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Author events this week in L.A.: Sharks, Jets and Batman signings ... oh my!

  The former publicist and assistant to Christian Bale, who plays Batman in "The Dark Knight Rises," will sign copies of his tell-all about Bale this week

As the Dark Knight descends on movie theaters this week, a new tell-all book on Christian Bale arrives. Tickets sold out at all the Batman screenings? Head on over to Barnes and Noble in Manhattan Beach on Friday, when Bale's former publicist and assistant, Harrison Cheung, will be signing copies of "Christian Bale: The Inside Story of the Darkest Batman." Cheung, who touts himself as the real life Alfred, lived and worked with Christian and his father for 10 years: He shares firsthand accounts of family dysfunction and the actor's extreme dedication to his craft.

Looking for something a little more abstract? Check out wordsmith Laurel Airica in action as she dissectes the English language for wordplay and inspiration in our daily lives with her live presentation "WordMagic Global: Using the Word for the World's ReCreation," from 7-10 p.m. at The Great Spirits Ranch in Malibu.

As always, check with bookstores for event/venue changes or cancellations.

7/17, 8 p.m.: Chuck Palahniuk presents "Invisible Monsters Remix" a radically refashioned "director's cut" of the author's 1999 novel. Skirball Cultural Center

7/18, 7 p.m.: Jess Walter discusses and signs "Beautiful Ruins: A Novel". Book Soup

7/18, 7 p.m.: Carlos Ruiz Zafon presents and signs "The Prisoner of Heaven: A Novel". All Saints Church, Pasadena

7/20, 11 a.m.: Harrison Cheung will sign copies of his book "Christian Bale: The Inside Story of the Darkest Batman". Barnes & Noble Manhattan Beach

7/20, 7:30 p.m.: The traveling Slake show continues with a group reading from "Slake LA Issue 4: Dirt."  Vroman's

7/20, 7:30 p.m.: Paula Priamos and Dana Johnson read and sign their books "The Shyster's Daughter," and "Elsewhere, California." Skylight Books

7/21, 7-10 p.m.: Santa Monica-based linguist and author Laurel Airica presents "WordMagic Global: Using the Word for the World's ReCreation." Great Spirits Ranch Malibu

7/ 22, 1 p.m.: Cast members from "West Side Story" will be on hand to share behind-the-scenes stories about the making of the classic film detailed in their book, "Our Story: Jets and Sharks Then and Now." Barnes & Noble Calabasas

-- Liesl Bradner

Photo: Christian Bale as Batman in Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures "The Dark Knight Rises." Credit: Ron Phillips / Warner Bros.

Alex Karpovsky from 'Girls' makes book trailer appearance

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Book trailers are still having a hard time finding their way into the culture. There isn't yet a standard way to see them -- they don't play to captive audiences before movies start, or appear regularly with television or online advertising.

Usually, a book trailer is created and then left on its own, for overworked marketing departments or individual authors to try to push out onto the Internet, with a faint hope that it might go viral.

Could casting real actors be one way to jump-start the process and bring new eyes to book trailers? Greywolf Press is trying that tactic: Alex Karpovsky stars in the a trailer for the book "Four New Messages" by Joshua Cohen (Caveat: There is drug use and strong language in the trailer). Karpovsky is one of the young stars of the hit HBO series "Girls," in which he plays Ray, a friend of Lena Dunham's main character, Hannah.

Seems like using an actor from "Girls" might well reach a desired demographic -- young, hip cultural consumers -- more than simply using catalog-model types and overheated voiceovers. That's what can be found in some book trailers produced in Hollywood, where one company spends about $50,000 a pop to make book trailers for major publishing houses like St. Martin's and Random House.

Greywolf, an independent based in Minnesota, seems to be coming at things from a different direction, more Sundance than blockbuster. The book trailer above is called "Emission," and it's described as a short film based on a section of "Four New Messages" by Cohen.

In the trailer, Karpovsky plays a drug dealer whose actions are told by a girl at a laptop, smoking. We hear her voiceover reading what she types, and the secondhandness of the storytelling creates an uneasy sense that the narrator is not to be trusted. Or maybe that's the mood of the trailer, with music mixed with talk radio rants, and dark backgrounds filling with smoke.

Joshua Cohen is the author of the 800-plus page novel "Witz," published by Dalkey Archive Press. "Four New Messages" will be his first book since it landed, with a thump, in 2010.

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The good, the bad and the other bad: The Moby book trailer awards

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Alex Karpovsky in a screenshot from the trailer for the book "Four New Messages" by Joshua Cohen.

The Reading Life: Harvey Pekar's Jewish question

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This is part of the occasional series "The Reading Life" by book critic David L. Ulin.

