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Books, authors and all things bookish

Category: Humor

Who will save Roald Dahl's writing shed?


If only Willy Wonka were here to help. The shed where author Roald Dahl wrote needs a hand -- a golden ticket, if you will -- and it's causing a stir in England.

Dahl was the author of now-classic children's books "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," "Willy Wonka and the Great Glass Elevator," "James and the Giant Peach" and "Fantastic Mr. Fox." Dahl's books were so popular with young readers, perhaps, because they weren't just cutesy -- they were kind of scary. In his stories for adults, his dark, profane, R-rated side came out. He won three Edgar Awards and had two stories filmed for the TV series "Alfred Hitchcock Presents."

His family has asked for help in raising more than $790,000 to move the shed from its current location to the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre in town in Buckinghamshire. The funds would also help preserve and restore the shed and its contents, which haven't been kept in pristine archival condition -- instead, they've been in a shed, which is sometimes referred to in its less-than-glamorous condition as a "hut."

The plea has caused considerable consternation among those who think Dahl's family should pick up the tab. People have noticed that his books continue to enchant young readers and that movies continue to be made from them. in the Guardian, Sarah Crown writes:

I'm not quibbling over the significance of the shed itself, nor even the half-a-million-quid price tag: never having attempted to move and/or archive the contents of a garden shed myself, after all, who am I to argue? No: the real question, posed by countless listeners on Twitter, Andrew M Brown blogging over at the Telegraph and about 98% of the commenters on his article, is why, given the extensive wealth the Dahl family has presumably accrued off the back of the sales of his books (not to mention all the related merchandising, film rights and so forth), can its members not fork out for the shed move themselves?

Dahl also wrote the screenplay adaptations for two books by Ian Fleming, the James Bond film "You Only Live Twice" and the children's movie "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang." That probably paid decently, but how far does 1960s movie money go? It's nice to think that writers create such wealth that their descendants could pay several hundred thousand dollars to preserve their legacy -- but that notion might be as fantastic as a gigantic peach.


The lure of writers' houses

The Jack Kerouac House in Orlando

Could Edgar Allan Poe movie save his Baltimore house?

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Roald Dahl's writing shed. Credit: Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre / Associated Press

The birth of a Twitter trend: #replacebooktitleswithbacon

  Bacon - #replacebooktitleswithbacon

It could have been movies. Around 2 p.m. Wednesday, Elissa Schappell was on Twitter and made up a silly movie-related hashtag. I follow Schappell because she once saved me: My shoe broke on a rainy awards night in New York, and she found a way to fix it. Also, she's got a very quick wit, writes for Vanity Fair and has a new serious collection of short stories coming out Sept. 6, "Building Blueprints for Better Girls"

Schappell tweeted, "Pretty in Bacon: #replacemovienameswithbacon." And I thought, that's funny. Could it work for books?

I tweeted, "The Lion, the Witch and the Bacon #replacebooktitleswithbacon." Then a moment later, followed with "The Thousand Bacons of Jacob De Zoet #replacebooktitleswithbacon." I was hooked.

I tried recruiting the Washington's Post's Ron Charles, who in his role as the video-ready Totally Hip Book Reviewer has worn bacon on his head. Charles was otherwise occupied.

But Sarah Weinman, former L.A. Times contributor and one of publishing's Internet movers and shakers jumped in. "In Search Of Lost Bacon; A Handful of Bacon; Bacon Revisited; The Call of the Bacon; The Savage Bacon," she added to the hashtag. Galleycat and Farrar, Strauss & Giroux got in on the action too. The Seussian "Green Eggs and Bacon" was thrown out by many.

And the game was on, with the help of Time magazine, which tweeted, "What we're playing RT @radhikajones: War and Bacon. Out of Sheer Bacon. Bacon and Sensibility. #replacebooktitleswithbacon" to its 2.8 million followers. By the time evening rolled around, #replacebooktitleswithbacon was a trending topic on Twitter nationwide, proving everyone loves books ... with bacon.

