Jacket Copy

Books, authors and all things bookish

Category: March 2009

| Jacket Copy Home |

James Ellroy's Playboy extravaganza


Novelist, memoirist and alpha-dog crime writer James Ellroy has a new four-part serial appearing in Playboy, starting with the April issue. Scott Timberg spent time with the author as he shot an accompanying video for Playboy in Hancock Park, "stomping across that manicured lawn, sporting a Hawaiian shirt and golfer's cap," staring into windows as he did as a teen.

The serial, titled "The Hilliker Curse" (after his mother's maiden name), traces his romantic compulsions.

Whereas the first installment revisits his childhood, the unsolved murder and his teenage peeping, ensuing chapters look at how his mother's death drove him to search for the perfect woman, to seek out both prostitutes and (fruitlessly) women of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, to pass notes with his phone number in coffee shops, to send literally thousands of dollars in flowers.

Timberg described the style as a "mix of hyped-up prose and rapid storytelling that readers expect from Ellroy's novels, blended with a reflective quality he's rarely shown in the past." Ellroy calls it "a spiritual document" and continues:

There's never been a male memoir like this one. It was the desire to consistently update my state of mind and spiritual condition pertaining to women. To honor the women I've been with, to chart this journey of transcendence....

I'm made for obsessiveness. I'm built for it. I'm big and skinny, and I run at a high rev. I love to be alone most of the time. I'm emotionally hungry, I'm horny, I have a profound conscience.... Real guys love God, Beethoven and women.

"The Hilliker Curse" also sends up a flare to Ellroy fans that he's back; many have been waiting since 2001's "Cold Six Thousand" for a sequel. That novel, "Blood's a Rover," concludes the trilogy that began with "American Tabloid." It'll hit stores — all 656 pages of it — in September.

— Carolyn Kellogg

Photos: James Ellroy / Paul Fenton ZUMA KPA; the June 1956 cover Playboy magazine / courtesy of Magazineshoponline.com

Hang around an ink well: Writing about Bob Dylan

People are writing about Bob Dylan again; the 67-year-old musical icon is releasing a new record next month, "Together Through Life." The cover, above, features a vintage photo of an awkward yet absorbing backseat makeout clinch. John Lewis at Baltimore Magazine writes that he's seen the image before -- on the cover of a book by Larry Brown.

Larrybrown_bigbadlove Larry Brown's short story collection "Big Bad Love" featured the same photo on the cover -- the 1991 Vintage paperback edition did, at least.

Brown, a Mississippi-based writer, died of a heart attack in 2004 at age 53. His writing was fondly remembered by both bookish types and musicians (a tribute CD was released in 2007). The shared image is not just a coincidence, according to Lewis: a mutual friend quotes Dylan as saying, "I've read every word the man has ever written."

But as Galleycat has pointed out, any stock photo is fair game for designers: they've found covers of completely different books that share the same iceberg, the same paparazzi, the same poignant photo of a door standing in a field of wildflowers. Exactly how the designer came to use the photo on the cover of Dylan's "Together Through Life" is something scholars could puzzle over for years.

Scholars puzzle over many aspects of Bob Dylan in  "The Cambridge Companion to Bob Dylan," out next month. They take on Dylan and gender, Dylan and religion, Dylan as performer and songwriter and cultural icon. Editor Kevin Dettmar from Pomona gathered an interesting mix of contributors: Michael Denning teaches at Yale, Martin Jacobi at Clemson; Anthony DeCurtis is a contributing editor at Rolling Stone; Jonathan Lethem is a novelist and Carrie Brownstein played guitar in Sleater-Kinney.

With so much ink already spilled over Dylan (and by Dylan, who has published the autobiographical "Chronicles: Volume I"), why this collection now? The answer lies in the first essay, by David Yaffe of Syracuse University. "If you're reading this for Rock & Roll 101, take notes but do not plagiarize," he writes. "Leave that to Dylan (but more on that later)." It's built for college classrooms, a primer for people who were born into a world that didn't need to invent Bob Dylan because he was already there.

More on "The Cambridge Companion to Bob Dylan" after the jump.

Continue reading »

The Obama-Bush book connection


George W. Bush and Barack Obama aren't exactly like-minded; they don't share much beyond their tenancy at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Except, it turns out, their literary agent. Robert Barnett is described by Time magazine as "the Washington superlawyer" who represents both Bush and Obama in their publishing ventures.

This month, it was reported that Bush would write a book -- tentatively titled "Decision Points" -- about the difficult choices he's made, from quitting drinking to responding to 9/11. Obama has written a couple of books, and people seem to like them: the New York Times nonfiction paperback bestseller list  includes Obama's "Dreams from My Father" (for 140 weeks now) and "The Audacity of Hope" (65 weeks).

