Shiver me timbers
R.L. Stine, author of the beloved "Goosebumps" series of creepy, crawly stories, is heading to "HorrorLand." The ghoulish theme park will be the springboard for 12 new tales, with Scholastic Books planning to release the first two next April.
The "HorrorLand" series will include new characters and revive some "Goosebumps" villains. Each story will stand on its own, but an overarching mystery will be threaded through the dozen books.
Stine's "Goosebumps" series has sold more than 300 million copies since it debuted in 1992. As part of its marketing push, Scholastic plans to reissue the books with new cover illustrations and launch specialized websites to complement each story.
— Kristina Lindgren5/18/07
Around the world in 42 days
Feeling hemmed in lately? Maybe you want to pick up a copy of the recently re-released classic by Frenchman Xavier de Maistre, "Journey Round My Room." It tells of the author's imaginary journeys during his house arrest for 42 days as a punishment for dueling while serving as an officer in the Piedmontese army.
Confined to his Turin quarters for six weeks, De Maistre (1763-1852) counts the 36 paces of the room's border and then starts exploring the items within it and examining their significance upon his life. He writes about lessons he's learned from his servant and his dog, frequent visitors. At times, he uses his armchair as a proto-Segway, tipping it backward, forward and sideways to help spur his imagination. Taking armchair travel to a new level, he comments upon the pictures on his walls, the view outside and just about anything else that comes to mind. And a lot comes to his mind. The book features echoes of Laurence Sterne's "Tristram Shandy," acccording to the publisher, Arion Press.
The book's run is limited to 300 numbered copies, with photographs of models of the room taken with a cellphone camera by architect Ross Anderson. An additional 30 copies come in a special boxed set, designed by Anderson, with the box evoking the apartment and portholes to peek inside representing the windows. Welcome to the examined life.
— Orli Low5/18/07
Studs Terkel turns 95 today, and to honor him, the New Press has reissued "The Studs Terkel Reader: My American Century" (with a new foreword by Calvin Trillin), featuring selections from the many oral records that he has created during his career. His memoir, "Touch and Go," is scheduled to be published by the press in November.
That's not all, though. The publisher has also set up a Studs link where people can post tributes and read a variety of quirky entries about him and find unexpected features, including his favorite martini recipe or a link to buy red socks online like the ones Terkel wears. The New Press announced in its press materials that a skywriter was chartered to fly over Chicago at 11 a.m. today and write "Happy 95th B-Day Studs Terkel" above the city Terkel has called home since childhood.
— Nick Owchar5/16/07
No spoilers, pleaseScholasticAt the Leaky Cauldron, one of the preeminent Harry Potter websites, you can be assured of one thing about the forthcoming "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows": No leaks about the novel will be tolerated. The website has posted a strident warning that anyone sending on a spoiler could find themselves in legal hot water. So, if a copy of the book miraculously lands in your hands early, the message is clear: Keep it to yourself! That's also the message that J.K. Rowling herself has issued, .
— Nick Owchar5/15/07
Tour without end
Thriller writer J.A. Jance stopped by Book Review on Monday after delivering the keynote speech for this year's Festival of Women Authors. This sold-out event, hosted by UC Irvine, drew 500 readers to hear Jance, Cristina García, Carolina Aguilera-Garcia and other authors, as well as a panel on Nancy Drew.
Although Jance is successful enough to enjoy some perks -- a corporate jet, for instance, to make it easier to zip in and out of appearances -- she has no intention of relaxing any time soon. Even with a lucrative new deal with Touchstone, and with her 35th novel, "Justice Denied," about to be published, she says the lesson she's followed since her first books appeared in the mid-1980s is simple: One needs to always be out there, seeking new audiences.
"You can't stay in your rooms, like a hermit, and expect people to find your book," she says. "Even if I show up for a reading and I find only two people sitting in the room, it's worth it."
Some novelists shrink at the idea of continual promotion. But with publicity departments devoting most of their resources to only a hand-picked few titles each season, what choice do authors have?"Who knows my books better than myself?" Jance asks. "It makes sense that I should promote them. To anyone who doesn't want to do that, I have one thing to say: Stop your whining."
Jance has a few more events scheduled here and in Washington state over the next couple weeks; and then, she says, she'll finally take a break. For how long? Just until July, when the tour for her new book begins.
— Nick Owchar5/15/07
Down, but not out
The national slump in retail sales may have slammed bookstores too, but some independent sellers are seeing signs of hope.
"I'm really heartened," said Allison Hill, vice president and general manager of Vroman's Bookstore. "Eric Schlosser was here, and we had hundreds of schoolchildren who were dying to meet him."
