Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Romantic Novel on Muhammad's Young Bride Provokes Rage, Blather

By Edward Nawotka

Written by American novelist Sherry Jones, the book imagines Muhammad's young bride as a sword-wielding, sexy zealot. It is unlikely the three Muslim firebombers have read a word of this controversial novel, since it goes on sale today in the U.S. and around the world later this month.

That's not to say the book's content hasn't been widely disseminated, thanks to the hardworking Denise Spellberg, an associate professor of history and Middle Eastern studies at the University of Texas at Austin. In phone calls to the book's publisher and a Muslim Web site, she said it was offensive and incendiary.

``I sincerely believe that if Professor Spellberg hadn't described my book as pornography we wouldn't have had this problem,'' Jones said when reached by phone, referring to the attack on her publisher's house.

Spellberg, who was happy to discuss her opinion of ``Jewel of Medina'' before the firebombing, did not answer phone calls and e-mails this week.

Her 1994 scholarly work, ``Politics, Gender and the Islamic Past: The Legacy of A'isha bint Abi Bakr,'' was a source for Jones's novel. She got involved in the book's publication when Random House, Jones's original publisher, asked her to write a promotional blurb. What she read struck her as ``turgid,'' Spellberg said in August from her office at the University of Texas.

Virginity Lost

In the book, Aisha bares her breasts to Muhammad and recalls the ``scorpion's sting'' of losing her virginity to him. Later she has a near-adulterous dalliance with another man:

``With our bodies, we brushed each other lightly -- my breasts to his chest, his thigh to my most intimate place, my toes to his shins. An aroma like musk rose from his body. My moan of pleasure surprised me, luxuriant as the purr of a cat stretching in the sunlight.''

``Out of 424 pages there are maybe 12 lines like that,'' Jones said. ``Sure it's steamy, but it's not pornographic.''

Spellberg found the book an ``egregious abuse of Aisha's life,'' citing among other things her use of a sword and call to jihad.

Jones ``distorted, invented, overwrote, and abused the past. As a scholar I see it as problematic,'' Spellberg said. ``At a time when many accept the stereotype that Muslims are violent because of their faith, the image of Aisha wielding a sword she never held in history would seem to promote that.''

Inner Jihad

Jones defended the fictional sword swinging as a ``metaphor for her strength'' and said the meaning of jihad is established in the context of the book as ``an inner struggle'' and not a holy war as it is generally defined today.

Nevertheless, Spellberg decided to sound an alarm, telling Random House that the book could be trouble. The publisher, which had already sent out advance galleys and set up an author tour, canceled the book in May.

A statement from Thomas Perry, deputy publisher at the Random House Publishing Group, cited ``credible and unrelated sources'' who said ``not only that the publication of this book might be offensive to some in the Muslim community, but also that it could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment.''

Spellberg also alerted Shahed Amanullah, the editor of the website, about ``Jewel of Medina.'' Amunullah thinks Random House, not Spellberg, should bear the responsibility for canceling the book.

Freaking Out

``It was really the publisher who freaked out,'' he said in a telephone interview. ``They should have been able to take legitimate criticism and derision. They should have also taken what she said as a suggestion and not a clarion call.''

``Professor Spellberg may know the historical context, but she is not in a position to know what the Muslim man on the street is thinking or how they will react,'' Amanullah said.

Spellberg's academic colleagues are conflicted by her actions.

``It puts us all in a tough position,'' Peter Awn, a professor of Islamic religion at Columbia University, said when reached by telephone. Awn sat on Spellberg's dissertation review committee when she was awarded her Ph.D. from Columbia in 1989. ``You may say it's a stupid thing to publish this, but I would still defend the right to publish it. When we get to the point that we're threatened by ideas and words, we're in trouble.''

After Random House's cancellation, interest in the book boomed. By September, Jones's agent had sold rights to 10 foreign publishers. Beaufort Books got the U.S. rights for free in exchange for a profit-sharing arrangement with Jones. Gibson Square Books, whose publisher's house was firebombed, bought the British rights.

