Friday, April 30, 2010

"Dark Tower" Adaptation, Take 2

Stephen King's "Dark Tower" series is one of the most well-known commercial fiction series ever. So it comes as no surprise that there's talk of a film adaptation.

The tv/film rights were optioned by Bad Robot years ago but their vision never came to fruition. Now, the rights have reverted to King and three of Hollywood's biggest talents came a-knockin', according to The Hollywood Reporter:

J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot shingle, which has long sought to crack Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower” book series as a television series, no longer has the rights to one of the author’s biggest properties.

Bad Robot has returned the rights back to the best-selling author. Now Ron Howard, Brian Grazer and Akiva Goldsman are teaming up to tackle the fantasy Western.

The three are in discussions on a scenario that would see an adaptation begin as a movie, to be written by Goldsman and directed by Howard, that would lead to a TV series produced by Imagine’s small-screen division.

“Tower” is not set up, nor has any option deal been made, but insiders say Universal, home to Imagine, would be the studio that will release the movie.

Read the rest of the article HERE

Personally, I haven't read anything by Stephen King (I know, I know. Shame on me. I should probably get on that), but I know a lot of people that will feel strong about this news. Some will be very excited, and others will be aghast at the idea of Hollywood digging their hands into such an intricately crafted tale.

How do you feel about this adaptation news?
What's your favorite Stephen King novel?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Guest Blogger, LG: Hump Day Humor

It’s amusing how certain words have evolved over time in our dialect—as has our collective sense of humor. Remember when “gay” used to mean happy? It’s not used that way much anymore, and when it is you can be sure it’ll elicit a few snickers in a crowd.

My art history teacher once caught my attention while I was spacing out during a seminar freshman year of college by saying a peasant in an old painting was carrying a “faggot” on his back. She actually meant he was hauling a large bunch of twigs. And I still giggle childishly whenever someone talks about a “bung hole” in a wine cask.

Yes, let it be said that my preferred brand of humor—typically terribly inappropriate—appeals more to 12-year-old boys than the average 25-year-old female. I can’t even create a character named Paul in my novel without at least one friend joking that I named him that because it rhymes with “ball.”

Even my university had issues: It was an all-women college and yet it was founded by a man named Cocke, and our dining hall was called The Moody Center. What the heck?

Now, knowing all of this about me, you can imagine how The Huffington Post’s slide show entitled “The 11 Funniest Unintentionally-Sexual Books of All Time” has tickled my proverbial funny bone. I mean…appeals to the 12-year-old boy inside me. Oh God… what I mean to say is: Who wouldn’t laugh at a book called Scouts in Bondage or The Day Amanda Came? And really – what is The Pocket Book of Boners about?

I have to say, Games You Can Play with Your Pussy is my favorite. I wonder if my cat would approve…

What are some of your favorite antiquated now-dirty or modernly humorous words, phrases, or even book titles?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Musings from Beyond the Grave

"I'm selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can't handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don't deserve me at my best."

That's what Marilyn Monroe once said about herself showing a startlingly strong take for a woman who lived from the 1920s to 1960s.

After her death August 1962, a significant amount of mystery has cloaked the secret life of the famed blond bombshell. But now, FSG--an imprint of Macmillian--plans to reveal some of Marilyn's inner-most thoughts in a new collection of Marilyn's own writings, according to

The candle in the wind just keeps burning. Farrar, Straus and Giroux has announced that they plan to release a collection of Marilyn Monroe’s own writings. Fragments will include poems, correspondence, rare photos, as well as reproductions of documents handwritten by the blond bombshell herself. It is set to hit bookstores this fall.

The book will purportedly show the seldom seen facets of the breathy pneumatic icon, who was in actuality a whole lot smarter than her coquettish image suggested. What do you think, Shelf-Lifers? Are you interested in getting a glimpse of the Norma Jean behind the Marilyn Monroe?

Check out the post HERE

Seeing this deal news today, it got me thinking, not only about what Marilyn might have to say, but also about posthumous publications in general. While I think they can certainly be interesting, I'm not sure how I feel about them ethically. (There's an interesting blogpost on the topic HERE and a thought-provoking Wall Street Journal article HERE.)

Should our heirs just be free to publish our work, whether it be a drawing, poem, or grocery list? Or should our obvious choice NOT to publish be honored? It also brings up the question of authorial intent--if an author didn't want to publish something, why would you do it for them?

I was discussing this very topic last night with a big J.D. Salinger fan. While I'd heard the rumors that many unpublished works were discovered upon Salinger's death, what I didn't know though was that it's also rumored that he left instructions along with said documents. His notes are said to include things like "This is done," "This one needs to be edited," "Leave this one alone," etc. etc.

Personally, I hope that both rumors are true.

But I also hope that whoever's in charge of his estate abides by his very clear wishes.

What are your thoughts on posthumous publication?
Would you release it if you found unpublished works by some well-known, long-dead author?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Book Review: Easy for You

I don't read short stories nearly enough.

I realize that every single time I finish reading a short story collection, yet, I still read so few.

