rip’s “insuperable aversion to all kinds of profitable labor.” Both men, Mr. Ashe notes, expose “the sickness of a straight society premised on the Puritan work ethic.”

In another, “On the White Russian,” Craig N. Owens — he teaches literature and writing at Drake University in Des Moines — divides the world into two factions: those who float the cream on their White Russians (“the floaters”) and those who mix it in (“the homogenizers”). He praises the Dude’s “middle way,” avoiding the hassle of “shaking and straining.”

Read Dwight Garner's full story plus a 1998 review of the movie at NYT.
The Bookman owns the CD of the soundtrack which can often be heard playing in his office.

The Year in Pictures

Don't miss the 2009 Year in Pictures featuring a collection of the most gripping and poignant photographs of 2009, as selected by the editors of The New York Times. Then, delve into Documenting the Decade for 10 years of photographs and recollections from readers around the world.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Love Me Plenty, Presley Pleads
Published New York Times: December 27, 2009

Elvis Presley and the Women Who Loved Him
By Alanna Nash
Illustrated. 684 pages. It Books. $27.99.

Jan. 8 will be the 75th anniversary of the birth of Elvis Presley. Don’t fear that this milestone will be celebrated too quietly. Elvis 75 (a shorthand moniker for the event itself, as well as the title of a new greatest-hits collection) will bring an onslaught of commemorative festivities and products, like parties at Graceland, concerts with Elvis impersonators and a movie suggesting that Presley, who died on Aug. 16, 1977, has spent the last three decades in outer space. It will bring everything except realistic thoughts of what the uncontrollably self-destructive Elvis might have been like as a 75-year-old man.

Doc Pele/Stills, Retna
Photo - Elvis Presley and his wife, Priscilla, at their 1967 Las Vegas wedding. He had unusually close ties to his mother, Gladys.

Naturally, there are books. Lots and lots of books. Among the standouts — beyond a tell-all by the doctor who knows a lot about Presley’s death and a hagiography from the lifelong buddy who is fond of saying that America has had many presidents but only one King — is Alanna Nash’s long look at Elvis’s bizarre history with women. She has cleverly borrowed one of his most seductive song titles, “Baby, Let’s Play House.”

Since Ms. Nash’s book is studiously annotated and longer than many biographies of American presidents, there is reason to think she may have done some serious work here. Also, she approaches this subject with a running start. As the author of “The Colonel,” about the carny tricks of Presley’s famously Machiavellian manager, Col. Tom Parker, as well as “Elvis and the Memphis Mafia,” she sounds like someone well connected in the Presley world. So it is only a little bit worrisome to see her identified in the jacket copy for her new book as “the first journalist to see Elvis Presley in his casket.”

That whiff of morbid curiosity turns out to be determinative. So does the genesis of “Baby, Let’s Play House”: Ms. Nash acknowledges that she initially wrote a women-oriented article for Ladies’ Home Journal and then decided to expand it. Thus armed with what she all too aptly calls “an oral history of some of the women in Elvis’s life,” Ms. Nash began padding her story with three kinds of material: her own legitimate interviews (some with women still pining for Elvis 50 years after their fateful encounters), secondhand gossip (from self-serving memoirs and fan publications) and psychobabble. Cobbled together, these elements led her along Presley’s long, winding trail from babes to baby sitters as his life spiraled into sad decline.

“Baby, Let’s Play House” is abundantly illustrated with pictures of Presley with his girlfriends. And the pictures tell a powerful story. He worked his way through a lifetime’s worth of women who looked like his brown-haired, soulful-eyed mother, Gladys. At first they were girls next door. Then, though still from the same cookie cutter, they became ever more beautiful as Elvis’s star rose, to the point where he paired up with women almost as good-looking as he was.
Maslin's full review at NYT.

Our white Christmas has been celebrated in the country near historic Hudson in upstate New York, a couple of hours pleasant train ride from New York City. It has been a special time with family and friends.

Today I was taken to a most remarkable bookstore near Hillsdale, Rodgers Book Barn which has the byline, Old & Unusual Books Bought & Sold. The store was established in 1972 and Mrs.Rodgers the founding owner is still there today. A modest sized barn as barns go in this area, in the countryside surrounded by snow, the Book Barn is spread across I guess about seven rooms containing several hundred thousand books. We only spent an hour there and such were the treasures within that I’m afraid to say I didn’t get beyond the first room which held the recently acquired books prior to them being distributed around the barn to their respective category space . The stock impressed me for two main reasons – its enormous variety and depth, and the astonishingly reasonable prices. Let me illustrate this by listing the books I bought and their prices. I would have bought a lot more but regrettably time and weight constraints prevented that.

Katharine and E.B.White – an affectionate memoir - $4

The Book of Love – Writers & Their Love Letters – Cathy N. Davidson - $4

The Elements of Style – Strunk & White – 3rd ed. 1979 - $2.50

British Literary Anecdotes – Robert Hendrickson - $5

Books – From Writer to Reader – Howard Greenfeld - $3.50

The Language of Clothes – Alison Lurie - $5

Edward Lear 1812-1888 –Royal Academy of Arts – Exhibition catalogue 1985 - $8

Talking to Mrs.Rodgers when paying for my books it transpired that we had both entered the book trade in the late 60’s. Because she was busy and we were in something of a rush we didn’t have a lot of time to chat but I am hoping to get back to these parts in the summer of 2010 when I shall definitely return to the veritable treasure trove that is Rodgers Book Barn.

Later while filling the car at a gas station I noticed a sign in the window saying:

BEER SALES – no sales before 8.00am Monday-Saturday or before Noon on Sundays.

Interesting to note too that there is a price differentiation in the petrol depending on whether you are paying with cash or credit card. The standard petrol was $2.27 a gallon if you paid by cash whereas if you paid by credit card it was $2.32 a gallon. My daughter told me that in NYC the differentiation can be as much as 75c a litre. I was also interested to see that if paying by credit card you did it at the pump thus removing the need to go inside the gas station at all. This saved time by not having to stand in a line at the counter inside but also of course one assumes it must reduce impulsive purchases by customers.


