Tagholm's Take - the week in books at 9 June 2017

Opinion - Publishing Friday, 09 June 2017

Roger Tagholm, in association with the London Book Fair, on a week dominated by sad news


Ah, those rickety wooden booths! Those pencils on bits of string! Those battered metal boxes! Voting must be the ultimate analogue experience. How very disappointing then that Shire Publications (now owned by Bloomsbury) does not have British General Election Voting Booths in its catalogue to sit alongside Cash Carriers in Shops (anyone remember pneumatic tube payment systems?), Old Letter Boxes, Old Telephones and the magnificent The British Milkman (sic). Surely a gap in the market (albeit not a very big one….).

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It has been a week of sad news inside and outside the book industry. Everyone feels the death of Ed Victor - he is one of those figures who has always been there, and it is hard to imagine the industry without him. There have been many tributes too, to the poet and novelist Helen Dunmore, who has died at the age of 64.

Publishing has also been mourning the death of Carla Poesio, one of the founders of the Bologna Children's Book Fair, who died at the age of 91. A writer and critic who wrote many essays on children's literature, in the early Sixties Poesio was asked by the Italian publisher Renato Giunti to join a delegation to Frankfurt to look at the possibility of a children's fair in Bologna. On the 50th anniversary of the original 1964 Children's Book Fair, she wrote: "The United Kingdom signed up a record number of participants, which pleased the organisers no end, partly because at the time Britain was widely recognised as one of the leading nations in publishing children's and young adult literature."

Bologna Exhibition manager Elena Pasoli said: "It's a terrible loss for the Bologna Childrens Book Fair that owes her so much. Carla was also a contributor to many Italian and foreign magazines, so bright and clever to the end of her life. She used to spend some months every year in London, where her son Giannandrea Poesio was a ballet critic. He died last February and Carla couldn't bear this and started thinking her life was a nonsense. Carla was a fundamental part of our history."

The industry also lost Avie Bennett, the 89-year-old Canadian entrepreneur who owned Canadian publisher McClelland & Stewart and who is remembered for hiring editor Douglas Gibson - who lured Alice Munro away from Macmillan Canada.

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BookExpo and BookCon wrapped up in recent days, with publishers at the former delighted to be mobbed by booksellers for galleys of forthcoming titles at the Adult Editors Buzz Panel. Crowds at BookCon were described as "mild insanity", and if even a small percentage of the "Consters" - at last, a collective noun for BookCon attendees, courtesy of Publishing Perspectives' Porter Anderson - buy books by their YouTube idols, then publishers will be even more pleased.

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Talking of YouTube idols, brace yourselves: "Chewbacca Mom" has a book on the way. Candace Payne is the mother of two from Dallas who laughed her way into global hearts with a video of her delight at her Chewbacca mask that has been seen by nearly 200 million people. Hmm, not quite sure what Zondervan's plans are for the title, but we all know what should happen when browsers open the book...

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During BookExpo, the American Booksellers Association held its annual meeting, at which ceo Oren Teicher had positive news. Indie book sales grew by almost 5% in 2016, and as of May 2017 were even up "slightly" on last year's increase. Although ABA membership was down by 18 on 2016, the number of bookstore locations increased by 10 to 2,321, meaning that established stores were doing well because some had opened extra outlets. Teicher said that this was the eighth year in a row that numbers had gone up, and he concluded: "I've said it before, but after more than 25 years working on your behalf, I'm more confident than ever, as I stand here today, that the best years of independent bookselling lie in front of us."

BookExpo also received this simple, all-important endorsement from Penguin Random House CEO Markus Dohle: "We need to have an event where the whole publishing community can come together."

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After this grim week, the importance of books in forging understanding of others is part of the theme of the first Empathy Day on 13 June, an initiative spearheaded by Miranda McKearney, founder of the Reading Agency. She describes the day as "a platform to emphasise the importance of empathy in our divided world, and raise awareness of the power of stories to develop it". Her EmpathyLab organisation has published a Read for Empathy guide [put together by Sunday Times children's book reviewer Nicolette Jones] of titles for 4 to 11-year-olds, and McKearney observes: "Helping children learn about empathy through books lays strong foundations for resisting prejudice and intolerance."

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