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Books, authors and all things bookish

Category: Television

Oprah relaunches book club, saying 'I still believe in books'

Just in time for the summer reading season, Oprah Winfrey announced Friday that she's bringing back her book club. In a video posted on the website of her OWN network, Winfrey said, "This time, it's an interactive, online book club for our digital world. That's why we're calling it Book Club 2.0."

Her book club reboot is designed to take advantage of the new technologies available to readers. The e-book editions of her selections will be enhanced especially for the Oprah Book Club, with sharing capacities and notations from Winfrey herself. She also promises to use social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook to conduct the discussion about the book.

In the online video [see after the jump], Winfrey said was so enthusiastic about a book that she had to revive her book club in order to share it. That book is Cheryl Strayed's "Wild," a memoir about her 1,110-mile hike down the Pacific Crest Trail.

Holding up a hardcover edition of "Wild" to the camera, Winfrey said, "I still believe in books." She urged readers in her book club to go and purchase the book from a neighborhood bookstore, if that was how they liked to read. Book Club 2.0 is not leaving print books behind.

Founded in 1996, Oprah's Book Club became a fast track to fame and bestsellerdom. Sometimes she picked new novels, like Janet Fitch's "White Oleander," or an older book, like Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye." After picking Jonathan Franzen's "The Corrections" in 2001, a controversy erupted over comments he made, and Winfrey suspended the Book Club. When she brought it back, it was less frequent, and initially stuck to classic works. In 2010, in a grand gesture of reconciliation and forgiveness, she selected Franzen's next novel, "Freedom," and he appeared on her show. She officially retired the book club later that year.

Details about Oprah's Book Club 2.0 will be available in the forthcoming issue of "O Magazine," which hits shelves next week.

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'Girls'' Lena Dunham interned at Soft Skull, not at Melville House


In screenwriting, they call it the "inciting incident." That's the thing that happens that gets the plot rolling, and in the sensational HBO series "Girls," that incident is Hannah (actress and show creator Lena Dunham) getting fired from her internship at an independent publisher. "She was making the story work in a fictional context," said Richard Nash, who was the independent publisher Dunham interned for -- without getting fired. "It was autobiographical in the vaguest way."

Bookish geeks who saw the show couldn't help but notice that the books lining the wall beside publisher Alistair (Chris Eigman) came from Melville House. That wasn't just a smart move by an art director -- the Brooklyn-based independent publisher has developed a unified, bold cover style for its books -- it was the filming location. Publishers Weekly reports Tuesday that "Girls" filmed in the office space and rented books to put on the background shelves.

But while Publishers Weekly speculates that the use might be some commentary on Melville House and its publisher Dennis Johnson, that's unlikely, considering she interned at independent publisher Soft Skull in 2006, then run by Richard Nash. Nash brought her on after one of his authors, Lynn Tillman, told him the daughter of a friend of hers was looking for an internship.

"Oberlin kids were always smart and industrious," said Nash. "My bestselling authors were from Oberlin: David Rees, Matt Sharp... you basically said yes to Oberlin students when they wanted to intern."

Dunham's character, Hannah, has spent a year after college interning and fails to make it turn into a job; Nash explains that's more fiction than fact. "She was great as expected," he says. "The stuff she was doing on the side was all film." Plus, she was just there for the summer, after  which she went back to school.

Maybe she was taking notes. "It got the atmosphere, the broad strokes of things perfectly right," Nash says. And as for the comment that the previous intern got hired because she knew Photoshop? "That struck me as the sort of thing any independent publisher would have said," said Nash. "Around 2006-2007, if an intern knew their way around Quark and Photoshop they were gold dust."

"You always want to feel like your interns are going to go on and do great things," Nash said. "I don't think Soft Skull can take the slightest credit for Lena's success, but it's always fun when interns become writers and publishers and things like that" -- things that now include creating a popular television show.

There's a practical reason "Girls" didn't shoot in Soft Skull's offices: The press was acquired in 2007 and is now run out of Counterpoint in California. Melville House is an independent publisher still operating in "Girls" stamping grounds, Brooklyn.


