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 12 November 2004

Iris Chang still shakes them up in Japan . . .
More on the sad demise of Rape of Nanking author Iris Chang (see yesterday's MobyLives digest), whom authorities confirmed yesterday did indeed die of a self–inflicted gunshot wound: Patricia Sullivan writes in a Washington Post report, that Chang's agent, Susan Rabiner, said the 36–year–old writer "had been battling clinical depression . . . and had been hospitalized, treated and released five months ago." In a sad irony, the impact of her 1997 bestseller, which told the story of the Japanese massacres of 300,000 innocent Chinese civilians in Nanking, was shown to be very much an ongoing thing in this Japan today report, which notes that in Japan a popular manga comic book about the massacres was pulled from the shelves, then censored, after politicians complained. In the same issue, a report on Chang's death, pulled mostly from wire services, includes a section of notes written in by readers (scroll down), most of whom attack Chang and call her book "trash."

Mission being accomplished . . .
In its ongoing series of excerpts from Jon Ronson's book about the American military psy–ops operations against terrorists, The Men Who Stare At Goats, The Guardian runs a new excerpt excerpt on what's going on inside the military prison at Guantanamo. In it, Ronson talks to Jamal al–Harith, a British website designer who was imprisoned in Guantanamo for two years and is currently suing Donald Rumsfeld and other US leaders for £6 million. Al–Harith says he was beaten and subjected to numerous psychological abuses, from the almost humorous, such as having to listen to recordings of an all–girl Fleetwood Mac cover band, to the bizarre and demented: "Prostitutes were flown in from the US" to taunt prisoners: "Stripping off in front of them. Rubbing their breasts in their faces. Not all the guys would speak. They'd come back from the Brown Block [the interrogation block] and be quiet for days and cry to themselves, so you know something went on, but you don't know what. But for the guys who did speak, that's what we heard." Then there were the noises. "Screeches and bangs. These would be played across the Brown Block into all the interrogation rooms. You can't describe it. Screeches, bangs, compressed gas. All sorts of things." But it wasn't exactly as if the torturers knew what they were doing, he says. "It was as if, for the first time in the soldiers' careers, they had prisoners and a ready-made facility at their disposal, and they couldn't resist putting all their concepts—which had until then languished, sometimes for decades, in the unsatisfactory realm of the theoretical—into practice."

Iowa school board unanimously rejects attempt to block teacher from using books about being gay . . .
Demands by a group of parents that an Solon, Iowa eighth grade teacher be forced to drop two gay–themed books from her syllabus have been rejected by the Solon school board. According to a report in The Iowa City Press Citizen by Diedre Bello, the board voted unanimously to support teacher Sue Protheroe (one board member stayed home) and allow her to include the books Am I Blue?, by Bruce Coville, and In The Time I Get, by Chris Cutcher, in her curriculum. Bello says of the two books, the former "explores a boy's confusion with his sexual identity and the gay fairy godfather who helps him realize he is not alone," while the latter "is about a teenager who befriends a man dying of AIDS and must face his bigotry." According to Bello, "Protheroe has defended the work saying her intentions are to promote tolerance, not teach about whether homosexuality is right or wrong." Board member Ben Pardini addressed the group of seven parents who complained by saying, "If your goal out there is to take your personal views and instill them in your children and also force them on all children, then the road to the state school board is open to you in Des Moines."

Oh, and I suppose if your friends told you they were going to jump off a bridge, you'd do that, too? . . .
After sentencing two of her children to prison, a judge in Christchurch, New Zealand has decided to let a mother off with community service for her part in the theft of valuable books from local libraries. According to a New Zealand Herald report, Rona Keen was let off while her sons Lonnie and Damien Keen, and Damien's girlfriend Heather Tewani, are going to prison in the scheme because "The judge said she had almost no previous history of dishonesty, and appeared to have been in a domestic situation where her sons had been able to manipulate her. Keen had caved in to their demands to get false library memberships, which was the method the group used to obtain large numbers of books."