Author Jason Pinter imagined what might happen if Obama and Bush ran into each other at Barnett's office in a long, strangely believable scene:

George: Wait ... are you saying Bob Barnett is your agent too?

Barack (sighing): Yeah, that's what I'm saying. 

George: Hold on, didn't you used to have a different agent?

Barack: Yeah, but that was a long time ago, back when nobody really knew who I was. 

George: I hear you, partner. Once you hit the big time, you need to run with the big dogs.

(George holds his fist out. Barack just stares at it.)

Barack: Uh...

George: Come on, don't leave me hanging.

(Barack reluctantly touches George's fist.)

George: Alright! Terrorist fist jabs for everyone! 

Barack: Please don't call it that.

Not surprisingly, Barnett may have another president on his roster. Another one makes a walk-on appearance in this funny, fictional literary encounter.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photos: Barack Obama. Credit: Lawrence Jackson / White House. George Bush. Credit: White House

New site captures authors' identities and won't let go


Why is it that Stephenie Meyer, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Stephen King are joining forces with the new website FiledByAuthor, now in beta?

They aren't. At least, not intentionally.

Without permission or advance notice, FiledByAuthor has cataloged the information of about 1.8 million authors into individual pages. There are biographies, photos, links to purchase books from online retailers and links to share the author's FiledBy page through a dizzying list of social networking sites. And everyone is there, from the novice self-published author to Stephenie Meyer.

In fact, Stephenie "Twilight" Meyer is the site's most-viewed author. But while this might appear to be a tacit endorsement, Meyer has nothing to do with the site.

After FiledByAuthor creates these Web pages, it then "invites" authors to "claim" their free pages. For a fee -- $99 or $399 per year -- an author can raise their membership level to "verified." This allows an author to gain more control over his or her page, being able to do things like add more than two links, use a blog tool, manage a calendar.

"I'm naturally dubious of sites that purport to be community building sites for authors, simply because authors today tend to build their own communities via their websites, blogs and MySpace or, increasingly, Facebook pages that allow them to control their content," says author Tod Goldberg, who compared FiledByAuthor to other literary websites that he's signed up for -- RedRoom, GoodReads -- and failed to maintain. Except there is one key difference.

At those sites, authors sign up voluntarily. At FiledBy Author, 1.8 million writers are already conscripted -- and they can't be removed from the site. There is no opt out.

In an email, Jacket Copy asked co-founder Peter Clifton, "If an author were to wish to not be listed by your site -- if, for example, they already have a significant Web presence -- how can they remove their name?" His reply:

Our goal is to be comprehensive in our listings. We will link out to existing author sites or other sites so if an author has a site, our page can link to it. I'd prefer that people think about the reverse, which is how they can participate.

There is literally no way for an author to go to the site and elect not to participate. But what do authors with large online followings -- John Scalzi and Cory Doctorow, for instance -- who already control their Internet presence (and have been nurturing their online audiences for years) need with this service? What author would want FiledByAuthor's SEO efforts -- putting  authors at the top of search engines is a big part of their sell -- to work to promote the FiledByAuthor page, rather than their own site?

These authors -- the community FiledByAuthor purports to serve -- are conscripted without the hope of going A.W.O.L.

Shakespeare is in the FiledBy army. So are Fitzgerald, Alexander Pope, Charlotte Brontë and lots of other dead authors who can't do a thing about their pages. The pages don't link to definitive biographical information or the public domain work made available on Project Gutenberg for free. And if there is no one charged with minding the literary heritage of an author who's shuffled off this mortal coil, who will polish the pages of our deceased literary greats?

Why Marion Ettlinger is going to be angry ... after the jump.

Continue reading »

How you get from Albert Einstein to Ray Bradbury


The folks at Google Blogoscoped (via Make magazine) have been poking around in the semi-secret upcoming features at Google, and the diagram above is the result. They call it the Wonder Wheel. It's a visual representation of interrelated search terms. In addition to what you see here, there are options to narrow and sort the results by time period or format, like video. I'm just glad that the tech guru who was testing the new technology was thinking about science writer Carl Sagan when he tried it out.

As you can see, Carl Sagan is quite a connector. People searching for Carl Sagan also searched for real scientists like Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins -- some even were hoping to find Carl Sagan's books. It seems Carl Sagan has a fairly literary following: They also searched for science fiction author Isaac Asimov, who sparked searches for other authors -- Arthur C. Clarke and Ray Bradbury.

So that's the path: Albert Einstein to Carl Sagan to Isaac Asimov to Ray Bradbury.

If only the Wonder Wheel were rolled out for general use. Who comes after Ray Bradbury? What overlap do they have with those who come after Arthur C. Clarke? When do next-generation science fiction authors begin to surface? This is the kind of toy -- I mean tool! -- we could use for hours.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Image: Make magazine

Sunday books: Weschler and representation, Pablo Neruda and more


Decades of conversations with artists Robert Irwin and David Hockney intertwine in a double-helix meditation on art and creation: David Ulin talks to Lawrence Weschler about his two new books, "Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees" and "True to Life."

