October 13, 2006
National Book Award Nominees
Earlier this week the National Book Award nominees were announced:
The Looming Tower is my early favorite with At Canaan’s Edge on its heels. If Imperial Life in the Emerald City wins I'll chalk it up to judges' anti-Bush sentiment. There aren't any prominent conservatives as non-fiction judges.
September 30, 2006
Easy to Scoop a Book as Woodard's Tome Proves
The NY Times and the NY Daily News embarrassed the Washington Post by scooping them about portions of Bob Woodward new book State of Denial. How did the Times get a hold of a book that won't be on sale until next week? Easy, they went to a bookstore and got someone to break the strict-on-sale date. At my bookstore copies of Woodard's book were in for days. I could have cut open a box, bought one, and scooped everyone. Of course I would have lost my job. It's even possible the stores didn't think they did anything wrong. Bookstores like most retail outlets is staffed by lots of part-timers. It's hard for managers to communicate all the fine points to all employees. Some bookseller might have just saw a pile of State of Denial in the backroom and thought it would be nice to stock them on the book floor. Stuff like that happens.
Other than plot points to the next Harry Potter novel it's not hard to get a scoop on a book that has been printed and shipped to stores.
"Post Rushes Woodward Story After Other Papers Scoop It"
September 22, 2006
Wait a While for Final Harry Potter Book
Harry Potter fans, I have to give you some bad news. It will be a while before the final Harry Potter book. J.K. Rowling said, "I'm not close to finishing it."
"Rowling Says Seventh Harry Potter Book 'Not Close to Being Finished"
September 06, 2006
Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower
When books appear on bestseller lists a bright neon red sign reading "skeptical" pops into my mind. I admit I'm a bit of a snob, but when bestseller lists contain The Da Vinci Code for years on end, and when an Ann Coulter collection of bad-jokes-as-polemic appears at number one immediately after its release you can understand my hesitation at basing the quality of a book on current popularity. That was my initial impression of Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower. However, from the reviews I've read it's a formidable tome. Reviewer Erik Spanberg praises the book writing,
Simply put, this is the most thorough and accessible account of the people, politics, and roiling theology behind Islamic terrorism. It should be required reading for every American; yes, it is that good.
I used to think the Sep. 11 Commission's report was "required reading." That was until we learned they knew about the Able Danger project but decided to mention it in the report. What else did they neglect? Even though we're almost five years from that terrible Tuesday there's much we need to learn about the people, events, and ideas that let to it. We're at a place where an Islamic instructor at the prestigious University of Wisconsin-Madison claims (and will teach his students) the U.S. government destroyed the twin towers. Hopefully Wright's book will help lead us down the path of truth.
July 03, 2006
Expert Charges Coulter with Plagiarism
Ann Coulter has more plagiarism problems. Questions about material in Godless has extended to her columns:
John Barrie, the creator of a leading plagiarism-recognition system, claimed he found at least three instances of what he calls "textbook plagiarism" in the leggy blond pundit's "Godless: the Church of Liberalism" after he ran the book's text through the company's digital iThenticate program.
Barrie also told the NY Post her footnotes are "very misleading." "They're used purely to try and give the book a higher level of credibility - as if it's an academic work. But her sloppiness in failing to properly attribute many other passages strips it of nearly all its academic merits."
"Copycatty Coulter Pilfers Prose: Pro"
June 28, 2006
Ann Coulter: Deadhead
It's hard to believe but Ann Coulter love the Grateful Dead. By her rough count she's been to 67 shows all of them without consuming any drugs.
When talking about Deadheads there always comes a point when the hippy stuff gets too descriptive:
I fondly remember seeing the Dead when I was at Cornell. It was the day of the fabulous Fiji Island party on the driveway “island” of the Phi Gamma Delta House. We'd cover ourselves in purple Crisco and drink purple Kool-Aid mixed with grain alcohol and dance on the front yard. Wait – I think got the order reversed there: We'd drink purple Kool-Aid mixed with grain alcohol and then cover ourselves in purple Crisco – then the dancing. You probably had to be there to grasp how utterly fantastic this was.
Ann Coulter covered in purple Crisco? It's taking an amazing amount of willpower to not put that image in my mind.
Seriously, the interview makes Coulter sound like a normal person. So her verbal recklessness is her designed marketing schtick. Sad for conservatives but good for Ann's bank account.
June 21, 2006
American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia has been out a few months. The massive, 997-page tome gets reasonable coverage in the NY Times:
Sixteen years in the making, American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia appears with American conservatism, the political movement, warring over its future direction.
Reporter Jason DeParle focuses too much on what was left out: Ann Coulter, Newt Gingrich, conservatism and race relations. Like most encyclopedias this is a living project with future editions in the works. The ability to dig deep into American conservative thought without needing 50 years of National Review issues is a wonderful accomplishment.
"An A-to-Z Book of Conservatism Now Weighs In"
June 19, 2006
Selling Naming Rights in Books
Cover Girl bought naming rights in an up-coming teen novel Cathy's Book to be published in September. Novelist Jane Smiley admits she sold the name of a character to the highest bidder in a charity auction. In her case it added a different dimension to her writing:
After the auction, I went up to the purchaser and asked her what sort of character she wanted to be. "High-spirited and ready for anything" was the prescription, and I thought I could surely fit someone like that into a book about real estate speculation.
In the case of Cathy's Book Smiley feels the use of "Lipslicks in 'Daring'" and "eyecolor in 'Midnight Metal'" "smacks of ad-speak." Like any innovation it's how the artist uses it to advance her work. Developing an new revenue stream for writers isn't catagorically good or bad.
The book has irritated a Ralph Nader group so much "it's peppering hundreds of book review editors with an insistent request not to cover Cathy's Book."
June 14, 2006
Coulter Reignites the Evolution Wars
After reading John Hawkins' interview with Ann Coulter expect her next swirl of controversy to be about evolution:
John Hawkins: If you were to pick three concepts, facts, or ideas that most undercut the theory of evolution, what would they be?
"RWN's Ann Coulter Interview #3"
Coulter Teasing Her Readers
Nick Schweitzer offers a gallery of Ann Coulter book covers. At her rate we'll be seeing the conservative Twiggy au natural when her next book comes out in paperback. It will probably be titled Deviants: The Sexual Indecency of Liberalism.
P.S. I really, really, really want to say Nick stole my idea. But unless he has mind reading powers he didn't tell us at the BBA Spring Fling I'm assuming he thought it up all by himself, and I'm just a procrastinator.
June 06, 2006
06.06.06 and Ann Coulter
Ann Coulter is smart enough to know 06.06.06 is a good day to release her new book Godless. Now, I consider her a devil in the conservative movement, but there are occasions when she makes her point well without sounding like a bad stand-up commedian. Her interview with Matt Lauer on Today was one moment as documented by NewsBusters.org:
Right out of the box, Lauer invited Ann to buy into that logic:
Coulter didn't call anyone names and frustrated Lauer. That's a top-notch performance.
"Coulter Won't Buy Into Lauer's Liberal Logic"
April 28, 2006
Update on Kos Book Sales
Glenn Greenwald in his obnoxious manner examines the sales numbers of Markos Moulitsas' and Jerome Armstrong's Crashing the Gate. I mentioned them previously. Even little old me who is in the bookselling business can't tell you how many sales qualifies as a "hit." (I do know fiction has to sell better than non-fiction.) Sources gave Greenwald sales numbers for Glenn Reynolds' An Army of Davids and Hugh Hewitt's Painting the Map Red. CTG is beating them both.
Glenn Reynolds' source tells us "the average nonfiction book sells around 5000 units in its lifetime." Then Kos and Armstrong are doing well. CTG could sell 15,000-18,000 or go as high as 30,000 in 2006. That's not Da Vinci Code numbers, but that would be great for a political book.
Greenwald is right if CTG is a book bomb then Reynolds' and Hewitt's books are "grotesque flops." Give Greenwald a point.
"Anatomy of the 'Thought' Process of Bush Defenders"
April 26, 2006
Kos' Book Sales
Drudge reports the Daily Kos book Crashing the Gate has only sold 3630 in the month since it's been published. There may have been a promotion push today because Amazon has it ranked #25 today when it was #52 yesterday. Glenn Reynolds' An Army of Davids is only ranked #1237. Roger Simon, as of this moment, is wrong. Glenn Reynolds' book isn't selling better. (It all depends on how Amazon calculated its best seller list; something I don't know.) Either Nielsen's Bookscan is not very good at tracking total book sales or Amazon doesn't sell as many books as I thought.
I'm going to agree with John Hinderaker who writes, "I doubt that those data mean anything in particular."
April 18, 2006
2006 Pulitzer Prizes Announced
Since I'm a book nut I'll mention those Pulitzer Prizes announced yesterday:
Even being in the book business I never heard of the fiction, history, or general non-fiction winners. (Modern poetry is on an entirely separate wavelength.) That demonstrates there are thousands of books coming out every year. There's more good reading material published in one year than any one can read in a lifetime. These are good times to love books.
I wonder how the drama nominees feel. No one took the award. Were they all so equal--either good or bad--that the committee didn't want one to stand out?
April 03, 2006
Someone should do a duel review of Harvey Mansfield's Manliness and Maddox's The Alphabet of Manliness when it comes out in June. If Mansfield's publisher Yale University Press and Maddox's publisher Citadel Press send me review copies I'll do it myself.
February 25, 2006
Getting Fit the Leonardo Way
Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code jumped the shark when so many people thought much of what's inside the book to be true that the Vatican had to assign an archbishop to rebut the book. In a few months the book finally comes out in paperback and the movie starring Tom Hanks will be in theaters.
In his desparate attempt at a marketing hook Joseph Mullen put out The Da Vinci Fitness Code. With it you will have "the exact fitness and exercise guidance to get into your best shape, and to achieve maximum fitness and health in minimum time." And it can be done by working out once every four days. Going through Mullen's life story of how a "skinny and self-conscious" boy became contest judge handing out titles like "New England's Strongest Man," "East Coast's Strongest Man," and "New England Arm Wrestling Champion" I felt I was missing something. Oh yeah, Leonardo da Vinci. He got left out of the story. No mention of the artist, Jesus, the Holy Grail, or a Catholic conspiracy to keep Americans flabby. Hell, I would have given Mullen a pass had he at least mentioned Dan Brown or Opus Dei. Such a let down.
The sole Amazon.com review of the book is a doozy:
Has no value whatsoever Tells you little to nothing, no charts, programs, a rambling collections of useless information. save your money, I would like mine back.
He gets to the point and without all that proper punctuation getting in the way.
January 31, 2006
File Under: Fiction
I suspect Random House, the publisher of James Frey's A Million Little Pieces, will never re-classify the book as fiction. Adding publisher's and author's notes stating that not everything contained within is true might pacify critics. What it won't do is stop the Brooklyn Public Library from putting the book where it correctly belongs.
It is important that the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) classifies books in its collection in a way that reflects the community's expectations. When BPL learned of public and publishing industry concerns of the discrepancies in James Frey's A Million Little Pieces, we felt it necessary to react in a way that would assure Brooklyn's library users that the information they want and need is easily available and accessible within a clear and truthful classification system.
I'm fascinated at the differences of opinion between Nan Talese and her husband, non-fiction writer, Gay Talese. A few weeks ago, they were both on CNN. About memoir Gay told Anderson Cooper:
Well, it means a mirror of yourself, as best you can reflect yourself. It doesn't mean absolute truth, because we don't know absolute truth at all. But it certainly means a very vigilant and vigorous attempt to reflect yourself accurately and verifiably
He went on:
I believe that the credibility of the whole story depends upon the total effort of the writer to be responsible, even in matters that might not be relevant to the overall story.
Nan's response was quite limited:
You know, the reason we published the book was because of the power of the narrative of his rehabilitation and what he went through.
Later she said,
But -- but the fact is, here is a person from the age of 10, for 14 years, has been on alcohol and drugs. Perhaps -- I mean, I'm not a psychoanalyst, but perhaps he felt that he needed to make himself worse.
So, we have a husband interested in truth or at least an attempt at truth, while the wife concerned more about what the "essence of the book" is.
"Why Brooklyn Says Frey's Fiction"
January 27, 2006
Ann Althouse is skeptical of Oprah tongue-lashing James Frey.
"The Winfrey-Frey Fray."
January 26, 2006
Oprah Takes Her Credibility Back
I meant to publish a post alerting you to James Frey appearing on Oprah today. But, oops, I forgot to hit the "publish" button. I'm going to engage in some literary license (inspired by Frey no doubt) and quote from a post that will never need to see the light of day:
James Frey goes from the non-threatening Larry King Show to the enabling Oprah Winfrey Show. Expect even fewer hard questions about A Million Little Pieces and a lot of tears.
There were tears, but I didn't expect Oprah to shed them from acknowledging she was duped like all the rest of Frey's readers. In a very impressive mea culpa she told her audience:
I gave the impression that the truth does not matter. I made a mistake.
Here's how a Chicago Tribune reporter viewed the scene:
"I made a mistake," a somber Winfrey said at the opening of the live show, "and I left the impression that the truth does not matter, and I am deeply sorry about that because that is not what I believe."
She continued chiding Frey:
I feel duped. But more importantly, I feel that you betrayed millions of readers.
She asked why he fabricated events in his book. Frey answered,
In order to get through the experience of the addiction, I thought of myself as being tougher than I was and badder than I was, and it helped me cope. And when I was writing the book, instead of being as introspective as I should have been, I clung to that image.
Questions didn't stop with Frey. Oprah lashed out at Doubleday publisher, Nan Talese. Talese responded by saying the book wasn't fact-checked because publishers don't do that. "I thought as a publisher, this is James's memory of the hell he went through. . . . I do not know how you get inside another person's mind."
A question that I don't know was asked was why Frey allowed Doubleday to publish the book as a memoir when other publishers rejected the book when it was sold to them as a novel? Frey admitted lying to millions of his readers yet said, "I still think it's a memoir."
The Smoking Gun editor William Bastone "felt bad for Frey" after Oprah's onslaught.
