Friday, December 30, 2005

What 2006 holds

Things I’m looking forward to in 2006:

Making a concerted effort to read the books on my shelves instead of rushing to the library or the bookstore in search of the newest, freshest, titles.

The Berkeley Public Library Foundation dinner with authors. Fine dining in the historic main library with an amazing array of writers. This year’s line up includes Mary Roach, Deborah Santana, Mark Danner, Yiyun Li, and others. Who could ask for more? February 11.

The one-year anniversary of Ghost Word.

Money, A Memoir: Women, Emotions, and Cash by Liz Perle. Henry Holt & Co., January. This got a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly which called it a
“remarkable sociological study-cum-memoir” on women’s relationships to money. I know Liz and she has a heartbreaking and instructive tale to tell. She’s very funny, too.

Michael Pollan’s new book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. Penguin, April. He’s also talking at San Francisco’s City Arts and Lectures and I’ve already got tickets. Pollan is urbane, sophisticated and very interesting to listen to.

New York Times Middle East Correspondent Neil MacFarquhar’s debut novel, The Sand Café, an alternating aggravating and funny account of how the media rolled over for the government during the first Gulf War. They rolled around a lot with one another, too. (April, Public Affairs)

The 100th anniversary of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. April 18, 1906. The books about the event have already come out. Now prepare yourselves for the documentaries, news commentaries, conferences, lectures and walking tours. This is the kind of thing the historian lurking inside me cannot resist.

Finishing my own book, Towers if Gold: Isaias Hellman and the Creation of California. May.

A new season of Deadwood on HBO. I guess I’m excited about The Sopranos, too.

A writer out there who I have never heard of, and whom I will never forget.

That takes me mid-year. Can’t look ahead any further than that.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Rainy San Francisco by John Curley

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Stars of David

It’s Hanukah and I’ve been immersing myself in Jewish culture – lots of latkes with applesauce and sour cream, that dreidel song, and candles on the menorah.

I just finished Abigail Pogrebin’s Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish. Pogrebin interviewed dozens of Jewish celebrities about their relationship to Judaism. I bought this book for a friend in November, and it looked so intriguing I rushed to the library for my own (temporary) copy.

Pogrebin is a former producer for 60 Minutes. Her mother Letty Cottin Pogrebin was one of the founders of Ms Magazine and her twin sister, Robin, writes for the New York Times. Those kind of connections mean access, and Pogrebin talked to 62 of the nation’s leading actors, artists, writers, politicians and media people of our day.

She interviews Dustin Hoffman, Steven Spielberg, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kyra Sedgwick, Mike Wallace and Don Hewitt of 60 Minutes, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Kenneth Cole of the shoe company, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, Beverly Sills, Tony Kushner, Neil Simon, Joan Rivers, and many more.

I didn’t even know some of these people were Jewish. Beverly Sills? Who would have thought? Mike Wallace? It turns out that he says shema (Jewish prayer) every night before going to sleep.

Pogrebin wanted to understand how these celebrities were affected by their Judaism, as she explains in her preface:

"I found myself looking at public figures that happen to be Jewish and wondering how Jewish these people felt. It occurred to me that we might share a kind of figurative secret handshake – not just pride in the heritage and endurance of the Jewish people, but uncertainty about what it means to be a Jew today Did they care if their Jewish daughter decided to marry a Michael?"

The interviews are short and engaging and I can see this book becoming an evergreen bar or bat mitzvah present. None of those interviewed said they had experienced overt anti-Semitism that curtailed their careers. A few even said being Jewish had given them unexpected access. Most hated Hebrew school. But aside from a few compelling interviews, I felt disappointed, less with Pogrebin’s interview techniques than with the bland answers of the celebrities.

The vast majority of those interviewed identify themselves as Jews, but make little or no attempt to practice the religion or actively pass it on to their children. They regard Judaism as a culture, an inherent part of their character, but something not important enough to explore or engage in actively. In some of these interviews, the celebrities say I am Jewish because I think I am. I don’t go to synagogue, light candles, or try to teach my children anything about Judaism. Of course I want my children to be Jewish, but it’s not something I would force on them.

Perhaps this attitude is an East Coast thing. There are so many Jews in New York that it’s easy to feel Jewish – you just have to watch Seinfeld reruns, go to Gus’ pickles every once in a while, and nod at the Hasidic Jews in the diamond district. Schools close automatically on Yom Kippur. Judaism is in the air.

That’s exactly how I was raised. No temple, no ceremonies, nothing religious, just a sense of my Judaism. So I grew up feeling like I was a fraud. It was not until I had children that I began to practice Jewish rituals. I now see that activities like lighting Shabbat candles, eating matzo on Passover, and going to temple help instill that sense of self, the awareness of Judaism.

For that reason, I found the interviews with those who were strongly Jewish-identified to be the most satisfying, perhaps because these people had strong opinions which jumped out on the page, not just tortured explanations of why they feel Jewish even though they don’t know a thing abut Judaism.

Dustin Hoffman is the first interview in the book, and deservedly so, since his Judaism permeates his life. His second wife, Lisa, is Jewish and they have raised Jewish children who have gone on to become b’nai mitvah.

The interview with Kenneth Cole was the most painful. He reads the Torah and feels Jewish. But he married Maria Cuomo and agreed to let his children grow up as Catholics. While he has taken his children to Israel, their Catholicism is clearly difficult for him.

On another note, I saw Steven Spielberg’s Munich last night. The message of this excellent, disturbing movie: If you are a Jew, you’re damned if you retaliate and damned if you don’t.

Happy Hanukah!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Blogs in a Police Investigation

This has got to be a first: a 46-year old US Naval officer returning home from Bahrain was allegedly murdered Dec. 18 by his 26-year old wife and her teenage boyfriend. Nothing so unusual about that. But the victim, Paul Berkley kept a blog, as did his wife, Monique, and hs son and daughter. (no links available) Friends and family have been using the blogs to write about their reactions to his death. The police have scoured the blogs for clues as well.

A few days after her father’s murder, his daughter Becky wrote:

'It's all just so ironic, isn't it? My dad was in the Middle East for months and months and didn't get shot. ... then he came home, where you'd assume he'd be much safer ... and then, all this happened.'

Whittling Down the Clues

If you’re interested in what aspiring authors hope to peddle to publishers, visit Miss Snark’s blog, where she has invited writers to submit synopses of their books. I love Miss Snark’s blog (she’s an anonymous New York agent) but this latest round of commentary confirms that we have very different tastes. She clearly prefers mysteries, thrillers and commercial fiction, even praising one synopsis as “one of the best I have ever read.” I didn’t like it at all.

But who is Miss Snark? I’m don’t think anyone has found out. And it would not be an impossible task, since there are fewer than 271 agents working out of New York in the Association of Authors' Representatives (AAR) database. Of course, figuring this out would take time.

What do we know about Miss Snark?

1) She is in New York
2) She is a member of AAR.
3) She works in a small literary agency with just a few agents.
4) She does not take e-mail submissions.
5) Other unreliable clues – she drinks gin, lusts after George Clooney, and takes a lot of vacations.
6) She has an amazing work ethic.

The other popular anonymous blogger was Mad Max Perkins, and as far as I can tell, no one unearthed his identity either.

In other news, both Ed and Scott have interesting posts on author self-promotion. Ed wonders whether the new author blogs on Amazon will ever work because they will forever carry the taint of commercialism.

Scott is annoyed at the new literary wunderkind Benjamin Kunkel. His magazine n+1 has an article entitled “The Reading Crisis,” which criticizes authors for hawking their work. I guess not every author can be like Kunkel, who was anointed by the New York Times Book Review this year for his comic novel Indecision.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Blog Power!

Robert Gray, a bookseller in Northshire, Vermont and the blogger behind Fresh Eyes: A Bookseller’s Journal, is leaving the day-to-day book business. He’s opening a consulting firm that will help publishers and authors interface with bookstores and the public.

He’s not the first blogger to start a business aimed at increasing sales and the shelf-life of books. M.J. Rose, a mystery/thriller author and the writer of Buzz, Balls and Hype, started something called AuthorBuzz a few months ago. Basically it’s a targeted e-mail campaign from novelists to bookstore owners around the country.

What’s interesting is that these two people began writing about the flaws they saw in the publishing world. At first, their observations were mostly confined to their blogs. But their thoughts galvanized them to take action. M.J. started an on-line class on book publicity and then added AuthorBuzz. Gray is now trying to close a hole he sees in the business – the disconnect between the publisher and the booksellers, whose “handselling” often makes the difference between success and failure.

There’s a lot of talk about how blogging can increase your visibility, raise your profile, etc. That happens for some people. But I think the main merit of blogging is that it gives people a VOICE. It diminishes feelings of powerlessness. And Robert Gray and M.J. Rose’s new businesses are expressions of the way blogs can empower people.

Monday, December 19, 2005


The New York Times’ new public editor takes a look at how books are picked for the Book Review section (after 6 of the 61 “Notable” non-fiction books were written by Times’ reporters)

Oakland writer Ishmael Reed has a nice tribute to Richard Pryor titled, “Richard Pryor -- comic genius who let Hollywood use him.”

