Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Nice Christmas Present From The Huffington Post

The good folks at The Huffington Post books page have adapted my recent piece about "The 10 Best Years That Are Books" into a snazzy slideshow, now called The 10 Best Books That Are Years (fans of SEO will understand the reasons for the title change).  A nice present for Christmas Eve!

Speaking of which:  In honor of this special day, here's the return of my guide to Lesser Known Characters From Dickens's A Christmas Carol, back from the dead like Marley's Ghost.

Good Yule, everybody!

Friday, December 18, 2009

The 10 Best What?

I'm pretty tired of the endless "10 Best Books of the Year" lists that are spilling out all over the place, so I came up with what I hope is a novel variation on the theme: A list of The 10 Best Years That Are Books, up now on The Huffington Post.

You may not realize it, but such a year is staring us all in the face right now: 2010, the coming new year, which became a book in 1982 with Arthur C. Clarke's 2010: Odyssey Two. What a prophet that man was!

UPDATE 12/22: A nice mention of this list in the publishing enewsletter Shelf Awareness.

Friday, December 4, 2009

A Very Merry Un-Christmas to You

Scrooge. The Grinch. Satan. To the list of Christmas's greatest antagonists, you may now add the Book Flack. Just a few days into the holiday season and already it's got me PO'd. I'm steaming like a mug of hot cocoa, God help me.

I'm happy to say that I have responded by lashing out on the Huffington Post. In a piece called A Grouch's Guide to Un-Christmas Books, I've offered guidance to help you navigate the holly jolly overkill of the holidays by means of carefully selected reading material--un-Christmas books. These are books that take place at Christmastime, but in terms of tone and content are quite at odds with the season.

With an un-Christmas book, you're covered when the Christmas tree huggers in your life insist you should be merry and bright and reading a Christmas book. At the same time, it allows you to indulge your own dark Yuletide impulses...

I'm happy to say that the piece was picked up in the publishing newsletter Shelf Awareness today. It's comforting to know I'm not alone.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

In a State of Anticipation...

Can't wait for Sarah Palin's media tour. Putting her near a microphone is like dropping Mentos into Diet Coke--mindless, messy, and really really funny.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Hat Trick

With this blog post, I'm blogging about another blog post I wrote on The Huffington Post, which in turn focuses on my other blog, Classics Rock! That's a triple play by anyone's standards--even I have trouble following it. I'm hoping to drum up more input for Classics Rock!, which features songs based on books and authors--I'm running out of ideas (though I hope you'll visit tomorrow for a song that's appropriate to November 11th).

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Henry V to I

"King Henry V [led] a sodden and exhausted English Army against a French force that was said to outnumber his by as much as five to one. . . . But Agincourt's status as perhaps the greatest victory against overwhelming odds in military history--and a keystone of the English self-image--has been called into doubt by a group of historians. . . . The historians have concluded that the English could not have been outnumbered by more than about two to one. And depending on how the math is carried out, Henry may well have faced something closer to an even fight. . . . as some historians see it, the English crown then mounted a public relations effort to magnify the victory by exaggerating the disparity in numbers. "
--The New York Times, October 25, 2009

ACT IV, SCENE III: The English camp at Agincourt.


Glo. Where is the King?

Bed. The King himself is rode to view their battle.

West. Of fighting men they have full threescore thousand.

Exe. There's five to one.

Sal. God's arm strike with us! 'Tis a fearful odds.

[Enter the KING]

West. Oh, that we now had here
But one ten thousand of those men in England
That do no work today!

K.Hen. What's he that wishes so?
My cousin Westmoreland? Relax, fair cousin.
We won't need 'em.

West. What say you, my sovereign lord?

K. Hen. Really, it's not as bad as you think.

West. But my liege, they number some threescore thousand!

K.Hen. Trust me, they don't even have onescore thousand.

Exe. What! So few?

K. Hen. More like half that! [Giggles.]
No, my coz, wish not a man from England.
We few can whup them with one gauntlet tied behind our backs.
I pray thee, wish not one man more.
For we shall strike them such a blow
That 'twill knock them into the middle of next fortnight.
So sternly shall we smite them
That 'pon their wakening they shall find
Their garments are no longer the fashion of the day.
Oh, do not wish one more! Unless it be my little sister,
For she and I alone could kick those French derrieres.
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart.
His passport shall be made
And crowns for convoy put into his purse,
Provided he relates to all and sundry
How bravely we faced forty--er, sixty thousand troops.
This day is called the feast of Crispian.
He that shall live this day and see old age
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbors
And say "These wounds I had on Crispin's Day,"
Facing a horde of eighty--I mean a hundred…
No, wait, two hundred thousand men at arms.
This story shall the good man teach his son,
Bumping up the enemy numbers in the telling
By a factor of ten--no, twenty--
So that from this day to the ending of the world,
It shall be remembered how
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers
Opened up a cask of whoopass on them,
Though they easily numbered five hundred thousand.
And gentlemen in England now abed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
Fighting what must have been ten times a hundred thousand--
Maybe more--upon Saint Crispin's Day.

Sal. My sovereign lord, the French are bravely in their battles set,
And will with all expedience charge on us.

K. Hen. Thou dost not wish more help from England, Coz?

West. My liege, would you and I alone,
Without more help, could fight this royal battle!
But a good PR firm would not go amiss.

K. Hen. Well spoken! [To the troops] Once--no, twice more unto the breach, dear friends, twice more!


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Emily Dickinson's Ceiling

There's a news story going around to the effect that Emily Dickinson's ceiling collapsed. It's all true--last weekend, a portion of the ceiling in the parlor of Dickinson's residence, the Homestead (now part of the Emily Dickinson Museum), collapsed, damaging some furniture and breaking bric-a-brac and no doubt throwing off the meter of some of her poems as well. What caught my eye was the fact that the plaster "was not original to the house." Could it be that Ms. Dickinson herself effected some repairs some time during the 19th century?

The answer is revealed in a newly discovered Dickinson poem that I just wrote this morning called "On My Ceiling Falling On Me." It's available on the Huffington Post, so I hope you'll take a look.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Test Your Knowledge of Literature's Greatest Swine Flu Scares

Identify the work of literature in which each swine flu scare occurs:

A. A group of farm animals rebels against their human masters and takes over the farm. At first all the animals are considered equals, but soon the pigs emerge as the leaders of the collective. Over time the pigs adopt more and more human characteristics until finally they become indistinguishable from people. They enjoy wearing pants and drinking alcohol, but are surprised to discover that in the course of this transformation, they have somehow infected themselves with swine flu.

B. A young pig living on a farm befriends a barn spider. The spider repeatedly saves the pig from slaughter by using her web to display flattering words about him, such as “some pig,” “terrific,” and “radiant.” As the pig’s behavior grows erratic and he starts to show signs of disease, the spider’s messages change, with words like “infectious,” “quarantine,” and “H1N1” appearing in the web. These warnings go unheeded, and the pig is brought to a busy county fair, where he wins a prize. The spider also goes to the fair to weave additional warnings about the pig’s condition. She dies before she is able to do so, leaving hundreds of fairgoers at risk of infection.

C. A baby pig and a silly old bear go hunting heffalumps and woozles, but the expedition is cut short when the bear comes down with a sore throat. The bear characterizes this as a “bother,” suspecting that the piglet is to blame for his infection. They proceed to the nearby home of their friend, a rabbit, who ladles honey into the bear to soothe his throat. The bear does not object. When it is time to leave, the bear is so swollen from infection and the multiple pots of honey he’s consumed that he becomes stuck in the rabbit’s doorway, his top half outside, his bottom half inside. This becomes an issue for the rabbit when the bear develops diarrhea.

D. Several British schoolboys are stranded on a deserted island and quickly descend into savagery. Some of the boys hunt and kill a wild pig, and create a totem by placing the pig’s severed head on a stake driven into the ground. The pig’s head seems to exert a sinister influence over some of the boys, particularly when they start complaining of fever and body aches. Ironically, a boy named Piggy is the only one who doesn’t exhibit swine flu symptoms, because he has fallen off a cliff.

E. A heroic Greek warrior tries to sail home after a war, but is cursed by the gods with a deplorable sense of direction. Eventually he and his men find themselves on the island of a sorceress who infects half the crew with the rarest strain of swine flu there is—the kind that actually turns them into swine. On the advice of the gods, the warrior treats his men with sacred herbs, plenty of rest, and fluids. The crew recovers with no apparent ill effects, but their joy is short-lived as they all drown soon afterwards.

F. The Son of God determines that a demonic strain of swine flu is responsible for the severe symptoms exhibited by a man who lives in proximity to a herd of swine. Using His miraculous powers, He transfers the contagion back into the herd, whereupon the swine run into the sea and drown themselves. This causes great wonderment among the multitudes; for this was in the days before the CDC or vaccines or even the widespread practice of personal hygiene. The Son of God’s reputation as a healer and miracle worker grows, though He is unable to mollify the irate swineherd, who’s left with a lot of drowned swine on his hands.

Answers: A: Animal Farm B: Charlotte’s Web C: Winnie-the-Pooh D: Lord of the Flies E: The Odyssey F: The New Testament, Mark 5:1-14

Try our other quiz, Test Your Knowledge of Literature’s Greatest Bird Flu Scares.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Things I'd Like to See This Weekend on C-SPAN's "Book TV"

10:00 am Google Books and Mythical Beasts
In a recent New York Times Op-Ed piece defending the Google Books settlement, Google co-founder Sergey Brin stated: "The agreement limits consumer choice in out-of-print books about as much as it limits consumer choice in unicorns." Here Brin expands upon this statement, clarifying Google's plans for unicorns. "We've rounded up all the extant unicorns and are keeping them at the Googleplex in Mountainview, California," Brin says. "Our goal is to preserve them so that everyone who wants to have access to unicorns can do so. Of course, right now you'll have to come to Google if you want to see a unicorn, but the fact that we possess all the unicorns in the world in no way prohibits other companies from starting their own unicorn preserves. In fact, we'd love to see that happen!" Brin says Google's unicorns enjoy the best possible conditions: "They're free to gambol and frolic, to primp in their magic dens, or to sport with young maidens. These are free-range unicorns." Brin says he discovered that unicorns had survived Noah's flood by reading the apocryphal Book of Noah--a volume he found through a Google Books search. Repeating a claim he makes in his op-ed piece, Brin says that without Google Books you would have to "fly to one of a handful of leading libraries in the country and hope to find it in the stacks. Unless," he adds, "you don't have access to the corporate jet. In that case you might want to try the interlibrary loan system."

2:00 pm Wild Things: You Make My Heart Sing
Dave Eggers discusses his recent adaptations of Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are. Eggers co-wrote the screenplay for the film version of Sendak's classic children's book, which opens today. He explains that the trick to adapting a children's book for film is "adding pictures. Seriously, you have to add a lot of pictures. Moving pictures." Eggers also expanded Sendak's story, which consists of just ten sentences, into a 300-page novelization called The Wild Things. "That required adding words," he says. "Lots and lots of words. More words than I bet you can even imagine. And the end result is, it's longer." For his next project, Eggers plans to combine his screenplay with his novelization, revise them by slashing words and pictures, and turn it all back into Sendak's original.

11:00 am The Løst Lost Symbol
Police in Iceland are looking for the thief who stole the first proof copy of the Icelandic translation of Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol. In this segment, the detective in charge of the investigation reports that "the prospects for solving this crime look gloomy. But then everything looks gloomy here in Iceland." Police are considering several theories, including the possibility that the proof was eaten by reindeer or that the thief burned it in an attempt to keep warm. Meanwhile, the publisher has hired its own investigator, "the Private Dick from Reykjavik," who believes that the thief plans to translate Brown's novel back into English in the hope that this time it will be plausible.

3:00 pm Obscure Dickens
A series profiling lesser-known Dickens characters. This week: Manwich, a convict in Great Expectations who is sent to prison in Australia but returns a wealthy man, having made a fortune in sloppy joes.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Second Vook

Matthew Cavnar, part of the team behind the new ebook-video hybrid called a "vook," left a comment about my rhyming vook post last week. I thought I'd put it front and center today, because if you're going to call someone out about a blog post, this is a pretty classy way to do it:
Dear Larry,

Though your lines were rather critical
We at Vook were impressed they were lyrical

Perhaps our next vooks you'll be more fond of
And - don't fear - we won't be writing sonnets.
We'll leave the criticism and the verse to you
Though we wish you'd understand: It's tricky
to build something fresh, original, and entirely new.

We don't want you to trade your book for a vook.
But maybe, (soon!), give us another look?


Matthew (at) vook (dot) com
[But as I said in my epic vook poem, please don't let me be mistook--my issue is less with the product or the concept behind it, and more with the nails-on-a-chalkboard word "vook."]

Friday, October 9, 2009

Vooking Daggers

A response to the launch of a new ebook-video hybrid called a "vook"--or more specifically, a response to its name--done in rhyme in honor of National Poetry Day (technically yesterday--sue me).

I took a look. I saw a vook.
It seems some genius undertook
To artfully combine a book
With video somebody took.
My problem with this new ebook—
The thing that really has me shook--
Is that they’re calling it a vook!
I mean, c’mon, what kind of schnook
Would coin a stupid word like vook?
It’s something I can’t overlook!
The ‘v’ from video they took
And rudely mashed it up with ‘ook’
Which, if you take a careful look,
Is just the last three-fourths of ‘book.’
Video plus book is vook??
I can’t believe that notion took!
I think that vook should get the hook!
Please don’t let me be mistook—
In good conscience, I can’t brook
A word as ludicrous as vook.
Let it be said we all forsook--
Be we Zulu or Chinook,
From Vladivostok to Kirkuk--
To utter this gobbledygook.
And when I choose to read a book,
Nestled in my inglenook,
You can bet, by hook or crook,
It certainly will not be a vook!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Things I'd Like to See This Weekend on C-SPAN's "Book TV"

10:00 am Vook TV
This week Atria Books announced the launch of the "vook," a video-book hybrid that combines text with original video content in an ebook format. As with any new technology, people have lots of questions about the vook: Do I really have to call it a vook? Isn't vook kind of a stupid name? Will I have the opportunity to scratch the eyes out of the person who made up the word vook? Here a representative of Atria addresses these and other issues, including vook verb confusion. (Do you read a vook or watch it? And if you're in a hurry, do you skim a vook or surf it?) He also describes the development of the vook and some missteps along the way, notably a children's vook about White House pets that featured the Zapruder film. Also discussed: A line of vook accessories, including TiVook, which allows you to digitally record your vook now to enjoy whenever you're ready--hailed by J.D. Power and Associates as "the most redundant technological development of the last 40,000 years." The first four vooks are priced at $6.99, but are expected to be cheaper when they come out in vaperback.

2:00 pm Going Rogue Going Fast
Sarah Palin's memoir, originally scheduled to be come out in the spring of 2010, has been fast-tracked by her publisher. In this segment, a representative of HarperCollins explains how the entire publishing schedule for Going Rogue has been dramatically accelerated. It is available now for pre-order online, and goes on sale November 17th. The media campaign is already under way, with the book being praised on Fox News and excoriated on MSNBC before it has even been printed. Ratings of either five or zero stars have been posted on Amazon by people who couldn't possibly have read it yet. At this rate, no one will have to actually read the book. If the pace of this schedule continues, booksellers should start returning the book by Thanksgiving, and the remaining stock will have been remaindered by mid-December. The paperback will be published for New Year's, with any remaining copies pulped by Valentine's Day. "It's all about efficiencies," the publisher says.

11:00 am Who's a Rogue?
Former Navy SEAL Richard Marcinko, author of Rogue Warrior, The Rogue Warrior's Strategy for Success, Leadership Secrets of a Rogue Warrior, and a whole bunch of others books with the word rogue on the cover, discusses his beef with Sarah Palin's memoir. "Going Rogue? You gotta be &#%*$!@ kidding me. Listen babe, you ain't rogue til you've done a %#$*!@& nighttime HALO jump into enemy territory carrying 230 !&%$*@# pounds of special ops equipment and pasted a few !%#&*@$ bad guys. Offing a @#*!&%$ moose from a helicopter in designer hunting gear don't cut it in my *&#!%@$ book--in fact, in any of my #%$!&*@ books." Marcinko speculates that Palin meant to call her book Going Rouge, "after her &#*!@%$ hockey mom lipstick or something." He was somewhat mollified to learn that until recently Palin had been pronouncing rogue "rogooey," but says "I may still have to fry her #@&!%*$ ass."

3:00 pm Speech Impediment
Matt Latimer, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, discusses his book Speech-Less: Tales of a White House Survivor. Is it true Mr. Bush had a speech impediment? "His mouth," Mr. Latimer says. He reveals that one particular word always gave Mr. Bush trouble: "We had to make sure it was carefully spelled out on the teleprompter--NUKE-YOU-LER--so he'd be sure to pronounce it correctly." The hardest part about writing for Mr. Bush was his constant pressure to work the phrase "the intercourse between nations" into his speeches. "He'd giggle just thinking about it," Latimer says.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Rogue Elephant

When I heard that Sarah Palin's forthcoming memoir bears the title Going Rogue, I looked up the word "rogue" in the dictionary and immediately wondered if anyone in Palin's camp had bothered to do the same. (Knowing of Ms. Palin's dysfunctional relationship with the English language, I never dreamed that she would personally undertake such research, but surely someone on her staff could have cracked the old Websters.) Here's the listing in its entirety, courtesy of

rogue  [rohg]

1. a dishonest, knavish person; scoundrel.
2. a playfully mischievous person; scamp: The youngest boys are little rogues.
3. a tramp or vagabond.
4. a rogue elephant or other animal of similar disposition.
5. Biology. a usually inferior organism, esp. a plant, varying markedly from the normal.

–verb (used without object)
6. to live or act as a rogue.

–verb (used with object)
7. to cheat.
8. to uproot or destroy (plants, etc., that do not conform to a desired standard).
9. to perform this operation upon: to rogue a field.

10. (of an animal) having an abnormally savage or unpredictable disposition, as a rogue elephant.
11. no longer obedient, belonging, or accepted and hence not controllable or answerable; deviating, renegade: a rogue cop; a rogue union local.

1555–65; appar. short for obs. roger begging vagabond, orig. cant word

1. villain, trickster, swindler, cheat, mountebank, quack.

The specific association of "rogue" with elephants ought to be a rich source of PR opportunities for the Republican Party.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Banned Books Week

Over on Classics Rock! we're marking Banned Books Week 2009 (September 26-October 3) by featuring songs based on frequently challenged books. So far we've had:
"Sneaking Up on Boo Radley" by Bruce Hornsby (To Kill a Mockingbird)

A roundup of songs inspired by Joyce's Ulysses

A roundup of songs inspired by The Catcher in the Rye

"Here Comes That Rainbow Again" by Kris Kristofferson
(The Grapes of Wrath)

"Lord of the Flies" by Iron Maiden (Lord of the Flies)
I have no idea what's going to be featured tomorrow. If you have any ideas, get over to Classics Rock! and submit 'em!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Extreme Embargoing

Publishers with newsworthy books often employ the embargo, a tactic that keeps the book under wraps and away from reviewers, the media, and anyone else in order to preserve its news value. As we saw with Ted Kennedy's True Compass, this is hardly a foolproof technique--the New York Times broke the embargo on the Kennedy memoir almost two weeks before the book's on-sale date. The same has happened with other recent embargoed titles.

Now I've come up with a surefire, 100% guaranteed way to make sure no one will ever break an embargo again. I reveal all in an essay in this week's issue of Publishers Weekly.

And remember: Embargo is not the French word for snails.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol--Just the Italics

"It's buried out there somewhere."

The secret is how to die.

Drink it....You have nothing to fear.


I am just blocks from the White House.


The Temple Room.

The secret is how to die...

The Supreme Worshipful Master.

They will never know my true purpose here.

Throat cut from ear to ear. . . tongue torn out by its root. . . bowels taken out and burned. . . scattered to the four winds of heaven. . . heart plucked out and given to the beasts of the field--

Tonight...something is taking place within these walls that has never before occurred in the history of this brotherhood. Not once, in centuries.

"May this wine I now drink become a deadly poison to me. . . . should I ever knowingly or willfully violate my oath."

My God, they know!

Soon you will lose everything you hold most dear.

Chapter 1
I can't breathe.

I can't breathe. I've got to get out of this box!

Almost there....Just hold on.

The other man I never want to disappoint.

Breathe, Robert...

A taxi stand for the rich and famous.


My uniform?

No chance....Little nooses.


So this is how the other half lives.

No stone left unturned.

A few billion dollars in the bank doesn't hurt either.

Arriving under a veil of secrecy...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Dan Brown Phones It In

So I'm reading The Lost Symbol and by Sunday night had gotten all the way to Chapter 3. (Italics always slow me down!) In that chapter, Robert Langdon receives communications from mentor/father figure/plot device Peter Solomon. What struck me is that Peter Solomon's complete phone number appears in the book, not once but twice. And on facing pages. It's not one of those phony '555' numbers they always use in books and movies either. It's 202-329-5746.

Clearly I was being encouraged to call and say hello to Peter Solomon. When I dialed the number Sunday night, I got a recorded greeting--a man's voice saying, "This is Peter Solomon, leave a message," along with a warning that the mailbox was full.

Wow! I thought (in italics). An interactive Dan Brown novel! Hours of fun!

Here's the weird thing. Just now, as I was preparing to post this, I called the number again. The message had changed slightly. Now it says, "Your call has been forwarded to an automated voice messaging system." A man's voice says, "Peter Solomon," then the message picks up with " not available. The mailbox is full and can not accept any messages at this time." Peter must be having trouble retrieving his messages since his right hand was chopped off and displayed in the Capitol Building. [Note to self: Be sure to insert a spoiler alert before that last sentence.]

I'm trying to see what's going on here. There's no overt marketing angle that I can see, unless Dan Brown and his publisher are in league with my wireless carrier. I'd like to think it's just that someone has a sense of humor, but I'm too cynical and have been around too many marketing campaigns to believe that. And why did the message change? If anyone has any ideas, I'd love to hear them.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Things I'd Like to See This Weekend on C-SPAN's "Book TV"

11:00 am Breaking News: Bestselling Author Sells a Lot of Books!
The New York Times, Reuters, Entertainment Weekly, and media organizations around the world are reporting the astonishing news that Dan Brown's new book The Lost Symbol has sold a lot of copies. TV networks interrupted their regular program schedule with updates on this extraordinary development, and newspapers had to tear out their front page advertisements to accommodate it. The fact that the sequel to The Da Vinci Code, perhaps the bestselling novel of all time, turned out to be a success has been described by one breathless commentator as "the stuff of 80-point headlines." In this segment representatives of several major retail outlets crunch numbers to figure out just how many copies have been sold. First day sales estimates for The Lost Symbol run the gamut from tons to scads, with some industry analysts suggesting that gobs is closer to the mark, and others that it could go as high as a whole slew. Borders reports that it is too early to have specific information, but place the number somewhere between a passel and a heap. Barnes & Noble reports that in the first twenty-four hours they sold umpteen oodles, and Amazon says that when they combine sales of Kindle ebooks with those of the traditional hardcover, they arrive at a figure approaching eleventy-bazillion copies. Brown's publisher has already announced plans to go back to press, with the reprint quantity set at beaucoup shitloads.

3:00 pm Literary Escort
Call girl Ashley Dupre, the "escort" whose shenanigans with luv-gov Eliot Spitzer led to his resignation as governor of New York, vents her frustration at not being able to land a book deal. Dupre concedes that part of the problem may be miscommunication. When publishers talk about escorts, they're usually referring to nice middle-aged women in VWs or hatchbacks who drive authors to interviews with people who haven't read their books. For her part, Dupre admits she may have misunderstood when a publisher insisted on a "blow by blow" account of her activities with Spitzer. She still likes the idea of getting an advance, as she always insisted on payment up front, and vows to continue her efforts to find a publisher for her memoir, It's Been a Business Doing Pleasure With You.

10:00 am Oprah's Book Club Selection
A rebroadcast of Oprah Winfrey announcing her latest book pick. As with her previous selections, it isn't I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell.

4:00 pm Obscure Dickens
A series profiling lesser-known Dickens characters. This week: Wee Bernie. The spiritual kin to Little Nell and Tiny Tim, Wee Bernie is a saintly child who dies at a tragically young age when he is force-fed a bed warmer in Martin Chuzzlewit.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Things I'd Like to See This Weekend on C-SPAN's "Book TV"

10:00 am Amish Amore
For those seeking an exciting new reading experience, The Wall Street Journal suggests Amish romance novels as just the thing to get your barn raised and set your butter churning. A panel discussion of the genre reveals that, like other romance novels, these books feature hunky cover models, but dressed less like half-naked pirates and more like the guy on the Quaker Oats box--picture Fabio buttoned up to the neck in his "for gut" clothes. Another distinguishing characteristic is that in these romances, bodices are more often mended than ripped. These so-called "bonnet novels" are popular among mainstream readers, but many Amish women admit to reading them under the quilt, indulging in titillating depictions of illicit hand-holding and the provocative use of buggy whips. Some Old Order Amish communities don't approve of the books, however, with many church leaders saying they would flush such literature down the toilet if they had indoor plumbing. The program concludes with a young Amish woman sharing her enthusiasm for the genre, followed by a hidden-camera recording of an authentic Amish ceremony in which she is shunned by her community for appearing on TV.

2:00 pm Down These Mean Streets a Man Must Go...
Copies of the late Ted Kennedy's embargoed memoir True Compass were leaked almost two weeks before the book was to go on sale, resulting in a premature New York Times feature story and review. The New York Observer reports that the publisher, Hachette, has hired a private detective to look into the matter "but would not elaborate on his or her identity or specific objective." Here a panel of mystery editors speculates about what kind of detective a publishing company might hire. Would this P.I. get $50 a day plus expenses? Exercise the little grey cells? Observe and deduce? Or just stay home and tend to the orchids? Opinions vary, but there is agreement regarding the specific steps the detective would follow in pursuing the investigation:

1. Assemble the servants for questioning.
2. Crawl around on the carpet with a magnifying glass.
3. Drop in on the vicar for a cup of tea.
4. Get hit on the head in an alley and black out.
5. Go home and tend to the orchids.
6. Uncover corruption at the highest levels of the book distribution process.
7. Gather all the suspects and reveal the identity of the leaker.

The panelists also unanimously conclude that Thursday Next is the most likely detective for the job--she has by far the most experience in books.

11:00 am How Now Dan Brown?
"Today" Show host Matt Lauer discusses his series of daily clues to locations featured in Dan Brown's forthcoming blockbuster The Lost Symbol, on sale next week. Security surrounding the book has been so tight that even Lauer was only permitted to read a heavily redacted manuscript consisting of just adverbs. He remains tightlipped about plot details, confirming only that a Harris Tweed jacket features prominently in the book. Anticipation for The Lost Symbol has reached a fever pitch in the media and on the Internet, with the hottest speculation devoted to the question of what Tom Hanks's hair will look like in the movie.

2:00 pm James Patterson
The bestselling author discusses his new contract, which calls for him to write no fewer than 17 books over the next three years. During the interview Patterson demonstrates the work habits that enable him to be so prolific, typing on three keyboards simultaneously (one for each hand, and a third that he pecks with his nose) while clutching Sharpie pens in the toes of both feet so he can sign additional book contracts.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Maybe It's the Wind

I recently caught 3:10 to Yuma, the 2007 remake of Elmore Leonard's short story, featuring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale (the first version came out in 1957 and starred Glenn Ford and Van Heflin). In the opening scene of the new version, a family hears noises outside at night, and the wife says, “Maybe it’s the wind.” I'm pretty sure it's the first line in the film.

That rang a bell and sent me flipping through Leonard's 1990 novel Get Shorty. Sure enough, in that book, an actress named Karen Flores is famous for saying almost the identical line in a cheesy horror movie called Grotesque, Part Two. [From Chapter 2 of Get Shorty: The maniac's up on the roof ripping out shingles with his bare hands; inside the house the male lead with all the curly hair stares grimly at the ceiling as Karen, playing the girl, says to him, "Maybe it's only the wind."]

A-ha, I thought. Is this an Elmore Leonard inside joke, or am I just seeing patterns that aren’t there, like those people who see the Virgin in grilled cheese sandwiches? I was the flack on several of Leonard's novels, starting way back with Glitz in 1984, so I decided to drop him a line to see if I was right.

Nope. Apparently I am like those people who see the Virgin in grilled cheese sandwiches. No inside joke, though Leonard did say, "I'm wondering if Maybe It's the Wind is a title. It hints at menace, since you know it isn't the wind." That'll have to wait, however, because at the moment he's at work on his next novel. "I'm now on page 217 and wondering what happens next," he said. "It's No. 44. And I have a TV series coming out next spring on FX, based on a short story, Fire in the Hole. But that isn't the show's title. We're still working on that." Maybe they could call that Maybe It's the Wind.

I told him I'd probably quote him on this blog, a medium he remains suspicious of. "I have a feeling emailers and bloggers are young," he said, presumably excluding me from that characterization. "They often make reckless remarks about things they know nothing about. I'm seeing if I can get through this life without ever touching a computer keyboard." His note was typed on his beloved manual typewriter.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Things I'd Like to See This Weekend on C-SPAN's "Book TV"

10:00 am Glenn Beck
The cable news pundit discusses his ongoing problems with sponsors. More than forty companies have pulled their advertising from Beck's Fox News Channel show over his statement that President Barack Obama is a racist. Now he faces similar difficulties with several of his published books. Recently the word "idiots" was removed from the title of Beck's Arguing with Idiots following a carefully orchestrated campaign by a determined, well-organized group of idiots; Thomas Paine returned from the dead to demand that all references to him and his treatise Common Sense be purged from Glenn Beck's Common Sense; and Jesus has pulled the word "Christmas" from Beck's novel The Christmas Sweater.

2:00 pm Child & Child
The phenomenal revival of interest in Julia Child, spurred by the success of the film Julie & Julia (based on Julia Powell's book), has inspired a new Child-related book project--one that will posthumously fulfill the late cookbook author's frustrated ambitions to be a novelist. Here thriller writer Lee Child discusses his forthcoming book Child & Child, in which rugged hero Jack Reacher attempts to make Julia Child's tricky Coq au Vin recipe, dogged by agents of the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) who are determined to see him fail. The novel opens with a bang as Reacher, in the process of preparing his ingredients, beats the crap out of a chicken.

11:00 am Obama's Beach Reads
The White House was careful to announce the list of books that President Obama planned to take on vacation--five acclaimed and respectable works of fiction and nonfiction, including David McCullough's John Adams, Thomas Friedman's Hot, Flat and Crowded, and Kent Haruf's Plainsong. Here White House press secretary Robert Gibbs tries to explain a widely-circulated photo of the President lying on a beach in Martha's Vineyard reading Tucker Max's I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, with copies of Chelsea Handler's My Horizontal Life and Tori Spelling's Mommywood lying in the sand nearby. At first Gibbs calls it an attempt to smear the President, though he later insists this was a reference to an incident involving sunscreen.

2:00 pm Obscure Dickens
A series profiling lesser-known Dickens characters. This week: Abie Cadabra, wily magician in David Copperfield who teaches the title character how to make an elephant disappear.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Kind Words from Douglas Rushkoff

Got a nice shout-out from Douglas Rushkoff in this week's Publishers Weekly. Doug has a thoughtful essay in there called We'll Be Back, about how the current strife in publishing was probably inevitable and may be creating an environment in which a more sustainable industry model can emerge.

I worked with Doug when his book Get Back in the Box was published in 2005. His new book is called Life Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take It Back and has been drawing a tremendous amount of attention. Perhaps you caught his excellent performance on The Colbert Report last month. It's a great example of how a guest can prevail in the face of Colbert's often facetious interviewing style, and should be required viewing for any author scheduled to appear on the show.

After Doug saw my appearance on CNN a few months ago, in which David Bach urged me to bounce back from my layoff by becoming an independent publicist, Doug sent me an email that said: "While it's true you could become an independent publicist tomorrow, I think the real question was whether you even want to do that. There's a degree of get-up-and-go that job-hunting requires that I simply find distasteful and nauseating." He added: "Then again, I've never had a job."

I'm starting to see things your way, Doug. Thanks!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Things I'd Like to See This Weekend on C-SPAN's "Book TV"

11:00 am Ate, Prayed, Loved, Then...
Elizabeth Gilbert discusses the pressure attendant upon her to deliver a suitable follow-up to her bestselling memoir Eat, Pray, Love. This week the New York Times reported that Gilbert completed, then scrapped a 500-page manuscript last year, and that she had since written an entirely different book, Committed, about marriage. Now Gilbert announces that she has finally hit upon the right idea for her sophomore effort, one that is guaranteed to replicate the success of Eat, Pray, Love by tapping into the most successful trend in publishing at the moment--flesh-eating zombies. Her new book, Eat Prey Live, will recount Gilbert's violent, bloody encounters with hordes of the hungry living dead in the jungles of southeast Asia. "There's something very scary about having millions of people waiting to see what you're going to do next," she told the Times. Here she adds, "that's not nearly as scary as having hundreds of undead cannibalistic fiends trying to eat your intestines."

10:00 am Airplane Read
Alain de Botton talks about his experiences as Heathrow Airport's first "writer in residence." De Botton agreed to spend a week at the airport, writing about what he saw and pissing off a lot of other writers who were stuck at Heathrow but weren't getting paid for it. Mr. de Botton reports that the experiment got off to a rocky start--he had just begun typing his observations when a flight attendant asked him to turn off his laptop and other electronic devices. Mr. de Botton's reporting will be turned into a short book called A Week at the Airport--an apt title, as it is possible to spend a week at Heathrow on any given day. The publisher says the book will capture the arrivals and departures, the greetings and farewells, the delays, the lines, the tedium, and all the other things that make you want to avoid going to the airport in the first place. 10,000 copies will be given away to Heathrow travelers; the book will then go on sale at just about the same time those first 10,000 copies are hitting Amazon as "used books." Publication date is September 21, though the book could be delayed due to heavy weather conditions over Albuquerque.

2:00 pm Obscure Dickens
A series profiling lesser-known Dickens characters. This week: Josephus Shyster, successful barrister from A Tale of Two Cities who tires of urban life and retires to two suburbs.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Waiting to see if Pitino Rebounds

I was the publicist on Rick Pitino's book Rebound Rules: The Art of Success 2.0 last year, and I've been thinking about him as I've watched this horrific tabloid story unfold around him.

We spent the better part of two days together last fall as Coach Pitino did media interviews in New York City: CBS College Sports Network, Bloomberg TV and radio, "Costas on the Radio," and so on. He struck me as a decent guy, friendly, very high energy. Always a million things going on. Bought me a beer while we were waiting to do a Fox Business taping one evening and told me a hilarious story about the time he accidentally bought a race horse at an auction.

Having spent a little time together, I have some sympathy for him. But the details of the incident as reported in the press are pretty stark: He had sex with a woman he had just met on a table in a restaurant after hours (at least it wasn't during the 8:00 o'clock seating), while an assistant coach was within earshot; then paid the woman $3,000 so she could have an abortion. A bit of a contrast from the image he's built for himself as the upright family man Coach Pitino. There's just no way to make that stuff palatable

Rebound Rules is about comebacks, about recovering from setbacks and adversity. As the promo copy says, it tells you "how to succeed after you've failed; how to pick yourself up after being knocked down; and how to reframe yourself and see the world in a new light." I imagine the Coach has been dipping into it--taking a little refresher course, as it were--while he passes through this latest trial. I'd advise him to look on the bright side: At least he's gathering plenty of new material for a couple of extra chapters when the book comes out in paperback.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Foreword Thinking

I have a piece in the new issue of Publishers Weekly called Preliminaries, inspired by Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing(if you haven't read them, you should).

One of Leonard's rules states: “Avoid prologues. They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword.” Jumping off from there, I try to explain how to tell an introduction from a foreword from a prologue from a preface, and get hopelessly muddled in the attempt.

Another of Leonard's rules states: "Never use the words 'suddenly' or 'all hell broke loose.'" I managed to adhere to this rule.

A third states: "Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip." Not so sure about that one...

Friday, August 14, 2009

Things I'd Like to See This Weekend on C-SPAN's "Book TV"

11:00 am Do Fictional Death Panels Threaten Fictional Characters?
So-called "death panels," which would determine whether the elderly and the infirm are given end-of-life care or sent to the Soylent Green factory, do not appear in any Democratic proposal for health care reform; yet they are widely accepted as fact--a tribute to the special powers of make-believe enjoyed by such masters of fiction as Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich. In this discussion, a panel of literature professors takes up the question: If these fictional death panels were to be passed into fictional law, would fictional characters be at risk? Their conclusions: Ernest J. Gaines' 110-year-old heroine, Miss Jane Pittman, would be put to sleep before she could write a single word of her autobiography; Thomas Berger's 111-year-old hero Jack Crabb, aka Little Big Man, would merit a medically-induced one-way trip to meet the great Everywhere Spirit before he could relate any of his Wild West tales; and F. Scott Fitzgerald's Benjamin Button would be euthanized at birth. On the other hand, H. Rider Haggard's 2000-year-old Queen Ayesha would be perfectly safe--as "She Who Must Be Obeyed," Ayesha would just tell the panel to piss off.

3:00 pm Film Adaptation
The staff of BookCourt, a Brooklyn bookstore, talks about Julia Roberts' recent visit to shoot a couple of scenes for her new film. Included: An in-depth discussion of why a movie star visiting a bookstore can draw media attention, tie up traffic, and light up the Twittersphere, but when an author goes to the movies, nobody cares.

11:00 am Damn Wordy Apes!
A documentary exploring the venerable tradition of memoirs written by chimpanzees. Included are recent contributions such as Me Cheeta: My Life in Hollywood (currently a contender for Britain's prestigious Man Booker Prize) and the forthcoming Bubbles: My Secret Diary, from Swaziland to Neverland by Michael Jackson's longtime companion. Classics of the genre are also revisited, including: Don't Call Me Monkey!, by J. Fred Muggs, in which he describes his battles with NBC to become the first simian anchor of the "Today" Show; Dutch and Me, by Bonzo, recounting his film work with Ronald Reagan and his later political activism, rallying the vital support of Hollywood's ape community to help elect Reagan president in 1980; and Tire Swing to the Stars, by Ham, the first chimp shot into space, who reveals that throwing your feces in a zero-gravity environment is not advisable. Hosted by The Monkees' Davy Jones, author of They Made a Monkee Out of Me.

2:00 pm Obscure Dickens
A series profiling lesser-known Dickens characters. This week: Bibulous Tosspot, a dope fiend who uses Pickwick's papers to roll doobies.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

In a World Without Newspapers. . .

The naughty behavior of millions of dogs goes unpunished because there are no newspapers to roll up and rap them on the nose with. Dogs become sassier.

Grandparents are no longer able to make newspaper hats for their grandchildren. Intergenerational bonding deteriorates.

Customers at traditional fish’n’chips shops have to take away their deep-fried snack in their bare hands because the shops no longer have newspapers to wrap their sodden, greasy product in.

Important, influential people facing scandal are no longer able to say “Can’t you just see the headlines?” or “We have to keep this out of the newspapers.” Instead, they say things like, “What if this turns up in a big news aggregator?” or “We can’t let anyone with a lot of Twitter followers find out.”

Apocalyptic science fiction films set in deserted cities can no longer zoom in on an old newspaper so you can see the ironic headlines (“Progress at Peace Talks” or “Asteroid May Miss Earth”) but really so you can see the date on the paper and know when the disaster took place. Similarly, they are unable to show newspapers blowing through the empty streets of the deserted city to give you a sense of just how, you know, deserted it is.

Fugitives from justice can rest easy on planes, trains, and other means of public transportation, knowing there won’t be another passenger reading a newspaper with their picture plastered all over the front page.

Artists and kindergarten classes working with papier mâché are forced to find an alternate source of readily available papier. Fewer and fewer Mardi Gras floats appear with each passing year.

Birds conditioned to having their cages lined with newspaper develop serious and possibly lethal gastrointestinal disorders from trying to ‘hold it.’

People caught in sudden rainstorms without umbrellas have nothing to tent their heads with. They get wet.

People moving to a new home have nothing to wrap their fragile items in. These get smashed.

Artsy types who used to wrap presents in newspaper because it’s ‘creative’ have to break down and buy traditional wrapping paper, or just finally admit they are too cheap to do so.

Fireplace owners seek an alternative to a newspaper for starting a fire on a wintry evening. Many opt for lighter fluid or some other accelerant. Mayhem ensues.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Book Flack Nightmare

In the sports section of yesterday's New York Times, Greg Bishop had an article about how Dwight Lowery is bouncing back from a "crisis of confidence" after a difficult rookie season with the New York Jets. The turning point came when Lowery and his girlfriend stopped in a store he describes as "total Zen" in a shopping mall in Santa Cruz, California. "Tucked among the shelves filled with teas, incense and bamboo sticks, Lowery found a row of books," Bishop writes. "He took a liking to the first one he picked up, a book that took a self-help approach to building self-esteem. Even though Lowery cannot remember the title, he said those pages provided the beginnings of his turnaround."

What? He can't remember the title? Of the book that changed his life? Surely Bishop could have pressed him about it just a little: "Hey Dwight, any chance you can take a moment to scan your shelves and tell me the name of that book that turned your life around?" Wasn't Bishop's editor even a little curious? Couldn't the Times fact checkers have put that on their to-do list? Not having the title of this destiny-altering book leaves a bit of a hole at the center of the article.

Think of all the Times readers who might have benefited from that same life-changing book, if only they knew what it was. Think of the author, who might have benefited from a nice plug by a pro football player in the pages of the New York Times. Think of the book's frustrated publicist, who saw a major national media break go up in smoke because of a curious lack of curiosity at the Times. I'm glad I'm not that book flack.

Monday, August 3, 2009


I watched a "Shark Week" documentary on the Discovery Channel last night about a series of shark attacks at the Jersey Shore in 1916. It was more of a docu-drama, really, since it was told in "dramatic reenactments" that combined equal parts blood and cheese. The narrator repeatedly said that these attacks "inspired the movie Jaws." Hey Discovery Channel: just being a stickler here, but I seem to recall that the movie Jaws was inspired by the novel Jaws. I know it only sold a mere 20 million copies, but still, it probably merits a mention. Without Peter Benchley's novel, there wouldn't be a movie called Jaws and there almost certainly wouldn't be a "Shark Week." Where would you be then? "Cash Cab Week?" So please, show the book and the author a little respect.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Things I'd Like to See This Weekend on C-SPAN's "Book TV"

10:00 am Balancing the Bernie Books
Publishing industry experts discuss the glut of books about Bernie Madoff. Three competing books will be published simultaneously in August, and a fourth has been scheduled for next year. The panelists weigh the huge financial risks involved in publishing multiple books about a media-saturated topic, but fail to acknowledge the irony that, even from prison, Bernie Madoff can still make a whole lot of people lose a whole lot of money.

4:00 pm "I was Henry Louis Gates's cab driver!"
The one major player from the Henry Louis Gates arrest drama who has been ignored by both the police and the media, "Cabbie X" talks about his instant book Gates Crasher: Driven to the Edge. Cabbie X describes Gates as "a perfect gentleman, except when he was screaming at me"--things like "Can't you turn that music down?" and "What did you go this way for?" He says Gates repeatedly encouraged him to drive faster in order to beat the other cars, but insists the word "race" was never used. X also says that Gates's reported use of the expression "your momma" was actually a reference to Yo-Yo Ma, but X still found it offensive because "I can't stand that crazy cello music." He didn't consider it odd when Gates asked for help forcing open his own front door. Passengers often ask him to jimmy open doors, pick locks, smash widows, and scale the sides of buildings with rappelling ropes and grappling hooks to enter through a skylight. He once dug a 150-foot tunnel complete with electric lighting and a ventilation system simply because a passenger forgot her keys. Cabbie X also confirms the widespread rumor that he is, in fact, Speed Racer's brother.

11:00 am A Little More Than Kin(dle) and Less Than Kind(le)
Live coverage of the Book vs. Kindle Smackdown, hosted by Green Apple Books in San Francisco, which pits Amazon's proprietary ereader against the traditional book in a contest designed by a traditional bookstore. In a stunning turn of events, the traditional book is winning. However, only a fool would try to predict the outcome at this early stage, so check back often for updates on this nail-biter.
In another segment, novelist Nicholson Baker, who offered a highly critical evaluation of the Kindle in a lengthy essay in The New Yorker, has more examples of how Amazon's ereader falls short as a replacement for the book. Among them:
-A book can prop up the leg of a wobbly table, but the Kindle just shatters, leaving thousands of Vizplex shards and bi-stable microspheres all over your floor.
-A book can serve as a coaster, but the Kindle just sparks and smokes and zaps you with tiny lightning bolts, especially if your glass is "sweaty."
-You can offer to carry your sweetheart's books home from school, but offering to carry her Kindle is just stupid.
-An exciting book will set your heart pounding, but the Kindle will stop your pacemaker.
The segment concludes with Baker lining up ten or twelve Kindles and smashing them with a baseball bat while Jeff Bezos' maniacal laugh is heard in the background.

2:00 pm Obscure Dickens
A series profiling lesser-known Dickens characters. This week: Olymphe Jejune, fancy-pants guillotine operator in A Tale of Two Cities.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Run, Skip, Run!

What if the 'teachable moment' over beers at the White House today is just an elaborate sting operation to get Henry Louis Gates back into custody? He'll walk in looking for a frosty Budweiser and be wrestled to the ground by police officers with flak vests and M-16s. They'll lead him away in handcuffs and the judge won't allow bail because a guy called "Skip" would be considered a flight risk. A teachable moment? That'll teach him! Let's see how it plays out...

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Part Hockey Mom, Part Pit Bull, All Shatner

After reciting Sarah Palin's farewell speech for Conan on the "Tonight Show" last night, William Shatner is probably already lined up to do the audio book of her forthcoming memoir. If not, the publisher is missing a real opportunity. See how he combines the icy verbal high-sticking of the hockey mom with the lipsticky mellifluous drool of the pit bull. Or is it the other way around?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Madoff with the Money. I Just Got It!

Word is that three publishers have moved up their Bernie Madoff books (including one called Madoff with the Money, no joke) to publish in August instead of in the fall as originally scheduled. With those initial books sucking up all the available oxygen, other publishers with Madoff books in the pipeline would be wise to hold off publishing for a while. Like, say, 150 years--that's when Bernie's due to be released from prison. Should be some good media opportunities around that event.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Things I'd Like to See This Weekend on C-SPAN's "Book TV"

10:00 am Big Brother Bezos
Jeff Bezos, CEO of, explains how Amazon was able to delete unauthorized digital copies of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four from thousands of Kindle devices, in much the same way the Ministry of Truth in Orwell's novel eliminated information deemed too subversive for public consumption. In a related case of life imitating art, Bezos reveals that Amazon also caused Kindles containing downloads of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 to suddenly burst into flames and burn to cinders.

3:00 pm Near Miss USA
Controversial Miss USA runner-up Carrie Prejean talks about her forthcoming book Still Standing. Prejean stirred controversy during the Miss USA Pageant when she voiced opposition to same-sex marriage in answer to a question from judge Perez Hilton. In the book, she'll clarify her position, saying she believes that "the issue of same-sex marriage should be decided by individual states, like Miss North Dakota and Miss Rhode Island." She'll also vent her feelings about Mr. Hilton, vowing to never again stay at one of his hotels.

10:00 am Free Chris Anderson
The author of Free: The Future of a Radical Price defends his premise that companies should give away digital products and information rather than charge for them, but notes that there are subtleties to the concept. For instance, it's perfectly OK to use information from Wikipedia for free, right up until you fail to attribute it--then you'll pay for it in spades, brother. Mr. Anderson says his theory has applications beyond the digital realm. For example, he argues that furniture should be free, a notion he put to the test by removing a loveseat and matching ottoman from a Raymour & Flanigan store in Watchung, New Jersey without paying for them. As a result of charges stemming from that incident, viewers are invited to contribute to "Free Chris Anderson"--Mr. Anderson's defense fund--because good legal representation is another commodity that isn't free. Or even cheap. [This program is brought to you by taxpayer dollars.]

2:00 pm Michael M. Thomas
The bestselling author of Love and Money and other novels clarifies remarks he made earlier this week about the publishing industry. "You have large publishing companies essentially run by young people who aren't interested in reading books," Mr. Thomas said. "What they are interested in is lunch." A former partner at Lehman Brothers and a pugnacious New York City journalist, Mr. Thomas says he prefers companies that are run by grouchy older guys who want to eat your lunch.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sing Me a Song of Comic-Con

Comic-Con 2009, the huge comic book convention, begins today in San Diego, so the near-simultaneous influx of carnivorous flying giant squid is starting to seem more and more like a publicity stunt. And that's OK--as a book flack, I salute it!

In any case, over on Classics Rock! we're celebrating Comic-Con all week with songs based on comic books. We offered a preview last Friday with Deborah Harry's "Comic Books," kicked things off on Monday with the Spin Doctors' "Jimmy Olsen's Blues," featured Paul McCartney's "Magneto & Titanium Man" on Tuesday, and Suicide's "Ghost Rider" yesterday. Today's selection is Camberwell Now's "Green Lantern." Sorry, the "Batdance" won't be featured, but I hope you'll visit anyway. Pow! Bam! Kra-a-a-a-k!!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Things I'd Like to See This Weekend on C-SPAN's "Book TV"

10:00 am Ernest Hemingway Blofeld
The authors of Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America talk about their contention that Ernest Hemingway served as a KGB agent during the 1940s. Recently discovered files show that Soviet recruiters were, in fact, in touch with Hemingway, who first caught their attention with his fondness for shooting things and punching people out. The KGB trained him and sent him into the field armed with various gadgets, including a special typewriter that could produce enough muscular prose to overpower an enemy agent. Hemingway once nearly killed future spy novelist Ian Fleming--not because Fleming was with a rival spy service (British Naval Intelligence) but because he was "an effete tea-sipping Limey fop." (Fleming is thought to have based James Bond's archenemy, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, on Hemingway, which would explain all the cats running around the Hemingway House in Key West.) Ultimately Hemingway's career as a spy came to an end when he ran afoul of the American intelligence community, an experience he relates in his book The Old Man and the CIA.

2:00 pm Reading with Sonia Sotomayor
The Supreme Court nominee discusses the literary characters that influenced her. In her youth, she devoured the Nancy Drew mysteries and dreamed of becoming a detective. She credits Perry Mason with inspiring her to pursue a career in law. Once she ascended to the bench, however, she focused her attention on reading material that would clarify and elucidate the role of the judiciary and the courts. In particular she cites Mike Hammer in Mickey Spillane's I, the Jury as "a guy who knows how to mete out justice in the court of no appeal," and the stories of Judge Dredd, who she describes as "a kickass jurist," especially as embodied by "that hottie" Sylvester Stallone.

11:00 am Lost in Translation
Michael Luongo, author of Gay Travels in the Muslim World--the first gay book to be translated into Arabic--discusses the controversy that resulted when Arabic translators substituted the word "Pervert" for the word "Gay" in the book's title. Subsequent developments reveal that there is some precedent for this: A quick canvass of several bookstores in the Middle East turned up copies of Enola Pervert by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan Witts; Our Hearts Were Young and Degenerate by Cornelia Otis Skinner; and several books by Deviate Talese. [Related programming note: Later tonight C-SPAN will air the Arabic version of the Fred Astaire classic, The Debauched Divorcée.]

4:00 pm Obscure Dickens
A series profiling lesser-known Dickens characters. This week: Hieronymous Quillplucker, naïve publisher in Bleak House who believes that no book with the word 'bleak' in the title will sell.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

New York Post

Yesterday I was featured in the the New York Post. I know what you're thinking: "Page Six" caught me clubbing with Leonardo DiCaprio and two stunning mystery females, or getting tattooed with Zooey Deschanel. It's true, I often engage in such activities--that Leo, what a character!--but that's not what this is about. You have to flip several pages past "Page Six" (actually located on page 10, so you have a head start) until you get to the @Work section, where I am quoted in an article about "unemployment blogging." Written by Sheila McClear, formerly of Gawker, the piece features a number of people who responded to a layoff by starting a blog.

I'm not sure I fit comfortably into the narrative of the piece, to be honest, since I resisted starting a blog and only did it to supplement my primary strategy of publicizing myself. However, I like Sheila's turn of phrase when she says I decided that my "personal recession-victim story needed a publicity campaign--and his best p.r. agent was himself." That is certainly true. I was also by far my cheapest p.r. agent.

Since the piece ran, a number of people have congratulated me for landing a new job. I'd like to clarify that: The article says, "He credits the blog with helping him to land the new job he started last month, working on book publicity for a p.r. firm." This is true, but as stated previously, it is a freelance position, not full time.

The other blogs featured in the piece range from the personal to the useful to the hilarious--you might want to check them out. In particular, take a look at Odd Todd's cartoon section, and the Jeff's Notes section of ASSME, which offers capsule summaries of classic books you've never read so you can sound smarter.

Finally, a word about the photo. Looks like I'm hard at work in my home office, right? Or maybe a coffee shop? This was actually shot in the News Corp building, in a common area on the third floor. There was an employee coffee station there, and a couple of big tables filled with people who appeared to be having a meeting while the photo shoot was in progress. The laptop was borrowed (I don't even own one) and was not actually plugged in. As far as I know, it may not even have been functional. Most of the books on the shelf to my left were published by HarperCollins, my former employer and, like the Post, a News Corp property. At the last minute the photographer, Zandy Mangold, dressed the set with a copy of that day's Wall Street Journal, another News Corp property. He also added the coffee cup--yeah, that's News Corp property too. It was borrowed from the coffee station and was filled with actual hot coffee. Which, by the way, was maybe the best coffee I ever had. I was drinking it black and I never do that.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Things I'd Like to See This Weekend on C-SPAN's "Book TV"

11:00 am Sarah Palin
Discussing her decision to resign as governor of Alaska and how it will affect her forthcoming memoir, Palin again demonstrates why she is the most oddly compelling figure to appear on the political landscape since Mayor McCheese. Palin says her book will argue that deciding to terminate instead of going to full term is not a choice that pregnant women should have, but is a perfectly viable option for a state governor. She also reveals that she is working on a children's book called Quacking Up, about a lame duck named Maverick who resigns as head of her flock for vague and murky reasons, teaching young readers that quitting isn't quitting if you call it something else. A discussion of Palin's political future rounds out the final four seconds of the program.

2:00 pm Pen-Palling Around With Terrorists
Writer Jack Cashill defends his theory that former Weather Underground member Bill Ayers, author of the memoir Fugitive Days, actually wrote Barack Obama's bestselling book Dreams from My Father. Cashill's theory is based on several pieces of textual evidence: Both men write about power ("Ayers, in fact, evokes the word 'power' and its derivatives 75 times in Fugitive Days, Obama 83 times in Dreams"); both are obsessed with eyebrows ("There are six references to 'eyebrows' in Fugitive Days -- bushy ones, flaring ones, arched ones, black ones and, stunningly, seven references in Dreams -- heavy ones, bushy ones, wispy ones"); and both misquote Carl Sandburg's poem Chicago. Cashill concedes that since the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet used the word 'power' more than 150 times in his biographical writings about Lincoln, and had distinctly prominent eyebrows as well, it is at least possible that Carl Sandburg wrote both Fugitive Days and Dreams from My Father. Also discussed: Passing references to Shakespeare in both books lead to speculation that the Immortal Bard is the author. Cashill scoffs at this notion, suggesting that it is more likely the books were written by either Francis Bacon or Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.

10:00 am Nicholas D. Kristof
The New York Times columnist discusses his recent list of The Best Kids' Books Ever, which emphasizes well-seasoned personal favorites from decades gone by such as the Hardy Boys series, the Freddie the Pig series, On to Oregon, and Little Lord Fauntleroy. Mr. Kristof hints that he may produce a second list, this one consisting of books that might actually appeal to real live children, or at least children who aren't Benjamin Button.

4:00 pm Obscure Dickens
A series profiling lesser-known Dickens characters. This week: Dick Dicklewicker, Oliver Twist's best friend at the orphanage, who disappears under mysterious circumstances when the book is adapted for the musical Oliver!

Thursday, July 9, 2009


Jack Cashill has a theory that Bill Ayers, the former Weather Underground member, is the actual author of Barack Obama's book Dreams from My Father. The theory is based on supposed similarities between Obama's book and various writings by Ayers. These include overusing the word "power," misquoting Carl Sandburg, and referring to various kinds of eyebrows. You can judge his evidence for yourself, but you have to wonder why he thinks Ayers is the ghostwriter without considering the other possibility. Why couldn't Obama be the secret author of Bill Ayers' books? I'm just saying.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


Yesterday I had a chat with a writer for the New York Post who's working on a story about unemployment blogs. I did my best to present myself as a raging self-centered narcissistic egomaniac--'cause, you know, people like that. The piece should run in a couple of weeks in the Post's @Work section. For better or worse, I'll share it with you here.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Things I'd Like to See This Weekend on C-SPAN's "Book TV"

10:00 am Gov. Mark Sanford
Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina discusses the newly revised edition of his 2000 book The Trust Committed to Me, now entitled The Tryst Committed by Me. The book has been updated with new material about the governor's unconventional approach to crisis management, a strategy that relies on multiple teary narcissistic public apologies played out over an extended period of time. Governor Sanford also reveals that he and his South American paramour did the Lambada together, even though he was fully aware that it is the forbidden dance.

4:00 pm The Book Review Crisis
A panel of authors discusses the dearth of book review coverage in daily newspapers. Alice Hoffman points out the important cultural service performed by the idiots and morons who write book reviews, and Alain de Botton suggests that, while critics should be hated till the day they die and wished nothing but ill will in every career move they make, they still perform a valuable function, especially when they write nice reviews of his work. Also weighing in is Ayelet Waldman, who posits that certain reviewers should rot in hell, presumably because Hades is as much in need of vibrant cultural debate as we are. As a public service, C-SPAN will run an onscreen crawl throughout the program listing the home phone numbers and email addresses of major book critics.

11:00 am James Frey
The controversial author of the embellished memoir A Million Little Pieces talks about his forthcoming YA novel, I Am Number Four. Mr. Frey says I Am Number Four is the first volume in a series of six books, or maybe twenty-two, or, why not, seventy-eight books, and that HarperCollins paid "in the low nine figures" because they were so happy with his last book, the novel Bright Shiny Morning, which, according to Mr. Frey, sold "three-quarters of a gazillion copies." Frey says the main character of his new book is actually identified as Number Three in the text, but lies about it because "four is a much more impressive number. " He describes I Am Number Four as a story about teenage space aliens hiding on Earth, though one insider who saw the manuscript says it consists entirely of the phrase "All work and no play makes James a dull boy" repeated for five hundred pages in a variety of fonts and tab settings.

2:00 pm J.D. California
After a federal court banned U.S. publication of 60 Year Later: Coming Through the Rye, his unauthorized sequel to J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, Mr. California reveals that he wants to put the Salinger affair behind him, concentrate on the future, and take his literary career in an entirely new direction. He discusses his work in progress, 50 Years Later: Zanny and Frooey.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Flip Side of July 4th

In honor of the Fourth of July weekend, which starts tomorrow and which I'm panting for, check out this song by Dave Nachmanoff (with an assist from Al Stewart) called The Loyalist, which depicts a ghostly figure who was on the wrong side of the Revolution.

If this encounter with a Tory makes your patriotic soul uncomfortable, you can always listen to Paul Revere and the Raiders. Or just open a few bottles of Sam Adams--you'll feel much better.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Man Who?

This whole episode with South Carolina governor Mark Sanford disappearing for days kept ringing a bell for me. I think I finally figured out why.

A character in one of the Fletch mysteries by the late Gregory McDonald--the 1983 novel Fletch and the Man Who--engages in similar behavior. Caxton Wheeler, the governor of an unnamed state, is in the middle of a heated campaign to lock up his party's nomination for the presidency. [Seems to me I'd heard Sanford's name mentioned as a possible presidential candidate.] Governor Wheeler has a history of disappearing, regularly, for days at a time. His wife, his family, his staff--no one knows where he goes, except for Flash Grasselli, his trusted driver-valet. Flash is dedicated to The Man Who and as tightlipped as they come. There are rumors of booze, of drugs, of women, but since no one really knows anything, nothing gets reported. As it turns out, there is another woman--sort of. "They think he's with some woman," Flash tells Fletch. "In a way, maybe he is." Before Wheeler was married, he had a relationship with a woman who died young. She owned a remote cabin that they used to enjoy together, which she left to him in her will. So when the pressure started getting to him--three or four times a year--Wheeler would summon Flash and sneak off to the cabin. And what did he do there? Sleep--sometimes for 16 hours at a time. Sleep and read mystery novels. After a few days, he'd tell Flash it was time to go back.

Differences between Governor Mark Sanford and Governor Caxton Wheeler:
-Wheeler didn't lie to anybody about where he was going; he just never explained.
-Wheeler didn't break his marriage vows.

Similarity between Governor Mark Sanford and Governor Caxton Wheeler:
-By the end of Fletch and the Man Who, Caxton Wheeler has no chance of ever being elected president of the United States. Neither does Mark Sanford.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

With a Good Speed-Reading Course, You Could Probably Cut That Time in Half

I'm taken with this story from the Book Bench blog at the New Yorker about a guy who wrote a book that will take 1,000 years to read. I hope he's got a good copy editor--he'll feel pretty stupid if, 600 years from now, they find a typo.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Back Flacking

I have resumed my book flacking activities, part of the time anyway. I'm working on a freelance basis for Planned Television Arts, known as PTA, a division of Ruder Finn. They've been around for years and are one of the leading book publicity firms. I worked with them often when I was on the publishing side of the business, so I knew what I was getting into. They're a great bunch of people and very accommodating: I'm doing a lot of it from home, with some time in the PTA offices in New York. We'll see how it works out for everyone involved, and where it might lead.

I've alerted many of my media contacts that I'll soon be hitting them up again for author interviews and such. They thought they were rid of me heh heh, so the collective groans and muttered expletives that greeted my news were quite impressive. (Actually, the response has been very gracious and encouraging.)

Meanwhile, having been away from it for four or five months now, I can tell you unequivocally and without fear of contradiction that commuting really sucks, even once or twice a week. Particularly worthy of note are the exquisitely excruciating twists NJ Transit injects into the experience. How do they come up with that stuff?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Things I'd Like to See This Weekend on C-SPAN's "Book TV"

10:00 am: J.K. Rowling
Discussing the origins of her popular novels, Rowling reveals that the Harry Potter books were inspired by Satan, and that through them she plans to seduce the world's children to witchcraft and sorcery and usher in Armageddon and the thousand-year reign of the Antichrist as foretold in the Book of Revelation. She also discloses that her next book will be about cute little bunnies.

11:00 am Ian McEwan
McEwan discusses his difficulties coming up with book titles, and admits that his novel Saturday probably should have been called Thursday. He also reveals that his 1998 novel Amsterdam was supposed to be called Rotterdam ("I always get those two mixed up," he says).

2:00 pm: Roundtable
Naomi Wolf, Tom Wolfe, Paul Wolfowitz, and Wolf Blitzer discuss Fox in Socks.

4:00 pm: Roundtable
Michael J. Fox, Vivica A. Fox, Jeff Foxworthy and Fox Butterfield discuss Beowulf.

6:00 pm: Roundtable
Dee Dee Myer, Yo-Yo Ma, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Boutros Boutros Ghali yadda yadda about Absalom, Absalom!

8:00 pm: The State of American Publishing
Authors Nevada Barr, Richard Florida, Gary Indiana, and J. California Cooper compete in skeet shooting, track & field events, and Greco-Roman wrestling to determine who will claim this coveted title.

10:00 am Malcolm Gladwell
The author of Blink discusses his work-in-progress, Trim, about why some people never seem to get a haircut even though they really really need one.

11:00 am Obscure Dickens
A series profiling lesser-known Dickens characters. This week: Seditious Peatbog, the tragic caterer from Great Expectations, who waits decades for Miss Havisham to pay for her wedding reception until finally he rots in his chair.

2:00 pm The Selling of the Classics
Scholars discuss how product placements found their way into classic works of literature. Topics include Thackeray's Vanity Fair, Dumas's Three Musketeers, and repeated references to Starbuck's in Moby-Dick.

6:00 pm Antiquarian Bookseller
Rare book dealer Seymour Glib recounts his lifelong love affair with books and the many pleasures it brought him, until his wife found out. Glib describes romantic weekends in Tahoe with a Gutenberg Bible, long walks on the beach with a Shakespeare First Folio, and acts of intimacy performed in motel rooms with the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Happy Bloomsday

Today is Bloomsday, a day to celebrate James Joyce's novel Ulysses and its protagonist, Leopold Bloom. The entire story takes place on June 16th, 1904. Bloomsday is typically celebrated with public readings of the novel and a tremendous amount of drinking.

I must have mash-ups on the mind, but I'd like to publish an edition of Ulysses that injects all the monsters and nymphs and sorceresses from The Odyssey into the novel--not metaphorically, but literally. It would be great to suddenly have a giant cyclops striding down O'Connell Street, gobbling up Dubliners by the handful. Ideally this would occur in Episode Four, just as Leopold Bloom is defecating in the outhouse, which would put our hero at a particular disadvantage. Wouldn't this be a great mash-up? Wouldn't this generate a terrific lawsuit?

Meanwhile, in honor of Bloomsday, I've posted a list of songs relating to Joyce and Ulysses over on Classics Rock! It's already been featured in the publishing industry newsletter Shelf Awareness, tweeted by Ron Charles of The Washington Post, and Facebooked by Deirdre Donahue of USA Today. Happy Bloomsday!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Snatcher in the Rye

Here's how I'm going to make my fortune: I'm writing an unauthorized sequel to John David California's unauthorized sequel to J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. My book will turn the Holden Caulfield series into a trilogy! It's what the kids nowadays are calling a mash-up, combining characters from The Catcher in the Rye with plot elements from Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I'm calling it The Snatcher in the Rye.

The plot: Holden Caulfield has finally realized his dream of working in a big field of rye where children are playing. His job is to catch them before they fall off a nearby cliff. It doesn't pay much, but since there aren't a lot of employment opportunities of this sort, Holden considers himself lucky to have it.

One morning Holden notices that overnight, crop circles have appeared in the field of rye. He soon learns that these elaborate designs are a message from an alien race! They come from a planet almost exactly like earth, except on their planet they don't have to dial '1' when making a long-distance call. Turns out these aliens do all their writing in crops. A field of grain is their preferred medium for writing and information storage, and they have long since run out of room on their own planet, even with abridgements. They picked up an old radio broadcast from earth that mentioned "amber waves of grain," and have come looking for something to write on.

Holden tries to convince the authorities that the crop circles are an advance warning of a secret alien invasion. No one will listen to him, mostly because they can't understand why anyone would give advance warning of an invasion if it's supposed to be a secret. Holden is further hampered in his efforts by the fact that he's about 103 years old. Even kindly Dr. Miles Bennell won't listen because he's too busy hitting on Becky Driscoll.

Back at the crop field, Holden finds strange seed pods growing amidst the rye. They soon turn into exact duplicates of the children, who are then replaced by their emotionless alien doppelgangers.

The story ends with Holden running into traffic in the middle of the Interstate screaming, "They're phonies! All of them! Can't you see? They're all a bunch of goddam phonies!"

Lawsuits welcome.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Catcher in the Rye Got Caught

I'm pleased to report that the list of Catcher in the Rye-related songs posted on my Classics Rock! site last Friday drew some attention. Gloria McDonough-Taub at CNBC featured it in the Bullish on Books blog on the network's web site, and gave it a shout-out on Twitter as well. Ron Charles at the Washington Post also tweeted about it. And Deirdre Donahue of USA Today posted it on Facebook.

I guess it pays to have two blogs. Perhaps I should start a third....