A look at bestseller lists from the nation's best independent bookstores.

This week's list is from the Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT.


1. Everyday Matters
Nardi Reede Campion

2. Barefoot In Paris
Ina Garten

3. Washington's Crossing
David Hackett Fischer

4. The Surrogate Thief
Archer Mayor

5. The Compleat Squash
Amy Goldman

6. The Plot Against America
Philip Roth

7. America The Book
Jon Stewart

8. Ursula Under
Ingrid Hill

9. His Excellency: George Washington
Joseph Ellis

10. Victory At Yorktown
Richard Ketchum

11. Bob Dylan Chronicles: Volume 1
Bob Dylan

12. Light On Snow
Anita Shreve


1. The Boston Red Sox: The 2004World Series Champions
The Boston Herald

2. The Kite Runner
Khaled Hosseini

3. Old School
Tobias Wolff

4. Bad Cat
Jim Edgar

5. The Amber Room
Steve Berry

6. The Bush Survival Bible
Gene Stone

7. The Sinister Pig
Tony Hillerman

8. The Time Traveler's Wife
Audrey Niffenegger

9. The Bookseller Of Kabul
Asne Seierstad

10. The Gatekeeper
Archer Mayor

11. The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time
Mark Haddon

12. In The Heart Of The Sea
Nathaniel Philbrick

The Northshire Bookstore
4869 Main Street
Manchester Center, Vermontá 05255

Previous column; IT IS WHAT IT IS: KID LIT ... Guest columnist Jackie Corley talks about her experience of the strange pressure put on young writers today to write like old–timers.

Previous column; THE FICTION OF THE DEMISE OF THE WOMEN'S REVIEW OF BOOKS ... What's the significance of the demise of The Women's Review of Books? Former editor Lynn Walterick talks about it in a MobyLives guest column.

Previous column; MOODY IN SOLITUDE ... What happens when you ask Rick Moody to judge a fiction award contest? Our intrepid reporter goes down river to find out.

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Friday 3 December 2004

Hail & Farewell: Mona Van Duyn, first female Poet Laureate . . .
Mona Van Duyn, the first woman to become Poet Laureate when the Library of Congress renamed its resident poet position, has died in St. Louis at age 83. A Reuters wire report notes that Van Duyn, who was Poet Laureate in 1992 and 1993, was described as "a pioneer of the poetry of the suburbs." She published her first book, Valentines to the Wide World, in 1959. Her most recent, Selected Poems, came out in 2002.

One former dissident writer helped another in the freeing of Rivero . . .
A year after sentencing journalist and poet Raul Rivero to a twenty year conspiracy sentence, the Cuban government has suddenly released him (see yesterday's MobyLives news digest). Why? In a commentary for Slate, Paul Berman writes, "The immediate reason appears to be a diplomatic change of attitude in Europe," led by the new government of José Luis Zapatero in Spain being considerably friendlier towards Cuba than the previous government of José Maria Aznar. Says Berman, "Here is a victory, then, for the bad cop/good cop approach toward Cuba—the bad cop having been Aznar, and the good cop, Zapatero." But also, interestingly, Berman points out that it is also a victory for another writer: Vaclav Havel, "who, after his retirement from the presidency of the Czech Republic, has taken up the cause of Cuban freedom. Just a few weeks ago he organized an international meeting in Prague to pressure for the release of the Cuban dissidents."

Legislator who can't stop thinking about sex gets attention in Alabama . . .
"An Alabama lawmaker who sought to ban gay marriages now wants to ban novels with gay characters from public libraries, including university libraries," reports Kim Chandler in a Birmingham News story. Saying he's trying to protect children from the "homosexual agenda," Rep. Gerald Allen (R–Cottondale), has filed a bill that would prohibit using public funds for "the purchase of textbooks or library materials that recognize or promote homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle." He says, "Our culture, how we know it today, is under attack from every angle," and that if his bill passes, "novels with gay protagonists and college textbooks that suggest homosexuality is natural would have to be removed from library shelves and destroyed." "I guess we dig a big hole and dump them in and bury them," he tells Chandler. Southern Poverty Law Center spokesman Mark Potok says, "It sounds like Nazi book burning to me." Allen's bill also "would ban materials that recognize or promote a lifestyle or actions prohibited by the sodomy and sexual misconduct laws of Alabama," reports Chandler. "Allen said that meant books with heterosexual couples committing those acts likely would be banned, too." Montgomery City–County Library director Juanita Coles commented, "Half the books in the library could end up being banned."

