Saturday, December 20, 2003

Saturday morning snippets 

The New York Times has a reasonable amount of holiday goodies. Leading off is an interview with Irshad Manji, a thirtysomething Canadian whose plain-spoken book about the problems in Islam and how to fix them is a huge bestseller in Canada, and due out in the US next month.

Margo Jefferson tries to reclaim some glory for the essay, as she's tired of debates between fiction writers and those who partake in "Creative nonfiction."

In reviews, Daniel Mendelsohn finds Robert Harris' POMPEII to be "cunningly devised"; Lara Vapnyar's short story collection "There Are Jews in My House" is favorably assessed; Tracy Chevalier's THE LADY AND THE UNICORN goes far beyond any superficial resemblance to her previous work; and Conrad Black's biography of FDR is examined in a fair amount of detail.

At the Guardian, Kate Figes asks five publishers to name a book they feel didn't get the kind of sales and accolades it deserved in the UK. I'm not totally sure I agree with the list, especially since Matthew MacIntosh's WELL seemed to be reviewed all over the place, though I'm also thinking of US and Canadian reviews too.

Ralph Steadman got some advice about writing from Dr. Hunter Thompson about writing; luckily, he didn't follow it, as he wouldn't be writing at all now.

As well, Michel Faber finds the hype and expectations surrounding Jonathan Lethem's THE FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE don't come to fruition, leaving him rather disappointed. Other reviews include THE SILLY SEASON by Bernard Shrimsley, a fictional take on today's tabloid journalism; Leslie Forbes' WAKING RAPHAEL, which Helen Falconer feels is a "thriller-reader's thriller writer," whatever that means; and John Le Carre's ABSOLUTE FRIENDS is deemed a tad too strident and misplaced.

At the WaPo, A.B. Yehoshua's new novel is well-reviewed; Edmund White's FANNY is deemed to be a sparkling, well-written romp; and Doug Winter jumps on the bandwagon of good reviews for Peter Straub's LOST BOY LOST GIRL.

Looking at the Globe & Mail next, Robert Wiersma doesn't have much use for Christmas. Bah, humbug, so instead he picks some of the darker holiday entertainments available. Related, Martin Levin asks his readers to save up for the three Christmas (or Chanukah) presents he really wants.

And finally, how much do awards play a part in determining what we want to read? Rick Kleffel and Terry D'auray of Trashotron's Agony Column delve into what determines their reading whims.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Quote of the evening 

"Years ago there was a woman I wanted very much. Once in the beginning, she took off a silver bracelet she was wearing, put it on the table, and left the room to go to the toilet. I picked up the bracelet, knowing her heat was still in it, and held it in both hands. When she returned a few minutes later, the bracelet was back where she had placed it. Picking it up, she slid it back on, not knowing what she had given me. I never told her."

----Jonathan Carroll, Vienna, 8/11/02

A beautiful, wonderfully evocative snippet from an author whose work I fell madly in love with earlier this year. I'd heard the name bandied about on various lists, but it didn't click until I was crashing at my friend Thalia's the week before I returned home from London. Being a nosy git, I was perusing her bookshelves (with permission, of course) and came across her collection of Carroll novels. She informed me that I must read his work. So I borrowed Carroll's debut book, THE LAND OF LAUGHS, and took it with me when I visited a friend a few days later.

Thus began the love affair. Carroll is such a fantastic storyteller, a writer who uses deceptively plain phrasing and sentences, yet creates a world that is both frighteningly real and highly fantastical. In THE LAND OF LAUGHS, a young writer struggling to emerge from his famous father's shadow goes to a small town in Missouri to research his idol, a children's author and illustrator. Accompanying him is said author's #2 fan, a quirky, unusual woman, and when they get to town, they find that all is most certainly not what it seems. Especially when talking dogs and other magical beings start to pop up. It's a cautionary tale, a tribute to fandom, an ode to the kind of research that almost seems quaint today. Except for that, it's a book that is still as fresh now as it was when first published almost twenty-five years ago. It struck an extra-special chord in me because I could relate all too well to the protagonist's zeal at uncovering every little detail about his literary idol--for isn't that what I've done, and to a lesser extent, still do now with my own research into Shel Silverstein's ouevre? But each and every one of us has some kind of similar obsession, and that's why the book is so good.

I've only read three of his novels thus far, but I've been transported each and every time. BONES OF THE MOON (1987) seems to be a favorite of many, for good reason. It's a fairy-tale for adults, with a near-perfect melding of everyday occurrences and well, more extraordinary ones. It's also one of the best books I've read at conveying the humor and warmth that is true love. When I read SLEEPING IN FLAME (1988) recently, I was worried that the first 50 pages didn't seem to be quite "there" for whatever reason. By the end, I had the same feeling of magical transport again. There's such joy in Carroll's work, even in spite of the underlying horror. Good and evil and everything in between.

It would be such a shame to miss out. Unclassifiable, they are literary and genre and fantasy and horror and mystery novels and everything else all rolled up into one. Neil Gaiman's a fan, and so is Stephen King, but those are just some big-named authors. There are currently six of Jonathan Carroll's novels in print in the US, which is less than half of his output. I'd love to own them all, and I'll be hunting for each book I don't own like treasures in a scavenger hunt. Because that's exactly what Carroll's books are: treasures to be discovered, and devoured slowly and surely.

