Today in books and publishing: Bill Clinton's five favorite books are heavy reading, Michael Chabon says publishers are getting an unfair share of e-book profits, and The New York Times assembles "a North Korea reading list."
Former President Bill Clinton appeared on the Today show today and unveiled his five favorite books. (Mindy Kaling was there too.) Readers hoping for something breezy and light to download and tear through during the holidays were likely disappointed. Clinton's five choices -- Jerusalem: The Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore, Lincoln by David Herbert Donald, Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, The Way of the World: From the Dawn of Civilizations to the Eve of the Twenty-first Century by David Fromkin, and The Cure at Troy: A Version of Sophocles' Philoctetes by Seamus Heaney -- all sounded densely footnoted. When asked to name his favorite fictional character, Clinton chose Gabriel Allon, the "art restorer and spy" protagonist of eleven espionage novels by author Daniel Silva. As Sherryl Connelly of Page Views notes, Silva is married to Today national correspondent Jamie Gangel, which we doubt played any role in the former president's choice, but it still is interesting to think about. [Page Views]
In the wake of Kim Jong Il's death, The New York Times has put together "a North Korea reading list" that runs the gamut from harrowing first-person accounts of life in a dictatorship, to the Nicholas Kristof approved Inspector O novels, which are set in Pyongyang and written by an American intelligence expert familiar with the region who uses the pen name James Church. [Arts Beat]
Walter Isaacson tells Fortune that he's planning for his next book to be a biography of Ada Lovelace, the daughter of Lord Byron, who worked on the design on Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine, a precursor to the General-Purpose Computers that would emerge in the 1940s. It probably won't fly off the shelves like his Steve Jobs biography, a fact Isaacson seemed aware of, because as of last week, he says he still has not pitched the idea to Alice Mayhew, his editor at Simon & Schuster. [Fortune via GalleyCat]
Siri, the little robot who lives in the latest batch of iPhones, has a well-documented history of not knowing things about politically divisive subjects. She's also not much of a reader, either. When asked if "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet?" Siri says she can't find you a house in Belarus right now. When asked if androids dream of electric sheep, she returns listings for three local animal feed stores. [Page Views]
Traditionally, author royalties on books have been around 25% of the publisher's net sales totals. That's about what Michael Chabon receives on the e-book editions of his later novels, like The Yiddish Policemen's Union, where hisl publisher controls the digital rights. That split might have been acceptable for print books when you factor in the costs of binding and shipping, but Chabon, along with countless authors and agents, believe writers should earn a bigger piece of the pie when it comes to e-book sales. Chabon controls the digital rights to his early novels The Mysteries of Pittsburgh and Wonder Boys and recently signed with Open Road Integrated Media, "a digital publisher that offers 50 percent royalties." Chabon thinks that's a more reasonable number, considering how much publishers are now saving on printing and shipping. "It's not fair for them to take a roughly identical royalty for an e-book that costs them nothing to produce," he says. This may be true, but it's doubtful they're just going to give up a nice perk just because their authors think it's unfair. [AP]