Friday, June 24, 2005

Teen Chick Lit

My 13-year old daughter got sick recently and the only books she could tolerate were from a series called Gossip Girl. Basically, the books are chick-lit for the young teen crowd and they are as trashy as can be. The stories center around an exclusive upper East Side Manhattan school where all the parents are rich, all the girls are beautiful and have bottomless charge cards, and all the boys are horny.

I wasn’t too worried that my daughter was reading such trash, because she regularly picks up other novels that are meatier and better written. Perhaps I was being clueless, however. A friend of mine with another 13-year old girl told me she had forbidden her daughter from reading Gossip Girl. She felt the books glorified drugs and casual sex, and was afraid her daughter would be more inclined to dabble in those activities after reading the series.

She is not alone in her worries. The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article about the tarting up of young adult fiction and the quandaries it brings.

“It's the summer book season: Do you know what your child is reading? To appeal to teens brought up on suggestive music videos and cable-TV shows, publishers are releasing more books full of mature themes and unflinching portrayals of sexual activity, with young protagonists the same age as their target readers. One publisher is venturing beyond its titles on dragons and bunnies with "Claiming Georgia Tate," about a 12-year-old girl whose father pressures her into a sexual relationship and makes her dress like a prostitute. In "Looking for Alaska," prep-school students watch pornography and pass the time binge-drinking. Coming this fall is "Teach Me," in which a male high-school teacher has sex with a student.”

Gossip Girl has a large cast of characters and one of them writes an on-line, anonymous advice column. Here's a tidbit:

"D was seen returning a gorgeous Armani tux at Barneys and renting a much less gorgeous one at a formal store. His sister J was seen buying underwear at La Petite Coquette, although she chickened out on the thong. N was seen buying a big bag of pot in Central Park. Tell me something new. B was seen in the J. Sisters salon getting another Brazilian wax. The old one must have started to itch. S was seen with her feet out her bedroom widow, letting her toenails dry. I don't think she's ever spent this much time at home in her entire life. Maybe she should get a cat or something. Meow."

When my kids were younger, the lines were clearer. No sex, no violence. But as my daughters mature, I think they need to know about the wicked world we live in. They need to develop the ability to judge what is right and wrong. Will reading about teens who live in the fast lane make them more likely to live that way or to want to be like that? Or will it make them compare those lifestyles with their own and realize the limitations of excessive consumerism and casual relationships?

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Roses in the Huntington's gardens Posted by Hello

In Search of that Last Bit of Information

I’m getting ready to go on a research trip to southern California. Research is something I love to do (a remnant of my reporting days, perhaps?), as it can be an endless search for connections. You find an oral history or an article or a book that sheds light on your topic and then you look at the footnotes to see where the author got her information. Then you go to the cited sources to see if there is more information there. So on and so on.

Research can be addictive. I always feel if I keep on looking, I will not only find that document that reveals a secret, but I will finally fully understand, in my case, the man I am writing about, Isaias Hellman. The problem, of course, is that those kinds of discoveries rarely happen. It’s hard, though, to stop the quest for those moments of epiphany. But as a wise teacher, Stephen Koch, once told me, at some point you just have to start writing. The writing will then inform the research. (Koch, the former chair of Columbia’s graduate creative writing program has many other words of wisdom in his excellent book by the Modern Library called Writer’s Workshop. He also just published The Breaking Point: Hemingway, Dos Passos, and the Murder of Jose Robles).

My first stop in southern California will be the Huntington Library, one of the world’s great research institutions. It’s a place that reveres scholars and treats them wonderfully. Imagine spending a morning in a spacious, temperature controlled reading room. You get an assigned seat at a gleaming wooden table and are offered a bookcase to store the books you check out from the library’s cavernous stacks. You write down what you want on tiny slips of paper and a half an hour later your requests appear. Scholars get lunch at a discount and the free use of computers. The institution lists the name of those visiting in order to promote scholarly discourse.

The reading room closes down for lunch, which is a blessing, because then you are forced to go outside and wander the 150 acres of gardens planted by Henry Huntington in the early part of the 20th century. If you want a taste of Japan, you can wander in the bamboo grove. If Fiji is on your mind, you can spend time in the tropical forest. There are roses everywhere, lawns galore, and more flowers than a person can possibly smell. The Huntington is conducive to contemplation.

