Monday, October 26, 2009

The Boston Book Festival Bombs in Copley Square posted an article last Friday publicizing this past weekend's Boston Book Festival:

What a perfectly momentous time to launch the Boston Book Festival. Three years in the making, the ambitious inaugural event arrives in a marketplace mired in recession, with Wal-Mart, Target, and Amazon locked in a price war and as the publishing industry faces head-on the turmoil and transition familiar to anyone whose livelihood involves that future relic called paper.

“Historically, the conventional wisdom was the publishing industry was recession-proof, and if the adage was ever true it doesn’t remain the case,’’ said Gary Gentel, president of the trade and reference division at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, a sponsor (along with the Globe) of the Boston Book Festival. “That said, this is the perfect time for a festival. What a great escape.’’

Read more HERE

As the only major city without a book festival, the festival's founder Deborah Porter says "[it] is meant to celebrate our literary heritage and what Boston still offers the world. There will definitely be a contingent there that thinks innovations are liberating and will change things in a positive way."

While I applaud the sentiment and fully agree that book culture needs to continually be celebrated, I must chime in regarding this article's enthusiasm about the festival. I was in Boston this weekend. I walked through the festival on Saturday, unaware that it was standing in my beloved Copley Square. And it was not all this article claims.

Apparently, there was a lineup of"brand-name authors" participating--the only one of whom I've ever heard of is Tom Perrotta (Little Children)--as well as an array of "scholarly sessions" taking place. But all I saw was maybe 20 small, white tents/booths with a miniscule selection of books on display. There weren't very many people at the festival either, with some booths entirely empty. Granted, it was drizzling off and on and I only walked through the area, but it was less than impressive.

I'm a self-proclaimed book enthusiast of sorts and even I thought Boston's effort here was somewhat pathetic. The book fairs I had in school as a child were more complex and compelling. The most appealing part of the festival was the huge stage Berklee College of Music set up directly in front of Trinity Church, where performances were taking place (and the only real crowd gathered).

So, while I think Boston's heart was in the right place here, if they're trying to launch a fantastic inaugural book festival, they failed somewhat miserably. It was a sad day for Boston...and for books.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

"It's ok! I'm just picking up where he left off!"

There have been a lot of books published lately featuring characters from the classics, whether it be a re-telling of the same old tale with a new twist, a la Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, fan-fiction, or an official or unofficial sequel, people love to breathe new life into old characters.

But what would the authors' think of these new adventures?

Neely Tucker of The Washington Post gets upclose and personal with the authors--and estates---of three of such sanctioned official sequels:

In bookstores this week, Arthur Dent is hitchhiking through the
galaxy again. Dracula glides through the London fog once more, still in need of overwrought young women with plunging necklines and exposed veins. Winnie the Pooh is back to toddling around the Hundred Acre Wood.

This would not be remarkable were it not for the fact that the authors who created these literary icons -- Douglas Adams, Bram Stoker, A.A. Milne -- have been dead anywhere from eight years to nearly a century. But in the twilight world of officially sanctioned sequels, death is not an impediment to character development.

In three new books -- "And Another Thing . . . ," the sixth volume of the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" series; "Return to the Hundred Acre Wood," the new Winnie the Pooh book; and "Dracula: The Un-Dead" -- the estates of the deceased writers (or their descendants) have hired writers to breathe new life into these characters, whether their creators would have wanted them biting people on the neck again or not. It's not a new practice, but this troika of high-profile revivals, all within a 10-day period, brings these after-death sequels to a new level of prominence.

For more of Tucker's story, click HERE

The general consensus among Tucker's interviewees seems to be that it's perfectly ok to go ahead and continute classic characters since the original creator is no longer alive to do so himself. But Jane Belson, Douglas Adams's widow, gets to the heart of it without meaning to, it seems. When asked how she thinks Douglas would feel about this news, she said:

"He hated writing books, but he loved having written them. . . . I'm not sure how he would have reacted to someone doing it for him. But it seemed like a good idea."

Personally, if you aren't sure how he would have reacted, I don't think it seems like such a "good idea."

