Today in books and publishing: Richard Burton's diaries; RIP Eva Figes; Iran's booth at the Frankfurt Book Fair; celebrities read Moby Dick.
Richard Burton's diaries aren't kind to Elizabeth Taylor. Yale University Press will publish the diaries of movie star Richard Burton in October, and The Telegraph is publishing excerpts in advance. Many of the entries touch on Burton's strained relationship with Elizabeth Taylor. In a passage from June 2, 1965 Burton casually recounts a fight: "Had a good row with Burt [Elizabeth Taylor] and accused her, among other things, of lousy taste. She accused me among other things of snobbery. I said the only thing we had in common was Yahtsee." Four years later he cruelly tosses off, "Elizabeth is an eternal one night stand. She is my private and personal bought mistress." Burton mostly has nasty things to say about Taylor, but every so often he'll wax romantic, as in this entry written in Paris on November 19, 1968: "I have been inordinately lucky all my life but the greatest luck of all has been Elizabeth." [The Telegraph]
An all-star cast reads Moby Dick. When Herman Melville died in 1891, he was so unpopular that The New York Times didn't even get his name right in the obituary. Well, the author's celebrity quotient has risen considerably over the last 120 years, because a relatively star-studded cast of contributors to Moby Dick Big Read, a project conceived by artist Angela Cockayne and writer Philip Hoare that will post 135 free, downloadable audio files, each featuring someone reading a chapter from Melville's hefty 1851 novel. Already, there's a chapter up featuring the voice of Tilda Swinton, and future contributors will include Stephen Fry, Sir David Attenborough, Benedict Cumberbatch. The chapters will be paired with a visual artwork—the names of the slate artists slated are also pretty familiar (Anish Kapoor, Gavin Turk, and Susan Hiller). [Moby Dick Big Read]
Iran's controversial presence at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Germany's annual book trade fair—the biggest in the world—frequently provides a platform for authors and publishers targeted by repressive regimes like the Islamic Republic of Iran. But they also insist on giving a space to "everyone who meets the terms of business," even if they happen to be regime-controlled publishing houses from Iran like Aryan Thinker or Sacred Defense. "So far we have managed to get a 96-square-meter pavilion located near the pavilions of European countries while the previous year the space was about 80 square meters," says Mohammad Azimi, former vice minister in the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance who will join a regime delegation to the book fair. Frankfurt Book Fair officials say they have a "responsibility to support the development of free structures in the field of publishing and literature all over the world ... This necessarily includes convergence via a sustained dialogue with precisely those countries in which the publishing of books and content meets with political difficulties." [The Wall Street Journal]
Bookstore sales rose this July. Bookstores fared better in July 2012 than they did in July 2011, according to Census Bureau information. Sales were up 1.2 percent, totaling $981 million. Bookstores have sold 0.6 percent more merch thus far in 2012 than they did in 2011 over the same time frame. [Shelf Awareness]
The stakes in the Rushdie fatwa just got a bit higher. Since Rushdie had exactly nothing to do with Innocence of Muslims, the 15 Khordad Foundation has upped the reward on killing author Salman Rushdie by $500,000. The fatwa against Rushdie goes back to 1989, when Iran's then-leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini declared the portrayal of Muhammad in The Satanic Verses blasphemous and called for Rushdie's murder. The 15 Khordad Foundation seized on the recent uproar over an anti-Islam film to raise the bounty on Rushdie from $2.8 million to $3.3 million. "As long as the exalted Imam Khomeini’s historical fatwa against apostate Rushdie is not carried out, it won’t be the last insult," says the foundation's head Ayatollah Hassan Saneii. Rushdie's memoir of living under constant threat of death, Joseph Anton, comes out this week. [The Washington Post]
Feminist author Eva Figes dies at 80. The author of feminist books like Patriarchal Attitudes and experimental novels including Light and Waking recently died at her London home from heart failure. Figes escaped Nazi Germany for England with her Jewish family in 1939. Following an acrimonious divorce, she published Patriarchal Attitudes in 1970, when feminist treatises like Germaine Greer's Female Eunuch and Kate Millett's Sexual Politics were receiving widespread attention. But she later dedicated herself to fiction, and in the last decade of her life she focussed on capturing her childhood wartime experiences in memoirs like Tales of Innocence and Experience: An Exploration. "She was so driven by writing, it was quite limiting," Her son Orlando Figes say. "She lived on her own, so everything she wrote came from within herself. In the last year, as she was contemplating death, she even saw that as writing material." [The New York Times]