August 7, 2007
With the internet and the publishing industry unapologetically intertwined these days, it’s no wonder that the Fake Steve Jobs is releasing his very own book come October.
For those of you unaware of the blog entitled “The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs,” it began to create a stir within Silicon Valley over a year ago. Written anonymously since earlier this week, the satirical blog features posts by someone pretending to be Apple CEO and Founder Steve Jobs. Lovingly referred to as Fake Steve Jobs or FSJ by his fanatical followers, the identity of the blogger was revealed (or rather uncovered) by New York Times reporter Brad Stone on Sunday.
The notoriously tight-lipped Jobs is the perfect corporate mogul to impersonate, especially with the booming success of Apple over the past few years. The mocking, self-righteous, and sarcastic tone of FSJ’s blog is riotously funny and borderline genius. He has even got the real Steve Jobs reading his posts. Loyal fans had been pondering who the real FSJ was for months, as well as well-known faces within the IT industry that the blog reams on a regular basis. My personal favorite is when FSJ calls Bill Gates “Beastmaster” and Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz “My Little Pony.” A reference of course to his choice of hairstyle. There are videos out there. You can find them. Ok fine, here it is.
Either way, FSJ has been busted, and it appears that a senior editor at Forbes, Dan Lyons, was behind the blog the whole time. A relative unknown, so good for him, because now his name will be remembered for a good 10 to 15 days. His new book, written of course in the FSJ persona, is called Options. Da Capo Press in Cambridge is backing the project. One site predicts that because the mystery is gone, everyone will forget about FSJ, move on, and the book will flop.
I have my doubts, but even knowing Lyons’ identity, I still laugh uncontrollably at FSJ’s posts. I recommend taking a look at some of FSJ’s Greatest Hits. Here are some classics…
Watch out, elderly iPod users
Regarding our iPhone
The big secret meeting, complete waste of time
July 17, 2007
Let’s be honest. As Americans, we allow nudity to scare us. It’s an inevitable truth; it’s hard to even debate. All you have to do to confirm it is visit a European country and turn on a television there. If you dare to risk it, you will most likely encounter more skin during prime time viewing than you’ll find on the late late late shows of premium cable channels.
And so it appears that this philosophy of selective censorship (which we invoke only to save our children from corruption!) has extended into the book industry.
U.S. publisher Boyds Mills Press recently refused to print a German children’s book because of questionable illustrations. The picture, which was part of one of Rotraut Susanne Berner’s best-selling Wimmel books, depicted…are you ready for this…art in a museum. I’m not sure you can get much more scandalous than that. The images that worried the publishers included a nude woman in a painting and a minuscule statue, or what one article terms “cartoon breasts and a half-millimeter-long willy.” But I urge you to make your own decision about whether or not these pictures would have scarred our children. Here’s a close-up of the woman in question, and then of course the tiny man.
Boyds Mills Press requested that Berner remove the illustrations from her book, along with pictures of people smoking. The author refused, forgoing the chance to distribute her book to American children (at least for now). Berner disliked the idea of “invisible censorship,” with no black bars over the disputed images. She believes that, “if you’re going to censor something, then the reader should be aware of it.”
Berner’s books portray children and adults in their normal, day-to-day activities. The Wimmel stories have been published without protest in 13 other countries, reaching best-selling status in nearly all of these locations. Hmmm…is it possible that we overreacted? Or is overprotective, overbearing, and over-the-top just how we do things nowadays? I think so, and a headline from today’s BookNinja blog introducing this story (”Mini-penis scares North America almost as much as liquids in suit cases and nail clipper”) echoes my point.
May 24, 2007
The legal proceedings between famed author Clive Cussler and Phillip Anschutz’s Crusader Entertainment over the 2005 box office flop Sahara ended last week with the jury divided.
The Los Angeles Superior Court ordered the adventure author to pay Crusader $5 million in damages because of a breach in contract. Cussler reportedly inflated his book sales from 40 million copies to over 100 million during the film’s contract negotiation, a lie that motivated the company to pay the author $10 million apiece for the rights to two of his Dirk Pitt novels. Lawyers for Crusader stressed that the organization never would have agreed to pay Cussler that much had they known the actual number of books sold.
