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Books, authors and all things bookish

Category: July 2009

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National Book Award winners, a daily dose

Williamholden

Who could resist William Holden? Certainly not Binx Bolling, the main character of Walker Percy's "The Moviegoer." Partway through its months-long celebration of every winner of the National Book Award for fiction, the National Book Foundation has two authors weigh in on Percy's novel, which took the award in 1962.

Sara Zarr writes of the illuminating correspondence between Shelby Foote, already a successful author, and the still-unpublished Percy. When he sent him the manuscript for "The Moviegoer," she writes,

Foote approved, particularly praising a bit where the narrator, Binx Bolling, muses about actor William Holden:

I pay attention to all spot announcements on the radio about mental health, the seven signs of cancer, and safe driving -- though, as I say, I prefer to ride the bus. Yesterday a favorite of mine, William Holden, delivered a radio announcement on litterbugs. “Let’s face it,” said Holden. “Nobody can do anything about it -- but you and me.” This is true. I have been careful ever since.

To Bolling, Holden could be very persuasive. Tom Roberge adds:

[Bolling] represents what has become something of a literary tradition: a man who’s passively accepted what his life has become. He decided long ago that the well-to-do New Orleans society he was born into offers him no real pleasure, and he harbors a strong urge to abandon it all, but knows full well that he won’t. . . . This is honest escapism, a need to plunge into the tidy worlds of heroes, villains, and bombshells that films offer.

1961-62 was a good time for fiction; Percy beat out "Catch-22" by Joseph Heller, "Revolutionary Road" by Richard Yates, J. D. Salinger's "Franny & Zooey" and seven other finalists for the honor.

The National Book Foundation is continuing to post about its fiction winners and then will hold a popularity runoff between them, as a lead-up to November's National Book Awards.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: William Holden with Maggie McNamara in 1953's "The Moon is Blue." Credit: UCLA Arts Library Special Collections

Book versus Kindle, on video

San Francisco's Green Apple Books has decided to pit the old-fashioned book against Amazon's Kindle in a series of funny, low-rent ESPN-style video showdowns. By today, the third round of the competition, the book is beating the Kindle, 2-0.

Green Apple sells both new and used books and music -- its first episode showed a customer selling used books back to the store (the Kindle didn't measure up). But if no one wanted to buy vintage paperbacks, comics or hardcovers, then Green Apple wouldn't be interested in purchasing them for resale. In fact, the customer is sent away with many books that the store doesn't want to buy. Would it be possible that electronic books and e-readers might erase the value of books as objects completely? That's not in the video, but it is the bigger question.

Like a boxing match, there will be 10 rounds in the book-versus-Kindle matchup. The team at Green Apple Books says they've collaborated on the project, so nobody takes full credit. Keep up with all their videos on their blog and find out when the next one posts by following them on Twitter.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

A Malt Whitman sundae?

Mmmsundae

A New Jersey librarian's lighthearted Facebook petition for a Ben & Jerry's library-themed ice cream flavor might just come to fruition -- or should that be chocolate-swirl-ition? Launched in early June, the petition has picked up momentum as summer temperatures have risen -- there are currently more than 4,800 members in the group, and folks from as far away as Canada and England have volunteered flavor ideas.

Suggestions included Gooey Decimal System (dark chocolate alphabet letters with caramel swirls in hazelnut ice cream), Rocky Read (vanilla with chocolate-covered nuts, chocolate chunks and raisins) and Sh-sh-sh-Sherbet! (either lime or chocolate/vanilla).

But, like an autodidact left free to roam the stacks, later ideas have strayed from the original to embrace anything bookish, related to authors or reading or titles.

Like Bookworms, with Gummi Worms in the ice cream, a suggestion on the Facebook page. The Judy Blume coming-of-age homage Are You There God? It's Me, Marshmallow, from the comments on Jezebel. Two from the New Yorker's Book Bench: Writer’s Block (coffee with fudge chunks and nicotine stains) and Chick Lit (fat-free peach-mango swirl with pieces of Chicklets chewing gum).

