Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Cradle by Somerville

At the annual Wisconsin Library Association conference this year, I was lucky enough to sit in on a panel discussing some of 2010's best books. One of the books mentioned was Somerville's, "The Cradle." Clocking in at a mere 200 pages, it can be read in a couple of sittings--which is easy to do when a book is as descriptive and flows as well as this one does.
The story centers on Matthew Bishop and his wife Marissa who are looking to recover an antique cradle Marissa slept in when she was a child. Matt embarks on a road trip to track down Marissa's mother and the mysterious cradle. From Wisconsin to Minnesota, Illinois, and beyond in search of the cradle, Matt makes a discovery that will forever change Marissa's life, and faces a decision that will challenge everything he has ever known.
To use the words from the book jacket: "elegant and astounding."

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Eat, Sleep, Read & Be Merry!

Booksellers at Red Fox Books, Glen Falls, N.Y., modified IndieBound Eat, Sleep, Read posters, adding a "holiday" word to each, and featured them in the store's eight windows, Red Fox's main decorations for the season. Co-owner Susan Fox reported "a lot of good feedback."

Monday, December 20, 2010

Connelly VS Paramount

Bosch is back, after 15 years in "Hollywood development hell." reported that since 1996, Michael Connelly and his signature character, Hieronymous "Harry" Bosch, have been locked in a battle with Paramount: "Connelly's first two Harry Bosch books, Black Ice (1992) and The Black Echo (1993), were optioned by Paramount back in 1995. But Paramount never developed either book into a film, to Connelly's big disappointment. Worse, Connelly had given Paramount ownership of the Harry Bosch character, so the other 13 books couldn't be made into movies, either."

Last January, the option expired and Connelly had a one-year window to buy back the rights, though he would also have to pay Paramount for "all out-of-pocket costs, advances and payments' incurred by the studio, plus interest." Connelly sued the studio in March to seek an accurate accounting for the buy-back price. That lawsuit was settled in October. "All I can say on the record is: 'The case has been settled in a confidential agreement,' " Connelly noted.

So what does the future hold for Bosch? Although Connelly can't discuss specifics yet, wrote that earlier this year the author had said, "Harry could have a life on TV. Just about every other year, I write a TV pilot. I want to get further into the [entertainment] business than writing books and then standing on the sidelines watching them be turned into a movie. I'd like to be more creative. And television really attracts me. But I have not been successful in that."

The screen future for another of Connelley's characters, lawyer Mickey Haller, is more certain. Shooting wrapped in August for a movie adaptation of The Lincoln Lawyer, starring Matthew McConaughey, and the movie is set for a March 18 release.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Cool Idea: Penguinmobile 4 Sale

Last summer, Penguin's 75th anniversary celebration included a mobile version with a 2010 Mini Cooper SD that traveled across the country to literary and book events, where it gradually collected the dashboard autographs of 18 Penguin authors, including Garrison Keillor, William Kennedy, Geraldine Brooks, Michael Pollan, Sue Monk Kidd, Jan Karon, Rosanne Cash, Nathaniel Philbrick, TC Boyle and many more.

Now these literary wheels can be yours. The vehicle is being offered on for $30,000. Proceeds from the sale will be donated to the New York Public Library. Penguin said the price reflects the unusual background of the vehicle, its excellent condition and an option you won't find with other used cars: this Mini Cooper comes with the top 75 titles published by Penguin Books over the past 75 years.

"We priced the car at the top of the price range you would find for a used 2010 Mini Cooper on because of the special and unique nature of the vehicle," said John Fagan, v-p, director of marketing, at Penguin. “We'll consider all offers, but are obviously looking to get as much for the vehicle as possible as all the proceeds benefit the New York Public Library, one of New York City’s most treasured institutions."

Melanie Kovach,'s general manager of private seller service and sales, added, "When Penguin approached us to assist them in finding a buyer for this unique vehicle and for this great cause--the New York Public Library--we immediately said 'yes.'

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Portnoy's Complaint....

Phillip Roth is still writing nail-biting, controversial books that depict more angst than seems humanly possible. And I love him for that. After going on a binge recently and reading a steady string of his works, I decided to head back to the books that began it all~Portnoy's Complaint and Goodbye, Columbus. While only halfway through Portnoy's at the moment, it is clear that Roth delivered early on what he is famous for: that raw protagonist whose life seems a series of misadventures, and who brings out our most hedonistic, human impulses.
And the laughter. I can't help but laugh reading Roth. Whether he means us to or not, I could care less (as an homage to Portnoy, of course). His maniacal, brilliant, yet disturbing images just bring out the cackle in me. Ask my neighbors. I'm pretty sure they think I'm practicing to be a comedienne at this point.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Oprah's New Pick!

Oprah Winfrey went “old school”--her words--in selecting two 19th century novels for her next Oprah’s Book Club pick. Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities, both by English master novelist Charles Dickens, made Oprah’s reading list. On her Monday show, Oprah urged her audience to read Dickens over the holidays, confessing she had never read him. The novels are available from a number of publishers. For book club purposes, Penguin had produced a paperback edition containing both books.

Freedom author Jonathan Franzen appeared right before the pick was disclosed on the show to discuss his bestselling novel, which Winfrey had previously made a book club selection. Franzen famously expressed hesitance in 2001 over her pick of his earlier novel The Corrections. The reading taste-maker thereupon dis-invited him from her show. The two hugged and spoke cordially on Monday. Affirming that he was a “Midwestern egalitarian” and not a woman-reader hating snob, a jeans-clad Franzen told Oprah “it’s an honor to be here.” He called A Tale of Two Cities “a page-turner.”

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Visiting Twain

Tuesday is the 175th anniversary of the birth of Samuel Clemens, the writer we know as Mark Twain. This year also marks the 125th anniversary of the publication of his masterpiece Huckleberry Finn. And last month, 100 years after Twain's death, the world saw the publication of his official autobiography, a tome that has become so popular in recent weeks that bookstores cannot keep it in stock.

Fans of Twain may be surprised to learn that the author wrote Huck Finn — along with his other classic works about life on the Mississippi — in upstate New York, in a small writing cottage at his sister-in-law's summer home in Elmira. NPR made a pilgrimage to the site of Twain's brilliant writing life — and to the place that the author is buried — to learn the stories behind one of the satirist's favorite places.

The Writing Study — Full Of Cats And Cigars

Quarry Farm overlooks the dairy country of the Chemung River Valley in the Finger Lakes District of western New York. In his letters, Twain called the Farm "the quietest of all quiet places." He described the view as "an elevation that commands leagues of valley and city and retreating ranges of distant blue hills." It was looking at this view that Twain wrote some of the most beloved works in American literature, including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Life on the Mississippi and The Prince and the Pauper.

'The Autobiography Of Mark Twain': Satire To Spare
But when Twain arrived in the sleepy New York town in 1868, he had not yet begun to write novels. He was already the well-known author of a book of travel writing (The Innocents Abroad) and had come to Elmira to court Olivia Langdon, the daughter of the richest man in town. When Twain and Langdon were married in 1870, they settled in Hartford, Conn., with their four children, but Twain continued to do most of his writing when he returned to Elmira to visit family every summer.

While in Elmira, Twain began writing his great works in a small study — 12 feet across, with eight sides and a large window in each face — built to mimic the pilot house of a riverboat. His tiny writing room was moved from Quarry Farm to the Elmira College campus for preservation in 1952. NPR observed the space with Twain scholar Michael Kiskis. "On this side and the other side, you'll see these little holes with grates over them," Kiskis described. "Those are the cat doors. He absolutely loved cats, and their company when he was writing in this building. You probably know he smoked a lot. He averaged between 30 and 40 cigars a day. So you gotta think of smoke, and cats and lots of paper, and breezes coming through."