Schlosser, author of the bestseller "Fast Food Nation," was on hand Friday to sign copies of "Chew on This: Everything You Don't Want to Know About Fast Food," written with Charles Wilson and aimed at the teen and preteen audience. An even bigger draw for the Pasadena bookstore was the May 7 appearance of "Fight Club" author Chuck Palahniuk, who signed books until 2 a.m. the next morning for a crowd of 700 people who'd come to buy his latest, "Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey."
"Talk about author as rock star," Hill said of Palahniuk. "Some people had driven for six hours to wait in line all day and all night to get their book signed. The average age was 20 -- the demographic that people say aren't reading books. I heard people in line say to him, 'You got me reading.' "
Indeed, challenged by the author's website, several dozen people -- women and men -- turned out in wedding gowns to win a mystery prize. "He also gave out inflatable moose heads if you knew some of the trivia or characters from his books," Hill said.
Overall bookstore sales plummeted 6.8% in March, marking the third consecutive month of declines, according to Publisher's Weekly and the U.S. Census Bureau. Overall, sales for the first quarter of 2007 were down 4% to $4.19 billion.
At Dutton's Brentwood Books, owner Doug Dutton said sales have generally been flat, with only a few breakout books generating reader interest, including Walter Isaacson's "Einstein: His Life and Universe." Dutton said that hoped-for interest in former CIA Director George Tenet's book hasn't materialized but that "The Yiddish Policemen's Union," Michael Chabon's newest novel, "is as hot as it gets."
Sales at Vroman's were up in March, but Hill conceded that business has been relatively flat over the last year, thanks in part to the myriad options available today for people to get information and entertainment. The trick, Hill said, is to reach out to readers in new ways. Vroman's has a MySpace page and a blog. Inside the store, there is a section called "The Edge."
"If you have to ask what it is, you're outside the demographic," she said. "I still see hope that with these gestures, books will be reinvigorated and folded into this cultural shift."
— Kristina Lindgren5/14/07
Wanted: Extreme bibliophiles with deep pockets
Who says those wacky predictions in high school yearbooks don't amount to much? On the auction block: a copy of Ernest Hemingway's 1917 senior yearbook from Oak Park, Ill., which includes several photographic portraits of the young man, including one graced by the quote, "None are to be found more clever than Ernie." The yearbook is expected to fetch between $600 and $900 at a sale this Thursday by New York's Swann Galleries.Swann GalleriesOther items in the auction, which focuses on 19th and 20th century literature, include Mark Twain's signed copy of "The Life, Times and Scientific Labours of the Second Marquis of Worcester" by Henry Dircks (in case you've misplaced your own) as well as first editions by such literary luminaries as P.G. Wodehouse, Truman Capote and Kurt Vonnegut.
Also on offer: a set of Oscar Wilde-themed playing cards. (None, apparently, on the importance of being cleverer than Ernie.)
— Orli Low5/13/07
Extending the shelf-life of forgotten classics
Most publishers look for new talent;, but a few look for neglected ones -- and that author pool is considerable. New York Review Books, for example, has found a thriving niche by reissuing forgotten classics. In Southern California, the same has been done by Green Integer and its publisher, Douglas Messerli. Go to Green Integer's website, and you'll find reissues of books by Arthur Schnitzler, Knut Hamsun, Emile Zola, Yuri Olyesha and Paul Celan as well as more contemporary voices like Paul Vangelisti and Dennis Phillips. After looking at the entire catalog, you'll realize (if you hadn't already) that Penguin Classics may fill up a lot of shelves, but there are plenty of gaps in what it has to offer.
Consider Horace de Saint-Aubin (not to be confused with "Spinal Tap's" David St. Hubbins). Does Penguin offer any of Saint-Aubin's works? Don't bother looking. This month Green Integer published Saint-Aubin's "The Vicar's Passion" (672 pp., $14.95 paper), an early 19th century novel about a handsome young priest with plenty of secrets to hide -- including his love for his own sister (there's a twist to this, but you'll have to read it for yourself).
Few may recognize the author's name, but the cover reveals that this is an early novel by none other than Honoré de Balzac. There's much of the mature Balzac in this book (though he dismissed it himself as hack work): his fascination with social corruption, the desperation of people in love and how virtue usually goes unrewarded while vice gets all the laurels.
In an introductory note, Saint-Aubin explains that the unhappy young vicar died, leaving his lengthy testament in the hands of Saint-Aubin, a proud bachelor of arts, who takes credit for improving the text: "The bad things that you are going to find in it must be ascribed to the account of the dead man, and if there is any good in it, then please attribute it, I beg you, to this young holder of a bachelor of arts degree."
"The Vicar's Passion" might have been forgotten -- a true loss for any fan or serious student of the great French novelist. In fact, New York publishers declined to publish Edward Ford's translation, and then he contacted Green Integer, which quickly accepted it. Now, Ford writes in a preface, we can all "enjoy a lost classic whose day in the sun has finally arrived."