The jury also found that Crusader owed $8.5 million to Cussler for the rights to the second book (which would have been adapted into a screenplay for the proposed Pitt adventure film series). In terms of box office sales for the first film, which starred Matthew McConaughey and Penelope Cruz, the film opened at No. 1, but only grossed $68 million in the U.S., which resulted in an $80 million loss for Crusader. Because filming failed to begin on the second movie within the time constraints outlined in the original contract, the jury awarded Cussler the film rights to his books as well.
If Superior Court Judge John P. Shook upholds the jury’s verdict, Cussler will emerge from the dispute $3 million richer, which prompted the author’s lawyer, Bert Fields, to declare his client the winner.
Conversely, Crusader’s attorney Marvin Putnam interpreted the jury’s findings as a victory for the production company, and stated that: “It’s a massive vindication not only for Crusader and all the people who made the film, but also for the industry at large.”
Who the true victor is will depend on Judge Shook’s final decision, but neither side is at a loss to pay the potential damages. Cussler has penned over 30 novels, while Anschutz holds the title of one of the richest men in the country.
February 26, 2007
The seventh and reportedly last in the series of books about the young wizard Harry Potter is scheduled to be released on July 21. Raeanne Nightingale write on This Is Wiltshire that while the Harry Potter books a best sellers of literally historic proportions - the sixth in the series sold 6.9 million copies worldwide in the first 24 hours, and the entire series has sold 325 million copies - independent bookseller aren’t likely be able to cash in on it as huge online retailers like Amazon and giant supermarkets like Tesco can sell the books for less than many stores can buy them.
The Book Barn in Niantic in Connecticut (here in good ol’ US of A) is throwing a Harry Potter release party, as it has been doing since 2003. Entertainment will “include magic demonstrations, fire-breathing, and exploding potions. Attendees, who much register in advance, are encouraged to dress up as their favorite character.”
In other Harry Potter news, author J. K. Rowling is suing online auction giant eBay for sales of pirated versions of Harry Potter on the company’s Indian web site, according to the The Times:
Rowlingâ€™s lawyers claim that if eBay profits from sales of illegal goods then it should be held liable.
â€œIn Indian copyright law, if the premises of a person is being used for an infringing activity, that person would be liable for that activity,â€ Mr [Akash] Chittranshi said. â€œThe market is not immune from liability.â€
Harry Potter has made a bit of a star out of Gili Bar-Hillel, who translated the books to Hebrew. More than 100 Potter fans attended an event at the Jerusalem International Book Fair where the translator discussed the process of translating the book.
“It’s ridiculous, this is something that never happens to translators,” Bar-Hillel said after speaking at the Jerusalem International Book Fair. “The attention I’ve received is because I’m translating Harry Potter. It’s Harry, not me.”
October 30, 2006
Yes, I confess I had not read the 2005 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction until now, when it is nearly 2007, but in theory I have repented of this fact prior to my death and consequently cannot be held accountable for it in the book-lined heaven towards which I aspire.
Marilynne Robinson’s second work of fiction, Gilead, deserves both the Pulitzer and my monumentally-less-prestigious Repentance for Not Reading It Earlier. Admirers of her debut novel, Housekeeping, which garnered the Ernest Hemingway Foundation award for the best first novel from PEN American Center, a PEN/Faulkner fiction award nomination, the Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and a Pulitzer Prize nomination, no less, have been equally rewarded in their patient wait for this quietly stunning, deeply compelling book.
The style of the novel is clean, careful and profound. It assumes the form of a long letter written by John Ames, a 76-year-old preacher, who has spent the majority of his life in Gilead, Iowa. Ames has been diagnosed with a heart problem and has little time to live; he writes to his son, the beloved product of a marriage to a much younger woman, and much too young himself to understand any fatherly information the elder Ames wishes to give him. Ames fills this gorgeous ‘letter’ with all the things he wishes he could pass on to his child: his own family history (his father and his grandfather preachers before him), impeccably composed and heartfelt descriptions of the events of his current waning days, and, most preciously, with the truths about life he has gathered—truths about his own life, about all human life, and about spiritual life.
