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Book News: Penguin, Random House Complete Publishing Mega-Merger

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

  • Publishers Penguin and Random House have officially merged into one entity known as Penguin Random House (not, as many had hoped, "Random Penguin" or "Penguin House"). The deal "creates the world's largest publisher of consumer books," according to The Associated Press. Parent companies Pearson and Bertelsmann, which announced the news Monday morning, said the new, New York-based company will employ some 10,000 people and comprise nearly 250 imprints. Penguin CEO John Makinson will be chairman. In the CEO's seat will be Markus Dohle, formerly the chairman and CEO of Random House. Dohle said in a statement, "Together, we will give our authors unprecedented resources to help them reach global audiences — and we will provide readers with unparalleled diversity and choice for future reading. Connecting authors and readers is, and will be, at the heart of all we strive to accomplish together." The new, larger company will be in a better position to negotiate with Amazon, which currently dominates the market.
  • Random House has canceled its contract with Paula Deen, who is under fire for her use of a racial slur. A rather unenlightening statement released by Random House's Ballantine Books imprint read: "After careful consideration, Ballantine Books has made the difficult decision to cancel the publication of Paula Deen's New Testament: 250 Favorite Recipes, All Lightened Up." A source familiar with Random House's decision told NPR by phone that it was purely a business decision, saying a successful sales run would be impossible because major retailers are refusing to carry Deen's products. The source, who was not authorized to talk about the decision, said that while the book was doing well on Amazon, the online retailer would guarantee only thousands of copies sold, instead of the hundreds of thousands that could be sold by Target, Sears, Wal-Mart, J.C. Penny and other retailers cutting ties with Deen. The celebrity chef's literary agent, Janis Donnaud, told NPR by email that she is "troubled by Random House's behavior" and that "a contract to publish a book is not an endorsement deal. It is an agreement to publish an author's work."
  • Cloud Atlas author David Mitchell, whose son is autistic, has translated a book by a 13-year-old Japanese boy with autism titled The Reason I Jump. Mitchell writes in The Guardian, "For me, Naoki Higashida dissolves the lazy stereotype that people with autism are androids who don't feel. On the contrary, they feel everything, intensely. What's missing is the ability to communicate what they feel. Part of this is our fault – we're so busy being shocked, upset, irritated or looking the other way that we don't hear them."
  • Granta's publisher, Sigrid Rausing, finally responded to the mass exodus that has taken place at the literary magazine, with the abrupt departures of editor John Freeman, deputy editor Ellah Allfrey and many other employees. In an essay for The Bookseller, Rausing says: "Four years ago I wrote that excessive commerciality can potentially undermine independent publishing. It can lead to risk-avoidance, and a tendency to copy others. I haven't changed my mind about that, but equally we had to address our losses, and build a leaner structure. That's what we have now done." In May, Freeman told The Guardian that Rausing "decided a while back she wanted to run the magazine and books on a very reduced staff," and that he "didn't want to be part of that change."
  • The Best Books Coming Out This Week:

  • Peter Lance's true crime book, Deal with the Devil: The FBI's Secret 30-Year Relationship with a Mob Killer, is the perfect mix of thorough research and gripping storytelling. Lance details the FBI's uneasy relationship with informant Greg Scarpa Sr. (aka "The Grim Reaper"), a mobster and "enforcer" with the Colombo crime family.
  • Available in the U.K. since the 1970s, Long Lankin, John Banville's collection of early short stories, is finally being published in the U.S. this week. NPR's Alan Cheuse wrote that "something resembling ghosts — or at least menacing presences in the woods and countryside — haunt the tormented young characters within these pages."
  • Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Annalisa Quinn is a contributing writer, reporter, and literary critic for NPR. She created NPR's Book News column and covers literature and culture for NPR.
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