I received a pleasant, if curious, surprise last week – the Chinese translation of my first book, The Book Of Lost Books. The ideograms, though beautiful, are completely incomprehensible to me, with only a few words in English peppering the text.
But the weirdest thing was the introduction, which was entitled "Lost and Found and Something Inbetween", and had an epigram ("Everything lost wants to be found") attributed to Tomb Raider's Lara Croft. The weird thing is that I didn't write any of that – and since the rest is in Chinese, I have no idea what it says. I'd be very grateful to hear from any Chinese readers who can solve this puzzle.
Reading for a good cause
The Christian Aid Book Sale began last weekend at Saint Andrew and Saint George's Church on Edinburgh's George Street, and I ambled down for a sneak preview of their highlights – including a late 16th-century edition of Plato, a tiny three-volume edition of Pindar printed in Glasgow and some truly fabulous art books. This year's patron is the novelist AL Kennedy, who gave an inspiring encomium on the virtues of reading: how it makes the reader less isolated and more empathetic, how it can act as a defence against the solipsism of reality TV and political propaganda. Of course, there were a few jokes. Growing up in Dundee, she said, meant she needed an alternative reality more than most – and as the photographers snapped away she wryly asked me which authors might be in a closed box marked "Scottish Duplicates". Do go along and support a worthwhile cause.
We need to talk more about Lionel
Over to Glasgow for the first Gliterary Lunch in that city (which sold out quicker than the Edinburgh events), with the always affable Anne Donovan and the brilliantly uncompromising Lionel Shriver (who was still seething about being interviewed by Edi Stark last year). Shriver entertained the 250 women (plus me) present with wry observations on how she was denounced as a child-hating feminazi for We Need To Talk About Kevin, then denounced as a sell-out dewy-eyed softy for The Post-Birthday World. And, despite prompting from the chair, Sophy Dale, she refused to explain why she called herself Lionel.
Call the SAC to account
Another bad week for the cultural quangocrats, as it was revealed that Books from Scotland, a website set up three years ago with 51,000 of taxpayers' money, is selling 80% less than predicted. Given that its bestseller, Maw Broon's Cookbook, is retailing at 9.95 with a three day delivery compared with Amazon's 6.17 next day delivery, I can understand why. With Creative Scotland being scrutinised by Holyrood, it really seems to be time for a full and frank look at the Scottish Arts Council's investment in publishing. It's hardly a litany of triumph: tens of thousands of pounds in bursaries squandered on projects that never materialise; hundred of thousands wasted on setting up the 11/9 imprint that ignominiously disappeared, having produced less than a third of its titles. Moreover, The Browser hears that the Scottish Review of Books, which gets 10,000 per issue, has lost its publisher, and has fewer than 200 subscribers after four years.