Characters are an author's children; they are a little piece of an author's soul. I know if I were to publish a novel, I would most certainly not want someone else to finish something they think I didn't finish by writing a sequel. You don't play with someone else's genius. Continuing a character's life can change the entire power and meaning of the original work. I can't think of a better way to honor a writer and loved one. *Insert sarcasm here*

While I understand the argument for continuing a beloved character for the fans, I still feel some things are sacred. A writer's work being one of them, especially when he/she is no longer around to have an opinion. The fans will survive. They'll cherish what they do have and keep reading.

Some may say that writing a sequel like this is no different than taking a book and turning it into a film or television series, but I disagree. It's a horse of a different color. It's taking the author's vision and seeing it through a new set of eyes in an entirely new way. A sequel is almost shouting, "I'm prentending to be 'insert author here'!"

Dacre Stoker, author of the new Dracula sequel (and great-grandnephew of Bram himself), clearly disagrees, telling Tucker that:
"I'm not claiming I write like Bram, and I'm not claiming to be an authority on all things vampire," he says. "We're just coming back to Bram's character, to a man lost in the fray in a lot of ways, and to what he created. That's the point of the book."

But, quite frankly, the "point of the book" was expressed when Bram Stoker put down his pen.

If you want to write your own book, tell your own story, don't just continue someone else's.

Book Review: The Anthologist

Publishers Weekly gave Nicholson Baker's The Anthologist a starred review, saying "Baker pulls off an original and touching story, demonstrating his remarkable writing ability while putting it under a microscope."

Linnea over at Art Ravels posted a equally glowing review, giving a little more insight into the newest of Baker's novels:

I can't remember the last time I wrote about a novel, but then again I can't remember that last time I picked up such a good novel. The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker is a simple story told in a great voice that is incredibly appealing.

Told from the point of view of Paul Chowder, a sometime poet writing an introduction to an anthology of rhyming poetry, the story unfolds into one of intimate, blind self-destruction....

Read the rest of Linnea's review HERE

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Author Insight: An Evening with Jeannette Walls

I didn't know what to expect when I walked into the conference room at 4:30 pm on October 5th. I had signed up for my company's Author Lecture Series a couple weeks before and was reading The Glass Castle in anticipation for Jeannette Walls's talk. I'd been meaning to read her memoir for ages, but it sat on my shelf gathering dust until the moment I signed up. I knew if I were going to see her speak, I better read her book.

So, I read it--I laughed, I cried, I'll never be the same. My boss jokes with me by saying that every time something ridiculous and insignificant happens that someone is blowing out of proportion. But just now it wasn't a joke. JW's memoir was one of the most interesting, compelling, and inspiring stories I'd ever read. She had a childhood of such struggle, I never would've been able to imagine it had I not listened to her words as she shared her self-declared "source of shame" with strangers like me all over the world.

I could tell just from her memoir that she was a remarkable and resilient woman. But when it came time to listen to her speak, I wasn't sure in what shambles I'd meet her. As soon as I walked in the room though, it was clear she was more put together than I.

Tall and thin, JW dressed in a tailored black suit with a single strand of pearls around her neck, her wild red hair just tamed enough to make me incredibly jealous. She exuded beauty and confidence. Frankly, I was in awe. It was clear she was a force to be reckoned with. And then she spoke, and I was blown away.

For the hour long lecture, JW discussed a vast array of topics, all of which came back to one significant concept: truth. With all the memoirs that are on the shelves these days, it's easy to forget their purpose, particularly when the authors themselves aren't writing for anything other than money or fame. But JW's purpose was refreshing, admirable, and extremely worthy. She just wanted to tell the truth.

"The truth is a liquid and not a solid," she told us. "It takes many shapes, and everyone's truth is different. But basically, we're all the same. Underneath it all, we are so much alike, and it's that commonality that unites us all."

She never believed anyone would buy a story about her "little white trash life." She feared that "no doubt that once people knew the truth about me, I would lose everything.” She asked herself why she would ever expose herself like that, to write her story down on paper where she could never take it back, where her dirty laundry, as it were, would be hanging out to dry for all to see. But then she realized it didn't matter. Her "fantasy for the book was that a rich kid would read it and understand what it’s like on the other side and have empathy, but then my fantasy evolved and I wanted to give the same hope to poor kids too." That was the heart of it all.