At 57, his face still boyish behind a graying beard and glasses, he's excitable, voluble, riffing and digressing, framing these two books within the supersaturated context of his career. "One of the helixes running through my work," he explains, "was this 30-year project of talking to these two guys.... I'm interested in what it's like when people or places suddenly catch fire." This can be an aesthetic process or it can be political, or, as in the case of "Vermeer in Bosnia," it can be both. It's also a pretty good description of Weschler's own approach to writing, which is, by turns, literary and journalistic, an idiosyncratic mix of the reported and the inferred.

Richard Rayner looks at "World's End," Pablo Neruda's final work, out now in a new bilingual edition.      "'World's End,' like much Neruda, contains bewildering multitudes," Rayner writes. "Some poems incite, others console, as the poet — maestro of his own response and impresario of ours — looks inward and out."

I have taken a kick / from time and it is now a mess, / the sad box of my life / I cannot show people / my collection of shivers: / I felt lonely in a house / riddled with leaks / in a downpour that heard no appeal.

American revolutionary Mark Rudd, one of the founders of the Weather Underground, writes about past incitements and mistakes in his autobiography, "Underground." Reviewer Jon Wiener finds that "Rudd's historical judgments are, to use a phrase from the era, 'right on.'"

Much of what the Weathermen did had the opposite effect of what we intended. We de-organized SDS while we claimed we were making it stronger; we isolated ourselves from our friends and allies as we helped split the larger antiwar movement around the issue of violence. In general, we played into the hands of the FBI.... We might as well have been on their payroll.

Before there was Jack Lalanne, there was Bernarr Macfadden. The new biography "Mr. America: How Muscular Millionaire Bernarr Macfadden Transformed the Nation Through Sex, Salad, and the Ultimate Starvation Diet" by Mark Adams is an "entertaining, enlightening read," according to reviewer David Davis. Or if you'd rather skip the healthy lifestyle, Andrei Codrescu's "The Posthuman Dada Guide: Tzara and Lenin Play Chess" might be the kind of absurdist self-help manual that's exactly your speed. And there's even more in the Sunday Books pages.

—Carolyn Kellogg

Photos: Irwin (left) photo by Sean Masterson for The Times; Hockney photo (right) by Al Seib/Los Angeles Times

Is Hollywood Regency design too luxe for '09?


Chronicle Books' "High Style," released last fall, showcases the work of L.A.-based design team Ron Woodson and Jaime Rummerfield (pictured in their La Cienega showroom). The book's design is perfectly in sync with their deluxe design sensibility: It's got a gold-lettered, textured, black-on-black raw silk cover and gilt-edged pages.


Woodson and Rummerfield combine vintage pieces with those from high-end contemporary designers and bold colors and patterns -- they even design their own wallpapers, accessories and furniture pieces. The look, while modern, hearkens back to mid-20th century Hollywood interior design and decor, which was more informed by a cinematic idea of luxury and glamour than any single period or aesthetic. It's an updated Hollywood Regency, which, Jonathan Adler says, "added a layer of pattern and decoration and opulence and glamor to the minimalism of mid-century modernism."


This coffee table book demonstrates their design in its purest form -- as shown in their store in L.A., which is set up as a series of fully-decorated rooms -- as well as how it melds with various clients. A vintage-perfect Neutra house is more earth-toned; Courtney Love's place is full of older-era antiques and fabrics; a Santa Monica bungalow (below) is more breezy, lacking heavy ornament.


As much as this shows they can apply their design aesthetic with discretion, there is something in the tone of the book that feels indiscreet, indulgent or even gauche after the Dow has dropped to below 8,000. Woodson and Rummerfield appear in many of the photographs, apparently demonstrating high-styling living; in one full-page spread, they sit, the caption specifies, in "a 1999 Ferrari 550 Maranello." 


The photographs that include people are overly polished, artificial and posed, even when ostensibly capturing casual moments during a design session with actress Kelly Preston or a dinner party. This adds an unnecessary layer of gloss, as if this kind of style is only ever achieved with the help of professional lighting crews and stylists and photo retouchers. Or maybe that's the truth of it: Maybe Hollywood Regency is design best seen through a lens.

And that lens may be one of the past. Because who wants to flaunt their $200,000 car these days?

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photos: Woodson and Rummerfield House of Design

Happy Small Press Month! And more book news


My goodness, it's been Small Press Month celebrating independent publishers for 3 1/2 weeks, and we haven't yet joined the party. If you want to celebrate like Sherman Alexie, this year's poster guy (above), there's an opportunity in Brooklyn tonight at the Earshot reading series, with Amy Lemmon from Santa Monica's Red Hen Press. And a few more events elsewhere as the month draws to a close.

