Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The World's 10 Most Harmful Books ... as told by the Conservatives

Human Events, the online national conservative weekly, asked a slew of conservative scholars to name the 10 most harmful books of the 19th and 20th centuries. Some are no surprise – Marx and Engel’s Communist Manifesto, Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, but others puzzle me. They nominate the Kinsey Report and John Dewey’s 1916 book, Democracy and Education. They define it like this:

“In pompous and opaque prose, he disparaged schooling that focused on traditional character development and endowing children with hard knowledge, and encouraged the teaching of thinking “skills” instead. His views had great influence on the direction of American education--particularly in public schools--and helped nurture the Clinton generation.”

Other winners include Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique and the General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money by the liberal economist John Maynard Keynes.

This is why the conservatives win so often: they spend the time to sit around and think this stuff up! I’d like to see the liberal’s list of the 10 most harmful books. What would it include?

I found the reference on the blog Wonkette.

"But talk about your lack of diversity -- eight out of the ten books on the list were authored by white, Western males! Surely, the faith-based conservatives at Human Events aren't blaming the world's woes on them, are they? Everyone knows it's mostly women, minorities, and foreigners who've been screwing things up. "

Writing Tidbits

The big news in the publishing world this week is BookExpo America, taking place in New York June 3 –5. This is the largest event of the year for the publishing industry. There are more than 20,000 books on display, dozens of publishers, thousands of booksellers, and just as many authors hawking their wares. Robert Gray, who writes the wonderful blog, Fresh Eyes: A Bookseller's Journal, says this about the BEA:

“The Circus is Coming to Town!

Ladies and Gentlemen! Boys and Girls! Children Of All Ages! You are just a few short days away from a weekend of thrills! A weekend of gasps! A weekend of giggles! A weekend at BookExpo America in New York City!

This year's edition of BEA, the publishing world's annual bigtop extravaganza, will happen at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center ("Marketplace to the World"), perched upon the glittering waters of the Hudson River. But unlike Ringling Brothers, our circus won't be limited to three rings. In fact, we'll have dozens, maybe hundreds, of rings, with a nucleus on the convention floor at Javits, but also spreading in concentric circles (and ovals and rectangles and squares) throughout the city's restaurants, bars, and hotels, East Side to West.

Business mixes seamlessly with pleasure, so the work day runs, or feels like it runs, from the dawn to dawn

Welcome, my friends, to the show that never ends.
Or, is it?

Something Wicked This Way Comes

BookExpo really does have a little something for everyone -- clowns happy and sad, ringmasters and stagehands, high-wire artists and tightrope walkers (financially, anyway), lions and tigers and bears.

Oh my!”

I really wish I could go. I get giddy in a room filled with books and authors. Since I have to sit home and pout, I’ll post reports of the BEA from various sources, including from Ed of the Return of the Reluctant, Mark from The Elegant Variation, and Michael Cader of Publisher’s Marketplace.

Other interesting writing news. Remember the group Word of Mouth that sent that letter to Oprah asking her to reinstate her book club? It was made up of a group of published authors, some well known, some not. Well, there has been a move to start a Bay Area version of the group. Ellen Sussman, who wrote the novel, On a Night Like This, took the initiative to start the group and as of Memorial Day weekend, so many female published authors wanted to join that the group threatened to fill up her living room. So now it appears there will be a fiction group and a non-fiction group. I guess the group still hasn’t had a response from Oprah …

In other news, the smart and dedicated people who run the site are hosting a writers conference in Half Moon Bay from July 7-12. Twelve writers will join other writers, agents and publishing professionals for an intesive workshop on improving their craft.

“Algonkian has put together a team of five of the best professionals on either coast to work with our students at the Pt. Montara Lighthouse retreat near Half Moon Bay in California. They include bestselling author, JoAnn Mapson; literary agent, and personal assistant to Sandra Dijkstra, Elise Capron; teacher and award-winning fiction writer Cynthia Gregory; and fiction writer and editor of DEL SOL REVIEW and DEL SOL PRESS, Michael Neff. Students will also get post-conference market analysis from author and editor Charles Salzberg Interactions will be extremely non-conference like, i.e., intimate and relaxed.”

Monday, May 30, 2005

Another fun book cartoon from Patricia Storms Posted by Hello
The San Francisco Chronicle had an interesting feature on Sunday on writer Michael Lewis, who lives in the Berkeley Hills. He seems to write one best-selling book after another. Moneyball was a big hit in my house, and now he’s come out with a small book that is a testimonial to his former coach, called Coach: Lessons on the Game of Life.

Reporter Paul Wilner did a particularly nice job explaining how Lewis ingratiates himself with his subjects:

“Lewis is offhand about the journalistic techniques he has used to persuade otherwise extremely preoccupied people, like Beane and Clark, to give up large chunks of their personal and professional time to an almost complete stranger. He's not opposed to using juice when required; Eisenhardt, whom he'd met while doing a City Arts & Lectures interview with Larry Ellison, offered to be a go-between with the A's.

In Clark's case, "I was literally pedaling a bicycle around Silicon Valley. Tabitha had a Knight Fellowship at Stanford; that was why we came out here in the first place, in '97." In recent years, Soren has largely forsaken her pop-culture roots to pursue a career as a professional photographer. "All this (new economy) stuff was just starting, and I could see the financiers of Silicon Valley were leapfrogging the hotshots on Wall Street. I realized after a while that what I was looking for was the guy who was always after the new thing, always on the edge. Someone mentioned Clark's name to me, the fact that he'd been involved in Silicon Graphics before Netscape, and that he was a guy who was morphing over and over again.

"I was in a diner across the street from Stanford and thought, You've really just got to find this guy. So I went to the pay phone, saw he was listed and put a quarter in. The woman who answered the phone gave me another number, which turned out to be a little office where he was building his boat, a computerized yacht. He answered the phone himself, and said, 'I'm just over here, coating the boat. Come on by.' He gave me the address, four miles down the road, and I rode to his office.

"What I found, which is often true, is that very quickly I had a sense of whether I want to keep writing about this person. He was sort of humored that I was interested. It wasn't like he was being inundated by journalists. Nobody was calling him.

"I also was of interest to him because he was about to choose a Wall Street investment banker, and I had worked there. But maybe the bigger point is that I did my best to not get on his nerves. You don't want people groaning, 'Oh, this guy's coming over and he's going to irritate me for two hours.' At the very least, I'm innocuous."

devorah major, during her tenure as poet laureate for San Francisco, got people from the battle-scarred streets of the city to write about senseless drive-by shootings and the sadness and destruction of violence. She writes about her experience in her new book, The Other Side of the Postcard. You can see her complete introduction at California Authors.

“In creating my project I wanted to show how the music of truth laid on the rhythms of compassion could build the world we want, not by shying away from the realities of our streets, but by embracing them in their totality, and seeing them full of beauty and inspiration as well as cruelty and destruction. Although San Francisco was starting point of the project, the poems reach through the specificity of place and time to truly embrace the world. No matter where you live, you can find your block, your city, your observations, your insights. Perhaps the names will be different, but the spirits will be familiar.

