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Archives: February 2005


GC’s still sick, so she’s crawling back into bed, wiping the phlegm off her fur, and calling it a day. Tomorrow, expect more on JSF (that hunk o’ talent) and part 2 of what I won’t forget was meant to be a 2-part post.

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Forget Book Tours. It’s All About the Bed Stay.

Tracheotomies included, book sales rarely come this easy:

Sales of Pope John Paul’s new book Memory and Identity have rocketed since he was taken to [the] hospital for throat surgery on Thursday morning, a spokesman for Italian publisher RCS MediaGroup said yesterday.

Sadly, it’s because of the sudden news of the operation. It sparked a lot of curiosity and demand has been huge compared to our original expectations,” the spokesman said.



  • We’re trying hard not to disrespect Stevie Wonder (I just called to say –) … so, we’ll quote the BBC’s lede without commentary: “The widow of U.S. writer Hunter S Thompson has said her husband killed himself while they were speaking to one another on the telephone.”

  • The Guardian talks to six authors “preparing for the moment they’ve been dreaming about — the launch of their debut novel.” But there’s also an element of the nightmare-ish, as they worry about parents seeing the word “penis” in their books.
  • Next up on Laura Bush’s reading list: Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. And, in case the choice seems too highfalutin, Kurt Andersen reminds us that her choice of husband isn’t; Laura is “like [so] many women in America who read novels and are married to men who don’t.”
  • presents “an annotation of the first page of White Noise, with help from Don DeLillo.” Watch ‘garlic-flavored potato chips’ become ‘onion-and-garlic chips.’

New Cuts at Penguin

pcuts.jpgFollowing 1) news of Pearson’s 6 percent drop in annual profits — blamed mostly on “the weakness of the US dollar and a difficult holiday season for its Penguin consumer book unit” — and 2) the surprise resignation of its chairman, Dennis Stevenson, we get 3) a mysterious round of firings last Friday at Penguin and its imprints, reported first by PW:

Ahead of what many expect will be a sobering call next week with Penguin’s John Makinson and David Shanks, the company has laid off a number of back-office and sales positions, sources say. No exact number as yet, but the cuts reportedly come at Viking and Putnam in the U.S. as well as other divisions at Penguin U.K. At least one notable layoff stateside comes relatively high in the sales department. The company declined to comment.

Know more than PW does? Write us with details.

Fantasy Advances, “Europe’s most popular science fiction & fantasy site” (??), recently surveyed SF and fantasy writers on their advances & incomes. Among the results:

  • The range in Fantasy first novel advances is from $0 to $40,000.

  • The average first novel advance is $6966 for Fantasy.
  • The median first novel advance is $5000 for Fantasy.
  • The range in Science Fiction first novel advances is from $0 to $20,000.
  • The average first novel advance is $6555 for SF.
  • The median first novel advance is $5000 for SF.

Other stats take a look at the difference between advances received by agented vs. unagented authors (please don’t roll your eyes like that…), advances for first novels vs. subsequent novels, and advances for hardcover vs. trade paperback/mass market releases (…your eyes might get stuck).

Correction: Beatrice informs us that SF writer Tobias S. Buckell originally posted the survey’s results on his weblog. simply reprinted the entry.

Worst … Profile … Ever.

youngfoer.jpgNext to Deborah Solomon’s profile of Jonathan Safran Foer in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, Barbara Walters’ pre-Oscar interviews seem sane, cynical, and impressively unfazed by the notion of ‘celebrity’:

When he smiles, he looks even younger, with teeth that seem too white and straight for a person of his depth … A kind of poet-wanderer, he does his writing all over town … The young Foer was flamboyant on the outside, grown-up on the inside … ”Jonathan has had to live with so much jealousy, it’s had me ripping my hair out.” …

Worse, though, than Solomon’s fulsome prose, is the sheepish but single-minded narcissism Foer brings to his role as interviewee. He applies a med school student’s discipline to the task of talking about himself, hoping, perhaps, that studiousness can obscure the elective nature of his self-importance. “In scarcely more than a month,” Solomon writes, she received “some 150 e-mail messages from Foer, many of them wickedly hilarious, others gravely literary, and running to thousands of words.” She continues:

During the weeks I was working on this article, he answered the questions that were put to him and reported on his whereabouts on a nearly daily basis; indeed, sometimes on an hourly basis. A kind of epistolary climax was reached one Sunday earlier this month, when I received a total of 19 e-mail messages from him…

”I think it would be nice to meet again,” he wrote one day. ”It will give me a chance to give you a fuller picture — even if the fuller picture is not a better picture. . . . It pains me to think that I have not yet given you enough about me, as a person.

When it comes to JSF, I don’t think it’s fair to write off people’s dislike for him as jealousy. It’s not his success people dislike; it’s his personality, which we wouldn’t be acquainted with if not for his success.

