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November 30, 2010

Bad sex award goes to Rowan Somerville

bad sex award to rowan somerville

Leave it to the Brits to create an award for bad writing about sex. Each year, The Literary Review highlights particularly sodden prose by reputable authors -- past winners include Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe and Jonathan Littell, and Jonathan Franzen was nominated this year. (Full-bore erotica is not eligible for the prize.) The stated objective was to discourage such prose, but the award seems to have become a source of pride for winners -- no doubt because it will goose sales.

At the tongue-in-cheek award ceremony last night, Rowan Somerville took the award for his well-received novel "The Shape of Her." Among his images: "like a lepidopterist mounting a tough-skinned insect with a too blunt pin ... "

The Guardian reported that Somerville graciously accepted the award, saying, "There is nothing more English than bad sex, so on behalf of the entire nation I would like to thank you."

Photo via Orion Publishing Group

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 1:00 PM | | Comments (5)

Star-Spangled Banner up for sale

star-spangled bannerIf you're seeking a holiday gift for that special someone, how about this: a copy of the first edition of the Star-Spangled Banner sheet music?

As The Baltimore Sun's Mary McCauley writes, only 11 copies are known to exist -- Johns Hopkins and the Maryland Historical Society also have one. So this week's auction by Christie's offers a chance to buy a rare piece of Americana.

Here's an excerpt from the article: It's the typo that gives it away.

The two 13-by-9.5-inch pieces of paper that will go up for auction at Christie's on Friday spell out in big, bold, black letters, "The Star Spangled Banner." Underneath this heading is written, much smaller, these words of explanation: "A Pariotic Song."

Thomas Carr, a 19th century music publisher who operated a store at 36 Baltimore St., intended to print "A Patriotic Song." But he was rushing to capitalize on the popularity of the little ditty that Francis Scott Key penned while watching the bombing of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812, and lacked the modern-day luxury of spell-check. So when the first edition of the four famous verses that later became the national anthem were published in 1814, they contained a telling misspelling.

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 11:10 AM | | Comments (1)

November 29, 2010

Laura Hillenbrand's courageous Unbroken

laura hillenbrand

Just as we give away a copy of Laura Hillenbrand's "Unbroken" this week, the Washington Post has written a touching profile of her decades-long battle with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

According to the article, from 2007 through the summer of 2009, she never left her house; for some of those months, she never left her room. "I have to detach myself completely from aspirations," she said, discussing how she has learned to cope with her illness. "I hardly ever listen to music anymore because it arouses all of this yearning in me." 

Somehow, though, Hillenbrand (shown here in 2002) has summoned the courage to keep writing, producing "Seabiscuit: An American Legend" and now "Unbroken." Both books, she said, offered a way to temporarily escape the grasp of CFS, to vicariously experience the world-class athletic accomplishments of others.

Here's how the National Institutes of Health describes the ailment: Symptoms of CFS include fatigue for 6 months or more and experiencing other problems such as muscle pain, memory problems, headaches, pain in multiple joints, sleep problems, sore throat and tender lymph nodes. ... No one knows what causes CFS. It is most common in women in their 40s and 50s, but anyone can have it. It can last for years. There is no cure for CFS, so the goal of treatment is to improve symptoms.

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 1:25 PM | | Comments (4)

Cyber Monday deals for book lovers

cyber monday deals

If you want to take advantage of the best cyber Monday deals for books, here are some places to get started:

Amazon -- whose Swansea, Wales, warehouse is shown here -- has lightning deals on the "Lost" encyclopedia (55% off) and a hardcover set of Percy Jackson and the Olympians books.

At Barnes & Noble you can buy one New York Times best-seller and get another at 50% off. Children's picture books are 40% off. And you can save $5 on a toys and games purchase of $10 or more.

Borders is touting deals as low as $99.99 on e-readers, and free shipping for orders of $20 or more. Book prices are discounted up to 50% -- Laura Hillenbrand's "Unbroken" lists for $27 but is on sale for $13.99. The only deal better than that is to win the book in our Freebie Friday giveaway.


Happy holiday shopping!

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 11:10 AM | | Comments (0)

November 26, 2010

Freebie Friday book giveaway: Unbroken

unbroken laura hillenbrand

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. This week, we're giving away "Unbroken," the latest from Laura Hillenbrand, whom you may remember for the compelling horse racing book about Seabiscuit. Her new book recounts the World War II experience of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic-class runner who served in the Air Force and wound up as a POW in Japan. (Ladies, if you have a husband/boyfriend/son who doesn't read enough -- this is the book for him.)

The New York Times said the book "manages to be as exultant as “Seabiscuit” as it tells a much more harrowing, less heart-warming story." That review also noted that Hillenbrand herself has persevered while being afflicted with chronic fatigue syndrome.