O.J.'s Publisher

``If it weren't for the controversy, it's not likely I or many others would have even heard of the book,'' Eric Kampmann, president of Beaufort Books, said in an interview.

Kampmann gained a reputation for courting controversy when he published O.J. Simpson's pseudo-confession, ``If I Did It,'' in 2007, following that book's cancellation by HarperCollins. He says his interest in publishing ``The Jewel of Medina'' is strictly business.

``This is not a free-speech issue; it's a free-market issue,'' Kampmann said. ``Most first novels don't sell that many copies. I'm investing real money in the book and I'm expecting a nice level of sales.''

Kampmann isn't worried about publishing ``Jewel.''

``We have received absolutely zero threats,'' he said. ``I don't expect a problem to happen here. There are proportionally far more Muslims in the U.K. than in the U.S. -- and the ones who are here are most likely citizens who respect our laws governing freedom of speech.''

Jones, too, maintains that Muslims won't take offense.

``If they read the novel they will see I am very respectful of Aisha and Islam,'' she said. ``I just think people should read the book before they judge it.''

Friday, August 29, 2008

Swift-Boat Hack Targets Obama as Commie, Druggie, Maybe Muslim

By Edward Nawotka

Aug. 29 (Bloomberg) -- Having helped trash the candidacy of John Kerry, Jerome Corsi hopes to do it again with ``The Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality.''

Published on Aug. 1, ``The Obama Nation'' serves up a ludicrous portrait of the Democratic presidential candidate as a likely communist and possible Muslim, ``endorsed by Hamas,'' who ``has yet to answer questions whether he ever dealt drugs, or if he stopped using marijuana and cocaine.''

``Did Obama ever use drugs in his days as a community organizer in Chicago, or when he was a state senator from Illinois,'' Corsi wonders baselessly. ``How about in the U.S. Senate?''

The 364-page polemic has gone back to print five times and now has 475,000 copies in stores.
Even 2004's ``Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry,'' which Corsi co-wrote with John O'Neill, didn't find so many eager fans. That book blithely, wrongly claimed that the Vietnam veteran exaggerated his heroism during combat (which, of course, his rival never saw at all). ``Unfit'' sold 814,015 copies in 2004 and was the 11th-best-selling book of the year, according to Publishers Weekly.

On Aug. 10, ``The Obama Nation'' debuted at the top of the New York Times hardcover nonfiction best-seller list, prompting suspicions that the book is being bought in large quantities by people or organizations for the express purpose of putting the book on the list. The book is still No. 1, and the questions remain.

Bulk Buying

Such accusations aren't new. In 2003, Al Franken suggested that Ann Coulter owed her best-seller status to bulk buys, provoking a media catfight between the two.

The perception of multiple bulk purchases has been reinforced by the Times, which has placed a dagger next to ``The Obama Nation'' signifying that ``some bookstores report receiving bulk orders.''

The dagger came into being following the 1995 revelation that authors Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema spent $250,000 to buy 10,000 copies of their book, ``The Discipline of Market Leaders,'' and arranged the purchase of another 30,000 to 40,000 copies, to land it on the list.
While the dagger may appear to be pejorative, the Times said that is not the intent.

``It does not characterize a sale but simply notes that the title has been a popular bulk buy,'' Abbe Serphos, a Times spokeswoman, said.

Conservative Machine

Chief among those alleging bulk buying is Paul Waldman, a senior fellow at progressive media watchdog group Media Matters for America. He's accused a ``conservative machine'' of orchestrating the purchases.

``I don't have any evidence about this specific book,'' Waldman said, ``but in the past, organizations like the Conservative Book Club bought books in bulk for cheap and sold them for nothing.''

Anthony Ziccardi, vice president and deputy publisher of Pocket Books and Threshold Editions, scoffed at the suggestion that orchestrated bulk sales put ``The Obama Nation'' on the best-seller list.

``We are only aware of a single bulk buy,'' he said. ``It was done by a chain retailer in the South, and that constituted less than 2 percent of our overall sales.''

Nor can the Conservative Book Club claim credit.

``We're not selling the book, and even if we did, we do not report our sales to the New York Times,'' said Elizabeth Kantor, the club's editor.

What Is Bulk?

Still, mystery surrounds what exactly constitutes a bulk buy.

Todd Sattersten is vice president of 800-CEO-READ , a specialist business bookseller that reports sales to the Times. He said that though his company gets numerous bulk orders, often from corporations looking to distribute a book to its employees, he has never been told by the Times how many book constitute a bulk sale.

``Twenty-five is a lot of books and would likely constitute a bulk sale for us,'' Sattersten said.
Ziccardi said Simon & Schuster, parent company of Threshold Editions, only considers purchases in the hundreds of copies as bulk.

``The Obama Nation'' is currently No. 2 on the Publishers Weekly best-seller list.

Nothing Unusual

``Based on the reports I got, there was nothing in the unit sales that indicated something unusual about `The Obama Nation,''' said Daisy Maryles, executive editor of Publishers Weekly.
She said sales strongly favored chain booksellers, such as Barnes & Noble and Borders. Ziccardi concurred, adding that sales were also at ``best-seller levels'' at big-box retailers such as Costco and Wal-Mart.

``It's sold quite well for us and is currently one of our best-selling nonfiction hardcovers,'' said Matthew Gildea, a senior director of Hastings Entertainment, a chain retailer based in Amarillo, Texas, with 152 stores across the South and West.

Independent bookstores, in red and blue states alike, report modest demand: Full Circle Bookstore in Oklahoma City has sold five copies; Politics & Prose Bookstore in Washington has sold four; the Boulder Book Store in Colorado has sold only two; Brazos Bookstore in Houston doesn't even stock the book.

``We will order it if anyone asks for it,'' Brazos manager Jane Moser said. ``No one has so far.''
Frazer Dobson, co-owner of Park Road Books in Charlotte, North Carolina, wonders if the ambiguity of the title is causing people to mistake it for a pro-Obama book.
Either way, he isn't confident it will sustain buyers' interest for long.

``My customers are just really sick of politics,'' Dobson said.

``The Obama Nation'' is published by Threshold Editions (364 pages, $28).

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Mormon Housewife's Vampire Story Drives Fans Wild; New Rowling?

By Edward Nawotka

May 29 (Bloomberg) -- Stephenie Meyer, a 34-year-old Mormon mother of three, is the closest thing the book world has had to a rock star since J.K. Rowling finished writing about Harry Potter.

The author of the ``Twilight'' series, a trio of young adult books about the romantic travails of 17-year-old Bella, her vampire boyfriend, Edward, and her best friend, Jacob, a werewolf, Meyer has just published her first book for adults. Not that the Y.A. label has stopped grown-ups from reading Meyer: The ``Twilight'' series has sold some 5.5 million copies worldwide.

Her new book, ``The Host,'' a sci-fi yarn about alien body snatchers, was published earlier this month with a first printing of 750,000 copies. It has already reached the top of bestseller lists.

Meyer, who lives in Phoenix, says the story of Bella and Edward came to her in a dream in 2003. Within a year she had a book deal valued at $750,000.

She's since taken over the throne of Vampire Queen abandoned by Anne Rice when she devoted herself to writing about the life of Christ. Despite their seeming incompatibility, Meyer sees no conflict between her subject and her faith.

``I'm a religious person,'' Meyer said by telephone from Los Angeles, where she was taping a segment for MTV. ``Real people think about (questions like): Why are we here? What are we doing? A vampire is a character who has to ask similar questions. They have to wonder what state their soul is in and does it even exist.''

No Sex, Please

While Rice titillated her audience with baroque prose and explicit sex, Meyer writes simply and depicts her monsters as moral -- they feed on wild bears instead of people -- and her humans as utterly chaste. There is no underage drinking, no drugs and, much to the relief of millions of adults, no sex. Jana Riess, co-author of ``Mormonism for Dummies'' and religion book review editor of Publishers Weekly, is a Meyer fan and believes the books are heavily influenced by the Book of Mormon.

``Mormon theology places a big emphasis on agency or free will,'' Riess said. ``It establishes a clear difference between immortality, a curse, and eternal life, which is a gift from God.''

