This Week’s Column:


by Dennis Loy Johnson

November 4, 2002 — You can learn a lot from advertisements for books.

For example, from an onslaught of ads that I at first thought were ads for Banana Republic clothing but eventually realized were actually for Donna Tart's new book, "The Little Friend," I learned little of the book, but I did ascertain from the author photos dominating these ads that, sadly, the author's face really is locked permanently into that single, vacant expression, and her hair doesn't move, either.

Similarly, from an ad in The New York Times for Shannon Drake's "Realm of Shadows," I learned, "There's a fine line between the living and the dead."

From an ad in The New York Review of Books for the new "Bible of Saint Louis," a reproduction by the Spanish publisher Moleiro of an illuminated, 13th century Bible, I learned that "Never before in the history of mankind a series of such extraordinary and high quality images were gathered in one book."

From a lavish, two page ad in The New Yorker for Bacardi rum, one entire page of which consisted of a glamour shot of the prerequisite emaciated babe, and most of the rest of which was incomprehensible, I did manage to learn that

1. Bacardi is now selling a vile–looking concoction that combines orange flavor with rum and is called Bacardi O (get it?) (I'm holding out for Bacardi Rocky Road);

B. Bacardi is now sponsoring a concert tour, I mean reading tour, of the rock star, I mean writer, Chuck Palahniuk, who is promoting his new record, I mean book, "Lullaby";

iii. If you decide to go see a concert, I mean reading, of Palahniuk's deathless pose, I mean prose, "Don't be surprised if a group of fans dressed as waiters with black eyes a la 'Fight Club' show up," the ad warns. "And don't be shocked if they start lobbing dinner rolls into the audience, either."

My significant other, Petunia, tells me I also learned that CHUCK PALAHNIUK HAS SOLD HIS SOUL TO SATAN, but I remind her that we can't know that for sure.

From an ad in Publishers Weekly came some of the most shocking news of all — according to the ad for Oriana Fallaci's new book, "The Rage and the Pride," despite what you think you know, the September 11 tragedies in New York City happened not at the World Trade Center but in Oriana Fallaci's apartment! That's right, the ad says that with this book the famous Italian journalist breaks a ten year silence, "The silence she kept until September 11's apocalypse in her Manhattan house."

No wonder she's in a rage!

That startling revelation may also explain why the book is such a hit overseas. "In Europe this book has caused and causes a turmoil never registered in decades," the ad explains. "And a million copies sold in Italy alone, where it still is at the bestsellers' top." What's more, "Around a dozen the translations in which it will soon appear."

If in English the translation in which it will soon appear is the same translator by, count me the eager readers among!

Well, startling as that ad was, another ad in Poets & Writers was even more surprising and informative, and also marks an important correction of the historical record.

It's a full page ad for the Barnes & Noble "Discover" program for "new and underappreciated literary talents." The ad explains, "Our hand–picked Discover selections, year after year ... have brought to light the names of dozens of authors who readers now recognize ...."

Thus did I learn that in 1990, B&N had "brought to light" Ian McEwan, whom, at that point, had only been writing since 1975 and had published a mere 6 award–winning books. The superstore chain revealed that it had also uncovered the "underappreciated literary talent" of Anna Quindlen in 1991, not too long after she won the Pulitzer Prize. And in 1995, B&N "Discovered" Nick Hornby selecting — by hand! — what was his third book, which had only made him about as big as the Beatles in his native England, but who's counting and what do they know?

"Who have you discovered lately?" the ad concludes.

Well, I'm not so sure. Most of the writers I thought I'd discovered were actually discovered by Barnes & Noble. But I do know I'd like to discover the guy who writes their ads. He's a heck of a story teller.

Last Week’s Column: CAN DO CANLIT Canadian literature features writers young and old, male and female, and of varying ethnic backgrounds, and the government gives writers, booksellers and publishers generous support. What's up with that?


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All material not otherwise attributed ©2002 Dennis Loy Johnson.