So, when my fellow editor and friend, Kate, told me about Easy for You by Shannan Rouss (one of her beloved authors) I jumped at the chance to snag a copy. And I am very glad I did. I devoured it.

Rouss's debut collection is smart, witty, and unforgettable. Each of the 10 stories in Easy for You take place in a different version of Los Angeles, a city that sparkles with glitz and glamour but also reeks of poverty and homelessness, while still housing the down-to-earth folks that you'd more likely imagine setting up camp in the midwest. Rouss transports readers into whatever LA-scape applies, and she tackles her dark subjectmatter--death, prejudice, anorexia, homosexuality, pretension, etc.--with vivid detail and sharp intelligence.

My favorite thing about Rouss's stories, however, is how flawed and remarkably realistic her characters are. They're people you might walk by on the street without a second glance, and they are all people that a reader can relate to in one way or another. Their stories moved me in a variety of different ways and even made me laugh out loud at times. They are just so inherently human.

The Last Word: A stunning and refreshming collection of stories you won't want to miss. Easy for You will stick with you long after your done reading. ("Neither Here Nor There" is my fave story of the bunch.)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

NY Public Libraries Head Toward the Future

A disturbing number of people view libraries as a thing of the past. But in New York City, there is certainly nothing archaic about their libraries' new book sorting technique.

Unveiled about two months ago, a robotic librarian of sorts found its way into the library system, according to The New York Times:

A couple of years ago Salvatore Magaddino, who oversees the distribution of materials for the New York Public Library, complained at a meeting that he was having trouble recruiting book sorters, the people responsible for sorting the millions of books sent each year from one branch library to another.

“It was a mundane, boring job,” Mr. Magaddino said the other day, standing next to a result of that complaint, a gigantic new automated book sorter housed in a renovated warehouse in Long Island City, Queens. This machine — believed to be the largest of its kind — has eliminated much of the drudgery since it was turned on two months ago. Now, when a library visitor anywhere in the system requests a book located at another branch, the automated sorter does the work of routing it.

Here is how it works: On one side of the machine, which is two-thirds the length of a football field and encircled by a conveyor belt, staff members place each book face-down on a separate panel of the belt. The book passes under a laser scanner, which reads the bar code on the back cover, and the sorter communicates with the library’s central computer system to determine where the book should be headed. Then, as the conveyor belt moves along, it drops the book into one of 132 bins, each associated with a branch library. It’s sort of like a baggage carousel that knows which bag is yours and deposits it at your feet.

Read the entire article HERE
watch it in action HERE

While I don't like to see machines taking the place of humans (and stealing our jobs!), I can understand why this particular technique was conceived. I've volunteered in a library and worked in a video store for six years--sorting can be tedious and boooooring. Plus, I'm sure the machine increases production speed by the boatload, which is never a good thing unless it affects accuracy.

Still, I must admit, this conveyor belt spin-off makes me sad. Somehow a machine of this magnitude takes the charm out of it all. Libraries remind me of friendlier, more interactive times, and this is just one more thing that takes us further and further from that state of mind.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Who on Earth Proofread THAT?

Printer's errors happen more often than they should. Typos, incorrect line breaks, missing pages even. It's rare though that a book is pulled off the shelves as a result. Publishers will usually just replace copies where there are major issues, especially since PE's don't usually occur in every batch that's printed.

But every so often, an error is big enough for the books to be pulled and pulped (aka literally shredded and destroyed). Just like it did with The Pasta Bible, a recent release from Penguin Books in Australia.

The Pasta Bible, however, did not contain a printer's error. The error occurred in the editing stages of the book and was just never caught--which is shocking given the nature of the error. One particular recipe called for "freshly ground black people" instead of pepper.


Here's what Penguin had to say about the matter:

Penguin Group (Australia) confirms the Pasta Bible ISBN 9780143011071 has been pulped due to an error in the recipe for Spelt tagliatelle with sardines and prosciutto. The recipe incorrectly suggests adding salt and freshly ground black people – instead of freshly ground black pepper. The error occurred during the book's editing process. A member of the public contactedPenguinto advise of the mistake, and 7,000 copies of the Pasta Bible were immediately quarantined in Penguin's warehouse and pulped. A revised edition of the Pasta Bible will be available from late May 2010.

Readers are advised that anyone who wishes to return their current edition of the Pasta Bible can do so by sending the book care of Reply Paid 83659, Penguin Books, 250 Camberwell Rd, Camberwell VIC 3124. Penguin will offer readers the choice of either a full refund or a replacement copy, once the new edition of the Pasta Bible becomes available. Penguin has also contacted Australian booksellers, to advise how remaining stock can be returned for pulping. The team at Penguin sincerely apologises for any offence this error may have caused readers.

Background on Pasta Bible Error

Misprints are always unfortunate and they are doubly unfortunate when they carry an unintended meaning. As the Pasta Bible is a cookbook, there was obviously no intent behind this mistake – it was simply a regrettable error.