Random House, owner of Doubleday, will publish an author's note in all future copies of A Million Little Pieces. There's no mention if the book will be recatagorized as fiction.
No surprise, the blogosphere is buzzing:
"Oprah Tells Frey He 'Betrayed' Readers"
"Oprah Throws the Book at Herself"
"Oprah Calls Defense of Author 'a Mistake'"
"James Frey Gets His, Takes It Like Man(?)"
January 25, 2006
Harsh on Oprah
For someone harsher on Oprah Winfrey than I have been read BizzyBlog.com:
Straight to the point: Oprah has a lot of explaining to do. After reading the article, you’re almost forced to conclude one of two things:
In Jame Frey's defense his publisher found two witnesses to support his some of his experiences at a Minnestoa rehab center. Even still Frey's descriptions are outlandishly wild compared to the witnesses' memories. In a statement Frey said, "any differences are incidental." The sad state of memoir continues. "Fake but accurate" is the mantra. Imagine when Dan Rather writes his biography.
"Frey’s Lies: What Did Oprah Know and When Did She Know It?"
January 24, 2006
Frey's Continued Sales
I didn't expect sales to plummet down to zero, especially after Oprah called in during Frey's interview with Larry King on January 11th and continued endorsing the book, but why are so many people still paying more for the hardcover?
Another reason could be it's a good read despite knowing it isn't accurate. I haven't read it and probably never will so I can't comment on the book's quality. Maybe just maybe it can transcend its current status as memoir. To really do that would require James Frey to come clean. But with Oprah's continued enabling that won't happen anytime soon.
"James Frey Still On Best-Seller Lists"
January 23, 2006
More Questions about Frey's Fraud
James Frey completely missed the point when he practically admitted 5% of his A Million Little Pieces was made up. If readers know he greatly exaggerated or fabricated his run-ins with the law why should they believe his other experiences? They can't. Now there are questions about other parts of Frey's book. The NY Times reports people who use to work at Minnesota's Hazelden Foundation question Frey's experience at the rehab center:
But more than three months before questions were raised about Mr. Frey's memoir by the Smoking Gun Web site (www.thesmokinggun.com) - before, in fact, Ms. Winfrey first had Mr. Frey as a guest on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" - producers at the program were told by a former counselor at the foundation that runs the Minnesota treatment center reportedly used by Mr. Frey that his portrayal of his experience there grossly distorted reality.
Frey has completely discredited himself, but I'm surprised Oprah Winfrey continues to play the fool. She's a smart woman who I'm sure is privately steaming about being fooled. But she also has an ego--you don't get as successful as she has without one--and is at that point where she'll hold firm and refuse to admit she has been enabling a liar.
"Treatment Description in Memoir Is Disputed"
January 14, 2006
Gutfeld on Frey's Fraud
From Greg Gutfeld's "Double Secret Hidden Blog":
LESSONS IN LEFTISM: When someone brings up James Frey's fabrications in his book "A Million Little Pieces," simply sigh, and sniff, "Really, how is he any different from George Bush?" For extra credit: "You know, there's another book out there that's full of embellishments: It's called the Bible."
January 13, 2006
NY Times Chides Frey and Publisher
This NY Times editorial weighs in on James Frey's fraud:
"The power of the overall reading experience," Doubleday said in a press release, "is such that the book remains a deeply inspiring and redemptive story for millions of readers." But would millions of readers have picked up "A Million Little Pieces" and been redeemed and inspired by it if the publisher and the author had called it fiction? Would Oprah Winfrey - despite her phone call during Mr. Frey's appearance on "Larry King Live"- have made so much of the book if she had thought that its subjectivity was something closer to falsehood? The answer is probably not. "The power of the overall reading experience" depended on the faith that "A Million Little Pieces" was the unvarnished truth - not just "his version of the truth" or "true to his recollections." Even in a nation like ours, which is crazy for personal redemption, readers are still willing to distinguish between truth and fiction.
There's also this weblogger who's "disgusted by [Frey's] hubris" and "saddened that Oprah Winfrey didn't further distance herself from him." The woman saved, SAVED Frey's career with one phone call to Larry King.
GalleyCat thinks publishers didn't learn any lessons:
We all enjoyed getting a chance to speak our mind on how true memoirs should be, but this isn't going to change the practices of the publishing industry one bit. The people who feel a commitment to historical accuracy are going to keep hewing to the truth, and the people who believe it's good enough for a story to feel right are going to keep buying manuscripts by writers who spin "subjective renderings" of their pasts.
As for me, I learned my lessons with memoir with Edmund Morris' fictional self in Dutch. You'll be surprised to find a memoir in my hands anytime soon.
"Call It Fiction"
January 12, 2006
Frey Fights Back
James Frey went on Larry King to defend his fake memoir A Million Little Pieces. Since Larry isn't known for delivering tough questions Frey had plenty of time to say it's ok to make stuff up in memoir. "Memoir -- the word literally means 'my story.' A memoir is a subjective retelling of events," Frey told King. Subjective means having a different view of events. It doesn't mean making things up., going beyond what any reasonable person would call exaggeration. Case in point: turning a drunk driving arrest where Frey served no jail time into a violent confrontation involving drugs, cops, and crack.
Notice what Frey didn't say. He didn't say The Smoking Gun's story was wrong. He pointed out that only five percent of his book was questionable. "Essential truth of these remain," he said. Yes, the Dan Rather standard of "fake but accurate" is recycled.
Oprah had some face-saving to do and called the show. She blamed the publisher for mis-labeling the book, but didn't scold Frey (at least not publically). She went on to say,
But the underlying message of redemption in James Frey's memoir still resonates with me, and I know it resonates with millions of other people who have read this book.
This implies that she might have still recommended the book had it been listed as fiction. Originally Frey tried selling the book as fiction. His publisher Doubleday decided against that.
"Winfrey Stands Behind Pieces Author"
"Frey Grilled a la King"
January 10, 2006
Reaction to Frey's Fraud
About the revelation that A Million Little Pieces is all made up we have:
If the writing is as good as readers have said then the book survives the scandal. The book is simply re-labeled as fiction, and Frey moves on to pure fiction writing. He and his publishers wipe the egg off their faces, while Oprah vows never to pick a book from a living author for her book club again.
On a related note, the Freakonomics authors discover they were fooled about the history of one of their subjects.
January 09, 2006
Was Teddy Drunk When He Named His Dog?
Sen. Ted Kennedy is coming out with a children's book. That's not the funny part. It's co-authored with his dog, Splash.
I wonder what Mary Jo Kopechne's family thinks about that?
James Frey's Literary Fraud
Oprah's got another book problem. Her spat with The Corrections author Jonathan Franzen made the TV queen stop recommending books by living authors until she added James Frey's A Million Little Piece to her book club. Now, there's a problem with that book. It's touted as "true" and "honest" but has little basis in fact as discovered by The Smoking Gun.
January 01, 2006
2005 TAM Book Awards
Like music this year no book really blew my mind. There were some good books filled with great ideas. Like music, there's always next year.
December 16, 2005
Absolutism, cultishness, bad fictional sex scenes, and right-wing utopianism pretty much sum up Ayn Rand's life. Jenny Turner profiles the woman.
December 08, 2005
Sowell's Book Picks
Thomas Sowell's Christmas book selections include Bernard Lewis' fine What Went Wrong? It's a slim tome, but it puts the reader on a good path to understanding the troubles of the Muslim world.
It's interesting that about his latest book Black Rednecks and White Liberals he writes, "[It] is apparently one which many liberal and conservative publications alike have found too hot to handle."
November 19, 2005
Didion Wins National Book Award
Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking has received critical and popular acclaim. It's even selling well in Milwaukee, far away from her East Coast fan base. To top it off she won the non-fiction National Book Award.
"Series of War Stories Wins Book Award"
November 07, 2005
Lewis' Libidinous Other Life
Did you know Scooter Libby was a novelist? Neither did I. (And no jokes about Iraq WMD. That's too easy.) The Apprentice is written up in the New Yorker with comparisons to other steamy books by conservative authors. A "very good" copy of the out-of-print book can be had on Amazon for the low, low price of only $70!
November 02, 2005
Thomas Barnett on C-SPAN
Last year, Thomas Barnett won a TAM Book Award for his thought-provoking The Pentagon's New Map. He's taken advantage of the publicity derived from the book and has come out with the follow-up Blueprint for Action. Again, he challenges the conventional thinking of both the Left and Right. He was on Book TV's After Words to talk [mp3] about the book with Rep. Tom Feeney.
October 31, 2005
Current Reading: Two Lives
Vikram Seth's An Equal Music possesed enough emotional depth to connect with me like few books have. I may never get around to diving into his massive A Suitable Boy but I am enjoying his latest Two Lives. It's a love letter to his late aunt and uncle. They both lived through the tumultuous times of World War II. War burned an imprint on both of them that would never heal. Seth honors them with a humane and personal account.
October 14, 2005
National Book Award Finalists
In the non-fiction catagory Joan Didion is the early favorite with her The Year of Magical Thinking. She's been a darling of the Left and the most notable name in the catagory. Just behind is Jim Dwyer's and Kevin Flynn's 102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers. The book's subject should garner judges' consideration. Other nominees are Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves by Adam Hochschild, Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Restless Genius by Leo Damrosch, and Out of Eden: An Odyssey of Ecological Invasion by Alan Burdick.
"National Book Awards Names Finalists"
September 08, 2005
Holtzbrinck Publishers owns such imprints as St. Martin's Press; Henry Holt; and Farrar, Straus, & Giroux. They are now producing podcasts to showcase their new titles. It's a good idea. Even if a readers doesn't consume audiobooks this will expose them to new books in a way that's better than simply reading a dust jacket or reading a book review. Jeff Gomez told DMNews.com, "What we're doing as a trade publisher is allowing users to experience new books whenever they want, the same way that they might not have the time to listen to a radio show the day it's broadcast, but will listen to it later."
UPDATE: In related book-tech news Apple is selling a branded Harry Potter iPod and you can also buy all six audio books from the iTunes store.
September 04, 2005
Mansfield Featured on C-SPAN
Harvey Mansfield was the focus of this month's In Depth on Book TV. The mild-mannered Harvard professor immediately became provocative by suggesting that New Orleans shouldn't be rebuilt. He mentioned ancient Greeks would seriously consider whether rebuilding a city was the wisest course of action. This isn't a question of if New Orleans will be rebuilt to what it was pre-Katrina. I see no political possibility that it wouldn't happen. But should the city be rebuilt on a spot where another disaster like this could happen? If it was just insurance companies and Louisiana governments covering the bill then I wouldn't care, but billions of federal dollars will go into rebuilding. Is this a wise use of money?
Mansfield should generate more intellectual controversy with his book Manliness due out next year. Martin Marty writes:
Mansfield swings widely, at left and right: "Here is gristle to chew for liberals and conservatives, both of whom -- except for the feminists -- have abandoned manliness mostly out of policy rather than abhorrence." Mansfield's second review book, you guessed it, is on "manliness." His two predictable cracks at feminism aside, he sticks to his praise of manliness and his attack on being sensitive. I wonder, however, what planet Mansfield lives on and what he reads and watches. I won't document in detail here what anyone who spends an hour with cable news shows and shouts, politicians' rhetoric, defenses of our go-it-alone foreign policy, and some Christians' defenses of all the above, will find: consistent attacks on sensitive people as being unworthy and un-American, maybe even un-Christian.
August 19, 2005
My Innocence is Lost
When I saw The Cookie Sutra in my bookstore last week I said, "Wrong, wrong, wrong!" Wholesome Gingerbread Man turned into a sex fiend. I'll never be able to eat one again. And I certainly won't be baking these. Next thing I'll learn is Twinkie the Kid is gay--not that there's anything wrong with it.
July 25, 2005
TAM Book Series: South Park Conservatives
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first of what I hope is a continuing series of interviews with authors and their books. We no longer have C-SPAN's Booknotes, but I hope the TAM Book Series will partially satisfy book lovers interested in non-fiction books. Publishers and publicists if you have a book you think would be great for this series leave a comment or e-mail me at sean--at--theamericanmind--dot--com.
It's cliche to consider our youth the future. But cliches, while banal, do contain meaning. Young people and politics is always ripe as a book idea. Their views change and with them future political currents. Brian Anderson, senior editor of City Journal, ran with Andrew Sullivan's term "South Park Republicans" and produced South Park Conservatives: The Revolt Against Liberal Media Bias.
South Park Conservatives better describes an "attitude or sensibility" than a political philosophy. That's what I got from my interview with Brian Anderson. The foundation of modern conservatism starting with Edmund Burke was the conservation and slow reform of presently-existing institutions. Today's SPC's are more interested in conserving "life free from the intrusion of the PC police."
The essence of the book is how new forms of communication are bypassing the newspapers, magazines, and network television talking heads past generations relied on. Books, cable channels, talk radio, weblogs, and even comedy are letting people tired of stale, liberal views express themselves. Anderson was gracious enough to take part in an e-mail interview.
What are "South Park Conservatives" trying to conserve?
Andrew Sullivan coined the phrase "South Park Republican" a couple of years ago to refer to someone who is in favor of a strong military, is fiscally conservative, and is socially liberal, at least on some matters. I use the SPC term a little more loosely to refer to an anti-liberal—someone who may not be on board with everything supported by today’s Republican Party, especially when it comes to things like censorship and popular culture, but who looks at today’s politically correct Nancy Pelosi liberals and wants nothing to do with them. What the South Park Conservative in this sense wants to conserve is life free from the intrusion of the PC police.
Do these SPCs have any historical or philosophical underpinning for their views? This doesn't feel like Buckley-style conservatism.
As I say, as I’m using the term, it represents an attitude and not a fully developed philosophy of life or politics. But there’s no question this anti liberal spirit is a bit more anarchic and, yes, vulgar, than Buckley-style conservatism. One of the comedians I write about, Nick Di Paolo, a two-time Emmy nominee for comedy writing and the co-creator of the Comedy Central cartoon Shorties Watchin’ Shorties, told me he’s a big Buckley fan, but you wouldn’t describe his humor as Buckleyesque in tone—on the contrary!
