The Literator in New York

AS NEW YORK swelters in temperatures of around 100 degrees and publishers prepare to head off for their summer houses, the rumour mill is briefly preoccupied by the notion that Rupert Murdoch is in negotiation with Bertlesmann to sell them 50 per cent of HarperCollins, the troubled publishing giant he bought in the boom days, paying more than for the UK operation alone. The story has got beyond the cocktail circuit and into the pages of the Wall Street Journal, forcing CEO Anthea Disney, recently in the news for cancelling scores of contracts, to say that "no deal is in the offing".

It's long been assumed that Murdoch will sell all or part of the publisher if the price is right. 20th Century Fox is also financially troubled but will remain in his portfolio, so cash raised from any deal on HarperCollins is said to be earmarked for it. And Murdoch is keen to hold on to those parts of the publishing operation that deal exclusively in Fox tie-ins.

Bertlesmann is about to appoint a new CEO to replace Mark Wossner who retires next year and it's thought the likely appointee is 45 year-old Thomas Middelhoff, at present in charge of corporate development and of Bertlesmann's global operation. Were any sale to go ahead, there would be numerous job losses on both sides of the Atlantic, with the NYC operation moving from its East 50s HQ to the Bertlesmann building in Times Square and the London one moving west from Hammersmith to Ealing, which is at least convenient for Heathrow.

TRAFFIC on Long Island came to a standstill last weekend as literary agent Ed Victor (favourite designer Armani, favourite car a Rolls Royce) threw a small party for his client Erica Jong. While her new novel, Inventing Memory: A Novel of Mothers and Daughters (published in Britain by Bloomsbury) has failed to chart so far in the US, the glitterati flocked to drink of Big Ed's best champagne in what he boasts is the oldest house on Long Island. Unusually for Victor, that's a true boast, for he had the 16th- century barn transported from England. The story, perhaps apocryphal, is that cars backed up some three miles from his driveway.

ANOTHER AGENT who's always in the news is Joni Evans of William Morris and he's been kept busy lately with the sale of a debut novel by an Atlanta- based commodities broker named Anne O Faulk. Holding Out is a Lysistrita for the millennium, a funny, feisty, feminist novel that even men can enjoy though they are the butt of the joke. For, as classicists will recall, the Aristophanes original is about a sex strike by Greek and Spartan men determined to bring their warring males to heel. In Holding Out, what sparks the action (or rather inaction) is the appointment of a Supreme Court Justice who drove his wife to suicide. The legendary Michael Korda of Simon & Schuster US coughed up $300,000 for the project while, in Britain, the book has gone to Jane Morpeth at Headline.

THE NEW YORK TIMES last week reported the findings of the latest Book Industry Study Group survey of American bookselling. The bad news is that sales of adult books in both paperback and hardback fell by 5.3 per cent between 1995 and '96, dipping to 459 million copies from a 1994 high of just over 500 million.

Meanwhile, New Yorkophiles are up in arms over the closure of the New York Bound Bookshop in Rockefeller Plaza, where it has been since 1989.

New York Bound, now outward bound - but to where? - first opened its doors more than 20 years ago at the South Street Seaport complex. Collectors of New Yorkana believe, probably rightly, that it is the only place to find everything about the city that never sleeps: maps, prints, books in and out of print - owners Barbara Cohen and Judith Stonehill seem to be able to supply just about anything. Customers are currently flocking to the store, which is selling off its stock prior to its mid-August close date. Books on the subway and politics are selling especially well, they report. Sadly, the shop may now be closed for ever - both Cohen and Stonehill say they can't face another move. Cohen has plans to begin work on a bibliography of all the books ever written about the city.

AS CHE Guevara's daughter Aleida joined Fidel Castro in a ceremony to mark the return of her father's remains to his adopted homeland from Bolivia, Castro's daughter, Alina Fernandez, a 40-year-old former model and PR executive, is preparing to promote the Spanish- language edition of her memoirs in the US. Alina: Memorias de la Hija Rebelde de Fidel Castro is already a bestseller in Spain. Alina left Cuba three years ago for America, presumably fed up to here with the life of deprivation her father's regime forced on her. Among other things, Alina recalls an early birthday present from Fidel: a doll replica of himself, complete with military uniform, medals and beard. She immediately ripped off the beard so that it looked more like herself.

1997 IS the 75th anniversary of the birth of Jack Kerouac, father of the Beats, and the 40th anniversary of the first publication of their Bible, On the Road. Nearly three decades after his death, Kerouac remains as influential as ever, discovered anew by successive generations and he has is own Web site. A movie is in production. Penguin US is publishing a commemorative hardcover edition of Road together with Some of the Dharma, which began life in 1953 as notes for Kerouac's Buddhist studies. Meanwhile, true aficionados can buy a three-CD boxed set, The Jack Kerouac Collection (Rhino Records) which features Kerouac himself reading poetry, as well as contributions from Zoot Sims, William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, now sadly departed for that great jazz cafe in the skyn

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