— Nick Owchar5/13/07
Oprah to the rescue...again
HarperCollins posted a gain in profit in the quarter ending March 30, Publishers Weekly reports, and thanks go once again to Oprah Winfrey.Winfrey's decision to select the paperback reissue of Sidney Poitier's 2000 autobiography, "The Measure of a Man," for her book club is largely credited by HarperCollins execs for the sudden jump in profit after two down quarters.
Oprah's Book Club started in 1996, and some pundits in publishing say it immediately challenged the refrain of industry execs that U.S. readership was dwindling and that fewer people appreciated good books. Winfrey came along and turned such authors as Wally Lamb and Brett Lott into household names; she even persuaded the general public to give Tolstoy and Faulkner a try. One thing you can safely assume: In the near future, Bertelsmann AG, the media corporation that owns Random House, will be celebrating like HarperCollins when Winfrey completes the discussion of Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "The Road," her club's most recent selection.
— Nick Owchar5/09/07
Keeping up with the headlines
It's been less than four weeks since against three members of the Duke Lacrosse team who were accused of raping a black stripper last year.
Next month, Threshold Editions, a division of Simon & Schuster, will rush out "It's Not About the Truth: The Untold Story of the Duke Lacrosse Case and the Lives It Shattered" by former Sports Illustrated editor Don Yaeger with Mike Pressler, head coach of the Duke Lacrosse team.
Advance copies of the book are already circulating, and it includes timelines, a "cast" list of all the parties involved in the scandal, as well as indignation on every page. To gauge the tone, just consider the opening of the chapter titled "Who is Mike Nifong?", which refers to the Durham County district attorney who sought to prosecute the accused players: "Senator Joseph McCarthy persecuted communists; Pharaoh Ramses II persecuted Hebrews; and District Attorny Mike Nifong, well .he persecuted traffic violators. Until, that is, he set his sights on Duke Lacrosse players."
Simon & Schuster launched Threshold Editions in 2006; the publisher's "imprint for conservative readers" has previously published books by Mary and Lynne Cheney and L. Paul Bremer.
— Nick Owchar5/08/07
The compassionate conservative
If you want a sense of just how far the conservative revolution has drifted, give some thought to the late Barry Goldwater. In 1964, as the GOP nominee for president, the U.S. senator from Arizona was vilified as a pro-nukes, pro-confrontation crackpot, a perception cemented by President Johnson's legendary "Daisy" campaign TV commercial, which lingers in the public imagination, although it aired only once. Yet 43 years later, Goldwater begins to look like a visionary, a man for whom conservatism had nothing to do with "values voters" but, rather, with government staying out of people's affairs. Late in his career, Goldwater ruffled many Reagan-era Republicans by opposing restrictions on abortion and gay rights; when the Rev. Jerry Falwell said Christians ought to oppose the nomination of Sandra Day O'Connor to the U.S. Supreme Court, Goldwater famously retorted, "I think every good Christian ought to kick Falwell right in the ass."Goldwater's perspective can be found in "The Conscience of a Conservative" (Princeton University Press: 144 pp., $14.95 paper). Originally published in 1960, and reprinted with a foreword by George F. Will and an afterword by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the book lays out, clearly and succinctly, his uncompromising views. Goldwater held freedom as the highest value in American society: freedom from law, freedom from government, freedom from anybody else's vision but your own. You can argue with him on the particulars, but there's something compelling about his quintessentially American notion of self-reliance, the idea that "[e]very man, for his individual good and for the good of the society, is responsible for his own development." This is the line where conservatism blurs into libertarianism, where the rights of the individual are affirmed over those of the state. These days, that's a radical concept — perhaps most of all among those who see themselves as Goldwater's political heirs.
— David L. Ulin5/04/07
Poor Richard Bachman. Twenty-two years after Stephen King killed him off with "cancer of the pseudonym," this fictional alter ego will not stay dead. In June, Scribner will publish "Blaze" (276 pp., $24), the sixth Bachman novel, and the first since 1996's "The Regulators." In a foreword, King calls the book "a trunk novel" — the kind that's been stashed away for many years. Originally written in the early 1970s, it is the work of a very young writer, a piece of gothic crime fiction that wears its influences (Horace McCoy, Edward Anderson, James M. Cain) on its sleeve.
Were King a less iconic figure, "Blaze" would probably have remained in its trunk. Yet, there's an undeniably charming quality to this youthful attempt to inhabit the soul of a dimwitted kidnapper, who is in over his head in a set of circumstances from which no good can come. The same is true of the decision to assume the Bachman pseudonym again, which comes off as the kind of nudge-nudge, wink-wink posture of a writer enjoying himself. This has been a hallmark of King's career, the notion that writing can, and should, be fun.