Lovell Taylor is a teen who has seen too many street memorials, perhaps has even helped to build a few. His harsh understandings explode on the page:

“I am that bullet that makes you bleed
I am that person in yo bad dreams
And you wake up and scream
I am that person who hides from da sun”

Impassioned, celebratory, difficult, loving, troubling: poems from around the Bay Area filled my post office box. Some poets spoke of homelessness; some, like Writers Corps teen poet Yvette Buckner shared their despair:

"I don’t exist in this place
I have no face, just a voice you hear
Crying out silent tears
Moving through the crowd of death
Fighting a war that never ends”

If you’ve needed an overview of the whole lit blog scene, the Daily Telegraph from London has a description. (via Complete Review)

Friday, May 27, 2005

The Queen Has Spoken

I don’t have anything to say today, except for one LAST (I promise) post on Sean Wilsey. No more needs to be said about him because he was anointed today by the Queen of Book Reviewers, Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times. She likes Oh the Glory of It All, for all its messiness:

“Yet however bloated this volume may be, it remains an incredibly powerful performance: a memoir that announces the debut of a remarkably gifted, daring and - yes, the author's late father should note - very funny writer.”

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

#78 on Amazon

Sean Wilsey’s book Oh the Glory Of It All has been out a week now, and it’s #78 on Amazon. It’s selling well in some Bay Area bookstores, which is not surprising considering all the pre-publicity hype. The reviews have been generally – but not completely – favorable. The New York Times Book Review asked Francine Prose to review the book, and she liked it a great deal. New York Magazine had the idea of a joint author-to author interview with Wilsey and another Francine, this one Francine du Plessix Gray, who also just published a (much kinder) memoir of her parents.

The New York Observer, on the other hand, suggests that Wilsey squandered an opportunity:

“With this cast of characters, how can the memoir go wrong? Slowly at first, then all at once. I read pages 1 through 50 in a state of delighted fascination, feeling immensely lucky to be offered an intimate glimpse of these extraordinarily privileged people, all clearly toxic at close range. The opening description of the nuclear family—“We were Mom and Dad and I—three palindromes!”—is deft and lighthearted despite the looming disaster. But after the break-up, with the arrival center-stage of an arch-villain, the tone darkens. This sentence marks the abrupt end of the good times: “Dede, at all times, remains pleasant and charming, even as she pierces you with a javelin slicked in shit.” The reader flinches, the author shrugs: “But how can I explain Dede? She’s my evil stepmother. She’s an unbelievable cliché.”

Worse, the cliché is married to an enigma: “Whatever I can tell you about my father,” Sean writes, “will probably be wrong. I have a collection of theories and incidents and facts concerning Dad, but no comprehension.”

Maybe because he can’t explain either his fickle father or his father’s new bride, and because his mother’s melodrama (“Mom, patron saint of Peace and Glamour”) is faintly ridiculous (she’s confident that she’ll win a Nobel Peace Prize) and borderline pathetic (as the poisonous Dede remarks, “There’s just nothing more awful than a woman who lets herself go”), Sean turns to a new topic: himself. For 200 miserable pages, in dogged chronological order, he recites the crimes and misdemeanors of his increasingly delinquent adolescence. Mom and Dad and Dede recede. Instead of high-society meltdown and simmering feud, instead of goofy, globe-straddling idealism, instead of epic bouts of conspicuous consumption, we get a sniveling skateboarder with crab lice who masturbates to the image of his loathsome stepmother and flunks out of one dingy East Coast boarding school after another. Classic bait-and-switch. "

Wilsey will be in town next week at a Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books on May 31 and at Booksmith on Haight Street on June 2.

For insight into another Bay Area author, the New York Review of Books has an engrossing essay by Michael Chabon, in which he discusses the writing of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. Chabon moved to Oakland to live with his mother and stepmother and set up a tiny office in what essentially was a crawlspace. He describes his sense of dislocation in California (he was set to enter the writing program at UC Irvine) and his quest to combine his love for science fiction with a more traditional and linear storytelling style.

"I returned to chill gray Oakland from sunny Orange County, to the little basement room in my mother's house where I did some of my finest feeling lonely and homesick. There I ventured through a few more pages of Swann's Way and fretted about all those people I was soon going to be surrounded and taught by, people who were and knew themselves to be proud practitioners of novelism. Was everyone obliged to write a novel? Could I write a novel? Did I want to write a novel? What the hell was a novel, anyway, when you came right down to it? A really, really, really long short story? I hoped so, because that was the only thing I knew for certain that I could manage, sort of, to write.

Now here I was, basically required by law, apparently, to start writing a goddamned novel, just because all of these windy people down at Irvine were unable to contain themselves. What kind of novel would I write? Had the time come to leave my current writing self behind?

The truth was that I had come to a rough patch in my understanding of what I wanted my writing to be. I was in a state of confusion. Over the past four years I had been struggling to find a way to accommodate my taste for the genre fiction I had been reading with the greatest pleasure for the better part of my life—fantasy, horror, crime, and science fiction—to the way that I had come to feel about the English language, which was that it and I seemed to have something going. Something (on my side at least) much closer to deep, passionate, physical, and intellectual love than anything else I had ever experienced with a human up to that point. But when it came to the use of language, somehow, my verbal ambition and my ability felt hard to frame or fulfill within the context of traditional genre fiction. I had found some writers, such as J.G. Ballard, Italo Calvino, J.L. Borges, and Donald Barthelme, who wrote at the critical point of language, where vapor turns to starry plasma, and yet who worked, at least sometimes, in the terms and tropes of genre fiction. They all paid a price, however. The finer and more masterly their play with language, the less connected to the conventions of traditional, bourgeois narrative form—unified point of view, coherent causal sequence of events, linear structure, naturalistic presentation—their fiction seemed to become. Duly I had written my share of pseudo-Ballard, quasi-Calvino, and neo-Borges. I had fun doing it. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't stop preferring traditional, bourgeois narrative form.

I wanted to tell stories, the kind with set pieces and long descriptive passages, and "round" characters, and beginnings and middles and ends. And I wanted to instill—or rather I didn't want to lose—that quality, inherent in the best science fiction, which was sometimes called "the sense of wonder." If my subject matter couldn't do it—if I wasn't writing about people who sailed through neutron stars or harnessed suns together—then it was going to fall to my sentences themselves to open up the heads of my readers and decant into them enough crackling plasma to light up the eye sockets for a week."

(via Conversational Reading)

Monday, May 23, 2005

Summer Reading List

Somehow all the sun and water and hint of summer over the weekend (don’t you just love the Bay Area?) has put me in a languorous mood. I’m feeling laid back, and looking forward to doing a lot of reading. Here’s my list of what to pick up this June at the library or your local bookstore:

1) The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. This isn’t a fair pick, as it doesn’t come out for another 3 weeks or so. But I’m 500 pages into the 647-page novel and I can’t put it down. I know the critics are going to compare it to the Da Vinci Code, but it’s so much better. Like Dan Brown’s bestseller, it’s a historical mystery that takes its protagonists into libraries filled with ancient manuscripts, into Byzantine churches, mosques, and through ruins. But the search here is for Dracula, and his role in the Ottoman empire.

2) Ponzi’s Scheme by Mitchell Zuckoff. This is a great narrative biography of that infamous con man, Charles Ponzi. Zuckoff does a terrific job of recreating the hopes and illusions of thousands of Americans who dreamed of getting rich and the man who blithely took their money.

