Monday, July 28, 2003
Chick Lit Inc.
By Alyson Ward
Star-Telegram Staff Writer
Their names are Bridget, Cannie and Jane, Jackie, Jemima and Mel. They live in rent-controlled urban apartments and buy Jimmy Choos on Nine West salaries. Their bosses are handsome, their mothers meddlesome. Single but looking, young but far from naive, these women have become the most recognizable, most successful -- and perhaps the most overexposed -- characters in modern fiction. They're the irrepressible (and unavoidable) women of chick lit.
"Chick lit," the shorthand term for breezy novels written by and about young women, has been a prominent, sometimes dominant part of publishing since the mid-'90s. The books are described as "perky," "witty" and "playful romps" -- and they have been romping up the bestseller charts on a routine basis.
But the backlash has begun. Derided by serious scholars, declared passé by the British press, chick lit has been on shaky ground for at least a year. "The chick lit phenomenon is in decline," Britain's `The Independent' declared last August. And this month's `Book' magazine claims the genre has failed to live up to its potential and is damaging the market for stronger, more serious female writers.
Not everyone agrees, though, about where chick lit is headed. In May, the `Philadelphia Inquirer' announced that the "sassy, kicky" genre is still the "hottest trend in publishing."
So what gives? Is the frothy feminine fiction bound to gain a permanent place in publishing, or is it a five-year flash in the pan?
The answer depends on where this much-debated genre goes next.
First of all: No one needs to sound a death knell for chick lit just yet. Rumors of its demise have been exaggerated.
"From the sales numbers, it's doing really well," says Elizabeth Bewley, an assistant editor at St. Martin's Press, which has published such chick lit titles as `The Nanny Diaries' and `The Dirty Girls Social Club.' "These books are selling really strongly, in a book market that is kind of dragging at the moment."
In fact, chick lit books are being pushed onto store shelves more quickly than ever.
"You used to go in the bookstore and you'd see one new chick-lit book," say Rian Montgomery of New Hampshire, an avid fan of the genre. "Now there are eight."
In the past couple of years, publishers have rolled out new imprints to snag their share of the chick lit market. Pocket Books started up Downtown Press this spring, with a shopping-bag logo and a list of chick-friendly titles, including Cara Lockwood's `I Do (But I Don't)' and Elise Juska's `Getting Over Jack Wagner.'
In late 2001, Harlequin emerged with Red Dress Ink, a subsidiary designed to attract young women who aren't reading romance novels. The first novel, `See Jane Date' by Melissa Senate, has become a TV movie starring `Buffy the Vampire Slayer's' Charisma Carpenter; it's scheduled to air on ABC in August.
"It's almost more like a mindset than a [literary] subgenre at this point," says chick lit and romance author Cathy Yardley.
Indeed. On TV, there's `Sex and the City,' based on Candace Bushnell's 1996 novel, the Women's Entertainment reality series `Single in the City,' and the ABC sitcom `Less Than Perfect,' in which Sara Rue stars as a single girl in a big-city newsroom. At theaters, `Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde' is full of fashion, female bonding and plenty of pink.
Academics, of course, tend to peer down their noses at chick lit. In 2001, British novelist Beryl Bainbridge famously called the genre "a froth sort of thing." Feminist writer Doris Lessing agreed, saying young women should write about their true lives, "and not these helpless girls, drunken, worrying about their weight and so on."
But Julia MacDonnell, a professor who heads the creative writing program at New Jersey's Rowan University, is one academic who sees value in chick lit.
The genre is full of "witty, ironic stories about idiosyncratic heroines," MacDonnell says. The stories, she claims, are "lightyears beyond your basic Harlequin romance, not merely entertaining but also offering insights into how we live now."
Montgomery, who's 25, agrees.
"I kind of lead a chick-lit life myself," says Montgomery, who runs the Web site Chicklitbooks.com. "I'm in my mid-20s, I'm single -- I can identify with some of the stuff the characters go through."
If you ask Montgomery, the only crucial element of a chick-lit story is a woman "trying to find her way in life." Of course, there's more to the stereotype than that.
`Bridget Jones's Diary,' Helen Fielding's novel-turned-movie, was the book that made chick-lit trendy in America, says Bewley.
The fictional Bridget, a thirtysomething British "singleton," is bent on self-improvement so she won't end up "dying fat and alone and being found three weeks later half eaten by Alsatians." Her diary recounts a year of bumbling career moves, disastrous romance and a full accounting of calorie, alcohol and cigarette consumption.
`Bridget Jones' was a bestseller in Fielding's own Britain and in the United States. "It was a really funny, intelligent book, I think, and it set the precedent," Bewley says.
Now there are hundreds of similar titles, and bookstores and chain discount stores all feature prominent shelves devoted to chick lit. (Target labels its section "`chic' lit."
Women are snapping up books with Barbie-colored covers bearing titles such as `Running in Heels, Good in Bed,' and `Dating Without Novocaine.' Some of the novels, thanks to `Bridget Jones,' take the form of a diary. Others use emails to tell the story. Almost all are written in a self-deprecating, funny, first-person voice. Sometimes the book works, and sometimes it doesn't.
"There have been a lot of spinoffs, both good and bad," Bewley says. "There's plenty of chick lit that's pretty schlocky, but there is some out there that is smart."
So is chick lit, then, the Harry Potter series of adult fiction? No matter the quality, do we simply shrug and say, "Well, at least people are reading"?
MacDonnell thinks so.
"People who haven't read much `are' reading -- and finding that they really like it," she says. "It makes them a little more daring in their next choice of book, I think."
MacDonnell is optimistic about the reading habits of her fellow chick-lit readers.
"What I think might happen is that these women who are reading what are, to me, very intelligent books. . . [will] then go back to other authors -- like Julia Alvarez, because her work can be approached from that angle." (Alvarez is the author of several books, including the acclaimed `How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents.' )
Of course, the popularity of chick lit has already led readers to some excellent authors. Good stories have been published, sold and embraced that, a few years ago, might have slipped through the cracks.
Caren Lissner's `Carrie Pilby' is a novel that contains almost none of the chick-lit stereotypes. But it does have a quirky style of humor and a young female protagonist, and Lissner's book was published this year by Red Dress Ink. The book's cutesy pink-and-blue cover is a small price to pay for the kind of exposure a chick lit book receives, Lissner says.
"There are advantages to being published by Red Dress Ink," she says. "They published 50,000 copies of my book. If I'd gone to a more literary publisher with a more literary reputation, they would probably have put out 5,000 or 10,000 copies of it, and it wouldn't have gotten the attention it got."
"It doesn't matter how good it is if nobody sees it," Lissner says; the frilly packaging helps her novel more than it hurts, so she doesn't mind being swept up in the chick-lit current.
On the other hand, MacDonnell's first novel, `A Year of Favor,' was published in 1994 -- just a few years before the chick-lit craze emerged in America. The story of a young female reporter sent to investigate government corruption in a South American country, "it's a story that would have had more success in this [current] environment," MacDonnell says.
Oh, to have written that story when Helen Fielding was climbing the bestseller lists.
Lissner says her book made Amazon.com "wish lists" even before it was published, simply because it was classified as chick lit. Which proves one thing: Female readers are hooked. They can't get enough of breezy tales about single women's zany adventures in the city.
But to keep the momentum going, the publishing industry needs to breathe fresh life into the now-predictable stories.
"I think there's a limit to how many chick lit books there can be," Lissner says. "The genre is going to have to go in different directions if it wants to stay viable."
Many publishers, she says, are now rejecting manuscripts that are "about a woman getting dumped and having to go on dates with a lot of incompetent men."
In its second year, Yardley says, Red Dress Ink has made "a very concerted effort to look for nontraditional, nonconventional chick lit."
The imprint's Web site features guidelines for potential writers: "We're looking for novels that really set themselves apart from the average chick lit book. . . Predictability is not your friend. So shake it up. Put your heroine in some inspired and crazy circumstances. Give her quirky characteristics. (Maybe even a job that's not in publishing)."
Despite all that encouragement, though, here's the description of one of Red Dress Ink's latest releases: "All Evelyn Mays wants is to be the perfect bride in a size 8 Vera Wang wedding dress."
Diversification may not be easy.
But while most chick lit today is written for and about the young, white, urban, upwardly mobile career woman, some in publishing are determined to encourage books about women of different races. And that means finding `authors' of different races.
"What I would like to see -- at St. Martin's and elsewhere -- is more books written by Latina authors," Bewley says.
`The Dirty Girls Social Club,' a recent St. Martin's release by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, is the story of six Latina women who maintain a friendship over years, miles and life changes.
"`Dirty Girls' will set a precedent that will be really good," Bewley hopes. "It's an example that Latina writers will see, [and] they will write novels themselves."
Meanwhile, Harlem Moon, a Random House imprint, is publishing a handful of chick-lit novels that feature African-American protagonists. `SilkyDreamGirl,' a novel by Cris Burks, is the story of a woman who escapes her romance and weight worries by creating a new identity on the Web. And the E. Lynn Harris novel `A Love of My Own' tells of the life and loves of Zola, the young editor of a magazine called `Bling Bling.' (This books diversifies in two ways; the author is a man.)
Other trends show that chick lit is beginning to go in new directions. Here's what you can find today:
Chick lit mysteries. Nancy Drew lives: Chick lit mysteries are popping up. Sarah Strohmeyer has written a series of books about an investigative journalist/sleuth named Bubbles Yablonsky; `Bubbles Ablaze' is new this summer. The silly sleuth comes complete with a Camaro and a boyfriend called Steve Stiletto, and she balances a life of crime-solving and raising an ornery teen-age daughter.
Chick lit nonfiction. The chick-lit feel has even expanded beyond fiction. And we're not just talking about the breezy self-help books, `The Go-Girl Guide' and `How to Pee Standing Up.' Witness `Cooking for Mr. Latte,' an autobiographical story (and cookbook) by Amanda Hesser, a food writer for `The New York Times.' Hesser's book, published in May, chronicles a year in food and romance -- concluding with her marriage to a man who writes for `The New Yorker.' `The New York Times, The New Yorker. . . ' you might think it's literary nonfiction -- but then you see the hot-pink cover and the cartoonlike line drawings that portray the author and her romance.
Chick lit for young adults. "A lot of young-adult fiction is starting to be packaged like chick lit," Bewley says.
Consider the Louise Rennison series that started in 2000 with `Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging.' The British author has written a bestselling series about teen-ager Georgia Nicolson and her Bridget Jonesian crises.
"That series has an amazingly chick-lit feel, even though the protagonist is 14 years old," Yardley says. "She's got this sense of haplessness about her."
"It's sort of like hooking fans in really early," Bewley says. "They'll grow up and start reading the twentysomething ones and the thirtysomething ones."
Chick lit about older women. Until recently, chick lit has implied that the search for identity, romance, career satisfaction and Manolo Blahniks abruptly stops at age 39 -- and most protagonists were in their 20s. But now, Yardley says, a few of the candy-colored novels star older women.
Jeanne Ray, for example, writes chick-lit romances -- such as `Step-Ball-Change' and `Eat Cake' -- that feature women in their 50s and 60s.
They're calling it "lady lit," Yardley says.
Mommy lit. In the past couple of years, some of the most popular chick-lit titles have featured the adventures of women with children. Allison Pearson's `I Don't Know How She Does It: The Life of Kate Reddy, Working Mother' was a bestseller in both Britain and America. `Babyville,' a new offering from chick lit favorite Jane Green, is making its way up the sales charts. Books of this ilk are doing for mothers, critics say, what chick lit has done for single women: They are helping women connect by exposing the secret insecurities and absurdities of motherhood.
The fact that chick lit has developed so many tributaries is a sign that it's here to stay, MacDonnell says. And perhaps it's time to consider the books as more than mind candy and beach reads.
"I think, certainly, these will be studied in classrooms, although I'm not sure how many [books] will actually make the canon," MacDonnell says. "I don't know how lasting any of this will be, but I also don't know if it matters very much.
"If you look back to the glory days of the American novel, in the '20s, '30s and '40s, you're really looking at Guy Lit," MacDonnell claims. "Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner and the rest of the old boys telling tales about themselves."
This time around, women's lives are getting attention, she says, and that's a good thing.
There are perennial complaints, of course, that the often inept, clothes- and man-obsessed heroines are reflecting pre-feminist ideals. Nevertheless, MacDonnell says, chick lit represents progress.
"I think what's now being called `chick lit' is a very natural outgrowth of the feminist movement," MacDonnell says -- "the fact that you have just hordes of well-educated women out there in the world" who want to read books about themselves.
If authors and publishers successfully diversify the books and their readers, she says, "chick lit, in my opinion, is here to stay."
Saturday, July 26, 2003
Banned at Borders
Borders bookstore, a treasure house of freedom of expression, bans a singer for her comments about the president's legs.
Date published: 7/26/2003
IT SEEMS INCONGRUOUS that the words "ban" and "bookstore" should appear in the same sentence. But Borders Books & Music at Central Park apparently banished a singer at least in part because her commentary, including a remark about President Bush's legs, angered some customers.
Borders suggests that Julia Rose is simply not the local clientele's cup of tea and that it had every right to terminate her contract. But Borders has a very scrawny leg to stand on itself if it is wielding such a quick ax on a performer who has been perfectly suitable at other Virginia stores in the chain. If there is any place in this country where freedom of expression should get the close calls, it has to be a general-interest bookstore.
To recap: Julia Rose is a singer-songwriter from Baltimore. Places like Borders are just her sort of venue, with, one would have thought, just her sort of crowd. Indeed, she's a veteran of the Borders circuit from Northern Virginia to Richmond and was debuting at the Fredericksburg location on July 18, the fateful evening. She had been scheduled to play there next month, too. Not so now.
How bizarre. On Borders' shelves and racks there are books, magazines, newspapers, and probably even CDs that upbraid the president over his policies and politics and poke fun at him and everyone else under the sun. Amy Korsun, the Borders marketing manager who cited Ms. Rose's comment "George Bush has chicken legs" in terminating her, surely wouldn't have it any other way. But one gets the feeling that when Ms. Rose sits before a mike and tweaks the president, free expression has taken the night off.
Borders may not be a bistro with blasphemous beatniks banging bongos, but it is still a bookstore where speech should trump the overdelicate sensibilities of some customers.
This episode naturally brings to mind the Texas-based Dixie Chicks, whose lead singer told concert-goers in London last March that "we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas." The Chicks paid a price for the self-indulgent pop-off, uttered the same month U.S. troops went into Iraq. Radio stations (though not WFLS) stopped playing their songs. People destroyed their CDs. Fine. Freedom of expression works both ways.
But Ms. Rose was giving aid and comfort to no one in her remarks with the possible exception of one or two Democratic presidential contenders who may look better than the president in a pair of cutoffs.
Still, maybe those offended by Ms. Rose's chatter ought to buy some of her CDs so they can stomp on them in front of TV cameras. She probably wouldn't mind the publicity.The Free Lance Star, Fredericksburg, VA
Saturday, July 19, 2003
The winners of the 2003 Agatha Awards
(presented in May 2003 at the Malice Domestic Conference) are as follows:
Best Novel - You've Got Murder
by Donna Andrews, Berkley Prime Crime
Best First Novel - In the Bleak Midwinter
by Julia Spencer-Fleming, St, Martin's Minotaur
Best Non-Fiction - They Died in Vain: Overlooked, Underappreciated, and Forgotten Mystery Novels
, edited by Jim Huang, Crum Creek Press
Best Short Story - TIE:
"The Dog That Didn't Bark
" by Margaret Maron, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine (December 2002); and,
"Too Many Cooks
" by Marcia Talley, Much Ado About Murder, edited by Anne Perry, Berkley Prime Crime
Best Children's/Young Adult - Red Card: A Zeke Armstrong Mystery
(The Zeke Armstrong Mysteries, 1) by Daniel J. Hale & Matthew LaBrot, Top Publications
The Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Elizabeth Peters.
Malice Domestic instituted a new award this year (not necessarily annual) for people (non-writers) and organizations who make a significant contribution to the field of mystery novels. The first Poirot Award was presented to David Suchet.
Three people won Malice Domestic Writer's Grants:
Mr. Thomas E. Bonsall, Baltimore, Maryland, for his work-in-progress, Lilac Time
Ms. Martha Crites, Seattle, Washington, for her work-in-progress, She Who Listens
Ms. G. M. Malliet, Alexandria, Virginia, for her work-in-progress, Death of a Cozy Writer
Malice XVI in 2004:
Guest of Honor: Dorothy Cannel
Toastmaster: Jan Burke
Ghost of Honor: Erle Stanley Gardner
Lifetime Achievement Award will be presented to Marian Babson
Fan Guest of Honor: Linda PletzkeThanks to Linda Rutledge for the update.
Seeking nirvana in a dusty bookshelf
They may look sleepy, but many used-book stores are thriving. Plus, the best places to get lost in the stacks.
By James Verini
July 17 2003
"How many cities have revealed themselves to me in the marches I have undertaken in the pursuit of books!"
— Walter Benjamin, "Unpacking My Library"
It should be said from the start that going to used-book stores is, at best, a useless pursuit. It is reversionary, unhealthy even. Used-book stores are filled with books, dusty, old, sinus-polluting books and, as if that weren't enough, with the kind of people you make a conscious effort to avoid during the day — ne'er do-wells, layabouts, semi-employed dissertation candidates and self-proclaimed bibliophiles who consider writers such as Walter Benjamin, dead since 1940, their real friends.
Used-book stores are not where you absorb relevant knowledge; they are not where you go to bone up on Steven Pinker's latest thoughts on cognitive theory, to peruse the newest campaign biographies or to sneak a cheaper copy of "The Da Vinci Code" so you can affordably keep up with cocktail conversation.
If you like to make the most of your life, used-book stores can seem an absolute waste of time. That is precisely what makes spending time in them so worthwhile.
For devotees of the used-book store, Los Angeles has quietly become one of the last bastions, for L.A. has become one of the last great American book towns. New York may be home to the publishing industry and Lewis Lapham's thesaurus, Chicago still has Saul Bellow, but in both those cities high rents and the Internet have driven many of the venerable used- and rare-book stores out of business.
But here, the book business is thriving. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the greater Los Angeles area is the largest book market in the country now with 21.5% of the books sold by independent bookstores, the highest percentage in the country.
In social as well as economic terms, L.A. is a wordy town as never before. Witness last year's "Writing Los Angeles: A Literary Anthology," from stuffy Library of America, and last month's "The Misread City: New Literary Los Angeles." The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books now is the largest event of its kind in the country. Look at the lineup of authors the West Hollywood store Book Soup attracts, and at the recent national syndication of the impossibly literate radio show "Bookworm," a KCRW-FM creation.
For truly devoted book nuts, however, for those who know what they're doing is hopelessly archaic and love it, the used-books store still is the center of the universe. Because — before you get too hopeful about the state of civilization — books are, let's face it, on their deathbed. As an art and a business, they're obsolete. They have been for the better part of a century. They may continue to be for a century more. That is their charm.
Borders and Barnes & Noble would want to deny this. But it is at the used-books store, the least sensible of all businesses, a place perpetually teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, where you can drink in the utter futility of books without a $4 latte chaser.
Take, for instance, what probably is the best establishment in the greater Los Angeles area — certainly the most voluminous — Acres of Books, on Long Beach Boulevard in Long Beach.
The name is not an exaggeration. Acres has, by a conservative estimate, 750,000 books on its bowed, rotting shelves (the number probably is closer to 1 million). "More books than anybody in their right mind needs," acknowledges Jackie Smith, who has worked in the store since 1976 and now owns it (her husband's grandfather opened it in the 1930s).
You'll find everything from Kakfa to books on games to play with your cat, studies of Mesopotamian sexual practices to the early novels of Henry Fielding, and in every condition from mint first edition to dog-eared and ragged.
You'll discover, as one reporter did, the first volume of Evelyn Waugh's very hard-to-find one-volume autobiography (he planned three, but then died), "A Little Learning." And for $5, hard-bound, no less.
Disregard your claustrophobia and the justifiable fear of getting smothered beneath the Pisa-like spires of books, and have one of the helpful Sonic Youth clerks help you to the section on "Hackysack, Yo-Yo's and Juggling." Nearby, look over the three full shelves devoted to the history and study of prostitution. And don't forget the Frank Cotton Memorial Oddball shelves, named for the late head clerk of Acres, who until his death in 1988 functioned as the store's only computer. There, you find a volume titled "14,000 Things to Be Happy About," and another called "The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics."
Along with these testaments to the misguided history of human curiosity, there are any number of misguided, curious humans to be wondered at, shuffling along with that awkward sidelong gait particular to creatures used to over-tight bookstore aisles. Pale and near-sighted from years of 50-watt bulbs, they gaze up at titles mostly long forgotten, at authors mostly dead and buried, E.M. Forster's words from "Howards End" perhaps ringing in their ears: "Only connect....only connect."The proximity of the present to the past — of life to death — in used-book stores is electrifying. In a pre-digital electrical way.
Take the Eclectic Collector, a dark, breezy hole in the wall just off the pier in Hermosa Beach. Presided over by Tom Allard, a Barnaby Rudge-type who can usually be found outside the shop in a Hawaiian shirt, smoking, the Collector is usually empty. A wholly different experience from Acres, it is the kind of place where you can sit down with a copy of, for example, "Legendary Yachts: The Great American Yachts from Crowningshield's Cleopatra's Barge to Today's Intrepid Bill Robinson" (1971, $8.50), and lose yourself for hours in nautical luxuries.
Lose yourself in a book, off the pier in Hermosa? What exactly was being smoked on the pier beforehand, you ask?
But Los Angeles has lately come to the forefront in keeping the tradition of bibliomaniacal uselessness alive. As the university libraries of Southern California strive to keep pace with mushrooming student populations, and as the rising cost of books drives students and parents to look for better values, the secondhand reading business is thriving along with the likes of Barnes & Noble and Amazon.
A recent tally by The Times uncovered roughly 40 used- and rare-book stores in the greater L.A. area. Although they tend to occupy low-rent districts, they exist in virtually every corner — Hollywood, Van Nuys, Thousand Oaks, Silver Lake, Westwood, Glendale — and in dizzying variety.
They cater to chefs (Cook's Library on 3rd Street in L.A.), photographers (Dawson's on Larchmont in L.A.), astrologers and soul-searchers (Bodhi Tree used book annex, on Melrose in West Hollywood).
Looking for an obscure work of 18th century German philosophy? Try Angel City Bookstore in Santa Monica. Want to know how to decorate a set entirely in bed linen? Book City in Hollywood. Looking for an obscure erotic science-fiction novel signed by the author? Bookfellows in Glendale. Need an early word of Samuel Johnson's? Why, Sam: Johnson's Bookshop on Pico, of course, where the owner, Bob Klein, a literature professor and novelist, will even deign to discuss the Doctor with you.
This being Los Angeles, of course, most stores abound in movie star biographies, self-help guides and Buddhism. Automobiles and art books often show up in force too.Still, some proprietors are not sanguine about the future. They say that, with as many used-book stores as there are, many have closed in the last 20 years. They say that the Internet, while it has helped them move inventory to far-flung customers, has also driven off-the-street business, and even regulars.
"Why should anyone go to a bookstore when they can order a book from the comfort of their desk and get it in a day?" asked Michael Thompson, who has owned Michael R. Thompson Bookseller, on 3rd Street in West Hollywood, for 30 years.
Thompson said that the huge market for libraries in Southern California may help business in the short run, but it has taken a lot of books that would have been bought and sold repeatedly out of circulation permanently. But he added that the mega-bookstore trend has not affected his business adversely.
But many experienced proprietors seem hopeful. Leonard Berstein's father opened Caravan Bookstore on Grand Avenue in 1954. Now Leonard owns it. "It's only been fifty years — I'll tell you in 75," says Bernstein, when asked about the state of business. He says he sees room for everyone in the book business — the Amazons, the Borders, the independent first-run stores and himself. "I'm not going out to buy a new Lexus every year," he says. "I'd rather spend it on books."
An encouraging sign is the recent influx of youth into the business. Traditionally the province of antiquaries and literates of the pre-computer age — that is to say, older people — used-book stores are now increasingly owned by people in their 30s and 40s.
Samantha Scully, 36, purchased Gene de Chene Booksellers on Santa Monica Boulevard in West L.A. from its aging owner last year. Faced with the store's closing and the loss of her job, Scully didn't want to see this neighborhood mainstay with a political bent (an antiwar poster adorns the door and a nice section of books on nuclear war sits inside) disappear. She believes she can keep the store afloat by attracting younger customers. "I wanted the store to stay here," she said, adding that, as she spoke, three patrons in their early 20s were browsing in her shop.
Brian Paepper, 39, a Dutch-born Angeleno, owns Alias Books, formerly West L.A. Book Center, on Sawtelle Boulevard. He sees a future in the used-book business, as long as it is treated as a business. The previous owner, Paepper said, would place high prices on books he felt especially attached to, and they wouldn't sell. He refused to utilize the Internet. To keep the store in business and relevant, Paepper has taken to selling textbooks and brought the store's inventory online.
"Used-book stores should cater to people who can't afford new books as they become more expensive," he says. Still, he adds, "it's a fool's profession."
But it is the foolishness, like the uselessness, like the smell of life and death on those shelves, that makes the used-book store what it is. Michael Silverblatt, host of KCRW-FM's literary talk show "Bookworm," says: "At a first-run bookstore, people don't necessarily like books. They like trends, or CDs, or coffee. But used-book stores are meeting places for people who like books, and not just books, but people who want to find bookishness, a substance in rare supply these days."
Silverblatt is fond of Cambridge Bookshop on Beverly Boulevard in West Hollywood — he likes to buy a book there and then go sit in Lulu's and drink coffee; but then who wouldn't? — and Arnold M. Herr Bookseller on Fairfax Avenue in West Hollywood.
The question, then, is not whether to get addicted to used-book stores — your mental well-being and family and professional lives, happily, stand only to suffer — but which used-book stores to get addicted to.
The Largest Book Deals Of 2002
Tomas Kellner, 07.18.03, 7:00 AM ET
Brand-name authors still dominate bestseller lists, but the reign of Stephen is over. King's last two books, From Buick 8 and Everything is Eventual, were each off 40% in sales compared with Dreamcatcher, his 2001 release.
Tom Clancy didn't fare much better. Sensing weakness, publishers are betting on new names and developing new brands. A fresh plot twist: Many of the writers lined up to take on Clancy, King, Michael Crichton and John Grisham are women. Tim Lahaye
Riding the surge in Christian-themed books, LaHaye signed a deal with Bantam Books to publish a new four-part Armageddon thriller. LaHaye is co-author of the doomsday series Left Behind, which sold 50 million copies. No surprise here. The religious books market hit $2.4 billion in 2001 and is projected to grow 3.7% annually through 2006. HarperCollins and Doubleday now have Christian book divisions. Patricia Cornwell
Her Portrait of the Killer purports to close the book on the Jack the Ripper case. Unlike her characters, the Cornwell brand is far from dead. The writer signed a two-book deal worth $16 million with PenguinPutnam last year. This fall she will deliver Blow Fly, a new installment in her Scarpetta series, chock-full with crime and corpses. Charles Frazier
The Pulitzer-prize winning author of Cold Mountain, a peripatetic Civil War epic about a Confederate deserter, sold his next book to Random House for $8 million and film rights to Paramount Pictures for $3 million. Miramax's movie adaptation of Cold Mountain is in the works, starring Nicole Kidman and Jude Law. Diana Gabaldon
One of the hottest new brand names in publishing, Gabaldon sold a three-book historical romance series for $10 million to her publishers at Delacorte Press in the U.S. and Doubleday and Random House abroad. Her first book, Outlander, a time-travel romance whose heroine has a husband in one century and a lover in another, got picked up after she posted parts of it on a CompuServe bulletin board. She built it into a best-selling six-book saga over the following decade. Janet Evanovitch
The creator of the Stephanie Plum series, about an intrepid New Jersey bounty hunter, sold the rights for her next two novels to HarperCollins for $10 million. Evanovich made an estimated $4 million for each Plum installment, of which there are nine now. She's branching out into romance, nonfiction and possibly even a TV series. Alice Sebold
Keep an eye out for Alice Sebold. The Lovely Bones, her novel narrated by a murdered girl, has never been off the Publishers Weekly bestseller list since it came out in June 2002. To date it has sold more than 2.2 million copies. Sebold's publisher, Little, Brown, is postponing the book's paperback release until the strong hardcover sales fall off. Sebold is working on a second book for Little, Brown, and then she will be free to shop for a new contract, potentially worth tens of millions. Forbes.com
Wednesday, July 16, 2003
Newton store sells well-traveled books:
Kontoleon family's shop on Auburn Street holds a collection amassed over 30
By Sarah Andrews/CNC Staff Writer http://www.dailynewstribune.com/news/local_regional/newt_store07162003.htm
Wednesday, July 16, 2003
NEWTON -- It's an inventory that would make any literary historian drool.
A French thesaurus from 1757, pages yellowed but still intact. A gold-leafed volume of poetry from 1845 with a personal inscription on the inside cover. Old Civil War letters and personal diaries. Even an original copy of the now out-of-print "Arnold's Bodyshaping for Women" by Arnold Schwarzenegger, circa 1979.
But though the relatively new Auburndale shop, Old Books and Prints, doesn't profess to have every book ever written, its collection of rare and old books will impress even those with a fondness for crisp, white pages and high-gloss covers.
Located on Auburn Street, Old Books and Prints has been open for business since January and is one of the only used-book stores in Newton. While it is technically owned by former technology professional Jon Kontoleon, it is staffed by two people who call themselves "a senior citizen volunteer advisory committee" -- his parents, Jim and Jeanne Kontoleon.
The reason they work there? Well, it's their stuff.
Almost 30 years ago, the Kontoleons, who have been married for 50 years, "were looking for something to do," according to Jeanne, a former high school librarian. So they began collecting books by frequenting book auctions and yard sales.
It all started with one barn in New Hampshire. Jim, then a station manager at WGGB in Springfield, was feeling the stress of his job and its new responsibilities, which included giving on-air editorials. One weekend, the Kontoleons took a drive up to New Hampshire to get away and stumbled on a yard sale of sorts inside an old barn.
