An enjoyable and unusual project, this one. In 2008, at HarperCollins, we worked with Nintendo to create 100 Classic Book Collection, the first ebooks produced for a hand held games console. Nintendo created faithful digital facsimiles of our Collins Classics range, which were published between the 1920s and 1980s; we also commissioned a range of new material to complement each of the books.
100 Classic Book Collection sold several hundred thousand copies in the UK and Australia; in 2010 it was updated and re-released in the United States as 100 Classic Books, where it enjoyed similar success.
BookArmy was a community, recommendation and reviews site for book-lovers worldwide. Similiar in nature to Goodreads and LibraryThing, BookArmy gave readers a place to discuss books, recommend great reads and engage with favourite authors. Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger described it as a “digital disrupter”, covering its niche “with conviction, range, depth and passion.”
I managed Bookarmy from February 2009, when my employer HarperCollins took a large stake in the start-up, until June 2010 when I left the company. The site was shuttered in 2011.
I always thought I had the measure of symmetry. Don’t get me wrong - I’ve never been a fan of algebra, and I’m regularly stumped by long division, but symmetry? Shapes and mirrors, right? I think I even know what tessellate means.
And yet part way through his enthralling lecture on the history (and future) of symmetry, mathmetician and author Marcus de Sautoy asks how many symmetries a Rubik’s cube has - and not only do I not have an answer, I don’t even understand the question. It’s 2.1×1024, by the way, and I couldn’t have been more confused if he’d told me the answer was brown.
Clearly there’s much to learn - and Marcus is an excellent guide. De Sautoy’s fascinating lecture, and his book, Finding Moonshine begins with the intriguing story of Evariste Galois. Rejected by the mathematical community, and aged just twenty years old, Galois met his death in a duel in Paris - the cause of which remains unknown - leaving behind a stunning and prodigious body of work in the field of symmetry, and a theory that now bears his name.
It ends, two hundred years later, with The Monster - the latest, most alarmingly named development of Galois theory. The Monster is the most complex symmetrical object yet discovered - an object which can only exists in 196,883 dimensions - and which boasts more symmetries than there are atoms in the sun.
No, I don’t understand either - but De Sautoy’s passion for the subject is abundant, and incredibly infectious. His lecture conveys brilliantly the excitement of working at the very forefront of modern mathematics - and introduces us to some of the very quirky characters who’ve been similiarly drawn the to the ‘moonshine’ surrounding the many remaining enigmas of The Monster.
Literature and symmetry make unusual companions - never fully forgiven for its part in the worst rhyme in English literary history, Thomas Mann bizarrely claimed to find in symmetry ‘the very marrow of death’. Marcus de Sautoy might just be the man to put the record straight.
Sanjeev is best known as a writer and performer of the TV shows Goodness Gracious Me and The Kumars at No. 42, but this year has been on our screens in India, travelling back through one of the world’s fastest developing nations to find his father’s roots in Punjab.
We chatted half an hour before his appearance at the Literary Festival and talked India, festivals and why books are better than film…
At the Oxford Literary Festival I was pretty surprised to run into Dragon’s Den winner (and forthcoming Collins author) Levi Roots at an event with Dragon Peter Jones - and even more surprised to find them deep in conversation with legendary four-minute-miler Sir Roger Bannister.
Things have clearly moved quickly for the musician, entrepreneur and now celebrity chef since the dragons bought into his Reggae Reggae Sauce… While Roger disappeared (at speed) I dragged Levi into the Green Room for a chat about his million selling sauce, his new book and the forthcoming Reggae Reggae Car - click the button to listen in. Rastafari Bless!
Frank McCourt, the Pulitzer prize winning author of Angela’s Ashes, ‘Tis and Teacher Man came in to see the Press Books team this week - and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to pose some questions of my own in the Filing Cupboard.