At Penguin every book is proofread at least twice, depending on its complexity. In this case it is clear that a spell-check error crept in, the recipe incorrectly suggesting the addition of salt and freshly ground black people instead of freshly ground black pepper. Normally such an error would be picked up by proof readers, but they would have been concentrating on checking quantities, a common source of error in cookbooks. Penguin would also like to point out that it maintains the highest of standards throughout the editing process, hence a mistake such as this is a very rare occurrence. Obviously though, editors are human and even the best and most professional will at times overlook an error.

The moment Penguin was made aware of the misprint it took immediate action and pulped the 7000 copies still in our warehouse. Penguin will also willinglyreplace a copy of the Pasta Bible owned by anyone who feels uncomfortable about having a copy of the book in their possession.The team at Penguin sincerely apologises for any offence this error may have caused.

See Penguin's statement HERE

Talk about a bad proofreader!

Also, check out the AP article HERE.

Monday, April 19, 2010

It's Almost Time for Beach Reading...

This year, Entertainment Weekly's Summer Entertainment Guide offers readers 18 exciting upcoming book releases in their most recent issue.

Bring on the beach reading!

THIS BODY OF DEATH, Elizabeth George (April 20)

HALF LIFE, Roopi Farooki (April 27)

GIRL IN TRANSLATION, Jean Kwok (April 29)

THE INVISIBLE BRIDGE, Julie Orringer (May 4)

THE LAST STAND, Nathaniel Philbrick (May 4)


WAR, Sebastian Junger (May 11)




THE PASSAGE, Justin Cronin (June 8)

SO COLD THE RIVER, Michael Koryta (June 9)

THE COOKBOOK COLLECTOR, Allegra Goodman (July 6)

LUCY, Laurence Gonzales (July 13)

RED HOOK ROAD, Ayelet Waldman (July 13)

I CURSE THE RIVER OF TIME, Per Petterson (Aug. 3)

YOU LOST ME THERE, Rosecrans Baldwin (Aug. 12)

MOCKINGJAY, Suzanne Collins (Aug. 24)

See the covers and read the descriptions HERE

I was surprised that I didn't know the majority books EW is jumping up and down about here. But of course, among their wide variety of suggestions are the much-awaited Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (the final book in her dystopian YA trilogy), The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Steig Larsson (the fourth book in his bestselling series), and the next installment of Twilight--The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner--told from the perspective of a young vampire who cameos in Eclipse.

I also now have a few new books to add to my list, as I'm particularly excited about Half Life, Slow Love, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, The Cookbook Collector, I Curse the River of Time, and You Lost Me There.

I can't wait to go to the beach and read all day!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Guest Blogger, LG: Book Review - "The Kind Diet"

I don't think that I would ordinarily be able to write a legit book review about a cooking or diet book. When I think book review, I think fiction or non-fiction. But as I've been reading Alicia Silverstone's (yes, Cher from "Clueless”) book The Kind Diet: A Simple Guide to Feeling Great, Losing Weight, and Saving the Planet, I'm finding that it not only presents a collection of fascinating food facts, but makes you think about what and how you eat in a brand new way.

Traditionally, Americans think that there are only a few kinds of food: rich, fancy gourmet food; fast food; home-based junk food; and every-day home cooking. We eat what satiates us, and those foods are different depending upon where and how we grew up.

I came from a family with an amazing mom-cook; her meals are a cross between the rich, gourmet variety and the meat and potatoes 1960s variety. Growing up, our dinners were straight-up All-American. It's only since living on my own that I've been introduced to food from different cultures, like non-Chinese Asian cuisine (Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, etc.). Where I'm from, healthy plant-based diets were for "granola-munching bunny huggers.” Some people even live subsistence lifestyles, hunting and fishing to feed their families. But tofu? Tempeh? Sea vegetables? No way.

I originally picked up The Kind Diet in February because I'm allergic to casein, a dairy protein, and have been living dairy-free for nearly two years. It's so hard to do--especially in a western society like ours. I wanted to learn more vegan recipes since they're also dairy-free, and, quite frankly, when you've been raised on cheese, ice cream, yogurt, and milk, feeling your way blindly through a dairy-free world can get very, very bland. The Kind Diet offers some amazing vegan recipes, which is exactly what I was looking for. But I found the book was much more than that. Silverstone also covers the nutrients that one can get from living a plant-based lifestyle. I'm recently pescetarian myself, and am on Day 3 of what I’ve dubbed the “Vegan Experiment” (follow my journey at Big Girl, Bigger City). As such, this book has become an invaluable resource.

A lot of people think that vegans and vegetarians will push their foodie agendas on anyone who eats meat, fearing them the way conservatives fear homosexuals. Look, I ate meat for the first 25 years of my life. And while I have my own strong opinions about the meat and dairy industries--I think they require some serious congressional intervention--the industries are vital contributors to the U.S. economy.

That being said, The Kind Diet provides some fascinating insights into what animal products do to the human body--today's fun fact for me was reading about how it takes 72 hours for the body to process meat through our 20-foot intestines. Meat also makes your blood more acidic, forcing your body to compensate by taking nutrients from your bones to balance out your blood. Over time, that can lead to osteoporosis. Gross!

