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Archives: August 2009

Joyce Carol Oates’ Literary Look at Ted Kennedy

9780446539258_94X145.jpgAs public figures remember Senator Edward M. Kennedy, his love of poetry and literature has surfaced in tributes.

In a probing essay for the Guardian, prolific author Joyce Carol Oates used classic literary works by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Joseph Conrad to measure Kennedy’s reputation. It is an tough portrait of the Senator and an exploration of public redemption in America.

Here’s an excerpt from the essay: “One is led to think of Tom and Daisy Buchanan of Fitzgerald’s the ‘Great Gatsby,’ rich individuals accustomed to behaving carelessly and allowing others to clean up after them … The poet John Berryman once wondered: ‘Is wickedness soluble in art?.’ One might rephrase, in a vocabulary more suitable for our politicized era: ‘Is wickedness soluble in good deeds?’” (Via The Awl)

Where I Must Go by Angela Jackson

Angela Jackson’s Where I Must Go is today’s Featured Book of Color, Pick of the Day. Set in a world of privilege and privation during the American civil rights movement comes Magdalena Grace’s story. The setting changes from the racially exclusive atmosphere of Eden University to the black neighborhoods of a Midwestern City to ancestral Mississippi. Magdalena encounters a wide range of characters of genders, ages, and races, with separate backgrounds. They all come to rely on one another to better understand the turbulent times the live in and the history they are currently making.

Angela Jackson is the author of the 1993 Chicago Sun-Times Book of the Year Award in Poetry and the 1994 Carl Sandberg Award for Poetry for Dark Legs and Silk Kisses: The Beatitudes of the Spinners.
Jeff is the author of “Forever My Lady” and the founder of

Set the Graphic Novel Free

What happens when you serialize parts of your graphic novel online, for free? For the author featured in this video, that strategy helped pack his book release party with loyal fans.

Magazine editors, librarians, and publishing types mingled at the packed celebration for Josh Neufeld‘s new graphic novel, “A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge” at Idlewild Books in Manhattan earlier this week. The event also featured a musical set by Mary McBride.

Neufeld first published a large portion of his new graphic novel at Smith magazine, and in this exclusive GalleyCat interview, he explained how that free serialization helped his book. The video includes three striking images from the book, all pictures courtesy of Josh Neufeld.

The New Yorker Hires 26-Year-Old Amelia Lester as Managing Editor

newyorker23.jpgNews broke this afternoon that 26-year-old Amelia Lester has scored one of the most coveted editorial spots in the literary world, hired by David Remnick to serve as managing editor of the prestigious magazine, The New Yorker. In response, Twitter hummed with praise, surprise, and soul-searching from readers around the country.

The NY Observer reports that Lester had served as an editor at the Paris Review. Here’s more: “[Lester] used to be a fact-checker at The New Yorker and checked all-star writers Seymour Hersh and Jane Mayer. She’s replacing Kate Julian, who is moving to Washington, D.C. where her husband just got a job.”

GalleyCat found a few scattered pieces Lester wrote for the online side of the magazine, but we especially appreciated her short piece about novelist Salman Rushdie‘s habit of making short cameos in movies. (Via Mediaite)

Remembering Dominick Dunne on the Menu

dunne23.jpgToday on the Morning Media Menu, we discussed the life and literary legacy of Vanity Fair correspondent Dominick Dunne.

The prolific writer passed away yesterday, leaving behind an impressive collection of novels and essays. At the end of the show, conversation turned to the looming deadline for the Google books settlement.

Menu co-host AgencySpy editor Matt Van Hoven had this thought: “With blogging, the news, with readers, [Google] has got everything. The question in my mind is, what’s the benefit for writers to be included in this? Right now it seems to be: well, things aren’t going to get much better, so you might as well join us.”

Rock Journalists’ Hardcore Memories

030681806X.jpgTo celebrate the release of Decibel magazine’s DaCapo anthology, “Precious Metal,” the LA Times has collected some heavy metal memories from rock journalists around the country–an oral history of this strange genre of American rock.

The collection includes the stories behind such classic metal albums as Black Sabbath‘s “Heaven and Hell” and Slayer‘s “Reign in Blood.” In the article, rock reporters reminisce about heavy metal dinners, drug abuse, and satanism.

Here’s rock journalist Adem Tepedelen with an anti-climactic memory: “[I arranged] an interview with Mercyful Fate on their first U.S. tour in late 1984 … lead vocalist King Diamond['s] stage get-up at the time featured corpse paint and an upside down cross painted on his forehead. He also used a microphone holder reportedly made from human thigh bones to screech lyrics largely about Satan and other occult-themed topics … The things that I remember most vividly to this day are how blue his eyes were, how well he spoke English and how smart and how nice he was. Which I gotta admit, at the time, was a little disappointing.”