Here in L.A. we have Scoops, an adventurous ice cream parlor that tries flavors like Black Currant Lychee, Brown Bread and Strawberry balsamic vinegar. Imagine what they might come up with for L.A.-oriented titles like White Oleander, Ask the Dust and I, Fatty.

Despite all the enthusiasm behind the idea, it might be best to leave ice creaming to the professionals. My favorite idea so far -- for Malt Whitman, a malt ice cream with chocolate alphabet letters and two caramel and fudge swirls -- came from Arnold Carbone, Ben & Jerry's flavor guy.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: ginnerobot via Flickr

Book news: On the radio, a blog, poetry and 100 beach reads

Yosemitefalls
John Muir, the man whose influence helped turn the Yosemite area into national park, is considered the father of the conservation movement. But wanting to preserve what was unblemished wilderness was not as pure an act as we have previously thought. "Muir decided that this was a wonderful place to rest your soul and a place for weary urbanites to leave the city for a while and think about wilderness," author Mark Dowie says on the radio program "Living on Earth." "And of course it was. But he didn't think they would be able to accomplish that in the company of natives. So he arranged and argued that the natives should be removed. He really didn't have a lot of use for Native Americans." Dowie's book "Conservation Refugees" is out now on MIT Press.

In completely unrelated news, say hello to the new book blogosphere entry from Entertainment Weekly, Shelf Life. Frequent blogger Thom Geier is quick with a quip; we'll try to keep up.

Something we missed here in L.A.: La Bloga writes up La Palabra, a monthly poetry event at the Avenue 50 Studio in Highland Park that allows open mic-ers to mix with known literary figures like Luis Rodriguez. Usually the poetry happens the fourth Sunday of each month, but Aug. 22 is an off-site fundraiser, so check its website for details about the next event.

I looked and looked, but I don't think any poetry has made NPR's list of 100 Best Beach Reads. Listeners voted, and the result is an interesting mix of popular and highbrow fiction; I was surprised to find lesser-known books like Wallace Stegner's "Angle of Repose" on the list (only 32 spots behind "Twilight"). Page-turners are often considered good beach reads -- so Stephen King and Mario Puzo are to be expected. But as others before me have pointed out, No. 62, Peter Benchley's "Jaws," seems a funny choice. Don't you want to go back in the water?

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Yosemite Falls. Credit: The_Tahoe_Guy via Flickr

Reviewing Thomas Pynchon's 'Inherent Vice'

Inherent ViceThomas Pynchon

Pynchon_illo

Our review of Thomas Pynchon's "Inherent Vice" will appear in Sunday's paper, but since it's online now, why wait? The reviewer -- well, uh, me -- says it's Pynchon doing Raymond Chandler through a James Rockford looking glass, starring Cheech or Chong. The setup is classic detective fiction, the setting the end of psychedelic 1960s Los Angeles, and the protagonist usually stoned.

We've also got an excerpt from the book coming, a full page (Page 98, if you're curious) describing the Santa Ana winds. The off-seasonally hot and eerie weather condition has appeared in classic L.A. literature, and Pynchon's version shoves its way into the pantheon right between Raymond Chandler's and Joan Didion's.

Last week, Wired launched an interactive map of Thomas Pynchon's L.A. In addition to adding sites from "Gravity's Rainbow" and "The Crying of Lot 49," early readers of "Inherent Vice" have been adding sites from it -- which include Pink's and the original Tommy's.

"Inherent Vice" goes on sale Aug. 4 -- some bookstores, including Skylight Books here in L.A., will be staying open past midnight on Monday to begin selling it at 12:01 a.m., partying for Pynchon Harry Potter-style.

