Category Archives: Uncategorized

Random House Penguin and Amazon: Too Big and Too Fast

Every time I see that condescending actor from AT&T pretending to have fun with kids on TV, I want to strangle Random House — or no, Amazon — for pushing Bigness, Speed and MORE, MORE, MORE as the American ideal in the first place.

I know some people think the AT&T guy is cute and congenial with children, but most of the time he encourages kids to act out, then makes fun of them.

actor from A T & T with kids

actor from A T & T with kids

“It’s not complicated!” comes the steroidal AT&T announcer, and the awful message is clear: Be bigger, faster, and more hyperactive — you’ll go nuts a lot sooner than your parents. Continue reading

That Sexist Mister Galbraith

The Cuckoo's Calling

You know why The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith wasn’t widely reviewed when it first came out?

Here’s my thought:

On page 15, Robin Ellacott, a “tall and curvacious” young secretary, is about to enter the office of a world-weary private investigator named Cormoran Strike for the first time. At that moment, Cormoran, a big guy around 210 pounds, rushes out the door and crashes into her.

Robin falls backward, dangerously close to the open stairwell behind her, but Cormoran “seize(s) a fistful of cloth and flesh” and, “with a wrench and a tussle,”  pulls her toward him to safety.

But wait. What is it he gets hold of to save her — an arm? a coat? a belt? No, “he saved her by grabbing a substantial part of her left breast.”

Oh. He — um, wait. He reaches out, grabs her breast through a few layers of clothes and hauls her in like a marlin? Robin must weigh over 100 pounds, right? Yet he saves her from falling into the stairwell only by his grip on her … Well, I don’t think that’s possible. His hand just couldn’t get enough purchase to …

Come, Mr. Galbraith: Do your homework. Do you think breasts so literally fit the term  ”knockers” that one simply grabs and pulls, as though closing a door by its doorknob? Continue reading

HIS FIRST MISTAKE

If you own a newspaper, try not to tell the staff you’re “committed to preserving quality journalism” and then say, “Don’t be boring.”

That’s what Jeff Bezos did at the Washington Post yesterday. I bet the 20 “hard-bitten” reporters in the room laughed (and groaned) inwardly at his amateur remark.

Jeff Bezos             Point: A journalist writing a story on, say,  changes in the tax code should never be burdened with an order like “Don’t be boring.” Continue reading

When Cell Phones Turn Readers into Idiots

One needn’t be a fan of Barnes & Noble to sympathize with the staff at a B&N store where New York Times writer Nick Bilton and his wife acted like a couple of six-year-olds storming a playpen.

According to Bilton’s article, the couple sat down “cross-legged on the floor” and surrounded themselves with “several large piles of books,” which they “lobbed back and forth” (!) for “a couple of hours” (!!) while researching “ideas for a new home that we are planning to buy.”

Isn’t that nice. Whenever you need a library, just go to a bookstore, Bilton suggests. There you can turn new books into used books for all the customers to follow.

Then Bilton and his wife “snapped a dozen pictures of book pages with our iPhones” and “went home without buying a thing.” Very tidy. Bilton does mention that they “placed the books back on the shelf” like the Good Samaritans they see themselves to be.

A Disturbing Idea

But later that night, Bilton was struck by a disturbing idea: “I asked my wife: Did we do anything wrong? And, I wondered, had we broken any laws by photographing those pages?”

So conscientious! After all, those pages were protected by copyright, a very big word for a very important concept. You’d think an explanation of copyright would be the point to an article with the headline: “Can Your Camera Phone Turn You Into a Pirate?”

But no. The authorities Bilton consults compare the use of cell phones that photograph book pages today with the use of Xerox machines that duplicated book pages during the ’70s, and the use of Napster programs that shared music files during the ’90s.

According to these experts, technology has advanced so quickly that copyright laws can’t keep up, so nobody really knows the exact definition of piracy when it comes to cell phone cameras. But Bilton’s journalistic drive demands a deeper truth: Will he get caught?

“Need I worry yet that a phalanx of lawyers will soon grab me between the Home Decor and New Age aisles at Barnes & Noble?”

Well, if I were the two thugs running this chain, I would have thrown the Biltons off the escalator, but you know, bookstore clerks are nice. They allowed this couple to clog the aisles and rummage through new books on the floor because it might have sounded rude to ask them to put their !@#$%^&*! cell phones away.

That leaves readers to ponder a thought by Julia A. Ahrens, associate director of the Fair Use Project at Stanford Law School: “By the time this becomes an issue,” she tells Bilton, “we might not even have bookstores anymore.”

That’s comforting, isn’t it, Nick? One day the same might be said of libraries.

Bookstore Rudeness

I know that bookstores have long been invaded by ill-mannered customers who blithely sit down in the aisles, break the spines of new titles, “lob” books around or — these I could throttle — buy a book on Amazon and bring it into a bookstore to have autographed at an author event.