'A Real Chance To Put Down Roots'

Twain was not a solitary man when he stayed in Elmira — although he had traveled across the country after leaving his rural Missouri hometown and gone to such far-flung places as Hawaii, Europe and the Middle East, the attraction to Elmira was the stable family environment and many personal connections.

"He'd been such a vagabond in the years between 17 and 30 — this gave him a real chance to put down roots," says Kiskis. "To be kind of hugged by a big family. And I think he really appreciated that. If you look at the major novels that frame his career, look how many of them deal with questions of family."

Twain's Resting Place

Elmira provided Twain with such strong ties that the town also represented the end of his family. The author is buried on a hill at Woodlawn Cemetery there, along with his wife, all of his children and his only grandchild, who had no children. The gravestones tell a sad story — his son Langdon died as an infant. His daughter Suzy died when she was 24 of spinal meningitis; his wife died when she was 58; and his daughter Jean, an epileptic, died at age 29, when she drowned in her bathtub on Christmas Eve.

It was this family sadness that ultimately drew Twain away from Elmira — he could not return after Suzy's death in 1896. His final summer homecoming to the town where he composed so many masterpieces came when he was laid to rest, 100 years ago.

It was a beloved place for the writer who captured America so clearly. In writing about the Chemung River, which he would view from his rocking chair each summer night, Twain summed up his feelings about Elmira: "Once or twice each night, we'd see a Steamboat slipping along in the dark. And every now and again, she'd belch a whole world of sparks up out of her chimney. And they would rain down in the river. And look awful pretty."

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Silly Bandz Stand...Great Christmas Idea!

As most parents know all too well, Silly Bandz have taken the nation's tweens by storm. The rubber band-like bracelets shaped like animals, musical instruments, dinosaurs and other familiar objects, sell for about $4.99 for a pack of 20. That sounds cheap, until one day you look back and realize you've bought your kids 18 packs -- which are now littering your home. Enter the Original Silly Stand.

Dave Gerolemon, 37, and Chad Walters, 36, both parents themselves, designed the Original Silly Stand to help kids and (and their frustrated parents) organize their Silly Bandz collections.

"My son got into the trend, and every night, he was peeling these bands off his arm, laying them out on his nightstand," says Gerolemon, who lives in Raleigh, N.C. "But they'd also be left throughout his room and the house. Our Silly Stand came out of a need to organize these."

Last spring, Gerolemon's son had to make a craft for a YMCA youth group. Together, the two put together a wooden stand to hold and organize all the Silly Bandz they had collected. "The kids seemed to like it, the dads seemed to like it," Gerolemon says. "I thought, 'Maybe we've got something here.' But I had no idea how to go about prototyping it."

Fortunately, his next-door neighbor happens to be a product developer in the aviation and automotive industries, and Gerolemon soon found himself dropping by to pitch the idea. "Here we go again," thought Walters, who says he is approached all the time by friends, family and neighbors, all with invention ideas. But when Gerolemon explained the idea, Walters -- a father of two young boys who also collect Silly Bandz -- immediately saw the value in the concept. They'll find out if other parents agree later this month when their website will begin selling the Silly Stand, just in time for the holiday season.

Between last spring when Gerolemon approached Walters about the idea of creating a prototype of the Silly Stand and actually selling it, the two men have split their roughly $36,000 in startup costs, which included everything from patent fees to building a prototype to hiring a manufacturer in their home state of North Carolina.

Still busy with their day jobs, the two have nonetheless managed to hold focus groups to see what price parents would likely pay for the Silly Stand (it will retail for $14.98). They also managed to find quite a few small chain stores willing to sell the Silly Stand, which can easily hold about 400 Silly Bandz.

Gerolemon and Walters were relatively quick in getting their product on the market, but given how quickly children's fads come and go, are either of them worried that they weren't fast enough? Both say they aren't too concerned. Gerolemon continues to track the fad's progress -- for example, it's clear that Silly Bandz isn't a fresh new thing, but on the other hand, Nintendo DS just came out with a Silly Bandz game.

"The trend has moved, it seems, from the South to the Northeast, and now it's been moving to the West," Gerolemon says. "So we're focusing on selling to the West Coast as well as Canada." And like any good businessman, Gerolemon adds that there are other uses for their product. "Although the idea sprung from the trend of Silly Bandz, we're not just targeting toy stores. We're targeting hair salons that have salon parties for girls, because they're good for organizing hair bands and other hair accessories."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Search for Robert Johnson...

I found this gem of a DVD on Amazon and immediately put an ILL out for it. My interest in jazz music, particularly the blues, has often through the years led me back to the one who some credit with starting it all--the elusive Robert Johnson. This DVD essentially asks the question....."Who is Robert Johnson?" To three generations of true believers he was the king of Mississippi Delta country blues, cut down more than 50 years ago at the age of 27 by poisoned whiskey at the hands of a jealous husband in a plantation juke joint. His most well-known songs were turned into R&B and rock standards over the years:
"Walkin' Blues" by Muddy Waters
"I Believe I'll Dust my Broom" by Elmore James
"Love in Vain" by the Rolling Stones
"Cross Road Blues" by Eric Clapton
Just to name a few. Yet the details of Johnson's incandescent young life, from birth to his still-disputed burial place, remained shrouded in mystery, even secrecy, for more than a half-century.
For the first stime in history, "The Search for Robert Johnson" traces this troubled figure. Narrator John Hammond steers us through this travelogue as he reenacts the work of the original researchers, crisscrossing the Delta by automobile and freight car; unveiling marriage records from six decades ago; taking us to the sites of Johnson's only two recording sessions in '36 and '37, and finally exploring the circumstances of Johnson's untimely death.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Very Modest Cottage....

Thereasa Surratt recently moved and renovated an old 1920's tourist cabin to Sugar Creek, Wisconsin. She chronicles her passion for thrifting, restoration, and her personal interest in the history of tourist cabins in her new book, "A Very Modest Cottage." The book is eloquent and artful; thoughtfully done. The pictures in particular are breathtaking and worth a look alone. Any of you interested in restoring old buildings, or just who would like an inner glance at some local history will appreciate this lovely piece.

"A Very Modest Cottage" Book Trailer from Matt Golin on Vimeo.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Items in the Friends Shop.....

Every month I enjoy stopping at the Waterford Library's Friends Shop to check out what neat and exciting displays they have. Interesting toys, stickers, and handmade items for incredibly low prices always make me take a second look, if not buy something. Yesterday I bought this incredibly cool handmade snake that can be used as a decoration or a scarf! Make sure you take a peek next time you drop by!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Power of One.........