I get a kick out of this because it’s such a shift from the reporter’s life where everything is rush, rush, rush. I’ve never seen a press room that wasn’t squalid. Reporters are rarely treated with reverence. And taking discounts is strictly forbidden.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Remembering Our Parents

The San Francisco Chronicle launched a culture blog this week, featuring writing from reporters at the paper and its companion website, SFGate. Its tone is definitely not journalistic. Opinions flow freely, on everything from the Runaway Bride’s recent book sale to the burning question of the number of fake breasts at the symphony’s Black and White Ball.

There are a number of great writers at the Chronicle, like business writer Dan Fost, and I am looking forward to reading them when they put down their journalistic shackles.

Speaking of making the transition from traditional reporting to other types of writing.

On Monday night, fresh from my daughter’s bat mitzvah and a city full of relatives, I heard Samuel Freedman and Ari L. Goldman talk about their recent books, both of which deal with the death of a parent. The pair, out here on a mini-book tour timed to coincide with the Association of Jewish Libraries conference in Oakland, spoke in the sanctuary of the newly completed Temple Netivot Shalom in Berkeley. Light streamed in the windows onto the pale and glowing maple floors, creating a respectful mood for the difficult topic.

Both Freedman and Goldman are long time reporters for the New York Times and both teach at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. Goldman was at the Times for 20 years, the last 10 as a religion writer. He is currently the Dean of Students and a professor of religion. Freedman teaches a popular course on writing books at the journalism school, and still writes a column on education for the paper.

They took completely different approaches to the topic. Goldman’s father died the day after his 50th birthday and his book, Living a Year of Kaddish, is a memoir that describes the following year, when Goldman observed the traditional Jewish custom of saying a prayer for his father every day in temple. “What happens when we lose a parent?” Goldman said to the group gathered at the temple. “Where do they go? Where are they? What stays with us? How do we resurrect them, how do we bring them back into our lives and make them part of our everyday existence?”

“My book is what Kaddish does for the living.”

Freedman was only 19 when his mother, Eleanor, died from breast cancer, and he spent the next 26 years maintaining a safe emotional distance from the loss. Eventually, he resolved to learn who his mother was, what drove her, and what inspired her. Since he knew very little about her early life, he approached the topic like any aggressive journalist. He sent out 1,000 letters to students who attended New York’s City College night school. Three people who had known Eleanor replied. Freedman tracked her prom date on the Internet, finally locating him in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He poured through records at the Social Security Administration to document the various jobs Eleanor and her father held. The result is Who She Was, My Search for My Mother’s Life. It’s just been released and has been getting good reviews.

I asked the question of how the publishing regards books that primarily have a Jewish focus. Freedman was at the podium at the time. He laughed at the question, and then turned to a woman in the audience. It turned out to be Carolyn Starman Hessel, the executive director of the Jewish Book Council, a New York group that sets up Jewish book fairs around the country and which had sponsored the lecture. Freedman explained that although Jews only make up 2% of the population, they account for 20% of the hardcover book sales.

Freedman and Goldman will speak tonight at 7:30 at San Francisco’s Jewish Community Center at 3200 California Street and at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 22, at Congregation Kol Shofar, 215 Blackfield Drive, Tiburon.

Don’t’ miss San Francisco novelist Michelle Richmond Wednesday night when she reads from the paperback edition of her book, Dream of the Blue Room. She’ll be at Diesel Books on College Avenue in Oakland at 7: 30. More details here.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Tidbits From The Road

Sean Wilsey has written up some anecdotes of his book tour for McSweeney’s. They’re quite amusing. Here’s what he has to say about his home town, San Francisco:

“I've been on the road for two weeks. I started in San Francisco, where a lot of my book is set. It was wonderful, and weird. Wonderful: A bookseller at Booksmith on Haight Street asked me to sign her copy of The Lord of the Rings! Weird: A woman in her 60s accosted me in a restaurant (I was there for a "literary lunch") and rubbed her breasts up and down my right arm till I fled.

But here is the most surreal moment:

I was sitting at a desk signing books when a woman handed me her copy and said, "Don't you recognize me?"

I said, "Mrs. Warburg!"