The Kind Diet is a wonderful read for anyone interested in food and nutrition, particularly if you’re curious about how you can consume nutrients in alternative ways. Who knew certain non-dairy foods had so much calcium? Now that's one thing I'm definitely interested in. Did you know that chickpeas, collard greens, parsley, soybeans, almonds, and sesame seeds all have more calcium per 100-gram serving than whole milk? Wow!

Overall, this book is great. One place where I feel it fails a bit though is in the title. It is misleading, particularly to those who are looking for actual diet books. The Kind Diet uses "diet" as a noun--the way it should be used. Our diet (n.) is what we eat. And we should never diet (v.). It's unnatural.

Silverstone does present her information subjectively, but allows the reader to approach a vegan/vegetarian lifestyle in one of three ways: “flirting” (aka trying it out), vegan (full-on no animal products in your diet), and "Superhero" (which is organic, earth-friendly, really considering where your foods are coming from, but also cutting out bleached flour and white sugar, among other things—a macrobiotic diet). I'd been in the “flirting” stage for years. Right now I'm full-on vegan, and this book is a very helpful resource for me. I don't know that I can give up white sugar and be a "Superhero," but two years ago I didn't think I could give up dairy either, even though I had to. And I never thought I'd give up meat, but I already feel amazing and my skin is practically glowing.

Many Americans seem to misunderstand a human's innate relationship to food and how it not only keeps us alive and energized, but that proper nutrition is essential in helping our bodies maximize their natural processes. The best way we can do that is by consuming unprocessed Earth-based products, not foods containing or made with manufactured chemicals.

I give this book four and a half stars. It's informative, interesting, and Silverstone makes it easy to pick and choose what's right for your lifestyle. Unfortunately, she can get a tad preachy in parts, though it's not overwhelming. I’m on my third or fourth time around reading this book, and I learn something new and useful each time I pick it up.

I heartily encourage you to get a copy The Kind Diet at your local library or bookstore. Even if you're completely disinterested in a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, read it to broaden your perspective on your diet, how you relate to food, and take into greater consideration what kind of fuel you're putting into your tank.

Friday, April 16, 2010

ALA's Most Challenged Books of 2009

Every spring, the American Library Association (ALA) releases a list of the year's most challenged books. Just released this week, the 2009 report has some classic mainstays, but some sort of surprising newbies:
Stephenie Meyer, the hottest author for young people since J.K. Rowling, has a new link to the creator of "Harry Potter": a place high on the list of books most complained about by parents and educators.

Meyer's multimillion-selling "Twilight" series was ranked No. 5 on the annual report of "challenged books" released Wednesday by the American Library Association. Meyer's stories of vampires and teen romance have been criticized for sexual content; a library association official also thinks that the "Twilight" series reflects general unease about supernatural stories.

"Vampire novels have been a target for years and the `Twilight' books are so immensely popular that a lot of the concerns people have had about vampires are focused on her books," says Barbara Jones, director of the association's Office for Intellectual Freedom.

Christian groups for years have protested the themes of wizardry in Rowling's books, which don't appear on the current top 10.

Topping the 2009 chart was Lauren Myracle's "IM" series, novels told through instant messages that have been criticized for nudity, language and drug references. Last year's No. 1 book, "And Tango Makes Three," by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, is now No. 2, cited again for its story about two male penguins adopting a baby. Third was Stephen Chbosky's "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," for which the many reasons include drugs, suicide, homosexuality and being antifamily.

Also cited were such perennials as J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye" (sexual content, language), Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" (language, racism), Alice Walker's "The Color Purple" (sexual content, language) and Robert Cormier's "The Chocolate War" (nudity, language, sexual content).

Read the whole Associated Press article HERE

This ALA report is compiled by taking all of the complaints each day--from newspapers and individuals--collected by the ALA's Office of Intellectual Freedom (OIF), dropping them into a database, and then basically just seeing what pops out after 365 days. (Learn more about the OIF and how books are banned and challenged HERE.)

In 2009, 460 books were challenged--56 less than last year's number. Out of those 460, 81 books were banned and literally pulled off the shelves in public and school libraries around the country. The ALA claims though that 70-80 percent of complaints aren't even officially reported.

Honestly, I'm not shocked by that statistic. People have very strong opinions when it comes to what we let children read, but many of those people--and people in general, I'm learning--lack the initiative and proactivity to do anything about their beliefs.

I'm not one of those people, though. I'm neither a proponent of book censorship nor of passivity. I'm of the mind that parents are the only ones who should be able to "censor" what their children read--it's paBlockquotert of their job to teach and guide their kids in growing up, whether it's through frank conversation, books, film, etc. etc.

As such, while I think the annual ALA reports are important to be aware of for any reader, I support The Kids' Right to Read Project myself. The group is "a collaboration of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) and the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), which offers support, education, and advocacy to people facing book challenges or bans and engages local activists in promoting the freedom to read" (

Books can be excellent growth tools for kids--and adults--and controversial and thought-provoking books are perhaps the best ones of all.