Here are some favorites:

hujane: "The Bacon of Wrath," "To The Bacon," "Brave New Bacon," "Tender is the Bacon," "Bacon in Love"

jaelmchenry: "The Particular Sadness of Bacon Cake"

slakemedia: "Something Bacon This Way Comes"

MattMarcotte: "We Need to Talk About Bacon"

TheoTypes: "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Bacon"

slaughter90210: "One Hundred Years of Bacon"

AClarkComedy: "Bright Lights. Big Bacon"

samanarama: "Sisterhood of the Bacon Pants"

Kate_M_Holden: "Guns, Germs, and Bacon: The Fates of Human Societies"

LBbooks: "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Bacon"

patricknathan: "Bacon and Nothingness," "The Critique of Pure Bacon," "An Enquiry Concerning Bacon Understanding"

KngdmfShamballa: "Children of Bacon," Heretics of Bacon," "Godemperor Bacon"

heliolithic: "The Bacon Stain"

lisatuber: "Portnoy's Bacon"

robspill: "Jesus' Bacon"

scottiegarand: "Eat, Bacon, Love"

seanpaulkelley: "The Power of Positive Bacon," "I'm Okay, You're Bacon," "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Bacon"

SpeedyEdits: "I Know Why the Caged Bacon Sings"

molleeeeee: "The Yiddish Policemen's Bacon"

MaryRocco: "Like Bacon for Chocolate"

donnalethal: "Bacon in the Rye"

MDorna: "The Lord of the Bacon"

BetsyBrownWrite: "Everything Ravaged, Everything Bacon"

JESilverstein: "I Have No Bacon and I Must Scream"

manticore_night: "Confessions of an English Bacon Eater"

LauraEmilyPDX: "What We Talk About When We Talk About Bacon"

crimsonsneakers: "The Bacon of Alice B. Toklas," "The Bacon Mystique," "I Am Bacon (And So Can You!)," "The Heart is a Bacon Hunter"

alanawilcox: "Charlotte's Bacon." Sniff.

obasZ: "Bacon in August"

tealeaves_: "A Farewell to Bacon"

BronwenRolands: "Bacon's End"

Here is the same list, adding the actual book titles before they were baconized.

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Vroman's to make guest appearance on 'Parks and Recreation'

Vroman's Bookstore will make a guest appearance in the upcoming season of "Parks and Recreation," when Amy Poehler's Leslie Knope has a book signing. Her book, "Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America," will be featured in the show, and will be published Oct. 4 by Hyperion.

Photos of Vroman's dressed up for TV are on the L.A. area filming location-obsessed blog I Am Not a Stalker, which writes:

A display featuring several copies of Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America was set up in the background of the scene and, throughout the day, before filming began, countless Vroman’s customers would walk up and look through it, thinking it was a real item that was for sale. LOL I am dying to know if anyone actually brought a copy up to the cash registers and tried to purchase it!

Blogger Lindsay was encouraged to take photos on the set, and posed on Poehler's podium. Who else took photos of himself posing with Knope's book? Chris Traeger, as he's known on "Parks and Recreation," or as you might call him, Rob Lowe. Here he is holding up a copy of his bestselling memoir, "Stories I Only Tell My Friends."


"Parks and Recreation" book on Pawnee coming in October

LA Times bestseller list: "Stories I Only Tell My Friends" by Rob Lowe

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Amy Poehler in "Parks and Recreation." Credit: NBC


Simon Pegg riffs on 'Dawn of the Dead,' zombie consumers and popular culture

Simonpegg_2011 Simon Pegg talks in Friday's L.A. Times about  what it's like to be the guy living the geek dream. He's been directed by John Landis and Steven Spielberg; he plays Scotty in J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek" and was a villain in "Dr. Who." Good god, man, there are action figures of him!

In the interview, Pegg, who came to the attention of American audiences with the zombie classic "Shaun of the Dead," which he both starred in and co-wrote, discusses his new memoir, "Nerd Do Well." He'll be signing the book Friday at the Grove at 7 p.m. (pick up a wristband at Barnes & Noble for a spot, starting at 9 a.m.).

These are outtakes from my interview with him, complete with starts and stops, conducted by phone Monday when he was in New York. He talks fast. Transcribing was hard.