She said, "Yes. That's right. Mrs. Warburg, on page 84. We have a new car now." I smiled. Had I insulted her car? She leaned close, hissed, "You shit!" and smiled back twice as wide.

Page 84 contains a description of car shopping with my mother: "We were in the Oldsmobile showroom. Who'd ever even heard of an Oldsmobile? The only one I'd ever seen belonged to the parents of the dorkiest kid in my class, who'd tried to befriend me, until I realized he was only going to make my life worse and mercilessly ditched him. His parents were even older than mine. The Oldsmobile was like the car of the dead."

I said I was sorry, signed Mrs. Warburg's book (she couldn't have been that pissed), and congratulated her on the new car. Then she told me her son lived in Seattle and would be coming to my next reading. She had recognized herself from a description of her son as the "dorkiest kid in my class," and she was now going to send him to my reading.”

Poetry News

I’m a little late on this one. Beverly Burch, an Oakland poet and friend of mine, just won a Lambda Literary Award for her recent collection of poetry, Sweet To Burn, published by Gival Press. Burch didn’t go to New York for the June 2 awards ceremony because she didn’t think there was any chance she could win. Other finalists included the prominent poets Adrienne Rich and Mary Oliver.

Sweet To Burn is a highly-praised collection of linked poems that tell the story of a lesbian couple and their daughter and the ups and downs of love and family life. None of the poems are on line, but here is a poem Burch wrote a few years ago.

Above the Bay

Ohlone Canyon turns slick after heavy rain, but we agree to meet,
hope the muck’s hardened. Our trail looks churned, congealed, a mosaic—
sticks-rock-mud—a rough ribbon in the woods.

We hold hands inside your pocket. A truce,
you say. I didn’t want to name it, make us self-
conscious. Signs of recovery. Yes.
I could take issue, but the sky’s a blue relief,

Farallones visible past the Golden Gate.
Why is tenderness not simple? Like the throb
of warmth in April, the reliable way
spring offers itself. And the glossy body

of the bay below, how sun falls across
water, gold paint spilling over broken glass.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Towers of Gold

For the last two months I’ve been keeping a secret. It’s been tough to be quiet, but necessary, since I couldn’t be sure if negotiations would turn out smoothly. They have and I am happy to announce that I have sold my book.

Wait. I am going to try that again. I HAVE SOLD MY BOOK.

Wait again. Not good enough. I have sold my book.

One more try:

I have sold my book!!!!

You have no idea how good it feels to write that. (Those exclamation marks did the trick). This has been an arduous process, with each step feeling insurmountable. When I started the project about my great great grandfather, Isaias Hellman, I had no idea what form it would take. I spent years researching his life as one of the premier financiers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries – he arrived in Los Angeles in 1859 and died in San Francisco in 1920 – and wrote many personal essays about my family and myself.

Then I decided his life was much more interesting than my own, and I should focus on him. After all, he was the first banker in Los Angeles, owned vast swaths of lands, built trolley lines, power lines, water lines, and did business with many iconic names in U.S. history – Levi Strauss, the railroad magnates Henry Huntington and E.H. Harriman, and Harrison Gray Otis, the owner of the Los Angeles Times.

Then came the search for an agent. I met Michael Carlisle of Inkwell Management, and immediately knew I wanted him to represent me. Michael has a keen appreciation for books, particularly non-fiction, (he's represented Dava Sobel, James Gleick, Buzz Bissinger and others) and he liked my project from the start. But he recommended I finish a draft to better understand the structure of the narrative. I did, and many months later he took me on as a client.

Then the 90-page proposal went out into the world, the mysterious world of New York publishing. That part was almost unbearable, knowing editors were reading my work and passing judgment. Happily, Diane Reverand at St. Martin’s Press liked it and bought it. I flew to New York, met with her, and immediately knew I would be lucky to work with her. The deal was done. Towers of Gold: Isaias Hellman and the Creation of California will be published in 2007.

This is what was reported in Publisher’s Marketplace:

Non-fiction: Biography

Reporter and blogger Frances Dinkelspiel's TOWERS OF GOLD: Isaias Hellman and the Creation of California, a narrative biography of her great-great grandfather, Isaias Hellman, California's premier banker in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, whose financial acumen catapulted California into the modern era and laid the groundwork for one of the world's most dynamic economies, to Diane Reverand at St. Martin's, by Michael Carlisle at Inkwell Management.