One Million ePub Titles in Google Books

books_logo.gifYesterday Google announced that digital copies of one million public domain books will now be available in downloadable ePub format in Google Books.

A Google blog post explains the new development: “EPUB is a lightweight text-based digital book format that allows the text to automatically conform (or “reflow”) to these smaller screens. And because EPUB is a free, open standard supported by a growing ecosystem of digital reading devices, works you download from Google Books as EPUBs won’t be tied to or locked into a particular device.”

Many downloadable Google Books titles are available in a PDF format, which is difficult to translate across different reading devices. In addition, the creators of the Sony Reader announced that the device will adopt the ePub format, a move that left one digital book expert concerned. (Via Publishers Weekly)

Barack Obama’s Amazon Ranking Magic

9780316156493_154X233.jpgAfter President Barack Obama announced his summer vacation reading list this week, political journalists noticed that the chief executive’s seal of approval translated to some serious Amazon sales rank increases.

According to Politico, ‘The Way Home‘ by George Pelecanos rocketed up more than 30,000 spots on’s bestseller list on Tuesday, moving from from No. 33,349 to No. 328 following the presidential recommendation. The four other books on his ambitious, yet smooth-reading, list exhibited a similar rise through the online rankings on Amazon.

Here’s more from the article: “The others followed suit. ‘A Lush Life?’ From No. 74,289 to No. 10,295 on Wednesday. ‘Hot, Flat and Crowded?’ From No. 231 to No. 41 on Wednesday. “John Adams”? No. 14,301 to No. 7,067 on Wednesday. And “Plainsong” rocketed to to as high as No. 189 from its Monday position of No. 8,155.”

Nailing Down the Hammer Cover Art

When the fall W.W. Norton catalog arrived a few months ago, we were intrigued enough by the cover art for Hammer: A Novel of the Victorian Underground to peruse the description and decide we wanted to see what sort of story Sara Stockbridge had come up with for her debut. Who was this woman with all the jewelry and trinkets? What was that man whispering in her ear? Why were those children standing in the background? So we put in a request, and when the ARC came, there was a note attached saying the cover would change, which we didn’t think about any further until a finished copy showed up last week—and not only had Norton replaced the illustration with a photo montage, they’d gone and changed the name of the book to Grace Hammer.


What we had seen in the catalog was the cover used for the original British edition, published last year by Chatto & Windus, Jill Bialosky explained to us yesterday afternoon. Bialosky had seen that cover shortly after she acquired the book for Norton; “I was intrigued by it,” she said. “It was a very different approach than what we had been considering.” The character of Grace Hammer and the group of young pickpockets she’d gathered around her in 1880s London was one of the primary attractions of the novel for Bialosky and her colleagues, and they were drawn (no pun intended) to the way the British cover art brought those elements forward.

The initial reactions from American booksellers, however, were not enthusiastic, and Norton began to reconsider whether the original art was best suited to reach the readership they were after. Bialosky thought back to another of her authors, the late Michael Cox, and the way the covers for The Meaning of Night and The Glass of Time had used visual elements to convey an aura of Victorian-era mystery and suspense; after designer Greg Mollica combined images of a street and a woman in 19th-century clothing, Norton took another look at the title—”it seemed to us that we should soften the title,” Bialosky concluded, “that Hammer seemed a little too severe.”

And thus Grace Hammer was sent out into the world.

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Gretchen Lowell Has Your Number

Over the years, publishers have sent us a lot of things in the mail besides books: T-shirts, fancy chocolates, earlier this year we even got a hand towel. But we were genuinely surprised to open the package that came from Minotaur Books yesterday and have a cell phone fall out onto the counter. So we stuck our hand in and pulled out the flyer, at which point we realized it was a promo for Evil at Heart, the third novel in Chelsea Cain‘s series about the twisted relationship between a female serial killer and the homicide detective who led the original investigation into her murders.


Once we figured that out, it all made more sense: We’d read Evil at Heart earlier this summer, and a cell phone does play a major role in the story—and, sure enough, the Virgin mobile phone they’d sent us had text messages from “Gretchen Lowell” that tied into the novel:”Have you missed me?” and so forth; calling “Gretchen” back led us to a voice mail message with the URL for the book’s online catalog page. We pushed a few more buttons, and we realized the pay-as-you-go phone had about 100 pre-paid minutes and 1,000 text messages—the boys in the mailroom were really excited about that when we handed it over to them, we can assure you.

(By the way, if any of you out there are already fans of Cain’s series, is this how you pictured Gretchen? We confess we always saw her at least five years older than the model in the photo above.)