'Nuff said . . .
"Writing is always partial," observes Robert Douglas–Fairhurst: "it involves the choice of some words rather than others, and choice requires rejection. As Henry James observed, 'Stopping, that's art.'" In a commentary for The Daily Telegraph, Douglas–Fairhurst considers the work of Franz Kafka, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, Charlotte Bronte, Samuel Beckett, and others, to examine the expectations of the ending of a book—"the moments when speech topples over into silence." He notes, "Literary endings often raise these questions, because they remind us of the importance we place on other sorts of endings, such as the hope that our ends (desires) will be satisfied before our end (death)."

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

Thursday 11 November 2004

BREAKING NEWS: Rape of Nanking author Chang found dead . . .
The author of the acclaimed 1997 book The Rape of Nanking, Iris Chang, has been found dead in her car, an apparent suicide. An Agence France Press wire story says, "Police sources said Chang apparently died of a self–inflicted gunshot wound after driving herself to an isolated spot" near the small town of Los Gatos, California, 50 miles south of San Francisco, where her body was discovered by a passing motorist. Chang, a native of Princeton, New Jersey, "was seen as a leading US non–fiction author and was widely known here and in Asia for her studies of Chinese immigrants and their descendents in the United States," the AP notes. The Rape of Nanking was the first major bok in English to detail "the slaughter of Chinese civilians by the Imperial Japanese army that occupied China in the late 1930s," and remained on besteller lists for months. Chang was 36.

MORE: A BBC News wire story says Chang had been undergoing treatment of depression and says she left a note that "asked to be remembered for the person she was before she fell ill."

Chiller "Theater": Amazon to start showing commercials, on a site that's already pretty much a non–stop ad, interrupted by suggestions of things you can buy . . .
The company once known as "the world's largest bookstore" has announced that it's launching Amazon Theater—what Amazon.com calls "a major short film initiative" involving big directors and big actors. As a Variety report by Ben Fritz details, in Variety–speak, "E-tailer is working with Ridley and Tony Scott's RSA USA to create five shorts that it began running Tuesday and will update each week. Films are directed by RSA helmers, including Tony Scott, and feature thesps including Minnie Driver, Blair Underwood and Chris Noth." How does it work? Simple, in both concept and grammar: "Films were created independently by RSA's helmers, after which Amazon worked with the different brands it sells to integrate their products into the pic. Each film includes a detailed list of all the products from the pic for sale on Amazon in the credits and has clickable links to purchase them all on the accompanying Web page."

MORE: One problem with the launch of "Amazon Theater" could be the technical problems Amazon seems to have been experiencing since Monday. As a very brief Associated Press wire story reports, "Amazon.com said Monday that its Web site was experiencing slowdowns, and the company didn't immediately know when the problem would be fixed."

Kakutani–like rage continues in New York over female finalists for NBA fiction prize; suspicion mounts that the NBA Five are also Christian fundamentalist Republicans . . .
It's a story that seems to have legs, at least in The New York Times. In a piece that is part angry book review, part angry scene criticism, part angry personal attack, and all take–down, Caryn James attacks the National Book Awards and the five writers nominated for this year's fiction prize. She says the books, all written by women from New York, suffer from a "claustrophobic sameness" and a "short–story aestehtic": "all five are built on compressed observations that easily veer into precious writers' program language, too woozy and poetic for its own good." She says "This year's list serves readers who like only a certain style—the style, say, of Rick Moody," who chaired the panel of judges, each of whom "went out of their way to nominate books that have scarcely been noticed." James goes on to dismiss each of the writers—Joan Silber, Lily Tuck, Kate Walbert, Christine Schutt, and Sarah Shun–lien Bynum—and their books in turn for elements such as "gimmicks" and "patent endings." She concludes with the accusation that the judges are "trying to strong–arm readers' taste" with "narrow–minded nominations like these," that in addition somehow "punish" Philip Roth by excluding him, all of which seems to further imply a greater damage rendered to book culture at large.

PREVIOUSLY: The Times also hinted at similar criticism of the nominees in a Deborah Solomon interview with Schutt for the Sunday Magazine. Many online critics saw the interview as somewhat hostile. But in another interview with Ron Hogan of Beatrice.com, Schutt says she thought it was a friendly talk. Hogan also talks with Tuck and Silber in his lead story today on Beatrice.