I read this book for the first time as a freshman in college. It was "African Week" on campus and the campus bookstore had pulled what it believed to be the fundamental African and African-American books of the century. They had them displayed in the Union--a good twenty of them or so, opened wide and waiting for an owner, or at least someone to peruse them in their spare time. I remember thinking it was quite odd that the display was right next to the potato chips and other deli offerings and so I picked up "Power of One" more or less because I felt sorry for it--nestled between a can of Pringles and plastic forks, it seemed out of place and I was determined to free the book from its miserable consumer-based imprisonment.
I bought the book for twenty dollars and took it home with me; intending if nothing else to read the first few pages and thus pay my homage to "African Week" out of some sense of collegial duty. I got home, plopped my book bag on the floor, and jumped up on my bed to read the first few chapters before hiding myself in the library for the rest of the evening with my psychology homework, and before I knew it the clock read 1 a.m. and I was three quarters through the book with none of my intended psychology homework completed. Oops.
To this day, picking up that book holds a special memory for me, as the Power of One quite literally changed my life.
Written by Bruce Courtenay, The Power of One takes place in South Africa in 1939--just as Hitler's cruel shadow was overtaking the world. The seeds of Apartheid were budding in South Africa....and there, a boy named Peekay is born. His childhood reeks of loneliness and pain and yet he somehow decides that he is going to become a great man--the welterweight champion of the world, in fact, and he would dream heroic dreams. As Peekay navigates school, the world at large, and the realm of boxing, we find ourselves cheering on a young man whose literally facing all the odds. It's a profound story of survival and redemption that once it grabs hold, will not let go.
One of my favorite quotes:
"Always in life an idea starts small, it is only a sapling idea, but the vines will come and they will try to choke your idea so it cannot grow and it will die and you will never know you had a big idea, an idea so big it could have grown thirty meters through the dark canopy of leaves and touched the face of the sky.' He looked at me and continued. 'The vines are people who are afraid of originality, of new thinking. Most people you encounter will be vines; when you are a young plant they are very dangerous.' His piercing blue eyes looked into mine.' Always listen to yourself, Peekay. It is better to be wrong than simply to follow convention. If you are wrong, no matter, you have learned something and you grow stronger. If you are right, you have taken another step toward a fulfilling life."
Well written, Mr. Courtenay. Now...another round, please.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Man Walks Into A Room...........

I recently finished Nicole Kruass's pensive and beautiful novel, "The History of Love", and because there is an extensive hold list for her new book "The Giant's House", decided to go back in time and read her first published novel, "Man Walks Into a Room."
The story revolves around a couple; Samson Greene is a university professor, who at thirty six years old, is discovered to have a brain tumour which ultimately leaves him unable to remember anything. Even his lovely wife Anna, with whom he struggles to reconnect even though he has no recollection of his prior self.
The story is beautifully written and completely heart-breaking--in the sense that you may need some gelato and champagne while reading this; not the heart-breaking type where you reach for an aspirin, or perhaps a handkerchief.
"......It was the vivid color of the memory that startled him, a luminous blue. It was all around him, warm and smooth, and moving through it toward the glow of light he could hear muted sounds that seemed to come from a great, impassable distance.."
This is a swift-moving, thought provoking book I think proves Nicole Krauss as a gifted writer long before "History of Love" hit the shelves. Pick it up; its worth it.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Elementary Particles

Although I had heard of Michel Houellebecq before, this was the first novel of his I've delved into. The Elementary Particles created somewhat the controversy in France when it was released, and did so on a smaller scale when it was translated into English and brought to our American shores. The Economist writes that "Houllebecq is France's biggest literary sensation since Francoise Sagan, people are saying Since Albert Camus." While that is an extraordinary comment to make, I must say that in some ways I agree. Although I think the reference to Camus may be a bit over the top, I did enjoy this book for its dark humour and candid style.
The novel is about two half brothers who struggle...with...basically everything; after being raised by "hippie" parents who are the epitome of hedonism. Michel becomes a renowned scientist incapable of love, and Bruno basically exists in his own underground version of life which consists of sex, drinking, and decrepit thoughts. He too, finds it almost impossible to love another human being.
While sounding totally depressing, (and it is), I think the author captured the essence of loneliness, perversion, and the will to survive (no matter how dreadful our existence) incredibly well. While this book is not a "feel good read", I do think it will spark an interest in some readers and indeed there will be those that consider it one of the great contemporary novels of our time. It is dreary. It is slightly perverse. It is maddening. But the glimmer of humanity that punctuates every couple of chapters is worth the bumpy ride. While I would hesitate to recommend this book to many people; it certainly would suit a certain "niche" of readers. I being one of them. I will read more by this author in the future.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Franzen not among Award Finalists

NEW YORK – It's the Great American Snub.

Jonathan Franzen's "Freedom," the year's most highly praised and talked about literary novel, was not among the fiction finalists announced Wednesday for the National Book Awards.

Nine years ago, Franzen won for "The Corrections" and his latest book was a sensation even before its release, the subject of a Time magazine cover story and rave reviews and so in demand that President Obama obtained an early copy. Oprah Winfrey picked "Freedom" for her book club, even though Franzen's ambivalence in 2001 over her choosing "The Corrections" had led her to cancel his appearance on her show.

Nominees on Wednesday included Peter Carey, whose "Parrot and Olivier in America" was a runner-up for the Man Booker Prize, and such well-regarded authors as Nicole Krauss ("Great House") and Lionel Shriver ("So Much for That"). The book awards also welcomed a rock star, Patti Smith, a nonfiction contender for "Just Kids," a memoir about her friendship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe; and an attorney, poetry finalist Monica Youn ("Ignatz"), whose day job is with the Brennan Center for Justice in New York.

Two Beijing-based journalists for the Los Angeles Times, Barbara Demick ("Nothing to Envy") and Megan K. Stack ("Every Man in This Village"), were nonfiction contenders, while previous nominees Rita Williams-Garcia ("One Crazy Summer") and Walter Dean Myers ("Lockdown") were finalists for young people's literature.

Winners, each of whom receive $10,000, will be announced at a ceremony Nov. 17, hosted by humorist Andy Borowitz.

Franzen's book wasn't the only notable work not selected. Among the non-nominees were such novels as Karl Marlantes' "Matterhorn" and Tom Rachman's "The Imperfectionists," Ron Chernow's 800-page biography of George Washington and Edmund Morris' third and final book on Theodore Roosevelt.

"Obviously, `Freedom' is the big book of the year, but the question is what the National Book Awards are supposed to honor," said Harold Augenbraum, exeuctive director of the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization that presents the awards. "We tell the judges just to look at the books and that outside chatter is not important. We go with that every year."

Established in 1950, the book awards are chosen in each category by five-member panels of fellow writers, with judges changing each year.

Two authors from small presses were fiction finalists: Jaimy Gordon, whose "Lord of Misrule" was released by McPherson & Company; and Karen Tei Yamashita's "I Hotel," published by Coffee House Press.

John Dower, a National Book Award winner in 1999 for his study of post-World War II Japan "Embracing Defeat," was a nonfiction nominee for "Cultures of War," which unfavorably contrasts the occupation of Iraq with U.S. policy after Japan surrendered in 1945. The other nonfiction finalist was Justin Spring's "Secret Historian," a biography of the gay author and collector Samuel Steward.

Besides Youn, poetry nominees were Kathleen Graber's "The Eternal City," Terrance Hayes' "Lighthead," James Richardson's "By the Numbers" and C.D. Wright's "One With Others." Young people's literature nominees included Paolo Bacigalupi's "Ship Breaker," Kathryn Erskine's "Mockingbird" (a tribute in part to Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird") and Laura McNeal's "Dark Water."

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Auslander? I don't think so....

I'm due for a vacation. In fact, I'm so due for a vacation that I've enrolled myself in a German Course at MSOE just so that I'm "part of the action" when I return to Vienna in November to visit some friends I made when I briefly lived there in my undergrad. I don't want to sound like a typical "American" when ordering Austrian food and I certainly don't want to disappoint my friends when thy naively believe I remember any amount of the German I learned when I lived there with them. Basically, I just don't want to sound like a complete idiot; even if I am one.

So, I've enrolled in a course and am re-learning things I would have found laughably easy in 2003--and surprise (!) it's paying off. As my German knowledge and fluency are slowly starting to escape from the trenches of my brain (way, way back), I have found myself with a confidence and assurance that tells me come November, I will not be an outsider. Or, as an Austrian would "Auslander." Eek!

I have also checked out a myriad of books, audiotapes, and MP3 players in an effort to refine myself. Some of them I put on hold, some of them I found here at the Waterford library. In doing so, I realized that we often forget these types of materials are available for our use..and get this....for free!