When Harvey Pekar died, two years ago today, at the age of 70, he left behind a contradictory legacy. On the one hand, his "American Splendor" remains one of the most compelling and transformative series in the history of comics: autobiographical slices of life in which Pekar wrestles with his job as a VA file clerk, with his mania for collecting, with the city of Cleveland -- where he was born and where he died -- and perhaps most significantly, with himself.

This is not to say "American Splendor" is self-absorbed, except it is -- in the best and most interesting of ways. When Pekar's on his game, he's like a street corner Samuel Beckett, pondering the absurdity of existence while embracing, in his own curmudgeonly fashion, all the struggles it entails.

I've written before about "Hypothetical Quandary," in which, over the course of three brief pages, he frames a Sunday morning trip to the bakery as an existential meditation, moving from the futility of his own striving and obsession to the sustaining, if fleeting, aroma of fresh bread. As with many of Pekar's stories, almost nothing happens, and yet something important is resolved.

For all that, Pekar spent the last few years of his career focusing on a different sort of story: piece work ranging from graphic histories of the Beats and Students for a Democratic Society to a comics adaptation of Studs Terkel's "Working." I can't say I blame him; he was always short of money, and after a lifetime as a cult hero, the 2003 film adaptation of "American Splendor" opened up a lot of opportunities. At the same time, there's something flat about such efforts, as if Pekar were going through the motions.

Both of these conflicting impulses -- that of the engaged autobiographer and of the freelancer fulfilling an assignment -- emerge in Pekar's final graphic memoir, "Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me." It's an interesting book, if a bit schizophrenic, melding Pekar's lifelong internal debate about his Jewishness and more specifically the state of Israel, with a capsule history of the Jews.

Continue reading »

Neil Gaiman signs a 5-book deal for the kids

Neil Gaiman signs book deal
Award-winning writer Neil Gaiman has signed a new 5-book deal with HarperCollins, it was announced Wednesday. But adult fans of the author will have to wait for another Gaiman book written specifically for them.

HarperCollins will publish three middle-grade books -- "middle grade" refers to books for children ages  8-12 -- by Gaiman. One will be a sequel to 2009's "Odd and the Frost Giants," based on Norse mythology. One is as yet unannounced; the other is tentatively titled "Fortunately, the Milk," and will feature art by Skottie Young.

Gaiman is also creating two picture books for the publisher, both featuring Chu, a little panda with a big sneeze. The first, "Chu's Day," will be published in January 2013. Gaiman, who has an active Internet presence, posted an image of Chu online in February.

Always prolific, Gaiman has a book for adults on deck, tentatively titled "Lettie Hempstock's Ocean." In June he wrote on his blog:

On the plane to the UK I finished writing the new novel. I'm not sure right now if it's going to be called Lettie Hempstock's Ocean or not. I think it's a good book -- or at least, I think it's a real book, and I'm proud of it, and whether it's good or not will be up to other people to judge. Despite the protagonist being about 7 years old for most of the novel, it's a book for adults. Or at least, I think it is.

Now I'm doing things to it, including worrying that there's a better title and rereading it and making it better and clearer and scarier wherever I can. But it's a new book for adults, one I didn't even know I would write until February, and it makes me happy that it exists.

Gaiman has had success writing for all ages. He won the prestigious Newbery Award for "The Graveyard Book" (ages 10 and up), as well as winning Hugo, Nebula and Bram Stoker awards for "American Gods," a novel for adults. "The Sandman" graphic novel series also brought a number of awards Gaiman's way.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Neil Gaiman with wife Amanda Palmer. Credit: Pixie Vision Productions

National Endowment for the Arts announces new Big Read grants

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On Tuesday, the National Endowment for the Arts announced its 2012-13 Big Read grants totaling $1 million. The Big Read supports community-based reading of a single book. It provides specially produced supplemental materials including CDs, robust historical context, teachers guides and discussion questions. And, of course, funding.

Nine of the Big Read's 78 grants will go to organizations and municipalities in California. Only New York state will receive as many grants from the Big Read in the coming year.

In San Diego, the organization Write Out Loud will be organizing people to read "Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury, who died in June at age 91. In Burbank and 400 miles away in Marysville, Calif., readers will dig in to the works of Edgar Allen Poe. The Rural California Broadcasting Corp., located between San Francisco and Santa Rosa, Calif., will be taking on poet Emily Dickinson. Patrons of the Rancho Cucamonga Public Library will be invited to read F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby." The Santa Cruz Public Library will be reading "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck, who finished the book nearby at his ranch in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Those are all books by classic American writers, as might be expected. But the program also has books from different cultures, including the one that will be the focus of the Big Read as presented by the city of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs. That book is "The Thief and the Dogs" by Egyptian Nobel Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz, first published in 1961. The Big Read describes the book this way: Spanning the wealthy suburbs and crowded slums of Cairo, this thrilling crime story combines stream-of-consciousness technique with the hard-boiled style of detective fiction to create a harrowing account of crime and punishment.

Organizations may select from one of 31 individual book titles or authors when applying for a Big Read grant. About two-thirds of them will be part of the Big Read in 2012-13. Grants range from $3,500-$20,000.

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Ray Bradbury and the dime-at-a-time typewriter of "Fahrenheit 451"

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Ray Bradbury in 2000. Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times

'50 Shades of Grey' series hitting the 20 million mark in sales

"Fifty Shades of Grey"Who would have guessed that an erotica series would becoming the biggest book juggernaut since "Harry Potter"?

That's what things are looking like. This week, E.L. James'  "50 Shades of Grey" and its sequels, "Fifty Shades Darker" and "Fifty Shades Freed" are poised to cross the 20 million mark in U.S. sales. As of July 2, publisher Vintage had tallied sales of the series at 19.4 million. Vintage brought the series to shelves in April; originally published by a small press in Australia, the book had already become an underground hit. The Wall Street Journal reports on the book's massive popularity:

By comparison, Stieg Larsson's best-selling "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" trilogy took more than three years to reach the 20-million sales mark in the U.S. Those three books were released in the U.S. in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

In the U.S., sales have been split nearly evenly between physical and digital versions, with 9.8 million paperbacks sold through July 2, compared with 9.6 million e-books during the same period, Vintage says.

"50 Shades of Grey" tells the story of virginal college student Anastasia and Christian Grey, the billionaire entrepreneur who takes an interest in her. They soon develop a sexual relationship that gets kinky -- the bondage-y content is part of what has been keeping sales hot. Vintage says the series has brought in $145 million in revenue.

Nielsen's BookScan numbers show that in the spring, the "50 Shades of Grey" series accounted for 20% of adult fiction sold (that's print books, not e-books). BookScan tracks about 75% of the retail American book market, and it misses a lot of independent bookstores -- where, presumably, people may be reading headier stuff than the sexually explicit series. However, the "50 Shades" series has been at the No. 1, 2, and 3 spots on our paperback bestsellers list, which includes local independents, since its publication in April.

Film rights were sold to Universal and Focus Features, which will have to figure out how to make the explicit text -- which some have called "mommy porn" -- suitable for American viewing audiences.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

 

 

It started as a book: 'Savages' by Don Winslow

This weekend Oliver Stone's "Savages" hits screens with a stylish amount of uber-violence and a star-filled lineup that includes John Travolta, Blake Lively, Benicio Del Toro and Salma Hayek. It'll certainly be something to watch.

Two years ago, it was something to read. Don Winslow's stylish, fast-paced SoCal noir follows the story of a territorial struggle between powerful Mexican drug interests and two American pot growers, whose mutual girlfriend gets kidnapped. Rescue efforts ensue.

When the book was published, the L.A. Times called it a "marvelous, adrenaline-juiced roller coaster of a novel." Our reviewer wrote, "Winslow buffs the surface to high gloss only to dirty things up pretty fast." One of the pot growers, Chon, "has always known that there are two worlds: The savage/the less savage."

At Grantland, John Lopez asked Winslow how he wrote the characters so well. "A lot of it’s just hanging around Laguna Beach and listening," Winslow says. "It’s funny sometimes — my editors from the East Coast don’t believe this. And I say, 'You know what, get on an airplane, I’ll pick you up at John Wayne Airport, and if I can’t take you to these people in 45 minutes, you win.'"

In the short time since the movie was announced, Winslow went back to the keyboard and returned to the characters in "Savages." That book, "The Kings of Cool," makes its debut on the L.A. Times bestseller list this Sunday. It's a prequel to "Savages."

“I wanted to tell an origins story," Winslow told KPCC's Madeleine Brand. "And I wanted to tell a story about families. When people are faced with a really hard choice between their biological families and their friends, sort of family that they’ve created on their own which is what happens in 'The Kings of Cool,' people have to choose. And that to me was a really attractive story."

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

'The Sound and the Fury' as William Faulkner imagined, in color

Williamfaulkner_incolor
Although William Faulkner won a Nobel Prize in literature, his writing is still considered particularly dense. One of his most difficult works is "The Sound and the Fury," which is told from multiple points of view. It begins in the voice of Benjy, a mentally disabled man whose perception is jumbled, immediate and distinctly hard to parse.

