Friday, February 07, 2003

From Contra Costa Times:

HARRY POTTER AND THE BIG FAT PAYCHECK: The new Harry Potter book, still five months from publication, has already set a record: It will be the highest-priced children's novel in history. Scholastic Children's Books, the U.S. publisher of J.K. Rowling's best-selling series, has set the suggested retail price for "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" at $29.99.

The previous installment, "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" (2000), sold for a suggested price of $25.95.

A Scholastic spokesman cited increased costs for printing and paper and the book's anticipated length. At well over 700 pages, it's a third larger than the last Potter book.

JUST WHEN WE THOUGHT WE WERE OUT, THEY PULL US BACK IN!!!! Here come the Corleones again. Mark Winegardner, director of the creative writing program at Florida State University, has won a contest to continue the saga of Mario Puzo's fictional crime family. "The Godfather Returns" is tentatively scheduled to come out in the fall of 2004.

"There are many stories left to tell," said Winegardner, 41, a fiction writer whose previous subjects include baseball, Cleveland and organized crime.

In an e-mail sent last fall to literary agents, Random House editor Jonathan Karp wrote that he was looking for "someone who is in roughly the same place in life Mario Puzo was when he wrote 'The Godfather' -- at mid-career, with two acclaimed literary novels to his credit, who writes in a commanding and darkly comic omniscient voice."

Winegardner's books include the baseball novel "Prophet of the Sandlots" and "Crooked River Burning," a class-conscious story set in Cleveland. Like Puzo, he has a knack for writing about crime. Unlike Puzo, he's not Italian.

"I am, however, German-Irish like Corleone consiglieri Tom Hagen, and he did just fine in this world," Winegardner said.

Thursday, February 06, 2003

Vatican gives thumbs up to Harry Potter's good vs. evil morals
VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican is giving two thumbs up to the Harry Potter series.

The good vs. evil plot lines of the best-selling books are imbued with Christian morals, the Rev. Don Peter Fleetwood told a Vatican news conference Monday.

"I don't see any, any problems in the Harry Potter series," Fleetwood said.

He was responding to questions following the release of a new Vatican document on the New Age phenomenon, which he helped draft as a member of the Pontifical Council for Culture.

Fleetwood was asked whether the magic embraced by Harry Potter and his pals at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was problematic for the Roman Catholic Church. Some evangelical groups have condemned the series for glamorizing magic and the occult.

"I don't think there's anyone in this room who grew up without fairies, magic and angels in their imaginary world," said Fleetwood, who is British. "They aren't bad. They aren't serving as a banner for an anti-Christian ideology.

"If I have understood well the intentions of Harry Potter's author, they help children to see the difference between good and evil," said Fleetwood. "And she is very clear on this."

He said British author J.K. Rowling was "Christian by conviction, is Christian in her mode of living, even in her way of writing."

Rowling's four Harry Potter titles have sold an estimated 192 million copies worldwide, and the books have been published in at least 55 languages. The first two books have been adapted into hit movies and a fifth book in the series is due in bookstores June 21.

The books chronicle the fictional adventures of young Harry and his wizard pals at Hogwarts as they battle Harry's nemesis, the evil sorcerer Voldemort.

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

- the short list


Savannah Blues by Mary Kay Andrews (HarperCollins)
Jolie Blon's Bounce by James Lee Burke (Simon & Schuster)
City of Bones by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown)
Winter and Night by S.J. Rozan (St. Martin's Minotaur)
No Good Deed by Manda Scott (Bantam)


Southern Latitudes by Stephen J. Clark (Penguin Putnam)
The Blue Edge of Midnight by Jonathon King (Penguin Putnam)
High Wire by Kam Majd (Random House)
Buck Fever by Ben Rehder (St. Martin's Minotaur)
Open and Shut by David Rosenfelt (Mysterious Press)


Black Jack Point by Jeff Abbott (NAL-Onyx)
The Night Watcher by John Lutz (Pinnacle)
Out of Sight by T.J. MacGregor (Pinnacle)
Trauma by Graham Masterton (NAL-Signet)
Prison Blues by Anna Salter (Pocket Books)

Tuesday, February 04, 2003

February 4, 2003
Lifting the Lid on a Treasure Chest

AUSTIN, Tex. — During a rehearsal for "A Streetcar Named Desire" at the Barrymore Theater in New York more than half a century ago Marlon Brando dropped his address book.

