Monday, December 29, 2014

Written by Mrs. Bach: Probably “Pure Rubbish”!

In 2011, no less esteemed a firm than HarperCollins published Written by Mrs. Bach, a book that presented the view of Martin Jarvis, a professor at Australia’s Charles Darwin University.  Mr. Jarvis maintained that Anna Magdalena Bach, not Johann Sebastian Bach, who composed the Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello.  His bizarre conjecture has since been produced as a documentary film!

Needless to say, any number of experts have raised serious questions about both the research and the conclusions reached.  Indeed, cellist Steven Isserlis was outspoken:  “Anna Magdalena Bach did not write the Bach suites, any more than Anne Hathaway wrote Shakespeare’s plays, George Henry Lewes wrote George Eliot’s novels, or Freddie Starr ate his friend’s hamster.”  The Isserlis piece appears in The Guardian (29 Oct. 2014):

What bothers me is that such an apparently ill-founded hypothesis has made its way into print and subsequently to film.  How?  Are today’s publishers so desperately thirsty for what might once have been deemed a National Enquirer scoop that they must jump over such a wild hypothesis?

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

An Exception to the Rule?

Rachel Donadio recently wrote an article about Elena Ferrante (cf. The New York Review of Books 1 December 2014).  This piece is of interest because it ran contrary to so much of the prevailing trend in publishing.

These days writers are often encouraged to spend more time marketing themselves than they spend writing.  Many editors are more concerned with a prospective author’s “platform” (i.e., Internet presence – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.) and marketing plan than whether he/she can actually write.  Without “followers,” one is effectively assumed dead-on-arrival.

By contrast, “Ferrante is a pseudonym, has no public presence, has never been seen, gives her a strange place in Italy, a country obsessed with image, where if you aren’t on television, you barely exist.”  Wow! 

Friday, September 12, 2014

A Potentially Alarming Study

Caitlin Dewey's article, "Why You Might Want to Ditch Your E-reader and Go Back to Printed Books," published in the Washington Post on August 21st, cited a recent study on reading comprehension.  Although the results were certainly far from conclusive, evidence suggests that those turning the pages of "real" books understood the plot line considerably better than those reading the identical text on Kindle.  

The article did not provide actual numbers (which would certainly have helped!), and the sample was alarmingly small (only fifty people, total, with twenty-five each for the printed volume and the Kindle).  Still, the outcome is disturbing, and further study appears warranted.  

The text appears at .

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Digital News: A Library Without Books!

Florida Polytechnic University, the state's newest college, has a library, but the few actual (i.e., hard copy) volumes it possesses are kept off-campus at a shared facility. Instead, the university offers students access to books via their computers, readers, tablets, and other such devices.  In what may be a harbinger of things to come, FPU is among the first U.S. schools to utilize a fully digital library.

The following article, published by Reuters yesterday (25 August), may be of interest to readers:

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Publishing News: It’s a “Big Five” (Post-Script to 31 December 2012)

The proposed merger of Penguin and Random House was indeed completed last July, and the result is Penguin Random House (“the world’s first truly global trade book publishing company”).  Meanwhile, the rumored talks between HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster apparently continue. 

The new Big Five – including Hachette and Macmillan – publish approximately two-thirds of the titles released in the USA each year.  The ongoing trend of consolidation is not good for writers (or agents, for that matter), since the new conglomerates effectively forbid (or at least severely restrict) their imprints from bidding against one another.  Advances (for all save the Chosen Few “name” authors) are actually diminishing, as are the opportunities themselves.

Obviously some authors will gravitate toward “small” presses, though more and more will self-publish.  The latter trend, in turn, is a mixed blessing at best.  With so many more books, including e-books, published each year, the writer’s true talent will lie not with his/her skills at turning a phrase, but rather with the ability to “market” (presumably through publicity campaigns, social media networking, etc.). 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Is There Any Need For Comment?

Below is an excerpt from Val McDermid’s review of The Silkworm, by Robert Galbraith (aka JK Rowling), 18 June 2014:

Here are the self-published novelists and memoirists, gulled by creative-writing courses into thinking they're only rejected by traditional publishers because they're too talented, too challenging, too individual. Here are the editors, drunk and trepidatious; the agents, greedy and bullying; and the writers, driven alternately by ego and fear. Really, it's a miracle anything half-decent ever gets published at all.”

I think that touches a fair number of bases!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Whither e-books?

PricewaterhouseCoopers recently asserted that e-book sales will catch up with hard cover and paperback sales -- at least in the UK -- within the next four years.  The same source anticipated a substantial drop (more than 30%) for printed books during that same time period.

