Monday, December 10, 2007

Cramer Family Planning, Government-Censored Science: Book Buzz

By Edward Nawotka

Dec. 7 (Bloomberg) -- If Jim Cramer, the button-mashing circus barker of the financial world, had his way, preschoolers would be tuning in to his money-management show.

In ``Jim Cramer's Stay Mad for Life'' ($26), which is just out, Cramer suggests buying your tyke Hasbro, Disney and Gymboree stock: ``I would buy one share of these the moment your child is born.... I don't know a soul who is doing this, and that has to change, right now.''

Later he adds, ``If only baby showers would get registered with E*Trade, TD Ameritrade and Schwab!'' Cramer thinks children can grasp the concept of stock ownership as long as they can get excited about the brand. His subtitle is ``Get Rich, Stay Rich (Make Your Kids Even Richer).''

Elsewhere in the book he names ``20 Stocks for the Long Term'' (topped by the heavy-machinery manufacturer Caterpillar) and recommends mutual funds.

Publishing a financial-advice book in December is counterintuitive: Who really wants to be reminded to eliminate credit-card debt in the midst of the holiday shopping frenzy? Cramer, though, likes the appearance of not following the crowd.

And he has an established audience: His two previous books, ``Jim Cramer's Real Money'' (2005) and ``Jim Cramer's Mad Money'' (2006), have sold 476,000 copies and 258,000 copies respectively, according to Nielsen BookScan. Simon & Schuster is confident enough to be delivering 350,000 copies to bookstores for a start.

`Bad Samaritans'

The 44-year-old Cambridge University economist Ha-Joon Chang has also established a reputation as a contrarian. In ``Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism'' ($26.95), he repudiates some of the theories championed by Thomas Friedman and other free marketers.

Chang shows how South Korea, the country of his birth, managed to prosper by going against many of the economic prescriptions that ``bad Samaritan'' rich countries demand in return for aid, such as rapid, large-scale trade liberalization.

``Bad Samaritans'' comes with blurbs from lefty luminaries Noam Chomsky and Bob Geldof. The publisher, Bloomsbury, is printing 40,000 copies and using the book to launch a new line of serious nonfiction books edited by Peter Ginna, formerly of Oxford University Press.

``So many books written about globalization are written in a historical vacuum,'' Ginna says. ``This one isn't, which is what makes it so persuasive.''

Expect to see Chang on the talk shows when Davos begins in January.

`Censoring Science'

Another academic likely to be making the January chat-show circuit is James Hansen. Mark Bowen's ``Censoring Science: Inside the Political Attack on Dr. James Hansen and the Truth of Global Warming'' ($25.95) hits the shelves on Dec. 27.

As director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and professor in the department of earth and environmental sciences at Columbia University, by 2004 Hansen had compiled some three decades of research underscoring the threat of global warming. The Bush administration stifled the data.

Frustrated, Hansen opened his files to Bowen. The resulting book not only offers a detailed account of the scientist's ordeal; it also shows how an organization like NASA can be reduced to an instrument of partisan politics. Scary stuff -- like climate change itself.

T Is for Timber

The 40,000 copies of ``Censoring Science'' Dutton is publishing will hardly make a dent in the earth's forests -- compared, at least, with the tens of millions of Sue Grafton novels in print. This week, ``T Is for Trespass'' ($26.95), the 20th in Grafton's long-running Kinsey Millhone mystery series, lands in bookstores. Putnam's 724,000 copy first printing ensures it will be stacked high for holiday shoppers.

Also in December fiction, Colleen McCullough's ``Antony and Cleopatra'' ($26.95), the seventh in her ``Masters of Rome'' series, is just out from Simon & Schuster, albeit with a more modest printing of 75,000 copies.

And on Dec. 26, Bloomsbury squeaks 60,000 copies of Walter Mosley's third book this year into stores: ``Diablerie'' ($23.95), an erotic thriller about a philandering computer programmer for a New York City bank. Though Mosley has dropped the ``sexistential'' tag he used for last year's ``Killing Johnny Fry,'' his latest also promises plenty of titillation (and potential big sales).

(Edward Nawotka writes on books and publishing for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Monday, November 05, 2007

Rhett Butler Loves Again, Steve Martin Looks Back: Book Buzz

By Edward Nawotka

Nov. 5 (Bloomberg) -- The much loved cad of ``Gone with the Wind'' is being resurrected tomorrow, when Donald McCaig's novel ``Rhett Butler's People'' lands in bookstores. The novel imagines Rhett's South Carolina childhood, a failed stint at West Point, fortune-hunting in San Francisco and New Orleans and, of course, his love life in and out of Scarlett O'Hara's bed.

This is the second authorized sequel to Margaret Mitchell's 1936 novel. The first was Alexandra Ripley's rather tawdry 1991 ``Scarlett,'' which critics derided as hackwork; readers didn't give a damn and bought 6 million copies from Warner Books.

In the wake of that enthusiasm, St. Martin's Press paid the Mitchell estate a generous $4.5 million in 1994 for the rights to publish Rhett's story -- which is finally appearing now, with an optimistic first printing of 2 million copies.

The intervening 13 years have been a saga in themselves. The original writer -- Emma Tennant, the well-regarded British author of, among other titles, ``Pemberley,'' a sequel to Jane Austen's ``Pride and Prejudice'' -- was bounced from the project after delivering a manuscript deemed too British. Pat Conroy, a South Carolinian, agreed to take over, calling the sequel the book he was born to write, but he and the estate could never agree on terms, according to St. Martin's Press president and publisher Sally Richardson.

In 2000, McCaig -- then best known as the author of books about dogs -- got the nod after an editor traveling through the South stumbled on his 1999 Civil War novel, ``Jacob's Ladder.''

Not a Sequel

Richardson denies that ``Rhett Butler's People'' is a sequel. ``It's a companion that explores the same material from a different angle,'' she says. ``The Mitchell estate wanted a book with more gravitas, one that is worthy of the original, which is what McCaig has written. And he doesn't overdo it.''

Presumably the Mitchell estate has vetted the book. In the past it has been very protective. Witness its 2001 lawsuit against Alice Randall and her publisher, Houghton Mifflin, for copyright infringement over ``The Wind Done Gone,'' Randall's thinly veiled version of ``Gone with the Wind'' told from the point of view of a slave named Cynara.

The suit was settled when Houghton Mifflin agreed to sell the book under the label ``unauthorized parody'' and to make a donation, at the Mitchell estate's behest, to Morehouse College in Atlanta.

Martin's Memoir

Steve Martin offers his own backstory in the surprisingly tender ``Born Standing Up,'' which Scribner will publish on Nov. 20. The memoir moves from his childhood in Waco, Texas, through his early gigs at Knott's Berry Farm and his first television appearances, to his final standup engagements in the late 1970s.

Martin, who prided himself on being a comic who didn't rely on punch lines, has established his literary bona fides in essays for the New Yorker magazine, two novellas (``Shopgirl'' and ``The Pleasure of My Company''), plays (``Picasso at the Lapin Agile'') and, last month, his first children's book, ``The Alphabet from A to Y With Bonus Letter Z,'' for which he teamed up with cartoonist Roz Chast.

Independent bookstores in particular are championing Martin's memoir. The 1,200 member stores of the American Booksellers Association Book Sense program have selected it as their top pick to promote in December -- a break that should help Scribner run through its first printing of 500,000 copies.

McCourt's Return

Another holiday item is Frank McCourt's ``Angela and the Baby Jesus,'' which comes out tomorrow. It tells the tale of a 6-year-old Irish girl -- McCourt's mother, the title character of his Pulitzer Prize-winning 1996 memoir ``Angela's Ashes'' -- who takes the holy infant from a church manger and brings it home, convinced it needs warmth and looking after. Simon & Schuster is publishing a total of 300,000 copies in two versions. One, for children, is illustrated with cheerful, optimistic watercolors. The other, for adults, is printed in a smaller format, with drawings in a more ominous palette that evokes the grim setting of ``Angela's Ashes.''

Sunday, November 04, 2007

$50,000 Whiting Awards Go to Wyoming Climber, Vermont Farmer

By Edward Nawotka

Oct. 25 (Bloomberg) -- Wyoming climbing guide Jack Turner, Vermont novelist and goat farmer Brad Kessler and tattooed New York memoirist Peter Trachtenberg are among the 10 winners of the 2007 Whiting Writers' Awards, announced yesterday at a ceremony at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City.

The seven others are Boston College professor Carlo Rotella, Brooklyn playwright Sheila Callaghan, Georgia poet Paul Guest, Iranian-born novelist and travel writer Dalia Sofer, Dallas short-story writer Ben Fountain, Staten Island poet Cate Marvin and Miami playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney.

Established in 1985, the Whiting Awards are given annually by New York's Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation to help writers early in their careers, when they are not yet widely known, ``devote themselves fully to writing.'' Each winner receives $50,000.

Approximately 100 candidates are nominated by an anonymous group of literary professionals appointed by the Foundation. Past winners have included Jeffrey Eugenides, Jonathan Franzen and Michael Cunningham. In all, the program has awarded more than $5 million to 230 different writers.

Some of this year's winners have already been honored by prize committees, including Kessler, whose novel ``Birds in Fall'' won the 2007 Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and Fountain, whose short-story collection ``Brief Encounters with Che Guevara'' won the $10,000 2006 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Award for Fiction.

(Edward Nawotka writes on books and publishing for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Friday, October 05, 2007

Colbert Hawks Colbert, Tries to Top Stewart; Coulter's `Brains'

By Edward Nawotka

Oct. 5 (Bloomberg) -- Stephen Colbert hasn't been shy about using his mock talk show, ``The Colbert Report,'' to plug his own book, ``I Am America (And So Can You!).''

