Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Susan Sontag Dead at 71
Author, essayist and human rights activist Susan Sontag, succumbed to leukemia Tuesday morning at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, reports ABC She was 71.
Sontag's essays American culture brought her to the forefront of the nation's intellectual elite in the 1970's and she has written about art, criticism and illness, wrote several novels and and directed films. She was the recipient of the MacArthur "genius grants" from 1993 to 1996. Recently she had courted controversy for her comments about the 9/11 terrrost attacks in the New Yorker. "Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a `cowardly' attack on `civilization' or `liberty' or `humanity' or `the free world' but an attack on the world's self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions?" she wrote.
"In the matter of courage (a morally neutral virtue): whatever may be said of the perpetrators of Tuesday's slaughter, they were not cowards."
Sontag is survived by a son, David Rieff and her longtime companion, the photographer Annie Liebowitz.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Oh, the Shame: When Meeting Readers Goes Wrong
A hilarious piece in the Sydney Morning Herald about what can go wrong when writers leave their desks to promote a book, join a panel or do a reading or host an event.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Jelinek Collects Nobel Literature Prize
Elfriede Jelinek, the Austrian writer who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature amid much controversy, finally collected the prize at a small ceremony at the Swedish Embassy in Vienna, reports ABC News Online. Jelinek videotaped an acceptance speech for the official ceremony which took place on December 7 in Stockholm. "Jelinek is renowned and often reviled in Austria for denouncing the country's Nazi past, its present-day politics and women's subjugation by society," reports ABC News. "Austria is built on the lie that it was the first country to fall to Hitler. We were the first who exported Hitler as a finished persona. It is always the writers who point this out," Jelinek said. Nevertheless, her publisher reports that 200,000 copies of her books have been sold since Jelinek won the award on October 7.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Government Eases Rules on Writers in Sanctioned Nations
The U.S. Treasury Department has agreed to ease restrictions against publishing work from writers in countries who are under U.S. economic sanctions, such as Cuba, Iran and Sudan, reports The New York Times.
The decison comes in response to a several lawsuits brought against the U.S. government for violations of freedom of speech, the most visibly by Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian attorney and human rights advocate who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003. Ebadi filed suit last month when her agents here were prevented fofrom pursuing a publishing deal for her memoirs. Effective immediately, the new Treasury Department rules will permit "all transactions necessary and ordinarily incident to the publishing and marketing of manuscripts, books, journals and newspapers" in paper or electronic format, including the commissioning of new works, advance payments, augmenting of already published work with photographs or artwork, editing and publicity." See the ruling from the Treasury Department. Get the story from Aljazeera.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Gabaldon Rushes Outlander Series
Diana Gabaldon wrote Outlander as an exercise, which she never intended to publish, she tells the Arizona Republic. It turns out she didn't need the exercise. Her manuscripts are rarely edited by the publisher, going straight from disk to typsetting. Now she is rushing to deliver the sixth novel in the series, which features time-traveller Clare Randall. There is such a rush to get the book in stores that Gabaldon is given one week to go over the galleys.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Blogs Lead to Book Deals
The New York Times reports on the recent trend of bloggers being snapped up by publishers and signed to book deals. Thus far, the editors of Break-up Girl, Wonkette,, Instapundit, Real Live Preacher, among others have books in the works. Talent Agency ICM has an assistant who trolls the blogosphere for likely clients to represent.
Tom Wolfe Wins Bad Sex Award
The author of I am Charlotte Simmons has beaten an international contingent of authors for the The British prize for worst sex in fiction in 2004, reports The Age of Australia. Brits, experts in bad sex on and off the page, award the prize to "the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel". The winner receives a statuette and a bottle of champagne, but Tom Wolfe will receive neither. He is the first author in the history of the award who will not attend the event.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Novelist and Revolutionary Team to Write Crime Novel
When well-known Mexican crime writer Pablo Ignacio Taibo II heard from the guerilla leader "Subcommander Marcos", the mysterious revolutionary who gained fame for his fight for the people of Chiapas, Mexico, about the possibility of co-authoring a book, his first reaction was No. But after thinking about it for ten seconds, he said yes. "It had the enormous attraction of insanity," Taibo admits. His Mexico City detective series featuring Hector Belascoaran Shayne is well known in Europe and Latin America. After some discussion, the new book will alternate chapters: Marcos will write chapters 1,3, and 5, Taibo chapters 2,4, and 6, and both will collaborate on the last chapter 7. The resulting book, Awkward Deaths features two detectives who work a case from different angles, with politics and social commentary thrown in. The leftist Mexican Newspaper La Jornada is serializing the book, and chapters can be read here. Why would a revolutionary want to write a detective story? "I think here is an attempt to use a genre that he has not used before," Hernández said. "The police novel is the best genre for describing social injustice, the abuse of power, the inequality that exists in a society," said Luis Hernández, editorial page editor of La Jornada.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

