Disability Groups Respond to Concerns Over Kindle 2 Text-to-Speech Function

by Staff

Responding to assertions by the Authors Guild that Amazon's Kindle 2 device, with its text-to-speech function, violates audiobook rights, and Random House's subsequent deactivation of the function for its e-book titles, nine disability groups last week urged publishers to recognize the benefits of the software, which enables books to be spoken in a computerized voice, to people who are blind or suffer from dislexia or other disabilities, and even those who use English as a second language. 

Emily Perkins Wins Fifth Annual Believer Book Award

In the March/April 2009 issue of the Believer, Emily Perkins was named winner of the fifth annual Believer Book Award for her Novel About My Wife (Bloomsbury, 2008). The finalists, as selected by the magazine's editors—Heidi Julavits, Ed Park, and Vendela Vida—were Samantha Hunt for The Invention of Everything Else (Houghton Mifflin), Mary Ruefle for The Most of It (Wave Books), John Olson for Souls of Wind (Quale Press), Jim Krusoe for Girl Factory (Tin House Books), Tod Wodicka for All Shall Be Well; And All Shall Be Well; and All Manner of Things Shall Be Well (Pantheon), Toby Olson for Tampico (University of Texas Press), and Shannon Burke for Black Flies (Soft Skull).

Previous winners are Tom McCarthy (Remainder, Vintage Books, 2007), Cormac McCarthy (The Road, Knopf, 2006), Sesshu Foster (Atomik Aztex, City Lights, 2005), and Sam Lipsyte (Home Land, Picador, 2005).

The editors had also asked readers to fill out survey cards listing the three strongest works of fiction published in 2008. While these weren't considered for the Believer Book Award—a prize for which there is no submission or application process, beyond writing and publishing a novel that tickles the fancy of the editors—the results are nevertheless interesting, especially for the names of independent publishers that are acknowledged therein. Of the top twenty strongest fiction books, for example, nine were published by indie houses (although two of those titles were published by McSweeney's Books, and their popularity with readers of the Believer is no surprise):

2. Unlucky Lucky Days (BOA Editions) by Daniel Grandbois
6. Vacation (McSweeney's) by Deb Olin Unferth
8. Arkansas (McSweeney's, though a reprint is forthcoming from fellow indie Grove Press in June) by John Brandon
13. Bottomless Belly Button (Fantagraphics Books) by Dash Shaw
14. A Heaven of Others (Starcherone Books) by Joshua Cohen
15. So Brave, Young, and Handsome (Atlantic Monthly Press) by Leif Enger
16. How the Dead Dream (Counteroint) by Lydia Millet
19. The Drop Edge of Yonder (Two Dollar Radio) by Rudolph Wurlitzer
20. Ghosts of Chicago (Jefferson Press) by John McNally

Orion Announces Finalists for Book Award: It's True, No Fiction

Orion magazine today announced the finalists for the 2009 Orion Book Award, an annual prize launched in 2007 to recognize books of fiction and nonfiction published in the previous year "that deepen our connection to the natural world, present new ideas about our relationship with nature, and achieve excellence in writing." They are Amy Irvine for her memoir Trespass (North Point Press), Robert Macfarlane for his travelogue The Wild Places (Penguin) James Gustave Speth for his nonfiction book The Bridge at the End of the World (Yale University Press), Ginger Strand for her historical study Inventing Niagara (Simon and Schuster), and Terry Tempest Williams for her nonfiction book Finding Beauty in a Broken World (Pantheon).

The finalists were chosen from more than sixty nominations put forward by the board of advisors of the Orion Society, the nonprofit that publishes Orion; the magazine's contributing editors; and "a select number of colleagues." While plenty of good novels didn't make it to the finalist level, including Ron Rash's Serena, Kim Barnes's A Country Called Home (Knopf), and Peter Matthiessen's Shadow Country (Modern Library), readers can still vote for any of the nominees, including the finalists, in the 2009 Readers' Choice. Just don't expect to find any poetry on the list: Despite the fact that there are plenty of poetry collections that deepen our connection to the natural world (Jeffrey Yang's An Aquarium comes to mind; post a comment with others below) they aren't eligible for the Orion Book Award. 

Unlike some sponsoring organizations that stretch the suspense longer than Oscar season, the Orion Society will announce the winner in just one week, on March 27. The winners and finalists will be honored at a public event in New York City on April 15.

Creative Categories (and Finalists) for Indies Choice Book Awards Announced

If you think the typical contest categories are getting a little stale—it's a rare award that is given for anything other than "the best" in a specific genre or age group or level of career—you might want to consider the American Booksellers Association's inaugural Indies Choice Book Awards. The finalists in seven inventive categories, including Best Conversation Starter (Nonfiction) and Most Engaging Author, were recently announced, and owners and staff of ABA member bookstores are currently voting for the winners, who will be announced at BookExpo America in May.