The branding of Colbert is an active industry. The Saginaw Spirit, a minor-league Michigan hockey team, named its mascot after him: Steagle Colbeagle the Eagle. Ben and Jerry's produced the flavor Stephen Colbert's Americone Dream (``a decadent melting pot of vanilla ice cream with fudge-covered waffle cone pieces and a caramel swirl'').

Last month, Colbert auctioned the plaster cast from his broken wrist on eBay Inc., garnering a winning bid of $17,200.

The book begins its exercise in arch right-wing smarm by pandering on the dust jacket: ``Congratulations, just by opening the cover of this book you became 25% more patriotic.'' There are satirical essays on cultural conservatism, a chart comparing the ``Jesus Train'' to the liquor ``Night Train,'' a list of ``things that are trying to turn me gay,'' and a photo of Colbert retching while reading the New York Times.

The big question is whether Colbert's book, which comes out Oct. 9, will outsell ``America (The Book)'' by fellow Comedy Central newscaster Jon Stewart. Grand Central, the publisher of both, thinks it might and is offering a first printing of 1.4 million copies -- just shy of the 1.5 million copies sold by Stewart.

Valerie Plame

Stewart, meanwhile, bagged Valerie Plame Wilson for his show. Her memoir, ``Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House,'' comes out on Oct. 22. Why not Colbert? ``This book just seemed better-suited to Jon,'' said Wilson's publicist, Elizabeth Mason, adding ``I don't think Valerie is going to be doing a lot of conservative media.''

With a first printing of 400,000 copies, Wilson's publisher, Simon & Schuster, will need more than Stewart's imprimatur to move books. Michael Persons, a bookseller at the Alabama Booksmith in Birmingham, thinks Plame will need to provoke a response from the Bush administration. ``That's the only way the book will last beyond one or two news cycles,'' Persons said.

Coulter's `Brains'

Wilson will want to avoid another high-profile blond author making the media rounds, Ann Coulter. The conservative commentator's new, subtly titled ``If Democrats Had Any Brains, They'd Be Republicans'' was released this week. Though Coulter seems to be slipping in popularity, her publisher, Crown, is counting on loyalists to snap up this best-of collection of Coulter quips and recent columns. The first printing is 600,000.

Sebold's Matricide

October also sees the return of novelist Alice Sebold. Her 2002 novel ``The Lovely Bones,'' featured a murdered narrator who observed events on Earth from the afterlife. It became a phenomenon in grieving post-9/11 America and sold 1.5 million copies.

Her new novel, ``The Almost Moon,'' due in stores on Oct. 16, also explores the psychology of murder and features a woman who commits matricide in the first pages. Publisher Little, Brown, confident that the grim story won't repel readers, is printing a whopping 750,000 copies.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

How Alan Greenspan Pushed Canadian Skier Off Top of Book Hill

By Edward Nawotka

Oct. 3 (Bloomberg) -- Alan Greenspan's ``Age of Turbulence,'' the former Fed chairman's memoir and apologia, sold 128,000 copies in its first full week, according to Nielsen BookScan.

In the process, the book grabbed the No. 1 spot among business bestsellers from Vince Poscente's ``Age of Speed,'' a motivational outpouring about our fast-paced lives by a former Olympic speed skier. (Among other things, Poscente asks the reader to mull whether he is a ``bottle rocket'' or a ``jet.'')

The two similarly titled books took different routes to the top.

Behind Greenspan -- and pushing hard after a reported advance of $8.5 million -- was the mighty Penguin Press and a powerful New York editor named Ann Godoff. The Fed's ex-maestro enjoyed a heavily orchestrated media campaign that included TV interviews and print embargoes, almost guaranteeing that the book would be a sales-galvanizing news event.

Poscente began with no advance and got the word out mainly through an e-mail blast to his own distribution list of 10,000 names. His chief asset was Ray Bard, the dynamo behind a one-man publishing operation based in Austin, Texas, called Bard Press.

Since Bard founded the press in 1996, 14 of the 26 books he has published have landed on national lists. These include ``Little Black Book of Connections'' by Jeffrey Gitomer (2006), which has sold about 110,000 copies, and Bard's top-selling title, Gitomer's ``Little Red Book of Selling,'' which has moved in excess of 500,000 copies since it was published in 2004.

Maximum Care and Feeding

Bard says his high ratio of bestsellers is attributable to the fact that he publishes only one or two books a year. That lets him give each manuscript maximum care and feeding, from the writing to aggressively promoting the book to retailers.

``The Age of Speed'' sold a modest 12,000 copies in its first two weeks (and 13,000 to date), according to BookScan, which tracks sales at about 70 percent of retail outlets. Yet Bard had pre-orders for 60,000 copies of his 70,000 first printing. Because the pre-orders are reported to those who compile bestseller lists, they helped create an ``instant bestseller.''

Bard also worked closely with the retail chain Hudson Booksellers because its locations in airports and other travel hubs make it a good platform for sales of business books. Sarah Hinckley, vice president of book buying at Hudson, uses bestseller lists to determine how many of her nearly 500 outlets will stock a title.

Promotional $5,000

Where Hinckley could confidently predict Greenspan's book would appeal to her core demographic -- one she describes as ``older, wealthy, male, well-educated'' -- Poscente's sales potential was harder to call. To help guarantee that ``The Age of Speed'' would be given some consideration at Hudson stores, Bard Press paid a promotional fee of approximately $5,000, which was used to give the book wider distribution and better placement in the stores than it might otherwise have received.

``The Age of Speed'' is not yet a top-10 bestseller at Hudson Booksellers, though it ``is a slow steady seller,'' Hinckley says. ``It's done pretty well at big business hubs, but not even a third of what the Greenspan has done. Greenspan's book is going to be absolutely huge for us.''

Surprise Mailer Book on Religion Will Hit Bookstores Next Month

By Edward Nawotka

Sept. 25 (Bloomberg) -- Books on religion (mostly anti) have been popular this year.

Christopher Hitchens's ``God Is Not Great'' quickly topped the bestseller lists when it was published in May; it has since sold 224,000 copies. Richard Dawkins's ``The God Delusion'' has moved 318,000 copies since its publication last year -- both according to Nielsen BookScan, which tracks book sales.

Now the combative octogenarian Norman Mailer is offering his own views on religion with the surprise publication of ``On God: An Uncommon Conversation.'' The final manuscript reached Random House only in July. The publisher rushed it into production, and it will land in bookstores on Oct. 16.

The book comprises 10 interviews with Michael Lennon, Mailer's literary archivist and official biographer. Mailer offers his views on such topics as prayer, intelligent design and proofs of God's existence.

Lennon acknowledged in a phone interview that the market for such books is burgeoning but added that he and Mailer began their conversations in 2003. They were inspired by a charity production of George Bernard Shaw's ``Don Juan in Hell'' in which they had both acted. (Mailer had the title role; Gore Vidal was the Devil.)

Lennon, who is currently editing Mailer's letters for publication next year, noted that religion is not a new subject for Mailer -- ``It has just been in the background.'' He added that Mailer ``believes in a literal God, but one whose power is limited.''

Atomic Devil

Mailer, he said, views the horrors of the 20th century as proof of God's limited influence. He sees the Devil embodied, in part, in technology and atomic science. Unsurprisingly, the book includes a number of rants, in particular against fundamentalism. It also reveals that Mailer believes in a form of reincarnation.

Mailer communicated some of these views in his novel ``The Castle in the Forest,'' which is narrated by an emissary of the Devil who literally whispers into Hitler's ear. Published earlier this year, the book received mixed reviews and sold a modest 40,000 copies, according to BookScan.

Morris Dickstein, a professor at the City University of New York who has written extensively on Mailer, said he's surprised by the literalness of the author's theology. ``I never took his talk about God and the Devil seriously,'' Dickstein said. ``I thought it was a metaphor.''

Still, Dickstein acknowledges, writers do mature and change. ``I always thought Norman was acting out against the idea of being a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn. But as people get older, they want to reintegrate with parts of their lives they may have rejected or ignored. That may be what Norman is doing now.''

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Greenspan Soaks in Hot Bath, Klein Ambushes Friedman: Book Buzz

By Edward Nawotka

Sept. 6 (Bloomberg) -- While plenty of businesspeople are holding their breath for the Sept. 17 release of Alan Greenspan's memoir, ``The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World,'' a few booksellers aren't. Like me, they can't forget Greenspan's deadly-dull keynote address in June at BookExpo America, the publishing industry's annual confab, in New York.

The former Fed chief's most memorable revelation that night was that he wrote much of the book while soaking in a hot bath.

Amid the unkind remarks afterward (``Now we know why he looks so shriveled''), one bookseller wondered, ``Who's going to be interested in paying $35 for a book about decades-old interest rates?''

Penguin Press, which was interested enough to pay $8.5 million for the memoir, will need to sell out much of the million-copy first printing to make a profit. But can it? Powell's Books, the influential independent bookstore with six locations in and around Portland, Oregon, and a busy Web site, has ordered a total of 94 copies. ``That's a pretty modest amount,'' purchasing manager Gerry Donagahy confirms.

So far Penguin has kept the manuscript carefully under wraps. One of the privileged few to have read it is Dave Hathaway, Barnes & Noble's business-book buyer. ``It's not written in Greenspeak,'' he told me. ``But it is like sitting in a room with someone who has 500 more IQ points than you.''

According to Hathaway, the book has as much to fascinate history buffs as businesspeople. For prediction junkies, Greenspan offers a vision of the world economy in 2030.

``And his account of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks blew me away,'' Hathaway said.

Klein Versus Friedman

Naomi Klein's ``The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism'' reaches stores on Sept. 18, the day after Greenspan's book. It's likely to inspire far more debate.

Klein, a Canadian political activist, made her name in 2000 with ``No Logo,'' a critique of mass-market manufacturing and globalization. Her new book is an almost 600-page assault on the legacy of the late economist Milton Friedman and his acolytes, arguing that prosperity and human rights don't necessarily follow from the implementation of free-market policies: Witness Russia, China and Pinochet's Chile. Klein also reports from the largely failed reconstruction efforts in Iraq and New Orleans.