“Hollywood didn't kill Richard Pryor, but it certainly contributed to his demise. Remember "The Toy," the film where he was cast as a white kid's "toy"? No wonder he turned to freebasing.”

Newspaper Battles

Ken Garcia, longtime San Francisco Chronicle columnist, is now writing 3 columns a week for the scrappy, free, faded-version-of-its-former-sort-of-glorious-self, the Examiner.

Garcia, who took the Chronicle’s recent buyout offer after 13 years at the paper, uses his first column to slam the current management of the Chronicle – which just saw a 16.6 % drop in circulation – the largest in the country. What Garcia says could be true for most any other paper in the country:

“How did I get here? The beginning of the end could probably be traced to a point not long after the New York-based Hearst Corp. took over the San Francisco Chronicle about five years back, ending the paper’s run as one of the country’s oldest family-owned newspapers. A dysfunctional family, yes — whose isn’t? — but one that showed great loyalty to its employees and seemed to have an understanding of the paper’s role in The City and surrounding community.

At first the signs were subtle — less local news, veteran editors quietly disappearing overnight — and then the readers started complaining. What happened to all the San Francisco coverage? One of my regular readers complained to a high-level Chronicle editor and the response she got was like a slap to anyone who understood the paper’s colorful history and long-held traditions. Why was there less San Francisco news? “The Chronicle is not a San Francisco newspaper,’’ she was told. “It’s a regional newspaper based in San Francisco.’’

For someone who grew up reading the Chronicle, let alone working there, this was like the Anaheim Angels suddenly announcing that they actually played in Los Angeles. But when you’re the San Francisco columnist for a San Francisco paper, such euphemistic shifts echo more like a dreaded proclamation. By the time the paper’s editors decided that they didn’t really like opinions in their news page columns, it was like wiping clean a long legacy of celebrated columnists by which the paper made its name. A paper known for offering unbridled opinions now only had a high one for itself.”

Garcia has finally learned what many journalists have long suspected and feared: he is just a cog in a huge machine, no matter how well he writes or how many fans he has.

It’s ironic, though. Hearst Corporation, which owns the Chronicle, is still privately held and doesn’t have to kowtow to the stockholders on Wall Street. You would think a corporation like that would hold journalism in high esteem. But that’s not the trend anymore. Knight-Ridder, long considered one of the best newspaper chains in the country, recently put itself up for sale because its stockholders said the company wasn’t maximizing its assets. KR let go hundreds of reporters at the same time, ensuring a drop in the quality of their papers.

The news business is in trouble, and not just because of the Internet. It’s adopting the wrong approach to saving itself by imitating the short staccato stories that dominate the Web. But long, thoughtful stories that delve into government malfeasance, showcase struggling people or amazing artists, are what distinguish newspapers. These stories are generally written by experienced reporters. But these are the ones who are being pushed out.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

More Top Ten Lists

OK. Everyone has come out with their list of Top Books for 2005. The San Francisco Chronicle listed a lot of books on Sunday. While the list looks great, I must confess I have only read two of the non-fiction books and three of the fiction books. I haven’t read any of the books on the Salon Top 10 list -- fiction or non-fiction. (I started Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, but didn’t like it, although I plan to give it another try) That shocks me. I read a lot. It really is impossible to keep current with all the books released each year.

So Christmas and Hanukah both start on Dec 24. Perhaps the best question to ask is what books have we purchased for gifts? I was in a Barnes and Noble today and picked up Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld and Memoirs of a Geisha for my teenage daughter and Michael Connelly’s new book for my significant other. Last week I bought Russell Banks’ book The Darling (which was recommended by 3 people) and Marge Piercy’s new book, Sex Wars, which got a positive review this week in the Washington Post. I have been buying Marge Piercy in hardback for decades, and have been mostly disappointed since Gone to Soldiers. I hope I like this novel.

I wonder what book other people are buying their friends and family?

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Will The Real J.T. LeRoy Please Stand Up

Heidi Benson of the San Francisco Chronicle tries to get to the bottom of the question: Who is the real J.T. LeRoy?

The author, noted for publishing his first novel at 19, a searing tale of a boy who disguises himself as a girl and turns tricks at a truck stop, is suspected of making up his identity. An article in New York magazine in October by San Francisco author Stephen Beachy suggested LeRoy was not really a former hustler who once lived on the streets of San Francisco but a 30-year old woman from Brooklyn.

Beachy pointed out in his piece that very few people had actually ever met LeRoy. They had conversations via e-mail, through grimy car windows, or not at all. But face-to-face meetings were rare.

Does it matter? Is it all right for an author to obscure his or her background, particularly when they write fiction? Benson finds differing opinions:

“Eventually, someone may prove that LeRoy is -- or is not -- who he says he is,” reports Benson. “Meanwhile it's an occasion to ask: What if LeRoy did make up parts of his background to woo important friends and sell books? Are the implications dire for American literature or simply par for the course today?

Armistead Maupin, author of "Tales of the City," has had experience with literary pretenders. In the early '90s a small publisher sent him an advance copy of "A Rock and a Hard Place," a memoir by Anthony Godby Johnson, a teenage AIDS patient near death, which inspired Maupin to contact the author. A six-year telephone relationship ensued during which Maupin came to question the veracity of Johnson's story.

"The work of both Anthony Godby Johnson and J.T. LeRoy seems quite harrowing and moving when you don't know they're a fraud," Maupin said by phone last week. "When you go back and read it again, it reads like the most awful kitsch."

Out of the experience came Maupin's 2000 novel, "The Night Listener," a meditation on literary pretending. In the phone interview, Maupin called Johnson's ability to rally support -- and writing tips -- from authors and editors as "one big literary circle jerk." (The subject will soon hit the big screen, in a film starring Robin Williams based on Maupin's novel.)

"The minute I read the New York magazine piece, I knew that the situation was almost identical," Maupin said. "Writers are vulnerable because we have imagination. Throw us a little raw meat and we'll gobble it up."

Some have insinuated that LeRoy created this new persona precisely to stir up controversy – and sales:

"There are two kinds of publicity," said Jeff Seroy, executive vice president and publicity director of publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux. "There's critical writing about the work on the page and then there's everything else." That is, stories about the writer, how the work came into being and how the work speaks to the moment.

"Those are extrinsic to the creation of a literary work, but they have become increasingly important in terms of driving sales," Seroy continued. "Proust famously said that the work and the writer -- his personality and how he lives his life -- are two separate and distinct things. That's a close-to-impossible situation to imagine now."

Since LeRoy is writing fiction -- and makes no claim that his books are true -- I don't think his true identity actually matters. The obfuscation makes his books more intriguing, but is already costing him jobs at traditional media outlets, like the New York Times, which killed a recent travel piece of his.

My gut says that LeRoy is not who he says he is. Otherwise why would he go to such lengths to hide his identity, including hiding out from his agent and publishers. When something is that complicated, it usually is a lie. But I don't think it really matters.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Life Continues

The crush of the holidays is descending and as fast as I work, more work piles up. I’m behind on everything, including this blog.

Debi Echlin, the late, lamented owner of A Great Good Place For Books, made an amazingly generous gesture in her will: she left her store to one of her employees, Kathleen Caldwell.

Debi apparently found a like soul in Kathleen, who has been putting on author events and working at bookstores for more than 20 years. Debi and Kathleen met at a trade convention in October 2004 and within a few days Kathleen was working at a Great Good Place for Books. The two became close friends and compatriots, strategizing on which authors to showcase, what books to buy and what trinkets to display. Debi obviously realized that Kathleen loved books as much as she did.

Kathleen calls Debi her mentor, and she wrote a lovely article for The Montclarion on the impact of Debi’s death.

The good news is that Kathleen is every bit as knowledgeable -- and opinionated – as Debi about books. She doesn’t have any plans to change the store.

“We’re going to go on with the vision that Debi had of the store,” said Kathleen. “We’re going to try and make it as warm and friendly as it always has been. Debi loved the store; it was her baby. She made everyone else love it too. She made everyone feel like they were a part of her family. She was one of he warmest people you would ever meet.”

Debi has been dead three weeks now. I still can’t believe it. But it’s reassuring to know that a little bit of her remains in the store and community she created.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Is It Plagiarism or Just a Mistake?

There is a website called Regret The Error that has done a round up of all the acts of plagiarism in the news business this year. It’s a sobering collection, featuring many prominent newspapers around the country.

Somehow I’m not entirely convinced that all of these were deliberate acts of falsehood. In our zeal to identify people who abuse the public trust, I fear we tar those who have just made mistakes. Reporters always look at what has been written about a topic before they begin their own reporting; without this step they would not be well-informed when they approach sources.

In collecting all the information available for a story, reporters sometimes do forget where that information came from. He or she may forget to flag various sentences as belonging to someone else and may then incorporate them as part of their own work.

It is important to make a distinction between these acts of so-called plagiarism and more malicious acts of outright theft. (I am not talking about acts on the order of the New York Times’ Jason Blair, who made up people and said he visited places he had never seen.) While it is not all right to use anyone else's work, it is not necessarily a deliberate, conscious act of theft, which is how I define plagiarism.

My skepticism comes from my own history as a reporter. I know most of my colleagues value their reputations more than anything else. They want to report the truth, so they have to be truthful themselves. Their integrity is their only calling card. It’s a lot to throw away for a few paragraphs.

I write this after a recent conversation with a reporter who has been accused of plagiarism. His story incorporated themes from another publication and an almost complete paragraph from that publication. The reporter said it was not a deliberate falsehood, but an accident, a mistake that has tarred his career. The anguish in his voice was painful to hear. But his words were compelling, and I can see how he honestly made a mistake. But because of the current distrust of the press, and the media’s willingness to make amends no matter how onerous, his job is at stake.

(From Bookslut)

Monday, December 12, 2005

Tookie Williams

Arnold has denied clemency to Tookie Williams. I covered the execution of Robert Alton Harris for the Mercury News. (I was outside San Quentin, not witnessing the execution) It was painful to stand outside the gates with thousands of protestors and know that someone would be put to death. What is the justification of the state? Shouldn’t government stand taller and act with more moral fiber than people who kill?

In other “news,” The San Francisco Chronicle is getting a lot of press – and not in a good way.

Both the Los Angeles Times and American Journalism Review have written about the paper’s huge circulation drops and declining share of classified ads. The paper has become a litmus test for what’s going to happen to big-city newspapers. People living in its circulation area are very computer savvy and are reading much more on-line than ever before. Many turn to the Chronicle’s website, SFgate for news. But that information is free.

More newspaper fodder:

The New Yorker's Ken Auletta writes about the Judith Miller/Jason Blair/ New York Times scandal in the Dec. 19th issue. He answers questions about his discoveries on the magazine's website.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Memorial for Debi Echlin, Book Lover Extraordinaire

There’s going to be a huge party on LaSalle Avenue in Oakland on Sunday, but it will be bittersweet.

There will be a band. Food. Christmas lights. Lots of friends.

The event is a memorial for Debi Echlin, the owner of A Great Good Place For Books. Debi passed away unexpectedly on Thanksgiving at the age of 52.

Debi was such an exuberant soul and created such a vibrant community at her small independent bookstore that her death shocked hundreds. The staff at the store decided the best way to commemorate Debi was to celebrate, rather than mourn.

This is the invitation they sent out:

“Throughout her life Debi was many things--a fabulous friend, a loving little sister, a fantastic bookseller, and a brilliant business woman--but anyone who knew her well , knew Debi LOVED to have fun!

Whether she was falling off a cliff in Costa Rica, scuba diving in Florida, selling her favorite book to a cherished customer or conducting a high powered business meeting, Debi adored being in the spotlight.

GGP, her friends, and the Montclair Village Association invite you to come celebrate the life of Debi Echlin on Sunday, December 11th!

Kathi Kamen Goldmark and friends will be performing, the MVA will be closing LaSalle Avenue at 2:00 pm, and then let's do Debi proud! "

I’ve always loved books and bookstores, but I never developed a relationship with a store like I did with a Great Good Place for Books. It felt like a home, a place I could go to rant about politics, praise or diss a recent read, and find fabulous tomes that I couldn’t wait to take home and delve into. I brought my daughters there regularly and encouraged them to spend money – there was no better way, I thought, to ensure their futures.

It was Debi, and her former partner Helen, who created this community gem. On Sunday, I plan to celebrate their creation with everyone else who valued it.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

My Top Ten Books of the Year

The Top Ten Book Lists are out, and as a devotee of lists, I’ve perused them all. The New York Times has its favorites, as does the Los Angeles Times (non-fiction list and fiction list), Washington Post, and others.

I read a lot, but still only manage to read about 50 books a year. So I’ve asked some of my friends, people whose reading tastes I admire, to help me compile some top books. I have my favorites and they have theirs.

Frances’ Top 10 books of 2005


A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Occupied City by Anonymous
The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer
The Lost Painting by Jonathan Harr
The New New Journalism by Robert Boynton
Bookmark Now:Writing in Unreaderly Times by Kevin Smokler


The Inner Circle by T.C. Boyle
Freshwater Road by Denise Nichols (of Room 222 fame)
The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green by Joshua Braff
Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits by Laila Lalimi
Saturday by Ian McEwan

I asked Cindy Snow, one of the most voracious readers I know, for her favorite books of the year. Cindy works at A Great Gook Place for Books in Oakland and has access to a huge variety. In fact, she reads so much she had to narrow her list to …. 11.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Darling by Russell Banks
Incendiary by Chris Cleave
Drop City by T.C. Boyle
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
One Foot in Eden by Ron Rash
Rules for Old Men Waiting by Peter Pouncey
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
History of Love by Nicole Krauss

Betsy Blumenthal reads more non-fiction than anyone I know and is a great person to turn to for suggestions. She is the managing director for Kroll Associates in San Francisco, a risk consulting company, and serves on the board of Legal Services for Children in San Francisco.

Betsy Blumenthal’s Best Books of 2005:

Desert Queen: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell, Adventurer, Advisor to Kings, Ally of Lawrence of Arabia by Janet Wallach
Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in a Fight to Free and Empire’s Slaves by Adam Hochschild
King Leopold’s Ghosts by Adam Hochschild
Skeleton of the Zahara: A True Story of Survival by Dean King
The Darling by Russell Banks

Nancy Traub Chirinos of San Francisco always has recommendations I trust. Her list includes:

The Darling by Russell Banks (that’s 3 recommendations; I will definitely read this!)
The Inner Circle by T.C. Boyle
The March by E.L. Doctorow
Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
Persepolis I and II by Marjorie Satrapi
Crow Lake by Mary Lawson
The Line of Beauty by Alan Holingsworth
Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder
King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild

I just have so many friends with excellent taste. Elaine Smith, a designer in Oakland, recommends these books:

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
Kafka on the Shore by Murakami Haruki
On Beauty by Zadie Smith
Here is Where We Meet: A fiction by John Berger
Better Than Sane: Tales From a Dangling Girl by Alison C. Rose
A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit

My 13-year old daughter Charlotte, is also a big reader. Her favorite books were:

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
Roots by Alex Haley
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

If anyone else has favorites to contribute, I love recommendations.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Book Deals, Literary Fellowhips, and Other Tidbits

Reporters at the San Francisco Chronicle continue to rack up book deals. Since January, Lance Williams and Mark Faiura-Wada have gotten a contract to write about the BALCO scandal; Regan McMahon has a deal to write a book on sports and parenting; and Jane Ganahal will write a memoir on dating in her 40s.

Now Publisher’s Marketplace reports that columnist Jean Gonick, has sold I WAS A TEENAGE GUMBY, a humorous memoir for the over-fifty set, to Brenda Copeland at Hyperion.

Other local literary lions: Adam Hochschild, whose last book Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves, was nominated for a National Book Award, has been named a Lannan Fellow. You can’t apply for these fellowships. They are like the MacArthur genius awards; someone else has to nominate you. Here’s a complete list of fellows.

I think we need a name for the Bay Area’s trio of young male literary bloggers. I’m talking about Scott, Ed, and Tito who often attend events together and then present their varying opinions. It’s Rashomon-like and very entertaining. The Mod Squad? The Man Squad? The Wonder Boys?

This time the trio went to City Arts and Lectures to hear Rick Moody and David Foster Wallace interview one another. (I’m guessing – and I’m going out on a limb here – that Wallace was the draw). The three were all more impressed by Wallace than Moody. But even if Moody wasn’t a great talker, is that any reason to stay away from his books? Here’s Ed’s take, Scott’s take, and Tito’s view.

Budd Parr of Chekov’s Mistress has come up with MetaxCafe, a new website that contains contents from dozens of literary bloggers. It’s a great idea. Stop by and tell Bud what you think.

On a sadder note, I visited A Great Good Place for Books in Montclair on Wednesday. There was a lovely picture of its late owner, Debi Echlin, in the window, and a candle with a sign, “In Loving Memory.” The staff is keeping the store open, knowing that is what Debi would have wanted. In the short time I visited, there was a stream of people coming in to express their shock and dismay at her untimely death at 52.

Tonight from 6 pm to 9 pm is the Montclair Stroll, and there will be a number of authors at the store, including Marissa Moss, Fran Gage, Peggy Knickerbocker, and more. This was one of Debi’s favorite events and the staff is hoping many customers show up. There still is no date set for a memorial.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Debi Echlin

Every since I started this blog, I have been writing about Debi Echlin and her fabulous bookstore, A Great Good Place For Books in the Montclair section of Oakland.

Debi created a community in her tiny space, a place where readers and writers came together to celebrate a love of books. When she first opened the store, she rented out books from various bookseller lists. That was enough to get me hooked. I could read and read the latest books to my heart’s content, all for a flat yearly fee.

Debi was a true book enthusiast. She fell in love with Brad Newsham’s book, Take Me With You: A Round-The-World Journey to Take A Stranger Home. She sold 700 hardback copies of that book from her 1,000 square-foot store. Debi was so excited about the book that customers couldn’t resist buying it. There were other books that Debi loved, and her customers soon learned about them

This year she decided to transform the annual Books By The Bay festival into a non-profit venture to raise money for literacy programs around the state. Once again Debi recruited friends and customers to support her vision, and the festival donated thousands of dollars to help kids learn to read.

