Friday, September 24, 2004

A Conversation with Ian Rankin
Ian Rankin is Britain's top-selling crime novelist and has won every major crime writing award on both sides of the Atlantic. His Inspector Rebus series, dark, hard-hitting police procedurals, are now translated into 22 languages. As the 18th book in the series Fleshmarket Closehits the stores, Rankin looks back to the days when money was so tight he had late night panic attacks.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Anne Rice Lashes Back at Amazon Critics and Offers Refunds
Blood Canticle, Anne Rice's last book, has been getting royally flamed on by fans and foes alike, for being below par and having the beloved Vampire Lestat behaving out of character (Bookchick doesn't agree). However, the book could have used some editing, which Rice famously never accepts.
And no, I have no intention of allowing any editor ever to distort, cut, or otherwise mutilate sentences that I have edited and re-edited, and organized and polished myself. I fought a great battle to achieve a status where I did not have to put up with editors making demands on me, and I will never relinquish that status. For me, novel writing is a virtuoso performance. It is not a collaborative art.
Apparently Rice doesn't accept bad criticism either, because on September 6 she logged on to Amazon and fired back at her critics calling them stupid and ignorant. She responds at length to reviewers' criticisms about the novel in a long, single-spaced screed.
But your stupid arrogant assumptions about me and what I am doing are slander. And you have used this site as if it were a public urinal to publish falsehood and lies. I'll never challenge your democratic freedom to do so, and yes, I'm answering you, but for what it's worth, be assured of the utter contempt I feel for you, especially those of you who post anonymously (and perhaps repeatedly?) and how glad I am that this book is the last one in a series that has invited your hateful and ugly responses.
At the end she posts her address and offers any dissatisfied readers a refund if they send her the book. One reader responds: "Madam, you are not well." Rice lost her husband of 25 years recently and several readers suggest she needs to take time off.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

A Book in Every Port

For most of us, cruise ships conjure up thoughts of endless cocktails, non-stop food, music, entertainment and lazy days soaking up the sun. Two cruise ships have turned this image on its ear by combining fun with good works.
For the past 30 years the M.V. DOULOS and its sister ship the LOGOS II have sold approximately 26 million books in 1,195 ports of call as part of Good Books for All (Gute Bücher für alle .V.), a private, non-profit, charitable organization in Germany.
The ships sail to countries where books are scarce or prohibitively expensive. Visiting such far-flung ports as Malta, Croatia, Vanuato, India and Malaysia, the ships can carry up to half a million books in their holds. "Our ships carry approximately 4,000 titles in a wide range of categories, such as education, counselling, cooking, religion, culture, science, technology and fiction," said Karen Langley, a journalist/press officer for OM Ships, which partners with GBA. Once in port the the crew invites the public on board for tours, parties and a book fair in which discounted childrens and adult titles are sold. The fee covers shipping costs. Publishers donate educational titles but the ships purchase literature in the local language to sell as well.
A sampling of titles available on DOULOS:
Introduction to Criminal Justice
The Ultimate Cat Book
The Wind in the Willows
Thai Cooking
Books are not the only thing these ships carry. The crew of each ship is committed to public service and everyone on board, from cook to Captain, is an unpaid volunteer who also performs community service at each port. This includes "visits to hospitals, schools, prisons, orphanages and nursing homes, building projects, relief work, and occasionally medical aid," Langley said. "We also host programs for the public on a variety of topics, such as: faith, marriage, community development and AIDS awareness."

Volunteers can serve from two weeks to two years on board and hail from all over the world. An average of 40 countries are represented on each ship. "Serving on board is a unique way to learn about and experience other cultures," said Ken Miller, an OM spokesman who served on the DOULOS. "First, there is the privilege and challenge of living in a multi-national community. As DOULOS travels from country to country, there are opportunities not just to see cities and places and peoples, but to interact with people--often being invited to eat in their homes-and find out about their lives-their struggles and their hopes."
The ships travel year-round and are staffed with teachers and doctors, as some volunteers have their families with them. The ship raises money from donations and by selling souvenirs on board.
Hark! by Ed McBain ($24.95 Simon & Schuster, 293 pp. Hardcover)