Since I've had a chance to read "Inherent Vice" already, I'd be happy to answer any questions about it. Just ask in the comments.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/33325372@N06/ / CC BY-SA 2.0

Patti Smith at Book Soup on Saturday

Dream of LifePatti Smith

Pattismith1978

Saturday at noon, Patti Smith and filmmaker Steven Sebring will appear at Book Soup to sign copies of "Dream of Life." The book is taken from Sebring's 2008 documentary film of the same name, and is described as "an evocative exploration of the interior life of the artist Patti Smith."

Smith began publishing poetry in the early 1970s and has continued to use books as one of her creative outlets since then. Her most recent work, "Trois," was released in conjunction with a 2008 show at the Cartier Foundation in Paris. It consists of three paperback notebooks: one a combination of text, drawings and photos focusing on Arthur Rimbaud; one photobook; and one journal, half-filled by Smith, the other half empty, to be completed by its new owner.

Will the poet laurete of punk read from her writings? Will she engage with fans? There are no guarantees. In fact, all we know for sure is that she's supposed to show up at Book Soup to sign copies of "Dream of Life," which, judging by Sebring's website, promises to be quite beautiful.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Patti Smith in 1978. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Did this book cover go terribly wrong?

Notallblackgirls Stephanie Covington Armstrong, a playwright and screenwriter, has faced more than her share of challenges: poverty, abuse, foster care. And an eating disorder. And the face of that disorder didn't look like her own. Armstrong was an African American struggling with bulimia, often portrayed as an illness affecting white females.

All of which sounds like the makings of an interesting memoir, and Covington will read from it at L.A.'s Book Soup on Saturday at 8 p.m.

But has Covington's book, "Not All Black Girls Know How to Eat: A Story of Bulimia," gotten a raw design deal?

Bulimia, an eating disorder, includes a range of dieting behaviors taken to extremes: fasting, exercise, use of diuretics and laxatives and self-induced vomiting.

It is this last behavior that the cover portrays, with two fingers jutting up from the bottom edge. As if there is a hand inside the book, ready to induce vomiting in the reader.

I consider myself lucky to never have had an eating disorder, but I can recognize an instrument of self-destructive behavior when I see one.

Are those too fingers as immediately recognizable as a vomiting-tool to you as they are to me? In the context of this book, aren't they horribly graphic?

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Lawrence Hill Books

From Bromance to Schwa: UCLA's slang guide

Iloveyouman

If I told you that the brand-new book "UCLA Slang" is Obama, would you have any idea what I was saying? Short answer: It's cool. Or, as we used to say, all that.

Compiled every four years by professor Pamela Munro of UCLA's linguistics department with the help of her students, "UCLA Slang" is now in its sixth edition. "People in general are very creative and come up with lots of wonderful new words that may or may not catch on, and our goal is to capture the vivid, colloquial words and phrases associated with a specific subculture -- UCLA students," Munro said. "Slang seems to originate on the West Coast and move east."

According to Munro, slang tends to sink in when we're in our teens and 20s and then stick. So the phrases college students use today may be around for long enough to sound as stale as "let's blow this clambake." Some new terms in the book that you can expect to hear ... and keep hearing:

"bellig" -- belligerent and drunk
"bromance" -- extremely close platonic friendship between men
"brothers from another mother" -- male friends as close as siblings
"destroy" -- to do well at something
"epic fail" -- big mistake
"FOMO" -- fear of missing out
"get all up in your biznatch" -- meddle in your business
"mija" -- female friend
"Obama" -- cool
"off the hezzie" -- cool
"papi chulo" -- male friend
"presh" -- precious
"schwa" -- wow
"sisters from another mister" -- female friends as close as siblings

The 160-page booklet is available for $10.95 from UCLA's linguistics department.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Jason Segel, left, and Paul Rudd in the bromantic comedy "I Love You, Man." Credit: Paramount Pictures

Man Booker longlist includes Hollywood surprise

Booker PrizeMan Booker

Cheeta_andfamily

The Man Booker Prize longlist -- of a dozen elite literary titles -- includes one big surprise: "Me Cheeta: My Life in Hollywood." For months, publisher Fourth Estate maintained the charade that the book was an autobiography penned by a 70ish-year-old chimp. He wasn't available for interviews in October, a spokesman explained: "He’s running scared. He’s a monkey. He’s hiding in the corner of his cage."