Meyer denied that she's writing a religious allegory.

``Any (Latter-day Saints) Church that appears in my books is accidental,'' said Meyer, ``a reflection of the world as it has appeared to me through my life.''

Nevertheless, the fervor of Meyer's fans is akin to that of converts. Her book tour regularly packs thousand-seat venues, with people camping overnight to get tickets. Not all those lining up are teens.

Tribute Band

Sheryl Nash of Arlington, Texas, first read Meyer's books after her 14-year-old daughter formed a ``Twilight'' tribute band with friends.

``They wrote a song called `Sexy Vampire,''' Nash said, ``so I had to find out what the books were about. I started listening to them when I was commuting to work. Now I've got my van pool hooked, even some of the men.''

Not everyone is keen on the books. Sue Corbett, a children's author and journalist in Virginia, is ``disheartened'' at Meyer's popularity.

``Bella is constantly in need of getting rescued. She moves in with her father and immediately starts cooking for him and doing his laundry. She's on track to go to an Ivy League college, but doesn't because of Edward. It's the exact inverse of the values I'm trying to teach my daughter,'' Corbett said.

Questioned about such criticism, Meyer was terse. ``The thing about Bella,'' the author said, ``is her story isn't finished yet.''

Midnight Parties

Indeed, the buzz around ``The Host'' is building anticipation for ``Breaking Dawn,'' the final ``Twilight'' book, which goes on sale Aug. 2 with a first printing of 2.5 million copies. Booksellers are planning midnight parties to launch it, as they did for the release of a new Harry Potter title.

After that, fans can look forward to the film adaptation of ``Twilight,'' to be released on Dec. 12. For her next book, Meyer plans to write ``Midnight Sun,'' the story of ``Twilight'' retold from Edward the vampire's perspective.

Asked when she plans to publish another novel for adults, Meyer said, ```The Host' is a taste of things yet to come.'' She wouldn't commit to anything specific, in part because she doesn't agree with traditional publishing classifications.

``I just don't buy the whole divide between Y.A. and adult lines, or even different genres,'' Meyer said. ``Many of my most ardent fans are adults my age. My books may be about aliens or vampires, but ultimately they're all about what it means to be human.''

``The Host'' is published by Little, Brown (619 pages, $25.99).

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Dragon, Vampire Battle Friedman, Gladwell, Bugliosi at BookExpo

By Edward Nawotka

June 3 (Bloomberg) -- ``The days of the subprime planet are over,'' Thomas L. Friedman said in his keynote speech at BookExpo America, the publishing industry's annual trade show and convention in Los Angeles. ``We can't charge on our children's credit card much longer.''

Grumps and doomsayers populate any book convention, but everyone seemed moodier and more subdued than usual last weekend.

While the numbers are not in yet, the event clearly failed to match last year's New York showing of 29,000 people. No one book really animated the crowds, though the columnist's ``Hot, Flat and Crowded'' will be published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux on Sept. 8 in a million-copy first printing. That's a lot of trees.

Friedman said he hoped to make ``Geo-Greenism'' a national talking point. Here's hoping it might deflect a few nano-seconds of attention from the infernal election campaign which has hogged the presses these last months along with the war and robbed most people of their senses. Publishers are generally reluctant to release headline-making titles into the media vacuum.

Still, the expo is a must for most industry heavies. Markus Dohle, Random House's new 39-year-old chief executive officer, arrived incognito and then stood in his own booth enthusiastically shaking hands. He was later spotted visiting the booths of his biggest rivals.

Too Many Books

The show is, above all, a showcase for forthcoming books. Last year, some 277,000 new titles and editions were published in the U.S., according to preliminary research released by Bowker last week. Many of them were first introduced at BEA.

One much-anticipated title, Malcolm Gladwell's ``Outliers'' (Little, Brown), which examines the nature of success, will reach bookstores on Nov. 18.

``It was a conscious decision to publish after the election, when we thought we could get media for him,'' said Heather Fain, marketing director of Little, Brown.

With President Bush coming to the end of his term, authors who want to take their shots at him need to do so now.