The Glass Castle has far exceeded anything JW ever expected. It's gone on to become perhaps one of the most well-known memoirs in history and has caused reactions that JW never thought would be possible. Children read her book in classrooms to learn about poverty, and people JW knew as a child have even come out of the woodwork to apologize for looking down on her and putting her down. As JW said, “people are just trying to understand what other people think. It's all about getting to the truth."

JW went on to discuss her next book, Half Broke Horses. Using Norman Mailer's phrase "a true life novel," JW tells the story of her extraordinary grandmother Libby and her ordinary life. While technically fiction, HBH is as close to the truth as JW could get. "That magic that visits writer's when you make stuff up, that magic doesn’t visit me," she admitted. "I dig.”

And that's exactly what she did in her second book. Through research and interviews she pieced together her grandmother's life, "dramatizing rather than fictionalizing," she explained. "A memoirist is allowed to make up nothing. We can only have a different perspective or impression of the situation." She kept that philosophy with HBH and while I was reluctant to read it when I first heard of its publication, I am now intrigued to see JW's version of the truth through the eyes of her grandmother's successors.

Throughout JW's dynamic lecture, I couldn't stop smiling, the reason for which is two-fold.

First, I was given the opportunity to read a memoir that gets back to and fulfills the true purpose of a memoir. As JW put it, "people these days think memoirists are exhibitionists. It’s not that at all. This is my life. And maybe you can learn a little something about it without having to live it.” That is what memoir is all about, should be all about. It was rejuvenating for me to see that reality live on.

And then, on top of that, I was grateful to be able to meet this woman who had been through so much and somehow still cared so immensely about everyone else. I can't imagine that after what she'd been through, I would've been nearly as capable as she. I likely would've crumbled, and I certainly wouldn't have been able to be as open, as honest, and as caring as she seems to be. But "we’re all very strong and very resourceful," she shared. "We all come from hearty stock.”

And maybe we do. We just have to remember that as we move through our lives. And we must never forget, as JW reminded me, that "there’s no shame in failing. The shame comes if we tell ourselves we aren’t strong enough to get back up.”

Women Writers: "Sugar and spice, and all things nice"

Gender has been an issue in literature for as long as books have been written. Whether it be picking apart the gender roles represented in classic novels, exploring the fact that a certain writer created a protagonist of the opposite gender, or debating the relevance of a writer's gender in a particular time period, it's always been under the microscope.

Even now, with the age of Feminism somewhat behind us, people are still raising a ruckus over gender. Take this year's literary awards, for example.

As I was browsing the Huffington Post's website today, I stumbled upon at least three posts about female writers sweeping this year's awards:

Nobel Prize in Literature: Herta Müller
Man Book Prize in Fiction: Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall
Pulitzer Prize in Fiction: Elizabeth Strout, Olive Kitteridge
Man Booker International Prize: Alice Munro
LA Times Book Prize in Fiction and The Orange Prize: Marilynne Robinson, Home

Initially, I was intrigued by Erica Jong's article "Big News: Women Can Write!" and I clicked curiously. But as I started reading, it made me cringe that the post had even been written in the first place. Then, when I came across a few more articles on the same subject, my cringe became an all out frown.

I'd heard some of the award results already myself (and read Strout's fantastic short story collection), but I hadn't clumped the winners by gender. Why should I? They're just brilliant authors whose literary merits are being rewarded. Everyone suddenly seems so shocked that women can actually be talented writers.

Jessie Kundart's post, for example, "Women Sweep Literature Prizes," noted:

Is it an accident, the judging panels, a mini-trend or are the tides turning? With the sweep of this year's literary awards, all eyes are on the women who won. Judges' comments are noting the detail, vividness and emotional power of their writing.
Quite frankly, I don't understand why anyone cares. No one's jaw drops when all men win these awards. There is no conspiracy here, friends. It's just a little thing called coincidence. So, let it go and pick up one of the year's best, regardless of its author's gender.

