by Dennis Loy Johnson

1 November 2004 — The madness is either just about over, or about to be given license to kill. Imagine, the guy who said "You're either for us or against us" — a fairly textbook declaration of fascism, and one now being uttered by Americans versus Americans via the Patriot Act — could be re–elected. Excuse me — elected. It's enough to make you want to do—what? Vote harder, somehow.
      I mean, we find ourselves in a bizarre and terrifying situation. A man who has sent over a thousand people to their death for a lie could be on the verge of getting an unthinkable mandate. Meanwhile, what of the rest of the world? They've been thinking, well, he stole the office the first time; now they'll think: but the second time they chose him. They'll be mad at all of us, and we will be as alone as we can be with this madman.
      And perhaps the most maddening thing short of this prospect is the titanic struggle within the mainstream press to say, in place of coverage, well, one is as bad as the other. This particular piece of cowardice is the biggest lie of them all, of course. The compromised and out of touch nature of the mainstream has in fact gotten so bad that no matter what side you're on — even if you're on the side of that evil clown who, after his every utterance in the last debate gave an expectant grin and looked around as if expecting someone to give him a biscuit — you've probably already sworn off it for the rest of your life in favor of searching elsewhere for the kind of reporting that the president's staffers, with a straight face, disparage as "reality–based" (and it shows you what a delusional world they occupy that they concocted the term to describe the New York Times).
      But dear God where in the world is a sentient person with a heart supposed to go to find that "reality–based" information?
      Therein, I suggest, is the thing with feathers: Beyond the happy and still–continuing rise of the Internet, have you noticed the thing that has really been driving so much of the political discourse this year? That's right, it's been books.
      Think about it: The year started with The Price of Loyalty by Ron Suskind and former treasury secretary Paul O'Neil—a devastating expose propelled by O'Neil's disgust for what he'd seen in the inner sanctum of the Bush administration. It is perhaps the first ever such book by a cabinet–level official against his own party's administration, particularly while that administration is still in power, and it showed, among other damning revelations, that Bush had been prepping to go to war against Iraq all along.
      This was followed by Richard Clarke's stunner, Against All Enemies" — incredibly, another account from a disgusted leading official of the Bush administration (and, it should be noted, an official of the administration of Bush I, too). Clarke's book showed that not only had Bush been eager to go to war against Iraq, but that he had manufactured reasons to do so; that he hadn't heeded warnings of a resultant chaos if he did; and that, earlier, he'd ignored warnings prior to 9/11 of an impending terrorist attack on the United States.
      Then there was Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack, in which, despite his favored status at the White House, Woodward confirmed most of Clarke's accusations. This was followed by a book from another escapee from the administration, Joseph Wilson's "The Politics of Truth," a furious attack — with reason. After Wilson had written an op–ed piece for the New York Times revealing that the core espionage information supporting the President's claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction was bogus, his wife, an undercover CIA operative, was outed in a column by CNN half–wit William Novak. (This illegal and murderous bit of treachery, by the way, has been tracked by a special prosecutor to the office of Dick Cheney's chief of staff. Haven't read about that on the front page of your newspaper, have you?)
      It goes on. Bill Clinton's doorstopper didn't help the Republicans any, and showed that the man is truly beloved by millions. Kitty Kelly's book caused a furor within the mainstream, but none of them tagged her with a mistake. Her documentation was sound, and she talked about the issues of personal character that so many have missed in the discussion of our leader, a man who tells crowds in the South and Midwest that he speaks with God, which he then denies elsewhere. And Seymour Hersh's The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib showed the truth of this administration at its most unspeakable.
      Michael Moore has collected his letters from soldiers in Iraq in a moving book, while Danny Schechter's WMD: Weapons of Mass Deception is the basis for a powerful new film that rivals Moore's for emotion and outdoes Moore for systematic investigation.
      Meanwhile, what are the leading books on the Republican side? Well, there was the children's book by Bill O'Reilly, now finally, officially discredited (as of course, we should have known he would be: live by the sneering innuendo, die by the sneering innuendo). There was the vile tract by the so–called Swift Boat Veterans, a book categorically disproven in nearly all of its charges and showing you just how low this administration and its adherents will go — I mean like him or dislike him, John Kerry carries shrapnel in his body, for God's sake. So what's left? Ann Coulter's How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Really Have To), a title that tells you all you need to know about the right's interest in reason.
      And which, by its nasty insularity, provides you with some insight into why, I think, John Kerry is going to win this election. Part of the point of my own entry into this fray — The Big Chill: The Great, Unreported Story of the Bush Inauguration Protest — was that there is a great uncovered crowd that has been consistently coming in under the radar, that has been ignored by the press, or marginalized when they gathered in huge numbers. I think these people will, in the end, show the race isn't as tight as those in the mainstream—where a close race is good for business (think increased ad revenue)—would have you believe.
      But whether I'm proven right or wrong in a few days, these many books will stand as a great moment in our culture, and reason for the publishing community to be proud of itself — it should be especially noted that this was an industry–wide effort, with both little houses like Melville House and bigger houses such as, say, Simon & Schuster (publishers of the O'Neil, Clarke, and Woodward books), joining in. This noble effort, I truly believe, will propel us into a better future, where thoughtful people study a subject in necessary depth and are compelled to act for justice.
      It's on the record now. Americans are not all heartless, cruel and stupid. Nor are we, therefore, without hope.

