Cover Stories: Penguin Great Ideas; Rock Lyrics; Post-Hutton Debate; Hutton Report Uncovered; Poets Agenda

The Literator
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The Independent Culture

* Helped by the Big Read, which highlighted many Classics and Modern Classics, Penguin last year grabbed a 10.8 per cent share of the book market, with consumer sales of £161m - second only to Random House. Penguin MD Helen Fraser has wondered how, in 2004, the publisher would plug the Big Read-shaped hole. Having brainstormed, she and her colleagues have come up with a "big think", officially titled Great Ideas. The initiative will launch in September, with 20 titles spanning the history of thought, from Seneca to Virginia Woolf and beyond. The central idea is to take the scholarly apparatus out of philosophy classics and publish them as easily digestible paperbacks at £3.99 a pop. Publisher Simon Winder points out that only in recent times have such books been treated as academic texts, when they were written to comfort and solace: "We're making 2000 years of human thought emotional again."

*A group of top-flight authors has been persuaded by a Brooklyn-based amateur rock band, One Ring Zero, to provide song lyrics. Among the 17 lyricists are Neil Gaiman, Dave Eggers and Margaret Atwood, as well as married couple Paul Auster (above) and Siri Hustvedt, residents of the writerly Park Slope district of Brooklyn. The band is now recording and their CD will partner a book of lyrics, As Smart as We Are, due in May from Brooklyn's indie Soft Skull Press - which itself sounds like a heavy metal band.

*The publication in Britain of Ron Suskind's book about ex-US Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, who described George Bush as "like a blind man in a room full of deaf people", can only add fuel to the fire burning under Tony Blair. The Price of Loyalty by the Pulitzer prize-winning Suskind caused a furore in the US, and is now available here from Simon & Schuster. An important contribution to the post-Hutton debate, it portrays a leader whose policy is decided on whim by a circle of ideology-driven favourites.

*After a week of wrap-around Hutton coverage, some of us may feel we've read enough. But anyone keen to make up their own mind might like to know that Uncovered Editions has this week published a 240-page abridgment of the good Lord's judgement, at £7.99. The company's series of key documents also includes the celebrated Denning Report on the Profumo affair (which also let the government off the hook) - and the Warren Commission on John F Kennedy's assassination.

*These days - if you believe the Hollywood hype - poets' lives and loves matter far more than their work. Yet Britain's leading poetry journals go on proving that the true excitement of verse comes from reading and writing it. One of the most distinguished, Agenda magazine (a home, among others, for Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney and Ezra Pound), has recently relaunched with a bumper issue celebrating the career of its late founder-editor, William Cookson. Poets featured range from Hughes and Heaney to John Burnside, Mimi Khalvati and Susan Wicks. Agenda subscriptions cost £28 for four issues, from The Wheelwrights, Fletching Street, Mayfield, East Sussex TN20 6TL (email: