Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Quotation of the Day
'What Prizes Can Do'
"This is what the Giller can do. This is what prizes in general can do. They can put people into the spotlight who never would have been there, and it's terrific when it happens."--Margaret Atwood, a judge for Canada's Giller Prize for fiction, to the National Post, discussing the shortlist's inclusion of several first-time authors.
Notes: Kenya Kicks Out Corsi; Jewel?
In one of the strangest author-tour stories, Jerome R. Corsi, co-author of the Swift Boat classic Unfit for Command, is being deported from Kenya, where he had gone to promote his new book, The Obama Nation, the New York Times reported.
The book, critical of Senator Barack Obama, whose father was Kenyan, is of questionable veracity. For whatever reason, Kenyan authorities plucked Corsi from a Nairobi hotel, where he was to hold a press conference, and said that he had misled them by "working" while in the country on a tourist visa.
Should booksellers stock Sherry Jones' controversial novel The Jewel of Medina, just published here by Beaufort Books? In his Guardian book blog, Nic Bottomley, co-proprietor of Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights, Bath, England, considered the options:
"It's not for a bookseller to judge what his or her customers should read. If a book hasn't been labelled so provocative or insulting as to be illegal then why should a bookseller (let's not overstate our role--we are a mere conduit between the writer/publisher and reader) take on the guise of a moral or religious arbiter?
"I wonder if I would feel so sure of my position if my shop was in an area with a significant Muslim population (rather than Bath with its notable absence of ethnic diversity). If it became clear that a large portion of my clientele were going to be personally offended by a book, then perhaps I wouldn't stock it. I certainly wouldn't be making up a Jewel of Medina window display.
"But again this would be a commercial decision. I wouldn't be saying to my customers 'you shouldn't read this,' I would be saying, 'I'm not going to commit business suicide by promoting a book that offends a large number of you.' I'd still take orders for it. And I'm sure plenty of Muslim customers would buy the book to discover whether or not the book does indeed cross the line in its depiction of the Prophet Muhammad."
The radical and the bookseller. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Duane Dudek recalled meeting Bill Ayers, the activist who's been a focus of intense media coverage recently, in 2003 at the Sundance Film Festival, where he and wife, Bernadine Dohrn, were appearing on behalf of the documentary, The Weather Underground.
During the interview, Ayers "talked about an appearance in Milwaukee at a Schwartz bookstore on Milwaukee's East Side to read from his book Fugitive Days, about the pair's radical past and experiences underground. He said despite a flap over his appearance there caused by 'right wing talk radio,' and the protective presence of police at the scene, 'it was the best reading ever. I think the audience was mostly Unitarians.' He said that he 'came to like' bookstore owner David Schwartz, who died in 2004, 'very much. He's a gutsy guy. His whole thing is free speech.'"
Has Margaret Drabble been asked to 'dumb down' her work to appeal to a larger readership? The Independent reported that the novelist and biographer said, "I do feel publishers are under very strong pressure to sell books rather than encourage long-term readers. They have not asked me to dumb down . . . but I have a feeling there's a problem. I write literary novels but I can sense my publishers have difficulty in selling me as a genre . . . whether in literary fiction, or women's fiction or shopping fiction. They don't quite know whether I'm highbrow or literary."
Kalen Landow has joined Rowman & Littlefield, where she is handling marketing and publicity for the group's trade imprints and working in the company's Boulder, Colo., office. Landow was formerly communications director at Chelsea Green and was long-time executive director of the Publishers Association of the West.
Soon she may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Obituary: Ron Hanby
Ron Hanby, director of gay and lesbian sales at Bookazine, has died. The company called him "a passionate bookseller and an advocate for each and every one of his accounts. He worked hard to make sure that our booksellers had a level of personal service unparalleled in this industry."
Before joining Bookazine, Hanby worked at Waldenbooks, B. Dalton Bookseller and Encore Books. He was a frequent contributor to industry publications and in 1997 received a Lambda Literary Foundation Pioneer Award, which honors people who, "through their achievements and passionate commitment, have contributed to the LGBT literary community in significant and tangible ways."
Co-op Tracker: Co-op Manager Pro
Booklog and Paz & Associates have teamed up to offer new software that will help bookstores claim and track the marketing money publishers offer. Co-op Manager Pro is available to any store regardless of the inventory management system they use and fully integrates with Booklog systems.
The program manages all forms of publisher co-op, including newsletter, pool, display and event marketing, and generates claim forms, tracks claims and generates reports. It can also be customized. The balance of unused co-op and claims already made are available at any moment. Additional features include a downloadable list of titles currently eligible for newsletter co-op and access to publisher co-op policies.
Co-op Manager Pro was developed by Paz & Associates for use with its newsletter marketing program, the Reader's Edge. "After managing co-op for dozens of stores in our newsletter program for years, we were able to find a partner who could understand the nuances of publisher co-op and help us develop software to manage claims and reports," Mark Kaufman of the Bookstore Training and Consulting Group of Paz & Associates said in a statement.
Ann Christophersen, co-owner of Women & Children First and a consultant to Booklog, added, "Since many co-op funds expire at the end of the year, we are pleased to have the software ready to help booksellers get financial support for their marketing plans and claim co-op before those funds are lost for 2008." Christophersen will give free assistance to any bookseller. For further information, call her at 800-977-8212 ext. 247 or via e-mail at email@example.com.
Media and Movies
Movies: City of Ember
City of Ember, based on the novel by Jeanne Duprau, opens October 10. In a city of perpetual darkness all light comes from a mysterious generator that shows signs of failing. Featuring Bill Murray, Tim Robbins and Martin Landau. The movie tie-in edition is available from Yearling ($6.99, 9780385736282/0385736282).
Media Heat: %@&*! Art Spiegelman
This morning on Good Morning America: a segment featuring anchor Robin Roberts, author of From the Heart: Eight Rules to Live By (Hyperion, $14.95, 9781401309589/1401309585). Roberts also appears on the View today and in a documentary on Nightline tonight.
Today on Fresh Air: David Iglesias, one of the U.S. Attorneys fired for political reasons and author of In Justice: Inside the Scandal That Rocked the Bush Administration (Wiley, $25.95, 9780470261972/0470261978).
Tomorrow on KCRW's Bookworm: Art Spiegelman, author of Breakdowns: Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@&*! (Pantheon, $27.50, 9780375423956/0375423958). As the show put it, "Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@&*! is the subtitle of this new book, and we talk about the kind of young %@&*! Art Spiegelman was: a depressive %@&*!, paranoid, with a strong formalist streak and a desire to align commix with the aesthetics of the high arts. We know the young man left his mark, but what does the old %@&*! have to say about him?"
Tomorrow on NPR's Tell Me More: Jeff Henderson, author of Chef Jeff Cooks: In the Kitchen with America's Inspirational New Culinary Star (Scribner, $30, 9781416577102/1416577106).
Tomorrow on the Diane Rehm Show: Ivan Doig, author of The Eleventh Man (Harcourt, $26, 9780151012435/0151012431).
Books & Authors
Book Brahmins: Ron RashRon Rash is the author of three novels, One Foot in Eden, Saints at the River and The World Made Straight, three collections of poems and two collections of stories. His latest novel, Serena, was published yesterday by Ecco. A recipient of the O. Henry Prize, he holds the John Parris Chair in Appalachian Studies at Western Carolina University.
On your nightstand now:
The Serpent and the Rainbow by Brad Davis; Breath by Tim Hinton; Shakespeare After All by Marjorie Garber.
Favorite book when you were a child:
The Call of the Wild by Jack London.
Your top five authors:
Shakespeare, Faulkner, Dostoyevsky, Hardy, McCarthy.
Book you've faked reading:
My high school Chemistry I textbook. The fact that I got a D- for the year shows my teacher wasn't fooled.
Book you're an evangelist for:
With by Donald Harington. Harington is America's Chaucer, and his lack of recognition and critical acclaim befuddles me.
Book you've bought for the cover:
The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw by Bruce Barcott. The cover is a gorgeous painting of the bird, and the fact that the book is about the scarlet macaw's probable extinction makes the cover even more haunting.
Book that changed your life:
Crime and Punishment. I read it in my mid-teens and was in a daze for a week. I didn't know a book could have that kind of effect on a person. That novel made me want to be a writer.