I have been working on my book for a number of years, and I frequently fantasized about giving a reading at A Great Good Place for Books. I knew Debi would support me in every way possible.

You can see where this is going. Debi Echlin is dead. She passed away in her sleep on Thanksgiving. She was 52.

I am in shock. She was such a vibrant force. She had a huge smile and a determination to make her store the best it could be. And she succeeded. A Great Good Place for Books is not only a beautiful, comfortable place to hang out, it is a community. It is more than a store, it is a place where people felt connected to something bigger than themselves.

I will miss you, Debi.

A Women In Berlin

I have just finished one of the most extraordinary books I have ever read: A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City by Anonymous.

This book is based on a diary kept from April to June 1945 as Russian troops flood into Berlin. It opens with the anonymous author, a 34-year old journalist and author, hiding in the basement bomb shelter of her apartment house . The residents of the apartment building have grown close in the final days of the war and rely on one another for survival. But then the Russians come and begin to rape and pillage and suddenly the defeated Germans must find new ways to survive. The author looks unflinchingly at her own behavior, which included cozying up to Russian officers in exchange for food and protection. Her lacerating critiques and evocative descriptions illuminate the lengthes people take to adapt and survive.

When the book was published in Germany in the early 1950s, (it actually found an American publisher before a German one) it was criticized for dishonoring German women and soon went out of print. The author died in 2001, paving the way for this new edition.

This is Ursula Heigi’s take on the book, from the Washington Post Book Review:

“A Woman in Berlin is an amazing and essential book. Originally written in shorthand, longhand and the author's own code, it is so deeply personal that it becomes universal, evoking not only the rapes of countless German women in 1945 but also the rape of every anonymous woman throughout war history -- the notion of women as booty. The book's focus is not on the Nazi rampage across Europe but on its aftermath, when 1.5 million Red Army soldiers crossed the Oder River and moved westward. More than 100,000 women in Berlin were raped, but many of them would never speak of it. "Each one of us will have to act as if she in particular was spared," Anonymous writes. "Otherwise no man is going to want to touch us anymore."

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Impossible-to-put-down reading

Don’t tell me after today that newspapers are losing their relevance. Both the New York Times and Los Angles Times ran compelling magazine features, beautifully written stories that taught me something.

Barry Bearak wrote a lengthy and poignant article on Banda Aceh, the Indonesian city hardest hit in last year’s tsunami. More than 90,000 people were swept out to sea, never to be seen again. The piece is the longest article the New York Times Magazine has ever printed, and conveys the randomness of the tsunami and its unimaginable aftermath.

Matt Bai, who usually writes for the New York Times Magazine, has a compelling piece in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times Magazine about his wife’s Japanese-American family, who was interned in an American concentration camp during World War II. The story considers the price of secrets, and comes to some surprising conclusions.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Motherhood and Book Tours

Susan Ito, an Oakland author, writes movingly about having to abort her son to save her own life in the new anthology, It’s A Boy: Women Writers on Raising Sons.

“This is what it was. A drug, injected into my womb, a drug to stop his heart. To lay him down to sleep, so he wouldn’t feel what would happen the next day, the terrible terrible thing that would happen. Evacuation is what it is called in medical journals.

Evacuees are what the Japanese Americans were called when they were ripped from their homes, tagged like animals, flung into the desert. Evacuated, exiled, thrown away.

I lay on my side pinching the pillowcase. I wondered if he would be startled by the drug’s taste, if it was bitter, or strange, or just different from the salt water he was used to. I prayed that it wouldn’t be noxious, not like the magnesium sulfate, that it wouldn’t hurt. That it would be fast.
John sat next to the bed and held one hand as I pressed the other against my belly. I looked over his shoulder into the dark slice of night between the heavy curtains. Samuel, Samuelito, jumped against my hand once. He leaped through the space into the darkness and then was gone.

All gone.”

The new anthology, put together by Andrea Buchanan, looks at the joy and ambivalence these mothers felt about raising what to them at first seemed like an alien species: boys.

Buchanan is also taking a new approach to selling this book. She has lined up about 50 bloggers who write about parenting to feature her book.

What I found in the course of promoting my book was that the traditional bookstore reading wasn't such a great way to reach my audience. What mother wants to get out of the house at 7:30 on a Tuesday night? Wait, let me rephrase that: what mother can arrange with her partner or babysitter to take over at the crucial bedtime hour so that she can leave for an evening of having someone else read to her, only to return to home to her still-sobbing children, who have refused to go to sleep without her there? Okay, now you see what I'm talking about.”

These blog book tours are relatively new and New York publishers are just catching on to them. Kevin Smokler, the San Francisco writer, puts together something he calls The Virtual Book Tour, which gets authors before thousands of book lovers.

Friday, November 25, 2005

JR Moehringer's The Tender Bar

We finished eating the turkey by 6:30, the dishes were done by 7:30 and I had an entire unscheduled evening before me. I spent it in the company of J.R. Moehringer, a Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter for the Los Angeles Times. His memoir, The Tender Bar, has gotted spectacular reviews. Janet Maslin of the New York Times called him “the best memoirist of his kind since Mary Karr wrote The Liar’s Club.” It’s the story of a boy growing up in straightened economic circumstances. His father is gone so he finds male companionship wherever he can, including the corner bar in his home town of Manhasset, New York.

The book doesn’t open with a bang, but by page 50 I was hooked. Moehringer can write. I just wanted to share this description from page 77:

“Within minutes the Cadillac was crammed with a half ton of men. I thought we were going to the beach, but we had enough muscle to pull a bank job. Uncle Charlie introduced me formally, stiffly, to each man. Pleased to meet you, kid, said Joey D, a giant with a tuft of gingery hair atop his spongy orange head, and features glued to the head at odd angles. He seemed to be made of spare parts from different Muppets, like a Sesame Street Frankenstein – head of Grover, face of Oscar, thorax of Big Bird.”

There are all sorts of little gems like this throughout the book. Moehringer forms the oddest alliances. He starts to work in a bookstore in the mall, where the manager and assistant manger spend most of their time in the storeroom, smoking and reading. They decide he needs education, and go around the store, ripping covers off paperback books and giving them to Moehringer. (Stores return books by sending their covers back to the publisher) That’s his introduction to great literature. They also give him a future by convincing him to apply to Yale.

(He talks about writing the book here.)

It was a great way to end Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


I think I am going to join some of my fellow bloggers and take a brief vacation. Maybe if I clear my head some I can better understand all the controversy over Google Print.

In the meantime, I am going to reread this Heidi Benson article in Tuesday's Chronicle . It's about Brewster Kahle who has nothing to do with Google but who is scanning books in the public domain to create a virtual library.

Happy Turkey Day.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Hard-To-Believe Stories

Talk about trampling free speech.

Read this fascinating Washington Post piece on how the head of the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus hijacked the career of an author who wrote unflatteringly about his father.

Kenneth Feld paid $2.3 million to a former CIA agent to divert Jan Pottker from writing a book that would reveal his father’s closeted homosexuality. Feld even went so far as to pay a spy to pose as Pottker’s business partner and divert her attention from the book she wanted to write about the circus. Feld then set up a company to pay a $25,000 advance to Pottker two write a different book. Now the two are battling in court. (via Shaken and Stirred)

Here’s another interesting tale of the author of Dear Zoe who couldn’t find a publisher for his book. After repeated rejections from New York publishers he decided to prink the book himself. A day before it went to press, Viking called. Now the book is a big hit.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Fighting Back

Knight-Ridder reporters are fighting back. They aren’t going to stay silent while one of the nation’s best newspaper chains cuts staff levels and quality journalism. They have written a letter of outrage and circulated to media outlets around the country.

"We have watched mostly in silent dismay as short-term profit demands have diminished long-term capacity of newsrooms in Knight Ridder and other public media companies. We are silent no more. We will support and counsel only corporate leadership that restores to Knight Ridder newspapers the resources to do excellent journalism. We are prepared collectively to nominate candidates for the Knight Ridder board. We wish to reassert John Knight’s creed."

Some of the signers to this letter, which was distributed to reporters today, include Buzz Bissinger, a former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter and the author of Friday Night Lights; Thomas Kunkel, a former managing editor of the Mercury News, a biographer of Harold Ross, the founder of the New Yorker and the dean of the school of journalism at the University of Maryland; Steve Lopez, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times; and more.

Way to go.

In related news, Mercury News reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner Pete Carey decided at the last minute not to take his paper’s buyout offer.

And former Mercury News reporter Joanne Jacob’s new book on a charter school in San Jose, Our School, received a glowing review Thursday in the Wall Street Journal, pushing it to # 683 on Amazon.

The Temporary Bancroft Library

One of the joys of historical research is feeling the gravitas of the past. There’s a thrill to holding a yellowing letter and trying to decipher old-fashioned 19th century handwriting. Sometimes you lean in real close to a word to see if you can interpret it, and sometimes you hold the page as far back as your arm will allow – all in a futile attempt to understand the writing.

