Sunday, July 31, 2005


Santa Needs His Head Examined

You knew it had to exist somewhere: a 1907 phrenology book analyzes the bumps on Santa Claus's head.


Repo Librarian

If you live in Stirling, don't you dare miss the due date on a library book. The BBC reports:

The [collection] letter, addressed to Breagh [Hannan] and her mother Gillian, read:"This is your final notice to return the items listed below: Sindy Annual 2002. If the matter is not resolved within the next week the information will be passed to the sheriff's officer for action." ... Mrs Hannan said: "...We couldn't believe they were threatening a little girl with debt collectors for forgetting to return a Sindy annual. Breagh was upset. She saw me open the letter and said 'sorry mummy but I don't know where the book is'. She thought she was in terrible trouble..... The first we heard was when the council threatened to send the sheriff's officers round. It's ridiculous to be taking that level of action against a six-year-old girl who has not returned a book."

Mr Hannan said he had written to the council immediately, fearing the move could affect the family's credit rating.

The Stirling town council says it was a mistake: I should hope so. If Equifax starts tabulating overdue library books, I'm in trouble....


'Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy

An AP wire reports that Jimi Hendrix had a little trouble with his whammy bar while in the Army:

Jimi Hendrix might have stayed in the US Army. He might have been sent to Vietnam. Instead, he pretended he was gay.... Publicly, Hendrix always claimed he was discharged after breaking his ankle on a parachute jump, but his medical records do not mention it.

In regular visits to the base psychiatrist at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, in spring 1962, Hendrix complained that he was in love with one of his squad mates and that he had become addicted to masturbating, Cross writes. Finally, Captain John Halbert recommended him for discharge, citing "homosexual tendencies."

This revelation comes from an upcoming Jimi Hendrix biography by Charles Cross, Room Full of Mirrors. But Cross believes that that Hendrix was faking it to work the system: "He just wanted to escape the army to play music; he had enlisted to avoid jail time after being repeatedly arrested in stolen cars in Seattle."

Saturday, July 30, 2005


Aww, Shucks

The traditionally curmudgeonly Kirkus has gone all soft and cuddly in what is the first review (a starred one) of The Trouble With Tom....


Coffee Achievers

This week's TLS delves into E.J. Clery's study The Feminization Debate in Eighteenth Century England" Literature, Commerce and Luxury. Among other things, Clery looks at how early coffeehouses were a convenient target in debates over political activism and gender:

Coffee... was once deemed an unconscionable luxury and a vice; the government had tried to ban it in 1675, but failed in the face of popular addiction/ opposition. With coffee shops came the age of the “coffee-house politician”, often caricatured as unmanly, an effete gossip, a meddlesome debater, and a suspiciously soft figure in general. In other words, he was civilized, and stood outside “existing masculine roles”. The pamphlet Coffee Houses Vindicated (also 1675) reveals how the “well-regulated” coffee house is “the sanctuary of health, the nursery of temperance, the delight of frugality, and academy of civility, the free-school of ingenuity”. It was just the place for a “renegotiation of gender roles"...

Of course, nobody now would do something as silly as employing jingoism and implications of effeteness on the basis of what kind of coffee drinks one consumes.... right?


Used and (Not) Abused

Thursday's New York Times reported on a study of Amazon used book sales. The study's finding? That some people should stop whining:

When used books are substituted for new ones, the seller faces competition from the secondhand market, reducing the price it can set for new books. But there's another effect: the presence of a market for used books makes consumers more willing to buy new books, because they can easily dispose of them later. A car salesman will often highlight the resale value of a new car, yet booksellers rarely mention the resale value of a new book. Nevertheless, the value can be quite significant.....According to the researchers' calculations, Amazon earns, on average, $5.29 for a new book and about $2.94 on a used book. If each used sale displaced one new sale, this would be a less profitable proposition for Amazon. But Mr. Bezos is not foolish. Used books, the economists found, are not strong substitutes for new books. An increase of 10 percent in new book prices would raise used sales by less than 1 percent. In economics jargon, the cross-price elasticity of demand is small. One plausible explanation of this finding is that there are two distinct types of buyers: some purchase only new books, while others are quite happy to buy used books.

I think anyone who spends much time buying or selling books knows the truth of this: there are simply some books you won't spend $24.95 on, but that you might spend $5.95 on. Used bookbuyers are not so much lost new-book sales as never-would-have-happened-anyway sales.