Remainders of the Afternoon 

Ms. Maslin devotes an entire column to what Chapters is now calling "Tripe Fiction." I kid you not. I was in a branch in Ottawa earlier today and they had the usual bestseller-y stuff, the kind of things you'd take to a beach except that it's hard to get to a beach in below-freezing weather, sitting in a table with the designated label in the center. Tripe fiction. I couldn't stop laughing for a good minute after I saw that. Anyway, she likes Jeffery Deaver's short story collection TWISTED and John Sanford's latest Kidd novel THE HANGED MAN'S SONG, which is cool by me.

Gaza Vermes has spent the last 40 years of his life trying to put Jesus in a different kind of context: one as seen from a Jewish eye, so to speak. The Independent interviews him.

With the incredible success of Lynne Truss's EATS, SHOOTS and LEAVES (I swear, I wrote that exact same phrase in a blog post a few days ago), her backlist has been snapped up by Profile. Included is her memoir of being a single woman with cats. Uh oh.

Rachel Simhon at the Telegraph feels Minette Walters' DISORDERED MINDS is not one of her best works. At the same paper, William Leith looks at Maxim Jakubowski's British version of the Best Mystery Stories 2003. Further proof that Otto is Maxim and Maxim is Otto....

Tod Goldberg takes a look at the booming, perverse world of fan fiction. My feeling about the whole thing is that 99% of it is terrible, and the people that spend the time on the 1% that is actually good might be better off, I dunno, working on stuff they can actually get published? Or maybe it's me. (Link from Bookninja.)

Carolyn See at the Washington Post fetes John Mortimer's collection of Rumpole short stories.

And finally, the Toronto Blue Jays just signed 32 year old pitcher Miguel Batista to a 3 year deal worth $13.1 million dollars. Why am I even bothering to report this? Only because in his spare time, Batista's working on a serial killer novel:

"I write a lot," Batista said. "I'm writing about an underage serial killer.

"I know it might sound abnormal for a player . . . It's a crime fiction."

The native of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic writes in Spanish, but said he did much of his thinking in English because he based the story on American law.

Batista already has about 400 pages, all hand-written, and is close to an ending. The main character is 14 years old, from the Phoenix area.

"I always have to explain that I'm not obsessed with serial killers," said Batista. "I like the detective, the guy who catches the killer and puts him away, the whole mental game of finding out who he is and why he's doing what he's doing.

"Is he mentally ill, or is just a game?"

But the question I have is, will the book be any good? And if it is, will any publisher take it on and then translate it into English?

Technical Difficulties 

Due to the intermittent nature of my cable connection, I've not had access for the past 24 hours, and likely won't have continuous connection till the end of the weekend. Something about snow on the cable box outside the house--beyond that, I know not.

Suffice it to say that there might be some blogging later on, but there might not be. You know the drill. Turn to the usual suspects for news and info.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

I only just figured this out now 

While reading this article about the duelling American Idol books by Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson, I came across a throway reference that Randy was a bassist for--gasp!--Journey about 20 or so years ago. After letting my eyes pop out a bit and frantically trying to figure out how the hell a Jackson 5 member did such a thing, a simple Google search revealed the following bit of information:

Please note that there are apparently at least three Randy Jacksons in the music industry: as well as Journey/American Idol's Randy Jackson, there is the lead vocalist/guitarist of the heavy metal band Zebra, as well as the youngest sibling of Michael Jackson's family. Journey/American Idol's Randy Jackson is no relation to either of them.

I'm only posting this in order to spare the two other people the same kind of headache.

The mood in Paris 

Roger Simon is back from his Paris trip (researching his next novel) and offers an eye-opening view of the current climate over there. Especially check out a picture he took of graffiti on a street near a Jewish school, that which he was going to photograph but decided not to in the end:

Despite its almost block-length size there is no sign or name on the building, certainly no Hebrew letters or Jewish words of any kind to identify it as if it were a secret government installation or think tank. You would have no idea what it was except for a simple “College” written by one of the doors. When I stopped to take this picture, a barrel-chested man who looked like an expert in karate or krav maga, obviously a security guard, rushed out the door in seconds to see who I was, demanding to know what I was doing there. I had to repeat for him several times that I was Jew from California before he relaxed and asked me to please put away my camera.

Not a happy place to be in, I should say.

