Monthly Archives: December 2008

Approved authors 5

Between now and New Years Day I’m offering passages from some of the books I’ve read and enjoyed this year. Most of the books were published this year. Most of the books are by people I’ve had some contact with, whether e-mail or in person, but there are also authors who wouldn’t know me if they tripped over me in a doorway.  In short, they’re here because I enjoyed their books and I think you will, too.

NOW YOU SEE IT . . . STORIES FROM COKESVILLE, PA., by Bathsheba Monk, Picador, 2006.

bathshebamonkIn “Congratulations, Goldie Katowitz,” one of the 17 linked stories in Bathsheba Monk‘s first book, a young woman who has always imagined herself a writer begins to wonder if she can really pull it off. “It was true. Every time I tried to imagine the lives of people I knew, it was like creating fanciful, useless additions to structures that couldn’t support them. The whole thing crumbled.”

This is not a problem for Bathsheba Monk:

My parents had bought a detached home with three bedrooms on the north side of town three years ago: Frankie because he wanted more children; Connie to leave gritty downtown Cokesville behind. “You may have to work in ther mill,” Connie had told him, “but we don’t have to live in it.” The house was in a block of homes originally built for managers in the mill, but they had deserted them for the new development homes being built in the suburbs. The house needed some work, mostly cosmetic. Any repairs that had to be done, she had promised Frankie, she would learn how to do herself.

It pleased my mother no end that our neighbor in the house next door was a doctor, albeit one who had lost his admitting privileges to St. Luke’s, the local hospital, and who, I realize now, was an alcoholic. But still, a doctor! We were living with rich people. Behind our back fence was an old strip mine. Occasionally, it was still detonated to dislodge coal; and when that happened, the crab apples fell out of our trees and the holy statues on the dressers jumped. But Connie thought it was a natural setting, almost bucolic. “At least we don’t have to look at the smoke from the blast furnaces,” she said. Connie began drinking her morning coffee on the back porch, looking at the strip mine but seeing only the white birch trees and huckleberry bushes that grew through the slag. She was happy, I think. At least she smiled. She stopped smiling when the steelworkers’ union went on strike. She was not going to lose her beautiful home. She would go to work to save it herself.

“Well, I’m gonna try it, no matter what. Babba will have to help around here during the day,” Connie said to Frankie.

“Yeah, sure. Babba.”

They said some other things loudly, and soon, from my perch on the windowsill on the second floor, I heard the porch door slam and saw my father walk over to the bench in the backyard and put his beer down. He took his wooden clarinet out of its blue fur-lined case, screwed it together, wet his reed, and began to play. My father played with a local group, Jolly Joe Timmer’s Polka Band, for weddings and dances at the church, but when he was by himself in the garden, he played a different kind of music, and the songs he made up — wistful voyages up and down the scales — had no names.

That evening he sent seductive notes into the twilight to do his bidding, like Pan in the primeval forest. And soon my mother came out and sat beside him on the bench. I stood up on the windowsill and stretched, holding on to a limb of the big maple tree whose giant branches embraced my room.


I turned around to see Babba in my doorway. She sat down on my bed.

“Come in. Let’s read a story.”

I remember a drawing class in which the teacher spoke of using the light and shadings around an object to define that object, rather than simply drawing an outline and filling in the details. Now You See It . . . brings that teachers advice to mind.  Bathsheba Monk tells us about Annie Kusiak by shading in her coal-grimed hometown, her busy cast of relatives and friends, and the ways people find to escape their fates or, more often, sabotage themselves in the attempt. I had to will myself not to read all these short, salty stories in one sitting, but parcel them out and savor them a few at a time. The author has a novel coming out soon, and I look forward to reading that one, too.

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The delusion-driven life

I was all set to dismiss this Newsweek article about arts and culture in the Bush era — and Joshua Alston’s argument that the revamped Battlestar Galactica should be considered the defining Bush-era television show — as a typical year-end stem-winder, but it’s generated some surprisingly interesting discussions about which bit of pop culture should get the Bush crown.

Scott McLemee and Matt Yglesias agree with Alston that BSG is the signature Bush-Era show, and there’s no question that the series has rung some brilliant changes on the scenario of a society faced with the threat of an enemy that can blend in with its potential victims, then strike with genocidal force at the the worst possible moment.