I’ve been researching 19th century California for six years now for my book on my great great grandfather, Isaias W. Hellman, and in that time I’ve been to some of the state’s most beautiful libraries – the Huntington, with its acres of gardens, UCLA’s rare reading room, with dark carpets and dim lights, and of course, my all time favorite, the Bancroft Library at the University of California, with its huge windows looking out on Cal’s clock tower.

Sitting in the Bancroft reading room is like sitting in a holy place – at least for people who love history. The room is quiet, with only a low murmur from scholars conferring with the reference librarian or asking for new material. A walk around the room reveals people flipping through ancient French texts, illuminated manuscripts, Gold Rush maps and papers from the WPA projects of the Depression. That’s another thing I like about the Bancroft – it’s an egalitarian place. After filling out a form and showing some picture identification, anybody can walk in and look at the materials. The Huntington, in contrast, demands a lengthy application and two letters of recommendation from professors or others with PhDs.

The Bancroft building on campus is not seismically sound and now is being retrofitted to withstand a major earthquake. That’s a good thing. But the library recently moved off-campus to a smaller building on Allston Way in downtown Berkeley, and now all the magic is gone. The new building is much smaller, and can only accommodate about 20 researchers at a time, which means people have to wait to get inside. But that’s not the bad part.

The problem is that most of the book are now stored off-site. This means is you find a book or manuscript you want to look at, IT WILL TAKE TWO DAYS TO REACH THE LIBRARY.

Now I know the Bancroft is doing the best it can under the circumstances, but having to wait so long to look at most materials kills the spontaneity of historical research. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a book and found a fact I wanted to follow up. I would then look at the footnote and bibliography and go get that book. The line of inquiry is critical to investigation.

The Bancroft’s current constraints mean this spontaneous research won’t happen as easily. I am sure it will frustrate many scholars working on their dissertations. I have done most of my research for my book, so I can cope with the delays, but I don’t like them. Historical research takes a long time already, and the Bancroft’s new configuration will slow scholars down even more.

There’s no one to blame here. Just seismically-active San Francisco.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Joan Didion Brings Home the Prize

Joan Didion won the National Book Award in non-fiction for The Year of Magical Thinking on Wednesday night. And in a move that will surely make this guy and this guy happy, William T. Vollman won the award for his 800-page novel Europe Central.

W.S. Merwin won the poetry prize for his collection, Migration, and Jeanne Birdsall won in the youth fiction category for The Penderwicks.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Goodbye Mercury News Reporters

Mark Friesen, who runs the blog, has a sad account of the recent buyouts at the Mercury News. Even before Knight-Ridder put itself in play to be sold, the Mercury News asked for – and received – voluntary retirements to cut costs. I haven’t worked at the Mercury for almost six years (and now I’m glad to have gotten out) so I don’t recognize all of the names of the 52 who are leaving. But I know enough of these reporters to know the Merc will be a lesser paper for their loss. There are many stellar reporters who are leaving, reporters with years of knowledge about Silicon Valley, the intelligence community, the Vietnamese community, and so on.

It wasn’t that the Mercury News didn’t make money. It’s that it didn’t make enough money. Wall Street now expects newspapers to earn 25-30% profits a year, not 15 %. This is capitalism at its worst.

Here are some of the reporters who are leaving:

Dan Stober (an expert on Livermore and Los Alamos labs)
Larry Slonaker (great writer)
John Hubner (one of the paper’s stars. He has a book out, Last Chance in Texas, on the juvenile justice system in Texas)
Leigh Weimers (sort of like Herb Caen leaving)
Pete Carey (who won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the Phillippines)
Betty Barnacle (has worked at the Mercury News for a long time)
Nora Villagran (art and culture writer)
Michael Zielenziger (an expert on Japan whose has a new book, Shutting Out the Sun)
De Tran (editor of the Vietnamese edition of the paper)
Sheila Himmel (restaurant reviewer)
Charles Matthews
(feature writer and book reviewer)
Marcia Gordon (stellar librarian and researcher)

The Los Angeles Times’ new editor, Dean Baquet, announced Monday that he was eliminating the Outside section. (via LA Observed). It was a wonderful section about nature and the wilderness. David Lukas, who leads naturalist hikes every year at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, is one of the section’s main writers. He is co-author of the Sierra Nevada Natural History guide published by UC Press.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Bee Season

I saw a screening of Bee Season Thursday night and it’s as dark as Myla Goldberg’s book. I would give the movie a solid “B.” The acting is good and the movie does an admirable job of recreating the novel's mysticism (the protagonist is a specialist in Kabbalah), but there are so many plot lines they jumble around themselves. Also, the family is supposed to be Jewish and as much as Richard Gere waves his arms around and hugs everybody, he just does not come across as a member of the tribe.

However, the movie is worth seeing just for its footage of the East Bay. The cast and crew spent months in Oakland in 2004 (my family and I spied on Juliette Binoche at the pool at the Claremont Hotel one day) and the movie is full of great shots of Berkeley streets, Oakland’s Lake Merritt, UC Berkeley, and the San Francisco skyline. The opening scene of a helicopter carrying a massive letter “A” across the bay is magnificent.

The Bay Area has never looked better.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Celebrities and their "Books"

Rake’s Progress calls this the best laugh he’s had all week. He’s referring to the opening chapter of Nicole Richie’s novel, The Truth About Diamonds.

Rake’s right. It’s among the worst prose I have ever read.

“Chloe Parker would be a terrible role model if she were famous. Trouble is that she was about to be.

It started innocently enough, or as innocent as you can get on the dance floor of one of the hottest clubs in L.A.

The nightclubs of L.A. are like soap operas, except they're not Days of Our Lives; they're more like Passions -- crazy stuff happens, and no one bats a fake eyelash. There's always some bizarre drama that plays out every night, and everyone in the cast -- I mean, everyone -- is great looking, stoned, and/or drunk. It's like a traveling freak show that stars the youngest and hottest in Hollywood. It's about fun, and sex, and pseudo-danger. "

She makes Paris Hilton look good.

Getting Your Book Published

Anyone interested in publishing a book may want to go to UC Berkeley’s School of Journalism tonight. Five editors from various publishing houses will talk about the changing landscape of books and how to get yours into the marketplace. The event is put on by the American Society of Journalists and Authors. It costs $5 and will be at 7 pm in the school’s library, located at the corner of Hearst and Euclid.

Here’s who will be there:

* Roger Freet
Senior Editor, HarperSF

* Alan Rinzler
Executive Acquisitions Editor, Jossey-Bass

* Jason Gardner
Senior Editor, New World Library

* Lindy Hough
Founder and Copublisher, North Atlantic Books

* Mark Weiman
Founder and Director, Regent Press Printers and Publishers

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Death As a Bestseller

Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking now has 300,000 copies in print, according to the Wall Street Journal. When I first read an excerpt in the New York Times Magazine, I thought the book would open up a new dialogue about death in this country, a topic we tend to ignore. The numbers suggest this may be happening.

Didion herself thinks the book speaks to an issue people have been thinking about.

"I think a lot of it is demographics. There is that huge bubble of the population that is now hitting an age where their parents are dying. They're looking at mortality themselves in a way they hadn't. I think that right now the country is more receptive to thinking about death and dying. I also think there's a lot of anxiety abroad in the land. And this is a much more accessible subject than I usually write about."

The Disappearing San Francisco Chronicle

Alan Mutter, the former #2 guy at the Chronicle and a CEO of various Silicon Valley start-ups, said much of the paper’s circulation drop may have been deliberate as the paper shed readers in far-off places like Redding. Some of the drop probably came from “Yahooglong,” as he puts it, which makes sense since the Bay Area is so computer-centric. But perhaps the managers at the Chronicle are trying to reposition the paper:

“As the world moves rapidly to focused and empirically verifiable advertising, newspapers have come to understand, albeit belatedly, that they can and must become targeted media. Accordingly, they are paring their circulation rolls to concentrate circulation on the demographics and geographies that advertisers want to reach.”

One thing missing from this discusssion: SFGate, the Chronicle’s web presence. It gets hundreds of thousands of hits a day and is one of the most visited newspapers sites in the country.

I just keep wondering how long we will be reading the Chronicle Magazine and Book Reviews sections ……

(via Romensko)

Monday, November 07, 2005


Salon has started a new blog called Broadsheet, defined as a “cheeky new women’s blog.” Its title is a play on the definition of broad—both slang for women and the idea of a place that looks at a whole bunch of issues:

“Broadsheet started, as many things at Salon do, over e-mail. A member of the staff would pick up on a piece of news about women that was funny or horrifying or exciting but was not getting many column inches in the rest of the press. Sometimes those e-mails turned into stories, but often the item would be small enough that it wouldn't merit its own feature at Salon, either. Still, the staff comments -- hilarious, angry, shocked, pleased -- would zing back and forth by e-mail chain. Without realizing it, we'd begun our own internal blog, with a circulation of about a dozen people, that paid attention to the newsworthy triumphs and travails of what we used to call the fairer sex.
So here we are, carving out a new niche in our ever-evolving publication. Our aim is to cast a spotlight on news that puts women in the center, because while we've come a long way, a quick scan of bylines and stories in most major newspapers will show you that women are still not always being seen -- or read. Broadsheet will be taking the ladies seriously, whether that means tracking news about how our rights are holding up, how well we're representing ourselves politically, or how the advertising world has decided to address us, what kinds of health advances are ahead of us -- all the news of our (usually) two-steps-forward, one-step-back march to equality.”

