Thursday, October 30, 2008

I wonder how Joe the Plumber would have answered this...

Still undecided as to whom to for next Tuesday for President? Page 854 comes to the rescue with word about the candidates' opinions on yet another important issue. According to an article in the Christian Science Monitor, Sarah Palin's nemesis Katie Couric asked John McCain and Barack Obama what their favorite books were. Their answers:

John McCain: For Whom the Bell Tolls
Barack Obama: Song of Solomon

I seem to recall our current President once expressed his fondness for The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

At least someone in this business is making money

Things are tough all over -- unless you are one of the handful of best paid authors in the world. And where else to find out about this but Forbes, a publication that has grown rich by telling the rest of us who all the richest people are. In a recent article, Forbes presented a list of the "world's best paid authors," and for anyone who follows the book industry there are no real surprises.

Leading the list is -- duh! -- J. K. Rowling, who, in the twelve months ending June 1, 2008, raked in $300 million. Rumors are she is in negotiations with Barack Obama and John McCain to buy the United States of America. Number two on the list is James Patterson, who has become almost a one-man book-of-the-month club, and every one of those books sell to his huge and ardent following. Stephen King, who so much wants to be respected as a literary artist, garnered enough commercial respect to gain a frightful haul of $45 million. Going down the list, one finds such relentlessly familiar names as Danielle Steel, Nicholas Sparks, Janet Evanovich and Dean Koontz. And, coming in at number ten is Ken Follett who has Oprah to thank for much of his recent success.

Books by all of these authors are available at Accent on Books. Not that they need our help.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

More Awards for Local Writers

Two announcements this past week indicated yet again the extraordinary amount of quality literature that emerges from Western North Carolina. First, the WNC Historical Association announced that Ron Rash has won this year's Thomas Wolfe Literary Award for his collection, Chemistry and Other Stories. Rash, who teaches at Western Carolina University, has recently been winning national attention and acclaim for his novel Serena, which has just been published.

Also, it was announced that Asheville Citizen-Times writer Dale Neal has won the 2008 Novello Literary Award from the Novello Festival Press in Charlotte. This honor goes to an unpublished manuscript, which is then scheduled for publication by the press, with a $1000 advance being awarded to the author. Dale is a longtime friend and customer of Accent on Books (he wrote a Citizen-Times article about the store earlier this year), so we are delighted that he has received this honor. His manuscript -- which is his first novel -- is titled, Cow Across America.

Congratulations to these two fine authors. Ron Rash's books are all available at Accent on Books, and you can be sure Dale's will be as well, as soon as it's published.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Just Reading

Frequently over the years we have had customers wistfully say that they wish they had months (or years) when they could do nothing but read. Then maybe they could start whittling down that long list of books they'd like to get to.

Maybe they could take inspiration from Charles and Sue Wells, who happen to live next door to Barbara Brotman, a writer for the Chicago Tribune. During the summer, Brotman noticed that her neighbors would spend sometimes the entire day sitting outside next to each other, each one lost in a book. No conversation, no attending to other duties, just sitting in their back yard reading. Fascinated and inspired by this sight, Brotman decided to ask them about it. The secret, she found out, was simply a matter of priorities. Reading is what they love to do, so they decided to make it a center -- on many days, the center -- of their lives. As Charles Wells said to her, "You have to make a commitment to it. You have to make a decision: Are you going to have clean countertops, or read? We've made that choice. I want to read and understand the world better."

Brotman comments: "Imagine reading not as what you do when you have a few extra minutes, but as a day's destination. Not as dessert, but as the main course. Not as something to sneak in, but a planned activity. Immersing yourself in an engrossing story, turning your mind to see something differently -- why should anyone feel guilty about spending time like that?"

Brotman's article can be found here.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

What Would William Say?

My nominee for Impudent Literary Personality of the Week: Christopher Buckley, novelist, humorist, and son of the late William F. Buckley. First, Buckley posted an article on Tina Brown's blogsite The Daily Beast , in which he endorsed Barack Obama, a position that didn't go over too well at The National Review, the journal that William founded and for which Christopher is a columnist. Make that was a columnist -- after Buckley's article appeared he either resigned or was fired, depending on whose version you believe.