3) Leeway Cottage by Beth Gutcheon. I read Domestic Pleasures by Gutcheon and enjoyed it so much I sent it to my mother and various friends. And that was before I realized she was married to my 8th grade English teacher, Robin Clements, a man so debonair (he had brown curly hair, a brown mustache and wore bow ties to teach) he scared me a little. I haven’t read this book yet, but I think it will provide the perfect summer mix of literariness and commercialism.

4 Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II by Robert Kurson. This is a gripping, true story of 2 men who dove to the bottom of the ocean to discover a mysterious submarine. I know the publisher had high hopes for this book when it was released last year, but I don’t know if it sold as many copies as expected. It’s now out in paperback and is a thrilling read – well-written and well-researched. I never knew the risks scuba divers took when they descended deep into the ocean.

Here’s what’s on my desk that I REALLY have to read for my book on early California:

1) The Democratic Party and California Politics 1880-1896 by R. Hal Williams. A classic, but not a thrill.

2) On the Old West Coast by Horace Bell. This is a fun one. Bell was a Ranger, a sort of outdoors police office, in the middle of the 19th Century. He was a muckraker, editing the Los Angeles newspaper The Porcupine and writing his salty version of the domestication of southern California.

3) Financing American Enterprise: The Story of Commercial Banking by Paul B. Trescott. I’ve had this book out of the library for 2 months now and it’s due tomorrow. I still haven’t read it. Better get cracking.

In other news, Martha O’Connor will be speaking Tuesday night at a Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books and on Wednesday night at Cody’s in Berkeley. Connor’s novel, The Bitch Posse, has been getting all sorts of raves and I am looking forward to reading it. She talked to M.J. Rose about the gestation of the book, which happened completely differently than her other, unpublished novels. The work just flowed, and even though her agent didn’t like it, Connor kept on writing. She found a new agent and came out with what she thinks is her best work.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Jessica Cutler's book Posted by Hello

When Writing Pays

I picked up an advance copy yesterday of Jessica Cutler’s, The Washingtonienne. Cutler is the woman who worked briefly as a mail girl on Capital Hill in early 2004, recounted her sexual exploits on a blog, got fired for using a government computer, and quickly sold a book for $300,000.

Like many, I was amazed at the size of Cutler’s advance, especially since she apparently fudged many details about her life – like her true age and educational degrees. What writing credentials did she have? How could she land such a huge advance in a matter of days after her story hit the national press? But I quickly realized my naiveté: Cutler was hot, and her story fit in nicely with the chick-lit genre. Besides, an agent I know assured me, Cutler was a terrific writer.

I’m not sure that latter observation will pan out, based on the 35 pages of the novel that I have read, but I bet the book will be a success regardless. The cover is a close-up of a woman’s B-sized chest, covered in a lacy pink bra, with a silver replica of the Capitol dangling on a chain. It’s sexy and racy and that, well, sells books.

The Washingtonienne is set be released in June, and this week, Cutler got slapped with her first law suit. An old paramour, whom Cutler apparently dissed on her blog, is suing her for revealing he liked to spank. I wonder, if he was so worried about his secret coming out, why did he sue? (Read the legal complaint here).

Cutler’s book is one of the spate of blogger-turned-author books to come out. Some other bloggers have also gotten huge advances. Stephanie Klein, who pens the blog Greek Tragedy, sold her book, Straight Up and Dirty: The Life of a New York Divorcee, to Judith Regan for more than $500,000. She recounts the excitement she felt at hearing the news.

Rachel Leibrock of the Sacramento Bee recently wrote about the trend:

Jerome Kramer, editor-in-chief of the online book magazine The Book Standard, agrees that one reason the trend is strong is because publishers can turn to the Internet to find a "pre-built audience."

"They're looking for proven models and tried-and-true sources from which to create books," Kramer says. "Publishers are getting into this pop culture-to-press thing and blogging is hot."

And, adds Kramer, on the phone from his Manhattan office, the medium is still rich with untapped talent.

"Blogging only reached the critical mass tipping point about two years ago - and it's still tipping," he says.”

It will be interesting to see how this trend plays out. While the New York publishing world is gobbling up quick, easy reads like Cutler’s and Klein’s, they still want authors who can build an audience book after book. I hope that will lead to book deals with bloggers who are elegant writers, not just bloggers capitalizing on sensation.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Smoke and Mirrors

On the day that Sean Wilsey’s memoir is set to go on sale, it may be appropriate to see what others have said about California’s rich and powerful. One biting commentary is that of Benjamin II, a popular 19th century German Jewish author of travel books. Benjamin spent 1861 in California and was impressed with the opportunities available roughly a decade after the discovery of gold. He was less impressed with the piety of San Francisco’s Jews and regarded the city’s citizens’ display of wealth as an illusion.

“There is not land in all the world where the passion to cause a sensation is so prevalent as in California. The hunt for gain can hardly be compared to the eagerness to outdo others in the building of splendid houses, driving swift horses, or in dressing in costly clothes. … In California, the emphasis on appearance is not to be compared with that anywhere else. For elsewhere, wealth is generally inherited: handed down from father to son, from mother to daughter, as particular families won, as it were, the privilege of ornamenting themselves.

But here in California, a woman sweeps along, dressed in silk and showing her diamond-studded jewelry – what the Yankees in their colloquial speech call “cutting a dash” – while her sister rides proudly through the streets, and both forget that only a little while before they supported themselves by taking in washing or at some trade”.

There have been so many flamboyant California characters, rich men and women whose stories have captivated the masses: James Ralston, the founder of the Bank of California, whose body was found floating in San Francisco Bay the day his bank collapsed in 1875 – no one knows if it was a suicide or heart attack; E.J. “Lucky Baldwin,” a gambler and businessman who owned the Santa Anita racetrack, the Baldwin Hotel on Market Street, and a large interest in a silver mine in Nevada. When he went on trial in Los Angeles for making a pass at an innocent, unmarried girl (he was a notorious lecher) it was front-page news; Alma Spreckles knew how to spend money better than most millionaires -- San Francisco has the Museum of the Legion of Honor because of her competition with the De Young family (the owners of the Chronicle who managed to get the museum that was built for the 1894 Mid-Winter Exposition named after them; the same De Young museum that Wilsey’s stepmother, Dede, raised $180 million for).

The Wilseys are joining a long and illustrious line of characters. Let history be the judge.

New Beginnings

Amy Tan is a member of this club. That is not necessarily a reason to join:

“Amy Tan is among the "Literati With Lyme." It is a newly formed ad hoc group associated with the Lyme Disease Association that is seeking to raise money and awareness about Lyme disease, with about 24,000 cases reported in 2002 representing only about one-tenth of the actual cases, according to association officials. At a New York University forum tonight called "Writer's Block of the Worst Kind: An Open Book on Lyme,"

Ms. Tan will be joined by other writers talking about their battles with the disease, transmitted by a tick bite, which can mimic major depression and in its chronic form can cause arthritis, cognitive loss and fatigue. Meg Cabot ("The Princess Diary" series and movies); E. Jean Caroll, the Elle magazine advice columnist, Jordan Fisher Smith ("Nature Noir: A Park Ranger's Patrol in the Sierra") and Jennifer Weiss, the executive editor of St. Martin's Press, will join Ms. Tan and medical experts to talk about Lyme disease's effect on them. (The New York Times)

Brigid Hughes, the George Plimpton protégée who was recently ousted as editor of the Paris Review, is starting her own magazine:

“Public Space will feature poetry and fiction, both art forms that get little play in mainstream magazines.”