With such a wide array of evidence in support of liberal platforms, the book should have a place on the bedside tables of the Democratic candidates.

Pretty Plus

Klein's youthful prettiness can tempt adversaries into challenging her authority -- a notion that makes Frances Coady, Klein's editor at Metropolitan, laugh. ``It's very difficult to doubt her,'' Coady says, ``once you read the book and see how she synthesizes some 50 years of recent history in support of her theories.''

In any case, Klein knows how to handle criticism. Being married to the popular Canadian political talking head Avi Lewis, she's learned the tricks of the TV-pundit trade and is no pushover in an interview.

She's also a savvy self-promoter: Actors Tim Robbins and John Cusack have already blurbed the book. And Klein and director Alfonso Cuaron (``Children of Men'') are screening their trailer for it at the Venice and Toronto film festivals.

Draper on Bush

Just published, to much buzz: Robert Draper's ``Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush'' (Free Press).

Draper, a writer for GQ and a former editor at Texas Monthly, landed six mano-a-mano interviews with the president, the last on May 8 of this year. His evenhanded portrait of our ``misunderestimated'' (Bush's word) commander in chief has already drawn protests -- in particular from former Iraq administrator L. Paul Bremer, whose dissolution of the Iraqi army in 2003 is now widely regarded as a catastrophic mistake.

``Well, the policy was to keep the army intact,'' Bush told Draper. ``Didn't happen.''

Big Novels

Fall marks a change from the summer raft of thrillers and soap operas that load down bookstore shelves. Among the month's most anticipated novels are Ann Patchett's ``Run'' (HarperCollins) and Richard Russo's ``Bridge of Sighs'' (Knopf) -- each writer's first novel in six years.

Patchett's ``Bel Canto'' won the 2002 PEN/Faulkner award and sold more than a million copies; Russo's ``Empire Falls'' won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize and sold just shy of a million.

In ``Run,'' Patchett once again tackles a quasi-political theme in a story about a white Boston mayor grooming his two adopted black sons for political careers. Russo's ``Bridge of Sighs'' deals with a retirement-age couple in upstate New York and a longed-for escape to Venice.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Rove's $900-an-Hour Book-Deal Broker Preps Hillary for Debate

Aug. 30 (Bloomberg) -- When Alan Greenspan, Tony Blair and Karl Rove decided it was time to write a memoir, each turned to the same broker: Robert Barnett, one of the most powerful players in book publishing, though he operates well outside the New York publishing clique.

Barnett, 61, a partner at the Washington law firm of Williams & Connolly, is a rainmaker for high-profile politicians passing from the public to the private sector. Though he's not a headhunter, should you want to land on a corporate board or a university faculty or work as a consultant or a TV talking head, Barnett can help. A particular forte of his is acquiring multimillion-dollar book advances.

Barnett is the man who persuaded Penguin Press to offer Alan Greenspan an $8.5 million advance for ``The Age of Turbulence'' -- one of five books he represents that are likely to land on the September bestseller lists.

The other four are Bill Clinton's ``Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World'' (Knopf); political strategist Mark J. Penn's ``Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow's Big Changes'' (Twelve); novelist James Patterson's ``You've Been Warned'' (Little, Brown); and presidential daughter Jenna Bush's ``Ana's Story: A Journey of Hope'' (HarperCollins).

While Barnett functions on behalf of his book clients much as an agent does -- negotiating contracts, assisting with the editing process, refereeing between writer and publisher -- he firmly rejects the term.

Hourly Rate

``I'm a lawyer and proud of it,'' he insists when reached by phone. ``I bill my clients an hourly rate; I don't agree with taking a percentage for someone's creative output.'' (An agent typically takes a 15 percent to 20 percent commission as payment.)

The bulk of Barnett's legal practice involves corporate clients. Selling books accounts for only 10 percent to 15 percent of his time. An equal amount goes to an A-list of 250 television journalists and producers, including his wife, CBS News correspondent Rita Braver.

At $900 an hour, Barnett's attention doesn't come cheap. Peter Osnos, founder and editor-at-large of the publisher PublicAffairs, notes that Barnett's fee arrangement isn't right for everybody. It's most advantageous to ``the kind of person who wants to write one magnum opus or two for a great deal of money.''

But when it's a question of a multimillion-dollar contract, Barnett's hourly rate can offer a client a massive savings over an agent's commission. In an example Barnett cited, he billed a client $150,000 for negotiating a $3 million book contract -- a substantial discount from the $450,000-$600,000 an agent would customarily charge.

Clinton's Millions

While authors might save money, publishers don't. Sonny Mehta, chairman of the Knopf Publishing Group, a subsidiary of Random House Inc., paid $12 million for the privilege of publishing Bill Clinton's memoir ``My Life,'' which Barnett represented.

Replying to an e-mail query, Mehta -- who has a reputation as one of the most intimidating publishers in New York -- said that the upside of working with Barnett ``is that when he calls about a client, it's always someone you will want to take a meeting with. The downside is that he's an expert on valuation, and as such I can never quite negotiate the deal I'd like.''

Since 1976, Barnett has honed his negotiating skills prepping Democratic presidential candidates for debates. He has role-played George H.W. Bush and Dick Cheney (whose wife, Lynne, is also a client) on multiple occasions.

Supporting Hillary

Among the current crop of Democratic front-runners, he can count Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards and Bill Richardson as clients. But he says it's no secret he's supporting Hillary. He has served as the Clintons' personal attorney since 1992 (except for a short period when his wife was covering the Clinton White House). ``We've been close friends for a long time,'' he says, ``and I'm on her debate prep team.''

Still, Barnett's Democratic politics haven't scared Republicans away. Bush administration officials who have called him just before or after leaving the White House include, in addition to Rove, Andrew Card, Ari Fleischer and Donald Rumsfeld.

``I've always been bipartisan in that regard,'' Barnett says, adding that he's never lost a client over political differences: ``I enjoy discussing politics with my Republican clients -- I might learn something. And, while I'm not above trying to educate them on a point or two every once in a while, I never argue.''

That kind of agreeableness is important to Bush administration officials -- and their families. Earlier this month, Barnett sold an as yet unnamed second book by Jenna Bush to HarperCollins, this one to be co-written with Laura Bush. With that kind of access to the First Family, can it be more than a matter of time before the president himself calls?

Beaufort to Publish O.J. Simpson Book; Goldman Family to Profit

By Edward Nawotka

Aug. 15 (Bloomberg) -- Beaufort Books said late yesterday that it will publish O.J. Simpson's ``If I Did It'' after acquiring the rights to the controversial title.

The book is a supposedly hypothetical account of how Simpson, a former football star, might have murdered his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald L. Goldman in 1994. It was originally backed by editor Judith Regan and scheduled for publication last November by News Corp.'s HarperCollins.

Following a public outcry, publication was canceled, the printed books were destroyed, Regan was fired and her ReganBooks imprint was dropped by HarperCollins.

Beaufort, a small independent publisher in New York, said it expects the book to reach stores by Oct. 3. In the past, it has often operated as a ``vanity'' press, with the author and publisher splitting costs as well as any profit.

Beaufort spokesman Michael Wright said the company had reached a traditional publishing agreement and costs would not be shared. He wouldn't disclose whether or how much money was paid to the Goldmans for the rights.

Both the Goldman and Brown families originally protested publication of ``If I Did It,'' though earlier this year the Goldmans -- frustrated with the slow pace of payment on the $33.5 million owed to both families by Simpson following the 1997 wrongful-death judgment against him in a civil suit -- sued for rights to the book.

On July 30, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Miami awarded most of the potential proceeds from book sales to the Goldmans. The judge added that any publisher of the book ``must promise the court it will maximize the sale of the asset.''

Additional Commentary

Los Angeles literary agent Sharlene Martin of Martin Literary Management sold the rights to Beaufort on behalf of the Goldmans. The manuscript, according to Wright, will ``remain intact, with some additional commentary of a nature that's yet to be determined.''

Denise Brown, Nicole Brown's sister, issued a statement yesterday that derided the book as a step-by-step manual on how Nicole and her friend Ron were murdered, and she called for a boycott. Denise Brown is scheduled to debate Beaufort President Eric Kampmann today on NBC's ``Today'' show.

For his part, Kampmann said in a statement that the company ``will be working diligently to not only publish this book well, but to honor the memory of the victims of this terrible crime: Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson.''

The statement said Beaufort, the Goldmans and Martin will contribute an unspecified portion of the proceeds to the Ron Goldman Foundation for Justice.

Booksellers are divided on whether they will carry ``If I Did It.'' McKenna Jordan, manager and book buyer at Murder by the Book in Houston, is put off by the idea.

``To be blunt, it's tacky,'' she said. ``Our customers would not appreciate seeing it in the store and would be offended.''

Yet Steve Bercu, owner of Book People in Austin, Texas, and a board member of the American Booksellers Association, says he would sell it despite personal reservations: ``The public will decide very quickly whether they're interested in it or not.''

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Starbucks Picks Next Book to Sell: Isay's StoryCorps Collection

By Edward Nawotka

Aug. 8 (Bloomberg) -- Starbucks Corp. has chosen its next book. On Nov. 8, ``Listening Is an Act of Love'' will go on shelves alongside CDs, DVDs and coffee mugs.

The book, edited by Dave Isay and published by Penguin Press, offers a selection of 50 real-life stories from the archives of StoryCorps, the ambitious oral-history project of interviews by and with everyday Americans. Founded by Isay in 2003, it has recorded more than 13,000 conversations.

While bookstores also will sell the title, the Starbucks version is an exclusive boxed edition that includes a CD of 10 additional stories. The book's cover price is $24.95; no price has been set for Starbucks's boxed set.