The Twenty-one Films of Christmas

Instead of those coma-inducing year-end lists of books, here are 21 of the best books on film ever. You won't find Gone With the Wind or the Godfather on this list (let's move on, shall we?). Why 21? Um, I couldn't cut one more! They're listed alphabetically with tons of juicy background and buying info linked for your enjoyment, so you can plan your viewing and/or giving accordingly. Then you'll be all set so you can watch (or read) within sprinting distance of the leftovers. Happy Holidays!

image:amazon.comAll the President's Men (1976) The true story of how Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein stumbled onto the Watergate scandal and brought down President Nixon is a classic. The fast-paced, tension-filled thriller exactly echoes the breathless pace of the book. Particularly relevant these days (journalists asking questions!), the film stars Robert Redford (who also produced), Dustin Hoffman and Jason Robards, who is magnificent as Post editor Ben Bradlee. get list

image:Amazon.comA Place in the Sun (1951) Based on An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser, this film tells the powerful story of a young penniless guy on the make who falls in love with a beautiful young (and wealthy) girl. Unfortunately, the guy has a has a secret -- a pregnant lover he wants to discard (badly) so he can marry the beautiful debutante whom he loves. Cut to a midnight boat ride. Montgomery Clift is heart-wrenching as the morally corrupt, helplessly in love George Eastman. A luminous 18-year-old Elizabeth Taylor is the passionate debutante who loves him back, Angela Vickers, and Shelley Winters is brilliant as Alice Tripp, the inconvenient woman. The book is based on a 1906 murder case in which Chester Gillette (of those Gillettes), killed Grace Brown, his pregnant lover, during a boat ride in the Adirondacks. Read about the Gillette case. Check out the Theodore Dreiser society.

image:Amazon.comA Rage in Harlem (1991)
This delicious caper flick based on the legendary noir writer Chester Himes' book should be a classic. Robin Givens is smoking hot as a dame with a case of stolen gold, Forrest Whittaker and Gregory Hines are just two of the men chasing after her for more than the gold. There are more twists and turns here than a rollercoaster ride. Funny, smart and bold.

image:Amazon.comDangerous Liaisons (1988) The best version on film of the 1782 novel by Chloderos de Laclos. The entire cast deliver outstanding performances here. There is not a bad moment in the film, which was shot on location in French Chateaus of the period. Glenn Close stars as the scheming Marquise de Merteuil, who passes the time by destroying people. John Malkovich is charmingly reptilian as her sometimes lover and accomplice, the Vicomte de Valmont. Michelle Pfeiffer is stunning as the woman who is determined to resist Valmont.

image:Amazon.comDolores Claiborne (1995)
Based on Stephen King's suspense masterpiece, this taut, beautifully shot mysterious film is a long flashback (like the book). Eventually you'll find where the bodies are buried and who killed them. Kathy Bates is magnificent as Dolores, a tough old Maine widow with secrets in her past. Jennifer Jason Leigh is perfect as her neurotic, pill-popping daughter Selena, who comes home after 15 years when Dolores stands accused of murder. Again. The English actress Judy Parfitt is alternately hilarious and horrifying (in a good way)as Dolores' long-time employer.

image:Amazon.comDouble Indemnity (1944) The definitive film noir. Standout performances by Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray make this film an unforgettable experience. James M. Cain's story of lust, deception and murder gets sexier, murkier and more evil than it was on the page with the legendary Billy Wilder's direction. Wilder directed it like Cain wrote it -- simple, spare and deadly. The shot of Stanwyck's face while her husband is being strangled is one of the most bone-chilling images on celluloid.

image:Amazon.comThe Exorcist (1973) Regarded as the scariest movie of all time, director William Friedkin (the French Connection) based his seminal horror film on William Peter Blatty's 1971 novel. Moviegoers lined up for hours when this premiered, and at many theaters, terrified moviegoers fainted, vomited or passed out. Linda Blair starred as the young teenager who falls victim to demonic possession. Ellen Burstyn is her mother, and Max Von Sydow is the exorcist. Check out a report on the actual incident that inspired the book. In a completely bizarre turn of events, American soldiers in Iraq who were assigned to guard the temples of the ancient city Hatra discovered it is the setting of the opening scene of the film and are trying to restore the area and make it a tourist destination. The U.K. telegraph reports.