January Magazine's Best of 2003 

January Magazine has put up their very own Best of 2003 book section. On the crime fiction side, it's especially impressive, as most of my own "Best of" books are included. I've got five reviews in there. The only one that hasn't been edited down from an earlier review is Jules Hardy's MISTER CANDID, which quite frankly, bowled me over and knocked me for a loop when I first read it earlier this fall. Here's an excerpt of the review:

In the stunning Mister Candid, Jules Hardy poses many disturbing questions and doesn't offer easy answers. For nearly two decades, law-enforcement types have half-whispered theories about Mister Candid. Some say he doesn't exist; others believe the shadowy figure has been on a systematic quest to right wrongs, killing scores of people who committed unspeakable crimes yet remained beyond the law's reach. The truth might be found among a series of disconnected people and items: a wizened, dying woman in a Florida rest home; the photograph of a laughing young man leaning against the hood of his Cadillac; and the mysterious disappearance of a rich East Hampton family 17 years ago. Putting the pieces together are an ex-NYPD officer long past burnout, a former nurse-turned-New York transplant who makes ends meet by turning tricks (while she waits for the man of her dreams), and Charlie Kane, who may be the biggest mystery of all. Mister Candid is a difficult novel to summarize, as it's less a whodunit than a carefully crafted psychological study of what drives someone to seek revenge, and the fine line between heroism and malignity. This book also chronicles a family so dysfunctional it makes Jacobean drama seem like fluffy comedy. Hardy's second novel (after 2002's Altered Land) is disturbing, unflinching and wholly uncomfortable. By rights, it should have descended into over-the-top melodrama, but instead it's saved by the author's straight-ahead prose style and its blistering pace. This is not for the faint of heart, nor for anyone unprepared to do some serious thinking after turning the final page. In short, it's nearly a masterpiece.

The UK press reviewed it as a literary novel, and really, it is. But it's also a hell of a reworking of genre conventions. Seek it out. Be bowled over. And hope it gets a US deal.

A late morning update 

I love sleeping in. Actually, I don't, but sometimes it's necessary. Supposedly, working from home means that I'm free of deadlines like getting into the car and going to work. If only it were that simple...

Anyway, the news, a little later than usual:

Mario Cuomo sues! A 15 million dollar libel lawsuit has been issued against Greg Palast, author of "The Best Democracy Money can Buy" for "improperly influencing a federal judge to throw out a multibillion-dollar verdict against a utility company." Oooh, this could be fun. Well, maybe not, but I'm sure the New York media will find a way to make it so.

Peter Olson sent out his annual report to Random House employees, as he is wont to do on the 3rd Tuesday of December. I've only seen highlights, but since I know that there's a RH employee who faithfully checks in here, a copy would be most lovely, if possible. Drop me a line at the email address to the side.....

Janet Maslin doesn't really get Tracy Chevalier's new book THE LADY AND THE UNICORN. Of course the plot is slim and there's not a lot of momentum. It's about characterization and beautiful writing. Like I said before, I didn't love it as much as GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING, but I'm a huge fan of Chevalier's writing style. Economical yet gorgeous.

A new award for journalism has been named in honor of fallen journo (and former editor in chief of the Monthly) Michael Kelly. It will honor those "whose work exemplifies a quality that animated Michael Kelly's own career: the fearless expression and pursuit of truth." My guess is that Jayson Blair won't be included in the longlist....

The M6 toll road is starting to crack. How was it fixed? Why, by shoving two and a half million copies of old Mills & Boon novels to smooth things out:

"Ironically the books are renowned for their slushiness but when pulped they help to make the road solid and to hold the Tarmac and asphalt in place."

In other news, Harlequin says their books would have fixed the crack with only two million copies.

Cover art guru and author Chip Kidd is interviewed for the second time by Robert Birnbaum. Much discussion is centered about the parallels of his book with Marion Ettlinger's recent one of her author photographs, and how the two of them are inexorably linked.

The whole Google Print thing is fascinating, but somewhat confusing. Michael Cader (who originally broke the news on Publisher's Lunch) has more details in the New York Sun. (link from Moby.)

You want power? Meet Sessalee Hensley. She's the fiction buyer for Barnes and Noble, and so she decides what books, and how much, get stocked. Authors moan. Publishers cajole. Talk about a pressure-filled job. (also from Moby.)

And finally, the Golden Globe nominees are out. The only reason anyone likes these awards is that the celebs get an unlimited supply of liquor throughout the show and get monumentally trashed by the end. Always makes for fun entertainment for the masses...

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Blogroll alert 

Everyone else has linked to it but I don't care. Go read The Modern Drunk’s Guide to Dating (Women) Part I, Maccers' indispensable guide for guys. My favorite (though it changes every hour):

Never date a man who is short and lies about his shortness, even after you have measured him. He will lie about everything and send you invoices for all kinds of things after you split up.

Her partner in mischief, Eurotrash, waxes eloquent about why baths are magical in Britain but not quite so much in her adopted hometown of NYC. Word to the wise, as the site seems to be down at the moment, but hopefully it'll be back up soon.

The TMFTML Sex Tape is soon to be a hot ticket. Something about being sandwiched between a visiting sailor and one of the less attractive members of The Big Apple Circus’ clown corps...? No doubt such a tape--provided it hasn't been destroyed, naturally--will appear on your favorite sites in the near future.

Marc is still looking for suitable entries for the "Worst in Online Journalism 2003." Don't look at me, I sent mine in ages ago....

And then, of course, there's this whole bit of business. Frankly, I'm rather at a loss as to what to say, so perhaps I'll just refrain from uttering anything at all. Although I like the idea that Canadians are "the classiest and most civilized members of the Commonwealth." Works for me.

Mid-week musings 

What's the hottest selling type of book in Japan these days? Don't remember? Exactly. Memory power is the latest fad there, as worried Japanese folk try frantically to keep everything they do and see in their heads. Kumon Publishing Co. has put out 2 books in this manner, and they've sold 228,000 copies to date, far exceeding expectations.