In this latest 87th precinct novel, McBain brings back an old nemesis from the past: the elusive thief known as the Deaf Man. The Deaf Man may or may not be deaf, and he likes to send cryptic messages to Detective Carella hinting what havoc he will wreak next. Unfortunately, neither the messages or the plot here convey any serious sense of urgency.
McBain is one of those writers who is an industry unto himself, fails to summon up any suspense or interest for that matter, mostly because the Deaf Man is off stage most of the time, plotting. We're left with the really bad pseudo-Shakespearean notes and a hooker named Melissa, who is doing the Deaf Man's leg work (and plotting as well). It's Melissa's job to get the notes to Carella and company, and she hits upon the idea of paying bums and junkies to deliver them. Amazingly, each and every note arrives at just the right time. Not one junkie lost a note or got distracted looking for a fix. How convenient. McBain fans will expect more here, though Melissa pulls off a nice twist at the end.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Classic Crime is Back
Hard Case Crime is a new imprint devoted to the classic hard-boiled or noir crime genre. You know, murky morals, bad women, greed and murder. Writers like James M. Cain and Dashiell Hammett created a style that bled onto the movie screen in classics such as Double Indemnity and The Maltese Falcon. Launched this month, the books feature original cover art in the pulp fiction style, featuring busty dames, gun-toting thugs and lots of bright color. Two of the six titles out this fall hit bookstore shelves yesterday.

Grifter's Game by Lawrence Block
Block is the grand master of the detective genre, literally. He is the author of the Manhattan-based Matthew Scudder detective series. In this reprint of a 1967 title (originally published as Mona), a career gigolo is looking to score big time by marrying a rich widow. He strikes out and flees to Atlantic City (back when it was seedy) to disappear for a while. Things start to get complicated when he steals some luggage and discovers a hoard of heroine inside one of the bags. Then he meets a beautiful woman and it all goes rivetingly down hill from there. Block writes with a hard edge while plumbing the depths of human behavior. The ending of this one is still shocking today.

Fade to Blonde by Max Phillips explores another theme of hard boiled fiction, the inevitability of evil. Ray Corson is a former boxer and would be screenwriter who is working as a roofer when a tall blonde walks up to him and states "I need to have a man killed." Who she is, who the man is and why she wants him dead is a twisted story indeed. Corson is no angel, but he's not a fool either; he's a tough guy with brains. Swaggering his way through the lies, porn, the mob and murder may just sink him. But maybe not.
The Working Dead
Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers
by Mary Roach (W.W. Norton, $13.95 304 pp. Trade paperback)
We've come a long way from the days when corpses were stolen and secretly sold to medical schools for use in anatomy class. Now people can choose to donate their bodies to science and wind up in an anatomy class by choice, or be used in a host of other medical studies.
Just out in paperback, this outrageously original and humorous book gives readers a front-row seat at how scienctists use cadavers to futher their knowledge.

Journalist Mary Roach goes "where no man has gone before," to witness, investigate and report on a branch of medicine and death that the general public never sees. Although it's not for the squeamish, her respectful yet humorous tone informs and entertains. This is not a perverse voyeuristic excercise; Roach's tone is always respectful to the dead, to the scientists and to the reader.

The disconcerting news is that few bodies are used entirely in one place. The days when an entire cadaver landed on a slab in front of a first-year medical student are quickly coming to an end because of advances in computer animation. Most often, bodies are dismembered to be used by different doctors for different studies. Roach quickly gets us used to this practice in the first chapter, titled "A Head is a Terrible Thing to Waste." In one of the most disturbing images in the book, a team of plastic surgeons at a seminar each works on a dismembered head. A stickler for both the gruesome and the human detail, Roach talks to the person who dismembers the heads and to the surgeons about how they cope with the practice.

Roach provides context to her subject by examining the historical use of cadavers in medicine, which involved stolen corpses, executed prisoners or ill patients who volunteered for surgery. The narrative is full of unexpectedly hilarious moments, such as the author's attempt to confirm a story about a man in China who stole bodies from the crematorium where he worked. Rumor had it he gave the bodies to his brother who turned them into dumplings and sold them in his restaurant.