image:Amazon.comFrankenstein (1931)Still scary after all these years. Forget every version you've ever seen, this is the first and the best. Colin Clive is wonderful as the mad scientist, and the legendary Boris Karloff gives a wonderfully nuanced performance in his first major role. Excellent cinematography and set design contribute to the film's spooky ambiance. Mary Shelley's book got the royal treatment here.

image:Amazon.comThe Great Gatsby (1974)
F. Scott Fitzgerald's luminous and tragic portrait of the jazz age has been filmed four times, but this version starring Mia Farrow as Daisy Buchanan and Robert Redford as the romantic, enigmatic Jay Gatsby is considered the definitive film version. Farrow is the epitome of the spoiled rich girl in flowing chiffon, and Sam Waterston's performance as Nick Carraway, the narrator/observer is sublime, and deservedly catpulted him to fame. Redford's blinding beauty makes up for his somewhat wooden performance here.

image:Amazon.comHotel du lac (1986)
The prolific Anita Brookner couldn't ask for a greater adaptation of her satiric award-winning novel. Anna Massey is perfect as Edith Hope, a mousy romance novelist who has been shipped off to a quiet hotel in Switzerland by her friends until her "unfortunate lapse" is forgotten. The film, like the book, peels away the layers in flashbacks between scenes of socializing between the handful of guests that remain in the hotel. Nothing or no one is what it seems, past or present. A gem.

image:Amazon.comThe House of Mirth (2000)
Gillian Anderson (aka X-files Agent Scully) is not the first actress you think of to play Edith Wharton's doomed turn of the century heroine, but she is mesmerizing and gives the performance of her career. Fans of the novel will be impressed. Eric Stoltz as the ambivalent Laurence Selden and Laura Linney as the poisonous Bertha Dorset are standouts. The entire cast turns in astounding performances which make this visually gorgeous film a truly emotional experience, like the book. Yeah, chick flick.

image:Amazon.comThe Insider (1999)
The true story of tobacco executive Jeffrey Wigand's decision to blow the whistle on his company's illegal practices features riveting performances by Russell Crowe as the conflicted Wigand, Al Pacino as the producer of the news magazine that wants to air his story and Christopher Plummer as the reporter. Tautly directed by Michael Mann, the film conveys a deepening sense of paranoia as Wigand realizes that his company, Brown and Williamson, is not going to take his revelations lying down. This film was based on an article in Vanity Fair.

image:Amazon.comJules et Jim (1962)
This is a case of the film improving on the book. Henri-Pierre Roché's novel about a woman loved by two men can get wearying, but the film is the exact opposite. Truffaut's direction (in the nouvelle vague style) is inspired and brings true intimacy and beauty to the story about friendship and an elusive woman who inspires much emotion. Despite the film's title, she is very much the center of everything. Brilliant acting by Jeanne Moreau, and ground-breaking direction make this a must see. Shocking ending. French with English subtitles.

image:Amazon.comLa Cérémonie (1996)
Stunning suspense film based on the Judgment in Stone by U.K. author Ruth Rendell (the grande dame of crime and psychological suspense). Director Claude Chabrol, considered the French Hitchcock, set the action in France, took some liberties with characters, but maintains the essential elements of the plot. Starring the incomparable Isabelle Huppert as the maid, Sandrine Bonnaire as her best friend, and Jacqueline Bisset as the lady of the manor. French with English subtitles.

image:Amazon.comL.A. Confidential (1997) An outstanding cast makes this film one of the best of the last decade. This adaptation of James Ellroy's novel of murder and police corruption in 1950's L.A. boasts a sizzlingly intelligent script, wonderful acting and incisive direction by Curtis Hanson. Russell Crowe plays sensitive tough cop Bud White, Guy Pearce plays college-boy cop Edmund Exley and Kevin Spacey plays the suave cop on the make Jack Vincennes. Not to be missed.

image:Amazon.comLike Water for Chocolate (1993)
This delightful film based on the book by Laura Esquivel is set in turn-of-the-century Mexico and perfectly captures the power of good food as described in the novel, which includes recipies. A man falls for one sister, but stern Mamá says he must marry another sister. Complications ensue, as the single sister expresses her feelings through her food. Passionate, funny and smart. Spanish with English subtitles.

image:Amazon.comLooking for Mr. Goodbar (1977)
Diane Keaton is brilliant as Theresa Dunn, a nice Catholic girl who teaches deaf children by day and trawls bars for men at night. This is practically a dual role for which Keaton should have won an Oscar (she won for Annie Hall the same year). The film captures the 1970's free-wheeling sexual hedonism, and accurately depicts the psychology behind Keaton/Theresa's promiscuity. Based on Judith Rossner's 1975 bestselling novel. The film features exceptional performances by Tuesday Weld as the screwed-up older sister and young Richard Gere as a hot coked-up stud. The ending will leave you gasping for air. Read the original N.Y Times story that inspired the book, and read this piece by the NY Post reporter who covered the story.

image:Amazon.comThe Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Despite the recent remake's quality, it is the austere black and white original film version that reflects Richard Condon's novel best. Still very relevant, this story of a government conspiracy against a group of soldiers aimed at turning one of them into an assasin is filled with tension, paranoia and dread. Laurence Harvey plays the tormented assasin-to-be, Sgt. Raymond Shaw; Angela Lansbury is evil personified as his mother, the rabidly ambitious Mrs. Iselin and Frank Sinatra as the soldier who knows something is very, very wrong. A must-see.

image:Amazon.comMonsieur Hire (1990)
Suspense was never soooo good. Erotically charged suspense based on Les Fiancailles de Monsieur Hire or Mr. Hire's Engagement by Georges Simenon (out of print). A haunting performance by Michel Blanc as a repressed loner suspected in a murder. Sandrine Bonnaire as his secret obsession, the girl he watches through the window. Once they meet nothing is ever the same. The poignant melody Monsieur Hire plays over and over will stay with you, as will the film. Outstanding. In French with English subtitles.

image:Amazon.comThe Postman Always Rings Twice (1944)
The hottest noir film in history. James M. Cain wrote the book about a drifter who takes a job at a roadside burger joint and then gets a load of the boss's wife. Fantastic performances by Lana Turner the unhappy wife, and John Garfield as the drifter make this worth watching. Watch for the twist, it'll break your neck.

image:Amazon.comPsycho (1960)
Norman Bates is the brainchild of suspense writer Robert Bloch, whose book, inspired by an actual case, was turned into a classic horror film by Alfred Hitchcock (he paid $9,500 for the film rights!). Starring Anthony Perkins as Norman in his first bad-guy role, and Janet Leigh as the larceonous Marian Crane. Leigh said that after filming the shower scene she was never able to take a shower again. And the sound of the knife stabbing her? Hitchcock recorded several fruits being stabbed to get just the sound he wanted, said Leigh. The winning fruit? A melon.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Delusions of Love
image courtesy of Random House Memoria de mis putas tristes by Gabriel García Márquez (Vintage Books, $10.95)
This is the first novel from the author in ten years. Anticipation was so feverish that bootlegged copies of the book hit the streets in his native Colombia weeks before the official publication date. A revised ending written at the last minute has made the pirated versions obsolete. When the book finally hit the stores, sales were clocked in at 1,000 volumes per hour. One wonders what his compatriots have to say about this unexpected story.
A few guesses: Offensive, sad, misogynistic, ridiculous. Not words usually associated with the beloved Gabo.
A 90 year-old man wants a last fling with a young virgin for his birthday and falls in "love" for the first time. Not even García Márquez's formidable talent (still very much in evidence here) can make this story poignant or compelling.

Set in the Colombian coastal city of Barranquilla during the 1930's, the first-person narrative introduces the protagonist, a retired journalist, who is looking back at his life and preparing to face death. But first, he wants that virgin. For this he contacts an old friend of his, the madam of a whorehouse with whom he has a long acquaitance: he has never had sex without paying for it; even if the woman wasn't a prostitute, he insisted on paying. The old writer has kept a list of the women he has slept with (including descriptions and a scoring system); the list contains 514 names. He has lived alone, writing his columns, listening to classical music his whole life. He was almost married once, but ditched the bride on their wedding day. The misogyny fairly boils over the margins.
After some difficulty a young girl is found and the assignation made. When he arrives, she is asleep on the bed, nude, her face grossly made up. He doesn't wake her or touch her in any way, but watches her and leaves the next morning. He arranges to meet the girl several nights per week, for the same pathetic charade. She is always nude and asleep, he watches her and occasionally caresses her, nothing more. Eventually he brings his favorite music, books and objects to the room -- ostensibly for her, but she is always asleep.
When the house closes unexpectedly and the madam disappears, the man is bereft. Desperate to see the girl, he walks the streets, looking for her, imagining that he sees her, when he realizes that he wouldn't know what she looked like fully dressed and standing up. He doesn't know her name or the sound of her voice, and tries to imagine it. Then he realizes he doesn't want to hear it. He prefers her silent.
Amazed at his desperation to find her, his agony at not seeing her, he realizes that for the first time in his life he is in love. With what is unclear, since the girl has never even been awake in the same room with him. He knows the girl works her fingers to the bone every day in a factory as the sole support of her family, and he has done nothing to help her, even mocks her to the madam about it. He calls her "Delgadina" (little slender one) but she is described as malnourished by somone else (not that he cares). He does nothing to find out if she gets enough to eat, or to ensure she is getting a fair share of what he pays the madam. He loves her silent somnolence which neither demands nor complains. There is no poignant love story here, just a lingering distaste.