Soon to be banned in Alabama . . .
In 2002, Vice President Dick Cheney's wife, Lynne Cheney, successfully blocked the reissue of a lesbian romance novel she wrote in 1981, but now it has been placed on line at a Live Journal site. This version of the Sisters is apparently the complete and unexpurgated.

Yassir attends writers workshop . . .
"In the spring of 2002," says Hassan Khader, "I accompanied a coterie of foreign writers to Yassir Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah. The group, who had come to visit poet Mahmoud Darwish in solidarity with the Palestinian cause, included Nobel laureates Jose Saramago and Wole Soyinka — Portugese and Nigerian, respectively — and poets and novelists from France, South Africa, the United States and Italy, as well as a Chinese poet living in exile." In an essay for Al–Ahram, Khader notes how, "In addressing his visitors, Arafat kept moving from one story to another, occasionally leaping mid-sentence to fetch something off his desk in the corner, and frequently interrupting the translator to repeat, in broken English, a sentence he had just finished in Arabic. Before too long the visitors by and large were charmed." But what did his manner of speaking, his syntax, and his command of the facts imply about Arafat's leadership, and the Palestinian situation as a result? Quite a bit, says Khader.

Moby For Dummies . . .
It is one of the oldest publishing houses in America, and it was the first American publisher for the big American novel—Moby–Dick. John Wiley & Sons also published James Fenimore Cooper, Washington Irving, and Edgar Allan Poe. Now, Tom Taulli takes a look at the company from a financial perspective in a story for The Motley Fool, the company has changed from a well–known literary house, but is still going strong. It has "has a stable of top publishing brands, like Jossey–Bass, For Dummies, Betty Crocker, CliffsNotes, Frommer's, and even Webster's New World," and has "formed key alliances, such as with Dow Jones, CNBC, and the Culinary Institute of America." It even moved across the Hudson to Hoboken, giving up its home of almost 200 years. And it all seems to be working—according to Taulli, who reports that earlier this week it announced second quarter sales were up 8%.

Narratives competing for reality . . .
It has been noted by many of late: Fiction just doesn't seem to cut it for the modern, engaged reader. The books that have been the most talked about nowadays, not to mention the best–selling, have been non–fiction. Non–fiction has particularly dominated the political disussion. But is it true that fiction just isn't a suitable way to talk about contemporary culture? Larry Beihart, author of the novel American Hero, which the movie Wag the Dog was based upon, says, "In all that I've read about George W. Bush in non–fiction, I've never seen anything that truly illuminated the man." In an essay for Buzzflash, he says the problem is "line by line, you have to call him a liar," but at the same time "it is difficult to imagine anyone who can lie so well and so consistently as he must be doing, if we are to completely reject what he has been telling us. So it is hard to accept the total cynicism, combined with blind optimism, that must — in my estimation — actually be behind his actions . . . If, however, I offer you a fictional president . . . and tell you this is his motivation and this is his narrative, you can accept that quite easily. Then, when you notice that his specifics match the events in the real world, you can transfer it, you can say, maybe there is a better narrative than the one we've been told."

Elementary, Watson—Doyle was lying! . . .
The unpublished first novel of Arthur Conan DoyleThe Narrative of John Smith—went on display at the British Library in London yesterday, along with "Letters, diaries and photographs, including a telegram from escapologist Harry Houdini," according to a BBC News wire story. The novel, written in 1897, "was thought to have been lost in the Post," reports the BBC, but it says Doyle wasn't too bothered by that, commenting that "I must in all honesty confess that my shock at its disappearance would be as nothing to my horror if it were suddenly to appear again — in print." The Beeb doesn't explain how the manuscript has apparently turned up after all.