Jacket Copy: In your memoir, you wrote about seeing "An American Werewolf in London."

Simon Pegg: It was scary, but it was also brilliantly funny, and not disturbing. There’s no cruelty in that movie (apart from the scene with the Nazi zombie storm troopers). There's a lot of good will in that film. It’s infused with a huge love; that really comes across. I watched that and I felt that. I was immediately converted to like –- I wanted to get into horror films now, this is great.

JC: You were immersed in major iconic marks of geekdom: "Star Wars," "Star Trek," horror movies, superheroes, "Dr. Who" -- and now those things that used to mark a subculture seem ever-present in mainstream culture.

SP: The fact is the people that are now producing popular culture, the people that are now in control of the means of production, are the people that grew up watching that stuff. Their frame of reference is entirely that. The children of "Star Wars," the children of the '70s, are now creating art. And all of their art reflects their origins, and that is their origin.

I also think there is a tendency for people in late capitalist societies to want to regress. They don’t want control, they don’t want to be in government, they just want to regress to a childlike state. The best way to do that is to involve themselves with childlike things. The things that create the mainstream at the moment, the things that comprise the mainstream are all, arguably, childish things.

I saw trailers –- I went to see "Super 8" last night, which is an exception, I think, 'cuz it’s more of a grown-up film, ironically, because it’s all about kids. It was all like "Captain America" and "Transformers" -- a ... toy advert is the biggest film of the summer. A toy advert. We’re all mentally 3 years old. It suits the people in power, because we’re easier to control if we’re like children. Do you know what I mean?

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Paul Jury's 'States of Confusion' book trailer gets a million views on YouTube


Los Angeles-based writer Paul Jury's new short video, "50 State Stereotypes in 2 minutes (or something like that)," has already racked up more than 1 million views on YouTube -- not bad for what is essentially a video advertisement for his new book, "States of Confusion: My 19,000-Mile Detour to Find Direction."

The memoir, which came out in mid-May, chronicles Jury's adventures as a recent college grad who drives to all 48 contiguous states in 48 days. And can you believe it? Mayhem ensues.

The book is being packaged as a spirited gift for graduating college seniors -- not the kind of thing I'd normally be interested in, but this video is really funny. Some of my favorite state descriptions include "Alaska: I can see seasonal depression from here," "North Dakota: Somehow even worse than South Dakota" and "Maryland: Have Jeeves bring the lobster boat around." (It's funny because it doesn't make sense!)

When he isn't writing books, Jury works as a viral-video producer, so it's his job to know what will get attention on the Internet. The takeaway?  Be brief and controversial.

Maybe the folks nominated for the worst (and best) of the Moby book trailer awards can copy his super-successful approach.


Stuff white people Like in Los Angeles

Is this the best book trailer of the year or not?

-- Deborah Netburn


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

Thursday night in New York City, a group of self-sacrificing book fans will gather for the second annual Moby book trailer awards. The awards, for which I served as a judge last year, reward both the good and the bad in the still-evolving field of book trailers -- a field in which it's a lot easier to find bad than good.

At least they'll be serving beer and wine.

Book trailers are short videos, designed, like movie trailers, to act as a tantalizing teaser for an upcoming book. Occasionally they succeed, as with the intentionally sort of low-fi trailer above for Mary Roach's nonfiction book "Packing for Mars." It helps that it's funny.

And yes, actors playing astronauts making jokes about stinky underarms counts, in the book trailer world, as funny. Watch a few and this one will make you tear up with the pure joy of being alive. 

After the jump, the book trailer for "Pirates: The Midnight Passage" by James R. Hannibal, one of the worst book trailer finalists. It demonstrates many of the ways that a book trailer can go wrong: bad costumes, bad sets, bad animation, and ... why is a pirate talking to cousin Bob?

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By the time you finish this, the future will be here: Notes from Gary Shteyngart in L.A.

Garyshteyngart_glassesNewsflash: The future is boring. Much is made of the sexy version of the future, the version 300 or 500 or 1,000 years from now when we will all be zooming around in sleek titanium discs to our jobs on the moon, but the future, most of the time, is just a few months from now, or a couple of years or even the time when you will be done reading this blog post. Excited yet?