What are your favorite weblogs?
I really enjoy and look in on the following regularly (I’ll exclude your fine blog, since you’re interviewing me, and this is off the top of my head): Power Line, NRO’s Corner, Andrew Sullivan, Polipundit, OpinionJournal’s Best of the Web, Instapundit, Captain’s Quarters, Professor Bainbridge (including his wine obsessions), Right Wing News, Libertas (the conservative film blog), Dan Drezner, Kausfiles, the Conservative Philosopher, Hugh Hewitt, Michelle Malkin, Chrenkoff (whose work on Iraq and Afghanistan is brilliant), the BrothersJudd, and the RadioEqualizer (invaluable on radio ratings). I’m a big fan of RealClearPolitics, Arts & Letters Daily, Frontpage, and TechCentralStation, and like everybody else with a computer, I read Drudge all the time.
Do you like the term "blog?" (Me, I hate it, and use it as little as possible.)
What can one do? It’s not the most elegant of words, admittedly—it sounds like a gastro-intestinal eruption of some kind. But it’s the term that has stuck and it won’t go away now, so we might as well get used to it. And sometimes there is an eruptive, gastro-intestinal quality to blogging!
Why do Lefties like Cass Sunstein fear more media choice? Isn't more choice more liberating? Do they fear a diminishment of their status?
Sunstein’s argument can be summed up in a sentence: "People will get the news they want, not the news they need"—the news we need being that delivered by the old, liberal-dominated media. In the twenty-first century republic.com, this argument runs, we’ll all enclose ourselves in ideological bubbles, the truth be damned. Democracy will suffer from cyber-balkanization.
Do you see a stratification forming in the blogosphere where big-name weblogs primarily link to other big-name weblogs? Is that bad or a sign of a maturing medium?
I think you will see new sites and bloggers rising to the top, even as some of the big names scale down a bit, as Sullivan has recently done. Keep in mind that 12 percent of adult Americans are now reading political blogs, which is remarkable for a medium that barely existed five years ago but is also just a beginning. I think that percentage will continue to rise in the years ahead, and who knows which blogs will capture the interest of the expanding blog readership?
With the rise of best-selling conservative books, some people still think big bookstores (Barnes & Noble, my employer, for example) are being biased. Why do you think that?
I don’t think the chains themselves are biased at all—just walk into a Barnes & Noble or a Borders and you’ll usually see conservative books piled up everywhere. And of course Amazon offers easy access to all books, conservative ones included. The chains have really helped right-of-center authors because they’re profit-driven and don’t have an institutional politics in the way many independent bookstores do, which tend to be run by left-wingers.
Is there a stereotype for a college conservative today? What is it?
I spent a lot of time talking with college kids who placed themselves on the right for this book, and it became immediately clear that no stereotype really holds any longer—certainly not that of the bowtie-wearing, clean-cut young Republican of yesteryear. They’re likely to be blasting Eminem and watching South Park, even as they work, say, to form a pro-life group on campus.
What role is religion playing in the rise of college conservatism? Doesn't that conflict with South Park vulgarity?
There has been a striking religious upsurge on college campuses over the last decade—MIT actually has more than a dozen Christian fellowship groups active on its campus, to take just one example. A recent UCLA survey found that three-quarters of college juniors helped develop their identities, and 77 percent of college juniors claim to pray. The aggressive secularism of the Left today would make it hard for a lot of these kids to get on board. But there are many factors feeding the rise of college conservatism—the political correctness prevalent on many campuses, for instance, drives many students nuts. What bright kid is going to have anything but contempt for sensitivity workshops—what mind-rot!
How fast did it take you to write and publish the book? Are new technologies making it easier to get conservative books published?
It took me about eight months to a year to write the book—but I have a demanding job at City Journal, which slowed me down a bit. The new technologies are making it easier for conservative authors to publish books—in fact, there’s never been a better time to be a right-of-center author. Just a few weeks ago, Simon & Schuster, another powerhouse New York publisher, announced it was launching a conservative imprint, joining Penguin’s Sentinel and Crown Forum as new conservative publishing ventures. The rise of the new media has allowed right-of-center authors to find audiences for their books without relying on the New York Times Book Review, which in the past hasn’t treated conservative books very well (I remember Katha Pollitt’s sneering review of Allan Bloom’s profound Love and Friendship several years back as a particularly low moment; with Sam Tanenhaus editing the review these days, it seems to be getting more balanced.) I’ve done scores of talk radio interviews, blog interviews, and cable news appearances for this book.
What happened to Andrew Sullivan? The man who was the most eloquent proponent of President Bush's war policy ended up endorsing Sen. John Kerry.
I think Sullivan has followed his conscience, though I regret where it has taken him. His position on social issues, gay marriage in particular, made it increasingly difficult for him to support the Bush administration, and he has grown increasingly critical of how we've done things in Iraq.
Once weblogs moved beyond spaces for tech geeks conservatives quickly dominated in numbers and readers. Why do you think that happened? Is that the case currently or has the Left risen up to the Right's challenge? Do the Left and Right treat weblogs differently? Are there any parallels to magazine publishing?
Conservatives were ahead of the curve in exploiting the new medium of blogs, and quickly established a strong and influential presence within it. The right-of-center blogs were offering perspectives-especially on September 11 and its political aftermath-that were being slighted by the mainstream media, so it's no surprise there was a significant audience for it.
Conservative intellectuals constantly cite thinkers like F. A. Hayek, Edmund Burke, and others. You don't see the same from Liberal intellectuals. Does the average, well-informed Leftist have as well-developed an intellectual foundation as your average well-informed Rightist? Other than John Rawls--who I would argue many Leftists are not familar with--who are Leftists' big inspirations?
You're absolutely right. There is a lasting body of political reflection from conservative thinkers. Left-leaning thinkers don't seem to have as many living sources in this sense. Who reads Walter Lippmann or Harold Laski today? Even Marx is read more for historical interest than for truthful observations on the functioning of society. On the contemporary scene, an intellectually inclined Leftist might look to Richard Rorty or Antonio Negri, Habermas and Foucault maybe, but there would be little agreement on a well-developed intellectual foundation.
You told me, "A recent UCLA survey found that three-quarters of college juniors helped develop their identities." Do you mean Christianity or religion "helped develop their identities?"
The survey mentioned religion, not Christianity, but presumably most of the students in question were Christians.
July 19, 2005
Where Does Rowling Stand?
Is J.K. Rowling an anti-American? Stephen Bainbridge puts together some circumstantial evidence.
"Is JK Anti-American?"
July 18, 2005
Harry Potter Links
July 16, 2005
Harry Potter Aftermath
The Harry Potter midnight sale went far better than I planned. My store had more cash registers and people working than in 2003, an organized system using numbered wristbands kept people from sitting in lines for hours, and customers were in good spirits. In 1003 for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, we handled the initial sales in 1 1/2 hours. This year, it took only one hour and I think we had more people in the store.
Our box count went from this:
This is misleading because hundreds of unsold books were still up on the bookfloor. There will be plenty of books for those who didn't pre-order.
"Harry Potter Fans Happy, for Now"
UPDATE: Betsy Newmark is waiting for the post office to get her copy. This could be a while.
July 15, 2005
Have Pity on Me
Soon I leave for my bookstore on this hot Black Friday. It's bleak because I'll be toiling until the wee hours of the night satisfying Harry Potter fans' immediate cravings. To those of you who are worried they didn't pre-order the book: don't fret. there will be plenty of copies. Publisher Scholastic got retailers loaded up and are ready to start up the printers again.
If I have my way J.K. Rowling will never finish her series. I hate her, I hate Harry, and I hate the hoopla. And the "fun" hasn't even started yet.
Here's my post from 2003 with the release of the previous Harry Potter book. I hope to have some pictures from this year's madness.
July 13, 2005
James Wolcott gave TAM a nice traffic boost tonight. Nice...I think. In the same post Wolcott links to rabid Bush basher Greg Palast, the "journalistic sanitation engineer." Hypertext makes strange bedfellows.
"Greg Palast Is Making Sense"
July 11, 2005
Whining Clinton Basher
Ed Klein is griping about the lack of television time he's gotten for his book The Truth about Hillary. Well, if it wasn't the rumor-filled, Clinton-bashing tripe I got tired of way back in 1998 I'd feel sorry for the guy. I have even less sympathy knowing it's a bestseller on the NY Times' arbitrary list* as in Barnes & Noble bookstores.
Captain Ed notices a double standard. Yes, shocking! [Tongue removed from cheek.]:
However, the red carpet that the media rolled out for Kitty Kelley does show a bias in their approach to truth in publishing. I think that based on the exemplars I've read of Klein's book, the media has made the right choice in refusing to promote it. Too bad they couldn't have had those same scruples when Kelley wrote her similar tome on George Bush. She rounded up rumors and innuendo, offered no substantive proof, and published them in a book almost indentical in ethics to Klein's -- and yet the media couldn't get enough of Kelley. In her case, the blame goes deeper, as she has a track record of writing poorly-sourced and ethically challenged biographies of famous people, usually dead, and almost always in no position to defend themselves.
"Klein's Chickens Come Home To Roost"
*Only the Times knows how they put together their bestseller lists, and they're not telling anyone.
July 06, 2005
Summer Book Suggestions
With the quick response to the book post below I'm opening a thread on summer book suggestions. Some people like to spend their free time pouring through a large tome they never make time for when not on vacation. Crime and Punishment or David McCullough's John Adams (a fast read for such a large book) are two examples. When I go on a trip I like to bring a couple books: something serious yet not too big and something fun. On my yearly Spring Training baseball trips to Phoenix I've made it a tradition of reading the latest Daniel Silva novel in paperback. The plots always move at a brisk pace, but there some heft to the action taking place. Donald Westlake's Dortmunder novels are also fun, smart reads perfect for a vacation.
For a not-too-heavy, serious book I just finished Stephen Johnson's Everything Bad is Good for You. In it he argues the intellectual benefits of supposed junk culture like video games and reality television. Steven Levitt's and Stepehn Dubner's Freakonomics is an interesting read on the applicability of economics to subjects other than financial but it does have it's problems. Ross Gregory Douthat's Privilege is his generation's God and Man at Yale. It's personal, insightful, and humane. Virginia Postrel's The Future and its Enemies still serves as a useful way to view politics in our high tech age. Read Dava Sobel's Longitude and you'll want to do what I did and go to Greenwich to see John Harrison's magnificent clocks. Finally, while not being F. A. Hayek's best work The Road to Serfdom contains plenty to inspire liberty lovers to continue fighting the good fight.
What are your summer book picks? How do you decide what to read in the summer and/or on vacation?
A Good Deal
Amazon.com is selling John Stossel's Give Me a Break in hardcover for only $6.99. That would make for some cheap beach reading.
June 30, 2005
I Want a Review Copy
Kos is working on a book. Yikes!
Just finished up 11 or 12 interviews in DC for our book on the collapse of the Democratic Party, and what we can do to revive it. Heading down to North Carolina Friday to do a few more interviews before taking a late flight home Friday night.
It will just be full of how evil, lying Republicans fooled the American public while paying off corporate interests. There will also probably be plenty on how the American public has to "get involved" and "get organized." I'm pretty sure I know what will be in it yet I still want a copy. I just know there will be plenty of over-the-top zingers in it.
June 28, 2005
We've Lost a Great One
Civil War historian Shelby Foote died Monday night at the age of 88. Foote's fame rests upon an enormous 3-volume narrative history of the Civil War. Those books led to Ken Burns putting him in his wonderful miniseries The Civil War.
"Goodbye Shelby Foote"
"Shelby Foote, 88, Died Monday"
June 26, 2005
J. K. Rowling Must Love This
Harry Potter is being used to get information out of prisoners in Gitmo:
[Members of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee] watched the interrogation of three suspects, including one in which a detainee was read a Harry Potter book aloud for hours until he turned his back and put his hands over his ears.
I'm surprised the prisoner didn't talk. I couldn't finish the first book.
June 17, 2005
My Start in Reading
Steven Taylor passed on this book meme to me: "Five books I liked enough as a teen/young adult to read again as an adult." I was hoping this one wouldn't fall on my lap. I love talking about books, but this question is a little embarassing. I didn't become a book addict until my junior year in high school. When I was a kid, my mother tried hard to get me to read. She gave me the obligatory Hardy Boys book, but it didn't work. I would rather play with my Star Wars or G.I. Joe action figures or build space ships out of Legos. When I did read it was comic books or paging through my Lutheran school's set of the World Book Encyclopedia. I got into reading when I went to a week-long world affairs student conference (I watched a lot of news) and noticed all my friends were talking about the books they read. I felt out of my league and was set to fix that. Soon after I stepped into my local library...and the rest is history.
So I haven't read any of the Narnia series. LotR wasn't consumed until the movies came out. I think my Hardy Boys book is still in a box somewhere in the attic. My picks then come from my late high school/early college years--which weren't that long ago:
June 13, 2005
Banned Book Returns to Japanese Shelves
Sambo, the Indian character, that's also a derogatory name for Blacks in America has returned to Japanese bookshelves after a 17-year absence.
In April, Zuiunsha, a small Tokyo publisher, bet there was still a market for a book that had charmed Japanese youngsters who as adults were unable to find it for their children.
Ironically, it was Americans who got the book banned. Little Black Sambo is on the American Library Association list of most challenged books between 1990-2000.
"'Sambo' Returns to Bookracks in Japan"
April 27, 2005
Paglia in Madison
I was tempted to trek over to Madtown to see Camille Paglia promoting her latest book Break, Blow, Burn, but I then I wouldn't have written all this good stuff tonight. ;-)* Ann Althouse was there. She has some pictures with "Text to follow!"
UPDATE: Ann Althouse reports Paglia was her usual hyper self. Contradictory between word and action, but thought provoking. She's not a fan of weblogs. "I’m worried about blogging," she told her audience. But she admits if she were a beginning writer today she'd have a weblog too.
*No, I didn't go because she was at the enemy's store. I just wasn't in the mood to drive three hours more than I had to tonight.
April 04, 2005
2005 Pulitzer Prize Winners
The 2005 Pulitzer Prize winners have been announced. The commentary award went to Connie Schultz, someone I've never heard of or read, for "her pungent columns that provided a voice for the underdog and underprivileged." Sounds like Connie is a big government liberal. Michelle Malkin's right, Claudia Rosett should have one. But heaven forbid honoring someone for showing how corrupt and incompetent the U.N. is.
In the history book catagory David Hackett Fischer won for his Washington's Crossing. It's a book I've heard nothing but good things about. In the biography catagory Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan won for their book on de Kooning. It's a book I've never heard of. Not a surprise since I'm not much into art. In the non-fiction book catagory Steve Coll's Ghost Wars won. I acknowlege this book about the CIA's secret war in Afghanistan but can't comment further.
"Eyes on the Prizes"
March 29, 2005
Thomas Barnett, author of the very important The Pentagon's New Map, is now a contributing editor for Esquire. His new position has opened more doors than when he was a professor at the U.S. Naval War College.
Life is so much more interesting now with Esquire, because I pitch my F2F's directly on my own, and when I get them, they happen. So today, with a very nice assist from the Office of Secretary of Defense's public-affairs people, I get to interview two four-stars by lunch, with somebody just as good for later this afternoon.
"8 Stars by Noon (It's Good to Write for Esquire)"
March 21, 2005
Not Enough Copies
Which circle of hell do people who accost lowly retail workers go to when they die? I had to endure a customer interrogating a co-worker as to when copies of Mark Levin's Men in Black would arrive at my bookstore. She didn't like the answer that it would take about a week if she wanted to order it. The customer said that's what she was told a week before. She admitted she never placed an order for the book. The sad excuse for a customer then went off wondering why we didn't have Levin's book in stock but had plenty of Michael Moore's sad excuse for books. The woman couldn't accept the fact that publishers have to get books to bookstores. I had enough of this search for a conspiracy that didn't exist and asked her if she wanted to speak to a manager. Being a coward who only wanted to make a pathetic political statement she said she didn't have time. Yet she had time to aggravate a bookseller.
For some reason Regnery Publishing, who puts out Levin's book, has trouble with hot titles. Last summer, they couldn't keep up with the anti-Kerry Unfit for Command. You wouldn't believe the number of people who thought my company was part of a vast Left wing conspiracy to help the Democrats by not selling that book. Regnery's CEO even had to say the shortage wasn't bookstores' fault. The trouble with Men in Black is similar. Even with the large initial printing demand has outpaced it.
Let me be blunt: there is no damn book conspircacy. Barnes & Noble likes to sell books, lots of books. It doesn't matter if their liberal, conservative, communist, Nazi, straight, gay, lesbian, pro-NY Yankees, or pro-Boston Red Sox. More books sold means more profit. Being good capitalists--even if liberal--those that run the company like profit.
If you're one of those who suspect ulterior motives if they can't find a book their looking for you're probably wrong and don't take it out on the labor. If you do complain realize that behind the smile that employee wishes you'd fall into one of Saddam's shredders--whether they existed or not.
March 09, 2005
The Book of Bunny Suicides and Return of the Bunny Suicides are full of the best black humor since the last season of The Sopranos. You know you're twisted laughing out loud at all the creative ways a bunny can meet his maker, but you can't stop.
Why am I not shocked Michele loved them too?
"An Important Note About those Bunny Suicides"
February 25, 2005
Why someone like Hunter S. Thompson gives into his demons now after fending them off for decades is a mystery. What we do know is his last moment was very cruel to his wife.
"Thompson Shot Himself While on Phone with Wife"
February 23, 2005
Tom Wolfe has declared Hunter S. Thompson "the [20th] century's greatest comic writer in the English language."
"As Gonzo in Life as in His Work"
February 20, 2005
Hunter S. Thompton, R.I.P.
Just from reading interviews and some of his writings I knew there was plenty of "fear and loathing" in Hunter S. Thompson. I'm sad but not surprised he killed himself. He was probably surprised he lived as long as he did.
"Author Hunter S. Thompson Kills Himself"
February 09, 2005
Another Charlotte Simmons Review
Bebeaux at doubletoothpicks sees I Am Charlotte Simmons as a debate between the free will as illusion notion in Dupont's neuroscience class and all the choices Charlotte makes in her freshman year.
"Charlotte Simmons is a Free Being"
February 06, 2005
Recommended by the President
President Bush has great tastes in books. Officially he's reading His Excellency and Alexander Hamilton. Elisabeth Bumiller reports that he's also read I Am Charlotte Simmons. According to Bumiller, the President is a Tom Wolfe fan.
Critics may claim the President is a moral values hypocrite for recommending a novel filled with lurid sex, raunchy language, and binge drinking. Critics playing pop psychologists may also try to see this as Bush projecting his wild past. If they just focus on the debauchery there's missing some important points to the novel. One of them being how an individual finds belonging in a new, strange environment.
For more on Wolfe's much-talked about novel there's Deacon's report from a facinating D.C. discussion I watched on CSPAN.
In his review of the book Peter Berkowitz also sees Charlotte's need for belonging:
Instead, as March Madness approaches and Dupont’s basketball team peaks for the ncaa championships, she overcomes the disabling depression into which she had fallen and recovers her health. But she is no longer quite the same person, having learned in Wolfe’s wonderfully ambiguous final pages to quiet her conscience and tame her pride, to use her brains and her body to get along and get ahead, and to find a boyfriend she likes, who brings her high status, and enables her to join in with the crowd, but whom she never could love. In short, despite her upbringing and gifts, Charlotte proves herself to be an excellent student of the university’s unofficial but central teaching: the old restraints are antiquated and high ideals only interfere with the attainment of the authentic goods civilized life has to offer.
To him Charlotte has adapted to the campus society as the control cats adapted to the highly sexualized experimental cats in the preface to Wolfe's book. Katie of A Constrained Vision takes issue with a Berkowitz strawman.
In a review for Crisis F. H. Buckley sees the characters in quite a dark image:
The athlete who gazes lovingly at himself in the mirror, the frat man who starts a food program to win the attention of Dupont’s admissions officer, the liberal wuss who schemes to become an “aristo-meritocrat,” the chorus of wallflowers who miss out on the rutrutrutting all about them and whose morality is a Nietzscheian ressentiment of sexual privilege, even Charlotte herself in her pathetic desire for recognition—all are the very picture of narcissism. They inhabit a Homeric world in which personal worth, even the sense of self-worth, is defined solely by their image in the mirror of the eyes of others, and in which the interior self is nearly lost. At times Wolfe’s affectless characters glimpse two of themselves, one interior and the other looking in, but it is always the exterior person who is dominant.
Ken Masugi wishes Wolfe would "take the mean between Socrates and Stoicism and discover Aristotle. And may that be his opening to the Bible and an even greater flourishing of his mind."
February 04, 2005
Going on My Reading List
Over ten years ago, Newt Gingrich forced an earthquake in Washington with his Contract with America. Little has been written about its ten-year anniversary. Maybe everybody was waiting for Major Garrett's new book The Enduring Revolution. It's leaped to the top of my reading list.
February 02, 2005
Belonging: a Primal Need
The Enlightened Caveman is having a discussion about I Am Charlotte Simmons. The twist here is a sociobiological one. How does a woman's genes interact with culture to produce the sexual wildness portrayed in Tom Wolfe's book? This is a topic Wolfe would love to dive into. In the novel he takes a few pages to talk about sociobiology. He calls Edward Wilson, "Darwin II." Wolfe's talk of neuroscience also plays into the current zeitgeist in that matter is everything. The mind, the soul is merely a result of chemical and bioelectrical processes.
One can take the approach of denying this kind of thinking by using F. A. Hayek's argument that it's impossible for the human mind to catagorize or completely understand something as complex as itself. We can figure out the workings of a clock or a bacteria, but when it comes to understanding our the Mind using something equally as complex, our minds we falter.
What interests me about Charlotte Simmons is that she thinks she wants the "life of the mind" when really she just wants to belong. The novel is a sort of travelogue of Charlotte visiting many different groups. She spends time with her "sexiled" trio, she hangs out with Hoyt and the frat boys, she observes the eclectic debates of the Millenial Mutants. She does this to prevent the loneliness from her first days at Dupont from seeping in. If you've read the book, recall the scene when Charlotte is at Adam's apartment suffering from depression induced by her deflowering to Hoyt. Everytime Adam would move away she would cry out for his embrace. In the end, Charlotte ends up a part of a group (don't worry, I won't give it away). It isn't the life of the mind nor is it the life of the loins. Maybe it's just something to help Charlotte get through her college years.
Belonging is something vital to Man. A good portion of it is hardwired and some of it might be our brains making logical calculations unbeknownst to us. (This may be something similar to what Malcom Gladwell writes about in Blink.)
"If Tom Wolfe is Right..."
January 31, 2005
Morris' Folly Better in Audio
Todd Zywicki enjoyed the abridged audio version of Edmund Morris' dissapointing biography of Ronald Reagan.
First, it cuts out all of Edmund Morris's narcissistic ruminations on himself. Seriously, what was Morris thinking about? I supposed he was trying to make some sort of point about how any biography reflects the life experience and perspective of the profiler, not just the subject. Ok, ok we get it--mention it in the preface and move on. Anyway, the abridged book-on-tape version has a narrator who briefly describes these interludes and then moves on.
Now, why can't they come out with an abridged paper version of the book with Morris' character cut out? Then Dutch might be worth recomending to others.
January 25, 2005
More on Charlotte Simmons
Eric Berlin, a big Tom Wolfe fan, has a slightly lesser review of I Am Charlotte Simmons.
"Dumpster Bust Reviews: I Am Charlotte Simmons, by Tom Wolfe"
January 24, 2005
Sex and the College Campus
I Am Charlotte Simmons is Tom Wolfe delving into college life. You'd think a 74-year old man would not be able to portray such an environment with any accuracy. Somehow the old reporter pulled it off. Being almost eight years out of college I'll tell you that I Am Charlotte Simmons is pitch perfect. He got teenager's cadence and obsessive use of "like" and "totally" down pat. Males' need to constantly watch SportsCenter as well as their need to get drunk are also spot on.
With Wolfe's pen sex becomes a character itself in this novel. If you've read his essay "Hooking Up" you understand Wolfe's fascination with the total removal of romance from sex. Sex for the students in the book is about quenching their carnal thirst. Look "cool," get drunk, find someone "hot," have sex, lather, rinse, repeat.
A shallow reader would assume the author is just obsessed with sex. A deeper reading of the book would find something more profound. Wolfe's theme in this novel is belonging. Characters are either trying to fit in, maintain their place in their group, or leaping up the social ladder.
The main character, Charlotte Simmons, comes from the hills of North Carolina. While in high school she only has one friend her age. She looks at the rest of her classmates as vulgar, stupid, lame people who will not move beyond the backwater of Sparta. She, Charlotte Simmons, is her class valedictorian with a 1600 SAT, and a full ride to the pinnacle of higher learning, Dupont University--think of it as Harvard but with really good sports teams. At Dupont Charlotte thinks she will live the "life of the mind." There she thinks she will be able to comisserate with those like her. Reality slaps her in the face the day she moves in when her country folks go to dinner with her rich roomate's parents. Class and status consciousness abound. The rungs of the social ladder are covered in spilled beer and used condoms.
Coed bathrooms, being "sexiled," frat parties, all these the reader experiences through Charlotte's naive eyes. While those around her are acting in ways in complete contrast to how her parents raised her Charlotte continues to take part. Her alternative is loneliness.
Charlotte has a desire to be cool. She wants others to see her hanging around cool people on campus. She likes showing off her legs sculpted from cross-country running. At a fraternity formal, she drunkenly laughs that one of the brothers is so vain. Ironically, all she has to do is look in the mirror to see someone else just as vain.
Charlotte's desire to belong with the cool crowd gets her drunk and in bed with a fraternity brother named Hoyt. In the weeks Charlotte hung around Hoyt she thought his smile and the way he touched her meant there was actual love behind the frat boy's lust. She gives up her virginity only to find she was nothing more than a conquest, an "accomplishment" to tell his fraternity brothers.
Charlotte forsook her mother's morals. Her punishment was her loss of innocence and a crushing guilt. This takes her into a depression which causes her grades to plummet which creates a vicious cycle. Without her school newspaper reporter friend/Rhodes Scholar wannabe Adam holding her in the night in his apartment and scolding her to get to her finals Charlotte wouldn't have passed anything. The tender, compassionate, accurate display of her depression was the most emotional, moving writing on the subject since Andrew Solomon's The Noonday Demon.
I won't give the ending away. I will tell you that on the surface it's a happy ending. Charlotte may be more comfortable at Dupont, but her life is a far cry from the ideal she had at the beginning of the school year. Charlotte may have thought she wanted a "life of the mind," but belonging won out.
Any accomplished novelist could set a story on a modern college campus. But when you read Tom Wolfe you expect more. The reporting as fiction (A.K.A. The New Journalism), the melding of high-level ideas like neuroscience and sociobiology, and the social satire place Wolfe a step above other novelists. But what makes Wolfe Wolfe is the zig-zag, BANG! ZAP! rat-tat-tat-tat style wordslinging. He is one of the few fiction writers who can rip off a paragraph that fills an entire page without the reader pausing. Sentences crackle, letters fly over you. Through it all Wolfe makes sure his novel doesn't fall into a postmodern morass. The plot moves forward, and the characters remain living, breathing creatures.
January 18, 2005
Wisconsin Illustrator Wins Award
Kevin Henkes won the Caldecott Medal for his book Kitten's First Full Moon.
"One for the Books: Madison Author Wins National Prize"
January 12, 2005
You sell a lot of books when you write for The New Yorker. But you're remembered if you have hair like Malcom Gladwell.
