Saturday, October 25, 2003

Authors, authors

''Twenty will not come again,'' A.E. Housman wrote in A Shropshire Lad more than a century ago. But for the moment let's forget the gentleman's lamentation on his threescore years and 10 and concentrate on our own imminent and significant number: Twenty years of appearances by the most luminous authors. Twenty years of readings and panels and lectures, of demonstrations of culinary prowess and healing arts. Twenty years of delicate and rare volumes that must be touched with utmost care and kids' books destined to be passed around with jelly-stained hands. Twenty years of falling in love with books -- have you recovered from Augusten Burroughs' hilarious, poignant Dry yet? or Alberto Fuguet's nostalgic Movies of My Life? or Eric Schlosser's exposé Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market? Books, and books, and more books.

Let us think of 20 as our lucky number as the Miami Book Fair International celebrates its anniversary. The fun begins with a special appearance by former First Lady Barbara Bush on Nov. 1 to benefit the fair's literacy efforts and ends Nov. 9 in English with Edwin Black and his unsettling War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race and Abraham Foxman and his unsettling Never Again? The Threat of the New Anti-Semitism, and in Spanish with a panel on Latin American Perspectives with Mario Vargas Llosa, Carlos Alberto Montaner and Enrique Krauze.

In between, there are more than enough author appearances in both languages to flummox readers, who will face the annual searing dilemma: What to do when two intriguing sessions occur at the same time? How to choose between a reading with Caryl Phillips (A Distant Shore) and Martin Amis (Yellow Dog) and a panel that includes National Book Award nominee Carlos Eire (Waiting for Snow in Havana)? A program featuring debut writers Vendela Vida (And Now You Can Go), Julie Orringer (How to Breathe Underwater) and Felicia Luna Lemus (Trace Elements of Random Tea Parties) or readings by novelists Sena Jeter Naslund (Four Spirits), Pete Dexter (Train) and Robert Morgan (Brave Enemies)? And will there be enough time to fit in an arepa and to shop?

The fair began as a two-day event. Marjory Stoneman Douglas signed books; readers paid 25 cents for cookies with poems tucked inside. ''When we started, we had to beg publishers and authors to come,'' says Eduardo Padron, fair founder and president of Miami Dade College. ``Now they beg us to be here.''

The fair ''is a Miami original,'' says bookseller Mitchell Kaplan, cochairman and co-founder. ``Other people saw what we were doing in Miami, and they went to their own cities and began doing it themselves. The book fair is one of our great exports.''

Look back over the past, and you will find familiar names on this year's schedule. Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, who kicks off this year's week-night ''Evenings with...'' series on Nov. 2, also was the opener in 1986, the year the fair expanded to a full eight days. Garrison Keillor, who appears Nov. 3, shared his Lake Wobegon humor with an overflow opening-night audience in 1987. Other ''Evenings with...'' speakers are wonderfully recognizable: Mitch Albom (Nov. 4) on The Five People You Meet in Heaven; Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel (Nov. 5); a couple of Herald guys you might know, Dave Barry and Carl Hiaasen (Nov. 6); and choreographer Twyla Tharp (Nov. 7).

But the weekend, oh, the weekend! The street fair sprawls on Nov. 8-9; thousands flock, many to ingest arepas. Fiction lovers can revel in readings by Joyce Carol Oates (The Faith of a Writer; The Tattooed Girl) and Edmund White (Fanny: A Fiction); Carolyn Parkhurst (The Dogs of Babel); Lauren Weisberger (The Devil Wears Prada); Alan Lightman (Reunion); National Book Award nominee Edward Jones (The Known World). Budding political wonks can hear former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (Madame Secretary) or former Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal (The Clinton Wars). Aficionados can meet Broward's Will Eisner, credited with creating the first graphic novel, A Covenant with God, and here to promote his new work, Fagin the Jew.

For history buffs: Walter Isaacson on Benjamin Franklin; David Maraniss on Vietnam with They Marched into Sunlight: War and Peace, Vietnam and America, October 1967; Caroline Alexander on The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty (hint: Fletcher Christian was the bad guy). For New Yorkers: Colson Whitehead's urban essays, The Colossus of New York. And current-events lovers can get their fix with correspondent Anne Garrels (Naked in Baghdad), with Jessica Stern (Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill) and perhaps with Malika Oufkir, who relates her harrowing ordeal in Morocco in Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in A Desert Prison.

So many books, so little time, and if you don't believe me, check with Sara Nelson, who wrote a book with just such a title. She'll be here, too. But as the man says, 20 may not come again. So it's time to celebrate.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

October 23, 2003
To Stars, Writing Books Looks Like Child's Play

Once upon a time there was a land in love with fame and brand names. By and by, some famous brand-name people, holed up in their castles, discovered a new trade. They started writing books for children.

Many wrote books about children who sounded like themselves. Jerry, a comedian who made pots of gold with a television show and more pots of gold with commercials for a credit card, wrote a Halloween book about a greedy boy who wants to get his hands on lots and lots of brand-name candy. Madonna, a blond star, wrote about a pretty little blond girl who has no friends because everyone is jealous that she "shines like a star." And Britney, a younger blond singer, wrote a book, with her mother, about a young blond girl who really, really wants to become a singer.

Everyone agreed there was lots of money and publicity to be made in kid lit. It was a time, after all, when a young British woman — who didn't have a famous name when she started — wrote a series of books about a boy named Harry and, legend has it, became richer than Madonna, and richer, even, than the Queen of England. Joanne Kathleen Rowling was interviewed on television and mobbed by adoring fans. The movies made from her books were hailed as a franchise.

Publishers were excited. Over the years they had signed up the likes of Bill Cosby, Jimmy Buffett and Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, as children's book authors. Then the floodgates opened. Soon children's bookstores were as studded with stars and has-been stars as "Hollywood Squares," with titles by Spike Lee, Keith Hernandez, Jesse Ventura, Jerry Seinfeld, Britney Spears, Maria Shriver, Katie Couric, Marlee Matlin, Bob Dylan, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, LeAnn Rimes, Jane Seymour, Harvey Fierstein, Della Reese, Michael Bolton and Debbie Allen jostling for shelf space. Madonna and Lynne Cheney, who is married to the vice president, are the latest celebrities to join the crowd. Their books — respectively, "The English Roses" and "A Is for Abigail" — made best-seller lists.

A handful of celebrities, like John Lithgow and Jamie Lee Curtis, actually have a gift for writing for children: they know how to tell a story and how to tell it with words and pictures and whimsical wit. For others, children's books are just another way to merchandise themselves, another vanity production: Britney books, along with Britney dolls, Britney cellphones and Britney mouse pads.

Instead of creating imaginary worlds or engaging fictional characters, many celebrities just riff about themselves. Cindy Crawford has filled her book "About Face" with pictures of herself and her son. And Shaquille O'Neal has given his younger self a starring role in fairy tales like "Little Red Riding Hood" and "Goldilocks and the Three Bears." (At least he has a sense of humor: he has cast himself as Little Red and Goldilocks, not as the Big Bad Wolf or Papa Bear.)

Other celebrities seem to think they can use children's books to reinvent their images or jump-start a stalled career. Madonna became a children's author after her movie "Swept Away" failed to sweep anyone away. Spike Lee became a children's author when he said he was finding it increasingly difficult to get money to make his movies. And Ms. Cheney began publishing children's books when, as second lady, she exchanged her image as a combative veteran of the culture wars for the more traditional role of political wife.

The problem was that these authors counted on audiences being able to forget — or ignore — who they used to be. "Please, baby, please," the title of the book Spike Lee wrote with his wife Tonya Lewis Lee, was a famous line, used in a very different context, from his raunchy 1986 comedy, "She's Gotta Have It." And Madonna's previous venture into publishing was "Sex" — a 1992 book that celebrated exhibitionism, bondage, bisexuality and group sex.

The subtext of "Sex" was essentially sadomasochistic: that all relationships are about power and control. Her new book, "Roses," Madonna has said in interviews, strives to impart the Cabala-inspired wisdom that when we disconnect from the "one life-giving force in the world," we "bring chaos and pain and suffering into our lives."

As for Ms. Cheney's new book, "A Is for Abigail: An Almanac of Amazing American Women," it stands in jarring contrast to her earlier censures of feminism. A page on writers, for instance, features the name of Alice Walker and a drawing of Toni Morrison, even though Ms. Cheney, in her former capacity as chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, once pushed for the nomination of Carol Iannone to the endowment's advisory council. Ms Iannone, a literature professor, had written that awarding prestigious prizes to black writers like Ms. Morrison and Ms. Walker sacrificed "the demands of excellence to the democratic dictatorship of mediocrity."

Although Ms. Cheney has often denounced multiculturalism and political correctness, her children's books, "A Is for Abigail" and "America: A Patriotic Primer," are illustrated with pictures of people of many different colors. Madonna's "Roses" similarly features drawings of a rainbow quartet of girls: a blonde, a redhead, an African-American and an Asian.