So, rather than shying away from the books on the ALA's list, I think we should all go out and grab a copy!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Guest Blogger, T.S. Ferguson: Book Review - "Sorta Like a Rock Star"

Confession time: when I first learned of Matthew Quick’s debut YA novel, Sorta Like a Rock Star, I didn’t know if it was a book I was going to like. I’d heard it described as “‘Juno’ meets Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl: ‘Juno’ for the quirky language and Stargirl for its message of hope.” To be honest, I just wasn’t sure it was my cup of tea. It was a matter of personal taste. But since my good friend Alvina was its editor, I wanted to support her, so I picked up the advance readers copy (ARC) she gave me and dove in. And I’m really glad I did. Word.

Sorta Like a Rock Star is narrated by Amber Appleton, who lives on a bus called “Hello Yellow” with her single mother, who has an alcohol problem and terrible taste in men. But despite Amber’s less-than-ideal circumstances, she remains ever positive. She’s kind to everyone she meets, volunteers at a local retirement home, befriends a local war vet, and uses the music of Diana Ross & the Supremes to teach the Korean women in her church community how to speak English. To all who know her, Amber Appleton is the “princess of hope.” But when a tragedy occurs, Amber loses her faith in the world, in her fellow man, and most of all, in God.

When I first started reading Quick’s novel, the first thing I questioned was the voice—I was afraid it felt too gimmicky. Amber has an incredibly unique way of speaking; she’s very casual and very colloquial. But the more I read, the more I fell in love with it. Just like with a new friend, the more time you spend together, the more their voice comes to symbolize the person you are so fond of. And in this case, Amber’s voice fits her personality perfectly—she’s a quirky, weird girl. A proud freak. A hero for readers who need to be reminded what faith in yourself—and a few good deeds—can do.

I cried a lot while reading Rock Star, but that may not shock those who know me. I’m a cry-whore, though I do give props to the books that really get me good. I also smiled a lot, though, and found myself chuckling at some of Amber’s lines and that special way she has of handling the folks around her. Amber Appleton is a modern-day Pollyanna, only more realistic and lacking the negative (re: obnoxious) connotation associated with the classic character. Amber inspires people—a ray of sunshine for those who need it most—and she does it because it’s simply what comes natural to her. So when her hopes are crushed by unimaginable tragedy, it’s no surprise that the entire town rallies around her.

One thing I want to call out in particular is the portrayal of Amber’s autistic best friend, Ricky Roberts. While all the misfits in Amber’s band of friends play an important role in her story, Ricky stood out the most for me. I was impressed that Ricky was portrayed as a normal kid, with normal capabilities, who wasn’t held back by his autism. He isn’t described as mentally challenged—his autism is a part of who he is and he lives a fairly normal life, despite the occasional school bully. Plus, he’s a math genius akin to Roald Dahl’s character Matilda, which I thought was pretty awesome. Quick’s handling of Ricky’s dialogue was particularly impressive. I have an autistic cousin who is graduating from high school this year and I could almost hear him in my head as I read Ricky’s dialogue. Also, Ricky’s speech to the school board at the end of Part One was one of the first scenes that made me cry.

Rock Star will appeal to anyone who appreciates fresh, original voices and a plot that keeps you laughing one minute and sobbing all over the pages the next. Fans of Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian will enjoy Quick’s story not only because both are narrated by kids from poor families who deal with great tragedy and rise above it, but because both novels do a great job of balancing humor and sadness to leave readers feeling uplifted. I would recommend Sorta Like a Rock Star to anyone who wants a reason to smile, a reason to believe in the good in the world, or just wants to read a fun book about a character they can really fall in love with.
True? True.
Quick's YA novel hits shelves in May, so grab a copy and enjoy!

About the blogger: T.S. Ferguson is a former Assistant Editor with Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, where he worked on young adult and middle grade fiction. As assistant to the Editoral Director, T.S. worked with authors such as Sherman Alexie, Sara Zarr and Pseudonymous Bosch. His editorial debut, Hate List by Jennifer Brown, was released to much acclaim this past September and has since been named a School Library Journal Best Book of 2009, a Children's Indie Next Pick, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults and a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age. In his spare time, T.S. enjoys nonstop karaoke (at a bar or in his bedroom---he doesn't care), and is currently working on a YA novel of his own. Visit him at .

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Berkley is Saved by the...Teen Self-Help Book?

When I first heard the below deal news from Associated Press yesterday, I thought there must be some mistake:

NEW YORK – Elizabeth Berkley is ready to take your question.

The actress will be writing "Ask Elizabeth," a "a self-esteem handbook for teen girls" based on questions she has been asked over the years.

G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers announced Tuesday that it expects to release the book next spring. It's an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group.

The 37-year-old Berkley is best known for the sitcom "Saved by the Bell" and for playing an exotic dancer in the movie "Showgirls." She also appeared in the films "The First Wives Club" and "Any Given Sunday."

See the article on Yahoo! HERE

My initial reaction to the news was "she's not exactly the ideal role model" or as "The Doctor," a Yahoo commentor put it a little more vividly, "Her writing a self-help book is like Linsdey Lohan filming a commercial for Partnership for a Drug Free America!!"