Out of the Ballpark

no1.jpgDespite PW‘s claims that sales of Jose Canseco’s Juiced were off to a slow start, the NY Times‘s bestseller list for March 6 shows the steroid-monger’s memoir making its debut at no. 1. That other most-talked-about book of the season, James B. Stewart’s DisneyWar, makes the list at no. 7, a somewhat ho-hum showing for a book charged with the responsibility of “[rescuing] the boardroom drama.”

Update: Confirming ReganBook’s success, (which bases its lists on Nielson BookScan data) ranks Juiced as the week’s “top debut.” USA Today‘s list places Juiced at no. 3, after James Patterson’s Honeymoon (no. 1 on the Times’ hardcover fiction list) and Bob Greene’s Total Body Makeover (no. 1 for the Times in its “hardcover advice” category). DisneyWar comes in at no.29 on USA Today‘s list and, according to Nielson BookScan, fails to crack the top 10 in nonfiction. Update no. 2: A reader with BookScan access tells us that DisneyWar was no. 12 on last week’s nonfiction list, selling 11,264 copies vs. Juiced‘s 47,887.

Cast of Shadows, Part I of 2

castofshadows.jpgI’m not sure what it says about our general sense of humanity that, the less we know someone, the less obligation we feel towards treating them fairly. A couple weeks ago, for example, the National Enquirer ran a cover story called “Cellulite of the Stars,” replete with pictures of skinny twenty-something celebs bending over in shorts and bikini bottoms; un-noteworthy shadows on their skin were identified as cellulite by flourescent arrows. And, though it doesn’t seem fair to judge a culture’s sense of decency by its tabloids, the ease with which we critique celebrities is, almost always, at odds with the courtesy we show friends, acquaintances, and most non-public figures on our weblogs and in our papers.

That, more or less, is the first half of my response to a recent email I got about bloggers’ (overly?) enthusiastic reaction to Kevin Guilfoile’s upcoming book, Cast of Shadows. According to the email’s author,

The book is awful, it fails even as throw-away thriller, but Kevin will get a pass thanks to his connections to Radosh, Coudal, and the Morning News. This hypocritical clubbiness is turning the book blogs [into] the new establishment.

Whether or not Cast of Shadows actually sucks — and I’ll get back to that in my next post — the real target of the letter is bloggers’ circle-jerk mentality. While I’ve always thought the MSM’s response to blogs — of all things! — linking to each other, and treating each others’ best posts with the same respect they’d show pieces in the NYT — was absurd, I’m beginning to wonder if the letter’s accusation of “hypocritical clubbiness,” in relation to blogs’ product-plugging, isn’t so off-target. While blogs treat most books like they would celebrities — at least, in the sense, that they feel free to openly critique them — the more casual atmosphere of blogs (versus, say, newspapers’ book reviews) has two obvious results: 1) bloggers feel comfortable encouraging readers to check out their friends’ books, and 2) other bloggers have begun to count as friends — i.e., people who can be publicly plugged, but not publicly critiqued. If blogs are moving — as the suspiciously trend-hungry media occasionally suggests — to the center of our literary culture, it’s easy to wonder if they, even more so than traditional media, will fall prey to a “hypocritical clubbiness” — one that’s clear to everyone but them.


Among the reasons A.J.Jacobs’ response to Joe Queenan’s review of The Know-It-All was so appealing was the symmetry it achieved by appearing in the very publication it addressed. A similar pleasure princible might also be at work in the Observer‘s write-up of that lit crit skirmish, which displays the shameful consequences of following Queenan’s advice to Jacobs — trading in EW for Proust — too closely:

“Jacobs seems to have the idea that nobody’s ever written a nasty review before,” said Mr. Queenan. “He should take a look at Scott Peck’s reviews… Have you read Scott Peck?”

No, but apparantly, Queenan has — and, next to Scott’s work, EW looks positively Proustian.

Taking the Sub-Way

In case you missed it, last Sunday’s NYTBR featured Ben Yagoda—author of About Town: The New Yorker and the World It Made and The Sound on the Page: Style and Voice in Writing—writing on his specialty: nonfiction books and their mandatory subtitles.

[Subtitles] are a sort of lottery ticket in the economics of nonfiction book marketing. Publishers throw all kinds of elements in them—vogue words and phrases, features of the book the title didn’t get around to mentioning, talismanic locutions like ”An American Life”—in the (almost always) vain hope that something will pay off.

What’s changed recently is that the subtitle has been asked to bear ever more weight. So many books are published nowadays that each one needs to proclaim its own merits; and with advertising budgets shaved away to nothing, the task falls to subtitles. As a result, they have become ubiquitous, hyperbolic and long.

On that note: while browsing today’s book releases, GC discovered her newest favorite-subtitle-of-all-time:
Other intriguing titles by “Ray Comfort” include Hell’s Best Kept Secret (“Satan does not want you to read this book!”) and God Doesn’t Believe in Atheists: Proof That the Atheist Doesn’t Exist (“…Nowhere to run. But to the cross.”).