Books: Cover Stories

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SLIGHT EMBARRASSMENT at this week's WH Smith soiree to celebrate the shortlist for their 41st Literary Award. With Beryl Bainbridge confined with pleurisy, Alan Bennett poorly, and Julian Barnes and Will Boyd AWOL, it was left to Antony Beevor and Hilary Spurling to carry the flag. Sadly, neither Beevor's Stalingrad nor Spurling's The Unknown Matisse is available to shoppers at WHS, except for those lucky enough to be able to visit its Sloane Square branch. No one even seemed sure whether the shortlisting would change the situation. Meanwhile, Hatchards alone has sold over 1,000 copies of Stalingrad while Beevor's tiny local bookshop, Nomad of Fulham, has sold 100. Small wonder that many people don't consider WHS a bookshop, although chairman Jeremy Hardie this week said he wanted the chain to be seen as "a seller of serious books". But not a serious seller of books.

THE BRITISH Book Awards produced some popular winners on Thursday. Inevitably, Ted Hughes's Birthday Letters was named Book of the Year. Author of the Year was a recovered Beryl Bainbridge, who received a standing ovation for a speech she said was "written for last year's Booker". JK Rowling and Raymond Briggs also had their moments of triumph. There were puzzling moments, however: Ned Sherrin, introducing Sir Tim Rice, called him "the greatest lyricist of his generation". Discuss.

SEVERAL PUBLISHING folk have written memoirs but, while posterity is assured by the one copy in the British Library, they do not even reach bestseller lists in remainder bookshops. Now, the National Life Story Collection at the BL's National Sound Archive has embarked on a major oral history project, Book Trade Live. They must pick folk with lively minds and long memories so that what emerges is a red-blooded account of fear and loathing in Bloomsbury, detailing who fired, and who slept with, whom.

THE CITY of London is keen to dispel the notion that the closest its workers come to reading anything creative is a set of accounts. Businesses, including accountants KPMG, have joined forces with the Poetry Society to launch Poet in the City. The scheme, part of the National Year of Reading, aims to raise the interest rate in poetry and develop links between business and schools. John Mole, the first official poet of the City, takes up his post later this month; he will run workshops and "drop-in sessions" in schools and offices.

The Literator