Previous column; GRAHAM GREENE IN THE AGE OF BUSH ... In the midst of a presidential race, a MobyLIves guest column by Eric Weinberger asks which of the candidates is likely to have read The Ugly American—and to understand its pertinence?

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Friday 5 November 2004

In Letters: Now what? . . .
The letters are starting to come in from MobyLives readers concerning yesterday's query asking how those in the book business might react to the indications of the presidential election. Christopher Waldrop from Nashville asks if anyone was persuaded by the dissent already published, while Jackie Corley from Philadelphia predicts dark days to come, and Joe Barbato from Alexandra, VA says don't stoop to the tactics or tone of the politicians . . . all in the MobyLives letters section. Please join the conversation by writing to Moby at: dlj AT mobylives.com

From a company with long experience adapting to regime change . . .
The first "instant book" related to the presidential election is out. According to a Wall Street Journal report, The Bush Survival Guide, by veteran ghostwriter Gene Stone, is being released by Random House, the American publishing arm of giant German publisher Bertelsmann . . . which a few years ago admitted it had printed collaborationist propaganda during the Nazi regime.

Smiths not keeping up with the Joneses . . .
Once upon a time, the giant British book and stationary retailer WH Smith was "unassailable," observes Chris Blackhurst, "following the railway barons as they colonised the country, opening stalls in stations, moving into High Streets, reaping the benefits of a public who always wanted a newspaper and fags . . . ." Now, as Blackhurst notes in this Evening Standard story, Smith has reported its first–ever loss. Blame is falling on CEO Kate Swann—"a pity," says Blackhurst. "She is a woman and there are precious few of them at the top of our major businesses. City men talk about Swann, appointed just over a year ago, in a fashion they would not if she was a man. They question if she's up to the job, ask whether she's got the required steel and vision to force a turnaround, pass comment on her appearance." She's not entirely innocent either, though, says Blackhurst. "She's a fussy, micro–manager when what WH Smith requires is a visionary leader." Meanwhile, the company is in trouble, about to be bought out and, of the few big retailers known as "legacy" stores in Britain, Smith is "the one closes to dropping out of the big league altogether."

Reading while disillusioned: A good idea . . .
Literary blogger Dan Green discusses "the gloom that descended on the literary blogosphere on the day after the election" in an essay on his website The Reading Experience. "Most disquieting," he says, "were the comments by various bloggers avowing, either implicitly or directly, that books and book blogging hardly seemed important after Bush's victory." Green says "I do hope that the disappointment over the election results—they've bummed me out too—will not cast a more lasting pall on the activities of literary weblogs, which have become not merely a respite from the even gloomier poltical circumstances we've been enduring for quite a while now, but have provided a real alternative to media–ized discourse on books and culture, which in my opinion only further pollutes the already foul political climate in which we are quite obviously going to have to continue to live." As for the importance of the books those sites are about, they, too, of course remain important, he says. "It may be true that in large quarters of Bushworld books don't count for much, but it seems to me that we give in to the very attitude toward books and reading we deplore when we also declare in the wake of political disillusionment that we don't care much about them, either."

Rescued from the flames . . .
"This is the graveyard," Manfred Anders, manager of Germany's Center for Book Preservation tells reporter Franz Josef Görtz, who continues, "Then he pushed the heavy steel door to the cold storage chamber wide enough to show a vision of chaos lurking within: gauze bandages, cloth compresses, hundreds of sooty book covers and charred inner books stacked alongside each other on several floors. These were parts of the stock of books from the Duchess Anna Amalia Library in Weimar that had suffered fire and water damage the night of Sept. 2, 2004." As Görtz reports in this story for the Frankfurter Allgemiene Zeditung, "Around 50,000 books, most of them from the 17th and 18th centuries, along with 35 paintings and the Duchess Anna Amalia's sheet music collection were destroyed by the flames." But now, saved and restored volumes are being returned to the shelves as part of a heroic rescue mission.

The importance of whaddyacallit . . .
"On the outskirts of Wellingborough in Northamptonshire there's a new estate where a dozen streets or so are named after poets," observes David McKie. "Rupert Brooke gets a Close and John Ruskin an Avenue, but the rest of them are all Roads: Shelley, Goldsmith, Shakespeare, Browning, Tennyson, Byron, Cowper." All of which leads McKie to observe in a Guardian commentary, "How many people living in Longfellow Road, I wonder, have ever read any Longfellow?" He considers the possibilites of why "We honour all these dead poets, but we don't, most of us, read them."