Reached by phone, Isay praised Starbucks as a ``third place in American life,'' after home and work, ``where people come to talk and listen to each other.'' He added, ``The StoryCorps project is about listening. It's a great match for us.''

In an interview with Bloomberg News last year, Starbucks Entertainment President Kenneth T. Lombard noted that customers trusted the company to filter cultural content. Though the chain offers a wide selection of CDs, some produced by the company itself, so far it has sold only one book at a time.

``Listening Is an Act of Love'' is the third. The first, Mitch Albom's novel ``For One More Day,'' sold 100,000 copies at the chain after it went on sale in October 2006. Last February Ishmael Beah's ``A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier'' proved an even bigger hit there, selling more than 117,000 copies.

Before the Starbucks announcement, Penguin Press had planned to print about 75,000 copies of ``Listening Is an Act of Love.'' Now that number is likely at least to double.

Friday, August 03, 2007

New `Who Moved My Cheese?; Obama, McCain, Vampires: Book Buzz

Aug. 3 (Bloomberg) -- ``The Dream Manager'' tells the story of a fictional cleaning company suffering from high turnover and low morale. When the firm institutes a new employee-loyalty program that involves listening to and helping workers achieve their personal aspirations, it undergoes a massive turnaround.

Australian motivational speaker and writer Matthew Kelly's brief new book may sound like another ho-hum business parable. Yet Barnes & Noble's Dave Hathaway says, ``It is going to start a movement.''

Hathaway, who as a buyer assesses thousands of business books every year for B&N (they're one of the bookseller's top five categories), isn't prone to hyperbole. But he maintains, ``This is something unique. It moved me both personally and professionally and changed my own life.'' He's heard that Procter & Gamble plans to test the program. (Calls for comment to Procter & Gamble had not been returned by press time.)

Jack Covert, founder of the online bookseller 800-CEO-READ, is intrigued by the book, but he hesitates to anoint it the next ``Who Moved My Cheese?'' ``Parables,'' he says, ``no matter how good, have the success rate of minor league baseball players.'' (Hyperion, Aug. 21, $19.95, 80,000 first printing.)

Obama Biography

``Obama: From Promise to Power,'' a new biography by Chicago Tribune journalist David Mendell, promises a behind- closed-doors look at Senator's Barack Obama's home life and an assessment of his political agenda.

``There isn't any gotcha revelation,'' James Hornfischer, Mendell's literary agent, admits. ``But you do get a comprehensive, balanced portrait, which is something you can't get from the news.''

There are now more than 1.6 million copies of Obama's ``The Audacity of Hope'' and another 1.1 million of his autobiography ``Dreams From My Father'' in print. But Becky Anderson, owner of Anderson's Bookshops in Naperville and Downers Grove, Illinois, isn't convinced readers will buy something Obama himself didn't write. ``People are waiting for a book that tells us what he would do if elected,'' she says.

``That's never going to happen,'' responds George Shipley, a Democratic political consultant in Austin, Texas. ``Opposition researchers would comb it line by line for ammunition.'' (Amistad, Aug. 1, $25.95, 200,000 first printing.)

New McCain

Shipley can't swallow the title of John McCain's ``Hard Call: Great Decisions and the Extraordinary People Who Made Them.'' ``It's got to be ironic,'' he says, ``because in recent years McCain has failed to make the hard calls. What does he really think about the war? About the abuses at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib? About the justice department and Alberto Gonzales?''

McCain's new collection of historical studies doesn't say. ``The essay on the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr offers valuable insight into McCain's thinking about Iraq,'' counters Cary Goldstein, publicist for McCain's publisher, Twelve, a fledgling imprint of Hachette Book Group.

McCain may be in better hands with Goldstein than with his campaign managers, who have been failing to boost his poll numbers. Twelve publishes just one book each month (hence its name), and as a consequence McCain will get Goldstein's undivided attention. So far the new imprint's track record is superb, with two of its first three books -- Christopher Buckley's ``Boomsday'' and Christopher Hitchens's ``God Is Not Great'' --hitting the bestseller lists and the latter topping many of them.

McCain's last four books -- written, like the new one, with his longtime chief legislative aide, Mark Salter -- have been popular; his most recent, ``Character Is Destiny: Inspiring Stories Every Young Person Should Know and Every Adult Should Remember'' (Random House, 2005) sold a respectable 184,000 copies in hardcover. (Aug. 14, $25.99, 200,000 first printing.)

Meyer's `Eclipse'

Among August fiction, Anderson is most excited about children's writer Stephenie Meyer's ``Eclipse,'' the third novel in her young-adult vampire series. ``These books are extremely popular with teens, who find them very romantic,'' Anderson says. ``And since there's no sex and barely any kissing, parents like them as well.''

With 1.6 million copies in print of the first two titles, ``Twilight'' and ``New Moon,'' some booksellers are calling Meyer a possible successor to J.K. Rowling.

``Stephenie isn't comfortable with that kind of talk,'' says Faith Hochhalter, children's book buyer at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, Arizona (close to Meyer's home in Phoenix), ``but it's probably the truth. We may even sell more of `Eclipse' than we did of the last `Harry Potter.''' The store has sold more than 3,000 copies of Meyer's previous books and has pre-sold 500 copies of ``Eclipse.''

``The third book is typically the tipping point for children's series,'' she adds.

Meyer's first novel was picked up off the slush pile at the literary agency Writers House; she is now published in 28 countries. When Changing Hands hosted a vampire-themed ``prom'' based on the books in May, fans flew in from as far away as Costa Rica and Germany. (Little, Brown, Aug. 7, $18.99, 1 million first printing.)

(Edward Nawotka writes on books and publishing for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Friday, July 27, 2007

Navy SEAL Recalls the Day His Friends Died

July 26 (Bloomberg) -- Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell's worldview has been formed by peering through a sniper scope. He sees only friends and enemies. He cherishes Christianity, bravery, loyalty, self-sacrifice and Texans (especially President George W. Bush). The Taliban, liberal media and lawyers, al-Qaeda and the Geneva Conventions are in his cross hairs.

Luttrell's memoir, ``Lone Survivor,'' recounts the events of June 28, 2005, the deadliest in U.S. Special Forces history, when he voted to free a trio of Afghan goatherds who had stumbled upon his SEAL team's observation post. They subsequently betrayed them to the Taliban, and before the day was over, Luttrell's three teammates and 16 more Americans -- including eight more SEALs --were dead.

We spoke on the phone.

Nawotka: You write that not executing the goatherds was ``the stupidest, most Southern-fried, lamebrained decision I ever made in my life.'' Why?

Luttrell: It led directly to the deaths of my friends. I was more worried about liberal media back home finding out about our executing the goatherds and accusing us of war crimes than I was about making the smart military decision. I've wished I could take it back every day since.

Nawotka: Is it typical for a SEAL team to take votes?

Luttrell: One of the things I try to get across in the book is how SEALs think. In the SEALs we know that one man can't win a war -- when one guy goes it alone, you die -- so we formulate a plan and we use each other's brains.

Bashing Liberals?

Nawotka: Your memoir is a big bestseller. Do you still feel the media are out to get you?

Luttrell: I now almost wish I hadn't put that stuff in there, but I told the story the way it happened. I'm not trying to bash liberals or Democrats and prop up Republicans -- in my heart of hearts I'm not. I want to bring the country back together, not divide it further. If people read the book, they will see it is about trying to protect this country and fighting insurmountable odds.

Nawotka: How is it that you weren't prepared for this kind of battle, yet you still killed more than 50 Taliban?

Luttrell: SEALs move fast and light, like guys going out for a hike or hunting. No, we were not dressed like what you see in Iraq, with body armor or heavy weapons. Two of us were carrying sniper rifles.

Luck and God

Nawotka: You tumbled thousands of feet down a mountainside, cracking three vertebrae, and survived a rocket-propelled grenade, only to be found by a friendly Afghan doctor who took you in and decided to protect you. Was that SEAL training or fate?

Luttrell: Pure luck and God.

Nawotka: Throughout your time in Afghanistan you wore two Texas patches on your uniform. One made it to President Bush. How?

Luttrell: When I was recovering, Admiral Mike Mullin, the chief of Naval Operations, asked me if there was anything he could do for me. I asked if he would give the patch to the president and tell him, ``Your Texas boys are getting it done.''

Later I met the president in the Oval Office when I was awarded the Navy Cross, and the patch was sitting on his desk. I had tried to clean it up, but it was still covered in mud and blood. He said, ``Son, do you remember this?'' and then he told me it was going to end up in his presidential museum.

Nawotka: You were trained as a medic. Now you're planning on attending medical school. Have you decided where?

Luttrell: I don't venture out of my home state of Texas much, but I think Yale appeals to me most.

Nawotka: How comfortable are you with the word ``hero''?

Luttrell: I am not a hero. I am a highly trained elite soldier. I was just doing my job. Those kids in Iraq, the ones who went into the Reserves to pay for college and are now fighting terrorists, going out on patrol and getting blown up by IEDs -- they are heroes.

``Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10,'' by Marcus Luttrell with Patrick Robinson, is published by Little, Brown (390 pages, $24.99).

(Edward Nawotka writes on books and publishing for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Friday, July 06, 2007

`Harry Potter' Cuts Price, Robert Novak Cuts Throats: Book Buzz

`Harry Potter' Cuts Price, Robert Novak Cuts Throats: Book Buzz

By Edward Nawotka

July 5 (Bloomberg) -- With J.K. Rowling's ``Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,'' the seventh and final book in the series, set for a July 21 release, Scholastic, its American publisher, is printing 12 million copies. Yet what looks to be a virtually guaranteed bonanza won't necessarily trickle down to booksellers. is offering the book at $17.99 -- a 48.6 percent discount off the cover price of $34.99 -- and has reported almost 1.6 million pre-orders worldwide. With the publisher's discount to Amazon unlikely to go much beyond 50 percent, that leaves a slim profit, though Amazon might still make a little extra on shipping.

