Between The Covers: 23/01/2011

Your weekly guide to what's really going on inside the world of books

Promoting this weekend's hottest film, Black Swan (reviewed this week by Nicholas Barber and summarised by another IoS colleague as "the female Fight Club, basically"), its star Natalie Portman, has been seen about town sporting a Lolita handbag.

Not a girlie little Hello Kitty affair, we mean, but a mini clutch made by the designer Olympia Le-Tan out of a real hardback copy of the Nabokov classic, and costing $1,330 (£840). Le-Tan is apparently the go-to gal for bookish A-listers: Harvard-educated Portman is a fan, and Clémence Poésy (In Bruges; Gossip Girl) carried Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont's La Belle et La Bête to last year's premiere of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

The knowing, bookish reference has been de rigueur among literate film-makers almost since Marilyn Monroe "accidentally" allowed herself to be photographed reading James Joyce's Ulysses during a break in filming The Misfits. In the famous nudie mirror scene in Eyes Wide Shut, Stanley Kubrick slid a biography of Lord Longford among a pile of books on the dressing table – apparently to annoy Longford after he publicly disapproved of the smutty bits in Kubrick's Lolita. (Peter Stanford's Longford biog is third from the top, under a copy of Alan Bullock's Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives.)

A memorable book scene from the movies was at the end of Notting Hill, in which Julia Roberts's character is seen lying with her head in Hugh Grant's lap on a park bench as he reads Louis de Bernières' Captain Corelli's Mandolin. That turned out to be an early plug for Working Title's 2001 film version of Captain Corelli's Mandolin, which, in turn, turned out to be terrible.

So, is Portman trying to tell us something? Unlikely. Not only is she slightly wrong now for the role of Lolita; she also turned down the part when she was asked to play it in Adrian Lyne's 1997 film of the book. Dominique Swain played Lolita instead, opposite Jeremy Irons as Humbert Humbert. On the other hand, aged 29 and pregnant, Portman would be just right to play Lolita as she appears at the end of the novel. Perhaps the book bag is a hint, after all.

***

Has Alastair Campbell's new career as a writer of saucy novels made him go a bit soft on the old media management? Copies of his latest book, Diaries, Volume Two: Power and the People, were subject to a strict embargo imposed by publishers on newspapers – but not, apparently on Waterstone's bookshops, which started selling it days before publication, thereby rendering the embargo null and void. Publisher Hutchinson claims that it has an "agreement" with bookshops, but a spokesman for Waterstone's insists that it was not asked to sign an embargo. Maybe what they need here is someone with some kind of media strategy....

***

Bob Dylan has signed a six-book, eight-figure deal with Simon & Schuster, according to Crain's New York Business, which will include two sequels to his rather brilliant Chronicles: Volume One, as well as another book based on his radio talk show. Sorry, but he's still got nothing on Leonard Cohen, who has so far published six volumes of poetry, two novels and four other books, including psalms and drawings. That said, Cohen has admitted that he uses a rhyming dictionary to write his songs. Perhaps thinking up your own rhymes ("You speak to me. In sign language. As I'm eating a sandwich") takes a lot longer.

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