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Shut Up and Eat!

Ruth Reichl may write entertaining memoirs, but it’s tough to take her to lunch. Debra Pickett, a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times suffered indigestion when she took the famed restaurant critic to a raw foods eatery:

“Reichl has a charming smile and the infectious laugh of someone who has lived a charmed life and knows it. It's clear that her critic's eye has already assessed this place carefully and that she is not optimistic about the quality of our lunch. But it is also clear that she is ready to have a great time.

"OK," she says, menu in hand, "we know the Buddha bowl [an assortment of vegetables and rice] will be good. So no one can get that. We have to order the things that are really challenging."

Like the meatless "meatball" sub. And the meatless slab of "ribs." And the jerk tofu wrap.

Spirit of fun notwithstanding, Reichl can't help seeing things through a reviewer's lens. She notices that the lemon wedges don't seem juicy -- a sign they've been sitting around too long. She notices the texture of the lettuce and the shape of a baby carrot, which is not, she decides, a baby carrot at all but a hunk of a regular carrot carved to look like one.

She has not found very many positive things to say about our meal.”

(via Bookslut)

There’s an interesting discussion over on Slate on writing history: academics historians vs. populizers. The academics look down with disdain on journalists writing historical non-fiction, in part because narrative trumps analysis. But they look with envy as well, since most history academics write in an inaccessible style.

This interests me because I am writing a biography that includes a slice of the history of California. It’s not enough to have a narrative; you need context and perspective to show the importance of the story, yet too much analysis slows down the experience. It’s a balancing act, one that the historian David Greenberg shows in his 2 essays, “That Barnes and Noble Dream,” has not been resolved.

"The major failing of much popular history is that it betrays no interest in making intellectual contributions to our understanding of an issue. The Barnes & Noble historian seems to treat history as a pageant of larger-than-life events and people to be marveled at, rather than a set of social, political, and cultural problems to engage. Unless you wrestle with the ways in which the problems of the past have been defined, interpreted, ignored, or mischaracterized by other historians—the historiography—your writing will seem unsophisticated. You won't know which of your ideas are novel or trite, simple or complex, suspiciously trendy or embarrassingly out of date, or what avenues of research have already been pursued. Historians have to try to build upon what's been written, while keeping in mind that the goal is broader than just revising or applying other scholars' findings. "

(via Publishers Lunch)

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Judith Moore's Fat Girl Posted by Hello

Not Fat and Old, but Proud and Wise

Fat Girl by Judith Moore has been sitting on my “To Read,” pile for about six weeks now. It’s a slim tone, with an inviting cover of the bottom half of a plump young girl. My husband, who rarely reads memoir, picked it up one night and enjoyed it so much he finished it within a week, which is fast reading for him.

Moore is one of those Bay Area authors who is accomplished, yet under-appreciated. Her book about her struggles with obesity came out months ago and was well reviewed around the country, but she didn’t get a lot of accolades in the local press.

So I was delighted to read David Kipen’s article in Tuesday’s San Francisco Chronicle. He apologizes to Moore for not reading her book sooner – and goes on to compliment her writing style, her struggles to overcome her lonely childhood, and her incredible attitude toward her weight.

“At a cultural moment when Brooke Shields can milk a few weeks of fully insured and successfully medicated postpartum depression for a book deal -- and now a bestseller -- there's something invigorating about a writer who says, in effect, "I'll never be thin, I'll never be well-adjusted, but I can write like a banshee and that'll just have to do."

I haven’t gotten to Moore’s memoir because I am way behind in my reading. I am fully engrossed in what should be one of the big books of the summer, The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova.

This is the book that sold for a $1-$2 million advance and just this week was optioned by Sony Pictures for another $1 million. Lest jealous hives break out over all of us, Kostova, who graduated from Yale and got an MFA from the University of Michigan, took 10 years to write the book. It tells the story of a 16-year old girl on a search for the secret of Dracula, who may still be alive, or Undead, as his state is described in the book. The Historian will be released July 7 and will be published in 22 languages.

There will be a lot of press about The Historian. Bookends, the Book Place magazine interviewed Kostova, who is just 40.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Little Stuff

Read this heartbreaking story of a waitress, Jill Bauerle, who serves a customer, only to realize she’s her agent. Embarrassment ensues. (via Maud Newton)

"On a Friday night not too long ago, I approached a new deuce in my section, a couple. The woman seemed familiar and I pegged her as a publishing type. I don’t know why I decided this, except that I wait on a lot of publishing types and they are different from other business people. She seemed intelligent and fashionable, someone who could reference both Dostoevsky and “Sex and the City” in the same phrase. I thought that perhaps she was someone I had waited on before. I brought drinks and conducted the usual menu FAQ, describing the skate wing and just exactly what Basque-style means in reference to the veal tongue. Meanwhile, a bass drum thudded in my ears. I recognized the woman’s sultry voice. I was waiting on my agent.

The last time my agent and I had met face to face had been four years ago at a restaurant near her office on the Upper West Side. She had just offered to represent my first novel. The next logical step, it seemed, was that my novel would sell; a work that had been four years in the making. No such luck. Now it was almost one full novel later and we were meeting in a restaurant again. Only this time I was wearing a designer uniform and a little leather pouch-belt full of pens, wine key, paper and mints, and I was selling her on the Poached Salmon Tartar. "

OK, it’s time to see if bloggers have any clout. The folks over at the newly formed Lit Blog Coop have selected their first recommendation, Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories. What intrigues me about this recommendation, made by Lizzie Skurnick of the blog Old Hag is that she couldn’t get into the book at first, but loved it on her second try. I couldn’t get into the book the first time either; maybe twice is the charm.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Dede Wilsey at the 2002 Opera opening Posted by Hello

Let the Ugliness Begin ...

The venom doesn’t drip, it pours, out of the New York Times’ take on Sean Wilsey’s memoir, Oh The Glory of It All.

Take the beginning of the story in Sunday’s Style section, written by Joyce Wadler:

“IT'S turning into a dreadful year for Dede Wilsey.

It should have been triumphant: the reopening party for the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, for which Ms. Wilsey raised $180 million, is to be the big social event of the fall. So acknowledged is her involvement that people have taken to calling the art museum the Dede Young.

And now comes That Book.

"Oh, the Glory of It All" was written by Ms. Wilsey's stepson, Sean Wilsey, a New York-based editor of the literary magazine McSweeney's, who calls Ms. Wilsey his "evil stepmother." Blurbed by Dave Eggers and already excerpted in The New Yorker, the 482-page memoir arrives in bookstores this week. If there are any family secrets yet unrevealed about one of the most flamboyant women to pass through San Francisco society, it is difficult to know what they might be.