"I beg you return this," he had written inside the cover. "I lost eight others already and if I lose this, I'll just drop dead."

The finder, however, did not return it. Today it is part of a collection of literary and cultural treasures here at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, part of the University of Texas.

Scholars know the Ransom Center as one of the world's pre-eminent research libraries, but until now the public has caught only fleeting glimpses into its rich chambers. That will change in April when the center opens its first galleries.

"The lid is coming off," said Thomas F. Staley, a James Joyce scholar who is the center's director. "We got tired of people telling us we're the best-kept secret in Texas."

With this unveiling a fascinating archive of modern life and literature is coming into view 45 years after it was founded. Though its holdings are appraised at more than $1 billion, much of its true value may lie in its ability to inspire the imagination.

The Ransom Center's labyrinthine stacks hide five million photographs, one million rare books, 60,000 works of art and a vast show-business archive. The collection includes touchstones of the modern age ranging from the first book printed in English — a history of Troy dated 1473 — to the sunglasses that Gloria Swanson wore in "Sunset Boulevard."

There are also handwritten manuscripts by Lord Byron, Mark Twain and Jack Kerouac, a haunting self-portrait by Frida Kahlo, the beaded moccasins that D. H. Lawrence used when he lived in New Mexico, and heavily corrected musical scores by Ravel and Debussy.

For years the Ransom Center has been housed in an ugly, forbidding hulk of a building on the university campus. It has no display space of its own and has been forced to show what it could at other museums.

In a $14.5 million renovation, workers are now turning the building's entire ground floor into the showplace this collection has never had. The facade will be dominated by large glass panels, each bearing the etched image of a document or author from the collection.

Two items will be on permanent display: a Gutenberg Bible, one of five in the United States, and the world's first photograph, which was printed on a pewter plate by the French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce around 1826. Mr. Staley called them the "vestal virgins" of this collection because they mark the beginning of two shattering cultural revolutions.

The collection's core is its 19th- and 20th-century American, British and French literature. It is a mother lode of modernism, as well as a repository for the first drafts, letters, manuscripts, libraries, scribblings and ephemera of more than 500 contemporary writers. For a while there were also some very old socks, found among the papers of Isaac Bashevis Singer.

"They're in the very top tier in the United States, which means they're top-tier internationally as well," said Barbara Shailor, director of the Houghton Library at Yale. "They don't specialize the way the Morgan Library or the Getty Museum do. They're strong overall. They excel in so many ways."

The opening show in the new gallery will be a selection of the center's most attention-grabbing pieces. That could include Edgar Allan Poe's hand-corrected copy of "The Gold-Bug" or a photograph of Marilyn Monroe reading "Ulysses."

The photographer who made that picture, Eve Arnold, has told researchers that "Ulysses" was not a prop, and that Monroe indeed read parts of it. Here she appears to be reading the end, perhaps passages in which Molly Bloom recalls her lifelong search for "real beauty and poetry" and her dread of "that awful deepdown torrent."

Curators at the Ransom Center say they observe rigorous standards of quality when considering which contemporary writers to collect. Among those they have recently added to their list are Jonathan Franzen, John Guare and Nick Hornby.

This selectivity has not confined curators within any discernible boundaries of style, theme or subject matter. The variety of their tastes, along with the depth of their pockets, is evident in the names written on the sides of blue and beige storage boxes that line the archive's corridors.

In the M corridor, for example, each name evokes a complex of emotions, a whole private world: Ross MacDonald, Terrence McNally, Bernard Malamud, John Masefield, Edgar Lee Masters, Peter Matthiessen, Somerset Maugham, Emperor Maximilian of Mexico, H. L. Mencken, Arthur Miller, Lady Ottoline Morrell, Christopher Morley. These boxes hold much of what humanity will ever know about their lives.