London is For the Birds

There's a review by Rachel Cusk in the Daily Telegraph of Sidney Day's memoir London Born: A Memoir of a Forgotten City. The book is a transcribed memoir, as Day himself is illiterate, and that in itself makes the book a rarity -- with some notable exceptions like the WPA Federal Writer's Project, such accounts rarely make it out of the academic realm.

Born in 1912, Sidney can neither read nor write: his photograph shows a roguish, resilient, dapper character whose voice ("Nearly everybody who went to the Brookfield [pub] on a Sunday took a bird in a little carrying cage… Every man put his bird up on the shelf that ran right the way along the bar. The bar was filled with birds fluttering and singing") speaks from the page with startling clarity.... Sidney grew up in a working class household on Balmore Street in Archway. "Our garden was just like all the other gardens in the street… it was filled with me dad's geraniums, and pens and sheds for our chickens, ducks and rabbits. We kept pigeons to race and had an aviary full of wild birds." Sidney and his friends would sometimes take fledgling birds from their nests or ducklings from the ponds on Hampstead Heath in order to bring them up at home. He would chew up food in his mouth and feed it to them with a matchstick.

I've never heard before of what sounds like an old tradition of bringing caged birds into a pub. Though if you are contemplating a modern urban aviary, I must say that I found a recent magazine profile of the Eglu weirdly appealing: maybe because it's a chicken coop that looks like an old iMac. Or maybe just because it's made by a company called.... Omlet.

Sunday, July 24, 2005


First, Catch Your Hare

An interesting glimpse by Katherine Powers in today's Boston Globe into the delights of reading old cookbooks:

Mrs. Beeton's ''Book of Household Management," for instance, conjures up an idyllic England with country houses, servants galore, and a large cast of butchers, poulters, and greengrocers. Though an abridged version is available (Oxford University, paperback, $14.95), I have inherited my mother's 1,112-page, out-of-print facsimile version with its frontispiece entitled ''The Free, Fair Homes of England." While most of the book is devoted to food and its preparation, a good deal of advice on running a large house is also included, with sections beginning with such immensely satisfying sentences as ''Whilst the cook is engaged with her Morning Duties, the kitchen-maid is also occupied with hers."..... In its pages man is unashamedly at the top of the food chain, and his table displays it without euphemism, as in the triumphal illustration of a ''Roast Hare." Vanquished, he is laid on a platter, ears cocked, snarling, a scorched glare in his eye.

I too have a fascination with cookbooks -- this despite the fact that I cannot cook and indeed have no interest in learning to cook. My favorites, naturally, are oddball Victorian titles like What To Do With Cold Mutton (an 1867 cookbook for "gentlemen of a moderate income," in case you're wondering). And it's hard to top this description from the website of the Philadelphia Rare Books & Manuscripts Company for William Kitchiner's 1831 very odd work The Cook's Oracle:

Dr. Kitchiner says it best himself: “The following Receipts are not a mere marrowless collection of shreds and patches, and cuttings and pastings, — but a bonâ fide register of Practical Facts” (p. 1). Far indeed from being marrowless, this cookbook is an entertainingly spirited work full of recipes and suggestions tested by the author, as well as running comments and asides. Curiously, a few recipes have musical aides-mémoire: The bubble and squeak instructions feature printed music that spells out “B E E F, C A B B A G E” in the treble clef, while the bass clef runs “C A B B A G E, B E E F” (p. 388).

If anyone else has ever heard of musical cooking instructions, I'd certainly like to hear about it....




This is my favorite blog ever. EVER!

Friday, July 22, 2005



The Christian Science Monitor recently carried a review of David Alan Grier's (not that one) new book When Computers Were Human:

Though male scientists deemed creative mathematics beyond feminine abilities, they saw women as perfect for this kind of numerical needlework. One even measured computing time in "girl hours": A complex calculation might even require "kilo-girl-hours.".... Grier tells the tale of these human drudges of mathematical calculation. They came in with the 18th-century Industrial Revolution and quickly disappeared in the mid-20th as electronic computers proved to be faster and, eventually, more reliable.

One of the odder facts that stuck in my head after reading Doron Swade's The Difference Engine: Charles Babbage and the Quest to Build the First Computer was that many human computers in Britain in the early 1800s were former hairdressers who had fled the French Revolution. I still can't figure out what on earth led from the one profession to the other. A fondness for symmetry, perhaps?

Incidentally, Swade's book is unique in that he built a working Babbage Difference Engine for the Science Museum in London -- a feat Babbage himself never managed. The thing's a monster, and marvellously impressive, though when I stopped by to see it the gears were frozen and the Engine half-disassembled for repairs.

