The year in books
The biggest news in books in 1994 was not a single event but rather a trend: the growth of electronic publishing.
There remain many doubters, of course, but the book industry is reluctant to stay on the sidelines any longer: Almost every major publishing company has established a multimedia division, and many have some sort of on-line presence. Publishing-industry journals are devoting increasing space to the phenomenon.
Just what form electronic publishing will ultimately take is still unclear. The CD-ROM, which holds huge amounts of information and allows easy searching through it, is the medium of choice at the moment, but the commercial on-line services and the Internet have much to offer. Or perhaps something entirely new will come along.
There were some landmark releases in the field this year. Putnam published “The Haldeman Diaries” in both a print and a CD-ROM version. Random House published its unabridged dictionary on a multimedia CD-ROM with spoken pronunciations of its words. Project Gutenberg, the goal of which is 10,000 titles available free on the Internet by 2001, continued to add books to the list.
The field is still chaotic and often user-unfriendly. That will undoubtedly change, and when it does, maybe this will truly prove to be a modern parallel to the Age of Gutenberg.
Major award winners
As usual, the Swedish Academy produced a surprise this year. The winner of the Nobel Prize in literature was Kenzaburo Oe of Japan, whose recent work is considered difficult even in his native land. His most widely read novel in the United States is “A Personal Matter,” a 1964 work; translations of more should follow in the wake of the prize.
Other awards: E. Annie Proulx (“The Shipping News”), David Levering Lewis (“W.E.B. Du Bois”) and David Remnick (“Lenin’s Tomb”) won Pulitzer Prizes for fiction, biography and general nonfiction, respectively, and William Gaddis (“A Frolic of His Own”), Sherwin B. Nuland (“How We Die”) and James Tate (“Worshipful Company of Fletchers”) won National Book Awards for fiction, nonfiction and poetry. The Pulitzer jury decided not to award a history prize.
‘Bell Curve’ talk
“The Bell Curve” exploded into national awareness, though it was more talked about than actually read. The contentions of authors Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray that ethnic groups differ in intelligence, that intelligence is to a large degree inherited and that there’s not much to be done about it were furiously contested.
Two authors who were former prisoners-of-war of the Japanese died during the year. Out of James Clavell’s experience came an enduring interest in Japan and the novel “Shogun,” an international best seller. Out of Pierre Boulle’s experience came the novel “Bridge Over the River Kwai,” which became a famous film. So did another Boulle novel, “Planet of the Apes.”
Dangers to writers
Some parts of the world continued to be dangerous for writers. Wole Soyinka, a Nobel laureate, had to flee his native Nigeria to avoid arrest. Another Nobel winner, Naguib Mahfouz of Egypt, was stabbed in the neck by an Islamic militant. Although the attack was not fatal, the 82-yearold author is reported to be in precarious health. Iranian dissident writer Ali Akbar Saidi Sirjani, who was held for eight months without trial or the right to see an attorney, died in prison.