But of course, "Me Cheeta" was actually written by a human -- James Lever, a 30ish Brit whose knowledge of Hollywood was steeped in old tell-all autobiographies. The project -- like "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" -- was conceived by the publisher and handed to the writer. Even without the whole written-by-a-chimp pose, this book is an unusual turn for the very literary Man Booker committee.

When "Me Cheeta" came out in the U.S. earlier this year, we called on Richard Schickel -- who called Lassie for the insider's take.

Rin Tin Tin and I are into what we call "extreme romping." Once a week, we head for the back country, where we leap crags and ford rivers -- just like in the movies, except there are no bad guys. Last week, before beginning our trip home, he mentioned that Cheeta the Chimp had just written "Me Cheeta: My Life in Hollywood" and asked if I'd read it.

"It's on my Kindle," I said, "but I haven't got around to it. I'm not big on star autobios. I met Cheeta once, when I was starting 'Lassie Come Home.' He was pretty full of himself in those days."

"Still is, if you read the book. Thinks he deserves some kind of special Oscar."

"Don't we all?" I sighed.

Anyway, that night I dug into "Me Cheeta." I must say it's the best-written star autobio I've ever read. Obviously it was ghosted, but it carries no "as told to" credit. It's full of sexy gossip: There's stuff about Paulette Goddard and Ronald Colman (!), Miriam Hopkins and Fernando Lamas (!!), Joseph Cotten and Deanna Durbin (!!!) that'll curl your coat.


Read the complete review to hear what Cheeta thought of his leading men. Oh, and by the way? The complete list of Man Booker Prize nominees is after the jump.

Continue reading »

Bikers unite: Self-published author gets boost from Jay Leno

MarkgardinerisleofmanMark Gardiner wasn't always a motorcycling correspondent for Classic Bike and Road Racer X, like he is now. He used to be an advertising guy; he used to live in Canada. But a trip to the Isle of Man TT event left him with the feeling that he had to change his life. That's what his book, "Riding Man," is about.

Although Gardiner's achievements in qualifying for -- and finishing -- the race were extraordinary, his agent was unable to find a home for the manuscript. Gardiner went forward and self-published -- heck, he'd already quit his job and burned through his savings to race motorcycles. When Jay Leno picked the book for his (gearhead-ish) book club, it came as a real surprise. Gardiner talked about the new life of "Riding Man" with Jacket Copy.

Jacket Copy: How did Jay Leno get a copy of your book? Did you send it to him?

Mark Gardiner: Suzuki was giving a bike to Jay for his collection. There's a whole set of protocols around doing that, because NBC insists it not appear to be an endorsement. So journalists are not allowed to participate. For whatever reason, Suzuki's press liaison asked me to come along.

"If anyone asks, say you're our staff photographer," I was told.

But one of Jay's mechanics looked at me and said, “Aren't you the guy who raced on the Isle of Man?”

Then, the jig was up. He told Jay, "You know about this guy! He was the one who quit his job ... etc." After the Suzuki and NBC people had all gone, I mentioned to Jay that a year or so earlier, Classic Bike had asked if I could interview Jay Leno and I'd laughed at the prospect of reaching him. He told me that Classic Bike was one of his favorite magazines, then paused, looked at me and said, "Hey, you're that guy." Suddenly it dawned on him that he'd been reading my stuff for years.

When I left after that first visit -- as Suzuki's photographer -- to the garage, I sent up copies of "Riding Man" for all his employees, all of whom are very nice and made me feel very welcome. There is no star complex there at all.

JC: How did you learn that Jay Leno had selected the book for his book club?

Continue reading »
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