Some of McLemee’s commenters raise interesting points about the likely impact of the Bush Bunch’s favorite what-if scenario — what if the only way to keep a nuclear bomb from going off was to torture a suspected terrorist? — not only on Mel Gibson’s sado-theological tract The Passion of the Christ, but on the rise of torture-porn movies like Hostel and the Saw franchise. The Bushies and Jigsaw share a penchant for using pieties and moralism as a muffler for sadism, along with the delusion that arbitrarily imprisoning people and subjecting them to appalling torture is a means to a higher end, a sure-fire way to reveal greater truths, and even an avenue for self-improvement. (Amanda, the franchise’s second-string villain, becomes Jigsaw’s assistant because she thinks her torment at his hands actually turned her life around.) If “I am not a crook” sums up the Nixon adminstration, maybe “I want to play a little game” should do the same for Bush.

Personally, I think The Wire should be considered the defining Bush-era show. Not because it’s a brilliant critique of the war on drugs — that farce was rolling long before Dubya toddled into the world stage, and will continue to grind up lives and laws for decades to come. Not because it’s a dauntingly ambitious, multi-leveled study of an entire city — again, the forces it examines so closely were at work before Bush arrived. Not even because the second season shows a major drug investigation thrown off the rails because a key villain is valued by the FBI as an anti-terrorist asset — stories that deal with the complicated morality of undercover operations go back to Prince of the City and even further.

The Wire is the perfect Bush-era show because it depicts law enforcement fighting a real problem — rampant, socially corrosive drug abuse — in deluded ways that ensure the problem not only persists, but intensifies. As clever and resourceful as McNulty and company may be, they are basically stupid in that they fail to grasp the fact that no matter how many “big fish” they manage to catch, they are never going to drain the ocean those fish swim through, and their efforts will only act to encourage the growth of more predatory species. The destruction of Avon Barksdale and the defeat of Stringer Bell’s plans to become a respectable businessman doesn’t do anything to halt the flow of drugs; it simply clears the way for the even more monstrous Marlo Stansfield. Because the efforts of the narcos constantly disrupt street-level organizing and raise the stakes, the worst fates are reserved for the players who allow stirrings of decency to color their judgment: D’Angelo Barksdale, Stringer Bell, even Proposition Joe and his desire to do business as quietly as possible. The only significant improvement in the lives of Baltimore residents comes in the show’s third season when Bunny Colvin, one of the police brass, takes it upon himself to establish “free zones” for drug dealing in the vacant areas of the city, and his ideas baffle the crooks as much as the cops. (“We grind and you try to stop us,” one of the corner boys complains. “Why you wanna go and fuck with the rules?”) Ironically, when word of the free zones gets out, the city’s corrupt incumbent mayor sees the benefits and loses valuable time trying to figure out how to present them in a positiive, politically palatable manner.  His weaselly challenger also recognizes that Colvin has pointed the way out of the endless, no-win drug war, but knows he can ride to power by whipping up public outrage against the “rogue cop” and his “legalization of drugs.” Everyone gets to talk tough and claim a victory in the war on crime, but at the end of the day the residents are once again cowering behind locked doors as the drug trade grinds on.

The fifth season, which focuses on the decline of newspapers in general and the Baltimore Sun in particular, is generally considered the weakest, but in fact it brings all of the show’s concerns together in subtly interesting ways. Because HBO would not commission a full run of episodes, the show’s creators didn’t have time to develop their plotlines and characters properly, so the central conceit — a detective cooks up a fake serial killer in order to get funding restored for real police work — seems cynical and forced. I’d have preferred a storyline that grew out of what came before, maybe even one that played off Bunny Colvin’s brainstorm. But the fifth season jolts us with the realization that while the dramas of the first four seasons have been played out, it’s all been lost on the city’s newspaper, where the lives of the homeless are only of interest when the managing editor thinks there’s “a Dickensian angle” and drug-war propaganda goes unchallenged. And when the serial killer story ius snown to be a fraud, the whole thing is kept quiet because careers — and, it turns out, a Pulitzer Prize — stand to benefit from the story’s continued existence.

Fighting a real problem with fantasy, delusion and self-serving political manipulation. Those are the defining qualities of the Bush administration’s war on terror, and The Wire has them down cold.

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Blue Monday

Seventy years ago this month, a meeting took place that would prove to be a milestone in the history of jazz in particular and American popular music in general. It was a cross-country meeting that started in Pittsburgh and concluded in Newark, N.J., and cemented one of the great songwriting teams of 20th century music.

