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Archives: January 2007

Haven’t You Forgotten James Frey Yet?

jamesfrey.jpgAs the aftershocks from Oprah Winfrey’s latest book club selection roll out, the AP offers a totally unsurprising take on the subject: “If her goal was to erase the memory of the disgraced James Frey [left], then Oprah Winfrey couldn’t have made a better pick for her book club than a memoir by Sidney Poitier.”

That’s not just conventional wisdom, it’s recycled conventional wisdom; after all, last year everybody believed she couldn’t have made a better pick than a Holocaust memoir by Elie Wiesel—even though she made that choice before her relationship with Frey had completely deteriorated. Here, for example, is Alexander Cockburn in last April’s CounterPunch: “One can easily see why Oprah Winfrey and her advisers saw an Auschwitz excursion in the company of Wiesel as a sure-fire antidote to salve the wounds sustained by Oprah’s Book Club when it turned out that James Frey had faked significant slabs of his own supposedly autobiographical saga of moral regeneration.”

And that was a couple weeks after Ruth Franklin wrote in The New Republic, “Considering the circumstances, Winfrey’s endorsement of Night was a canny move: what could better restore her credibility—and the credibility of memoir itself—than a book that was ‘beyond criticism’?” Heck, even Joshua Cohen of BeliefNet commented on how Wiesel re-legitimized Oprah’s taste in literature after the scandal: “As public relations strategy, the move is near genius,” he wrote. “It stands to reason that Oprah might have been in need of a little credibility.” (There were similar quotes from less prominent sources, but you get the point.)

I’m going to throw my two cents in: If Oprah really wants people to forget James Frey, she should take the opposite tack and get an author who might do something so outrageous he or she will stick in viewers’ minds forever, the way you’ll always remember that time Crispin Glover nearly kicked David Letterman in the head. I like our friend Jessica Cutler for the gig, but maybe you’ve got other candidates…?

Wanna Adapt a Jonathan Lethem Story?

“I like art that comes from other art,” Jonathan Lethem writes on his website, “and I like seeing my stories adapted into other forms.” So, after writing an essay about adaptation and free culture for Harper’s, and having found a way to give a preliminary green light to both a cinematic and theatrical adaptation of his novel The Fortress of Solitude*, Lethem is inviting filmmakers and playwrights to have a go at several of his stories—and all you have to do is ask him nicely (and try to keep the film or theatrical production short). Also there are song lyrics waiting for your melodies.

“I’m eager to see the results,” Lethem writes. “But I’m not seeking to collaborate with other artists on these projects… My preference is to relinquish creative control of the material, in favor of seeing what someone else might do with it… In fact, a few independent film producers and DVD distributors have expressed some interest in gathering the results, when and if they’re substantial enough to make such a gathering interesting.”

*Oh, please tell me the stage version is going to be a musical and Ben Greenman will co-write the songs…

Rafferty’s Latest Dobby Horror Show

You might recall my delight earlier this month when the NYTBR assigned the new Hannibal novel to Terrence Rafferty, their all-too-infrequent horror critic. Well, last weekend they delivered the second installment of Rafferty’s column. As we noted the last time this column came around, nobody else at the Review is covering mass-market originals, and very few of its contributors are writing with his full-on verve about any type of fiction. Here, for example, is Rafferty on horror writer Bentley Little:

“In a sense, his whole career—16 previous novels and a short-story collection—has been an elaborate self-conducted anger management program, from which he has yet to graduate. The Burning is just the latest in a series of Little novels in which boiling-mad victims of one social injustice or another set out to redress the wrongs done to them, and go way too far. And in all his books the writer appears to be working extremely hard to keep his sympathy for these angry devils from getting the better of him. In every novel, he maintains a running auto-critique, heckling himself like a drunken doppelganger in the audience, with the invective intensifying noticeably as the act nears its conclusion.”

Admit it, even if you can’t stand genre fiction, reading that description makes Little sound awfully darn interesting, doesn’t it? Heck, last week Lee Siegel churned out how many thousands of words about Norman Mailer, and he didn’t make him sound half as compelling as that.

Expect to Pay at the British Library

Thanks to the prospect of serious cuts – potentially up to 7 percent of its 100 million pound annual budget – the British Library is about to engage in some drastic measures. The Independent reports that in order to survive, the library proposes to slash opening hours by more than a third and to charge researchers for admission to the reading rooms for the first time. All public exhibitions would close, along with schools learning programs. The permanent collection, which includes a copy of every book published in the UK, would be permanently reduced by 15 per cent. And the national newspaper archive, used by 30,000 people a year, including many researching their family trees, would close.

The reaction has been swift and angry. Award-winning author Margaret Drabble, who is currently using the library for research, said: “It would be a very great mistake and tragic to make cuts. It is a great national institution and it is used by scholars from all over the world.” Ex-Monty Python star Michael Palin, who is a patron of the library, said it was a “precious and thrilling resource” that needs to be looked after. Even the House of Lords is up in arms, but the Department for Culture says the expected cuts will mean that more savings need to be made. A spokesman said: “The cultural sector has had huge real-terms increases in funding since 1997. Clearly, this cannot go on indefinitely.”

Scene @ ALA Mid-Winter Meeting


Diamond Books Distributors VP Kuo-Yu Liang sent along some pictures from the reception held after the American Library Association‘s midwinter meeting in Seattle last week. Diamond and Shelf Awareness co-editors Jenn Risko and John Mutter (left and center) hosted the party in the online newsletter’s downtown office space, with guests from all over the graphic novel end of the comics and book publishing industries (inset).