Of course, the author takes the illusion just so far; on the cover of "Blaze," the name Stephen King is in the biggest type. Indeed, the book concludes with the short story "Memory," which, an editorial note informs us, is the basis of King's next full-length novel, "Duma Key," due out in early 2008.
— David L. Ulin5/04/07
The race is on between Little, Brown and Alfred A. Knopf. According to Editor & Publisher, both houses have moved up publication of forthcoming biographies of Hillary Clinton so that the books will appear on the same day.(AP)Last week, Knopf announced that Carl Bernstein's "A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton," originally scheduled for August, would appear June 19. This week, Little, Brown decided to go head- to- head with Knopf by scrapping its own August publication plans for "Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton" by Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr., both New York Times reporters. That book is now set to come out on June 19 as well.
Your move, Knopf.
— Nick Owchar5/03/07
Blurring the lines?
The publication date of Khaled Hosseini's "A Thousand Splendid Suns" (Riverhead, 372 pp., $25.95) may be three weeks away, but if you want a taste, you can visit Amazon.com. Yesterday, the online bookseller announced that it had cut a deal to offer readers an exclusive download previewing the novel, as well as a podcast interview with the author. "A Thousand Splendid Suns" is set in Hosseini's native Afghanistan, much like his first novel, "The Kite Runner," which became a publishing phenomenon when it appeared in 2003 -- a bestseller in hardcover and paperback with more than 4 million copies in print, and a staple of book clubs nationwide.The Hosseini deal is just the latest instance of Amazon.com reinventing itself in the face of a rapidly changing online culture. Already, the bookseller is offering a series called Amazon Shorts, featuring self-contained exclusive works in which writers like Jim Crace, Melissa Fay Greene and David McCullough explore some signature themes. (Go to the Amazon books page and scroll down the far left column to "More to Discover" to see the Amazon Shorts collection.)
Yet if all this makes for terrific marketing, it also raises tricky questions about the boundaries between publishers, booksellers and consumers. That's only heightened by Amazon's decision to release early copies of "A Thousand Splendid Suns" to its Top 100 Reviewers, "a collection of Amazon.com's leading customer reviewers, in order to share this book with new and previous fans of his work." Setting aside the idea of a select group of customers getting preferential treatment, it's discomforting to see readers treated like advance scouts in a publicity juggernaut. Who, exactly, is working whom here? And what does it say about how publishers and booksellers view their audience?
— David L. Ulin5/02/07
A gift outright
Since they left Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1972, Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney and his wife, Marie, a painter, have lived and worked in a cottage near Glanmore in the Wicklow Hills south of Dublin. On Saturday night, the couple returned the favor of local generosity by donating manuscripts and paintings to a local auction intended to raise money to convert an abandoned police station into an arts center for the nearby village of Ashford.Seamus Heaney (AFP)The poet donated eight items in all, but the evening's star attraction was a lot consisting of three handwritten working drafts and a holograph copy of Heaney's "Glanmore Sonnet VII," which he wrote shortly after moving into the area. Irish manuscript collector Liam O'Leary beat out an unidentified telephone bidder from Belfast and purchased the drafts for just under $37,000.
One of the event's organizers, Noel Keyes, told the Irish Times that Heaney "has a great sense of community about him. There are few others of his type who would donate documents as important as this. It's very generous."
— Tim Rutten4/30/07
California writers among 2007 Guggenheim Fellows
Among the recipients of this year's Guggenheim fellowships are several California fiction writers and poets: Oakland's Daniel Alarcón ("Lost City Radio"), now a visiting writer at Mills College; Christopher Buckley ("Sleepwalk") of UC Riverside; and Steve Erickson, a novelist ("Our Ecstatic Days") and instructor at California Institute of the Arts.
The 189 recipients were chosen from a pool of about 2,800 applicants, with the awards totaling $7.6 million. The press announcement states that selections were made based on recommendations from hundreds of expert advisors. Then, approval is given by the foundation's board of trustees. Six of the boards members are past recipients: Joel Conarroe, Joyce Carol Oates, Richard A. Rifkind, Charles Ryskamp, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, and Edward Hirsch.
For a complete list of recipients, click here.
— Nick Owchar4/30/07
"Húrin" takes a hit
As expected, J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Children of Húrin" is selling extremely well since its release last week. On Amazon's bestsellers list, for instance, the novel has been holding a solid second place only to orders of the final Harry Potter installment.
But that doesn't mean Tolkien's book is without its critics. Tolkien has always had them. Think back to Edmund Wilson's attack on Tolkien's work as "juvenile trash" in his 1956 piece "Oo, Those Awful Orcs" in the Nation.
Today, Wilson's mantle passes to the more good-natured shoulders of journalist John Crace, who fired a hilarious salvo at "Húrin" earlier this week in the Guardian's book section.