Duke Ellington and his powerhouse jazz orchestra had just started a weeklong engagement in Pittsburgh’s Stanley Theatre (now the Benedum Center) in December 1938 when an acquaintance asked him to meet with a young man who had impressed his teachers with some remarkable musical gifts but couldn’t seem to catch a break. Duke agreed to a meeting, and on Dec. 2 a 23-year-old drugstore delivery boy named Billy Strayhorn was ushered up to Ellington’s dressing room.

According to the oft-repeated story, Ellington was reclining in a chair, getting his hair conked, when Strayhorn arrived. Not even opening his eyes, he invited the young supplicant to play something on the piano. Strayhorn then proceed to play two renditions of Ellington’s ballad  “Sophisticated Lady,” first in a note-perfect duplication of Duke’s style, then in his own, slightly more up-tempo version that opened Duke’s eyes and brought him to his feet. Strayhorn duplicated the feat with “Solitude,” this time with Ellington standing behind him. Deeply impressed with Strayhorn but unsure of how to use him — the band did, after all, already have a pianist — Ellington gave Strayhorn a songwriting assignment and, after another meeting, left Pittsburgh with a promise to send for him once he ws back in New York. He also left Strayhorn with subway directions to his Harlem apartment.

The second installment of the meeting took place Jan. 23 at the Adams Paramount Theatre in Newark, N.J. Strayhorn, who had not received any followup communication from Ellington, boldly took a train to Philadelphia, where he had been told Duke would be playing a mid-January engagement, then continued to Newark when he learned he’d missed Ellington. He brought with him a new song written from the subway directions. That song, “Take the ‘A’ Train,” became the Ellington orchestra’s concert theme, and Billy Strayhorn became Duke Ellington’s right-hand man.

Bear in mind that by 1938, Ellington had already written many of his best-known songs, several of them classics that would have secured his place in history. Strayhorn, who was deeply knowledgeable in classical music, brought that expertise to his work with Duke’s work, and his arrangements consistently brought out the strengths of the oprchestra’s musicians.

One of the best pieces of music writing you’ll ever read is “The Hot Bach,” a 1944 New Yorker profile of Ellington that offers an amusing look at their working method:

The train rounded a long curve and Duke stopped writing. He began again and then evidently decided he wanted to try the music out on someone. “Sweepea? Sweepea!” he called. Sweepea is William Strayhorn, the staff arranger and a talented composer in his own right. Strayhorn, who, incidentally, does not play in the band, is a small, scholarly, tweedy young man with gold-rimmed spectacles. He got his nickname from a character in a comic strip. Strayhorn, who had been trying to sleep, staggered uncertainly down the aisle in answer to his boss’s summons.

“I got a wonderful part here,” Duke said to him. “Listen to this.” In a functional, squeaky voice that tried for exposition and not for beauty, Duke chanted, “Dah dee dah dah dah, deedle dee deedle dee boom, bah bah bah, boom, boom!” He laughed, frankly pleased by what he had produced, and said, “Boy, that son of a bitch has got a million twists.”

Strayhorn, still swaying sleepily in the aisle, pulled himself together in an attempt to offer an intelligent observation. Finally he said drowsily, “It’s so simple, that’s why.”

Duke laughed again and said, “I really sent myself on that. Would you like to see the first eight bars?”

“Ah yes! Ah yes!” Strayhorn said resignedly, and took the manuscript. He looked at it blankly. Duke misinterpreted Sweepea’s expression as one of severity.

“Don’t look at it that way, Sweepea,” he said. “It’s not like that.”

“Why don’t you reverse this figure?” asked Strayhorn sleepily. “Like this.” He sang shakily, “Dah dee dah dah dah, dah dee dah dah dah, boomty boomty boomty, boom!”

“Why not dah dee dah dah dah, deedle dee deedle dee dee, boom bah bah bah, boom?” Duke said.

“Dah dee dah dah dah!” sang Strayhorn stubbornly.

“Deedle dee deedle dee dee!” Duke answered.

“Dah dee dah dah dah!” Strayhorn insisted.

Duke did not reply; he just leaned eagerly forward and, pointing to a spot on the manuscript with his pencil, said, “Here’s where the long piano part comes in. Here’s where I pick up the first theme and restate it and then begin the major theme. Dah dee dah, deedle dee deedle dee, boom!”

The train lurched suddenly. Sweepea collapsed into a seat and closed his eyes. “Ah yes!” he said weakly. “Ah yes!”