December 31, 2004
2004 TAM Book Awards
She Must Be Stopped
Lisa is thinking about reading the business bestseller Who Moved My Cheese? One of my specialties at my bookstore are business books. The truth is most of these books are awful reads. They're trite, banal, and full of so many bullet points as to make them Powerpoint presentations printed on paper. Cheese may be the worse. Here's my Amazon review:
This book contains some of the most banal prose I've ever read. The book reads for a sixth-grade reading level. Then there's the obvious theme: accept change. After living in the real world for the past 20+ years, who doesn't know that s/he must accept change? I'm saddened, because of the high sales of this book, to wonder about the literacy level of many managers.
If Lisa wants to take any insight from the book all she'll have to do is read page 74. It's all layed out there without having to numb your brain with a lousy fable. Stay away from it Lisa. Stay away!
"Who Moved My Cheese?"
December 21, 2004
Stephen Taylor claims to be trying to help last-minute shoppers with a review of Michael Moore is a Big Fat Stupid White Man. But he thinks it's only an average book so only search for this if you have a big Michael Moore hater on your Christmas list.
"Book Review II: Michael Moore is a Big Fat Stupid White Man"
Harry Potter VI
July 16 will be one of the craziest nights in book history. That's when J. K. Rowling's next Harry Potter book is released to her adoring millions. So along with the last-minute Christmas shopping I'll have to deal with people already wanted to order the book.
Last year was an experience for me. This July, the mania could be worse. I better get that vacation request in soon.
"Sixth Harry Potter Book Due Out in July"
"New Harry Potter"
"Harry, Azkaban, and a Prince Down a Few Quarts"
"Harry Potter and the Half-Bood Prince"
UPDATE: The stocks of the book publishers surged upon the news.
December 20, 2004
We see the end of the Christmas shopping tunnel, and the light we see is a beautifully decorated tree. Unlike the TAM's Terrific Treats series I've entertained you with (I hope) the past week or so here are some more serious picks for you last-minute shoppers. I realize even though some online stores claim they can still get you your gifts by Christmas ordering now involves some risk. So I'll not only provide a link to the item, but I'll give you the ISBN. Booksellers love it when customers have that number because all we have to do is type it into a computer to see if it's in stock.
Now onto non-fiction:
Me, I'm off to finish up some shopping.
December 16, 2004
What I Should Have Read by Now
Christmas shoppers sapped me of energy today. That's why this is the first post of the day. At least this time it wasn't so much crabby shoppers and as just the volume. We're headed into the final shopping weekend before Christmas. More and more people are out and about.
I never got around to answering the question asked from a few days back. It may have been a small act of God, but the next day at the store I stumbled upon an edition of Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France. Scholars have dubbed that book the foundation of modern conservative political thought. As a conservative always trying to deepen my knowledge of politics (broadly defined) you'd think I'd have been through this one by now.
The edition I found and subsequently bought is part of the "Rethinking the Western Tradition" series put out by Yale University Press. I was impressed with their edition of J.S. Mill's On Liberty. Their edition of Reflections shouldn't disappoint.
I also found a list I made of books I should read. Here are just a few:
I know there are no left-of-center classics on this list. Any suggestions?
Finally since I'm yapping about books, I'm currently reading John Keegan's The Face of Battle. It's good in that Keegan goes beyond other military historians and digs into the how and why of battles. He asks and answers questions other historians gloss over or assume away.
December 14, 2004
A Book Question
Daniel Drezner asks a great question:
This Virginia Postrel post reminds me of an old parlor game among academics -- confessing the most important book in your field that you have never read.
My "field" would be political economy (broadly defined). I also have to think if reading portions of a book count or don't count. I open this up to the audience while I pour over my bookshelves and past reading lists.
"Name the Book You're Most Embarrassed not to have Read"
December 10, 2004
The Economist Best Books List
Here's what The Economist thinks are the best books of 2004. Time is quickly vanishing to suggest a title for the TAM Book Awards. I'll probably be able to squeeze two books at most in before the end of the year. Leave your suggestion in the comments.
November 30, 2004
Divining da Da Vinci Code
Michele's review of The Da Vinci Code makes me happy I've ignored that neverending bestseller. She writes,
As a novel, TDC is pedestrian. The plot is thin, the codes are easily seen by the reader before the characters break them, the plot twists are either telegraphed or inconceivable to the point of absurdity and the ending is contrived. It's a page turner only because Brown is a master manipulator; he drags you in with theories and near blasphemies that make you think, but he never puts these things to great use. Instead, you end up turning the page just to see how the damn thing ends. As one who grew up with a love for cryptograms, Encyclopedia Brown, logic puzzles and adventure games, I felt let down by the book; it could have offered me so much more than it did.
Yet she finished the book.
Worst part about the whole TDC phenomenon is that a few people think the fictional parts are fact. It doesn't help that Dan Brown creates the confusion. What this has done is create a cottage industry of TDC debunking books.
"The Da Vinci Code - A Review of Sorts"
[One "fact" that would drive some Red Staters nuts is the notion that Jesus lived out his days as a Frenchman. Just imagine hearing the Sermon on the Mount in a French accent.]
November 19, 2004
Wolfe: Marketing Maven
Besides his unique writing style, Tom Wolfe is a successful author because he knows how to promote his books. For weeks, he's been quoted in newspapers and interviewed on television all in preparation for the release of I Am Charlotte Simmons. Ed Driscoll attended a talk in San Francisco and reports.
"The Man, In Full"
November 18, 2004
2004 National Book Award Winners
The 2004 National Bood Award Winners:
I may sell books, but I've never heard of any of the winners. The National Book Awards allow me to announce that naming the winners of the TAM Book Awards. They go to the best non-fiction books published in the past year. While I've already mentally placed some books on the list suggestions for the best in non-fiction are welcome.
November 11, 2004
Iris Chang Dead
The author of the critically acclaimed book The Rape of Nanking, Iris Chang, was found dead along a road near San Francisco. Police believe she committed suicide since a gun was found in her car, and she suffered depression.
Chang was only 29 when The Rape of Nanking was published. Until then, that horrific event was little more than a bit of trivia barely remembered from high school history. She brought the atrocities to light and forced the Japanese to deal with the historic blood on their hands. A BrothersJudd.com review wrote, "Chang's excellent book implicates all of these issues and should engender much soul searching."
While knowing as a child about that horrible event, when she went to a conference on it, she got sick from seeing pictures of the atrocities. I asked her how the reasearch for her latest book differed from Rape. She told me that the research and writing about Nanking made her physicially ill, and she had to recuperate after finishing the book.
It's not a stretch to speculate that the subject that gave her fame ended up killing her.
"Author Chang Found Dead Aged 36"
UPDATE: Jay Reding has some nice words about Chang's work.
October 06, 2004
The Whole Shebang
Lots of copies of the book are in my bookstore, and I'm hoping to sell them quickly.
September 23, 2004
What a Relief
The political book run is almost over. I can't wait. No more dealing with crazy people of all political stripes who see publishing conspiracies that don't exist. Unfortunately, I'll be seeing many of these political titles in bookstore remainder sections for years to come.
"Season for Political Books Nears End"
September 21, 2004
I don't want to think about the Christmas season yet, but Scott "ScrappleFace" Ott's new book would make a great gift.
September 06, 2004
The New "Strategery"
Based on only seeing part of his talk ("The Brief") on C-SPAN, Thomas Barnett's The Pentagon's New Map has jumped way up on my "must read" list and could claim a coveted TAM Book Award. He has put together a post-Cold War vision of the world and how the U.S. must organize itself and act to build a lasting peace. To get a taste of his thinking Enter Stage Right interviewed him in May.
"A Future Worth Creating: An Interview with Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett"
August 23, 2004
Setting Drudge Straight
Drudge is trying to pump up Pat Buchanan's new book and himself by claiming he got some scoop. "DRUDGE breaks the embargo on the book."
The book's been on sale since last week, and you can get it from Amazon through the link Drudge provides.
If you want the book just go to your nearest Barnes & Noble. More than likely it will be prominently displayed since Buchanan has plenty of media exposure.
August 14, 2004
No, I am Charlotte Simmons
Tom Wolfe's next book will come out 11.09.
[via Late Final]
August 03, 2004
This Has Potential
Christopher Buckley's new book, Florence of Arabia, is set in the Middle East. Even with the not-so-funny setting, this could be a laugh-out-loud hit since he offers this quip in an interview with The Atlantic Online:
Anyway, I was very happy with the camel blowing up. It's not every day that you get to blow up a camel and blame it on the French!
July 27, 2004
King's Reading Assignment
King needs some help figuring what to read (and post about) on his upcoming trip to Armenia. Stop by and give him some suggestions.
This summer, I've had some time to read. Here's what I've knocked off:
King's into the Super spy novels, as you can see that I am. The Sovereign Individual is what I am reading now. It's a little dated, what they are going through now is the Y2K computer issues, but it's interesting nonetheless, especially watching how to the forefront blogs and "point/click" shopping has become.
July 24, 2004
Oh, am I so glad I won't be bothering with My Life. One sentence by Pejman only reinforce my good sense:
This is a lousy book . . . and I measure my words carefully in saying that.
The review is lengthy, but it just has to be better than the book.
July 16, 2004
If You Can Find This Book, Buy It
Now, I haven't read the book, he's just trying to sell it and keep it high on the Amazon list of most sold books or something like that. (It's at #12 as I type this.)
Earlier this week, Sean said he'd miss seeing The President because he would be schlepping books, and linked to "My Life" and "Dude, Where's My Country?" I asked in the comment section if Hewitt's tome was "displayed prominently" and he indicated that it was, and under word from On High to maintain political balance.
Later in the week, Talk Radio Host, Saint Cloud State University Economics Professor and Blogger King Banian of SCSU Scholars wondered if Hewitt was right; if The Book is selling well, do brick-and-mortar stores need to give Hewitt's book space along side other books? I commented there what Sean had said: Yes, it's prominently displayed alongside other books.
Well, at least in the Milwaukee.
Yesterday, King perhaps took my comment as a challenge, and went to the local B&N to see. And he found one copy, spine out, on the shelf. On the shelf, yes, is not "prominently displayed." And he indicated he didn't see The Book out on other shelves/tables.
It didn't seem right to me, and after a short IM session with My Benefactor Sean, I figured I'd check it out myself. That, and after being in pretty much 100% contact with my 2-year-old daughter and my wife for nearly 80 straight days and nights, I had to get out of the house for a bit.
King's right; there is only one book on the shelf, spine out. However, I did spy 3 additional copies on the "Current Political Books" table, directly in front of the Information Pillbox. They were below the level of other books; that is to say, I believe his books are selling and others around it were not. They were not on the same plane. I wouldn't call the placement "prominent" because it was on the inner tracks of the table, and because having sold some copies it was not at the same level as the others on the table.
Now that my secret mission was complete, I stopped for a beer.
In the complex which houses B&N in St. Cloud is "My Favorite Place To Eat And Drink In St. Cloud(tm)". Granite City Food & Brewery. The food is fine, I am partial to the meatloaf dinner at dinner time and any sandwich during the lunch run. But, let's move past the food, to what I truly love and that is their selection of hand-crafted beers. They always have an IPA, a Stout, a Lager and a Mai Bock on tap. Then, depending upon the season and whim of the brewmaster, there may be a little something different, last night a Pilsener. Me, I chose the IPA. It's damn tasty, and for me and the other members of the Brewmaster's Club, only $3.00 for a 25-oz mug. Anytime of day, $3.00 for 25-oz of liquid refreshment. And, they do have a couple hand-pumps too, for when those who prefer their beer to be a little closer to room temperature want one. They are also delicious. They have Eight Locations in Minnesota, Iowa, South Dakota and Nebraska. Oh, and North Dakota; stop by one if you're close.
End result? King's right, and I found a few more copies. My intention was not to prove King wrong; I needed to get out of my house for a little while and have a beer and watch the Twins game (they lost, 3-1 to Kansas City). Doing "research" for The Cause was a great excuse.
Now if we can only get a gratuitous link from
July 06, 2004
Battling Bill's Book
I'm glad Ed Moltzen is doing his chapter-by-chapter review of My Life. By suffering through all 900+ pages he pulls out some zingers like these:
In the 1980 movie Airplane!, there is a pretty funny running gag: The character Ted Striker, played by Robert Hays, boards an airplane in an attempt to win back his girlfriend. During the flight, he sits next to one passenger after another, recounting his life story. The tales are so long, dull and painful that, one by one, each passenger commits suicide on board (one commits hari-kari; another pours gasoline on himself and lights a match; another even hangs himself.)
Seriously, though, Clinton believes there is only one version of civil rights: the one he and his friends (black and white) support.
"His Life: Pages 20 through 100"
"His Life: Pages 100-200 (Black Like Bill)"
Someone Should Have Listened to Kakutani
Mindles Dreck spent good money on some mindless dreck by buying My Life. Poor guy.
The editor's red pen must have been out of ink. Every page contains a useless phrase or sentences, such as "It was an interesting experience" or "it was an exciting time to me" or, despite a molehill of subsequent evidence to the contrary "A lot happened to me while I lived on Thirteenth Street." Yawn.
July 03, 2004
My Life Reviewed Again
Iny the NY Times Book Review, Larry McMurtry reviews My Life and calls it "the richest American presidential autobiography." That's a far cry from NY Times weekday book reviewer Michiko Kakutani's scathing review.
It's interesting that the Times published two reviews of the book. The book's tremendous sales and Clinton's persona do justify it. Also, in the review, McMurtry wrote that he was waiting a while for the tome. So, the Book Review was planning on reviewing it for some time. I just wonder if the McMurtry review would have disappeared if Kakutani's were the least bit sympathetic.
"My Life: His True Love Is Politics"
July 02, 2004
One Tough Cookie
Ed is slogging through My Life.
So far, the book is just like "Mayberry RFD" without all of that distracting entertainment value.
"His Life: First In An Occasional Series"
June 21, 2004
I knew Media Matters was created to analyze right-wing media, however, I didn't think they'd become knee-jerk Bill Clinton defenders. The media watch dog has gone after Michiko Kakutami's review of My Life doing a side-by-side comparison of that review with the one she did of Sen. Hillary Clinton's Living History. The conclusion: Kakutami has a paticular style of writing that employs similar words a phrasing. Only MM proclaims she "recycled" the review. I wouldn't blame her if she did recycle it. I can't imagine anyone making it through all 950+ pages even if they were paid to do it. Can you say, "stretch?"