Dede Wilsey, who sits on the boards of the San Francisco Ballet and the San Francisco Opera and is the president of the board of trustees of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, is portrayed as having manipulated the author's father, Al Wilsey, who made his fortune in food and real estate, into giving her the bulk of his $300 million estate. Among other vivid scenes, the book describes a Christmas morning when Al Wilsey, seriously ill, sat wanly by as his wife - who is known in San Francisco for her magnificent jewels - pinned one $200,000 brooch after another to her bathrobe.”

In case anyone has any doubts about Dede Wilsey’s love for expensive jewelry – and she denies the story of the Christmas brooches in the article – the Times plastered a picture of her in the paper wearing an enormous diamond necklace and earrings.

Wadler goes after Sean Wilsey as well, suggesting, despite Wilsey’s protestations, that maybe he is just a trust fund baby with an axe to grind.

“The troublemaker in this case, Mr. Wilsey, is a high-energy and seemingly quite open man, at least to a point.

He declined to be interviewed at his TriBeCa loft, a very handsome loft according to those who have seen it. He preferred to meet at his writing office in a fifth-floor walkup in Chinatown. He said that he and his wife, the writer Daphne Beal, decided their home would be off limits to interviewers. (The two have a 9-month-old son.) Asked how he could afford a TriBeCa loft, given that he writes that his father left all of his money to his stepmother, Mr. Wilsey readily explained: His father had set up a $60,000 trust when he was born and invested it well. Mr. Wilsey had access to that money when he turned 25.

Rich kid?”

Later in the article, his stepmother suggests exactly that.

“They are all multi-multimillionaires," she (Dede) said of Mr. Wilsey and his siblings. "Al took very good care of his children, so it would make no difference if he married me or someone else."

Wadler is the reporter who made a name for herself writing the Times’ Boldface Names column, the newspaper's version of a society column. She drew accolades for her ability to gently mock and skewer those with massive fortunes and more power than the Pope. When she stopped writing the column, Salon made a note of it.

In contrast, the Chronicle’s Sunday profile of Sean Wilsey is much softer, portraying him as a troubled, smart youth who redeems himself through writing. Interestingly, Dede Wilsey wouldn’t talk to Chronicle reporter Carolyne Zinko. (Her lawyer has sent the paper a notice it would be held liable for printing any defamatory material). Dede spoke with the Times at least twice and Danielle Steele, a part player in this high society scandale, also opened up.

“Sean Wilsey denies that the book is a literary act of revenge. "It really is a catharsis," he said to the Chronicle, "although I wasn't crying as I wrote it. I did it because I wanted to understand things better. I really hoped for a long time that this was all a bit of a misunderstanding."

The book will be released this week. I predict it will be an immediate bestseller. (Considering all its pre-publicity, that is not a risky assertion) The truth is, the book is uneven, with many engaging parts. But Wilsey has also chosen to excerpt large chunks of his mother, Pat Montandon’s unpublished memoir, and there is a reason that manuscript never was put into print. Wilsey’s liberal use of other sources slows the book down.

But for whatever reason, this book has struck a nerve. Maybe it’s just that the world loves to see the grimy underside of the rich, and gathers satisfaction that they are no happier than most of the world.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Al Young Posted by Hello

A Jazzy Kind of Guy

Well, Governor Schwarzenegger has finally done something right. A few days ago he nominated Al Young as California’s Poet Laureate.

It’s an inspired choice as Young will be a terrific ambassador for poetry. He’s funny, engaging, and articulate. He can talk about poems, rap about music, rhapsodize about writing, and make audiences laugh.

I’ve listened to Young talk the last two summers when I attended the Squaw Valley Community of Writers. He’s been going to the Lake Tahoe writer’s workshop for decades now, as have many of the teachers. They are all friends and colleagues of the writer Oakley Hall and his wife Barbara, and together they’ve created a welcoming, comradely environment where unpublished authors mingle with the likes of Amy Tan, Anne Lamott, Janet Fitch, and top editors and agents from the New York publishing scene.

Young, who lives in Berkeley, is always among the most relaxed and forthcoming of the teachers. Along with writing poetry, he writes screenplays, novels, and non-fiction meditations on music. He’s won lots of different awards, including the Pushcart Prize and the Pen/Library of Congress award for short fiction.

Young’s got a lot of redeeming to do, as the last Poet Laureate, Quincy Troupe, resigned in 2002 after it turned out he had lied about having a college diploma. But I look forward a new appreciation of poetry.

Here’s a poem Young wrote in 2001: From his website.

To be the perfect fool ain't all that bad.
You mess yourself up mostly, no one else
cares really what you do. Why should you add
more worry to their night? Go work your spells
elsewhere, someplace where pride and making sense
don't count. Jump to your own conclusion. Run.
Where fools and money part, you can dispense
with chance. All foolishness can be no fun.
You bet against yourself: the perfect fool.
Divine intelligence, the muse, the gods -
whatever works, or doesn't. What's uncool?
To put it plainly: Just what are the odds
of you, the lover, coming out ahead,
when bombs this sad world drops come down with bread?

Friday, May 13, 2005

Steve Wasserman's Exit

The San Francisco Chronicle devotes most of the front of its Datebook section to the departure of Steve Wasserman from the Los Angeles Times Book Review section.

Heidi Benson reports on how Wasserman elevated the book review into a nationally admired section, in part, through the mailing of 2,000 complimentary issues each week to prominent authors and people in the publishing industry. David Kipen ponders the future of book reviews and offers some suggestion for the LA Times’ next editor. Kipen sort of sidesteps the question of whether the Internet and bloggers are cannibalizing the readership of book review sections, but he raises some good points.

"1. Does a newspaper need a freestanding book review section?

OK, that's a softball. Hell yes. So what if it doesn't break even? Neither does any book review section in the country. Neither do most sports sections, and nobody talks about discontinuing them. The L.A. Times as a whole probably doesn't make enough money, but is its parent company, the Tribune Corp., thinking of shutting it down for a tax write-off? Of course not.
The only reason to kill a book review section is if you don't know what happens to anybody fool enough to try it: Book lovers rise up and cancel their subscriptions until you bring it back. Also, and this is a promise, other newspapers committed to keeping their book review sections will ride you like a pony.

2. How should a book review section respond to the challenges posed by the Internet?

Right now, the blogging phenomenon has almost every newspaper in the country scared out of its socks. If folks can get their news and opinion free from a few pundits in pajamas, how's the morning paper supposed to keep readers coughing up their lousy 50 cents a day?
And yet book review sections should really have less to fear from the Internet than just about any other section. Smart newspapers are providing more informed opinion with their news, not less. A good book review should, at least in theory, be the most unapologetically opinionated section in the paper. Rather than sweating a little online second-guessing from the Net, a smart book section would do better to supplement its print edition with some kind of rip-roaring online clearinghouse of ideas.

3. Finally, who is a book review section really for?

In other words, should you give readers what they think they want -- presumably more reviews of writers they've already heard of -- or what you think they need? Do you skew regional, paying special attention to books with a local angle? Or do you go national, on the assumption that regional writing has matured to the point where it no longer requires special pleading?

There's no definitive answer, but California's incredible diversity may suggest one possible way to go. Considering how deplorably oblivious most American book reviewing is to the rest of the world in general, and specifically to literature in translation -- and also considering how many Westerners identify with more than one heritage -- might we finally be due for a book review section that pays equal regard to books both local and international?

