more . . .
quick TAKES

Balzac was right. . . It's important for novelists to leave the ivory tower and
immerse themselves in the most intense aspects of the real world.  Which is why
author Janet Evanovich shares the
five things she loves about NASCAR.

What do you do with book stores when people stop reading books?  Go to
Pawleys Island, South Carolina to find out.  
Here an independent book retailer
survives by opening a post office in his store.  

This follows on the trend of converting book stores into coffee houses or (as with
the Borders chain) removing books and replacing them with greeting cards and
knick-knacks.  My local Barnes & Noble has its spin-off Game Stop, the video game
retailer, grafted on to its store.  Not such a great idea for parents like me who
bring their children to bookstores to get them reading instead of playing video

Chicago considers naming a street or a landmark after Saul Bellow, a novelist
who will always be linked in literary history with the Windy City.  But
a Chicago
alderman blocks the move due to Bellow's alleged racism.   

Of course, Chicago already has Hugh Hefner Way and Balbo Drive, named for Italo
Balbo, a fascist Italian air minister from the 1930s.  But, for the time being, the
move to create a Saul Bellow Drive is at an apparent dead end.  

You Can't Always Get What You Want:  But why worry about Saul Bellow, in a
world where
Mick Jagger is lauded as a great intellectual.  (Yes, I know he went to
the London School of Economics, but really . . . )

Can you pass the John Updike test?  Check it out here.

Stick and stones may break my bones . . .  but words may lead to a rich legal
settlement.  A
publisher files for bankruptcy because of libel suits.  The company's
four largest creditors are law firms.  And even  when writers can't be held liable
under US law, they still need to worry about
much more inclusive British libel laws.  

Hence the new buzzword:  libel tourism.  And how goes it in England? Read
the composer who is suing the London Evening Standard over a negative
review.  And
David Irving threatens to sue London's Jewish Chronicle for calling him
a "Holocaust denier."  One
US author declares war on England's libel laws.  

Learn about the five books on terrorism you aren't allowed to read because of
British libel laws.   

Dave Eggers wins the $250,000 Heinz Award, and donates the money to
establish non-profit centers to promote literacy.

Do the math:  One Heinz award = 2.5 Man Booker Awards.  That's a lot of catsup! launches a contest to find the next great novelist. . . and then
stops accepting submissions after it quickly gets to its 5,000 novel cap.

Media reports on the latest Whiting Awards -- for promising young writers --
focus on the key facts.  
Namely, that one of the recipients is a goat farmer,
another is a Wyoming climber, a third has a tattoo.  A boxing enthusiast ranks
among the award winners.  But no mention anywhere of how well they write.

Some aspiring writers go to workshops.  Others get a degree in creative writing.  
Me?  I just return to Elmore Leonard's ten rules.  A recent interview with Leonard
can be found
here.  And, for those who aspire to literary greatness, here are the

1. Never open a book with weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said".
5. Keep your exclamation marks under control.
6. Never use the word "suddenly".
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Ditto, places and things.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Aspiring writers don't get enough practical advice of this sort.  I remember the
time I pressed a successful author of suspense novels to give me a writing tip.  He
thought it over, and after careful consideration announced:  "When you write
about your hero getting into a fight, make sure the fight goes on for a long time."  
A single nugget like that is worth its weight in blogging paper.  

And how much are my old Encyclopedia Brown books worth?  A first edition of
the initial Harry Potter book
sold for more than $40,000 at an auction held by
Christie's.  Only 500 copies were printed during this first press run -- an
inauspicious start for the most successful fictional works of our time.

But will friends buy copies?  MySpace enters the book publishing field.  The work,
My Space / Our Planet will focus on environmental issues, but other volumes
are apparently in the works.  

Don't know what to read?  One enterprising blogger has solved this problem by
letting visitors to his site vote on what book he should pick.  
Catch-22 took first
place, while
The Scarlet Letter finished at the bottom.  (The lesson here:  not
enough Puritans on the web.)  The entire results available

Jack Kerouac was a master at life on road, except when he traveled to Montreal
-- and was
laughed at by the audience because he tried to speak French.  "It's not
even the French of an Anglo speaking French, it's the French of someone who's a
farmer, someone far from Montreal . . ."

Another journalist announces that the serious novel is dead.  While a more
optimistic fishwrap lists
ten ways to get folks to read a book.

The Millions presents its list of most anticipated imaginary books.  Selections
include Christopher Hitchens' future bestseller
Moms Are Not Nice and A Perfectly
Fine Generation
by Tom Brokaw.  Complete list here.  

Does the New York Times Book Review have a
nasty attitude?  One commentator
wonders a persistent "
tendency to trample their ostensible subjects with the
reviewer's own ideological hobby horses."  

Worse than memorizing a page of Biblical begats:  I cursed Mark Z. Danielewski
while reading his
House of Leaves for all the typographical quirks -- especially the
pages that required me to put them up to a mirror to read the text.  (That was
even a bigger bummer than that
ridiculously long sentence toward the end of
Ulysses.)  But Danielewski's interview with Callie Miller & Michele Reverte is
refreshingly easy to read, except for the smattering of
red letters spelling out his
favorite city.

But, silly typography aside,
House of Leaves is the best novel I have ever read
about an empty house.  

In Tuscola, Texas,
an English teacher is on leave and under investigation for
assigning a Cormac McCarthy novel to high school students.

According to this pundit, we could have avoided this mess in Iraq
if President Bush
had read more classical literature.  

John Updike recommends six books every critic should have.  (Part of an excellent
ongoing series at
Critical Mass.)  

artin Amis asks an audience whether they feel morally superior to the Taliban
. . and only 30% raise their hands.  Meanwhile
the haughty journalist asks:  Has
Amis lost his marbles?

But does Ed McMahon come to your door with galleys?  Publishers Weekly claims
that a favorable review in its pages
can make an unknown author into a
millionaire. . .  . And I never guessed that Publishers Weekly was affiliated with
Publishers Clearinghouse.  

Many libraries
refuse to participate in Google's book scanning project.  Many
choose to work with the
Open Content Alliance, a non-profit that is taking the
Internet behemoth.  

The Unbelievable Lateness of Publication:  Milan Kundera's The Unbearable
Lightness of Being
wins the Czech Republic's State Award for Literature.  This 1984
book may be old news for the rest of us, but it is a new book in Kundera's former
home country -- where it was published for the first time last year.

When you are accused of plagiarism . . .
just blame your ghostwriter.  

Too close to home:  Ian McEwan's son had to write an essay on his dad for his A-
level English exam.  
What grade do you think he got?

They should call it the BCS bestseller list:  The sad truth emerges on how books
get on the New York Time bestseller list.  Hint: buying a cup of coffee for Sam
Tanenhaus doesn't help.  That's right . . . It's (mostly) decided by those bloody

What's harder than reading all of Tolstoy's War and Peace?  How about reading
two new translations of
War and Peace and comparing the pros and cons.  Natasha
Randall takes the plunge into 2,161 pages and lives to tell the story . . . twice!

And the two
publishers are getting into their own war, each party asserting that all
Tolstoys are not the same.  

Of course, there is always the Woody Allen approach:  "I took a speed reading
course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It involves Russia."

The Guardian announces that it is time to ditch the Booker Prize.  Robert Harris
goes farther -- announces that
the Booker Prize is Evil.  

Inquiring minds want to know:  How to read an e-book in the bathtub.  

But publishers insist that
consumers still want to own a physical book, even if the
pages get wet.  

Sure youngsters hide stuff from their parents -- but what if the contraband is a
Liesl Schillenger considers this scenario in her review of Tom Perrotta’s new
The Abstinence Teacher.  

Some people complain about the New York Times;  others merely sell their
stock.  In the case of the Morgan Stanley, that amounts to $183 million in stock,
dumped in one fell swoop.  You want to buy a bit of history?  NYT stock is at its
lowest price in the last decade.  

Life imitates Art:  The author of Inside the Crips: Life Inside L.A.'s Most Notorious
Gang is sentenced to 126 years in prison for committing acts almost identical to
those described in his book.

Don't let the bloggers hear about this:  Hollywood screenwriters are on strike,
demanding that pay schedules be set up for the use of their work on the Internet.  
Didn't anyone tell them that the web is set up as a
gift economy?

And Snape is into S&M:  J.K. Rowling kicks Albus Dumbledore out of the closet.

Life Imitates Art -- Part 2:  Horror Novelist Suspected of Eating Girlfriend.  As they
say, the artist weeps, the agent smiles.

In the flurry of the Booker, Nobel and other awards, let's not neglect to mention
William Gass, age 83, has won the St. Louis Literary Award.   Previous
honorees include  Joan Didion, Richard Ford, Arthur Miller, Saul Bellow, Eudora
Welty, T.S. Eliot and Tennessee Williams.

My immediate reaction . . . Not enough Swedes on that list!

From the email box, more responses to
the alternate universe Nobel prize

From Peter Nicholson:  "I enjoyed your alternative Nobel list. Can't agreethat
Trilling was preferable to White - not surprisingly! W. S. Gilbert: now that's thinking
out of the box. Auden not getting the prize - life ain't fair, but we know that

From Brent Gilmore:  "And since your list is inclusive enough for Bob Dylan and
Stephen Sondheim, isn't there a place for the literary intelligence of film maker
Ingmar Bergman?"

From Richard Bleiler:  "What a wonderful list!  If there were any justice in the
administration of the Nobel Prize for Literature, the list of prize winners would
doubtless be much as you have it.  But – but! -- how could you have omitted H. G.
Wells?  Surely he did more for the cause of literature and the enjoyment of reading
and thinking, to say nothing of advocating social causes, than such writers as
Freud, Trakl, Grey, and Zweig?"  

From Trevor Butterworth:  "Lagerkvist is far superior to Parker. . . .He's just not
well-known in the English-speaking world; but Barrabas, the Dwarf and the Sibyl
kick Dottie's ass (she was a better journalist than short story writer). Otherwise, I
think your list is mostly spot on: Wittgenstein is a better philosopher than Russell,
but a more readable one? Not sure on that. And there needs to be a place made
for Mikhail Bulgakov.
The Master and Margarita is an artistic AND popular triumph -
and he predates everyone else on magic realism.   Finally, the greatest omission: P.
G. Wodehouse."

With Halloween knocking at the door, it is time to celebrate the
great haunted
libraries of the US and Canada.

And how many copies did Anne Enright (winner of Booker Prize) actually sell of her
book?   Nielsen book scan show 3,300 copies sold,
but Enright's publisher claims to
have peddled 35,000.   This proves what I've always suspected -- that the kids
who are good in math grow up to get real jobs, while the rest opt for publishing.  

But what a refreshing change from the music industry, where companies
understate sales to minimize royalties, while everyone else exaggerates the

And there is no truth to the rumor that the
Booker short-listed books will be made
available for free on-line.  To which I say: "DUH!"  Of course, publishers won't give
them away.  But imagine the impact if a philanthropist funded the on-line
distribution of 10,000 free copies of each book on a first-come, first serve basis.  I
estimate a total cost of around $500 K per year.  By comparison,
sponsoring a
NASCAR driver requires a commitment of $10 to $20 million.  

The lesson is simple:  the pen may be mighter than the sword, but it's still a wus
compared to a
souped-up Chevy.    

Is the printed book review dead meat?  Maybe not, but this cool interface for
reading TLS -- that's the Times Literary Supplement for you philistines -- makes it a
lot easier to skip the fishwrap and read on-line.  It's free this week with simple

Twenty-one staff members have
submitted their resignations at Britain's oldest
literary agency.  The problems started when the firm was acquired by a sports
marketing company.  Clients include Julian Barnes, Tom Stoppard and a bunch of
cricket and rugby players who can't write a sestina to save their lives.  