Then, in the October 19 New York Times Book Review, Buckley has a double review of two memoirs by prominent writers returning to the fold of the Catholic Church: Called Out of Darkness, by Anne Rice (best known for her vampire novels and, more recently, books about the early life of Jesus); and Crossbearer, by Joe Eszterhas (best known as the screenwriter for such funky Hollywood offerings as Basic Instinct and Showgirls). Suffice it to say the famously Catholic William F.'s son is unconvinced by either narrative and has a lot of fun saying so. He even counts himself among the unbelievers, "in whose camp I squat, nervously clutching Christopher Hitchens' pant leg."

Somewhere, in a conservative, Catholic heaven, William F. Buckley is shaking his head, and turning up his recording of the Brandenburg Concertos a little louder. What can you do?

By the way Anne Rice's book -- and the latest by Christopher Buckley -- are available at Accent on Books. And we'd be happy to special order the Joe Eszterhas title.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Winner Over There, Nominees Over Here

Tuesday evening to Wednesday morning was a busy period in the world of English language literary awards. On Tuesday evening in London, the 2008 Man Booker Prize for best fiction published by a British Commonwealth author went to the Indian writer Aravind Adiga for his novel, The White Tiger. (Back in July I wrote a post about the Man Booker finalists.) Adiga, 33, is the fourth debut novelist to win the award. His novel -- which the Booker jury said "shocked and entertained in equal measure" -- is an unsentimental portrait of life in India. It was published in paperback in this country last month, and is available at Accent on Books. More about the book and the award can be found at the Man Booker's website.

Then, back in this country on Wednesday morning, the National Book Foundation trotted out Scott Turow to make a video announcement of the finalists for this year's National Book Awards. There are five finalists in each of four categories -- Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry and Young People's Literature -- and the complete list can be found here. Marilynne Robinson is among the Fiction nominees for Home, the follow-up to her previous novel Gilead, which won the Pulitzer Prize. Peter Matthiesen is another Fiction nominee for his book Shadow Country; earlier in his career he won a nonfiction NBA for The Snow Leopard. Jane Mayer's The Dark Side -- about the Bush administration's "War on Terror" -- may be the best known of the Nonfiction nominees. The nominated poets seem a particularly distinguished group led by Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Howard. And Laurie Halse Anderson, one of the most acclaimed writers of young adult fiction to appear in recent years, is the biggest name in the Young People's Literature category.

There is a Western North Carolina connection to this year's National Book Awards: Gail Godwin, who grew up in Asheville, presides over the judges charged with picking this year's winner in Fiction.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

When all else fails...

One of our best customers was in the store this morning, and we were chatting about the effect of the current economic turmoil on the book business (the effect is not particularly positive). He commented, "Well, if everything falls apart, at least I'll have something to read."

That reminded me of a passage from Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas in Wales. It's Christmas Eve afternoon, and the narrator and his friend Jim Prothero hear a commotion coming from Jim's house where a fire has evidently broken out. By the time they get there the only thing evident is smoke, but the boys are nonetheless sent out to call the fire brigade (hopefully I'm not violating a copyright here):

"...we...called the fire brigade, and soon the fire engine came and three tall men in helmets brought a hose into the house and Mr. Prothero got out just in time before they turned it on. Nobody could have had a noisier Christmas Eve. And when the firemen turned off the hose and were standing in the wet, smoky room, Jim's aunt, Miss Prothero, came downstairs and peered in at them. Jim and I waited, very quietly, to hear what she would say to them.

"She said the right thing, always. She looked at the three tall firemen in their shining helmets, standing among the smoke and cinders and dissolving snowballs, and she said:

"'Would you like anything to read?'"

Monday, October 13, 2008

I guess they didn't have buses in the 15th century

They say that lightning never strikes the same place twice, but evidently that isn't true of buses. Just ask Susan Mirabaud. She is the owner of the 15th Century Bookshop, located in the town of Lewes, in Sussex County, England. Her store's name comes from the fact that it is indeed located in a building dating from the 15th century, a building in which Mirabaud also lives. Five years ago a double-decker bus swerved into her building damaging the roof and the overhang. Then last month, it happened again. As you might imagine, Mirabaud was not happy, and demanded that action be taken; after all, she pointed out, this was not just any 15th century building -- it was the only unaltered 15th century building in town (as a Yank I of course find it hard to imagine living in a town with one 19th century building, not to mention numerous 15th century buildings). After all, Mirabaud reasoned, "there is only so much a 15th century building can take."

