Friday High Five: Publishing Euphemisms, VIDA Re-count, Cooking with Poo
We share five of our favourite links to news, reviews or articles that we’ve discovered over the past week.
Cooking with Poo and the Great Singapore Penis Panic
The whimsical Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year was first awarded in 1978, to Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice. The shortlist for this year’s prize has just been announced, with contenders including Cooking with Poo, Estonian Sock Patterns All Around the World and The Great Singapore Penis Panic: And the Future of American Mass Hysteria. The full list, and explanations of just what these books are about, is at the website of The Bookseller, the book trade magazine that awards the prize.
Sh*t Publishers Say
Recently, we shared a Ron Charles video, ‘Sh*t Book Reviewers Say’, poking fun at typical reviewers' clichés, like ‘Kafkaesque’.
This week, the Guardian ran a blog by Jonny Geller, an agent and managing editor at Curtis Brown, who confessed ‘I think I might have done something really stupid on Twitter’. Using the hashtag #publishingeuphemisms, he translated the real meanings of the phrases publishers use when they’re rejecting authors. Among them: ‘this is too literary for our list’ (it’s boring); ‘the novel never quite reached the huge potential of its promise’ (your pitch letter was better than the book); and ‘sadly we are publishing a book similar to this next spring’ (it too has a beginning, middle and end).
Want more? Last year, a US website published the euphemisms used by some of the business’s most influential, like Bloomsbury’s Peter Ginna (‘acclaimed’ = ‘poorly selling’).
VIDA: The (Re)count
Next Thursday (8 March) is International Women’s Day. One of the hot topics of last year was the underrepresentation of women in the literary pages – sparked by statistics gathered by US organisation VIDA. One year on, VIDA has posted an update, looking at the past year in books pages and lit mags. Sadly, we’ve still got a long way to go, baby.
Website Flavourwire did its own math and estimated that ‘the vast majority’ of the publications’ statistics hover ‘at around 25% female, 75% male’. For example, in the London Review of Books, 29 of the book reviewers were female and 155 were male. Of the books reviewed, 58 authors were female while 163 were male. And in the New York Times book review section (one of the lesser offenders), 368 book reviewers were female and 448 were male; while of the authors reviewed, 273 were female and 520 were male.
Novelist Kirsten Tranter wrote for us last International Women’s Day on how the issue has played out in Australia. On 8 March this year, we’ll be publishing an update from her on what’s happened in our literary pages and on our prize circuit in 2011 – and what happens next. Stella Prize committee member Christine Gordon will deliver our Lunchbox/Soapbox at 12.45pm on the same day, on the topic Feminism is Personal. And in the evening, war conflict reporter Eliza Griswold will talk about her book The Tenth Parallel in another free Wheeler Centre event, at 7.15pm. Bookings recommended.
Lionel Shriver on the ‘F’ word
Lionel Shriver is always happy to wade into controversy. In the lead-up to International Women’s Day, she’s published an article on why, though ‘on a strictly definitive level, I am a “feminist”’, she’s uncomfortable with the label.
‘On the connotative level … the word gives me the willies … Self-confessed feminists are, it is broadly accepted, humourless, earnest, touchy, on the lookout for slights, sexless, and probably ugly. They are party-pooping pills who don’t know how to have a good time or take a joke. They are a big drag. Little wonder that younger women these days run a mile from the word.’
Shriver believes that feminists should be focusing on the big issues, like ‘genital mutilation, forced marriage, honour killings, and marital rape’ rather than being ‘tight-arsed and prim’ about things like raunch culture.
The Writer’s Job
Tim Parks has a terrific piece on the New York Review of Books blog about the professionalisation of writing as a career, from the advent of studying (rather than simply reading) books in the 20th century, through agents, writers’ festivals and finally the 21st-century expectation that authors will promote themselves on Facebook and Twitter.
Parks traces the explosion of creative writing courses (and would-be authors) from the 1980s onwards back to studying books: readers ‘supposed that if you could analyse it, you could very probably do it yourself’.