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Quite the World, Isn't It?

Pat Conroy, Richard Russo and other authors to look for

One of the many benefits of spending a few days at BEA is the chance to mingle with sorts of folks, from buyers for libraries to authors to behind-the-scenes publishing folks. The whole point, of course, is to see what's coming out over the next nine months or so. So here's a highly distilled list of things -- mostly big books -- I'm looking forward to. I'll add more later.

-- Pat Conroy's South of Broad, which I've just finished reading (it's out in September). I've always liked Conroy's narrative power, and the lyrical embrace of language. He's a true southern storyteller and writes, in fact, the way he speaks (I interviewed him years ago for The Detroit News). I don't want to say too much about the new book, his first in 14 years, because I'm reviewing it for the LA Times. But I'll link when the review runs.

-- Richard Russo's That Old Cape Magic, due out in August. I've enjoyed most of his books, which are infused with an affectionate but skeptical look at the joys of smalltown life, and about the pervasiveness of the past. That said, I didn't think he carried off his last novel, . I have higher hopes for this one, which he sasy began as a short story and then just took off.

-- Margaret Atwood's Year of the Flood, unfortunately, wasn't available here as a galley, so I'll have to try to wrest one out of the publisher before it comes out in September. It looks to be an interesting take on human nature, part sci-fi, part fantasy.

-- Michael J. Sandel's Justice: What's The Right Thing To Do?, based on his hugely popular lecture at Harvard. I suspect this will hit a few bestsellers lists. It doesn't have the drama of The Last Lecture, but in an era in which our national sense of justice has been sorely tested -- from Guantanamo Bay to the Wall Street and banking bailouts -- this is a subject of great interest. Read More 
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Nieman makes it official, suspends narrative conferences

Well, the Nieman Foundation made it official yesterday (I would have updated sooner but am running ragged here in New York at the Book Expo America). As I reported the other day, this killing economy is claiming another victim -- the nation's best gathering for practitioners of narrative journalism.

Nieman Curator Bob Giles announced that the Nieman Conference on Narrative Journalism is suspended, as well as its smaller narrative conference for editors:
This will disappoint those who have participated in the conferences in the past and who anticipated attending another narrative gathering in the spring of 2010. This difficult step reflects the foundation's need to make a major reduction in spending for the next fiscal year, beginning in July.

For the time being, it looks like they'll be keeping the Narrative Digest alive -- a thin silver lining, that. As I posted before, this is another blast of bad news for a craft that is getting pummeled from all directions. Let's hope the suspension is really just that, and Nieman will find a way to resurrect the program in 2011. Read More 
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Clarence Clemons, Bruce Springsteen and 'Jungleland'

I posted this over at the LA Times' Jacket Copy blog yesterday, but thought I'd share it here, too. Thursday night's keynote start to the Book Expo America included a sitdown between author Chuck Klosterman and Bruce Springsteen's sax-playing sideman Clarence Clemons and Don Reo, Clemons' co-author on his upcoming memoir, Big Man.

The highlight was listening to Clemons play the sax solo for "Jungleland" a few measures at a time, and then talk about how he and Springsteen forged it during a nonstop, 16-hour all-nighter. Clemons explained how he and Springsteen experimented by "playing this solo every way that it was possible to take those notes and put them together."

I had my digital recorder running, but given the size of the hall the recording isn't very good, unfortunately. So we'll just have to settle for this:


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Interviewus Interruptus

Video proof that I am, indeed, here in New York at Book Expo America, and trying not to be perturbed when the guy who organized it, Lance Fensterman, interrupted my interview with Rick Joyce of Perseus Books Group, who led their effort to create a multi-platform instant book during the convention (I'm on camera a bit for the last third of it).

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Clarence Clemons, Steven Tyler and a bunch of book people

I'm in the Javits Center in New York City, in the small, windowed press room overlooking one of the convention floors. The trade-show aspect of Book Expo America all starts tomorrow, so the view is of scores of workers building display areas, publishers arranging their shelves, etc.

On tap today are a bunch of sessions for the business side of publishing with names like, "Today's New Media Investments: A Discussion with Softbank Capital's Eric Hippeau on where VC Dollars are Flowing and What it Means for Publishers" and "XML for Editors: What You Need to Know and Why You Should Care."

But tonight the opening reception features Clarence Clemons and Steven Tyler talking about their pending memoirs, which should be interesting. You have to wonder what Tyler will admit to as the lead singer for the legendary partiers in Aerosmith, and what fresh details Clemons can offer about Bruce Springsteen, his "boss" in the E Street Band. Read More 
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It's the headline that makes this work

No big news here, but the headline on this Romenesko item is at least worth a (okay, sophomoric) giggle.
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Road trip -- NYC

I'm in New York City for a few days, staying with a friend in Brooklyn and then moving to a hotel in Manhattan while attending/covering the annual Book Expo America (BEA), the trade show for the publishing industry.

It's a massive gathering of book publishers and book buyers (mostly commercial and for libraries) focusing on books to be published late summer trhough the fall/winter season. This is my fourth or fifth time -- I lose track -- and it's always a lot of fun, if a bit overwhelming. Among the notable authors on tap: Joyce Carol Oates, Francine Prose, Pat Conroy, Tracy Kidder and rockers Steven Tyler (Aerosmith) and Clarence Clemons ("The Big Man" sax player from Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band).

I'll be posting a bit while here, and will also be contributing to the Los Angeles Times' book blog, Jacket CopyRead More 
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Some kind words about Blood Passion in

My first book -- I love that phrase, with its implied list of books that follow -- has been out for almost two years, but still occasionally gets some nice notice. A few months back it received a positive mention in a review/essay in The New Yorker (a rush for any author). And a reviewer in the newest issue of Dissent also has some nice things to say about it.

The review is only available online to subscribers, but here are a couple of salient graphs:

Scott Martelle is the latest journalist to tackle one of the epic
stories of bloody conflict in labor history—stories passed over by
academic historians who assumed they “had been done before.” But
newspaper writers who wrote history knew these were great American
dramas and jumped on them. Top New York Times journalists William
Serrin and J. Anthony Lukas were the first out of the gate with big
books on the Homestead steel workers and the Idaho mine wars—both
published in the 1990s. Other journalists followed with popular
histories of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire: the Lawrence,
Massachusetts, Bread and Roses strike; and the Los Angeles Times
bombing of 1910, which was blamed on the McNamara brothers, two
militant iron workers whose case became a cause célèbre for the labor
movement.

Martelle’s account of the Ludlow affair is the best of these labor
history books by journalists. The author’s research is extremely
impressive, because he combines the skills of an investigative
reporter and a well-read historian. No previous account of the
 Read More 
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Some kind words about Blood Passion in Dissent

My first book -- I love that phrase, with its implied list of books that follow -- has been out for almost two years, but still occasionally gets some nice notice. A few months back it received a positive mention in a review/essay in The New Yorker (a rush for any author). And a reviewer in the newest issue of Dissent also has some nice things to say about it.

The review is only available online to subscribers, but here are a few salient graphs:

Scott Martelle is the latest journalist to tackle one of the epic
stories of bloody conflict in labor history—stories passed over by
academic historians who assumed they “had been done before.” But
newspaper writers who wrote history knew these were great American
dramas and jumped on them. Top New York Times journalists William
Serrin and J. Anthony Lukas were the first out of the gate with big
books on the Homestead steel workers and the Idaho mine wars—both
published in the 1990s. Other journalists followed with popular
histories of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire: the Lawrence,
Massachusetts, Bread and Roses strike; and the Los Angeles Times
bombing of 1910, which was blamed on the McNamara brothers, two
militant iron workers whose case became a cause célèbre for the labor
movement.

Martelle’s account of the Ludlow affair is the best of these labor
history books by journalists. The author’s research is extremely
impressive, because he combines the skills of an investigative
reporter and a well-read historian. No previous account of the Read More 
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Nieman to suspend* annual narrative journalism confab

Well, here's some distressing news out of the East Coast. Connie Hale, a friend and editor of the Nieman Narrative Digest, tells me the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University is suspending the annual Nieman Conference on Narrative Journalism (and, yes, putting her out of work). This is the pre-eminent conference for people interested in using literary devices in journalism -- both short pieces and long-form. (*My initial post phrased this as "shutting down," but Connie says it's being described as a suspension).

So far there's no formal announcement, and it's unclear what the reasoning is -- I've emailed Bob Giles,** the curator of the Nieman Foundation, and will add his comments if I get them. ADDED HERE: "There is nothing to say at the moment. We are still reviewing options relative to budget cuts required by Harvard."

This past March, attendance was relatively light, and few of the name tags listed newspapers under the attendees' names. It's an expensive conference to put on, and given the economic meltdown, my guess is money was the issue. The Nieman Journalism Lab seems to be unaffected, which suggests the Nieman Foundation is putting its eggs in the online basket.

Fair enough. But there is plenty of work to be done to enhance online narrative. The solution isn't to kill the narrative conference, but to broaden it. Lately I've been trying to envision alternative ways of using narrative online, taking advantage of its interactive nature to let readers pursue angles on their own. For example, in a story about a car crash there could be a drop-down box for people who want more details on the life of the victim. It can also be used to track simultaneous actions (the two cars coming together). The potential for experimentation is massive.

I have a personal take on this. I moderated a couple of panels at the most recent conference this past March, and every time I've gone I've come away with a deeper understanding of how to make narrative work, and a broader appreciation for the folks who do it, and teach it, exceedingly well (Adam Hochschild, a friend and regular panelist, comes to mind).

This really is a loss to the art of journalism.

** Full disclosure: I worked for Giles at two newspapers, and he was the editor of The Detroit News when I joined fellow union members to walk out on strike there in 1995.  Read More 
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