"There's nowhere like it in the U.S.A., and its only rival for 20th-century material in Britain is the British Library," said Ferdinand Mount, a former editor of The Times Literary Supplement of London who spoke at the Ransom Center recently. "I'm trying to wake up some zest from the British Library. They have the money but they're not as proactive. The Texas people are very quick."

Mr. Mount said the Ransom Center's purchases are "mostly to the delight of writers, who get to empty their attics and fill their bank accounts." Some other Britons, however, have grumbled about the number of British writers whose archives are now in Texas.

A London newspaper, The Independent, has watched what it calls "the great trans-Atlantic manuscript race" with dismay. It warned in one article that "in a generation's time, British scholars wishing to research the lives of our leading contemporary writers will be forced to travel to Texas." In another article it lamented that whenever a desirable archive appears on the market, "American institutions like the University of Texas can just call up an oil-rich benefactor and ask him to put a check in the post."

But The Independent did grudgingly admit that American curators "are not necessarily the villains of the story." It said they have succeeded because "they have simply been taking 20th-century literary and theatrical archives more seriously for longer than British institutions."

The founder of the Texas library, Harry Huntt Ransom, was a dominant figure at the University of Texas for several decades before his death in 1976. During the 1950's he set out to create what he called "a center of cultural compass, a research center to be the Bibliothèque Nationale of the only state in the Union that started out as an independent nation."

Rather than compete for antique works with well-established libraries in Eastern cities and Europe, Ransom decided to focus on the contemporary age. Armed with multimillion-dollar budgets provided by the state and a few private donors, he and his successors plunged into the literary market with abandon. They bought entire collections as well as individual archives.

Ransom also broke with collecting orthodoxy by buying not just books and manuscripts but anything at all that belonged to the writers, cultural figures and others who interested him. This impulse brought in baubles like Anne Sexton's typewriter and Carson McCullers's cigarette lighter.

Although the Ransom Center no longer has the money to suck up every piece of literary memorabilia that appears at auction, as it once seemed to, it is steadily expanding its collection. Last year it bought the archives of Julian Barnes and Russell Banks, and was given a large French library that includes letters and manuscripts by Guillaume Apollinaire, André Breton, Jean Cocteau, André Gide and Henry Miller.

The center also fervently embraces mass culture. Its largest acquisition of recent years was the archive of the film producer David O. Selznick, which filled several tractor trailers. It contains hundreds of thousands of photos and documents, plus artifacts ranging from storyboards for Alfred Hitchcock's "Spellbound" based on designs by Salvador Dali to screen tests by Susan Hayward, Lana Turner, Paulette Goddard and Vivien Leigh for the role of Scarlett O'Hara in "Gone With the Wind."

Mr. Staley, the center's director, is part scholar, part librarian and part treasure hunter. He was describing Joyce's literary habits to a visitor one recent morning when a prominent Texas art dealer telephoned. A moment after he picked up the receiver, his face lit up in jubilation.

"A home run!" he cried into the phone. "You don't mean it. Fabulous! That's what tenacity brings."

After hanging up, Mr. Staley begged indulgence to say no more, since "it still might not come off." He is reportedly pursuing a collection of portraits of British writers. A couple of days later he was scheduled to visit the New York studio of the photographer Richard Avedon.

"Acquisition never stops," he said. "The difference is that now we're finally going to be able to show off our collection in a real museum setting. We're going to give people that thrill that comes from the aura of the original."

C-SPAN host wants to get to know writers

By Sylvia A. Smith
The Journal Gazette

WASHINGTON - He asked what S&M sex is. He asked who Abraham Lincoln was. He asked Jimmy Carter to analyze his role as a father. He asks why authors dedicate their books to the people they did; where they write; what their parents think of the book.
When Brian Lamb sits down with an author for an hour on C-SPAN's "Booknotes," as he has weekly since 1989, the conversation has one point:

To teach someone something. On the best of days, that someone is Lamb.

"This is not a show done for intellectuals," the Hoosier native said. "A lot of people thought it was in the beginning. They started to hear me ask some very basic questions, and they'd say: 'Oh, my goodness, why is he asking those stupid questions?' "

So: Why is he asking those questions?