In the regular feature called "The Digested Read" -- in which a book is reduced to its bare essentials while some flavor of the original is given -- Crace jabs at Tolkien's arch dialogue and story line with the sort of humor that Wilson sorely lacked. Here, for instance, is how Crace boils down the role of the major character Turin:
" 'Forsooth,' he swore. 'Henceforth shall I remain a derivative Wagnerian hero and wander mindlessly through the realms of Middle-Earth on a quasi-symbolic quest and, Children of the Eldar, resolve only to talk in sentences of unspeakable leadenness, punctuated by manifold parentheses.' "
— Nick Owchar4/26/07
Homage to Halberstam
Since the death of David Halberstam in a Northern California car accident on Monday, the appreciations have flowed in. No one expected this tragedy -- who would? -- but many were ready with the right words. Newsweek's Jon Meacham wrote an eloquent tribute to a person he considered "always present at the creation, reporting, watching, thinking, and writing about the unfolding drama of what Henry Luce called the American Century." Meacham is joined by several other Newsweek writers in praising this chronicler's singular body of work, which includes "The Best and the Brightest" and "The Teammates."
National Public Radio's Scott Simon shows a similar admiration for Halberstam's many gifts as a writer, while Salon has posted a 1999 interview with Geoff Edgers after the publication of Halberstam's "Playing for Keeps: Michael Jordan and the World He Made."
BusinessWeek, meanwhile, offers something truly special -- a recording of a speech Halberstam made two days before his death. Spencer Ante, BusinessWeek's computer editor, calls it a "wise and feisty speech" that Halberstam delivered at a conference for UC Berkeley's journalism graduate school. Hearing of the auto accident, Ante said, "I realized that this had been the last speech of Halberstam...and that the tape I made of his April 21 remarks now had historical significance."
— Nick Owchar4/25/07
Words, words, words
Now here's a sense of how far we've come: In the same mail delivery two books arrive that are distant cousins: "The First English Dictionary, 1604" (Bodleian Library: 154 pp., $25) and "The New American Heritage College Dictionary," 4th edition (Houghton Mifflin: 1,636 pp., $26.95), which has a password for downloading applications.
Robert Cawdrey, the author of that first dictionary, was a recalcitrant 16th century preacher whose lexicon arose from his realization that plain English -- not bookishness -- was crucial in the pulpit. At the time, English was straining and changing as foreign words flooded the language. So Cawdrey devoted himself to compiling a long list of "hard words...gathered for the benefit & helpe of Ladies, Gentlewomen, or any other vnskillful persons." He called it "A Table Alphabetical": no fancy flourishes of language, no literary examples of the sort Samuel Johnson later accomplished -- just the straight dope on meanings. Definitions are short, curt and sometimes a little salty for those workingmen in the congregation. A "eunuch" is certainly "gelded," but just in case that meaning was still too delicate, Cawdrey added: "wanting stones." You get the idea.
Cawdrey's spirit infuses the "New American Heritage Dictionary" -- it's still for the common man -- with the bonus of some online software. It's embarrassing to encounter a word you've never used before, like "edamame," and then stumbling on it as the waitress giggles. One of the best parts of this dictionary is the audio component, which is available after downloading eReference Suite using a passkey code included with purchase (if only the downloads were a little easier). A preface by Geoffrey Nunberg reminds us that the English language is still in flux (the dictionary includes some 7,500 new terms), though the sources are different from those in Cawdrey's day. Today, Nunberg says, "digital technologies have had a sweeping effect," which is why readers will find, for instance, the standard entry for "net" followed by "netizen" and "netiquette."
— Nick Owchar4/23/07
2007 Eisner Award comics nominees
If you haven't heard, the nominees run the gamut for this year's Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards. It's especially pleasing to see Jeph Loeb, with Darwyn Cooke, in the running for Best Single issue for "Batman/The Spirit #1: Crime Convention." Loeb's a super-fine storyteller (Cooke's no slouch either).
The reality-based category includes Alison Bechdel's poignant memoir of her childhood, "Fun Home," as well as Brian Fies' stirring "Mom's Cancer." (Too bad Marisa Acocella Marchetto's "Cancer Vixen" and Miriam Engelberg's "Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person" didn't make the cut: Both of these are powerful titles about the cancer journey.)
For a complete list of nominees in all 29 categories, click here.
— Nick Owchar4/23/07
Where's the juice?
Is it our imagination or have books about sex gotten weightier, more academic and generally off-putting? Has there always been an inverse proportion between sexual marginalia and sensuality? Four new and upcoming titles form a pretty dour bunch, more like a group of disapproving matrons than lusty inquiries.