The following e-mail from a Wellington-based friend gave me the warm fuzzies and a wide smile here in snow clad upstate NY:

In the Dominion Post there is a daily quiz, and a good one too. A week or so ago, one of the questions was to this effect " What does Graham Beattie write a blog about?" The correct answer which, surprisingly, I got right, was "Books".

My point is this: what greater measure of fame can a writer achieve than this? Forget all those incestuous industry awards. This is real, earthy recognition, and much to be prized.
What's the point of blurbs?
A clutch of hackneyed jingles about how marvellous the author is is de rigueur on book covers – but do they really serve any useful role?

Posted by Guardian blogger Daniel Kalder, Thursday 24 December 2009

There's a lot of received wisdom in the publishing world – for instance, if you write non-fiction, your book needs a subtitle. Never mind that fiction doesn't require that extra bit of explication (Crime & Punishment: Murder and Redemption in the Empire of the Tsars anyone?) if you write non-fiction you simply must spell out what you're up to for prospective readers! This may be a wise policy or it may be nonsense, nobody knows.

Then there are blurbs, the more of which you can plaster on your paperback the better. Usually these are from newspaper reviews reduced by your sales people to a string of superlatives here, a comparison to somebody more famous than you are there. If the blurb comes from a review by a famous person, then they may just run with the name of the celebrity alone ("The Da Vinci Code is f*cking awesome!" – Salman Rushdie).

Do these blurbs – many of which could be transferred from book to book without great difficulty – actually sway readers? I mean, if you believed them then you'd think every book published is, like, really amazing. Perhaps for an eye glancing across the stacks in Waterstone's, a familiar name (Bill Bryson, say) on an unfamiliar book (Lost Cosmonaut, for instance) might cause the browser to at least pause. A book without blurbs can look fishy – did nobody read it? Is it that bad? On the other hand, Dedalus regularly publishes books with few if any endorsements, but I have faith that they will be superior to 99.9% of the titles which appear slathered in fawning praise.

According to Clive Barker, the quote from Stephen King that graced the covers of the Books of Blood – "I have seen the future of horror and his name is Clive Barker" – ignited both his sales and his career. But Clive Barker's books were something new and exciting in horror; if they hadn't been any good, then the blurb wouldn't have worked. Still, that celebrity endorsement helped steer readers in his direction.

My own publisher once tried something similar, sending a copy of Strange Telescopes to a superstar of travel writing. I was grateful the publisher was thinking about me, the snag was that I couldn't abide the work of the aforementioned superstar, whose unctuous, chucklesome, look-at-me schtick screamed of a craven appeal for approval. I shuddered when sent a mock cover which featured a made-up quote from this literary criminal, but decided to remain silent until the crisis became real, at which point I might have had to perform a hex, or commit ritual seppuku – for rest assured there is no way the publisher would have refused an endorsement no matter how much I argued against it. Fortunately it never materialised: I'd like to think because the celebrity hated my book, but it's more likely that he is bombarded with manuscripts and simply didn't look at it.

… which leads us to another question, never considered by publishers: how many readers reject a book because they loathe the authority endorsing it in a blurb? For example, I can't stand the twee films of Wes Anderson. If he praised a book I probably wouldn't read it. And there are other red flags: it is axiomatic that comparisons to Kafka or Borges will always be made on the most superficial basis, usually by someone who doesn't know much about Kafka or Borges. The same goes for comparisons to Philip K Dick: in my student days I read Jeff Noon's Vurt because it was compared to PKD. But it read less like Ubik than it did a bizarre SF version of one of those tedious features about rave culture that appeared in broadsheets in the 90s. The comparison was based on the presence of imaginary drugs in the plot, and little else.

As a connoisseur of the crap blurb, I recently made an exciting discovery on the back of Andrzej Stasiuk's Fado, which I will cite in full:

"Stasiuk is an accomplished stylist with an eye for the telling detail that brings characters and situations to life … I caught a flavour of Hamsun, Sartre, Genet and Kafka in Stasiuk's scalpel-like but evocative writing."
Irvine Welsh (New York Times)

First we have a dubious authority (Welsh), likely to be as off-putting to some readers as he is attractive to others. Then there is the Kafka reference. Also, considering that Stasiuk is a Pole steeped in central and eastern European culture, it is curious that Welsh "caught" so many purely western European "flavours" (bar the cliché Kafka ref, of course). Any half-informed reader may wonder whether this blurb is even remotely accurate.

But what makes this blurb truly special, and why I single it out for praise is that it has a concealed double function. Indeed, it is as much an endorsement for Irvine Welsh as it is for Stasiuk. Essentially, here the perpetrator of the atrocity that was Porno is telegraphing to erudite NYT readers: I'm a SERIOUS WRITER. Look at how many great authors I just named in one sentence! See? I'm literary, me.

I wonder: did Welsh's blurb sell any books? And if so: whose?

Posted by Daniel Kalder Thursday 24 December 2009

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Best Year-End Book Lists You Never Knew Existed
Editorial by Andy Selsberg - Publishing Perpectives

At the end of each year, our innate human itch for lists gets pretty well-scratched: best, worst, and most-seen movies, top songs, choicest quotes, most salacious scandals, hottest web memes - you name it. When it comes to books, I admit I'm often more excited about reading bestseller lists than I am about reading the bestsellers. I think this is pretty standard. It's thrilling, like going to the track every weekend and watching the horses you bet on consistently lose. Still, both the year-end and weekly book lists leave me wanting more.
The New York Times list, USA Today, IndieBound, and Amazon rankings all contain only a slice of the truth, and none have hard numbers. Book reporting should take a note from college football polls, where, with different polls, the coaches get a vote, the sportswriters get a vote, and even the robots get a say with computerized rankings.
(read on ...)