A gentleman came into the library recently who'd been on a Mission Trip to Mexico and asked me where our Spanish materials were. I showed him a few options that I thought he'd find useful and he thanked me and said, "It was am amazing experience and I'd like to do it again. But I'd like to do it sounding a bit less like an idiot. I should at least know some basics, don't you think?" And I shook my head in agreement knowing EXACTLY how he felt. The effort to look as less idiotic as possible is, I'm sure, universal in nature. Or so I'm starting to believe.

If you ever have the travel bug or simply want to seem more intelligent than you probably are, feel free to head to the library to grab some language skill tools that will definitely help you solve that problem (at least until your trip is over). We carry a variety of MP3 players that teach Spanish which means you can literally do laundry, go for a run, or garden all while becoming the next bi-lingual wonder. We even circulate a Rosetta Stone Spanish program on a laptop! (See what wonders can be found at the library)?

So, as this great man heads back to Mexico to do great deeds and I head to Austria to probably gain ten pounds eating schnitzl, I hope we both feel a bit more intelligent and confident having a small gem in our arsenal: access to our local Waterford library.


Friday, October 1, 2010

Nixons attempts at "Poisoning the Press"

via NPR:

In Poisoning the Press: Richard Nixon, Jack Anderson and the Rise of Washington's Scandal Culture, Mark Feldstein describes the epic battle between Nixon and the muckraking syndicated columnist Jack Anderson. Feldstein follows the rise of Anderson's investigative journalism career and explains how his decades-long face-off with Nixon would become emblematic of the relationship between the press and other politicians.

Feldstein tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies that the fight between the two men started shortly after Anderson first got his big break in 1947, when he moved to Washington, D.C., to become a researcher for the syndicated investigative journalist Drew Pearson.

Poisoning the Press: Richard Nixon, Jack Anderson, and the Rise of Washington's Scandal Culture
By Mark Feldstein
Hardcover, 480 pages
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
List Price: $30
Read an Excerpt

"[Pearson] dominated Washington from the Great Depression until his death in 1969," Feldstein explains. "And [he] was this combative Quaker who used his column to smite his foes. He fought on the side of progressivism [and] pacifism and was an unusual left-wing voice in the nation's capital."

One of Pearson's foes was Richard Nixon, who had been elected to Congress in 1946 and became a Senator in 1950. In 1952, after Nixon was tapped to become Dwight Eisenhower's running mate, Anderson and Pearson wrote a column about the money Nixon may have taken from corporate interests. That led to Nixon delivering his famous "Checkers speech," in which he decried his opponents and stated that no matter what anyone said, he would not return his daughters' dog, Checkers, which had been given to them as a gift.

"That resonated emotionally with the public, and a huge base — particularly of hard-core Republican conservatives — swelled to his defense and pressured Eisenhower to keep Nixon on the ticket," Feldstein explains. "Meanwhile, liberal Democrats were nauseated by it and thought it was a maudlin speech. And the polarization that Nixon's career would have ever after was indelibly marked."

After Nixon effectively dodged the bullet by giving the Checkers speech, Anderson and Pearson stayed on his case, but were plagued by scandals of their own. The two men published a story about Nixon receiving payoffs from Union Oil that later turned out to be false. And in 1958, when Anderson was caught bugging the office of a man bribing Eisenhower's White House chief of staff, it was Nixon who helped stoke the flames to turn the public against Anderson.

Mark Feldstein was an on-air correspondent and investigative reporter for CNN, ABC News and NBC News for more than 20 years.

morgan-ashcom Mark Feldstein was an on-air correspondent and investigative reporter for CNN, ABC News and NBC News for more than 20 years.
"He plant[ed] letters and editorials criticizing Anderson," Feldstein says. "So from that beginning, you have Nixon now retaliating against Anderson, and you have this sense that these dirty tricks are the way Washington works."

In the two decades that followed, the conflict became so ferocious, Feldstein says, that Nixon ordered CIA surveillance of Anderson and his family — and White House operatives seriously considered assassinating the journalist.

"They actually conducted surveillance. They followed him from his work to his house," Feldstein says. "They staked out his house. They looked at it for vulnerabilities ... [and dicussed] how they could plant poison in his aspirin bottle. They talked about how they could spike his drink and they talked about smearing LSD on his steering wheel so that he would absorb it through his skin and die in a hallucination-crazed auto crash."

The plot was ultimately called off, Feldstein says, because Gordon Liddy and Howard Hunt, the two men who were supposed to assassinate Anderson, were instead tapped to break into Watergate.

Related NPR Stories

'Poisoning The Press' Recounts Nixon-Anderson Feud
Mark Feldstein examines what is likely an all-time low in U.S. journalist-politician relations.
Schorr Flashback: Nixon On Pursuing Journalists On Taxes

July 23, 2010
Journalist, Nixon Speechwriter William Safire

Sep. 28, 2009
Scars Remain 35 Years After Nixon's Misdeeds

Aug. 8, 2009
'Life Lessons' From a White House Plumber

Sep. 17, 2007
"That led to their arrest and the downfall of the regime," Feldstein says. "[But] there are no smoking-gun tapes showing Nixon ordering the assassination of Anderson. What Hunt and Liddy both said was that the order came from [White House special counsel] Charles Colson. But what Hunt told me before his death was that he believed that Colson was acting at the behest of the president himself. ... I find it very difficult to believe that Colson and the other aides were acting without the implicit support of President Nixon. It defies logic to imagine that they would cook this up, the assassination of a journalist as prominent as Jack Anderson, unless they had the signal from above to do it."

President Nixon died in 1994. Jack Anderson died in 2005. Feldstein, who interned for Anderson in the 1970s, spent nearly 20 years as a television correspondent and investigative reporter for CNN, ABC and NBC, twice winning the Peabody Award for public service. He is now an associate professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University.

Beware of Blurbs....


Over at the Guardian site, they're holding a contest for who can write the most ludicrous blurb for a Dan Brown novel, with predictably hilarious results. The inspiration for this antic is a pre-publication blurb written by Nicole Krauss, author of "The History of Love," for the new novel by David Grossman, "To the End of the Land." The literary blog Conversational Reading lodged the initial objection to Krauss' blurb, which was prominently printed on the front cover of the advance reader's copy:

Continue reading

Very rarely, a few times in a lifetime, you open a book and when you close it again nothing can ever be the same. Walls have been pulled down, barriers broken, a dimension of feeling, of existence itself, has opened in you that was not there before. "To the End of the Land" is a book of this magnitude. David Grossman may be the most gifted writer I've ever read; gifted not just because of his imagination, his energy, his originality, but because he has access to the unutterable, because he can look inside a person and discover the unique essence of her humanity. For twenty-six years he has been writing novels about what it means to defend this essence, this unique light, against a world designed to extinguish it. "To the End of the Land" is his most powerful, shattering, and unflinching story of this defense. To read it is to have yourself taken apart, undone, touched at the place of your own essence; it is to be turned back, as if after a long absence, into a human being.

Even the book's publisher seems to have realized that Krauss' praise is over-the-top and a bit icky; a commenter at Conversational Reading reported that his ARC of the novel featured an abbreviated version of the blurb.

It's easy to ridicule Krauss for this hyperbolic extravaganza, but in her defense, she's not a critic or an ad copywriter; she's a novelist. She didn't get paid to write that phalanx of clichés, and chances are she'd have preferred not to. It was a favor, intended to help out a fellow author.

The conventions and excesses of blurbology do invite mockery. (The term "blurb" is sometimes mistakenly used for the publisher-generated description printed on a book's dust jacket -- that's actually the flap copy. "Blurb" really only applies to bylined endorsements by other authors or cultural figures.) Like anything that people would rather not do, blurb-writing usually isn't done very well. So why is it done at all? Because you, dear reading public, persist in giving credence to it. Please stop.