"I want to know the answer."

There's no way to tell how many people tune in to "Booknotes" at 8 p.m. Sundays, because C-SPAN, unlike commercial television, doesn't compile ratings. But Lamb has a sense that his questions strike a chord with viewers.

"People say to me: 'These are the same questions I want to ask.' It's because they're so basic," he said. "In this crazy television business, people think they have to ask the intellectual, erudite question that's going to make them look so bright. I don't care whether people think I'm bright or not. I really don't. I just don't care. I don't know how to describe it. I just don't care."

Thus, the questions that give viewers a peek inside the book and inside the author's psyche.

"He gets to the core of things in the simplest, least contrived sort of way," said Morton Kondrake, whose book about his wife, "Saving Milly: Love, Politics and Parkinson's Disease," was the subject of a June 2001 Booknotes.

Caryle Murphy, a Washington Post reporter whose book on Islam was featured Nov. 2, said Lamb's interviewing technique appears chaotic, "but it lends a surprise factor that a lot of people find interesting. ... You just wish there were more interviewers like him."

But there aren't. Lamb stands out among author interviewer on two counts. He reads the book, and he asks short questions that allow the author to talk - often at length. On one typical show last month, in fact, the "Booknotes" guest spoke 8,026 words. Lamb uttered 1,251.

"One of the things about interviewers in television is they abhor a vacuum," Lamb said. "Commercial television doesn't allow them to have a pause. Interviewers are almost trained putting words in people's mouths. They ask closed questions. They say to the guest: You think that George Bush is a great president, don't you? Well, we have just the opposite approach: What kind of president do you think George Bush is?

"That person can take that anywhere they want to. You're not prejudicing their answer. You're not forcing them to say, 'No, I don't think he's a great president.' It flows. They're not used to that."

Lamb readily acknowledges that C-SPAN's Joe Friday approach doesn't appeal to everyone. But its fans are diehards.

Fort Wayne real estate executive Albert Zacher watches "Booknotes" every Sunday night. If he's not going to be home, he tapes it.

Zacher's enthusiasm started years before he was offered a slot on "Booknotes," making him a rarity in the book world. Of the nearly 110,000 non-fiction books published this year, only 50 will be discussed on "Booknotes." Zacher's status is even more unusual because his book, a 329-pager on two-term presidents, was self-published, so he didn't have a public relations machine hawking it.

But when then-President Clinton referred to the book as one he was reading right after his own re-election in 1996, C-SPAN was on the phone to invite Zacher to talk about "Trial and Triumph: Presidential Power in the Second Term."

"There's nothing to compare to it," Zacher said of his hour-long interview. "It's the premier opportunity for an author."

In addition to the program being an oasis for authors who want to talk about themselves and their books - rather than robotically repeating sound bites - it's an almost guaranteed income booster.

Zacher's book sold out after his "Booknotes" appearance. So did "Carnegie," a biography by Peter Krass that was aired Nov. 24.

"There was a huge spike in sales," Krass said, noting that before his "Booknotes" interview, "Carnegie" was ranked about 2,000th on, where rankings are based on sales. After the program, he said, "it skyrocketed to 300."

Connie Doebele, senior executive producer of "Booknotes," said books on a president's nightstand often end up on the show because "people like to know what a president is reading."

Lamb makes the final decisions about which authors will be invited. "After all, he has to read the book," Doebele said.

It starts with the list of books that will be published in coming months - hundreds of biographies, historical accounts and books on public policy issues. Distributed by Publishers Weekly, a book industry publication, it's "Booknotes' " soup stock, but plenty of other ingredients make up the stew ladled out to viewers each week.

Lamb and the rest of the "Booknotes" team read book reviews, visit bookstores, listen to what their friends say, note the prize-nominated books, flip through the books that arrive in the mail. And of course, Doebele said, there's the lobbying from publishing houses and authors' press agents.

The culling process has some rules - only non-fiction, no self-help, no repeat authors, what's in the news.