Among those are attorney Vincent Bugliosi, who explains in his just-published ``The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder'' (Vanguard) why he believes the president should be held legally accountable for the deaths of almost 4,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq. If the long line that formed at his signing is any indication, he's not the only one.

Children are perhaps the only demographic naturally indifferent to politics and, accordingly, are going to have the full attention of booksellers this year.

Vampires, Dragons

Fans of Stephenie Meyer are waiting for ``Breaking Dawn,'' the fourth and final installment of the ``Twilight'' teen vampire series. With a first printing of 3.2 million copies, ``Breaking Dawn'' is expected to be one of the top-selling books of the year. It is being released by Little, Brown on Aug. 2.

Perhaps the only title with a chance to unseat Meyer from the top of the bestseller list is Christopher Paolini's dragon fantasy, ``Brisingr'' (Knopf Books for Young Readers). The 2.5 million copies of ``Brisingr'' will land on shelves Sept. 20.

Perhaps some adults, fatigued by politics and economic news, will retreat to books as a refuge.

``Typically, when the economy goes south, people turn to fiction as an escape,'' said David Poindexter, publisher of San Francisco's MacAdam/Cage.

Wait and See

His company is hoping Scottish writer Iain Banks' 1992 novel ``The Crow Road'' will catch on with readers when they publish the book in the U.S. on July 28.

David Young, chairman and CEO of Hachette Book Group USA, said the overall state of the economy and not politics or even an individual title will likely prove the biggest arbiter of the health of the book business through the end of this year.

``Consumers are already feeling the pinch,'' said Young, who cited slow sales of the backlist -- the evergreen titles booksellers order year in and year out -- as a reliable indicator.

``I've lived through many recessions, and books tend to be recession-proof,'' he said. ``I'm not wildly optimistic this time, but I don't expect things to nosedive. There are some great books coming. We'll just have to wait and see.''

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

As Books Fill Dumps, Publishers Target 'Insane' Returns Policy

May 6 (Bloomberg) -- When Robert Miller announced last month that he was leaving Hyperion, the Walt Disney Co. book unit he created, to start a new imprint at HarperCollins, he made headlines.

Miller, who's vowed to revolutionize publishing in his new post, instantly targeted a surreal policy that's been sacrosanct for too long: the practice that allows booksellers to send unsold copies back to publishers for credit.

In his last job, Miller published bestselling books such as Mitch Albom's ``For One More Day'' and ``The Last Lecture'' by Randy Pausch and Jeffrey Zaslow.

At HarperCollins, Miller said he'll experiment with some nontraditional business practices, like offering authors profit- sharing instead of the typical advance/royalty arrangement, and bundling hardcover, nonfiction books with e-book versions of the same titles.

But it's the returns policy that got everyone excited.

Miller wants to sell his books on a non-returnable basis in a bid to kick the industry's addiction to overprinting and overstocking.

Depression-Era Practice

Returns date back to the Depression, when publishers implemented the practice as a way to ensure that bookstores would continue stocking new books.

Today, publishers have convinced retailers that stacks of books piled high in the aisles will attract customers and spawn bestsellers. It's a leaky theory posing little risk for booksellers. If the books don't sell, they're only out the cost of shipping and handling the returns.

``Let's face it, returns are bad for everyone, and things have to change,'' Miller said in a telephone interview last month. ``The only way to make it happen was to start something entirely from scratch.''

In 2005, roughly 1.5 billion books were shipped in the U.S., according to the Association of American Publishers. Of those, 465 million, or 31 percent, were returned to publishers.

``In the past, when economies of scale made it cost- effective to overprint books, we saw numbers as high as 40 percent,'' said Jim Milliot, an editor at Publishers Weekly, a trade magazine. ``But just-in-time shipping, inventory management and better point-of-sale data have helped the number come down.''


Publishers and booksellers agree it's a costly and wasteful system, and it leaves a big footprint that's no longer defensible for an industry that generates $25 billion a year in retail sales, according to the publishers association.