Bestsellers and Others, What Other Book Lists Do You Want? By Edward Nawotka

In our lead editorial today, Andy Selsberg suggests a number of new book-related lists he'd like to see, ranging from "biggest advances and smallest books sold" to "the most-purchased but least-read books " to "the ten most read and loved literary sentences."

If you've not read the editorial, please take a moment to do so (you won't be disappointed, it's wonderful) and let us know what other lists you'd like to see.
(read on ...)

E-Book Piracy: The Publishing Industry's Next Epic Saga? With the rise of e-book readers like the Kindle, Sony Reader, and Nook comes the scourge of the digital world: pirates.

by Tom Spring, in PCWorld
Dec 24, 2009

As e-readers such as the Amazon Kindle continue to rise, so follows the publishing industry's worst nightmare: e-book piracy. For years e-book piracy was the exclusive province of the determined few willing to ferret out mostly nerdy textbook titles from the Internet's dark alleys and read them on their PC. But publishers say that the problem is ballooning as e-readers grow in popularity and the appetite for mainstream e-books grows.

"We are now seeing large volumes of e-books being pirated on everything from file-sharing networks to Websites," says Ed McCoyd of the Association of American Publishers, a trade organization representing major U.S. book publishers. The year-to-year percentage growth of available e-book titles is unknown, McCoyd says. Other publishers, such as Hachette Book Group, say that e-book piracy has grown "exponentially" over the past year.

A review of e-books currently available for illicit download confirms that e-book piracy is no longer dominated by technical how-to e-books but includes best-selling authors Janet Evanovich, John Grisham, and James Patterson. PCWorld found that one-third of Publishers Weekly's 2009 top 15 best-selling fiction books were available for illicit download through a growing variety of book-swapping sites, file-sharing services, and peer-to-peer networks.

The availability of best sellers is just the start. PCWorld discovered virtual bookshelves stuffed with pirated e-book titles ranging from copyrighted popular fiction and nonfiction titles to college textbooks and how-to e-books. All of these titles are downloadable and ready for viewing on your e-reader of choice, be it the Amazon Kindle, Sony Reader, or Barnes & Noble Nook.

"We know e-book piracy is a problem, and we are taking the issue very seriously," says Paul Aiken, executive director of The Authors Guild, an advocacy group for writers. "We've seen the music and film industry deal with this, and it stands to reason we will grapple with it too." Aiken says that while he is concerned about the growth in the availability of e-book titles on the Internet, he is not convinced that the number of people who are actually downloading the digital files is increasing as rapidly.

Compared with music piracy, illicit e-books are not nearly as widespread or as easy to acquire. Pirates must be determined to track down specific e-book titles. Pirated e-book files (usually available as PDFs) can sometimes be poorly reproduced, and are sometimes made up of scanned page images--not text.
The full piece at PC World online.

Friday, December 25, 2009


I am planning to be back blogging around December 27 or 28, meantime hope you have a fabulous few days with lots of satisfying reading wherever you are. Here in upper New York State it is snowing gently and it is 6 degrees below freezing. Loving it ! All best.
Image above by Graeme Roberts.
A tribute from the IIML Newsletter:

Bub Bridger 1924-2009

Bub Bridger died last week. Wherever she was living (latterly Granity, on the West Coast), she usually rang us up about this time each year – just to say Merry Christmas and check how things were going. Bub was best known as a poet, and particularly one who read her own work brilliantly.

She was one of the mainstays of the 90s feminist show Hens’ Teeth, particularly when she read aloud her raunchy performance pieces addressed to younger men – e.g. the poet Ian Wedde, or the All Black Whetton brothers:

I want a Whetton for Christmas!
Either Alan or Gary would do . . .
I’d l-o-o-o-o-ve a Whetton for Christmas
For some frolicsome festival woo
But – they tell me that Gary is married
Still . . . Alan is there to be plucked
And his eyes and his thighs are s-o-o-o-o sexy
And his body just made to be . . . admired.

(from ‘A Christmas Wish’)

Bub was one of the very first writers to get her start at Victoria University. She attended a creative writing course with Michael King here in 1974, and always credited him as ‘the one who showed me the way’. For those who have missed her work – both poems and short stories – the best place to make its acquaintance is in the 2005 collection Wild Daisies: the Best of Bub Bridger, which contains over 100 pages of writing, plus a CD of Bub herself reading a selection of poems.
On Boxing Day between 8 and 10 am National Radio will replay Kim Hill’s 2005 interview with the poet, alongside an interview with Sam Hunt.
Australian teen, Alexandra Adornetto, lands major six-figure US publishing deal for YA trilogy

Young Melbourne-based author, Alexandra Adornetto, is thrilled to have been offered a lucrative six-figure publishing deal from Feiwel and Friends, an imprint of Macmillan US. The deal followed a whirlwind sales pitch from Alexandra’s US agent, Jill Grinberg, which caught the attention of a number of publishing houses.

Alexandra famously wrote her first book, The Shadow Thief, when she was thirteen and her subsequent publishing deal at age fifteen sparked national interest. Two further books followed and now, at seventeen, Alexandra is turning her hand to young adult fiction.

She says, ’I feel incredibly lucky to have been picked up in the US. It was a major goal for me and I’m really thrilled that it’s happened. My agent, as well as the people at Feiwel and Friends, are such dynamic people. I’m really looking forward to working with them and going back to New York.’

As part of deal, Feiwel and Friends have offered a national book tour around the USA in September 2010 – visiting all the major cities including L.A, Boston, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, Arizona, Washington and others to do media, book signings and meetings with booksellers.
In the meantime, she will be working with her Australian publishers, HarperCollins Publishers, who acquired the trilogy, and will release the first book, HALO, in August 2010.
The trilogy centres around three mysterious teens who enrol in a local high school. Nobody knows the truth: that they are angels on a mission to save a world on the brink of destruction. When Bethany, the youngest angel, falls for her classmate Xavier, she faces a frightening decision; will she defy the laws of Heaven by loving him?

