When I was in graduate school at the University of Mississippi, noted William Faulkner biographer Joseph Blotner visited campus. I met him in Square Books, the well-known independent bookstore where I worked at the time.
I was heavily into Faulkner, stacking up class upon class, filling my transcript with as many Faulkner courses as possible. And one of my teachers introduced me to Blotner.
He signed his book to me, “To Scott, a certified Faulkner scholar.” I realized he was only being nice, but still, that autograph and brief note meant the world to me.
So I was saddened to see the announcement of his death in The New York Times. Blotner passed away in Oakland, California in mid-November. The Times has a pretty lengthy bio of Blotner with details of his friendship with Faulkner.
A while ago, there was an uproar of discussion regarding the nature of book reviews and whether the critic should be, in the most simplistic way of speaking, “nice” or not. Quite a bit of the conversation centered on William Giraldi’s self-congratulatory, excessively assholish, show offy, “Let’s see how many references and allusions I can cram in because I’m so smart” critique of Alix Ohlin’s work.
As a rule, I don’t think book reviews have an obligation to bend over backwards to be complimentary, nor do I think critics should be hard-hearted, impossible-to-please ogres either.
But lost in this discussion of nice-versus-mean was another problem that plagues many book reviews: Critics who don’t criticize positively or negatively.
Check out this entirely non-commital Janet Maslin review of Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.
I’ve read this review three times now and I’m still not sure if Maslin likes the book or not. There are a handful of seemingly positive comments tossed in:
–A series of fantasy novels “are parodied here with great affection…”
–The author’s characters are “wittily-drawn…”
–The author “niftily embellishes his book…” with another character.
But that’s about it. There are no outright declarations of success or failure. Take for example the following passage: “Mr. Sloan is intent on connecting these Tokeinesque types to the bookstore’s real-world existence. That’s a big burden to place on such a mild-mannered, easygoing novel.” But instead of following up with letting us know about Sloan’s skill at shouldering that burden or his weakness under the weight, Maslin goes back to plot summary.
Ultimately, reviews like this are little more than book reports. And while I don’t believe readers need to be spoon-fed with explicit star systems or thumbs up/thumbs down methods of conveying quality at a glance, it is frustrating to read a review and not know whether the book is any good or not.
As many of you know, November is National Novel Writing Month. To help folks blast through their 50,000 words in 30 days, GalleyCat has been providing writing prompts, tips, and words of encouragement. Most notable is this roundup where they collected two years worth of tips into a single post.
This week, they referred to some words of wisdom from Carolyn Kellogg. It’s a simple admonition, easy to implement, and cheap. And something that all of us writers need to remember from time to time, even if we’re not trying to churn out a novel this month.
Simply go offline.
That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. Here’s Kellogg’s entire post.
Longtime entertainment and sports industry veteran David Fishof is appearing at Book Soup in Los Angeles today at 7:00pm.
Once a sports agent to athletes like baseball slugger Lou Pinella and quarterbacks Vince Ferragamo and Phil Simms, Fishof switched his focus to the entertainment world in the eighties. He reunited the Monkees and started the highly successful runs of Ringo Starr’s All-Star Band tours. These days, he most well known for running the Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp, an amazing experience where regular dudes get to jam with legendary rock stars.
I participated in a RRFC when I was writing my latest book Power Chord. I had a fantastic time hobknobbing with folks like Ace Frehley, Rudy Sarzo, iconic producer Eddie Kramer, and many more. It’s a great, great event and I was amazed at how well-run and organized the weekend was. I’ve put together a few conferences and stuff before, nowhere near the scale and complexity of the Rock Camp, and it’s a tough, tough job. So I was really impressed at Fishof’s team.
Now, Fishof shares the lessons he’s learned on tour and in the production rooms of major rock tours in Rock Your Business: What You and Your Company Can Learn from the Business of Rock and Roll. It’s a fun, informative read about how you can apply many of the characteristics of rockstars and their agents in your own daily life, whether you’re an attorney or run a hardware store. But Fishof’s lessons saves you the destroyed hotel rooms and embarrassing mug shots.
If you’re in the Hollywood area tomorrow, make sure to swing by the event at Book Soup. And if you’re a rock fan, take your autograph book. It wouldn’t be surprising if some of Fishof’s heavyweight pals make an appearance.
Add guitarist and singer Lita Ford to the burgeoning list of rockers with book deals. [Here’s a round up of hard rock books.] Reports are that the former Runaways member and longtime solo artist has signed a publishing deal with William Morrow for a memoir called Living Like a Runaway. Joel Selvin is flying co-pilot on the book. The book is scheduled for publication in 2013.
Ford (pictured here in a shot I took when she performed with Queensryche in 2009) has been promoting her most recent solo record, with the same name as the book, in recent days. It’s a rocking disc, well worth checking out if you’re a fan of guitar-driven rock. It’s a pleasant return to form, and a very genuine and sincere emotional journey, from someone who went through a few tough years.
The news about the book promises to cover Ford’s trials as “she had to escape a terrifying marriage that cut her off from the rest of the world.” After previous romantic connections with head bangers like Nikki Sixx, Chris Holmes, and Tony Iommi, Ford married former Nitro vocalist Jim Gillette in 1994. The couple divorced in 2011.
I’ve got high hopes for this book, as Ford definitely has a unique perspective on late seventies and eighties hard rock that we haven’t heard before. her former bandmate Cherie Currie’s Neon Angel was a good book and Ford was largely absent from the film version of the stories about the Runaways. But at the same time, I’m cautious because there have been so many disappointing music memoirs lately. And Vince Neil’s atrocious book, which also used the same title as a solo record, sets a bad precedent for repeating monikers. But I’ll definitely check out Ford’s book when it’s released.
I was thrilled to read the great review of Power Chord by the Associated Press. Linked here to the Washington Post publication of the review, the key takeaway is that PC is “entertaining travelogue of sorts that hits all the right notes.”
Be sure to the entire review here!
To the outsider, the world of books and publishing is sometimes perceived as a stuffy, stodgy, genteel world of college professors, pipes, and tweed jackets with elbow patches. Now imagine that quiet book reading, with a string quartet playing the corner, being crashed by a bunch of unwashed, drugged out rockers. That clash of cultures is probably what a weekend is like for Jeremie Ruby-Strauss, heavy metal book editor extraordinaire at Gallery Books.
Earlier in his career, Ruby-Strauss cranked up the volume on the bestseller list by working on Marilyn Manson’s book The Long Hard Road Out of Hell and Motley Crue’s The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band. More recently, Ruby-Strauss blasted off into orbit to work with the Spaceman himself, Ace Frehley.
Now, obviously, I’ve covered hard rock literature pretty extensively here at Slushpile.net. And my own recently published book, Power Chord: One Man’s Ear-Splitting Quest to Find His Guitar Heroes deals with hard rock and heavy metal. And I must confess… I’ve grown slightly skeptical of the metal book genre because some of the recent releases seemed to be little more than quick and easy product, as opposed to something of substance. So I wanted to get Ruby-Strauss’ opinion on the trend.
The respected editor spoke about the deluge of hard rock books, about when Ace Frehley met Keith Richards, about Stephen Pearcy’s new book, and about his own personal musical tastes.
British writer Steve Boggan tracked a $10 bill as it made its way across America. Along the way, he met a variety of people including farmers, bankers, truck drivers, and other folks. In this excerpt Boggan sums up his 3,500 mile journey.
Maybe I’m too much of a homer, but I cringed slightly when I first read the headline, waiting for the inevitable Borat-inspired jokes about American obesity, selfishness, and inbreeding. That easy and obvious kind of material seems too much for many foreign writers to avoid.
But Boggan recalls a warm and friendly welcome from our specific colony:
“So, while I could imagine being laughed at or even beaten up in London or Newcastle trying to follow a banknote, in America I encountered people who treated my crazy mission as if it were their own. Often, I was exhausted and hungry â€“ and they treated me with kindness and respect.”
Follow the Money: A Month in the Life of a Ten-Dollar Bill seems like an interesting book and worth adding to the to-be-read pile.
On Facebook today, the great Chris Offutt referenced a Forbes blog post today. His joking comment was, along the lines of, “But how will we get signed books?”
The blog post itself brashly proclaims “How Algorithmically Created Content will Transform Publishing.” It’s an interesting look at the way that free, public source materials can be compiled together into useful texts.
I’m not advocating for the technology. But neither am I getting worked up about it, either. And I don’t know what Offutt’s opinions are either, so I’m not speaking for him.
Every day seems to bring another ominous article about the death of books, the death of writing, we’re all going to be replaced by robots, and so forth. And some days I get so pissed that I can’t sleep at night. But other days, I just bury my head in my novel-in-progress and say, “To hell with it.” And today is one of the latter. I just can’t seem to summon the energy to get upset about this algorithmic content technology. Not today at least.
But what do you think?
As I’ve been stuck in book finalization mode and promotion mode over the spring and early summer, I got behind in my blog reading. As I’ve been catching up on some of my favorite blogs, a particular post caught my attention. These are both kinda old, maybe you hadn’t seen it before, just as I hadn’t.
Agent and author Betsy Lerner tackled the thorny issue of motivation for results or motivation for “the journey.”. Read through the comments to get a wide range of thoughts on this issue.
Personally, I’m about 60 – 40 (which, I think another commenter also said) in favor of results. I’m simply not zen enough to get fully immersed in a journey that yields nothing, with no hope of yielding nothing. I’d like to say that I would keep going to the gym and putting in two hours on a spinning cycle even if I never lost a single ounce of weight, but I just don’t believe that’s true. Not for me, anyway. I tend to fluctuate by the day (or even by the hour) in terms of sometimes I can get fully and wholly lost in an endeavor with absolutely not expectation for any result. But other times, I gotta be seeing the scale declining or the pages accumulating or the flowers blooming or whatever.