(“Sweepea,” incidentally, referred to Sweet Pea, Olive Oyl’s baby boy. That band-bestowed nickname reflected an interesting mixture of respect, affection and possibly faint contempt for Strayh0rn’s homosexuality and his curious business relationship with Ellington, who never gave him a salary or an official job role but paid Strayhorn’s bills and funded his lavish lifestyle.)

Strayhorn also made a try at a solo career, though his name would forever be entwined with Ellington’s legend. Strayhorn’s song was “Lush Life,” performed here by Johnny Hartman:

Strayhorn’s last song for Ellington, composed merely days before he succumbed to esophogeal cancer in May 1967, was “Blood Count,” written while he was in the hospital. It is one of the key songs on …And His Mother Called Him Bill, the tribute album Ellington recorded later that year:

…And His Mother Call Him Bill is Ellington’s masterpiece: a great starting point for anyone looking to explore Duke’s vast body of work, but also a returning place during the exploration. The tunes are uniformly strong, and the playing is alive with the conflicting emotions of great musicians (some of whom were not far from the end themselves) expressing not only sorrow but defiant joy in the life-affirming power of their music.

The recording includes a beautiful solo rendition of “Lotus Blssom,” which Ellington played while the other musicians were packing up, and the combination accidentally made for a poignant farewell note. But there is also an ensemble performance that should not be missed:

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Conceptual continuity

And so Zappadan 2008 enters the history books. Hats off to The Aristocrats and everybody else who pitched in. It’s been a lot of fun.

As soon as this guff about . . . oh, you know, Christmas . . . New Year’s . . . Summer . . . Halloween . . . Thanksgiving . . . gets cleared out of the way, we can start planning for Zappadan 2009. Until then, let me close with an example of Zappa’s return to certain musical themes and ideas over the three decades of his career — a practice he called “conceptual continuity.”

Start with “Dog Breath Variations” from Uncle Meat:

And follow it through A Token of His Extreme:

And here it is, morphed into “Black Napkins” from Zoot Allures. That’s Adrian Belew playing alongside Zappa in this 1977 clip:

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Approved authors 4

Between now and New Years Day I’m offering passages from some of the books I’ve read and enjoyed this year. Most of the books were published this year. Most of the books are by people I’ve had some contact with, whether e-mail or in person, but there are also authors who wouldn’t know me if they tripped over me in a doorway.  In short, they’re here because I enjoyed their books and I think you will, too.

LET ME IN/LET THE RIGHT ONE IN by John Ajvide Lindqvist, Thomas Dunne Books, 2007.

If Patricia Highsmith had set out to write a straight-up, balls-to-the-wall horror novel, the result probably would have been a lot like Let Me In, Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist’s 2004 debut:

letmeinHakan had found a good place to stand watch, a place with a clear view of the path in both directions. Further in among the trees he had found a protected hollow with a tree in the middle and there he had left the bag of equipment. He had slipped the little halothane gas canister into a holster under his coat.

Now all he had to do was wait.

Once I also wanted to grow up

To know as much as Father and Mother . . .

He hadn’t heard anyone sing that song since he was in school. Was it Alice Tegner? Think of all the wonderful songs that had disappeared, that no one sang anymore. Think of all the wonderful things that had disappeared, for that matter.

No respect for beauty — that was characteristic of today’s society. The work of the great masters were at most employed as ironic references, or in advertising. Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam,” where you see a pair of jeans in place of the spark.

The whole point of the picture, at least as he saw it, was that these two monumental bodies each came to an end in two index fingers that almost, but not quite touched. There was a space between them a millimeter or so wide. And in this space: life. The sculptural enormity and richness of detail of this picture was simply a frame, a backdrop, to emphasize the crucial void in its center. The point of emptiness that contained everything.

And in its place, someone had superimposed a pair of jeans.

Someone was coming up the path. He crouched down with the sound of his heart beating in his ears.No. An older man with a dog. Two wrongs from the outset. First a dog he would have to silence, then poor quality.

A lot of screams for so little wool, said the man who sheared the pig.

He looked at his watch. In less than two hours it would be dark. If no one suitable came aling in the next hour he would have to settle for whatever was available. Had to be back home before it got dark.

The man said something. Had he seen him? No, he was talking to the dog.

“Does that feel better, sweetpea? You really had to go, didn’t you. When we get home daddy will give you some liverwurst. A nice thick slice of liverwurst for daddy’s good little girl.”

The halothane container pressed against Hakan’s chest as he leaned his head into his hands and sighed. Poor bastard. All these pathetic lonely people in a world without beauty.