Broadsheet is fun so far. It’s the place where women and men who like both the New Yorker and chick lit can find something.

Monday Tidbits

I like the way Lawrence Ferlinghetti thinks:

Q: As a symbol of the 50's counterculture, do you care about winning establishment prizes like the lifetime achievement award you will be receiving from the National Book Foundation this month? Is it gratifying?

Lawrence Ferlinghetti: I hate to use a word like "gratifying," which sounds so fatuous. But it's wonderful to receive honors. And it's high time we honored this endangered species.

Q:Which endangered species is that? Poets?

Ferlinghetti: No, the literarians in the world, and there are millions of them. They are not considered the dominant culture in this country. What's called the dominant culture will fade away as soon as the electricity goes off.

(From an interview in the New York Times magazine)

Kenneth Turan of the LA Times finds lots of good bookstores in the gold country.

Bad news for newspapers: The San Francisco Chronicle's daily circulation has dropped 16.5% to 400,906. It's Sunday circulation also declined. It's down 13.5% to 467,212. The Mercury News declined 3.9% to 249,090 daily and dropped 5.2% on Sunday to 278,420.

The dinner on Saturday night in Bolinas for Prince Charles apparently also included Eric Schlosser, the author of Fast Food Nation. Somehow I can't imagine George W. Bush inviting Schlosser and Michael Pollan to the White House to hear their views on the state of American eating habits. President Bill Clinton couldn't even agree to plant an organic garden at the White House. Give credit to Alice Waters. She keeps trying. Prince Charles will visit the Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley today.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Prince Charles

Michael Pollan, the author of Botany of Desire and a professor at Berkeley’s Journalism School, had dinner Saturday night with the Prince of Wales and his wife, Camilla. It was the second dinner for Pollan and the prince; Charles apparently is a big fan of Pollan’s articles on organic food.

The private dinner was held at Manka’s Inn in Inverness, a mystical hotel/restaurant set deep in a grove of trees. The interior is all beams and wood, illuminated by numerous fireplaces. It feels like a medieval banquet hall, though on a more intimate scale. The restaurant is renowned for serving wild meats like boar and venison.

Saturday’s dinner, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, included leek soup, smoked salmon, duck legs braised in wine over cassoulet, a frisee salad, a cheese course, and tarte. Wine from Bolinas winemaker Sean Thackery was also on the menu.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Joan Didion's Magical Thinking

When Dave Eggers interviewed Joan Didion at City Arts and Lectures in San Francisco Tuesday night, one might have expected them to talk about grief. After all, Eggers lost both his parents before he was 20 and Didion has just published a book, The Year of Magical Thinking, that focuses on the year after her husband’s death.

But grief was curiously absent in the vast, ornate chamber of the Herbst Theater. Instead, Eggers asked Didion to describe her partnership with her husband John Gregory Dunne, a man she was married to for 40 years. Eggers was clearly fascinated by Didion and Dunne’s extraordinary relationship. They were both writers who worked at home, who were each other’s first readers, and who partnered on screenplays.

“I wanted to talk as much as possible about your life together because this book is a portrait of a marriage,” Eggers said.

And what a life. Didion, who was born in Sacramento, was working at Vogue magazine in New York when a friend brought Dunne over for dinner at her apartment. He was writing for Time, and the two were just friends for years. It wasn’t until Dunne took Didion home to Hartford, Connecticut to meet his Irish Catholic family that she realized he might be the husband for her. His family had their doubts because Didion was an Episcopalian, and no Protestant had ever crossed their threshold. Regardless, Didion and Dunne were married in January 1964 and moved to Los Angeles that June.

The two shared a column in the Saturday Evening Post and soon branched out into screenplays and books. Dunne helped Didion name at least two of her books – The Book of Common Prayer and Democracy. Once, Didion made notes for her own funeral and Dunne took those words and used them for a funeral scene in his novel The Red White and Blue.

“Where you each others first readers?” asked Eggers.

“We were absolutely each others first readers on everything. First, and certainly in my case, first and last.”

For a writer, that kind of support is remarkable, and may help explain the sheer volume and quality of Didion’s writing. The couple spent their days next to one another – or at least in nearby rooms – and could rely on an astute, yet sympathetic critic to look at their work.

Eggers also has a partnership with a writer, although their working habits did not come up in the lecture. He is married to novelist Vendela Vida, and both she and their less-than-a-month old baby were in the audience.

“You seemed to the outside world like the couple that squeezed every last drop out of every last day,” said Eggers.

Didion started writing A Year of Magical Thinking just nine months after Dunne dropped dead of a heart attack while eating dinner before a fire in their New York apartment. They had just come home from the hospital where they had been visiting their daughter Quintana, who lay in a mysterious coma. (Tragically, Quintana died recently)

Didion knew her husband was dead but couldn’t quit believe it. She also found that society had its own notions of how long it is appropriate to grieve, notions that didn’t match Didion’s timeline.

“Grieving isn’t something we do very much of in this country,” she said. “I found myself wishing I could be in mourning (dressed in black for a year) not out of respect for the dead, but to protect myself. The fact that people in mourning are not entirely stable, they go a little crazy, is something we don’t really acknowledge.”

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Fall Books

I’ve just finished a spate of books, so here is my fall review:

Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits by Laila Lalami. Lalami is the author of the blog Moorish Girl. She was born in Morocco and left at 22 to study in Britain and the United States. Her first novel is a collection of linked stories about Moroccans who try and flee to Spain for work and a better life. Some make it; others are caught by police almost as soon as they reach the shore and are deported back to Morocco.

This is a wonderful book. Lalami creates distinct, believable characters and shows readers an aspect of the world that most are unfamiliar with. We meet Murad, a unemployed college graduate who leads tourists to Paul Bowles' old haunts; Halima, who has few choices to escape her abusive husband; Faten who becomes a devout hajib-wearing Muslim when her attempts to rise in society falters; and others. The book is a window into poverty and the risks it forces people to take.

Dream of the Blue Room by Michelle Richmond – Richmond, a San Francisco resident, writes about Jenny, who is taking a boat up the Yangtze River in China to dispose of the ashes of her best friend and sometime lover, Amanda Ruth, who had been murdered 12 years earlier. Jenny is accompanied by her estranged husband, David, but instead of reconnecting, each finds solace in other passengers. Jenny takes up with Graham, an Australian suffering from Lou $Gerhig’s disease, and recovers a passion she thought she had lost. The entire book has a dreamy quality, as Jenny remembers her summers with Amanda Ruth, and ponders what led to her death. Richmond presents China as a place of squalor – overcrowded, polluted, and inhabited by drone-like people who parrot the government line. The combination creates an environment tht doesn't seem quite real, a place where time and action dont' bear their usual consequences -- sort of like traveling. The writing is beautiful and Jenny's choices are understandable.

Bait and Switch by Barbara Ehrenreich. This progressive reporter tries to recreate the magic she brought to Nickel and Dimed, which explored the working world of those earning a minimum wage. This book, which focuses on white-collar workers, doesn’t succeed nearly as well. Ehrenreich spent nine months looking for a job in the PR field, and when she didn’t find work soon enough to fit in with her book contract, she explored the businesses that have popped up to support job seekers. But stories about career counseling groups, resume writers, job fairs, and wardrobe consultants just aren’t that interesting. Still, Bait and Switch makes the point that job prospects are gloomy for middle-aged people, even those who have been successful at earlier points in their lives.

Mozart in the Jungle: Sex Drugs and Classical Music by Blair Tindall. I had high hopes for this book. I heard Tindall speak at Books By The Bay in San Francisco this summer and I was captivated by her stories of excesses in the country’s symphonies and orchestras. While Tindall’s book is filled with scenes of sex – between Tindall and fellow oboists and between teachers and students – Tindall sort of lists what has happened to her rather than create any kind of compelling narrative arc. She comes off sounding bitter, learning little from her experiences. The book does show, however, the grind of life for most classical musicians, who are paid litle compared to top symphony adminstrators or star performers like Itzhak Perlman, Michael Tilson Thomas.

Everyone Worth Knowing by Lauren Weisberger – Don’t bother.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Anorexia Nervosa

When I was growing up in San Francisco, one of my mother’s best friends was a woman named Carol Becker. She had glossy blonde hair, a brick house bigger than anything I had ever seen before, a son named John who was my best friend, and anorexia nervosa.

For a short period Carol was plump, with round cheeks set off by a bob that ended right below her ears. Then, seemingly overnight, she lost weight and became a stick figure, a kind of walking Holocaust victim. She was still funny and loving, but scary to look at.

My mother explained to me (a child of 8) that Carol had a problem with food. It was a psychological condition, my mother said, one probably caused by her familial relationships. Every time Carol went to Menninger’s, the famous medical clinic, my mother would tell us she was on a journey to get well.

