Today in publishing and literature: Amazon Publishing strikes a licensing deal with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Vladimir Putin wants Russia to have a canon to call its own, and the beautiful, impractical, and gaudy homes of successful authors.
Vladimir Putin wants to establish a hundred book "Russian Canon" that's more rigid and purpose-driven than the Western Canon, which at this point is really just a list of some really good books you might enjoy reading before you die, though will probably skip when they pop up on the syllabus of a course you're taking in college. He made the suggestion in an essay of several thousand words that appeared in Russia's Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper earlier in the week. Putin is certain that maintaining "[a] kind of civilizational identity is based on preserving the dominance of Russian culture." Hence, his plan for the Canon. He proposes "a survey of our most influential cultural figures [to] compile a 100-book canon that every Russian school leaver will be required to read,” he writes. Putin gets somewhat hazy on what to do after the list of 100 is established “[Students] would be asked to write an essay on one of them in their final exams," he suggests. "Or at least let us give young Russians a chance to demonstrate their knowledge and world outlook in various student competitions. State policy with regard to culture must provide appropriate guidelines." Considering what the state has deemed appropriate from his own political critics, that phrase is chilling. Putin knows he can't get away with omitting texts from titans like Fyodor Dostoyevsky or Aleksandar Solzhenitsyn from the canon, but he'll quietly raise the profile of "Soviet-era schlock churned out by Writers’ Union foot soldiers who glorified their compatriots’ miserable existence," predicts Alexander Nazaryan. The project, he writes, isn't about literature or pointing Russian schoolchildren to 100 great books from their homeland. It's all about "Rusianness" and Putin's attempts to dictate what that entails. [Page Views]
When word emerged that Amazon would be launching a publishing arm, one of the apparent drawbacks was how the company would be able to sell its titles through non-Amazon retailers. Amazon addressed those concerns today, announcing an agreement with New Harvest, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, to publish all of Amazon Publishing’s New York-based imprint’s adult titles in print and distribute them in North America outside of the Amazon.com platform.” Larry Kirschbaum, who holds the hilariously elaborate title of Amazon Publishing’s East Coast Group publisher, says the deal was designed "to introduce authors to as many readers as possible." Paid Content's Laura Hazard Owen thinks the arrangement is more of "a workaround to Amazon’s Barnes & Noble problem," since the store has already said it will not carry hard copies of Amazon books if they aren't allowed to also sell digital copies as well. Amazon, meanwhile, in taking pains to note this is a "print-licensing partnership," which neatly defangs Barnes & Noble's threat, since the print copies aren't coming from Amazon Publishing , but rather a third party that they've licensed publishing rights to, That effectively renders Barnes & Noble's threat not to stock the books without an E-book quid-pro-quo moot. Of course, if Barnes & Noble wants to go to the mattresses against Amazon -- because of this or something else -- they can always refuse to stock all Amazon titles and in effect start the bookstore equivalent of the Cold War. [Paid Content]
We like to imagine an author scribbling away on a new manuscript in a cramped one bedroom apartment or an asylum or the home of their elderly parents, and stately and imposing real estate owned by famous writers shows. Hemingway's Key West vacation house (below) looks like a dream and has the best location of the bunch, while J.K. Rowling's castle in Scotland seem a tad over-designed, and Gore Vidal's former home embedded in a cliff over the Amalfi Coast seems impractical, especially if you're trying to carry groceries in. [Flavor Wire]
The Telegraph has a concise and informative look back at five of the nastiest book prize dust-ups. Following a year where it was difficult to award a literary prize without offending one of the nominees, someone else on the judging panel, or observers who get outraged at the thought of "readability" helping to choose the winner of the Man Booker Prize. Such spats pale in comparison to media critic Malcolm Muggeridge decision to step down from the judging panel in 1971, because he was "out and empathy" with them, and also "nauseated and appalled" by their general lousiness. Another great book award flameout came in 1994 when Booker judge Julie Neubarger called James Kelman's profanity-laced novel How It Was "[a] disgrace." When the book ended up the award, Neubarger "stormed out, saying, allegedly, 'Frankly, it's crap'." 1994 was also the year that judge James Wood tried to get Claire Messud's debut novel on the Booker shortlist, but forgot to tell his fellow judges that Messud is his spouse. [The Telegraph]