Today in books and publishing: Raising James M. Cain's long lost novel; Neil Young wages Heavy Peace; nation's highest court to determine legality of reselling books; Penguin's performance.
Raising Cain. Fans of golden age pulp fiction got a nice surprise this year with the publication of James M. Cain's The Cocktail Waitress. Only the sketchiest of details were known about the book, and many thought that if it existed at all, The Cocktail Waitress would probably languish in some moldy file cabinet for eternity. But Hard Case Crime's founder and Cain disciple Charles Ardai did some digging, eventually located the manuscript in the files of a deceased Hollywood agent. "It was like a moment out of Indiana Jones—prying the lid off the sarcophagus, blowing off the dust," Ardai told The Millions' Bill Morris. "It was breathtaking. I was thrilled. To find new words from an author you thought would never speak again—it was magical." Ardai's own story happens to be just as interesting as the book's history. He began his professional life not in publishing, but in tech, helping to create a free email service in the late 1980s, Juno. Amazon's present-day CEO Jeff Bezos worked in the same office. But he left all that behind to focus on his true love: bleak, gritty crime novels of the kind that flourished in early 20th century America. But Morris wonders whether it's right to sate this hunger for unpublished noir. He finds that the book doesn't quite stack up to Cain's best work, like The Postman Always Rings Twice and Mildred Pierce. With that in mind, should Hard Case Crime have published Cain's novel without the writer around to give his consent? "I’m proud to publish it because of the exceptional parts and because of its historical value," says Ardai. "You publish it not to cash in, but because major writers deserve to have their entire catalog available not just to scholars, but to readers. And it’s a good read." [The Millions]
Neil Young cashes in with his new memoir. Neil Young isn't going to lie—he's only putting out his new memoir for the money. Chapter 7 of Waging Heavy Peace is titled "Why This Book Exists," and in it Young writes, "Remember the goose that laid the golden egg? This book is all about that." He wants to take some time off of touring to focus on his health and his high-fidelity audio player Pono. And, what the hell, publishers are handing out ridiculously huge advances like candy, so why not? The New York Times' Janet Maslin thinks the book is a bit rambling and unfocussed, but she enjoyed Young's frank and unassuming tone. "It is as charismatically off the wall as Mr. Young’s records," Maslin writes in her review. "And however privately calculating it may be, it seems completely free of guile." The book details Young's newfound sobriety, his worries about developing dementia, and his bitterness over the last book he endorsed about him. Using Jimmy McDonough's Shakey as a warning, Young advises any potential book subjects, "Just don’t hire some sweaty hack who asks you questions for years and twists them into his own version of what is right or wrong." [The New York Times]
Supreme Court to hear book reselling case. When Supap Kirtsaeng started reselling college text books purchased cheaply abroad to American buyers, he probably didn't expect the transactions to land him in the halls of the United States' highest court. But the Thai grad student studying in America now finds himself at the center of a bitter copyright war between publishers and retailer. Costco, eBay, Google, and many museums have filed statements of support for Kirtsaeng, while publishers are universally against him, with John Wiley & Sons acting as the prosecution. Kirtsaeng sold almost $1 million worth of Wiley text books through eBay, at a personal profit of $100,000. Publishers say this violates the copyright protections on their titles, while online retailers say that making such transactions illegal would, "threaten the increasingly important e-commerce sector of the economy." A New York court previously ruled that these transactions violated copyright law. [The Washington Post]
Recently merged publisher didn't do so great last year. Today was a good day for Penguin to officially merge with Random House. That huge news will likely overshadow its tepid earnings report, which also just happened to come out today. From January through September of this year, the publisher's revenues declined by two percent. There's a digital silver lining here, though, with ebook sales going up 35 percent year-over-year. [The Guardian]
An Adderall-addled "hurricane." If you're a fan of author Tao Lin's ironic, detached take on things, you might want to read his contributions to this Hurricane Sandy liveblog. And you might want to send him some food. After blowing through two boxes of cereal, some fig newtons, and his ration of raw/cashew-based ice cream, he writes, "Almost nothing from my 'Hurricane Sandy Shopping-Spree' remains." [Thought Catalog]
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.