From charting human decay to impact tolerance studies to military weapons studies, cadavers have a full lives, constantly contributing to science and human safety. The last chapter deals with a new movement that advocates using ones body as compost to grow trees. Whether or not you want to donate your body to science, you now know the untold story.
Visit the website.
Chiquita Goes to Harvard
The Turkish Lover by Esmeralda Santiago ($24.95 DaCapo Press, 341 pp.)
This much-awaited follow-up to When I Was Puerto Rican and Almost a Woman is a riveting memoir of a young woman’s first serious relationship. Santiago, at age 21, meets an older man and leaves home to be with him. In spite of the fact that the man is older, charming and experienced, she soon learns that he is also dominating, lying, psychologically abusive and has no visible means of support. He calls her "Chiquita."

After a financial setback he takes her back to New York and dumps her at her parents’ home. After he leaves the country Esmeralda flourishes, finds a job she loves and her own place to live. Unfortunately, she continues to correspond with him. The lover calls and writes constantly with fervent but vague promises of reuniting with her. Instead of running for the hills (as every reader would advise), Esmeralda is enthralled, though not yet immobilized by her attraction for this man.

Esmeralda is working at a prestigious and fulfilling job at the Museum of Modern Art when she hears from the him again, telling her that he is enrolled at the University of Texas and when will she join him. She is living in Lubbock, Texas in a matter of weeks. His life becomes hers as she finds a job – and hands over her salary to him, researches and writes his papers for him, and learns to be quiet, submissive and not ask too many questions. When he completes his Master’s – for which she did all the work, something happens. Esmeralda’s self-esteem and self-worth begin to flourish. She has been taking a few courses, has done most of the work for her lover’s degrees, and begins to believe that she can accomplish more, and that she deserves better.

During a vacation in Massachusetts the couple drive through Cambridge and the Harvard campus. Esmeralda has an epiphany. She belongs here. She returns to Lubbock unsure of how she will make the desire a reality. With the support of her co-workers she completes the application and applies for scholarships and is accepted. To his credit, the lover is supportive. They pack up their Lubbock life and head north. He is to start a doctoral program in upstate New York and she moves to Cambridge to start life at Harvard. Santiago's years at Harvard are a time of self-discovery and self-determination, compellingly told.

This is an extraordinary testament to the strength and resilience of the human spirit – and the strength of Ms. Santiago.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Exporting America byLou Dobbs (Warner Books $19.95 196 pp.)
If you have a job, need a job or about to decide your major in college, you need to read this. CNN's business guru takes corporate America to task for the increasingly common practice of outsourcing -- hiring cheaper workers in foreign countries to do the work Americans used to do. If you think your job is immune, you are wrong.

  • U.S. businesses spent 16 billion on outsourcing last year
  • Forty states have food stamp help desks operated in other countries
  • Radiologists in India are reading and analyzing x-rays and MRI's for U.S. hospitals
  • More than 1000 U.S. business outsource business and technology work
  • Corporate interests spend more money on lobbying Congress than Congress spends to pay its staff
  • U.S. Companies are not taxed on profits earned overseas
  • Large Companies such as General Electric and Borg Warner outsource part of their legal work
  • Seven of the ten areas of largest job growth in the next ten years are in menial or low-paying jobs

Outsourcing has long been a practice in several industries like clothing (Nike, anyone?)but has lately gained notoriety for the increase of white-collar jobs going overseas. The practice gained national notoriety last year when a report on 60 Minutes revealed that workers in India were completing tax returns for unaware U.S. citizens, who had handed them over to accounting firms or tax preparation agencies.

The big news in this meticulously researched, highly readable book, is that the practice of outsourcing extends beyond call centers and manufacturing to include accounting, medical, legal and tech jobs. Dobbs cites several corporations which have entire departments in China, India or the Phillippines, doing work that used to be done here. Dobbs shines the light on the rabid greed of these corporations, which in most cases don't pay U.S. taxes on the work or departments because it is being done outside the country, and don't pay taxes in the other country because they are an American corporation.