He shovered. The wind had grown cold over the course of the afternoon, and he wondered if he should take out the rain jacket he had stowed away in his bag as protection against the wind. It would restorct his movement and make him clumsy where he needed to be quick. And it could heighten peoples’ suspicions.

Two young women in their twenties walked by. No, he couldn’t handle two. He caught fragments of their conversation.

“. . . she’s going to keep it now . . .”

“. . . is a total ape. He has to realize that he . . .”

“. . . her fault because . . . not taking the pill . . .”

“But he, like, has to . . .”

“. . . you image?. . . him as a dad . . .”

lettherightA girlfriend who was pregnant. A young man who wasn’t going to take responsibility. that’s how it was. Happened all the time. No one thought of anything but themselves. My happiness, my future was the only thing you heard. Real love was to offer your life at the feet of another, and that’s what people today are incapable of.

The cold was eating its way into his limbs; he was going to b clumsy now, raincoat or no raincoat. He out his hand inside his coat and pressed the trigger on the canister. A hissing noise. It was working. He let go of the trigger.

He jumped in place and slapped his arms to get warm. please let someone come. Someone who was alone. He looked at his watch. Half an hour to go. Let someone come. For life’s sake, for love.

That last line is more than just an example of a predatory delusional system at work: Let Me In is, among other things, a book about love and devotion, as well as the bonds forged among outcasts and damaged people. That emotional authority gives weight to the story, as does Lindqvist’s disciplined approach. There is only one supernatural element in Let Me In, and the story’s horrors are all the more effective for the way Lindqvist sets them against the gray walls of a particularly depressing city housing complex outside Stockholm.

The recent film adaptation of Lindqvist’s novel, retitled Let the Right One In, was a sensation on this year’s festival circuit and received a brief theatrical run preparatory to a DVD release early next year. I’ll certainly want to see the film, but you shouldn’t miss reading the book first if you want to discover one of the most original horror novels to come along in years. You should certainly avoid reading any of the publicity, because as the passage above shows, Lindqvist very expertly raises certain expectations, then gleefully yanks the rug out from under those expectations. I haven’t been this impressed by a horror writer since I read Clive Barker back in the Eighties, but Lindqvist’s approach is much less flashy — and, in its subdued way, far more effective.

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The dark blight


For all the Will Eisner fans out there who are steeling themselves for the outrage to come when Frank Miller’s film version of The Spirit hits theaters, here’s an extremely detailed, highly readable and utterly infuriating chronicle of how Brad Bird, two decades before establishing himself as the god of animation with The Iron Giant and The Incredibles, tried to launch an animated version of The Spirit.

Bird’s vision encompassed a film that would not simply revitalize animation (this was 1980, remember, when Disney had essentially abandoned the field to junk like The Care Bears Movie) but revolutionize it by going beyond talking animals and cutsie-pie stuff. It didn’t work out that way, of course: Brad Bird toiled in the vineyards of The Simpsons for years, Don Bluth left Disney to launch his own animation company and Disney returned to animation a few years later with The Little Mermaid. But once you appreciate the level of talent at work, and the ambition of Bird’s concept, the what-ifs start multiplying like nano-rabbits.

As for the movie that did get made, the Frank Millerized Spirit really does sound like death on stale toast. A little Christmas coal from Frank Miller.

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Friday finds


OIM ‘ERE TER PAINT YER MOON-STAH! For a mere six bucks, Will scored this striking 1939 edition of Beowulf with gorgeous illustrations by Lynd Ward. Grendel’s mom doesn’t look much like Angelina Jolie, but the paintings (and the black-and-white spot illustrations) look great anyway.

How do you bend a bunch of roughneck Baltimore middle-schoolers to your will? You threaten them with Doc Watson, of course.

A paleontologist ponders the anatomy and physiology of Godzilla (PDF). A photographer considers the skyline possibilities of a Godzilla-shaped skyscraper in Tokyo. And if you think Godzilla’s scary, better not get his lawyers mad at you. Watch the Japanese Godzilla kick the American retread to the curb — or do I mean the Sydney Opera House?

Montclair resident Janice Harayda pens One-Minute Book Reviews.

Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows is 110 years old, but it still makes Gary Kamiya feel 14 again. Laura Miller recalls how the religous themes in C.S. Lewis’ “Narnia” books started her on the road to skepticism.

Real-life people who inspired pop songs: Holly Woodlawn (“Walk on the Wild Side”), Melanie Coe (“She’s Leaving Home”), and Suzanne Verdal (“Suzanne”), among others.