Another startling coincidence: just as this topic is being publicized, Random House publishes a new edition of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, one of the most significant woman-penned classics, and no longer lists Mary as its sole author. The cover now claims "Mary Shelley (with Percy Shelley).

To read more about this interesting debate, check out Victoria Rosner's post, "Co-Creating a Monster," as she asks herself "why [...] Percy [is] now getting marquee billing?"

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

E-paper? Huh? I'm confused.

With healthy debate continuting in regards to books versus e-books, I thought we had enough to discuss. Then the Vook appeared. And now, it seems there's another contender joining the fight: e-paper.

TG Daily announced today that AU Optronics is using something called "flexible e-paper" to create a new (and apparently, larger) surface on which to read.
AU Optronics (AUO) has announced a 20-inch e-paper module - the world's largest,
it says - and has launched its six-inch and nine-inch flexible e-paper displays.

The 20-inch EPD (Electrophoretic Display) module is aimed at public information display applications because of its ability to eliminate backlight. It features power consumption of less than 2W as well as 16 gray level capabilities.

The company has also launched six-inch & nine-inch touch function built-in e-book displays. With in-cell touch functions and embedded single chip solution, the nine-inch e-book display provides a 1024 x 768 screen. AUO is also launching two-piece six-inch e-book with a foldable design to make it a bit more like a real book.

Read more about "e-paper" HERE

Exectuives at AUO seem to think e-paper is the next big thing. The senior VP and GM of AUO's Consumer Product Display Business Group, Dr. CT Liu says that "mass production of the flexible e-paper will drive the next wave of the reading revolution."

I just don't see this working. People who are part of the e-book movement don't care, and people who are more old-school (like moi) still don't want an e-book, even if they can bend the screen. It seems like a colassel waste of time, energy, and resources to me.

I guess we'll see just how long e-paper lasts, if it even ever takes off.

Let the games begin...

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Selfish Side of Memoirs

Anytime a celeb/news-worthy memoir pops up at my publishing house's editorial meetings, one question is asked: Is it no-holds-barred?

Readers always want the dirt, the behind-the-scenes story. People are fascinated by each other. But more often than not, the tellers of such tales couldn't care less. They only want the money.

For example, take Conrad Murray, Michael Jackson's doctor who is being indicted for manslaughter and still wants shop around a book. The Daily News reported Sunday:

Michael Jackson's embattled physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, is quietly trying to sell his story, we hear.

With a possible manslaughter indictment sapping his assets, Murray is said to be hoping that a book and/or movie deal could be the perfect hypodermic for a quick cash infusion.

Famed writer-producer Lawrence Schiller confirms that he recently got a call from "an interested party" asking for his advice on how Murray's story could be turned into a book and documentary.

Read more HERE

Everyone wants their 15 minutes of fame, even famous people, and they want it for a price. It's so disturbing to me that people are so greedy, especially when it revolves around tragedy, i.e. someone's death, like MJ, or someone's kidnapping, rape, and torture a la Jaycee Dugard (one of the women previously assaulted by Dugard's kidnapper was shopping around a book, very obviously meant for its monetary gain, not for any greater purpose).

If these stories were being told for a genuine reason, if they were meant to teach a lesson or show a side of a the truth readers might not understand otherwise, then that's okay by me. But more often than not, they aren't--just look at OJ Simpson's thankfully cancelled book, If I Did It if you need another example

Whatever happened to telling stories because they are powerful and moving and heartfelt? Memoirs have the potential to be some of the most influential works of writing, and people these days seem to squander that ability. 

One author who doesn't though: Jeannette Walls. While she was never a celebrity in her own right prior to her first book The Glass Castle, she most certainly told her story for a reason. But I'll tell you more about that another day. 

(Yes, this is my own little version of a teaser for a post yet to come on a lecture I attended by Walls, so keep reading!)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Political Book Phenomenon

Political books have always been a part of the publishing culture, from Upton Sinclair's The Jungle to Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin to memoirs by Ted Kennedy and Sarah Palin. No matter what category, books like these enlighten readers (sometimes positively, sometimes NOT positively) to new ideas, old ideas, and unaccepted ideas.