Favorite line from a book:
"She would of been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot every minute of her life."--From Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard to Find." Truer words have never been spoken about humanity.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Do you have a photograph or painting hanging above your writing desk:
Yes, it's a photo of Flannery O'Connor glaring at the camera, and thus at me, as if to say, "You're not there yet, son."
Book Review: Hippocrates' Shadow
Hippocrates' Shadow: Secrets from the House of Medicine by David Newman (Scribner Book Company, $26.00 Hardcover, 9781416551539, September 2008)
This challenging book might better have been subtitled: "Everything You Think You Knew about Medicine Is Wrong." In it, David Newman, a clinical researcher and emergency room physician in New York City, strives to upend our current understanding of the doctor-patient relationship and argues persuasively for a new paradigm.
Newman is no radical seeking to turn the medical establishment on its head, and if he has an axe to grind it isn't apparent in the way he quietly, but persistently, advances his claims. The heritage of Hippocrates, Newman asserts, rests on the bedrock of honesty between physician and patient. Today, sadly in his view, everything about our health care system operates to undermine that fragile bond. "In our system, communication has been cast aside as a trivial component of medical care and a nonentity in medical education," he writes, "dwarfed by what we perceive to be the great potency and authority of medical science." The result is no more satisfying to physicians than it is to patients.
Blending case studies from his own experience and analysis of cutting edge medical research, in each chapter Newman addresses one of medicine's "secrets," from the fact that doctors don't know what causes back pain or multiple sclerosis to their disturbing reluctance to abandon cherished myths ("pseudo axioms," as he calls them) in the face of overpowering statistical evidence. Did you know that studies of 130,000 women shows there's no benefit from routine screening mammograms in preventing deaths from breast cancer? Or that there's nothing to be gained--and much potential harm--from routinely prescribing antibiotics for strep throat? Newman's candid description of the way doctors disagree in their reading of chest x-rays and electrocardiograms will give you pause when it's time for your next annual physical.
In case after case, Newman eloquently argues (with considerable support from peer-reviewed medical literature) that much of modern medicine's conventional wisdom lacks either scientific validation or any rationale grounded in human behavior or psychology. Instead, he contends, we've been seduced into accepting as the ideal health care system one that rests on two vaunted but ultimately unreliable twin pillars--tests and pills.
Today politicians, economists, insurance industry representatives and health care professionals debate the changes that must occur in an American health care system that critics and consumers alike agree is broken in fundamental ways. Perhaps, David Newman suggests, the first tentative answers to our problems have to be sought not at the macro level but in the quiet of the examining room. Maybe Marcus Welby was on to something.--Harvey Freedenberg
Shelf Talker: A thoughtful physician explores the ways in which lack of candid communication between doctors and patients has contributed to the crisis in American health care and offers a frank prescription for how to fix it.
A Dozen More Authors and Ms. Bennett's Good Name
Several clarifications on our reports from some of the regionals:
The Northern California Independent Booksellers Association author reception featured 22 authors, not 10. Also, among the attendees at the New England Independent Booksellers Association was Carolyn Bennett--not Caroline--of BookStream.
Art: A Cartoonist's Tale, Part II--A Weird Continuum
"I know I'm going to be portrayed as bipolar for having Jack and the Box and Breakdowns come out at the same moment," Spiegelman says. Yet, he argues, "It's all on a weird continuum."
He and his friend Jay Lynch started a magazine called Blasé as teenagers and both worked at Topps writing copy for Wacky Packs, as Spiegelman writes in his introduction to Wacky Packages (Abrams, June 2008). Now both Lynch and Spiegelman have written titles for Toon Books, a series of beautifully produced paper-over-board comic books aimed at beginning readers and edited by Françoise Mouly (see Shelf Awareness, March 5, 2008). Spiegelman's Jack and the Box (Toon Books, October 7) explores the idea of a child overcoming fear through his repeated experiences with a Jack-in-the-Box, a gift from his parents. The bunny hero's name is Jack; the fellow in the box is called Zack. A teal-colored palette establishes the world that Jack inhabits with his parents; when Zack pops up, he introduces touches of red (in his bulbous nose, accordion-style collar and top hat). But when the boy Jack is alone with his gift, the palette changes for each "scene," divided into four-panel spreads. When Zack pops out, the panel tilts, often against a different-colored backdrop. "Come out and play!" says Jack. After repeated pleas to an elusive Zack, Jack says, "Bad toy!" So Zack pops out to defend himself. And later, when Zack jumps out of his box entirely, bouncing about the boy's room, chaos ensues, including the addition of a tiny man named Mack and his pet duck, Quack. But Jack and Zack work things out for themselves, and come to an understanding of each other.