One of the reasons Benji's narrative is hard to follow is because it jumps around in time with little indication of the change, other than italics. But when Faulkner was working on the book in the 1920s -- "The Sound and the Fury" was published in 1929 -- he imagined a way to make the section clearer to readers. "I wish publishing was advanced enough to use colored ink," Faulkner wrote to his editor, "as I argued with you and Hal in the Speakeasy that day." 

"I'll just have to save the idea until publishing grows up," he added, inadvertently launching a challenge to future publishers. Nine decades later, the Folio Society took it up.

In a special edition, the Folio Society is publishing "The Sound and the Fury" in 14 colors. It's a fine press edition, quarter-bound in leather, with a slipcase and an additional volume of commentary. It also includes a color-coded bookmark that reveals which time period is designated by each color.

The Folio Society worked with two Faulkner scholars, Stephen Ross and Noel Polk, to figure out how to divide the text. Only the Benjy section is rendered in the 14 colors of ink.

"With the Benjy section the different threads are sufficiently clear that I don't feel we are distorting or compromising the novel," Folio's commissioning editor for limited editions Neil Titman told the Guardian. "I found the book tremendously confusing the first time I read it, so I think that overall you have a net gain here, rather than feeling over-guided."

The color edition of Faulkner's "The Sound and the Fury" is being published July 6 in a limited edition of 1,480 and is priced at $345. One thousand preordered copies have been sold.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: William Faulkner's "The Sound and the Fury" in color. Credit: The Folio Society

Jane Austen ring goes up for auction

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A ring once owned by author Jane Austen will be auctioned by Sotheby's later this month. Austen, the author of the much-loved novels "Pride and Prejudice," "Sense and Sensibility" and "Emma," never married or had children, but the ring has remained in the possession of her family since her death in 1817. Scholars had been unaware of its existence, and it is expected to sell at auction for $31,000 to $46,000.

The ring is made of gold with a cabachon blue stone of natural turquoise. It is, as Sotheby's auction house notes, in a simple style Austen wrote of sympathetically in her work. In "Mansfield Park," Fanny Price is given a gold chain by her cousin Edmund, who tells her, "I consulted the simplicity of your taste."

The jewelry is given to Fanny "in all the niceness of jewellers packing," just as the ring remains in its original box. It comes with letters dating back to 1863 describing its provenance: The ring was passed from Jane Austen to sister Cassandra Austen to sister-in-law Eleanor Austen to niece Caroline Mary Craven Austen to niece Mary A. Austen-Leigh to her niece, Mary Dorothy Austen-Leigh, then to her sister, Winifred Jenkyns, who passed it to her descendants.

The ring will be offered at Sotheby's English Literature, History, Children's Books and Illustrations auction on July 10. The auction includes many sets of letters, and superb copies of the "Shakespeare Fourth Folio" (est. $124,000 to $186,000), Charlotte Brontë’s "Jane Eyre" (est. $93,000 to $124,000), and Charles Darwin’s "On the "Origin of Species" (est. $77,000 to $108,000). It also includes fine first editions of Jane Austen's novels "Mansfield Park" (est. $4,600 to $7,700), "Northanger Abbey" and "Persuasion" (est. $3,800 to $5,400), "Emma" (est. $15,500 to $23,000) and "Pride and Prejudice" (est. $31,000 to $46,000).

Hat tip to the Paris Review blog for spotting Jane Austen's ring for sale.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Jane Austen's ring and a note about it, written by Eleanor Austen. Credit: Sotheby's

 

88 books that shaped America, at the Library of Congress

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The Library of Congress has selected 88 books that shaped America, all by American authors. The first was published in 1751, and the most recent in 2002. Each author is represented only once, with one exception:  Benjamin Franklin, who landed three books on the list. Apparently the listmakers at the Library of Congress think quite a lot of the founding father. 

"This list of ‘Books That Shaped America’ is a starting point. It is not a register of the ‘best’ American books -- although many of them fit that description. Rather, the list is intended to spark a national conversation on books written by Americans that have influenced our lives, whether they appear on this initial list or not," Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said in a release. "We hope people will view the list and then nominate other titles. Finally, we hope people will choose to read and discuss some of the books on this list, reflecting our nation’s unique and extraordinary literary heritage, which the Library of Congress makes available to the world."

The list includes poetry, novels, nonfiction, plays, a polemic, books of science and grammar, cookbooks and children's books. The list includes 26 books published since 1950, 35 published from 1900 to 1950, 15 published from 1850 to 1900, six published from 1800 to 1850 and nine published before 1800. 

For those who can get to Washington, the Library of Congress has the books on exhibit through Sept.  29. Those who can't get there to see the books in person are welcome to take the Library of Congress' online survey, which asks readers which of the big list of books they think are most significant.

After the jump, the 88 books that shaped America from the Library of Congress.

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