But what do we know? All we do is associate her with her raunchy character in Showgirls and her bit part as a call girl in Any Given Sunday. I'll admit that. We all do it all the time. Actors in particular are often associated with their roles, whether it's a fair assessment or not. No one considers Berkley for her theatre accomplishments, which are many I was suprised to find out, or for her vast involvement in the fight for animal rights. (In '97 she was part of a the "Lettuce Be Lean" PETA campaign, right; she was more recently nominated for "Sexiest Vegetarian of the Year" in 2008 and 2009.)

Little did I know, she also volunteers regularly at working with teen girls in junior high and high schools all over the globe. She helps with outreach programs including dance classes for young teens, and volunteers with the elderly, as well as for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. Look at her go!

But what about the allegations that surfaced in Dustin "Screech" Diamond's memoir, Behind the Bell, not too long ago? The ones that talk about her--and the other cast members'--less than angelic behavior on and off the set of "Saved By the Bell"? Diamond's claims of drugs, sex, and even rape on the set are scandalous to say the least, but who knows if they are founded in truth or just the bitter rantings of a sad man who thinks he's, pardon my language, "the shit."

As far as I can tell, Diamond hasn't been hit with any libel lawsuits from his SBtB castmates. They have openly denounced him though, leaving him out of a reunion photo shoot for last year in addition to speaking out:

Mark-Paul Gosselaar, who played Zack Morris on the original series, openly slammed his on-screen bestie in an interview [in a past] issue of Newsweek.

“What is he going to say?” Gosselaar asked sarcastically. “We were (bleeping) groupies at 14? I can’t wait to read his book, because I don’t have a memory of a lot of the shows. Maybe it was because I was doing lines off of the audience members’ a—-. I’m sure he’s going to write something crazy like that. So he’s writing a book, I’m not really afraid of what he has to say. There are not too many skeletons in my closet.”

Read the full article HERE

All this hearsey (or not) just makes me beg the question: Is Berkely someone who should be writing a self-help book for teens? Maybe we'll never know. But I'm curious to see what reviewers think when Ask Elizabeth hits the shelves.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Book Review: The Good Soldiers

So, get ready...this is big...for the first time ever, I'm reviewing a nonfiction title!

I don't typically read nonfiction, as I'm sure I've mentioned in the past, and this particular book--The Good Soldiers by David Finkel--fell into my lap via a freelance project. I was excited when it did though because I know I'm not the most well-versed person in current events. I know bits and pieces here and there, usually enough to hold a relatively intelligent conversation, but details? No way do I know those. I also have a tendency to shy away from military-related topics for a variety of reasons, both political and personal. So, I took the opportunity to force myself to confront my discomfort.

The Good Soldiers is a memoir by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Finkel, chronicling his time spent with a U.S. Army batallion in Iraq during the early months of the surge. Finkel takes readers inside the 15-month deployment of the 2-16 (Second Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment of the Fourth Infantry Brigade Combat Team, First Infantry Division) by sparing no detail, no matter how vivid or grotesque. Readers get to know Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Kauzlarich (right, on his return home to his family) and his soldiers as they were stationed in one of the most violent areas of Iraq, in the city of Rustimiya.

Published by Sarah Critchon Books, an imprint of Henry Holt and Company, in September 2009, Finkel's memoir stunned reviewers. Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review saying, "Finkel’s keen firsthand reportage, its grit and impact only heightened by the literary polish of his prose, gives us one of the best accounts yet of the American experience in Iraq." Kirkus also gave it a starred review calling the memoir "excellent study of soldiers under fire" and "A superb account of the burdens soldiers bear."

Even The New York Times Book Review was wowed:

Finkel brilliantly captures the terrors of ordinary men enduring extraordinary circumstances. [...] [a] ferociously reported, darkly humorous and spellbinding book. [...] Finkel has made art out of a defining moment in history. You will be able to take this book down from the shelf years from now and say: This is what happened. This is what it felt like. [...] Finkel expertly captures the soldiers’ fear, giddiness and courage. [...] He gives unforgettable voice to the men who fought and lived — and to those who did not — and whose voices we otherwise might not have heard.

I highly recommend reading the entire NYT Book Review article, as it captures the book perfectly. (It also pulls some excerpts and stories from the book itself, which I don't want to relay here in case some of you don't want to partake.)

Phenomenally written, intricately researched, and vividly portrayed, the story of the 2-16 is an emotional rollercoaster filled with comradarie, terror, optimism, tears, and even laughter.My heart breaks for these young soldiers--14 of whom died during their deployment and 75 of whom received Purple Hearts for their valor--and I literally was in tears on more than one occassion as I read.

Finkel shows the struggles--and the silver linings--the soldiers had to push through before they could return home with a keen eye and fully objective viewpoint. Detaching himself completely from the narrative, Finkel gave the book up to the soldiers of the 2-16, focusing solely on their experiences, feelings, and bravery.

I am almost at a loss for how to describe The Good Soldiers. It was harrowing and powerful journey for me through this book, and I think everyone should pick up a copy--even if you don't support the war itself--because it's truly a striking and eye-opening account of the war in Iraq in Iraq, rather than the war in Iraq here in the States.