Why Amazon's clients remain so dern loyal . . .
"The Amazon.com home page on your computer clearly isn't the 'boss–safe' site it once was," says Beth Teitell. "Especially when it recommends Sex for Dummies." And that's not all. As she notes in a commentary for The Boston Herald, The former "purveyor of fine literature" is now also selling vibrators. Teitell says when she heard Amazon was selling "adult toys," she realized how much different the company had become. "All I could think of is how weird the recommendations and 'better together' features must be: Customers who bought the Beginner's Bondage Fantasy Kit (nonreturnable, fyi), also bought: Edible Warming Oils; The Halliburton Agenda: The Politics of Oil and Money (John Wiley & Sons); and Lakeside Pickled Turkey Gizzards."

Doctor, it hurts when I do this . . .
"Who ever thought that a writer might be the best person to read from his or her own work?" asks The Daily Telegraph's Marginalia column. "What could be worse than meeting a writer one admires, and then hear him read aloud in a breakneck adenoidal drone, for all the world like a man playing Metallica on a didgeridoo? Actually, I know what could be worse: hearing that adenoidal drone emerge from somewhere inside oneself. No matter how painful it might be having to listen to an author read from his work, it is nothing to the pain of being that author and doing that reading."

Former rugby star about to own major British daily . . .
Two days ago London's The Sun ran a confession by author and former rugby star Stan Collymore in which he admitted he was a "lying scumbag." The Sun said it had a signed confession in which Collymore admitted that his claim of having been recently attacked by "six Bath rugby union players" was untrue. But, as a Guardian story by John Plunkett observes, those who read the full article accompanying the "confession" learned late in the piece that, as the article itself says, "Knowing he would never sign the confession willingly, we got Sun girl Michelle Dickie, 19, to hand it to him at a book signing session at a WH Smith branch in Newcastle. Collymore thought he was giving a fan an autograph and signed the piece of paper . . . not realising the confession was on the other side." Collymore announced yesterday he is making a formal complaint to the Press Complaints Commisssion.

NOTE: Daily newspapers often change URLs when archiving, so some links won't work beyond the day they're first posted.

Thursday 4 November 2004

In Letters: Is that it? . . .
The timespan of the 2004 presidential campaign saw a remarkable outpouring of books related to the race—in particular, of books opposed to George Bush. Now what? Will the book industry remain focussed on oppositional politics? Should it? As the country moves so dramatically to the right, should writers, booksellers, publishers, and others in the business be concerned? Can they have an influence? Write in to the MobyLives letters section at dlj AT mobylives.com and let us know what you think.

Roy declares war while accepting peace prize . . .
In Australia to accept the Sydney Peace Prize, Booker Prize–winning author Arundhati Roy told an audience at Sydney University that "Australians should take action against companies that have profited from the war in Iraq." According to a brief report from the Australian Broadcasting Company, she said that "a group of rich nations falsely accused an impoverished Iraq of possessing powerful weapons as a pretext for invading the country to further their own economic interests," and that people should "help the Iraqis by financially crippling companies that are profiting from the conflict." She said, "For example, you could make a list of those corporations who have profited from the invasion of Iraq and have offices here in Australia. You could name them, boycott them, occupy their offices and force them out of business."

MORE: MobyLives reader Robert Young writes in from Melbourne, Australia with a link to the complete text of Roy's accepatance speech, via the Sydney Morning Herald: "I speak of Iraq, not because everybody is talking about it (sadly at the cost of leaving other horrors in other places to unfurl in the dark), but because it is a sign of things to come."

Book criticsm post–Patriot Act . . .
Of the astonishing number of books about the presidential race that came out this year, there were few that were fiction. But the book that provoked perhaps the most outrage was indeed a novel—Nicholson Baker's Checkpoint, in which one of the characters obsessesses about assassinating George jr. Bush. Even before it was published, it was "widely denounced as irresponsible and sensationalistic." In an in–depth retrospective, The Complete Review takes a look at the book that kicked up a firestorm, yet in the end sold remarkably few copies, and finds the discussion the book engendered was fascinating in itself, and perhaps revealing of the cultural moment. "The heated pre–publication discussion concerning the book was striking because neither the book's opponents nor its defenders had read it," CR notes. "That didn't seem to stop very many from denouncing what they believed was the unacceptable suggestion of even just the possibility of presidential assassination (specifically in the climate of that time) — or, in some cases, insisting that free speech should allow even for that."