``In this age of global warming it's insane to be shipping books back and forth across the country for no good reason,'' said Margo Baldwin, president of Chelsea Green Publishing Co. of White River Junction, Vermont. ``It's just a waste of energy and, not only that, it still encourages the overproduction of books -- many of which end up in landfills.''

Baldwin, a publisher of titles about sustainable living, has started a ``green partnership program,'' signing up 30 bookstores that have agreed to take books on a non-returnable basis. In exchange, she gives them extra discounts and priority access to her authors for readings and events.

Allison Hill, president and chief operating officer of Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena, California, agrees that returns are a big drain on her business.

Excess Production

``We'd like to see them reduced, not only for the environmental impact but for the fact that pulling returns, boxing them and shipping is one of the most time-consuming things our employees do,'' Hill said.

Mark Suchomel, president of Independent Publishers Group, one of the largest small-press distributors in the country, said he's held returns to 20 percent and is convinced that number can be reduced even further.

When authors and agents press for large print runs, he said, publishers, in turn, push the excess production into bookstores, even though they know much of it won't sell.

Ultimately, the market will decide if curtailing returns makes economic sense. For one thing, booksellers will demand a larger discount if they can't return what they don't sell.

Miller, provided he keeps his list of titles to a modest size, might succeed, though the practice has a lot of inertia on its side. Big publishing conglomerates would have to do some heavy rethinking.

``It would require Random House or HarperCollins to develop an entirely new business model,'' said Milliot of Publishers Weekly. ``And that is not going to happen.''

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Rice's Lustful Jesus Faces Picoult's Killer Messiah: Book Buzz

March 12 (Bloomberg) -- Fornicating vampires helped Anne Rice sell more than 100 million copies of her books worldwide. Lately she has been writing about Jesus.

The second in a promised quartet of biographical novels, ``Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana,'' (Knopf, $25.95) is out now. It picks up in the ``lost years,'' -- the period not described in the Bible -- and carries on through the baptism by John, the temptation by Satan, and up to the wedding feast in Cana, where Jesus transforms water into wine.

