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.