"Kakutani Struck Again: She Recycled Anti-Clinton Review"
"Liberal Website Discredits Clinton Book Reviewer"
Rumor has it former President of the United States Bill Clinton has a book coming out this week.
As part of his promotional tour, he is doing interviews. In one with the BBC, the former President gets a little angry.
The former American president, famed for his amiable disposition, becomes visibly angry and rattled, particularly when Dimbleby asks him whether his publicly declared contrition over the affair is genuine.
I think it's a legitimate question for the former president. People here do want to know. He didn't always come across as forthright about so many other things ("the meaning of the word 'is'," for example).
June 20, 2004
Book Reviewer's "Real" Life
Rarely do I find McSweeney's funny. Here's one big exception.
NYT Pans My Life
Michiko Kakutani notices what many of us Clinton-basher knew for years. That he's a narcissist constantly needing to be the center of attention. In her review of My Life she writes:
The book, which weighs in at more than 950 pages, is sloppy, self-indulgent and often eye-crossingly dull — the sound of one man prattling away, not for the reader, but for himself and some distant recording angel of history.
She doesn't rip on Dan Rather who's praised the book. (Could it have anything to do with generating interest in tonight's 60 Minutes interview or that Simon & Schuster, Clinton's publisher is a sister company to CBS underneath the Viacom umbrella?)
Kakutani goes on to write,
In fact, "My Life" reads like a messy pastiche of everything that Mr. Clinton ever remembered and wanted to set down in print; he even describes the time he got up at 4 a.m. to watch the inaugural ceremonies for Nigeria's new president on TV. There are endless litanies of meals eaten, speeches delivered, voters greeted and turkeys pardoned. There are some fascinating sections about Mr. Clinton's efforts to negotiate a Middle East peace agreement (at one point, he suggests that Yasir Arafat seemed confused, not fully in command of the facts and possibly no longer at the top of his game), but there are also tedious descriptions of long-ago political debates in Arkansas over utility regulation and car license fees . There are some revealing complaints about missteps at the FBI under Louis Freeh's watch , but there are also dozens of pointless digressions about matters like zombies in Haiti and ruins in Pompeii.
It sounds like My Life is like those long series of stories newspapers put out. The goal is to win a Pulitzer, but few end up reading every word because of the content's inanity.
"The Pastiche of a Presidency, Imitating a Life, in 957 Pages"
June 17, 2004
The quotes trickling out from the upcoming Bill Clinton interview on 60 Minutes make me so glad I'll be away from news watching while on vacation next week. I won't have to read about inane Clinton crude like this:
When the Berlin wall fell, the perpetual right in America, which always needs an enemy, didn't have an enemy any more, so I had to serve as the next best thing.
My Life will be satisfying the voyeurs and Clinton faithful while I'll be on a lake going after the big one.
I leave it to The Llama Butchers to rant for me.
"Clinton Says He Never Considered Quitting"
June 04, 2004
That's the length of President Bill Clinton's memoir My Life. I guess since Random House paid him at least $10 million they couldn't find any more money in the budget for an editor. This may resemble his State of the Union speeches where he just went on and on and on. Other than a Clinton devotee who's going to sit down and read every single page? You just know many will get their book and jump right to all the Ken Starr/Monica Lewinski stuff.
One other thing, who launches a book tour before the book is even out? I can understand going on television a day or two before the books released, but over two weeks?
The big book I'll be digging into later this summer is Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton. He stopped by my store a few weeks ago, and he was kind, generous, and excited about his subject as well as the attention the store's staff was lavishing him with.
"Bill Clinton Launches Book Tour for My Life"
UPDATE: Now, I know why Clinton is hawking the book so far in advance. He was speaking at BookExpo in Chicago. That the book industry's big trade show.
UPDATE II: In the NY Times' story it reports that there actually was an editor on the project. One thing Robert Gottlieb stopped Clinton from doing is writing an extended section on the President's love of the movie High Noon. As to the length of the book, Clinton himself thinks of it as two books.
June 03, 2004
In Manchester's Footsteps
William Manchester died this week. Along with writing biographies of JFK, he was known for writing a popular multi-volume bio of William Churchill, The Last Lion. Two volumes were finished, and Manchester had started the third one before strokes prevented further progress. The question for Manchester's fans is "Who will finish the project?" Steven Zeitchik has the answer.
"An Unfinished Life"
April 25, 2004
Thinking with Your (Other) Head
It's safe to say Talking to Richard won't be getting a TAM Award next December.
"Talking To Richard by Gary Sherbell"
April 07, 2004
Listen to Free Culture
Lawrence Lessig's new book Free Culture was released under a Creative Commons license. If you don't want to buy the book or read the downloadable versions there's the home made audio book you can listen to.
April 06, 2004
A Deserving Award
Anne Applebaum won the General Non-Fiction Pulitzer for her outstanding book, Gulag. The book is full of pain and horror, but it's something all freedom-loving people need to read. This award is great timing for her. Gulag comes out in paperback 04.20.
March 07, 2004
VDH on Book TV
Victor Davis Hanson is probably the second-most popular non-weblogging writer in the Conservative Blogosphere. He's also received a $500,000 advance for A War Like No Other, a book on the Peloponnesian War. Right now, he's talking about his writings in a taped discussion on C-SPAN2's Book TV.
"Right Way to Farm the Classics"
December 31, 2003
2003 TAM Book Awards
And now, the TAM Book Awards:
December 29, 2003
Those Darn Almanacs
People posessing almanacs should send up a red flag to police. At least that's what a FBI memo is saying. Will I and other booksellers be drafted into the Department of Homeland Security to monitor almanac sales? Which book is more dangerous to national security: The World Almanac or The Farmers' Almanac? This warning is on par with looking at people with binoculars with suspicion. Be wary of those bird watchers.
December 27, 2003
This is from an e-mail posted on The Corner:
Wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas and to let you know my wife gave me a copy of Rich Lowry's book for Christmas...she says she saw me rearranging the book display at our local Waldenbooks - replacing all of the Franken tomes with Legacy. She then thought, correctly, that I should have one in my collection.
I don't care if this person was a conservative who thinks Al Franken is full of it. He's still obnoxious and rude. If I saw this guy doing his own version of "Hey, I work in a bookstore too" I would have asked him if he needed any help while thinking, "It's people like you that give conservatives a bad name."
This is even worse than a female customer who was upset a stack of Bill O'Reilly books were right next to Michael Moore's Dude, Where's My Country? Some people, whatever their ideology, get so upset and threatened at the mere existence of an opposing opinion. Why they even bother to turn on a tv or radio, open a newspaper, read a website, or even step out their front door is beyond me.
December 23, 2003
Joyner on the Book Biz
With this being the final few days until Christmas, work has driven me away from posting. After running around tolerating people who don't understand the idea of planning ahead I come home exhausted. Sleep and a little reading is preferrable at this time.
But I can still get myself to link to James Joyner's post on the book biz. He gives us his perspective as "an acquisitions editor with a publishing house at the mercy of the B&N's of the world."
December 21, 2003
Some Thoughts on the Book Biz
Interesting. As one on the other end of the book business--an acquisitions editor with a publishing house at the mercy of the B&N's of the world--I always just assumed that such efforts were a way for the book chains to keep more shelf space devoted to schlock books that are almost pure profit.
I'm sure there are plenty of things B&N does that's not in the best interests of their customers or publishers (Some publishers won't sell through B&N). The company is no more virtuous than any other. To tell you the honest truth from the front lines of retail bookselling: we don't care who's books we sell. The goal of my superiors from the store level on up is to put the book the customer wants in their hand. If it's a B&N house title, fine; if it's someone else's, fine too. What B&N does by expanding its publishing business is inject some more competition in certain markets (classics, crafts, some cooking).
James' mention of returns is interesting. I've read comments (don't know of any links) from Len Riggio saying how much he hates returns. At a store-level it can be a waste of time. It does give store managers and company buyers the flexiblity to take a chance with a book, but that risk then is on the shoulders of the publishers.
Then there are the deep discounts. I'd like to say that if the base prices were lower to begin with then there would be no need for the discounts. However, that doesn't take into account the economics of physically making a book and the tough barganing of huge retailers like Target and Wal-Mart who get more favorable prices than B&N (but sacrifice that with a lack of selection).
I think more experimentation is needed. So far, e-books are a bust, but maybe print-on-demand technology will help alleviate the need to print lots of books that may be returned and allow non-blockbuster titles with little-known authors to make a profit.
December 20, 2003
Kevin Holtsberry is plugging my company's Collectors Library. Let me add that this is part of the company's efforts to make books more affordable.
"Barnes and Noble Collectors Library"
December 18, 2003
Another Something New I've Learned
Hopefully, this post won't need a correction.
Marquette University has an extensive J.R.R. Tolkien collection including the original manuscript of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Author Wayne Hammond said Marquette's collection is "one of the two most important in the world, together with that at the Bodleian Library in Oxford."
"Marquette Expanding Tolkien Collection"
November 20, 2003
Gould's History of the GOP
In a review of Lewis Gould's Grand Old Party, James Ceaser points out what has stayed firm throughout the history of the GOP:
Despite all their shifts, Republicans have shown an abiding commitment to four principles. First, the GOP has been the party of the idea of the nation, stressing this theme at its origins even when half the country denied it. Republicans have retained this pride in the nation, and it has always marked their brand of internationalism, so clearly on display today. Second, Republicans have placed great reliance on the "rising" individual and the self-made man. The horror of Republicans is for the wealth and property of society to be thought of as being owned collectively, to be distributed on the basis of "social justice." Third, the party has always been concerned with maintaining traditional standards of morality. From its early opposition to polygamy (coupled with slavery in the 1856 platform as one of "the twin relics of barbarism"), to the "just say 'no' to drugs" campaign, the party has stressed the connection between moral restraints and ordered liberty. Finally, the Republican Party has adhered to "Nature and Nature's God" as the transcendent source of truth. It has asserted this position in opposition to those who claim that standards derive only from evolving conceptions of morality, or from the social construction of values, or from humanitarian norms temporarily affirmed by bodies of international lawyers. A recourse to natural right was the first principle of Abraham Lincoln, just as it is the first principle of George W. Bush.
November 03, 2003
Looking for Suggestions
We're in the final stretch of 2003, and I'm already mentally putting together the TAM book and music lists. I could use some help. What were some of best non-fiction books and music that I might have missed? On the book side, I've read David Frum's The Right Man, Virginia Postrel's The Substance of Style, Bernard Lewis' The Crisis of Islam, and I want to read Anne Applebaum's Gulag before the year is out. On the music side, I've enjoyed St. Moritz Vibes, Feeder's Comfort in Sound (that would be a controversial pick because it's from 2002 but wasn't released in the U.S. until this year), and Led Zeppelin's How the West Was Won.
This is not all I've read and bought. I've got to keep something secret to surprise you. But I want some help on books and music I've missed. If I get a bunch of suggestions (via e-mail, comments, links, or trackbacks) I may toss all of them into a big hat and pick a name. Then I'll select something off your Amazon wish list.
And one last item. I'm thinking about doing a TAM Weblogs award this year too. So I'll take suggestions on what you think has been the best weblog in 2003.
October 29, 2003
We Have a Winner
Kevin Holtsberry started up a weblog devoted to books. He already has a good post on high art and Virginia Postrel's The Substance of Style--which I'm reading currently. Collected Miscellany has immediately been added to the blogroll.
October 19, 2003
Rolling in the Dough
Well, since I won't be enjoying Steve Jobs' Net music creation I'll offer up a brief review of Making Dough: The 12 Secret Ingredients of Krispy Kreme's Sweet Success. I'm a Krispy Kreme fanatic. I waited with glee for the day a store opened in the Milwaukee area. The wait was worth it. Until 12.11.01 I only knew the myth of Krispy Kreme, but with one bite I was hooked for life. Also on that day, I felt the customer love (obsession) with the company. While waiting in line for my doughnuts a couple behind me said they drove 90 minutes. There is something special about a company where people will come from over 100 miles away just for your product. In Making Dough there are a few stories of people coming from far away and waiting hours, even days, just to be the first to open a new store. That's tremendous devotion.
At the center of it all is not a hole but a wonderful product. The Krispy Kreme doughnut is sweet, gooey, sticky, and, if hot, melts in your mouth. The company knows it has the greatest doughnuts in the world and focuses all their efforts to get you to try one. Once you bite, they have you hooked. Stores have glass walls turning them into doughnut-making theaters. Wholesale operations provide branding and cheap advertising. Their famous Hot Light lets the public know when they can get their hot, golden, glazed goodie.
Making Dough tells the story of how Vernon Rudolph turned his last $25 into a regional icon. Then Krispy Kreme lost its identity when Beatrice took over after Rudolph's death. Store franchisees saved the company with a buyout that eventually led to the company going public in 2000 and expanding across the country and overseas.
At times the book reads like a long magazine article. It's fluffy (pun intended) in places and glazes (again intended) over some company foibles. But it's still a fascinating book examining an American success story.
October 15, 2003
Virtual Book Tour
Last night, Sylvia Browne stopped at my bookstore. Fortunately, I didn't work and have to deal with a few hundred fans of the psychic. Kevin Smokler has developed a way to promote books through weblogs. It's called the Virtual Book Tour. For one day, webloggers promote a book. They can interview the author, hand over the reigns to the weblog for a day, or some other creative activity.
October 09, 2003
Neil Postman R.I.P.
Media critic Neil Postman died last Sunday. For a medium so in tune with the workings of media, I would have expected to have known about this sooner. My exposure to Postman was Technopoly. It was a good criticism of the need to use new technology for its own sake instead of trying to fit it into a full human life. Jay Rosen, a BloggerCon attendee, was a student of Postman and has posted some thoughts.