"Overexposed: Perverting Perversions" by Sylvère Lotringer (MIT Press) sports an inscrutable photo on the cover of a table and two chairs. A promisingly mysterious epigraph from "Lolita" reads: "I discovered there was an endless source of robust enjoyment in trifling with psychiatrists. . . . " Hmmm. Chapter titles such as "Arouse" and "Tease" start out in the right spirit but fizzle into "Bore," "Reject" and "Deter." There are no pictures -- just dense, relentless type.
"In Praise of the Whip: A Cultural History of Arousal" by Niklaus Largier (Zone Books) would make even the most committed French intellectual turn in his grave. The sexiest part of this 500-plus page book is the dedication: "For Karen." There are pictures, many of them medieval images involving little cherubs.
"The Inner Touch: Archaeology of a Sensation" by Daniel Heller-Roazen (Zone Books -- what's going on there? we ask ourselves) floats all too frequently into Latin but sports helpful chapter subheads such as: "Containing Aristotle's Doctrine of the Common Sense, the Master Faculty by Which Animals Sense That They Are Sensing." (Again, no pictures, but lovely snowy, soft, large margins on the pages.)
"Porn-ol-o-gy" by Ayn Carrillo-Gailey (Running Press) veers to the opposite, belly-button, giggly side of the asexual spectrum. The subtitle says it all (literally): "One Good Girl's Hilarious Misadventures as She Attempts to Understand: Strip Clubs, Adult Videos, Sex Toys, Internet Porn, Men's Magazines and Finally Learns to Relax, Since After All It's Just Sex." Oh dear, not exactly "Debbie Does Dallas." Four books in a single month do not necessarily a literary trend maketh, but readers might have cause to watch and worry.
— Susan Salter Reynolds4/22/2007
Me, Myself and I
"The Education of Henry Adams" (Massachusetts Historical Society: 500 pp., $34.95) is one of the oddest and most wonderful books in American literature -- a memoir, such as it is, of the eminent late-19th and early-20th century historian, who also happened to be the grandson of John Quincy Adams and the great-grandson of John Adams.
What makes the book so revelatory, however, is the way that, more than half a century before postmodernism, Adams deconstructs the autobiographical form. Writing in third person -- "Under the Shadow of the Boston State House," the book begins, "in the third house below Mount Vernon Place, February 16, 1838, a child was born, and christened later by his uncle...as Henry Brooks Adams" -- Adams tells not so much the story of his life as a fictional re-creation of it. He casts himself as a naif adrift in a world whose rapid changes have, paradoxically, rendered his traditional education obsolete.
The focus here is, to be sure, selective, but that's part of the point, for Adams has no intention of being comprehensive; among the areas he overlooks is his marriage, which ended with the suicide of his wife in 1885.
Adams originally issued "The Education" privately, in 1907; a general edition, cleaned up and modernized, was published after his death in 1918. It has become an American standard, winning a Pulitzer Prize and selected by the Modern Library as one of the hundred best nonfiction books of the 20th century. Now, to commemorate the book's 100th anniversary, a new version of the 1907 original has been released.
"Why would anyone re-edit a book that has satisfied its readers for a century?" editors Edward Chalfont and Conrad Edick Wright ask in an introduction. It's a good question, but their answer -- that they meant to restore the book to the way Adams intended it -- lacks the necessary Adamsian gloss.
No, if "The Education" is a book that opens up the territory of autobiography -- suggesting that there is little difference between life and myth -- let's apply the same standard to this restored edition and identify it, simply, as a labor of love.
— David L. Ulin4/22/2007
The view of a boss run amok
Is Sally Koslow's "Little Pink Slips" another novelistic treatment of a terrible boss, a la "Blind Submission" or "The Devil Wears Prada"? The novel doesn't officially arrive in bookstores until today, but there's been plenty of buzz about the storyline: a razor-thin roman a clef inspired by Rosie O'Donnell's plunge into the magazine biz a few years ago. Koslow was editor-in-chief of McCall's before O'Donnell arrived in 2000, ready to revamp the magazine -- complete with a name-change to Rosie -- and to take on O, The Oprah Magazine. The venture failed in 2003, and Rosie folded.
According to Publishers Weekly it's hard not to be reminded of O'Donnell by the character of Bebe Blake, a mouthy celebrity who runs amok at the venerable women's magazine Lady. Bebe has a wildly successful TV show and expects that Lady, renamed Bebe, will be a powerful rival to (wait for it) O.
Is Blake O'Donnell? Readers can decide for themselves. But in the meantime, here's a snarky description of the character, from the vantage point of an embattled editor named Magnolia Gold:"Bebe was wearing tight jeans -- Juicy Couture, Magnolia guessed, although she wasn't sure they were made in Bebe's size -- a V-neck Grateful Dead T-shirt that showed deep decolletage, and boots that looked compromised trying to support her. . . . "
— Nick Owchar4/19/07
Another day, another award
Last night, at New York's Columbia University, Philip Roth picked up the first Grizane Masters Award from the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America "in recognition of his merit as a writer and for introducing the work of Primo Levi to a wider American audience." This is the latest in a long string of awards for Roth -- who earlier this month took home the inaugural PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction -- but the first, one has to think, that honors his role as a reader, in addition to his acuity with the written word.