So it really is the forefather of modern computers....


Book Titles of the Week

Book titles encountered in the last week on Amazon:

Rotten to the Core: Crime, Sex & Corruption in Johnny Appleseed's Hometown by Martin Yant

Horseshit for Elves by John Charles Rye

Knitting with Dog Hair by Kendall Crolius



There's a review by Daniel Johnson in this week's Times Literary Supplement, and it's worth praising for a couple of rather unusual reasons. The book in question is Kosmos, Physikalischer Atlas: Entwurf einer physischen Weltbeschreibung by Alexander von Humboldt and edited by Heinrich Berghaus. Yes, it's a book in German -- not translated. And on top of that, it costs 99 Euros, which converts to a pretty penny in any currency.

But what a work!

The last thirty years of Humboldt’s life were mainly devoted to one work, which he originally intended to call “The Book of Nature”, but finally entitled Kosmos. Entwurf einer physischen Weltbeschreibung (“Cosmos. Sketch of a Physical Description of the Universe”). In this encyclopedic product of his old age, he created another new genre: an attempt to interpret the vast new range of empirical knowledge to the hugely expanded educated public that had emerged during his lifetime. This monument to perseverance appeared between 1845 and 1862 in five volumes, the last of them a posthumous fragment. It embraces every field of science from cosmology to microbiology, and includes long digressions on seemingly remote subjects such as the aesthetics of nature and 2,457 footnotes, some of essay length. Though Kosmos is almost invariably described as a popular work, it was very much more idiosyncratic than that notion implies. Humboldt certainly made no concessions to his readers’ ignorance: even in a book of such gargantuan proportions, the 9,000 other works that he cites necessitated a remarkable feat of condensation, and Kosmos is stuffed full of facts. The justification for its synthetic character was not merely the need to reach the widest possible public. (It had sold 85,000 copies by his death, a huge number by the standards of the time.)

Vast, in another language, expensive as all hell.... let's face it, I will probably never read it. And that's why it's so wonderful to see TLS, as they will occasionally do, reviewing just such a book. Because despite the notion among some newspapers that book sections are glorified Amazon purchasing guides, the fact remains that for most of us, book reviews are the only way we will ever even get the slightest grasp upon the contents of thousands of books that we will never -- and indeed physically cannot -- get around to purchasing or reading.

A crutch? Yes. But a crutch can be a useful thing sometimes.

If you read enough old magazines and newspapers, you start noticing a funny thing: that a certain percentage -- a small one, but a tangible one -- of their reviews were set aside for works in foreign languages. The epitome of this was the North American Review, which back in the 19th century ran magisterial reviews that were really essays in themselves, each using three or four of the latest works in a field as a jumping-off point; often at least some of these works were foreign or so wonkish that no typical NAR reader could be reasonably expected to ever read them. But that wasn't the point.

The New York Review of Books still holds up some of this tradition -- indeed, the North American Review itself still exists, though only as an unrecognizable wraith of its grand 19th century self. But it would be interesting to see some American publications running a column on untranslated foreign literature column.

Why not? It's been done before....

Friday, July 15, 2005


Til The Autograph-Chewing Cows Come Home

A brief Weekend Stubble this time, as I'm heading out with the family for a few days summering in Chicago -- home of Henry Darger! Land of Harry Stephen Keeler! But before I go, a nip over to today's Guardian.

I've met some Beat writers in a classroom setting, but despite the novelty -- Wow! Allen Ginsberg is deriding my interpretation of On The Road! -- the one that left a deep impression on me was Gary Snyder. I took a course in wilderness literature with him at UC Davis as an undergrad, and he was the most down-to-earth writer, literally and figuratively, that I'd ever met. He wasn't interested in reputations, wasn't out to prove anything to himself or to you, and he was a great poet to listen to: he didn't read in that dreadful pre-CIOUS... ov-er-en-un...ciated... [dramatic pause]... lurching that some poets believe is recitation.

He always had a faintly bemused look about him; one time in his office when I'd asked him about The Dharma Bums -- a book I was much in the thrall of then, at 18 -- he paused and recounted living in a cabin in Mill Valley for a spell with Kerouac:

"I went into town to get groceries, and when I got back, Jack was just sitting there at the kitchen table reading through all my letters. And I said -- 'Jaa-ack, those are my letters.' -- and he just looked up, quite innocently, and said -- 'But Gary, they're my material'..."