Dobbs blasts through every platitude offered by CEO's in defense of this practice citing rising (and extended) unemployment, shrinking tax bases for states and no development of "new jobs." The bottom line is that it's cheaper to hire a computer programmer in China at 12.50 an hour than one in the U.S. at $126 an hour. Outsourcing also eliminates the need to comply with Armed with faulty trade agreements and oiled with millions of dollars in lobbying fees, American corporations are booming. "There are now more companies than countries on the list of the world's top 100 economies," he writes.

Thanks to favorable tax laws and trade agreements, corporations are free to chase the almighty dollar anywhere they wish; American workers are left in the dust. Without a Congressional overhaul of current trade laws, the future of America's workforce looks bleak indeed.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Who Needs Publishers?
Self-publishing is officially a phenomenon. Anyone who has a story to tell and wants to bypass (or ignore) months of rejection letters can simply self-publish. The practice has led to best-seller status and multi-book contracts from publishers for authors of street-lit. Self-publishing allows the writer to be book designer, editor, salesperson and finally, published writer. With print-on-demand technology, the days when you had to order hundreds of books from a printer or book packager are history as well. Now, for $150 an anxious author can print as few as ten copies while you wait. Services like allow you to sell your book for free and charge commission on units sold.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

King Reflects
A rare interview with Stephen King, who recently completed the last volume in his fantasy Dark Tower Series. King talks about his child hood, the accident that almost killed him, retirement and his feelings on winning the National Book Foundation Medal last year amid howls of derision from the literary establishment.
A Great Day in London
Fifty British writers of Caribbean, Asian and African descent gathered in London to be photographed together in the tradition of the famous photograph "A Great Day in Harlem" which in 1958 captured most of America's jazz elite and spawned a documentary film. The writers, less glamourous than jazz musicians, are given an interesting back story by one who attended the shoot at the British Library.
China's Cell-Phone Novel Debuts
Qian Fuzhang's novels have been compared to the work of Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, but critical praise did not lead to financial success for the Chinese author. That may change with the debut of his latest novel, Out of the Fortress, which was designed to be read on cell phones, 70 characters at a time. Readers will get two daily installments of the novel or call in to a number where the day's chapter is read. Readers are charged a small fee on their phone bill, similar to the charge for a text message. Fuzhang was paid a $20,000 advance for the novel, and Taiwan has offered him even more money for the rights.
Philip Roth at 70
An informative and incisive interview/profile with the reclusive Philip Roth ,who has twice won The National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, and numerous others.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Indian Writer Anita Desai Finds New Focus in Mexico
Anita Desai's work has been short listed for the Booker Prize several times. Her work has dealt mostly with the emotional woes of India's middle class, but her new book, The Zig Zag Way is set in Mexico, where the writer spent some time after she moved to the U.S. Desai says India and Mexico share similar histories and culture and she found her visit there particularly inspiring.
Beirut's Book Woes
Beirut's bookstores can't keep The Da Vinci Code in stock, a common problem they face with books that are international bestsellers. The large number of bookstores in the city stock only a few copies each in three languages: Arabic, French and English -- the English version is sold out and readers face an indefinite waiting period.
Two Books Share Award
Judges for the Toronto Book Award couldn't decide between Mme. Proust and the Kosher Kitchen by Kate Taylor, and Wondrous Strange: The Life and Art of Glenn Gould by Kevin Bazzana. So they were both named winners yesterday. The authors will share the $9,000 prize.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Kitty Kelley's Bush Book Storm Fires Up
The author of the nortoriously juicy, but factually disputed books on Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra, The British Royal Family and the Reagans, points her pen at George W. Bush. The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty, to be released next week, was rigorously fact-checked by Kelley's publisher Doubleday, a spokesman said. Nevertheless, Doubleday required publications that requested advance copies to sign a confidentiality agreement prohibiting them from contacting Kelley's sources. The Guardian also reports on the anticipated revelations.
The Death of Science Fiction?
I would not be encouraging a young person today to be entering science fictionas a profession. I do have a fear that the science-fiction novel is as much an
artifact of the 20th century as Victorian literature was of the 19th," said
Sawyer. "No matter how hard you yell 'clear' and go for the defibrillator
paddle, you still can't get that spark of life going again.