For those unfamiliar with the process, here's how it works. Once a reasonably finished draft of a manuscript has been completed, the author, at his publisher's insistence, begins the grueling and humiliating process of begging blurbs from better-known writers. The aim is to score praise from established authors whose work has a similar appeal -- a wacky, gay-positive memoirist will try for Augusten Burroughs or David Sedaris; a female writer of mordant short stories approaches Mary Gaitskill, and so on -- but these can be nearly impossible to obtain.

The most prominent authors are inundated with such manuscripts, far more than they can ever read, especially if they hope to get on with their real job -- which is, of course, writing their own books. Many have adopted a blanket no-blurb policy, and most of these will at least occasionally wind up departing from that policy, usually for personal reasons. They might do it for a good friend or a former student, or as a favor to their editor or agent.

So when publishing people look at the lineup of testimonials on the back of a new hardcover, they don't see hints as to what the book they're holding might be like. Instead, they see evidence of who the author knows, the influence of his or her agent, and which MFA program in creative writing he or she attended. In other words, blurbs are a product of all the stuff people claim to hate about publishing: its cliquishness and insularity.

And, in fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone in publishing who wouldn't agree with that judgment. Everyone seems to hate the process, from the authors who are compelled to plead for blurbs to the publishing professionals who have to lash their authors onto it, to the blurbers themselves, who often wind up walking a knife's edge between honesty and generosity. It stands to reason that, if many blurbs are bestowed for extraliterary reasons like friendship or professional collegiality, then many of them are insincere.

Faint or highly strategic praise is a sign that the blurber was less than enthralled by the work. Perhaps in such cases the blurber ought to refuse to endorse the book at all, but this is hard to do if the author knows you've already read the manuscript. It would invariably lead to awkwardness and hurt feelings when the whole point of agreeing to do the blurb in the first place was to avoid both. "A sweet tale of first impressions, second chances" -- to take one example from a blurb for a book that shall remain unnamed -- is a quintessential example of noncommittal blurbology. ("Sweet" is, in my experience, not a word anyone uses to describe a novel they genuinely like.)

When even mediocre works get glowing blurbs, you end up with praise inflation. Without a doubt Nicole Krauss truly admires David Grossman, an Israeli author of impeccable international credentials but a relatively small American audience. He's older and more accomplished than she is, but she's had more success stateside and was recently named one of the best 20 fiction writers under 40 by the New Yorker. Like many young authors who have scored a hit among their peers, she's eager to do what she can to draw more readers to a novelist she regards as a master.

But to convey the full power of her enthusiasm, Krauss has to distinguish her blurb from the usual run of exaggerated approval. Even a practiced critic can testify that positive reviews are the hardest of all to write, so when a relative novice is obliged to ratchet up her compliments to the stratosphere in, say, 100 words or less, is it any wonder that the results are atrocious?

Most of the people involved in this system are well-meaning: Blurbers want to help other authors, publishers want to win more attention for their books, and authors want to do everything they can to prove that their publishers' faith in their work has been justified. The result, however, is broken and borderline (sometimes outright) corrupt.

A few celebrated authors have made a point of regularly seeking out and championing books by writers with whom they have no connection -- Stephen King is the most prominent example. (That said, I haven't found King's recommendations particularly useful.) But overall, blurbs just aren't very meaningful. Yet, apart from a minority of skeptics, much of the public still seems to take them at face value. One British publisher claims to have seen research showing that as many as 62 percent of book buyers choose titles on the basis of blurbs.

Anecdotal evidence from online discussions and personal experience confirms this baffling preference. "I liked [Sara Gruen's] 'Water for Elephants,'" said a woman I spotted studying a copy of Lynn Cullen's "The Creation of Eve" at my local bookstore, "so maybe I'll like this one, too." (Gruen called Cullen's book "enormously satisfying.") I haven't read either book myself, so I can't weigh in on any similarity between them; for all I know Gruen meant every word of that praise. But when I suggested to this reader that blurbs can be unreliable, she glanced at me as if I were the one with the ulterior motive, nodded vaguely and drifted away, book in hand.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Half Empty via NPR

Writer David Rakoff worries a lot: about Sept. 11, about cancer, about epidemics and fame and religious devotion — not to mention sex, money, his childhood and the value of therapy.

The regular contributor to This American Life even worries about writing about himself, which he does in his latest collection of essays, Half Empty.

"That was the big problem for me in terms of this book," Rakoff says. "I've always bridled at the term 'memoirist' because I always wanted to be known for the quality of my writing as opposed to the particulars of my biography — so that's a huge worry for me."

Rakoff, who has previously written about subjects ranging from the torments of low-thread count sheets to visiting a New Age retreat hosted by Steven Seagal, turns his signature witty style to the value of pessimism in his latest collection — but, he warns, it's a very specific kind of negative thinking called "defensive pessimism."

"The 'defensive pessimist' looks at everything and thinks [that] this is going to be a disaster," he explains to Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "They lower their expectations ... and they go through all of the negative capacities and the negative capabilities of a given event. You imagine the worst-case scenario you can and you go through it step by step, and you dismantle those things and you manage your anxiety about it."

While writing Half Empty, Rakoff was diagnosed with cancer. His doctors told him that the cancer — a sarcoma in his neck — was caused by earlier radiation treatments he received for a bout with lymphoma in his 20s and could cause him to eventually lose his arm. Despite eschewing the powers of negative thinking, he remains optimistic about his treatment.

"I'm currently in chemo," he says, "The hope is that chemo will shrink [the cancer] a few millimeters so that it's no longer touching quite so many vital cables that go down your arm and than my wonderful surgeon will be able to go in and get the tumor without taking the arm. But, as they keep on telling me, no one dies from the arm. So there's a lot of stuff you can do with one arm — like continue living. So my arm is in danger but for now, knock on wood, I'm not in danger which is a distinction worth making."


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sentinel to PUblish Rumsfeld Memoir

From Publishers Weekly:

Penguin's Sentinel imprint has acquired a memoir by Donald Rumsfeld, Known and Unknown, which it plans to publish on January 25. The book, which will be embargoed until its release, is, said Adrian Zackheim, president and publisher of Sentinel, a work that "pulls no punches." The publisher is promising that the title is "filled with previously undisclosed details and insights about the Bush administration, 9/11, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq." Zackheim acquired the title from Bob Barnett.

Proceeds from the book are going to veterans charities supported by the Rumsfeld Foundation. Sentinel also said that, in addition to juicy tidbits about the last White House, the book will offer the former Sceretary of Defense's take on history, as he chronicles his youth during the Depression, his time in the Navy, the years he spent in Congress through to his time working for various presidents, including Nixon, Ford, and Reagan. Sentinel also said that Rumsfled will be relying on more than memory for the book, working off of "previously unreleased and recently declassified documents." The publisher said those documents will be published on a Web site that will go live once the book is released.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Oprah's Newest Pick....

Today on her show, Oprah confirmed what had been rumored for days--her newest selection is Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. Said Oprah, “I read it over the summer because the author sent me a galley with a note.” Finding the book “exquisite,” Oprah called Franzen to ask him whether he would like to be the next book club pick, because, she said with a smile, “as you all know we have a little history. After careful consideration, he said yes.” Freedom, said Oprah, is “a masterpiece that spans three decades…an epic family saga…it is everything you want in a book, and I’m betting it will end up being one of the best novels you’ve ever read.” Franzen will appear on a future show to discuss the book, Oprah said.

Freedom publisher Farrar, Straus & Giroux, said it has printed 600,000 Oprah Book Club-stickered copies to augment its printing of 355,000 regular-jacketed copies.