Q&A with "Girls" creator Lena Dunham

Review: "Girls" is a potent force but hard to love"

 Lena Dunham speaks uncomfortable truths about 'Girls'

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Lena Dunham's character, Hannah, has dinner with her parents after losing her publishing internship. Credit: Jojo Wilden / HBO

Are you ready for 'Hemingway & Gellhorn'?

An upcoming HBO film, "Hemingway & Gellhorn" stars Nicole Kidman as Martha Gellhorn and Clive Owen as Ernest Hemingway
When it comes to HBO's upcoming "Hemingway & Gellhorn," I'm an easy sell. First, it's about Ernest Hemingway, one of the biggest literary personalities of the 20th century, so I'm intrigued. Second, it's set partly during the Spanish Civil War, about which I don't know nearly enough, so I'm curious. Third, it stars Clive Owen, and I vowed to see everything he appeared in since way back when he starred in "Croupier." Fourth, the screenplay was co-written by author Jerry Stahl, who is awesome. Fifth, it's directed by Philip Kaufman, who has a pretty fantastic record when it comes to making literary films ("The Unbearable Lightness of Being," "Henry & June"). So yes, I'm excited.

But am I ready? I am not. Because I am sorely clueless when it comes to Martha Gellhorn.

OK, I know this: Gellhorn was a war correspondent, and she was a match for Hemingway. I know they got married. I know they got divorced. And sure, it's obvious that she's being played by Nicole Kidman, who is no small potatoes.

Gellhorn wrote about more than war -- wars came and went during her 89 years. When she died in 1998, Bill Buford remembered her in our pages: "Bossy, straight-talking, cigarette-smoking. The boozy reporter of wars and of the plight of the down-and-out. Also a writer of short stories, novellas and novels. And a travel writer. She was married to Ernest Hemingway, and she hated the fact that, whenever her work was written about in the press, his name was invariably mentioned as well, just as I'm mentioning it."

Other than that marriage to Hemingway -- which ended in 1945 -- she published about 20 books and other works, which in addition to reportage included short fiction, novels, a play, and novellas.

And I haven't read a single one.

Before I watch a movie about her, I want to read the words she wrote. She was a writer first. I have until May 28, which is when the movie "Hemingway & Gellhorn" premieres on HBO. The trailer is after the jump.

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Ann Patchett talks local bookstores with Stephen Colbert [Video]

"Ooh! Independent bookstores! I should buy one of those on Amazon." That was Stephen Colbert on Monday night. After a couple of days off, he apparently wanted to talk about bookstores. As you do.

He did so with novelist Ann Patchett, whose 2011 novel "State of Wonder" was a Los Angeles Times bestseller. Patchett is co-owner of Nashville's Parnassus Books, which opened after the city's two major bookstores closed. "I see this as a gift to the city," Patchett told the Associated Press last year. "I see this as a charitable contribution ... not as an investment, not as a smart business move, but really as somebody who loves Nashville and somebody who doesn't want to live in a city without a bookstore."

On "The Colbert Report," she makes a case for a bookstore as a place to find community -- book clubs, readings for kids, even Jack Black and Al Gore. Colbert seemed convinced -- maybe he'll head to Parnassus when his next book comes out.


Steve Martin on "The Colbert Report"

Ann Patchett's retro Nashville bookstore

Ann Patchett's lessons on writing, from Byliner

-- Carolyn Kellogg

2011 Nebula Award nominees announced


The nominees for the 2011 Nebula Awards for science fiction and fantasy writing were announced Monday. The winners will be chosen by active members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America; voting will run from March 1 to March 30.

The Nebula Awards pay particular attention to short fiction, with categories for novella, novelette and short story. The Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Screen Presentation mixes film and television, so Martin Scorcese's 3-D "Hugo" (no relation to the Hugo science fiction awards) is going up against an episode of "Dr. Who" written by Neil Gaiman. In the running for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Book is Franny Billingsley's "Chime," which was a finalist for the National Book Award.

