Between The Covers: 27/11/2011

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

Congratulations to the literary agents at AP Watt, who, as the quiz team The Agile Agents, won the PEN literary quiz at Riba on Monday evening.

AP Watt represent a roster of glittering talent, including Sebastian Barry, Helen Dunmore, Patrick Gale, Linda Grant, Nadine Gordimer, Michael Holroyd, Susie Orbach, Philip Pullman and WB Yeats. Several of their authors, including Daisy Goodwin, Derek Johns, Giles Foden and Louisa Young, along with the marvellous Martin Rowson, whose "Abuses of Literacy" you see on these pages, were on their winning team. While The Agile Agents answered the most questions on the day (including "Who was the last monarch who succeeded a monarch younger than himself?" and "Who was the last prime minister never to travel in an aeroplane?"), particular praise must go to Amanda Craig's team, The IndePENdent Authors, who managed to answer some of the toughest questions in the quiz. The only animal apart from humans that can catch leprosy in the wild, anyone? The element between uranium (92 on the periodic table) and plutonium (94)? Armadillo and neptunium, of course. It's easy when you know the answers. (The Independent and Independent on Sunday team came joint third, and more than £18,000 was raised on the night to support PEN's work.)

***

News just in from Germany, where the Catholic church has just decided to sell its profitable bookselling arm Weltbild, after everybody involved realised that the books it publishes are not necessarily Good ones. On its website, Weltbild boasts that every fifth book in Germany is sold through it. Those books include Boarding School For Sluts and Lawyer's Whore. The decision to shed the enterprise, which has annual sales of €1.6bn (£1.4bn), was made last week at a meeting of 27 bishops, but many thought that the writing was on the wall in September when Pope Benedict XVI urged the German Church to sacrifice worldly wealth and called upon Catholics to "energetically oppose the distribution of erotic and pornographic material".

***

We couldn't wait until December to tell you about theliterarygiftcompany.com, whose ranges of "banned books" jewellery, "upcycled" pages and "books turned into things" are the perfect gift for anyone who loves books but doesn't have any more room for even the tiniest, slimmest paperback in their house any more. All right, maybe the Penguin paperbacks tie (top, left) is taking a book obsession a little bit far, but "poetry instead of a card" is a lovely idea. Also look out for Penguin's latest postcard collection: One Hundred Writers in One Box: Postcards from Penguin Modern Classics (£14.99). If you buy someone this, at least you are pretty much guaranteed a thank you postcard.

***

Likewise, publishers at HarperCollins could not wait until 2012 to publish two rather gorgeous collections to mark the 75th anniversary of JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit, which was first published in September 1937. The Art of the Hobbit (£25) collects together 110 pictures by the author, and The History of the Hobbit, by Tolkien and John Rateliff (£35) is published in a single volume for the first time. You can also buy an anniversary boxed set of the four novels, or one small Pocket Hobbit (£9.99). "It looks really cute, and hobbits are little, so it's the sort of mad idea you have as a publisher," HarperCollins' estates publisher told The Bookseller. "I think it's going to run away."

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