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On the record … OMA’s vast publishing output on show at the AA School, London. Photograph: Architectural Association

In Britain we’re sceptical of the idea of the architect as intellectual. Most people probably aren’t aware that there’s a whole realm of architecture that doesn’t involve erecting buildings. But from Vitruvius in the 1st century BC and Alberti and Palladio in the Renaissance to Le Corbusier in the 1920s, architects have always produced books, not just to publicise their work but to lay down the latest architectural rules.

Often these titles tend to be monographs. Light of text and glossy of photograph, they are hefty volumes, records of achievement – a chance for the architect to say “Look on my works, ye mighty, and leave them casually stacked on the coffee table”. But Rem Koolhaas’s books, produced with his Rotterdam-based practice Office for Metropolitan Architecture, are different, as a new show at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London’s Bedford Square demonstrates. On a plinth in the middle of the room sit 400 volumes bound together in black folders. They look like endless meeting agendas, but they are the complete works of OMA from 1978 to 2010. If you stood this object on the floor, it would be as tall as two people, one stood on top of the other. No wonder the show is called OMA Book Machine.


Justin McGuirk


David Steinberger of Perseus Books and Tina Brown of The Daily Beast (Photo: Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times)

Having ramped up her metabolism from magazines to online journalism with The Daily Beast, Tina Brown now wants to speed up book publishing.

In a joint venture with Perseus Books Group, The Daily Beast is forming a new imprint, Beast Books, that will focus on publishing timely titles by Daily Beast writers — first as e-books, and then as paperbacks on a much shorter schedule than traditional books.

On a typical publishing schedule, a writer may take a year or more to deliver a manuscript, after which the publisher takes another nine months to a year to put finished books in stores. At Beast Books, writers would be expected to spend one to three months writing a book, and the publisher would take another month to produce an e-book edition.


Motoko Rich
New York Times

The death of the editor Robert Giroux, whose distinguished career at the leading American publishers Harcourt and Farrar, Straus & Giroux led to the first appearance in print of writers such as Jack Kerouac, Flannery O’Connor, Susan Sontag and Robert Lowell, provides an opportunity to reflect on the pivotal importance of publishing’s back-room alchemists.

Obituaries may have reported Giroux’s most celebrated near misses – Kerouac’s On The Road, which caused consternation when it was delivered on a 120-foot scroll, and The Catcher in the Rye, by J D Salinger – but, of course, his successful commissions vastly outweighed such momentary mishaps (and, to be fair, most editors would raise their eyebrows at a writer who, like Kerouac, insisted that their novel had been dictated by the Holy Ghost and was thus beyond editorial suggestion).

Giroux’s lasting contribution, though, beyond the nurturing of any one writer or book, was perhaps to personify the joys of a life spent with a red pen in one hand and a stack of promising, but unpolished, manuscripts under the other. Unlike his more outgoing partner, Roger Straus, Giroux was keener on sticking closer to the sentences on the page.

At a recent party in London to launch a Random House imprint, Square Peg, its publisher likened the business of getting books into print with that of appearing on the television programme Dragons’ Den – complete with rather amusing parallels between various publishing industry high-ups and the hard-nosed characters from the business world who make or break the desperate entrepreneurs paraded before them.

There were probably few editors in the room who didn’t experience a pang of recognition – the commercial demands and the ferocity of publishing houses’ sales and marketing departments are commonplace nowadays.

The books business, of course, couldn’t thrive without both its creative and more financially minded talents – there’s no point in perfecting the metaphors if there’s not enough money to pay the printer.

But there is something special about the peculiar skill of editing – which requires the patience to pore over a succession of drafts and redrafts until no further improvement seems possible, plus the tact integral to encouraging and containing writers (rumoured, occasionally, to be highly strung creatures) and, finally, the self-effacement to bring to fruition someone else’s work without much public recognition.

Much is made, in the age of online democracy, about the probable demise of the editor – about letting the work speak for itself without mediation or hindrance. Whether the unexpurgated internet can ever produce a Kerouac or a Lowell won’t, one suspects, be known for a long time yet; and maybe editors and cyberspace aren’t incompatible.

But if the life of a dedicated and sensitive editor shows us anything, it must be that even books by the most brilliant of writers are far more collaborative than we allow. As Giroux recollected saying to the not entirely easy-going writer Djuna Barnes, “You have to trust someone, Miss Barnes. Why not trust me?”

Alex Clarke
The Guardian

When we look at a book, its cover tells us what to expect. A pink paperback featuring a smiling young woman is most likely a female-centric summer read, whereas a gun on a black background is probably a murder story. A few simple aesthetic rules narrow our options, make life easier and ensure none of us has to wander Waterstone’s for hours, wailing in confusion. And yet the rules seem to be changing.

Having cottoned on to the fact that chick lit books sell like cupcakes, publishers are now adding chick lit-style covers to any book written by a woman whether it fits the genre definition or not.

Fay Weldon has spoken out against the use of chick lit branding on her books as she feels it’s misleading to readers. And I’ve talked to several authors of contemporary fiction who hate the way their books have been similarly marketed: one pleaded with her publisher to change her covers, to no avail.

Instead, books aimed at women are becoming increasingly homogenised, girly and bland-looking.

Rosy Thornton’s Hearts and Minds has been described as a book which “tackles some very pertinent contemporary issues in education as well as [a] tangle of moral dilemmas” in a large scale, 19th century-style drama. It sounds positively Dickensian, and yet it would be hard to find a book that looked more like a light romantic comedy.

Except perhaps for Sue Hepworth’s Zuzu’s Petals. A warm, empathetic novel that poignantly portrays the pain of losing a parent and the anxieties of finding love later in life, its cover makes it look like it’s about garden parties and designer clothes.

When Emma Barnes of Snowbooks, which publishes Zuzu’s Petals, blogged here last year, she said that, “We need [a cover] to be reminiscent of all the things it’s like so that its potential readership can pick it out of a line-up.” While this attitude makes sense, I think publishers have taken it to extremes. Keen to make new books look like old favourites, the slightest similarities between authors have been over-emphasised, giving the impression that each book is the same as every other.

From the covers, Zuzu’s Petals looks strikingly similar to Petite Anglaise, which in turn looks like Emily Giffin’s latest, Love the One You’re With, and yet there is no link between these three books that I can think of, other than they were all written by women under 60. Which seems a pretty tenuous reason for their books to look so alike. If you’re a woman releasing a book, then, you should apparently expect pale colours, swirly writing and an insipid tag line – whether your story is a moving story about grief, a blog-turned-bestseller about life in Paris or a potential chick lit classic.

But this affliction doesn’t only blight women who write. Male authors who create sympathetic female characters are also at risk. Douglas Kennedy’s work is frequently lauded for its intelligence and vision, yet his novels all feature non-descript pictures of wistful-looking women and the ubiquitous flowing script that denotes a female-friendly beach book. (The women on his covers are even sitting on beaches, to really hammer the message home …)

I hope publishers will soon realise that their tactic isn’t working and could, in fact, backfire badly. If all book covers look the same, then none stand out. And if we know that how a book looks is no indication of its content, we might just become so dispirited that we bypass the bookstore and rent a DVD instead.

Diane Shipley
The Guardian