But lest my opening paragraph about a book-lined heaven lead you astray, you need not be Christian, religious, nor even have significant appreciation for Christianity or religion in order to appreciate this book. Part of its strength is Ames’ deep love of the human and of worldly existence, which is the only appreciation you need share to be drawn into its pages. It must be said that the novel may be slow to capture you fully, but if you persist in putting together the mosaic of its prose, the last half of the book will be a rich reward. Mysteries of the past, like sacred mysteries, surface; some resolve fully, some remain partially obscured, the truth a conjecture of tangible facts.
I am tempted to compare the book to water—in its clarity, in its beauty, in the way water is both transparent and reflective, tossing the fragments of the sun, the sky, the heavens back upon themselves. Only after this comparison leapt to my mind did I recall Ames’s suggestion that, in a sense, all water holds the capacity to bless, that water is, in and of itself, a blessing. The link of metaphors holds. This book is a blessing.
Connexions has compiled a list of a few of the 75,000 memorable quotes and beautiful moments in this book; read a really spectacular review that makes me ashamed to be ticking on a keyboard at Eve’s Alexandria.
August 25, 2006
The release of This is Not Chick Lit: Original Stories by America’s Best Women Writers, an anthology edited by Elizabeth Merrick, has stirred up a great brouhaha in the writing and publishing industries. The ruckus is not entirely illogical, as Merrick recieved inspiration through her dismay with the state of the writing and publishing industries. The book, she explains, is the fruit of “years of being appalled, as a young writer, at how little promotion serious women writers get:”
You need review space, and review space is still very biased toward men and bylines at our literary publications. Look at Harper’s or The New Yorker. It’s a very good week if there are 25 percent or 30 percent female bylines.
As that was happening, serious books by women were edged further off the front display tables by these knockoffs of Bridget Jones’s Diary, and then it just got harder and harder to find literary works by women. I wanted to make a way for the audience of readers who want more literary work to be able to find it. And so that’s how this anthology was born.
The anthology, which contains stories by writers such as Aimee Bender, Jennifer Egan, Mary Gorden, Binnie Kirshenbaum, Francine Prose and Curtis Sittenfeld, is anything but anti-feminist, contrary the conclusions some might draw from the title. Instead, its aim is to focus on the issues that preoccupy those women who are trying to make serious contributions to the face of literature, whether they are “female” issues, “feminist” issues, or neither. Merrick advocates the ability for women to write about the female psyche without limiting it to the topics of finding Mr. Right and the right handbag to go with him.
“We don’t have just one story, we have many stories, and they’re not getting heard,” Merrick laments. “It’s essential that they be heard, because if we don’t hear them and we just hear that it’s all about marriage and designer shoes, then that diminishes us. It diminishes our imagination.” She’s tired of men cornering the market on ‘genius’ books, a problem she encountered when trying to find a publisher for her novel Girly, an epic exploring female sexuality and spirituality through seven different voices. She finally had to publish the book herself.
But there are a number of disagreements that have sprung up around the book’s publication. The first is, naturally, from authors and proponents of the chick lit genre itself, who feel that the anthology is persecuting one half of the female authorship body, creating factions precisely when it should be rallying the troops. Jennifer Weiner, author of Good in Bed and In Her Shoes, fumed, “We’ve got the country’s (self-proclaimed) best women writers turning up their noses at their fellow women authors’ more commercial efforts. The best chick-lit books deal with race and class, gender wars and workplace dynamics, not just shoes and shopping.”
And one could certainly argue that the publishing industry is kept alive through commercial best-sellers that entertain readers even if they don’t innovate literature. In retaliation, Lauren Baratz-Logsted is publishing an anthology titled This is Chick Lit. “The reason chick lit sells in such great abundance is that it provides readers with a reliable form of entertainment,” she said. “Is there something wrong with this?”