Howard Dean and Elizabeth Wagley over at The Huffington Post's new online Books Section (it's fantastic, by the way) tackle this political book phenomenon:

The re-emergence of Sarah Palin as a successful author should come as no surprise to anyone who recognizes the salience of books in public life. Her decision to write a book and her pre-pub sales demonstrate once more how books confer status in American political culture.Palin's supporters (and those who may be purchasing her book, Going Rogue, in bulk) may or may not realize that by vaulting her to the top of the bestseller lists, they will validate her both personally and ideologically. Like many other books across the political spectrum, her book represents the latest episode in publishing as political and ideological warfare.

These pop bestsellers can serve to legitimize individuals as well as ideas, with consequences stretching beyond the immediate moment. The return of conservatives to the top of the lists this year is being touted as a sure sign of their movement's renewed vitality, despite the battered condition of the Republican minority.
Read more HERE

I am personally a little bit baffled, and often shocked, by the constant prescence of political nonfiction bestsellers these days. If it's not Glenn Beck, it's Mark Levin. If it's not Mark Levin, it's Stephen Colbert, etc. etc. I think I know one person in my personal life who actually reads these kinds of books. But somewhere, they are someone's version of crack cocaine. The biz just keeps pounding them out, and they keep selling like hot cakes.

And despite all of the valid points Dean and Wagley make, I still can't help but think, why do we need SO many?

An editor I know--a liberal editing conversative books, no less--told me once that the majority of these supposed political revelations say exactly the same things in almost exactly the same way. I must admit, though, that after he told me that, I did have the urge to test it out, to pick one of these books up and see what all the fuss was about.

But I didn't. Maybe someday I will. Maybe I'll even review it here, in all my politically ignorant glory, for your amusement. But until then, I'll keep wondering why Americans need to hear the same views preached over and over again before they figure out what they believe for themselves.

70-year-old Teenager Archie Andrews is At It Again

With the 70th anniversary of "Archie" comics fast approaching, the gang over at Archie Comic Publications (ACP) is whipping up some controversy. Issues No. 600 and 602 take on Robert Frost's philosophical concept of a fork in the road, which, prior to explanation, had some readers up in arms about Archie--as a bigomist.

George Gene Gustines of the New York Times discusses:

Is Archie Andrews a bigamist?

That perennially teenage redhead from Riverdale made headlines around the world when word leaked, back in May, that he would propose to his longtime love interest, Veronica Lodge, in issue No. 600 of the comic that bears his name. But
that issue, published in August, was only Part 1 of a six-part story. Although Archie did marry Veronica, things will take a turn in November, when Archie proposes to the lady in waiting, Betty Cooper. That’s just the latest twist in the romantic triangle that has thrust this nearly 70-year-old character, and his parent company, into the media spotlight.[...]

The wedding story was written by Michael E. Uslan and illustrated by Stan Goldberg, a longtime “Archie” artist. The first half was called “Archie Marries Veronica,” but issue No. 603, on sale next month, is called “Archie Marries Betty.” The end of bachelorhood began in issue No. 600, in which Archie found himself on a road named Memory Lane, which he has often traveled. This time he walked a different direction and encountered a fork in the road. He chose the left path, which allowed him to see his future with Veronica and their twins, and himself working for her tycoon father.

Read the rest of the article HERE

As a result of this new storyline, Archie has catapuleted back into the spotlight, surprising Archie writers and execs. Discussions on BBC, David Letterman, the "Rachel Maddow Show," and more have created an ovewhelming reaction, according to Jon Goldwater, co-chief executive of ACP. He told NYT, “It has gone way, way, way bigger than we had ever imagined.[...] This has really pushed ‘Archie’ into the consciousness of everyone’s mind.”

Goldwater also shared partial sales figures for Issue 600, coming in at over 54,000 copies--nearly 51,500 copies more than a typical Archie comic. The comic has now signed up with Creative Artists Agency (CAA) to start pitching the comic for feature film and television series. Past newspaper strips are being reprinted as well, and ACP is even in cahoots with "fellow comic-book publishers IDW and Dark Horse for several collected editions, in softcover and hardcover."

