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Book bits: Saul Bellow, John Holmes and mummies

July 26, 2008 |  8:00 am

Saulbellow In "Still Alive!," Herbert Gold's memoir, which we reviewed this week, a chapter is devoted to Gold's impressions of Saul Bellow, left, through all the years of their friendship. Here's a brief, interesting story about their early relationship that goes unmentioned in the review. When the editors at Viking read the manuscript of Gold's first novel, "Birth of a Hero," they were so impressed that they wanted to make sure a first-time novelist had really written it. What did they do? As Gold says:

Since my return address was Paris, some prudent soul thought to ask Saul for an opinion — Had I really written the book? Would I be likely to repay investment by writing another book? — and he gave it a favorable verdict.

I like that the publisher turned to Bellow to confirm whether the book had been plagiarized. It's just a reminder that questions of authenticity didn't begin with James Frey and Margaret Jones. How fortunate to be able to turn to a future Nobel laureate for some assistance.

Johnholmes

On bad titles: I made a big deal about a book with the punning title "Abroad for Her Country" a few days ago. Now BearManor Media is publishing a biography of porn star John Holmes.

Yes, that's right, the title is "John Holmes: A Life Measured in Inches." The only bright side to this silly title is knowing that the publishers could have come up with something much worse. Please DO NOT send in suggested alternative titles.



Reading "The Book of the Dead": There it is, glaring at me from the side of a bus: a big, decaying face for the third “Mummy” movie coming next month. Just one further reminder that summer blockbusters have made an increasingly demonic turn — “Mamma Mia!” not included. Likely what you’ll find in this film are an aura of false supernaturalism, plenty of anachronisms and all-around cinematic phoniness -- that’s what Egyptologist Barry Kemp thought about the previous two films in this mummified franchise.

(More after the jump)

Mummydragon_4 He didn't criticize them in a newspaper but in “How to Read ‘The Egyptian Book of the Dead,’ ” (W.W. Norton). In our hectic era, books like this are partly what reading has become: not the texts themselves, but guides to the works. And yet, Kemp’s slim volume (part of a larger series from W.W. Norton) is intriguing enough on aspects of Egyptian life and the belief in a forbidding “Otherworld” after death that you feel you haven't read a glorified cheat sheet. What's more, your appetite may even be whetted, as mine has, to seek out the actual text. Many modern writers, Kemp explains, are “at pains ... to show that the Egyptians were actually very human, lived family lives in normal houses and enjoyed picnic parties in the countryside.” I accept that, but I’ll probably still see the movie. Seems like a good way to beat the August heat.

Nick Owchar

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