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Letters to Santa

PUBLISHERS spend most of the year reading manuscripts that they want to publish or that they are publishing. But at this time of year even the most conscientious of them wants to read something they haven't had to work on.

Random House publishing director Nikki Christer hopes to find a copy of The Richard Burton Diaries in her stocking. Mind you, it would have to be a pretty big stocking - it's more than 600 pages. ''I've read the reviews, mixed at best,'' Christer says, ''but what comes through is a man of passion - for Liz Taylor, for excess, for language. He loathed the acting profession - although loved the spoils it offered him - and would have preferred to write, if only he could have been disciplined enough. He devoured books - sometimes as many as three per day - and evaluated them with a keen eye and critical observation.''

Scribe's Henry Rosenbloom knows exactly the book he wants to read on his holidays - Speechless: A Year in My Father's Business by James Button, an account of a year writing speeches for Kevin Rudd and a meditation on the life of his senator father, John Button, the state of politics and the future of the ALP.

Text publisher Michael Heyward wants ''Santa to sling me a copy of The Best 100 Poems of Les Murray''. ''What a mercurial and magnificent writer Murray is. He is the Rabelais of the back paddock. Every Australian should, at least once in their lives, having read this elegant distillation of Murray's superabundant gifts, dream their way through The Quality of Sprawl while arranged thus beneath a beach umbrella.''

HarperCollins publishing director Shona Martyn hopes to get a copy of the new novel by Barbara Kingsolver, Flight Behaviour. What she likes about Kingsolver is the quality of the writing and the depth of issues. ''In the wake of reading her last book, The Lacuna,'' she says, ''I visited the house where Trotsky was assassinated in Mexico City, and was overwhelmed by finding it just as Kingsolver had described. If no one buys this book for me this Christmas, I will buy it myself!''

Allen & Unwin's Jane Palfreyman is keen to read Paul Ham's Sandakan: ''I've spent four of the last seven Christmases engrossed in Paul's riveting and magisterial histories and this year will be no exception. His acclaimed account of cruelty and heroism is the perfect antidote to the silly season and is my kind of Christmas Ham!'' (Ho-ho-ho.)

Melbourne University Press' Louise Adler is hoping to get to grips again with Arthur Miller's autobiography, Timebends. She says it's one of the ''finest exemplars of the genre in exploring a rich personal life in the context of a grand narrative about American life''.

And Penguin publishing director Ben Ball says the book he'd most like for Christmas is Ben Jonson: A Life by Ian Donaldson. ''Poet, fighter, playwright, scholar, spy, carouser - really he ruined it for everyone else.'' Also on his list: Lawrence Norfolk's John Saturnall's Feast and and Robert Macfarlane's The Old Ways.

Totally devoted - to Dalkey

IT WAS a Scrooge-like ad for interns that caught the eyes of many but probably for the wrong reasons. Dalkey Archive Press is expanding and wants interns who could well fill a couple of permanent positions in its London office.

So it called for committed candidates who would let nothing get in the way of their work. That includes ''family obligations, writing, involvement with other organisations, degrees to be finished, holidays to be taken, weddings to attend in Rio, etc''. What's more, interns would be dismissed immediately, the ad said, for ''coming in late or leaving early without prior permission; being unavailable at night or on weekends; failing to meet any goals; giving unsolicited advice about how to run things; taking personal phone calls during work hours; gossiping; misusing company property etc etc.''

Press director John O'Brien said the jobs at the publisher were genuine but the ad was also a satire on the whole internships business. He told The Irish Times the ad was a modest proposal. ''Serious and not serious at one and the same time. I've been swamped with emails … and job applications. I certainly have been called an 'asshole' before, but not as many times within a 24-hour period.''

Best-of list No. 1

IN THE US, as Australia, Nielsen BookScan covers as much of the book-selling market as possible. Its figures for the year show that the formerly self-published E.L. James produced the top-four best-selling print books. Her Fifty Shades of Grey/Darker/Freed occupied individually the top three spots, with the boxed set at No. 4. Coming in at No. 5 was the acclaimed thriller by Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl, followed by J.K. Rowling's first novel for adult muggles, The Casual Vacancy. Another bit of erotica, Bared to You by Sylvia Day, came in at No.7, followed by John Grisham (The Racketeer), Nicholas Sparks (The Lucky One), and Nora Roberts' The Last Boyfriend.

… and No. 2

A CHRISTMAS tradition for newspapers in the US is to list their best books of the year. Industry newsletter Publishers Lunch has kept a tally of the selections so far. 1. Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Katherine Boo (16). 2. Bring up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel (15). 3. This Is How You Lose Her, Junot Diaz (11); Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn; Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, Ben Fountain; Wild, Cheryl Strayed. 7. The Passage of Power, Robert Caro (10). 8. Iron Curtain, Anne Applebaum (9); The Yellow Birds, Kevin Powers. 10. The Round House, Louise Erdrich. (8); The Fault in Our Stars, John Green.

Bond's forgotten his roots

WILLIAM Boyd is writing the next James Bond novel, commissioned by the estate of the late Ian Fleming. So he has not seen Skyfall, but that didn't stop him pointing out an error in Sam Mendes' acclaimed film. In that, Bond goes back to Skyfall, his family home. Only it isn't. Boyd says: ''Bond was brought up by an aunt in somewhere like Wiltshire. He was sent to boarding school in Edinburgh, Fettes - which is Tony Blair's old public school - but only after he was thrown out of Eton for a dalliance with a maid.'' All Boyd will say of the novel is it will be set in 1969: Woodstock, sexual revolution, social and political turmoil. Perfect.

POETRY

Knuckles

Stalled in a longboat free from history
out on a pea-green sea
we watch how wild the water is
from those who've seen it way too close -
its craziness, its cheerful greed,
its stolen fields still unforgiven.
They're waving all about us now
like sunflowers in the wind
up against a fence.
A sentimentalist or two
would have us haul a few on board
but where's an end to that? Let's just
discuss how best to knock
their knuckles from the gunwales.

Geoff Page

The wind of certainty will blow

the smell of cinnamon reminds me of you
outside a cafe
sitting in the fine drizzle
crisp flesh
rolled and dried bark
the back of your neck
as we walked
time displaces self
the mirror stops you
your image can't pass through
my father died without
me reconciling
the cold sharpens the clarity
the misting softens age
the river unmakes itself
like the cafe, the train
sitting in the winter su
the sun like love

Claire Gaskin

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