Review of Spanish language edition.

Magazine Confidential
If two new novels are to be believed, the magazine business hasn’t changed much in the last 80 years. Bandbox by Thomas Mallon, is set in 1920’s Manhattan, a bawdy valentine to the jazz age, and Bite by C.J. Tosh, set in present-day Manhattan, both portray the business as a booze-soaked, drug-fueled sexual playground where work happens between visits to the hottest watering holes, and the juiciest stories never make it into print. Both books are fast-paced, laugh-out-loud, fun reads that leave you wanting more. Both books are written with razor-sharp authenticity by magazine editors: Mallon used to work at GQ and Tosh is a pseudonym for two writers who still work in the business. Mix your favorite cocktail and indulge.

image courtesy of Random HouseBandbox by Thomas Mallon (Pantheon Books, $24.95) is the hottest men’s glossy in the country when the upstart Cutaway appears, edited by a traitorous former staffer. The war that ensues between the two magazines is full of fast-paced wisecracks, spying, double-dealing, sex and alcohol. Bandbox Editor-in-chief Jehosephat Harris is worried about keeping his job and the magazine he turned into an icon single-handedly, so his staffers pretty much run amok. When an editor tells him that the cover model (“the handsomest young man in New York”) never showed up for the photo session, he delegates. “Find his pusher!” bellowed Harris. “Call the morgue! Why are you bothering me?” Thus begins this runaway train ride of a story. Before it’s over we’ve been privy to grappa-enlivened editorial meetings at the magazine’s unofficial hangout, an Italian joint named Malocchio (Italian for: evil eye), and have met the staff, including the closet animal rights activist, the prizewinning writer past his prime and the copy editor determined to save him and jump start her writing career, the staffer who sleeps with everybody, the the newspaper vendor in the lobby et. al.
At some point some animals go missing, a scandal involving the mob and a judge and a restaurant comes to a head, and nobody even notices that the young kid who arrived determined to work at the magazine disappeared after a particularly hot party. Somehow deadlines are met, the war is waged, and Bandbox survives to fight another day.

image courtesy of Simon & SchusterBite by C.J. Tosh (Downtown Press, $13.00) is conceived when hotshot entertainment reporter Samantha Leighton is suddenly fired from her job at a People magazine-like publication because of a sexy rumor that isn’t true. Everybody in the industry has heard it and believes it, leaving her unemployable, weeping over the injustice in her darkened apartment. When she finally goes out again at the insistence of her best friend Tom, an editor at business magazine, they discuss an idea they’ve fantasized about for years. What if they started their own lifestyle magazine? They quickly resolve the enormous problem of funding – Samantha comes from Park Avenue money and her parents agree to bankroll six issues. Samantha and Tom quickly bring in friends and co-workers to work for them and start planning. In between the celebratory drinks and mock-ups everybody has romantic dramas that threaten the launch, to hilarious effect. Will Samantha’s long-time crush on an elusive Indiana Jones type pay off? Will Tom be able to work with his brother, the newly appointed publisher? Will Liza the art director, be able to balance work with her Park Avenue social life? Will R.J., the outrageous sex columnist, get arrested? For the answers to these and other questions read this witty and hilarious romp of a story.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Survival of the Toughest
Leg the Spread : A Woman's Adventures Inside the Trillion-Dollar Boys Club of Commodities Trading by Cari Lynn (Broadway Books $24.95)
Not since Liar's Poker has there been such an up close and outrageous look at what goes on in America's financial institutions. Cari Lynn is a freelance writer in Chicago who clerked in the Mercantile Exchange or (the Merc) for two years. Why the Merc? A friend of hers worked at home a few hours per day trading via computer. He made $1,000 a day and the rest of the time, he lived. A severe and understandable case of "I want what he's got" ensued.
Lynn convinced her friend who had a seat on the exchange, to sponsor her as a clerk (the lowest form of life in the pits) so she could learn the ropes. An orientation video and a yellow polyester blazer later, she was in. The hours, depending on the pit you worked (wheat futures, pork bellies, Yen options, Eurodollars) were approximately 8a.m. to 2p.m.