It now appears I knew more about Carol’s condition than her children did. Her youngest son, Daniel Becker, has written a poignant memoir, This Mean Disease, that describes what it is like to be young and know your mother is ill, but have it be so secret it affects everything else in your life.

Daniel grew up in that big house on Washington Street in San Francisco, a mansion he calls The Castle, and always felt partly responsible for his mother’s illness. His family’s silence on her condition meant he never quite understood why his mother was so skinny and frail. It also made him angry, feelings he did not come to terms with until years after his mother’s death.

“For all I knew we were a happy family with one atypical feature – that Mom was sick and had to go away, sometimes for long periods of time,” Becker writes in his memoir. “Nobody acknowledged that this was unusual or made us special in any way.”

It’s strange to read a book that describes events you are familiar with. I read This Mean Disease in a few hours – but have been unable to write about it for two months. When my mother read the first sentence, “Mom’s ashes are surprisingly heavy. Is it possible that they could weigh more than she did when she died?” she started to cry. The tears didn’t stop all night.

The book’s publisher, Gurze Books, which specializes in periodicals on eating disorders, says Becker’s book is the first memoir of a son’s view of his mother’s anorexia. I’m not sure if that is true, but it looks like Becker has been working toward this book all his life. After getting two master’s degrees – one from Columbia and one from Stanford – he earned two certificates in non-fiction writing from the University of Washington. And the book, in part, traces this journey. At the end of This Mean Disease, ten years after his mother’s death, Becker has finally come to term with anorexia. He has recreated himself through an extended network of friends and a new wife. He has closure.

“Over the previous years, I reclaimed much of the joy I missed out on the first time around,” Becker writes in the epilogue. “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.”

Friday, October 28, 2005

The Next Big Thing

I’m one of those people who is a trendsetter without even knowing it.

In the 1980s, I lived a wild life in New York and San Francisco, clubbing and dining the nights away. I prowled for a husband. Soon after I was married, chick lit books like Bridget Jones' Diary became popular. (Please note it never occurred to me to write about my experiences.)

I had my first child in 1992, my second in 1995, and POW! A few years later books about having children were all the rage. Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions became a ubiquitous baby shower present. (Note #2: I did not write one of these either)

From then on I vowed to pay closer attention to my life so I could capitalize on my natural angst. Therefore, I am happy to announce that the next trend is MOTHERS WRITING BOOKS. (Yes, I know that Camille Peri and Kate Moses already have edited a number of excellent anthologies on that topic) Evidence for my declaration: two deals announced this week in Publisher’s Marketplace.

“Christina Katz's WRITER MAMA, showing how moms can launch a successful and productive writing career while taking care of the kids, to Jane Friedman at Writer's Digest Books, by Rita Rosenkranz at Rita Rosenkranz Literary Agency.”

“Hip Mama series creator Ariel Gore's HOW TO BECOME A FAMOUS WRITER BEFORE YOU'RE DEAD, an irreverent guide for aspiring writers to self-promotion and becoming buzzworthy, detailing the real ways that authors go from obscurity toliterary success, to Katie McHugh at Three Rivers Press, at auction, by Faye Bender”.

Now I just have to shove the kids aside and get to work.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Computer Woes

There’s nothing like a computer meltdown to focus one’s priorities. My computer crashed Tuesday morning and after scurrying around to the computer fix-it-guy I got the worst possible news: my hard drive was dead.

This is the hard drive that has all my files for my book, the last two years of my family photos, all the e-mails I archived, including those containing articles from the historical database of the Los Angeles Times. In short, everything that mattered to me.

The good news is that I had backed up the files for my book a few weeks earlier. Unfortunately, I lost the chapter I had been slaving over, the one I felt had a few breakthrough passages.

I am trying to be philosophical. It doesn’t come naturally. I know, I know. Everyone even a bit computer literate is supposed to back up their files regularly. But I never thought it would happen to me.

On a happy note, our television is broken, too. So with no Internet access and no other diversions, I actually got a lot of writing done!

Monday, October 24, 2005

What me Worry? Publishing a Book

Hilarious essay by Elizabeth Royte in Sunday’s New York Times Book Review about the many stages of ….. not grief, but publishing a book.

“For any writer, the publication of a book, labored over for years, is an exciting event. But excitement is a fleeting emotion, and the business of publicizing the book, so that it sells and the author can earn out his advance, quickly displaces any initial euphoria. The writer then embarks on a tortured journey toward acceptance of the fact, several months after publication, that his book isn't going to vault him into the empyrean of fame, or even improve his life. At the intersection of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's stages of grief and Stendhal's stages of love, the contemporary author trudges along a predictable path that can only be described, in hindsight, as self-induced misery.”

It starts with euphoria, it ends in self-hatred. In short, writers are pathetic.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

In Her Shoes

I went to see “In Her Shoes,” Saturday night. It was great. The movie is adapted from Jennifer Weiner’s third book about two sisters who are as different as can be. It’s been advertised as a chick-lit movie with heavy emphasis on Jimmy Choo shoes. But it’s much more than that. It’s a story about love and envy and trust. It features many elderly actors, which was astonishingly refreshing for a Hollywood film.

Curtis Hanson is the director. He also directed “L.A. Confidential” with Russell Crowe and Kim Basinger. In short, the movie is excellent. My husband, who had threatened to duck out and see Nicolas Cage in “Lords of War,” instead, said it was one of the best movies he had seen in years. There were lots of tears in the audience.

I have to say I hadn’t read the book, so I came to the movie without any preconceived notions. I did read Weiner’s first book, Good In Bed, but I haven’t read any of her other novels.

I love her blog, though. It’s called Snark Spot, and recently she’s been talking a lot about what it’s like to have a novel transformed into a big budget Hollywood movie starring Cameron Diaz, Shirley MacLaine, and Toni Colette.

Friday, October 21, 2005

The De/Merits of Blogging

I’ve been working hard on my book this week, which hasn’t left much time for blogging. I will be speaking about blogging on Sunday, however, on a panel at Black Oak Books in Berkeley. Here’s the blurb:

Sunday, October 23rd @ 7:30 pm

Authors and literary bloggers
Laila Lalami, Kevin Smokler,Michelle Richmond, andFrances Dinkelspiel
will discusswriting, blogging, and publishing

Authors and literary bloggers Laila Lalami, Kevin Smokler, Michelle Richmond, and Frances Dinkelspiel will discuss writing, blogging, and publishing in an age of electronic media.

Laila Lalami is the author of a new book of fiction, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, about four characters linked by their desire to emigrate from Morocco to Spain. She is also the author of the popular lit-blog Moorish Girl. Kevin Smokler is the editor of Bookmark Now: Writing in Unreaderly Times, a collection of original essays by young authors about writing in the twenty-first century; he is the author of the lit-blog Where There's Smoke. Michelle Richmond's novel Dream of the Blue Room, tells of a woman's trip up the Yangtze River to grieve and scatter the ashes of a friend murdered twelve years before; she writes the lit-blog Sans Serif. Frances Dinkelspiel is the author of the forthcoming book Towers of Gold: Isaias Hellman and the Creation of California, the story of her great-great-grandfather, the Pacific Coast's premier banker in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; her lit-blog is called Ghost Word.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Book Deals Worth Noting

Kevin Boyle’s Arc of Justice was flat-out my favorite non-fiction book on 2004. Boyle, a historian at Ohio State University, wrote a gripping account of racial tension in Detroit in the Jazz Age. It won the National Book Award in 2004. Publisher’s Lunch reports today that Boyle has just sold his next book, The Splendid Dead: The Saga of Sacco and Vanzetti in America. It’s an account of the pursuit and trial of the Italian anarchists who were charged with murder and robbery in the early 1920s, but who were really tried for their radical political convictions.

On an entirely different matter – and on an entirely different scale – Holly Peterson has sold her novel, The Manny, an account of a harried Park Avenue mother who hires a male nanny – for a reported $1 million. The sum doesn’t include foreign or film rights, which also sold. Peterson, an editor at Newsweek, is the daughter of financier Pete Peterson (and, full disclosure, the stepdaughter of my agent) so she travels in this rarified milieu.

I will probably read, and enjoy, both books. But once again I am struck by the vagaries of the publishing world. I know I risk sounding naïve, but Boyle’s book probably sold for 1/10 of Peterson’s book, if that, and will probably take 5 times as long to write. It will probably make a lasting contribution to our understanding of the conflict between the working and capitalist classes in early 20th century America, and be a good read as well.

On the other hand, Peterson’s novel will be fun, fluffy, shed a beam of light on the worlds that fascinate most of us – the rich of New York and the media elite – and will be quickly consumed by the reader and then left behind. It will probably sell hundreds of thousands of copies, and that’s why Dial paid so much money for it.

If I am any way typical, enjoying both serious nonfiction and lighthearted chick lit, I should rejoice in America’s ability to juggle both genres successfully. But these deals actually depress me. It’s a reminder of how this culture values entertainment above everything else. Yes, I know that sales of books like Peterson’s make sales of books like Boyle’s possible. Yes, I know there is room for both. But I am waiting for the day when a publisher pays $1 million to a historian.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Bust of Hubert Howe Bancroft being moved to new library. Posted by Picasa

Bancroft Library

It's a good day for scholars.