When Oprah selected Franzen’s The Corrections in 2001, the author was quoted as saying he had almost turned down the offer. He was subsequently uninvited from appearing to discuss the book, but has made both public and private apologies for his remarks.

Oprah also denied what she called “rumors that this will be my last book club pick." She said: "I’ll continue to pick books all season long, and the book club will go with me to the Oprah Network.”

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Upcoming Event: 20 Amazing Wisconsin Homes

M. Caren Connolly and Louis Wasserman, authors of Wisconsin's Own: Twenty Remarkable Homes
Thursday, September 16 | 7:00 pm |

This event takes is cosponsored by and takes place at the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum, located at 2220 N. Terrace Ave., Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53202.
Wisconsin's Own tells the story of the considerable contribution Wisconsin's historic homes have made to American residential architecture. It also answers questions you've likely asked when you've seen a notable historic home: Who built this house? What brought them here? Why did they select that particular style? How is it that this historic home still stands today, despite development pressures? Authors M. Caren Connolly and Louis Wasserman and the Wisconsin Historical Society researched and carefully considered 1,500 potential houses before narrowing the selection to twenty of the state's most remarkable residences built between 1854 and 1939.
The houses are a mix of public ones you may have visited and private homes you've been hoping for an invitation to explore. The homes are representative of the varied architectural styles in Wisconsin, from an Italianate along the Mississippi and an interpretation of a sixteenth-century northern Italian villa overlooking Lake Michigan to an Adirondack-style camp in the North Woods and a fourteen-bedroom Georgian Revival mansion on Lake Geneva. The Prairie School is, of course, represented, with examples by Frank Lloyd Wright and his mentor Louis Sullivan. Richly illustrated with the photography of Zane Williams, complemented by historical images, watercolors, and line drawings by the authors, Wisconsin's Own offers an intimate tour of residential treasures-built for captains of industry, be it paper or lumber, a beer baron, Broadway stars, and more-that have endured the test of time.

Author bio: M. Caren Connolly is a landscape architect, and Louis Wasserman, AIA, is an architect whose work, including research funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, has been nationally recognized. They are both graduates of Harvard's Design School and have taught art, architecture, and landscape architecture nationwide. They are the authors of Bungalows, published by The Taunton Press. They live in the Milwaukee area.

This event will take place at Boswell Books, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Friday, September 10, 2010

FYI...where to find ALL the e-readers you want!

Best Buy announced yesterday that it would begin selling Amazon's Kindle in stores. This means that Kindle shoppers have several places to go and handle a Kindle before buying, including Target and Staples in addition to Best Buy. The retailer doesn’t cite an exact date for when the Kindle will be for sale in stores, saying only it will arrive “later in the season.”

Additionally, Best Buy announced it would enhance its in-store e-reader displays, adding end-caps that show off the various e-readers and include information about all of them. “Our goal is to help people choose the device that’s right for them by providing the broadest selection of popular e-readers of any retailer, in one convenient place that enables people to easily see, touch, try and buy,” said Chris Homeister, senior vice president and general manager of Home Entertainment for Best Buy in the official release.

In addition to the Nook and, soon, the Kindle, Best Buy also sells Sony's line of e-readers. Best Buy is now the only retail location where these competing products sit side by side on the same shelves, allowing customers to really compare their feel and functionality.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Keepin' Up With the Amish.......

Just recently, the Friends of the Waterford Library sponsored a trip to the Amish Country in Northern Indiana. Many Waterford Library patrons attended--as well as staff--and it was a great time had by all. The trip included lodging, transportation, food, a show, and even the tips and pie (for those of us who REALLY like to keep track...that means it was a bargain)!! Anyway, what I wanted you to know is that the event was a complete success, and the library looks forward to sponsoring a trip again in the near future. So, please keep your eyes peeled for the next one. I'm sure you'd have a great time and the proceeds benefit our library--which let's face it, is reason enough to go. But if that doesn't trip your trigger, I've got to tell ya, the fried chicken and pie would be enough for me to start packing again.....YUM!!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Into Vintage???

Then this book is for you! I spotted this on Amazon a few months ago and have eagerly been anticipating it's arrival via the book van. I am literally the most rudimentary sewer on the entire planet, but EVEN I could put together a few of these looks in this book. A few of them only need a few snips of the scissors and don't need any sewing work at all (my kind of fashion).
I was a little disappointed in the fact that I thought it was looks you could put together right off the rack (no sewing needed), but I still think it's an interesting page-turner that has some really unique ideas. If you're into fashion-- especially vintage fashion, I recommend putting this on hold as it's truly something fresh and new. Become inspired. I did.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Tiger: A Terrifying Story

I really enjoyed this book. More for the depictions of the Russian people living in Soblonye than for the tiger fare, which I can hardly believe-- (who can pass up blood and gore)? But truly, I felt as if I knew the characters personally towards the end and was genuinely interested in not only the amazing tiger story told, but the the village of Soblonye and how it was struggling to maintain before, during, and after the great "tiger incident." I don't read many non-fiction books straight through, but this one I did. It did skip around a bit, which could be confusing to some, but I thought the author did an amazing job of capturing the thoughts, moods, and imaginations of the people he was interviewing and living with while he wrote this book. Fascinating!! Four and a half stars! (less)
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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Franzen Frenzy....

President Obama recently stepped out with a copy of Franzen's new book "Freedom" and ever since it's been the buzz of the book world. Franzens' previous work, "The Corrections" won a variety of awards and garnered critical acclaim around the world. His new book focuses on a love triangle gone wrong and is said to be "War and Peace" for our generation--or at least War and Peace-like in its delicious over-the-top effort (whichever you prefer).

The stories inter-weave heavily and you definitely need to keep your concentration up to get through it (says pretty much anyone who has tried to delve into the colussus already). I've read reviews both good and bad about this book, but one thing is for sure. It has gotten itself hyped up to the point where writers such as Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner has exclaimed: "What about us?" and Weiner even complained that books dubbed "chick lit" have very little elbow room in the marketing industry now that books such as "Freedom" have grabbed the attention of the marketing industry. Hmmm.... Really?? Not so sure about that one, Jennifer. Your books are pretty popular around here.

I definitely plan on reading it. I don't know if I'll like it...but any book that is being carried about by a president and gets the chick-lit writers riled up is a book I want to have in my duffel bag. And I think you should read it too. If nothing else, just to say you've read the same book as the president of the good ol' USA.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Brian Wilson ReImagines Gershwin....

Brian Wilson has more than a few things in common with George Gershwin. Both led wildly successful musical partnerships with their brothers. Both combined pop-song punch with harmonic sophistication worthy of the European classical tradition. Both blazed early then flamed out: Gershwin died of a brain tumor at age 38; drugs and mental illness sent Wilson into seclusion in the late 1960s. And, oh, yeah, both are certifiable geniuses, two of the greatest masters of melody that popular music has known.

In recent years, rockers of a certain age have struck commercial pay dirt by serving up embarrassingly stiff big-band versions of popular standards. (We're looking at you, Rod Stewart.) Wilson's project is more cavalier — and far more successful. He turns "Summertime" into a doo-wop ballad, tricks out "They Can't Take That Away From Me" with brass and lush harmonies, and teleports "Someone to Watch Over Me" from Broadway to sun-splashed California. The result is Porgy and Bess-meets-Pet Sounds: lovely, weird, subtly psychedelic symphonic lounge music. By the time the album ends with a gorgeous, string-laden rendition of the main theme from "Rhapsody in Blue," you can't help but ask: Is Brian Wilson the baby-boomer George Gershwin? Or was Gershwin the first Beach Boy?Brian Wilson has more than a few things in common with George Gershwin. Both led wildly successful musical partnerships with their brothers. Both combined pop-song punch with harmonic sophistication worthy of the European classical tradition. Both blazed early then flamed out: Gershwin died of a brain tumor at age 38; drugs and mental illness sent Wilson into seclusion in the late 1960s. And, oh, yeah, both are certifiable geniuses, two of the greatest masters of melody that popular music has known.