Customers who bought this book also hired good attorneys . . .
A lawsuit has been filed against Amazon.com charging the company with copyright infringement "for a Web site feature that makes recommendations to consumers based on past purchases," reports a Bloomberg News wire story. The report says that Amazon is being sued by Cendant Publishing for technology that "covers a method of informing a customer about the choices of goods and services made by other customers listed in a database." The feature is highlighted on the website by the phrase, "Customers who bought this book also bought." The report also notes that this is not a frivolous claim brought on by a small competitor: Cendant generated $18.1 billion in sales last year, while Amazon took in $5.26.

Giant, two–headed love child stalks Internet . . .
Search–engine giant Google and publisher Reed Elsevier, have many areas of tension between them—Reed publishes Publishers Weekly, with its evolving website/databse of book industry info, while Google is launching a book search facility. But their greatest area of tension is over the simple search capabilities of Google vs. Reed's LexisNexis. Now, according to a Daily Mail report, the two companies have "called a truce" and "are discussing joint ventures." Says Reed CEO Sir Crispin Davis, "For the last year or two we have had a lot of discussion over whether Google is an ally or a competitor. But there is a logic to working with Google in one or two areas. Google brings its size and we bring our content."

But when he says "non–believers" he really means "Democrats" . . .
It's one of the seminal works of magical realism, and now Mickahil Bulgakov's satire that combines the life of Jesus with the Russian Revolution, The Master and Margarita, is being turned into a movie for the first time—and the Russian Orthodox Church is none too happy about it. According to a Guardian report by Nick Paton Walsh, the film is going to be "shown nationwide on Russian TV as a 10–part series," but a Church spokesman says it "offers a version of the Gospel that is 'nothing but negative,'" reports Walsh. The spokesman, Father Mikhail Dudko, says that Bulgakov, the son of a theologian, "could not himself be considered 'anti–Christian.'" But Dudko said he was "afraid the ideas of the novel will be lost or made primitive" and "the text of Bulgakov is full of points which contemporary people, especially non–believers, will find very difficult to understand." Meanwhile, director Vladimir Bortko is reportedly pressing ahead, and "the film was being shot in secret in Crimea, with local policemen as soldiers dressed in Roman uniforms from an American remake of Spartacus in nearby Bulgaria."

Why Catholics love to read . . .
A "Vatican–sanctioned sex guide" written by two theologians not only "marks a radical break with traditional Church pronouncements on physical intimacy," but is ultimately "one of the raciest works ever to deal with the Church and sex," according to a Daily Telegraph report by Julian Coman. In general, the book, It's a Sin Not to Do It, by Roberto Beretta and Elisabetta Broli, encourages Catholics "to make love more often in an effort to offset 'impotence and frigidity' and address papal concerns over declining birth–rates among Italian Roman Catholics," say the authors. But some of the particulars are expected to raise eyebrows—such as the part where the book "unearths theological justification for post–coital masturbation for women who fail to achieve orgasm during intercourse."

M. Fussy à Paris . . .
Mr. Fussy, the occasional star of Alex Beam's Boston Globe column, recently went to France. Once there, he recounts in Beam's most recent column, "Mr. F couldn't help but notice that the works of such even–handed authors as Paul Krugman and Kitty Kelley were clogging Parisian bookstores alongside local fare such as The Happiness of Not Being an American, The Bush Machine," and Bush Land: His Secrets, His Lies, and His Plan Against France."

NOTE: Daily newspapers often change URLs when archiving, so some links won't work beyond the day they're first posted.

Wednesday 3 November 2004

Report: Dutch filmmaker wasn't killed for his film, but for what he wrote in new book . . .
Most reports on the shocking, public murder of Dutch film–maker Theo Van Gogh are pinning the motivation for his Muslim attacker on anger over Van Gogh's most recent film, Submission, which was shown on Dutch television last year, and was "about a Muslim woman forced into an arranged marriage who is abused by her husband and raped by her uncle." But a report in The Scotsman by Paul Gallagher and Anna Mudeva, on the scene in Amsterdam, suggests another motive: as their headline puts it, "Film–maker killed after writing anti–Muslim book." As they detail it, Van Gogh had just published a book called Allah Knows Better, "in which he attacked Islamic militancy and accused the imams of hating women."

UPDATE: MobyLives reader Corine Vloet writes in from the Netherlands with a correction of The Scotsman's report: She says the book isn't all that new. She writes, "Allah Knows Better appeared in November 2003, and is a collection of columns that have appeared on Van Gogh's website between 2000 and 2003."

It isn't only Tucker Carlson being taken to school by Jon Stewart . . .
"It's kind of just becoming a 'thing' now. It's the new book to read." That's how one 16–year–old describes America (The Book), the textbook parody by John Stewart and the writers of his Daily Show. As Greg Toppo reports in a USA Today story, the book was expected to be a hit with Stewart's "fan base of people in their 20s and 30s," but it's also developing a huge following amongst "high schoolers who have spent years slogging through the books it spoofs." One think tank expert says the book is getting kids interested in history and will undoubtedly start showing up in schools—although due to its "off–color" nature, it won't be assigned officially. He says, "It's going to be passed around, and (kids) will probably try to bait their teachers with it."