Today's Guardian carries a fine profile of Snyder at his home in the Sierra Nevada foothills, and he sounds much the same today -- genial, utterly grounded, and with a fine touch of the absurd:

In a local bar, a large, hearty man recognises him from a poetry reading at a farm almost 40 years ago. His recollection of the event is perfect, while the poet's is hazy.

"Don't you remember, you signed the book to me and Ann?"

"I think I do remember," Snyder says.

"And don't you remember, the cow took a bite out of the book? And you signed it to the cow as well? And then the cow crapped on the book?"

"I must remember," Snyder says, unfalteringly polite.

I'm already looking forward to having this same conversation with some reader a few decades from now....

Sunday, July 10, 2005



Perhaps it was having too much time waiting in the -- god help us all -- Reagan National Airport yesterday, but I found myself jabbing at the Washington Post like a bird picking ticks off a rhino. Owners Closing The Book on Libraries in the Home, announced one scare headline. "When people walk into a modern home, they don't ask about a library," explained a researcher from the National Association of Home Builders.

Oh my -- no library. Higgins, fetch me my smelling salts!

How might one turn this minor architectural trend into a societal problem? Hmm. Oh, I know! Just cite.... wait for it... wait for it.... yes, you guessed it!....

In fact, separate space in a house specifically designated for reading "is fast becoming a rarity," said Mark Bauerlein, director of the Office of Research and Analysis of the National Endowment for the Arts, the government agency that last year documented a decline in book reading among Americans in a report titled "Reading At Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America."

That's right. The NEA, which apparently never met a cultural crisis it didn't like, is now worried that our homes lack libraries:

The shift away from home libraries is disconcerting to some, such as Bauerlein of the National Endowment for the Arts. Reading is "a high-concentration activity" that cannot easily take place while multi-tasking or in the presence of rooms with distractions such as e-mail, TV or computer games, he said. In addition, a home library typically houses many books, he said, and "the presence of books in a household has a deep effect on the habits, inclinations and intellectual development of people in that household."

Yes, quite so. There are other shifts from home planning that I too find disconcerting. Why is there no ice-house in my backyard? Where's my carriage house and servants' quarters? And why, pray tell, is my house not equipped with a coal room?

But wait: think of the most well-read person you know. Do they have a library in their house? Or are the books on shelves scattered throughout the dwelling, and perhaps also in a home office equipped with those nefarious telephonic and computing devices? Do they read in bed sometimes, or in front of their computer screen? Are they, perhaps, also fond of reading in one of those newfangled coffeehouses?

One final note. I spent the last couple days in the Houghton Library at Harvard, and then at the Library of Congress reading room and the Folger Shakespeare Library in DC. Each is the epitome of a serious library -- dark wood everywhere, a hushed atmosphere lit by stained glass windows, and little ladders reaching precariously up to ancient leatherbound folios. But, do you know, I saw patrons carrying cell phones and using... computers?

So I guess those aren't real libraries either... right, NEA?


Write About Chairs... Without Leaving Yours!

This article in yesterday's Washington Post pounces on Target for a bit of design thievery:

Knockoff of a Classic Chair Just Doesn't Sit Right

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but what Target has done to the venerable Navy chair shows disrespect. The web store offers a "Cafe Aluminum side chair" from Asia for $249.99 a pair. The online listing describes the chair as a "classic design." That's true. The image closely resembles an American classic: the Emeco 1006 Navy chair...

Yes. I think it shows a fine sense of humor by Post editors to run an article decrying knockoffs... which is itself a knockoff of a New York Times piece written a month ago by Ernest Beck.

Incidentally, notice how "The image closely resembles" an Emeco? Translation: the Post writer has not, in fact, seen the Target chair they are writing about.

Oh, and: both the Times and the Post raise a fuss about the $370 Emeco chair knocked-off at $125 apiece at Target. Pshaw. K-mart has an Emeco lookalike for $39.99. Perhaps a trip to Target is close as any design writer is willing to venture near the unfabulous masses...