In recent years, rockers of a certain age have struck commercial pay dirt by serving up embarrassingly stiff big-band versions of popular standards. (We're looking at you, Rod Stewart.) Wilson's project is more cavalier — and far more successful. He turns "Summertime" into a doo-wop ballad, tricks out "They Can't Take That Away From Me" with brass and lush harmonies, and teleports "Someone to Watch Over Me" from Broadway to sun-splashed California. The result is Porgy and Bess-meets-Pet Sounds: lovely, weird, subtly psychedelic symphonic lounge music. By the time the album ends with a gorgeous, string-laden rendition of the main theme from "Rhapsody in Blue," you can't help but ask: Is Brian Wilson the baby-boomer George Gershwin? Or was Gershwin the first Beach Boy?

Friday, August 20, 2010

If you like "Kitchen Confidential" read....

Medium Raw

By Anthony Bourdain, hardcover, 304 pages, Ecco, list price: $26.99

With several books on national best-seller lists and his own Emmy-nominated TV show, No Reservations, seasoned, salty chef-turned-food-writer Anthony Bourdain is a far different man from the one he was a decade ago, when he released his first memoir, Kitchen Confidential. In that book, readers were introduced to someone for whom the vices of the food service industry — drugs, booze, late nights — were seemingly as integral to his livelihood as butter is to a roux.

Fast-forward 10 years. Bourdain is now wealthy, married (to his second wife) and a father, and a guy worldly enough to start sentences with "I often feel this way when alone in Southeast Asian hotel bars." But while the formerly heroin-addicted wild man may have hung up his more dangerous knives — and subsequently ended his assault on Rachael Ray — rest assured that his prose is as sharp as ever. Profane, funny and slightly mean, the Bourdain in Medium Raw is still acerbic; he has just wisely discovered that in life, as in cooking, it's important to balance bitterness with hints of sweet. (In this excerpt, Bourdain talks about teaching his young daughter to view American fast food culture "as the enemy.")

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Putnam signs actress Betty White....

Betty White, who's been riding a hot streak in Hollywood, is now ready to take the New York literati by storm. Putnam has signed the 88-year-old actress to a two-book deal with the first title, Listen Up!, to feature life lessons from the show biz veteran. White, whose career unexpectedly picked up in the last few years with TV ads--she recently hosted Saturday Night Live to rave reviews, and her ensemble sitcom, Hot in Cleveland, was just picked up for a second season by TV Land--will discuss in Listen Up! topics like love, sex and aging. Putnam is planning a spring 2011 publication.

Penguin's Putnam imprint took North American rights in what it describes as a "highly competitive" auction, with Marysue Rucci, v-p and editorial director of Putnam, acquiring the titles from agent Loretta Barrett. The second book in the deal, scheduled for 2012, is currently titled The Zoo and I: Betty and Her Friends, and will include stories about and photographs of White with animals at various zoos. The book, Penguin said, will capture the "daily life of [White's] animal friends at the zoo." White, Penguin noted, is a longtime board member of the Los Angeles Zoo and "passionate supporter of animal health and welfare."

And Penguin isn't the only publisher trying to cash in on White's renewed popularity. Workman announced earlier this summer that it would be releasing the Betty White Calendar in September. The tongue-in-cheek item--the cover features White against a backdrop of three chiseled, bare male chests--touts that it's featuring "America's favorite pin-up."

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The First First Library.....

The next time you find yourself in Canton, Ohio, make a stop at the National First Ladies’ Library, home of the Abigail Fillmore Library Room. This room replicates the first permanent White House library, established by Millard and Abigail Fillmore in 1850. Although the library remained mostly intact for more than 50 years, just a few of the original volumes can be found in the White House today. In 2004, the National First Ladies’ Library began working with the Library of Congress and the Bibliographic Society of America to reconstruct the original Fillmore collection. The First White House Library: A History and Annotated Catalogue offers essays on how the library was founded and funded, and how it was housed, added to (and weeded), and organized over the years. The catalog portion of the book is a list of the items in the White House Library in 1850, with notes and commentary describing the books and how they reflected the literary and intellectual currents of the day.

Indexed. 398p. $55 from Pennsylvania University Press (978-0-271-03713-4)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Pwxyz's most under-rated writers.....

We had a huge response to our request for the names of writers you thought were unjustly underrated. Here are my favorite fifteen from among your suggestions, listed in alphabetical order (why rank them any other way). You may not agree with my favorites, but that’s ok–you can post your own fifteen on the Internet too. To see the long list of 60 writers that PWxyz readers submitted, click past the break.

Now all that’s left to do is give these writers their due–go buy their books, talk ‘em up to your friends and enemies, and make them the literary titans they deserve to be!

Here are the top 15 Underrated Writers According to PWxyz (in alphabetical order)

1.Donald Antrim
2.Jo Ann Beard
3.Anthony Doerr
4.Deborah Eisenberg
5.Stephen Elliott
6.Steve Erickson
7.Brian Evenson
8.Percival Everett
9.Mary Gaitskill
10.Tessa Hadley
11.Kelly Link
12.Sam Lipsyte
13.Lydia Millet
14.Christine Schutt
15.Matthew Sharpe

Friday, August 6, 2010

Welcome to Happy Potter World.....

Publishers Weekly, Aug 6. 2010

A sign welcoming visitors to Disney World in Orlando claims it’s the place “where dreams come true.” Not so for Harry Potter fans: their dreams are coming true a few miles away, at a new theme park adjoining Universal Orlando Resort’s Islands of Adventure theme park. The brand-new Wizarding World of Harry Potter brings to life the magical world created by J.K. Rowling in her seven novels, and in the six films (to date) released by Universal Studios.

Being the intrepid PW reporter that I am, and living with a 12-year-old uber-fan who literally grew up with Harry Potter (starting with my reading her Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone when she was a toddler), my family and I braved the sweltering heat and humidity of a Florida summer and visited WWoHP just six weeks after the park’s June 18 grand opening. Let me just say, I’ve never seen my daughter move so fast—from getting into a cab to take us to the airport, to getting off the plane in Orlando, to walking along the moving sidewalks leading to the park’s entrance, and finally straining to catch her first glimpse of WWoHP.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is, to use a terribly overused expression, awesome. For anyone’s who read and loved Rowling’s books, words can’t adequately convey the thrilling reality of being there. Chase, 10, and Austin, 12, two visitors from Tampa I spoke with as we waited in line for the centerpiece of the theme park—the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride in Hogwarts Castle—said it best when they described WWoHP as being exactly how they imagined Hogsmeade to look and feel. “Being here is like stepping into the book or the movies,” Chase said.

The attraction here isn’t the usual theme park fare of rides, rides, and more rides. Rather, WWoHP is all about the sensory experience of entering Harry Potter’s world at Hogwarts and immersing oneself in it: drinking butterbeer (cream soda with a touch of butterscotch) or pumpkin juice (chilled mulled apple cider); encountering Moaning Myrtle in the girls’ bathroom; hanging out at the Three Broomsticks or the Hog’s Head; bonding with the Hogwarts Express train conductor; and exploring Hogwarts.

As we entered Hogsmeade for the first time, passing beneath an archway inscribed, “Please Respect the Spell Limits,” we felt as if we were entering Shangri-La: the turrets of Hogwarts soared above a street of snow-covered, medieval-looking buildings, which looked a little incongruous in the Florida heat. The throngs of Muggles crowding the village could enter some of the shops, but others were merely store facades, their windows filled with authentic artifacts mentioned in the books. For instance, the Gladrags wizarding-wear store facade displayed an exact replica of the ball gown Hermione Granger wore in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and the Tomes & Scrolls bookstore façade displayed Professor Gilderoy Lockhart’s books, complete with constantly changing jackets that feature him striking different poses.