In retelling several famous folk tales, Shaquille O'Neal's "Shaq and the Beanstalk and Other Very Tall Tales" also tries to take a politically correct approach to violence, awkwardly trying to reconcile the Grimm-ness of the original tales with a gentler perspective. Before knocking out an angry giant with a golden basketball, the hero pauses to deliver a finger-wagging aside: "I have always believed that fighting is the loser's way out. You get nowhere using violence. It's always better to talk your problems out."

Many celebrities serve up similarly well-meaning but trite lessons in their children's books, hoping perhaps to emulate the success of William J. Bennett's best seller, "The Children's Book of Virtues." Katie Couric's "Brand New Kid" delivers the message that kids should reach out to the new boy at school. Keith Hernandez's "First-Base Hero" tells the reader that everyone makes mistakes and that it is important to persevere. And Julie Andrews Edwards's book, "Dumpy and the Firefighters," preaches that everyone can make a valuable contribution to the community.

While such morals are certainly worthy ones, they are no substitute for real storytelling, a craft many celebrities seem to think can be picked up overnight in between their real-life gigs. Other celebrity books do not even promote worthwhile lessons. In Madonna's book a clique of cool girls considers the beautiful Binah a sadly deprived child because she has only one doll and lots of books and has to perform unheard of chores like setting the table and emptying the trash. "The English Roses couldn't believe their eyes," Madonna writes. "They had never seen a girl work so hard in their lives. `She reminds me of Cinderella,' said Amy."

Jerry Seinfeld's "Halloween" has an even more offensive message: greed is good and rudeness is funny. His hero, an obnoxious brat, spurns some of the trick-or-treat candy he has received with snarky disdain: "Do me a favor, you keep that one," he tells an old woman who has given him an orange marshmallow treat. "We've got all the doorstops we need already, thank you very much. We're going for NAME CANDY ONLY this year."

As for the branding of children's literature with celebrity names, the fad shows no signs of flagging. Madonna has four more children's books on the way. The next, "Mr. Peabody's Apples," is due out on Nov. 10. Jay Leno and the football playing twins Tiki and Ronde Barber reportedly have children's books in the works as well.

So far Joanne Kathleen Rowling — never mind the Grimm brothers and Dr. Seuss — faces little serious competition in the children's book business, at least not from the celebrities who covet her celebrity and underestimate the difficulty of her art.

To Stars, Writing Books Looks Like Child's Play

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Sara Paretsky has been giving an eye-opening and thought provoking speech about the Patriot Act, libraries and freedom called "Truth, Lies and Duct Tape" and has made a text version available on her website. Check it out...

The Anthony Awards

Best Novel: City of Bones by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown)

Best First Novel: In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming (St. Martin's)

Best Paperback Original: Fatal Truth by Robin Burcell (Avon)

Macavity Awards

Best Mystery Novel: Winter and Night by S.J. Rozan (St. Martin's Minotaur)

Best First Mystery Novel: In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming (St. Martin's Minotaur)

Shamus Awards

Best P.I. Novel: Blackwater Sound by James W. Hall (St. Martin's)

Best First P.I. Novel: The Distance by Eddie Muller (Scribner)

Best Paperback Original P.I. Novel: The Poisoned Rose by D. Daniel Judson (Bantam)

Barry Awards

Best Novel: City of Bones by Michael Connelly

Best First Novel: In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming

Best British Novel: The White Road by John Connolly

Best Paperback Original: Cold Silence by Danielle Girard

2003 Nero Award: S.J. Rozan

Sunday, October 19, 2003


On a bright and sunny Sunday, I sweet-talked my family into going to the movies. Several months ago I marked my calendar with the arrival date of "The Stone Reader;" it was worth the wait. I don't see enough movies to properly review one, but I will share a few thoughts. In 1972 Mark Moskowitz bought a book called The Stones of Summer because of a rave review in the NY Times that called it something like the voice of a new generation. He couldn't get into it then, so he put it away and came across it a few years ago. He read it, and fell in love with it.  

Now this is not a book that I would probably read, but any bibliophile/bookbitch can certainly identify with the idea of falling in love with a book, of wanting to read all the author's books. But when Moskowitz went looking for more books by Dow Mossman, he hit a different kind of stone; a stone wall. He couldn't find a thing and not only that, he discovered that this book which he thought brilliant, was out of print. Moskowitz has a film production company that does political commercials and he decided to film his journey to find out what happened to Mossman.  

