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Archives: March 2007

The Philosopher-King Wants a Light Read

In today’s NYT op-ed section, Stanley Fish browses the mystery section*, and we learn that the greatest minds in America face the same problems buying a book you do: The jacket copy’s unreliable, the blurbs even more so, but first sentences will almost always steer you right.

Among the books he dismisses on the basis of bad (for him) openings are Rain Fall by Barry Eisler and Roses Are Red by James Patterson; what he likes is Elizabeth George‘s What Came Before He Shot Her. (Contacted for a response, Eisler wrote back to say that he enjoyed Fish’s article: “Look, no one’s work appeals to everyone. Stanley just didn’t like that (misquoted) sentence; that happens, and it would be silly for me to hold it against him. He sounds like a thoughtful guy.”) Anybody got a lead on where the sentence “Stromose was in high school when he met the boy who would someday murder his wife and son” comes from? Google was singularly unhelpful not only for the exact phrase, but for all sorts of words searched for in conjunction with “Stromose,” which you’d have thought would make things easier…

UPDATE: Sarah double-checked and the mystery opening line belongs to T. Jefferson Parker‘s STORM RUNNERS, just out from William Morrow. “Stromose” is actually misspelled; it should be “Stromsoe,” who is the protagonist of Parker’s book.

*It’s TimesSelect, so you might not be able to read it all.

Dana Vachon Tries on Heir Apparent Mantle

This is surely the week of Dana Vachon, whose combination of blogging and banking experience plus eye popping book deal is now bearing fruit with the release of his debut, MERGERS & ACQUISITIONS, touted as the next heir apparent to Jay McInerney‘s BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY. The New York Times tracked him as he went out clubbing and also incorporated M&A into a trend piece about Wall Street books. New York Magazine had its own profile of the former J.P. Morgan banker. Now it’s the New York Observer‘s turn, as Lizzy Ratner sits down with the author while he eats a “goddamn good breakfast” in Balthazar.

Explaining how the thinly-vield roman a clef came to be, Vachon said “I felt like I was living with a bunch of people who had wrongly identified themselves as a post-9/11 generation. And I felt like I they were one of the most gilded and privileged groups to ever land into anything, that nobility no longer obliged but sort of entitled. I wanted to set down a portrait of this generation. Period,” he continued. “What’s the great Flaubertian quote? ‘All it takes for a member of the bourgeoisie to be happy is good health, selfishness, and stupidity, but the first two will get you nowhere if you don’t have the third?’” he said, slightly misquoting the author. “I love that.”

The question is how Vachon and his novel – Riverhead‘s “lead fiction title” for the moment according to his editor, Geoff Kloske – will be received. All the usual launch parties and off-the-book features apply, but the feature’s slightly sniffy tone about the book seems to indicate [his] skepticism that Vachon even has another novel in him. But Vachon makes it clear he’s got a tangible idea for book number two: “It’s a book about space tourism, Westchester County, instant unwanted fame and, um, the possibility of a new beginning, maybe? Of renewal? I mean, I feel the book I just wrote is so much about cities built on cities built on cities, and this one is not.”

Although if for whatever reason, Vachon decides not to write books anymore, he can always sing*:

*That’s Vachon singing “Perfect Gentleman” with Wyclef Jean at the Audi Forum in New York City on December 5, 2006.

Heartache by The Numbers @ Borders

One of these days Borders CEO George Jones is going to wind up summarizing the finanical performance of his company by saying, “The only thing I know to say is that it’s been a good year for the roses.” Last week, the sad songs were all about closing down the superstores outside North America; now, Jeffrey Trachtenberg reports for the Wall Street Journal, the membership-rewards program feels the axe, with Borders “phasing out its popular Holiday Savings Rewards and Personal Shopping Days benefits and replacing them with a simpler, less-generous promotion called Borders Bucks.” In other words, for every $150 you spend with the store, you get a $5 credit you have to exercise within a single calendar month. As Trachtenberg writes, hardly the stuff to impress customers:

“‘Why bother?’ asked Ron Goodenow, a market research consultant and writer in Northborough, Mass. ‘I find that on a lot of things that I’m interested in like music and DVDs that their prices are higher than the competition.’ The five dollars, he says, won’t mean anything to him. ‘It’s gratuitous considering how much they’ve hyped the program.’”