Rice considers her latest writing a serious attempt to reimagine the life of the biblical Jesus in a way that honors religious faith.

```The Road to Cana' is, in part, a direct repudiation of `The Da Vinci Code,''' Rice says when reached by phone at her home in Rancho Mirage, California. ``In it I show Jesus as celibate and sinless and not married to Mary Magdalene.''

Still, in Rice's version, Jesus is strongly attracted to Avigail, the bride married in Cana, and even spies on her in her wedding chamber before the marriage is consummated.

``Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt'' has a half-million copies in print and outsold the last of her vampire books, 2003's ``Blood Canticle,'' according to Rice's longtime publisher Knopf, which has put an equal number of copies of this second volume into bookstores.

Rice hasn't necessarily closed the coffin on vampires. ``I may yet revisit Lestat,'' she says, referring to her most famous vampire, who drank the blood of Jesus in one book. ``But if I do write another book about him it will be a Christian book. Lestat will consecrate his life to the Lord.''

Picoult's Messiah

Jodi Picoult's 15th novel, ``Change of Heart'' (Atria, $26.95), features another kind of messiah. Shay Bourne, a prisoner on New Hampshire's death row, raises a bird from the dead and changes water into wine -- via the prison plumbing system, to the delight of his fellow inmates. The strange occurrences cause a priest to believe the prisoner may be more than a mere man.

Convicted of killing a policeman and his daughter, Bourne now wants to donate his heart to the slain cop's second, ailing daughter. His scheduled death by lethal injection, however, would render his heart unsuitable for donation.

Thereby hangs the tale, for several conflicted characters -- the priest, an ACLU advocate and the cop's wife -- take a role in trying to convert the mode of execution to hanging. This would allow donation and conform to Bourne's religious wishes.

The plot allows Picoult to transubstantiate her book from an intriguing melodrama into a contrived disquisition on morality, religion and the separation of church and state.

U.S. readers have snapped up 9.5 million copies of Picoult's books out of a total of 13.5 million copies sold across 35 countries.

Picoult currently has two paperbacks on bestseller lists, and Atria, aiming to capitalize on her momentum, has printed a million copies of ``Change of Heart'' to start, by far Picoult's largest first run.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Embarrassed Publisher Works Fast to Erase Tracks of Fake Memoir
By Edward Nawotka

March 5 (Bloomberg) -- Dishonest memoirists are the publishing industry's equivalent of juiced athletes. Incentives to cheat continue to outweigh the fear of getting caught.

In the latest scandal, Margaret B. Jones, the half-Native American, slum-raised author of the L.A. gang memoir ``Love and Consequences,'' turns out to be Margaret Seltzer, a white product of the upper middle class. And her book, subtitled, ``A Memoir of Hope and Survival,'' is largely make-believe.

``Love and Consequences'' was published just last week to widespread praise. Riverhead Books, a division of Penguin Group, had printed about 24,000 copies, of which 19,000 were shipped to stores.

Now the deeply embarrassed publisher is moving fast to control the damage. The book's page on the Penguin Web site has been deleted, the author's book tour has been canceled and, most significantly, the books are being recalled from bookstores.

In addition, Riverhead is defending itself from charges of sloppy fact-checking. According to a statement from executive director of publicity Marilyn Ducksworth released yesterday:
``Prior to publication the author provided a great deal of evidence to support her story: photographs, letters; parts of Peggy's (i.e., Seltzer's) life story in another published book; Peggy's story had been supported by one of her former professors; Peggy even introduced the agent to people who misrepresented themselves as her foster siblings.''

Strange System

The cost of recalling a book is tricky to estimate, given that returning unsold merchandise is a linchpin of the book- distribution system.

Since the Depression, bookstores have been able to send unsold books back to publishers for credit, which they then use to purchase new books. The returned books are either sold back to bookstores as cut-priced ``remainders'' or pulped -- as, presumably, all returned copies of ``Love and Consequences'' will be.

Penguin will cover the cost of shipping back the returns, which could be significant. The financial impact on bookstores is likely to be minor. At Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena, California, promotional director Jennifer Ramos had ordered 37 copies of the book in anticipation of Seltzer's scheduled reading this Thursday.

``Her cancellation is no big deal,'' Ramos says. ``Events get canceled all the time. We'll just return the books as we normally do. It won't have any financial impact on us at all.''
Anyone who bought the book can get a full refund, upon request, by returning the book to the store where it was purchased.

Another Liar

In recent years falsehoods in a number of high-profile memoirs have come to light. Only last week the Belgian author Misha Defonseca confessed that her Holocaust memoir ``Surviving With Wolves'' is ``nothing but pure fiction.'' She did not really sup on fresh kill with a friendly wolf mommy and her cubs.

The most famous instance, of course, is James Frey's Oprah- ordained 2003 bestseller ``A Million Little Pieces.'' After it was revealed in 2006 that significant portions of it had been fabricated, Random House agreed to refund as much as $2.35 million to readers who felt they had been bilked.

As of October 2007, only 1,536 people had filed claims. Both Random and Frey agreed to donate additional monies to charity. (Coincidentally, Frey's editor, Sean McDonald, and Seltzer's editor, Sarah McGrath, are now colleagues at Riverhead.)

John Freeman, president of the National Book Critics Circle, doesn't see an endemic problem.
``There have been thousands upon thousands of memoirs published in recent years,'' he says, ``and so far only a handful of them have turned out to be demonstrably false.''

`It Makes Me Wonder'

Barbara Hoffert, an NBCC board member and book-review editor of Library Journal, the trade publication that vets books for libraries, is less sanguine.

``I guess we thought that after the James Frey scandal, no one would try this again,'' she says. ``It makes me wonder if I need to tell my reviewers to start double-checking the memoirs they're reading.''

Columbia University Journalism School professor Samuel Freedman charges current book editors with having absorbed too much postmodern literary theory: ``They have been taught that all truth is subjective and contested anyway. They're all too willing to suspend their critical faculties and not do due diligence.''

He adds that editors need to demand more from their writers and themselves.
``Editing is more than just line editing,'' he says. ``It also requires the editor to ask the writer, `Where's the corroborating evidence? Where are the other documentary sources for this?'''