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Festival of Books: On the Los Angeles riots, 20 years later

Click to view photos from the Festival of Books

In a lot of ways, Sunday's Festival of Books panel "Los Angeles, 20 Years After the Verdict," was a sequel to Saturday's interview by Patt Morrison with Rodney King, whose beating by L.A. police officers 21 years ago was the first in a series of steps that culminated in the 1992 riots.

And in another sense, the panel was a reunion for some of the players in that tragic moment in Los Angeles history.

Moderator Warren Olney, now a KCRW radio host, was a Los Angeles TV reporter at the time. He was joined by Jim Newton, L.A. Times columnist and editor at large, who was covering the Los Angeles Police Department for the L.A. Times when the riots began. 

PHOTOS: Festival of Books

Connie Rice was a civil rights activist and lawyer, and later a co-founder of The Advancement Project, and the recent author of "Power Concedes Nothing: One Woman's Quest for Social Justice in America, From the Kill Zones to the Courts." The fourth panelist was Gil Garcetti, who at the time was mounting a campaign for Los Angeles County district attorney.

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Mike Daisey's notoriety not translating to book sales

Mikedaisey
There used to be a saying, "all publicity is good publicity." For monologist Mike Daisey, that doesn't seem to be the case -- at least in terms of book sales.

Daisey is the performer whose work "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" was excerpted on public radio's "This American Life" in February; its harsh critique of Foxxcon, a Chinese factory that makes Apple products, made it the most-downloaded program in "This American Life's" history.

But that was just the beginning; news broke Friday that "Marketplace" reporter Rob Schmitz started looking into Daisey's tale and found it to include portions that were represented as facts that had been embroidered and invented. "This American Life," which had presented it as journalism, ran an hourlong show called "Retraction" this weekend, which included an interview with Schmitz and host Ira Glass confronting Daisey about how he represented the piece to the program's staff, and about the piece itself.

The retraction and re-examination of Daisey's piece have meant that a tremendous amount of attention has been turned his way. For a time, "This American Life's" servers were so swamped the site went down. A search in Google News turns up more than 1,550 articles, all posted in the last 96 hours, with stories from major outlets including the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the Associated Press, Forbes, CNN, Slate and the New York Times.

All that coverage -- shouldn't it lead people to buy his books? Daisey published "21 Dog Years: Doing Time @Amazon.com" with the Free Press back in 2002; it came out in paperback in 2003. It's an adaptation of a stage show he was performing in Seattle in 2001, describing three years he spent working at Amazon. Or, as Gawker points out, possibly dramatically enhancing the three years he spent working at Amazon.

Creative license notwithstanding, Daisey is one heck of a storyteller; I heard his original Foxconn piece broadcast on "This American Life" and found it arresting.

Daisey's notoriety, and that promise of a good (if possibly exaggerated) tale, might be enough to lure readers; a decade ago, "21 Dog Years" was successful, published in both hardcover and paperback.

Now, either can be purchased on Amazon for less than $6. It may have moved up in Amazon's sales rankings, but only to position #533,976 in Books -- not very high. No reader has reviewed the book on Amazon since 2009. And secondary vendors at Barnes & Noble online are selling the hardcover for just 99 cents.

All that attention, and what does he get? Not book sales, at least, not yet.

Daisey, who is a practictioner of documentary theater that includes broad dramatic license, addresses his audiences on his blog. "It's you that I owe the most to. I want you all to know that I will not go silent—I will be making a full accounting of this work, shining a light through this monologue and telling the story of its origins, construction, and details." Which might well mean a theater production about his recent experiences -- and maybe even a book.

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Will the parade of poseur memoirists never end?

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Mike Daisey performing at the Speakeasy Cafe in Seattle in 2001. Credit: Associated Press.

Bob Edwards for free again

Bobedwards_voicebox Bob Edwards is giving it away. His memoir, this is, but only in e-book form and only for a limited time. Edwards is the host of "The Bob Edwards Show" on Sirius XM Radio and "Bob Edwards Weekend" on public radio, and his memoir is called “A Voice in the Box: My Life in Radio.” 

It will be available gratis through major e-book retailers Amazon, Barnes and Noble and the Google ebookstore from now through Sept. 9, according to an announcement from the University Press of Kentucky, which is publishing the book.  The print copy, not so free, goes on sale in mid-September.

Edwards, a Louisville native, is also the author of "Fridays With Red: A Radio Friendship," about his relationship with the late sportscaster Red Barber, and "Edward R. Murrow and the Birth of Broadcast Journalism."

Before going to satellite radio, Edwards had a long career at National Public Radio, co-hosting "All Things Considered" before moving on to host "Morning Edition," a job he had for more than 24 years  He left NPR in 2004 after the network announced it was planning to replace him.

"You can think of this as the ulimate pledge drive premium, considering most public radio supporters already have plenty of coffee mugs and tote bags," Edwards said in the announcement.