HALO, the first instalment in the mesmerising new trilogy by Alexandra Adornetto, is scheduled for release in New Zealand and Australia in August 2010.
Exclusive literary events at Foyles in early 2010

Foyles bookshops start the New Year with a string of exclusive author appearances including Jasper Fforde, Peter Carey and Siri Hustvedt in The Gallery at Charing Cross Road and Joanna Trollope is the guest of honour at its second literary supper at the St Pancras Grand.

Tickets and Venue
Unless otherwise stated all events are free and held in the Gallery at Foyles, Charing Cross Road. Email to reserve a place.

Event details:

Monday 18 January, 6.30pm
Jasper Fforde, Shades of Grey – Event & Q&A
On the first night of his long awaited UK tour Jasper Fforde launches his new book Shades of Grey. Ever humorous Fforde will reveal how he dreamt up a world where colour is a commodity and spoons are illegal.
Tickets: Free, email to reserve a place

Friday 22 January 5.00pm, Foyles Westfield
Maria V. Snyder, Sea Glass - Signing & Q&A
Fans of the Twilight series will also love Maria V Snyder’s books. In a rare UK appearance, Maria Snyder will be signing at Foyles Westfield. The second in the Opal Cowan Trilogy, Sea Glass, follows student magician Opal Cowan as she steals away from the magic council, on an epic quest to find the man she loves.
Venue: Foyles Westfield, Tickets: Free

Tuesday 2 February, 6.30pm
Peter Carey, Parrot and Olivier in America – Reading, talk and Q&A
Meet Peter Carey,(pic left-Courier Mail), twice winner of the Man Booker Prize, at his only UK appearance to discuss his eleventh novel, Parrot and Olivier in America, on the eve of its publication.
Tickets: Free, email to reserve a place

Wednesday 3 February, 6.30pm
The Shaking Woman – Siri Hustvedt in conversation with Lisa Appignanesi
Inspired by a violent and mysterious seizure she suffered during a memorial event for her father, American author Siri Hustvedt’s new book is a journey into the mysterious relationship between body and mind. For this exclusive UK event, she will be in conversation with Lisa Appiganesei, President of English PEN and prize-winning author of Mad, Bad and Sad.
Tickets: Free, email to reserve a place

Saturday 27 February, 11.00am – 5.00pm
Harvill Secker Day of International writing­ – workshops and discussions
Publisher Harvill Secker celebrates its 100th anniversary with a Day of International writing, featuring authors Manuel Rivas, Nicholas Shakespeare, Stuart Neville, Gene Kerrigan, Alon Hilu and Tim Parks.
Tickets: £18/£15 cons. including full day of events, goodie bag of books, and refreshments. Email for details

Saturday 20 March, 11.00am – 5.00pm
Picador Day, with top Picador authors and poets including Jim Crace - workshops and discussions
Meet and learn from the best Picador contemporary writers, from Man Booker novelists to Forward Prize winners, from debut authors to Sunday Times bestsellers.
Tickets: £18/£15 cons. Email for details

Foyles Literary Suppers at The St Pancras Grand

Following the successful launch in November, Foyles Bookshop and the St Pancras Grand restaurant continue their literary suppers. Dine and discuss in one of London's most treasured buildings, St Pancras International.

Monday 22 February, 6.30pm for 7.00pm start
Joanna Trollope OBE, (pic left - Martin Godwin).

Joanna Trollope introduces her new novel, The Other Family. The highly acclaimed and prolific author reads from and discusses her latest heart-wrenching tale of love and loss, bonds and betrayal at the second Foyles Literary Supper in the St Pancras Grand.
Tickets: £40, includes three course meal
To reserve tickets contact Amanda Gowing: Email: or Tel: 0207 870 9900.

Lessons from the Rick Moody Twitter Project
By Andy Hunter, Editor-in-Chief, Electric Literature - Publishing Perpectives

Earlier this month, twenty co-publishers joined Electric Literature in using Twitter to publish Rick Moody's "Some Contemporary Characters," a short story written for the medium in 153 bursts of 140 characters or less. Our goal was to create a conversation, agitate for literature, and expand the readership for Moody's story. It was an inclusive effort that brought publishers, literary magazines, bookstores, writers, and readers together. With the participation of twenty co-publishers, we transmitted the story to over 38,000 followers-a robust audience for a contemporary short story.

To accomplish this, we used a service called Hootsuite, which allowed us to schedule the tweets and broadcast them to all participants, with each tweet published to their feed as their own content-as opposed to retweeting (Twitter's tool which allows users to share material with their followers), which would add an reported. We regret that less attention was paid to the content of Rick's story than its mode of delivery-although that may have been inevitable.

(read on ...)

Is Twitter a Viable Format for Storytelling?
By Edward Nawotka

First there was fast fiction...then there was nano there is twitter fiction. At 120 words a burst, Twitter would seem unsuited to narrative fiction. But as our lead editorial today by Andy Hunter, editor-in-chief of Electric Literature demonstrates, Twitter can be used as a format for fiction, provided one is a dedicated follower of the tweets (one can't imagine jumping into the middle of a short story...or can they?) or else knows how to search a Twitter stream for a particular hashtag to see everything as a threaded message and doesn't mind reading as a computer screen scrolls up and not down.

(read on ...)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Published Herald Scotland on 22 Dec 2009
Up the Amazon without a paddle if we all shop online
It used to sell Potter, now it has been selling pottery.

Yesterday was the last day of trading for Borders across the UK. Having shifted most of the remaining books in this month’s closing down sale, it has been filling up the gaps with all manner of tat, including naff jewellery and cheap lines of pottery. Some shops have even been selling off the fixtures and fittings.