How did JRR Tolkien keep up inspiration for his Lord of the Rings trilogy? Michael Dirda thinks it might have something to do with his membership in The Inklings, a groups of writers (including CS Lewis) that met up pubs to talk shop.

After I went public with my dislike of VERNON GOD LITTLE, Jessa has pointed me towards a review who was rather bewildered about the whole business, wondering how this book was good satire.

THE GAY TALESE READER is due in stores fairly soon; the 71 year old author was a founding father of the New Journalism that enjoyed popularity in the 1960s, and Newsweek interviews him about all sorts of goodies, including the current state of the NYT (link from The Elegant Variation.)

Louis Bayard's MR. TIMOTHY is reviewed at January Magazine; it's under the crime fiction umbrella but their literary reviewer takes a crack at it, and enjoys it quite a lot.

In more reviews, Crime Time has put up three new ones this week: Henning Mankell's THE WHITE LIONESS, Boris Akunin's THE WINTER QUEEN, and Michael Carlson's short essay on why Dashiell Hammett's THE RED HARVEST may be the greatest crime novel of all time.

Meanwhile, SHOTS has updated its site, though the full issue of #20 won't be out till the end of the year. In the meantime, enjoy Ali Karim and Mike Stotter's detailed report of the CWA Dagger Luncheon, including an interview with Minette Walters and her agent, the incomparable Jane Gregory. I'm a bit curious, however, to find that she's representing Chris Simms (author of OUTSIDE THE WHITE LINES and the upcoming PECKING ORDER), as there's yet no mention of this on the agency's site. But if it's true, that can only mean good things for an author whose books have picked up tremendous (and deserving) buzz.

Oh god. Do we really need another installment of Canadian Idol? Well, even if we don't, Ben Mulroney and his cast of has-been judges will be back for another season.

And finally, happy anniversary, Gawker. The first year was crazy and tumultous; let all years to come be equally exciting for you guys.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Picks 'n Pans 

After filling my head with all sorts of conflicting reviews and then trying to block them all out, I finally read VERNON GOD LITTLE. Well, in full disclosure, I finally read the first 48 pages because the book didn't pass the 50 page test. All the while I kept shaking my head, hearing Peggy Lee's voice in my head sing,"Is that all there is to a Booker Prize winner?" I suppose I understand intellectually why DBC Pierre's book appealed so much to the British masses, but intellect isn't the only part of me that ought to be engaged while reading a book. Considering I spent half the time internally correcting the word "f**ken" (which appeared about every third word or so) to a more grammatically correct form. Frankly, VERNON GOD LITTLE was like sitting through a painfully unfunny Saturday Night Live sketch that refuses to end, no matter how much the advertisers clamor for time to show their little commercials. Besides, if I want to read a dialect-heavy book in a teenager's voice that is consistently funny, I'll reread my copy of Chrissie Glazebrook's THE MADOLESCENTS again--a book that didn't get anywhere near the Booker longlist (hell, it probably wasn't even submitted.)

And I thought I could attribute the above reaction to a recent reading slump until I picked up Robert Eversz's BURNING GARBO. A book that's funny, brisk, violent, and wonderful. The protagonist, Nina Zero, started out life (as told in her first appearance, 1996's SHOOTING ELVIS) as apple-pie California blonde Mary Alice Baker, who was a department store photographer capturing babies on film until her ne'er-do-well squeeze asks her to deliver a package for him. An explosion at LAX, betrayal, and lots of bodies later, she's become Nina, a hard-edged paparazza with a prison record. I love her to bits, and though I've a special fondness for ELVIS, I think GARBO is probably the best written and best plotted of the books. In short, it rocks.

Remainders of the night 

I'm thinking of changing the blog name, because thanks to The Black Blog, I now know how it translates in Italian: Confessioni di una mente idiosincratica. Why does it sound cooler in a romance language? Props to those who can tell me the Yiddish translation....

And while I'm mentioning this new blog, though my Italian is at best, pathetic, it appears to be run by an Italian publisher of crime fiction and noir, as they have the Italian versions of books by the likes of Denise Danks, Stella Duffy, and Tim McLoughlin.

The latest issue of Mystery Scene is available on newsstands, and it has one of the better pictures of Dennis Lehane I've seen in ages. For some reason, the author photos that grace the back pages of the dust jacket copy of his books never quite do him justice. And his books are mighty fine as well, for those that saw the movie MYSTIC RIVER and want to know more about the man behind the story.

The phenomenal success of EATS, SHOOTS AND LEAVES has made Lynne Truss just a wee bit anxious. She talks at length about critics, cats, and how success has--or hasn't--changed her in the Telegraph.

The New York Times takes a look at Erskine Caldwell on the centenary of his birth. When Tobacco Road was published back in 1932, it was considered quite scandalous. Then it became a hit Broadway play and now it all seems rather tame.

But just as the Times gets thoughtful, they also show their true colors in catching onto a trend a year or so after it was actually over. At the rate they are heading, we should see a detailed analysis of the KGB pill sometime in oh, 2006.