But Bilton’s article raises new questions about the effect of cell phones on social manners in general. Maybe we’ve all grown accustomed to cell phone users driving erratically or talking loudly on the street or in elevators and restaurants because for some reason, they think their conversation takes precedence over everyone else’s experience.

What I can’t figure out are bookstore customers who blatantly use cell phones to compare prices with Amazon’s while they walk around the New Release table, or worse, take cell phone photos of books they might want to read so they can buy them on Amazon later.

I won’t go into Kindle owners who actually bring … well, you get the point.

This is not just rude behavior; it’s profane. A bookstore offers browsing opportunities and instant camaraderie with staff and authors that we never find on the Internet. There’s something sacred about a place where censorship is fought routinely, unknown authors are welcomed and introduced and young adults who’ve inexplicitly stopped reading are lured back to books they’ll treasure forever. For a customer to interrupt this kind of sacred exchange because they’re so entirely self-involved seems tragic.

Thanking Our Lucky Stars

The Biltons don’t appear to be stupid or cheap — I bet if you asked them, they’d want to contribute to the betterment of bookstores. Then, too, Nick Bilton is the lead technology writer for the New York Times and author of I Live in the Future & Here’s How It Works (Crown; 304 pages; $25), a book published last fall about the impact of iPads and smart phones. That makes Bilton an expert. Yet he doesn’t know the meaning of copyright? When he and the missus took advantage of the bookstore staff’s good graces, he had to ask, “Did we do anything wrong?”

So come on, Nicky, get off the phone. Think how you’d feel if somebody photographed your book and blithely departed “without buying a thing.” The future you write about can and should provide Americans with every kind of reading option, most especially the bookstore option.

Patti LuPone, Part II: “Don’t Give Critics the Power”

A big difference between books and theater, as Broadway star Patti LuPone points out in her enlightening and instructive memoir (Crown; 324 pages; $25.99), is the fact that in publishing it takes an accumulation of negative reviews to damn a book; in theater, one review can kill a play overnight.

Here’s one reason: With books, the Internet has ushered in our current era of “the democratization of publishing” in which everybody’s a critic. True, traditional critics at newspapers and magazine may still be influential, but readers give as much or more weight to reviews by bloggers, customers, book clubs and, of course, themselves.

Theater criticism, on the other hand, has remained more parochial and elitist. A handful of trusted reviewers still seems to reign, and among these few, for Broadway shows especially, the New York Times has inordinate power.

Fighting Back

LuPone is both victim and victor to this oddly provincial tendency. She has even been doubly damned: Despite her incredible talent and wildly favorable notices in Europe, LuPone has been the subject of hostile critics in New York not just for a few years but for entire decades.

This forced LuPone to re-earn audience regard every time she appeared onstage. For example, thanks to early publicity, tickets for Evita, her first big hit, were sold out so far in advance that LuPone and her co-star Mandy Patinkin had to outlast the sour impact of New York critics who hated her performance. This surprised even LuPone: Continue reading

Patti LuPone: A ShowBiz Memoir to Remember

She is probably the last of the great Broadway musical stars, certainly has the loudest (and funniest) wit, couldn’t be more honest (or complaining) and, with her trademark honesty and bawdy humor, has a heart and a funnybone as big as the Great White Way.

All of which to say that while actor/singer/comic/tuba player Patti LuPone sails through her memoir bringing one skeleton after another out of the closet from New York to Hollywood to London, we readers get to chuckle and wonder in wow-I-didn’t-know-that delight all along.

Who knew, for example, that centuries ago, opera singers canceled performances at the peak of their menstrual cycle because blood would so engorge their vocal cords that they could blow a singing gasket, as it were, that would render them silent for days and weeks afterward.

The great Jessye Norman told LuPone this, but too late: Following disastrous vocal blowouts (especially during Evita previews because that !@#$%^&! Andrew Lloyd Webber wouldn’t lower the register but more about that below), LuPone — one of Broadway’s most powerful and versatile singers — had to have surgery and learn how to sing all over again. Continue reading

Two Terrific Books (And Amazon Blows it Again)

The most controversial book (by far) at the NCIBA trade show* was Tiger, Tiger, the true story of a pedophile in his 50s who not only befriended a 7-year-old girl but became her “playmate, father and lover” for 15 years before he committed suicide and she ended up in her twenties becoming both an incredibly mature author and a — well, you hafta wait and see.

Not one parent at the show could open Tiger, Tiger to even begin page one because it’s so menacing, so terrifying and so creepy …. or so it seemed by the look of it.  The fact that the author, Margaux Fragoso, lived to tell the story would seem astonishing enough;  that she writes in a beautiful, gripping narrative voice with the most astounding insights opens our ears (and, incredibly, our hearts) to otherwise unspeakable matters.

