Wednesday, October 24, 2007
View of the fire from satellite.
I can't stop obsessing over the southern California fire, which is probably no surprise since I lost my house in the 1991 Oakland Hills fire. I know just how these people are feeling: torn between happiness they are alive and shock they have lost their way of life. In many ways it is worse for them. The Oakland Hills fire raged for a day. I knew by 4 pm that my house had burned down, one of 2,800 dwellings turned to ash. Some of the people in San Diego County left their homes three days ago and still don't know their fate. They must be in pure agony.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
If it is late fall, it must be Jewish Book Season.
Every year towards the end of October, Jewish organizations around the country bring together dozens of Jewish authors for day-long book fairs. In
That makes the Book Council’s director, Carolyn Starman Hessel, one of the most powerful people in publishing, even though she has nothing to do with the actual printing of any book. If the axiom that Jews buy a lot of books is true (and I’ve heard that while Jews only make up 2% of the population, they buy 20% of the hardcover books) Hessel is a woman who influences the reading choices of thousands of Jews around the country. If she likes your book, she stands behind your book. A lot of people listen to her opinion.
Hessel’s “tours have also helped kick-start the careers of promising young novelists including Nathan Englander, Myla Goldberg, Nicole Krauss and Jonathan Safran Foer,” writes Donadio.
“Hessel has an “uncanny ability” to get people enthusiastic about Jewish books, said Krauss, who first went on a Jewish Book Network tour to promote her 2002 novel, “Man Walks Into a Room.” “If ‘Finnegans Wake’ were even a little Jewish, Carolyn could convince thousands of people in J.C.C.’s across the country to read it.”
I met Hessel a few years ago as she accompanied two of her favorite authors on a small book tour. Samuel Freedman, whose most recent book was Who She Was, a memoir about his mother, and Ari Goldman, who had just written Living a Year of Kaddish, toured synagogues and community centers on the West Coast. Hessel, a diminutive, well-coiffed woman, was there in the audience, cheering them on and promoting their books.
Check out Jewish book events in your area.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Doris Lessing wins the Nobel Prize for Literature. This is a choice I can relate to, as I read and reread The Golden Notebook numerous times in my early 20s. I haven’t read her recent books, I confess, which are science fiction.
Litquake is upon us! I intend to go to the pub/reading crawl on Saturday with my writing group, North 24th. One of the members of our group, Julia Flynn Siler, will be reading from her House of Mondavi. It’s about the winemaking family and they have put her with a group of other authors who write about food, including Davia Nelson of the Kitchen Sisters. The panel's title is Tasting Course: Authors Write About Food & Wine.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Good news on the investigation into Chauncey Bailey’s murder. An ad hoc group of reporters from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and various newspapers, radio and television stations are banding together to investigate the murder.
Journalists from the following organizations are participating in the Chauncey Bailey Project:
Bay Area Black Journalists Association
Bay Area News Group
Center for Investigative Reporting
Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc.
KQED Public Radio
Maynard Institute for Journalism Education
National Association of Black Journalists
New America Media
New Voices in Independent Journalism
San Francisco State University Journalism Department
San Francisco Bay Guardian
San Jose State University Journalism Department
Sigma Delta Chi of the National Society of Professional Journalists
Society of Professional Journalists - Northern California Chapter
University of California, Berkeley, Graduate School of Journalism
Monday, October 08, 2007
I gave the local newspapers a hard time after the murder of journalist Chauncey Bailey. I was dismayed and a little surprised that no Bay Area paper tried to uncover the facts that led to Bailey’s assassination. I ascribed the indifference, in part, to the recent media consolidation that left the region with just two newspaper chains – The San Francisco Chronicle, owned by Hearst Corp. and Dean Singleton's MediaNews.
Friday, October 05, 2007
There have been some interesting book sales by Bay Area authors in recent days, one for a first-time author for more than $1 million. (From Publisher's Marketplace)
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Patrick Dillon and Carl Cannon's CIRCLE OF GREED: The Rise and Fall of the Most Feared Lawyer in America, about the rise and fall of Bill Lerach of Milberg, Weiss, Lerach, once the leading class-action lawyer in America and now a convicted felon, a morality tale of greed and corruption in the legal and corporate worlds, set against the biggest financial boom in our history, pitched as in the spirit of Conspiracy of Fools and The Brightest Boys in the Room, to Phyllis Grann at Doubleday in a significant deal, in a pre-empt, by Andrew Stuart at The Stuart Agency (NA).