"I don't read any books in advance," Lamb said. "We choose the books without reading them. I go to bookstores all the time. I read reviews all the time. It's just a way of life. I'm constantly looking for things I've never read and don't know anything about.

"For instance," he said of John McWhorter, whose interview will air Feb. 23, "we didn't do his big book ('Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in the Black America') back in 2000. I don't remember why. But he's a player now, and let's find out what he thinks. This book ('Authentically Black: Essays for the Black Silent Majority') allows us to do that."

As for topics, "You've seen the threads: civil rights, Vietnam, Lincoln, the Revolutionary War, Civil War, a bunch on World War II. Wars make good books. I have changed some over the years. I don't do as many public policy books as I used to because you can't get your teeth into them. I often don't do sitting politicians because (their books are) nothing more than campaign vehicles to get on television shows," he said.

The interview with McWhorter fits a "Booknotes" niche in two ways: The book explores race issues, one of the key themes of "Booknotes" books, and the conversation probed past McWhorter's theories and into his personal background.

Lamb deliberately picks books about race issues "because we don't deal with it very well in this society. It's a great, low-key way to deal with it. People who are interested in it can listen to somebody complete a thought without being shouted at. ... This is a chance to talk about it. Then if you don't like it, fine, throw something at the TV. But at least you get to hear the completed sentence."

Lamb's on-camera demeanor has a just-the-facts-ma'am quality. It has nothing of the uber-empathy of, say, a Barbara Walters. But it's also void of the skepticism or judgment commonplace in a Mike Wallace interview.

"I'm a journalist, so I love it when we learn new things," he said. "But if you don't put people in a confrontational situation, they become themselves. They're not afraid to talk about themselves. I'm not trying to lower their barriers, I'm just trying to get to the person without being emotional about it. I don't want them to cry. We're not trying to get them to cry here. We're just trying to get them to tell us about their lives and why they do what they do."

They do.

The interview room is not unlike a confessional. It's a small space - about 12 feet square - that holds two chairs, a small table and some cameras that are manipulated from the control booth. The walls are wrapped in black velvet, and no one else is there except Lamb and his guest.

When he asks questions about an author's family, which have become a staple in the Lamb interview, the writers invariably drop whatever scripted comments they have (many acknowledge cramming before a Lamb interview). Their voices change. They become people instead of experts on some esoterica.

Sometimes - as it did with McWhorter - "you hit a note with them and bingo - there's the emotion of the moment," Lamb said. With McWhorter, whose parents had a stormy relationship and whose mother has been restricted by an aneurysm, "I had no idea what his family situation was. I had no idea what I was getting till it was over. I wasn't trying to get him there. I just instinctively asked him about his father."

When that happens, Lamb said, "you get an understanding about the person, and you then can decide whether you want to go buy their book. And if you want to buy their book, you have a dimension that you don't get from (other sources).

"This is one of my pet peeves of book publishers: They give you six lines in the book about the author. It drives me nuts. What in the world is that all about? Here you have somebody that's worked 15 years on their book, and you're getting six lines of their background. And then they tell you stupid things like they've written for The Washington Post, the New Republic, The New York Times and they've appeared on NPR and CBS morning news and the "Today" show. I don't care about any of that. Tell me where they were born, how many kids they have, are they married, where do they live, where'd they go to school."

As intriguing as the interview was, McWhorter will never be asked to repeat "Booknotes." Nor will Zacker, Murphy, Kondracke or the 700 other authors who have appeared on the program over the years.

There's an ironclad one-time-only rule.

"I stole the idea from Broadcasting magazine, of all things, the one-time rule," Lamb said. "Broadcasting magazine has a thing called the Fifth Estater. It's a profile they do on a person in the broadcasting business, and you only get one in your life. I always thought that was smart because there are lots of folk out there. Television is the worst at concentrating on only a thousand people out of 288 million, and that's all you see on a yearly basis. ... I wanted to build in a system that made sure we were constantly going to new faces. Isn't it just fabulous that after 14 years, there have been 705 people, all different people?"

Sylvia Smith is Washington editor for The Journal Gazette.