Big-box wholesalers like Costco and Sam's Club, as well as regional grocery and drugstore chains, have in the past offered even lower prices, using the book as a loss leader to draw in customers. Barnes & Noble, Borders and other chain bookstores have typically discounted the book by 40 percent.

Many independent booksellers, less willing to go the discount route, are competing by adding value to the purchase with ``Harry Potter''-themed launch parties and other programs. At Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, Ariz., Publishers Weekly magazine's 2007 Bookseller of the Year, ``Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows'' will sell for the full $34.99, with seven of those dollars going to a local charity of the buyer's choice.

``We've done the same in past years,'' says Faith Hochhalter, the store's children's-book buyer. ``With `Harry Potter,' our priority is as much community development as it is selling books.''

New Film, Too

The booksellers also have to sign a novella-length agreement for the privilege of selling the book.

Among its draconian provisions: They must keep the novel under lock and key prior to the midnight launch, and they may not use trademarked ``Harry Potter'' names to promote it outside the store. (No Diagon Alleys in the parking lot.)

The restrictions stem from Rowling's contract with Warner Bros., which produces the ``Harry Potter'' films and doesn't want any confusion between the new book and its ``Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,'' which opens July 11.

Most booksellers I spoke to were happy to sign Scholastic's agreement and intend to comply -- though they worry that the rules are so complex they might break one without knowing it. (Scholastic, $34.99, 12 million first printing.)

Friedman 3.0

There are already some 2.5 million hardcover copies of Thomas Friedman's 2005 ``The World Is Flat'' in print. The paperback version, which arrives in stores on July 24, represents the book's third revision.

Will two new chapters and updated statistics entice customers into buying yet another copy?

``This is a book that has `tipped' and will continue to sell whether pages are added or not,'' says Todd Sattersten, vice-president of the business bookstore 800-CEO-READ, which has sold 700 copies of the book so far.

Barbara Cave Henricks, a consultant who has worked with Jack Welch and other executives on their books, points out that a paperback edition ``is also more attractive for universities, which prefer to assign paperbacks for supplemental reading.'' Yet she questions Friedman's decision to re-revise rather than write a new book.

``When you have a big hit, publishers want you to follow it up as soon as possible to capitalize on existing fans,'' she says. ``A writer like Friedman might get paid five figures for a revision but would get a multimillion-dollar deal for a new book. Of course, with three Pulitzer Prizes to his name, Friedman is the exception to the rule. He can probably sell just about anything he wants." (Picador, $16, 500,000 first printing.)

Novak's Blade

Given Robert Novak's long career in Washington, surely he wants to be remembered for more than outing Valerie Plame as a CIA agent.

His memoir ``The Prince of Darkness: 50 Years Reporting in Washington'' should help. Said to have come in at 1,400 pages, it's half that now.

The book is embargoed -- press copies aren't available -- but Dallas Morning News columnist Rod Dreher, author of ``Crunchy Cons,'' has the same publisher and got an early peek. He told me he's been savoring the infighting the book might engender.

``There are some pretty spicy parts in which he unloads on conservative pundits, which will have people on the right talking'' he says. ``He's particularly hard on Kate O'Beirne for what he believes is her failure to defend him when National Review attacked him unfairly. One gets the opinion that their friendship ended over that.''

Among Novak's other targets are National Review's David Frum and MSNBC's Tucker Carlson. (Crown Forum, $29.95, 100,000 first printing.)

(Edward Nawotka writes on books and publishing for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Iraq's Harvard Insider Damns Occupation; Rumsfeld's Arrogance

By Edward Nawotka

June 14 (Bloomberg) -- The disastrous war in Iraq continues to inspire new books. Among the most interesting:

``The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War, Losing the Peace,'' by Ali A. Allawi, is the first significant volume about the conflict by an Iraqi insider. An MIT- and Harvard-educated banker, Allawi has held several key government posts, including minister of trade, minister of defense and minister of finance.

His book is long and dense but never mealy-mouthed. Allawi regards the war as ``one of America's great strategic blunders'' and calls the Bush administration ``ignorant'' and ``ill- informed'' about conditions in Iraq (most prominently the fragility of the national economy and the ``parlous condition of the machinery of government'') prior to the invasion.

The occupation, Allawi writes, ``broke the thick crust that had accreted over the country and region as a whole and released powerful subterranean forces.'' He isn't talking about oil geysers. He shows, with an authority far surpassing that of other politicos, how a democratically elected Iraqi government runs counter to interests of authoritarian regimes (Saudi Arabia, Egypt) that are key U.S. allies in the region.

``The Occupation of Iraq'' is published by Yale University Press (518 pages, $28).


``Rumsfeld: His Rise, Fall and Catastrophic Legacy,'' by Andrew Cockburn, is as damning as its title suggests. You get a sense of the pitch at which Cockburn writes from his statement that Sept. 11 transformed the defense secretary from ``a half- forgotten 20th-century political figure to America's 21st- century warlord.''

Cockburn sees Donald Rumsfeld as a shrewd political operator whose ruthlessness and ambition during the Ford administration made an ally of Dick Cheney and a ``lifelong enemy'' of George H.W. Bush. He does a superior job of showing how, as secretary of defense under Gerald Ford, Rumsfeld became a benefactor of the defense industry, into whose coffers he has since funneled hundreds of billions of dollars.

Cockburn's astute analysis of his subject's earlier career makes it seem all but inevitable that Rumsfeld would commit the errors he did in managing the invasion and occupation of Iraq. And though the story has been told repeatedly before, reading again about his hubristic dismissal of the military's request for more invasion and support forces and his long refusal to admit the existence of the insurgency revives that troubling question: Why wasn't he fired sooner?

``Rumsfeld'' is published by Scribner (247 pages, $25).


In ``Monstering: Inside America's Policy of Secret Interrogations and Torture in the Terror War,'' Tara McKelvey tracks down many of the principals in the Abu Ghraib photos and posits some theories about how the pictures came into being.

She believes the poverty-stricken home lives of some of the soldiers contributed directly to the abuse. She writes about videos of bored prison guards ``Robotripping'' (getting stoned on a mixture of Robitussin and Vivarin) and simulating sex with one another. Lynndie England, the young army specialist photographed holding a naked prisoner on a leash, worked at a chicken-processing plant where animals were abused (though, surprisingly, she quit in protest) and participated in amateur porn shoots before her tour of duty in Iraq.

Working from interviews with former detainees, McKelvey serves up a dozen case studies of abuse that went beyond what was shown in the photographs; it included sophisticated forms of torture (such as stress positions and ``monstering'' -- the inhibition of diet and sleep) and, purportedly, rape and murder. The worst abuse, she reports, took place at makeshift short- term-detention facilities, such as gyms and trailers, where detainees were held for fewer than 14 days and then released without any record of their imprisonment.

Jail Time

She doggedly tracks down military documents and computer files supporting claims of abuse, including one guard's ``wish list'' of ``alternative interrogation techniques,'' including ``phone book strikes'' and ``low-voltage electrocution.'' Even more disturbing is her revelation that civilian contractors probably participated in the abuse; one translator may have sodomized a male teenager.

Thus far, she reports, of 260 soldiers investigated for detainee-related crimes, only nine have received jail time. (England is currently serving a 36-month sentence.)

McKelvey's research is impressive. Her litany of pain and suffering is equal parts enlightening and exhausting.

``Monstering'' is published by Carroll & Graf (291 pages, $25.95).

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Dueling Hillarys, Tina Brown's Princess Di: Book Buzz

By Edward Nawotka

June 1 (Bloomberg) -- Two new biographies of Hillary Clinton, Tina Brown's long-awaited expose on the late Princess of Wales and the returns of Armistead Maupin and Martin Cruz Smith are all potential June blockbusters.

``A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton'' by Carl Bernstein will be the first of two Hillary Clinton bios to reach readers when it hits the stores on June 5. Bernstein spent eight years on the book, which follows the New York senator from her Illinois childhood up to the moment she announced her presidential bid.

Hagiography or hatchet job? Knopf executive director of publicity Paul Bogaards will only say, ``Bernstein lets his sources do the talking -- and they are very good sources.'' Among the revelations: that in 1989 Hillary refused Bill Clinton's request for a divorce. (Knopf, $28.95; 275,000-copy first printing.)

``Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton'' by Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr. lands in stores shortly thereafter, on June 8. The authors, investigative reporters for the New York Times, focus on Clinton's political education as it evolved in Wellesley, Little Rock, Washington and Westchester. They train a microscope on her original Senate vote endorsing the war in Iraq.

``They only finished their reporting in May,'' says Little, Brown publicity director Heather Fain, implying that it's the more-up-to-date of the two books. In fact, there's been a pitched battle between the houses over publication date. Little, Brown had originally scheduled ``Her Way'' for Aug. 28 when Knopf blindsided it by announcing a June 19 pub date for ``A Woman in Charge.'' When the dust settled, both houses had moved the dates up even earlier.

1.5 Million

It will be a challenge for either to match the popularity of Clinton's autobiography, ``Living History,'' which -- despite lukewarm reviews when it appeared, in June 2003 -- sold more than 1.5 million copies in its first six months. (Little, Brown, $29.99; 175,000-copy first printing.)

``The Diana Chronicles'' by Tina Brown, to be published on June 12, arrives in time for the 10th anniversary of the princess's death, Aug. 31. Brown, the Brit who rose to the top of the New York media world as editor of Vanity Fair and the New Yorker, offers a revisionist bio of the People's Princess that, word has it, is likely to outrage Diana idolaters.

Brown, who knew the princess, says she's interviewed more than 250 sources. Among the surprises in her unvarnished portrait: her suggestion that at the time of her death Diana may have had her sights on another man, and one just as rich as Dodi Fayed: Theodore Forstmann.

