Tagholm's Take: the news in books at 26 May 2017

Roger Tagholm
Opinion - Publishing Friday, 26 May 2017

Perkins award to Entrekin, Kogan Page's 50th: Roger Tagholm, in association with the London Book Fair, reports on this and other book trade news


Congratulations to Morgan Entrekin, ceo and publisher of Grove Atlantic, who is the recipient of this year's Maxwell E Perkins Award, given annually by New York's Centre for Fiction to honour "the work of an editor, publisher, or agent who over the course of his or her career has discovered, nurtured and championed writers of fiction in the United States".

It is named after the celebrated editor of F Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe. Perkins once - so the legend goes - had a confrontation with his ultraconservative boss, the publisher Charles Scribner. The latter was concerned by the number of four-letter words in Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms. As A Scott Berg recounts in his celebrated biography Max Perkins: Editor of Genius: "Perkins was said to have jotted the troublesome words he wanted to discuss - shit, fuck and piss - on his desk calendar, without regard to the calendar's heading: "Things to Do Today'. Old Scribner purportedly noticed the list and remarked to Perkins that he was in great trouble if he needed to remind himself to do those things."

The Centre for Fiction was founded merchants and clerks in 1820, before the arrival of public libraries, as the Mercantile Library. It changed its name in 2009, and today is the only non-profit literary organisation in the US solely dedicated to celebrating fiction.

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Congratulations also to Kogan Page, which celebrated 50 years of independent publishing this week with a reception at Skinners' Hall in the City, hosted by MD Helen Kogan. The publisher has just announced two timely titles: Cyberwars: The Hacks that Shook the World by former Guardian technology editor Charles Arthur, and Cyber Risk Management by Professor Richard Benham of the National Cyber Skills Centre. How has it managed to remain independent? Says Kogan: "Bloody-mindedness, resilience, opportunism - all those things and much more."

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There is a curious legal row in California concerning autographed books. To counter fraud, the state legislature has expanded regulations that used to apply to sports memorabilia to "all autographed items" with a value above $5. Now Bill Petrocelli, co-owner of Book Passage in the Bay Area, has filed a lawsuit against the state, arguing that the new regulations require an absurdly detailed "certificate of authenticity' (COA). Under the proposals, COAs for signed memorabilia, such as a book, would have to indicate whether the item was autographed in the presence of the dealer with the specified date and location and name of witness.

One could push this to even more absurd extremes. After all, Ian McEwan says he wrote Atonement, but did anyone actual witness him typing the manuscript?

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The Australian Nibbies, the Australian Book Industry Awards (ABIA), took place in Sydney on 25 May. It was announced before the evening that novelist Di Morrissey - long published by Pan MacMillan Australia - and the agent Margaret Connolly would be inducted into the ABIA's Hall of Fame. Morrissey receives the Lloyd O'Neill Award, which recognises the long service of outstanding individuals in the Australian book world (and is named after the former associate director of Penguin Books Australia, who died in 1992); and Connolly receives the Pixie O'Harris Award, which recognises excellence and dedicated service to Australian children's literature and is named after the prolific children's illustrator and author, who died in 1991.

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Tough news in Argentina, where the book market fell 40% in 2016, according to local consultancy Promage. There appear to be two principal causes of the downturn: the floating of the Argentine peso in international foreign currency exchanges, which resulted in devaluing the currency by nearly 50%; and the decision to cease almost all government purchases of textbooks (which represented more than $130m in sales in 2015). Summing up the market, Javier López Llovet, general director of Penguin Random House for Latin America and Argentina, said: "People keep buying books, but they are buying less. If, in 2015, they went to the bookstores and bought two, three books, now they buy one. If the economy of Argentina were better, we would do better."

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In this grim week in the UK, it was heartening to read some of the messages on social media in response to the suicide bombing in Manchester. The Turkish writer Elif Shafak tweeted: "Speechless in the face of such cruelty, cowardice, violence; a horrific attack targeting children. My thoughts with families in #ManchesterArena" The need for books, to aid understanding, has never been greater.

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