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

Thursday 2 December 2004

For the first time at Amazon, books get outsold . . .
The company that used to bill itself as the "world's largest bookseller," Amazon.com, set a milestone over the four–day Thanksgiving weekend—according to a Seattle Times report by Monica Soto Ouchi, that's when,for the first time, "consumer electronics surpassed books as Amazon's largest sales category." However, notes Ouchi, "The milestone, set at a time when its book business also posted record sales, is an important indication that Amazon can diversify beyond media products. While the Seattle–based company sells everything from caviar to apparel, sales of books, music, videos and DVDs represented three–quarters of its $4.4 billion in sales for the first nine months of the year."

Something goes right for book about things that go wrong . . .
"For the second year running a work of non–fiction has won the Guardian First Book award," as Michelle Pauli reports in a story from The Guardian itself. The winner of the £10,000 prize was Armand Marie Leroi for the book Mutants: On the Form, Varieties and Errors of Human Body, which "asks what modern molecular genetics tell us about the human condition, and crucially, what happens when things go wrong."

When rating books an F just isn't good enough . . .
A rating system for books similar to that used for movies in the U.S. went into effect in Taiwan yesterday. According to a report in the Tapei Times by Ko Shu–ling, "Books and audio publications are rated into two categories: general and restricted." As for what gets books the restricted rating: "material containing 'over–description' of such criminal behaviors as killing, kidnapping or drug dealing; 'over–portraying' of the process of suicide; 'dramatic depiction' of violent, bloody and deviant scenes." Anything with such content must carry a label reading "R rated: not available for 18 and under." One publisher, Huang Jien–ho of the Dala Publication Co., which specializes in "books with spicy conent," called the rating system "violent" and "ridiculous," and says, "Pornography is part of mass culture. It's not fair to deprive audiences of the right to read good books."

Quick: Show your last novel to your doctor . . .
Researchers studying the last novel of Iris Murdoch, Jackson's Dilemma, say "It subtly reveals the onset of Alzheimer's disease before the author herself could have known." According to a Guardian story by Tim Radford, the newspaper's science editor, scientists at the institute of cognitive neuroscience at University College London "compared early novels of Iris Murdoch — Under the Net and The Sea, The Sea — with her final work, and found that her vocabulary had dwindled and her language become simpler." Radford reports that "The scientists worked from longhand manuscripts sent direct to the publishers, to eliminate any possibility of editorial interference. Using concordance software, they analysed the types of words — nouns, verbs, descriptors and so on — in each novel, and their richness. Comparisons of the three novels showed that her vocabulary became richer in the early stages of her writing career, but showed signs of impoverishment in the final work." Murdoch's husband, John Bayley, says, "I had felt all along that there was something different about Iris's last novel, that it was moving but strange in many ways."

Weeping in bookstores, part 1 . . .
"When Sarah McNally hatched a plan last year to become the first Canadian book retailer in recent memory to take on the New York market, she recognized there would be obstacles." What she didn't think was that those obstacles would be things such as "Contractors, architects: yellers and liars. They're all hollering and lying all the time, from what I can tell. I've started hollering too, but I don't lie. Instead, I — well, I weep, I guess." As Simon Houpt reports in a Globe & Mail story, McNally did indeed find herself weeping at the difficulty of opening a bookstore in Manhattan's Nolita section. But the daughter of well–known Canadian booksellers is determined to make it, and she's not scared off by the chains that usually do in independents, either. "Barnes & Noble has got tons and tons of staff, but they're not really all that helpful. They just stand around. And they're abominably paid. And bookselling is a noble profession. I've done the numbers, I'm not crazy. It works."

Weeping in bookstores, part II . . .
For book lovers, it was one of the most beloved bookstores in a town full of good bookstores: WordsWorth Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts. But for husband and wife owners Hillel Stavis and Donna Friedman, "the bookstore at 30 Brattle Street" was something even more, of course—it "had led to their meeting and, eventually, their marriage, their two children, and all the exhilaration derived from nearly three decades of doing what they loved, which is living among, or, as Friedman says, just touching books." But, as Jack Thomas reports in a Boston Globe story, WordsWorth went out of business on October 30. And, "after the last customer had bid goodbye and the melancholy staff had departed . . . at long last, after 28 years, it was time for Hillel Stavis and his wife, Donna Friedman, to lock the doors of their bookstore for the final time. Exhausted by a week of cheerless clearance sales and depressed by so many mournful goodbyes, Stavis turned out the lights, and together, inside the bookstore, he and Friedman sat on the stairs that led to psychology and gardening. In the dark, among the ghosts of Faulkner, Dreiser, Nabokov, and other great writers whose works had graced the shelves at WordsWorth, they did what many of their customers had done that week. They wept."

The ghettoization of sci–fi . . .
In just three years, "H.G. Wells wrote four science fiction masterpieces —The Time Machine, The Island of Dr Moreau, The Invisible Man and The War of the Worlds," but he didn't get a lot of respect for them from other writers, observes Bryan Appleyard. "Then, as now, SF was seen as not quite respectable by literary types. The vile George Bernard Shaw sneered at Wells, and even his own literary patron, W E Henley, told him: 'You could also do better — far better & to begin with, you must begin by taking yourself more seriously." Even today, says Appleyard, "Margaret Atwood has turned her nose up at SF." In a review of Wells for The New Statesman, Appleyard observes that "In truth, a form that has produced, among others, Stanislaw Lem, J G Ballard, the Strugatsky brothers and, above all, Herbert George Wells has nothing to apologise for." So why do people always look down on science fiction as a lesser literary form?

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

Wednesday 1 December 2004

Did he jump or was he pushed? Smiley departs NPR, saying it "failed to reach out" to his audience . . .
Another major figure in the shrinking world of broadcast media that talks to writers is leaving the scene. As reported first on Jim Romenesko's Media News, popular NPR host Tavis Smiley says he has decided "not renew my contract with NPR, which expires shortly," and says further he is leaving the network because "NPR has simply failed to meaningfully reach out to a broad spectrum of Americans who would benefit from public radio, but simply don't know it exists or what it offers." Smiley's announcement of his departure, posted by Romenesko, takes the form of a letter apprently directed to the stations that carried his show. "I know the ridicule many of you had to endure when you decided to take this journey with me by adding my program to your line–up," he says. "I will always be appreciative of your confidence and trust." A report on the e–newsletter PW Newsline (unavialable as a link), however, says Smiley is leaving not because he decided not to renew his contract, but because NPR didn't renew his contract. As Steve Zeitchik reports, Smiley will be missed by those in the book business because he "is a relatively influential figure on the book scene; with his show's wide–ranging cultural bent, he's covered the end of Oprah and has interviewed NBA winners. He also has his own small book imprint with Hay House. And so some publicists worry what the loss of he who has been called the black Charlie Rose will mean for book media." NPR, meanwhile, immediately issued a release saying "Tavis Smiley informed us today that he will not renew his contract," and that "NPR and the African American Consortium intend to continue this program with a new host and to expand and build upon its successes." The release cites Arbitron ratings numbers to prove that the partnership with the African American Consortium "has been very successful."

MORE: In an update that further details the story broken by PW Newsline, Felicia R. Lee of The New York Times quotes NPR vp David Umansky saying that Smiley's departure was "a surprise" to him. But Lee hints the relationship was rocky from the start, and tinged with racial tension. According to Lee, "Some listeners thought Mr. Smiley excluded whites."

Cuba releases dissident writer . . .
The Cuban government has freed its leading dissident writer, Raul Rivero, from prison, along with several other notable dissidents, in what is being called "the latest in a series of releases apparently aimed at cleaning up the island's human rights record." Cuba has been attempting to improve relations with Spain, where the new government has been receptive, but it has also criticzed the Castro regime for its crackdown on dissidents. According to an Associated Press wire story by Anita Snow, Rivero was released along with economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe, and dissidents Marcelo Lopez and Margarito Broche. All had fallen ill behind bars. Says Human Rights Watch director Jose Miguel Vivanco, "Cuba's release of these political prisoners is a welcome move, but many more remain incarcerated in violation of their fundamental rights. We call on the Cuban authorities to release all of them." Elizardo Sanchez, head of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and Reconciliation, says they were released for two reasons: "to avoid their possible deaths in jail and to send "false signs of flexibility to the European Union and Spain.'"

This will be followed by the recently approved all new Page Numbering System . . .
One Oxford University Press official calls it the "publishing industry's own Y2K," and others seem ready for wide–scale chaos when the worldwide book business switches over from the 10–digit ISBN numbering system to the new 13–digit ISBN on 1 January, 2007, says Andy McCue in this report from Silicon.com. As McCue explains, the old ISBN is "running out of capacity," ergo the new system. "The new 13–digit ISBN, which has capacity for just under one billion numbers, will affect all aspects of the publishing supply chain right through to libraries and high–street book stores and the International ISBN Agency has warned firms to review all their IT systems well ahead of the 2007 deadline." In short, everyone including "Publishers, distributors, retailers and libraries" will have to "update various automated ordering systems, inventory control systems, point–of–sale systems, and library databases."

Just like writers: Edinburgh already spent the advance . . .
A month after UNESCO named Edinburgh as the first ever World City of Literature, "the Scottish capital has run out of money to support its victorious bid," reports Guy Adams in a story for The Independent. Adams says if organizers don't raise "at least £50,000" "Edimburgh's WCL team" will have to let its sole full–time employee go and will be in "the embarrassing position of having to put the much–hyped Unesco project . . . on hold. No events could take place until next April at the earliest." Asked how this situation came about, an organizer tells Adams, "Unesco made their decision to award us the title much more quickly than expected." The Scottish Arts Council has been approached for additional help.

Just what the world needed: Another youthful novel by Truman Capote . . .
"An unpublished first novel by Truman Capote, long thought lost, has been found in a box of photographs and documents abandoned by the author in 1966," and is set to be auctioned off at Sotheby's, according to a report in The Guardian by Dan Glaister. Capote apparently was working on the novel—Summer Crossing—both before and after the publication of his first, hit, novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms, and "In 1949 Capote bought himself a suit made of grey raw silk to celebrate the completion of a third of the novel." How he knew it was a third is not explained, but he subsequently threw it out—only to have his housekeeper pick it up as part of a "box of manuscripts and photographs on the pavement outside the [Capote] apartment," and apparently keep it from then until now. Whether it will be published or not is up to the executors of the Capote estate, but Capote biographer Gerald Clarke observes, "This may not be something that should be published, because Truman himself did not feel it was worth publishing," he told AP. "But it would still be of interest to writers and scholars."

Standards at the newspaper, meanwhile, are a little looser . . .
Writing in the Wayne State Univeristy student newspaper, The South End, Sarah Meridith Hobig pens a salute to the school's campus bookstore, Barnes & Noble, for having "done their part in making sure all WSU apparel is made in clean, safe environments by people making fair wages and working reasonable hours." According to Hobig, "There are 300 Barnes & Noble college bookstores across the country and due to students╣ demands, all these bookstores must follow the Apparel Industry Partnership workplace code of conduct and the Fair Labor Association's code of conduct." Or, as the article's sub–header summarizes, "Apperal [sic] sold at the Barnes & Noble store on campus must pass rigorous ethical standards to make sure laborers are threated fairly."

Some governments are more enlightened than others . . .
The ASG Armenian Daily reports that "Numerous books are published in Armenia daily. Part of them is printed by state support." So what does it take for the Armenian government to get behind a book? The article by Gohar Gevorgian says that "the mechanism of printing a book by state support" is explained by the deputy head of the Publishing Agency, Gurren Poghosian, who says, "In the beginning an announcement is given in the newspapers and the authors bring the originals of their pieces to the agency. The agency submits the list of the books to the Literature Committee at RA Culture Ministry for consideration."

Where the little Dickens went . . .
He may have written about kids in some extremely tough circumstances, but for Charles Dickens, the childhood homestead was a "not–so–bleak house, says Karen Kenyon. For a Christian Science Monitor story, she visits Dicken's birthplace in Portsmouth and says "The full span of Charles Dickens's life can be seen at his birthplace . . . from the room where the famous author was born in 1812 to the green velvet chaise–longue couch upon which he died in 1870."

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

Tuesday 30 November 2004

In Letters . . .
More on Jackie Corley's column ok gen–y lit, and another reader writes in to ask a question about George Gatenby: Does he also have to give back the cheese cubes he ate at readings? In the MobyLives letters section.

Patent suit against Amazon gets court date . . .
A trial date has been set in the patent infringement lawsuit being brought against Amazon.com by Pinpoint Incorporated, which alleges, as a Pinpoint press release explains, that "Amazon.com's personalization technology and its product recommendations infringe Pinpoint's U.S. Patents Nos. 5,758,257 and 6,088,722." The trial will begin December 6 in Chicago, and the company has lined up some point representation. One of its attorneys in the case is Peter Besinger, Jr, who "represented George W. Bush in the 2000 election contest litigation in Florida and also represented the U.S. Government in its antitrust case against Microsoft."

Gatenby slaps hand to forehead, says, "D'oh" repeatedly; has to be carried off . . .
The tumult over Greg Gatenby's attempt to sell off the books he got autographed during his years running the International Readings at Harbourfront Centre continues (see yesterday's MobyLives news digest). As Rebecca Caldwell reports in a Globe & Mail story, Gatenby held a "testy" press conference over the American holiday "hoping to end the questions surrounding his announcement that he was selling his book collection, about 28,000 volumes worth an estimated $2–million, amassed in part during his time as director" of the IRHC. It did not go well. Reports Caldwell, "Twice an assistant attempted to cut off questions regarding provenance. The issue: When publishers send out free review copies of a book for promotional purposes, are they sending them to the individual or to the institution the individual works for? Gatenby maintained that the publishing industry sends them to the person and that the books then become that person's property." Says Gatenby, "One of the perks is that the person to whom the book is given keeps the book." The IRCH is still not issuing comment. Meanwhile, a book dealer who appraised the collection says, "It is probably one of the largest collections of inscribed books in the world."

Japanese publisher to eat 120,000 books, plus one photographer . . .
The Japanese publisher Bungeishunju will destroy 120,000 copies of one of its books as part of an agreement reached with four South Korean actors whose unauthorized photos appeared in the book. Later that day, as a brief Japan Today article reports, Bungeishunju announced it had filed a suit itself, for a whopping ¥170 million ($1.65 million) — against the book's photographer for failing to obtain the actors' permissions.

Doctor, it hurts when I do this . . .
A new book about Dylan Thomas says it wasn't drinking that did him in—it was "a bungling doctor." As Fiona MacGregor reports in a story for The Scotsman, the authors of Dylan Remembered, 1935–1953, David Thomas and Dr Simon Barton say that the poet's personal physician, Dr. Milton Feltenstein, ignored the findings of the doctors who admitted Thomas to St. Vincent's Hospital in New York, where Thomas was brought after collapsing at the White Horse Tavern. The writers say Feltenstein ignored findings that Thomas was suffering from pneumonia, and instead, based upon the poet bragging to him that he had had "18 straight whiskies; I think it's a record." Feltenstein "decided [Thomas] had delirium tremens and ignored the possibility of a chest infection." Feltenstein then "injected the poet with three doses of morphine, which the biographers say restricted his breathing." Thomas slipped into a coma and died four days later at age 40. (Feltenstein died in 1974.) The biographers do admit, however, that "Over the long term, Dylan's smoking, drinking, poor diet and sleeping problems created a general debilitation in which the bronchitis and pneumonia could take hold."