Lynn went from working in quiet solitude at her own pace to a cacophonous, high-pressure, agressive, male-dominated workplace where millions are made and lost by the second. From the frenetic arbing (the sign language between traders and clerks to buy and sell), to the shouting (orders are shouted as they are signaled), to the shoving, cursing spitting and mauling, Lynn finds that working at the Merc is not for the faint of heart.

I've grabbed men by the throat before. Once you do that they start realizing,well, we can't fuck with her
The skills needed to succeed in futures trading are facility with numbers, a loud voice, not being easily intimidated and overall aggression because you're pushing and shoving and shouting orders in a pit with hundreds of other traders. The most important trait is the ability to handle stress. In her first week on the job, Lynn finds she possesses none of these qualities, and but signs up for an arbing workshop. She is repelled the behavior, fascinated by the vast sums of money to be made and totally hooked.

Overwhelmed by the frenetic pace of the pit, Lynn tries to find a mentor -- a female one, in a business where there are very few. Women at the Merc and the Chicago Board of Trade are routinely insulted, harrassed, felt-up and intimidated until they prove themselves. After that, they get the abuse everyone else gets (shouted profanity). The culture in the pits is "kill or be killed." People are there to make money, not friends. Most of the successful women in the pits have weathered the abuse and learned to fight back. One female trader who survived and eventually started her own firm remembers what she was told when she first stepped into the pit : "You belong on your back at home." The other traders cheered. Another female trader says "You have to knock a few prople over and stand up for yourself; I've grabbed men by the throat before. Once you do that they start realizing, well, we can't fuck with her." This sounds perfectly reasonable given what goes on in the pits.

As Lynn struggles to find her way, she seeks out the women who have not only succeed but endured in a culture that seems out to destroy them. The women share tales of survivial, success and bad behavior in the pits. Some legendary traders provide insight into a culture where money can rain down on you like leaves from a tree, and what that does to human behavior. This a fascinating story of the history of one of the biggest markets in the world.

Little Girl Lost in Hollywood
image courtesy of HarperCollinsA Paper Life by Tatum O'Neal (HarperCollins, $24.95)
Tatum O'Neal was the youngest actor to win the Oscar for best actress. At age nine, her role as a street-smart, cigarette smoking con artist in Paper Moon brought her international fame and recognition. On the night she won, neither of her parents were present, nor did they congratulate or acknowledge her accomplishment in any way. What no one knew on that night in 1973 when she seemed to have everything (perfect Hollywood child of perfect Hollywood couple) was that her life was closer to that of a street urchin than Hollywood royalty. more

Tatum's parents divorced when she and her brother, Griffin, were barely school aged. Her father, the actor Ryan O'Neal, left and her mother, Joanna Moore, began a slide into addiction that included alcohol, pills and men. Some of those men would later abuse Tatum. To say the children were neglected is a gross understatement. Hungry dirty, unkempt and illiterate, most would be hard-pressed to make a distinction between these children and those on the streets.
When her father swoops her away from her mother's drugged indifference, Tatum's life only improves on the surface. Ignorant of and indifferent to her emotional scars, Ryan O'Neal continues living his bachelor life with his daughter as witness. He beds streams of famous women, indulges in drugs, and offers little comfort. When she is swooped into the family business to star opposite her father in Paper Moon, she can barely read and must learn her lines by rote. The experience that was to bring them closer than ever tore father and daughter apart as Tatum's prodigious talent steals the film. When she received her Oscar nomination, he punched her in the face and knocked her out, witnesses say. She herself doesn't recall the incident.
From these difficult beginnings, Ms. O'Neal traces her odyssey of pain, abuse and addiction, dropping many famous Hollywood names, mostly of women who were involved with her father. It is difficult to imagine preserving one's sanity with such a disturbing combination of glamour and anguish, but Ms. O'Neal displays an innate steely strength that has served her well.
Although she began using drugs as a teenager, it wasn't until after her divorce from tennis great John McEnroe that she fell into serious addiction, a problem which cost her the custody of their three children. Her account of her marriage and divorce is harrowing and brutally honest, describing their legal battles and her fight to find sobriety and hope after her divorce. Sober and working again, she has triumphed over troubles many succumb to. At the end of this one you want to cheer.