The full list of nominees:

"Among Others," Jo Walton (Tor)
"Embassytown," China Miéville (Macmillan UK; Del Rey; Subterranean Press)
"Firebird," Jack McDevitt (Ace Books)
"God’s War," Kameron Hurley (Night Shade Books)
"Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti," Genevieve Valentine (Prime Books)
"The Kingdom of Gods," N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK)

“Kiss Me Twice,” Mary Robinette Kowal (Asimov’s Science Fiction, June 2011)
“Silently and Very Fast,” Catherynne M. Valente (WFSA Press; Clarkesworld Magazine, October 2011)
“The Ice Owl,” Carolyn Ives Gilman (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, November/December 2011)
“The Man Who Bridged the Mist,” Kij Johnson (Asimov’s Science Fiction, October/November 2011)
“The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary,” Ken Liu (Panverse Three, Panverse Publishing)
“With Unclean Hands,” Adam-Troy Castro (Analog Science Fiction and Fact, November 2011)

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Like that Chrysler Super Bowl ad with Clint Eastwood? Thank a poet

The Super Bowl is the Super Bowl of advertising -- wait, there must be a better way to say that. But heck, I write about books. What do I know about sports, or major media buys, or the business of writing ad copy?

I admit, very little.

But one thing I do know is that of the three people credited as copywriters on the powerful Chrysler advertisement above, the one featuring Clint Eastwood that aired for the first time during Sunday's Super Bowl, one is poet Matthew Dickman.

Dickman -- whose twin brother, Michael, is also a poet -- is the poetry editor of Tin House magazine. He's got one collection, "All-American Poem," and has been published by many fine magazines, including Narrative and the New Yorker. He's won a number of prestigious awards. But none of those things makes him a shoo-in for a Chrysler Super Bowl ad.

The advertising firm that created the spot is Wieden & Kennedy, the Portland, Ore., firm known for its seminal Nike ads. Dickman, too, is based in Portland.

Maybe that explains it. But it wouldn't explain one of Dickman's co-authors, Smith Henderson. I suspect he is the short story writer Smith Henderson, a recipient of the 2011 PEN American Center Emerging Writers award.

Maybe more literary writers should give advertising a try.


Nobel Prize-winning Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska has died

Sterling's new book and gelatin salads from "Mad Men"

What Mad Men read and more book news

-- Carolyn Kellogg

NBC News to begin publishing e-books

NBC News will launch NBC Publishing, the company announced Monday, using its own television assets as a starting point for e-books. NBC Publishing will begin as a digital-only publisher; although the title of its first e-book is not yet announced, the company says it will be released in February.

Publishers Weekly reports:

NBC v-p Michael Fabiano has been appointed general manager of NBC Publishing and the company has hired two publishing veterans to lead its new efforts: Peter Costanzo, previously with F+W Media and Perseus Books Group, has been named creative director, and Brian Perrin, most recently with Rodale, has been named director of digital development....

In addition to using the various NBC News units (Today, NBC Nightly News, Dateline, Peacock Productions, and NBCs archives), NBC Publishing will have the ability to create works derived from other divisions of NBCUniversal, such as NBC Sports, Universal Pictures, and Telemundo. E-books will be based on current events, documentaries, trends, biographies, and profiles.

NBC Publishing plans to release about 30 titles each year. They will be released as text e-books and enhanced e-books that include multimedia that can be seen on tablets like the iPad and Kindle Fire. "As the tablet and e-reader markets continue to expand exponentially, and as the definition of 'what is a 'book?' evolves, we see opportunities to bring readers a unique and immersive content experience," said NBC News SVP Cheryl Gould. "This business enables NBC to use video, audio, and current programming in creative new ways."


Amazon now sells more Kindle e-books than print books

Los Angeles Times publishes first e-book, "A Nightmare Made Real"

Profanity and more to be found in uncensored "From Here to Eternity" e-book

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: The NBC logo displayed in Burbank, 2003. Credit: Getty Images

Interview: When 'L.A. Noir' meets 'The Walking Dead'

FrankdarabontmickeycohenWhat do zombies have in common with the toughest Los Angeles gangster of the 1950s? Director Frank Darabont.