Monday, February 03, 2003

Bush wants to close book on library flap
By John Kennedy
Sentinel Staff Writer

February 2, 2003

Not long before it was revealed that Gov. Jeb Bush planned to close the Florida State Library, lay off the entire staff and move the collection to Florida State University, the governor issued a proclamation declaring February as Florida Library Appreciation Month.

Bush, who has said promotion of reading is a top priority of his second term, wants to shut down the state's main library and move almost 1 million books and historical items, including 16th-century maps, early documents on Walt Disney World and some of the oldest photos of Florida.

The budget-cutting move has drawn fire, and even FSU said it doesn't have space or money to house the items.

Parts of FSU's own collection are in warehouses, and the university wouldn't get any more money or staff to deal with the new collections.

Told last week that the flap doesn't seem to be going away, Bush answered, "So, stop writing about it."

The governor's proclamation praised the importance of libraries and said the month is "to encourage recognition of all of our Florida libraries that provide outstanding service to our communities."

Good thing he didn't proclaim "Florida Library Year."

Copyright © 2003, Orlando Sentinel

A kind of whimsy
St. Petersburg Times, published February 02, 2003


Kinky Friedman had no idea what kind of cover he wanted for his latest mystery, Meanwhile Back at the Ranch. He definitely did not want his name to be too big.

"Usually when you see an author's name in huge letters, you know it's probably a mediocre book," he says. "I mean, Danielle Steel's name takes up half the cover."

He also did not want his new mystery to look like a mystery, and he didn't want the cover to depict some meaningless detail from one scene. "If the girlfriend is wearing red boots in one scene, they'll put red boots on the cover and nobody knows what the hell it means."

So what did he want?

"I don't know what I like," Friedman says. "Some people can look at something and instantly say it sucks, but I can't."

So when New York freelance designer Brad Foltz got the assignment to create a cover for Meanwhile Back at the Ranch, he didn't get a lot of guidance from the author, and he knew the cover would be difficult. "There's a quirkiness to Kinky's writing that's tough to portray," says Foltz, who struggled with this problem when he created the cover for Friedman's earlier novel, The Mile High Club (which featured the author's name in huge letters, by the way).

Foltz flirted with a couple of obvious ideas. In Ranch, the "Kinkster" - a hip, irreverent private eye - works on three cases which he catalogs as "Moe," "Curly" and "Larry," so Foltz considered an image of the Three Stooges. "But we would have had to go to a lot of trouble to get the rights to an image," he says, "and the cover would have made it look like a Three Stooges book."

One of the cases involves a three-legged cat, so Foltz created a few sketches using that idea, but he discarded them all.

Finally he resorted to every designer's best friend - a stock photo agency. In bygone days Foltz would have called the agency, given them a few key words - "cat," perhaps, and "ranch." Then he would have waited for the agency to send a messenger to his apartment with some photographs pulled from its archives. Now that images have been digitized and placed on the Web, Foltz can roam the archives himself, free-associating key words as he explores. In this case, his searching led him to an image he never would have thought to request - a little boy in a cowboy suit, shooting his gun at the camera and grinning like a crazed demon. The image, while it has absolutely nothing to do with the plot, seemed to embody the "Kinky-ness" he wanted, so Foltz downloaded it, manipulated the color, tinkered with the background and added a little cat to the boy's hat - a sly reference to the cat in the plot. On the back cover he added a picture of a toy cat.

Friedman loved it.

"The guy really hit it out of the park," he says. "There's something about that kid [on the cover] that is really grotesque. It's a mesmerizing little picture."

Friedman wasn't the only one who liked the cover a lot. The editors of Pages magazine named the cover the best of the year. "It's hard to top a chaps-wearing, gun-toting, mask-sporting baby in a cowboy hat," the editors commented. "It's just an excellent image that conveys the kind of whimsical, in-your-face, politically incorrect humor of the book," says Pages editor John Hogan. "We didn't conduct a big official vote, but it was unanimous."

- Tom Valeo is a writer who lives in Chicago. His e-mail address is

© Copyright 2001 St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.

Search This Blog