Humor + poetry = hope . . .
In the wake of John Kerry's loss in the presidential race, Alicia Ostriker notes that "Without humor, we are done for." In a commentary for Newsday, she notes the things that helped her keep her spirits up through the difficult campaing, such as a pin that showed a picture of a perplexed–looking George Bush meeting with the Pope, with a caption saying, "It said, 'Abomination,' so I bombed a nation." It helps her remember, she says, "that the glass is at least 48 percent full. The land I love is still inhabited by citizens in every state who deplore pre-emptive war, who think reverse–Robin Hood economics is wrong, who believe women's bodies are their own, and who cherish the natural environment. It is a beginning. It is not the end." And of course, as in her famous MobyLives posting about poems that helped her get through 9/11, she cites an Anne Sexton poem that reminds her, "Depression is boring, I think . . . "

Who will be losers amongst winners? . . .
For the first time, the most recent winners of the Booker and Orange prizes will be going head to head for another prestigious British literary award, the Whitbread. As Louise Jury explains in a report for The Independent, "The Whitbread, which has five categories whose winners then compete for the £30,000 top prize, sees Andrea Levy's Small Island, which won the Orange, shortlisted for best novel against Alan Hollinghurst, who took the Booker cheque last month with The Line of Beauty." Other contenders include "Kate Atkinson, a former winner of the Whitbread Book of the Year, with her crime story Case Histories," and Louis de Bernières, "whose novel Birds Without Wings was largely panned by the critics and ignored by the Booker jury.

Book banning still frowned upon on this campus . . .
Cabrini College student Sharon Kolankiewicz, takes a look at the feelings about banning books on the campus in this report from the student newspaper, The Loquitur. While one sophomore tells her "she is still not fully opposed to book banning," Kolankiewicz says the student body seems to be "generally against book banning," and the sentiment "tends to be felt by English professors as well." One English prof, Amy DeBlasis, says, "I think the banning of any book is highly irrational. In the Holocaust Museum, there is a picture of a heap of burning books, and below it reads, 'Wherever books are burned, bodies will follow.' When I hear about books being banned, I cannot help but think of this image."

Now it can be told: Nobody likes readings but the writer's mother? . . .
"Booksellers hate author readings," admits bookseller Robert Gray—before he hastily continues, "Well, not really — not most of the time, anyway—but so many broad statements continue to be made by writers about the evils of the 'reading thing' that I thought I should weigh in from the host's side." In a commentary from the Publishers Marketplace's "A Bookseller's Journal," Gray, who works at The Northshire in Manchester, Vermont, says "let's be careful about broad brushing all this. There is, in fact, no such thing as 'author readings' in general. That's an oversimplification of a diverse series of events that often have only a few tangible things in common: a room, some chairs, a podium, a microphone." He goes on to offer some advice to readers, and discusses the wide variety of events he's seen and hosted.

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

Wednesday 10 November 2004

They know, for example, when you're reading Orwell . . .
"Computers record virtually everything we do these days—whom we call or e–mail, what books and magazines we read, what Web sites we search, where we travel, which videos we rent, and everything we buy by credit card or check. The prospect of the military and security agencies constantly trolling through all of this information about innocent citizens in hopes of finding terrorists led Congress to ban spending" on a Pentagon program called the Total Information Awareness, which was headed by former Iran–Contra convict John Poindexter. But the program lives on, says David Cole, in that "Federal programs to collect and search vast computer databases for security purposes continue virtually unabated, inside and outside the Pentagon." And then there's the USA Patriot Act, by which "the government has authorized official monitoring of attorney–client conversations, wide–ranging secret searches and wiretaps, the collection of Internet and e–mail addressing data, spying on religious services and the meetings of political groups, and the collection of library and other business records." In a review in The New York Review of Books, Cole gives an in–depth look at governmental "data mining" and the ongoing issues of the Patriot Act, and considers two books that look at these dangers to our civil liberties: The Intruders, by the late former chief counsel to the Senate's Watergate committee Sam Dash, and The Naked Crowd, by Jeffrey Rosen.

Who's the mann? . . .
Bertelsmann AG, "the world's fourth–largest media firm" and the owner of the world's biggest book publisher, Random House, "posted a 14 percent rise in core earnings in the quarter to September and reiterated it saw better results for the full year," reports a Reuters wire story. The company expects a strong fourth quarter, too, with "an improved operating result" and "slight organic revenue growth . . . despite a restrained economy," says CFO Siegfried Luther. The report says that "After two years of cutting costs and selling assets, Bertelsmann this year started to gear up for future growth," and has "2 billion to 3 billion under its belt to spend on new projects and acquisitions."

That's all she wrote . . .
The November edition of the prestigious Women's Review of Books includes discussion of work by Judith Butler, Julia Kristeva, and Cynthia Ozick, among others. It also features an open letter from editor Amy Hoffman, announcing "The Women's Review of Books will be suspending publication after we put out our December 2004 issue." As Scott McLemee reports in a Chronicle of Higher Education story, "Don't bother searching for the PS saying '... unless you act now!' The time for fund–raising appeals is long over. The Review, which has its office in the Wellesley Centers for Women, has been operating at a deficit since the mid–1990s and now owes its host more than $200,000." Centers for Women director Susan McGee Bailey says, "A lot of people I talk to are really upset at the news. They tell me, 'I love The Women's Review. I used to subscribe to it.' Of course, that's exactly the problem."

They were afraid Jon Stewart would confuse Christopher Buckley with Tucker Carlson . . .
"Next Monday, just two days before the literati gather in tuxedos at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square to present the National Book Awards, the humorati will meet at the Algonquin Hotel for what's sure to be a wittier evening"—the presentation of the Thurber Prize for American Humor. As a Christian Science Monitor report notes, three writers are vying for the annual $5,000 prize given out by the Thurber House, the literary center in the Columbus, Ohio house where Thurber once lived. This year's finalists are: Christopher Buckley for No Way to Treat a First Lady; Dan Zevin for The Day I Turned Uncool; and Robert Kaplow for Me and Orson Welles.

How they fight now . . .
What was supposed to be a "hot debate" between conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks and Democratic strategist—and former Al Gore campaign manager—Donna Brazile to kick off the Miami Book Fair International turned out to be a tame affair where "the gag lines flew thick and fast," according a Miami Herald report by Glenn Garvin. However, "both warned that the polarization that marked the election hasn't disappeared," notes Garvin, with Brooks saying it was "deeply rooted in American social structure." For her part, Brazile said that "I'm not going to roll over and play dead." But, she said, "I'm in a sea of red, and I still feel a little blue."

Whew! For a minute, I thought it WAS a gimmick! . . .
"Shakespeare probably didn't have a toy in mind for the title role when he penned his vengeful tale. But that was before a frustrated, 20–something actor decided it was time someone performed classical theater with a cast that can fit in a suitcase." As Kim Campbell goes on to report in her Christian Science Monitor story, that actor, Dov Weinstein, uses tiny, plastic Ninja figures as stand–ins for the various characters in a given Shakespeare play, and does all the voices himself. Originally, he handed audience members binoculars as they walked in, but now he's become so successful—and his audiences so large—that he's using video monitors to help the audience see. Among his fans: Cheryl Henson, the daughter of late puppeteer Jim Henson and president of the Jim Henson Foundation, which provided a grant money for a production of Hamlet Weinstein is currently staging at Performance Space 122 (PS122) in New York. "It's not just a gimmick. It makes Shakespeare so accessible," one admirer tells Campbell, but not everyone agrees. "We've had reviews where people said, 'He seems to be very engaged in what he was doing, but I don't have any notion of what that was,'" says Weinstein.

Does writing in this day and age have a "catalytic role"? . . .
Pausing amidst a steady swirl of writing assignments, the writer who won the most recent Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing from his peers in the National Books Critics Circle (see his acceptance speech), Scott McLemee, takes a close look at his chosen profession and decides that while "the writing does, indeed, pay the bills . . . I would be doing more or less the same thing even if it did not pay the bills. In fact, that was the case for a very long time." In a commentary on his website, McLemee.com, he says, "Writing is gratifying to the ego. But it's not that gratifying. . . . The question remains: does it have some use? Some catalytic role? Does it add anything to the world beyond its immediate occasion?"

FULL DISCLOSURE: McLemee compliments MobyLives in the opening of his piece: "Reaching a broader general audience, beyond the universities, is what it's all about. And Moby was reaching that public back before every doofus and his dim brother Slim had a blog."

Book into film equals train wreck . . .
As is typical in 21st century promotion, you've probably already heard more than you want to about a thing that hasn't been released yet—the movie version of Chris van Allsburg's beloved children's book, The Polar Express, directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Tom Hanks. As Manhola Dargis notes in her New York Times review of the finally released film, it has "already received attention for the advanced technology employed to make the film and the heart–skipping amount of money reportedly spent to transpose the story from page to screen." Of course, Dargis doesn't note that quite a bit of early and fawning attention came from the Times, but she does flag quickly that the fawning is over: "I suspect that most moviegoers care more about stories and characters than how much money it took for a digitally rendered strand of hair to flutter persuasively in the wind." She goes on to file a devastating review, castigating the film for "the eerie listlessness" of the characters, a Santa's kingdom set that evokes "one of Hitler's Nuermberg rally entrances in Leni Riefenstahl's 'Triumph of the Will,'" and numerous un–self–aware moments such as how "when Santa's big red sack of toys is hoisted from factory floor to sleigh it resembles nothing so much as an airborne scrotum." In short, she says, this "grave and disappointing failure" shows that "Turning a book that takes a few minutes to read into a feature–length film presented a significant hurdle that the filmmakers were not able to clear."

When John Thomas was let free . . .
On this day in 1960, D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterly's Lover went back on sale in England after having been banned since its publication—in Italy—in 1928. In a special feature, the BBC runs its original report from 10 November 1960, telling what happened at the trial that overturned the ban, and what happened when the book went back on sale: "Bookshops all over England have sold out of Penguin's first run of the controversial novel Lady Chatterley's Lover—a total of 200,000 copies—on the first day of publication."

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

Tuesday 9 November 2004

From the Reasons to Move to France file . . .
Testifying in a Federal courthouse yesterday, Kenneth Miller, the author of a popular biology textbook upon which the state of Georgia put a sticker warning that "it contains material on the theory of evolution," said he finds what the state did "very weird." As an Associated Press wire story appearing on the Access North Georgia website site notes, education officials in Cobb County started using the stickers two years ago "after more than two–thousand [sic] parents complained that the books used evolution as the only explanation for the origin of life." But now, a group of parents joined by the American Civil Liberties Union has taken the district to court, arguing that "the disclaimers are a government endorsement of religion." As Kristen Wyatt reports in another AP wire story, the stickers read in full: "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered." The school system's lawyer, Linwood Gunn, says the sticker "provides a unique opportunity for critical thinking." However, the ACLU observes that "The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that creationism was a religious belief that could not be taught in public schools along with evolution." A Reuters wire story by Paul Simao, meanwhile, notes that "The trial, which is expected to last several days, began just days after the re–election of President Bush, who won the overwhelming support of religious conservatives with his stands against gay marriage and abortion."

French prize season begins . . .
The award generally considered France's top literary prize, the Prix Goncourt, has been announced, kicking off the French prize season, in which most of the country's major awards are announced within a two week period, commencing with the Goncourt. This year, the prize went to Laurent Gaude, for his novel, Le Soleil des Scorta (The Sun of the Scortas), which a BBC News wire story calls an "epic novel" that "describes the struggle of a family to escape poverty in the fictional village of Montepuccio." It also notes that the book was published by a small publisher, Actes Sud, based not in Paris but in Arles, the small southern town where Vincent Van Gogh lived. Meanwhile, another wire story, from the Agence France Press, reports that another major French prize was announced Monday, too—the Renaudot, which, for the first time, was awarded posthumously. The award was given to "A long–lost novel by a once–famous Jewish author who was murdered in the holocaust," Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky. As noted previously on MobyLives, the book "has been hailed as the literary sensation of the year in France." According to the AFP report, "Members of the Renaudot jury admitted they had to bend the rules to give the prize to Nemirovsky, who died in Auschwitz in August 1942." But one of the judges was not happy about the decision. "Prizes are meant to promote writers. We're not there to compensate the injustices done to people who are dead," complained judging chairman Andre Brincourt. "Next year why not honour Alexandre Dumas?"

That's Canadian for, "Can you loan me twenty dollars until payday? . . .
"Indigo Books & Music Inc. widened its quarterly loss by eight per cent Monday as Canada's biggest bookstore chain was hurt by lower sales," according to a CBC News wire story. The company reported an $8.2 million loss, or 34 cents per share. CEO Heather Reisman blamed "a new inventory management system." She explained, "There are inevitable adjustments associated with stabilizing this new inventory management system and the issues are being addressed rapidly. We are looking forward to the medium–term benefits this new tool will provide, from highly targeted inventory for each of our trade areas, to enhanced customer service and lower overall cost of supply chain management."

Ex–girlfriend sues Patterson, says his drivel wasn't even original . . .
A lawsuit being brought against bestselling novelist James Patterson by an ex–girlfriend for breach of contract and copyright infringement—and for stealing her ideas—has been allowed to proceed, according to a report on NewYorkLawyer.com by Mark Fass. Judge Gerard E. Lynch denied Patterson's motion to dismiss the charges that Patterson's Cat and Mouse "allegedly incormporates Ms. Sharp's work" and his Suzanne's Diary for Nichoals was "allegedly based on her idea." As the judge described it, "In tandem with their romantic relationship, Sharp alleges, the two 'developed a close professional relationship,' in which Patterson discussed problems with his writing, and Sharp helped by acting 'as a sounding board and [making] suggestions.'"

Trying to make a bestseller out of Nielsen's bestseller list . . .
"If Nielsen BookScan date are more accurate and more timely" because they're based on actual register sales, "why do newspapers and magazines continue to go through the effort of compiling their own lists?" asks Marina Krakovsky. In an in–depth Washington Post report, she reveals many in the industry have criticisms of BookScan. Publishers Weekly editor Nora Rawlinson says she misses the "additional information on how books are selling" that comes with "that constant contact with booksellers" that lists compiled by journalists have. Bantam Dell publisher Irwyn Applebaum, meanwhile, says BookScan is "by no means complete." He observes that it does not include sales from Wal–Mart, Sam's Club, and "also from drugstores, supermarkets, the smaller independents, and retailers — like Williams–Sonoma — that sell a few cookbooks alongside their pots and pans." Meanwhile, despite criticism of newspaper bestseller lists, in particular the methods employed by the New York Times Bestseller List, "For all its precision in numbers, Nielsen BookScan . . . is finding it difficult to compete with that kind of prestige."

The cholera of money . . .
He has reportedly always refused to allow his books to be turned into movies, but now Gabriel Garcia Marquez has apparently been offered his price. According to an Agence France Press wire story, New Line Cinema has announced it will make "a long–awaited movie version" of the Nobel Prize winner's 1985 novel Love in the Time of Cholera, after acquiring the rights from producer Scott Steindorff, who got them from Marquez for what was reported to be $1 million by Daily Variety. The screenplay is to be written by Ron Harwood, who won the Oscar for his script for The Pianist.

And Elvis wept . . .
They were some of the most successful rock bands of all time, often enjoying more success than even more famous bands: The California Raisins, The Archies, The Brady Kids, The Partridge Family, The Banana Splits, The Commitments . . . . The only thing is, they were fake. Now, a new book, the Rocklopedia Fakebandica, tracks these made–up bands from television and film and more. As Tom Anderson reports in a story for The Independent, the book is based on a website maintained by author Mike Childs, who says he was inspired to do the book after being "amazed at how popular his site had become." The growth of the project wasn't without turmoil, however. Says Childs, "We had a minor scandal when I found out that three entries were real bands."

Luckily, the bulk of the review is not written in such technical jargon . . .
In the just–released issue of Bookslut, Sharon Adario critiques the covers of some recent hot books for the "Judging a Book By Its Cover" column. "As for Susan Orlean's book," writes Adario, " . . . chuck the front cover. It sucks." As for the cover of Michael Moore's new book, she says, "I can say with no trace of partisan hackery that his new book's cover is deeply, deeply ugly." Also in the new issue: Janine Armin interviews Amy Sohn, Arthur Phillips talks with Laura Leichum, and Gena Anderson interviews Jennifer Weiner.

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

Monday 8 November 2004

Two major publishers agree to discriminatory language in textbooks to suit Texas Board of Ed . . .
"New public school health textbooks that teach abstinence exclusively and address concerns about homosexuality by defining marriage as the union between a man and a woman" were adopted by the Texas Sate Board of Education in a 14–1 vote on Friday, according to a Houston Chronicle report by Jane Elliot. Two publishers agreed to alter their textbooks in order to comply: In two of its high school textbooks, Glencoe/McGraw–-;Hill agreed to change the phrase "Wehn two people decide to marry . . ." to read: "When a man and a woman decide to marry . . . ." In its health textbooks for sixth, seventh and eighth graders, Hold Holt, Rinehart and Winston included the phrase, "Marriage is a lifelong union between a husband and a wife." The only Board of Ed member to vote against the books was Mavis Knight, who said she opposed the books "because they failed to include required information about contraceptives."

Ehrenreich calls for librarians, booksellers, writers and publishers to fight giant printer Quebecor for "dangerous" working conditions . . .
"Dangerous and degrading working conditions" at the world's second largest book–printing company, Quebecor World, has inspired author Barbara Ehrenreich to issue a call for "librarians, booksellers and readers" to pressure both Quebecor and their clients, which includes most major book publishers, including the top three, Random House, Penguin USA, and Simon & Schuster, as well as some major magazine publishers, such as Reed Elsivier, which publishes Publishers Weekly. In an open letter posted at TheExperiment.org, Ehrenreich says, "Maybe you've been like me—reading and purchasing books and magazines for all these years without giving a thought to the people who actually produce them. As a writer, I think we who are committed to promoting a love of books and learning ought to stand together with the printing workers at Quebecor World who have taken the courageous step of organizing for union recognition in the face of a vicious anti–union campaign of threats, intimidation, and harassment."

Unnoticed in the gloom: Patriot Act opponents were re–elected . . .
"With the Republicans holding onto the White House and solidifying their gains in Congress, not much has changed for those who follow the sundry business of publishing legislation," says a report (unavailable as a link) in last Friday night's PW Daily. "For those anxious to amend Section 215 of USA Patriot Act, the good news was that Independent Rep. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the primary author of the Freedom to Read Protection Act, was re–elected." So was Sen. Russ Feingold "the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act." "The bad news," notes reporter Jim Milliot, was that "John Kerry was one of 22 co-sponsors of Security and Freedom and presumably would have signed a bill amending Section 215 if it had reached his desk." Meanwhile, "The Bush administration has made it clear that it intends to renew all sections of the Patriot Act, including 215, whose provisions include the allowing the federal government to search bookstore and library records."

People still buying anti–Bush books . . .
"President Bush's re–election disappointed many in the publishing industry, a blue–state business where liberals have long predominated, but it has boosted sales for a few anti–Bush books," reports Hillel Italie in an Associated Press wire story. Among those that seemed to have particularly benefited are Thomas Frank's What's the Matter With Kansas? and George Lakoff's Don't Think of an Elephant. Italie says another book doing well is Lakoff's 2002 book Moral Politics, which "offers suggestions for how liberals can retake power."

Training people to stay home and shop . . .
The book business was one of the very first to see attempt, and see success, in Internet retailing, and it may be among the first to exploit a new development in that area: the integration of Internet sales with traditional brick–and–mortar stores. As Laurie Sullivan explains in an Information Week report, "In–store kiosks that connect customers to retail stores' Web sites" are starting to show up in more and more stores and are expected to "continue to grow and boost sales by offering expanded assortments and products not available on store shelves." Among those leading the pack: "Borders Books & Music has seen at least a 10% increase from the integration of the Web with its brick–and–mortar stores because it gives customers options not readily available on the store shelves."