-- Jon Thurber

the Bob Edwards Show on Sirius XM Radio

John Sayles gets the Michael Silverblatt treatment Thursday


John Sayles, best known as a filmmaker, has been nominated for two Oscars. Those nominations came in, however, for writing -- for his screenplays "Passion Fish" and "Lone Star." And Sayles can write -- he wrote a big, big novel published by McSweeney's in May.

"A Moment in the Sun" is a whopping 968 pages.

It wasn't Sayles' first book. He published "Los Gusanos" in 1990; before that, 1977's "Union Dues" was nominated for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. But by the time 2009 arrived, Sayles had a 1,000-page manuscript -- then titled "Some Time in the Sun" -- out to several publishers, but no bites. He told The Times:

"I write a book every 15 years, and by the time I have another one done, I really don't know anybody in the business," he says. "It's just not my world." When he finished "Some Time in the Sun" -- of which he's immensely proud -- he had no illusions: "There's no way a publisher is going to be influenced just by somebody mentioning my name. They'll check out the numbers of the latest title."

Sayles will be interviewed by Michael Silverblatt on his public radio show, Bookworm, Thursday July 7. The show airs live at 2:30 p.m. Pacific on KCRW-FM (89.9), and is simulcast on the Web.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: John Sayles in New York in 2009. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times



 

Garrison Keillor envisions radio (but not bookish) retirement

Garrisonkeillor_2010

Author and radio host Garrison Keillor plans to retire in the spring of 2013, he tells the AARP in an interview. Retire from his "Garrison Keillor Prairie Home Companion Show," that is. Books? No chance.

Keillor is the author of 10 books set in his fictional Minnesota town, Lake Wobegone, which also stars in his radio variety program, which, in turn, is broadcast on 590 of public radio stations nationwide. The first book was "Lake Wobegone Days," published in 1985. He's also written a number of other books, humor pieces for the New Yorker, and was even Salon.com's Mr. Blue, providing advice to both the lovelorn and hopeful authors -- perhaps the only time that romance and writing advice has been combined into a single column.

Keillor, who started his first version of "A Prairie Home Companion" in 1974, has easily moved between radio and print. These days, he also hosts the short daily radio show "The Writers Almanac," in which he provides commentary about authors and reads a poetry; coming up in April is "Good Poems, American Places," a 518-page anthology of poetry Keillor has edited.

About poetry and its place in our lives, he tells the AARP:

Life is a carnival, people are wildly busy, there are love affairs to be pursued, arguments to be waged, omelets to be made, gardens to be tended, plus ballgames, movies, auctions, bike trips, and poetry is very patient. Emily Dickinson has waited 120-some years for you to read "Success is counted sweetest by those who ne'er succeed," and she can wait a few more years. Same with Walt Whitman, same with Dorianne Laux, Billy Collins, Philip Booth, Maxine Kumin, May Swenson, and all the others. They'll be around. You will catch up with them eventually.

And as he talks about quote-unquote retirement, the 68 year old is still writing. What he's up to right now, he tells the AARP:

I'm working on a screenplay about a son of Lake Wobegon coming home for a funeral and finding out that, despite his long years of exile in distant cities, he still belongs to these people. It's scary how much he still belongs here. These people have the power to make him ashamed, which distant cities do not. His conscience resides here. The next novel is a Guy Noir mystery in which the old detective is all lined up to become a multimillionaire thanks to his friendship with a brilliant woman, Naomi Fallopian, who has come up with the perfect weight-loss scheme.

As for the radio show, he says he's looking for a replacement host. "I'm pushing forward," he says, "but I'm also in denial." Read the complete interview online at the AARP.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Garrison Keillor performs onstage in the "Garrison Keillor Prairie Home Companion Show" in Rochester, Minn., on Jan. 23, 2010. Credit: Tom Wallace / Minneapolis Star Tribune / MCT

Gary Dell'Abate talks about his book, working for Howard Stern, and being Baba Booey

BabaFor a guy with his first book on the New York Times best-seller list for two weeks in a row, Gary Dell'Abate is having a rough November.

The longtime producer of arguably the most successful radio show in U.S. history has grown used to making a fool of himself on "The Howard Stern Show," but on his trip to L.A. earlier this month he embarrassed himself once again, this time on national television.

While promoting his autobiography, "They Call Me Baba Booey", Dell'Abate, a huge sports fan, was invited by Jimmy Kimmel to vindicate himself on Kimmel's ABC late night talk show. This summer Dell'Abate had embarrassed himself before a New York Mets game by throwing the ceremonial first pitch so far off-target that many called it the worst pitch in the history of baseball. Stern, his throngs of listeners and sports hosts everywhere ridiculed the lovable mensch endlessly, and a photo of the pathetic pitch adorns the back of the Baba Booey book.

Kimmel walked 60 feet away from Dell'Abate, crouched down in front of his studio audience and watched the 49-year-old father of two wind up -- and throw the baseball wide left into the crowd. After a third attempt  Dell'Abate's wild pitch smacked an unsuspecting woman squarely in the head.

 

Bababooey had done it again.

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Public radio's 'Marketplace' gets bookish

The show "Marketplace," which is heard on public radio stations nationwide, is collecting all its books coverage in a new section of its website, dubbed the Big Book. "Marketplace" includes the flagship weekday show, a 10-minute morning show and "Marketplace Money," which is heard on weekends. All books coverage, plus excerpts, appear in the Big Book section.

"Marketplace," which somehow manages to make business news an interesting listen, covers smart books and business and the economy and even fiction, when it can bring a business spin. On Nov. 9, host Kai Ryssdal spoke with novelist Paul Auster about his new book, "Sunset Park," focusing on its treatment of housing and the financial crisis of the fall of 2008.

Although "Marketplace" shows are heard on National Public Radio stations, they are not produced by NPR, and they have a separate website. Instead, "Marketplace" is owned by American Public Media, the Minnesota-based radio company that also produces Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion."

Books coverage from programs produced by NPR can also be found in one place on NPR.org.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

 

Jonathan Franzen tells NPR about his stolen glasses

Franzen_la2010 Mercy, this has got to be the silliest book story in a long time. But our friends at NPR are covering it, and they are serious, smart people, so here goes: At a book party in London, somebody ran up and stole Jonathan Franzen's glasses.

This somehow became news.

Maybe it's because it is so silly. Maybe it's because the pilfering was followed by a fleeing -- the person who'd taken the glasses ran away and leapt a rather high fence. And I haven't even gotten to the ransom note!

Franzen explains the glasses-snatching to NPR: "Somebody shouted, 'Channel 4, Channel 4,' and grabbed the glasses from my face, and took off running, and I actually thought, because I was suddenly blind, I thought it was my editor, warning me that Channel 4, from the BBC, had arrived. So, I trotted after this person, and knew something was amiss only when I saw him leap a five-foot fence and disappear into the trees."

While the thief was hidden away, a ransom note was delivered by someone else to a colleague of Franzen's. The note read (someone other than Jonathan Franzen, who was glasses-less, read it) that the glasses would be returned for 100,000 -- oh, either pounds or dollars, depending on which account you read. Either way, 100,000 is a lot for a pair of glasses.

With concerns for the thief's safety -- some were worried that his escape might have led him into the nearby Serpentine lake -- police arrived, and a helicopter flew overhead. The perpetrator was caught.

Franzen is not pressing charges. "I've been laughing about the whole thing," he tells NPR, "and observing the anguish secondhand."

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Jonathan Franzen in September in Los Angeles, where wearing glasses is still safe. Credit: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times

'Bookworm' debuts new theme song by Sparks

Sparks
For 21 years, Michael Silverblatt's talk show "Bookworm" on KCRW has been, uh, bookended by theme music -- a version of the Mickey Mouse Club tune "You (Are A Human Animal)." That run ended Thursday when a brand-new, custom-made theme song by the rock duo Sparks debuted.

"I am so completely thrilled. This is a dream of a lifetime. For me, if George Gershwin had written the theme song for "Bookworm" it couldn't be better than Sparks," Silverblatt said during the Thursday broadcast, when he talked to Sparks, the brothers Ron and Russell Mael. "All I have to do is hear a Sparks song and I start to smile. It makes me feel like -- 'Oh! Talk like a human being. Don't go over people's heads. Be one of us.'"

The L.A. natives have been making music since the 1970s, a little bit glam, a little bit New Wave, a little bit manic madness. Remember "Angst in My Pants"? Or "Cool Places," the Jane Wiedlin duet? Recently, they've had a resurgence -- in 2008 they played 21 concerts in London, performing each of their records live, in chronological order. 

And now you can hear Sparks singing, bookishly, about Gutenberg and "Bookworm," every time you tune into Michael Silverblatt's show.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Ron, left, and Russell Mael of Sparks. Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times

Michael Silverblatt: good literary listening

Michaelsilverblatt_2005

Michael Silverblatt has a distinctive interviewing style: He's deliberate and unhurried and asks complex, multi-layered questions. Public radio has been his safe intellectual harbor since 1989, when he created the show "Bookworm" for KCRW-FM (89.9) in Santa Monica, where it airs Thursdays at 2:30pm.

And because of the miracle of the Internet, you all can hear it, too. The half-hour show can be streamed live, played later on the website or downloaded as a podcast.

Today he'll be talking to poet D.A. Powell, recipient of the $100,000 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, and judge Linda Gregerson, about the substantial prize and its benefit to a mid-career poet. Next week he returns to heady fiction, which is his primary focus, with a discussion with David Mitchell.

Recent shows are so full of notables that I'm compelled to list them here.

Isabel Allende on "Island Beneath the Sea"

Aimee Bender on "The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake"

Peter Carey on "Parrot and Olivier in America," which has since been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize

Chang-rae Lee on "The Surrendered"

Yann  Martel on "Beatrice and Virgil"

Ian McEwan on "Solar"

Jane Smiley on "Private Life"

Jean-Philippe Toussaint on "Running Away" and "Self-Portrait Abroad"

If you're looking for some literary accompaniment for some extended summer travel, dig into the archives and you'll find hundreds of hours of Silverblatt's conversations with authors.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Michael Silverblatt in 2005. Credit: Bryan Chan / Los Angeles Times

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