It’s a sad, tawdry end to a chain that may not have been as crucial to the cultural life of the nation as Waterstone’s, but which nonetheless had a breezy, young approach, an appealing contemporary offer and a busy events programme, particularly in its children’s departments.

Still, don’t worry – there’s always Amazon. And therein lies the problem. While the US behemoth may not be responsible entirely for Borders’ demise, it has played a significant part. The rise of online shopping and the difficulties facing some bricks-and-mortar retailers are related. You can see how it affects bookshops when you walk past people’s recycling bins and note the familiar packaging and lettering rising like ocean liners (the SS Amazon) amid the flattened boxes of Cheerios. Or when you stand in the post office with your “sorry you were out” card and see person after person in front of you collecting their Amazon boxes (indeed, there are times when it seems that Amazon should buy the Post Office, such is the dominance of its sorting offices). Or when you simply listen to people talk and note how often the word comes up.

Amazon has now become almost synonymous with online shopping. The company is the Hoover of the world wide web, its fame and success responsible for the explosion in online shopping.

We’re all at it now, and not just for books. According to the British Retail Consortium, the internet, mail order and phone sales (of which the bulk must surely be online) were 16.9% higher in November than in the same month last year. “This is more strong growth … and shows online sales growing four times faster than sales overall,” it said.
The rest at Herald Scotland.

Seresin Landfall Writers’ Residency Call for Applications

Entries for the 2010 Seresin Landfall Residency close on 31 January 2010.

In 2009 Seresin Estate highlighted its commitment to the arts and creative endeavour
with the development of an annual writer’s residency. Established with Otago
University Press, publishers of Landfall, the Seresin Landfall Residency provides
accommodation for the annual winner of the Residency for six weeks in either
Tuscany or Marlborough.

The Residency is the result of Michael Seresin’s desire to support the work of
Landfall magazine – his father was an early subscriber to Landfall and Michael
has continued the subscription – and the literary arts in New Zealand. “I wanted to
provide a place where writers feel comfortable and can write. We are fortunate to
have access to two beautiful properties, which I hope will provide some inspiration
for a writer during their six week stay.”

The Residency also celebrates the link between the world of wine and creative
endeavour. “Growing and making artisan wine is a creative process and I enjoy the
association between the wine world and the endeavours of the creative world, be it
written, visual, food or music,” says Michael.

The winner of the inaugural Seresin Landfall Residency, novelist, literary critic, poet
and essayist CK Stead, stayed in a Water Mill in Gaiole, Tuscany. The diary of his
stay will be published in Landfall 219 in May and the winner of the 2010 Residency
will also be announced in this issue.

Jenah Shaw, who was awarded a special residency as an emerging writer by Michael
Seresin to celebrate the 2009 establishment of the award, chose to stay at the second
possible location, a cottage at Waterfall Bay in Marlborough, where she completed
her first novel.

Wendy Harrex, Publisher at Otago University Press, says “we hope that this new
partnership with Seresin Estate will give writers a quiet place where they are able to
complete significant projects.”

The Seresin Landfall Residency is open to writers over twenty-one, working in any genre,
who have been previously published. Submissions will consist of a covering letter from the
writer outlining the project, which may be ongoing, along with a CV and up to twenty pages
of sample work. The successful applicant can choose to spend the six-week Residency in
the Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand, or Tuscany, Italy. The deadline for all entries is 31
January 2010 and full conditions of entry can be found on
Results will be announced in the May 2010 issue of Landfall.

Contact for Michael Seresin:
MJ Loza
Seresin Estate
+64 3 572 9408, 03 570 5037 or 021 93389
From The Times
December 23, 2009
Writers fear the worst as Scotland's biggest bookstore closes
Charlene Sweeney

Scotland’s biggest bookstore has closed for good, leaving writers worried and readers saddened. Borders, which went into administration last month, ceased trading yesterday across the whole of Britain, with the loss of about 1,550 jobs.

The bookseller, which had 45 stores across Britain, including two in Glasgow and one each in Edinburgh, Dundee and Inverness, faced heavy competition from internet booksellers and supermarkets.

Its collapse follows the disappearance of several independent booksellers from the high street.

At the flagship store in Glasgow’s Buchanan Street yesterday, the queues stretched from the ground floor right down to the basement as shoppers tried to pick up a final bargain in the clearance sale.

Some parts of the shop were already closed, with staff packing away what remained of the fixtures and fittings. Shelves were marked with bold black and yellow stickers, indicating that they were also for sale. Employees were even selling stationery that had clearly been used in the shop’s office.

One member of staff said yesterday: “I’ve lost jobs before but what was different about this was the speed of it. There are also a lot of couples working here so it will very hard for them.”

She added that the store’s closure would be a major loss for readers: “This was the biggest bookshop in Scotland. We got people phoning us from all over the country, some from Northern Ireland, trying to source stock. We also sent out books as far afield as Canada.

“I don’t know what people in Glasgow are going to do now. Customers keep asking us things like, ‘Where can I get foreign newspapers?’ and the answer is we just don’t know.”

Borders first opened in Britain in 1997, 26 years after brothers Tom and Louis Borders founded its American parent company. The store was part of a revolution in book retailing, mixing bookselling with coffee.

The change also helped to precipitate the end of Scotland’s independent bookshops, which could not match the heavy discounts and special offers Borders and rival Waterstone’s used to attract customers. In 2000, the Glasgow-based bookseller John Smith retreated from the high street to the university campuses where it had started its life in the 18th century. Two years later, the Edinburgh-based chain James Thin, which was founded in 1836, collapsed.