Minutes later they emerged with a bag full of old children's books (Jeanne's favorite) and the rest was history -- literally -- as the Kontoleons began to amass a giant collection of old books which they kept in a spare bedroom.
As Jim's job changed, the couple, who met at Syracuse University, moved from Massachusetts to Florida to Connecticut, each time hauling all their new collectibles. During one move from New England to Jacksonville, the load was so heavy and the streets so hot that the truck blew five tires on the way down.
"Each time we moved, it was always tremendous because we had all of our stuff and a book store," said Jeanne.
During the couple's final move, to New London, Conn., where Jim was starting up a television station, the collection was already quite serious. About three years ago, Jonathan came to visit his parents who were no longer working and decided to move them up to their present home in Oxford. Their new house even has a barn -- just for the books.
Jim and Jeanne's daughter, a Newton resident, found the Auburndale storefront recently and the Kontoleons decided to donate their collection to the store. They now not only sell their books, but also old original and hard-to-find prints and homemade greeting cards.
The difference in Jim and Jeanne's taste and preference makes for a store with a variety of merchandise, from military and medicine books, to old Life magazines and newspapers, to old Louis Prang prints.
And it's worth a visit if not just to meet the Kontoleons, who also refer to themselves as "the book gypsies." Maybe you will see Jeanne shyly roll her eyes when Jim calls her "lovely" in front of strangers. Or maybe Jim will tell you about how he was almost arrested in Medford when he threw pebbles at Jeanne's window before they were married.
"It was the kind of neighborhood where little short guys with suitcases couldn't peek in people's windows," he said.
While the Kontoleons don't actively peruse auctions and yard sales much anymore, they say they are still open to buying rare items. Currently, they have about 1,100 books in the store, with 3,000 more at home.
The store is a bit of a rarity these days, said Jon.
"The advent of book sales over the Internet and the increasing rents has forced many book stores of this type out of business," he said.
Author's lot not easy one at Costco gig
By Dick Kreck
columnist for the Denver Post
Wednesday, July 16, 2003
This authoring stuff is work.
Write a column three days a week for 16 years and people barely blink. Write one best seller and, suddenly, you're an Author.
Granted, an author who spent last Saturday at not one but two Costco stores, signing copies of "Murder at the Brown Palace," the runaway best seller about a 1911 shooting at the luxurious hotel. (Available at better bookstores everywhere.)
Anyway, there I was at the Park Meadows store, seated at a table between men's striped dress shirts and washable suede jackets. Just down the aisle was a large stack of plums by the crate.
I had some down time. Across the way was an endlessly repeating video for Oxi-Clean, a miracle if ever I saw one. Of course I watched. Scientists have proven that if there is a television turned on, a guy will watch it.
Costco is a phenomenon you have to visit to believe. This is impulse buying taken to a new level. On any given Saturday, a Costco outlet can expect to turn $500,000 in sales. One of the managers told me he sold a $53,000 diamond the previous day.
Products from lawn chairs to multi-packs of burritos tempt buyers-in-bulk. A woman strolled by (without buying a book, I might add), and in her cart were a giant bag of lemons, a smaller bag of giant mushrooms - and a 27-inch color TV. Did she go to get lemons, then decide she might as well get a new TV, too?
Anyone who thinks books are a dying art form should take a look at Costco. Both stores had a huge table of books at discounted prices. John Fielder's "Colorado 1870-2000" still sells like crazy. Me, I settled for a four-pack of Oxi-Clean products and a couple of pairs of boxers.
Good as gold
Bring us your tired, your poor, your 24-karat gold.
Buyers, in conjunction with Hyde Park Jewelers, are standing by at the erstwhile Roy's Cherry Creek restaurant in the shopping center to take those family heirlooms off your hands.
"We'll buy it! Sell Us Your Valuables!" proclaimed an almost-full-page ad in the paper earlier this week. Jewelry, silver, watches, autographs, vintage photos - bring 'em on.
"Don't make the mistake of thinking your items aren't good enough for us," they soothe. Is a gold coin from the Clark & Gruber Mint worth anything? Buyers are there from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and Thursday.
End of the road
Enuf already. There must be more "classic" vehicles on the road than I thought.
A couple of weeks ago I mentioned a mini-pickup with 400,000 miles on it. This, of course, led to a reader calling with a Subaru that logged 484,000.
Chicken feed to Nancy Camp. She bought her Ford half-ton pickup new for $4,200 in 1972 and the odometer just zipped past 562,300 miles. She had the engine rebuilt at 400,000 and gets the rust treated every couple of years, but, she says, "it really looks good.
"I intend to keep it until I die but, then, I'm in my 70s," she says, quickly adding, "We're both in good health."
Still openings for the 162-mile Courage Classic bike ride taking place Saturday through Monday. The classic has raised $10 million for The Children's Hospital in its 13 years. Call 303-456-9704 for info. ... Oscar-winning documentary-film maker Donna Dewey slings drinks at the Denver Press Club, 1330 Glenarm Place, from 6 to 7 tonight to help renovate the club. ... Quotable: "Being a sportswriter was the same as being a welfare recipient, but without any supervision." - Jimmy Breslin.
Dick Kreck's column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. He may be reached at 303-820-1456 or DKreck@denverpost.com
First-time novelist in his literary prime
SANDRA MARTIN talks to Mark Haddon, whose compelling debut novel narrated by an autistic teen looks set to be filmed by the Harry Potter team
By SANDRA MARTIN
From Tuesday's Globe and Mail
POSTED AT 3:35 PM EDT Tuesday, Jul. 15, 2003
Appearance versus reality is the underlying theme of the hottest debut novel of the summer. I can feel you yawning, but before you skip to another page of the newspaper, let me just say that the astonishing success of Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time shows that the way a story is told, rather than the story itself, often makes the difference between an instant remainder and a literary bestseller.
Rights to the novel have been sold in more than a dozen countries, with the British publisher producing it in separate editions for teenagers and adults. A consortium of Warner Bros./Heyday Films/Brad Pitt and Brad Grey have bought the film rights and are in the process of negotiating with Steve Kloves (screenwriter for the Harry Potter films) to write and direct.
After nearly 20 years writing and illustrating children's books, churning out television scripts, papering his walls with his own unpublished novels and firing his agent, Haddon has become an instant success.
"I have this fantasy that someone in that office has been beaten heartily on the bottom with a copy of this book," he says about his former but unnamed agent during an interview on a hot summer day in the Toronto offices of Doubleday, his Canadian publisher.
The novel has a deceptively simple surface. Underneath, though, it is quirky and complicated, both graphically and textually. Mainly that's because Haddon has chosen to tell the story in the voice of Christopher John Francis Boone. He's a 15-year-old kid who finds his neighbour's black poodle stabbed to death with a garden fork in the middle of the night and sets out to find the murderer.
Christopher has Asperger's syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism. Typically, people with this syndrome have normal intelligence; some, like Christopher, have an exceptional skill in a particular area. He has a photographic memory and a special talent for math. For example, he knows the names of all the countries of the world and their capital cities and every prime number up to 7,057. Besides numbers, he loves science, puzzles, drawing pictures and his pet rat Toby. He also likes dogs, as "they do not tell lies because they cannot talk."
That's the upside.
Christopher has no peripheral emotional vision; he sees the world in strictly literal terms and he has no friends. He hates change, looking people in the eye, the colours brown and yellow, and having different foods touch on his plate. If somebody inadvertently grazes Christopher's arm or stares at him, he is likely to bang his head against the wall or roll into a ball on the ground and emit loud persistent groaning sounds for hours on end.
"Christopher seems supremely ill equipped to be a narrator," Haddon agrees. And yet, as he discovered early on, Christopher's apparent disabilities were actually a safeguard against the literary traps that ensnare so many novelists. "He never explains anything too much, he never tries to make the reader's mind up one way or the other," Haddon says. "He just paints a picture and leaves you to decide. He is very good at show, don't tell."
Christopher speaks in short declarative sentences that he has organized in chapters headed by prime numbers. Here's the way Christopher writes: "13. This will not be a funny book. I cannot tell jokes because I do not understand them. Here is a joke, as an example. It is one of Father's.
His face was drawn but the curtains were real.
I know why this is meant to be funny. I asked. It is because drawn has three meanings, and they are (1) drawn with a pencil, (2) exhausted, and (3) pulled across a window, and meaning 1 refers to both the face and the curtains, meaning 2 refers only to the face, and meaning 3 refers only to the curtains.
If I try to say the joke to myself, making the word mean the three different things at the same time, it is . . . like three people trying to talk to you at the same time about different things.
And that is why there are no jokes in this book."
But there are plenty of puzzles. In fact, the novel is a giant question mark about making order out of chaos. There's Christopher himself, of course. He's the one who's been labelled and who goes to a "special needs" school. But, as quickly becomes apparent, it is the adults around Christopher, especially his parents, who are the truly dysfunctional ones. Christopher can't change the fact that he is autistic, but he does manage by the end of the book to organize his life in a manageable way. And in doing so, he provokes his parents into modifying their own crazily self-destructive behaviour.
Haddon, a soft-spoken Englishman, was born in Northampton, "the jewel of the Midlands," he says dismissively. "I always joke that there are only two literary links to Northampton, and both of them are to the same psychiatric hospital." Apparently John Clare, the English Romantic poet, ended up in St. Crispins Hospital, and so did Robert Lowell, the modern American poet, after suffering a manic episode when he was passing through. "That's the end of Northampton's link to world literature," Haddon says with a laugh.
Now happily living in Oxford, Haddon, 40, has big muscles from his penchant for marathon kayaking on the River Thames. "You can only write for five or six hours a day," he says, "so you have to find something else to do the rest of the time. For a lot of writers, it is either alcohol or family breakdown." Or both, one assumes. Haddon's solution is "wholesome outdoor sports" and painting with acrylics so that the canvases are dry before his toddler, Alfie, comes home from nursery school.
Haddon obviously doesn't suffer from a problem such as Asperger's, but there is lot of him in Christopher -- the love of math, for example, and also his need for solitude. "I was always one of those outsider kids," he says. He read gobs of science as a kid, avoiding fiction like a contagion. It wasn't until his teen years that he began wanting to write, and it was only at the last moment that he decided to study English lit rather than math at Oxford. "A narrow escape," he now thinks.
Even so, he periodically has to nourish the scientific part of his brain. "After I have read lots of fiction, it is like having too much birthday cake," he confides. "Reading science is like having a jug of cold water."
After Oxford, Haddon spent a few years doing assorted voluntary and part-time social-work type jobs before he discovered he "was completely unemployable." The longest he says he lasted at any one time in an office was five weeks. Not having a boss, he says, is one of the best things about being a writer.
All he ever really wanted to do vocationally was to paint and write. He fell into writing and illustrating children's books because "it seemed halfway there on both counts." Writing television scripts paid the rent. There is a double irony here: He was typecast because he was good at both; and the economy of diction and scene-setting he learned from the kiddie-lit and television trenches are the foundations of his international success.
He has blurred the boundaries between postmodern and genre fiction, between books for kids and those aimed at adults. But that is what fiction should do, he counters, pointing out that one of his favourite books is the quintessential 19th-century mystery novel, The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins.
"People ask me what model I had in mind when I was writing this book," he says. After thinking about it for a while, he finally concluded it was Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. She has taken the Bennet family, with their parochial lives, and adopted their language, which is in itself restrained and limited. But, he says, she has drawn them with such empathy that there is a universality about them. In retrospect, Haddon realized it was that quality of empathy that he had been striving for in creating Christopher.
Who would want to read a novel, let alone make a film, about a disabled kid living in Swindon, he asks, evincing a mixture of surprise and pleasure. The same could be said about Yann Martel's Life of Pi, a novel about a shipwrecked boy adrift on a life raft in the middle of the Pacific with a starving tiger. The reason that both novels connect with readers of different ages is that they tell simple but powerful stories and they pose the biggest puzzle of all: What is life all about?
Read the complete first chapter of Mark Haddon's book on the Entertainment page of our Web site, globeandmail.com .
Tuesday, July 15, 2003
Are you living in a literate city? A place with a love of books? A new survey by the University of Wisconsin ranks America's 64 largest cities with a population over 250,000 in terms of literacy.
The top 10 are: Minneapolis, Seattle, Denver, Atlanta, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Washington, Louisville, Portland, Cincinnati.http://www.uww.edu/cities/
Monday, July 14, 2003
The New Literary Lottery
Good news for aspiring novelists: Advances for first-time authors have blown sky-high. The catch? If the book doesn’t sell, the fallout can kill your career.
By Alex Williams
Amy Koppelman had always wanted to be a writer, even after all those years she spent slogging away on a first novel in her closet—the only “office” space available in her cramped Upper West Side apartment. “It was the closest thing I had to ‘a room of one’s own,’ ” she says. She still wanted to be a writer even after she got turned down by Columbia’s prestigious master’s-of-fine-arts fiction program. Twice.
For seven years, she hunched over her manuscript, a tale of post-partum depression and infanticide. The work spanned the course of two pregnancies and several thousand nagging doubts. Even after Koppelman, now 33, finally made the cut at Columbia in 1998, the doubts would grow so thunderous that she considered giving up and opening a coffee shop.
During the darkest of those spells, she happened across a “Page Six” item in the Post concerning noise complaints in Cindy Crawford’s apartment building; it mentioned in passing that Koppelman’s idol, Joan Didion, served on the building’s board. Although she had never met Didion, Koppelman tracked down the handsome East Seventies prewar and left a copy of her manuscript with the doorman. Tucked in the package was a note, meekly asking Didion if she should just quit altogether. Three days later, Koppelman received a reply on solemn gray stationery that started, “Yes, you are a real writer . . . ” And so Koppelman pressed on. It was only when she tried to sell the book, however, that she learned what it means to be a “real writer” these days.
She began by mailing out dozens of sample chapters of the book she had come to title Don’t Fall Apart on Me Tonight—later changed to A Mouthful of Air. As the answers started to trickle back, Koppelman detected an unsettling trend. “All the big New York agents and publishing houses told me the same thing: ‘Look at the movies. You need a happy ending,’ ” she recalls. “I showed it to one big agent who agreed to read the first eighteen pages. She told me to stick it in a drawer, nobody cares about dead babies—and that was her being nice. I sent a copy to a friend who works in Hollywood. He said, ‘You don’t really want to get this published, right? Just write the next Bridget Jones’s Diary.’ ”
It was clear to Koppelman that publishers not only didn’t seem interested in a modest first novel but also showed no interest in the idea of developing a writer over time, who might, several books down the road, produce something really stellar. Instead, even from unknown writers, they seemed to want only blockbusters. Not fitting that category, Koppelman finally found a small, independent publisher called MacAdam/Cage in San Francisco that believed in building a writer’s career. A Mouthful of Air was published in April, and the New York Observer was quick to call it an “exquisitely dark debut novel.” It is only now that Koppelman can pause long enough to contemplate the bigger question: Was it all worth it?
“I got a $3,000 advance for the book,” she says. “I’m not even sure that covers the postage on the queries I sent out.”
In other words, of course it was.
For thousands of would-be novelists like Koppelman, the dream of living the New York writer’s life will never die, even if it nearly kills them to pursue it. But that doesn’t mean the nature of that pursuit is in any way constant. And as always, the goal of carving out a life of letters in the city—shared by thousands of Sarah Lawrence graduates, Starbucks baristas, and drop-out tax attorneys alike—is inextricably linked to the chilly realities of the publishing business. But rarely have the realities of the marketplace changed so jarringly as they have over the past five years. While the major publishing conglomerates continue to cut back on “midlist” authors, they’re increasingly willing to lavish astronomical sums on unknowns. So many, in fact, that since the late nineties, half a million dollars is de rigueur for a first novelist who’s perceived to have hot prospects.
And the recession that has caused sales of all but a few books to flat-line hasn’t slowed the run on mega-advances; if anything, the desperation to find the next Alice Sebold has only upped the ante. In the past two years, a steady stream of first-time authors have joined the club. Yale Law professor Stephen Carter may have made headlines when Knopf coughed up an astonishing $4 million for his first two novels, but he is by no means alone. Medical student Daniel Mason received $1.2 million for a two-book deal from Knopf on the strength of his manuscript for The Piano Tuner, which appeared last fall. Hari Kunzru, a former editor at Wired UK, received nearly $1 million for the U.S. rights to his first novel, The Impressionist; Khaled Hosseni, an Afghan-American, whose first book, The Kite Runner, concerns life under the Taliban, pulled in a substantial six-figure sum, as did Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, who received $475,000 for The Dirty Girls Social Club, which took the former New Mexico reporter six days to write (yes, that’s $80,000 a day). Arthur Phillips, a Minnesota-bred Gen-Xer, earned a similar sum with his debut smash, Prague. And the youngest recipient of publishing’s new largesse, local poster boy Jonathan Safran Foer—a 26-year-old Princeton grad living in Jackson Heights—received a clean half-million from Houghton Mifflin (not to speak of a very quick $925,000 for the paperback rights) for his first novel, Everything Is Illuminated.
The magnitude of Safran Foer’s advance, combined with his tender age, drew so much attention it served to demonstrate to publishers just how powerful a marketing tool the advance itself could be. The larger the advance, the louder the publisher’s declaration that this is the book the house is gambling on this season. The marketplace has become a literary lottery, not just for the authors but for the publishing houses too. A modest advance, which used to signal the intention to invest in a long-term relationship, now indicates lack of commitment. As one senior editor at a major house says: “The hardest thing to do is to buy a book for no money. The money is a function of enthusiasm. If there’s no enthusiasm, why bother?”
The book that really changed publishers’ minds about the commercial potential of literary fiction, and in particular the possibilities of first novels, was Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain. Published by Grove/Atlantic in 1997, this Civil War tale was a groundbreaking success—a serious book that held its own on the Wal-Mart shelves, selling an incredible 1.5 million copies in hardback and following up with another 1.3 million in paperback. It was one of the biggest debuts in publishing history. The cry from every publisher in town was “Get me the new Charles Frazier!”
Suddenly, literary fiction was no longer thought of as a high-prestige but low-profit venture in an industry largely propelled by cookbooks, self-help tomes, and pulpy thrillers. Of course, literary authors like Norman Mailer, Toni Morrison, and John Updike were guaranteed generators of revenue, but they had built their reputations over a course of years. What had changed was publishing’s embrace of the unknown.
Last year, a record fifteen debut novels shipped more than 100,000 copies each. The most notable of these, of course, is Sebold’s The Lovely Bones—a surprising novel whose narrator is a murdered girl—which has sold more than 2 million copies in hardback and last week logged its fifty-third week on the New York Times best-seller list.
Even if the crossover smash was still the exception, such books encouraged the idea that any promising young nobody might be transformed into a very big somebody with the right promotion, and ironically, a big-enough advance could help serve as that promotion. The problem was, with everyone swinging for the fences, publishers could no longer afford to have much patience for young writers who show only warning-track power. “It’s the ‘blockbuster’ mentality applied to literature,” says New York literary agent Jody Hotchkiss. “The middle is falling out, but the financial upside is far, far greater. It’s exactly what’s happening in Hollywood right now.”
But what’s good for the author’s bank account—and the publisher’s—in the short term is not necessarily best for his career in the long term. “At Doubleday, we believe in investing in a career,” insists Bill Thomas, editor-in-chief of Random House’s Doubleday Broadway group. “That gets harder to do with the money that’s being thrown around these days. It’s closing your eyes and praying. And that can hurt the writer.”
Jonathan Burnham, president of Miramax Books, who startled the publishing world last fall by forking out $625,000 for a novel called Bergdorf Blondes by Vogue editor Plum Sykes, concurs. “There’s no doubt that publishers will be prepared to overpay for a major new literary voice,” he says. “But a big advance puts a huge pressure on the novel to succeed. This peculiar marketplace entrance-performance is something that everybody has to do now. William Faulkner didn’t go around and meet ten publishers, who then participated in a heated auction that was publicized by Keith Kelly in the Post the next day.”
Another publisher is even more blunt: “The writer has got two or three years to make the money back. If he doesn’t, that big advance might be the last nickel he ever earns in the book business.” So maybe it’s no longer publish or perish; now it’s also possible to publish and perish. The time-honored tradition of a novelist’s serving an apprenticeship through his early thirties is waning quickly, says Morgan Entrekin of Grove/Atlantic, who gave the world Frazier’s Cold Mountain six years ago.
“It used to be that you had pretty modest expectations for a first novel, and the idea was to get the writer in print and the writer would be allowed to develop,” Entrekin explains. He points to John Irving, who was shepherded by the industry through a number of promising but uncommercial early novels (who remembers Setting Free the Bears or The 158-Pound Marriage?) before bursting onto the airport newsstand with The World According to Garp. “That experience has been turned on its head. All publishers are looking for fresh new voices. It’s great if you have a positive sales record, but it’s better to have no sales record than a poor one.
Consequently, it’s easier to go out with an unknown writer than it is with a second or third book from a writer who hasn’t done very well.”
As Daniel Mason’s agent, Christy Fletcher, puts it: “It’s like credit. It’s better to have no credit than bad credit.”
One writer who wound up almost buried by a book-industry jackpot is Lori Lansens, an unpublished novelist from rural Chatham, Ontario, who four years ago found herself in the midtown Sheraton, the subject of a fierce bidding war among seven major New York houses. At that point, Lansens, now 40, thought she had already given up her career in the arts, having quit acting after fifteen years (the highlight: a scene opposite Al Pacino in Sea of Love that was later cut). Although she neither studied literature nor attended any writing programs, Lansens decided to attempt a novel—eventually titled Rush Home Road—chronicling the relationship between a black grandmother in an Ontario trailer park and the abandoned white girl she adopts. The writing went surprisingly fast—the first draft took her about a year. “I had read in some book that five to ten thousand dollars would be an average advance on a good book,” Lansens recalls. “And that was if, as was my dream, it was published at all. My husband and I were seriously talking about self-publishing.”
It never came to that. Unsolicited, Lansens sent her manuscript to a Toronto-based literary agent, who quickly sold the Canadian rights. Almost instantly, the big New York houses were squaring off over the world rights. “The deal happened within a day,” Lansens says. “I was meeting my agent at another publisher’s office in midtown Manhattan, and she stopped me at the door and said, ‘We can’t go in there. We have to talk.’ ” Little, Brown, the agent said, had made a preemptive offer: $500,000, for two books. “I was amazed,” Lansens says. “I was unknown.”
The euphoria didn’t last long. “It was a wonderful story, beautifully written, but they could hardly get the book reviewed, even with that advance,” recalls Jody Hotchkiss, Lansens’s New York film agent. “The book came out, had a beautiful half-page ad in the New York Times Book Review, which is very expensive, but essentially disappeared. She couldn’t get reviewed in the Times daily, which is still the Holy Grail. So now she’s on contract for this second book, and she’s due $250,000. But believe me, Little, Brown is sitting there saying, ‘Whoa, we better hope we can pull a rabbit out of a hat.’”
Lansens felt the pressure as she scrambled to find a suitably marketable topic for her second book. “After this big deal happened, I guess we did all have expectations,” she says. “It was frustrating, because nobody could really answer why.”
But just before Lansens became a casualty of publishing’s new economics, her luck turned violently, again. Hotchkiss, in New York, got a call from Whoopi Goldberg’s production company. She wanted to buy the movie rights and Whoopi herself wanted to play the lead. For Lansens, the deal meant another six-figure sum, not to mention an unimaginable windfall of publicity for the book, now in paperback.
Once again, and just as unimaginably, she was a poster child for the Hollywoodification of the book business—but this time, literally. Now anointed a significant literary voice, Lansens, who spent some time just processing all the drama, is now one fifth of her way through a second book. “This was my first book,” she says, still astonished. “If it were my tenth book, I wouldn’t have expected this.”
The new pressures are very clear to many young writers. A few years ago, Arthur Bradford, now 33, moved from Austin, Texas, where he was working as a school gym teacher. He quickly made his mark, earning an O. Henry Award for a short story in his collection, Dogwalker, and invitations to barbecues at Dave Eggers’s house. Already, however, Bradford’s worrying about following that artistic success with a commercial one. “If your first book or two is not widely read, it can ruin your chances of publishing anything else,” Bradford says. “You don’t want a small debut. You need to hit them over the head right away.” For some, the new equivalent of a writer’s apprenticeship seems more like a hazing ritual. Novelist Mary Morris is something of a Mother Superior to Brooklyn’s exploding writers’ scene. The author of thirteen highly readable midlist books, Morris presides over an exclusive writers’ group, which meets weekly in her Park Slope brownstone. Among the Slope’s legions of Next Jonathan Lethems, admission alone is something of a literary debut, a major step toward a first contract. Lately, however, Morris is finding it tougher to offer the sunny encouragement that young writers need to survive.
“There’s really more of a bottom-line mentality now,” Morris says wearily. “When I started out, publishers could still commit to a writer. Now they’re publishing a book. All any publisher has to do is push a button and get all the numbers from the big book chains. And those numbers,” she adds darkly, “will track you forever.”
Nelly Reifler is a typical young writer living in Brooklyn. Now 35, she spent the first fourteen years of her “professional” life working the register at a store that sold wind-up toys on Columbus Avenue, or walking dogs for Paul Auster—anything that allowed her time to write. She published ambitious short fiction in underground journals like Pressed Wafer and the better-known Bomb. Then Reifler signed on with Leigh Feldman, the agent who sold Arthur Golden’s best-selling Memoirs of a Geisha and Cold Mountain. Feldman sold Reifler’s first collection of stories—See Through—to Simon & Schuster, albeit for a sum that would barely be large enough to buy a new replacement for her 1987 Toyota Camry. While the irrepressible Reifler considers a sum like that heroic compared with her previous paychecks, she acknowledges that the concept of living a midlist writer’s life like Morris’s—nice brownstone, regular contracts—is looking ever more difficult to attain.
“It helps to have low expectations.” Reifler says with a shrug. “It’s a crazy way to live. It’s just a gamble. You’re just betting on a way of life.”
But while writers like Mary Morris consider the blockbuster mentality something of a sickness in the book business, others insist it’s a measure of health. “Some of the worst cynics tend to be people who maybe are never going to get published for a reason,” says Nicole Aragi, the superagent-of-the-moment who brokered Jonathan Safran Foer’s handsome payday. Aragi embodies the blockbuster mentality better than most. She claims not to bother with midlist clients and takes on at most one or two new authors a year, and then only the superhot (she also represents Junot D?az). Winning Aragi’s approval in itself is a benediction of sorts.
“I’ve heard some very nasty accusations from people, then you look at their work and think, Well, there’s a reason fifteen rejections are sitting in your box,” Aragi says. “I’m very cruel about that, though, so I’m not going to start sounding like an old bitch. There have always been bean-counters in the industry, because it’s a business. We need them to behave in a businesslike way.”
Though Bill Thomas of Doubleday disagrees that this shift in publishing has created better fiction writers, he suggests it has coincided with a really good crop of emerging American novelists. “I think American fiction is in a very good place right now,” says Thomas, who edited Jonathan Lethem’s commercial breakthrough, Motherless Brooklyn, before ascending to his current post. “If you look at Jonathan Safran Foer, no one said, ‘Well, this is a difficult postmodern novel by an unknown writer, we’re not going to get involved.’ Everyone bid on it. That feeling of excitement when you start turning pages of a manuscript and you want to share this with the world, that still drives the business.”
For superstar authors, the publicity machine runs nonstop. Lesser-known writers hit the road and promote their own books. Never mind that they may have better things to do -- like write
Adair Lara, Chronicle Staff Writer
Saturday, July 12, 2003 ©2003 San Francisco Chronicle
Hillary Rodham Clinton got a cool $8 million advance for her memoir, "Living History," and a publicity blitz that included prominent journalists from foreign countries flying to Washington to interview her. Right behind that, Harry Potter fans were whipped into a frenzy by an orchestrated campaign of embargoes on the new volume and then treated to bookstore pajama parties across the country.
Alas, the publishers of the estimated 55,000 books that come out every year in the United States must count on lesser-known authors to do more and more of the promoting of a book, from hiring publicists to setting up and paying for tours. Many publishers even expect authors to submit their marketing strategy as part of their proposal. For authors, finding readers for a book is often harder than writing it was.
J.S. Holliday, author of the acclaimed "The World Rushed In: The California Gold Rush Experience," recently drove from his home in Carmel to a vast chain bookstore 200 miles north in Roseville for a reading he set up himself. He arrived to find a podium and chairs, a mike turned on and 30 shrink-wrapped copies of his new book, "Rush for Riches," on a table.
But the chairs were empty. The manager refused to make an announcement over the PA system, so Holliday plucked an audience of six from among the store's shoppers. "Look, I'm about to give a rousing speech over there," he said, putting a friendly arm around their shoulders. "Why don't you come over and listen to me?"
He talked to six people for half an hour and sold five books. Then he helpfully took the shrink wrap off the remaining books and signed them. The clerk was aghast. "You've torn the bar code off! We need that to sell the book! " Holliday fished the shrink wrap out of the garbage and restored the bar codes while customers watched, "amazed, no doubt, at the humiliation authors must wade in to make sure that a book gets sold," he said, laughing. Later he learned that every one of those books had sold, and the store had reordered.
When San Francisco's Kirk Read got his coming-of-age memoir, "How I Learned to Snap," published by Hill Street Press, an independent house in Athens, Ga., he understood that publishing it was all they could afford to do. "I told them,
just send me 200 books and I'll sell them," Read said. He drove to 100 tour dates in 40 cities -- everything from book group meetings to huge university lectures. He made purple T-shirts and buttons depicting a hand snapping and gave them out at each stop.
"A lot of authors are better at thinking outside the box than publishers because they live outside the box," said Gerry Howard, head of Broadway Books, a division of Random House. He offered as an example Dave Pelzer, author of the best-selling book "A Child Called 'It': One Child's Courage to Survive."
"He's on a permanent campaign," Howard said. "He travels the country in an evangelical way and sells lots of books in the back of the auditorium."
Even cookbook authors must -- literally -- cook up interest in their books. Joyce Goldstein of San Francisco flew to Miami with six pounds of fresh phyllo on her lap. The former owner of Square One and author of 19 books, she cooked all morning, making 300 "tastes" of bougatsa, a Greek phyllo pastry filled with cheese custard -- and sold five books. Soon she'll fly to Baltimore to attend a conference at the invitation of the Potato Board. She went to Copia in Napa to do "This Is Not Your Mother's Seder."
"I have cornered a rather funny little niche as the resident food Jew in the Bay Area," Goldstein said. "You sell them one book at a time. Drip, drip, drip.
"Bookstores? You might as well kill yourself," she said.
The imagination every author possesses goes to good use in these grassroots marketing efforts. When he isn't setting up readings at bookstores, Holliday speaks at Rotary clubs, always making sure they have his books there for sale afterward. In March he spoke to the American Glaucoma Society. "There are conventions and conferences in town all the time, and they need some alternative to their subjects," he says.
Linda Watanabe McFerrin of San Francisco, author of the story collection "The Hand of Buddha," traveled to 25 states on an Amtrak pass for a month. She taught workshops and stayed with friends. Constance Hale ("Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose") conducts writing and grammar workshops in bookstores and at Media Alliance, the Learning Annex and UC Extensions up and down the state.
"My publisher did next to nothing," she said, "but each time I teach a class there's a little notice in some catalog or mailer about my book."
Laurie Wagner, author of "Living Happily Ever After," said that an aunt threw huge book parties for her in Los Angeles. "At the first event I sold 160 books to family and friends. The next event I sold 120. And the events generate word of mouth."
The downside of all of this is the time taken away from what writers do best: write. The financial realities can be daunting, too. Most authors make $2 to $3 on a hardcover sale. An out-of-town reading might cost $300, even if you stay with friends. An author has to sell 100 books to break even, and bookstores rarely order that many copies.
Yet do-it-yourself promotion pays off, if not in huge sales then at least in keeping a good book in print long enough to find its readers. Joyce Goldstein says her editor knows how hard she works to sell the books and will keep that in mind next time he's considering publishing her. Kirk Read promoted his hardback so vigorously that the paperback was bought by Penguin. Holliday gets books from the publisher at a 40 percent discount, so when he sells them himself he not only makes a few dollars, but, more importantly, helps them stay in print.
Sunday, July 13, 2003
Scenes of the crimes
A bloody body in Edinburgh. A frozen, severed arm in North Bay. SANDRA MARTIN talks to mystery writers who take you where tour operators won't go
By SANDRA MARTIN
Saturday, July 12, 2003
You know the routine: Work lands you in a new city, you have an hour between appointments and you want to cram in the high spots. Do you grab a cab, head for the tour bus, or wander around the main square, trying to keep your bearings while you soak up atmosphere?
None of the above. If you are smart, you have planned ahead by checking out the crime-fiction section of your local bookstore. Forget the old cliché, if this is Tuesday, it must be Belgium. Instead try: If this is Bombay, read Leslie Forbes; for Moscow, check out Martin Cruz Smith; for Venice, Donna Leon; for Chicago, give Sara Paretsky a whirl; and if you find yourself by chance in Botswana, Alexander McCall Smith is your man. Under no circumstances should you head to North Bay without packing a Giles Blunt or two.
In the literary world, crime-fiction writers are trusty travel guides. They will entertain you en route, expose you to the social, economic and political issues festering beneath the spires and cupolas, and take you places most respectable tour operators are too scared to venture.
In fact, entrepreneurial tourist operators have clicked on to the trend by offering guided tours of Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles, Ian Rankin's Edinburgh, Colin Dexter's Oxford, featuring rambles through the seedier parts of town and stops at the pubs haunted by Rebus and Morse. The owners of John's Grill in San Francisco, the place where Sam Spade dined on chops in The Maltese Falcon, have capitalized on the connection and turned the diner into a shrine to author Dashiell Hammett.
A sense of place has been integral to crime fiction since at least the days of Edgar Allan Poe's The Murders in the Rue Morgue or Wilkie Collins's Woman in White 150 years ago. All of the best crime novels are built like three-legged stools: character, story and place. Strip away one of these and either the book totters to a conclusion or the reader falls off long before the murder is solved and finds something more absorbing to read.
Transporting the reader to a particular place is essential, argues Margaret Cannon, crime-fiction columnist for The Globe and Mail. There are two ways of doing this, in her opinion. Either you can have an imaginary set of stock places, as Agatha Christie did in the manor house or the vicarage where she set her whodunits, or you can describe a room or landscape or a city so superbly that it becomes transformed into a place of mystery and suspense.
Poe did it with Paris by gaslight, she says, adding that "anybody who has read any crime fiction at all can describe Sherlock Holmes's room right down to the tobacco he kept in a pipe slipper."
Two of her favourite examples are the settings evoked by Raymond Chandler and James Lee Burke. Chandler remade Los Angeles to suit his fictional purposes in his Philip Marlowe series, she contends, while Burke's prose is so potent you can "smell" Dave Robicheaux's Louisiana. With writers of this quality, place is not just part of the narrative, it is a character.
Ian Rankin makes no bones about the fact that Edinburgh is an essential character in his bestselling series of police procedurals about dyspeptic and cynical Detective Inspector John Rebus. In Toronto on a 24-hour junket for Book Expo Canada last month, the dark-haired Scottish writer took time out from book signings to chat about his own connections with Edinburgh. "I started writing the books because I wanted to make sense of Edinburgh," he said candidly, over a glass of water -- unlike his creation Rebus, who never seems to say anything without a double whisky to hand.
Rankin arrived in Edinburgh at age 18, the first person in his family to go to university. "My parents were very working class," he explained. They never owned their own house, or a car, his sisters left school at 15 and 16 and he grew up feeling very much like the cuckoo in the nest. He always wanted to read books and sit in his room scribbling poetry, a fact that he kept hidden from his family. "I think they thought I was doing drugs," he shrugs. "That would have been more understandable." Having spent much of his teenage years loitering on the periphery of local gangs, he arrived in Edinburgh and found it a complex, enigmatic city in which people kept their secrets behind thick stone walls and net curtains.
"There was the city that the tourists saw," he remembers, "or were allowed to see -- the castles, the monuments, the festival. And then there was another, hidden Edinburgh, where there were massive problems with heroin and AIDS and HIV."
He came to crime fiction after a literary meander worthy of one of his own subplots, through Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Spark's novel, set in a private girls' school, is about the proper refined Edinburgh -- an Edinburgh that Rankin feels never existed. Although Stevenson located his classic novel in London, he was really writing about Edinburgh, Rankin says, through the character of Jekyll, a repressed man riddled with heinous urges.
While Rankin was ostensibly working on a PhD about Spark, he was really trying to turn himself into a Stevensonian-style writer with Edinburgh as his central character. His first few Rebus books were supposed to be updatings of Jekyll and Hyde, but because he pitched them as crime novels about a repressed detective haunted by his past, nobody realized his intention. He even called his second Rebus novel Hide and Seek, but nobody caught on, or so he says.
For a long time, Rankin says, he felt guilty about making Edinburgh darker and more desperate than it really was, but he had to be true to the character he had created. "A detective like Rebus can only see certain aspects of Edinburgh," he says. "He will go for a meal with his girl and they will come out of the restaurant and she will say, 'Look how beautiful the castle looks tonight' and all he sees is a crime scene waiting to happen." His feelings have been mollified by the hordes of tourists coming to Edinburgh demanding to do the Rebus trail, which invariably ends up in the Oxford Bar where Rebus and Rankin both drink.
Writing from a sense of place came naturally to Peter Robinson, the Yorkshire-born, Toronto-based author of the Inspector Banks novels. "That was one of my interests as a poet," he explains, adding that he wrote his PhD thesis at York University on the sense of place in contemporary British poetry. "I don't know that writers consciously do it," he says, pointing out that "an Agatha Christie could take place in any country," while the sense of place in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles is "almost like an extra character" that precipitates the action.
Robinson, a native of Leeds in the north of England, is proof that a crime writer doesn't have to inhabit his fictional locale to make it real to his readers. Anybody can dig up facts about street corners, restaurants and local landmarks. What marks the difference between a book that limps along and one that captures the wanderlust of a reader is the passion -- whether it is love or hatred -- with which the writer creates his crime scenes.
It was absence that sparked Robinson's descriptive passions. He began writing crime fiction only after he immigrated to Canada in the early 1970s. These days, while he sets up his laptop in the east end of Toronto, his imagination still wanders around the dales of Yorkshire where he was born and raised. In fact, he was driven to reading and writing crime fiction as a doctoral student and a frustrated poet much enamoured of traditional narrative poetry replete with capital letters and rhyme.
He now realizes that a lot of the images and impulses from his poetry found a happier home in crime novels written about a character who could have been his alter ego. Robinson deliberately made Banks physically different from himself -- short and dark-haired -- and wrote about him in the third person to distance the character from his creator. "We probably shared very similar childhoods, and when we hit the age of 18, we went in different directions. I went into literature and the arts, and he went on a course that took him toward the police as a career. So our paths have diverged and run in parallel universes ever since."
Canadian Giles Blunt sets his crime novels (Forty Words for Sorrow and his new one, The Delicate Storm) in Algonquin Bay, a fictionalized version of North Bay. Although he was born near Windsor in the southern part of Ontario and spent a couple of decades in New York, North Bay, the town where he lived from ages 10 to 17, is the place -- despite bugs in the summer and frozen nostrils in the winter -- that he calls home.
"I lived in the U.S. so long that North Bay is completely exotic," he says. "It astounds me that people live in such a place." It is so cold in the winter that "it hurts your face to go from the house to the car," and the summers are "brutally" hot with "plagues of black flies" starting on Victoria Day. "I remember going on an ill-advised camping trip with some friends after we moved up there," he says with a laugh. "I think it was the first time I ever got angry at God. I was about 12."
Setting is about much more than geography. It is an opportunity for writers to send a message to readers about social or political issues.
Think of Martin Cruz Smith's Gorky Park, in which Renko exposes us to the dying days of the Cold War in a much more telling way than vast numbers of magazine or newspaper articles could do. Similarly, Alexander McCall Smith, who lives in Edinburgh and writes in Vancouver, sets his Precious Ramotswe novels in Botswana because he wants to show that this is one African country that, despite AIDS, has had a fairly stable and peaceful history since independence.
People write best about places that evoke passionate feelings, says British crime writer Val McDermid. "Otherwise the writing becomes flat on the page." She has written a series of books about a private detective named Kate Brannigan that piece together a social history of Manchester in the 1990s. "It was the place where I lived and the place where I worked [as a journalist] and the place that excited and stimulated me and I wanted to write about it," she said during a visit to Book Expo in June.
McDermid wrote Killing the Shadows after a holiday trip to Toledo in Spain. What a fantastic place to have a serial killer operating, she thought, staring at the honey-coloured medieval buildings nestled atop a mammoth chunk of rock towering over the Tagus River and thinking of Toledo's bloody history dating back through the Civil War and the Inquisition all the way to Roman times. She dumped the body of a young tour guide in La Degollada, a gorge named after a gypsy woman who had been found there centuries earlier with her throat cut. And she hung the sodomized corpse of an American graduate student from the manacles adorning the façade of the monastery church of San Juan de los Reyes.
Inspiration does not always flash so quickly. McDermid fell in love with the White Peak district of Derbyshire in northern England when she moved there from her native Scotland in 1979 and spent 20 years trying to figure out a way to use the limestone landscape in a novel. The mysterious, narrow, twisting dales and the little rivers that disappeared in the summer and rose up again in the winter got under her skin in a "weird" way, and it took her a long time and a rereading of W. H. Auden's poem In Praise of Limestone to find a way of combining plot and atmosphere in what became A Place of Execution.
"There is a wonderful bit in the middle of the poem," she recalls, "where he says something about how they lead constrained lives in their narrow valleys, and never go out into the wider world, but when one of them goes to the bad, we all understand why. And that was like the penny dropping."
She still had to work out the myriad details about the child living in an isolated, incestuous community who goes missing and why her friends and family are so grudging in their co-operation with the police. They clearly love the missing girl, and want her back, but that loss is pitted against the fear of letting the police know a diabolical secret about their past.
Reading Execution, I was struck by how even though serious practitioners of heinous fiction eschew the locked-room murders of, say, Agatha Christie, they still have to find a way to create an isolated crime scene -- the lonely house on the outskirts of the village, the village cut off from the city, the woman who misses the bus and walks home late at night. The problem is the same -- putting victim and murderer in each other's sights; it is the setting that has changed.
"The whole structure of the way we use place is actually a big trick to pull the reader into the book," McDermid says. "The more convincing you can make your world, the easier it is for the reader to suspend his or her disbelief about the things they know you are lying about."
Just as there are conventions about putting real people in fiction -- you can't ignore the historical record by changing known biographical facts such as death and birthdates -- there are unwritten rules about how you use geographical locations. Writers who violate them risk destroying their imaginary pact with readers. A writer such as Rankin has Rebus drinking in an actual pub and walking down real streets so that readers who know Edinburgh can identify landmarks and visualize themselves in the same setting. Then, based on that reality, the writer creates a fictitious but convincing crime scene.
If you want to write about a nightclub where drugs are dealt, it is best not to give it the name of an actual club, unless you are willing to risk a lawsuit. Similarly, you can't put a raunchy nightclub in the wrong part of town. Readers who know the area won't believe it and will lose faith in your story. The final level at which a sophisticated crime writer uses setting is to make a particular place universal so that readers can transfer from the page to their own experience. You may not know Paretsky's Chicago, for example, but in reading about it, you are reminded of certain aspects of your own city.
No matter how many books they write, or sell, there is one thing that all crime writers seem to have in common: the feeling that they don't get enough respect for what they do. J.D. Singh of the Toronto bookstore Sleuth of Baker Street, says crimewriters have a lot of trouble shaking the feeling that they are second-rate despite a growing number of scholarly articles praising their work as "real" literature. So why don't they switch to writing mainstream novels? Partly it is habit. Like actors who have created a famous role, crime writers with a memorable character can find the mould so comfortable they don't want to risk breaking it. And the pressure from publishers and fans to keep writing a sure thing is enormous.
But there is more to it than that. Unlike many mainstream novelists, crime writers are enthralled by storytelling. They are drawn to books that have beginnings, middles and ends, even though the form has now become so stylized that a reader cannot expect the three parts to be in the traditional order. Solving the puzzle is often the least important part of crime fiction, with all sorts of writers, from Ruth Rendell to Rankin to Robinson, telling us who did it to whom on the very first page. It is the why, not the how, that intrigues them and keeps us turning the pages.
A reading list of other crime-fiction novelists and their favourite locations:
Total Recall by Sara Paretsky -- Chicago
The Wailing Wind by Tony Hillerman -- New Mexico
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett -- San Francisco
Basket Case by Carl Hiaasen -- Miami
Mystic River by Dennis Lehane -- Boston
Death of a Hawker by Janwillem van de Wetering -- Amsterdam
Auprès de ma blonde by Nicolas Freeling -- Netherlands
The Russia House by John le Carré -- Moscow
Silence of the Rain by Luiz Alfred Garcia-Rosa -- New Mexico
Wonderland by John Brady -- Dublin
From Doon with Death by Ruth Rendell -- Suffolk, England
Death in Holy Orders by P.D. James -- London, England
Maigret and the Enigmatic Lett by Georges Simenon -- Paris
The Angst-Ridden Executive by Manuel Vazquez Montalban --Barcelona
Cabal by Michael Dibdin -- Rome
Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon -- Venice
The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith -- Italy
The Night of Wenceslas by Lionel Davidson -- Prague
The End of Lieutenant Boruvka by Josef Skvorecky -- Prague
The Third Man by Graham Greene -- Vienna
Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene -- Havana
Smilla's Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg -- Denmark and Greenland
The Key to Rebecca by Ken Follett -- Cairo
The Bank of Fear by David Ignatius -- IraqAlexander McCall Smith
The Kalahari Typing School for Men
"In a dry country like Botswana, shade netting made all the difference to a plant's chances, keeping the drying rays of the sun off the vulnerable green leaves and allowing the earth to retain a little of any precious moisture left over from watering."Ian Rankin
A Question of Blood
"The car was parked on North Castle Street, but they walked past it, heading for George Street. Directly ahead of them, the Castle was illuminated against the ink-dark sky. They turned left, Rebus feeling a stiffness in both legs, the legacy of his trek across Jura."Raymond Chandler
The Long Goodbye
"Everything was the fault of the smog. If the canary wouldn't sing, if the milkman was late, if the Pekinese had fleas, if an old coot in a starched collar had a heart attack on the way to church, that was the smog."Val McDermid
Killing the Shadows
"The first body had been found in a deep wooded gorge running down to the River Tagus about a mile from the city gates. According to local custom, the gorge boasted the revolting name La Degollada -- the woman with her throat slit."
Friday, July 11, 2003
While I hate to give even an inch of space to promote anything Ann Coulter does, here is what I'm sure she would consider a treasonous review
of her new book, Treason
, written by Joe Conason of Salon.com, courtesy of Powells.com.
Thursday, July 10, 2003
If the Shoe Fits, Eat It!
"I really want you to notice, Tucker, that this is a wingtip. It's a right-wing wingtip," Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said to "Crossfire" host Tucker Carlson. (Claire Duggan - CNN)
• In CNN's crusade to squeeze all the ink it can out of "Crossfire" host Tucker Carlson's vow to eat his shoes if Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) sells a million copies of her memoirs, the network devoted much of yesterday's show to Simon & Schuster's announcement that this milestone had indeed been reached.
The author of "Living History" herself showed up as a "surprise guest" to present an allegedly shocked Carlson with a shoe-shaped cake.
"I really want you to notice, Tucker, that this is a wingtip. It's a right-wing wingtip," Clinton said to laughter from the studio audience. "And I was a little worried about, you know, how you were actually going to be able to eat and digest a shoe. I didn't even know what kind you were going to choose. So I had a friend of mine . . . do this for you because I figured you've had enough embarrassment and humiliation over this episode."
"Yes, I have," a sheepish Carlson replied. "Thank you. . . . You are awfully gracious. I appreciate that, senator."
Afterward, Carlson acknowledged to us that he won't get away with eating a cake shoe. He's going to chew and swallow a real shoe -- probably a loafer.
"I'm screwed," he explained.
Toymaker finds librarian who's a real doll
By Jack Broom
Seattle Times staff reporter
Nancy Pearl is already a woman of action: innovator, iconoclast, radio personality and author of an upcoming book with the word "Lust" in its title.
But in the next month or so, it will be official. She'll join the ranks of Jesus, Sigmund Freud, Rosie the Riveter, Nico the Barista and a striped-shirted hipster/philosopher named Fuzz.
What puts Pearl, executive director of the Washington Center for the Book, into such heady company? She's the model for a 5-inch-tall plastic "action figure" by Seattle-based Accoutrements, parent company of Ballard's Archie McPhee store, where zany meets kitschy meets glow-in-the-dark.
Granted, librarians aren't known for Terminator-style stunts. Rarely do they need to be faster than a speeding bullet or leap tall buildings in a single bound.
Pearl herself comes across as modest and unassuming, but she's an unabashed booster of her profession: "The role of a librarian is to make sense of the world of information. If that's not a qualification for superhero-dom, what is?"
Amen, says Mark Pahlow, owner of Accoutrements. In addition to historical characters, he looks for action figures in "people in unusual or underappreciated jobs."
"Nancy is the quintessential librarian!" Pahlow said, " ... She is an iron fist inside a velvet glove. And she does not take herself too seriously."
Let the big toymakers crank out combat characters and toy military equipment, Pahlow said. "We have to be unlike them to survive."
Seattle City Librarian Deborah Jacobs, Pearl's boss, said anyone who doesn't view a librarian as a potent force doesn't understand the job. "Ideas are more powerful than bombs," she said. "Information is the way to take over the world."
Pearl, with the library for 10 years, does book reviews on public radio KUOW-FM (94.9) during "The Beat" at 2 p.m. Mondays. But she's best known for "If All of Seattle Read the Same Book," an effort to build community connections through an appreciation of books.
That campaign has been emulated in cities across the country — even in other countries — and is a key reason Pearl was recently chosen to receive the 2003 Washington Humanities Award. Jack Faris, board chairman of Humanities Washington, said the same-book idea "may be the single most significant public-humanities program in the past 10 years."
But what's that got to do with being immortalized as a toy?
Pahlow and Pearl, who met four years ago, both serve on the board of bookclubpartner.com, an organization that helps book clubs and promotes literacy.
At a dinner party last year, Pahlow was talking about the success of his company's Jesus action figure, and the potential for others. Why not make a librarian, someone asked. And why not use Pearl as the model, asked someone else.
But even after Pahlow said he wanted to do it, Pearl didn't know he was serious until he called her earlier this year and said, "We need to set a time for you to go to Mukilteo and be digitized." Pahlow's action figures are designed here and made in China.
Pearl, 58, enjoyed sitting with a group of creative twentysomethings who batted around ideas about what the action figure might do, or carry, and what attributes — such as likes and dislikes — would be detailed on the package.
How about a cardigan sweater draped over the shoulders? Or glasses on a chain? Those were considered and rejected, Pearl said.
To Pearl's delight, the figure will be holding a (removable) copy of her new book, "Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment and Reason." The book, Pearl's third, is being published by Seattle's Sasquatch Books and is due out in September.
No action figure can exist without action; Pahlow said talk boiled down to two options: Put the figure's hair in a bun that could pop off, or have her right arm rise to put a finger in front of her lips in a silent shushing gesture.
"The ejectable hair bun had many technical hurdles to overcome and we thought doing two clichés was over the top," he said. "So, we went with the shushing action. It gives the figure a certain dignity."
Pearl predicts that the shushing motion — triggered by a button on the doll's back — will determine "which librarians have a sense of humor." She likes to believe that today's librarians are secure enough in their work that they won't take offense at the old cliché.
The action-figure line will continue, Pahlow said, with a range of historical and contemporary characters. Also in the pipeline: Ludwig van Beethoven and another figure with strong Seattle appeal: TV clown J.P. Patches, host of a local children's show on KIRO-TV for 23 years.
Pahlow's experience in the amusement biz goes back to childhood. When he was 8, he and a brother ran wires from a toy train transformer to a metal patio chair — and got neighborhood kids to pay a nickel for the privilege of being zapped.
He expects interest in the Nancy Pearl doll to be strongest in Seattle, where she is best known. But Pahlow said he's already received inquiries about it from librarians around the country. "We've discovered librarians are very networked and seem to know about everything before it happens."
Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company
Monday, July 07, 2003
I tried posting this interesting article about Randy Wayne White's current book tour, but Blogger said it was too big. I hate just posting links to newspaper articles because most papers only keep the articles up for a short time, a week or so, then they want you to pay to read them. So I'm hoping that Blogger will see the light and put it up, but if not, here is a link --http://www.news-press.com/news/local_state/030705white.html
Eric W. Leuliette has kept a record of every book he's read since 1974. He has them all listed on his website at http://www.whatihaveread.net/
including bar graphs, averages, etc.
Saturday, June 28, 2003
http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/books/128404_tf227.htmlOlsen's true-crime tale a best seller ... after 13 years
Friday, June 27, 2003
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER STAFF
Thirteen is suddenly a lucky number for Gregg Olsen, the true crime writer from Olalla on the Kitsap Peninsula.
That's because his account of an Amish serial murderer in the 1980s, "Abandoned Prayers," will be No. 7 on The New York Times' paperback best-seller list this Sunday, 13 years after its initial publication.
It is Olsen's first appearance on the vaunted list and a mystifying development for the author of six books because there is no known engine driving sales of the new paperback edition.
"This is a complete fluke," Olsen says. "It got there by sheer sales -- no promo, no nothing. No TV connection. The funny thing about it is that publishers put big bucks behind books to get on the list and seldom make it. So this is kind of cool."
© 1998-2003 Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Thursday, June 19, 2003
HARRY POTTER MANIA!
Like magic, local fan gets early Potter fix
Wednesday, June 18, 2003
CREDIT: MARIE-FRANCE COALLIER, THE GAZETTE
Steve and Melissa managed to get their hands on Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on June 12 even though the book is not scheduled to hit stores worldwide until this Saturday.
Whether it's luck, a mistake or maybe a little magic, a copy of the newest Harry Potter book is in the hands of a Montreal woman before its official release.
Melissa, who spoke to The Gazette on the condition her last name not be used, bought Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the highly anticipated fifth volume in J.K. Rowling's series, on June 12 at a Wal-Mart on the South Shore.
Book 5 in the Harry Potter series isn't scheduled to hit stores worldwide until this Saturday.
But two more copies were bought by a friend within an hour of Melissa's purchase, just as the books were being taken off the shelves.
"I think it's just pure luck," Melissa said in an interview in the Gazette newsroom yesterday.
The soon-to-be bestseller lay on the table in front of the 23-year-old. Yesterday, she was on page 567 of the 768-page book.
News of the novel's early circulation caused a stir at Raincoast Books, the Canadian publisher of Harry Potter books.
Melissa's boyfriend, Steve, who also didn't want his last name published, called the company and Scholastic, the U.S. publisher, to tell them he had the book.
"I could tell they didn't believe me at first," said Steve, 27, yesterday.
As a test, a Scholastic employee asked Steve to read from the second line on page 73.
Then the companies asked him if they could have the book back. Raincoast Books even offered to pay $5,000 for the three books, Steve said.
But it wasn't his book to give.
"I asked Melissa, and she said she wasn't finished reading it," Steve said.
"I want to finish it. After I'm done, I don't care," Melissa said.
The $5,000 offer could not be confirmed with Raincoast.
An embargo on the book prevents anyone from selling it before June 21, said Allan MacDougall, president and CEO of Raincoast Books, the Vancouver-based publisher.
"Anybody who has sold it is in violation of a worldwide contract," he said.
"If there are any breaches by any store in the contract, we will take action."
That would mean reserving the right not to supply the store with Harry Potter books in the future, he said.
"It's probably human error," MacDougall said.
A manager at the Wal-Mart in St. Constant would not comment on the matter and referred questions to Wal-Mart Canada headquarters in Toronto. No one could be reached for comment last night.
Raincoast will seek a court-ordered injunction preventing the store or individuals from releasing any information about the book before the release date, MacDougall said.
He added that the company has already prepared the paperwork for such an occasion, after a recent Harry Potter-related incident in England.
A printing plant worker pleaded guilty in May to stealing pages from the unreleased novel. Donald Parfitt, a forklift operator at Clays Ltd. in Bungay, eastern England, claims he found the pages in the parking lot as he was leaving work May 5.
Harry Potter has been a sensation since the release of the first book in 1998.
Boy-wizard mania escalated to magical levels for the debut of the fourth book, Goblet of Fire, in 2000.
Bookstores across the continent organized release parties, some opening their doors at midnight to let in lineups of eager readers itching for the continuing story.
Melissa, who has read all of Harry's adventures, knew the fifth book was coming out soon but didn't know the date.
So she wasn't shocked when, on the afternoon of June 12 while walking by the book aisle in the Wal-Mart near her work, a familiar name caught her eye: Harry Potter.
"Hmmm," she thought to herself as she leafed through the book's pages, "I don't think I have this one yet."
She took the book to the cash register, paid $29.83 before taxes - Wal-Mart's price compared to the regular cost of $43 - and walked out.
No questions asked.
Later that same day, she told a co-worker's wife about the purchase. The woman went and bought herself and Melissa's friend a copy, just as employees were taking the books off the shelves.
Melissa said her only regret about the early find is that she's going to have to wait longer than everyone else for Book 6, since she plans to finish reading this one by Saturday.
"It's really good," she said. "It refers to the book before, so you don't get lost. It's very hard to put down."
But the true testament to the book's quality comes in a sentiment often voiced by those who love Harry Potter books:
"I'm sad it's going to end," Melissa said.
© Copyright 2003 Montreal Gazette
Friday, June 13, 2003
Shamus Award Nominees Announced
The Private Eye Writers of America (PWA) is proud to announce its nominees for the 2003 Shamus Awards. Books and short stories first published in 2002 were eligible for consideration. In each work the main character must be a person paid for investigative work but not employed by a unit of government. Thus books and stories about private investigators (licensed and unlicensed), lawyers and reporters who do their own legwork, and other hired agents are eligible; works centering on law enforcement officers or amateur sleuths are not.
The Shamus Awards will be presented in October at the PWA banquet to be held in Las Vegas, Nevada, during Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention.
The nominees are: Best P.I. Novel
BLACKWATER SOUND by James W. Hall (St. Martin's Press)
NORTH OF NOWHERE by Steve Hamilton (St. Martin's Press)
THE LAST PLACE by Laura Lippman (Harpercollins)
HELL TO PAY by George Pelecanos (Little, Brown)
WINTER AND NIGHT by S.J. Rozan (St. Martin's Press) Best First P.I. Novel
WESTERFIELD'S CHAIN by Jack Clark (St. Martin's Press.)
THE BONE ORCHARD by D. Daniel Judson (Bantam Books)
THE DISTANCE by Eddie Muller (Scribers)
OPEN AND SHUT by David Rosenfelt (Mysterious Press)
PRIVATE HEAT by Robert Bailey (M. Evans and Company) Best Paperback Original P.I. Novel
CASH OUT by Paul Boray (NAL)
JUICY WATUSI by Richard Helms (Back Alley Books)
THE LUSITANIA MURDERS by Max Allan Collins (Berkley Prime Crime)
PAINT IT BLACK by P.J. Parish (Kensington Publishing Corp.)
THE POISONED ROSE by D. Daniel Judson (Bantam Books) Best P.I. Short Story
Setting Up the Kill by J. Michael Blue (Hand Held Crime, Summer 2002)
The Second Coming by Terence Faherty (EQMM, 11/02)
Aftermath by Jeremiah Healy (MOST WANTED, NAL)
Second Story Sunlight by John Lutz (MOST WANTED, NAL)
The Jewels of Atlantis by James Powell (EQMM, 11/02)
Just out, being compared to Richard Russo and John Irving, so I'm putting it on my to-be-read pile...Long for This World by Michael ByersFrom Publishers Weekly
Dr. Henry Moss, the protagonist of Byers's compassionate, richly detailed debut novel (after an acclaimed short story collection, The Coast of Good Intentions), is a gentle, committed physician who studies a rare syndrome that causes rapid aging and premature death in children. While treating two sons from the same family who are both stricken with the syndrome, Moss discovers the holy grail of the medical profession, a blood mutation that has the potential to arrest the human aging process. On the one hand, the use of his discovery might tangle him in severe ethical dilemmas, and perhaps even cost Moss his license. On the other hand, he could make a lot of money. Byers cleverly sets his tale in late-1990s Seattle, at the height of the dot-com craze; the good doctor, like most everyone around him, is far from oblivious to the immense financial reward his discovery might bring him. With infinite tiny, prosaic and precise brush strokes, Byers depicts not only this riveting dilemma but also Moss's relationship with his family: his wry, critical Austrian wife, Ilse, his clownish, good-hearted 14-year-old son, Darren, and his 17-year-old daughter, Sandra, a talented basketball player who falls in love with a black player on a boys' team. These characterizations are so vivid and convincing that they are nearly hyper-real, as if Byers had set his protagonists under a microscope. Herein lies the book's great strength: while lesser writers would probably allow the compelling plot to dominate the narrative, Byers takes equal time to deliver a sympathetic but unflinching portrait of the American middle class and its discontents, brilliantly capturing the texture of late-20th-century life and the innate decency and fallibility of human beings trying to cope with its challenges.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Friday, June 06, 2003
Life of a Saleswoman
By THOMAS BARTLETT
At the moment, Tessa Lyons is lost. In one hand is a campus map. The other grips a rolling suitcase stuffed full of brochures. "OK, that's the library, so that must be science," she says, nodding at one of the nearly identical brick buildings. "No, wait. Science is over there." She sticks the map in her coat pocket and takes off in a new direction, the suitcase rattling at her heels.
Her confusion is understandable. This is Ms. Lyons's first trip to Eastern Connecticut State University. What's more, she has been on a different college campus nearly every day for the past three weeks.
Finding your way around is one of the challenges of being a textbook sales representative -- or "traveler" in the romantic argot of W.W. Norton & Company. Another is trying to make intelligent conversation about Wittgenstein one minute and plate tectonics the next. And please, don't even mention the driving.
It can become overwhelming. Especially if, like Ms. Lyons, you've been on the job for less than a month.
At 23, Tessa Lyons isn't much older than the undergraduates she passes in the hallways. Professors often mistake her for a student. But she isn't there to ask about the next test or beg for a better grade. She's there to make a sale.
Her pitch is friendly, low key -- the opposite of slick. A knock at the door and a handshake, followed by a slew of questions. Ms. Lyons wants to know if professors are satisfied with the textbook they're using. If not, she asks them why. If she thinks Norton's book would be better for them, she says so. If she doesn't think Norton has what they need, she tells them that, too. No hard sell. No pressure.
Some professors seem happy to have a visitor. They greet her warmly and invite her to sit down. "It's nice to talk about this," a sociology professor tells her. "Great! Shoot me an e-mail!" an English professor cries. If there's a pause in the conversation, Ms. Lyons has a surefire solution. She looks directly into the professor's eyes and says brightly, "So, tell me about your research." This works like magic. They lean back in their chairs. They steeple their fingers. "Well, I wrote my dissertation on ..."
The lecture has begun.
Others are less chummy. When Ms. Lyons gives a brochure to a psychology professor, the woman pinches it between two fingers as if it were a dirty napkin. "I don't take anything I won't use," she sniffs, handing it back. One professor crosses his arms and scowls at Ms. Lyons. A department secretary doesn't look up from her computer screen or say hello after Ms. Lyons introduces herself.
Slammed doors and unkind remarks go with the territory, according to veteran representatives. Not all academics are gentle, tweedy souls. In fact, some of them are jerks.
Over a chicken sandwich and fruit juice, Ms. Lyons explains how she ended up selling textbooks. When she graduated from Duke University in 2001 with a degree in English, she already had a job offer from a business consulting company in Los Angeles. Everything seemed perfect.
Then, with little warning, the offer was withdrawn. It's the economy, they told her. So she moved to New York City and took a low-level editorial position at Norton. When the sales slot came open a few months later, she applied. At Norton, the path to the top passes through sales. Even the company's president served his time in the field, hawking textbooks door to door.
After lunch, she runs into two men in front of the history department's main office. They are wearing dark suits. They are carrying leather briefcases. They are the competition.
James and Patrick work for Houghton Mifflin. Patrick is her counterpart. James is Patrick's boss. Once introductions are made, stiff chitchat ensues. "So I guess you're here to steal my business?" Patrick says. Everyone laughs. Of course, that's exactly what Ms. Lyons is here to do. She makes a base salary of $28,000. But depending on her sales numbers, that figure could climb much higher. Top performers in the industry earn six figures. Consequently, if Ms. Lyons persuades a professor to go with Norton instead of Houghton Mifflin, she is taking money out of Patrick's pocket, and vice versa. And there's nothing funny about that.
Patrick suggests that they "do lunch" sometime. When the pair is out of earshot, Ms. Lyons wonders aloud whether it's possible to "do lunch" in a college cafeteria. Besides, what would they talk about?
They could always commiserate about life on the road. This week, Ms. Lyons is visiting Central Connecticut State University, Eastern Connecticut State, Sacred Heart University, Yale University, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Each night she drives home to her apartment in Amherst. In all, she will add more than 700 miles this week to the odometer of her 2001 Pontiac Grand Prix, the car Norton leases for her. In the world of textbook sales, that's not unusual. (Just ask the Norton representative who covers Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Alaska.)
Logging that many miles would wear on anybody. But for Ms. Lyons, there is an added complication: She tends to nod off behind the wheel. Something about the drone of the engine and the endless parade of white stripes makes her eyelids droop. This is a problem, she admits. So far she has staved off disaster with a combination of caffeine and loud music. But the fear of an accident is always there.
Likewise, the fear of failure. Everyone told her it would be hard, and she believed them. But somehow she never thought it would be this hard. There have been tearful, late-night telephone calls to her parents in Red Bluff, the small town in northern California where she grew up. She was homecoming queen at Red Bluff High School. In the photograph taken moments after her coronation, her smile is both pleased and amused. I'm not taking this too seriously, it seems to say. She has tried to maintain the same aplomb in her new position, but it hasn't been easy. "No job can be this bad all the time," she says. "That's what I keep telling myself."
It is near the end of the day and Ms. Lyons has one minor task to complete before going home. All she has to do is hand a brochure to a professor and thank him for using Norton textbooks. Afterward, she'll grab a quick dinner and begin the 90-minute drive back to Amherst. She will then answer 25 to 30 e-mail messages and spend a couple of hours preparing for the next day. Many nights she works well into the small hours.
She arrives at the professor's door. Fortunately, he is in his office. Unfortunately, he is talking to a colleague.
Several minutes pass. The two professors are killing time. They're talking about their weekends, their kids, the weather. Tessa considers interrupting, but she can't bring herself to do it. She doesn't like disturbing people. For that matter, she doesn't like selling things. She never has. As a child, she hated selling candy bars for school fund raisers so much that she bribed her brother to sell them for her.
She uses the downtime to reflect on her day. Except for a few unpleasant encounters, it's been fairly good. Not great, but not terrible either. There have definitely been worse. She has waited hours for professors who never show up. She has been stared at as if she were peddling fake Rolexes rather than textbooks. In short, she has been treated with the special contempt reserved for people in sales.
While she may pretend otherwise at times, the rudeness and rejection have taken their toll. (Just over a month after her visit to Eastern Connecticut State, Ms. Lyons will resign from Norton and move to Los Angeles.)
"I'm pretty sensitive, you know, and when someone is mean, it kind of hurts inside for a few minutes. I want to say 'Please be nice, this is my job.' But you just have to -- " she doesn't finish the thought, dismissing the rest of the sentence with a quick wave. The two professors are finished talking and it's time for her to go to work. "Hi! I'm Tessa Lyons," she says, reaching to shake another hand.
Section: Money & Management
Volume 49, Issue 38, Page A48
Monday, June 02, 2003
What is the Derringer Award? Three awards given for three different story lengths, by the Short Mystery Fiction Society. Congratulations to Del Tinsley, this year's winner in the short-short category for "A CUT ABOVE."
Thursday, May 29, 2003
Another one for the to-be-read pile...thanks to Lauren at Random House:
GETTING MOTHER’S BODY, by the award winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks. If you haven’t heard of Parks yet, trust me, you will soon enough. Not only is she a well known playwright, screenwriter, and novelist, she is also the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for “Topdog/Underdog.”
In GETTING MOTHER’S BODY, we meet Billy Beede, a teenage girl pregnant with an illegitimate baby, living with her aunt and uncle, and dirt poor. Billy’s mother, Willa Mae has been dead for six years, yet one day Billy comes home to find a fateful letter telling her that her mother’s burial spot in Arizona is about to be plowed up to make way for a new supermarket. As Willa Mae’s only daughter, Billy is said to be the heiress to her mother’s substantial, yet unconfirmed fortune. The twist? Milla Wae’s jewels are said to be buried with her!
With her aunt and uncle in tow, Billy steals a pickup truck and heads to Arizona…possibly to claim her fortune.
Richard Russo, author of Empire Falls says, “Suzan-Lori Parks is a terrific writer whose characters don’t so much talk to us as sing,
full-throated, of their joys and miseries.”
Sunday, May 25, 2003
Read this book!In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer
by Irene Gut OpdykeIrene Opdyke, 85; Hid Jews in Poland During the Holocaust
Irene Gut Opdyke, who risked her life in World War II by hiding Jews in a cellar beneath a German major's villa — a story of courage that decades later would make her an internationally known speaker — has died. She was 85.
Opdyke was 25 and working as the major's housekeeper when, in 1943, she overheard that the Gestapo was about to sweep through a local Jewish ghetto in Poland. Concerned that the 12 Jews with whom she had worked in a laundry would be taken away, she decided to hide them in a cellar under a gazebo.
They remained a secret for eight months, when the major discovered the Jews. Then she bought more time for her friends by becoming the major's mistress. All of the Jews survived.
After the war, Opdyke immigrated to the United States, where she became a citizen, married and settled in Yorba Linda. For almost 30 years, she never spoke of her actions, even to her daughter.
Then, in 1974, when she filled in for a canceled speaker at her husband's Rotary Club, the story tumbled out.
A write-up about her speech in a local newspaper caught the eye of a rabbi, who persuaded Opdyke to tell her tale to the world. She agreed, embarking on a new career.
In the ensuing years, Israel honored her as a "Righteous Gentile"—one of thousands of non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. She also has written two autobiographies and tirelessly recounted her story in thousands of synagogues, churches and schools throughout the United States, Canada and Europe.
"She became a moral compass to tens of thousands of children," said Haim Asa, rabbi emeritus at Fullerton's Temple Beth Tikvah, the rabbi who first urged Opdyke to take her story to others.
"It's an incredible story," he said. "At first, it pained her, reliving the intimate details of her life." But once she got a taste of public speaking, "She couldn't stop a star was born."
Despite failing health in recent years, Opdyke kept a busy schedule until she broke her hip April 12. She died Saturday from liver and kidney failure brought on by a long battle with hepatitis.
"She knew that eyewitnesses to the Holocaust were quickly dying off and that if she didn't speak out, it could happen again," said her daughter, Jeannie Smith. "She had a very thick Zsa Zsa Gabor accent, and her biggest fear was that people wouldn't understand what she was saying. But she was amazing, and her love for people and her message of love translated, and her story always got through."
Opdyke, who was born Irene Gut on May 15, 1918, in Kozienice, Poland, was a nursing student when Germany invaded in 1939. Opdyke fled but was captured by Russian troops (then allied with the Nazis), who beat and raped her. She spent a year recovering and working in a Russian hospital.
When she tried to return home, she was captured by German troops and forced to work at a munitions factory in Ternopol, in southeastern Poland. She was later recruited to be a housekeeper at an officers' compound.
About the same time, a German major had taken the petite blue-eyed, blond Opdyke to be his personal housekeeper, which presented an opportunity to hide her threatened acquaintances in the gazebo cellar.
"She told me, 'When stuff like that happens, you don't have time to think through what you are going to do. You've got to react,' " her daughter said. "She said, 'You have to think with your heart and not with your head.' "
When the major discovered the Jews, he gave Opdyke a choice: Sleep with him, or he'd turn them in. She became his mistress.
When she sought comfort from a Roman Catholic priest, he told her she was living in sin and should leave the major to save her soul.
Opdyke, a Catholic who would later be honored as a hero by the Vatican, went back to his bed.
"I was pretty. He was an old man," Opdyke said five decades later. "It was a small price to pay for the many lives I really didn't know them. But I saw people in need, and I saw I could help them."
In 1944, the major in Ternopol evacuated the villa and took her with him. The Jews were rescued by the Polish underground. She ended up in a camp for displaced people.
After the war, Opdyke was interviewed by a United Nations worker in the camp. When she immigrated to New York City in 1949, she met the worker again while having lunch in the U.N. cafeteria. Six weeks later, she and William Opdyke were married. He died in 1993.
"As I grew up, I heard about my aunts and her childhood in Poland — all the good stuff," her daughter said. But not the rest.
"She told me that when she came to the United States and saw the Statue of Liberty, she said, 'I'm here in a fresh country to make a new start.' To do that, she had to put up a 'Do Not Disturb' sign on her memories."
In the 1970s, Opdyke, who was working as an interior decorator, became aware that revisionist historians were questioning whether the Holocaust happened. Enraged, she agreed to speak to her husband's Rotary Club as a substitute speaker.
Over the years, she was reunited with several of the people whose lives she saved.
"All I want to do in my life is bring people together regardless of their race or religion or creed or sex," Opdyke told a reporter in 1993. "We need to learn never to hate again. The children need to learn that."
She is survived by her daughter, who lives in Woodland, Wash.; two grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
Sunday, May 18, 2003
May 18, 2003Books in a Tube
By LAURA MILLER
Television and books -- it sounds like a match made in limbo, and it's true that watching most American television programming about books feels like a long wait in a small airport. Author interviews have been TV's only reliable way to convey one of the chief pleasures of reading, that sense of being caught up in a great conversation. But not all great authors are good talkers, and literary types of any sort are increasingly hard to find on talk shows.
It's not as if broadcasters haven't tried. Oprah Winfrey's book club, and the handful of televised clubs that replaced it when she decided to abandon it last year, aimed to recreate the experience of belonging to a reading group. But people join reading groups for social reasons as much as for literary ones, and watching a bunch of strangers chatting about this month's selection doesn't really scratch that itch. The participants always talk about the book in terms of how it makes them feel, a perfectly valid topic but not an especially interesting one when the feelings belong to someone you don't know and will never see again. The author, brought in to answer questions, invariably is asked, if the book is fiction, how much of the story is autobiographical and if there are plans to make it into a movie, or, if the book is nonfiction, how much research went into it. You don't gain a better understanding of any book from watching this sort of thing -- and you don't get to gossip or nosh on cookies, either.
The most substantial chunk of airtime devoted to books in this country is Book TV, the weekend programming on C-Span 2, a nonprofit cable channel underwritten, like C-Span, by contributions from the cable industry. (The main channel televises gavel-to-gavel coverage of sessions of Congress and political news programs.) Book TV deals only with nonfiction books, a policy so stringently observed that during recent coverage of the Los Angeles Festival of Books, Connie Doebele, the executive producer, approached a bookseller and pointedly asked, ''Can you show us some of the nonfiction books you've got on display here?'' as if anxious to avoid even a momentary shot of a novel. Perhaps these scruples have led to the surprisingly common assumption that the channel is required by law to avoid fiction. However, a spokeswoman for Book TV informed me that the nonfiction-only mandate is indeed discretionary and intended to jibe with the public affairs nature of C-Span at large.
Fair enough, but that doesn't account for the generally deadly nature of Book TV's programming. ''Nonfiction,'' in its eyes, consists almost entirely of ''Dad books,'' weighty tomes on American history and the lives of Great Men that make serviceable presents for your father when you just can't give him another tie. ''Booknotes,'' C-Span's author interview series presided over by the network's founder, Brian Lamb, epitomizes this preference. Lamb fixes his guest -- usually a policy wonk or moldering presidential biographer -- with his stony gaze and peppers this individual with questions betraying a peculiar quantitative frame of mind: How long did the book take to write? How old are you? What was the first print run? I'd be surprised if college students somewhere haven't created a drinking game in which you have to gulp down beer every time Lamb asks a question that can be answered (1) with a number or (2) by referring to the author's C.V.
The rest of Book TV's programming consists of filmed lectures, readings and panel discussions, unedited and sluggishly videotaped. It is prone to periods of cinema verite lassitude, as the camera lingers on people filing out of the room after an event is over while staffers pick up empty water bottles from the dais. Too many of the readings are just barely more animated than these Warholesque interludes. Still, Book TV can be informative in a spinachy sort of way, and even enjoyable, as long as you remember not to watch it. I spent a whole Saturday cleaning my apartment with the set tuned to C-Span 2 and seldom needed to glance at the screen. The secret to Book TV is that as TV, it's great radio.
Also on the good-for-you menu is ''Assignment Discovery: Great Books,'' a blend of commentary on and cheesy dramatizations of classic works, apparently aimed at high school students. The creators of these video Cliffs Notes seem keenly aware of adolescent tastes, and they could have called the series ''Great Books With Lots of Screaming in Them''; of the four episodes I've seen, three were about works -- Dante's ''Inferno,'' ''Metamorphosis,'' the stories of Edgar Allan Poe -- that afford ample opportunity to show images of shrieking faces shot through a fish-eye lens, not to mention the rats and the squirming insects.
Surprisingly, one of the most literate documentary series around is Bravo's ''Page to Screen,'' which is about how books have been translated to film. In the program about John Irving's ''Cider House Rules,'' for example, Irving, who wrote the film's screenplay, describes the novel's ''moral symmetry'' as making it particularly suitable for film adaptation and discusses the need to cut certain characters and tone down the flaws in others because extremes that work well in print can overwhelm on the screen. That's the kind of nuts-and-bolts formal analysis that even the best author interviews tend to bypass. But don't get too excited about ''Page to Screen.'' It's been canceled.
Even at its best, American TV regards reading as an elevating exercise we must be coaxed to with proffered snippets of Hollywood glamour, lurid teasers or appeals to our civic spirit. To find the reader's life depicted as rich, fun, varied and even hip, you have to partake of BookTelevision, a 24-hour digital cable channel headed up by Daniel Richler (son of Mordecai) and available only in Canada. The handful of BookTV tapes I've seen contain the expected talk show, but also news and magazine programs featuring stories about everything from government confiscation of underground comics to the ascendancy of fast food (pegged to Eric Schlosser's ''Fast Food Nation'') and a behind-the-scenes look at the tough-guy filmmaker Bruce MacDonald creating a ''tribute literary video'' to the poet Ann Carson. The producers go on location to Milan to interview the editor of Italian Vogue, and to Turkey to talk with writers who have been harassed by the government. All this is inventively visual, with the dead spots trimmed out and the rest spiced up with archival footage, evocative graphics and energetic music. The Canadians have proved that it can be done: I want my BookTV.
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company
Sunday, May 11, 2003
More on my hero, Jane Juska, from PW Daily for Booksellers (May 6, 2003)Jane Juska on Sex, Writing, and Satisfying Conversation
Jane Juska is this season's literary sensation, the senior citizen who, with "Aristotelian discipline," composed a now-notorious personal ad in the New York Review of Books: "Before I turn 67--next March--I would like to have a lot of sex with a man I like. If you want to talk first, Trollope works for me." The ad graces the cover of A Round-Heeled Woman: My Late-Life Adventures in Sex and Romance (Villard), a book that has broken the Amazon.com top 100 bestseller list a week before publication.
After 27 years of near-celibacy and retired from a successful career teaching high school English, Juska was busy but lonely before she began her adventures. PW praised her chapters on visiting libraries or teaching English to prisoners even more than the randy parts: "Old women looking for sex may not seem a hot topic, but there's something universal in this woman's love affair with the written word." She spoke to PW Daily contributor Norman Oder by phone at her home in Berkeley, Calif.
PWD: You got 63 letters. How many men did you meet?
JJ: Eight, I believe.
PWD: How many are you still in touch with?
JJ: I am still in touch with four and intimately involved with three. And one would like to be, but I turned him down, Robert in the book. He gave me the title, we were talking about promiscuity or something, and he brought up that phrase.
PWD: He was the only one you were in love with.
JJ: I know, but I can get over that, too.
PWD: You got a marriage proposal.
JJ: And I turned it down. I'd have to give up too much; I assume fidelity is part of the contract.
PWD: Are the men you're involved with involved with other women?
JJ: Some are. Some aren't.
PWD: How can you do it emotionally, switch from man to man?
JJ: Oh my goodness. They're so different, one from the other, that I get to be not completely different, but I get to be a fuller person, because they bring out different parts of me. One thing they all have in common is that they're incredibly smart, and they're wonderful writers. So the question is a good one and, in all honesty, sometimes, I do have difficulty, and say: 'Come on Jane, simplify your life.' But who I would say farewell to?
PWD: Would it be nice if all three lived in Berkeley?
JJ: It would be nice if all three of them lived across the street. Having actual conversations with someone who is not out to win a point or to argue you into the ground is thrilling. Dr. Johnson, when asked if he enjoyed the dinner party the night before, said: there was a lot of talk but no conversation. I have lived a life in which there was a lot of talking, but not much conversation. When I was growing up, I was supposed to behave myself. I told my great uncle at a family gathering, 'You look just like President Truman,' and I was sent away from the table.
PWD: This book came out of a writer's group.
JJ: I didn't intend it to be a book; I was just going to make vignettes. It was terribly embarrassing for me--I'd have to leave the
room and go for a walk. I'd known these people for 15 years. Eventually, I stopped taking it to them. And I stopped writing it as a
novel, because it was a really bad novel, it was so phony. I named myself Nora. I did it because I didn't think anybody would believe if I told the facts. [One of the men] said, you have got to write this as nonfiction; he had read a couple of chunks.
PWD: You dedicate the book to Gene. Who's he?
JJ: A man who I knew from the Bay Area Writing Project, the first person who ever said he liked my writing. I'd write in a diary and say, 'What if Jane Austen saw this,' and I'd slap it shut. That voice prevented me from writing until 1982. He continued to nag me, for the next 20 years, and then he died. He took me literally by the elbow one day and said, 'we're going to the library and I'm going to show you something.' He showed me LMP and said 'someday, you're going to need it.' That's how I got my agent.
PWD: How many of the men read it?
JJ: Three. They've been absolutely wonderful. One in particular was enormously helpful getting me through this. He sort of took Gene's place, saying 'You can do it.'
PWD: TV producers would like the men to appear with you.
JJ: I wouldn't do that. Nor would they. One of them said, 'We're very private people, that's why we answer ads.'
PWD: How different is the book from the manuscript?
JJ: The chapter on my son was not there at all. My agent said, 'Your manuscript raises so many questions.' I asked myself, 'Jane, were you just meeting men?' No, I was very busy, doing this other stuff. Then the question came up: 'Jane, what were you doing 'til you were 67?'
PWD: Your thirtysomething niece was upset about you getting involved with a man more than three decades younger. Have you patched things up with her?
JJ: Well, yes. It's just something we don't talk about anymore. I don't think she would change her mind. But she's delighted by all
these goings-on, and she's very supportive. I got an e-mail from someone who said, 'I don't understand what such a young man would want with a 70-year old person.' I guess you'll have to read the book. I don't really feel a need to mount a defense.
PWD: Was it hard to write about sex?
JJ: A man in my writing group gave me a book called The Good Parts, excerpts of writing by famous people about sex. I read Updike's and thought, he can't do it, either. And he's such a fine writer. It gave me courage to go ahead and just write about the sex part and not worry about how badly I was going to surely do it.
PWD: You're writing another book about teaching.
JJ: It's tales from my classroom. I've been a teacher for 40 years. So, how is my teaching informed or influenced by each of those decades? The working thesis is that in order to be really good at something, you have to be willing to get fired. It again is a book about bending the rules. I don't have a publisher yet. But I have an agent, and she likes it.
PWD: What does your son think?
JJ: He's terrific. He said, 'Go get 'em, Mom, it's your turn.' But he's not going to read the book.
PWD: The New York Times ran a Styles section profile two weeks before publication.
JJ: And I went up to the mountains. Because I thought the phone would ring, and everything would happen, and it did. The memory on my phone machine was full. My e-mail was unbelievable. When this book got sold, I'd wake up in the middle of the night and see this headline, 'Interesting Story, Poorly Told.' The reviews have been incredible. I don't care if the world knows about my sex life, but the first bad thing anybody says about my writing, I'm going to the mountains again.
PWD: Do you have advice for women in a similar situation?
JJ: I just do not want to give advice. I'm not an expert. I do think, sometimes, people die early, they sort of give up on everything. But I would not advise everybody to do this.
Saturday, May 10, 2003
FIRST REVIEW HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX
By JUSTIN PENROSE
A CHILDLIKE feeling of excitement ran through me as I opened the book the world has waited two years to see.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix has all the magic which makes the series a phenomenon — JK Rowling does not disappoint.
Scary, exhilarating, funny and tear-jerking, she has crafted a beautiful masterpiece that will cast a spell over kids of all ages. Even a 28-year-old dad of two.
At 776 pages, you could be forgiven for thinking Harry’s adventures are drawn out.
But by the end of the first chapter you are in no doubt this is a blockbuster of a book.
And at the start of the second, JK drops her first bombshell.
Wiz kid ... Harry is back
The darker plot than we’re used to twists and turns like a Slytherin snake, while shocks hit the reader like a muggle seeing a flying car in the sky.
Order of the Phoenix will make you laugh, it will make you cry.
Above all it will make you yearn for Rowling’s next instalment.
The master magician is back.
Unfortunately, there are still 46 days to wait before you too can be taken back to the land of Hogwarts.
Tuesday, May 06, 2003
Inquiry into 'dumped' Potter books
The author is unlikely to be impressed by the reported mishap
Police are being called in to investigate the suspected thefts of two copies of the eagerly awaited fifth Harry Potter book.
Author JK Rowling's agent said an inquiry had being launched following the reported find of two books dumped in a field near to a printing works.
Copies of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix were discovered by a walker in Bungay, Suffolk, who immediately contacted the Sun newspaper, which now has them in its possession.
The fifth instalment of the wizarding adventures is not due to be published until 21 June.
Neil Blair, from literary agency Christopher Little, said: "This is a matter that we are currently investigating and the investigation is focusing on the suspicion that this involved a theft."
Sussex Police said it had not yet received a complaint about the books.
The copies were reportedly found a quarter of a mile (400 metres) from Clays Ltd, which will print hundreds of thousands of the book.
The walker, an unnamed 40-year-old father-of-two, telephoned The Sun, according to the newspaper.
It sent a journalist to bring the books to its headquarters in Wapping, east London, and is arranging to return them to publishers Bloomsbury.
The newspaper is also convinced a third copy is also in circulation, reporting a separate incident where a "shifty sounding" man had asked the newspaper for £25,000 in a suitcase for the first three chapters of the book.
The books, found without covers, were dedicated to JK Rowling's husband, Dr Neil Murray, 37, and her two children, with the inscription: "To Neil, David and Jessica who make my world magical."
The schoolboy wizard has already earned the author £280m, reportedly making her richer than the Queen.
Suffolk Police said it had received a call and it was planning to speak to the complainant later on Tuesday.
Tuesday, April 29, 2003
2002 Los Angeles Times Book Prize Winners & Finalists
Winner: Robert A. Caro, Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Vol. 3 (Alfred A. Knopf)
Gioconda Belli, The Country under My Skin: A Memoir of Love and War (Alfred A. Knopf)
Daniel Ellsberg, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers (Viking)
T.J. Stiles, Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War (Alfred A. Knopf)
Claire Tomalin, Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self (Alfred A. Knopf)
Winner: Judith Levine, Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex (University of Minnesota Press)
Timothy Ferris, Seeing in the Dark: How Backyard Stargazers Are Probing Deep Space and Guarding Earth from Interplanetary Peril (Simon & Schuster)
Nicolaus Mills and Kira Brunner (editors), The New Killing Fields: Massacre and the Politics of Intervention (Basic Books)
Kevin Phillips, Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich (Broadway Books)
Samantha Power, “A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide (Basic Books)
Winner: Ian McEwan, Atonement: A Novel (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday)
Peter Cameron, The City of Your Final Destination (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Aleksandar Hemon, Nowhere Man (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday)
Kate Jennings, Moral Hazard: A Novel (Fourth Estate/HarperCollins)
Joanna Scott, Tourmaline: A Novel (Little, Brown and Company)
Winner: Michael B. Oren, Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East (Oxford University Press)
Philip Dray, At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America (Random House)
Robert Harms, The Diligent: A Voyage through the Worlds of the Slave Trade (Basic Books)
Gregg Herken, Brotherhood of the Bomb: The Tangled Lives and Loyalties of Robert Oppenheimer, Ernest Lawrence, and Edward Teller (A John Macrae Book/Henry Holt)
Mary Beth Norton, In the Devil's Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692 (Alfred A. Knopf)
Winner: George P. Pelecanos, Hell to Pay: A Novel (Little, Brown and Company)
Stephen L. Carter, The Emperor of Ocean Park (Alfred A. Knopf)
Tod Goldberg, Living Dead Girl: A Novel (Soho Press)
Henning Mankell, One Step Behind [translated from the Swedish by Ebba Segerberg] (The New Press)
Scott Turow, Reversible Errors (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Winner: Cynthia Zarin, The Watercourse: Poems (Alfred A. Knopf)
Terrance Hayes, Hip Logic (Penguin Books)
John Koethe, North Point North: New and Selected Poems (HarperCollins Publishers)
J.D. McClatchy, Hazmat: Poems (Alfred A. Knopf)
Harryette Mullen, Sleeping with the Dictionary (University of California Press)
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
Winner: Brenda Maddox, Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA (HarperCollins Publishers)
Deborah Blum, Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection (Perseus Publishing)
Judith Hooper, Of Moths and Men: An Evolutionary Tale, the Untold Story of Science and the Peppered Moth (W.W. Norton)
Mark Kurlansky, Salt: A World History (Walker and Company)
Richard Preston, The Demon in the Freezer: A True Story (Random House)
YOUNG ADULT FICTION
Winner: M.T. Anderson, Feed (Candlewick Press)
Kate Banks, Dillon Dillon (Frances Foster Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Sarah Dessen, This Lullaby: A Novel (Viking/Penguin Young Readers Group)
E.R. Frank, America: A Novel (A Richard Jackson Book/Atheneum Books for Young Readers)
Joyce Carol Oates, Big Mouth & Ugly Girl (HarperTempest/HarperCollins)
THE ART SEIDENBAUM AWARD FOR FIRST FICTION
Winner: Arthur Phillips, Prague: A Novel (Random House)
Jay Basu, The Stars Can Wait: A Novel (Henry Holt and Company)
Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything Is Illuminated: A Novel (Houghton Mifflin Company)
Nicole Krauss, Man Walks into a Room (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday)
Hari Kunzru, The Impressionist (Dutton/Penguin Group (USA))
Sunday, April 27, 2003
Jane Juska is my hero...
April 27, 2003Sex and the Single Senior
By ALEX WITCHEL
People smile at Jane Juska. There she is, on a rainy afternoon at the Gramercy Tavern in her cheerful red jacket, white hair tucked behind her ears, blue eyes bright behind her bifocals. "I'm agog at the forsythia," she exclaimed, marveling at the enormous arrangements. At 70, she seems to be what she is, a proud new grandma enjoying a day on the town. Though she clutched her lower back periodically — arthritis? — she ordered some wine and chatted happily about her writing. Here's a sample:
"Before I turn 67 — next March — I would like to have a lot of sex with a man I like. If you want to talk first, Trollope works for me."
And how. Ms. Juska placed this personal ad in The New York Review of Books in the fall of 1999. Over the course of a month, she received 63 responses and spent the better part of a year following them up, an experience she recounts in her first book, "A Round-Heeled Woman: My Late-Life Adventures in Sex and Romance" (Villard). It turns out that Ms. Juska did indeed have a lot of sex with a lot of men she liked, and still does, having seen one of them as recently as that morning. He's 35. Which might explain the lower-back problem.
"I didn't want to think, `What if I never had sex with a man again?' " Ms. Juska recalled of her decision to place the ad. "I didn't want to just sit there and think, `Wouldn't it be nice, if?' "
Ms. Juska, a retired high school English teacher (round-heeled is an antiquated slang expression for a promiscuous woman), was moved to action after seeing Eric Rohmer's film "Autumn Tale." Its plot involves a woman placing a personal ad in a newspaper on her middle-age friend's behalf.
"Before I got home I had written my ad in my head," Ms. Juska said. "But I did think, as if I were teaching a class and would ask my students, `What harm might this decision cause other people?' The only person that would be is my son. So I asked him, and he said: `Go get 'em, Mom. It's your turn.' The night I sent the ad in I felt so great."
Feeling great has become a new hobby for Ms. Juska in the 10 years since her retirement. She now lives in Berkeley and has lived in the Bay Area since the mid-1950's. After her divorce in 1972, she raised her son, Andy, now 38, as a single mother with no help from his father, she said. "My ex-husband wanted me to just collapse intellectually," she recalled. "Whether the topic was the weather, politics or rent increases, he was always argumentative."
She went through a bleak period during which she gained 70 pounds, drank heavily and lived in constant turmoil when her son dropped out of school and ran away from home. It took years of psychoanalysis, dieting and exercise to take control of herself again, shaking off the lingering effects of a Puritanical small-town Ohio childhood in the process.
For 27 years, she dated only sporadically. "Except for a couple of unhappy skirmishes, my relationship with men was nonexistent," she said. "I had enough trouble making a living, bringing up a son. Romantic trouble? That was too much."
Her work, she said, was her salvation. "Teaching was a passion for me," Ms. Juska said. "And when I left it, I just wasn't tired enough." She smiled. "My grandmother used to say, `Don't borrow trouble,' but I think borrowing trouble is a good idea. If you live your life staying safe you're going to lose."
She ate her lunch with great appetite — beet salad, lamb shank, sorbet — and finished every bite. She needed to keep up her strength; after lunch she was headed to New England to meet another gentleman friend she met through the ad.
Well, let's get down to basics. Some postmenopausal women feel a lessening of sexual desire, or at least are said to. That was apparently not her experience. "No," she said firmly. "I was probably even more interested because I wasn't as afraid as when I was younger, of not doing it right or, well, being thought randy."
But even women who are 20 years her junior might not feel keen to take off their clothes in front of men they don't know. And Ms. Juska describes her own imperfect body in exacting detail in her book. Was she not at all self-conscious?
She smiled, sort of. "Men didn't mind," she said. "It was always me pulling up the sheet and turning out the light. I never met a man who was afraid to take his clothes off. That's healthy, I think. They've forgiven themselves for sagging here and there." She took a deep breath. "The other day, my publisher sent me for media coaching, where they tape you so you learn how to speak on television," she said. "I don't feel 70, but I look it. Television does not lie. I went home after that and cried."
She cried over a few of the men, too, one in particular, with whom she fell in love. "In the end, he was just lonely and wanted a friend," she said. "So he strung me along, and I let him, I guess." Some of the others weren't too swell, either; one stole her underwear. And her Champagne flutes. But she seems remarkably sanguine about the entire endeavor. There is so much of the teacher about her, you can practically see her internal filing system for categorizing learning experiences.
Her humor, however, helps lighten the load. When asked whether she practiced safe sex, she said: "Well, not getting pregnant was part of my popularity," though she added: "Yes, we took the precautions we thought we needed to. After all, these men didn't know where I had been, either."
Although Ms. Juska has never published a book before, she has published articles on teaching, and for 20 years has been part of a writing group that meets monthly to read each other's work. It was when she was making piles of "yes," "no" and "maybe" with the responses to her ad that the idea of writing about it came to her. "I thought: `Jane, you don't want to forget this. It's too good to keep to yourself.' " she said. "I thought I'd write it as a novel because nobody would believe it. I took some vignettes to my group, and after I read them they were silent. I was terribly uncomfortable. Finally, there was a comment: `You changed point of view on Page 3.' They were just fumbling for things to say."
One of the men Ms. Juska met through the ad asked to see her pages. (In the book, all the men's names, occupations and home cities were changed to protect their identities, which Ms. Juska still refuses to divulge). She recalled: "After he read what I had written, he said, `There are two things you must do. Get out of that writing group and write it as nonfiction.' He gave me permission just to go."
Without any connections in publishing, Ms. Juska sent out the manuscript on her own. At the William Morris Agency, Elyse Green, a 26-year-old assistant, fell in love with it. "I didn't know agents had slush piles but they do," Ms. Juska said. Ms. Green passed the book to Virginia Barber, who became Ms. Juska's agent.
Ms. Juska sent her son the chapter she had written about his troubled youth and told him he could change his name if he wanted anonymity. He is now a forester, and though he eventually returned to school he has never shared his mother's love of words. "He said, `I would be proud if you used my real name,' " Ms. Juska said. But wasn't she worried about his reaction to the rest of the book? She laughed. "He said, `Oh, this is just another book I'm not going to read,' so I'm safe."
She finished her second glass of sauvignon blanc. "The best part of all this is that I have a writing life now," she said. She is working on a second book, about teaching. "The other huge surprise," she said, "was finding intellectual partners, which is almost as exciting as the sex, in some cases more. To be able to talk to a really smart man, who says, `I would value your opinion on this.' Where I grew up you had to bow and scrape to the nearest man and keep your mouth shut."
But it has been women, not men, whose responses to Ms. Juska's adventure have been the most harsh. "I did a reading in Berkeley for mostly women," Ms. Juska said. "I said that the age range of the men in the book went from 84 to 32. And one woman said about the 32-year-old, `He must have been short and ugly.' I said, `Actually, he's tall and handsome.' Another said, `Then what would he want with you?' She shrugged. "When women in particular hear about what I've done, the question which unbidden comes to them is, `What have I done with my life?' " she continued. "And lots of people at my age don't want to go back and look at it. That's why they're so nuts about their grandchildren. It keeps the focus off them."
Ms. Juska said she knows other women her age or older who have tried their luck online, at match.com. "One woman I know is just infuriated because she met this very nice man online who turned out to be 84 and he hadn't told her. I said she was ageist and she said she was only mad that he lied. And I said, `Come on now.' But most of the women insist on asking me, `Didn't you really do this because you wanted to get married?' Ms. Juska shook her head. "The institution of marriage does not interest me," she said firmly. "I did get a marriage proposal, but I said no. I'd have to give up the others, then. I'd have to give up too much."
Still, due to the luck of the draw, most of the men who interested Ms. Juska did not live in Berkeley or anywhere nearby. When she first placed the ad, she was so busy — teaching writing to prisoners at San Quentin, teaching an education seminar at a local college, volunteering at Planned Parenthood, hiking, singing in a chorale — it seemed incredible she had time or energy for anything else. But, as she writes, by 7 each evening she was home alone. "Yes, I was busy, but there's nobody touching you," she said. "People don't pay attention to that part."
And that lack of local company persists. For all her enterprise, on most days she still lives a solitary life. So does she feel cheated by her search, in the end? She hooted her no.
"I had no hope of it turning out to be anything like this," she said. "I expected to be murdered, or made sad at the very least. But I never expected to have intimate friendships with extraordinary men. True, I've met some men who are not kind or thoughtful, but I've also met men who are kind and thoughtful and funny and true." Her smile was wry. "Which is to say, I guess I found out that men are people."
She leaned over then to pick up her napkin and said something that was muffled. What was that? She sat up straight and spoke quite clearly. "They're just the kind of people I like better naked," she said.
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company
Saturday, April 26, 2003
The Atlantic Monthly | May 2003 Hitler's Forgotten Library:
The Man, His Books, and His Search for God
You can tell a lot about a person from what he reads. The surviving—and largely ignored—remnants of Adolf Hitler's personal library reveal a deep but erratic interest in religion and theology
by Timothy W. Ryback
D id you know that today is Hitler's birthday?" the attendant said as he handed me Adolf Hitler's personal copy of Mein Kampf, a tattered red-leather volume (a special second edition issued in 1926) with the title and author's name embossed in gold on the spine. The young man, clean-cut and dressed in a sweatshirt bearing the skull and crossbones of the Curry College Rugby Football Club, explained that he knew this fact only because his sister shared a birthday with the Nazi leader. "You remember something like that," he said.
On this particular Friday (April 20, 2001, Adolf Hitler's 112th birthday) the rare-book reading room of the Library of Congress—a high-ceilinged space elegantly appointed with brass lamps, heavy wooden tables, and thick carpet—hummed with subdued activity. At one table a heavy-set woman in a bright paisley blouse wore white gauze gloves to leaf through a fragile tome titled Histoire Aéronautique, a collection of quaint eighteenth-century lithographs depicting aeronauts in powdered wigs transported aloft by fanciful pneumatic contraptions. A smartly dressed black woman with cropped hair and large hoop earrings studied a book on slavery in Barbados. Across from her a stocky man with a laptop clattered away as he typed extracts from a book cradled in a velvet-lined wooden stand. At another table a young man in a suit stared into an oversized volume of black-and-white photographs of graphic sex—leather, chains, sprawled limbs—with SEX embossed on the silver-metal cover.
The rare-book collection is home to more than 800,000 volumes. It contains the personal libraries of Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson, and first editions of contemporary "authors" such as Andy Warhol and Madonna. It is also home to the remnants of the private library of Adolf Hitler, a man better known for burning books than for collecting them.
The books that constitute the Hitler Library were discovered in a salt mine near Berchtesgaden—haphazardly stashed in schnapps crates with the Reich Chancellery address on them—by soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division in the spring of 1945. After a lengthy initial evaluation at the U.S. military "collecting point" in Munich the books, numbering 3,000, were shipped to the United States and transferred in January of 1952 to the Library of Congress, where an intern was assigned to uncrate the collection. "The intern did what we call 'duping out,'" says David Moore, a German-acquisition assistant at the Library of Congress. "If a book was not one hundred percent sure, if there was no bookplate, no inscription to the Führer, he didn't keep it." According to Moore, duplicate copies were sent to the exchange-and-gift division and then either went to other libraries or found their way onto the open market; the non-duplicate books that could not be fully authenticated were absorbed into the Library of Congress's general collection.
The 1,200 volumes that survived the "duping out" joined the rare-book collection on the third floor of the Jefferson Building, where they were unceremoniously identified by a large cardboard sign—dangling on a string from a ceiling pipe—that read, "Hitler Library. This bay only. Please replace books to proper location."
The sign has since been removed, the books relocated several times, and the collection euphemistically renamed the Third Reich Collection. The books can be ordered, five at a time, from the main desk in the rare-book reading room. When I first visited the collection, in April of 2001, fewer than half of the 1,200 books had Library of Congress numbers, and only 200 of those were listed in the online catalogue; the remaining thousand titles were listed alphabetically by author on yellowing cards in an old-fashioned wooden card catalogue, many still identified by the provisional numbers assigned them in the early 1950s. Jerry Wager, the head of the rare-book reading room, told me at the time, "Processing this collection has not been a high priority for us"; he also said that the books had been relocated yet again in recent months. "We routinely move collections to make better use of existing space and to accommodate new acquisitions," he said. A genteel man in his mid-fifties with a flawlessly manicured white beard, Wager is a master of discretion. When I asked about the Hitler collection's new location, he replied, "For security reasons we don't reveal where collections are located in the vault." He is equally circumspect about scholars who have previously studied the collection, simply noting that the books are requested only a few times each year, and generally by people looking for specific volumes rather than for an opportunity to study the collection as a whole.
Why, with hundreds of Hitler biographies, had not more scholars visited the Third Reich Collection? It is referenced by none of the leading Hitler biographers—not Alan Bullock, not John Toland, not Joachim Fest. Ian Kershaw, whose recent two-volume Hitler biography has won international acclaim, told me in the summer of 2001 that he visited the collection once, in the early 1990s, but "decided against any consultation of the volumes in it, and in the event did not refer directly, so far as I recall, to the collection in my biography." In retrospect, Kershaw concedes, he should probably have at least mentioned the collection in a footnote.
cholarly neglect of the Hitler Library derives in good part from an early misperception that its historical or biographical importance was limited. "Spotchecks revealed little in the way of marginal notes, autographs, or other similar features of interest," an internal Library of Congress review determined in January of 1952. "Indeed, it seems that most of the books have never been perused by their owner." Gerhard Weinberg, a leading authority on the Nazi era and one of the first scholars to explore the collection, confirms this initial assessment. "I was a newly minted Ph.D., and this was my first job beyond graduate school," Weinberg told me not long ago. "I was compiling information for the Guide to Captured German War Documents. The books had only recently been uncrated, and I was intrigued by what I would find there." To Weinberg's disappointment, the Hitler Library appeared to consist mostly of presentation copies from authors or publishers. "There were few clues that many of these books had been part of his personal library, and even less evidence that he had read any of them," Weinberg says.
In 2000 Philipp Gassert and Daniel Mattern reached a similar conclusion. Beginning in 1995 Gassert, an assistant professor of history at the University of Heidelberg, and Mattern, the senior editor at the German Historical Institute, in Washington, D.C., systematically reviewed every volume in the collection. In the spring of 2001 Greenwood Press published the results of their research, The Hitler Library, a 550-page bibliography that lists each book alphabetically, with its author, page count, and call number. Also included are transcriptions of all handwritten dedications, some brief descriptions of marginalia, and an indication of which books contain the Führer's bookplate—an eagle, a swastika, and oak branches between the words EX LIBRIS and ADOLF HITLER.
The Hitler Library provides the first comprehensive road map through the collection, but at times it leads readers astray.
Most significant is overlooked marginalia. In one reference Mattern and Gassert note correctly that the Hitler Library contains two identical copies of Paul de Lagarde's German Essays, but they don't mention marginalia, despite the fact that in one volume fifty-eight pages have penciled intrusions—the first on page 16, the last on page 370. Given that Lagarde belongs to a circle of nineteenth-century German nationalist writers who are believed to have had a formative influence on Hitler's anti-Semitism, the marked passages are certainly worth noting. In an essay called "The Current Tasks of German Politics," Lagarde anticipates the emergence of a "singular man with the abilities and energy" to unite the German peoples, and calls for the "relocation of the Polish and Austrian Jews to Palestine." This latter phrase has been underlined and flagged with two bold strikes in the margin.
Sometimes writing along the side of a page is recognizably in Hitler's jagged cursive hand. For the most part, though, the marginalia are restricted to simple markings whose common "authorship" is suggested by an intense vertical line in the margin and double or triple underlining in the text, always in pencil; I found such markings repeatedly both in the Library of Congress collection and in a cache of eighty Hitler books at Brown University. Hitler's handwritten speeches, preserved in the Federal German Archives, show an identical pattern of markings. In one anti-Semitic rant Hitler drew three lines under the words Klassenkampf ("class struggle"), Weltherrschaft ("world domination"), and Der Jude als Diktator ("the Jew as dictator"); one can almost hear his fevered tones.
Hitler's habit of highlighting key concepts and passages is consonant with his theory on the "art of reading." In Chapter Two of Mein Kampf he observed,
A man who possesses the art of correct reading will, in studying any book, magazine, or pamphlet, instinctively and immediately perceive everything which in his opinion is worth permanently remembering, either because it is suited to his purpose or generally worth knowing ... Then, if life suddenly sets some question before us for examination or answer, the memory, if this method of reading is observed ... will derive all the individual items regarding these questions, assembled in the course of decades, [and] submit them to the mind for examination and reconsideration, until the question is clarified or answered.
In these marginalia one sees a man (who famously seemed never to listen to anyone, for whom "conversation" was little more than a torrent of monologues) reading passages, reflecting on them, and responding with penciled dashes, dots, question marks, exclamation points, and underscorings—intellectual footprints across the page. Here is one of history's most complex figures reduced merely to a reader with a book and a pencil.
ooks, books, always books!" August Kubizek once wrote. "I just can't imagine Adolf without books. He had them piled up around him at home. He always had a book with him wherever he went." Kubizek, Hitler's only real friend in his teenage years, recalled after the war that Hitler had been registered with three libraries in Linz, where he attended school, and had passed endless days in the baroque splendor of the Hofbibliothek, the former court library of the Hapsburgs, during his time in Vienna. "Bücher waren seine Welt," Kubizek wrote. "Books were his world."
Though Kubizek's reminiscences, first published in the 1950s, are in many ways suspect, his depiction of the future Führer as a bibliophile has been amply corroborated. One of Hitler's first cousins, Johann Schmidt, recounted for a Nazi Party history of the Führer that when Hitler spent summers with relatives in the tiny Waldviertel hamlet of Spital, he invariably arrived with "lots of books in which he was constantly busy reading and working." Hans Frank, Hitler's personal lawyer and the "governor" of Nazi-occupied Poland, recalled before his 1946 execution at Nuremberg that Hitler carried a copy of Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Representation with him throughout World War I. During his incarceration after the failed 1923 Munich putsch, Hitler was regularly supplied with reading materials by friends and associates. He once referred to his time in Landsberg Prison as his "university paid for by the state." During a bout of prison blues in December of 1924 he received a package from Winifred Wagner, the daughter-in-law of the composer Richard Wagner and one of the few people who addressed Hitler with the familiar du. It contained a book of Goethe's poetry from the Wagner family library. The 358-page volume, now at the Library of Congress, contains meditative classics such as "Across All Peaks" and "Evening Song," accompanied by handsome full-page pen-and-ink drawings. The inside cover bears a handwritten inscription: "Adolf Hitler, this picture book taken from the book garden of Eva Chamberlain, for your enjoyment in serious lonely hours! Bayreuth, Christmas 1924."
Books seem to have been the gift of choice for Hitler on virtually every occasion. The Hitler Library contains scores of books bearing inscriptions for Christmas, his birthday, and other festive occasions. A book titled Death and Immortality in the World View of Indo-Germanic Thinkers is inscribed for Hitler by the SS chief Heinrich Himmler on the occasion of "Julfest 1938"—Nazi circumlocution for Christmas. I also discovered books from the controversial filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl—two on the Berlin Olympics and an eight-volume set of the complete works of the nineteenth-century German philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte in a rare first edition. Given that Hitler had charged Riefenstahl with filming the Olympic Games, the presence of the first two volumes was understandable; the Fichte was more puzzling.
When I called on Riefenstahl, who lives outside Munich and had just marked her hundredth birthday, she referred me to her published memoirs, in which she devotes a chapter to the Fichte volumes. According to that account, in the spring of 1933 the thirty-year-old filmmaker approached Hitler about the plight of several Jewish friends. "I have great esteem for you as an artist, you have a rare talent," Hitler replied, according to Riefenstahl. "But I cannot discuss the Jewish problem with you." Mortified by his rebuke (Riefenstahl says she felt herself go faint), she later sought to make amends by sending Hitler the Fichte. Bound in white leather with gold embossing, the books bear the inscription "Meinem lieben Führer in tiefster Verehrung ['To my dear Führer with deepest admiration'], Leni Riefenstahl."
Fed by gifts and his own acquisitions, Hitler's library swelled dramatically in the late 1920s and early 1930s. In his 1925 tax declaration Hitler listed his total personal assets at a paltry 1,000 marks, and claimed "no property" other than "a writing table and two bookcases with books." By 1930, however, as sales of Mein Kampf bolstered his income, book buying represented his third largest tax deduction (after general travel and transportation): 1,692 marks in 1930, with similar deductions in the two years following. More telling still is the five-year insurance policy Hitler took out in October of 1934, with the Gladbacher Fire Insurance Company, on his six-room apartment on the Prinzregentenplatz, in downtown Munich. In the letter of agreement accompanying the policy Hitler valued his book collection, said to consist of 6,000 volumes, at 150,000 marks—half the value of the entire policy. The other half represented his art holdings.
By the late 1930s Hitler had three separate libraries for his ever-expanding collection. At his apartment he removed a wall between two rooms and installed bookshelves. For the Berghof, his Alpine retreat near Berchtesgaden, Hitler built a second-floor study with handmade bookcases; color photographs of the finished space show an elegant setting with Oriental carpets, two globes, and bookcases fitted with glass doors and brass locks. Herbert D?hring, who managed the Berghof from 1936 to 1943, told me that the library could accommodate no more than 500 or 600 volumes. "He reserved this space for the books he really cared about," says D?hring, who helped Hitler to sort the books. "He used to have me send the rest to a storage facility in Munich or to the new Reich Chancellery in Berlin." For his official Berlin residence Hitler had his architect, Albert Speer, design a vast library that occupied the entire west wing. "Inventory records of the Reich Chancellery that we found at the Hoover Institution at Stanford suggest that by the early 1940s Hitler was receiving as many as four thousand books annually," Daniel Mattern told me. In Munich, Gassert and Mattern also discovered architectural sketches for a library annex to the Berghof that was intended to accommodate more than 60,000 volumes. "This was a man with a lot of books," Mattern says.
nfortunately, Hitler never inventoried his books, and the only detailed accounting of his libraries comes courtesy of the former United Press correspondent Frederick Oechsner, who met Hitler repeatedly and was evidently able to acquaint himself intimately with the Führer's book collections. "I found that his personal library, which is divided between his residence in the Chancellery in Berlin and his country home on the Obersalzberg at Berchtesgaden, contains roughly 16,300 books," Oechsner wrote in his best-selling book This Is the Enemy (1942).
According to Oechsner, the biggest single share of Hitler's library, some 7,000 books, was devoted to military matters, in particular "the campaigns of Napoleon, the Prussian kings; the lives of all German and Prussian potentates who ever played a military role; and books on virtually all the well-known military campaigns in recorded history." Another 1,500 volumes concerned architecture, theater, painting, and sculpture. "One book on the Spanish theater has pornographic drawings and photographs, but there is no section on pornography, as such, in Hitler's Library," Oechsner wrote. The balance of the collection consisted of clusters of books on diverse themes ranging from nutrition and health to religion and geography, with "eight hundred to a thousand books" of "simple, popular fiction, many of them pure trash in anybody's language."
By his own admission, Hitler was not a big fan of novels, though he once ranked Gulliver's Travels, Robinson Crusoe, Uncle Tom's Cabin, and Don Quixote (he had a special affection for the edition illustrated by Gustave Doré) among the world's greatest works of literature. The one novelist we know Hitler loved and read was Karl May, a German writer of cheap American-style westerns. In the spring of 1933, just months after the Nazis seized power, Oskar Achenbach, a Munich-based journalist, toured the Berghof—in the Führer's absence—and discovered a shelf of Karl May novels at Hitler's bedside. "The bedroom of the Führer is of spartan simplicity," Achenbach reported in the Sonntag Morgenpost. "Brass bed, closet, toiletries, a few chairs, those are all the furnishings. On a bookshelf are works on politics and diplomacy, a few brochures and books on the care of German shepherds, and then—pay attention you German boys! Then comes an entire row of books by—Karl May! Winnetou, Old Surehand, Bad Guy, all our dear old friends." During the war Hitler reportedly admonished his generals for their lack of imagination and recommended that they all read Karl May. Albert Speer recounted in his Spandau diaries,
Hitler was wont to say that he had always been deeply impressed by the tactical finesse and circumspection that Karl May conferred upon his character Winnetou ... And he would add that during his reading hours at night, when faced by seemingly hopeless situations, he would still reach for those stories, that they gave him courage like works of philosophy for others or the Bible for elderly people.
No one knows the exact extent of Hitler's library. Though Oechsner estimated the original collection at 16,000 volumes, Gassert and Mattern assert that it is impossible to determine the actual dimensions, especially since the majority of the books were either burned or plundered in the final weeks of the war—an assumption confirmed in part by Florian Beierl, the head of the Archive for the Contemporary History of the Obersalzberg, in Berchtesgaden. According to Beierl, Hitler's Berghof experienced successive waves of looters: first local residents, then French and American soldiers, and eventually members of the U.S. Senate. Beierl showed me archival film footage (taken by the legendary World War II photographer Walter Rosenblum) of a delegation of American senators—Burton Wheeler, Homer Capehart, and Ernest McFarland—emerging from the Berghof ruins with books under their arms. "I doubt if they were taking them to the Library of Congress," Beierl said.
I have also been told that a portion of the Hitler Library may have been seized by the Red Army. "Stalin was so paranoid about Hitler that he sent trophy brigades to search for anything connected with him," says Konstantin Akinsha, a former researcher for the Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets in the United States. "His skull, his uniforms, Eva Braun's dresses, her underwear—they are all in Moscow." Akinsha told me recently that in the early 1990s he heard rumors about a depository in an abandoned church in Uzkoe, a suburb of Moscow, that allegedly contained a huge quantity of "trophy books," including some that had belonged to Hitler.
Grigory Kozlov, another "trophy" sleuth, confirms that a "secret depository" did indeed exist in Uzkoe for more than four decades, with tens of thousands of books stacked from floor to ceiling. "At the beginning of 1995 there was a big discussion about trophy books," Kozlov told me. "They decided to remove these books from Uzkoe and destroy all traces that showed there had been some sort of secret depository there." Now, he says, the books have been dispersed anonymously in libraries and archives across Russia. "I don't know what's true or not," Kozlov told me. "Books were evacuated without records, confiscated without records. I don't know if anyone is ready to talk."
he 1,200 of Hitler's books in the Library of Congress most likely represent less than 10 percent of the original collection. Nevertheless, when I first visited the Hitler Library, in April of 2001, I was surprised to discover that despite the incompleteness of the collection, I could easily discern the collector preserved within his books. In more than 200 World War I memoirs, including Ernst Jünger's Fire and Blood, with a personal inscription to "the Führer," I encountered Hitler the "Austrian corporal," with his bushy moustache, his somber demeanor, and his battlefield service, during which he was twice wounded and for which he was twice decorated, once with the Iron Cross first class.
In two olive-drab paperbacks, guidebooks to the cultural monuments of Brussels and Berlin, published by Seemann Verlag and costing three marks each, I glimpsed Hitler the aspiring Frontsoldat-cum-artist. The Berlin guide has Hitler's signature in faded purple ink on the inside front cover, with the place and month of purchase: "Fournes, 22 November 1915." In the Brussels guide Hitler simply scrawled "A. Hitler" in pencil; the last three letters trail downward like unspooling ribbon. A chapter on Frederick the Great is especially worn, its pages tattered, marked with fingerprints, and smeared with red candle wax. Tucked in the crease between pages 162 and 163 I found a three-quarter-inch strand of stiff black hair.
In dozens of books, with salutations from the likes of Prince August Wilhelm—son of the last German Kaiser—and the heirs of the Bechstein piano dynasty, I saw Hitler the protégé of Germany's financial, social, and cultural elite. One book on Führertum—"leadership"—was presented to Hitler by the industrialist Fritz Thyssen, who had introduced him to some of Germany's leading businessmen at a decisive meeting in Düsseldorf in January of 1932. "To the Führer, Adolf Hitler, in memory of his presentation to the Düsseldorf Industrial Club," Thyssen wrote on the inside cover. Several books are inscribed to Hitler from Richard Wagner's youngest daughter, Eva, who had married Houston Stewart Chamberlain. Chamberlain was an anti-Semitic Englishman best known for his book The Foundations of the 19th Century, in which he advanced the thesis that Jesus was of Aryan rather than Semitic blood. Hitler read Chamberlain during his Vienna period, and had a brief audience with the aging anti-Semite at the Wagner estate shortly before being sent to Landsberg Prison. "You know Goethe's differentiation between force and force," Chamberlain wrote Hitler in October of 1923. "There is force which comes from chaos and leads to chaos, and there is force which is destined to create a new world." Chamberlain credited Hitler with the latter.
In a French vegetarian cookbook with an inscription from its author, Maïa Charpentier, I encountered Monsieur Hitler végétarien. And I found hints of Hitler the future mass murderer in a 1932 technical treatise on chemical warfare that explores the varying qualities of poison gas, from chlorine to prussic acid (Blaus?ure). The latter was produced commercially as Zyklon B, which would be notorious for its use in the Nazi extermination camps.
I also found, however, a Hitler I had not anticipated: a man with a sustained interest in spirituality. Among the piles of Nazi tripe (much of it printed on high-acid paper that is rapidly deteriorating) are more than 130 books on religious and spiritual subjects, ranging from Occidental occultism to Eastern mysticism to the teachings of Jesus Christ—books with titles such as Sunday Meditations; On Prayer; A Primer for Religious Questions, Large and Small; Large Truths About Mankind, the World and God. Also included were a German translation of E. Stanley Jones's 1931 best seller, The Christ of the Mount; and a 500-page work on the life and teachings of Jesus, published in 1935 under the title The Son: The Evangelical Sources and Pronouncements of Jesus of Nazareth in Their Original Form and With the Jewish Influences. Some volumes date from the early 1920s, when Hitler was an obscure rabble-rouser on the fringe of Munich political life; others from his last years, when he dominated Europe.
One leather-bound tome—with WORTE CHRISTI, or "Words of Christ," embossed in gold on the cover—was well worn, the silky, supple leather peeling upward in gentle curls along the edges. Human hands had obviously spent a lot of time with this book. The inside cover bore a dedication: "To our beloved Führer with gratitude and profound respect, Clara von Behl, born von Jansen von den Osten. Christmas 1935."
Worte Christi was so fragile that when the attendant brought it to me, he placed it on a red-velvet pad in a wooden reading stand, a beautifully finished oak contraption with two supports that could be adjusted with small brass pegs to fit the dimensions of the book. No more than a foot wide and eighteen inches long, the stand had a sacred air, as if it belonged on an altar.
I reviewed the table of contents—"Belief and Prayer," "God and the Kingdom of God," "Priests and Their Religious Practices," "The World and Its People"—and skimmed the introduction; then I scanned the book for marginalia that might suggest a close study of the text. A white-silk bookmark, preserved in its original perfection between pages 22 and 23 (only the portion exposed to the air had deteriorated), lay across a description of the Last Supper as related by Saint John. A series of pages that followed contained only a single aphorism each: "Believe in God" (page 31), "Have no fear, just believe" (page 52), "If you believe, anything is possible" (page 53), and so on, all the way to page 95, which offers the solemn wisdom "Many are called but few are chosen."
On page 241 appears the passage "You should love God, your Lord, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your spirit: this is the foremost and greatest commandment. Another is equally important: Love your neighbor as you would love yourself." Beside this passage is one brief penciled line, the only mark in the entire book.
Given Hitler's legendary disdain for organized religion in general and Christianity in particular, I didn't expect him to have devoted much time to the teachings of Christ, let alone to have marked this quintessential Christian virtue. Had this in fact been made by the pencil of Hitler's younger sister, Paula, who occasionally visited her brother at the Berghof and remained a devout Catholic until her dying day? Might some other Berghof guest have responded to this holy Scripture?
Possibly—but though most of the spiritually oriented books in the Hitler Library were gifts sent to the Führer by distant admirers, several, like Worte Christi, were obviously well read, and some contained marginalia in Hitler's hand that suggested a serious exploration of spiritual matters. If Hitler was as deeply engaged with spiritual issues as his books and their marginalia suggest, then what was the purpose of this pursuit?
n the spring of 1943, while the outcome of World War II hung in the balance, the U.S. Office of Strategic Services—forerunner to the CIA—commissioned Walter Langer, a Boston-based psychoanalyst, to develop a "psychological profile" of Adolf Hitler. As Langer later recalled, this was the first time the U.S. government had attempted to psychoanalyze a world leader in order to determine "the things that make him tick."
Over the course of eight months, assisted by three field researchers and advised by three other experts in psychology, Langer compiled more than a thousand typewritten, single-spaced pages of material on his "patient": texts from speeches, excerpts from Mein Kampf, interviews with former Hitler associates, and virtually every printed source available. Langer wrote,
A survey of all the evidence forces us to conclude that Hitler believes himself destined to become an Immortal Hitler, chosen by God to be the New Deliverer of Germany and the Founder of a new social order for the world. He firmly believes this and is certain that in spite of all the trials and tribulations through which he must pass he will finally attain that goal. The one condition is that he follow the dictates of the inner voice that have guided and protected him in the past.
In his summary Langer outlined eight possible scenarios for Hitler's course of action in the face of defeat. The most likely scenario, he suggested in a prescient moment, was that Hitler's belief in divine protection would compel him to fight to the bitter end, "drag[ging] a world with us—a world in flames," and that ultimately he would take his own life.
Langer based his assessment not only on Hitler's repeated references to "divine providence," both in speeches and in private conversations, but also on reports from some of Hitler's most intimate associates that Hitler truly believed he was "predestined" for greatness and inspired by "divine powers." After the war Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, one of Hitler's chief military advisers, seemed to confirm the Langer thesis. "Looking back," he said, "I am inclined to think he was literally obsessed with the idea of some miraculous salvation, that he clung to it like a drowning man to a straw."
Experts since then have been of two minds on the matter of Hitler's spiritual beliefs. Ian Kershaw argues that Hitler consciously constructed an image of himself as a messianic figure, and eventually came to believe the very myth he had helped to fashion. "The more he succumbed to the allure of his own Führer cult and came to believe in his own myth, the more his judgment became impaired by faith in his own infallibility," Kershaw writes in The Hitler Myth (1987). But believing in a messianic myth is not the same as believing in God. When I asked Kershaw in 2001 whether he thought Hitler actually believed in divine providence, he dismissed the notion. "I don't think that he had any real belief in a deity of any sort, only in himself as a 'man of destiny' who would bring about Germany's 'salvation,'" he declared. Gerhard Weinberg, who helped sort through the Hitler Library back in the 1950s, likewise dismisses the notion of Hitler as a religious believer, insisting that he was driven by the twin passions of Blut und Boden—racial purity and territorial expansion. "He didn't believe in anything but himself," Weinberg told me last summer. Most historians tend to agree.
Some non-historians, however, have different views. In the 1960s Friedrich Heer, a prominent and controversial Viennese theologian, identified Hitler as a misguided "Austrian Catholic," a man whose faith was disastrously misplaced but nevertheless sincere. In a dense, 750-page treatise Heer saw Hitler the Austrian Catholic at every turn: the nine-year-old choirboy catching his first glimpse of a swastika in the coat of arms at the Lambach Monastery; the beer-hall orator whose speeches resound with biblical allusions; the Führer of the Reich who re-created the splendor of the Catholic mass at the annual Nuremberg rally. Even his virulent hatred of Jewry found sustenance in those roots. Fritz Redlich, an eminent Yale psychiatrist, asserts in his book, Hitler: Diagnosis of a Destructive Prophet, that Hitler acted from a profound belief in God. Noting Hitler's own words "Man kommt um den Gottesbegriff nicht um" ("You cannot get around the concept of God"), Redlich told me last summer that he was certain Hitler believed in a "divine creature." He rejected suggestions that Hitler's invocations of the divine were little more than cynical public posturing and insisted that we ought to take Hitler at his word: "In a way, Hitler was a terrible liar, but he was a tactical liar. In his essential line of thinking he was honest."
Traudl Junge, Hitler's former secretary, would not go so far as to say that Hitler believed in God, but she did believe that Hitler's repeated references to the divine were more than just for show. Junge—who died of cancer in February of last year—told me the previous summer that Hitler spoke of such things in private as well as in public. After two and a half years of daily contact with Hitler, she was convinced that he believed in some form of divine protection, especially after surviving a dramatic assassination attempt in 1944. "After the July 1944 attack," she told me, "I believe he felt himself to be an instrument of providence, and believed he had a mission to fulfill."
n my hands I hold a book about Nostradamus, the sixteenth-century French mystic whose predictions of epic calamities have fascinated generations, and whose stanza "From poor people a child will be born/ who with his tongue will seduce many people" has been interpreted as prophesying the rise of Adolf Hitler. Printed on high-acid paper, this volume, with its 137 brittle, crumbling pages, bears a publication date of 1921 but feels centuries older. The book promises to "decypher and reveal for the first time the prophesies on the future of Europe and the rise and fall of France from 1555 to 2200." Its final pages offer additional mystical edification in a series of advertisements for related texts: Memoirs of a Spiritualist, The Wandering Soul, How Can I Protect Myself From Suggestion and Hypnosis?, Soul and Cosmos, The Realm of the Invisible, and Human Destiny and the Course of the Stars. Pasted inside this moldering volume is one of Adolf Hitler's bookplates.
The Predictions of Nostradamus belongs to a cache of occult books that Hitler acquired in the early 1920s and that were discovered in the private quarters of his Berlin bunker by Colonel Albert Aronson in May of 1945. As part of the Allied occupation forces, Aronson was among the first Americans to enter Berlin after the collapse of the Nazi resistance. "When my uncle arrived, the Russians took him on a tour of Hitler's bunker," one of Aronson's nephews recalls. "He said that the Russians had pretty much picked the place clean, but there were some pictures and a pile of books they let him take." According to the nephew, the books remained in Aronson's attic until his death, at which point they were bequeathed to his nephew, who donated them to Brown University in 1979.
Today the eighty volumes are housed in the basement vault of Brown's rare-book collection at the John Hay Library, where they share shelf space with Walt Whitman's personal copy of a first edition of Leaves of Grass and John James Audubon's original folios of Birds of America. According to Samuel Streit, the associate librarian for special collections, the Hitler books have attracted virtually no attention from scholars. Streit himself has examined the collection only once, and his most vivid recollection was the Hitler bookplate. "I know this sounds strange," says Streit, an amiable man in his mid-fifties, "but from the standpoint of bookplate design, it is quite tastefully done."
Like the Library of Congress collection, Brown's eighty Hitler books constitute a hodgepodge: picture books, art journals, an Italian libretto of Wagner's Walküre, a 1937 edition of Mein Kampf, and two editions of Alfred Rosenberg's The Myth of the Twentieth Century. The more than a dozen books on the occult include several devoted to Nordic runes, among them a 1922 history of the swastika, richly illustrated with nearly 500 diverse renderings—in Egyptian hieroglyphics, Greek pottery, Mayan temples, and Christian crosses. The Dead Are Alive delivers "incontrovertible evidence on occultism, somnambulism, spiritualism, with sixteen photographs of ghosts." Among the photographic images that fill the final pages of the volume is one of five people levitating a table at an 1892 séance in Genoa and another allegedly showing the ghost of a fifteen-year-old Polish girl, Stasia, being consumed by a "luminous, misty substance." A picture of a rather stately-looking Englishman is captioned "The Phantom of the English writer Charles Dickens who died in 1871 and is buried in Westminster Abbey. He appeared in 1873 and was photographed."
The canon of Hitler historiography declares that Hitler flirted with occultism in the early 1920s, and that he recruited some of his closest ideological lieutenants—Rudolf Hess, Martin Bormann, Alfred Rosenberg, and Heinrich Himmler—from the Thule Society and similar Nordic cults. "When I first knew Adolf Hitler in Munich, in 1921 and 1922, he was in touch with a circle that believed firmly in the portents of the stars," Karl Wiegand, a former Hitler associate, recalled in an article for Cosmopolitan in 1939.
"There was much whispering about the coming of 'another Charlemagne and a new Reich.' How far Hitler believed in these astrological forecasts and prophesies in those days I never could get out of the Führer. He neither denied nor affirmed belief. He was not averse, however, to making use of the forecasts to advance popular faith in himself and his then young and struggling movement."
Most scholars dismiss the notion that Hitler seriously entertained the ideas of these cults, but the marginalia in several of his books confirm at least an intellectual engagement in the substance of Weimar-era occultism. The Brown collection contains books by such figures as Adamant Rohm, a "magnetopathic doctor" from Wiesbaden; Carl Ludwig Schleich, a Berlin physician who pioneered the use of local anesthesia; and Joseph Anton Schneiderfranken, who wrote numerous books on reincarnation and otherworldly phenomena under the pseudonym Bô Yin Râ.
One of the most heavily marked books is Magic: History, Theory and Practice (1923), by Ernst Schertel. When I typed the author's name into one Internet search engine, I scored eight hits, including sites on Satanism, eroticism, sadomasochism, and flagellation. When I typed his name into Google, I scored twenty-six hits, including sites on parapsychology, astrology, and diverse sexual practices. According to a Web site for Germany's sadomasochistic community, Schertel wrote numerous books on flagellation and eroticism, and was "a central figure" in the German nudist movement of the 1920s and 1930s.
Hitler's copy of Magic bears a handwritten dedication from Schertel, scrawled on the title page in pencil. A 170-page softcover in large format, the book has been thoroughly read, and its margins scored repeatedly. I found a particularly thick pencil line beside the passage "He who does not carry demonic seeds within him will never give birth to a new world."
ne of the oldest volumes of literature still in the Hitler Library is a 1917 German edition of Peer Gynt, Henrik Ibsen's epic of a "Nordic Faust" who cuts a swath of human suffering—betraying friends, abandoning women, trading in slaves, and committing cold-blooded murder—on his way to becoming "emperor of the whole world." When challenged to account for his sundry trespasses, Gynt declares that he would rather burn in hell for excessive sins than simmer in obscurity with the rest of humanity. Edvard Grieg set this cruel play to beautiful music. Hitler's copy of Peer Gynt—handsomely illustrated by Otto Sager—bears a simple inscription by its German translator: "Intended for his dear friend Adolf Hitler. Dietrich Eckart. Munich, October 22, 1921."
Few people could call Hitler "Freund," and fewer still "lieber Freund." For Hitler, Eckart was both friend and family, a mentor and a father figure. When the two men first met, late in 1919, Hitler was a thirty-year-old political upstart a little more than a year out of the trenches, without a penny to his name. Eckart was a fifty-one-year-old playwright with a runaway hit (his adaptation of Peer Gynt), a paintbrush moustache, a morphine addiction, and a legendary hatred of Jews; one Munich newspaper described him as a "raging anti-Semite" who would "ideally like to consume a half dozen Jews daily with his sauerkraut." After working with Hitler at an early Nazi Party event, Eckart began grooming him for political life. He bought Hitler his first trench coat, gave him instruction in public speaking, and introduced him to members of Munich society, often with the icebreaker "This is the man who will one day liberate Germany." Hitler once called Eckart the "polar star" of the Nazi movement, and dedicated the first volume of Mein Kampf to him. "Follow Hitler!" Eckart allegedly exhorted on his deathbed, in 1923. "He will dance, but the music to which he dances was composed by me."
For all the vitriol Hitler spewed upon Judaism, he came to hold Christianity in equal disdain. "Christianity is the worst thing that ever happened to mankind," he declared during an after-dinner rant in July of 1941. "Bolshevism is the illegitimate child of Christianity. Both are an outgrowth of the Jew."
Hitler was the classic apostate. He rebelled against the established theology in which he was born and bred, all the while seeking to fill the resulting spiritual void. As the Hitler Library suggests, he found no shortage of latter-day prophets peddling alternative theologies. Mathilde von Kemnitz, the wife of Erich Ludendorff, the venerated World War I general who joined Hitler in the Munich putsch, promoted a neo-Teutonic pagan cult that called for the destruction of churches and the creation of forest temples and places of sacrifice. A 1922 volume of her writings, Triumph of the Will to Immortality, bears a bizarre and cryptic inscription to Hitler.
Now don't forget you young, blessed soul,
If you never leave the afterlife
You will thus be a perfect God
For as long as you live.
Hitler tolerated Kemnitz's neo-pagan looniness until Ludendorff's death, in December of 1937. In the autumn of 1939 the Nazi government, invoking wartime rationing, terminated paper supplies for Kemnitz's publication At the Holy Well (Am Heiligen Quell), effectively silencing her movement. Kemnitz, who survived the war, never forgave Hitler the betrayal.
Guida Diehl, a prolific Weimar writer who fancied herself the "female Führer," showered Hitler with titles, including Burn! Holy Flame! and The Will of the German Woman. In a handbook on how to conduct a German Christmas in "times of need and struggle," Diehl wrote to Hitler, "We struggle for the German soul, which fashioned the German Christmas from Christ himself! Sieg heil!" There is no indication that Hitler ever opened, let alone read, any of Diehl's books.
Unquestionably the most significant unread volume in the Hitler collection is a 1940 edition of Alfred Rosenberg's The Myth of the Twentieth Century, the Nazi classic that, with more than a million copies in print at the time, was second only to Mein Kampf for the Nazi movement. In the course of its 800 pages Rosenberg delivered the theological framework for a National German Church intended to subsume "the best of the protestant and catholic churches" and eliminate the "Jew-infested Old Testament." Denouncing the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as a "counterfeit of the great image of Christ," Rosenberg envisioned a "fifth gospel" depicting Jesus as an Aryan superman—"The powerful preacher and the raging prophet in the temple, the man who inspired, and whom everyone followed, not the sacrificial lamb of the Jewish prophets, not the man on the cross."
This particular edition of Rosenberg's legendary anti-Semitic screed has a handsome dark-blue linen cover and contains a full-page black-and-white photograph of Rosenberg standing before a shelf of leather-bound books. Dressed in a three-piece suit, he looks more like a Boston banker than the ideological fanatic who wrote some of the most offensive and impenetrable prose of the Nazi era before being hanged in Nuremberg in 1946. The book bears the Hitler bookplate but is in mint condition; the binding cracked when I opened the cover.
Despite Rosenberg's repeated attempts to establish his Myth as official party doctrine, Hitler insisted that the book was a "private publication" that represented Rosenberg's personal opinions. In conversations Hitler admitted that he had read only "small portions" of it and described it as unreadable. Joseph Goebbels concurred, calling The Myth an "intellectual belch."
Hitler's selective reading—or nonreading—of the pseudo-theological texts in his library makes those books he did read, and especially those in which he left marginalia, all the more significant. Here is where the Hitler Library is most useful. In the Fichte volumes given to him by Riefenstahl, I encountered a veritable blizzard of underlines, question marks, exclamation points, and marginal strikes that sweeps across a hundred printed pages of dense theological prose. Where Fichte peeled away the spiritual trappings of the Holy Trinity, positing the Father as "a natural universal force," the Son as the "physical embodiment of this force," and the Holy Ghost as an expression of the "light of reason," Hitler not only underlined the entire passage but placed a thick vertical line in the margin, and added an exclamation point for good measure.
As I traced the penciled notations, I realized that Hitler was seeking a path to the divine that led to just one place. Fichte asked, "Where did Jesus derive the power that has held his followers for all eternity?" Hitler drew a dense line beneath the answer: "Through his absolute identification with God." At another point Hitler highlighted a brief but revealing paragraph: "God and I are One. Expressed simply in two identical sentences—His life is mine; my life is his. My work is his work, and his work my work."
Among the numerous volumes dealing with the spiritual, the mystical, and the occult I found a typewritten manuscript that could well have served as a blueprint for Hitler's theology. This bound 230-page treatise is titled The Law of the World: The Coming Religion and was written by a Munich resident named Maximilian Riedel. During the first week of August 1939 the manuscript was hand-delivered to Anni Winter, Hitler's longtime Munich housekeeper, with the request that it be passed to Hitler personally. An accompanying letter read,
Based on a new discovery I have been able to prove, with incontrovertible scientific evidence, the concept of the trinity of God as a natural law. One of the results of this discovery is, among other things, the seamless relationship between the terms: Truth-Law-Duty-Honor. In essence, the origins of all science, philosophy and religion. The significance of this discovery has led me to ask Frau Winter to hand to you personally the enclosed manuscript.
Heil mein Führer!
Riedel made a smart tactical move in delivering his manuscript to Hitler's Munich residence. Whereas at the Berghof, Hitler received hundreds of books, and at the Reich Chancellery all such correspondence went through secretaries' hands, in Munich the only filter was Hitler's housekeeper. Based on the marginalia, it seems that Hitler not only received the Riedel manuscript but also read it carefully with pencil in hand. Individual sentences and entire paragraphs are underlined, sometimes twice or even three times.
In this densely written treatise Riedel established the groundwork for his "new religion," replacing the Trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost with a new tripartite unity, the "K?rper, Geist und Seele"—"body, mind, and soul." Riedel argued that traditionally mankind has recognized five senses, which relate only to the physical aspects of our existence, and that this hinders our ability to perceive the true nature of our relationship to God and the universe. He offered seven additional "senses" that every human being possesses, which are related to the subjective perception of the world; among them Riedel included our inherent sense of what is right and wrong, our emotional sense of another person, our sense of self-preservation. On a two-page centerfold he illustrated his theory with a circular diagram in which various concepts—"soul," "space," "reality," "present," "past," "possibility," "transformation," "culture," "afterlife," "humanity," "infinity"—are connected by a spider web of lines. "The body, mind and soul do not belong to the individual, they belong to the universe," the author explained.
Riedel's "trinity" seems to have attracted Hitler's particular attention. A dense penciled line parallels the following passage: "The problem with being objective is that we use objective criteria as the basis for human understanding in general, which means that the objective criteria, that is, the rational criteria, end up serving as the basis for all human understanding, perception and decision-making." By using the five traditional senses to achieve this "objectivity," Riedel declared, human beings exclude the possibility of perceiving—through the additional seven senses he identified—the deeper forces of the world, and are thus unable to achieve that unity of body, mind, and soul. "The human mind never decides things on its own, it is the result of a discourse between the body and the soul," he claimed.
The sentence not only caught Hitler's attention—beneath it is a thick line, and beside it in the margin are three parallel pencil marks—but was echoed two years later in one of his monologues. "Mind and soul ultimately return to the collective being of the world," Hitler told some guests in December of 1941. "If there is a God, then he gives us not only life but also consciousness and awareness. If I live my life according to my God-given insights, then I cannot go wrong, and even if I do, I know I have acted in good faith."
As I sat in the rarefied seclusion of the Jefferson Building's second-floor reading room one day, listening to the muffled roar of traffic and the distant wail of police sirens in late-summer Washington, I attempted to comprehend the full significance of this sentence to which Hitler seems to have responded so emphatically. Back in 1943 Walter Langer had concluded—correctly, to my mind—that in order to understand Hitler one had to understand his profound belief in divine powers. But Hitler believed that the mortal and the divine were one and the same: that the God he was seeking was in fact himself.
The URL for this page is http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/2003/05/ryback.htm
Wednesday, April 23, 2003
Adventures in Wonderland
Jasper Fforde’s mysteries are delighting readers - thanks to feisty female superhero Thursday Next and a machine that transports humans into the pages of classic books
By Dan Cryer
April 22, 2003
Call it the third-son syndrome. After the arrival of two brilliant and talented boys, pity the little guy who turns up next in the family cradle.
What's the poor kid to do? Struggle to duplicate his older brothers' achievements? Search out his own path? Give up the race altogether and drop out?
If you're Jasper Fforde, you run away and join the circus.
The third son of an Oxford don in economics who rose to executive directorship of the Bank of England, brother of a member of Parliament and two academics - including his younger sister - Jasper Fforde never bothered with a college education. He joined the circus that is the movie industry.
For 19 years, he labored by day as a lowly assistant cameraman - on films such as "GoldenEye" and "The Mask of Zorro" - by night as an amateur writer scribbling away with little hope of publication, let alone fame.
But today Jasper is the Fforde sibling basking in the spotlight. He's author of a best-selling novel, "The Eyre Affair," and now a sequel, "Lost in a Good Book" (Viking, $24.95), expected to be equally successful.
Part mystery, part science fiction, part satire, part lit-crowd entertainment, these hard-to-classify books cross genres with abandon. Consider what Fforde is juggling: Time-travel, newly discovered Shakespeare plays, a machine enabling people to enter classic works of fiction and interact with characters, Ice Age mammoths and 20th century Orwellian bureaucracy - all these elements coexist in the same fictional universe.
Think of Fforde's work as Harry Potter for adults, although the brightest of young readers probably will join in the fun, too.
What makes it all work is the author's storytelling verve and admirably light touch. Whatever else Fforde is up to, he's clearly having a ball.
At the heart of the stories stands Thursday Next, the feistiest and wittiest of sleuths. A droll combination of Nancy Drew, Bridget Jones, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Xena: Warrior Princess, she's as likely to nail the bad guys with a bon mot as a bullet.
In the first novel, Thursday faced off against a wicked enemy - her university mentor, no less - and dove into "Jane Eyre" to invent a happier ending than Charlotte Bronte ever would have countenanced.
"Lost in a Good Book" teams up our heroine with Miss Havisham, the jilted-at-the-altar spinster of Dickens' "Great Expectations." Now that Thursday is married and pregnant, Goliath, the corporation that owns nearly everything, has spirited off her husband to parts unknown. Meanwhile, an unidentifiable sludge threatens to engulf all life on Earth.
Fforde's fiction scrambles time, helter-skelter, making for delicious comedy. In the Britain of 1985, for example, the Crimean War (1853-1856, according to historians) still grinds on, and Neanderthals have been resurrected from extinction.
"How you managed to become the dominant species we will never know. So full of hate, anger and vanity," observes a Neanderthal.
"It's our evolutionary edge," replies a smirking human.
Fforde is an unassuming 42-year-old who appears incapable of smirking. He lives in rural Wales with his companion, Mari Roberts. Making his U.S. book tour, he is as genial as one can be in the face of a seemingly endless round of interviews.
Weren't John and Marya Fforde upset, he is asked, when their third son told them he wasn't headed for college, let alone an elite university? After all, John was an Oxford graduate and Jasper's two older brothers were enrolled there as well.
Fforde laughs, replying that their presence at Oxford actually made it easier for him to skip out on the family tradition. "One of them was at Brasenose [one of the university's oldest and most prestigious colleges] by that time, so I'm sure that more than made up for my absence." (All of his siblings went on to earn doctorates.)
"I think maybe the expectation drops, perhaps, with the third son," he adds.
At any rate, there was no keeping 20-year-old Jasper from what he had always wanted to do. He broke into the movie business in 1983 as a gofer on "The Pirates of Penzance." Within a few years, he was promoted to "focus puller," the position he would hold for the rest of his career.
The U.S. counterpart, he explains, is called first assistant cameraman. The focus puller assembles the camera, makes sure the lenses are functioning properly and, most important, adjusts them during filming.
"It's a bit trickier than it sounds," Fforde says. Focus shifts from closeup to mid-range to panoramic involve "a lot of guesswork. You don't know whether you've got it right until the following day, when you watch the dailies."
Fforde's camera work on "Quills," "The Saint," "Entrapment" and other feature films, plus numerous shorts and commercials, took him to 23 countries. The travel was enriching, he says, the camaraderie among movie technicians delightful.
"But I don't miss standing in a muddy field at 3 in the morning when it's raining and a director's going, 'I think we'll do that shot one more time and we'll know we've got it.'"
All the while, Fforde's previously hidden writerly impulse began to express itself. It was first manifest in "jokes and funnies and pretend articles" he pinned on crew bulletin boards during the making of "Penzance."
By his late 20s, he was writing "tons of" short stories. But none of them were intended for publication.
Aside from a two-day workshop in story structure with the famed screenwriter Robert McKee, Fforde has "no training in literature at all." He argues, in fact, that further education can sometimes stifle creation of a writer's distinctive voice.
As Fforde's competence and confidence grew, one story grew so fat that it became a novel. Even in this maiden effort, a police procedural, his fantasy- based imagination fed off other writers' characters.
In this version, Humpty Dumpty doesn't merely fall off that wall; he's been shot. Jack Spratt is the investigating detective, with Captain Nemo of Jules Verne's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" and Prometheus of Greek mythology playing subordinate roles.
Fforde is a dogged exemplar of the power of persistence. In between submitting that first book to publishers and acceptance of "The Eyre Affair" in 2000, he received 76 rejection letters. Bookselling being all about marketing, publishers couldn't picture a niche for such a genre-hopping book.
"I thought, well, they obviously don't know what they're missing," Fforde says. "I have a sort of arrogant, stubborn streak that keeps me going when people say no.
"I just carried on in my own sweet way. Which I think was a great help, because I realized I could just write whatever I wanted. There were no limits."
So he dashed off another Jack Spratt-centered mystery about Goldilocks and the Three Bears. And then he returned to a book about Jane Eyre that he had started and put aside, out of fear that his work was committing a kind of literary crime against a classic heroine.
Once emboldened, however, Fforde let out all the imaginative stops. His marvelous inventions for the Thursday Next books include the Prose Portal, a machine for transporting humans into fiction; the Boojum, the eradication of a word, character or subplot from a book; the Pagerunner, a character from one book causing havoc in another.
The author can't pinpoint what exactly inspired his Superwoman of a detective, though he does allow that he finds women in general more interesting than men.
In the end, "The Eyre Affair" was five years in the writing. The fifth novel he completed, it was the first available to the public.
Sadly, John Fforde died in May 2000, just three months before a British publisher accepted his son's book and transformed him forever from focus puller to novelist.
In a way, John and Marya Fforde deserve some of the credit. "My parents always had tons of books in the house," Fforde says. "I mean, just acres, every wall was covered." (By 1992, John Fforde's own 881-page tome on the Bank of England would take its place on the shelves.)
And one of those books, "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," with the original John Tenniel drawings, "created this wonderful make-believe world where anything can happen, a talking sheep or flowers that argue. ... Its complete and utter nonsense was probably the spark that started it all."
Other influences Fforde cites include darkly comic novels such as "Catch-22" and "Slaughterhouse Five"; the pioneering science fiction of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne; the classic mysteries of Agatha Christie. But he makes no pretense of being widely read in contemporary fiction.
Although acknowledging the impact of Harry Potter for enlarging the audience for escapist fantasy, he says he conceived the Thursday Next books without reading any of J.K. Rowling's work.
Like Potter, Ms. Next will have her life extended beyond the existing books. Fforde is contracted to write at least two more in the series. Again like Potter, she will continue to age, beyond her current 36 years.
When not keeping company with the intrepid Thursday Next, Fforde enjoys piloting a 1937 DeHavilland biplane over the Welsh countryside. It's a hobby his father would appreciate. During World War II, in the battle against the Japanese, John Fforde also was a pilot, flying Royal Air Force bombers into Burma.
Copyright © 2003, Newsday, Inc.
Thursday, April 17, 2003
April 17, 2003Murder, They Wrote, and Wrote
By JANET MASLIN
We are in the midst of a reader's dream, a publicist's nightmare and a best-seller logjam.
In the realm of high-profile mystery writing, an amazing convergence happens to be under way. Virtually all of that genre's big guns — which is to say its most celebrated and popular male practitioners — have managed to bring out new crime novels in the same season. Only so-called retirement and a sudden interest in the Crusades, respectively, have kept two big exceptions, Stephen King and James Patterson (whose 11th-century latest is "The Jester"), out of this all-star swarm.
Why now? Call it a mystery. For those who write like clockwork (i.e., Stuart Woods, the Nora Roberts of mystery best-sellerdom), a new book every few months is no surprise. For others, seasonal publication is as dependable as migrating geese. (If it's February, it's John Grisham time.)
Then there are those like Dennis Lehane, whose last book was so good that his new one seems long-awaited, even if "Mystic River" established his stature only two years ago. Now suddenly there is Dan Brown's dazzling "Da Vinci Code," the erudition-laced wild card that arrived out of nowhere and went straight to the head of the class.
The mystery field is broad enough to accommodate writers from Mr. Brown, who can hinge a plot on the difference between matter and antimatter, to Robert Crais ("The Last Detective"), who cranks out the printed equivalent of formulaic Hollywood thrillers. It can feature stand-alone protagonists or serial detectives as familiar as old friends. "As I walked through the room, the men stared at me," observes Robert B. Parker's Spenser in "Back Story," the 30th book in Mr. Parker's unflaggingly congenial Boston-based series. "Probably sick with envy."
The violence quotient varies greatly. Mr. Patterson and Jeffery Deaver get much of their mileage by exploiting tastes for the grisly. "He straightened up, considering what he might do to the still form in front of him," Mr. Deaver writes at the start of his latest Lincoln Rhyme book, "The Vanished Man," describing a homicidal sadist and his first female victim. This is a far cry from Daniel Silva, whose best-selling "Confessor" features the elite art restorer Gabriel Allon as its protagonist. Like Mr. Brown, Mr. Silva deals in characters who know art, roam Europe and might just say something in Latin.
Others, like Harlan Coben ("No Second Chance") and Jonathan Kellerman ("A Cold Heart"), whose new books arrive later this month, are much more insightful, sensitive and mild. "Bear with me," remarks Mr. Kellerman's Dr. Alex Delaware, a psychologist, with his typical patience. "I need to get some context." Then there is Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch (back in "Lost Light"), who has never unearthed an injustice that didn't make him moody.
Mr. Connelly, like George P. Pelecanos ("Soul Circus"), has been pivotal in reinventing the traditional gumshoe story for streetwise settings and more socially conscious times, without losing that genre's entertainment value. Mr. Pelecanos's Washington-based Derek Strange, in particular, has become a charismatic figure in this landscape, a sharp, affectionately drawn private investigator. Strange, whose shingle reads "Strange Investigations," digs thoughtfully into each case. Mr. Pelecanos, whose work gets better and better, continues to ascribe motives more wrenching than random ugliness to perpetrators whose lives have gone wrong.
But the single best example of this neo-noir crime writing has been "Mystic River," Mr. Lehane's deep, sorrowful story of a murder near Boston. While devising a classic crime story, Mr. Lehane escaped the limitations of the form to write a serious, ultimately devastating novel. It was clear from "Mystic River" that this writer, who began with more traditional detective fiction, had emerged from the whodunit ghetto as a broader and more substantial talent. Now he returns to the mystery format with the mind-bending twists of an eerie, startlingly original story.
"Shutter Island" unfolds in 1954. Its setting — a forbidding hospital for the criminally insane in Boston Harbor — is not automatically alluring unless you appreciate the classic constraints of an Agatha Christie puzzle; in that case it's irresistible. Shutter Island can be reached only by ferry. The doors of the institution are either locked or watched. The book's main character, United States Marshal Teddy Daniels, has been sent to investigate the disappearance of a patient, a barefoot woman who vanished from a locked cell and left behind an encrypted message no one understands.
Writing with a crisp clarity that makes the layout of Shutter Island instantly cinematic, Mr. Lehane unfolds this story unfold straightforwardly at first. Then the tricks begin. The missing patient, Rachel Solando, seems to have been involved with a doctor who also disappeared. The doctors at the hospital seem a strange bunch. ("Men of violence fascinate me," one says insinuatingly to Teddy. The possibility of illicit drug experiments on human guinea pigs, also recently raised by Mr. Grisham in "The King of Torts," begins to loom. In this atmosphere, with a cast of certifiably deranged characters, it grows harder and harder to know what is true.
Teddy is increasingly haunted by the allure of his wife, Dolores, who has died but speaks to him in his thoughts as the investigation proceeds. When Teddy learns that the man he blames for Dolores's death may be a Shutter Island inmate, he hears Dolores telling him, "You've known."
The primary force of this book comes from Teddy's grief and his anguished memories of World War II, when he helped liberate inmates at Dachau. (Mr. Lehane can be elegantly succinct: "Charm had never come easily to Teddy. After the war, it had come harder still. After Dolores, not at all.")
But its hidden power has a different source: Mr. Lehane's insight into his book's most disturbed figures. Suffice it to say that this is a deft, suspenseful thriller that unfolds with increasing urgency until it delivers a visceral shock in its final moments. When it comes to keeping readers exactly where he wants them, Mr. Lehane offers a bravura demonstration of how it's done.
By comparison, Mr. Connelly's "Lost Light" and Mr. Woods's "Dirty Work" are enjoyable, but much more conventional. Each is part of a series, and each marks the return of the author's signature character. In the case of Mr. Woods (whose book is dedicated to Charlton and Lydia Heston), it is Stone Barrington, lounge lizard extraordinaire. Mr. Woods has become so invested in incorporating Elaine's, the Manhattan restaurant, into his fiction that he gives Elaine herself dialogue and informs us that she has stopped smoking.
Once he stops playing barfly and gets down to detecting, Stone is as disarming as ever, even if the plotting of "Dirty Work" is relatively subdued. Stone once cut a hedonistic swath through London, Hollywood and Palm Beach; this time he doesn't get far from Elaine's. This book involves an international hit woman and is set mostly in New York. Stone remains affable if not incendiary company. And he is the kind of detective who has a favorite brand of Champagne.
Mr. Connelly's Harry Bosch, who threatened to chuck his career in disgust four years ago and left the Los Angeles Police Department, is back to silence cries of "say it ain't so" from loyal readers. Now, in "Lost Light," the world-weary Harry is a former cop doing freelance work. He is summoned by a movie producer who prompts him to reopen an old investigation.
"The cases keep coming, Mr. Taylor," Harry tells him. "It's not like in your movies. I wish it was." (Harry's detecting skills are better than his grammar.)
While in career limbo, Harry sounded the quintessential blue note that endears him to noir-loving readers: "I was living like a jazz musician waiting for a gig. I was staying up late, staring at the walls and drinking too much red wine. I needed to either pawn my instrument or find a place to play it." But once Harry picks up his saxophone, figuratively speaking, he gets returns to well-worn, familiar Connelly territory. Thinking of the murder that draws him back, Harry experiences "a small tug toward the darkness I one time knew so well."
"Lost Light" is B-level Bosch, but it has been an instant hit. Almost all the books mentioned here have turned up on at least one best-seller list, just as Mr. Coben's and Mr. Kellerman's latest are apt to do. In cases like Mr. Parker's, this is merely the writerly equivalent of having a hit television series (which he already has, via Spenser). For Mr. Brown, the more relevant model may just be "Titanic." And for Mr. Lehane "Shutter Island" is liable to have the staying power of "The Sixth Sense."
No matter how huge the deluge of mysteries, they have a tireless, eager readership. Escapism is not going out of style.
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company |
Wednesday, April 16, 2003
Publishers Weekly Boston's Uncommon Bestseller
By Edward Nawotka -- 4/14/2003
Dennis Lehane takes life, success and the mystery genre in hand
When Dennis Lehane smiles, small wrinkles form at the corners of his mouth; his freckles rearrange. It's a dramatic difference from the scowling young man with a single loose forelock staring out from the photos on his early books: he is much better looking in person, and not necessarily the guy you would pick out of a lineup to write some of the most menacing and absorbing detective fiction in the last decade. A lot of mystery writers have based series in Boston, two of the biggest being Robert Parker and George V. Higgins—but, arguably, neither has captured the same degree of social and psychological nuance Lehane has in his seven novels so far. Now creeping up on 40 years, Lehane is starting to show a little silver around the edges of his short auburn hair. The overall impression is one of confidence and youth. Maybe it's the way he's dressed, like a college kid fresh from finishing school: in khakis, with a black blazer over a charcoal-gray merino crewneck. He may have grown up on the mean streets of Boston, but he's left them behind this afternoon.
We meet on Newbury Street in the heart of fashionable, moneyed Boston. Lehane has parked his navy blue Toyota SUV in the same parking garage where he first worked as an attendant after returning from college and graduate school in Florida. It's across the street from the original Ritz Carlton Hotel, where Lehane still knows people who have worked there since the days when the hotel owned the parking garage. As PW approaches him in the lobby of the Ritz, he's chatting to one of the hotel staff, describing a summer home he's rented and suggesting she and her husband come up for a visit.
There are few jobs in Boston for a kid with a master's degree in creative writing—"The guys in the garage would give me a hard time about it"—and back in the early '90s Lehane had published only the first of his seven crime novels, the best known and bestselling of which is 2001's Mystic River. That extraordinary novel described the Boston of Lehane's childhood, a place "cramped with corner stores, small playgrounds, and butcher shops where meat, still pink with blood, hung in the windows" and where "Days, the mothers searched the papers for coupons. Nights, the fathers went to bars. You knew everyone; nobody ever left." The new Boston, as exemplified by the wealth of Newbury Street, is populated with the young, beautiful and well-to-do who have made their fortune in the city's tech boom (now waning) and driven property prices to among the highest in the country. "Now that's something we can be proud of," Lehane quips. "We're now more expensive than San Francisco."
Change for the Better
Boston's surface streets may have changed but in its heart, it's still an old seaport. The city is so close to the ocean that on warm spring days the scent of saltwater wafts in from offshore. But that same breeze can quickly turn into a Nor'easter. One only has to think back to Sebastian Junger's The Perfect Storm to be reminded of the sorrow bad weather can bring.
Perhaps it was from Junger that Lehane took a cue for the milieu of his seventh book, Shutter Island, due for a 150,000-copy, one-day laydown on April 15. At the center of the novel is a dramatic storm that hits the eponymous island in outer Boston Harbor—home to a federal prison for the criminally insane—just after U.S. Marshall Edward "Teddy" Daniels arrives to help search for a murderess who has mysteriously escaped from her locked cell. The year is 1954—this is Lehane's first historical fiction—and the stage is set for Daniels to become an unwilling participant in a government plot to manipulate innocents, murderers and WWII vets in McCarthy-era America. Suitably, Wolfgang Petersen, the director who adopted Junger's The Perfect Storm into a movie, has bought the film option to Shutter Island.
If the story sounds melodramatic, well, Lehane admits that he is heavily influenced by the movies, going so far as to call himself a "fanatic" and citing the 1970s cult movie The Wicker Man as a strong influence on the book. One might also catch echoes of the Frank Sinatra vehicle The Manchurian Candidate or The Ipcress File, which was based on Len Deighton's first novel, or even the Michael Douglas film The Game, from the late '90s.
When PW meets Lehane, one of the first things he says after sitting down to lunch at a modest Italian restaurant is, "I expect Shutter Island to get bad reviews." Lehane provides a flurry of reasons for that curious statement. "It's the first book I ever outlined in my life. I knew everything that was going to happen before it wrote it. A full third of the people who read it will figure it out before the end. The book is not Mystic River, it's something very different, and it's always a danger to change when you have success."
Lehane needn't fear change. Early reviews of Shutter Island have been enthusiastic, including a starred review from PW. Prior to his breakthrough with Mystic River, he made a respectable living as the author of an award-winning series of five crime novels, all set in Boston and starring a pair of gritty private eyes, Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro. (The first, A Drink Before the War, was published in 1994 and won the Shamus Award for best first P.I. novel.) It was the standalone Mystic River, however, that proved Lehane's breakthrough book, spending more than nine weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and selling 100,000 copies in hardcover. The novel was recently filmed by Clint Eastwood, starring an A-list roster of stars, including Sean Penn, Tim Robbins and Kevin Bacon as three neighborhood friends—all haunted by an incident in childhood when one of the boys was abducted—who are thrown together when the daughter of one of them is murdered. The movie is scheduled for release this autumn.
Lehane's publisher, Michael Morrison at Morrow, calls Mystic River "a huge leap." He attributes some of the book's success to a new strategy at Morrow that identified Lehane's sales potential and did the right things to exploit it. "It's a result of cause and effect," says Morrison. "It's no mystery." One of the most important decisions was to alter Lehane's covers, which until then had been very dark, often using gemstone-colored type on a black background. Mystic River was given a plainer cover, with black type on a white background, that announced "novel" instead of "noir."
"It was a more inviting look," says Claire Wachtel, Lehane's editor at Morrow. The approach was so radically different that bookstores started displaying the novel front-and-center, while price clubs such as Costco and Sam's picked up Lehane for the first time.
"He'd always had good numbers and devoted fans," continues Wachtel, "but we wanted to keep growing his readership." She says that the change booksellers were responding to wasn't just due to marketing, but involved the type of book Lehane was writing: Mystic River was a much more emotionally and psychologically complex tale than the Kenzie/Gennaro crime stories. Lehane had hit his stride and everybody knew it. Commenting on Lehane's decision to abandon the Kensie/Gennaro crime series, Lehane's agent, Ann Rittenberg, says, "He's always had a distinctive writing style and, and when he told me that he was going to 'alter the face of crime fiction,' I knew he would. He's like a top athlete who because he's in shape can change his game."
Wachtel says she knew she was onto a winner with Mystic River just as soon as "other agents and editors started calling me to have galleys sent over." The early buzz on the book built to a crescendo once Mystic River was chosen as a Book Sense 76 #1 pick. "The stars just lined up," she adds.
"I was living with Mystic River for 10 years before I wrote it," Lehane tells PW. "I had said everything I had to say about the two detectives and wanted to move on to something different. Ann [Rittenberg] and Claire [Wachtel] both encouraged me to do it."
Though he describes himself as a "control freak," Lehane's ability to stick to the job of writing, while allowing others to lobby on his behalf, has probably been one of his biggest assets. Rittenberg says that because Lehane wasn't greedy early on, he was able to "build" a career rather than have himself jettisoned into the marketplace with a big printing—and the accompanying bigger critical and financial risks. "His sales and his advances moved up like steps," says Rittenberg, who sold A Drink Before the War to Wachtel for a mere $8,500 in 1993. It took until Prayers for Rain, his fifth book, before she was able to "break the $100,000 barrier" for advances, she says. "Dennis told me that he'd always been poor and could live that way a little while longer. I always thought he was worth more." Prior to delivering Mystic River, Lehane's contract was for three more books and was priced far less than his current level. The quality of the manuscript prompted Rittenberg to call Morrison for a lunch to talk about Lehane's commitments to the company. "When I told him how much I wanted, he almost couldn't finish what he was eating," Rittenberg jokes. Lehane's renegotiated contract with Morrow, which covers both Mystic River and Shutter Island, as well as three more novels, amounts to more than $3 million, with a bonus promised if the books meet sales goals.
Cause and Effect
There's an old saying that goes, "Money doesn't change you, it just gives you the opportunity be the person you really are." So what is Dennis Lehane like after all this heady critical and financial success? Apparently, he's not much different than he was before finding his name on the New York Times bestseller list. He still lives in Boston with his pair of bulldogs, Marlon and Stella. He still writes at least three drafts of each novel, the first by hand, the second on the computer. He still listens to music when he writes—rock for action sequences, classical for the more contemplative scenes. (For Shutter Island, he listened to Sinatra singing Rodgers and Hart). He still has the same group of friends he's had since childhood, guys who are blessed with having their names immortalized as drug dealers, murderers or other criminals in Lehane's novels. According to him, the one concession he's made to hitting the A-list is buying a new pool table (an eight-foot competition model) and a wide-screen plasma television.
After spending an afternoon eating and drinking with Lehane, it's evident to PW that the author remains as down to earth and as dedicated to writing as the master's degree–wielding parking garage attendant he once was.
His modesty as an adult may be a result of his modest upbringing. Born and raised in Dorchester, one of the poorest Boston neighborhoods, Lehane was the youngest of five children of a pair of Catholic working-class Irish immigrants from Cork. His first book was the Bible. "I read it cover to cover. It was cool," he says without irony. "If you singled out the times in Mystic River with religious symbolism, I mean you're practically in a Scorsese film."
As a teen, Lehane's dream was to become a writer. During his childhood, Lehane's Boston was not the cozy, overpriced college tech-town it is now. Instead, it was a racially divided, parochial city suffering from poverty and drugs. During the era of forced busing (memorialized in Anthony Lukas's book Common Ground), violence ran rampant. One of Lehane's friends was murdered during this time, and the first thing the future writer did when he got the chance was to get out: after dropping out of UMass Boston, he moved to Florida, finishing his B.A. at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg and then taking an M.F.A. from Florida International University, where he studied with novelist John Dufresne and mystery writer John Sandiford.
In college, Lehane learned how to write. "John Dufresne is one of the great writing teachers," he says. "Dufresne calls fiction 'the lie that tells the truth.' " Although Lehane doesn't say so, it's clear that, after an extended writing apprenticeship with the Kensie/Gennaro series, it was in Mystic River that he at last fully embraced Dufresne's dictum to tell the truth—including the traumatic truth of the emotional aftermath of his own difficult youth—through fiction.
Lehane has been so inspired by his experience in writing classes that he's begun teaching them himself, first at Tufts University and later this summer at the Harvard Extension School. "I had some really good teachers and I try to give back, you know, send the elevator car back down. It's great to see someone who has got the chops—maybe they're six years, nine years away from publication—and be able to tell them 'stay on the road, you're going to make it.' " He adds that if anyone comes to one of his classes looking for a how-to on how to write a bestseller, he tries to "scare them right out the door."
Lehane doesn't have much time for the high/low debate that has created two opposing literary camps over the last 40 years. "You can't separate character—which is what the higher set champions—and plot—which is what the other side defends. They are both in service to each other," he says with a hint of exasperation. "If you go to any great work of art, you talk about plot all day and then you talk about character all day. Just give me a well-written book."
Both Mystic River and Shutter Island deliver on this demand. For his next, Lehane is promising a trilogy that begins in 1918 with the Boston police strike and traces the reverberations it had in American society. "The strike changed everything," he says. "It had a big effect on the unionization movement, and Prohibition came on the heels of that, then Calvin Coolidge promising to break the unions. That's all linked to what's going on now." Lehane describes it as a five- or six-year project. "It'll be an epic about small-scale violence," he says with finality.
© 2003 Reed Business Information
Trying to Get Away
by Adam Dunn -- 3/17/2003
We'll use the back room." Andrew Vachss leads the way through a nondescript bar, reached after a labyrinthine drive down rain-slicked streets. It is not yet noon and heavyset men are already lining up for beer. Since their attention is focused on the sports action on the overhead TV, they don't notice the intense man with the eye patch slipping into a storage room off the kitchen, where he quietly shuts the door. No pat down comes, surprisingly; perhaps Vachss feels airport security has actually done its job.
This is not a movie. After a lifetime pursuing and prosecuting serial offenders, Vachss displays the innate caution that people outside of law enforcement (or the military) might label paranoia.
No reader of Vachss, novice or devotee, would be surprised that he's written a new novel laced with themes of crime, punishment and innocence lost. But there have been rumblings through the book world and beyond about his new novel The Getaway Man. That it's not a Burke book. That it's a Vintage trade paperback instead of a Knopf hardcover. That it looks more like a dime pulp novel from the 1950s than a slick 21st-century Bertelsmann product. That it's set in rural Southern locales ("Appalachia, more than Southern," he corrects). That it's less a crime novel and more a thriller—no, that's not right. Just what kind of book is it anyway? A romance. A romance?
"It's not a bodice-ripper, obviously," Vachss explains, in a voice that sounds like an especially lucid 45 r.p.m. recording playing on 33. "This is a story about an innocent man who maintains his innocence, and the purity of that innocence, through a whole series of life experiences, and finding what he believes to be love. Look at the sacrifices he makes for it. It's a love story. It's got other elements, but how could you call it a thriller?"
The Getaway Man is the story of Eddie, a survivor of the "kiddie camps" (aka reform school), who has made his way up the crime world's food chain to become the wheelman for a professional stick-up crew. Eddie walks a fine line between the crew chief, a hard case named JC who Eddie knows from prison, and JC's enigmatic girlfriend, Vonda, who shows more interest in Eddie than the criminal code would permit.
What's most unusual about Eddie's story is that he tells it himself. Only one of Vachss's other novels, Shella, shifts the narrator's voice to a damaged child's point of view. But the protagonist of that book, Ghost, is cut from the same cloth as Burke. Eddie has been drawn as a far more approachable (and likable) protagonist than any of his predecessors.
"It was my belief that you can do the classic, very moving crime story in such a way that it was a novel, rather than the reverse," says Vachss. "I wanted to do something that happened in real time almost, where you can actually engage with the character. People who identify with Burke identify with some things that he does, but not with him directly. But I wanted to write a novel—that I knew people would call a thriller or something else—that actually goes back to the days when novels appeared in that form. Many novels in which crimes were committed were about larger things. That was my goal with this. [And] I wanted to do that in as few words as I could."
The result, from its slimness to its signature Richie Fahey noir-styled cover, is a package radically different from the Burke line, as well as Vachss's other writing forays (such as Hard Looks, his collaboration with Dark Horse Comics). To begin with, there's the look of the book, which hearkens back to an earlier breed of crime novel. "The cover is intended to get right in your face and tell you, 'This is what I'm about.' " Vachss says. "I don't like the term 'pulp' because I think it's overbroad. I think there are people who wrote, for example, for Gold Medal in the '50s and '60s, who were some of America's best writers. I think there's been a sort of class distinction between paperback and hardcover that I don't hold with. That style of writing can sometimes be clearer and cleaner and purer than the sort of overwritten literature that people seem to ascribe to the best kind of novels. In other words, you're compared to Chandler instead of Cain, and I don't mean James M., I mean Paul."
The cover, along with the book's intricate story line, has apparently thrown some reviewers off track ("One reviewer said this was a book about a kid who was in love with stealing cars. I felt like I'd been hit in the head with a hammer"), and Vachss hopes this forum will clarify his message to readers. "Eddie doesn't want to steal anything," he declares. "His vision of the end of the road is not living in Vegas with cashmere suits and rooms full of hookers—he wants to be the driver, so he can actually go someplace." Eddie's one guiding vision is of himself at the wheel of a phantom car, a metaphor for asserting control over a life that has been hitherto guided by the forces of crime and punishment. "He's not a criminal in his heart. But his every bonding experience has been in crime." Eddie's heart beats for driving with a passion that borders on the sexual: "It felt like there was a wire running from my hands direct into the front wheels, like I was bending my own body around those curves." And unlike Burke, "Eddie stays innocent. He's not somebody who becomes a perpetrator."
Time (and sales figures) will tell if The Getaway Man is the start of a viable new direction for Vachss. But all the criteria are there: the new approach to character and story arc; the distinctively designed package; and the new format (with its lower price point). And Eddie's shy, boyish openness (compared to Burke's bitter, middle-aged paranoia) may be just the ticket, in the words of Vachss's Vintage editor, Edward Kastenmeier, to "bring readers back to Andrew."
Book clubs grow up
Readers get together in groups, at conferences or online to talk about works.
by Courtenay Edelhart
April 14, 2003
Book club meetings tend to be informal affairs. Friends agree to read a book and then gather at somebody's house to discuss it over lunch.
That's still how a lot of book clubs operate, but a growing number are far more sophisticated. Members of the Sophia book club in Indianapolis, for instance, pay dues and elect a board. A few times a year, their discussions include the book's author, and this summer, a handful of members will attend a national conference in Atlanta.
Bolstered by the success of "One Book, One City" and Oprah Winfrey, who is bringing back her club with a new focus on the classics, local clubs throughout the country are flexing newfound muscle.
Some of the larger, more organized groups have the clout to lure out-of-state authors, negotiate book discounts and receive a heads-up when new titles are close to release.
Indianapolis-area Borders stores take 20 percent off the month's selection when club members agree to meet at a store. Many Waldenbooks locations display area club selections.
That's not the only proof that book clubs are growing up. If you don't have time to visit a club in person, there are now virtual clubs online. Barnes & Noble last month launched a book-club section on its site (www .barnesandnoble.com), and the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library operates a Chapter a Day book club in which members receive chapters via email (www.imcpl.org).
It's good business to cater to book clubs, said Borders spokeswoman Emily Swan. "They've just exploded, so we try to keep their books in stock when we know about them."
Indianapolis author LaTina Tunstall, 34, estimates she's been to about 15 book club meetings to promote her 2002 novel, "Different Shades Friends Come In" (First Books, $14.95), and she'll do the same for "Financing a Dream" (First Books, $14.95), a novel coming out this year.
Most of the clubs Tunstall has visited have been local, but not all. She's traveled to Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Virginia to discuss her work with readers.
Tunstall prefers visiting book clubs to signing books at stores, where people haven't necessarily read her work.
"You're just sitting at a table," she said, "and somebody wanders by to ask what your book's about and you try to give them a one-minute synopsis."
At book club meetings, people have read the book and ask thoughtful questions that ultimately improve her craft, Tunstall said.
Curtis Bunn, 41, is a sports reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who writes novels on the side. He's promoted his work at more than two dozen book club meetings and found them so invigorating that, in August, he'll hold a conference in Atlanta for readers and writers of black literature.
It's Bunn's first time organizing a conference, but he's already got about 150 people from 21 states registered. There are 20 authors coming, including big names like E. Lynn Harris and Walter Moseley.
"The response has been phenomenal," said Bunn, author of "Baggage Check" (A&B Publishers, $21) and the forthcoming "Book Club" (A&B Publishing, $21), a collection of short stories about book club members.
People have loved books for centuries, so it's natural to want to gather and talk about them, Bunn said.
"I found myself leaving book club meetings feeling like I felt when I left church -- revived and stimulated," he said.
Still, there are drawbacks to the evolution of book clubs into, well, small businesses. Once you reach the level of 50 members or more, it's hard to get a word in edgewise. And forget about choosing next month's book. Your turn may not come for years.
Some like it simpler
That's why Kent Kollman, a 70-year-old retired insurance executive, prefers the small, informal group he participates in at the Irvington branch library on the Eastside.
"Nobody's asking me to volunteer for any committees or anything," Kollman said. "I just read and come when I feel like it."
But Danielle Walker, a 37-year-old human resources executive, said there are perks to participating in a group like Sophia. Dues are minimal at $5 a month, and the money goes for a good cause.
Members get gift certificates on their birthdays, and presents on special occasions such as the birth of a child. The group also gives gift baskets to disadvantaged families at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Mainly, though, Walker likes meeting the authors.
"It really helps to be able to dialogue back and forth with the writer about why they wrote a certain scene the way they did, or how they developed a character," she said. "You get a lot of 'ohs' and 'ahs.' "
National Book Club Conference
• What: For readers and writers of black literature.
• When: Aug. 1-3; deadline for registration is June 30.
• Where: Atlanta.
• Cost: $230 each, or $200 each for groups of 5 or more.
• Information: National Book Club Conference or 1-888-406-6222.
Thursday, April 10, 2003
Interviewed by Eve Tan Gee
Visions of Sugar Plums is my latest book and probably my favourite. I had fun writing it and I think people will have fun reading it and you just can't get any better than that. It's a Plum book but it features a new character (Diesel) that I've been holding in my head for a couple years now. Diesel is actually a superhero and I loved that I could take the existing world of Plum and drop this sort of super guy into it. The defining moment in the book for me is when Stephanie Plum admits that she'd like to think there really are super heroes on the planet. Isn't that a wish we all have? That a superhero will walk among us and save us from ourselves? I mean, where's Superman now? And wouldn't you like to know the guy who could fill Batman's codpiece?
There were two early influences on my work. The first would have to be Carl Barks. When I was a kid I read Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comics and I developed a love for the adventure story. The second would have to be Robert B. Parker. When I made the decision to move from romance to crime I read all the Parker books and decided I wanted to be just like him when I grew up. He's such an incredible technician. He makes reading easy.
My early unpublished stuff was pretty far out there. My favourite was about a sort of porno fairy who lived in a fairy forest in Pennsylvania. Probably the world still isn't ready for that one.
Sadly, I do very little reading of other authors these days. I used to read when I flew but flying has become so obnoxious that I do it only under the threat of death or the promise of big money… so my reading time has been severely cut back. When I'm working on a book I find I need to go to bed with the book in my head. If I'm reading someone else I'm going to bed with the wrong book. And these days I'm ALWAYS writing a book. That said, I do find it hard to pass up a new Amanda Quick regency romance or a new Junie B. Jones. Yes, I was Junie B. Jones in a previous life.
I write very broad humour and I think humour can get tedious if it's relentless. So I feel it necessary to raise the stakes for the reader periodically. One of the ways to do this is to insert a violent scene. My rules are that the violence needs to be necessary and moves the story forward. I never kill cats or dogs. And all horrible violence takes place off stage. When it comes to sexuality I think writers need to do what's appropriate for their own voice. Some writers opt for frankness, some for discretion. I opt for funny. Okay, no comments about my sex life!
I don't think it's necessary for a book to make a political statement but all contemporary books reflect the author's view on a wide variety of social conditions. On a strictly personal level, I feel my first obligation to the reader is to entertain in a positive manner. Beyond that, I address issues such as family, women's rights, minorities, and violence if they arise as a natural component of the story.