Rather than waste time dusting the shoulder blades of Steve Wasserman's famous ice cream suit for prints, it's time to start asking these questions -- and now, when the decision makers might really be listening."

Making New (Blogger) Friends

One of the fun parts of blogging is making the (online) acquaintance of other bloggers. Thus I meet Wendi Kaufman, aka The Happy Booker, who is almost relentlessly cheerful on her blog. She inspires me, as I haven’t mastered much past somber tone.

A few weeks ago, The Happy Booker started to rave about an author I was unfamiliar with, Richard McCann. She praised his new book, Mother of Sorrows, calling it one of her favorite books this year.

McCann’s website describes the book this way:

“With the breadth and cumulative force of a novel, Mother of Sorrows presents ten interwoven stories of an American family starting out in the post-World War II suburbs of Washington, D.C., a world of identical brick houses and sunstruck, treeless lawns.”

It’s a novel that took McCann 18 years to write. In 1990, he came down with serious liver disease; in 1996 he underwent a liver transplant. He talked to the Happy Booker about his experiences:

“So I was quite busy, for some years, with the work of dying and then being resurrected. When I finally rose from the sickbed, I wasn't struck first by the urge to pick up a pencil: I was struck first by the urge to go canoeing and to get a suntan.”

Mother of Sorrows is getting great reviews. The Washington Post, New York and LA Times liked it, using phrases like “exquisitely written,” and “elegant and unfussy prose.” Borders selected it for it Original Voices section for May.

Now Bay Area book fans can get a chance to hear McCann read. He’ll be at Stacey’s Books on Market Street on Monday, May 16 at 12:30 and at Books, Inc. on Market Street Tuesday night at 7:30.

Speaking of new friends, new blogs, there now is a bright orange and black logo in the sidebar of my blog. It’s from Web Del Sol, a great literary magazine. Web Del Sol was looking to partner with a few literary blogs as part of a feature for their House of Blogs. I volunteered. Check out the site. It’s set up as one-stop shopping for book blogs, with links to a lot of good sites and excerpts to give you a taste of various voices.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

What Does The Future Hold?

Well, right after I waxed rhapsodic over the libraries at Berkeley, here comes a Berkeley professor and futurist, William Crossman, who thinks the written word and books will be extinct by 2050. (via Bookslut)

“But can we picture life without Shakespeare, without Tom Clancy? How could we live without reading and writing?

Patiently, Crossman explains that people wouldn't have to give up literacy if they didn't want to. It would gain the status of a hobby, somewhat the way quilting is now. Instead, he said we will have an oral-aural culture, just as we did before some early civilization first drew lines in the sand with a twig. Crossman likens our future with talking computers to our experience with the calculator of some 30 years ago. “

The Chronicle’s very-own editor, Phil Bronstein, gets the once-over in Editor & Publisher, where it is once again pointed out that he is best known for once being married to Sharon Stone.

“NEW YORK After 35 years in San Francisco newspapers (including jobs as top editor at both of the city's major dailies), eight years of overseas reporting that nearly won a Pulitzer Prize, and directing investigative reporting that turned the baseball world upside-down this year, you'd think Phil Bronstein would be best known for strong journalism. But to many San Franciscans — and readers of gossip and entertainment pages nationwide — Bronstein's reputation is often decidedly different. To them, he's the macho editor who married and later divorced Sharon Stone, once broke a political consultant's ankle during a newsroom argument, donned a wetsuit to go diving for an alligator in a local lake, and ended up in the hospital after a Komodo dragon took a bite out of his foot.

"I've led the life I've led, and I can't change what has happened," Bronstein, now in his fifth year as editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, declares during a chat inside his third-floor office, which overlooks busy Mission Street. "Those kinds of things don't define who you are. Those are the people whose view of me I can't change."

But Steve Martin is true celebrity with class. He is interviewed in this month’s Believer.

“BLVR: You have an aura about you that makes you seem more normal than many celebrities. Somehow you’ve managed to live a fairly normal life.

SM: I don’t know. I made two decisions that I suddenly recall for no reason. One was, when I was like eighteen and had a car, I said, “I’m never not going to go anywhere because of the price of gas.” And the other thing I remember thinking, when I was starting to become famous, was, “I am never not going to go anywhere because I’m famous.” Although I do choose not to go some places because I’m famous. But I travel alone. I don’t have an entourage. I don’t want that.

BLVR: I guess that makes your life easier.

SM: It’s really easier. You know, there’s a moment when you’re famous when it’s unbearable to go out because you’re too famous. And then there’s a moment when you’re famous just right. [Laughs] And then there’s kind of a respect or distance or something, but you have a little bit more grease.

BLVR: When did the “just right” occur for you?

SM: I would say mid-eighties. There’s a kind of heat fever that just dissipates. You’re not someone who’s constantly being followed.

BLVR: Where can’t you go?

SM: It’s not where I can’t, it’s where I don’t want to. “

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Where Marketability Doesn't Matter .... Much

Writers are an anxious bunch, especially when it comes to publishing books. The blog-o-sphere is full of ruminations about the sorry state of publishing, particularly how little support midlist books receive. In today’s cutthroat environment, where 175,000 books are released each year, authors are expected not only to write well, but also to market themselves.

It’s hard to set aside these anxieties. One way is to focus on the places where commercial instincts are tamped down – libraries.

I was in the Bancroft Library on Tuesday, the place where University of California at Berkeley keeps its rare books and manuscripts. As I was waiting to look at some old diaries written by 19th century Los Angeles pioneers, I ran into Paul Hamburg, the librarian for the Judaica collections.

Hamburg took a circuitous route to becoming a librarian, but one that informed his passion for books concerning the life, language and culture of Jews. He was a farmer on a kibbutz in Israel for 17 years, raising cattle and citrus trees. He returned to the United States in 1989 to attend the School of Library Science at UC Berkeley – a program that has since been abolished – and then worked around the country at various libraries, including at the Museum of Tolerance at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, until returning to UC Berkeley two and a half years ago.

A university library is a fine place to wallow in an appreciation of books. It’s as far removed from the best-seller section at a Barnes & Noble as possible, yet the appreciation for fine literature and fiction runs deep. Hamburg told me there are 10 million books in Berkeley’s libraries. Only 4.5 million are stored on the sprawling campus and another 5.5 million are kept in an off-site storage facility.

But the best news was the university’s book-buying habit. Hamburg himself acquires 1,500 books a year for the Hebraic collection, which are books mostly in Hebrew. Other librarians (and there are about 100 of these and 300 other library workers) purchase another 3,500 Jewish-themed books annually. The school accumulates 100,000 new titles a year, Hamburg estimates.

I reveled in that figure. It serves as a testament to what is right in this world. Clearly, academia has its own sort of commercialism, its rigid hierarchy, its own type of bestseller list, but those earthly concerns are temporal. A university library is a monument to books, a place that will outlive us all – and safely carry our words for future generations.

In a more commercial vein …..

Dede Wilsey’s attorney has sent a letter to the San Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Magazine informing them that Penguin Press did not fact check her stepson Sean Wilsey’s book, Oh The Glory of It All. The attorney notified the publications that if they print any defamatory statements they will held legally liable.