``Teddy Forstmann and the late Princess Di had a very close friendship,'' a spokeswoman for the American financier confirmed today. She declined to comment further. (Doubleday, $27.50; 200,000-copy first printing.)

More Tales

``Michael Tolliver Lives'' by Armistead Maupin is the first appearance of Maupin's HIV-positive gay hero since 1990. ``Tales of the City'' began as a serial in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1976; when this seventh volume in the series comes out on June 12, the city's mayor, Gavin Newsom, plans to declare it Michael Tolliver Day.

The first of the books written in Tolliver's own voice, the novel is about the 55-year-old's relationship with a younger man. Perhaps not coincidentally, in February the 62-year-old Maupin married his own 30-something lover in Vancouver, Canada. (HarperCollins, $25.95; 150,000-copy first printing.)

``Stalin's Ghost'' by Martin Cruz Smith stars Arkady Renko, the surly, cynical Russian homicide detective readers first met in 1981 in ``Gorky Park.'' That book's dismal take on life in the Soviet Union got it banned there. In the rest of the world it sold 6 million copies.

On June 12 -- after four more books and a further 14 million sales -- Renko returns to Moscow to investigate the Elvis-like sightings of Stalin on subway platforms and the systematic execution of members of an elite Chechnyan army unit. This book is as critical of Vladimir Putin's regime as the first one was of the communists. (Simon & Schuster, $26.95; 250,000- copy first printing.)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Mamet Sells 100 Boxes of His Papers to Texas for Mystery Sum

Mamet Sells 100 Boxes of His Papers to Texas for Mystery Sum

By Edward Nawotka

April 18 (Bloomberg) -- David Mamet, the playwright, screenwriter and film director, has sold his archive to the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

Mamet, 59, is best known for his dramas about scam artists and unscrupulous businessmen, including ``American Buffalo'' and ``Glengarry Glen Ross,'' which won the 1984 Pulitzer Prize.

Mamet's archive joins those of his fellow dramatists Lillian Hellman and Tom Stoppard, as well as more recent acquisitions that include the papers of novelist Don DeLillo and costumes from actor Robert De Niro.

In a prepared statement, Mamet said, ``Having an archive in the care of the Ransom Center, in the care, if I may, of intelligent and dedicated enthusiasts, fulfilled both the fantasy of the parent, and that of the artist, who now, though absent, might envision a cost-free colloquy with a perfect interlocutor.''

The Ransom Center, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, has become known for its deep pockets and aggressive buying. In April 2003 it paid Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein $5 million for their Watergate papers. Two years later the center paid $2.5 million for novelist Norman Mailer's archive.

The money for acquisitions is derived in part from oil- producing land endowed to the university by the state of Texas.

100-Plus Boxes

The Mamet archive, which was purchased for an undisclosed amount, consists of more than 100 boxes of drafts, ephemera and correspondence.

While several unpublished manuscripts are also reported to be in the collection, the plum is some 175 daily journals Mamet kept from 1966 to 2001.

``I started keeping a journal over 40 years ago, and so established the habit of writing longhand,'' Mamet said. ``Virtually everything I've written since -- plays, screenplays, nonfiction and novels -- existed first in hardbound lined notebooks full of black or blue ink.''

Dr. Thomas F. Staley, director of the Harry Ransom Center, added, ``The journals illuminate Mamet's developing views on writing and directing, as well as performance and production. Mamet was a man aware of his times, and the journals reflect not only the evolution of American theater and culture but also the impulses that prompted them.''

Mamet's archive is paltry compared with some others at the center, such as movie mogul David O. Selznick's papers, which when purchased in 1980 filled more than 5,000 boxes and included the original storyboards for ``Gone With the Wind.''

In addition to some 36 million pages of manuscripts, the Harry Ransom Center boasts a Gutenberg Bible, a print of the world's first permanent photograph and the library and the archives of publisher Alfred A. Knopf.

(Edward Nawotka writes about the publishing industry for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Murakami, School Builder Split $30,000; `Carnegie' Wins $50,000

By Edward Nawotka

March 27 (Bloomberg) -- A short-story collection by the Japanese surrealist Haruki Murakami and a true tale of adventure and school building in Pakistan and Afghanistan by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin were named winners of the 2007 Kiriyama Prize this morning in San Francisco.

Created in 1996 to honor books about the Pacific Rim and South Asia, the prize is sponsored by Pacific Rim Voices, a division of the San Francisco-based Kiriyama Pacific Rim Institute. Each winning book receives $15,000.

In an interview with Bloomberg News, Kiriyama Prize manager Jeannine Stronach said that she took particular pleasure in Mortenson's win.

``While it is already widely acknowledged that Murakami writes extraordinary fiction,'' she said in a telephone interview from San Francisco, ``my hope is that by giving the award to Mortenson it might also in some way bring additional attention his meaningful work at the Central Asia Institute.''

Mortenson and Relin's ``Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace ... One School at a Time'' (Penguin) is an account of how Mortenson, a nurse, was inspired to found his nonprofit Central Asia Institute after failing to reach the summit of K2 and taking refuge in a remote Pakistani village. Mortenson survived kidnapping and defied death threats while trying to offer education to children, especially girls, in the Karakoram Mountains of Pakistan and the Pamir and Hindu Kush Mountains of Afghanistan. He built more than 50 schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Bizarre Weather

Murakami's ``Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman'' (Knopf), which won in the fiction category, features an ``ice man'' who seduces a lonely woman with ``white clouds'' of words that hang in the air ``like comic book captions.'' The volume's two dozen tales include an assortment of bizarre weather phenomena, nightmares, anthropomorphized animals and a doppelganger.

The book was chosen over four other finalists, including Kiran Desai's ``The Inheritance of Loss'' (Grove), which has already won both the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle award for fiction.

The New-York Historical Society has awarded its $50,000 American Book Prize to David Nasaw for ``Andrew Carnegie'' (Penguin), an 896-page biography of the Gilded Age steel magnate and philanthropist. Roger Hertog, chairman of the board of the society, called the book ``magisterial'' and said the example set by Carnegie's philanthropy ``is remarkably relevant to us today.''

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Dean Koontz Invades Virtual World in Bantam Dell Marketing Ploy

By Edward Nawotka

March 15 (Bloomberg) -- Today at 9 p.m. New York time, bestselling thriller writer Dean Koontz will give a virtual reading from his forthcoming novel ``The Good Guy'' (scheduled for publication May 29) at the ``Bantam Dell Book Shop and Cafe'' -- a new virtual destination in Second Life for Bantam Dell Publishing Group, a division of Random House Inc.

Second Life is a 3-D online world in which people roam a fictitious but familiar environment in the form of digital avatars -- that is, computer representations that look, walk and misbehave much like real human beings. Since its creation by Linden Lab in 2003, Second Life has attracted more than 4 million users worldwide.

Bantam Dell's virtual bookstore was created by Electric Sheep Co., which has produced Second Life destinations for other companies including AOL, Starwood Hotels and Major League Baseball.

During his reading, Koontz will be represented by an avatar fashioned in his likeness and assisted by a pair of Bantam Dell employee avatars with the literary-sounding names of Beatrice Scintilla and Horatio Ruggles.

Scintilla is actually Betsy Hulsebosch, senior vice president and director of creative marketing for Bantam Dell. She will field audience questions via instant and text messaging and relay them to Koontz, who will answer in his real voice via an audio feed.

Overflow Glitches

Hulsebosch says she hopes that 30 to 40 avatars -- or visitors -- show up, as any more in one Second Life destination can cause computer glitches. To deal with overflow, the event will be simulcast in several other Second Life destinations; an audio feed will be broadcast on Koontz's Web site and on Bantam Dell's.

Those attending will be able to browse almost 100 Bantam Dell titles on shelves, tables and ``dumps'' (those cardboard displays that sit on the floor) in the virtual bookstore. Clicking on a book will take them to a page on Bantam Dell's Web site where they can read an excerpt and, if they wish, buy the book, either from there or from a number of online retailers, including Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Powells.

Publishers have been slow to enter the age of digitized information -- unlike writers and entertainers. The singer- songwriter Suzanne Vega has given a virtual concert in Second Life, and an avatar of Kurt Vonnegut has sat for an interview with a virtual John Hockenberry.

Next Dimension

``We think Second Life represents the next dimension of social networking,'' Hulsebosch says. ``It's three-dimensional. You physically create the world around you. We think the people who are drawn to that sort of experience would also be drawn to books.''

Russ Lawrence, president of the American Booksellers Association and owner of Chapter One Book Store in Hamilton, Montana, is sanguine about the prospect of virtual competition. ``If publishers want growth, they have to look to reach people where they haven't before,'' he says. ``Second Life is itself a fictional environment. Who knows, selling fiction there might be a pretty good match.''

(Edward Nawotka is a critic for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Capitalism Goes on Trial, Warren Buffett Eats: New Nonfiction

By Edward Nawotka

March 13 (Bloomberg) -- After 9/11, readers turned to Benjamin R. Barber's 1995 ``Jihad vs. McWorld'' for a better understanding of the world in which they suddenly found themselves. Barber posited a society divided between faith-based tribalists and economic globalists -- opposing forces that both threatened democratic ideals.

Barber's new book, ``Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults and Swallow Citizens Whole'' (Norton, $26.95), offers a scathing critique of late capitalism, blaming run-amok consumerism for the decline of society.

Megacorporations are as much in the business of manufacturing ``needs,'' Barber argues, as of products or services for a population of emotionally stunted consumers.

Why do we buy a raft of inferior and superfluous products? Because these companies have turned us into ``kidults, rejuveniles, twixters, adultescents'' conditioned since birth to buy ``stupid'' brands. The result is a ``civic schizophrenia'' that leaves us vulnerable to megachurches but too disengaged to vote.