The Lost (Cornish) World

Friday's Times of London describes the rediscovery and restoration of a pristine Cornish hamlet. It's been hidden from the roads and owned by one family since the 1930s:

The place is the tiny settlement of Trowan, less than a mile from St Ives. It traces its roots to the Iron Age, and was said to have been a bustling village in Victorian days, home to miners from the Consul tin mine and farm labourers. It had its own manor house, blacksmith and its own parson. When the mine closed, villagers turned to dairy farming, bottling their milk for the surrounding villages. I’d never heard of Trowan, and nor had Bradby until he stumbled on it in summer 2003. “There aren’t even road signs to take you there,” he says. But D. H. Lawrence, who was living at nearby Zennor when he was writing Women in Love in 1916, certainly knew the place. He described it as “a tiny granite village nestling under high shaggy moor hills, and a big sweep of lovely sea, lovelier even than the Mediterranean”. That sweep takes in the South West Coast Path, Porthmeor Beach, and spectacular sea views out to the Godfrey lighthouse, which was made famous in Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse....

The Berriman family bought Trowan for £2,100 at a sale in St Ives in 1930 and had farmed there ever since. It has been described as one of the oldest working landscapes in the world. “It dates back to when God was a boy,” says Bradby. Now the manor house, known as Trowan Veane, and 11 cottages are being restored by Mango using a team of local craftsmen.

TV antennas have been banned from the restored village -- well, not that anyone uses them anymore -- but, more intriguingly, so has the visible presence of cars. There will be a well-hidden car shed for the hamlet's drivers to park their nasty modern contraptions in. I'm sure Le Corbusier would be horrified.

Sunday, July 03, 2005


Hardcore Soft-Serve

Yesterday's Globe and Mail review of Cool: The Story of Ice Cream digs up a couple of odd nuggets:

The sordid history of the wholesome treat is quite fascinating, too. Although, for the most part, ice cream parlours were seen as an alternative to taverns, in some places (notably Scotland), campaigns were formed (fuelled by anti-Italian sentiment) to shut down the dens of iniquity where teenagers gathered, gambled and used foul language. Some were even thought to be fronts for prostitution.

The Scots weren't the only ones who objected to ladies licking ice cream cones in public. Ice cream is a sensual, voluptuous food, and how to eat it was a subject dealt with by many etiquette experts. Many advised simply taking it home and eating it in private, which, incidentally, is how it is currently done in Iran -- a fact we might have expected to find in Powell's book but didn't.

This makes me wonder: is there any pleasurable consumer product that has not been accused at some point of corrupting public morals?


Slogging to Seattle

The Stranger has a new blog, SLOG, cheekily christened "Seattle's only blog." There's fine sniping and scoopery in there by the staff. Plus, if you want to read editor Dan Savage on a daily basis -- and what sane person wouldn't? -- now you can.

There's no picture of the staffers posting, but I can at least note the furniture from which Dan's part of the blog emanates. A few years ago I hosted an evening of writers reading from forgotten old books at Elliot Bay Book Co., and he brought in a fantastic artifact of 1950s white-lab-coat-smut: The Anal Compulsion in Homosexuality. Now there's a title every home should have on its shelves, if just to see the expression on visitors' faces.

After an appallingly funny reading from it, Dan slipped out of the room. "I have to get back to my office," he told me. "I'm getting a desk delivered tonight. I got it at the estate auction -- I bought Ann Landers' desk..."


This Week in Literary Crime

The AP wire reports that someone has finally found a use for Ed Klein's book: "A 73-year-old San Diego woman fought off a man who tried to steal her dog by beating him with a bag of books and kicking him in the groin, police said."

Ok, so they don't identify what books were in the bag. (What gives, AP? And where's the quote from the bemused author? Sheesh. ) But hey, I'll bet the kick in the groin was still better than close exposure to The Truth About Hillary.

Meanwhile, the Guardian reports the chief curator at France's Bibliotheque Nationale has retracted his earlier confession to being complicit in the disappearance of rare manuscripts from the library.

Mr Garel has been placed under formal investigation, one step short of being charged, in connection with the theft of a document known as Manuscript 52, a copy of the first five books of the Bible that was produced in France in about 1250 and bound in Italy in the 15th century. The work was offered in a sale of rare manuscripts at Christie's auction house in New York in 2004, and a wealthy but unidentified Anglo-Israeli collector and dealer living in London has reportedly told French police that Mr Garel sold it to him in 2000 for €80,000 (£53,000), as part of series of purchases totalling some €500,000. Mr Garel had admitted stealing and selling the manuscript, but yesterday retracted his confession, saying he had owned up to a crime he did not commit because it was "the only way to avoid being thrown into prison".

Yes, yes, I see. That is quite a brilliant legal strategy, Monsieur Garel!