Patrick Dillon is the editor of California Monthly and a former editor and columnist for the San Jose Mercury News. Carl Cannon is a native of
Former San Francisco Chronicle reporter and Global Warming Fellow at the Goldman School of Public Policy, Robert Collier's first-hand account of China's disastrous "carbon footprint," TOO HOT: China's New Economy and Global Warming, to Naomi Schneider at the University of California Press, for publication in 2008, by Amanda Mecke at AMecke Co. (world English).
Dutch rights to Pieter Swinkels at De Bezige Bij, in a pre-empt.
Dr. Josh Bazell works in the Department of Psychiatry at UCSF.
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
In the same period, I took three books out of the library: Ann Packer’s Song Without Words, Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, and David Oshinsky’s Polio: An American Story.
Looking at this small sample, it seems that I buy more books than not. But the opposite is the case: I rarely buy hardbacks, unless they are by my friends, and I only occasionally buy paperbacks.
As an aspiring author who hopes lots of people will buy my book, how do I defend this position? I admire and respect so many writers and I root for them and cheer them on even when I don’t know them. This should translate to buying lots of books, but it doesn’t.
When I first started this blog I wrote about my obsession with working the hold lists at various libraries and the rental bestseller list at the bookstore A Great Good Place for Books in Oakland. The bookstore no longer has a rental program, much to my dismay, but I have continued to finesse the books I have on hold at the Berkeley and Oakland libraries. I can’t tell you how much pleasure I get from hearing about a book and then rushing to reserve it, gaining a third or fourth or occasional first place in line. If I don’t rush, there can be 30 to 40 holds on a book.
I could go out and buy these books, but I get a lot of satisfaction from the chase. It’s perverse, and doesn’t support authors, but it gives me purpose in life. How many people think about their library hold list a few times a day? Not many, I can guarantee.
For the last few weeks, I have maxed out the number of holds I can place with the Berkeley Public Library. The limit is 16, although a librarian told me yesterday the limit might soon go to 60! So I have had to cancel some books I had reserved (sorry Martha Raddatz, but your book on the Iraq war was just taking too long. Ditto Nancy Horan. A friend I respect told me she found Loving Frank a bit contrived) Just yesterday I added Shalom Auslander’s new memoir to the list, so I am maxed out again.
Here is what I am waiting for:
What you Have Left by Will Allison
He’s taught fiction at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers a few times. I’ve heard him read before, and he is wonderful. His publisher took out a full page ad in the New Yorker touting this book, but I don’t know if it has gotten much recognition. (Oops, I just checked and saw this book has been declared lost. Now I may never get it.)
Four Seasons in Rome: on Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World by Anthony Doerr. He is the son of the novelist Harriet Doerr. I heard this one was great. It’s a memoir about the time he spent at the Rockefeller Foundation on Lake Como.
The Indian Clerk by David Leavitt. This is a novel about Britain during World War I and an East Indian mathematician. My husband and daughter love math, so I thought they might enjoy this.
An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England by Brock Clarke. One of the hits of the season. I could have purchased it for $12 at Costco, but didn’t. What’s worse: buying from a chain or getting it from the library? I bet the author would encourage me to buy, regardless of place.
The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold. (This, too, is for my daughter, who loved The Lovely Bones)
The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta. I really enjoyed Little Children.
The Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer. My friend Ilana DeBare said not to miss this one.
Trashed by Alison Gaylin. Then there are those books I reserve and can’t remember why. I think this one is a mystery featuring a reporter.
The Genetic Strand, by Edward Ball. I really do love nonfiction and this one could be good.
One Drop, by Bliss Broyard
How Starbucks Saved my Life : A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else by Michael Gates Gill. This sounds hokey but actually has gotten some interesting reviews.
As you can see, my reading tastes are eclectic. I probably should focus but what fun is there in that?
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
Of course, Bush's new press secretary Dana Perino belittled the piece. That's par for the course, according to Hersh. Bush completely ignores the media and barely pays attention to his own party, unless they are part of the neoconservative branch.