Paranoid women told to just keep shopping . . .
"We had the impression that the New York Times Book Review included reviews of many more books written by men than by women and used many more male than female reviewers," observe Paula J. Caplan and Mary Ann Palko, "but because feminists are often accused of being paranoid when they point out instances of sexism, we thought we had better check it out." So, they conducted a survey (fourth item) for The Women's Review of Books. "We tallied 53 consecutive weeks of the NYTBR during 2002 and 2003 and found that more than twice as many book authors and almost twice as many reviewers were male as female. . . . This was troubling news, for women who want to write or review a book may be less likely to make the attempt once they make the conscious or unconscious observation that those realms remain primarily male. As feminist author and organizer Gloria Steinem commented to us, this is 'an imbalance of influence which is all the more bizarre, since women purchase the majority of books. It's one more instance in which women are treated as consumers but don't decide or profit from what is consumed.'"

RELATED: This Caplan–Palko survey is not to be confused with the MobyLives survey of book reviews in the Times, studying how often the paper wrote about books written by its own staffers (every other day). It is similar, however, to a MobyLives survey of how often female bylines appear (about 23 percent of the time) in another publication with a circulation of over a million—The New Yorker.

Yes, I haven't been so inspired by a poet since, er, Hugh Grant . . .
"He was a legendary hell–raiser in the licentious court of Charles II, derided by his peers for his 'contempt of decency' and the author of elegant, if explicit, poetry." Now, the work of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester is back in print, reports Louise Jury in this story for The Independent. She says that "in the three centuries since the premature death" of Wilmot, "his works have been a naughty pleasure appreciated by a small band of readers, primarily English undergraduates." But a new movie starring Johnny Depp as Wilmot has inspired Penguin Classics to bring the poems back into print. Says Jury, "There are hopes that Depp may do for 17th–century poetry what Four Weddings and a Funeral did for W H Auden."

Did we mention it comes with a parking spot? . . .
It's one of the most powerful positions in the British book business . . . and they're having trouble getting anyone to take it. As Louise Armistead writes in a Times of London report, W.H. Smith, the giant U.K. bookselling chain, has been looking for a new chairman for months but the position "is proving extremely hard to fill." Direct offers have been turned down by at least one person, some "tentative understandings" didn't work out, and high–level headhunters were even brought in. In September the ongoing failure was blamed for "the company's first–ever loss" and shares at an all–time low.

First person Sayles . . .
He's become so well known for having virtually launched the independent film movement with his The Secaucus 7 that many people don't remember John Sayles' first blush of fame came as a writer. He won the O. Henry Award for one of his first short story publications, and published his first collection of stories, The Anarchists' Convention, as well as two novels, all before he made Secaucus—his first movie—in 1980. Now, Sayles is back to fiction, reports Don Aucoin in a Boston Globe profile. A new collection of his stories, Dillinger in Hollywood, has just been released. The differences? "In movies, you've only got what people do and what they say," says Sayles. "There are a couple of points of view that are hard to do in film. One is the first person. One thing about first person is you can create this interesting tension, that the reader can know more than the first person does. You the reader can figure out a mystery that the teller of the story hasn't figured out."

Bookseller gives it up to write travel lit she used to sell . . .
For 25 years, she ran one of London's most popular bookstores, The Travel Bookshop, but now Sarah Anderson has sold the store and embarked on a 'round the world tour with—but of course—"books for company." She has been filing reports on her travels with The Times of London; her latest report is from New York state's Hudson Valley, where she tours the writers' homes and inspirations for the abundant literature that has emanated from the region—citing her reading throughout.

NOTE: Daily newspapers often change URLs when archiving, so some links won't work beyond the day they're first posted.