Unlike the PhD thing, we only wish Madonna's endorsement of Wesley Clark as a "natural born leader" was a hoax. As a followup, it was reported that Woody Harrelson would be playing Clark in an upcoming biopic, with Juliette Lewis as the general's wife. I suspect a few liberties will be made with the real story once it gets to Hollywood.....

Lunch for Dinner 

Email problems appear to be over, after a frantic hour moving everything off the server and cleaning out all sorts of detritus. Argh. Anyway, it means I got the Deal Lunch a bit later than usual.

The first of the Queer Eye dudes to get a book deal is Carson Kressley, with an "untitled book on fashion, about the simple sartorial staples of style from ascots to zippers, along with a dose of makeover magic for behavior and attitude, to Trena Keating for Dutton and Plume, for full-color publication in fall 2004, by Richard Abate at ICM (world)."

I am so utterly overjoyed. No doubt his fellow partners in fashion and grooming crime are jealous that he got there first.

In made-up self-help books:

Alexandra Robbins's CONQUERING YOUR QUARTERLIFE CRISIS, a follow up to the successful Quarterlife Crisis, providing prescriptive
answers and advice to help readers face the unique challenges of life in their twenties, make the choices that are right for them, and forge ahead with the rest of their lives, to Michelle Howry at Perigee, by Paula Balzer at Sarah Lazin Books (world English).

Look, it sucks for my generation. We expected so much and now we're not getting it. Perhaps it's time to return to the thinking of our forefathers, who didn't expect so much for themselves but worked their butts off for future generations? Actually, who am I kidding, I can't get a freaking job either.

In misstating the obvious:

Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo, a "male-perspective" consultant and staff writer for HBO's Sex and the City, have teamed up to write HE'S
JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU: The No Excuses Truth to Understanding Guys, a humorous yet wise non-fiction relationship/self-help book (based
on one of the show's episodes) that educates otherwise smart women on how to tell when a guy just doesn't like them enough, so they stop
wasting time making excuses for a relationship that just isn't going to work, to Patrick Price at Simon Spotlight Entertainment, by Andrea
Barzvi at ICM (world).

How to tell that sort of thing? When the guy you dig is after your hot friend. Everything else is just extra....

Something amusing:

Sara Bynoe's compilation TEEN ANGST POETRY: An Anthology of the Worst Poetry Ever Written, a humorous compilation of break ups and breakouts in angst-ridden teenage verse, with "I can laugh at it now" annotations from the now adult authors, a spin-off from the website of the same name, to Elizabeth Bewley at St. Martin's, in a pre-empt, by Sarah Heller at the Helen Heller Agency

And something that might not be:

Roger Bennett, Nick Kroll and Jules Shell's BAR MITZVAH DISCO, a collection of Bar Mitzvah photos, memorabilia and stories that were sent
in by individuals from across the country in response to the authors' own bar mitzvah website, to Doug Pepper at Crown, in a pre-empt, for publication in spring 2005, by Kate Lee and Richard Abate at ICM (NA).

In what might actually be a good tell-all:

Holocaust survivor, groundbreaking Sixties singer in Goldie and the Gingerbreads, the first all-female rock band to be signed by a major record label, and later producer of several seminal bands of the NY punk rock scene Genya Ravan's LOLLIPOP LOUNGE: MEMOIR OF A ROCK AND ROLL REFUGEE, a tell-all autobiography, to Bob Nirkind at Billboard Books, in a nice deal (world)

And this is making me hungry already:

Carol Off's BITTERSWEET: The Inside Story of Chocolate, an investigative journey into the social history, politics, wealth, power and
poverty of the international chocolate and cocoa trade, to Anne Collins at Random House Canada, by Don Sedgwick (world).

Turning to fiction, we open with "The Devil Wears Prada, Weinstein style":

Former Miramax employee Rachel Eve Pine's roman a clef/satire THE TWINS OF TRIBECA (the twins being the brothers Weinstein),
promising "plenty of dishy anecdotes about the underbelly of Hollywood, including its stars," to Jonathan Burnham at Miramax Books, after Harvey Weinstein spoke with the author by phone from Rome in "a friendly if slightly surreal conversation," for publication in summer 2005, by Katherine Boyle at LitWest Group (world).

How cute that Miramax is publishing this! Why, I'm getting all warm and fuzzy everywhere. Well, I might get the book when it comes out, if only to see if it's better written than PRADA was (though I did enjoy Weisberger's maiden voyage for what it was.)

Speaking of bandwagons:

Johanna Edwards's first novel THE NEXT BIG THING, about a plus-size heroine who goes on reality show called FROM FAT TO FABULOUS to
try to win her fat-phobe internet boyfriend, to Allison McCabe, in a good deal, by Jenny Bent at Trident Media Group (NA).

You know, Jennifer Weiner did this whole topic really well, so do we really need something that probably won't measure up to GOOD IN BED? Of course, I'm happy to be proven wrong.

And even more on that wagon-jumping thing:

Melissa Jacobs' debut novel LEXI JAMES & THE COUNCIL OF GIRLFRIENDS, featuring a wisecracking heroine who's more Jo March
than Bridget Jones, the EVP of a flourishing PR agency in Philadelphia, who realizes something's got to change when she spends another
Saturday night alone watching "Sixteen Candles" and eating Skippy Super Chunk with a tablespoon, to Lucia Macro at Avon/Morrow, in a two-book deal, by Betsy Amster (world).