Darabont was executive producer and visionary behind AMC's zombie series "The Walking Dead." After the first season, he was mysteriously dismissed (and the show took a turn for the worse), and apparently, he was looking for something else to do. He's been drawn to literary properties in the past -- Stephen King's "The Green Mile" and "The Shawshank Redemption," and "The Walking Dead" was a comic book series by Robert Kirkman and artists Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard. Last week, it was announced that Darabont is developing a pilot for TNT based on the true tale of Los Angeles cops and gangsters in the 1950s, John Buntin's "L.A. Noir."

"L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America's Most Seductive City," Buntin's first book, was published by Crown in 2009. He answered Carolyn Kellogg's questions via email.

Jacket Copy: So, wait. Are there any zombies in your book "L.A. Noir"?

John Buntin: "L.A. Noir" is full of dead men walking. Mob kingpin Mickey Cohen was eerily unkillable -- so much so that his competitors (the local Italian mob) became quite spooked. Sniper attacks, shot gun assaults, bombings -- nothing worked. To superstitious Sicilians, it was deeply unnerving.

JC: What do you think drew Frank Darabont to the material?

JB: The era "L.A. Noir" describes -- Los Angeles in the '30s, '40s, and '50s -- was ground zero for so much of what defines our culture today. Hard-boiled detective fiction's big bang may have occurred in San Francisco -- I'd never slight Dashiell Hammett -- but it took root in L.A. Raymond Chandler, James Cain, and the great writers that followed all start then and there. Mid-century Los Angeles also gave us film noir and the first police procedural ("Dragnet"), not to mention stars, celebrity sex, and the scandal sheets, strippers, serial killers, and a lot of great jazz. So the possibilities of writing a show in this era are incredibly diverse. And the places they happened are in many cases still there!

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George R.R. Martin at the Golden Globes

George R.R. Martin took time during HBO's Golden Globes afterparty to talk about books and writers in Hollywood

This bookish book reporter found herself Sunday night at the glamorous HBO Golden Globes afterparty, thanks to the generosity of one of our television editors. I really had no reason to speak to Idris Elba or Jon Voight or Michelle Forbes or the cast of "Modern Family" or Dominic West or Lisa Bonet or Peter Dinklage, but when I spotted George R.R. Martin at a corner table, I thought, "Wow! I hope I can talk to him."

It took a while. An intent woman in a blue sequined gown had taken the only available spot near the author of the Song of Ice and Fire series. Sure, it was a fancy Hollywood party, but writers have fans too.

With a short window of opportunity and a notebook and pen at the ready, I asked Martin if the portrayals he'd seen in "Game of Thrones" -- like, say, that of Peter Dinklage, who'd just won a Golden Globe for his performance -- made him think about the characters differently. "Not Peter specifically," Martin said. "Peter is very close to the character described in the books."

One performance did make him see a character he'd created in a new light: Natalia Tena as Osha. He said he went from thinking she was "completely wrong" for the role to now finding her "mesmerizing," and he promised that the character is coming back. 

But mostly, these characters are "firmly fixed in my head," Martin said. "I've been living with them off and on since 1991. It's hard to displace them."

That's good, as the series is highly addictive to readers. "A Game of Thrones," "A Clash of Kings," "A Storm of Swords" "A Feast for Crows" and "A Dance with Dragons" total about 4,000 pages, and still readers want more. Two more volumes are planned in the series, although it takes a lot longer to write a George R.R. Martin book than it does to read one.

This was not Martin's first trip to the Golden Globes -- he was a writer on "The Twilight Zone" and "Beauty and the Beast" in the 1980s. When he was last at the awards, and Ron Perlman won for his role in "Beauty and the Beast," they celebrated in exactly the same room. "It's glitzier now, more crowded," he said.