I spent about 24 hours at the Carmel Authors and Ideas Festival, and to my surprise, I found it exhilarating. And exhausting. The format was different than anything I had experienced, and it created an environment where you were bombarded with the thoughts and words of various authors.
The really big names like Frank McCourt, Sy Hersh, Elizabeth Edwards, Douglas Brinkley, and Doris Kearns Goodwin got to speak by themselves for about an hour. Otherwise there were sessions where four or five authors came on the stage and spoke for about 15 minutes each. They weren't there to read; they were there to entertain, to showcase their personalities so conference participants would want to 1) buy their books 2) come and talk to them some more in small, intimate breakout sessions.
I have seen many authors read, but I never quite realized how authors today are required to be bright, witty, and quick with a quip. Some authors at the festival were excellent at this. Joe Quirk, author of Sperm Are From Men, Eggs Are From Women, gave a short lecture on sex and biology that had people doubled over laughing. Kevin Devlin, the Stanford professor who has a math show on NPR, was also entertaining.
Irshad Manji, the Canadian journalist who wrote The Trouble With Islam kept the audience enraptured with her talk about personal responsibility and courage in the world. She obviously has given this talk dozens of times at universities around the globe, and she does it convincingly. She went on way too long, however, perhaps not realizing that she was cutting into the time of other writers.
What these kind of conferences do well is expose participants to writers they may never have heard of and may have never sought out. I really enjoyed seeing Lolly Winston, Kemble Scott, Amy Wilentz, Judith Freeman, Tamin Ansary, and Robert Scheer, among others. There were a few I wish I could have heard, but I had to leave before their presentations, including Goodwin, Brinkley, Jason Roberts and Beth Lisick.
Hersh and McCourt were worth the many thousands of dollars paid to them by the conference organizers, Jim and Cindy McGillen. McCourt talks in a lilting Irish accent and is charming and funny and self-deprecating. He spoke about teaching at a vocational high school in New York in the late 1950s and early 1960s and the lengths he had to go to make the kids interested in writing.
Hersh spoke after lunch on Saturday and his talk immediately changed the tone of the conference. He spoke about the Bush administration and the small group of neoconservatives who have hijacked foreign policy, despite the complaints of more moderate Republicans and much of the rest of the country. Hersh also spoke about the article he has in this week's New Yorker about new plans to bomb Iran. He said the Taliban are poised to take over Afghanistan and any bombing of Iran might lead that nation to bomb Pakistan in retaliation. And as we all know, Pakistan is very unstable and had many nuclear weapons. Hersh ended his talk by saying he thought the US would live through this dark period. Robert Scheer came on stage next and said he disagreed with Hersh. He had interviewed every president since Nixon (except the current one) and that America is giving in to its darkest impulses.
Was this conference worth $500 a ticket? Clearly, most of those attendees didn't have to think twice about the price. Most were in their 60s or 70s and obviously very wealthy. There were many women with beautifully coiffed blonde hair and fingers and wrists decked in diamonds and gold. I saw a lot of Chanel, Burberry and other designer goods. The authors were more poorly dressed than the attendees. They looked very happy to spend a few days in sunny Carmel.
On a positive note, these people clearly love books and were delighted to meet so many authors. They were buying four to six books at a time at the book table (staffed by Borders, not an independent bookstore.)
The conference, however, suffered from lack of organization, which is not surprising since it was put together in just a few months. Jim McGillen arranged the schedule himself and he neglected to give some authors time on the main stage and others time in a breakout session. Many authors tried not to let this disappoint them. My hat goes off to Bridget Kinsella and Beth Lisick, who were featured less than others. I left before finding out if Jason Roberts finally got a chance on stage. Kemble Scott ended up giving away his time to another writer, Julia Flynn Siler. Despite these glitches, the camaraderie between the authors was strong.
The weather was beautiful, the Sunset Center was a great place to spend a day, and the conversations -- on stage and off -- were stimulating. I would definitely go back next year.
Photo Identification: Frank McCourt and Irish singer Shannon Miller; Irshad Manji signing books; Elizabeth Edwards signing books; Joe Quirk, Julia Flynn Siler, Lolly Winston, and Kemble Scott hanging out in the Green Room; Bridget Kinsella and Jason Roberts at the festival.