The Last Word: An intense and moving memoir that takes you into the heart of the war in Iraq and the hearts of the men and women who fight for freedom.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The iPad is iN Stores

Yesterday on the subway home, a 10-year-old boy asked me if I was using an iPad. I looked down at my bright red e-reader with the word SONY emblazoned upon it and explained it to him. It only later occurred to me that the iPad is actually on sale to the public now. (I've been a bit of a space cadet lately with too much working and not enough sleeping.)

On sale since midnight on April 3, the iPad has been selling left and right at the low-low price of $499 (yes, that's sarcasm). The PR Newswire released the official sales stats from Apple this week:

Apple® [...] announced that it sold over 300,000 iPads in the US as of midnight Saturday, April 3. These sales included deliveries of pre-ordered iPads to customers, deliveries to channel partners and sales at Apple Retail Stores. Apple also announced that iPad users downloaded over one million apps from Apple's App Store and over 250,000 ebooks from its iBookstore during the first day.

"It feels great to have the iPad launched into the world -- it's going to be a game changer," said Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO. "iPad users, on average, downloaded more than three apps and close to one book within hours of unpacking their new iPad."

Apple ignited the personal computer revolution with the Apple II, then reinvented the personal computer with the Macintosh. Apple continues to lead the industry with its award-winning computers, OS X operating system, and iLife, iWork and professional applications. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store, has reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App Store, and has recently introduced its magical iPad which is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices.

See the article HERE

I'm not much of a math person, but even I can't ignore the fact that Apple made $149,700,000 in a 24-hour period. And that's from iPad sales alone, not including tax or any apps or accessories. It truly is a "game-changer," and not just for Apple and its growing pursestrings.

Though e-book popularity has been growing at a very steady rate with the developments of the Sony E-reader, Kindle, and Nook, the iPad pushes the trend to a whole new level.

Max Jarman, a reporter for the Arizona Republic, put it plainly for his readers:

The trend began long before the iPad. Inc., the world's largest retailer of digital and traditional books, sold more electronic books than paper ones last holiday season.

Analysts don't have a clear picture yet of what the new order will look like, but Amazon aims to have every book ever published, in any language, in print or out of print, available in less than 60 seconds to a Kindle user anywhere in the world.

The new era will bring out-of-print books back to life, making obscure titles, as well as current best-sellers, available on demand.

The pace of change, hastened by the iPad and numerous other devices, is likely to accelerate.

Not even counting the projected 2 million iPads to be bought this year, analysts estimate that 6 million electronic readers will be sold in 2010 and 19 million in 2013. In five years, more than 100 million could be in use, according to the Yankee Group, a Boston-based market-research firm.

As the e-readers multiply, they are likely to get cheaper, making them a must-have
electronic device.

The shift is expected to have far-reaching effects, touching not only book shops and online stores but the entire publishing industry.

Read the rest of Jarman's piece HERE

I gotta admit, I'm not excited.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

How to Make A Bad Day Awesome

Last night, I saw one of the most original and engrossing animated films of my life: "How To Train Your Dragon."

Though, much to my surprise, the film was actually based on a children's book of the same name by Cressida Cowell. Published in May 2004 by Little, Brown Books for Young readers, the mid-grade board book was released to fantastic reviews by Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and School Library Jounral, among others. I personally missed the boat on this one (tee-hee! Vikings, boats. *nudge nudge wink wink*), but I certainly didn't missed out on all Cowell's brilliant story has to offer movie watchers everywhere.

The Dreamworks-animated film was pure genius. I laughed, I cried, I cringed, I bit my nails, and best of all, I was smiling as the finishing credits began to roll. I love when movies do that--suck you in and make you run the gamut of emotions before leaving you perfectly content. Cowell's story was delightful and accessible in its complexity. I'm definitely interested in tracking down a copy of the book to do a little contract and compare with the film.

The script was smart, funny, and flowed so naturally, I never once thought about the fact that it was a script in the first place. The animation and cinematography were perfectly executed and Dreamworks' use of 3-D did everything to enhance the experience (I also saw it in IMAX, which is more expensive, yes, but totally worth it in this case). And of course, the dragons were creative and fun, and Toothless was particularly adorable (even if he kind of resembles Stich, from Disney's 2002 film, "Lilo and Stitch") both in his appearance and behaviors and in his powerful bond with Hiccup.

I highly recommend you splurge and take yourself out to see this one in 3-D. You won't be sorry.

Check out the trailer:

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Never-Ending Shakespeare Debate

William Shakespeare is one of the most written about playwrights of all time (duh), not only in terms of literary criticism but also in the realm of biographies. Shakespeare was born over 450 years ago and people are still trying to figure out the truth about him--whether he actually wrote his plays, what his role was in 16th-17th century society, and then the ever popular questions of his sexuality, religious beliefs, and what he looked like.

These are things that will will never actually be known, no matter how many people theorize about him. But that doesn't stop scholars from trying. contributor Michael Caines wrote an interesting piece recently about the various Shakespeare biographies in print (and even touched about the bios that show themselves in films loosely based on the Bard):

Shakespeare has inspired a lot of wonky scholarship from his biographers - a source of much fun for the connoisseur of snobbery and ignorance.