The Stiletto Chronicles
image:Simon and SchusterWhy Not? by Shari Low (Downtown Press, $13.00)
Jess Latham should have known better. She should have known that an all-out focus on her career would leave her feeling empty in other areas of her life. She should have known that getting involved with her boss was a bad idea, because he was married and her boss. Also, he's a condescending snob who stinks in bed. She should have known that all married men who cheat say their marriages are empty arrangements of convenience. She should have known that her affair was heading nowhere. What Jess Latham could never have possibly guessed was that her affair would wind up on the front page of every tabloid in London for all to see.

Jess loses everything except her gang of devoted girlfriends who are determined to help her get back on track. Plans are hatched during their weekly Margaritas and Mexican food outings, which often wind up in drunken revelry. After another worse heartbreak, Jess and her friends decide revenge is the only way to go. Surprising alliances are made, devious plans are hatched, all amid much hilarity and heartbreak.

Full of warmth and humor, Jess and her friends handle crises with intelligence, wit and style. They are all women you'd like to know, and friends you'd want to have.
The Cure for What Ails You
image courtesy of Random HousePaging Aphrodite by Kim Green (Delta $12.00)
When life goes wrong, run. Go to gorgeous Corfu, where if you don't solve your problems you'll at least get a great tan! Four women at different turning points in their lives meet in Corfu where they have each gone to escape and decide their next step. They will each find unexpected friendship in each other and strength in the freedom they have away from their old lives.
Parker is a type-A interior designer from San Francisco whose husband left after eleven days; Anya is convinced her love life is cursed because of a dark secret; Claire is an Australian who decamped after she found out her husband strayed; and Kelah, the youngest, is a Londoner who aches to be a serious novelist and can't seem to write a word.
Parker is convinced that her husband's departure is just a blip on the road to her perfect life, and that he will return, as soon as he gets over whatever it is he needs to get over. Popping pills helps her believe this. It is delicious fun to see her disabused of this idea in a series of hilarious emails from home.

Kelah is clueless about what's really going on with her writing and her non-existent lovelife, and like the book says, it takes a village to set her on the right path. Anya faces her secret and Claire goes after a long-deferred dream.

In between sunning and eating there are men hovering, offering fun and complications. As the women's friendship deepens, they find the strength to challenge what life has handed them (and in Kelah's case to go with the flow) and forge the road to new happiness and success. A delicious and fun read.
Small Town, Big Crimes
image:steventorres.comBurning Precinct Puerto Rico: Book Three by Steven Torres (Thomas Dunne Books, $23.95)
This is the third novel featuring the no-nonsense Sheriff Luis Gonzalo of Angustias (anguish), Puerto Rico, a remote small town in the mountains. The year is 1989 and Sheriff Gonzalo has 25 years on the job. His last duty before an extended vacation is to attend his anniversary celebration in the town square, where he's bored to tears by the speeches and distracted during the ceremony. Then billowing smoke in the distance signals a major fire on the outskirts of town and all hell breaks loose.
When the smoke clears, a family has been killed and their home burned down. The Ortiz family seemed to be farmers, but the violence signals something more serious was going on. The story moves at breakneck speed as Sheriff Gonzalo starts investigating and two dangerous suspects come to light. Other leads indicate the drug trade blighting the cities has moved up into this mountain idyll. But how? The town is so impenetrable even the walkie-talkies don't work steadily. Solidly relentless, the Sheriff follows the investigation through more twists than a daytime soap, as deputies get shot, people disappear and the new mayor continues trys to get him off the case.
An intimate sense of place, vivid and well-devoloped characterization and fast-paced action make this crime-spree a must-read.

Up Close and Uncomfortable
image:Amazon.comThe Confession by Domenic Stansberry (Hard Case Crime $6.99)
This first-person account will give you goose-bumps for days. The narrator, Jeff Danser is a psychologist who admits to being shallow, spoiled and unfaithful. There is a compelling unknown quantity just beneath the surface that keeps the reader reading and curiousity deepening. With masterful technique, the author reveals and conceals until neither the mystery, nor the suspect can be taken for granted. Chilling ending.