At least now we know where $150 will get you a cup of coffee… In another WSJ story, Annelena Lobb sums up what analysts are saying, and the verdict on Borders stock is mostly neutral, with a few holds, and one recommendation each for outright buying or selling shares now.

Dan Brown Wins Copyright Infringement Case

The resolution was a lot more quiet than the original lawsuit and trial, but the AP reports that Dan Brown won his copyright infringement case Wednesday, after Britain’s Court of Appeal rejected efforts from two authors who claimed he stole their ideas for his blockbuster novel, THE DA VINCI CODE. Lawyers for Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, who wrote THE HOLY BLOOD AND THE HOLY GRAIL, now face legal bills of about $6 million after losing their appeal against publisher Random House Inc. This follows Justice Peter Smith‘s April ruling that Random House had not breached the copyright. Smith said the claim was based on a “selective number of facts and ideas artificially taken out of (the book) for the purpose of the litigation.”

“It’s a legal win for Dan Brown, but neither he nor his lawyers come off looking particularly good,” said C.E. Petit of Scrivener’s Error in an email to us this morning. “The main opinion also has a lot of trouble with the trial judge’s structure for his opinion; this appears almost exactly opposed to US practice, in that in US practice the appellate court would probably give more deference to the trial judge’s ability to judge the demeanor of witnesses.”

OJ Auction Set for April 17

Looks like the auction for the rights to OJ Simpson‘s ill-fated IF I DID IT will happen on April 17, reports the AP. Notice of the auction to be held by the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department has been sent to publishers, Hollywood studios and talent agencies, Goldman family attorney David Cook said. It’s unknown who will bid on the rights, but Cook said the Goldmans will do so if needed – or if no publisher decides to touch the project with anything resembling a pole of any length, width or depth… but Ron can think of at least one California-based publisher who wouldn’t feel a jot of shame while buying it, especially when it’s a bargain on par with a Porsche seized in a drug bust…

Murakami Shares Kiriyama Prize

The 11th annual Kiriyama Prize was split among three authors: Haruki Murakami, for BLIND WILLOW, SLEEPING WOMAN, winning for fiction; and Greg Mortenson‘s and David Oliver Relin‘s THREE CUPS OF TEA: ONE MAN’S PROMOTION TO PROMOTE PEACE…ONE SCHOOL AT A TIME, the non-fiction winner. The $30,000 award, to be divided between the three winners, was announced Tuesday by Pacific Rim Voices, a nonprofit organization “dedicated to celebrating literature that contributes to greater understanding of and among the peoples and nations of the Pacific Rim and South Asia.

Outsourced Learning to India with HarperCollins’ Help

The Times reports on the alliance forged this week between TutorVista, an Indian start-up that offers schoolchildren unlimited “offshored” tutoring for £50 a month and HarperCollins. The company will face competition from Pearson, the world’s largest educational publisher, which said that it is “very close to launching a live tutoring service”, which will be linked to its expanding online business.

TutorVista’s approach echos the outsourcing of jobs to India by Western countries; students are coached via an online platform that is down-loaded on to a home computer and includes an interactive white-board, an instant messaging tool and an internet telephone system. Tutors, recruited from India’s massive pool of graduates, must have a good degree in the subject that they will teach and are given a six-week training course covering topics such as the UK syllabus and how to broach the “accent barrier”. Under the deal with Harper Education, the publisher will promote TutorVista services on its titles. Content from HarperCollins will be used by TutorVista for online learning aids in the run-up to the Easter cramming season.

Both HarperCollins & Pearson are aiming to tap into a rapidly growing market. British parents will spend an estimated 500 million pounds on tutors this year in an effort to secure success in GCSEs and A levels, up from an estimated 450 million pounds in 2006, according to Barnes, the market researchers.