The sale of the book has already sparked some interest. LA Observed, a great blog about politics, life and culture in Los Angeles, wrote this:

Book notes
Yeah, the photo is familar. I
ran it in March — but it's a great downtown image from 1923, showing the old Farmers and Merchants Bank that still stands at 4th Street and Main (and several other familiar downtown survivors.) And it's in the news. Berkeley author and Ghost Word blogger Frances Dinkelspiel has sold to St. Martin's Press her book about the bank's founder, her great-great grandfather. Towers of Gold: Isaias Hellman and the Creation of California will be published in 2007. She writes that Hellman was one of three men who donated the land for USC, was president of the Jewish congregation that became Wilshire Boulevard Temple, and when he died in 1920 was president of Wells Fargo Bank. If you like the photo, check it out full-sized at the LAPL site.

I feel official now. Hopeful. Ready to work hard. And optimistic for all those writers out there. If I can do it, you can, too.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

You Look Like That?

I remember the first time I saw a picture of Terry Gross. I was shocked. She didn’t look anything like I imagined. I can’t remember what I thought she might look like, but it wasn’t a woman 5 feet tall with short red hair and glasses.

Blogging is similar to radio in that regard. People’s personalities come out on the page and you create mental images of them. I remember when I first met Scott Esposito, who writes Conversational Reading. Scott has one of the strongest voices in the blogosphere. He’s opinionated and he often takes extreme positions. He’s got personality to spare.

We met at a coffee shop on College Avenue in Berkeley. I had no idea how old Scott was or what he looked like, so I imagined someone over-sized, like his writing voice. So I was surprised when this courteous, soft-spoken brown haired man in his late 20s came up to my table. He couldn't have been more charming.

Scott may have been just as surprised to see me (He’s in Spain, so I can’t ask him) I haven’t posted a picture of myself on my blog, in part, because I can’t figure out how to do so without making it enormous. So readers have to pick up clues as to what I look like. I’ve dropped many of them – I’m in my mid-40s, have 2 kids, am sort of a suburban mom type (with cooler clothes) but I’m sure their mental images are much different than my physical reality.

All of this is a long way of saying I am happy I stumbled upon a post by Bud Parr of Chekhov’s Mistress. Bud was at the BEA convention in New York and he HAS POSTED PICTURES OF MANY OF OUR FAVORITE BLOGGERS. I got a chance to see what fellow-Bay Area blogger Ed Champion of the Return of the Reluctant looks like (sort of what I pictured) as well as the well-known Mark Sarvas of The Elegant Variation (much younger than I imagined.) (You have to scroll down to the June 8 post for the photos. )

Ed of the Return of the Reluctant has a picture on his blog of Jessa Crispin, who writes Bookslut. It’s a profile and you can see Ed’s face at the edge of the picture.

Of course, the blogger everyone is dying to know is Mad Max Perkins, who writes Book Angst 101. He’s in the publishing industry and when he appeared on a recent BEA panel, he came disguised as a wizard. His identity remains obscured for now. But like Deep Throat, it can’t be a secret forever.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Life Intervenes

Light posts again this week. The sun is shining in the Bay Area, it’s balmy – so unlike summer – and my daughter will have her bat mitzvah on Saturday. So there’s so much to do, so much left undone, that I think it’s a week to concentrate on family, not books. That said I hope to hear Bill Keller, the executive editor of the New York Times, talk tonight at the Commonwealth Club. And I'd really like to hear Kevin Boyle talk at Book Passage on Wednesday. He's the author of Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age, which won the National Book Award this year and is one of my all-time favorite non-fiction books. But time is scarce, unfortunately.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Chick Lit Has Gone Too Far

I finished The Washingtonienne, the tell-all book by former Senate staffer Jessica Cutler, a few days ago and I’ve been stumped about what to say about it. Saying anything at all seems dubious, actually, since the only reason the book is interesting is that she got a $300,000 advance based on a sex blog that lasted for a mere few weeks.

Yet I read it. I finished it. The first 35 pages were stilted and I forced myself to get through them. But then the pace and writing of the book picked up after that and I found it easy to read.