After a life spent teaching in New York, Frank was sixty-six when he finally completed a memoir of his Irish childhood, Angela’s Ashes, which scooped the Pulitzer and went on to sell more than four million copies worldwide.
After two further biographies, Frank’s new book Angela and the Baby Jesus now presents another true story from the McCourt family: a christmas tale for adults and children in two editions, both beautifully illustrated by two very different artists.
We sat down straight from a mammoth book signing to talk about the books and about his new efforts in fiction; about why it took fifty years for his writing ambitions to be realised in such dramatic fashion; and about what it’s really like for a first time writer to be catapulted straight into America’s literary elite…
Packed with a cast of eccentric characters, not to mention the peculiar voices of more than thirty different narrators, Maynard and Jennica is a very modern New York love story. Rudy’s been a regular contributor to Fifth Estate: when he passed through London last week I dragged him into the filing cupboard for a conversation, and for what must be one of our most unusual readings…
Anton appeared at the festival to discuss Empire’s Children, a book and documentary series that follows six prominent Brits searching for their family roots across the Commonwealth.
Along with his earlier book in theWho Do You Think You Are series, Anton is swift becoming a household name amongst the rising tide of amateur genealogists. But in an intensely varied twenty year writing career he’s produced more than 15 books, ranging from contemporary history to crime fiction, and including The Journey Back from Hell: which recorded the personal stories of more than 100 survivors of the Nazi concentration camps.
We sat down in the Kandinsky Hotel to talk family trees, bare knuckle boxers and the Romanian secret police…
It’s been around for ninety years, it’s still in print and they’ve just made the film. So if you’ve not heard of Alain-Fournier’s Le Grand Meaulnes, there are only two reasons for it – and both are in this sentence.
Le Grand Meaulnes might be France’s answer to To Kill A Mockingbird – a crossover classic that’s been studied in French schools for more than half a century. Across the channel most middle class homes have a dog-eared copy somewhere between the TinTin and the Asterix; most are lavishly illustrated with dirty schoolboy doodles. Meaulnes is a country teenager at the turn of the century whose single, strange encounter with an anonymous girl shapes, and warps, his adult life. It’s a prototype Great Gatsby; it’s High Fidelity for the Lost Generation. But the real fascination of the book lies in the author’s own story - the strange story of a man who spent several years of a very short life searching for a woman he once met in the street.
So can a book that’s loved by millions still be a ‘secret weapon’? Perhaps not – but then Le Grand Meaulnes is probably the most secret famous book ever. In translation it’s had more titles than Prince Charles – The Wanderer, The Lost Domain – but on the whole British publishers have retained the French title; an unpleasant mouthful of vowels that goes down like a lead balloon in a country still allergic to books from abroad. “Le Grand what?” friends mumble, politely. And you end up writing it on a beer mat and thrusting it into their reluctant hands and realising you’ve just become that scruffy kid at college who kept telling people they had, just had to read Nabakov, or Ionesco, or Houellebecq.
Where I drink, discussing French novels is about as cool as throwing up at the bar. “It’s MEAULNES,” you say. “Don’t pronounce the S. Or the E or the A, I reckon. Just say Muln and you’re pretty much there. And you will have to ask for it, because ‘Alain-Fournier’ is a weirdly hyphenated pseudonym, not a surname, which means it confuses booksellers, so if you can’t find it under A make sure you look under F. No, the author’s real name is Henry. No, I read it in English. No, it’s not difficult – Nick Hornby likes it. Shall I get another drink?”
Truth be told, I’ve learnt to keep my mouth shut. So I’m incredibly pleased – and not in the least surprised – that this little classic is finally getting a proper English title and a proper author’s name. The Lost Estate comes out in May, now under the authorship of Henri Alain-Fournier: a curious blend of the writer’s real and false identities which should at least mean the book will no longer rock up under F. No cross track billboards, no half price store promotion; the publishers are just giving a wonderful novel an author you can recognise and a title you can say. It’s great marketing, that.