Finally, The Age of Melbourne reports a thoroughly pie-eyed suspect arrested shortly after a smash-and-grab theft at a rare bookshop can't find the books:

The Collingwood man, 43, has told police he does not remember what happened to the books, some more than three centuries old. They were valued at more than $10,000. Police say the man - who was drunk and who splattered blood throughout the store after cutting himself on the window - smashed a glass cabinet at the back of the store before gathering the books into a cardboard box and fleeing.

The article goes on to quote a store employee sniffing that the lacerated and inebriated gentleman obviously had "no taste in books"....


Alley Oop-Bop-A-Lu-Bop

A mixed but interesting review today in the Guardian for Steven Mithen's The Singing Neanderthals.

Earlier this year the Times reported of Mithen:

Neanderthal voices were loud, womanly and probably highly melodic — not the roars and grunts previously assumed by most researchers. Stephen Mithen, professor of archeology at Reading University and author of one of the studies, said.... He studied the Neanderthal voice box and compared it with those of modern humans, monkeys and apes to work out what noises they might have made. “They must have been able to communicate complex ideas and even spirituality. Their anatomy suggests that pitch and melody would have played a key role,” he said.

Spirituality? From the structure of a voice box? Hmm. This sounds like credulous journalism at its finest. Nonetheless, the Guardian review suggests some paths for research into music, including this:

Much is still unprovable conjecture but there are some suggestive insights. One such is the connection between music and walking upright. Some seek the essence of music in pitch, melody, or harmony, but the first essential was surely a regular rhythm. Chimpanzees can't keep a regular beat but it's hard to imagine a human being who could stride in perfectly regular paces never discovering music that beats four to the bar.

So other animals move arhythmically, or in odd time signatures? Because pretty soon you'd have a veritable Animal Ministry of Funny Walks going.

Still, the confluence of neurology and singing is a fascinating area. One of the most mysterious intersections of the two is in the rare genetic disorder Williams Syndrome, which -- as this old Globe and Mail article notes -- is typified by a low IQ, a pixie-like face, "unique star patterns in their irises," and... an extraordinary ability at singing.

Saturday, July 02, 2005



London papers this week carried obituaries of Patrick Pakenham, a barrister who had to leave his profession after just 10 years. Why?

Open the Daily Telegraph and read on:

During his legal career, Pakenham became something of a legend, and, 25 years on, accounts of his exploits are still current. During his appearance before an irascible and unpopular judge in a drugs case, the evidence, a bag of cannabis, was produced. The judge, considering himself an expert on the subject, said to Pakenham, with whom he had clashed during the case: "Come on, hand the exhibit up to me quickly." Then he proceeded to open the package. Inserting the contents in his mouth, he chewed it and announced: "Yes, yes of course that is cannabis. Where was the substance found, Mr Pakenham?" The reply came swiftly, if inaccurately:

"In the defendant's anus, my Lord."


Harry Potter and The Half-Assed Film Option

Today's Sydney Morning Herald carries a rather strange story:

December Boys, based on a 1963 novel by Australian author Michael Noonan, is to be the first post-Harry Potter project for British actor Daniel Radcliffe. Noonan's story tells of a group of boys coming of age one summer in the 1930s on the Australian coast. To start production in South Australia this November, December Boys is a coup for Australian company Becker Entertainment, which signed Radcliffe two weeks ago. The announcement triggered an international bidding war for rights to the novel.

Sounds splendid, doesn't it? Except for a few minor details. Turns out that author Michael Noonan is, er, dead. That, and nobody seems to know who inherited his copyright. "He married for the first time in 1993, aged 72, to a younger woman, Jan Pearce," the paper explains. "Ms Pearce is on holidays and has not been contacted about the ownership of Noonan's literary estate. It is believed Noonan may have left the copyright of his books to someone other than her."

Problem is, nobody seems to know who.

But, oh, it gets better: "The plot thickened this week when Noonan's former literary agents sought clarification. Noonan had been represented by Jill Hickson until she sold her agency to Curtis Brown (Australia) in 1999. The firm's managing director, Fiona Inglis, searched her agency's archives on Wednesday and failed to turn up any record of a film option being taken out on the book."

Incidentally, the article notes that when a previous work of Noonan's was more or less ripped off by a film company, he sued them and won.

So, to sum up: a screenplay has been written, preproduction started, and a lead cast... and yet nobody has contacted the author's widow or his agency. They did not receive his permission while he was alive, and they do not have the immediately foreseeable prospect of that permission being granted by the as-yet unknown owner of that copyright.

Sydney attorneys: I smell billable hours.

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