A little bit of Helen, a little bit of Louisa May, and let's throw in some Jennifer W for good measure....voila! Yet another chick-lit novel. Sigh.

In books I might be looking foward to reading:

Michael Lavigne's first novel NOT ME, about a downcast small-time comedian who discovers that his dying father, a deeply committed,
philanthropic Jewish man all his life, may actually have been a Nazi bookkeeper before forging his new identity, eventually leading him to
confront his own puzzling past and starts to understand the true meaning of benevolence, compassion, and forgiveness--and identity, to Daniel Menaker at Random House, by Michael Carlisle at Carlise & Company.

On the crime fiction front:

Lori and Tony Karayianni aka Tori Carrington's first two titles in their mystery series SOFIE METROPOLIS, PI, about a Greek-American
heroine standing at a cultural, personal and professional crossroads...until she ditches her cheating fiance, turns a blind eye to the other
"appropriate" Greek men with whom her mother endeavors to match her, and trades her job as waitress for that of private investigator with often times comedic results, to Melissa Ann Singer at Tor, in a very good deal, by Robert Gottlieb at Trident Media Group (NA).

Oh, gag me. Not because the premise is terrible or anything, but because it isn't. So why is this getting published in the US while Paul Johnston's marvellous Alex Mavros books (the latest one, THE LAST RED DEATH, is a potent blend of PI, political thriller, history, and family ties) isn't anywhere near such a deal? But because his books doesn't involve a female protagonist and bears no relationship whatsoever to MY BIG, FAT GREEK WEDDING, they get shafted. And now that I think about it, I can see the pitch as "Nia Vardalos meets Stephanie Plum" and I'm liking it even less than I did before.....

Meanwhile, in the techno-thriller arena:

Dr. Jeffrey Anderson's first novel SLEEPER CELL, a thriller with plausible science, intense action, and intricate plotting, telling the story
of a biological attack no one is talking about--one that may already have its seeds in the research laboratories of elite universities on American
soil--and the new top secret Biodefense Command, that must race to stop the deadly attack, to Natalee Rosenstein at Berkley, for six figures,
in a pre-empt, by Kimberly Whalen at Trident Media Group. (NA).

I can think of a couple of people who really have to hurry up and get their somewhat similar books finished already...such deals started coming in last year and the bandwagon's on in full force.

Two-time winner of the Shamus Award and three-time Edgar nominee Brendan DuBois' next two Lewis Cole mysteries, featuring magazine
columnist and retired Defense Department analyst Lewis Cole, who pursues mysterious happenings in and around the New Hampshire
seacoast, to Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's, by Liza Dawson at Liza Dawson Associates (NA). Chandler Crawford is handling foreign rights.

Hmm, New Hampshire. Don't think that's been done in mystery fiction for a while.

So there it is, folks, with an extra dose of snark for good measure..

News you may or may not use 

Due to pesky obligations like getting fingerprinted, I suspect blogging will be much reduced on this fine, chilly day. Also, my email is crapping out and I don't know why, but it's being looked into.

A scientist at MIT has made the world's largest book according to the Guinness World Book of Records--133 pounds, 5 by 7 feet and yours for the very low price of 10K. Yikes.

Children's books are challenging enough, but what about trying to distill the essence of scientific pursuits for the minds of young ones? The New York Times examines this growing industry and the difficulties the authors face. God knows I had to unlearn a lot of concepts in high school that I'd "learned" wrong as a child....

Shopping for a diehard Asterix fan this Christmas? You can now get them the 1,250 page Dictionnaire de Goscinny. No doubt it will become the classic that the Klingon dictionary is now.

In the aftermath of the Big Read winner, Zoe Williams asks why anyone would bother asking "What is your favorite book?" I'm inclined to agree as that question certainly makes me break out into all sorts of hives.
And speaking of holidays, looks like retailers aren't getting as many customers as they want, and there's a bit of a panic going on. What to do? Slash prices, of course.

Courtesy of the London Review of Books is a thoughtful essay on crime writer Ruth Dudley Edwards' latest book--not a novel of fiction, but a non-fiction tome about Hugh Cudlipp and Cecil King, the men who made the Daily Mirror into the bastion of tabloid journalism that it once was, and tries so hard to be these days.

A man pens a roman a clef about his coworkers, barely disguising their traits. He gets fired when word gets out (and 850 copies sell.) But now he's 50 000 pounds richer, thanks to mediation court. Perhaps every cloud does have a silver lining after all....more info at the Scotsman.

Chris Lehmann feels that Thomas Hechtte's THE ARBORGAST TASTE could do with a bit more consistency and tightening of themes, but that it's still worth checking out.

Boy am I glad I didn't link to the "Madonna getting her PhD" story. Maud has informed us that the story's a fake, started by "a funny friend of hers."

And finally, in spite of all this stuff, I pretty much agree with Mark that it's a slow news day. But do read his piece about Pat Barker, an author I've long been meaning to try.