Characteristically Spiegelman broke all boundaries of the book format with his first children's book, Open Me, I'm a Dog! (HarperCollins/Cotler, 1997). The dog, who narrates, attempts to convince readers that they really are holding a dog in their hands, rather than a book. The tail pops up, as if to wag, there's a furry patch children can pet, and a leash attached to the spine. "Did you ever see the point-of-purchase display I did for Open Me, I'm a Dog? It was the most diabolical thing I've ever done," Spiegelman, delighted, gets up from the table to grab a sample. "This had a battery and it was placed presumably at kid level. And then what would happen is the mother would be in the store and there'd be this thing with a wagging tail hypnotizing the kid and saying, 'Buy me, buy me.'" The actual slogan on the display says, "Read me, feed me, take me home." This was a throwback to Spiegelman's days with the Garbage Pail Kids and Wacky Packs. "There the idea was to wrest the quarter out of the kids' hands directly," he says. With Jack and the Box, he has to get past the customary gatekeepers--parents, teachers and librarians: "It's a different world where one is talking to the kid as a member of a civilized and socialized unit rather than the barbarics in a candy shop."
As always, he did a fair amount of research for Jack and the Box. Mouly has been working closely with teachers and librarians to ensure that the vocabulary and the concepts are well matched to the beginning readers she's trying to reach. Again, with shades of his Wacky Packs days, Spiegelman was using his equivalent of a rhyming dictionary, as he did with, say, his "Quacker Oats" trading card. "I was reading about how kids learn to read; they don't teach Q in some schools in first grade because it's too complicated to have a "Qu" and I thought, what can I do? I can't misspell it; that would be wrong. So I just figured okay, if it's Zack, Mack, Jack and then there's a duck and his mouth is open and there's something that says, "Quack," they'll be introduced to Q a couple of months before it would come their way otherwise, and all the clues are there." He adds slyly, "So if they're on a desert island trying to decode this book they'll figure out what the duck is saying."
If you don't believe his work is all on a weird continuum, take a look at the entry in Breakdowns called "Cracking Jokes." It stars a jack-in-the-box. Here's what it says on Jack's box: "The child's jack-in-the-box provides a potent example of the joke in its primitive form. A momentarily threatening surprise proves itself to be harmless. The child learns to master its fears through laughter." Indeed, that's just what Jack does in Jack and the Box (though the surprise is not quite as "harmless" for Jack, all ends well). The jack-in-the-box in Breakdowns, however, sports a jester's cap made of flaccid penises, which Spiegelman explains, was true historically--the cap indicated that the jester was impotent (a castrate) and therefore could say whatever he wanted. "I was trying to do something in 'Cracking Jokes,' which was to use comics to make an essay, which isn't what comics were for," Spiegelman explains. "They could be used to tell a joke, an escapist adventure story, a tedious history lesson in the educational comics, but to actually make an essay that made use of the fact that you had the visual component as part of the essay was for me one of the discoveries when I was doing these more experimental strips." He says that the strip also influenced others, including Scott McCloud, who later told Spiegelman that "Cracking Jokes" is what told him how to do his book Understanding Comics.
Despite Spiegelman's often bleak world view ("After all, disaster is my muse," he writes in No Towers), he remains, dare we say it, hopeful about the future of comics. "You can take something appalling like Obama Nation or [something like] James Joyce and feed them both into a kindle and look at it in whatever typeface you want and it will all pour in. But comics are totally site-specific. They have to be a certain size and they have to be a certain way, and the paper makes a difference, like in the Breakdowns book the stiff paper that separates the 1970s cover from the front and again in the back, making this a three-part work. You can't do that on a screen," Spiegelman says. "We keep hearing about the death of the book and the rise of the kindle and all of that stuff. What's ironically great is the same technology which is ostensibly replacing the book has made it possible to print the most beautiful books in the history of printing. And I think that's why comics are flourishing right now."--Jennifer M. Brown