So on that level – entertaining, mindless, chick-lit – the book works. But on a fundamental level, the book fails because of its shallowness. It is one recitation after another of the brand names of fabulous clothes, excursions into various Washington bars to drink copious amounts of liquor, snorting cocaine, picking up men, and sleeping with them in every imaginable position. Cutler tries to have her protagonist grow and learn as her sex blog is discovered, but she doesn’t change. She remains as callow and bland as ever.

I can take shallow, not just this shallow. With good chick lit, the reader cares about the main character. I was once in my 20s and young and frivolous, but I can’t imagine living in Washington, working for a Senator, and still seeing the world only in terms of how many free drinks I can score and who I can seduce to get my rent paid.

But Cutler must represent some new kind of celebrity, since she fudged her age and educational background and still made the cover of major magazines. She’s getting a lot of press for her book, even if the ad for it was turned down by Roll Call. “This summer one woman will bring Washington to its knees,” it read.

Cutler now lives in New York and is working on another novel. She told Wired News “that her own lifestyle hasn't changed much since her sexcapades were outed by the web, although money -- which was tight in Washington -- is no longer a problem. "I still date around and stuff," she said. "I guess you can buy more drugs and whatnot."

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Snark, Snark, Snark

Another cat fight between chick lit and literary lit is brewing. This time the focus is on Melissa Bank’s new book, The Wonder Spot. Bank is the author of the 1999 best-selling story collection A Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing.

The first stone (or claw swipe?) was thrown by Curtis Sittenfeld, the author of the recently-released best-seller, Prep, which has been lauded for its literariness. Sittenfeld disses Banks thoroughly in a New York Times Book review:

“To suggest that another woman’s ostensibly literary novel is chick lit feels catty, not unlike calling another woman a slut – doesn’t the term basically bring down all of us? And yet, with ‘’The Wonder Spot,'’ it’s hard to resist. A chronicle of the search for personal equilibrium and Mr. Right, Melissa Bank’s novel is highly readable, sometimes funny and entirely unchallenging; you’re not one iota smarter after finishing it.

I’m as resistant as anyone else to the assumption that because a book’s author is female and because that book’s protagonist is a woman who actually cares about her own romantic future, the book must fall into the chick-lit genre.

So it’s not that I find Bank’s topic lightweight; it’s that Bank writes about it in a lightweight way.”

Jennifer Weiner, who proudly admits her books (Good In Bed, Little Earthquakes) are chick-lit, is offering up her own incisive critique of Sittenfeld’s motives on her blog, Snarkspot. In short, Sittenfeld is disappointed that her literary debut didn’t win her comparisons to the hot young male authors currently out there like Jonathan Safran Foer.

“Thus, Curtis Sittenfeld’s quote-unquote review of THE WONDER SPOT – a nastier-than-it-needed-to-be takedown in which the book is dismissed as lightweight, inconsequential fluff -- is less about the book, or its author, than it is about Sittenfeld’s anxiety about how her own work has been perceived.

Think about it. Sittenfeld's young, she’s educated (Stanford and that obligatory Iowa MFA), she taught English at St. Albans, published in all the right places (Salon, The New York Times) and was reviewed and profiled, or both, in all of them as well.

But when her book went out into the world, was it perceived as high-minded literature, a la the Jonathans (Franzen, Safran Foer), or sparkling satire a la the Toms (Perrotta, Wolfe?)It was not.

In fact, I’d bet that many readers picked up PREP not because they were hoping for the edifying, educational, improving literary experience Sittenfeld so clearly believes she provided, but because the way the book was sold – from its coyly come-hither cover to the gimmick of including Sittenfeld’s high-school yearbook shot with the press kit – promised THE NANNY DIARIES, only in prep school: a dishy, entertaining glimpse behind the velvet rope (or grosgrain belt) into the lives of privileged elites.”

Weiner really nails it with this observation:

“The more I think about the review, the more I think about the increasingly angry divide between ladies who write literature and chicks who write chick lit, the more it seems like a grown-up version of the smart versus pretty games of years ago; like so much jockeying for position in the cafeteria and mocking the girls who are nerdier/sluttier/stupider than you to make yourself feel more secure about your own place in the pecking order.

And while we’re performing the online equivalent of pulling each other’s hair and writing mean things about each other’s work on the virtual bathroom walls, men are still getting the majority of reviews in major papers and men are still penning the majority of the pieces in The New Yorker and influential magazines.”