Tuesday 2 November 2004

Election Day Special

How to Make the Bestseller List ... and Win Elections

A special MobyLives guest column by Margo Baldwin

2 November 2004 — This week my publishing company managed to do the impossible: put a book on the New York Times bestseller list (as well as on several regional lists). The book is Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate — The Essential Guide for Progressives, written by George Lakoff, University of California professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics, founding senior fellow of The Rockridge Institute, author of Moral Politics and other books, and, according to Howard Dean, "one of the most influential political thinkers of the progressive movement." Why? Because he talks about language and how it's used to frame the issues and political debate, something that the conservatives figured out long ago and a major reason why they are now in power. In short, it is a revolutionary kind of book.
      I say we did the impossible for many reasons.
      One is that weıre a small, independent book publisher, not a corporate conglomerate media company.
      Another, that we published and launched the book in a mere five weeks, from draft manuscript to finished book. We did it with no advertising budget or the services of an outside promotional firm, and two weeks before the publication date, we had no advance sales (neither commission sales reps nor key account buyers had even heard about the book).
      Finally, we achieved the impossible because even as the book was climbing onto the Times paperback nonfiction list (35 titles long), it was deliberately bumped and dumped into the "Advice/How–To/Miscellaneous" category (15 titles long, and so off that week's list): the publishing world's version of the book–ghetto.
      Of course, if we had actually published a how–to/self–help title, we'd be ecstatic, but we didn't. We published a political book, which is now #9 on this list — slightly below The Sweet Potato Queens' Field Guide to Men, immediately following Fix–It and Forget–It Lightly and just before Relationship Rescue.
      Naturally we protested this categorization and naturally the Times, in all its elitist, arbitrary, and arrogant "wisdom," refused to change it. (Read the entire e-mail exchange.) Luckily for us, the trade e–mail newsletter of PulishersMarketplace.com, Publishers Lunch picked up the story and ran with it, making it clear to all in the publishing industry how capricious and decidedly un–scientific (dare I say political?) this list selection is. Also cloaked in secrecy.
      There appear to be no objective criteria for deciding how a book is categorized beyond what Rich Meislin, the Editor of News Surveys, the department at the Times in charge of these lists, declares is the judgment of "people of good will."
      People of good will?
      How about people lunching with editors and others from the big New York houses with lots of ad money to spend? How about people who don't particularly appreciate the upstart progressive views of independent media? When challenged by Jennifer Nix, the book's editor, on why Ann Coulterıs book, How to Talk to a Liberal, was not similarly categorized, Meislin wrote, "We made it past the 'How to' in the title of Ann Coulter's book and discovered that it was a collection of her essays and didn't read like a how to book at all. (In much the same way, we discovered that Jenna Jameson's How to Make Love Like a Porn Star isn't a how to book, either, despite its title.) That's why, when they had the appropriate level of sales, they made it onto the nonfiction best seller list."
      I wonder if you can guess where Bill O'Reilly's conservative rant (a form of advice, isn't it?), Who's Looking Out for You? goes? Equally incongruously, Eats, Shoots, and Leaves (an Englishwomen expounding on the use and misuse of punctuation marks) is not considered advice either! However, MoveOn's 50 Ways to Love Your Country: How to Find Your Political Voice and Become a Catalyst for Change (a collection of essays, by the way) was dumped, like our book, into Advice/How–To, despite the protest of its (independent) publisher, Inner Ocean Publishing. I'm confused.
      How strange that the authors, editors and publishers that usher books into the world have no input on how these books are categorized—perhaps by people who don't even take the time to read the books that cross their desks. Mistakes can happen, but when pointed out, they should be righted.
      Thankfully, only the New York Times marginalized our book in this way. And, in spite of them, Lakoffıs book continues to find its way into readers' hands.
      So, what's the moral of this story, aside from the usual "money talks" and the systematic marginalization of independent (dare I say political?) voices by the mainstream conglomerate media? Perhaps it's that the entire Times bestseller list "stamp of approval" is fast becoming totally irrelevant in today's internet–savvy, mission–related, blogging world. It's one more example of The Emperor Has No Clothes.
      The real story is that in the heat of this incredibly potent political season, a small publisher from Vermont was able to publish a critically important and timely book (it couldn't be doing as well as it is if it weren't so relevant), and get it out literally overnight by partnering with key progressive organizations (Alternet, MoveOn, Sierra Club, Democracy for America, Apollo Alliance, Institute for America's Future, Hightower and Associates and many others) who helped launch it on the Internet. They posted information about the book on their web sites and sent buyers first to Amazon and other Internet sellers. Then, once the word started to spread, especially via the blogosphere (DailyKos's rave review alone sent it up to #8 on Amazon), key independent booksellers across the country got behind it and made it the bestseller it is.
      No big ad buys, no big NYC publicity firm lobbying the Times and other review media, no significant advances at the big chains, although they too have done just fine sales–wise. The real story is that serious book publishing no longer needs the Times, and maybe that's why they tried to disappear the book.
      Of course, it would be fun to see the book climb to #1 on the Advice/How–To list. More fun still if it's in a slightly new incarnation: Don't Think Like an Elephant: HOW WE TOOK OUR COUNTRY BACK! Maybe, just maybe, we helped that process along.
      President–Elect Kerry, you did read it, didn't you?

Margo Baldwin is the publisher of Chelsea Green Publishing.