To be perfectly honest, there were slightly less than a dozen people in the theater during the showing I saw, and at one point I was the only one awake. There are probably too many artsy-fartsy shots of butterflies and moons, although I did love the shots of forsythia, a bush I have missed for my many years of Florida living. Yet the DVD comes out in November, and I find myself longing to order it online from The Stone Reader website because it comes not only with the obligatory additional footage but an entire third disk that won't be available for purchase elsewhere - 4 more hours of a 2 hour movie that put a lot of people to sleep. But it's about books, and one man's passion for books, and his joy and frustration shines through every minute of this film. I've never met Mr. Moskowitz, yet he feels like a friend.  

Barnes & Noble started publishing books, and won the rights to reprint The Stones of Summer at auction. So far it is available only through the B&N website and (pre-order, publication has been pushed back to October.) Borders, Books-a-Million, and the American Booksellers Association group of independent booksellers say they won't be carrying it, and they are not happy that B&N is the publisher, because it is exactly the sort of book indies generally embrace.

"The Stone Reader" is the sort of film that memories are made of.

I See Dead Authors: Authors Who Write from Beyond the Grave
by Marlo Verrilla
Latrobe Bulletin
Latrobe, Pa

I see dead authors. In my job it’s hard not to miss them. No, they are not lurking in the basement with quill in hand creating some masterpiece, but they might as well be. Some dead authors have been publishing for years.

Suspense writer Lawrence Sanders died in 1998 yet just published a new book this year called McNally’s Dare. It seems his character, Archy McNally was so popular, the public couldn’t stand to have him die with his creator, so poor Lawrence has to file 1099 forms from the great beyond. Actually, author Vincent Lardo took over the character with McNally’s Dilemma, which was published in 1999. Lardo has published four books since then under the Sanders name: McNally’s Dare, McNally’s Chance, McNally’s Alibi and McNally’s Folly.

Louis L’Amour, the greatest western writer ever to live, wrote three books a year for more than 30 years during his career, so it seems natural that a little thing like death couldn’t stop his writing obsession. He began his memoir, Education of a Wandering Man, while suffering from pneumonia and was editing it the day he died. Since then his publisher, Bantam Books, continues to release his work. The company has re-released many of his books, such as four Hopalong Cassidy novels, but a new original book, With These Hands, a collection of short stories, was published in 2002.

Many other authors died before many of their works were published. Poet Sylvia Plath, died in 1963, with only The Colossus and The Bell Jar in print. Other works were published posthumously, such as: Ariel, Winter Trees, and Collected Poems, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1982. Other books about her continue to be published. The movie, Sylvia, starring Gwyneth Paltrow, hit theaters last week in limited release.

The above three authors are like many dead authors releasing books. They have either had their work taken over by someone else or someone found their work and published them after they left this earth. Yet, there is still one other type of dead author that exists, or rather doesn’t exist.

To the shock of kiddies everywhere, Franklin W. Dixon, great author of The Hardy Boys series, is not a real person. In 1927, publisher Edward Statemeyer came up with the idea of a private investigator’s two sons who get mixed up with mysteries of their own to solve. He assigned the story, or stories, as he intended it to be a series, to Leslie McFarlane, a Canadian journalist. McFarlane wrote every book until 1947’s The Phantom Freighter, but by the 1950s, the series had become dated to readers. In 1959, the series was rewritten to reflect a more progressive and faster society, as well as remove some derogatory ethnic references. Some readers liked the change, but others were outraged, thus leading Applewood Books to reprint facsimiles of the original series. These books with the original words and illustrations hit the market in 1991.

The Hardy Boys also had another incarnation in 1986 with the Hardy Boys Casefiles that offered more contemporary action. All in all, the following authors wrote The Hardy Boys series over the years: Leslie McFarlane, Andrew E. Svenson, Harriet S. Adams and James Duncan Lawrence.

So, my fellow book enthusiasts, be careful what you read, you just might be getting messages from the beyond. Dead authors exist and they will keep writing despite the laws of physics.

The following dead authors can be found at the Ligonier Valley Library: Douglas Adams, Louisa May Alcott, V.C. Andrews, Jane Austen, Frank Baum, Max Brand, Catherine Cookson, Brian Daley, Emily Dickinson, Zane Grey, Robert Heinlein, Ernest Hemingway, L. Ron Hubbard, Caroline Keene, Robert Ludlum, Eugene O’Neill, Virginia Rich, Harold Robbins, Eliott Roosevelt, Rex Stout, John Kennedy Toole, Anthony Trollope and Gertrude Chandler Warner.

The above list was compiled by Stacy Alesi of the Southwest County Regional Library in Boca Raton, Florida. She is known on the Web as the Bookbitch and can be found at

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