I suspect this prediction warrants an "unlikely" at best.  Digital book sales actually appear to have reached a plateau recently; the trend no longer points skyward.  Moreover, it is obvious that printed books are here to stay.  Nevertheless, the PWC prognostication is noteworthy, even if somewhat dubious. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

E-book Stats; Trend Continues To Point North

Some interesting statistics have recently emerged about both reading and the media through which it is accomplished.  According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 28% read an e-book in 2013 (up from 23% in 2012).  76% of Americans read at least one book – the average for a year remains around five! – though most read printed volumes.  Only 4% read e-books only, and many switched between the two media with apparent comfort.  
Also of interest:  approximately 50% of American adults now own either an e-reader or a tablet.  I would assume Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iPad remain the leaders of those two categories, respectively.  

Another party heard from?  Yes!  32% of e-book readers reported that they did so on their cell phones.  [This was up from 28% in 2012.]  

The age demographic is understandable.  In the 18-29 bracket, 47% read an e-book during 2013, up more than 50% from 31% in 2012.  The figures drop steadily across the decades, bottoming at 17% in the over-65 group.  

Finally, e-readers clung to a tiny advantage over tablet-readers.  Among those who read an e-book in 2013, 57% used a reader, while 55% used a tablet.  Those who used a cell phone, as reported above, weighed in at 32%, and those who read from a computer dropped to 29%. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Ghost Writer; Ghost Author

Deaf symphonist Mamoru Samuragochi, whose Hiroshima work became anthem for tsunami survivors, has been exposed as a fraud.  He had claimed to be deaf, prompting some to hail him as the "Japanese Beethoven."  Earlier this month the deception unraveled; most of Samuragochi's compositions were apparently written by Takashi Niigaki, who also asserted that Samuragochi isn't even deaf.

The hearing-loss issue aside, one must now reflect on the roles of both ghost writers and ghost (or "front") authors.  The harsh reality, particularly in the literary field, is that it's not so much how good a manuscript is, but rather how well the publisher can "sell" the author.  An excellent manuscript may ultimately face rejection, simply because the author lacks an Internet presence, doesn't blog actively enough, doesn't have a sufficient number of Facebook or Twitter fans/followers, etc.  A mediocre manuscript attributed to a celebrity or someone with sufficient name recognition may fly off the shelves.

Perhaps a new industry will be spawned -- the professional "front"-person.  We realize that celebrities churn out their memoirs at an appalling clip, though few have actually written them, and we are quite comfortable with the notion of ghostwriter.  What is so far-fetched about role reversal?  The person with the talent may simply lack the personality to "promote" the works, or even the glamor to get them sold.  However, a "ghost" might readily be found to serve in that capacity.  In a world turned upside down, why shouldn't this become an honorable calling?  I'd certainly be delighted if some suitable person could pose for and successfully promote any of my creative work, whether literary or musical.  

Monday, January 27, 2014

Hélène Grimaud Interview Released!

My interview with pianist  Hélène Grimaud has been published by Stay Thirsty -- my first with a pianist!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Reflections on HAMLET -- and HAMLET, REVISITED!

Hamlet continues to invite variants of the text as well as setting and modes of delivery.  Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1966) gave rise to the film version (1990).  Recent developments have been yet more audacious.

The Hamlet Project sets the drama in a bar.  Tim Donnelly’s New York Post article, “The Bar’s the Thing Wherein You’ll Catch Hamlet,” alludes directly to “[a] return to the days of the groundlings”; the New York Times’ Ken Jaworowski began his review, “Seeing Hamlet with a Twist or Even a Raised Mug,” with this candid confession:  “During my fifth beer, ‘The Hamlet Project’ got even funnier.”  [The latter article can be read at:
More recently came Annie Dorsen’s A Piece of Work.  Here the gimmick is Hamlet delivered at the mercies and whims of the computer.  A different, computer-altered text is transmitted to the actors via earpiece, and not even the actor in the title role knows precisely how the words may be scrambled.  Claudia La Rocco’s review, “To Thine Own Algorithm Be True,” appears at

Not to be outdone, the redoubtable Times next sponsored an Instagram contest, in which students uploaded 15-second videos of themselves delivering excerpts from the play.  A brief video of favorite submissions (“To be, or not to be,” delivered by respondents of both genders) is embedded within “Young Soulds Portray the Wit of Hamlet, with Brevity,” by Michael Roston and Erik Piepenburg:

Given these recent developments, I can but hope my own version, Hamlet, Revisited:  A Familiar Tragedy, but in One Act, will begin to garner more interest.  It is available via Kindle: