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.