Lines of people stood outside some of the stores, waiting their turn to enter. While the lines for Honeydukes (candy, including giant chocolate frogs, cauldron cakes, and Bertie Botts All-Flavour Jellybeans) and Zonko’s (toys and gag gifts) were short and moved quickly, the line for Ollivander’s (wands) was huge, and moved at a glacial pace because it’s a very cool interactive experience that visitors don’t want to miss. Approximately 25 people are allowed into Ollivander’s at a time to witness one lucky child experience having a wand “choose” him or her—just like Harry Potter’s own experience at Ollivander’s.

As our group stood in a half-circle inside the shop, a man dressed in wizard’s robes introduced himself as the Wandmaster and proclaimed, “I feel a lot of energy in the room,” approached my daughter Rachel, and said, “And it’s coming from Rachel.” (It wasn’t quite as surprising as it sounds: the gatekeeper at the shop door had asked me our names as we waited our turn to enter the premises (and Rachel has come to expect wonderful things to happen whenever she accompanies me on assignment for PW).

Handing Rachel a wand, the Wandmaster asked her to wave it. She did, and a pile of boxes high above us threatened to topple onto our heads. Handing Rachel another wand, the wizard suggested she ring a bell three times. Waving the wand, Rachel caused the bell to ring about half a dozen times. The wizard then handed her a third wand. As Rachel took it from him, a spotlight shone upon her, a rush of wind blew through the store, and the same soundtrack music from that scene in the first Harry Potter movie filled the shop.

For those Harry Potter fanatics who question why Ollivander’s, which, in the novels, is located in London’s Diagon Alley, had relocated to Hogsmeade, the Universal Studios representative who guided us about Hogsmeade for two hours before leaving us to our own devices had an answer ready even before we could think to ask the question: J.K. Rowling herself approved the concept of Ollivander’s having a franchise in Hogsmeade. In fact, judging from the authenticity of Hogsmeade—Rachel, who has read and re-read the novels every year since she was seven, couldn’t find anything out of place, and repeatedly pointed out little details that her parents—who’ve read each novel only once—had overlooked.

While the books and the movies provide the foundation for WWoHP, neither product was in much evidence there—but then, who’s going to buy a book at a theme park, right? And an unscientific, informal survey of a small sampling of park visitors revealed that half the children there had read the books already (though not all of their parents had), and 100% of both children and adults had seen the movies.

Throughout our visit we kept an eye out for copies of J.K. Rowling’s novels, and did locate a small display in Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods (the gift shop). Five copies each of the first three novels and two copies each of the last four novels were set out on a table in a corner—next to the entrance into the store, where waves of people who had just completed the Forbidden Journey were pouring into Filch’s. During the three or four separate occasions I monitored activity at the table, I saw only three adults in total flip through the books, despite the rest of the store being jammed with eager shoppers snapping up Harry Potter souvenirs of all kinds: robes, t-shirts, mugs, ties, Quidditch balls, goblets of fire that light up, keyrings, and many more one-of-a-kind items.

Although the emphasis in WWoHP is on stepping into Harry Potter’s world, it’s still a theme park, and that means rides—of which there are three. Each tells a story while providing thrills. The most popular ride, which is one of the most exciting theme park rides I’ve ever taken, is Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey—which we were fortunate enough to ride twice, once during our guided tour when we were ushered by a Universal representative past the line of waiting riders, and once on our own, after a wait of about an hour. Standing in line with other Harry Potter fans, including a few dressed in costume (mostly robes with house insignia) in itself provided enough diversion, and the ride is absolutely spectacular.

It begins as soon as one enters Hogwarts, a huge neo-Gothic castle that looks exactly like it does in the movies. Though of course it was built recently, it seemed and felt ancient, with its weathered stone walls, long corridors, and cathedral ceiling.

Paintings of Hogwarts notables lined the passageways, and there was a constant cacophony of sound, as the characters in the paintings, like Hogwarts co-founders Salazar Slytherin and Rowena Ravenclaw, spoke to each other and to us: Ravenclaw welcoming us into the castle, Slytherin complaining about there being so many Muggles around. As we proceeded through the castle on the way to the ride, Professor Dumbledore welcomed us and invited us to a lecture on the history of Hogwarts. If I hadn’t been informed that Dumbledore was merely a video image, I would have sworn it was yet another character actor, the figure was so lifelike.

A few minutes later, Harry, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley appeared before us in the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, larger than life, and about as realistic as Dumbledore, suggesting we skip class and go on a ride instead.

The ride itself was five minutes of Harry Potter heaven, in full-color 3-D: we swooped around and in between the castle’s turrets and walls and over mountains and lakes on a flight simulator, encountering terrifying characters we’d already encountered in the books and movies, like dragons, giant spiders, the Whomping Willow, Dementors, and, of course, Lord Voldemort, before finding ourselves in the middle of a Quidditch game. It felt so real, at times I feared we’d crash into something. As the ride glided to an end, Harry, his schoolmates, and his Quidditch teammates congratulated us on a job well done, and Dumbledore, flanked by his teaching staff, told us we can return to Hogwarts anytime.

The Flight of the Hippogriff was more of a traditional roller coaster ride, and, after learning from Hagrid how to approach a Hippogriff, we rode in a wicker Hippogriff car three times, passing the Hippogriff in his nest each time, as well as Hagrid’s hut, before ending back where we started, with the ride operators congratulating us on a job well done.

The TriWizard Challenge was also a roller coaster ride, which, of the three of us, I was the only one brave enough to try. Like the Forbidden Journey, the wait in line is an integral part of the experience, as we passed through dark corridors, tunnels, and caves, filled with props from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The TriWizard Challenge is actually two roller coasters—The Hungarian Horntail and the Chinese Fireball—that at one point appear to almost collide with each other. Riders hurtle about the tracks forward, sideways, and upside down, before being deposited back where we started. I’m sure the ride operators congratulated us afterwards, as with the other two rides, but I was much too shaken and stirred to notice. I’m glad I took the TriWizard Challenge so I can say I did it, but it’s not a ride I would repeat any time soon.

Although my daughter would be happy living on treats from Zonko’s (including the gigantic chocolate frog and the cauldron cake she consumed), we needed sustenance after a day of standing in lines and going on rides. We stopped in for dinner at the Three Broomsticks, where traditional British cuisine—Cornish pasties, shepherd’s pie, roasted chicken, etc.—is served cafeteria-style, in cozy surroundings. The magic extended even to the food, which was delicious, much better than the meals I ate when I once spent a semester at a British university. The mid-20s couple at the next table, self-professed “Harry Potter junkies,” struck up a conversation with us, showing off their wands and postcards with Hogsmeade stamps and postmarks from the Owl Post. It was pretty cool to visit a theme park where everybody there has something in common: an abiding love for Harry Potter and his world.

And, of course, no visit to Hogsmeade would be complete without a pit stop at the Hog’s Head with my mates, to hoist a few pints of butterbeer in an ancient pub that one could believe has been operating since the Middle Ages. There are also more potent beverages there for the adults, such as a British-style pale ale brewed specially for WWoHP. As we drank our beverages, we could hear the sounds of elves washing dishes in the kitchens located behind the bar, as well as snarling from the boar’s head mounted on the wall. No detail, no matter how small, has been overlooked at WWoHP. It’s a brilliant mingling of details in the books and sounds and scenes in the movies that will please even the most nitpicky Harry Potter fan.