Between The Covers: 22/05/2011

Your guide to what's really going on in the world of books
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The Independent Culture

*At the recent World e-Reading Congress in London, the big topic was piracy, which looks set to do for publishing what it did for the music industry back when illegal downloading was first invented and people who called themselves music lovers started believing that all their favourite artists ought to start working for free.

(A survey last week showed an alarming increase in illegal downloading of books – aka stealing – among women over 35, one in eight of whom has stolen literature.) Pan Macmillan's digital director Sara Lloyd suggested: "If we can get across the human aspect, actually talk about the author as the human face who has put this piece of work together, that's the way forward." So, put it this way: yes, free books are nice, but do you really want to be responsible for making Alan Bennett or Margaret Drabble cry?

*They can download all the stolen books they want, but users of Kindles and tablets and the like won't necessarily get the best book experience. I'm told by Persephone Books, which beautifully reprints neglected classics from 20th-century (mostly women) writers, that the end papers in the new collection of Diana Athill's stories, Midsummer Night in the Workhouse, are a reproduction of Athill's curtains. "All our end papers are based on fabrics," I'm told, "usually from the same date as the book. But Diana told us that she really loved these curtains from 1970, so we're stretching a point." The first person to write to the Literary Editor at the IoS's address and promise never to download a book illegally will win a copy of the book and discover what a great writer's tastes in soft furnishings once were.

*Left your revision till the last minute again? You're not alone. Thanks to Philip Stone, the charts editor at The Bookseller's information service, First Edition, for pointing out that the title with the fastest rising sales in its "Accelerators" chart a week ago was John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men (inset). The book receives an even bigger boost each September, he says, at the start of the academic year, but May always sees a spike as students and parents "snap up copies of the GCSE English Literature set text for some last-minute exam cramming".

*Readers who had doubts about the pre-royal wedding timing of Monica Ali's latest novel Untold Story, which imagines that Princess Diana faked her death in 1997 and tells the story of her life as an anonymous woman in middle America, stop reading now before we really upset you. Former tabloid picture editor Ron Morgans has just rushed out a thriller called Murder at the Royal Wedding (inset), which ... well, you can figure it out. "Since the books [sic] launch I've received emails from people saying that it's in bad taste and poorly timed", writes a frantic PR on his behalf. "Having covered high profile events for a number of papers for so many years I knew that the royal wedding would be a dramatic occasion and decided it would make the ideal location for a modern thriller ..." And people wonder why journalists and flacks have a bad name.

*Thanks to for its list of "40 literary terms you should know", from aphorism to verisimilitude. Our favourite is the "literary agent hypothesis", which posits that "authors of fiction serve as 'literary agents' to real events, changing around the reality to make for a more compelling narrative." A bit like tabloid picture editors, then, only with better PR.