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 CafĂ©, 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.