A Funny Way of Halting International Growth

Late last week, we scratched our heads and wondered why, if Borders is tightening the belt on its international operations, the chain just opened a superstore in Wellington, New Zealand. Wonder no more: The New Zealand Herald reports that news of the new corporate agenda has finally made its way to the southern hemisphere, and that store’s being cut loose, too—one of sixteen stores in Australia and New Zealand the company will be selling off. Perhaps we’d better make that seventeen, though; the source who passed this story along also tells us that another superstore is opening in Auckland Thursday.

Finally, My Satellite Radio Debut

You may recall that I was supposed to be on a Sirius talk show late last year, only to have my segment rendered obsolete by events the day after the taping. Well, it’s taken three months, but I’ve finally managed to get myself back on satellite radio—and this time, it’s live, so they can’t pre-empt me! A few months ago, after attending a Soho House workshop led by Karen Salmansohn, I re-ignited my acquaintance with the self-help expert and introduced her to Gretchen Rubin‘s Happiness Project, and then brought the two together to chat in person. Shortly after that, Salmansohn asked if I wanted to be “the book guy” for her new morning talk show on Sirius’s Lime Channel, “The Be Happy Dammit Hour.” In other words, I find interesting authors, I introduce them to Karen, and then they talk to each other. I made my debut yesterday with a full slate of relationship experts, and this morning’s show featured a pre-recorded segment with novelist Carolyn Turgeon. (The shows aired live from 8-9 A.M., but will be repeated at 8 P.M. each weeknight.) I’m aiming to do this about once a week or so, and we’re looking into getting some of those segments online as well, so those of you without satellite radio—heck, I don’t even have one yet—will be able to hear what’s going on.

Abate v. ICM, Day Two: Laying Out the Timeline

If there’s one thing yesterday’s proceedings in Judge Peter Leisure‘s courtroom demonstrated, it’s the extreme disconnect between legal relevance and true-blue drama. From a legal standpoint, all the preliminary injunction hearing (which wrapped up by 4 PM yesterday) accomplished was to show whether there was enough standing to hold Richard Abate to the terms of his ICM contract until the last day of 2007, or whether ICM’s contract, forbidding Abate to even discuss options with Endeavor, was anticompetitive according to New York law. That will be decided fairly quickly – likely within the week – as Leisure, testier and more impatient than he’d been on Thursday, remarked once more that he’d “never seen such a delay on proceedings for a preliminary injunction” as well as the scuttled TRO. From a contractual standpoint, either Abate left – thus violating his existing contract – or he was fired in passive-aggressive fashion because turning down a new offer imperiled his future and so he needed backup in case that happened.

But you’re not reading this lengthy account for legal wranglings (even though there were plenty, especially when Abate’s father-in-law, Harold Moore, could only testify in limited fashion thanks to attorney-client privilege, a point vigorously debated between ICM counsel A. Michael Weber and Abate’s lawyer Brian Kaplan.) You want the drama. And boy, was there drama, never more evident than when a steely-eyed Esther Newberg, pursing her lips and visibly unhappy to have spent most of the day cooling her heels in the jury room under sequestering until she was called to the stand around 2:30 PM, testified that she felt “betrayed” by Abate’s surprise exit on February 9, someone whom she characterized as being a close friend – though not anymore. Add Sloan Harris‘s testimony as well as Abate’s completion of his to the mix and the real story of this hearing is not so much about money, but about how seemingly close relationships deteriorated so suddenly, so badly – which might explain why the arbitration demand slapped upon Abate late last week is to the tune of $10 million dollars.

But first, let’s backtrack to the very beginning of the day’s events, when Judge Leisure reminded the court that the hearing ought to have wrapped up in a single day and he felt much of it was a waste of time. “I hope we can make some headway here,” he said, and while the court may not quite have got its wishes, the reporters in attendance – yours truly, the LA TimesJosh Getlin and a late-arriving Michael Fleming from Variety – certainly did.

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