But from Merrick’s point of view, chick lit is taking up publishing resources and bookstore space that might otherwise be available to serious female writers. And it seems to me that a continued proliferation of chick lit, sometimes without regard to quality, combined with a male domination in the genre of serious literature, can intimidate aspiring female writers, conciously or unconsciously. In his article, Jeff Simon points out that “only a few of the stories in her declaration of commercial independence are formally challenging. Is that because she - the anthologist - is out of sympathy with that kind of story, or the best current female writers are?”
Merrick reveals that the bias is not her own: she is desperate to discover female authors tackling issues and style in controversial ways. “I would argue that those books are being written - and very possibly not published,” she states. “We all know what we do with the difficult Boy Books. These books win our awards. These are the books that generations of men are trying to (emulate) with their next generation of Boy Books. I think there are women writing these books but it’s happening as there is increasing pressue on women to write in a more realist mode.”
Visit a discussion of This is Not Chick Lit on Conversational Reading.
August 21, 2006
Alison, a 46-year-old ex-model whose face is now “broken, with age and pain coming through the cracks,” trudges through San Rafael, California. She is sick with hepatitis, a condition exacerbated by the codeine she takes to dull the pain in an arm incapacitated by a car accident and a failed surgery. She describes her current as the “gray present,” through which “the bright past” sears, unrelentingly pulling her back. As the novel continues, less and less of the “present” Alison is seen, eclipsed by the occasionally garish shine of her history.
As a teenager, Alison ran away from home, residing in the marijuana haze of 1970s San Francisco before success in a modeling contest swept her off to Paris. She chronicles the model’s world there, parties stocked with a cornucopia of drugs and an equal profusion of almost ludicrously beautiful people. When her affair with the married head of her modeling agency ends, she flees the Parisian world of a “rich, dreamy mud of sound” for New York city. But her addiction to the world of beauty, beauty like an aristocratic title that one possesses or does not, calls her back into Manhattan’s modeling world, where she celebrates considerable success in the 1980s.
Only then does the ‘Veronica’ of the title arrive. A plain, unstylish, and overweight woman, Veronica initially only attracts Alison’s distaste when the two meet temping for an advertising agency. But like the tension of Gaitskill’s previous novel, Two Girls, Fat and Thin, this book is truly about the fast friendship that develops between these two unlikely candidates. More than anything else, Alison returns to her memories of Veronica, as the older woman battled with her contraction of HIV from her emotionally-distant bisexual husband.
Veronica is the mouthpiece for the gritty truths that characterise Gaitskill as an author, and as we realize that Alison’s friendship with Veronica is the only happy part of her predominantly tempestuous life, another contradiction is drawn. At once poetic and fierce, the gorgeous language does not flinch away from the putrid, the caustic, and the bitterness of truth; her metaphors engage a kind of lethal precision of the word. Like the sheathing of a one-gorgeous model in the sickly frame of an aging woman, Gaitskill continually draws upon the intimacy of opposites, of beauty and ugliness, even in her own prose.
Read a review from the San Francisco Chronicle.
August 17, 2006
The Dead Hour is Denise Mena’s follow-up to 2005’s Field of Blood featuring struggling Scottish Daily News reporter Patricia “Paddy” Meehan who, three years after cracking the case of a little boy’s murder to become a full-fledged reporter, is now stuck covering the night shift crime beat. The word is depressing and going nowhere: drunken brawls, knife fights, and domestic violence. So when Paddy investigates a domestic violence dispute in the affluent suburbs, she is ready to dismiss it just as the cops interviewing the distressed couple seem to.
However, when Paddy catches a glimpse of an elegant, blonde woman suffering from a head wound, she is prompted to ask a few questions, only to have her handsome companion shove a fifty pound note at her not to report the story, and Paddy is poor enough where fifty pounds makes a difference. She agrees to not report it, only to sorely regret her decision the next morning reveals the woman to have been Vhari Burnett, a decidedly unmarried human rights lawyer, now found viciously murdered in her own home. It is here that Paddy realizes she had been bribed by Vhari’s murderer.
Things only become increasingly complicated as Vhari’s friend commits suicide, leaving an apologetic note that leads the police to believe that he had killed his friend, and then himself out of guilt. Now Paddy is faced with the decision to either track down Vhari’s real killer and admit to her own part in the crime - and possibly end her career - or to keep quiet about the affair and let her own guilt consume her.