Past Imperfect
image:Time Warner BooksThe Dangerous Hour by Marcia Muller (Mysterious Press $25.00)
Sharon McCone is back and her business is thriving. Having just planned to expand McCone investigations she is feeling successful and satisfied. Look out for the sudden curve.
When one of McCone's employees is charged with credit card fraud the case threatens the firm because some of the purchases were delivered to the office. McCone and the firm start investigating and find weird connections to a local politician and two accidents that may be murder.
A couple of break-ins make it obvious that the fraud case is an attempt to discredit McCone and her firm -- and the investigation switches to include her past and possible enemies. As McCone and her team start closing in, the danger escalates and the injuries mount.
McCone, the original tough female detective, doesn't flinch or disappoint.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Anthology of Suicide Notes is Holiday Bestseller in Germany
Ich möchte jetzt schließen, or Let Me Finish, has apparently struck a chord with the German public. The morbid anthology opens the curtain on the ultimate private moment by publshing a selection of suicide notes.
The Times of London reports on the phenomenon of this unlikely bestseller, which has opened up a dialogue about a subject long supressed in Germany. "Berlin’s suicide cemetery is hidden in the Grunewald Forest, full of chambermaids who killed themselves after being made pregnant by their employers," writes Roger Boyes.
Paranoia 101
image courtesy of Random HouseMost Dangerous Things in Everyday Life and What You Can Do About Them by Laura Lee (Broadway Books, $12.95)
Most of us wander through life oblivious to the fact that we can be killed, maimed or incapacitated by the teddy bear on the bed, the money in our wallets or the bagel in the breadbox. Now you know.
With tongue firmly planted in cheek, Lee lists actual facts and figures from insurance companies from four continents and several hilarious newspaper accounts attesting the fact that our homes are the most dangerous places on earth. More people are killed by teddy bears each year than grizzly bears. How? Inhalation of or choking on small parts like eyes and noses, tripping over wayward bears and falling down a flight of stairs or catching some deadly virus or bacteria lurking in the bear's fur.
Informative and humorous, the entries are arranged alphabetically from art supplies (those fumes can kill you) to walking (6,000 deaths a year) detailing the dangers we never think about. Bagels alone can get you three different ways: you could slice your palm open while attempting to slice one (a common accident seen in emergency rooms) you could choke on a piece or it could tear your esophagus after you swallow (as happened to one woman) or it could break apart your dental work while chewing it. Stick to croissants people, and die calmly from cholesterol clogged artieries. This is a great gift for the hypochondriac in your life.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Women Full Blast
image: Downtown PressAmerican Girls About Town (Downtown Press, $13.00)
Some of the best known (and bestselling) female writers in America contributed short stories to this collection which will raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation in the U.S. and the U.K.
This is the third "Girls About Town" story collection to raise money for a good cause. Irish Girls About Town and Scottish Girls About Town also raise money for charity.
The 17 stories run the gamut of modern life for women at every stage of life, married, single and in-between and are funny, sexy and smart. There is not a false note or a bad tale in the bunch.

Some highlights: In the titillating Leaving a Light On, Claire LaZebnik writes about a woman who goes to a bar with a mission that is more than what it appears to be; Sex and the City writer/producer Cindy Chupak writes with unexpected humor about what happens when one woman's husband makes a stunning announcement that ends their marriage; expatriate Brit and crime novelist Lauren Henderson writes a scathingly funny look inside the shallow mind of a Manhattan Yoga Babe that will leave you howling and in recognition; Nancy Sparling concocts a sparkling fairy-tale in Just Visiting, in which a woman's lies about her life are about to be exposed. Judi Hendricks writes movingly of a young widow who escapes to Paris in Andromeda on the Street of Ducklings.

A great book to escape the chill with.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

New Spin for the Round Table
New York's famed literary landmark, The Algonquin Hotel just completed a $3 million renovation and is poised for a new life which pays homage to its history. Primarily known for the Round Table, a regular gathering of famed writers of the 1920s including Dorothy Parker, Edna Ferber, Peter Benchley and Alexander Wolcott, it has played host to many American writers through the years.
Harold Ross, founder of the New Yorker magazine, rounded up seed money for the first issues at the Algonquin bar in 1924; William Faulkner wrote his 1949 Nobel Prize acceptance speech upstairs; and the Broadway team of Lerner and Lowe penned "My Fair Lady" in Room 502. In the 1970s, novelist Mario Puzo signed contracts in the lobby to turn "The Godfather" into a movie
-- Anthony Melchiorri, Algonquin General Manager
Today, the Algonquin offers Internet access and flat screen TVs in every room, 10% off meals for writers who present business cards or a manuscript in progress, and an "interactive" version of the Round Table in the lobby with actors playing the writers. Guests will be able to join the conversation and talk about an assortment of current events.