Spend some quality time with the New York Public Library Video Series.

Here’s where to find out how Jacques Barzun, Emily Post, Franz Kafka and T.C. Boyle organized their days.

Check out the Canal City waterworks:

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We’re all on Grub Street now


In the course of reviewing two new biographies of Samuel Johnson, Adam Gopnik finds history repeating itself in more ways than one:

Samuel Johnson arrived in London in March of 1737, at the age of twenty-seven . . . Johnson had no luck in his dream, of becoming a London writer and wit, for a very long time. He had the misfortune to have arrived in London in a time not unlike this one, with the old-media dispensation in crisis and the new media barely paying. The practice of aristocratic patronage, in which big shots paid to be flattered by their favorite writers, was ebbing, and the new, middle-class arrangement, where plays and novels could command real money from publishers, was not yet in place. The only way to make a living was to publish, for starvation wages, in the few magazines that had come into existence. Johnson worked as a miscellaneous journalist, carrying his clips around and begging for assignments. In his first years, he wrote translations from the French and from the classics, brief popular lives of military men, and pamphlets mocking the government. Then he found work as an all-purpose rewrite man at the Gentleman’s Magazine. He always remembered how grateful he was to find an inn where he could get a decent meal for half a shilling. (The new order had also produced a permanently bitter and underemployed class of writers, who had meant to be Popes but were left to be merely beggars in the square outside, and they made their living working for penny-a-line pamphlets and cheap gossip tabloids, creating a constant mouse scream of malice that runs in counterpoint to Johnson’s grave sonorities.) He left a wife behind in his native town of Lichfield, a widow who was considerably older, and whom he had once imagined wowing with his London triumphs.

Not a happy comparison these days, with mass layoffs in the publishing industry and whole imprints suddenly evaporating. This is going to be a lost year for a lot of writers, and few of them can afford that kind of writeoff.

One of the ways Johnson supported himself before the Dictionary made his name was to write essays for a circle of subscribers. I have been known to liken bloggers to Johnson’s Idler and Rambler, not entirely seriously, but I think the comparison can be made to stick.

I like Gopnik’s description of Johnson’s criticism:

No critic has ever been wiser about the limits of criticism, and about how few rules can ever be made for writing; Johnson is the model of a reactive critic, seeing when a piece of writing was made, and how it works, then and now. His premise was always that something that had long pleased readers must have pleased them for a reason; sometimes it was because of a quality or a problem in their time that had made the work seem briefly pleasing, sometimes it was because of some permanent quality of imagination or truth. The critic’s job was to distinguish between what belonged to the history of taste and what belonged to the canon of art, and to try to explain what made the permanently pleasing permanently please. For Johnson’s great question is not how to write, or what to write, but why write. His criticism provides a simple answer: to help us enjoy life more, or endure it better.

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Book tour blues

Bob Eckstein is not overjoyed about the results of his book tour to promote The History of the Snowman, which involved visits to seven states, ate up well over a thousand miles and sold only 41 books. I assume that last figure represents books physically sold during his speaking engagements, otherwise I’d have to think that appearances on Good Morning America and Martha Stewart’s show are waaaaay overrated as publicity tools. 

Not to crow or anything, but my publicity tour for The Last Three Miles covered only two states (three if you count ferry trips from Hoboken to New York City to speak on WNYC and WBAI)  but sold a couple hundred books in total: I always made sure to have a carton shipped by the publisher before every appearance.

On the other hand, I didn’t score any big-time television appearances — maybe I should join the crowd outside The Today Show and wave a copy of my book whenever Al Roker wanders into view — and didn’t rate even a mention in People magazine. Maybe it stems from that time I told them to quit bugging me about doing one of their “Sexiest Man Alive” photo shoots: Buzz off, I told them, it’s not like Mel Gibson or Brad Pitt don’t have telephones, you know. Damn — I should have thought about the possible repercussions!

Also, Eckstein got a much bigger advance and print run than I did. So I guess it all evens out.

Besides, that photo of the panel truck with ads for his book gave me an idea. I’m going to hire trucks to drive around Jersey City carrying ads that show Frank Hague: Duh Mare sez yuh better buy this book, if yuh know what’s good for yuh!

That’ll jingle their bells.

ADDENDUM: I checked out out The History of the Snowman online and it looked like such fun that I bought a copy as a present. So make that 42 books sold on tour, Mr. Eckstein.

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