Certainly, no contemporary fiction writer could be more deserving. Not only does his career, which now spans half a century, offer a remarkably coherent vision of American life since the 1940s, but he has long been a champion of other writers -- Levi, as well as such novelists as Bruno Schulz, Tadeusz Borowski and Milan Kundera, who were first published in this country as part of the Roth-edited series "Writers From the Other Europe."
In his acceptance speech, Roth recalled meeting Levi in 1986, and quoted from a piece he wrote at the time: "It is not as surprising as one might initially think, that writers divide like the rest of mankind into two categories: those who listen to you and those who don't. Levi listens, and with his entire face. . . . It's no wonder that people are always telling him things and that everything is already faithfully recorded before it is written down."
— David L. Ulin4/18/07
The long and the short of it
Alice Munro's "Away From Her" (Vintage: 76 pp., $9 paper) is not a new book -- not really. Rather, it's a stand-alone edition of her 1999 short story "The Bear Came Over the Mountain," retitled as a tie-in for the film that it inspired. According to a preface, director and screenwriter Sarah Polley read the story and couldn't shake it; the resulting movie, which stars Julie Christie and Olympia Dukakis, opens May 4.
Of course, Munro's is hardly the first short story to be repackaged and sold as a tie-in; in the last few years alone, Annie Proulx's "Brokeback Mountain" has appeared as a similar kind of mini-book, as has Philip K. Dick's "The Minority Report." Nor is "Away From Her" the only new movie to draw its inspiration from a piece of short fiction. Ray Lawrence's "Jindabyne," which opens a week before the Polley film, recasts Raymond Carver's exquisite "So Much Water So Close to Home."
As for what this means, well, either it's a renaissance for the short story or yet another indication that people in Hollywood can't read at length. Regardless, it's fascinating to see major publishers embrace a format that many smaller, independent presses have relied upon for decades; indeed, Carver's first book of fiction was a chapbook featuring a single story, "Put Yourself in My Shoes," published by Santa Barbara's Capra Press in 1974.
— David L. Ulin4/17/07
Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" Wins a Pulitzer
This afternoon in New York, Cormac McCarthy was named the winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for his novel "The Road." McCarthy's book vaulted to the top of bestseller lists late last month when Oprah Winfrey picked it for her book club.
Add the Pulitzer to McCarthy's other recent successes -- a National Book Award nomination, the Oprah pick and movie plans for "The Road" as well as his previous novel, "No Country for Old Men" -- and you have a fascinating conundrum: an über-reclusive figure who can't seem to get out of the spotlight.
The Pulitzer fiction finalists also included Richard Powers' "The Echo Maker" and Alice McDermott's "After This," but it was McCarthy's story of the love between a father and son in a ravaged, end-of-days landscape that seems to have tapped into the zeitgeist in the most enduring way. Other 2007 Pulitzer honorees are Lawrence Wright for "The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11" in general nonfiction; Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff for "The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation" in history; Natasha Trethewey's "Native Guard" in poetry; and, in biography, Debby Applegate for "The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher."
Ray Bradbury also received a special citation in recognition of his "distinguished, prolific and deeply influential career" as an "unmatched author" of science fiction and fantasy, the Pulitzer announcement said.
— Nick Owchar4/16/07
Never let it be said that dying isn't a good career move. In wake of Kurt Vonnegut's death Wednesday night, sales of his books have skyrocketed at Amazon.com. As of Thursday afternoon, several of his books were in the online bookseller's Top 100, with "Slaughterhouse-Five" topping the list at No. 7 and even "God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian" — a slim and somewhat tenuous collection of radio monologues — coming in at No. 205. Vonnegut, of course, had a surprise bestseller in 2005 with his final book, "A Man Without a Country," an autobiographical pastiche in which he reflected on his life and times, concluding that "[l]ike my distinct betters Einstein and Twain, I now give up on people, too." It's hard to imagine that after all these years, there are so many readers who have yet to experience Vonnegut — or perhaps, it's just that people are buying second copies, new editions, books to give to friends. Either way, the fact that his work is selling in such volume may be the only consolation in the death of this American master, a writer who transformed the face of contemporary literature by reminding us that it ought to be, yes, fun to read.