Alas, town officials were not sympathetic, claiming there was no practical way to change traffic patterns or put up barriers to assure that Mirabeau and her bookshop would not be damaged by further attacks from rogue buses. As a spokesman for the East Sussex County Council explained, "It would not be possible to put bollards by the shop as the pavement is too narrow. It would force pedestrians to walk into the road which could be dangerous especially for people with buggies and wheelchairs."

More about Mrs. Mirabaud and her vehicular travails can be found here.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Nobel Prize Awarded to French Writer

Last week, Horace Engdahl, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, caused a ruckus. Because of his position, Engdahl plays a major role in the Academy's annual choice of a winner for the Nobel Prize for Literature. The ruckus resorted from an interview he gave the AP, in which he declared Europe to be the literary center of the world, and declared that American writers were too "insular" and under the sway of popular culture to win the coveted prize. There was considerable outrage over these remarks from members of the American literary establishment who not only offered a list of US writers they considered worthy of consideration (Roth, Oates and DeLillo, among others), but also pointedly mentioned the veritable hall of fame of 20th century writers whom the Nobel committee never considered worthy of their honor: Tolstoy, Proust, Joyce, Borges, Nabokov, and Auden, for example.

Perhaps Engdahl was just laying the groundwork for today's announcement of the 2008 Nobel Prize for Literature winner: Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio of France. And yes, as an Insular American, I must admit I've never heard of him.

Regardless of my ignorance, Le Clezio is evidently both well-known and highly regarded in his home country, a prolific author of fiction and essays for adults and children for more than forty years. He has traveled widely and lived in many different places, and much of his work centers around the ideas of home and exile. He also evidently wrote works with a high degree of environmental awareness, long before that became a normal thing to do. Little of his work seems to be currently available in this country in English editions, but I'm sure that will begin to change. By the way, Le Clezio currently maintains three residences, one of which is in Albuquerque, right here in the insular, pop-cultured-polluted USA.

For more about Le Clezio, you can check out the Nobel Committee's citation.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Kids Are All Right

It's a common refrain, and one that I'll acknowledge singing myself: kids today are reading less and less. Ipods, DVD's, the internet -- all are competing with books for the time of children and teenagers, and books are losing.

In an article in Esquire, Dave Eggers says this is all a bunch of [expletive] nonsense. Eggers, probably best known for his award-winning book, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, is involved with an organization called 826 Valencia, which started in San Francisco and has spread to other cities. This organization works to encourage young readers and writers, and Eggers claims that interest in books among the young is flourishing. He points to strong increases in sales of children's books over the past several years and cites examples of kids he works with who are thrilled at the possibility of writing, and having their work published, something that 826 Valencia helps facilitate.

Of course, it could be pointed out that Eggers' outlook might be influenced by the fact that he works for an organization which appeals to literate youngsters to begin with. Still, he may be right when he claims we "look for gloomy statistics," including a widely cited report from the National Endowment from the Arts which may now turn out to have been flawed. And he's certainly right in pointing out that with each passing generation education and literacy improves, so that a higher percentage of the population has the choice as to whether to become readers than was the case in the past. Still, it would be interesting to compare Eggers' views with that of a public school teacher who has to deal with a general cross-section of the population, and who has to work on a daily basis to begin or cultivate an interest in reading. Hopefully their experiences would be similarly encouraging.

Eggers' article can be found here.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Liked your book. Now, about that title...

As senators, representatives, presidential candidates, lame-duck White House residents, and at least some corporate CEO's are looking for a place to hide or a ledge off of which to jump, David Lereah may be walking around with a paper bag over his head. After all, a couple of years ago, Lereah wrote a book called, Why the Real Estate Boom Will Not Bust -- And How You Can Profit From It.

Of course, as this Wall Street Journal article points out, David Lereah was not the first author to write a book with a title that inaccurately predicted either the end of the world or the coming of Paradise. And sometimes you can make it pay off -- if you don't get too greedy. Steve Gill wrote a book called The Fred Factor about Fred Thompson's highly anticipated presidential campaign and quickly sold through a first printing. Then he ordered up a second printing -- and Thompson's campaign promptly tanked. The well known political analyst Shelby Steele came out with a book last December called, A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can't Win. One can't help but wonder if Steele is now a strong McCain supporter for reasons that have nothing to do with politics.

However, being the author of a disastrously titled book doesn't automatically mean you will sink into oblivion. Back in 1999, Kevin Hassett wrote a book carrying the now ludicrous title of Dow 36,000. And where is Kevin Hassett today?

He's an economic adviser to John McCain.