I got to see a rough cut of the movie The Darwin Awards last night at Dolby Studios in San Francisco. The movie, starring Joseph Fiennes and Winona Ryder, is directed by Bay Area native Finn Taylor. The Darwin Awards are actual awards that “salute the improvement of the human genome by honoring those who accidentally kill themselves in really stupid ways. Of necessity, this honor is generally bestowed posthumously.”

The movie is a hoot, using actual stupid stunts as part of the narrative. It’s pulled along by Fiennes, who plays a fired San Francisco police officer named Burroughs (of the William variety) who still wants to capture the serial killer that has eluded authorities for years. The killer turns out to be a wannabe Beat poet, and Taylor shot scenes of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and City Lights Bookstore. Lots of literary references throughout.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Bad News at the San Francisco Chronicle

Ever since the Hearst Corporation brought in Frank Vega as the new publisher for the San Francisco Chronicle, newspaper employees have been fearful of huge staff cuts. Vega is the former head of the Detroit Newspaper Agency, and took a tough stance against employees of the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press in a protracted labor battle.

Now it looks like the Chronicle wants to eliminate 10% of its staff because of years of losses, according to Editor and Publisher. The paper was short $63 million in 2004.

“More than 10% of the 900 Newspaper Guild jobs at the San Francisco Chronicle could be lost when a new contract is completed, guild officials told E&P as negotiations continue, less than one month before the current agreement expires.

Doug Cuthbertson, executive officer for the Northern California Media Workers Guild Local 39521, said the job losses are likely following a guild review of Chronicle finances, which found the Hearst-owned paper had lost at least $62 million in 2004 and had also previous losses in 2002 and 2003.

"If we look at the size of our workforce, that is a ballpark estimate," Cuthbertson said about the 10% figure. "At this point, I don’t have a number on it, but that is my personal estimate."

Of the 900 guild members employed by the paper, 460 are editorial staffers.”

I worked at the Mercury News during labor negotiations. I was there in 1994 when Chronicle reporters went on strike and produced their own newspaper. It makes the atmosphere ugly. The truth is that media companies have long enjoyed high profits – Knight-Ridder is used to 20% growth a year – and the managers no longer consider newspapers a public trust to treat delicately. (via Romenesko)

Monday, June 06, 2005

Comrades in Pens

At 6 p.m. I was tired, cranky, and ready to roll into bed and watch the finale of Deadwood that has been on my TIVO for a few weeks.

By 10 p.m. I was so energized I knew I wouldn’t get to sleep for hours.

What happened?

Word of Mouth happened.

What is Word of Mouth? Well, it made news last month when the national group sent a letter to Oprah Winfrey asking her to reinstate her book club of contemporary literature. Many of the female authors who signed reside on the East Coast, where the group meets regularly to exchange information about writing and publishing.

Ellen Sussman, whose novel On A Night Like This just came out in paperback, decided to get a group of West Coast women together. Somehow, I got on the list and I joined about 25 other writers at Sussman’s house in Los Altos on Sunday night.

The women were inspiring and amazing. Three had books releasing this week, including Terry Gamble, whose second novel is called The Water Dancers; Leslie Berlin, who wrote The Man Behind the Microchip: Biography of Robert Noyce, and Meredith Maran, who wrote 50 Ways to Support Lesbian and Gay Equality (At Cody’s tonight).

Other authors whose books are hot off the presses included Pamela Holm, who wrote The Night Garden and Martha O’Connor who wrote The Bitch Posse. Mary Felstiner’s book Out of Joint: A Private and Public Story of Arthritis, will appear in October.

Writing is an isolating life, made bearable by the love of the craft, the support of an audience, and appreciation by friends. The Word of Mouth gathering Sunday night was notable for bringing together women from around the Bay Area, women who may have known each other or not, but whom left the evening feeling connected to that amorphous notion, a community of writers.

Michelle Richmond provides more in-depth coverage at her blog, Writer’s Attic, including a list of who attended.


My posts will be light this week because I’m going to be doing work on my book. But there’s lots to see in blog land. Be sure to check out the guest host over at Conversational Reading. Scott is in Spain for 2 weeks and he’s invited Dan Wickett, who runs the Emerging Writers’ Network to be guest blogger. Dan has already posted some great stuff. Ed, at Return of the Reluctant, has final thoughts on the BEA.