August 11, 2006
Saturday chronicles the events of February 15, 2003, through the eyes of Henry Perowne, a 48-year-old neurosurgeon living in London. Henry awakens inexplicably in the pre-dawn hours and mechanically heads to the window in time to see a bright object streaking through the sky. As it comes closer, it becomes evident that the object is a plane on fire, blazing towards Heathrow, and, with the post-9/11 consciousness that infuses the book, his mind leaps towards terrorism as an explanation. Because protests against the impending war with Iraq are being held in the city that day, issues of violence loom above the heads of the characters, and weave a quiet threat throughout the entire book. In this moment, Henry contemplates the reality and the fate of those on board, and the sudden alterations in life that will end it.
For the airplane is only a symbol of the chaos that can shatter the securities of life, just as Henry’s middle-class life and moral conscientousness put him forward as an everyman. We follow Henry through the course of his day–he snuggles with his beloved and loving wife, Rosalind, he drives to a squash match, getting into a minor car accident and altercation with a thug on the way, he competes fiercly in the squash game, and he visits his mother in her nursing home before finally returning to his own home for a family gathering. But the topic of the book itself is not these events, but the philosophy that surrounds daily life; we see this day largely through the thoughts that occur to Henry during the day, as he contemplates everything from the specifics of neurosurgery, to his opinions on the possibility of war in Iraq, to the sudden intrusion of violence into his own life.
Because Henry’s status as an ‘everyman’ comes not from his life, whose foundations are almost too idyllic to be accounted normal, but from his response to the world–at once desiring a greater connectivity and failing to break free of the kind of complacency that often inundates the modern middle-class. His two artistic children–his daughter is a poet and his son is a blues musician–make him aware of the limitations of his scientific intellect. Again, he is simultaneously aware of his deficiencies but stubborn in his distaste both for religious explanations or for artistic literature. Though he saves the lives of the people upon which he operates, he knows can only fathom the complexities of their brains, not their minds. He wishes for a “coherent world, everything fitting at last,” but what he discovers is disconnection as well as connection, and the collision of arbitrary forces and fate.
Read a review of this novel here; read a comprehensive listing of reviews at The Complete Review.
August 9, 2006
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In Never Let Me Go, we are introduced to Hailsham, a private school in the English countryside, by Kathy H., a 31-year-old alumna of the institution. Kathy identifies herself as a “carer” only a few months shy of becoming a “donor,” an impending transition that makes her look back upon her years at Hailsham. In her reminiscences, we meet her two closest childhood friends, Ruth and Tommy D. All the characters are drawn with remarkable attention to detail, with mundane facts faithfully catalogued, and deepened with complexity. Kathy’s even-tempered skills of observation are as revealing about her own character as the recounting of Tommy’s firey spirit and Ruth’s imagination and willfulness. Her precise, documentary narration sets the tone for the novel, that neither questions nor explains the strange terms such as “donors,” “carers,” and “completion.”
It’s clear that the students at Hailsham are special: they are shunned by the outside world–the “normals”–as much as they are cultivated by their “guardians.” But why? Through the richly depicted characterizations, Kazuo Ishiguro reveals the truth of the characters’ destinies piece by piece. Just as the students are “told but not told” about their origins and their fates, the reader must make inferences to determine the truth, gathering clues from rumors and conversations. The perfect pitch of the narration combines with gradual discovery to make a masterpiece in obliqueness.
Relating the truth in full would undermine the excellence of the reading experience, but suffice it to say that Ishiguro is weighing ethics and the acceptance of evil in the same way he did in his classic Remains of the Day. Here, Ishiguro takes on the ethics of scientific advancement, but as the topic is never addressed directly, it falls a long way short of moralizing or didacticism. Though the dystopia that incrementally comes into view has elements in common with those in science fiction classics, the very human, very plausible world is at once more understated and more disarming. The reader is left to contemplate the implications alone, when the magnitude of this exceptionally written and astoundingly powerful work finally sink in.
Read a Village Voice review here; read a review at the Agony Column Book Reviews and Commentary here.