``Consumed'' is more vitriolic than admirers of ``Jihad vs. McWorld'' might expect. Some may object to Barber's angry insistence that we, as consumers, have no free will. Although it's great at provoking us to think about our complicity in the phenomenon he describes, a reader may not feel like the total tool of corporate commerce Barber claims we all are.

``Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future'' by Bill McKibben (Times, $25). In a vein similar to Barber's, McKibben offers a clear-eyed reassessment of the meaning of growth, arguing that it's no longer making the world wealthier but instead is ``generating inequality and insecurity'' and ``bumping against physical limits, like climate change and peak oil, so profound that continuing to expand may be impossible or even dangerous.''

``A Weekend With Warren Buffett and Other Shareholder Meeting Adventures'' by Randy Cepuch (Thunder's Mouth, $23.95). Starting with a six-hour marathon Q&A with Buffett in Omaha, Cepuch offers a travelogue of 24 meetings (and free lunches) throughout the U.S., the U.K. and Australia, for such companies as Citigroup, DuPont, eBay, Google, Microsoft, Playboy, Starbucks, Wal-Mart and Walt Disney.

``Jackpot Nation: Rambling and Gambling Across Our Landscape of Luck'' by Richard Hoffer (HarperCollins, $24.95). A Sports Illustrated reporter visits casinos, underground power games and more in a trip through the U.S.'s gaming culture, whose burgeoning condition, he says, is symptomatic of our predilection for get-rich-quick schemes and costs us some $80 billion a year.

``How Countries Compete: Strategy, Structure, and Government in the Global Economy'' by Richard H.K. Vietor (Harvard Business School, $35). A B-school prof examines growth in countries including China, India, Japan, the U.S., Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia and South Africa and challenges the notion that government oversight hinders economic development.

``The Grid: A Journey Through the Heart of Our Electrified World'' by Phillip F. Schewe (J. Henry Press, $27.95). The electrical grid is one of the world's great engineering and industrial feats, but one short circuit could leave cities dark for days. Schewe offers an informative look at the grid's history and its increasing vulnerability.

``The Cigarette Century: The Rise, Fall and Deadly Persistence of the Product That Defined America'' by Allan M. Brandt (Basic, $36). A medical historian examines the role of the tobacco industry in American life, from its contributions to the development of advertising to its role in so many legal and health debates.

``Maxed Out: Hard Times, Easy Credit and the Era of Predatory Lenders'' by James D. Scurlock (Scribner, $24). The credit industry (Visa, MasterCard et al.) is the villain in this frightening if one-sided expose of ``debt hell.''

``Poor People'' by William T. Vollmann (Ecco, $29.95). The prizewinning novelist and crusading (and sometimes gonzo) journalist traverses the world to ask a cross section of the downtrodden, ``Why are you poor?'' and records their honest and unsettling answers.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Didion's Grief, Wal-Mart, Rome, Oil, Obama: February Paperbacks

By Edward Nawotka

Feb. 5 (Bloomberg) -- Joan Didion's National Book Award- winning memoir, ``The Year of Magical Thinking'' (Vintage, $13.95), describes her grief following the sudden death of her husband, the writer John Gregory Dunne.

As a hedge against self-pity, Didion chronicles every detail. Hoping to perform a kind of ``magic trick'' to ``bring him back,'' she refuses to allow his body parts to be harvested or to give away his shoes: ``How could he come back if they took his organs, how could he come back if he had no shoes?''

The book has proved to be her most popular. Some 625,000 copies were printed in hardcover. A stage adaptation, written by Didion, directed by David Hare and starring Vanessa Redgrave, opens on Broadway in March.

Other highlights this month:

``Wal-Mart: The Bully of Bentonville: How the High Cost of Everyday Low Prices Is Hurting America'' by Anthony Bianco (Currency, $14.95). According to the persuasive Bianco, the world's biggest retailer has created a Dickensian workplace culture that turns workers into ``component parts'' as it smashes union activity and violates child-labor laws in pursuit of retail dominance.

``Rome, Inc.: The Rise and Fall of the First Multinational Corporation'' by Stanley Bing (Norton, $14.95). Satirist Bing compresses Roman history into an entertaining business parable that portrays the city-state and its empire as a modern corporation vexed by rapacious and incompetent leaders, disastrous in-fighting and hostile takeover attempts.

``The Coming Economic Collapse: How You Can Thrive When Oil Costs $200 a Barrel'' by Stephen Leeb and Glen Strathy (Back Bay, $16.99). Leeb, the president of Leeb Capital Management, and Strathy, a journalist, view the oil shock and inflation of the 1970s as a template for the future, when growing demand from China and India will force oil prices to skyrocket -- something they think could happen in the next five years.

``New Art City: Manhattan at Mid-Century'' by Jed Perl (Vintage, $18.95). The New Republic's art critic offers a smart disquisition on the influence of a revolutionary coterie that included Jackson Pollock, Hans Hofmann, Joseph Cornell, Robert Rauschenberg and Ellsworth Kelly.

``Hopes and Dreams: The Story of Barack Obama'' by Steve Dougherty (Black Dog & Leventhal, $9.95). At 128 pages it's brief, but so is the career of the junior senator from Illinois and Democratic presidential hopeful.

``Falling Through the Earth'' by Danielle Trussoni (Picador, $14). Trussoni's troubled Wisconsin childhood and her attempts to win respect from her alcoholic Vietnam-vet father inform her tough-minded, moving memoir.

``Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer'' by James L. Swanson (HarperPerennial, $15.95). As the latest of myriad authors who have written about the hunt for John Wilkes Booth, Swanson distills the surfeit of information into an urgent narrative that offers only the most riveting (and gory) details.

``Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change From Hawaii to Iraq'' by Stephen Kinzer (Times, $15). How many governments has the U.S. overthrown? Fourteen, answers New York Times foreign correspondent Kinzer in this critical survey of strong-arm American diplomacy. Hawaii was the first, Iraq the last -- for now.

``Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping'' by Judith Levine (Free Press, $14). Levine's can-do attitude buoys her chronicle of a year-long experiment in forgoing luxuries (Q-tips, restaurants, video rentals), which also explores the anti- consumer movement.

``Black Swan Green'' by David Mitchell (Random House, $13.95). The challenging British novelist has set his rough-and- tumble coming-of-age story in Worcestershire, England, in 1982, where his 13-year-old narrator copes with a stammer, confronts bullies and follows the Falklands War.

``Labyrinth'' by Kate Mosse (Berkley, $15). In Mosse's fat page-turner, a pair of women separated by 800 years -- contemporary Alice and medieval Alais -- run from Christian villains eager to thwart their search for the object of desire in several recent thrillers: the Holy Grail.

(Edward Nawotka is a critic for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Smiley's Hollywood, Farah's Somalia, Huck's Pap: New Fiction

By Edward Nawotka

Feb. 1 (Bloomberg) -- A post-Oscars gathering at a famous director's house turns into a marathon conversation about the ambitions and neuroses of the Hollywood elite in Jane Smiley's loquacious new novel ``Ten Days in the Hills'' (Knopf, $26).

Smiley's 1991 Pulitzer Prize winner, ``A Thousand Acres,'' was a modern reimagining of ``King Lear.'' This time she takes Boccaccio's ``Decameron'' as her template.

Ten voices interweave into a cacophony of self-obsession as the host and his guests -- including a writer, an actor, hangers- on and offspring -- watch movies in the screening room, yack endlessly about Hollywood, debate the just-launched war in Iraq and dream aloud. One even considers making a pornographic version of ``My Dinner With Andre.''

Some readers may find the characters pretentious and exasperating, but Smiley's bracing candor about desire, both personal and professional, is engrossing.

Other highlights this month:

``Knots'' by Nuruddin Farah (Riverhead, $25.95). The latest novel from the acclaimed Somali writer vividly tells the story of Cambara, who has emigrated to Canada but returns to Mogadishu to mourn the death of her son. In her war-ravaged homeland she finds succor among women peace activists, who, paradoxically, help her enlist mercenaries to reclaim her family home from a vicious warlord.

``Finn'' by Jon Clinch (Random House, $23.95). In ``The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,'' when Pap, Huck's father, is found dead he's surrounded by a strange assortment of odds and ends, among them a wooden leg, two black cloth masks and some ``women's underclothes.'' Clinch's intriguing aim in his debut novel is to explain the mystery by imagining the drunken old man's childhood and family.

``Red Cat'' by Peter Spiegelman (Knopf, $22.95). In Spiegelman's newest thriller (after ``Black Maps,'' a Shamus Award winner, and ``Death's Little Helpers''), New York City private investigator John March, the black-sheep scion of a banking family, makes his third appearance. This time he's coming to the aid of his rich, arrogant brother, who's being threatened by a predatory Internet connection he made the mistake of sleeping with. Spiegleman's pointed riffs on banking and investment schemes are part of the pleasure.

``Lost City Radio'' by Daniel Alarcon (HarperCollins, $24.95). Alarcon's previous book, ``War by Candlelight,'' was a finalist for the 2006 PEN/Hemingway Award. His new novel is worthy of comparison to Graham Greene. Its central character is a woman in a fictional South American country who uses her popular radio program to connect people with loved ones ``disappeared'' during a civil war and who gets a tip that sends her on a quest to find her own lost husband.

``The Other Side of You'' by Salley Vickers (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $24). Vickers, a former psychologist, delivers a graceful, cerebral novel in the form of a ping-pong therapy session. The psychoanalyst has been traumatized by the childhood death of his brother; his suicidal patient has been traumatized by the death of her Caravaggio-obsessed lover.

``Devotion'' by Howard Norman (Houghton Mifflin, $24). In this powerful study of love and marriage by the highly regarded author of ``The Bird Artist,'' a Canadian father and his new son- in-law come to blows outside a London hotel. But is it solely because the young husband has been unfaithful on his honeymoon -- or is there reason for an even deeper distrust between the men?