Writers said that Borders helped to fill the gap by promoting Scottish authors and hosting book launches.
The rest at The Times online.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Dan Brown sees off celebs in battle for Christmas books number one
The Lost Symbol gives author second Christmas number one in five years, as celebrity memoirs sink
Alison Flood,, Tuesday 22 December 2009

Dan Brown sees off celebs in battle for Christmas books number one

The Lost Symbol gives author second Christmas number one in five years, as celebrity memoirs sink

Left - Copies of Dan Brown's Lost Symbol
Top of the tree ... Copies of Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol on sale in London. Photograph: Shaun Curry/AFP/Getty Images

Dan Brown and his debonair professor of "symbology" Robert Langdon have broken the stranglehold that celebrity autobiographies have held over December book sales in recent years to take the Christmas number one slot.

A last minute sales rush propelled Brown's long-awaited novel The Lost Symbol – in which Langdon takes on the Freemasons – to the top of the charts, giving the author his second UK Christmas number one in five years after The Da Vinci Code was the Christmas bestseller in 2004.

Brown just pipped the second-placed Guinness World Records – a perennial Christmas bestseller – to the post with such gems as "'Actually, Katherine, it's not gibberish.' His eyes brightened again with the thrill of discovery. 'It's ... Latin''', and "Is there life after death? Do humans have souls? Incredibly, Katherine had answered all of these questions and more" helping propel him to pole position in the busiest week for book sales.

In recent years celebrity memoirs by the likes of Peter Kay, Russell Brand and Dawn French have dominated the Christmas book charts, which are compiled by book sales monitor Nielsen BookScan. But this year only two celebrity autobiographies – a joint memoir by Ant and Dec, and Frankie Boyle's My Shit Life So Far – scraped into the top 10, in ninth and 10th place respectively.

The public appetite this Christmas was, instead, for fiction, with two titles from Stephenie Meyer's teen vampire series, a new novel from Jodi Picoult and the first title in late Swedish author Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, all making the top 10 ahead of a host of celebrity autobiographies.

Kay's second volume of memoir, Saturday Night Peter, missed out on the top 10 despite high expectations, as did Jo Brand's autobiography. Memoirs from Sheryl Gascoigne, Justin Lee Collins and Leona Lewis failed to even make the top 100, while Ozzy Osbourne and Jack Dee's contributions both trailed in in the late 80s. In 2005, Osbourne's wife Sharon's autobiography Extreme was one of the bestselling books of the year.

"This year there is very definitely a much stronger end-of-year Christmas fiction market," said André Breedt at Nielsen BookScan. "The autobiography and biography market overall peaked in 2007 [when Brand's My Booky Wook took the number one slot], and ever since then it has been slowing down."

Brown began the autumn as William Hill's favourite at 5/2 to top the Christmas charts, just ahead of Saturday Night Peter at 3/1, but slipped back into fourth place behind Meyer, a festive cookbook from Delia Smith and Guinness World Records as the months progressed.

"We were expecting a victory for Guinness World Records judging on the last couple of weeks of sales," said Jon Howells at Waterstone's. "[But] Dan Brown has broken every record I can think of, and has driven every other book out of its way. [The Lost Symbol] has been a juggernaut of a book. It has taken number one because it's been ubiquitous. People shopping this week and last are the people who are looking for a safe bet, and Dan Brown is a safe bet."

William Hill, which took bets on the number one book, said that Brown was "well backed early on" and that it had "lost a small sum" on his win.

The Christmas top 10 books (UK):

1 The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

2 Guinness World Records 2010

3 Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer

4 Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

5 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

6 Where's Stig?

7 Handle With Care by Jodi Picoult

8 Delia's Happy Christmas by Delia Smith

9 Ooh! What a Lovely Pair by Ant and Dec

10 My Shit Life So Far by Frankie Boyle
The e-book, the e-reader, and the future of reading

As stone tablets gave way the codex, the future of reading is digital – but will the e-reader and the e-book change the nature of how we read?
Left - Members of a suburban Boston book group.
Photo -Mary Knox Merrill / Staff

By Matthew Shaer Staff Writer, Christian Science Monitor
December 21, 2009, New York

Jeremy Manore, an 18-year-old from central New Jersey, subscribes to several magazines and reads books constantly – John Steinbeck and F. Scott Fitzgerald are among his favorite writers. When he came home from his elite Massachusetts boarding school for Thanksgiving, Jeremy brought three books to read, his mother, Sandy Manore, says. But he wasn’t carting heavy volumes in a backpack.

Instead, he’d checked out a Kindle – a wireless reading device – from his school library, and downloaded the books he wanted to read. Jeremy’s school, Cushing Academy in Ashburnham, Mass., is the first in the US to digitize its entire collection. This fall, it began moving its 20,000-volume library aside to make room for a “learning center,” complete with laptop study stations and a fleet of new e-readers with access to millions of digitized books.

“[We] were really excited when Cushing went digital,” Mrs. Manore says. The switch to electronic books increased the breadth and depth of her son’s reading, she says, because the books available to him are no longer limited by what can fit into Cushing’s library’s physical space. “It gives them access to more literature without having to buy it.”

Not everyone has been so enthusiastic. Cushing’s decisive step into the new world of reading has put it on the front lines of a battle between traditionalists, who see the glue-and-paper codex as a fundamental part of the learning experience, and e-reading evangelists, who argue that electronic reading – with its promise of limitless reach – is the logical next step for the 21st-century student.

“When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books,” Cushing headmaster James Tracy told The Boston Globe in September. He was referring specifically to academic research, although the quote – which quickly careened around the blogosphere – was heralded by many critics as proof of the beginning of the end of the paper book.
The full story at Christian Science Monitor online.