Other stories:

Writers are speaking out about the race — but not that well, says critic . . .
"For much of our history, litterateurs held themselves aloof from everyday politics, considering it a grim and grubby business," notes Sam Schulman in a commentary for the Wall Street Journal. "The novelist of the early 20th century was far more likely to be concerned with reproducing the experience of the common man—or rallying on behalf of Sacco and Vanzetti—than forming committees in support of, say, Warren Harding or James B. Cox." But somehwere along the line, says Schulman, and he quotes Rick Moody, Philip Roth, E.L. Doctorow, Jane Smiley, and more, criticizing George W. Bush—and doing so with "smug assumptions" and "crude stereotypes and awful clichés." Says Schulman, "Luckily for Mr. Kerry, he has other friends."

He says it's going to get violent, and he ought to know . . .
At the polls today, "the traditions of civil disobedience and electoral politics may converge. Not since the 1930s have the labor, civil rights and peace movements been this unified in a presidential campaign," writes former '60's radical Tom Hayden in a commentary for Alternet.org. Expounding on theories from his newest book, Street Wars from the New Press, the former Chicago Seven member also says, "It will get worse in the days ahead. Many Americans will have to push their way through the resistance of Republican operatives seeking to obstruct the right to vote. I predict it will get physical. Remember the white riot staged by Republican congressional staffers, many of them flown in on Enron jets, to shut down the Florida vote count in 2000? . . . The Republicans learned all over that November that force and intimidation work. It's happening all over again. . . . This is a moment of truth." However, says Hayden, "If Republicans stand in the way of democracy Tuesday like reincarnations of old George Wallace or Ross Barnett, it should be time for the movement to say once again: move on over or we'll move on over you."

So who's buying all those books where? . . .
Booksellers are noting some interesting trends this political season, says Barnes & Noble head Leonard Riggio in a New York Times op–ed piece. For one thing, "the humor category is dominated by liberals and left–leaning authors. In fact, 95 percent of the sales in the political humor section comes from the left." But maybe that's because "Liberal books sell at lower price points." But booksellers are seeing some bothersome trends, too, he says in his well–balanced report: "The right seems convinced that booksellers and publishers are trying to influence the election by publishing and prominently displaying books that attack President Bush" and are complaining vociferously, while for those on the left, "A favorite tactic is to remove books by the likes of Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, et al., from the shelves in the politics section and hide them in a subject area that gets limited traffic (see "Parenting")."

And you were worried about him re–writing the Constitution . . .
Lots of people cite the Constitution, but they quote the Declaration of Independence, by the U.S. president who was probably the best writer, Thomas Jefferson. But, in an article for the History News Network, Marc Steiner, the editor of The Encyclopedia of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History in America, speculates on how the declaration might have read if it had been written by a different president: "Bush was disturbed as well by the reference to the people of the United States as 'separate and equal.' The phrase sounded familiar to Bush, but he couldn't quite remember where he had encountered it. Maybe it was from the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision? What Bush knew with certainty, however, was that among the powers of the earth the people of the United States were 'separate and superior,' not 'separate and equal.'"

It ain't over even when it's over . . .
Lest you think it will be all over for political books as soon as the election is decided, think again: "Publishers are scrambling to buy" a book being shopped around by former CIA Director George Tenet about "running the agency under former President Clinton and President Bush and in the wake of 9/11," according to an item in the U.S. News & World Report "Washington Whispers" column. It puts a possible advance at $5 million and says Tenet, "who's not expected to pull any punches," could have the book out by late 2005.

NOTE: Daily newspapers often change URLs when archiving, so some links won't work beyond the day they're first posted.

Monday 1 November 2004

No time for fluff at the moment, says Seymour Hersh . . .
During our previous quagmire in Vietnam, he broke the story of the My Lai massacre. In our current quagmire, he broke the horrific story of Abu Ghraib. In an interview with Alternet.org, Seymour Hersh shows that he doesn't brook unaggressive journalists, either. "Oh, c'mon. You can ask a better question than that," he scolds reporter Lakshmi Chaudry at one point. At another: "Ask me something that I can answer so it isn't self–serving—that doesn't have me brushing snow from my mantle." At still another: "Did you ever take a stewardess' course?" Finally, he tells her: "I think you may be over–intellectualizing. . . . Look, America is a very racist country and war brings out the worst in it."

Mother of "racist murder" victim wins libel suit against Time–Life . . .
The mother of a young man "murdered by racists" has won a libel case against a book published by Time–Life in England, according to a Guardian report by Hugh Muir. In the book, Steve and Me, Dwayne Brooks says his friend Stephen Lawrence was regularly locked out of his house by his mother, Doreen Lawrence, "when he failed to return at an agreed time," and that Stephen "had been rushing home for that reason on the night he was killed." Doreen Lawrence charged that "The publication of this book has just added to my distress. I was attacked in an appaling way. Horrible and untruthful things were said about me." She says she will donate to charity the "substantial payment" Time–Life must now pay her. In an interesting development, Time–Life "said it would also pay a similar sum to a charity of Mr Brooks's choice as a token of its 'continued support for and faith in him'."