Well, I guess that tells us how much Dede likes the book.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

A Little of This, A Little of That

This guy deserves the right to feel ambivalent about his father. I wonder why it took him so long to write it? (From Publisher’s Marketplace)

“Infamous dictator Benito Mussolini's last surviving son, seventy-seven-year old Romano Mussolini's MY FATHER, IL DUCE, about his love for his father; the dictator's struggles with his place in life; and the family's heartaches, attempted suicides, and legacies, to Kenneth Kales at Kales Press, for publication in spring 2006, by Vittoria Casarotti at Rizzoli RCS Italy (US).”

Not everybody was impressed with the Huffington Report. Nikki Finke from the LA Weekly, who is known for her lashing tongue, reports:

“Judging from today's horrific debut of the humongously pre-hyped celebrity blog the Huffington Post, the Madonna of the mediapolitic world has gone one reinvention too many. She has now made an online ass of herself.” (via Fishbowl LA)

In contrast, the web site run by Jim Romenesko gets high praise from Jack Shafer at Slate. Romensko has been writing about media matters for six years this month. His site is now part of the Poynter Institute and it is a must-read for all the machers in the business, as well as all those slogging in the trenches. It’s the first website I read each day (Publisher’s Marketplace is second) and keeps the spotlight on journalistic highlights and transgressions.

“If not for Jim Romenesko's Web site, the recent journalistic lapses of Mitch Albom and Barbara Stewart probably wouldn't have gotten much coverage outside of the local media in Detroit and Boston. Then, a couple of months after the fact, the writers might have earned a brief chiding mention in the Columbia Journalism Review before being forgotten.

But thanks to Romenesko's influential readership, every journalistic sin—venial or cardinal—that's published and gets billboarded on his Web page becomes a national story. Everybody from news aides to media moguls reads the site, which is hosted by the Poynter Institute, a gold-plated nonprofit that specializes in remedial education for journalists. A big splash on Romenesko obliges the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz to write about it in his column and examine it on his television show, the New York Times to digest it, and columnists everywhere to riff on it. "

Actor-Playwright Wallace Shawn won a career achievement award from PEN, the writer’s organization. Other winners include Sam Harris for his non-fiction book, “The End of Faith.”

Monday, May 09, 2005

Society Scandals

The San Francisco Chronicle started its 6-part series (not 7-part as I had written previously) on Sean Wilsey’s book, Oh The Glory of It All. It will be interesting to see if the excerpts stimulate interest in the book and catapult it onto the best-seller list or satiate readers’ curiosity. Clearly, the publisher Penguin Press thinks the exposure will be good for Wilsey. (The newspaper is not posting the series on its web site). He’s going to talk at a Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books in San Francisco on Tuesday, May 31 at 7 p.m.

In Sunday’s excerpt, The Chronicle included pictures of Wilsey’s mom, Pat Montandon, in 1969. She was remarkably beautiful then – blonde and lithe, with a mixture of sophistication and approachability. She far outshone the woman her husband left her for, Dede Wilsey. It’s understandable why Wilsey felt bewildered and confused by his father’s actions.

In the book, Wilsey portays his stepmother as the villain – a woman who befriended Montandon, only to deceive her and steal her husband. Wilsey clearly loved Dede for a time and was desperate for her to return that love. He says she never did, and Wilsey conveys his resentment throughout the book. I wonder how she is reacting to all this negative publicity. Will she talk to the Chronicle now?

In other San Francisco news, Craig’s List founder Craig Newmark – who has already managed to take away millions of dollars in revenue from local newspapers with his on-line classified ads – is going to add a journalistic component to his website.

“Craig Newmark told Associated Press editors and writers in a bureau visit, his newest fascination is community journalism. Newmark hopes to develop a pool of "talented amateurs" who could investigate scandals, cover politics and promote the most important and credible stories. Articles would be published on Internet sites ranging from Craigslist to individual Web logs, or blogs.”

I bet this is making editors nervous. They’re also keeping their eyes on Arianna Huffington’s new community blog site, the Huffington Post, which debuts today. She’s got an interesting line-up of bloggers, including Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., John Cusak, Ellen DeGeneres, David Mamet, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, and others. So reading her site will take time. No quick blog hits.

Friday, May 06, 2005

The San Francisco Chronicle Book Review

Steve Wasserman, the editor of the Los Angeles Times book review section, quit his job this week, and his resignation has prompted all sorts of comment in the blogosphere. It seems that book lovers around southern California had strong feelings about The Man in the White Suit ( his famously affected attire) and his long helm at the review. (Wasserman will now return to New York to work as a literary agent).

The talk made me wonder about the San Francisco Chronicle Book Review and its editor, Oscar Villalon. San Francisco regards itself as a literary town. On any given night, an interested reader can find an author talking at a bookstore. Toss a coin and walk into A Clean Well-Lighted Place For Books, Book Passage, Modern Times, or A Great Good Place For Books, among others, and you will find a worthy literary event.

Yet I hear very few people talking about the Chronicle Book Review. And virtually no discussion about Villalon's vision for it, which was definitely not the case in Los Angeles.

If you run Wasserman’s name through Technorati, a blog search engine, you get dozens of web hits. The same is not true for Villalon. (One of the hits is a Ghost Word post of a panel discussion featuring Villalon talking about the book review).

Scott over at Conversational Reading does a thumbnail review each week of the contents of the Book Review and often wishes the Chronicle reviewed more fiction – and fewer memoirs. Most weeks, Scott only hands the Chronicle a decent, not outstanding grade. (Another Bay Area literary blogger, Ed at the Return of the Reluctant, reviews the New York Times Book Review each week, either rewarding or denying editor Sam Tannenhaus a brownie.)

It’s hard to gauge the influence of the book review. How much does its reviews drive sales, particularly for its bestseller list? But I know it has loyal readers. When Chronicle editor Phil Bronstein eliminated the pullout, stand-alone book review from the Sunday Pink section a few years ago, readers rose up and complained so loudly that he reversed his decision.

Are we more polite in San Francisco? Are we less critical than our fellow Californians? Is the book review already doing its job? Is it just that Villalon is a genuinely nice person who often agrees to appear at charity events and makes apparent his appreciation for lesser-known books?

Does anyone have any ideas why LA seems more passionate about its book review section than SF does?

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Sean Wilsey Redux

Can this Sean Wilsey book, Oh The Glory of It All get any bigger? It looks like the San Francisco Chronicle plans to run a 7-part serialization of the book, due to be released any day now. Seven parts? That’s nearly as long as one of reporter Mike Weiss’ pieces. (Remember, he’s the one who followed a grape from the vine to the bottle. The story ran for something like 39 parts and will now be made into a book, A Thing of Desire).

The Chronicle is banking that society types and wanna be society types will be interested in the dirty details of the Pat Montandon-Al Wilsey-Dede Traina Wilsey triangle, the one sprinkled with a bit of Danielle Steele. There is sex and drugs and acting out as well. This must be a circulation ploy.

Not to be left out, San Francisco Magazine is also planning a close look at the book.

The Stories of Mothers With Cancer

For the past nine years, Linda Blachman has been on a mission: to help women with cancer record their life stories for the children they will leave behind. She and other volunteers have spent hours talking to sick women, recording their hopes and dreams and messages for their children.