MJ Rose has had enough of the BEA; she invents her fantasy convention focusing on pre-publicity buzz aimed at readers. Ron Hogan from Beatrice also weighs in, as does Sarah Weinman of Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

The Sound of Hundreds of Booksellers Talking

Reporters from the Book Standard, the on-line book magazine, have been doing a lot of eavesdropping at BEA, trying to decipher the buzz on forthcoming books. Here is their list of the books that are already exciting those in the book business:


Wickett’s Remedy, by Myla Goldberg
Christ the Lord, by Anne Rice
Lunar Park, by Bret Easton Ellis
In Perfect Light, by Benjamin Alire Salenz
Everyone Worth Knowing, by Lauren Weisberger
Third Girl from the Left, by Martha Southgate
Ordinary Heroes, by Scott Turow
Consent to Kill, by Vince Flynn
Lipstick Jungle, by Candace Bushnell
The Diviners, by Rick Moody
700 Sundays, by Billy Crystal
The Zahir, by Paulo Coelho
A Private Hotel for Gentle Ladies, by Ellen Cooney
The Last Days of Dogtown, by Anita Diamant
Memories of My Melancholy Whores, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Washington Story by Adam Langer
Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie
Son of a Witch, by Gregory Maguire
On Beauty, by Zadie Smith
The Painted Drum, by Louise Erdrich
A Wedding in December, by Anita Shreve

Debut Fiction:
The Dream Life of Sukhanov, by Olga Grushin
Waterloo, by Karen Olsson
Rust and Bone, by Craig Davidson
The Widow of the South, by Robert Hicks
The Town that Forgot How to Breathe, by Kenneth J. Harvey

General nonfiction:

Spook, by Mary Roach
Bait and Switch, by Barbara Ehrenreich
Mark Twain: A Life, by Ron Powers
It’s Called a Breakup because it’s Broken: The Smart Girl’s Breakup Buddy, by Greg Behrendt and Amira Ruotola-Behrendt
Are Men Necessary?, by Maureen Dowd
Incendiary, by Chris Cleave
Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion
A Time to Run, by Barbara Boxer
The Heart of the Home (tentative title), by Robin McGraw, Dr. Phil’s wife
Al Franken’s new book (as yet untitled)
Rereading, by Anne Fadiman
The Assassin’s Gate, by George Packer
Politics the Wellstone Way: How to Elect Progressive Candidates and Win on Issues
The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham,
by Billy Graham
Teacher Man, by Frank McCourt
The Tender Bar, by J.R. Moehringer
Julie & Julia, by Julie Powell
Our Endangered Values, by Jimmy Carter
The Smart Money, by Anonymous (so far)
The Bob Dylan Scrapbook, 1956-1966
Generation Rx, by Greg Crister

Incoming UC Berkeley freshman have their own summer reading list. It includes Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe; Pompeii: A Novel, by Robert Harris, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Jared Diamond; Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, Mary Roach, River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze by Peter Hessler

Friday, June 03, 2005

Why Aren't I in New York?

I have never met Ed Champion of the Return of the Reluctant, but I have laughed out loud plenty of times at his offbeat posts. I can’t vouch for this, but I think this picture shows Ed dressed in a funny yellow outfit at BookExpo America. Or is it Ed joking around again? Either way, he talks about what’s going on at the place to be this weekend.

Bud Parr, of Chekhov’s Mistress has picture of the elusive Mad Max Perkins, (named after the famed editor) who disguised himself as a wizard at the books blogging panel. Mad Max works inside the publishing business, so he is reluctant to reveal his true identity. Bud provides other details of the day.

Publishers Weekly also has a fun blog on BEA. I guess the fact they are offering free content reflects the new editorship of Sara Nelson.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Get Set, Ready, Play!

Reporter Regan McMahon wrote a story for the San Francisco Chronicle Magazine in March that sparked a lot of controversy. It was about how kids’ sporting activities had taken families hostage, so much that parents spent their weekends dashing from one soccer meet to another with a pit stop at a basketball clinic. McMahon just sold a book on that topic, reports Publishers Marketplace:

“Journalist Regan McMahon's REVOLUTION IN THE BLEACHERS, for parents who spend their lives shuttling their kids from one organized sports practice to the next, losing valuable family time and contributing to the all-or-nothing attitude in youth sports today, based on McMahon's controversial cover story for the San Francisco Chronicle, to Erin Moore at Gotham, in a pre-empt, by Betsy Lerner at Dunow, Carlson & Lerner Literary Agency.”