``Valentine: A Love Story'' by Chet Raymo (Cowley Publications, $19.95). Raymo, best known for his popular science books, returns to fiction for the first time since 1993's ``The Dork of Cork'' with an entrancing life of the martyr St. Valentine, set against the foment of the early Christian church. After the death of his powerful patron's son, Valentine, a Roman doctor, is sent to prison, where he falls in love with the beautiful blind daughter of his jailer.

``The Time It Takes to Fall'' by Margaret Lazarus Dean (Simon & Schuster, $24) Dean's colorful coming-of-age novel views the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster through the eyes of a space-obsessed young girl, who's embroiled in her own parents' complicated lives in the NASA community at Florida's Cape Canaveral.

``Jamestown'' by Matthew Sharpe (Soft Skull Press, $25). With Brooklyn at war and Manhattan inhospitable, refugees flee on buses to Virginia in an ingenious post-apocalyptic satire that pits the natives (whose skin has turned red from their SPF 90 sunblock) against the unprepared interlopers. Much of the book is narrated in hilarious riffs by a trippy Pocahontas.

(Edward Nawotka is a critic for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Oil, Nixon and Mao, Soulful Economists: February Nonfiction

By Edward Nawotka

Jan. 31 (Bloomberg) -- Americans make 16 billion trips to the gas station and pump an average of 1,068 gallons per capita annually. Yet few of us understand the economic, political and cultural ramifications of such rampant consumption, Lisa Margonelli observes in ``Oil on the Brain: Adventures From the Pump to the Pipeline'' (Doubleday, $26).

After watching an Alaskan chemist use napalm to clean up an oil slick, Margonelli sets off on a 100,000-mile trek -- burning some 3,000 gallons of gas and jet fuel, she dutifully reports -- to explore ``petroleum culture'' and the global oil-supply chain.

Her chatty combination of reportage and travelogue serves up some fascinating facts: For example, China's booming car sales have resulted in traffic fatalities equivalent to ``a daily 747 crash.''

Other highlights this month:

``Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement'' by Brian Doherty (PublicAffairs, $35). Doherty, an editor at Reason magazine, offers an astute, entertaining history of thinkers as diverse as Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman, who both believed that the best government was the one that involved itself least in the life of its citizens.

``The Soulful Science: What Economists Really Do and Why It Matters'' by Diane Coyle (Princeton, $27.95). Countering Thomas Carlyle's description of economics as the dismal science, Coyle shows how contemporary economists are bringing theory out of the classroom as they adopt a more pragmatic, humanistic approach to such problems as poverty and pollution.

``The Unwritten Laws of Business'' by W.J. King and James G. Skakoon (Currency, $14.95). This revised edition of the 60-year- old business primer ``The Unwritten Laws of Engineering'' (which helped inspire Raytheon CEO William Swanson's popular self- published pamphlet ``Swanson's Unwritten Rules of Management'') is full of aphoristic advice -- for example, ``If you have no intention of listening to, considering, and perhaps using, someone's opinion, don't ask for it.''

``Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic'' by Chalmers Johnson (Metropolitan, $25). Following his bestselling ``Blowback'' and ``The Sorrows of Empire,'' Johnson powerfully demonstrates how the United States' costly attempts to install democracy abroad (too often with security as the real goal) have lured it into a permanent war economy that threatens to undermine the Constitution and bankrupt the nation.

``Nixon and Mao: The Week That Changed the World'' by Margaret MacMillan (Random House, $27.95). The bestselling author of ``Paris 1919'' offers a fascinating look at the events surrounding that historic handshake of February 1972 and the important roles that Henry Kissinger, Pat Nixon, Chou En-lai and Jiang Qing also played.

``Gerald R. Ford'' by Douglas Brinkley (Times Books, $20). Ford, who died on Dec. 26, is largely remembered as the man unwittingly thrust into the presidency. Brinkley recounts key episodes in his brief tenure, most notably the signing of the Helsinki Accords, which, the author maintains, laid the groundwork for the end of the Cold War.

``The China Fantasy: How Our Leaders Explain Away Chinese Repression'' by James Mann (Viking, $19.95). Mann, a former Beijing bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times and the author of ``Rise of the Vulcans,'' shows why China's deeply embedded authoritarian culture is likely to persist despite the West's mistaken belief that economic reforms will inevitably lead to a humanistic democracy (``the soothing scenario'') or else revolution (``the upheaval scenario'').

``Planet India: How the Rise of the Fastest-Growing Democracy Is Transforming America and the World'' by Mira Kamdar. (Scribner, $26). Kamdar, a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute, weighs in on the Indian companies that have marshaled technology to transform the country into an economic dynamo that now imperils the West's economic and cultural hegemony.

(Edward Nawotka is a critic for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Friday, January 26, 2007

After Frey Debacle, Oprah Picks Poitier Book for Club

By Edward Nawotka

Jan. 26 (Bloomberg) -- Oprah Winfrey chose Sidney Poitier's ``The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography'' (HarperSanFrancisco, $14.95 paperback) as the next pick for her television book club. The choice is all but certain to turn the memoir into a bestseller.

``Measure'' is the first title Oprah has given her seal of approval to since James Frey's memoir, ``A Million Little Pieces,'' was exposed as partially fabricated and caused Winfrey considerable embarrassment. Oprah's Book Club has been a major boon to the publishing industry; her imprimatur on a title means gold at the checkout counter.

Originally published in September 2000, ``The Measure of a Man'' is Poitier's second memoir and recounts his rise from an impoverished childhood on Cat Island in the Bahamas to his Oscar-winning film career. The book includes meditations on integrity, commitment, faith and forgiveness and finding meaningful pleasures in life. The book sold 125,000 hardcovers and paperbacks in its first run, according to the publisher.

Winfrey was chastened when the Smoking Gun Web site revealed that Frey had faked significant portions of ``A Million Little Pieces,'' a book she heavily promoted through her club and initially defended. That book had gone on to sell some 1.7 million copies following her imprimatur and in excess of three million copies in all.

Despite the scandal, Winfrey still managed to turn a revised edition of Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel's Holocaust memoir ``Night'' into a million-copy bestseller.

Inspirational Story

Mark Tauber, vice president and deputy publisher of HarperSanFrancisco, called Poitier's memoir ``a great inspirational story about an authentic life.

``Oprah loves these kinds of stories,'' he added in a telephone interview today, ``and she's never been shy about saying how much he's been important to her career. It makes a lot of sense.''

Until the debacle, Oprah's Book Club had become the nation's premier venue for promoting books. Begun on Sept. 19, 1996, with the selection of Jacquelyn Mitchard's novel ``The Deep End of the Ocean,'' a Winfrey endorsement has nearly always prompted a dramatic boost in a title's sales.

14-Month Hiatus

Tauber anticipates the same will hold for Poitier's book. ``The Measure of a Man'' sold 75,000 copies in hardcover, landing briefly on the New York Times bestseller list in 2000, and an additional 50,000 copies in paperback.

Though Tauber wouldn't reveal specific numbers, he said, ``it's safe to say that we're printing several hundred thousand new paperbacks.'' He reports that pre-sales of the book, which has already been delivered to bookstores and will be on sale today, have been strong.

In 2001, author Jonathan Franzen voiced his discomfort with the ``Oprah's Book Club'' sticker affixed to his novel ``The Corrections.'' Franzen was dropped from Winfrey's show for his perceived snobbery; he later acknowledged her in his acceptance speech at the National Book Awards. She'd probably made him a bestselling author, too.

After a 14-month hiatus from selecting books between April 2002 and June 2003, Oprah shifted the focus of her club from choosing works by contemporary authors to promoting classic novels. The first, John Steinbeck's ``East of Eden,'' sold in excess of 1.6 million copies. Subsequent choices fell off a bit. Yet even missteps can account for significant sales.

The final selection of the classics club, a three-volume, $29.95 box set of William Faulkner's ``As I Lay Dying,'' ``The Sound and the Fury'' and ``Light in August'' was perceived as too daunting for many but still sold in excess of a half million units.

Including today's selection, Winfrey has picked 58 titles in all for her club, making instant millionaires of some the authors.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Children's Book Prizes Go to Small-Town Quest, Surreal Pictures

By Edward Nawotka

Jan. 22 (Bloomberg) -- Susan Patron's children's novel ``The Higher Power of Lucky'' (Atheneum/Richard Jackson Books) won the John Newbery Medal, while David Wiesner's illustrated book ``Flotsam'' (Clarion) took home the Randolph Caldecott Medal at an awards ceremony hosted in Seattle today by the American Library Association.

The prizes, which date from 1922 and 1938 respectively, are among the most prestigious in children's book publishing.

Patron's novel portrays the adventures of Lucky, a motherless 10-year-old who quests for a ``higher power'' among the quirky citizens and 12-step programs of the tiny desert town of Hard Pan, California, where she is looked after by her father's ex-wife, a Frenchwoman seemingly more interested in her on-line restaurant-management course than in caring for Lucky.

Wiesner has twice won the Caldecott Medal, first in 1992 for ``Tuesday'' and again in 2002 for his re-imagining of ``The Three Pigs.'' His ``Flotsam'' is a gorgeous, wordless depiction of a young beachcomber who finds the barnacle-encrusted Melville Underwater Camera. The camera is filled with astonishing photos of a strange undersea world, including a puffer fish rigged as a hot-air balloon and an intricate mechanical sea creature.

Closer examination with a magnifying glass and microscope reveals self-portraits of other children who have stumbled upon the camera, one dating back to the early 20th century.

In addition to the Newbery and Caldecott Medals, the ALA awards various other prizes for children's books. The Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal for nonfiction went to ``Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon'' by Catherine Thimmesh (Houghton Mifflin).

The Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature was given to ``American Born Chinese'' by Gene Luen Yang (Roaring Brook Press), the story of a child's alienation at school and the first graphic novel to be honored with the prize.

(Edward Nawotka is a critic for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer on this story: Edward Nawotka at .