If U kin reed this U R 2 smart . . .
It was one of the great academic scandals of the 1990s: in January 1999, when Rhetoric professor Judith Butler won Philosophy and Literature's Bad Writing Contest, organized by Arts and Letters Daily founder Denis Dutton, she was the subject of ridicule in numerous articles from The New York Times to Lingua Franca and elsewhere, and Dutton's fame was boosted, especially when he wrote about it all for The Wall Street Journal. As Mark Bauerlein writes in this article from the new Philosophy and Literature, "not a single voice outside the academic theory realm rose to defend" Butler. As Bauerlein puts it, "the contest's ridicule went unchallenged. Beyond the campus walls the 1999 Bad Writing Contest did its job, solidifying the image of theorists as an aimless coterie of pseudo–radicals playing to one another and inflicting shopworn countercultural messages on their captive students." But now, Butler is back, along with her runner–up and others, in a book they've put together called Just Being Difficult? Academic Writing in the Public Arena. The writers—Butler, Jonathan Culler, Gayatri Spivak, Barbara Johnson, and Peter Brooks—"represent the leading theoretical schools of the last forty years," says Bauerlein. "As might be expected, their essays broach the issue in a scholarly and theoretical way, not as polemic or forensic but as rumination upon the premises of the affair. None of the contributors denies the label 'bad writing' or aims to show that theoretical prose is good writing. That's the conservative or common sense application, and the theorists know better than to accept its conditions." In fact, says the book's intro, the collected essays "are less about proving innocence than contesting the terms of the allegations."

RELATED: Denis Dutton had a few scandals of his own, as this MobyLives investigation found out two years ago.

Zadie Smith knows all, tells all . . .
A bizarre situation depicted in Zadie Smith's 2000 bestseller White Teeth has come true: In a "paternity suit that not even DNA testing can solve," David Smith reports in an Observer story, a "five–year–old boy may never know his father's identity because his mother claims she had sex with identical twins at the time he was conceived." The case, taking place in a Montreal courtroom, is, "a real–life rerun of a plot twist in Zadie Smith's 2000 novel White Teeth, in which the character Irie Jones has sex with the Iqbal twins on the same day and becomes pregnant."

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

Monday 29 November 2004

In Letters . . .
One reader writes in in response to Jackie Corley's guest column to say he's glad he blew his opportunity to be an enfant terrible . . . in the MobyLives Letters section.

Coming soon to the Strand basement . . .
The former head of one of Canada's premier writing festivals, the International Festival of Authors, is coming under questioning for his plan to sell a book collection that includes over 25,000 autographed first editions, collected during his tenure running the festival. As a CBC News wire story reports, Greg Gatenby says he has already received an offer of $2 million for the collection, which includes books signed by "nearly 60 Pulitzer Prize winners, 24 Booker Prize winners, 14 Nobel laureates and 150 winners of the Governor General's Award." However, the CBC report says, "Questions arose Wednesday about the ownership of the books, a quarter of which he said he received free from publishers during his time at the IFAO." As the report notes, "Review copies given to the media and others are not intended for re–sale."

Oh, sure, publish one book by Hitler and you get a bad rap . . .
A Russian publisher who gained attention for publishing Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf in Russia has been given a one–year sentence by a court in Moscow for "inciting ethnic hatred" for including a "number" of anti–Semitic articles in a magazine he publishes called Rusich. According to a brief MosNews report, Viktor Korchagin was brought to court because " a complaint from a World War II veteran who said articles in Rusich defamed Jews and contained extremist ideas." Korchagin, meanwhile, pleaded not guilty and complained that he had "tried to do everything for the Russian people, and fought against discrimination."

RIP: Arthur Hailey . . .
Arthur Hailey, whose mega–selling 1968 novel Airport, followed up by Hotel, shot the high school dropout to international fame, died in his sleep last Wednesday at his home in the Bahamas. He was 84. As a New York Times obituary by Michelle O'Donnell notes, "Critics often dismissed Mr. Hailey's success as the result of a formulaic style in which he centered a crisis on an ordinary character, then inflated the suspense by hopping among multiple related plotlines. But he was so popular with readers that his books were guaranteed to become best-sellers." Hailey, who often spent more time researching his books than writing them, got his first break when "he was aboard a flight and began daydreaming about what would happen if all the passengers and crew were incapacitated and if it were left to him to land the plane." He subsequently sold a teleplay on the idea for a substantial fee and was able to quit his job in sales at a Canadian publsiher. "I was now able to write full time," he said. "That was all I ever wanted to do."

