We recently offered a look at the odd history of the book blurb here at The Millions. Now the New York Times is looking at this peculiar custom, inviting four contributors to discuss their merits and pitfalls. Among them is our own Bill Morris, who revisits his 2011 essay “To Blurb Or Not To Blurb” about the dilemma he faced when asked to blurb a friend’s book.
PW points out yet another publishing industry totem being torn down by the rise of e-books, the first printing number, once a signifier of how “big” publishers and the media expected a book to be: “In an era when first printings are down because e-books can account for as much as 50% of sales on frontlist titles, the term ‘first printing’ sounds more and more out of place.”
Want a book blurb from Margaret Atwood? Expect a poem instead. Atwood has retired from the blurbing business and now declines in rhyming verse. “But now I am aging; my brain is all shrunk,/And my adjective store is depleted;/My hair’s getting stringy, I walk as though drunk;/ As a quotester I’m nigh-on defeated.” Pair with our essays on the blurbing blunder: a history of blurbs, blurbs as publicity stunts, and the fundamental question — to blurb or not to blurb?
Chad Post ran the numbers to calculate “the state of literature in translation today,” and in so doing he found that AmazonCrossing has been publishing more works of fiction and poetry in translation than any other press except Dalkey Archive. Additionally, the “overall number of works of fiction in translation being published in the U.S. is growing pretty nicely.” To get a full account of what’s coming out this year, check out his 2013 Translation Database.
This one is for all you antiquarians out there. The oldest known draft of the most widely read work in all of English literature, the King James Bible, has been discovered in the archives at Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge. William Shakespeare’s books have also sold a ton of copies, and here’s an essay from The Millions that imagines him as a kind of God, Himself.
Over at Salon, Joel Whitney explains how The Paris Review worked with the CIA and “served, in part, as a covert international weapon of soft power.” While the possibility is certainly tantalizing, it’s necessary to read Whitney’s article alongside Carolyn Kellogg’s piece in the LA Times, which notes how “the threads of the article … become unsupportably tenuous” as it carries on.