Arendt biographer corrects mistake, but is it too late? . . .
In her acclaimed 1982 biography of philosopher Hannah Arendt, author Elisabeth Young–Bruehl "says she made only one significant mistake," Scott McLemee writes in a Chronicle of Higher Education report, "But it was a doozy." Now, the book has been reissued, "And the repercussions are bound to echo much louder now, thanks to the correction." The mistake? Young–Bruehl wrote that Arendt gave money to the Jewish Defense League, a terrorist group, when she meant to say Arendt gave money to the United Jewish Appeal, a philanthropic group. The mistake was compounded when Edward Said repeated the story about the JDL, and then when, according to Young–Bruehl, he refused to correct his mistake. Says Young–Bruehl, "It's caused me a lot of bad conscience over the years."

Dr. Strangelove, part II . . .
"In the wake of Vietnam, the US military were demoralised and prey to some fairly crazy ideas. They thought they could train 'super soldiers' with psychic powers," says a new book by Jon Ronson, The Men Who Stare at Goats, Jon Ronson. An intro to this extract at The Guardian says the book "describes how their aspirations were perverted in the prisons of Iraq." The extract begins with an American general who is "confounded by his continual failure to walk through his wall."

Are reviews worth it to readers when the book isn't available yet? . . .
In a commentary in his daily e–newsletter Publisher's Lunch on Friday (unavailable as a link), Micahel Cader noted that in that day's New York Times, Michiko Kakutani "gets so excited about sharing her loathing" for Tom Wolfe's forthcoming novel, I Am Charlotte Simmons, "that the review accidentally runs 11 days before the book's release date." Cader notes the interesting fact that the New York Times Book Review ran an ultra–rare serialization of the book last summer. And yesterday, just two days after Cader's commentary, the Times Sunday Magazine ran an admiring profile of Wolfe, by Charles McGrath, that portrays him as curmudgeonly and misunderstood. It raises questions that have been raised about Kakutani's pans before—that they sometimes seem as if they are meant to counter too–promotional coverage in her own newspaper. But Cader's commentary raises a more concisely–formed query: By running a review so far ahead of a book's release, "Are the folks on 43rd Street telling themselves that this is 'news' that couldn't wait, or do they somehow think jumping the date is a service to readers?"

Some poets feel more kindred to Whitman than others . . .
There was historian Edward J. Renehan Jr., author of a biography of "once–prominent" naturalist John Burroughs, at a cocktail party at the Harvard Club. There was Allen Ginsberg, at the same party. "Ginsberg walked over to where I stood, introduced himself, and informed me that he and Burroughs shared a unique bond," recalls Renehen in an essay on his blog. "John Burroughs screwed Walt Whitman," said the poet, ticking off the fingers of one hand. "Then Walt Whitman screwed Edward Carpenter. Later on, Edward Carpenter screwed Gavin Arthur. Eventually Gavin screwed Neal Cassady. And finally, during the late forties, I screwed Neal Cassady. So you see, Burroughs and I are practically related. I can almost taste him."

2,500 reasons to vote for Nader . . .
No matter what his friends say, S.L. Price, author of Pitching Around Fidel, has always stuck up for Ralph Nader. Then one day, he recounts in this New York Times op–ed piece, he got a call from the man himself. Nader, who often hands out copies of books he recommends at rallies, said to Price, "I bought 2,500 copies of your book . . . by mistake. Do you want to buy some?" Writes Price, "All I know is that, when least expected, the man who altered the course of American history once and may well do it again tried to sell me my own book at a discount. If that isn't presidential, I don't know what is."

NOTE: Daily newspapers often change URLs when archiving, so some links won't work beyond the day they're first posted.

Visit the mothership:



This week's fiction:

"The Old Greek"
(from Del Sol Review)

"Stranded at the Top of a Ferris Wheel With Judy Long, County Fairgrounds, April 7, 1982"
(from StorySouth)

This week's poetry:

(from Massachusetts Review)

"stow stay stow stay"
(from Trout)

Special edition:

First posted in October, 2001, Alicia Ostriker's anthology of poetry that she turned to after the 9/11 attacks — including the work of Stephen Dunn, C.P. Cavafy, Marianne Moore, and others — is far and away the most popular link ever posted on MobyLives. Find out why.


The Stories of Anton Chekhov

Zembla: The Official Site of the Vladimir Nabokov Society

The Complete Review

GoodReports: Canadian book news

Poetry Daily

Librarian.net: Putting the rarin' back in librarian

Everyone Who's Anyone in Adult Trade Publishing

The Collins Library Almanac

Author interviews at IdentityTheory.com

Stump the Bookseller

Online Etymology Dictionary

Visual Thesaurus

Project Gutenberg

Columbia World of Quotations


Herman Melville's Arrowhead

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All material not otherwise attributed ©2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 Dennis Loy Johnson.