Bud Parr from Chekhov’s Mistress weighs in on the blogging panel at BEA. It looks like some of the publishing types still don’t get it.

The LA Times follows Harley Jane Kozak on her tour for her second book Dating is Murder.

“In a sense, this is the old-fashioned way to build a writing career. With travel becoming increasingly expensive and technology making it cheaper to link authors and readers in ever more inventive ways, the tradition of the writer physically going out to press the flesh has faded.

There are fewer Kozaks — new writers hoping to stake out a readership — out on the road these days. When they do tours, the trips tend to be shorter and closer to where the author lives or where the book is set, hoping to play off local interest.

"What we have learned is that if you are going to go out on tour with basically an unknown author and set up a book-signing, chances are you'll have two to five people show up," says Justin Loeber, publicity director for Simon & Schuster. "It's just not very cost-effective."

Instead, publicity campaigns are increasingly built on satellite television and radio interviews, in which an author can spend one morning doing half a dozen on-air interviews from one studio; interviews on the Web; phone interviews with local newspapers; visits with buyers for bookstore chains; and the occasional gimmick. For Kozak's book, Doubleday is offering a $5 discount to people who buy both the new hardcover and a paperback copy of her first mystery.”

The Business of the Future of Books

Since I’m a fairly new lit blogger (3.5 months and counting) I am still obsessed with the whole blogging world out there. I think I have a handle on the books blogs, but then I read an interview like the one done by Dan Wickett of the Emerging Writers Network and find out how much I don't know. Lo and behold, I discover the blog Writer’s Attic by Michelle Richmond, who has published two books, just got her third novel accepted, and writes about the Bay Area book scene. Dan’s interview with this group of bloggers is illuminating.

BookExpo America will launch today and there arequite a number of sites covering the massive book convention. Michael Cader from Publisher’s Marketplace has started a blog on the event, and the main entry comes from Robert Gray, the Vermont bookseller who writes Fresh Eyes. Mark Sarvas of The Elegant Variation is also there, and he is handy with the camera. Kevin Smokler, a Bay Area writer whose first anthology, Bookmark Now: Writing in Unreaderly Times, was released June 1, will also be on hand to cover the publishing industry’s get-together.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Scholars in Mourning

The Bancroft Library has closed for at least four months. Scholars around the country are grieving. The San Francisco Chronicle tells the sad story of this guy:

“As the deadline for closing the library neared, every seat in the reading room was taken, and there was a waiting list to get in. One of the spots was taken last week by Robert Chester, who is working on his doctoral dissertation in history from UC Davis. His subject is the environmental impact of the silver boom in the Comstock in 19th century Nevada -- and recently to his great surprise he came on the Bancroft's collection of 48 letter books full of the correspondence of Henry Yerington, manager of the Virginia and Truckee Railroad and a major player in his field of study.

It was like finding scholarly gold and he was racing last week to finish mining his discovery. But time ran out on him. The library is closing for five months on June 1, and the Yerington letters are available nowhere else. He's not sure what to do. "I'll have to write as I research," he said. "

God, how frustrating to find this treasure trove and not be able to read it.

The Chronicle also reports on the party Pat Montandon threw for her son, Sean Wilsey, and a review of who’s reading Oh The Glory Of It All

What I’m reading now:

Telling the Untold Story: How Investigative Reporters Are Changing the Craft of Biography. This is by Steve Weinberg, a professor at the journalism school at the University of Missouri and the former executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors. The book explores the techniques of good biographers, such as Robert Caro, James Steele, and Donald Bartlett, and discusses how to arrive at the truth about someone’s life. Weinberg wrote a biography of Armand Hammer and is working on another on muckraker Ida Tarbell.

I’m trying to get to The Washingtonienne, by Jessica Cutler, which is released officially today. But my husband, lured by the provocative cover of a woman in a lacy pink bra, picked it up first, and now my almost 13-year old has found it. I guess that says something about the book’s appeal.