Hail & Farewell: Cork Smith . . .
Corlies "Cork" Smith, the Viking editor who discovered Thomas Pynchon and Tillie Olsen, and edited numerous major writers from Muriel Spark and William Trevor to Calvin Trillin and Jimmy Breslin, died last week at his home in Manhattan of emphysema. As a New York Times obituary by Charles McGrath observes, Smith "was one of the last of a breed. When he first went to work, in 1952, publishing was a still a profession for tweedy, Ivy League types who, in their younger days at least, were required to down multiple martinis at lunch and then put in an afternoon's work. Mr. Smith fit the bill perfectly." Although known for his highbrow writers, Smith was also "a shrewd judge of mass market titles," says McGrath, and he would introduce himself by saying, "I have a good nose for vanguard fiction, I handle all the sports books, and I have a golden touch with commercial crap." Smith was 75.

RIP: Noel Perrin . . .
Noel Perrin, the scholar and essayist who wrote articles for the New Yorker and books about the pleasures of the rural life, died last week at his home in Thetford Center, Vermont. Perrin, suffered from the degenerative neurological disorder Shy–Drager syndrome, was 77. As a New York Times obituary by Margalit Fox notes, Perrin "was best known for his collections of autobiographical essays about the pleasures and occasional perils of life on a Vermont farm, beginning, in 1978, with First Person Rural. As the series progressed, his work became the benchmark against which other aspirants to the rural-writing genre were measured." But Perrin, a long–time professor at Dartmouth, also wrote about other matters—such as "the pleasures of reading itself." As Fox observes, Perrin's 1988 book A Reader's Delight "was a collection of rhapsodic essays about his favorite books, all obscure, most long out of print. Several of the titles were reissued as a result."

Hail & Farewell: Larry Brown . . .
Larry Brown, the author who became a writer after being a fireman in Oxford, Mississippi for nearly twenty years, died of an apparent heart attack last week at the age of 53. As an Associated Press wire story notes, Brown "wrote about the often rough, gritty lives of rural Southerners." Among his books were the novels Dirty Work and Big Bad Love. I"I don't know why all my stuff has such a bleak turn in it, because I'm certainly a happy person," he once told the AP. "I love living and everything that goes along with it."

Maybe if they'd called it Alexander the Great Bisexual . . .
The reviews have been awful, but novelist Gore Vidal is sticking up for the movie Alexander anyway. As a Reuters wire story reports, Vidal says Oliver Stone's $160 million opus is "barrier breaking" because it presents Alexander as a bisexual. The film, says Vidal, is "a breakthrough in what you can make films about. Movies are always the last to register changes in society and this movie does it." Critics still seem unimpressed, however. One quoted by the report calls the film "an act of hubris so huge, that, in Alexander's time, it would draw lightning bolts from contemptuous gods."

Don't ask . . .
The Nevada Arts Council decided it was time to "put a real poet in the honorary, unpaid post" of Nevada Poet Laureate. However, as a Los Angeles Times story by Sam Howe Verhovek reports, there was one little glitch: the man who has held the job for the last 37 years doesn't want to give it up. Songwriter Norman Kaye admits he has never published a poem —"or a 'quote, poem, unquote,' as he prefers to call it." But the Arts Council's plan to ease him out into an "emeritus" position has him riled. "I don't want to be the emeritus," he tells Verhovek. "Emeritus sounds like you're practically a dead guy. Do I look dead to you?"

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

Visit the mothership:

Coming on Friday . . .
A talk show taping for BookTV, hosted by Dennis Loy Johnson, and featuring some of the Internet's top literary bloggers: Maud Newton, Michael Orthofer (The Complete Review), Laila Lalami (Moorishgirl), George Murray (Bookninja) and Ron Hogan (Beatrice.com).
Among the topics of discussion will be: Why? How come? and You call yourself a blogger?
At the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe
126 Crosby St., Soho, NYC
7 pm
free and open to the public

The International Bestseller
by Bernard–Henri Lévy


This week's fiction:

"Crank Call"
by Thomas J. Hubschman
(from Me Three)

"Brain Spiders"
(from Prose aX)

This week's poetry:

"Not Pee Wee"
(from Grain)

(from Briar Cliff Review)

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.