— David L. Ulin4/15/07
He's not going to take it
Circulating on the Internet: The following excerpt, from Lee Iacocca's "Where Have All the Leaders Gone?" (Scribner, 274 pp., $25) — co-written with Catherine Whitney and in bookstores April 17 — suggests the extent to which political dissatisfaction has become a mainstream pursuit:
Am I the only guy in this country who's fed up with what's happening? Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder. We've got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, we've got corporate gangsters stealing us blind, and we can't even clean up after a hurricane much less build a hybrid car. But instead of getting mad, everyone sits around and nods their heads when the politicians say, "Stay the course."Stay the course? You've got to be kidding. This is America, not the damned Titanic. I'll give you a sound bite: Throw the bums out! ...
I'll go a step further. You can't call yourself a patriot if you're not outraged. ... Why are we in this mess? How did we end up with this crowd in Washington? Well, we voted for them — or at least some of us did. But I'll tell you what we didn't do. We didn't agree to suspend the Constitution. We didn't agree to stop asking questions or demanding answers. Some of us are sick and tired of people who call free speech treason. Where I come from that's a dictatorship, not a democracy.Want to hear more? Iacocca will be speaking about his book at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on April 28.
— David L. Ulin4/15/07
The poet's voice
April is poetry month, and to celebrate, Alfred A. Knopf has released "The Knopf National Poetry Month Collection," a 60-minute CD featuring the work of David Young, J.D. McClatchy, Sharon Olds, Marge Piercy, Mark Strand and others from the imprint's roster.
Poetry readings can be a mixed affair. At their best, they're slices of heaven; at their worst, no amount of coffee will revive you from hearing a writer mumble through what is otherwise some pretty great stuff. Here, we get a bit of both worlds. It's nice to have preserved some of the 20th century's great voices — Frank O'Hara or James Merrill or Joan Didion (reciting stanzas from a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem that figured in "The Year of Magical Thinking"). Jack Gilbert's voice is a papery-thin whisper, like every line will be his last. Kevin Young's is strong and irreverent, as he describes a slick hustler: "His real home was six feet / beneath ground, he was just / up here renting breath / with the rest of us."
Yet at other times, these recordings aren't so successful: It's distracting to hear the voices of John Updike and Anne Carson, squeezed and tiny, recorded, inexplicably, over a telephone line. What, you wonder, were they thinking? And it distracts you from the marvelous words.
— Nick Owchar4/15/07
Fathers and sons
Everyone at HarperCollins UK and Houghton Mifflin has been very careful about not calling "The Children of Húrin" a new novel by J.R.R. Tolkien. Instead, they're billing it as "the first standalone tale of Middle-earth since 1977" because of the role Tolkien's son Christopher played in it.
Bits and pieces of the Húrin saga, considered one of the oldest stories in Tolkien's epic, are scattered throughout books like "The Silmarillion" and "The Book of Lost Tales."
But Tolkien's son decided it was time to weave those pieces together. "It has seemed to me," he explains in press materials, "for a long time that there was a good case for presenting my father's long version of the legend of 'The Children of Húrin' as an independent work." He stresses that he has tried to retain his father's words and story line completely, "if this could be done without distortion or invention, despite the unfinished state in which he left some parts of it."
If it were anyone but Christopher Tolkien saying this, that last bit would be worrisome. But if anyone can be trusted to speculate about J.R.R. Tolkien's narrative instincts, it is surely his son.
Of course, it's hard to say what the story line of "Húrin" is, since the publisher won't send us a copy — unless we promise not to talk about it before it arrives in bookstores Tuesday. One thing that can be gathered from the scattered bits of the legend is this: Some of the subject matter — secret identities, incest and suicide — is bleaker than anything in "The Hobbit" or "The Lord of the Rings."
Will "Húrin" deserve a place alongside those classics? It's unclear, but a very cool trailer (tolkien.hcp-uk.co.uk/thechildrenofhurin.aspx) gives us a taste of what to expect, thanks to illustrations by Alan Lee, which are also included in the new book.
— Nick Owchar4/15/07
A bug's life
In 1996, cartoonist Robert Crumb collaborated with David Zane Mairowitz on an illustrated biography of Franz Kafka that also featured comics adaptations of some of the iconic author's signature works. Now, Fantagraphics Books has reissued "Kafka" (176 pp., $14.95 paper) in a new edition, beginning with an account of the many ways that Kafka imagined his own death. Crumb and Kafka seem like an almost perfect aesthetic pairing, and if the artist's renderings are less consistently revealing than those of Peter Kuper — who has also translated Kafka's stories into comics form — it's exhilarating to see his interpretations of "A Hunger Artist" and "In the Penal Colony," as well as (in abbreviated form) "The Castle" and "The Trial." Yet equally impressive is Mairowitz's evocation of the author's life, a quagmire of despair and self-doubt, as fraught as anything in his fiction. As such, Mairowitz suggests, it is the ultimate irony that "[n]o writer of our time, and probably none since Shakespeare, has been so widely over-interpreted and pigeon-holed."
— David L. Ulin4/15/07Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun