quick TAKES

We need new fairy tales for the new millennium.  Three well known writers rise to
the challenge.   

A survey finds which books British readers are most likely to re-read.   The top
positions go to works by Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, J.R.R. Tolkien and J.K.
Read the entire list here.  

Mark Twain's family kept his Letters from the Earth hidden from view for more
than a half century following his death --
fearful that his combination of sacred and
profane views would prove too shocking to his admirers.

Let's hope this one isn't appealed to the Supreme Court:  A Federal judge has ruled
on what constitutes a poem.

Meanwhile Kristin at spam-poetry.com has found a new source of poetic
. . . namely, the spam emails she receives each day.  For example:  

You Can Make It Happen!
Your refinance application has been accepted.
Your Palms Hotel 3 Night Stay is Confirmed
Your Home Value.
Your health, your care
Your health support
Your Guide to Wealth . . .

Which, honestly, is only a couple steps below "Of Mans First Disobedience, and the
Fruit of that Forbidden Tree . . ." or "April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of
the dead land . . ."

Meanwhile, I am awaiting the Federal judge's ruling on spam poetry.

But Kristin is not alone in making high culture cuisine from spam . . .  artist Lizzie
Hunter is relying on spam poetry for inspiration in the visual arts.  

Writing about writers:  In Philip Roth's latest novel, Exit Ghost, protagonist Nathan
Zuckerman takes verbal potshots at biographers of famous literary figures.  But how
does Roth deal with his own hand-picked biographer?  “I make up the stories, ... and
now he's going to make up a story about me,” the author noted in a recent interview.  
But Ross Miller (nephew of Arthur Miller, and the scholar working on the Roth book)
sees things differently.  

Many literary stars are currently "biographer-free" -- a list that (according to the
New York Times) includes Cormac McCarthy, E. L. Doctorow, Don DeLillo, Toni Morrison,
Thomas Pynchon and Salman Rushdie, among others.  Hard to believe in this age of
degraded literary theory -- when, one might hope, a budding academic would look for
a project with substance -- that no scholar has stepped forward to tackle the job of
chronicling these fascinating lives.  Yet, as
another writer quips "the Mitford sisters
have had more biographers than some of us have had hot dinners."

Chinese author Guo Jingming make more money than any other writer in China.  
He earned 11 million yuan (equal to about a million-and-a-half greenbacks) in royalties
for his novel
The River of Sorrow.   Great sales . . . but he definitely needs a new hairdo.
How do you place a value on scholarship?  Easy . . . just look at the royalty
statement.  Yu Qiuyu, China's "most renowned scholar" according to China Daily, only
placed tenth on the list.  But
his 'do is much more respectable.  

Even more interesting (to this curious scribe) is the fact that a list of the wealthiest
writers is published each year in China, and triggers controversy among the general

Can I get that quote as my ring tone?  Semiotican Umberto Eco sees the "imbecile"
who bleats into his iPhone, as "in reality strutting around like a peacock with a crown
of feathers and a multicolored ring around his penis."  

Next question:  What is a semiotician?  Quick answer:  It is an "imbecile strutting
around . . ." etc. etc.   

Publishers Weekly announces its choices for the best books of the year.  The
absence of Michael Chabon is puzzling.  
The Yiddish Policemen's Union is one of the two
best novels of the year.  (I'll let you guess the other.)  And he also scored with
Gentlemen of the Road (soon to be reviewed in these pages).  

And The Raw Shark Texts should have found a place on the list, if only in the Sci-Fi
category.  But the literary world continues to struggle when trying to pigeonhole
books that fall between the sometimes arbitrary categories of serious fiction and
genre fiction.  Which, to some degree, also describes the plight of the Chabon books.

A film on abstinence . . . but will it get a G rating?  The directors behind that
charming film
Little Miss Sunshine, are now looking to make a movie based on Tom
Perrotta's The Abstinence Teacher (number thirteen on the New York Times hardcover
fiction best-seller list this week.)

Your advertisements are overdue:  A British direct marketing firm pioneers the
concept of
placing advertisements in library books.  

This takes the prize:  A fictional autobiography of Zelda Fitzgerald -- Alabama Song
written by Gilles Leroy --
wins the Goncourt Prize.  And who says the French dislike
Americans?  This year an American subject won, while last year an American author
(albeit one who wrote
a 900 page novel in French) was awarded the distinguished

Instead of playing the ponies, you can check out the betting line for the National
Book Awards.  Denis Johnson's
Tree of Smoke (recently reviewed in these virtual
pages) is the odds-on favorite.

"All writers are bastards, no?":  Check out an interesting interview with author Paul
Verhaeghen.  This cognitive psychologist turned novelist, recently published Omega
, a 695-page cross between a thriller and "novel of ideas."

Papercuts highlights a gallery of intriguing photos taken of various items found in the
book cart at a Wisconsin jail library.  

Stephen Metcalf recalls the quip that "there are only two possible stories: a man
goes on a journey, or a stranger comes to town."
 But Richard Russo, in his new
Bridge of Sighs, discovers a third.  

Meanwhile Russo admits:  "This book resisted me. I didn't know how to tell this

Imagine a conversation between reclusive novelist Cormac McCarthy -- the man
who gave only three interviews in 74 years -- and quirky film-makers the Coen
. . . Even better, read it here.  

Papercuts highlights a gallery of intriguing photos take of various items found in the
book care at a Wisconsin jail library.

More film adaptations of Philip K. Dick stories are in the works . .  Alanis Morissette
will appear in the movie version of
Radio Free Albemuth.  Meanwhile Paul Giamatti is
pursuing his own Philip K. Dick project    And let's not forget the Dick bio-pic.  We have
elsewhere of Dick's extraordinary influence,, but even admirers of this quirky
author can only be astonished by the continued bull market in all things Dicksian.

Speaking of literary films . . . the early buzz on the movie version of Ian McEwan's
Atonement is very positive.  The film opens in North America on December 7.

Will Jonathan Franzen be your friend?  On Facebook, anything is possible.  

Why Yanks win so few Nobel Prizes in literature . . . November 5, 1930:  Sinclair
Lewis receives a phone call from Sweden telling him he is the first American to win the
Nobel Prize in literature.  Lewis thinks it is a prank, and mimics the caller's Swedish

Own a bit of literary history:  A Dorset home where Dickens once slept will be put up
for sale.

Why are books so bloody expensive?  An insider admits that prices have nothing to
do with what consumers are willing to pay.  It's all about
squeezing as much money
as possible out of the libraries.  "There are SO few sure things in this business . . . "
and one of them is that the lady who says "sh-h-h-h-h!" has to buy the book no
matter what it costs.  

The first great work in Western literature?  According to one critic, nothing
surpasses the final book of T
he Iliad.  

And the worst book ever?  According to The Gawker, it is the new James Lipton
memoir.  Here's a passage -- you make the call:

April may be the cruelest month to Eliot, but to me it's the kindest, with the portents of
spring, which is crammed with beginnings. Of holidays, I enjoy Memorial Day because it
officially begins the pleasant summer season, and dislike Labor Day because it ends it

I can hardly wait to read his grand sentiments on Groundhog Day and Arbor Day.

And if you mix up the Iliad and the Lipton memoir (= The Lipiad?), you get a fair-to-
middlin' read for a slow afternoon.  

Elizabeth D. Samet writes a vivid memoir of a decade spent as a civilian
literature at West Point.

Hollywood writers vote 90% in favor of striking for more money.  Meanwhile
bloggers fight to give away stuff for free.  (How come I'm always on the wrong side of
these things?)

Photographer Taryn Simon has an intriguing exhibition coming soon to New York.  It
is entitled
An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar, and includes pictures of
things you would normally never see . . .  you know, photos of prison death rows,
huge piles of contraband, super-secret government operations and (the rarest of all)
the proverbial
Braille edition of Playboy.  

Looking for inspiration?  
Mull over this list of the top 100 living geniuses.  (You know
it's a strange list when you see Matt Groening sandwiched between George Soros
and Nelson Mandela.)

Poet Yves Bonnefoy wins the Franz Kafka Prize, an annual award given out by the
Franz Kafka Society in the city of Prague, Czech Republic.  Past winners include Philip
Roth, Haruki Murakami and Harold Pinter.  

(This award should not be confused with the
Janet Heidiger Kafka Award, given out
annually by the University of Rochester.  Past winners of
that Kafka Award -- which
focuses exclusively on female authors -- include Mary Gordon, Toni Morrison and Ann

A good question:  What if . . . J.K. Rowling wrote a book, and
only seven copies were

An even better question:  How long before one of those copies shows up on eBay?

Speaking of eBay . . the
auction for one of only of 150 copies of the first edition of
Ulysses will soon begin.  Bidding starts at $7,500.  

The President of Chile is giving boxes of up to nine books to 400,000 poor
families.  The move is aimed at increasing literacy.  If you had to pick the nine books,
which would you select?  
Read the discussion here.  

"When I think of a writer, I think of a person who locks himself up in a room":  
Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk comes to Washington, D.C. to share some
unconventional thoughts on the political impact of fiction.

A truism of libel law is that you can't be sued for what you write about a dead person.
But are you free to write openly about a fictional character?  
J.K. Rowling thinks not.  

Useful additions to our vocabulary

  • Trick Lit, according to Seth Grodin, is "the term for a chick lit novel that
    pretends to be something else, hoping to rope people in with an interesting
    premise. 30 pages later, you discover that you were deceived, that it's just
    another piece of genre trash."