Perhaps it's due in part to the award program's focus on titles that indie booksellers most enjoy selling that frees them up to be a little more playful with the categories—or maybe it's that there isn't a huge cash prize waiting for the winners at the awards ceremony—but the fine folks at ABA and the members who selected the finalists (Carla Jimenez of Inkwood Books in Tampa, Florida; Mitch Kaplan of Books & Books in South Florida and the Cayman Islands, Arsen Kashkashian of Boulder Book Store in Colorado, Valerie Koehler of Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston, Collette Morgan of Wild Rumpus in Minneapolis, Matt Norcross of McLean & Eakin Booksellers in Petosky, Michigan, and jury chair Cathy Langer of Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver) deserve a nod. 

Here are five of the seven categories (for the two picture book divisions, visit the ABA Web site) and the finalists:

Best Indie Buzz Book (Fiction)
City of Thieves by David Benioff (Viking)
The Given Day by Dennis Lehane (Morrow)
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (Dial)
Netherland by Joseph O'Neill (Pantheon)
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks (Viking)
Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri (Knopf)

Best Conversation Starter (Nonfiction)
American Buffalo by Steven Rinella (Spiegel & Grau)
The Forever War by Dexter Filkins (Knopf)
Hurry Down Sunshine by Michael Greenberg (Other Press)
A Voyage Long and Strange by Tony Horwitz (Holt)
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami (Knopf)
The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell (Riverhead)

Best Author Discovery (Debut)
Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith (Grand Central)
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (Knopf)
Mudbound by Hillary Jordan (Algonquin)
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski (Ecco)
The Story of Forgetting by Stefan Merrill Block (Random House)
White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (Free Press)

Best Indie Young Adult Buzz Book (Fiction)
Graceling by Kristin Cashore (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins)
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (Tor)
My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger (Dial)
Savvy by Ingrid Law (Dial)

Most Engaging Author (for "the author who is an in-store star with a strong sense of the importance of indie booksellers to their local communities")
Sherman Alexie
Michael Chabon
Ann Patchett
Jon Scieszka
David Sedaris
Terry Tempest Williams


Scibona Wins Young Lions Fiction Award

On Monday night, at a ceremony at the New York Public Library that was hosted by actor Ethan Hawke, Salvatore Scibona won the Young Lions Fiction Award for his debut novel The End (Graywolf, 2008). Scibona, who administers the writing fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, joins the company of Mark Danielewski, Colson Whitehead, Jonathan Safran Foer, Anthony Doerr, Andrew Sean Greer, and others who have received the ten-thousand-dollar award given annually to an American writer no older than thirty-five.

The finalists were Jon Fasman for The Unpossessed City (Penguin, 2008), Rivka Galchen for Atmospheric Disturbances (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008), Sana Krasikov for One More Year (Spiegel & Grau, 2008), and Zachary Mason for The Lost Books of the Odyssey (Starcherone, 2008). 

Scibona and Galchen were both featured in the July/August 2008 issue of Poets & Writers Magazine—or, as we affectionately refer to it, Marilyn. In his interview, Scibona offered the following advice for first-time authors: "Read. Write at the same time in the same place at least five days a week. Socialize. Don't give in to what Chekhov called 'the egoism of the unhappy.' Resist the blues—especially when they look infinite—by pointing your mind outward and doing something for another person. But—important!—sometimes just let them be the blues. Also, school the internal critic in all the dark arts of editorial sadism, but ignore it when it attacks you personally. It likes to pretend that it's the coolest, most professionaly guy in the room. In fact, it is a cynic and a savage."

Both Galchen and Scibona, incidentally, have the same agent: Bill Clegg of the William Morris Agency. 

Howard Junker Rescinds His Resignation as Editor of ZYZZYVA

by Staff

Six months after Howard Junker announced that he would be retiring, the editor of ZYZZYVA has rescinded his resignation. In a message posted last month on the journal's blog, Junker wrote that the decision was based on several factors, including his enduring love for the journal he's edited for the past quarter century, the inability to find an appropriate successor, and a change in his personal retirement plans. "My retirement kitty is not as robust as it once was," he wrote.

Obama Establishes White House Arts and Culture Post

by Staff

President Barack Obama last week created a new position to oversee arts and culture in the Office of Public Liasion and Intergovernmental Affairs. Kareem Dale, who was previously named special assistant to the president for disability policy, will hold the new position under senior advisor Valerie Jarrett.


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