Archive for the 'Changing the Way Business is Done' Category

The Fix is In! 2008 National Book Award to Old Coot Peter Matthiessen

Saturday, November 22nd, 2008

We all know I’m stalking Alec Baldwin, but what we don’t all know (or didn’t know) is that I’ve been stalking novelist Peter Matthiessen, too, in The Hamptons.† My eyes lit up when I first saw him about six years ago at the Elaine Benson Gallery in Bridgehampton, NY at one of those pay-$25-and-meet-the-author get togethers.† It was a really crowded event with the authors sitting behind long tables with tidy stacks of books and the public lined up three deep to get autographed copies of books written by the best selling authors.

When someone pointed out Peter Matthiessen among the authors, I was beside myself, desperate to tell him how much I liked his trilogy, how I couldn’t put down Killing Mr. Watson (1990) and how I had been breathless to get hold of Lost Man’s River (1997) and Bone by Bone (1999) to find out what had happened to Watson’s children. But I couldn’t get close to Matthiessen because he was completely swamped by people jockeying for position in front of his table. A lot of chitchat was going on, but no one was mentioning his fabulous trilogy. I began to elbow people out of the way until I was standing directly in front of him. When I got my opportunity I smiled and said, “I see a freshly painted, stark white house in the middle of the Florida Everglades.” Matthiessen stood up (he’s very tall), smiled charmingly and said, “Killing Mr. Watson.”

His original manuscript of 1500 pages was divided into the three volumes that have now been recombined and condensed into Shadow Country.† Is Shadow Country a better read than the original separate volumes? You’ll have to be the judge because I’m happy with the three separate volumes.

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The First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All the Book Reviewers.

Monday, May 7th, 2007

I’m happy that newspapers are cutting back on book reviews. Most of them are unnecessary and just take up space. Long ago, I stopped believing the majority of†them.

No, I don’t mean every reviewer ought to be cashiered. I know a handful of book reviewers who are objective, insightful and truthful, and who can get you to run, breathlessly, to the book store and leap eagerly into bed with a book on Saturday night. (ďHands off! Canít you see Iím reading?Ē) For the most part, however, I find reviewers just steal copy from the book jacket and promotional materials, glance at the first few pages of the book (maybe), turn in their column, collect a few measly shekels and move on to the next book, whoops, few bucks.

If I am tempted to buy a book based on a reviewer whom I don’t know, 99% of the time I get a second and third opinion before actually making the purchase.

Reviewers Who Delight in Maiming or Killing

When I was working at the book publishing arm of Barnes & Noble, Inc.,†I plucked an advance readerís copy (ARC) from among the stacks of free ARCs tossed on a long table for us to take if we wanted them. The book was The Know It AllóOne Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World, by A. J. Jacobs. It’s the true story of a middle-aged man who feels he has become a dolt and forgotten everything he ever learned. So he takes it upon himself to read the Encyclopedia Britannica from A to Z.†† Of course, as he pushes through one volume after another, his brain overflows with esoterica, which he dispenses ad nauseum at every opportunity in EVERY conversation. You can only imagine with what his wife, friends and colleagues have to contend. As Jacobs becomes the repository of the history of the world, no, the universe, he and his wife are struggling with a serious family issue that, because you grow to like him and his wife so much, makes this book much more than just a yuck a minute. (My review, thank you.)

A more honest woman would have given back the money she billed for that workday. I drove my fellow cubicle dwellers crazy with my insane laughter. I actually sent the editor an email telling him how much I enjoyed this book, and got a nice email in return.

Then a review came out in The New York Times Book Review. What a cruel, unfunny, outright nasty review. The kicker, of course, was that The New York Times, in its infinite wisdom, had selected Joe Queenan,†a “contemporary humorist and critic,” with†an ostensibly funny (and perhaps competing) book coming out later in the year.

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