Cover Stories: Digital publishing; Vigor Mortis; Proust retold

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The Independent Culture

Undeterred by the iffy results achieved so far from HarperCollins's investment in e-books, Penguin has gone down the same digital route. From September, "ePenguins" will appear on the Web. An initial list of 200 Penguin titles (from Emma to English Passengers) may be downloaded at a price 20 per cent below the print version. Access will be via the main website, Penguin.co.uk. Penguin Press MD Andrew Rosenheim understands e-publishing, but he must know that some wise heads think the HarperCollins "Perfect Bound" e-book range a folly. Both giants have their eye on the future, when (or if) a truly user-friendly device will allow punters to read on screen, at length, for pleasure. For now, you can't download any e-book onto a hand-held PC. Penguin admits that "sales are not expected to be significant for some time". They can (and will) say that again.

* Death is, with taxes, one of life's only certainties, yet we all shy away from the subject. Vigor Mortis by Kate Berridge (Profile) aims to help break the taboo, examining ritual and fashion in death, its sociology and psychology. Meanwhile, Hodder has just signed up the memoirs of Bermondsey undertaker Barry Albin-Dyer, who entered the family business 30 years ago and has despatched Donald Pleasance, as well as a number of local criminals. The book, to be published in the spring as Don't Drop the Coffin (the advice given to new entrants to the profession), will lift the lid on the business and examine such issues as cryonics. It is thought that Albin-Dyer provided the model for the undertaking firm featured in Graham Swift's Last Orders, currently being filmed.

* Alice Randall hit legal trouble when she tried to publish The Wind Done Gone, a retelling of the Margaret Mitchell's original from Mammy's perspective. Jacqueline Rose has wisely chosen to reach back a bit further into literary history. Albertine (due from Chatto in October) retells Proust's A la Recherche du Temps Perdu from the young woman's view. Rose, professor of English at Queen Mary College, London and the partner of writer-therapist Adam Phillips, has written critical books, but this is her first novel.

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