Archive for the 'Course updates' Category

The Sacred Combe, Thomas Maloney

By Helena McNish, on 4 May 2017

Longlisted for the Desmond Elliot Prize 2017

Combe: Noun. A short valley or hollow on a hillside or coastline, especially in southern England.

This is the word that I learned from reading this novel, so it seemed a good place to start. This novel, the first from Thomas Maloney, is one that is perennially concerned with place. From the title onwards, the reader is always aware of the space that the narrator, the young, distant and bespectacled Sam Browne, finds himself. The chapters deal out a series of snapshots of the narrator’s life, defined by where he was at the time: London is a grey town of loss, the Yorkshire Dales are wild and (naturally enough) unable to provide solace, the titular combe is a hermitage of life and growth.

And it’s never just the setting – the narrator repeatedly sets the scene through the weather too, providing the reader with a Great British tour of weather, throughout the bitter Winter onwards. Just as with place, the weather is a constant companion to the reader, and there’s never a point where they don’t know what it’s doing outside. (more…)

Ithaca, Alan McMonagle

By Helena McNish, on 4 May 2017

Longlisted for the Desmond Elliot Prize 2017

Joseph O’Connor is right about this book: the opening sentence truly is remarkable. First lines are tricky things – they set the tone for the rest of the book, and Alan McMonagle has managed to write a triumph: “I am the cancer-ridden only son of a dangerous driver who has thoughts about turning herself into a man”.

See what I mean?


The Transition, Luke Kennard

By Helena McNish, on 4 May 2017

When watching shows like Black Mirror, you are often thrust into immediate alienation from the setting. Perhaps this distance, this immediate self-differentiation, makes such shows easier to digest, despite their clear commentary on today’s society. Luke Kennard’s ‘The Transition’, on the other hand, begins quite the opposite. The protagonist Kyle seems relatively normal – relatable even, to a ‘millennial’ audience. But at some, unidentifiable point things begin to shift, reminding us exactly why dystopian fiction can be so powerful.


Harmless Like You, Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

By Helena McNish, on 4 May 2017

Longlisted for the Desmond Elliot Prize 2017

Rowan Hisayo Buchanan’s debut novel ‘Harmless Like You’ is both subtle and striking. It tells the story of a Japanese-born aspiring artist growing up in New York between 1968 and 1983, and that of a newly married art dealer across late 2016. The narrative is set almost entirely in New York State, with a brief though critical exchange taking place in Berlin. We are presented with Yuki’s time in New York between the ages of about 10 and 30, having lived there for all of her re-collectable life after her parents emigrated from Japan, and where she remains long after her family’s return. We also hear the story of Jay, a recently married art dealer who is struggling with the recent death of his father, and his abandonment by his mother – Yuki – as a young child. These accounts are presented in tandem, the narrative alternating between them despite their separation in time. Each faces similar questions of both past – Yuki’s relationship with her Japanese heritage, Jay’s developing response to his abandonment – and future – the idea of parental responsibility, with Jay having recently become a father.


Academic “Book” Selling: A Misnomer in the Making?

By Helena McNish, on 2 March 2017

With Pearson making headlines earlier this year with their announcement of falling textbook sales, people in the industry are yet again speculating how academic book industry will change. What is not being discussed so thoroughly is how academic publishers are moving away from the traditional idea of ‘book’ selling altogether.

Pearson rebranded early January 2016 to show that “Pearson is 100% focused on global education”. What people got less excited about was, as the The Bookseller noted, how this rebrand was also designed to reflect ‘Pearson’s transition from traditional book publisher to a digitally-minded, services-led learning business’.

Pearson are not alone in this change of model. Elsevier now describes itself as ‘a world-leading provider of information solutions’ before discussing its journal and book offering. While Springer Nature still identifies as a publisher, they say that they offer a ‘range of innovative product and services for the research’ as opposed to books and articles. This digitally-focused, holistic business model continues to be adopted across the industry.

Yet this is more than a case of diversification of business and products; it is a fundamental change in what materials are required for education in today’s world.

One aspect of this is that publishers have realised that they can no longer only sell books as their sole carrier for education. As lessons and lectures are on the way to becoming more dynamic in both content and tool use, so do the materials. The need remain competitive in the field, has led to academic publishers selling a package of education materials, rather than books in isolation. This can include countless extras, such as training, online support, lesson plans, case-studies, all geared towards meeting all the needs of the educator.

The second aspect of this is that, while books are still available separately from publishers, as publishers become more digitally-minded we see that the inherit nature of the book is also open to change. ‘Enhanced eBooks’ are books that are infused with multimedia, something becoming more common in journals publishing. Videos, interactive media, sound, and other customisation are common. With these enhancements, books may move so far beyond the traditional idea of the ‘book’ may be fundamentally different to what we know today.  Jaki Hawker, academic manager of Blackwell’s Edinburgh, notes that the most successful products have been “mixed media creations, available on at least two platforms, containing text which includes a high degree of personalised content [and] structured towards active rather than passive reading”

As evidence points to the benefits of enhanced eBooks, many companies and publishers are looking to expand in this field. One example is Apple’s iBook, who are focused solely on providing enhanced eTextbooks. They have already partnered with publishers such as Pearson and Oxford University Press.

Yet there is resistance to these developments. In 2016 a study found that 92% of students preferred paperback to eBooks, especially for serious reading. A Scholastic study published a few months later showed that the children set to replace these students will follow the same trend, as number of children aged 6-17 who are ‘always wanting to reading books in print’ had increased from 2012 to 2016. This is on top of the commonly accepted fact that budgets for academic institutes are being slashed, leaving less budget for wider and/or enhanced materials.

Ultimately, this means innovation in the academic bookselling industry may not be driven by the potential of the ‘book’ at all.

Lauren Ferreira is a student with UCL Publishing – you can find her on twitter @LaurenAFerreira