The idea to talk to dying women came to Blachman after she had been confined to her Berkeley home for three years in order to recover from a disabling back injury. Blachman’s mother, who lived in Milwaukee, died during that time and Blachman regretted not asking the questions that had always swirled in her mind.

"The hardest part of my grief was that I never really knew my mother's story,'' Blachman told the San Francisco Chronicle. "I hadn't asked her all the questions that children hopefully ask their parents so they know them as adults.''

The oral histories are meant as much for the mothers as for their children, a form of healing as well as a way to regain some dignity and control when your life has been turned upside down. "The illness becomes very large and opens up these large questions about your identity and your values and issues of faith,'' Blachman said.

The mothers said they found it comforting that they could still do something for their children. One mom referred to it as "emotional insurance. '' Even those who did the listening found the meetings inspiring. "I've done my whole family,'' said Carol Charlton, one of 10 interviewers for the project. "I've learned things I've never heard before.''

I met Blachman last summer at the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley, a week-long writing conference that brings together agents, publishers, published and aspiring authors. It was clear in our non-fiction workshop that Blachman was determined to share these mothers’s stories, and her dedication has paid off. Publisher’s Marketplace just announced the sale of her book:

“Linda Blachman's ANOTHER MORNING: How Mothers Live With and Battle Cancer, the inspiring and poignant voices of women speaking out about the challenges and surprising gifts of parenting through a cancer diagnosis, based on the author's Mothers' Living Stories Project, to Jill Rothenberg at Seal Press, in a nice deal, by Felicia Eth at Felicia Eth Literary Representation .”

What Do Book Blurbs Say Anyway?

William Safire of the New York Times has finally sorted out the hidden clues in book blurbs. (via Galleycat)

"Acclaimed, in this fulsome lingo of book ads and catalogs, now means merely ''the author received at least one good review.''

Widely acclaimed means ''two or more, plus a cable-TV plug.''

Critically acclaimed means ''it was decently reviewed in a specialized publication but didn't sell.''

How do you blurb a dull book? Meticulously researched, or if you're really in trouble, definitive, exhaustive, spiced with profoundly insightful.

For novels in which characters determine the plot, San Francisco likes absorbing and satisfying, and New York pushes moving and masterly."

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Jonathan Franzen meets Oprah Winfrey Posted by Hello

Patricia Storms of Booklust does it again in this funny cartoon, a reaction to the Open Letter to Oprah. Do you think Franzen's obituary will mention his rejection of Oprah? He can't seem to escape it.

You’re Not Going To Read This in Your Daily Newspaper

Readership of large daily newspapers is down around the country again, accelerating a trend that began a decade ago, according to Editor and Publisher. That golden demographic, the 18-35 year old group, seems to be either ignoring newspapers or getting their news elsewhere, like the Internet. The exception is USA Today, which saw its circulation climb 0.05 percent to 2,281,831 copies sold each day.

"On "Bloody Monday," E&P calculated the circ numbers in the new Fas-Fax report and found steep percentage drops at many large papers. A few show modest gains, but in some spots it's downright ugly.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported a daily decline of 6% and a Sunday decline of 7.7%.The Los Angeles Times dropped 6.4% daily and 7.9% Sunday. The Los Angeles Daily News, however, was up a bit with a .09% increase in daily copies and declining slightly on Sunday."

I remember the early 1990s, when my techno-husband predicted that newspapers would wither and people would get their information electronically. I was still a die-hard newspaper reporter, one who loved the smudge of newsprint on my hands, and I insisted there would always be a place for a tangible object. A decade later, I find myself spending more and more time on the Internet, browsing blogs and news sites. By the time I read my morning newspaper, I am already aware of much of the content.

That said, I still love my morning ritual of coffee and the paper. But it’s up to newspapers more than ever to go beyond reporting of breaking news and to present interesting features and analysis.

Monday, May 02, 2005

100,000 Readers and Counting ....

Beatrice is one of my favorite blogs, with its mix of author interviews, book reviews, and general observations about the literary life. Its writer, Ron Hogan, has just revealed this astonishing fact: 100,000 people visited his site in April. That is an amazing statistic, one that puts some meat behind the oft-suggested notion that literary blogs are making a difference in the book world. Hogan is way too modest about this milestone:

"I just took a look at my stats, folks, and thanks to a huge leap in daily readership over the last few weeks, the Beatrice audience has easily surpassed 100,000 readers for the month of April. Thanks for coming--and staying! I hope I'll be able to make May even more exciting for you... and since it's both Latino Books Month and time to start Reading the World, things should be pretty lively. (Plus we've got three Author2Author chats already in the can, covering everything from chick lit crime to historical fantasy and transsexual fiction. But not all at once."

I’m lucky to have 100 readers a day.

Still, this blogging business is so much fun. I do it because I love books, writing, authors, etc, not because there’s any glory in it. I've met fellow bloggers -- on-line and in person, talked to new authors, been inspired to go to more literary events than every before. I can express my opinion whenever about whatever. I think everyone should try it

Garlic and Sapphires

Maybe it’s her unruly hair. Maybe it’s her lusty appetite, both at the table and in the bed. Maybe it’s her writing. I can’t quite determine it, but I know that when I pick up a book by Ruth Reichl, I will have a multi-sensory feast.

Reichl, now the editor of Gourmet Magazine, is part of the food revolution that has swept America – you know, the one that insists American food is much more complex than burgers and fries. She’s documented her transformation from food Luddite to gourmet in three highly-entertaining memoirs.

I just finished Garlic and Sapphires, an account of Riechl’s six years as a restaurant critic for the New York Times. Reichl, who once owned the Swallow, a wonderful, simple café in the Berkeley Art Museum on Bancroft Avenue, left the Bay Area to review restaurants for the Los Angeles Times. When she was tapped to go to New York in 1993, she instantly became the most powerful critic in the country.

From the opening pages of the book, Reichl shows the impact of her new fame. She’s on a plane to New York to scope out the scene. She hasn’t even officially started her job, but is eager to understand what’s involved. Sitting in her plane seat, cramped, tired, and minding her own business, the woman sitting next to her says, “Aren’t you Ruth Reichl, the new restaurant critic for the New York Times? All the restaurants in town have your picture up in their kitchens and are offering awards if you are spotted.”

The conversation horrifies Riechl, and prompts her to adopt a series of disguises so she can dine anonymously in some of the city’s most celebrated restaurants. (And part of her book argues that Reichl became some of those disguises). Her most famous review compares her experience dining at Le Cirque as an older, rather bland woman and as her fabulous wavy haired self. When she appears as the New York Times restaurant critic, the service is fawning. When she appears anonymously, she’s seated in Siberia and treated haughtily.

Not all of the scenes that Reichl describes ring true. They are too perfect, too convenient, like the encounter in the airplane. At the end of the book, Reichl admits that she has compressed scenes and combined characters – a journalistic no-no.

Yet I really didn’t care. I am not in the restaurant world in New York. I just went along for the read so I could sit on Reichl’s shoulder as she tasted creamy fois gras, fresh cod wrapped in seaweed, lobster bisque soup, and many other delicacies. Yum, yum.