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Archives: September 2005

What Does Courtney Read?

Bob Dylan’s Chronicles, apparently.

Uh-oh! Someone at Simon & Schuster publicity’s getting a friendly chuck on the arm for their awesomer-than-awesome product placement skills! (Who’s the man? You’re the man! Or the woman.)

Maybe she’ll have finished it by the end of her term.

Courtney Love Sentenced [Yahoo!/Reuters]

Embedded in the Storm

Hillel Italie of the Associated Press reports on the latest major deal for a Katrina book (after last week’s Douglas Brinkley signing), this one from New Orleans Times-Picayune city editor Jed Horne. Random House describes the book as “an insider’s narrative account of the Hurricane Katrina disaster that will locate its roots in the culture and politics of the city of New Orleans and in the national politics of oil, homeland security, poverty and race relations.” The acquiring editor, Tim Bartlett, adds:

“This event touches upon so many important issues that it deserves thoughtful treatment from someone, like Horne, who experienced it first hand and can vividly capture each moment, but also has the ability and access to provide the critical long view.”

It sounds like an excellent get for Bartlett–and in his first month at Random House, no less, demonstrating exactly why they wanted to hire him away from Oxford University Press (where he was a senior editor specializing in politics and current events). I for one am hoping he gets Horne to provide lots of detail on the heroic efforts of Times-Picayune staffers to keep the paper running as an online blog of breaking stories.

Reality Outpaces Science Fiction

ksrobinson.jpgOn the train down to D.C. yesterday, I was reading Forty Signs of Rain by Kim Stanley Robinson (left), a “twenty minutes into the future” novel in which a technocrat couple–he’s a senatorial aide, she works at the National Science Foundation–do what they can to make the government get serious about global warming. Sure, it has its wonkish moments; it’s science fiction, after all, and that particular branch of sci-fi grounded in the desire to engineer a better world. But it’s also an insightful political novel and a warm domestic comedy, with great crossover potential (although it’s not anywhere near as Clancyesque as the description on the back cover makes it sound). The novel ends with two massive storm fronts colliding over the capital and creating a downpour that floods the Potomac and puts about half the capital underwater. You can imagine how eerie that struck me as my train pulled into the city–even if it does become a bit weird then to be immersed in a future world that hasn’t been prepared for natural disasters hitting urban centers by Katrina.

Though the Guardian‘s Sarah Crown makes the connection as she interviews Robinson about the book’s forthcoming sequel, Fifty Degrees Below, she winds up asking him more about the background science and the overall political tone, which just might be a satire of the Bush administration’s approach to climate change and science in general.

“‘Well, there is a bit of that,’ he admits [to her], ‘but it’s very hard to be funny about this stuff, except in the blackest sense.’”

(While we’re on the subject of sci-fi and reality intersecting, Reason has an intriguing essay about Samuel Delany’s Dhalgren as a prescient vision of New Orleans.)

No More Interviews for Zadie

[Ed. note—Spiers here. I'm blogging a bit while Ron's away.]

EdRants notes that Zadie Smith isn’t doing any more interviews:

yesterday afternoon, I received a voicemail from Cornell stating that “all interviews are canceled.” She didn’t state a reason and was very apologetic…[Smith's publicist] Cornell told me that Smith had been overscheduled and that she had been forced to cut back because she did not want to exhaust herself. The decision had come directly from Smith herself and Penguin supported the decision. But at the back of my mind, I wondered if the Kachka interview had something to do with Smith’s decision.

He goes on to conclude…

So what’s the answer? Possibly somewhere in between. Smith probably recalls that there was indeed a tangent, but may not recall the exact nature of said tangent. But if the question itself is, as Kachka states, a negative one (“What’s so bad about England?), then it’s small wonder that a negative response was given.

… seeming to imply that Boris Kachka (who is, full disclosure, an ex-colleague of mine) would have been in the wrong for asking a negative question which was hardly leading, given that she had just made remarks about England being disgusting. (If anything, it gave her an opening to soften them or take them back.) Sounds to me like Boris was doing his job. I don’t think it’s any journalist’s place to make sure the writer ends up with a flattering interview, or to encourage them to censor themselves. In a lot of the book blog coverage I’m reading, there seems to be an odd willingness to automatically defend the author as if the reporter has some responsibility to protect the author rather than to treat her as a subject.

There’s also a failure to recognize the fact that when press is unflattering, “I was misquoted” is a fairly common response, and in most cases, the reporter has much more to lose if that were in fact the case.

I also don’t think that Katcha’s comment here

Kachka also noted, rather ominously, “She doesn’t realize that when journalists come under suspicion, we have the tapes to prove it.”

was meant ominously (or threateningly,) as implied. In my experience, it’s a reality. It’s not unusual to have subjects claim that they were misquoted thinking that it’s just their word against the reporter’s and then backpedal furiously and apologize when they realize that the reporter has actual proof because the conversation was taped.

And there’s nothing “gotcha”-ish about an on-the-record, scheduled and premeditated interview. Having said stupid stuff myself and had it end up in the New York Times, I can sympathize with the pain of seeing your words in print and wishing you hadn’t said them. But at no point would I have blamed the reporter for them being there.

If Only Katrina’s Happy Ending Came This Easy

astern.jpgAmanda Stern (left) kicks off the third ending of New York City’s Happy Ending reading series with a special charity event. Her little sister, Nina, had just enrolled at Tulane a week before Katrina came by New Orleans. “While in the lobby of her dorm checking in,” Stern emails, “it was announced that the school was closing for a day or two and that everyone would need to drop their things and evacuate.” Nina was fortunate–she made it back home safely in plenty of time, and she’ll be taking classes at NYU this fall. We all know not everyone was so lucky, however, so at tonight’s reading, Nina will be collecting donations from audience members ($10 minimum) and tabulating their votes on which charity will receive the evening’s proceeds. Stern already has a shortlist of possible candidates with “some suggestions from Ammi Emergency of Soft Skull Press,” who was in Morgan City, Louisiana, when the storm hit, “and a list that Bomb magazine sent around.”

Tonight’s reading features four great storytellers–James Salter, Jim Shepard, Julia Slavin, and Amy Hempel–plus a musical performance by Sam Bisbee. It starts at 8:00 p.m. at the Happy Ending bar at 302 Broome Street, just off Forsyth (one block north of the B/D stop at Grand Street or a few blocks from the F/J/M/Z at Delancey). If you can’t make it, but still want to contribute to Katrina relief efforts, the organizations on the Bomb list are among many worthwhile groups who need your help at this time. Also,’s Red Cross page has already raised $12.37 million and continues to accept your donations.

That Was Fun…

Thanks to Elizabeth and Mediabistro for letting me behind the wheel here for the last few days, and to the vast majority of you readers who offered encouragement for most stories and accepted the occasional error–like the time I called Zadie Smith’s new novel One Beauty instead of On Beauty–with gentle good grace. (One anonymous heckler was ready to end my career over that typo, but I think I survived.) And extra-special thanks to New York reporter Boris Kachka for his patience in clarifying a story about Zadie’s backpedaling ways that I should have held on to a little longer before posting the first time.

I’ll be leaving tomorrow for Fall for the Book, where you can be sure I’ll ask Mark Winegardner about his latest Godfather deal, but I’ll file a few items when I can. Beyond that…well, you’re be hearing more on that front shortly.

So Much for Ketchup’s Natural Mellowing Agents

prairieho1.jpgPrairie Home Companion host Garrison Keillor is threatening to sue a Minnesota website called MNspeaks over its sale of the parodic T-shirts displayed at left (as noted at a few blogs, including TMFTML). The cease-and-desist notice from the Twin Cities law firm of Nilsson & Associates cites the usual “high probability of confusion” and possible “misleading and false inference of endorsement, approval, or sponsorship.” Publisher Rex Sorgatz says he’s almost out of the shirts anyway, and wasn’t thinking of printing up more, but “it annoys the living hell out of me that Garrison Keillor thinks he can bully me.” So he’s looking into his options with the ACLU and any “young sparky first amendment lawyer” willing to work for free. It’ll be fun to see how this case plays out, so, Rex, be well, do good work, and keep in touch.

Jerry Lewis Is Going to Be Pissed

Israeli novelist Yoriam Kaniuk is no stranger to the film industry; his stories have been adapted for Israeli cinema since the late ’60s. But now, Variety reports, his 1968 novel Adam Resurrected (translated into English the following year) is headed to the big screen with Paul Schrader writing and directing. It’s the story of a former circus clown who spent his time in the concentration camps trying to bring a smile to his fellow Jews as they made their way to the gas chambers; after the war, he winds up in an insane asylum where he’s “more brilliant than the doctors and more insane than any of the patients.” (So says the dust jacket, anyway.)

So is it One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest meets Sophie’s Choice? Because it sounds an awful lot like The Day the Clown Cried, only not as, you know, legendarily awful.

His Agent Is No Different Than Any Powerful Man

Mark Winegardner had so much fun writing The Godfather Returns that he’s going back for seconds. The Godfather’s Revenge will “explore the role organized crime may have had in the assassination of a charismatic young President,” says Publishers Marketplace. Not John F. Kennedy, mind you, but James Kavanagh Shea, whose father used to run a bootlegging operation with Vito Corleone…no connection to historical reality there whatsoever, right? Of course, if you’ve read Returns, you know Winegardner’s already dropped some hints about Shea’s murder that only indirectly involve the Corleones (a neat twist on Charles McCarry’s The Tears of Autumn, no less). So I’ll be curious to see how he manages to pull Michael back in.

Neil Olson handled rights for the estate of Mario Puzo and Amy Williams at Collins McCormick repped Winegardner, with the book going to Dan Conaway at Putnam. Putnam published the original Godfather back in ’69; Returns, like Puzo’s final three novels, was acquired by Jon Karp in his Random House days. And here’s a fun data point: before Conaway came to Putnam, he was at HarperCollins, where he picked up a thriller called The Icon…which was written by Neil Olson.

(And you thought I was going to say Putnam made him an offer he couldn’t refuse…)

The Way That She Feels Is No Longer NewsUPDATED

zadie.jpgLast Thursday, Zadie Smith’s On Beauty (which Michiko describes as “glorious“) made the Man Booker shortlist, much to the author’s surprise. Smith (left) had already told New York‘s Boris Kachka she believed she had “no chance… Have you seen the fucking list?” But although her post-announcement press release (in which she misquotes herself…or does she?) acknowledged she was “amazed and delighted to have been shortlisted alongside British and Irish writers for whom I have nothing but respect,” that’s not the reason she had to issue the statement.

What really got the Brits upset is that she also told Kachka England was a “disgusting place” full of “general stupidity, madness, vulgarity, stupid TV shows, aspirational arseholes, money everywhere.” Now she’s suggesting those quotes were “twisted and quoted out of context,” perhaps even fabricated, and what really bugs her is “bad reality TV shows and the obsession with wealth and celebrity.” (UPDATE: So I called Kachka for his response, and he played the relevant segment of the tape for me, and she certainly did say those words in that order, whatever the context might have been and whether she’s willing to stand by them now.)

Maud Newton tried to draw her out further on the controversy, but she’s already moved on–the author who hates to sell her own books is busy plugging Hilary Mantel’s Beyond Black.

(photo: Eamon McCabe)