"Neil Postman (1931-2003): Some Recollections"
Kimball on Intellectuals
Bernard Chapin has a lively review of Roger Kimball's Lives of the Mind. In the review, Chapin quotes Kimball's definition of conservatism from a National Review article:
What, after all, is a conservative? He is someone who acknowledges the fragility of civilization, who seeks to conserve the manners and morals, the habits and prejudices that have enlivened society, preserved liberty, and opposed tyranny.
"Book Review: Lives of the Mind"
September 30, 2003
This is the year for Ronald Reagan books. Lou Cannon has one on Reagan as governor of California. Peter Robinson came out with one a few months ago on How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life. Now, two collections of Reagan's letters will be available for Reagan fans this Christmas. Andrew Sullivan reviews Reagan: A Life in Letters.
"How Reagan Fooled Us"
September 29, 2003
Hit the Lecture Circuit
I think it was one of the writers at 2blowhards who said that only a few hundred people in the world made money just from writing books. Taking that as truth, then how do writers pay the bills while still writing books? To use Virginia Postrel and her latest, The Substance of Style, as an example you can have portions of books reprinted in magazines, you can free lance, or you can go on the speaking circuit. This recalls the 19th Century where intellectuals like Ralph Waldo Emerson made a living giving public lectures. Unlike his time, philosophical discourses won't earn a lot, but for Postrel, the ideas in her books can be applied to the business world. There businessmen actually pay to hear her and pick her brain.
So the lesson to be learned from Postrel is if you want to make a living as a writer, find an idea that can get you onto the business speaking circuit. It can still be full of policy stuff and somewhat philosophical (see her The Future and Its Enemies).
Too bad my book idea, a history of Islamic-American wars (it's not a recent phenomenon), seems to have little application to the business world. :-(
September 26, 2003
Plimpton Dead at 76
George Plimpton had that blue-blood, East Coast accent (almost like Bill Buckley's) yet I remember him most for his talk on something that connects with the American everyman: sports. I never read any of his books, but I listened to him being interviewed about Muhammad Ali and baseball. He added poetic touch to a sweaty and dirty subject.
Paper Lion, Plimpton's story of his month-long stint in the Detroit Lions' training camp is being re-released in October.
UPDATE: ScrappleFace has the latest on Plimpton's current project.
"George Plimpton to Write Book on Death"
September 25, 2003
Said Dead at 67
Edward Said, author of Orientalism, is dead. As James Joyner writes, "[Said] represented most of what I've long thought wrong with that discipline: His ideology always trumped his scholarship." He also showed the intellectual bankruptcy of many in the academic Left:
He prompted a controversy in 2000 when he threw a rock toward an Israeli guardhouse on the Lebanese border. Columbia University did not censure him, saying that the stone was directed at no one, no law was broken and that his actions were protected by principles of academic freedom.
There is also questions about Said's life in Palestine/Israel brought up by Justus Reid Weiner.
September 19, 2003
"It's the Style, Stupid"
UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds understands Build-a-Bear's success. He called it a "Virginia Postrel moment". This is a meme I can't wait to use. (HINT HINT If you want an Instalanche.)
September 18, 2003
Stephenson's Big New Book
Eugene Volokh will hate me, but thanks to my connections in the book world, I've already started Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver. I've just begun and already well-known people and places have already appeared.
September 13, 2003
Richard Brookhiser Interview
Kevin Holtsberry interviews National Review's Richard Brookhiser. His latest book is Gentleman Revolutionary : Gouverneur Morris, the Rake Who Wrote the Constitution.
Book TV's Fall Preview
There looks to be some interesting discussion this weekend on C-SPAN's Book TV. One of my favorite programs is their fall book preview. I'll be jotting down titles for my Christmas list. Representing the Right are Charles Kesler of the Claremont Review of Books and Kathryn Jean (K-Lo) Lopez of NRO.
August 23, 2003
Franken Triumphs Over Fox News
A federal judge tossed out Fox News' legal attempt to stop the sale of Al Franken's new book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. Judge Denny Chin said, "Parody is a form of artistic expression protected by the First Amendment. The keystone to parody is imitation. Mr. Franken is clearly mocking Fox."
Since a federal judge considers Franken's book to be a parody and no one objected, then why did Harvard give Franken a paid fellowship to write it? I'll ask again: how does Franken's parody advance the Shorenstein Center's objective to "advance existing research in press/politics and to provide an opportunity for distinguished experts to reflect on their discipline"?
In Michelle Malkin's latest column she too mocked Franken's Harvard fellowship:
So Franken is remorseful about offending his high-minded liberal benefactors at Harvard, who supported his book "research" under the guise of "bridging the gap between journalists and scholars" and "helping the press improve its role in democracy."
August 18, 2003
Someday I will go to Archer City, Texas.
August 13, 2003
David Brooks Interviewed
David Brooks, author of Bobos in Paradise and new New York Times columnist tells how he writes,
I have a very old-fashioned way of writing. I carry notebooks around and observe how people behave. I fill up notebooks and lay them out on the floor. Each pile is a paragraph. And I sit and I stream them all together. I have no memory. I have to write everything down. I've never had writer's block. I can't think without writing. I can't think of what I believe in unless I write it down. That's the form my brain takes.
Do like Brooks, and you too could get a gig opposite Mark Shields. On second thought, you could still get to hang out with Bill Kristol.
Also, let the record show that there's not much distance between a liberal and a "Teddy Roosevelt conservative."
For further reading, Brad DeLong reviewed Brooks' book.
August 11, 2003
Reagan Changed Robinson's Life
Greg Ransom not just endorses AHNOLD! but Peter Robinson's new book How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life. Greg thinks Robinson writes better than Peggy Noonan. If it's true, he's one hell of a writer.
August 05, 2003
Gary Wolf Visit's TAM
Wolf, author of Wired: A Romance was nice enough to leave a message thanking me for mentioning his book [also here]. If a personal message from an author isn't a great way to buy someone's book, then I'm a marketing idiot.
Wolf also has a weblog with comments on his book.
July 30, 2003
One Cool Mag
The NY Times Book Review reviewed Gary Wolf's Wired. David Carr writes that the book isn't so much a romance as the subtitle states as a "theological autopsy of a religion that flourished and went away in less than a decade."
"Wired: The Coolest Magazine on the Planet"
July 13, 2003
Another Wired Review
Reason's Tim Cavanaugh reviews Wired. He writes, "Wolf's book rescues the myth and brings it back as vibrant, crucial history."
July 09, 2003
Horowitz on Treason
It's not good for a conservative book to be looked down on by David Horowitz. But that's what he does with Ann Coulter's Treason. Ann messed up her credibility in the same way Michael Savage messed up his brief time on MSNBC.
"The Trouble with Treason"
July 08, 2003
Summer reading lists are the fad-of-the-moment in weblog world. Kevin Holtsberry links to a number of webloggers (including himself) so I won't repeat his effort. I wonder why the lists came out now? Since I consider summer to start at the beginning of June, we're about half-way through. But with the weather finally getting hot here in SE Wisconsin it's finally started to feel like summer. So to follow the flock here are some books I might consume during some warm, lazy days away from the computer:
Dorothy Rabinowitz thinks Ann Coulter, the "Maureen Dowd of the conservatives," is a bit off on her attempt at redeeming Sen. Joe McCarthy in her book Treason.
"A Conspiracy So Vast"
July 07, 2003
John Hawkins pulled out some choice quotes from Ann Coulter's Treason. Now I don't have to buy the book. Coulter's hot in an anorexic kind of way, but after a few bomb blasts, I got bored. She's good for a column or 10 minutes on a cable news show, but the "Democrats are dumb traitors" line got old fast. Be assured Treason won't make the TAM Book Awards.
"The Best Quotes From Ann Coulter's Treason"
June 26, 2003
Heaving Harry Potter
From John's context-less quotes from the latest book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix might contain as many double entandres as Hillary's book.
They also have a thought provoking post on personal ownership of nukes.
And thanks to the guys at Catallarchy.net for the addition of TAM to their blogroll.
"From the Department of Naughty Innuendo"
June 22, 2003
Even though J. K. Rowling doesn't want her books intertwined with the marketing of jelly beans, DVDs, and toys, the release of the fifth Harry Potter book has created a cross-marketing mania.
For those who are worried that kids will be easily manipulated, don't fret. A nine-year-old girl told the NY Times, "Some people say how stupid it is that they are coming out with Harry Potter toothbrushes and things like that. I think they should just stop with the books and movies, otherwise it just goes sort of overboard into a more Disney thing." She's a marketing critic in the making.
"New Sign on Harry Potter's Forehead: For Sale"
Record Breaking Book
5 million copies of you-know-who were bought this weekend. My ultimate boss, Barnes & Noble CEO Steve Riggio, said, "We expected to sell 1 million copies in the first week and we sold that many within the first 48 hours." Unlike other stores, my store had copies of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix available to those that didn't pre-order. After tonight, those pre-orders that weren't picked up were released for general consumption.
Some people had a bad surprise when they discovered missing pages in their books. With a print run of 8.5 million, mistakes were bound (pun not intended) to happen. Something like this happens to lots of books. The only reason it's news now is because it's Harry Potter.
Either Saturday was a slow news day or Harry Potter is big news, because the NY Times placed Michiko Kakutani's review on the front page above the fold. She praises J. K. Rowling's "bravura storytelling skills and tirelessly inventive imagination," and how she braids "together the mundane and the marvelous, the psychological and the allegorical with consummate authority and ease."
In a less laudatory review, the Telegraph's Sam Leith called Rowling's prose "almost completely colourless," yet he considers her a "master storyteller." He also found the plot to be a bit too pat. "We know who the baddies are from the outset. There are no earth-shattering revelations." Like Kakutani, Leith calls Order, the Empire Strikes Back of the series.
In the blogosphere, Courtney found some libertarian threads in the story. I wonder if this is Rowling's way at commenting on government "excesses" in our post-September 11 world? Unfortunately, other than Courtney, I haven't found any other weblog reviews yet. I know the book's big, but something? Anything?
In order to sell so many books so fast, it can't just be kids wanting a children's book. In Vancouver, Science World had an adults-only party to celebrate the book's release.
Even with all the stress I went through to sell this book, I'm glad it's out there just to stop all the talk about Sen. Hillary Clinton's book.
"For Famous Young Wizard, a Darker Turn"
"'Where are the Red Herrings?'"
"New Harry Potter Book Sets Sales Records"
"Copies of Potter Book Found Missing Pages"
"Public Potty for Potter"
June 21, 2003
Harry Potter/J. K. Rowling Mishmash
Since I slept way too much today (busy night, you know) and have to head over to a friends home soon, I'll just link to a few stories surrounding Potter Mania.
A woman in Kansas City may have lost her job for delivering the book early.
Despite a few books leaking out, Rowling is happy a tight drum was kept on the book. Her fans are happy too.
At the Barnes & Noble in Green Bay, WI kids found the golden snitch and petted a snake while waiting for their book.
On a funny note, ScrappleFace discovered the book can be used as a personal defense item.
Harry Potter Craziness
This morning, at 12:01 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was unleashed upon children and those young at heart. With little trouble you should be able to find plenty of reports on Harry Potter Mania all over the world. But here, for you, is this humble correspondent's report from the center of the publishing whirlwind.
I arrived at 6:00 pm yesterday evening. It was quiet, too quiet. If you walked in at that time you'd never expect the swarms of people who would be there in just a few hours.
Above, you see a few thousand books waiting to be read by eager readers all over the Milwaukee area.
Expecting people to sit in line for hours waiting for the book (Greg Packer wannabes no doubt) my store had a system where customers who pre-ordered the book would get a colored ticket. The color would determine when they would be in line. The order went just like the color spectrum--Roy G. Biv--red, then orange, then yellow, and so on. That solved that problem.
Besides dealing with the biggest crowds I've ever seen in the store, our biggest concern/question had to do with people wanting copies of the book when they didn't pre-order it. My store alone took over 2000 pre-orders--one of the best performances of any store in the company--so we weren't sure there would be any left after all the orders were taken. With all the media hype in the past months and weeks, I was surprised that so many people thought they would be able to just call a bookstore and expect a book, but many did. A mild let down was delivered when I told them the chance of getting a book today were slim, but I would be glad to order a copy for them when a new shipment arrived.
Throughout the night the phone rang constantly with questions about the book's availablity and what games and events we were having. People came and went, but didn't hang around until 9:00. My boss and I figured people went to see a movie (my store is part of a mall with a theater) then came to get their book. First Hulk, then Harry.
By 10:00, people arrived to take part in Harry Potter trivia games, indoor quidich, and having their picture taken with the young wizard himself (my gig). Just walking through the store became a course filled with living, breathing, and moving human obstacles. The constant motion of answering phones, getting materials for events, and preparing for the book sale all the while avoiding people had me wiping my brow a few times.
At around 11:30, the first group of people was allowed into lines by our cash registers. I got the job of trying to get them to form orderly lines and keep things moving smoothly. I was in the mass, in the middle of the beast making sure it didn't get out of control. My boss got worried because he couldn't see me in the crowd. The customers were in good spirits. Many of the kids told me they were waiting for this moment for years. I figured their yearning for the next book started a week after they finished the fourth Harry Potter book. A few chit-chatted with me about how wild an event this was.
The clock ticked away, and finally 12:01 came and the fifth Harry Potter book was set free. I was doing alright. The adrenaline was flowing; I was feeding off the energy of the crowd. I directed people to a cash register where they got their book and made sure there was room so people could get out of everybody else's way.
Eventually, the energy rush faded. Making sure people stay in some sort of line and not butt in front of each other was hard work. After about an hour, I was getting tired, but there wasn't much I could do because a few hundred people were still in line. One customer told me it was hot, hot like at a concert. When you get a lot of people together in a small area, the temperature rises. Thankfully, people's temper didn't.
The colors were called out, people quickly got in line, and received their books. Even a few lucky ones who just stopped by hoping to buy one lucked out. Anyone who came to the store wanting a book ended up with one. There were plenty of happy customers and some very tired booksellers.
As you can see, the stacks were diminished, and tired booksellers went home.
On my way home, I stopped by a Wal-Mart open 24 hours to see how the Potter Mania was.