Learn to talk cool.  According to the Urban Dictionary, the proper response when
someone pesters you in paparazzi-type fashion is to turn and shout:  "
Britney alone!"  Well, if the literary world ever had its own Britney, it is ailing
Norman Mailer.  Was I the only one disturbed by Philip Roth's apparent gloating
over Mailer's age (now 84) and infirmities in his most recent novel?  And how about
those who attack the 6,200-word. sycophantic review of Mailer's The Castle in the
Forest in America's newspaper of record?  

All I have to say is:  "Leave Britney alone."

Today's tongue-twister:   Say
In the Belly of the Beast three time fast.  Then go
back to

Was Raymond Carver's reputation as a taut, minimalist writer really
just the result
of the tinkering of his editor Gordon Lish?  Carver's widow, Tess Gallagher wants
to let us find out.  Hmmm, isn't this like learning that Ennio Morricone really wanted
sappy string orchestra arrangements for those old Sergio Leone films?  

This talk about
Doris Lessing's Nobel Prize serving as a victory for science fiction is
really too much.   If the Nobel committee wanted to honor the sci-fi genre, they
could have found
a hundred better books than  Canopus in Argus: Archives.   
Everyone knows that Lessing's non-science fiction works -- such as
The Golden
and The Grass is Singing -- inspired this award.  And the deeper truth is
that genre fiction is not even on the radar screen of the judges in Stockholm.   In
stark contrast to the way they obsess over the geographic distribution of the
award recipients.

Many have responded to the
Alt-Reaility Nobel Prizes.  Ripostes, friendly or
otherwise, can be found at
Peg Kerr's Journal, The Valve, the Cleveland Okie,
Super Awesome Villains, The Painful Nowning Process and Savannah Lee -- among
others.  Thanks, folks, for all the e-mails.  I never knew Zane Grey had so many

Down in the dumps because your novel only sold 3,000 copies?  Don't fear . . . it
might just
win the Booker Prize.  With the £50,000 prize, Anne Enright could
purchase another 6,418 copies to give away to family members and friends.

Why do they name the recipient of
Spain's Planeta literary award and the short list
Canada's Governor General's Literary Awards on the same day that the Man
Booker winner is announced?  Even the NBA knows enough not to schedule a
game on the night of the NCAA basketball championship.  

On Chesil Beach is a great book, and would have been a worthy work to
win the Booker award.  But some argue that its novelty is merely that it is
woman's book written by a man.  And what about the critic who could tell from the
first line of McEwan's novel Saturday that it was like those trashy romances they
sell at the supermarket?   
On Chesil Beach, we are further assured, is more of the
same.  (Hey, I need to start checking out the fiction in the check out line.)

Doris Lessing as Nobel laureate?  Christopher
Hitchens goes ga-ga.  Harold Bloom
sees it as
one more tribute to political correctness.  While some brave critics raise
that troubling genre question.  

And why not
a Nobel prize for sci-fi?  Alas, the last time I looked, Lessing's sci-fi
"classic" --
Canopus in Argus: Archives was out-of-print.   

Or you can ask
Michiko Kakutani, who has lavished Lessing's books with praise
such as "crudely written," "preposterous," "tendentious" and "flat-footed."  But
maybe they
translate better into Swedish, huh?

Frankly, I am not surprised (as are some snooty literati) that
Doris Lessing has a
page on MySpace.   But I was alarmed to see that she only has 258 friends.  
Marisha Pessl has 1,236 friends -- and she has only published one novel.  

And how sad that
the postcard from Lessing placed for auction for on eBay still
hasn't received a single bid -- and the minimum bid is only $9.99.  Meanwhile a
bidding war is being waged over
a postcard by R. Crumb.  If I rely on the eBay
economic value meter, one R. Crumb is worth 16 Doris Lessings.  And he didn't
even make the short list in Stockholm!

And who says it doesn't pay to hang out at the local bookstore?  It helps when
celebrity author gives out hundred dollar bills for his fans.

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?  "Practice, practice, practice . . ." Or write a
successful series of books featuring a boy wizard.