It's amazing how one twist like this can create such a turnaround for a work, even one that's slowly dying like Archie. The fact that the concept isn't even all that fresh or unique is also incredible. It goes back to Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, with the Ghost of Christmas Future showing crotchety, old Ebenezer what his life could be like if he's not more careful.

Kudos to ACP for using such a perennial theme to breathe new life back into the 70-year-old teenager!

Friday, October 2, 2009

A Librarian Changes a Life

With all the negative and disturbing book news I've been sharing lately, I thought it was time for something hopeful.

NPR reported on a human-interest story today about Olly Neal (left with daughter Karama) and Mildred Grady. As a young boy growing up in the 1950s, Neal hated school and when cutting class one day stumbled into the school library. He found a book on the shelves that piqued his interest, smuggling it out of the library in his shirt so no one would know he was reading. But Grady, the librarian at the time, caught on and was determined to help foster Neal's love of reading.

Read the NPR story HERE and find out what Grady did to help Neal.

I love stories like this--I don't hear them often enough these days. It rejuvinates my faith in people and in the future of the book to know that there are still, and have always been, people who truly care.

If you have a similar (or not-so-similar) hopeful story to share, please comment!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Them: "Save a tree, Read (and watch) a Vook!", Me: Umm, NO

Simon and Schuster announced this morning that, together with Atria Books, they've created a "new and innovative way to read"--the Vook.

A file that combines text and video to create a single story, vooks are meant to be played either on your computer or handheld device, such as an iPhone or iPod Touch. The S&S press release tells us more:

NEW YORK, NY and EMERYVILLE, CA, October 1, 2009 — Beginning today, people can enjoy an entirely new and innovative way to read. The vook blends text and video into a single, integrated and uninterrupted reading and viewing experience, enabling readers to seamlessly read, watch, and enjoy both text and video at the same location on their screen. A state-of-the-art advancement in digital book technology, a vook uses high-quality, professionally produced video to add depth to the practical information offered by nonfiction in a way that static pictures or illustrations could not previously accomplish. For fiction, vooks use text and video interdependently to advance the plot and enhance the sense of place.

Four vooks are being published today by Atria Books as part of a partnership between Simon & Schuster, Inc., and Vook, who jointly announced today’s news. The inaugural vook titles are available in two formats: standalone mobile applications for the iPhone and iPod touch (at the Apple App Store), or as Web browser based editions (, and

Vooks, hmmm. I thought about this for a little bit before starting this post. I even watched the "What is a vook" video on the S&S website. And I've come to a conclusion: they aren't doing anything for me. Not only because of the love you all know I have for the book as a physical object, but because this idea is not nearly as innovative as S&S seems to think. Sure, it's never been done when it comes to books and it is a new way to "experience" a book, but all I think when I see this is A) instructional video, B) film with subtitles.

People don't want to watch books; they want to read books. If a visual experience is what someone wants, they'll rent a movie or watch TV or even a film adaptation if it's the story they're interested in. Or hell, if you want pictures, get a picture book! But novels being "read" by watching them like subtitles on a television screen? No, thanks.

It makes me so sad to think that everyone is trying so hard to move books into "the future," when books are just fine just the way they are. Sure, e-books are handy for some people, and that's fine. I've made my peace with that. But books in all their tangibility don't need to be improved.

Some say the first book ever written goes all the way back to the Sumerians with their cunieform writing in 2095 B.C. Others say it was Herodotus's "History" in 5th century B.C. The list goes on, all including that little "B.C." While, yes, we have created new technologies in terms of type of material, binding and paper treatments, covers and trim sizes, since those recordings, the core concept of the book has remained the same. Words somehow enscripted on a physical object to be read by others. It's a solid concept, a perennial concept. I understand the need, of course, for electronic archiving techniques, as physical objects do eventually wear away. But why muddy the classic, timeless nature of the book, and the experience of reading, by throwing every new technology into the mix to make a vook?

I don't get it. I don't want to get it. I want my books back please.