Martin may have taken a break from Hollywood while writing novels, but he's quite positive about the experience of being an author in this glamorous world. "Writers have always run television," he said. "Being a book writer is a somewhat different part of the process," he allowed, adding he couldn't say enough good things about his relationship with show runners David Benioff and Dan Weiss -- who are book writers themselves.

In addition to writing the original material, Martin is credited as a co-executive producer on HBO's "Game of Thrones."


Lit geeks and "Game of Thrones"

George R.R. Martin joins Kindle million-seller club

George R.R. Martin calls for "head on a spike" of "A Dance with Dragons" leaker

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: George R.R. Martin and his wife, Parris McBride, at the 2011 Emmy Awards (couldn't bring myself to ask him to pose for a photo in the middle of this year's HBO Golden Globes afterparty). Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times

'Downton Abbey' fever reaches forgotten author Elizabeth von Arnim

Molesley making moves on Anna last week immediately after Mr. Bates had left her confused and brokenhearted was a little sleazy -- but at least he used a book as his overture. The novel Molesley gave Anna, with the distinctly unpromising title "Elizabeth and Her German Garden," turns out to have been an acid-tongued 19th-century bestseller. And now it's on the verge of finding new fans.

What we're talking about here is "Downton Abbey," the biggest hit PBS has had since anyone can remember. More people watched Sunday's premiere than watched an average episode of the most recent season of "Mad Men." And because people who like books are a likely PBS audience, you may already know that Anna and Molesely and Bates are all servants in a grand country house, where the Crawleys and their unmarried daughters try to find their way forward into the 20th century. There are lots of pretty dresses, beautiful people, lovelorn looks and, now, a rediscovered book.

"Elizabeth and Her German Garden," written by Elizabeth von Arnim, was published in 1898. The novel, loosely based on Von Arnim's life growing up on a country estate, was known for its distinctly wry voice. In the first chapter she writes:

The house is very old, and has been added to at various times. It was a convent before the Thirty Years' War, and the vaulted chapel, with its brick floor worn by pious peasant knees, is now used as a hall. Gustavus Adolphus and his Swedes passed through more than once, as is duly recorded in archives still preserved, for we are on what was then the high-road between Sweden and Brandenberg the unfortunate. The Lion of the North was no doubt an estimable person and acted wholly on his convictions, but he must have sadly upset the peaceful nuns, who were not without convictions of their own, sending them out on to the wide, empty plain to piteously seek some life to replace the life of silence here.

Von Arnim wrote a few novels along these lines, and others that were quite different, even thriller-ish. A comedy, "The Enchanted April," was republished in England in a deluxe edition just last year. It was published in the U.S. by the New York Review of Books Classics with an introduction by Cathleen Schine. In the fall, the British newspaper the Independent published a profile of Von Arnim, newly popular 60 years after her death.

Elizabeth Von Arnim was a member of the literary glitterati: her cousin was Katherine Mansfield; her children were tutored by E M Forster and Hugh Walpole; she was a lover of H G Wells and, perhaps as a consequence of the latter, disliked by Rebecca West (who was also a mistress of Wells). Born Mary Annette Beauchampin Australia in 1866, daughter of an English merchant, she moved to England as a toddler and in due course studied at the Royal College of Music where she won a prize for organ playing. While sightseeing in Italy, she met Count von Arnim whom she married, and rendered as "The Man of Wrath" in her three memoir-cum-novels (Elizabeth and Her German Garden, The Solitary Summer and The Benefactress).

In the U.S., a few enterprising souls have thought to create ebooks of her works that are in the public domain -- these can be bought from the major e-book retailers, if you're the upstairs type. There's a nice 2007 New York Review of Books. If you're more downstairs, they can be downloaded for free from Googlebooks or Project Gutenberg.

I wonder if Anna and Molesley will end up having a one-on-one book club after all.


The Reading Life: Geoff Dyer on "The Missing of the Somme"

"Downton Abbey" recap: Season two premieres

A century of British newspapers goes online

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: The "downstairs" half of Downton Abbey, Season 1. Anna (Joanne Froggatt) is third from right. Credit: AFP/Getty Images


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