Technology and science are moving so fast that it's getting impossible to be futuristic in a genre where the future is everything. With shrinking outlets and booksales, writers, booksellers and devotees are counting the days. The article makes a valid point, but ignores the creativity of those who can transform the genre.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

NEA Study Deeply Flawed; Americans are Reading Plenty
When the National Endowment for the Arts released a study that showed Americans are reading less than ever, media outlets around the country took up the battlecry predicting the downfall of civilization as we know it. Bookblog was skeptical. No one stopped to think. The NEA, a venerable institution, has an agenda to promote the arts (fiction). It's claim about American reading habits doesn't jibe with what's happening in this country. Consider this: There are more book clubs than ever in this country. Self-published authors have reached bestseller lists, school-age children made Harry Potter as hot as any pop star, and there's a new political book out there for every blip in the polls (and publishers wouldn't bother if they didn't sell). The NEA study didn't even include non-fiction, which is a the biggest share of the market right now. In a commentary for the Los Angeles Times, Marc Aronsen takes a close look the study and the numbers and tells us what went wrong and why they're inaccurate.
Martha Grimes on Her Alter Ego, Her Fans and Writing
Martha Grimes' 20th Richard Jury mystery, The Winds of Change, debuts this month. Her fans are so attached to the character that they write to her about him between books, and argue about his love life. She received hate male when she wrote her first book outside the series. Grimes says that Jury may be the male version of herself, and she finds writing about men easier and more interesting. She doesn't plot out her mysteries, but rather lets the character lead the way as she records the story using a fountain pen and leather bound notebook.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Talking to Margaret Drabble
The much honored British novelist became famous in the 1960's for her stories of young mothers who felt trapped by convention. Her dissections of the middle class made her Britain's unofficial chronicler of bourgeois angst. Drabble has written about infidelity, national malaise, and her ambivalence toward her mother. Strained relationships seem to be a theme with Drabble, who doesn't speak to her sister, the writer A.S. Byatt, and calls her writing "unreadable."
Drabble's latest novel, The Red Queen, is a complete change of scenery and subject. It takes place in 18th-century Seoul, Korea, and is based on the life of an actual princess. Drabble recently let fly her opposition to the Iraq war in a scathing piece for the London Telegraph. Don't be put off, read it to the end.
Is Arab Literature Being Lost in Translation?
Does the literature from the Arab world which is translated into English (or other European languages) accurately reflect Arabic culture? Do publishers pick works which serve to reinforce stereotypes or keep westerners ideas of Arabs one-dimensional? The Lebanese author Rashid Daif and German author/translator Michael Kleeberg coment.
Click on headlines for full article

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Got Book?
Who says there's nothing to do in upstate New York? New Rochelle resident Aiye Akhigbe read 110 books last year. The 28 year-old says she was below her target of 200. And yes, she has a day job.

Friday, September 03, 2004

The Rare Books Detective
Would you kill for a book? It's possible that a rare book is at the center of one of New York's most publicized and mysterious deaths. The rarefied world of antiquarian book dealers is fighting off 21st-century scam artists from all over the world. This article looks at Ken Sanders, a self-appointed investigator for the trade (based mostly in New York) who has helped identify scams and scam artists as far away as Nigeria. Still at large is a mysterious Russian (who may be mob-connected) whom he suspects was involved in the death of Svetlana Aronov, a fellow dealer in New York who disappeared one night when she went out to walk her dog. Aronov's disappearance made headlines, and she was found a few weeks later floating in the East River. Although the death was ruled accidental, Sanders has other ideas.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

The Straight Dope on Writing (a lot)
Boston Globe columnist and author Alex Beam is eating the literary dust of authors like Christopher Buckley (11 books), Simon Winchester (12 + books), and John Updike (63). Beam has written three, and apparently this is not enough. He wonders, tongue-in-cheek, if the prolific brilliance of other writers could possibly be due to performance enhancing drugs. "Has Stephen King submitted to a blood test lately?" he shrills.
First Journal of Ukrainian Literature in English Launched
The University of Toronto has launched an the only online and print journal of contemporary Ukranian literarture in translation. The journal is free (at the moment) and can be downloaded as a .pdf file or read on-screen.