Christmas is not a dirty word - from Dr.Karen Zumbrunn, Princeton, NJ, USA

Sir, Shame on the FT for printing such a headline (Holiday shopping wrapped up, Dec 4). Please don't catch the American disease of referring to Christmas as the holidays. I love Christmas. We all spend money at Christmas, even those of us cutting back. We still buy more food, baking supplies, sweets and treats. We buy Christmas gifts and Christmas decorations, lights and Christmas tress. We donate to charities, food banks and toy drives, all because of an overwhelming Christmas spirit.To quote a letter from a reader to an Ontario newspaper: "I've decided I'll only deal with businesses that feature the word Christmas in their advertising." So FT, let's not be afraid to use the word Christmas. It is not holiday that generates this spirit, it is Christmas.
Obervations, generalisations & comments

Pic left dmwfoto.

Our white Christmas arrived nearly a week early with a massive 11 inches of snow dumped on the city on Saturday night and Sunday morning. The place was an absolute picture within minutes of the snowfall starting. We were walking home Saturday evening from the Bridge Cafe, which is tucked under the Manhattan end of the Brooklyn Bridge, during a quite heavy snowfall, a new expereince for me, a magical one.
The next day we visited Central Park which looked so beautiful with its layer of snow covering every surface. The family went ice-skating, I held the coats and took the photos, it was quite a spectacular sight with I guess 300 or so skaters of varying degrees of ability all swirling around to the music on the famous Cnetral Park rink.

I have been in three bookstores so far, the superb Rizzoli Bookstore at 31 West 57th Street where I lost three hours exploring the four stories of books, I must say I showed remarkable restraint only purchasiing two books, and they were both for gifts, But I could easily have come away with a dozen or more was I not conscious of the airline weight constraints.

Then two excellent Barnes & Noble stores, one of their newest at Tribeca, our local, and the long-established branch at Union Square. Gosh they do have the most impressive displays of all the latest titles, mountains of them. At the Tribeca store I spent some time talking to a staff member about their new e-Book reader, The Nook. As I have a NY address and an American credit card then I could purchase one, US$259, take it home to NZ where I would be able to purchase and download titles. The guy said the product has sold much better than they had expected, in fact they were temporarily o/s, that they had priced it lower than their main opposition the Kindle, who then met their price, but he claimed the Nook has more features than the Kindle. These classy e-Book readers, my son-in-law here has a Kindle that I am using, are truly seductive little numbers and I am hugely tempted to buy one.

Sunday afternoon we went to an off-Broadway show, The Marvellous Wonderettes, which we all greatly enjoyed. Presented in two acts, the first was set at the Sprinfield High Prom in 1958 where four senior students, The Marvellous Wonderettes, provided the entertainment for the students at the Prom, songs like All I Have to do is Dream, Dream Lover, It's My Party, Lipstick on your Collar, It's in his Kiss, Lucky Lips and many others, while the second act was set ten years later when the quartet got back together for a reunion. Almost two hours of superb light entertainment. Of course we came away with the CD!

I'm pretty wary of coffee in the US, they mainly drink filtered coffee, but Auckland friend Simon was here earlier in the year and discovered a great coffee place which I have now visited twice and can report that their double shot skim latte is pretty much akin to a trim flat white back in NZ where I reckon we have the best coffee in the world. La Colombe is the name of the place and they have two locations - 270 Lafayette Street in Soho and 319 Church Street in Tribeca.

This morning we celebrated the 20-something birthday of our niece who is across from London at the most popular Balthazar restaurant in Soho. This fab place is part of the Keith McNally group of restaurants, they are all great, and seven of us enjoyed a wonderful brunch. The place is superbly fitted out as an early 20th century Parisian bistro with every wall sporting huge mirrors. It was a birthday brunch I'm sure Katy will never forget.

Loving having the New York Times arrive at the apartment door every morning around 7.00am. Although I read the online edition daily when I am at home in NZ there is something rather special and certainly preferable about reading the actual paper itself.

My daughter lives near Wall Street just a few blocks from the World Trade Center site and this morning when I was walking back from brunch I went around past the site to check on progress since we were here two years ago. Last time construction was still below ground level but I was delighted to find that building is now at and above ground level. It is a massive building project of course which is going to take many years to complete but the WTC Transportation Hub part of the project seems to be progressing quite quickly with the building above it already at four stories and rising.

While in Barnes & Noble this morning I was most impressed by the range of magazines and journals with a literary bent that were available. I treated myself to the January/February edition of Poets & Writers which I must say is a steal at $5.95. Some of the features include Beyond Words - writers who practice other arts, Fifity of the Most Inspiring Writers in the World, Fires of Inspiration - How the Winter's biggest books got started, Why We Write - the art of perseverance.

Pic left shows poet & visual artist Jen Bervin, one of the writers featured who also practice other arts. There is a two page interview with her.

Tomorrow we head to Livingston in upper New York State, back in the city December 28.We haven't been to this part of the State before so it will be an interesting few days. Not sure on Wireless availability up there so if you don't hear from me for a few days you'll know I am out of range.
Wolf Hall becomes top Booker winner
22.12.09 Philip Stone in The Bookseller

Thanks to strong sales at independent retailers, as well as Waterstone's and, Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall (Fourth Estate) is now officially the most popular Man Booker winner since records began.

According to Nielsen BookScan data, Wolf Hall has sold 137,150 copies since its win 10 weeks ago, 28,234 copies more (25.9%) than 2002 winner, Yann Martel's Life of Pi (Canongate), managed over the same period in 2002 and some 28,616 copies more (26.4%) than Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger (Atlantic) sold over the comparative 10-week period. The next most popular Booker winner since BookScan records began in 1998 was D B C Pierre's Vernon God Little (Faber), which sold 76,669 copies, across all editions, in the 10 weeks following its Booker win.

However, although Wolf Hall may be the most popular winner in comparative sales-since-win terms, it still has some way to go to catch up with the 1.2 million life sales of The Life of Pi, which was confirmed in a recent issue of The Bookseller (11th December) as being the 27th bestselling book of the decade—or the 11th bestselling novel of the Noughties (one place behind Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife (Vintage) but one in front of Kate Mosse's Labyrinth (Orion)).
Wolf Hall sits fourth on the list of the bestselling hardback fiction titles of 2009, behind Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol (Bantam Press), Terry Pratchett's Unseen Academicals (Doubleday) and Martina Cole's Hard Girls (Headline), but in front of the likes of Wilbur Smith, Katie Price and John Grisham.