At Thursday's ALOUD event with Gary Shteyngart, author of “Super Sad True Love Story,” a sense of time passing and the quickening tempo of our lives kept coming up. In conversation with Young Literati Director Justin Veach, Shteyngart, a satirist who described himself as a “happy-go-lucky guy who writes about sad scenarios,” sometimes seemed resentful of technology’s grip on our lives.

When he first started “Super Sad True Love Story,” set in an America on the verge of total collapse from a constant pinging of stimuli and a frivolous, temperamental marketplace, he had only a Hotmail email account, which is almost as cool as wearing Z. Cavaricci pants. With the help of an attractive assistant that his lady friends called “the man-tern,” Shteyngart got up to speed on technology, and now totes around a semi-functional iPhone. But he worries that all the texting, tweeting and toggling is taking away from the world of literature, a respite of intimacy and introspection.

“Some of the best moments in reading,” Shteyngart said, “are the moments when you stop,” because the writing was so good you have to take time and absorb it. No matter how climactic a moment is on “The Wire” or “Glee,” how often do you pause the DVR simply to savor it all? How often do we look up from our endless onslaught of emails to say, “Ah, that was a good auto-newsletter sent from my yoga studio”?

“I don’t want to sound like some Luddite,” Shteyngart said, “I just want it to slow down... we’re all living in the future.” In “Super Sad True Love Story,” where all the characters watch either the FoxLiberty Prime or FoxLiberty Ultra channels, it’s a future that feels familiar, just a few months off. Casting it just a little ahead of today, oddly enough, afforded Shteyngart the opportunity to digest the time we don’t often notice, otherwise known as the present.

Novelists didn’t have the same challenges 150 years ago. They had other challenges, but none involving a palm-sized instrument of communication. “When Tolstoy was writing ‘War and Peace,’ ” Shteyngart said, “he didn’t have to worry about the latest killer app.”

-- Margaret Wappler

Photo: Gary Shteyngart. Credit: Brigitte Lacombe

Jack Black to headline cancer benefit Saturday in Altadena


This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

Sure, there's a literary component, but Jack Black -- comedian, musical satirist and, most recently, Cannes-feted actor -- will be the big draw at a benefit Saturday to raise cancer treatment funds for Dave Melrose, a man who says he doesn't have famous friends, it's his friends of friends who do. They're asking for a minimum donation of $20 at the door; make it $50 and you'll get a T-shirt.

Black is slated to do a Black Sabbath tribute. It'll follow a musical performance from Dos, the duo of master bassists Mike Watt and Black Flag's Kira Roessler. Earlier in the day, the music will be a bit quieter, more conducive to walking around and posing in the photo booth, buying raffle tickets, shopping in the rummage sale and bidding in the art auction, which will take center stage in three parts. The event is being held at the warehouse of an estate sale company, so expect better-than-average offerings.

Melrose founded the San Diego Chess Academy, a nonprofit that teaches schoolkids chess. He's currently living in Carlsbad, near the clinic where he's being treated for cancer -- GIST cancer, short for gastrointestinal stromal tumors. He beat cancer once before, but he's facing a cancer that is difficult and costly to fight. His friends are trying to raise $300,000, with additional fundraisers planned in Oceanside and in Canada with the band No Means No.

So what's the literary angle? There will be spoken word from Edward Reib, and the Library Foundation's Justin Veach will channel Bukowski. The longtime ukulele band Ukefink includes one indie bookstore staffer. And Erica Rawlings, one of eight organizers behind the event, promises there will be some "not antiquarian, but collectible" books for sale.

Other performances include stand-up comedy from Paul Blomeyer and John Silver and music from The Holloys, Snotty Scotty and the Hankies, Native Fauna, the Moore Bros. and more. The evening will close with the band dNatured.

The mostly kid-friendly event (that Bukowski can get a little dirty) kicks off at noon and will continue until around midnight. Show up early to guarantee your spot for the 9 p.m. appearance of Black -- but be ready to spend the day spending money. It is a benefit, after all.