A low-profile Swiss company has sued Apple for patent infringement because its iPhone can now display books. CNET explains that the company, Monec, claims it has patented a "'lightweight' electronic device with a 'touch-screen' LCD display having the 'dimensions such that ... approximately one page of a book can be illustrated at normal size, this display being integrated in a flat, frame-like housing.'" Most "normal size" book pages around here are bigger than my iPhone. Are books are a lot tinier in Switzerland?

High-profile Nigerian author Ben Okri, who won the Booker Prize in 1991 for his novel "The Famished Road," started posting a poem on Twitter this week. But so far, only a title and three lines: not exactly paced for the Internet.

Director Spike Jonze tells New York Magazine that he's been working for four years and not much dough on the film adaptation of "Where the Wild Things Are" by Maurice Sendak, whom he calls "awesome and amazing." I think the trailer lives up to those words. If you haven't already seen it, it's after the jump. And heck, if you have seen it, you might, like me, want to watch it again.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: The New York Center for Independent Publishing

Continue reading »

Ludwig W. and the burden of family names


"The House of Wittgenstein" by Alexander Waugh, the grandson of Evelyn Waugh and the son Auberon Waugh, surely raises the question here in the U.S. (which celebrates family as much as apple pie and the flag): Why are we hard-pressed to think of any writerly American families, let alone ones as distinguished as the Waughs, the Mitfords and the Mosleys? Do we think of prominent families only when it has to do with a celebrity child embarrassing a celebrity parent?

Alexander Waugh has pondered the matter of families in another book, "Fathers and Sons," which he calls “The Autobiograpy of a Family.” There he skillfully avoids any reductive answer based upon heredity. He does include a letter there, written to his own infant son, which contains the sage advice: “Beware of seriousness: it is a form of stupidity.” And at the same time he urges the boy, “Do not let [the family name] browbeat you into thinking you have to become a writer, that it is your destiny or your duty to do so.  It isn’t.  There is no point in writing unless you have something to say and are determined to say it well.”

The notion of what can be said — and said well — was at the center of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s entire philosophical life, ending with the final posthumous, ironically titled book "On Certainty."  Waugh, in "The House of Wittgenstein," has a very good grasp of the complexity of the Wittgenstein family, the richest family in Austria at that time, and he has the necessary discretion to avoid easy summary.  Waugh makes accessible both Ludwig, whose life is the epitome of temptations resisted and the sheer difficulty of living modestly, and the life of his brother Paul, a pianist and composer who lost an arm in World War I, survived being a prisoner of war in Siberia, escaped the Nazi occupation and spent much of his life on Long Island.

This book may cause some readers to reflect, would they have been able to renounce their inheritances as did Ludwig in the interests of art or philosophy.

And, can you think — with the Waughs in mind — of any distinguished writerly American families? Tell us.

— Thomas McGonigle

Photo: Kurt, Paul and Hermine Wittgenstein, from left, Max Salzer, Leopoldine Wittgenstein, Helene Salzer and Ludwig Wittgenstein at Neuwaldegg in Vienna, 1917. From "The House of Wittgenstein: A Family At War" by Alexander Waugh (Doubleday)

Photo credit: Michael Nedo/Random House via Bloomberg News

Finding the LATFOB on Twitter

#LATfobLA Times Festival of BooksTwitter


Do you know our hashtag yet? It's #LATfob.

OK, if you don't know what a hashtag is, you obviously have not yet been absorbed by the Borg-like Twitter. But it's only a matter of time: you will be assimilated.

There are hundreds of authors coming to the L.A. Times Festival of Books this year, and while the 88- year-old Ray Bradbury may not be thumbing his Blackberry, there are lots of authors who are coming that do regularly tweet. Wil Wheaton is wildly popular on Twitter (now more than 300,000 followers), while some authors have only allow a few select people to see their tweet streams.

We've put together a list of those that we know are on Twitter. By following them, you'll get a kaleidoscopic insiders' vision of the Festival of Books. You might read about flight delays or green room snacks or their own starstruck moments. I've overheard that the members of the Publishing 3.0 panel are planning their backchannel in advance (if you don't know what a backchannel is, the panel may demonstrate).

For all the authors we have on the list (after the jump), we know it doesn't include everyone. More authors are joining Twitter every day. If you're one, leave your Twitter ID and page in the comments -- and remember to mention what panel you're on.

And you don't have to be an author to get into the Twitter game for the Festival of Books. Just tag your posts with #LATfob. What are you looking forward to? Will you get tickets (all free) when they become available April 19, or will you take your chances with standby lines? Are you happy that Coachella is finally falling on a different weekend?

Continue reading »

Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...


Explore Bestsellers Lists





Tweets and retweets from L.A. Times staff writers.