I'm always working! I usually write seven days a week for a minimum of four hours a day -- sometimes I'm at the computer from five in the morning until ten at night, eating Cheez Doodles, drinking Coke, wishing I was someone else… Nora Roberts, maybe. I have an office at the end of my house with windows that look out over the Connecticut River valley. When I'm in the Cheez Doodle mode I close the blinds so I'm not distracted. I begin a book with a short outline which is actually a timeline of action. Then I follow my writing progress on a large white board, recording chapter by chapter, sort of like a movie story board.
I think my books make people happy and that's my principal appeal. I make people laugh. And I allow people to feel good about themselves. If Stephanie Plum can make it through the day, so can my reader. And I give people hope. My characters are incredibly average and yet they can be heroic if necessary. I keep my books relatively short and the structure is linear because a lot of people are busy these days and I don't want my reader to have to work hard to get through the story.
Music and films are all part of the mix that goes into my head. Everything I do and see and hear and smell ends up in the pot. I don't think a writer needs to stay abreast of the latest film, or the latest bestseller, or be a news junkie, but I do think a writer should live and suck in what's around him. I need quiet when I write so I don't use music to spur inspiration. But when I'm on the treadmill I need a LOT of music!
I write a series, so the characters are already there, waiting for a new plot, but the truth is, my books are character driven and the plot is simply necessary structure to tell the character story. That said, if I didn't have a half-way decent plot the whole thing would be damn boring.
I love New York and Chicago and Boston and London but my creative juices flow best in New Hampshire. If I'm going to get a book done I need a lot of quiet and no possibility to shop.
My relationships with my publishers and editors have all been excellent. No author, no matter how amazing, can achieve large scale success on his own. Only a publisher (and Oprah) can make an author a star.
I write for my reader. I have four unpublished books sitting in a dresser drawer. I wrote the books for myself, wasn't able to get them published, and found the whole experience to be flat. For me, writing is all about connecting, communicating, entertaining.
Reading will always be important. It's entertainment and it's communication and it allows the consumer to mentally participate. What we need to realise is that reading fits into a larger picture, competing with and complimenting film, television, internet and live entertainment. I love the super stores that combine books and music and coffee bars. And I love the small mystery stores that give the consumer a personal and maybe mystery mood experience. I think buying the book should be as much fun as reading the book.
There are times when I'm writing when I'm behind deadline and I really need to be left alone to get the job done. Just slide the Snickers bars under the door, thank you. When I'm not behind deadline I find I need lots of stuff coming into my head to compensate for what gets pulled out.
It seems to me religion is just another one of those life influences that goes into the pot. Childhood experiences, love affairs, dogs gone to heaven, visits to Disneyland and religion are all part of the creative glop that becomes a book.
I feel very comfortable to be a commodity that's packaged and sold by my publisher. Truth is, my books are product and my readers are consumers. Deal with it.
The book I'm writing now is number nine in the Plum series. It's late, of course! And that's about all I'm prepared to say!! Doncha love surprises?
Janet Evanovich lives in New Hampshire but grew up in New Jersey. She is the author of eight best-selling Stephanie Plum novels, including One For The Money, which won the CWA's John Creasey Award, Two For The Dough, which won the CWA Last Laugh Award and Three To Get Deadly, which was awarded the CWA Silver Dagger for 1997.
From Crime Time
T. Jefferson Parker, interviewed by Harlan Coben
Over the years, the NorCal East Bay chapter of Mystery Readers International has had many "At Homes" -- intimate evenings with favorite mystery writers. We've hosted Anne Perry, Lawrence Block, Sue Grafton, Elizabeth George, Janet LaPierre, Sharan Newman, Laurie King, Rochelle Krich, Carolyn Hart, James Ellroy, Steven Saylor, Janet Evanovich, Eddie Muller, Taffy Cannon, and many others.
These events are held in private homes, and they're similar to Literary Salons. Since so many of our cyber members and friends aren't able to attend these intimate evenings, I thought it would be fun to have a "visiting" author each month interviewed by another "visiting" author. This month we feature T. Jefferson Parker interviewed by Harlan Coben.
T. Jefferson Parker was born in Los Angeles and has lived all of his life in Southern California. Parker received his bachelor's degree in English from the University of California, Irvine, in 1976, and began his writing career in 1978, as a cub reporter on the weekly newspaper The Newport Ensign. After covering police, city hall and cultural stories for the Ensign, Parker moved on to the Daily Pilot newspaper, where he won three Orange County Press Club awards for his articles. All the while, he was tucking away stories and information that he would use in his first book.
Laguna Heat, written on evenings and weekends while he worked as a journalist, was published to rave reviews and made into an HBO movie starring Harry Hamlin, Jason Robards and Rip Torn. The paperback made the New York Times Bestseller list in 1986. Nine other novels have followed, including the Edgar Award-winning Silent Joe and his most recent book, Black Water (2002). In April 2003, his eleventh book, Cold Pursuit, will be published. Booklist has called it "another wonderful mystery from one of the very best."
Harlan Coben: Let's start with the chicken-'n-egg question. You're starting a novel. Which comes first: Plot or character? What I'm mostly interested in is that "moment," if you will. The seed that grows into the book. Where does that come from?
T. Jefferson Parker: It's the characters first, then what happens to them. The first moment of a book is always kind of interesting. Sometimes it's something that just happens to you and the story lands in your lap. I remember many years ago when I'd finished Laguna Heat and I was hanging out, trying to play heads-up ball, looking for a story. I'm in a liquor store and the guy in line in front of me is an American Vietnam war vet. The clerk is a Vietnamese woman. I got curious about their histories so I eavesdropped on their mercantile transaction. I wondered -- could they have crossed each other's paths in Vietnam? Could her father or mother have fought with this ex-soldier, or against him? So, before the vet can say anything, the clerk reaches up and takes a pack of Lucky Strikes out of the overhead rack and sets it on the counter. He says, how did you know that's what I wanted? She says, Some things I just know. That blew my hair back. I knew I had a Vietnam mystery on my hands.
HC: Give me an idea of your writing routine, Jeff. Are you a morning or evening guy? How many hours? Are you consistent? Do you count words or pages? Do you play music or do you prefer silence? In the house or at your local coffee bar? Details, man, details!
TJP: I start early, around 6:30 and quit around 5 p.m. It's not always all writing, but sometimes it is. I set a daily page count for each book. Usually 5 or 6 pages per day. Then there's the weekly count. If I'm ahead I feel smug; if I'm behind I sense panic. I go through all these labyrinthine calcs every morning to see where my stock is. It's really kind of funny.
HC: I'd like to steal your question to Jan Burke from last month. What would you like to see more of, and less of, in crime writing these days?
TJP: I think the Achilles heel of mystery/crime writing is character. You have to have good characters and sometimes I think mystery writers rely to heavily on plot and velocity of plot at the expense of characters. This leads to the question of what is a good character, and that's up for interpretation. Certainly a character who is passionate. One who is more than just competent. I think the best mysteries are the ones where you've got an outer mystery and an inner one going on together and these two stories compete and collide and finally become one. Another thing I really enjoy is a story that zooms off in directions you're not expecting. It's difficult to work within the confines of the genre and make that happen.
HC: You've written critically acclaimed, award-winning stand-alones and series books. Is one harder to write than the other? Is the process different when you're doing a stand-alone or series -- or is writing a book, er, writing a book?
TJP: Harlan, that's a coin-toss for me. The stand-alones are harder because you have a whole world to create. But the series books are harder because you can't create a whole world. Somehow, for me, the whole thing boils down to the emotion behind the story. My new book, Cold Pursuit, was the most difficult one to write since Laguna Heat. And that wasn't because it was any larger or more complex than the others, it's because I started working on it on September 12 of 2001. My emotions toward writing fiction at that point were almost completely dead. But back to series or stand-alones, I'm beginning to believe that the stand-alones are easier. I'm working on one now, and I've never felt such joy and enthusiasm for a book.
HC: The old Batman TV show, the one with Adam West and Burt Ward. Who was your favorite villain and why? (If you didn't watch the show, you can skip this question but hang your head in shame).
TJP: Harlan, I was sort of a tough nut as a kid. Not really violent or hateful, but... impatient. I honestly wanted Batman and Robin to get slaughtered by one of the villains. I couldn't stand them, those asinine costumes. And so I hardly ever watched. I know this is perverse, and I do feel shame...
HC: Okay, Jeff, this is a variation on the Hemingway saying that the best way to become a writer was to have an unhappy childhood. Give me an event, preferably in your childhood but we can go up until you were, say, twenty-one, that I can see in your work today. In other words, what happened to you that made you write what you write?
TJP: Now you're getting me back for hating that TV show. Tough question. I actually had a very chipper childhood -- suburban Tustin, good parents and brother and sister, a little church, Little League, bodysurfing, a red family Country Squire station wagon with the wood-look paneling on the side. Lots of fun. So, if you try to trace my somewhat darkish fiction back to that, I guess the answer is that when I saw that childhood breaking up -- when I became aware of myself becoming a young man -- suddenly the whole bubble burst. That's an ugly sentence. Let me try again. It was like one day I was a crew-cut, buck-toothed boy looking for snakes in orange groves, and the next thing I knew there were seriously weird people taking huges doses of LSD, calling the cops pigs and trying to bring down the country. At that point I think I was just left standing gape-jawed at what was happening. I'm talking about 1963 to 1966, say. I'm writing about that period now.
HC: One of my favorite writing quotes comes from E.L. Doctorow: "Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." Do you agree with this? Start with this: Do you know the ending of the book before you begin?
TJP: That's a really nice quote. Very true, I think. I usually know the ending before I start, but not always. The thing is, it's a long way from page one to page 500, so just knowing the ending doesn't mean the whole thing writes itself. You reach a point in a story, especially a mystery, where you've got to choose which story you're really telling. You can see, say, three different ways the story could go, and all three of them look tempting. It's a matter of going with the one that feels best. Here's an example. At the end of Silent Joe I had to reveal Joe's true father. Well, since he'd been adopted very early in life, and because he'd come from a rather evil past, lots of men could have been his father. I picked the one I thought would work best in the story. Some people liked the choice I made and others didn't. In the end, sometimes all you have to call on is instinct.
HC: You're one of our top writers and you've learned a lot during your remarkable career. Could you give me one piece of advice you wish someone had given you when you were first starting out?
TJP: I wish someone would have encouraged me to work harder. That sounds odd, but really, I spent a great many of my younger professional years just goofing off and not getting much done. When Laguna Heat was published so successfully and the HBO movie came out, I was so dumb I thought people would love me forever. Three years later when Little Saigon came out I think a lot of readers had forgotten who I was. I wish an editor would have said, look, Parker, write us a book a year for a few years and we'll get you a nice big audience. But I let another three years go by before Pacific Beat was finished. By then my personal life was in near shambles and it took me two more years to write Summer of Fear.
HC: Your new book, Cold Pursuit, is set in San Diego, a first for you. Why the move away from Orange County? Can you tell us a little about the story?
TJP: I moved down here to San Diego County three years ago, so writing about San Diego was just about inevitable. I really like the city. It's got a whole different feel and history and look than Orange County or Los Angeles. I'll tell you, Harlan, it was a little daunting to grab my old reporter's notebook and camera and drive into this new, "foreign" city and try to get a feel for it. Cold Pursuit is a straightforward whodunit that involves feuding families, forbidden love and a cop caught in the middle of things. It was interesting to see how the San Diego PD works homicides -- very different than most other departments, because they use five-person teams. When I first discovered that, I thought, oh damn -- now I have to write a book with five protagonists. But I worked around the problem okay, I think.
HC: I know the T in T. Jefferson Parker stands for nothing, but what's up with that? Give us the down low.
TJP: True story: my mother told me that she and dad put the T. there because it would look good on the president's door. But they got a mystery writer instead of a statesman.
HC: How much does your writing life bleed into your personal life? Are you grumpy when the writing muse is not paying extended visits, or can you keep the personal and artistic separate?
TJP: I really can't separate too well. When the writing is going well, it shows in everything I do. When it's going poorly, that shows, too. The worst time is always between books, when I'm trying to start. It's hard on my wife and family sometimes. But I've been lucky in my career. Especially when it comes to writing what I want to write. I've yet to sit down and write a certain book because I have to. I've always written the book I wanted, for better or worse. So, even if it's not going real well, I always know that it can go well. If I can just get the story to come out of those strong, mysterious emotions that make you write in the first place. At some point a story takes on a life of its own. It kind of draws you into its world. One good sentence leads to another, one good page leads to the next. When it's going well, like that, you start to really trust your instincts. You get confident, downright brave. It's like stepping into the batter's box, knowing you can hit this guy. You know it, and you do.
From Mystery Readers International
Monday, April 07, 2003
The Pulitzer Prizes:
For fiction: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
For biography: Master of the Senate by Robert A. Caro. This is the third volume of Caro's biography of Lyndon Johnson and is Caro's second Pulitzer. He won in 1975 for The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York.
For history: An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943 by Rick Atkinson
For general nonfiction: 'A Problem From Hell': America and the Age of Genocide by Samantha Power
For poetry: Moy Sand and Gravel by Paul Muldoon
Los Angeles Times, March 30, 2003 pA-6
WAR WITH IRAQ / AIR AND GROUNDCombat's Lull a Pain in the Leatherneck; Marines who had been in the thick of battle find themselves fighting tedium, repairing equipment and catching up on their reading.
COPYRIGHT 2003 The Times Mirror Company
Byline: Tony Perry; Times Staff Writer
WITH THE U.S. MARINES IN CENTRAL IRAQ -- Nobody likes an MRE, until you're told you can't have one.
The military-issued food packet (MRE stands for "meal, ready to eat") has been in short supply lately. With the U.S. march to Baghdad stalled and supply lines stretched and under attack from Iraqi guerrillas, Marines in the 1st Division, Headquarters Battalion, were rationed to one MRE a day last week.
Now that supply trucks have arrived from Kuwait, the quota has been boosted to two.
"Oh no, the four fingers of death!" groaned one Marine as he opened his MRE to find four frankfurters in hot sauce -- not a favorite.
At this sprawling makeshift camp in the Iraqi desert, thousands of Marines assigned to Headquarters Battalion are fighting not Saddam Hussein and the Republican Guard but dust, flies, primitive conditions and even ennui.
By nature, Marines are an impatient lot and lack of movement does not sit easily with them. Just a few days ago, they led the headlong dash from Kuwait along the Euphrates River toward Baghdad. They battled Iraqi fighters for days to secure two bridges over the river and guarantee a supply corridor that will eventually extend some 400 miles.
Since Wednesday, however, they've been stuck.
"We're starting to call it Operation Enduring Boredom," said Staff Sgt. Jason Kirby, 33.
Marines are repairing vehicles ravaged by sandstorms, keeping supplies moving to more forward troops, digging "fighting holes" (only the Army digs foxholes), and tending to the minor chores that take on major significance when all other comforts are denied.
They are such chores as washing, shaving -- and picking just the right MRE. When there is time, they read. The Marine Corps is the only military service with a reading list. And books are everywhere -- books about Marine history, books by Robert Ludlum and Tom Clancy, and a few that surprise.
A supply officer is reading "Uncle Tom's Cabin." An artillery spotter is working his way through Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales." So far, he's finished "The Miller's Tale."
And Staff Sgt. Taryne Williams, 25, of Grand Rapids, Mich., is reading "The Spiral Path" by Mary Jo Putney, because "it's as trashy a novel as I could find, but it keeps my mind totally off the fact I'm in Iraq."
Living in tents, denied any chance for a real shower and subject to clouds of dust kicked up by the helicopters that land and take off at all hours, Marines here are on the prowl for diversions. Chess, spades ("the thinking man's poker," said one Marine) and dominoes are big. GameBoys are popular with younger grunts. A few of the troops keep journals.
In their flak-jacket pockets, Marines stash small articles of significance to their daily lives: good luck talismans, lip balm and tiny bottles of Tabasco sauce (rescued from their MREs).
When Marines are on the move, there is little time for thinking of anything but the mission. When the pace slows, the mood changes. They dwell on their fears, what they miss, what they've seen and their own lack of activity.
"When you get like this, it gives Marines time to think about stuff," said Staff Sgt. Brad Faulkner, 25, of Glasgow, Ky. "Right now we're here because the freakin' Army needs to catch up and be resupplied."
Few of these Marines, especially the young enlisted men, have ever seen action. And they know that whatever they have experienced so far is only a prelude of what is to come.
"We are all pretty young here and we've never been to war," said Lance Cpl. Christopher Somrek of Chicago. "This is all pretty new. Every time we go out we know we probably will get in a more dangerous situation. It gets you thinking: Is my gear good? Is my stuff good? Am I ready?"
In this downtime, before the final push to Baghdad, one thing Marines think about is whether the American public supports the war that has brought them here from Marine camps around the country. They often ask reporters assigned to the troops whether the U.S. public supports the war.
Although they are too young to have seen it firsthand, many have heard stories about servicemen returning from Vietnam to a hostile or indifferent nation.
"When you go back, you want people to know why you went over and served your country," said Sgt. David Vanuch, 24, of Springfield, Ohio.
Work starts early in this camp -- only a slacker is still in his sleeping bag at 7 a.m. -- but ends early as well. With sundown, all activity ceases.
Lights out is strictly enforced after sunset. To deter attackers, no lights are permitted outside tents and are allowed inside only if the window flaps are securely fastened. Flares attached to trip wires are positioned around the camp to warn of intruders. Some have been set off by wild dogs, leading to a swift and armed response from the "react squad."
There are morale boosters, though, at this undisclosed location, which, with its flat terrain and ashy soil, could pass for the California desert.
There is, for example, recently installed telephone service that allows calls back home for those with credit cards or relatives willing to accept the calls collect. The limit is five minutes.
But if there is a No. 1 booster, it probably comes in the form of the outdoor toilets, holes in the ground with box seats and camouflage netting for a bit of privacy. In the beginning of the move north, there were only trenches and bushes. Toilet paper is hoarded by Marines and shared only with best buddies.
"We're spoiled here," said Navy Petty Officer Kathryn Fauss, 22, of Rapid City, S.D., who assists the camp chaplains. "We've got toilets."
Here's a real page-turner
Nevada City and Grass Valley's story? More bookstores than anywhere else
Adair Lara, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, April 6, 2003
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle
Nevada City -- "It took me almost a year to discover I'd moved to a writer's idea of heaven," said poet Molly Fisk, who moved from Stinson Beach seven years ago when she fell in love. "Even though I'm extremely small potatoes in the writing world, when I step out onto Broad Street headed for the store to buy a lightbulb, people smile and wave and ask what I'm working on."
Where is she? Bloomsbury? Greenwich Village?
Nope. Nevada City.
Located in the Sierra Nevada foothills, just below the snow line about 30 miles off Highway 80 near Auburn, it's a typical little mountain town in many ways, with the usual hippies, busted dot-commers, rednecks with flag decals on their trucks, coupon clippers and right-wingers. Exhausted gold mines dot the countryside. But as Fisk found out, it's different.
It's literary. Nevada County voters, no fonder of tax increases than people in any other struggling rural community, overwhelmingly voted to triple the library budget five years ago. The local paper has a literary page. There are book fairs, classical music festivals and literary festivals. Fisk, along with bookstore owner Eric Tomb, hosts a radio show called "BookTown" on Monday afternoons on KVMR, a mountain version of Berkeley's KPFA.
And between Nevada City and the neighboring town of Grass Valley, with a combined population of about 15,000 people, there are 23 booksellers. Seventeen of them have stores, and the five others sell from their garages or on the Internet, including John Hardy, a former San Francisco trial lawyer.
Nevada City is, in fact, officially a book town. The term comes from a European idea for reviving little villages by concentrating booksellers there. This notion was dreamed up by an Englishman named John Booth in 1961 in Hay-on- Wye in Wales, when he inherited a castle and turned it into a used-book store. Then he bought up the rest of the town's buildings and turned them into bookstores, too. Today, the hamlet has more than 30 bookshops, which draw half a million visitors each year.
Gary Stollery, owner of Brigadoon Books in Nevada City, went to Hay in 1996 and came back determined to transform Nevada City and Grass Valley into a California version of Hay-on-Wye. A year later, Booth himself came over to attend a banquet for book dealers and local politicos that formally named the two towns as the Gold Cities Book Town.
According to Stollery, there are only two other book towns in the country. "Stillwater (Colo.) tried to get something going, and Larry McMurtry started something like it down in Archer City, Texas, where he runs a used-book shop spread over four buildings," Stollery said. "But Stillwater only has three or four (bookstores), and McMurtry's is a one-man operation, which is like cheating."
Admittedly, some of the Nevada City-Grass Valley bookstores are teeny. Nine of them are in one co-op building in Grass Valley called Booktown Books. In fact, when informed that she lived in a book town, the bartender in a downtown hotel looked puzzled. "There are a lot of funky little bookstores here," she allowed.
None of them are chains, and the booksellers work together. They have a common newsletter and gladly refer customers to one another, as two side-by- side used-book stores may not have a single title in common. "A book scout can hit a lot of shops without having to go a lot of miles," said Stollery. Ames Bookstore, with more than 300,000 volumes sprawling over five storefronts, is considered one of the best used-book stores in the state.
And where you find books, you also find readers. "I tried to join a book group and found out that all of the groups that meet regularly were filled," Fisk said. "Some are of such long standing that my brother-in-law Tom, who was born and raised here, inherited his mother's slot when she died."
And you find writers. Novelist Louis B. Jones ("California's Over") has been here eight years. "Our little house in Mill Valley purchased a lot of comfort up here," Jones said.
"People started moving up here in the late '50s, early '60s, partly because of Gary Snyder having come here. (Snyder, one of the original Beat poets, lives up on the San Juan Ridge above town.) But a lot of leftist, educated people moved up and stayed. So, it's small, but there are a lot of deep pockets of cultural stuff."
Jones has two kids in the local schools, which got the second-highest scores in the state, after Marin County. "It's quiet. It's beautiful. What Mill Valley used to be. We have a kitchen garden and a lot of space," he says. Jones, 49, is growing a beard and fantasizes about getting a job clearing brush. "It's sort of little Provencal. Good food, good people."
And where you find writers, you find artists. Elizabeth Dorbad, 32, a visual artist who lives on 90 acres outside town and works in a bookstore, says artists have followed the bookish types here.
"They are of like mind and interest. The literary scene influences all the arts." Fisk's co-host on the radio show, Tomb, 57, who started the first bookstore here in 1973, says Nevada City right now has a lively bohemian feel, like the art scene in Carmel at the turn of the century. He worries, though, that people are always talking about what a cultural center it is. He says Nevada City is in danger of becoming "a little too pleased with itself, like the Carmel of today."
It is a cultural center, but it is also still a rural small town. When he first moved up here, Jones worried he'd run into "a certain kind of small-town meanness. A resentment of people who think they're smart." In some ways, he says, the residents do live uneasily with each other. "There's a polarity up here. Collier and Snyder are the poles of that polarity." Peter Collier, who wrote for a left-wing paper, was a thorn in the side of the Johnson-Nixon administrations and is now writing for William F. Buckley, lives in Nevada City. "There's an interesting counterculture scene involving Wobblies and peace movements."
But Jones found his own views broadened by the locals. "I've met a lot of really smart conservatives up here." The local Foothill Theatre, in which his sister-in-law, novelist Sands Hall, is active, did a production of David Mamet's "Oleanna," a play about a professor who inappropriately touches a female student and sees his career unravel. Jones urged his wife (Brett Hall Jones, director of Squaw Valley Community of Writers) to sit near the door so they could escape the planned after-performance public discussion, but found he was glad he stayed to hear it. "All these country people had come in to see this play. The discussion was so much franker and braver than it would have been in Marin County, where people are unable to say how they feel anymore. It gave me a fresher faith in how neighborhood discourse can happen."
Fisk says that since she's moved to Nevada City, new words have made it into her poetry -- "granite," "heat" and "sugar pine." "But mostly I write about love," she says, "which got me here, to this little Victorian picture postcard built by miners and then reawakened by words."
A literary treasure trove in the Gold Country
Here are some of the bookstores in Nevada City and Grass Valley. For a complete list, call Nevada City Chamber of Commerce at (800) 655-6569.
309 Neal St., Grass Valley
Sprawling over five buildings, Ames has more than 300,000 used books, including sections on puppetry, heraldry and castles (if they don't have a section for a book, they create one). Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday and Thursday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. (530) 273-9261.
107 Mill St., Grass Valley
This store has about 75,000 volumes and prides itself on special orders. It also features an entire floor of children's books called the Children's Cellar.
Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. (530) 272-2131.
231 Broad St., Nevada City
General store specializing in metaphysics and local history. Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 10 a. m to 5 p.m. Sunday. (530) 265-9564.
TOAD HALL BOOKS AND BRIGADOON BOOKS
108 N. Pine St., Nevada City
These stores offer children's classics, novels, books on Scotland and Californiana and Western Americana. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. (530) 265-2216.
MOUNTAIN HOUSE BOOKS
418 Broad St., Nevada City
Specializes in Californiana, Mark Twain and the West, and offers rare and out-of-print editions. Hours: noon to 5 p.m. Friday through Monday. (530) 265- 0241.
11671 Maltman Drive No. 2, Grass Valley
This bookstore co-op houses nine stores. Among them are Lost Horse Books (books on horses) and Eric Tomb's Tomes Bookstore (philosophy, history, literature). Hours: 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. (530) 273- 4002.
Wednesday, April 02, 2003
2003 - 2004 Reading Group Suggestions Book Sense 76 Top Ten
Mar 27, 2003
This week, Book Sense This Week is publishing the top ten of the 2003 - 2004 Reading Group Suggestions 76, with bookseller quotes. Next week, BTW will feature the full listing, also with quotes.
The Reading Group Suggestions 76 was a great idea from stores, and many, many thanks to all those who gave so much help throughout the nomination process! It's our hope that this 76 will extend the reach of the program into the backlist and also provide you an effective new resource to market to all those great book buyers in reading groups. Stores will be receiving copies of the 2003 - 2004 Reading Group Suggestions 76 in the April white box.
For more information about this -- or any of the upcoming 76 lists, e-mail Dan Cullen at email@example.com.
2003 - 2004 Reading Group Suggestions Top Ten
1. THE POISONWOOD BIBLE, by Barbara Kingsolver (Perennial, $15, 0060930535) "Kingsolver transports the reader to the Congo in 1960, as a Baptist minister and his family try to convert Africans while dealing with the explosive dynamics within the country's political situation and within their own family. Book groups especially enjoy the distinct points of view of the mother and the four daughters, which Kingsolver masterfully crafts and develops throughout the book." --Kathy Schultenover, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Cincinnati, OH
2. THE RED TENT, by Anita Diamant (Picador, $14.95, 0312195516) "This richly detailed story of a family caught between two cultures, matriarchal and patriarchal, is told by Dinah, daughter of the Biblical Jacob. The Red Tent offers reading groups the opportunity to discuss women's history and families struggling with conflict." --Rita Moran, Apple Valley Bookshop, Winthrop, ME
3. GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING, by Tracy Chevalier (Plume, $13, 0452282152) "A young servant is asked to model for Vermeer against the wishes of the artist's wife and family. You'll find intrigue, jealousy, and an extraordinary look into the life and work of the artist from the young woman's point of view." --Donna DeLacy, Portrait of a Bookstore, Studio City, CA
4. HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG, by Andre Dubus III (Vintage, $14, 0375727345) "More than a riveting story of two people -- a formerly wealthy Iranian immigrant and a troubled young American woman -- fighting to own the same house, it is also a story of the clash of two cultures. It's an especially relevant book for discussion today, providing readers with insights into both the Muslim and American mind-sets." --Jeanne Morris, Bethany Beach Books, Bethany Beach, DE
5. MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, by Arthur Golden (Vintage, $14.95, 0679781587) "Book groups will enjoy discussing the gender issues, including that the author is a man and an American and the story is told in the voice of a famous geisha. Golden convincingly portrays this exotic, mysterious side of 20th century Japan." --Margie Skinner, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany, NY
6. THE SPARROW, by Mary Doria Russell (Fawcett, $12.95, 0449912558) "A vivid, believable tale of space exploration and first contact, seamlessly woven into a story with ethical and religious overtones. Even if you're the type to avoid science fiction, do not miss The Sparrow! It is an engrossing, intelligent recount of a mission gone horribly wrong despite all the right intentions." --Rosemary Pugliese, Quail Ridge Books & Music, Raleigh, NC
7. THE HOURS, by Michael Cunningham (Picador, $13, 0312243022) "This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel makes brilliant use of Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway to interpolate the stories of three women--two set in contemporary America, the third that of Woolf herself. Beautifully written and totally engaging, we watch as the characters' lives come together and illuminate each other. It's no wonder that The Hours is a book group favorite." --Karl Kilian, Brazos Bookshop, Houston, TX
8. ANGLE OF REPOSE, by Wallace Stegner (Penguin, $13.95, 014016930X) "This book epitomizes the difference in viewpoints in America between East and West 150 years ago. A young New Englander marries a mining engineer and settles in a small town in Colorado. This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel raises age-old questions about how free women are to lead their own lives and what happens to marriage when partners cannot compromise." --Carla Cohen, Politics & Prose, Washington, DC
9. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, by Harper Lee (Warner, $6.99, 0446310786; Perennial, $11.95, 0060935464) "A classic that everyone should read. Two children's exposure to racism, prejudice, friendship, and loss is tempered through the loving guidance of their father." --Liz Morgan and Jean Brandt-Lietzau, Village Bookstore, Menomonee Falls, WI
10. PLAINSONG, by Kent Haruf (Vintage, $13, 0375705856) "A 17-year-old girl, pregnant and with nowhere else to turn, is persuaded to live with the two old McPherons brothers, bachelors who know far more about cattle than teenage girls. The deceptively 'plain' language and structure of this novel mask its complex view of what we owe, and what we can give, to each other. How the characters' lives are changed and their trajectories beyond the novel's close are questions you'll ponder long after you're finished reading." --Russ Lawrence, Chapter One Book Store, Hamilton MT