Monday, December 15, 2003

A nail in the coffin for Esperanto 

From Publisher's Weekly (which has now become subscription-only):

Tomorrow Shirley MacLaine, author of Out on a Leash: Exploring the Nature of Reality and Love (Atria, $23.95; Audioworks unabridged
cassette, $26, unabridged CD, $30), makes her initial appearance on the Ellen Degeneres Show. PW wished that MacLaine's urge to write had
been reined in. "Wandering, incoherent and self-congratulatory, MacLaine's 10th book will not earn her new fans. The book alternates
between MacLaine's own voice and that of her dog, Terry, with whom the author communicates in 'humanimal,' which, she says, is a 'purer, more
direct form of language' than English."

I suddenly have the urge to massacre those fine lyrics of Alan Jay Lerner's: "I talk to my dog, but he won't listen to me..."

Memo to Luke Ford 

No, you're not that weird, but please, please, stop channelling Bridget Jones. It really does not become you.

I must admit, visiting Luke's site always leaves me in a state of repulsion, fascination, and confusion all at the same time. He's certainly a unique individual and somehow, somewhere, there must be a basheert for the guy. Having said that, I'm a bit surprised that he hasn't tried his luck with the Upper West Side meat market (or perhaps he has, but checking his voluminous archives often leaves me with a headache, alas.) Ah well, I wish him luck in his pursuits.

The Baggie Awards 

I never talk much about sports here, especially now that the Senators are depressing me so much that I can't bear to watch (guys, stop trying to play cute and keep your sticks on the puck. It's really that simple.) but for a long time, I was a diehard tennis fan. My interest has waned somewhat since Pete Sampras stopped playing, but every Monday afternoon, without fail, I check in with Sports Illustrated writer Jon Wertheim's Mailbag column at CNNSI.com. I used to write in with snarky comments on occasion, and amazingly, considering how many people were milling around and how annoying security acted, I ran into Jon at the 2002 US Open. Didn't get to talk to him much as he was deep in conversation with fellow SI sportswriter S.L. Price, but it was cool meeting him nonetheless. Aside from his SI duties (where he covers basketball and legal stuff as well as the tennis world) he's also the author of VENUS ENVY, which was a nice and insider-y look at the women's tennis circuit during the 2000 season.

Anyway, the aforementioned awards are given at the end of the calendar year, and aside from the usual things, there are some lovely little gems:

Quote of the Year, women: Venus Williams. When asked for her thoughts on the army of up-and-coming Russian players, Williams responded: "I have to learn how to pronounce some of their names, especially the ones with the consonants together."

Quote of the Year, men: James Blake. The former Harvard undergrad had this take on sources of intellectual stimulation on the tour: "There are some pretty intelligent players out here, such as, well, Todd Martin and [pause]... Let me think of a few more."

On the plus side, there was no subsequent paternity suit: In his recent autobiography, Boris Becker recalls having endured a panic attack while trapped in a stalled elevator with tenors Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras.

And as for next year, I just hope for good matches, a little bit of scandal, and nothing of Anna Whateverthehellhernameis.

The decline and fall of book parties 

Thanks to Publishers Lunch, I got to read a lovely piece of idiotic tripe at New York Magazine all about the sad state of the book party in Manhattan:

“I organized my life around going to two or three a week,” laments a Harvard grad who lives in Cobble Hill. “I’d buy less food, get plenty of girls to hit on and something to read.” When the hors d’oeuvre budget was slashed, he still went. When the girls got less glam, he hung on. But now that there are hardly ever books to take home, what, he asks, is the point?

Granted, my only experience of book parties are in the world of crime fiction, and perhaps genre novels don't inspire the same bit of hobnobbery and high expectations. For one thing, free books? Really? I've yet to actually see such a thing in action. I went to one such launch party in London and the books were all there to be had, but it was understood that at some point, we'd have to pay for them (of course, maybe that's why no one took the books that night; or, like me, they already owned the book in question and didn't need an extra copy.) Maybe it's me, but the time to get a free book is before publication or at some awards or another. Take the Edgars. I suspect a fair number of people pony up to pay the $150 bucks for the dinner in order to get their hands on as many free stuff as possible. Though that being the case, it's always interesting to note which books get scarfed up quickly and which books languish. Some are expected, others quite surprising.

It's almost de rigeur to bash the magazine, but with articles like these, who needs reality?

News for your Monday morning 

Theater critic John Simon offers a very in-depth review of Margot Peters' new biography of the acting team Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt. Normally I'm conflicted about Simon's opinions, since he can either be brilliant or a crackpot, but this essay is so alive with feeling that I want to read the biography soon.

Meanwhile, Janet Maslin takes a look at a new biography of Oscar Wilde--this one offering a detailed look at the libel trial that outed Wilde's homosexuality and basically ruined his career and life at the time.

For fans of Patrick O'Brian's MASTER AND COMMANDER and the 19 subsequent sequels, looks like number 21 might be forthcoming after all. An unpublished manuscript is believed to have been discovered amongst O'Brian's papers, and it remains to be seen if a posthumous novel (O'Brian died in 2000) will, in fact, see the light of day.