To learn more about the efforts to help Dave Melrose -- a.k.a. King Dave -- fight cancer, see the website his friends have set up, KeepDaveAlive.org, which includes directions to Saturday's benefit.

[For the Record, 3:11 p.m. May 24: An earlier version of this post incorrectly referred to Edward Reib as Edward Reid.]

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Jack Black and Angelina Jolie in Cannes on Thursday. Credit: Martin Bureau / AFP/Getty Images

Will Ferrell to get the Mark Twain prize. Where's his book?

So Will Ferrell will receive the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor from the Kennedy Center, it was announced Thursday. The award, now in its 14th year, will be presented in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 23.

The Mark Twain Prize has been awarded to comedians who have conquered multiple formats: live performance, sitcoms, movies, live television. Bill Cosby (Mark Twain Prize 2009), Bob Newhart (2002), Jonathan Winters (1999), Lily Tomlin (2003) and Richard Pryor (1998) also had hit comedy records. Steve Martin (2005) did too -- then went one step further and won Grammy for his bluegrass banjo playing.

And almost all of the prior winners have written books. When he got the Mark Twain prize, Martin had written a novella, a book of essays and a short story collection -- and since then, he's written two novels and a memoir. Bill Cosby hit bestseller lists with comedic riffs in books like "Fatherhood" and "Kids Say the Darndest Things." On top of his many plays and screenplays, Neil Simon (2006) has written two memoirs. Whoopie Goldberg (2001) published "Book" in 1997 and has, in recent years, been co-writing books for kids. George Carlin (2008) had published four books, Billy Crystal (2007) three, Winters two, and Newhart one. Carl Reiner (2000) had written six books before he'd won, beginning with 1958's "Enter Laughing."

That's what one would hope for a prize named for Mark Twain -- while yes, he toured the country as an early multitalented celebrity, he also wrote books. Brilliant, lasting books, including "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court," "The Prince and the Pauper," "Roughing It," "Letters from the Earth" and the 2010 bestseller, published 100 years after his death, "Autobiography of Mark Twain."

All of the Mark Twain Prize recipients are writers -- they write screenplays and skits and create performances with improv. They write jokes. Like Mark Twain, they're funny. But still: Mark Twain's humor lasts not in transcriptions of his performances but in the way he set down words on the page in his books.

I like Ron Burgundy and his not-quite-Twain-esque mustache as much as anyone, but it has to be said: Will Ferrell hasn't written a book.

In this, he's not completely alone among the Mark Twain Prize winners. Lorne Michaels and Lily Tomlin haven't published books of their own yet, either. And Tina Fey, when she won the prize in 2010, was not yet published.

But she did have a book deal. And "Bossypants" is now resting comfortably at the top of our nonfiction bestseller list.

So ... publishers? Anybody want to make Will Ferrell an honest Mark Twain Prize winner and give him a contract so he can get something between the covers?

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Will Ferrell in 2011. Credit: Victoria Will / Associated Press

Festival of Books: Patton Oswalt reads from 'Wasteland' and zings goth girls attacked by bee

Comedian, actor and author Patton Oswalt was the first author to take the Los Angeles Times stage at the Festival of Books on Sunday morning, his 15-minute tardiness for the 11 a.m. start time explained away (by the two women sitting behind me) as "he was probably partying with zombies last night."

The reference was to Oswalt's book "Zombie Spaceship Wasteland," in which he explains his Gen X teenage world view that divides the world into three types of people: the Zombies, the Spaceships and the Wastelands. It's something that takes a little explaining, which he does to hilarious affect on the printed page, but it's not the kind of thing that lends itself to the zingy delivery of a live audience sitting in the hot sun.

So, instead of tackling the title, Oswalt began with two short readings, the first from a chapter in which he riffs on ridiculous descriptions of wines, including: an "Obscura Chenin Blanc, $14: A finger tracing a friend's demise in a pile of spilled sugar on a mahogany table. Cherries. Black pepper winking at a werewolf who just took the wrong contract. An idea hiding in a shoe. The swordsman! A winter morning! No percentage in kittens."

The second reading was from a chapter about meaningless gifts from his Grandmother Runfola, "all of which I actually received" he assured the audience.

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