Now it’s Google Book & Map Search

The debate about whether Google Book Search is a good thing or a bad thing is a topic that the New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin handles very well, but for those in the latter camp, they likely won’t appreciate Google’s newest invention, which will let people plot on maps references to places they find in books. ItWorldCanada reports that book entries in Google Book Search may include a section called “Places mentioned in this book.” The section includes a map from Google Maps with pins indicating places included in the text. Below the map is a list with the name of the places, linked to the pages in which they are mentioned and an excerpt from the text.

“When our automatic techniques determine that there are a good number of quality locations from a book to show you, you’ll find a map on the ‘About this book’ page,” wrote David Petrou, a Google software engineer, in the official Book Search blog, on Thursday. “We hope this feature helps you plan your next trip, research an area for academic purposes, or visualize the haunts of your favorite fictional characters.” At the moment, you can do that with public domain classics like Jules Verne‘s AROUND THE THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS and Leo Tolstoy‘s WAR AND PEACE. But as expected, Google plans to expand this feature further.

Scene @ Random House Summer Showcase


Last Thursday night, the Random House Publishing Group had a cocktail party in an upper-floor room at Sardi’s to introduce the media to six writers the various imprints are positioning for success this summer. At left, Heather Terrell explains the plot of her debut Ballantine thriller, The Chrysalis, to honorary GalleyCat (and critically acclaimed novelist) Shari Goldhagen. If you look over Terrell’s left shoulder, you can see the big ol’ nametag for Cameron Stracher, whom I convinced later in the evening to pose in front of the big blow-up questionnaire for his Random House memoir, Dinner With Dad—which started out as a blog although he rebooted the site late last year.

Also on hand: Jonis Agee (The River Wife, Random), Katherine Center (The Bright Side of Disaster, Ballantine), Kaui Hart Hemmings (The Descendants, Random), and Naeem Murr (The Perfect Man, Random).

HMV Stock Woes Continue

HMV, the parent company of Waterstone’s and self-professed “top dog of music”, has become one of the most “shorted” UK stocks of all time, according to the Times. Almost 24% of HMV’s stock is now being borrowed as traders stake nearly 130m pounds on the chance that its share price is about to fall. Traders are thought to have sold 96.6m shares they do not own to buy them back later at a lower price. HMV’s share price has plummeted by 15% after profit warnings (brought on by the rapid decline in CD and DVD buying in favor of downloads) in the past three months and a disappointing Christmas, but experts say figures from Index Explorer show that the market believes the stock has still a long way to fall.

HMV’s share price rose a little when it emerged recently that Brandes Investment Partners, the value investor, had increased its stake in the music retailer. The American fund manager is now the group’s biggest shareholder with 40.8m shares, a 10.15% stake. Led by the secretive fund manager Amelia Morris, Brandes made hundreds of millions of pounds from investing in Marks & Spencer, having paid as little as 203p a share and sold for up to 700p a share. Brandes also owns stakes in Wm Morrison and French Connection.

Mailer’s Hitler Depiction Angers Germans

When THE CASTLE IN THE FOREST, Norman Mailer‘s first novel in 10 years, was published earlier this month, the reviews were mixed, ranging from laudatory to cranky. But the reaction pales in comparison to the reception in Germany, where the Guardian reports people are rather upset at Mailer’s depiction of “Adi,” the young Hitler. “One can’t forbid artists from dealing with Hitler but art will never achieve an understanding of the phenomenon – it will rather serve as a distraction,” the Central Council of Jews‘s vice president, Salomon Korn, told the ARD television channel. “Anyone tackling [this subject] artistically should carefully consider what their real intentions are.”

The debate is timely in Germany: Mailer’s novel coincides with other cultural challenges to entrenched taboos about Hitler and the Third Reich. Earlier this month, Germany’s first ever Hitler comedy Mein Führer went on general release. As well as scenes of the dictator playing with toy battleships in the bath and losing half his moustache it also, more seriously, showed a neurotic man, psychologically scarred by his father’s beatings. As for Mailer, he claims to be continuing the story in his next book – inviting even more rounds of criticism…

NYDN Takes Credit for Regan Firing

Today’s Daily News is teasing its readers with a glimpse at this week’s New York story on the Judith Regan firing, and in the process demonstrates itself to be a ninja master of the obvious: “O.J. Simpson’s kill-and-tell book sickened America, but it was the crass sullying of New York hero Mickey Mantle that finally toppled publisher Judith Regan.” Just in case you forgot, staff writer Adam Nichols describes the book in question as “a fictional account of Mantle’s past filled with pornography, foul jokes and a seamy affair with Marilyn Monroe, which led to her downfall after the Daily News splashed it on page one.”

I’m almost nostalgic for the days when the Daily News tried to pin the blame on me, before the Times and the Journal informed their readers that, yes, the remarks that set this whole ball rolling came during a discussion about the Mantle book. And I love how one unnamed executive says of Peter Golenbock‘s work, “Mickey Mantle felt like another major blunder… It just reinforced the sense that [Regan was] an irresponsible editor.” Funny; HarperCollins VP Michael Morrison is on record saying he liked the book and considered its treatment by the media (by which he pretty much meant the Daily News, although there was also the PW Daily story) “unfair.” That doesn’t make acquiring the book sound like an irresponsible blunder to me.