Thursday, February 07, 2008

Yunus Goes Beyond `Microcredit'; Grisham's `Appeal'

By Edward Nawotka

Jan. 7 (Bloomberg) -- In 1976, Bangladeshi banker Muhammad Yunus took $27 from his own pocket and loaned it to a group of bamboo-stool makers to help them buy materials. Thirty years later he received the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for his role in founding the Grameen Bank and spearheading the use of ``microcredit'' to help the needy.

Today, $27 covers the cost of Yunus's new book, ``Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism'' (PublicAffairs, $26). It's a kind of manifesto, arguing that a business model similar to that which built Grameen Bank can develop self-sustaining ``social businesses.''

Such enterprises will provide safe drinking water, housing and affordable medicine for the poor, Yunus says. He recounts the creation of Grameen Danone, a joint venture started in 2005 between Grameen Bank and the French food company Danone that provides nutrient-enriched yogurt to the needy.

Among Yunus's tenets is the notion that an investor in such a company would forgo taking a financial dividend and be content with the moral and spiritual satisfaction provided.

``There are sure to be critics of his ideas, especially among the philanthropic community,'' says Clive Priddle, editorial director at Yunus's publisher, PublicAffairs. ``But Yunus likes to develop his ideas in public so they can be challenged.''

Yunus's previous book, ``Banker to the Poor,'' has sold more than 100,000 copies. PublicAffairs thinks ``Creating a World Without Poverty'' could match that and is printing 100,000 copies to start.

Grisham's Baptists

John Grisham won't be touring to support his first legal thriller in three years, ``The Appeal'' (Doubleday, $27.95), to be published on Jan. 29. Grisham doesn't ``do appearances,'' says his publicist, Alison Rich. It's not like he needs to peddle the product: He has sold about 235 million copies of his books worldwide.

Grisham will be making a rare speech two days after ``The Appeal'' is released, but not to promote the novel. He'll be speaking to ``The Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant,'' a conference for Baptists being held in Atlanta, where he'll appear alongside Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Jimmy Carter.

In the past few years, Grisham, who served in the Mississippi House of Representatives, has been increasingly vocal about his political views. He supported the writer James Webb in his successful 2006 Virginia Senate campaign and, more recently, interviewed Hillary Clinton on stage as part of a Clinton fundraiser in Charlottesville, Virginia.

``The Appeal'' tells the story of a billionaire chemical baron as he tries to get elected to the Mississippi Supreme Court to help reverse a damaging judgment against his company. The book reflects the compromises of political campaigning and suggests that high office can be bought.

Stephen King

Grisham's is by far the biggest book of the month in terms of print run, with Doubleday putting out an initial 2.8 million copies. That tops the 1.5 million copies for Stephen King's newest novel, ``Duma Key'' (Scribner, $28), scheduled to go on sale Jan. 22.

King tells the story of a construction worker who survives an accident, moves from Minnesota to Florida and begins painting pictures that have a horrific effect on the real world around him.

School Satire

Finally, fans of Roger Rosenblatt can expect another dose of satire in his second novel, ``Beet'' (Ecco, $23.95), which concerns efforts to save an off-the-rails university, surely one of the few that offers a major in Homeland Security. The writer's debut novel came in 2006 with ``Lapham Rising,'' which dealt with social life in Long Island's Hamptons enclaves and the construction of a 36,000-square-foot house. ``Beet'' sprouts on Jan. 29.

Bhutto's Last Word, X-Rated `Celebutantes' Trailer: Book Buzz

Feb. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Days before she was murdered on Dec. 27, Benazir Bhutto, the problematic two-time prime minister of Pakistan, finished writing ``Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West'' (Harper, $27.95). Rushed into production, the book lands in stores on Feb. 12, with a new afterword by her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, and their three children.

Political lobbyist Mark Siegel, Bhutto's collaborator, will stand in her place on the book tour. The audience for the book is likely to be strongest in Washington, where Siegel will stop in at the National Press Club on Feb. 20.

A main, well-proven theme of the book is that Islam must resolve internal conflicts before it can accommodate democracy and reconcile its differences with the West.

Outside the Beltway, interest varies. Tariq Rahman, books manager at Halalco, an Islamic supermarket in Falls Church, Virginia, said that while he plans to stock the book, he doesn't anticipate strong sales.

``No one has asked me for any other books by or about her,'' he said.

At Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon, customers quickly bought up existing stock of Bhutto's 1989 autobiography, ``Daughter of Destiny,'' prompting purchasing manager Kathy Kirby to put in an order for 200 copies of ``Reconciliation.''

``I think there will be lingering interest in Bhutto for a while,'' Kirby said.

Since rushing production of ``Reconciliation,'' Harper has doubled the announced first printing to 100,000 copies from 50,000 and will republish ``Daughter of Destiny'' in April, with a new epilogue from Siegel.

`The Thing About Life'

One title Kirby is confident will sell at her store is David Shields's ``The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead'' (Knopf, $23.95).

``We had a lot of pre-orders on our Web site,'' said Kirby. ``It's the type of book that really resonates with men of a certain age.''

Prompted, in part, by the realization that his cranky 97- year-old father had a robust sex life well into his 70s, Shields has written a meditation on mortality. He dwells at length on his own aging body, calculates his remaining breaths (he hopes for another 300 million) and offers data about his diminishing erections.

Knopf will likely be standing by to see whether its 30,000- copy first printing will be enough to satisfy demand.


Equally frank and far less earnest is the novel ``Celebutantes'' (St. Martin's Press, $23.95) by Amanda Goldberg and Ruthanna Hopper. The authors, who are both Hollywood princesses (the daughters of producer Leonard Goldberg and actor Dennis Hopper, respectively), have produced a roman a clef about a spoiled director's daughter and her coterie of BFFs (Best Friends Forever) during Oscar week.

In an effort to extend their audience beyond bookstores, the authors enlisted movie director McG (``Charlie's Angels,'' ``We Are Marshall'') to shoot four film ``trailers'' for the novel.

``It's kind of backward,'' agreed Steve Troha, associate director of publicity for St. Martin's Press. ``Usually, you read the book and imagine the characters, then see them visualized in a movie. This time the movie comes first. I think it will definitely change the way people read the book.''

The trailers, available on YouTube, are definitely NSFW (Not Safe for Work): The first features a lithe, bikini-clad starlet faking an orgasm, while another stars a male fashion designer who confesses to having attempted auto-fellatio.

With 100,000 copies of the book going on sale Feb. 5, Troha is hedging his bets.

``We're still planning on running newspaper ads,'' he said.