The Bancroft Library, which shut its doors months ago as part of a seismic retrofit project, reopens today. For the next three years, the Bancroft will be off campus at 2121 Allston Way in Berkeley. Most, but not all of the collections, will be available.

The move was a carefully choreographed event. You can see pictures here of boxed books, crated sculptures, and rolled up mats.

The picture is a sculpture of good ole Hubert How Bancroft himself being moved to the new site.


I know I am a slave to literature, so it was heartening to see so many other book addicts on Saturday night at the 6th annual Litquake. Hundreds of people milled around in the Mission District of San Francisco, in a kind of literary pub crawl. You could wander from art gallery to furniture store to bar and listen to dozens of writers read their work.

The level of talent was extraordinary at the reading by the members of the Grotto, the writing collective in the city. I hadn’t heard of most of the writers, so I was stunned by the quality of their work. Marianna Cherry, who is best known for her erotica writings, read a story about a period of celibacy, where she tried to repress sadistic fantasies she had of her father. That might not sound like a palatable topic, but Cherry’s story was moving, as she explored learning to reach out to others despite terrible childhood secrets.

Alex Wellen is clearly accomplished, as he is a screenwriter, producer, and the author of the book Barman, about his law school career. I had never heard of him, but he had me laughing at his description of his family’s reaction after he took the bar exam. Now I have to read the book.

The theme was writing about one’s parents, and Jason Roberts wrote hauntingly about his father, a ne’er do well who won a Pulitzer Prize for photography on a fluke. His father had always been convinced of his own importance, to the detriment of his family’s heath. It was a powerful story.

There were other notable readings: Xandra Castleton on her heart murmur; Po Bronson on promises to his newborn son; and Josh McHugh on a family trip to Florida to swim with the dolphins. The emcee was Tom Barbash, who set a nice tone for the evening.

The evening ended at 9:40 and some of my friends headed over to the new DeYoung museum, which was open all night to accommodate everyone who wanted to see the fancy new digs. I had to pick up my daughter, so I ran into the nearest burrito place I could find on Mission Street, picked up a fiery hot chicken burrito, and headed to the East Bay. I was so jazzed. This is the best part of living in the Bay Area, I thought. The writers I heard inspired me to reach deeper in my own work and reminded me of the importance of listening to what others have to say.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

National Book Awards

Berkeley author, Mother Jones founder, and UC Berkeley Journalism professor Adam Hochshild’s book on the international movement to end slavery has been nominated for a National Book Award. Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves, is a nominee in non-fiction, along with Joan Didion’s, A Year of Magical Thinking; Alan Burdick’s, Out of Eden: An Odyssey of Ecological Invasion; Leo Damrosh’s Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Restless Genius; and Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn’s, 102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers.

There are some big names in the fiction category. E.L. Doctorow’s The March, is a nominee, as is William T. Vollman’s European Central; Mary Gaitskill’s Veronica; Rene Steinke’s Holy Skirts; and Christopher Sorrentino’s Trance.

I will admit I have not read a single one of these books. So much for thinking I was slightly well read.

Fisticuffs and Literary Prizes

Ed Champion does it again in this funny spoof of Swedish Academy member Knut Ahnlund’s diatribe against Elfriede Jelinek, last year’s winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. I suspect his complaints have been getting so much press because people agree with his assessment of Jelinek’s minimalist literature as pornography. The Nobel Prize for Literature will be announced (supposedly, there is no firm timeline) on Thursday, Oct. 13.

Perhaps it’s a good thing when controversy roils literary prizes. It extends their news cycles. In another round of author bashing, booksellers and critics in Britain are complaining that John Banville’s The Sea, won the UK’s highest literary prize, the Booker. Now, I have never read any of Banville’s work, but the main objection seems to be that it is somewhat inaccessible and cold. Regardless of the complaints, Brits respond to literary prizes. Sales of The Sea soared after it got the Booker.

The nominees for the National Book Award will be announced this afternoon. Last year, the nominees for those awards were eviscerated because they were all female authors with novels regarded as “slight” compared to “big.” Lily Tuck won in 2004 for The News From Paraguay.

San Francisco’s Lawrence Ferhlinghetti will be honored by the NBA on November 16 with the First Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community.

Another thank you to Ed for pointing out these glorious pictures from SFist of San Francisco’s newest independent bookstore, the third branch of Cody’s, which just opened on Market Street. I haven’t made it there yet, but am definitely looking forward to it.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Authors' Dinner Extraordinaire

The Northern California Independent Booksellers Association held a dinner Saturday night and it was an all-out authors’ fest.

Each year the organization invites 12 authors to come to dinner and to go from table to table to talk about their new books. The booksellers get to know the authors, hear about their work, and be charmed by their tales of writing and publishing. The meet and greet puts a face on a book – which hopefully increases the author’s buzz.

T. Jefferson Parker regaled one table with a description of the main character in his new mystery, The Fallen, which will be released in March. The book features a homicide detective from San Diego who has synesthesia, a neurological condition where the senses get mixed up.

Parker’s last book, California Girl, was a bestseller that won the Edgar award. The longer he writes, the faster he becomes, he said. His first book took him five years; his next two books took three years each; and that span was whittled to two years. Now he writes a book a year in an old airline hanger 75 feet from his home in Fallbrook, California. His goal is to write five pages a day.

“My commute is a cup of coffee and the junk in my briefcase from the day below. I get my dog out of his kennel and I write from 7 in the morning until 5 at night. I don’t work on Saturdays and Sundays.”

Rachel Manija Brown was working as a television write in Los Angeles when she read Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs. She was so moved by the book that she wrote Burroughs a letter, briefly describing her own crazy childhood. When she was seven, her parents suddenly decided to move to an ashram in India.

“I was living peacefully in Los Angeles with my pet rat, Ratsi, and all of a sudden my parents said we were moving,” said Brown, whose memoir, All the Fishes Come Home to Roost, just received an “A” from Entertainment Weekly magazine. Burroughs wrote back and told Brown she had the makings of a book – as long as she wrote it in the engaging, informal style of her letter.

Brian Strause is also a Los Angeles television writer made good. His first novel, Maybe A Miracle, centers around Monroe Anderson, an 18-year old boy who is on his way to the prom. He decides he needs to get high first, and while going to his backyard he spots his sister floating in the pool. He rescues her, but she is left in a coma and an extreme religious experience follows. Stause’s book was a Book Sense pick for October.

Many of the writers at the event are already best-selling authors and don’t need a big push from individual bookstores. Mary Roach, whose last book Stiff, was a New York Times bestseller, was there to promote Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife. Janet Maslin of the New York Times already gave the book a positive review and booksellers at the dinner said they expected it to sell briskly. Roach will be leaving on a month-long book tour after she participates in the Litquake Festival in San Francisco.

Julie Powell is in the middle of a book tour and a reported million-dollar publicity campaign for her memoir, Julie and Julia, one of Little, Brown’s big fall books. (The publisher has taken out full-page ads in the New York Times Book Review). The book is based on a blog Powell wrote where she tested every recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Lily King, whose previous novel, The Pleasing Hour, won all sorts of awards, was at the dinner to talk about The English Teacher. King’s last book was a Book Sense pick , a Times Notable Book, and the winner of the Barnes and Noble Discover award. She lives in Maine and is missing prime leaf season on this tour – and her children, 4 and 6 years old.

The dinner was an opportunity for lesser-known authors to promote themselves as well. Laila Lalami has already made a name for herself in the literary world with her blog, Moorish Girl. Her novel, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, is a Book Sense pick for November. Daniel Olivas gave it a glowing review.

Julia Scheeres, a San Francisco author, has a memoir describing her life living with her fundamentalist parents. Jesus Land focuses on Scheeres and her adopted brother David. It was an October Book Sense pick.

Jon B. Eisenberg was an attorney for Michael Schiavo, and his book Using Terri: The Religious Right’s Conspiracy to Take Away Our Rights, has just been released. Eisenberg details the legal showmanship in the fight to remove Terry Schiavo’s feeding tube – in court, in the Florida legislature, and in Congress.

Kim Wong Keltner has just written Buddha Baby, her second novel featuring the Asian-American pop culture heroine Lindsey Owyang. Keltner lives in San Francisco and will be signing books Oct. 20 at 7:30 pm at Books Inc in Mountain View and Oct. 27 at 7:30 at Books, Inc in Alameda.

Three of David Carkeet’s previous novels have been New York Times Notable books. His latest is a memoir, Campus Sexpot, and it deals with Carkeet’s hometown of Sonora, California, which became infamous in 1962 when it was the setting for a steamy potboiler written by a local high school English teacher.

At the end of the evening, those attending the dinner got copies of all of the various books, which the authors graciously signed. The evening showed clearly how it is no longer enough just to write a good book. In a world where thousands of books flood the market each day, a writer must now know how to smile and charm and connect with both booksellers and readers to get his or her work noticed.