Life sales of Mantel's 10th novel currently total 173,060 copies across all editions—including 163,938 copies for the hardback edition. Comparatively, Mantel's previous novel, Beyond Black (Fourth Estate), sold just 2,134 copies in hardback according to BookScan.
New TV Animation Deal For Peter Rabbit
Penguin Press Release , Tuesday 22 Dec 2009

Frederick Warne & Co. Ltd, owner and guardian of the Beatrix Potter property and original publisher of Beatrix Potter's famous little white books, is delighted to announce a brilliant new chapter in the history of one of the world's longest running and largest international literature-based licensing programmes. Frederick Warne is part of Penguin, the consumer book division of Pearson Plc.

Frederick Warne has long enjoyed a close working relationship with The Copyrights Group, its licensing agent for over 25 years, which is now owned by Chorion, the London-based company that specialises in entertainment. Under a new agreement announced today, Frederick Warne and Chorion together will create new animation, based on Beatrix Potter's world-famous classic characters such as Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddle-duck, Benjamin Bunny and Mr. Jeremy Fisher. This will be a brand new, ground-breaking animation that will develop Beatrix Potter's characters to delight and entertain new audiences of children around the world. The animation series will be designed for TV, for international distribution.

Together with Chorion, Frederick Warne will continue to develop the licensing and merchandise programme for Beatrix Potter's characters. Frederick Warne will retain all publishing rights to the Beatrix Potter works.

Peter Field, CEO Penguin Books UK, said:

"We are very pleased to be working with Chorion in a new global strategic relationship to further develop Beatrix Potter's legacy through this new animation project. Chorion knows our property so well and understands how to work with such a unique and iconic literary work. We are very excited about the possibilities for the future and are looking forward to developing this new opportunity."

Waheed Alli, Chairman of Chorion, said:

"We are looking forward to making a new TV series of Beatrix Potter's characters. Our aim will be to introduce Beatrix Potter to a new generation of children and make her characters as loved today as they have been in the past."

Beatrix Potter was a business pioneer. She initiated the development of a merchandise programme when she designed and patented a Peter Rabbit doll, making Peter Rabbit the world's oldest licensed character. She attended to every detail, as she wrote:

"I am cutting out calico patterns of Peter, I have not got it right yet, but the expression is going to be lovely; especially the whiskers."

Under Beatrix Potter's approval, the first range of licensed merchandise was created. This included a Peter Rabbit soft toy, puzzle, handkerchief and tea set, which was licensed by her publisher, Frederick Warne. Today there are 350 licensees worldwide within The World of Beatrix Potter™ brand.

Stephanie Barton, MD of Frederick Warne, said:

"The classic little white books are hugely popular and we will continue to publish and develop this range, through which one of the most iconic characters in children's literature was created. As Beatrix Potter's original publisher and guardian of Peter Rabbit and his friends, Frederick Warne, working with Chorion, will ensure that these timeless characters remain relevant and treasured by children in the future".
Saturday Morning with Kim Hill on Radio NZ National: Boxing Day Poets, 26 December 2009
8:15 Bub Bridger (2005) 9:05 Sam Hunt (2009)

Bub Bridger was a poet and short story writer of Irish and Ng"ti Kahungunu descent. She lived in Wellington for many years before moving to Granity, on the West Coast. Renowned as a live performer, she saw her poems and short stories appear in numerous anthologies, and two collections of her work have been published: Up Here On The Hill (Mallinson Rendel, 1989), and Wild Daisies: the Best of Bub Bridger (Mallinson Rendel, 2005). She died at her home on 8 December, aged 85.

Sam Hunt has worked for forty years as a full-time poet. His discussions with Robbie Burton have been transcribed for the recently published memoir, Backroads: Charting a Poet's Life (Craig Potton Publishing).

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Louis de Bernières and other British writers revive the literary salon

Geoff Dyer and Jake Arnott also among those frequenting authors' evenings in London
Gareth Rubin in The Observer, Sunday 20 December 2009

'Simultaneously the atmosphere of a library, a bordello and a boxing ring' ... the literary salon. Photograph: Toby Melville/PA

The literary salon, the 18th-century gathering where intellectual giants would debate and inspire or infuriate each other, has been reborn for the 21st century with new salons appearing throughout the country. But those attending are as likely to be drawn from the ranks of edgy younger writers as from the famous.

During the Enlightenment, salons established by charismatic individuals allowed the great talents of the age to discuss their writing – creating the work and ideas that changed the course of Britain's artistic history. Many classic works would never have appeared without the semi-public gatherings. Now there are meetings once again, so members can engage in unashamedly intelligent discourse and read unfinished work to gauge reaction before redrafting.

In London, the private members' club Soho House has established a monthly salon,where some of the country's foremost authors and those aiming for future fame read – and discuss – their writing with the public. Next month's attendees include Louis de Bernières, author of Captain Corelli's Mandolin, and Naomi Alderman, who won the Orange award for her debut, Disobedience, a controversial novel about an Orthodox rabbi's daughter who becomes a lesbian. Those present previously include Jake Arnott, author of East End crime novel The Long Firm, which became a BBC series, chick-lit author Jenny Colgan, and Geoff Dyer, who won the Somerset Maugham award for his book about jazz, But Beautiful.

The group was established by the playwright Damian Barr, who felt there was a need for a space for writers and book lovers to discuss, inspire, goad or cajole each other as they did in the salons of past eras. "It's an Enlightenment idea. You can talk to people, flirt, get drunk and still feel you've done something meaningful," said Barr, adding that the salon was a modern twist on the 18th-century model.

The full story at The Observer online.