The store was still in one piece. Inside, I saw two small pallets of books. I asked a cashier how it was this morning, and she told me it was pretty crazy.
After going through last night/this morning I'm tempted to knock off J. K. Rowling before she finishes another book. Or for something less cruel to all her fans (killing her would be like killing George Lucas before he finishes the Star Wars series) I want Harry Potter #6 to be a digital download only.
June 20, 2003
Potter-mania Hits Brew City
Milwaukee gets ready for Harry Potter. Bookstores and publishers hope the book juices up the industry:
The publishing world is hoping to ride Harry's Nimbus 2001 flying broomstick out of what has been shaping up to be a dismal bookselling year. Sales of hardcover books have slid more than 20% in the first quarter, according to the Association of American Publishers. So, the thinking goes, if the new Potter brings hundreds into bookstores, chances are they might also buy other books besides J.K. Rowling's.
It will be wild tonight.
"The Phoenix Rises"
Harry Potter Review
The AP is detailing the plot of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. How did they get a copy? Will J. K. Rowling and Scholastic sue them like they're suing the NY Daily News? And where are the thousands of books stolen in England earlier this week? So many questions. One thing I do know is lots of people will be buying the book at the stroke of midnight Saturday morning, and I'll be there to give you a taste of Potter-mania.
"Harry Potter Series Keeps Getting Better"
June 19, 2003
Oprah's Picking Books Again
The female billionaire, pop culture icon restarted her book club with Steinbeck's East of Eden. Now, I won't be cringing when women who haven't read anything serious since college come in asking for the book.
"Oprah Revives Book Club With Steinbeck"
June 18, 2003
Walter Williams reviews Eco-nomics by Richard Stroup. The book is an example that those who reject radical environmentalism don't necessarily want dirty water and air. It's just that we realize all decisions involve trade-offs. Free market environmentalists understand this while the socialist zealots don't or don't admit it.
"Protecting the Environment"
Show Me the Moneyball
The more reviews I've read of Michael Lewis' Moneyball the more interested I get. Stephen Silver is no exception. He writes,
What the neo-conservatives of the Bush Adminstration are to foreign policy, the sabermetric movement is to major league baseball: a movement that has existed and gradually gained steam for years, and now has finally broken through and more or less been accepted by those in power. The sabermatricians' Weekly Standard is the Baseball Prospectus; their Scoop Jackson Bill James, and their Axis of Evil is baseball's traditional scouting establishment. And their George W. Bush is Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane: a longtime insider who has embraced the movement's long-held ideas and applied them on the main stage.
"Moneyball by Michael Lewis"
In about 50 hours, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix will be unleashed upon the world. Stores will be open late or opening early. People, like Greg Packer, will be in line for hours just to be the first to get their copy of the book. Kids will stay awake reading it until their eyes are just too heavy to be kept open. There will also be parents complaining to stores about there not being enough books for them even though they could have pre-ordered the book months, even years, in advance.
The story of the NY Daily News publishing portions of the book in advance doesn't surprise me. News about something with this much popular interest is bound to seep through any embargo a publisher will put on it. Information does want to be free, or at least people want information to be free.
From working in the bookselling trade for a while, I do know the health food store that sold the book before 6.21 will have little chance of getting copies of Harry Potter #6.
Now let me comment a little on the store owner's explanation for breaking the embargo. He got four books from a wholesaler. He put them on sale immediately because "didn't receive notification that I should hold off until the 21st." It's possible the wholesaler forgot to tell him about the embargo, or it got lost in the mail. Things like that happen. What I can't believe is the store owner didn't know anything about the sale date. He's sold book previously so he can't plead complete ignorance about the book trade. If people who only want to buy a copy of the book knew the exact moment the book would be released, a fairly intelligent store owner would know too or contact the publisher if he had any questions. Maybe this guy's ineptitude is just a symptom of consuming too much organic food. Since that stuff is grown in natural fertilizer (i.e. manure) who knows the possible medical side effects. Where's the FDA when you really need them?
"Here's First Look at What Happens"
"Hocus-pocus! We got Harry"
June 16, 2003
Rowling and the Child's Mind
Whatever you think of the Harry Potter books, J. K. Rowling has certainly tapped into the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of kids all over the world. Despite critic Harold Bloom's prediction that the books will be relegated to dust bins, stories that cross so many national, cultural, and demographic lines must possess some transcendent quality.
"The Real Magic of Harry Potter"
June 11, 2003
Here's the intro paragraph to a Washington Post story on Hillary's book sales:
For booksellers, this will always be remembered as the June when Hillary met Harry.
I know where that came from, but, as a bookseller, Living History will disappear from my memory. Since it's poorly written and laughable, Harry Potter-maina will dominate in my mind.
I wonder if Linton Weeks was auditioning for Hillary's speech writing staff. It sure sounding like fawning to me.
June 10, 2003
Hillary Can Sell Books (Even Bad Ones)
Hillary's book sold more than 40,000 copies across the vast Barnes & Noble empire making that a record non-fiction book for the company. While not giving out anything specific, at my store, the sales for Living History were brisk. The media attention worked, but I wonder how sales will do if more reviews like Michiko Kakutani's come out. About the book she wrote, "Overall the book has the overprocessed taste of a stump speech, the calculated polish of a string of anecdotes to be delivered on a television chat show."
"Hillary Clinton's Memoirs Selling Well"
"A 'Zone of Privacy' With Calculated Polish"
UPDATE: Steven at Poliblog links to a Susan Estrich column where she thinks Hillary's book is designed to damage Democratic Presidential hopes.
"Hillary's Tell-All Motives"
June 09, 2003
Hillary's Banal Book
I've been saving this post until today when Living History came out. All this is are two sentences from the book. The first one is the first one in the book. These are the first few words Hillary (and here ghostwriters) wrote to draw you in. Get ready, get set, hang on to your chair:
I wasn't born a first lady or a Senator. (p. 1)
That bit of banality begins this heralded tome. Hillary wasn't bestowed by birth to importance. What a shock! Most of us weren't either.
Farther into the book there comes the events with Monica Lewinski. Here's what Hillary, et. al. wrote:
Bill told me that Monica Lewinsky was an intern he had befriended two years earlier when she was volunterring in the West Wing during the government shutdown. (p. 441) [emphasis mine]How are we supposed to read this sentence with a straight face knowing how much a cad Bill Clinton is? Maybe the only way to get through this book is to take every mention of Bill as a double entandre.
"Hillary's Memoir Hits the Shelves"
The Substance of Style
Virginia Postrel has a tentative book tour schedule to promote her new book coming out this fall. She'll be in Chicago, but I know of a certain bookstore in Milwaukee where a great admirer of hers works.
June 05, 2003
This New York Observer story makes it seem like Sen. Hillary Clinton's book, due out on 6.9, is being smothered in secrecy. Well, it may have been at the Simon & Schuster warehouse, but I was paging through the index (looking for Barry Goldwater references) a couple of nights ago at the bookstore I work at. If S&S really wanted to keep the lid on stuff in the book, they should have at least told bookstores to keep things under wraps. A bunch of copies are just sitting in storage areas across the country with nothing to stop a person like me from getting a head start on the public. There will be more concern when the new Harry Potter book arrives at stores.
A Story of the Gulag
June 04, 2003
Zinn the "Historian"
Dan Flynn offers plenty of reasons why you should not read Howard Zinn's A People’s History of the United States.
"Master of Deceit"
May 19, 2003
Glenn Reynolds posts:
Finally, if you’re interested in game theory — or just in getting ahead at the office, or getting a date — James Miller’s Game Theory at Work: How to Use Game Theory to Outthink and Outmaneuver Your Competition is worth your attention. I’ve been interested in game theory since junior high (and it actually helped me get a few dates over the years), and Miller does a good job of taking sophisticated academic concepts and translating them to ordinary life.
Is Glenn serious about using game theory to get dates or is he fooling us by stealing a scene from A Beautiful Mind? If he's not joking, I want details (names can be deleted to protect the innocent).
May 13, 2003
One benefit of working in a bookstore is getting to meet writers. At the store I work at when authors are in the area (usually they'll be speaking at competing bookstore that night) they'll come in briefly to sign whatever stock is available. Those that usually come in are fiction writers promoting their latest novel or mystery. Not my cup of tea. However, today, Pulitzer Prize winner, Iris Chang, came in to sign copies of her new book, The Chinese in America. Chang won her Pulitzer for her last book, The Rape of Nanking.
Since I've talked up Gulag (here and here), you might think I'd want to read Rape. I'm not so sure. While knowing as a child about that horrible event, when she went to a conference on it, she got sick from seeing pictures of the atrocities. I asked her how the reasearch for her latest book differed from Rape. She told me that the research and writing about Nanking made her physicially ill, and she had to recuperate after finishing the book. If a writing project made me sick, that would be a sign to stop, but she perservered.
Booknotes Transcript of Iris Chang
May 11, 2003
The Road to Freedom
If you haven't been able to tell, I think Fareed Zakaria's The Future of Freedom is an important book. If the ideas and the writing in the book are as good as I've gleened from reviews, then it will easily make the TAM Book Award list.
In the lastest review I've found, Timothy Noah emphasizes Zakaria's argument that freedom must precede democracy. He writes:
The problem with democratic governance, Zakaria argues, isn't merely that it won't automatically protect the freedom of its citizens. It's also that it may well undermine freedom unless freedom has already been guaranteed through the prior establishment of an independent judiciary, a free press and other components of what Zakaria calls "constitutional liberalism." (He uses the term "liberal" in its 19th-century sense, "tending to enhance the freedom of individuals and limit the power of government.") Echoing James Madison and Alexis de Tocqueville, Zakaria writes that a majority will incline toward tyranny unless forced to accommodate certain individual and minority rights. It may also degenerate quickly into autocracy and dictatorship, a process that he notes is well under way in Russia and has played out many times in sub-Saharan Africa.
Another book that recently came out, Amy Chua's World on Fire examines what happens when democracy is imposed on a people that don't have the political and cultural institutions that can make it function. You can read what Chua told Brian Lamb on Booknotes a few months back.
Both books could be described as studies in political economic development. Zakaria writes about how to achieve a successful political economy, while Chua examines what happens when things go wrong and why. Such a subject is hard for model builders and number crunchers at the IMF and the World Bank to comprehend. Leave it to the non-mathematically obsessed to examine the human condition.
"Liberty and Justice for All"
More on Gulag
Arnold Beichman reviews Gulag. This book is even more important because Russia, especially President Putin, has turned a blind eye to the atrocities. There are no memorials to the Gulags victims. The upper house of the Duma did pass a bill granting a tiny bit of money to victims but at the same time "KGB hierarchs have kept their apartments, their dachas and their large pensions." Beichman sums up the importance of the book:
It is also a forcible reminder to the Russian people that if they and their leaders are determined to bury the Gulag, the West will remember. Perhaps, a new generation of Russians will someday reopen those archives and thus recover their lost history.
"Russian Amnesia" [via Reductio]
May 10, 2003
NYTBR Reviews Gulag
The NY Times Book Review reviews Anne Applebaum's Gulag. It's a gut-wrenching, but important, book displaying the horrors employed to create a workers' paradise in the Soviet Union.
The Gulag was an intrinsic organ in the Communist body politic. Steven Merritt Miner writes:
The cancer of police terror was embedded in the original DNA of Lenin's creation, ''an integral part of the Soviet system,'' in Applebaum's words. Under Lenin, the first concentration camps were created; the first mass executions were carried out. He bequeathed to his successor a well-functioning police state.
Before the Russian Revolution 28,600 people were in Czarist prison camps. Under Lenin and Stalin millions were worked to death. The product of that slave labor was shoddy even if revisionist historians tried their best to justify it under the excuse of economic modernization.
May 03, 2003
Goldberg and Zakaria on Democracy
I don't remember the last time I linked to a Jonah Goldberg piece. His latest is a good one where he points out that it's important for Iraq to have a democratic government, but it's not THE most important element. "Without law, order and civil society, democracy is mobocracy." That idea ties in with Fareed Zakaria's new book, "The Future of Freedom. About the book, Willaim McGurn writes,
Mr. Zakaria flies his colors bright and bold. That is to say, the editor of Newsweek's international edition sails comfortably within a classical liberal tradition recognizing that the limitations on government are more important to the freedom and prosperity of any given people than how or whether its government is elected. At the moment that's a timely message, with Donald Rumsfeld's blitzkrieg having just cleared the path for Iraqis to build something the Arab peoples do not yet have: a free society.
"Delay Democracy in Iraq"
"The Future of Freedom"
UPDATE: Sen. Gary Hart reviews the book. It's straight forward with little comment on Zakaria's ideas.
April 22, 2003
There have been some really interesting new books to come out already this year. There's Bernard Lewis' The Crisis of Islam which is living up to my expectations. There's Fareed Zakaria's The Future of Freedom, which could be the most thought provoking foreign policy book since The End of History. Yale University Press has come out with an edition of John Stewart Mill's On Liberty. Mill's essay along with the companion commentary finally got me to read the libertarian classic. Now out is Gulag: A History, a book David Frum calls "the first book in English to compile the whole mass of knowledge about the Soviet prison-camp system." All these books, and we're not even to May.
April 13, 2003
Bernard Lewis' Latest Book
With Bernard Lewis' new book The Crisis of Islam we are blessed with a scholar who is both honest and sympathetic to his subject when presenting the wide span of Islamic history and culture. However, in Kenneth Pollack's review, he finds something lacking:
Lewis still has not grappled with the deeper questions for his readers. He still has not offered his explanation for why the Islamic Middle East stagnated, why its efforts at reform failed, why it is notably failing to become integrated into the global economy in a meaningful way and why these failures have produced not a renewed determination to succeed (as in East Asia over the past 50 years, and arguably in India, Latin America and even parts of sub-Saharan Africa today) but an anger and frustration with the West so pervasive and vitriolic that it has bred murderous, suicidal terrorism despite all of the Islamic prohibitions against such action.
Crisis is on my to-do list. I'll let you know what I think after reading it.
"The Crisis of Islam: Faith and Terrorism in the Muslim World"