The Glasgow Herald interviews comic novelist Christopher Brookmyre. I've only read his first book, QUITE UGLY ONE MORNING, but I adored it immensely for its unbelievably warped sense of humor (and unerringly fast pace) and must seek out further books soon.

Speaking of Brookmyre, he and a number of other authors are queried about their favorite phrases.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy has, as expected, turned out to be the winner of the BBC's Big Read. Interesting that Simon Tolkien (whose own first novel, FINAL WITNESS aka THE STEPMOTHER, was released about a year or so ago) is the only one of the family to go public with any commentary about the result. Related, John Garth of the Scotsman examines why the books are so damned popular.

Patrick Anderson's thriller column focuses on Joyce Carol Oates' new book RAPE: A LOVE STORY. Although I suppose it's meant to be a horrifying look at the worst-case scenario of the aftermath of a rape, the description and deus ex machina effect doesn't make me want to read it terribly much. Not that I don't like to be disturbed--I do read crime fiction after all--but I guess I have my upper limits.

The UK store chain WH Smith has been restructuring of late, trying to figure out what it does best (candy, magazines) and not (lots of books.) Naturally, there's some purging going on.

Anna Picard rounds up the best of Classical Music books of 2003. Some she liked....others, not so much.

In somewhat older news, SJ Rozan is the winner of the Nero Wolfe Award for her 2002 novel WINTER AND NIGHT, which already picked up an Edgar and a Macavity award earlier this year. Also, do take a look at her blog about the process involved in the publication of her next book, the Standalone ABSENT FRIENDS. Very fascinating stuff that's of insight to both writers and readers.

And finally....Prince Charles can't seem to stop making gaffes. Upon meeting Nicole Kidman at a premiere for her latest movie, he asked if she'd recently appeared in the movie ENIGMA:

She looked at him baffled, glanced at Cold Mountain director, Anthony Minghella, before replying: "No. Moulin Rouge".

"You've done a bit since then," Charles said.

"Yes, a few things," she said.

Yup. Just another faux pas from the man who would be king.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

I guess Anthony Hopkins is too old for the part 

" A German cannibal is in talks over a movie deal about his story, his defence lawyer said as a court heard further grisly details of how he killed and ate his apparently willing victim.

Armin Meiwes has already begun writing a book in prison about his life and actions, his lawyer Harald Ermel said during a break in the trial on Friday. "

On a chilly Sunday morning 

Where the news is that Saddam Hussein was captured. My first response: how do they know it's not a clone? Evidently DNA tests are being performed. Ah, the wonders of forensic science....

But on to matters of some frivolity for now, as I don't much like to talk about the war efforts (that's why there are warblogs.) At the Observer, Tim Adams feels that Jonathan Lethem has finally "caught up" to his Bennington classmates Donna Tartt and Bret Easton Ellis in writing challenging literature. Granted, the only Lethem book I've read so far is his futuristic take on the PI novel, GUN, WITH OCCASIONAL MUSIC, but that proved enough for me to both seek out future work and to classify him as a hell of a lot better than Donna or Bret.

Evidently Susanna Moore's raison d'etre in her fiction, including her latest novel ONE LAST LOOK, is that she wants to champion women and their struggles. Okay....

Peter Guttridge loves Minette Walters' new novel DISORDERED MINDS. While I'm sure it's deserving of all the raves, I have a wee suspicion that it won't make the Dagger shortlist next year. I mean, she did win the damned thing this year, can't some other writer get a chance? Although knowing the CWA, they'll piss people off further by awarding the Gold Dagger to another novel in translation.

Robert McCrum examines the tenuous link between alcohol and writing. Evidently HL Mencken once wrote that "the cocktail was the only American invention as perfect as the sonnet. " I can think of a couple of people who would take such a saying to heart, likely for different reasons....

Oline Cogdill's latest mystery column takes an in-depth look at Louis Bayard's historical thriller MR. TIMOTHY and a couple of paperback originals. The first one is Elaine Viets' MURDER BETWEEN THE COVERS, which is set in the bookstore and evidently is a hell of a lot of fun, according to one of my bookseller friends.

Maud Newton read Bernard Schlink's THE READER over the weekend and it struck a very resonant chord with her. I read the short novel a couple of years or so ago and had a decidedly different reaction. For one thing, like a lot of novels in translation, I felt I was missing something which perhaps the original German may have offered. More importantly, THE READER struck me as kind of an apology after the fact, and seemed awfully close to a cop-out. Good writing, but at least for me, provoking in a negative sort of way.

The National Post profiles journalist Martha Gellhorn, who was once married to Ernest Hemingway. A fascinating woman who was far more committed to her life and work than being an ordinary wife, she travelled the world and was quite the pioneer, it seems, although she didn't much want the role:

Gellhorn never considered herself a pioneer. Too feisty, too idiosyncratic, she lived her life in a kind of isolation: "My chosen and projected status is that of an outsider. I have never seen any place or group I wanted to join; not their taboos, rules, games, ambitions ... I am an onlooker."

And finally, Reinhold Neibuhr's Serenity Prayer has been co-opted by a great many celebrities, organizations, never mind AA. But he was far more than that--a religious thinker and philosopher. The Boston Globe takes a closer look at the all-but-forgotten man.

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