Because Antonio's out of the slammer and looking to make a little scratch this time . . .
Even before the publication of Empire in 2000, the book by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri was preceded by rumors that it would "provide a definitive analysis of the new world order. It would be the theoretical bridge between postmodernist academics and a mass movement that was making it ever harder for international financial institutions to meet in peace." As Scott McLemee notes, "You can't buy word of mouth like that. It did not hurt that Mr. Negri had spent much of the previous two decades in exile, convicted of having fomented civil disorder during the 1970s as the main theorist and éminence grise of a revolutionary group. (In 1997, he returned from France to serve out a prison sentence that he completed last year.) This is known as having street cred." Now, reports McLemee in a Chronicle of Higher Education story, "there is a sequel," Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire . However, this one has something different about it: as Hardt explains, "Empire was really written for a university audience, for graduate students, more or less." With Multitude, "we tried to write differently, for a much broader audience, while also doing a balancing act to make it interesting to scholars."

Jones goes Hollywood . . .
It broke on the scene like gangbusters in the literary press: Gerard Jones's Everyone Who's Anyone in Adult Trade Publishing. Jones listed almost every agent and publisher and documented his attempt to place a novel he'd written by posting his e–mail correspondence with many of them—often, to their chagrin. It has been one of the most popular literary websites on the Internet ever since. But this weekend Jones launched a surprising new version of the site, with an all new title: Everyone Who's Anyone in Adult Trade Publishing and Tineseltown, Too. Among the new categories: Tinseltown Literary & Talent Agents," "Tinseltown Gobbed–Up Movie Production Companies," and "Tinseltown Independent Movie Production Companies."

Germans gripped by question: Does big mental landscape require big head? . . .
"Germany is in the grip of an unusual literary phenomenon," according to Luke Harding's "Berlin Diary" column in The Guardian. Anticipating the 200th anniversary of his death, Harding says the country is gripped by a "mania" for all things related to "Poet, dramatist and revolutionary Friedrich Schiller." There are new biographies and a film about him. "What is it about Schiller that Germans still find fascinating?" One of the biographers tells Harding, "The exciting landscape of Schiller's mental world. The integrity of this man. The thing that moves me most of all is his search for truth." Meanwhile, the search for his remains is occupying others. It seems he was originally buried in a mass grave in Weimar. Twenty years later, the town's mayor decided to dig him up and give him a more noble grave. However, "Confronted with a choice of 27 skulls and various bones he chose the biggest — concluding that the author of the Wallenstein cycle and William Tell must have had a large head." Verification has proven difficult.

Hail & Farewell: David Shulman . . .
David Shulman, the "Sherlock Holmes of Americanisms who dug through obscure, often crumbling publications to hunt down the first use of thousands of words," died on Oct. 30 at age 91 in Brooklyn, New York. According to a New York Times obituary by Douglas Martin, "Every inch of Mr. Shulman, from his sneakers to his plastic bag crammed with scrawled notes to his soiled baseball cap, suggested the classic New York eccentric." But Shulman "contributed uncountable early usages" to the Osford English Dictionary, so many that his name was listed in the OED's front matter. Writes Martin, "Mr. Shulman avoided excessive modesty, letting it drop that he was at least temporarily the last word on words that included 'The Great White Way,' 'Big Apple,' 'doozy,' 'hoochie–coochie,'" as well as "hot dog" and "jazz." Shulman's home away from home was the New York Public Library, and one of his early mentors there was Norbert Pearlroth, researcher for Ripley's Believe It or Not!. But Shulman eventually came to question Perarlroth's work. "Instead of believing it," he explained in an interview, "I believed it not."

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

Visit the mothership:

The International Bestseller
by Bernard–Henri Lévy



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

Letters policy: All letters must be signed. Also, please say where you’re writing from — either an affiliation or hometown.
All material not otherwise attributed ©2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 Dennis Loy Johnson.