I can say that once you do open the book and you do begin reading, it’s impossible to put down. And boy, is it needed. Fragoso refuses to be either victim or avenger. What she learned about herself and human nature keeps us appalled and instructed every step of the way. From the start, her choices in life are so unexpected and in a way so thrilling that … well, again, you hafta see for yourself. The wait may be excruciating, because Tiger, Tiger is going to simmer (and not on the back burner) at Farrar, Straus & Giroux until its March publication.

(BTW, thank you, Autumn, at From The TBR Pile, a blog for readers that’s turned up a good handful of other books named Tiger, Tiger [or Tyger, Tyger in goblin speak] that you can find here. And extra thanks of course to poet William Blake who started it all.) Continue reading

REMEMBERING PAT CODY

Iron-willed, big-hearted and unforgettable


The recent death of Berkeley, Calif., bookseller and activist Pat Cody reminds me what a privilege it is to work with books at any time.

Pat and her husband Fred opened Cody’s Books in 1956, long before the emergence of computers or chain stores, and right in the middle of a conservative backlash called McCarthyism that ravaged free speech almost as badly as the Patriot Act has in our last decade.

The Codys are remembered as champions of civil rights, but throughout even the most turbulent decades, when gas masks hung by the cash register and protesters squared off against police outside the store, their core belief was the value and the right and the privacy of reading.

To Fred and Pat, it didn’t matter who walked into the store — a homeless self-publisher (hardly an oxymoron) or a professor of physics from UC Berkeley: Matching the right book with the right customer was the highest act of political engagement they knew. Their first and last job as booksellers, they felt, was to contribute to the experience of quiet solitude that can only happen during the act of reading. When the reader’s mind meets the author’s mind, they believed, the world will change. Thank heaven that Andy Ross, who bought Cody’s Books in 1977, believed the same thing. Continue reading

U.S. OPEN: WATCHING TENNIS THROUGH NEW EYES


Andre Agassi’s ‘Open’ Reveals Dark Underside of Early Training

I’m sure I wasn’t the only reader of Andre Agassi’s memoir, Open, to laugh when announcers at the US Open mentioned what a crime it would be if the legendary tennis coach, Nick Bollettieri, is passed over for the Tennis Hall of Fame.

A Prison for Teenagers

In Open, Agassi lambastes Bollettieri’s famous tennis academy as a “prison” where teenaged hopefuls are forced to exhaust themselves on tennis courts, live in “cell blocks” and act out in a cafeteria that resembles “a mental hospital where the nurses forgot to hand out the meds.”

And that’s just in the mornings. In the afternoons, students are taken by bus 26 miles away to Bradenton Academy, another windowless prison where “the light is fluorescent and the air is stale, filled with a medley of foul odors, chiefly vomit, toilet, and fear,” Agassi writes.

The school, more than the tennis academy, overwhelms Agassi with feelings of claustrophobia and failure. “At the Bollettieri Academy, at least I’m learning something about tennis,” he says. “At Bradenton Academy, the only thing I learn is that I’m stupid.”

Under Bollettieri’s management, however, even tennis takes a back seat. As the other boys tell Agassi, “our job is to keep Nick’s four sports cars washed and polished” because Nick is “a hustler, a guy who makes a very nice living off tennis” while stifling his students’ growth.

Worse, Nick reminds Andre of his tyrannical father, Pops, a seeming tennis mentor who is, like Nick, “captivated by cash.” It never occurs to the former paratrooper Bollettieri that he’s really known for running “a tennis sweatshop that employed child labor.” Continue reading

THE ‘MISERY LIT’ INDUSTRY AND OUR PART IN IT

Finally Getting Rid of Important Gasbag Author David Shields — Part III

So back to the most delicious part of that blowhard David Shields’ book, “Reality Hunger.”

To summarize Parts I and II below, Shields says that thanks to the Internet, we’re all bombarded with so many words and ideas from so many sources that it’s impossible to find truth or meaning in daily life, especially from authors we used to trust.

So Shields has decided to “help” matters along by adding his own thoughts to quotes from our best thinkers (Woolf, Emerson, Orwell, Goethe, Yeats, Gornick, Thoreau, etc.) to generally f— pardon me, mess with our minds.

The ensuing confusion is not a departure from reality, Shields suggests –

it is reality, and we’re all adding to the confusion by asking for lies when we say we want the truth.

The Memoir Hoax

Remember how incensed everyone was about yet another “memoir” that turned out to be a fake?  Well, I was. That pissant James Frey lied about so much that didn’t really happen to him in his whole drug-addicted life that Oprah Winfrey, who had loved his book, “A Million Tiny Pieces,” dressed him down dramatically on her show.

You’d think publishers or agents or editors or somebody would stop these liars from making millions from an obvious hoax. But no. Continue reading