James Shapiro's Contested Will concentrates on the lunatic fringe of Shakespeare authorship theories – a fascinating topic, to be sure, if you admire snobbery, philistinism and ignorance.

But as it happens, Shakespeare biography is now (at least) 300 years old, and there have been plenty of bemusing, eccentric or downright surreal contributions to the field, even among those biographers who don't think Shakespeare was the Earl of Oxford. Crackpot theorising, outright fantasising and expressions of superimposed vanity (Shakespeare, c'est moi!) are all part of the fun. Take the following examples, for example: attempts at writing the ultimate writer's life, good, bad, indifferent, ugly, or just plain delusional. Further suggestions/angry objections welcome.

According to [John] Aubrey's Brief Lives, that fine blend of antiquarian notes and 17th-century table talk, Shakespeare's father was a butcher. When he was a boy, "he exercised his father's trade, but when he killed a calf he would do it in a high style, and make a speech". Shakespeare was a schoolteacher for a while and taught Latin (no doubts there about Shakespeare's linguistic abilities). "His comedies will remain wit as long as the English tongue is understood."

The business of Shakespeare biography gets going with [Nocholas] Rowe, the poet laureate and playwright who (correct me if I'm wrong) gave the English language the word "Lothario". Rowe prefaced his 1709 edition of Shakespeare's Works with a short biography that was reissued last year to mark its 300th anniversary. Marvellously wide of the mark on most matters of fact, it's full of praise for the plays. Rowe sees Shylock in The Merchant of Venice as a serious rather than a buffoonish part, which is how it was acted at the time, and defends Shakespeare against general critical prejudices. The young Shakespeare was a deer-poacher. Getting caught led directly to his move – his escape – into the theatre business.

Read the rest of the article HERE
(and check out some of the interesting comments too)

Normally, I probably would've overlooked this article, to be perfectly honest. While I am certainly a Shakespeare fan (I own an amazing edition of his complete works that I love and once had a Shakespeare reading group--yes, we all had parts and read aloud, dorky but fun!), I don't generally read biographies so my eye naturally passes over them.

But this time, it caught me because I already had Shakespeare on the brain. My dear friend TS over at Must Love Books introduced me last night to a few hysterical YouTube videos called "Sassy Gay Friend" involving what would have happened to characters like Ophelia, Juliet, and Desdemona had each of the self-destructive ladies had a gay boyfriend to snap them out of their funks:



Romeo and Juliet

Friday, April 2, 2010

Michael Crichton: The Art Guru

After checking out the Tim Burton exhibit last night at the Museum of Modern Art (AMAZING. And amazingly crowded!), I found it incredibly ironic to stumble across an AP article in Washington Post article this morning about author Michael Crichton's personal art collection going up for auction:

NEW YORK -- Best-selling author Michael Crichton approached art in the same way he did his writing -- through extensive research -- but also by developing close friendships with many of the artists whose works he collected.

When he died in 2008, the thriller writer left behind such blockbusters as "Jurassic Park," ''The Andromeda Strain" and the TV series "ER." But he also left a 20th-century art collection that features some of pop art's best known artists, including Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein and Claes Oldenburg.

Crichton's family is selling about 80 percent of the collection at Christie's auction house in New York on May 11-12.

Among the highlights is Johns's "Flag," a rendition of the American flag that Crichton bought from the artist in 1974, and which decorated the writer's Beverly Hills bedroom. It was last exhibited in 1992-93 at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

About 70 of the 100 works from the collection, including paintings by Jeff Koons, Pablo Picasso and Robert Rauschenberg, will be displayed at Christie's Rockefeller Center galleries Friday through April 13.

Brett Gorvy, deputy chairman of Christie's Americas, said Crichton was generous in lending works from his collection for exhibitions, but that he was possessive about the "Flag."

"With the 'Flag,' it was such a personal thing because of his relationship with Johns," Gorvy said.

Their close friendship and Crichton's knowledge of Johns's work led the artist to ask Crichton to write the catalog for his 1977 retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.

Gorvy said that Crichton was renowned as a leading authority on Johns within the art world and that the Whitney catalog, expanded and reprinted, has become the definitive text on the artist.

The "Flag" has a pre-sale estimate of $10 million to $15 million. Christie's believes it will set a new record for the artist. "It will go substantially higher," given that the work "is so superb and rare . . . and coming from a famous fella and also from someone who understood the artist," Gorvy said.

The record for a Johns work is $18 million for "Figure 4," set at Christie's in 2007. A larger flag of the artist's seminal image was purchased privately last month for $110 million by hedge-fund billionaire Steve Cohen, Gorvy said.

Crichton "was a master of research" in his art collecting as much as in his writing, he said. "He collected artists in depth to know them better." Crichton, one of the world's most commercially successful writers, also forged close friendships with Oldenburg, Lichtenstein and Rauschenberg.

See the article HERE

I never knew that Crichton was was such an art connoisseur, just as--for some strange reason--I never really thought of Tim Burton as being a painter or a sculptor.

I love when people surprise me. :)

I also would love to be a fly on the wall of that auction!