  • Multi-slacking (from the ever useful Urban Dictionary) is the ability to engage in
    several mindless pursuits simultaneously, while avoiding productive work.  

  • Hollywood marriage:  A little longer than a New York minute.  It represents a
    time period of approximately one month.  

  • SITCOMS are a growing demographic in my neighborhood.  The initials stand
    for "Single Income, Two Children, Oppressive Mortgage" -- or what yuppies
    become when the condo flops instead of flips.

And our favorite . . .

  • Micro-persuasion:  A tendency to convince people through blogging instead of
    via mass media channels.    

Now let me try to micro-persuade you . . .

*                *                *                *                *

Some folks argue about the winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, while others
merely fret over the best baseball books.  
Submit your favorites here.  One blogger
chimes in on the subject, and touts baseball books by DeLillo and Kinsella.

But I prefer baseball haiku -- a specialty of Japanese hardball fans with literary
aspirations.  Here is one of my favorites

the boy not chosen
steps over the home plate
picks up his books

Ah, that boy was me . . . hence the birth of the
Great Books Guide

The victory of quality over quantity:  The White House announced the recipients of
the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the one novelist honored has not published a
book in almost a half century.  Yes, that honoree is . . . Harper Lee.

Hard-work, virtue, honesty, dedication describe which American man of letters?  No,
not Benjamin Franklin, rather Hunter S. Thompson.  (At least
according to his wife.)

Don't judge a book by its movie, sayeth the sage.  But I can't help getting excited
about forthcoming movie versions of Ian McEwan's
Atonement and Jonathan Franzen's
The Corrections.  And how can I not be jazzed about Pixar tackling John Carter of Mars?

Six degrees of separation: Today our game involves connecting novelists and military
Answer #1:  Long before the Cuban revolution, Fidel Castro practiced
shooting with
Ernest Hemingway's gun.  Answer #2: Toni Morrison rubs shoulders
with General Norman Schwarzkopf, but only in
the New Jersey Hall of Fame.  And #3?  
Who can guess the important link between Mark Twain and Ulysses S. Grant?

quick TAKES
Novelist Ray French selects his ten favorite black comedies.

A major publisher considers
abandoning hardcover editions of literary fiction.

But will that telltale odor permeate the auditorium?
More than fifty historians,
scholars and critics gather at UMass for . . .  
an academic conference on the Grateful

Who needs a library . . . when you have a list of twenty places that offer free e-

Joseph Heller wanted to call his novel Catch-18 . . . but the publication of another
book with a similar title forced him to reconsider.  Then the book almost became
Catch-11, but the Rat Pack film Ocean's Eleven intervened.  Read here the surprising
story of modern fiction's most famous integer.  

eBay is accepting bids on a letter from a famous American writer, in which he tells
a teacher "Please don’t make your students read my work."  (Hint: it's
not Norman

You can't finish writing your novel? Well, here is an easier assignment . . . Write a
story in one sentence.

'Peruse' this article on "Nine Words That Don't Mean What You Think."  Decent
article . . . but I am even more impressed by the photos.  Editors, pay attention . . .
This is how to enliven boring discussions of semantics with illustrations.  If the book
review pages at the
Atlanta Journal Constitution had followed this model, they would
still be part of the daily fish-wrap.

I wish this had existed when I was a kid.  Who needs a grown-up to read fairy
tales, when the computer can make up its own.

Time dismisses V.S. Naipaul's latest book as little more than a compendium of
superciliousness and spite."

Does the death of Norman Mailer really mean the death of the Great American
 The Independent goes too far.  I refuse to bury the American novel so long as
we can still count on Philip Roth, Don DeLillo, Jonathan Franzen, Marilynne Robinson,
Michael Chabon, Jonathan Lethem, Richard Powers, Edward P. Jones, Ray Bradbury,
Marisha Pessl, Ann Patchett, Denis Johnson, Paul Auster, Mark Z. Danielewski, Tom
Wolfe, Cormac McCarthy, Joyce Carol Oates, Neal Stephenson, Orson Scott Card, Toni
Morrison and Thomas Pynchon among others.  

Denis Johnson's exceptional novel Tree of Smoke wins the National Book Award.  
Read our review here.  Other honorees include Joan Didion, Robert Hass and Terry
Gross.  For more on the National Book Award recipients
click here.  

Johnson's book is the fifth novel published by Farrar, Straus, Giroux to win the
honor during the last eight years.
 But this is not just a string of good luck . . .
rather much deserved success driven by outstanding books, such as
Tree of Smoke,
The Corrections and The Echo Maker.

Departed literary lions in recent months include Norman Mailer and William Styron
and Kurt Vonnegut.  Which of these reached the largest audience?  
Find out here.  

Norman Mailer is remembered by Gore Vidal, E.L. Doctrow, Gay Talese, Joan Didion
and others.

Papercuts shares some bizarre books.