Meanwhile congratulations to Dahlink, who won last week's giveaway, "The Emperor of All Maladies" by Siddhartha Mukherjee.

For a chance to win "Unbroken," leave a comment about the reading divide between men and women. Do you think women read more than men? If so, why? And what books would you recommend for a reluctant male reader?

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 12:00 PM | | Comments (16)

Black Friday online deals for book lovers

black friday online deals

If you don't want to brave the crowds at malls today, here's a sampling of Black Friday online deals that might interest you.

Barnes & Noble is touting its biggest Black Friday sale ever. Among the online deals: 50% off the "Taste of Mario" boxed set, 30% off the Stieg Larsson Millennium Trilogy set, and 41% off the seven-book Harry Potter paperback set.

Amazon is running deeply discounted "lightning deals" throughout the day on books and related items. For example, "The Jedi Path: A Manual for Students of the Force" is going up at 11 a.m. EST and "Celebrating Peanuts: 60 Years" goes up at 3 p.m. There are deals in other categories, including movies, where you can pick up adaptations such as "Dear John," for $5.99 and "The Blind Side" for $3.99 all day. You can also buy an annual subsciption to magazines such as Marie Claire, Esquire and Redbook for a mere $5.

At Borders, the Black Friday deals include discounts on the Kobo, Sony and other e-readers.

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 10:45 AM | | Comments (1)

November 25, 2010

Burlesque movie reviews

burlesque movie reviews

The reviews are in for "Burlesque," starring Cher and Christina Aguilera, and it provides a twist from our standard Friday book-to-movie adaptation posts. A glossy, picture-rich book accompanies the movie -- and if early reviews are any guide, it might wind up in the remainder bin rather quickly. Then again, star power of the two leading ladies could generate some box office power. Here are exceprts from some reviews:

Tribune newspapers -- Writer-director Steven Antin may have a heart as big as Iowa and California put together but he's not much of a filmmaker. The perpetually unsteady camerawork (a choice, but a bad one), the suffocating claustrophobia induced by the preponderance of "Chicago"-inspired club interiors, the high-fructose corn syrup disguised as dialogue: It's a lot to overcome, which is where a movie musical's musical numbers usually come in.

San Francisco Chronicle -- "Burlesque" is irresistible from its first minutes, and over time it creates a whole atmosphere, not only onscreen but within the audience. It's big, perfectly cast and entertaining in every way, but more than that it feels like a generous public event. See it with other people. See it with a crowd.

N.Y. Times -- Given that she spends much of the movie onstage, singing and dancing in what is essentially a succession of music videos linked with backstage filler, Ms. Aguilera doesn’t have much time to embarrass herself. She’s a serviceable screen presence who has a voice and an occasional song (Etta James’s “Tough Lover”) big enough to keep her from sliding off screen.

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 1:00 PM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Books to Movies

November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving -- best books for the holiday

happy thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone -- hope you have a good day of food, family, football and frenzied holiday shopping.

If reading is a part of your holiday (good luck avoiding a turkey-induced nap), here are some books you might consider:

"Thanksgiving: The Biography of an American Holiday" by James W. Baker. The former director of research at Plimoth Plantation examines the origins of our national holiday, and debunks some of the myths surrounding it.

"Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War story of by Nathaniel Phibrick. A rethinking of the history of the Pilgrims' colony and their relationship with Native Americans. A Baltimore Sun review called it "a splendid account of a nearly forgotten era in America’s Colonial past."

"1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving" by Catherine O'Neill Grace. This National Geographic book offers an illustrated retelling of the first Thanksgiving, and is suitable for the kids.

I won't be blogging on Thanksgiving, so I'll wish everyone a good holiday now. See you back here Friday for our book giveaway: "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand.

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 12:32 PM | | Comments (1)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows a hit with this family; Fair Game a winner, too

harry potter deathly hallows

The reviews from relatives are in -- and "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" is a big hit in my family.

Niece Katie and nephew Matt (and brother-in-law Doug) saw the movie last weekend and everyone loved it. They said it was much darker than the previopus HP movies. And some moments broughts shrieks of fear and surprise from the audience. Sounds like a good movie for the Thanksgiving holiday.

I saw another adaptation, "Fair Game," which is centered around the Bush administration's Iraq war strategy -- and the conflict with CIA agent Valerie Plame and husband Joseph C. Wilson IV. (Here's the Fair Game trailer and some reviews.) It's a searing drama that takes us into the illegal mano a mano political wrangling that preceded -- and followed -- the declaration of war. Well worth a look this holiday.

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 12:00 PM | | Comments (0)

Straight talk from James Patterson

james patterson

The folks at mediabistro have an interesting Q&A with James Patterson, who has built a zillion-dollar publishing conglomerate with a stable of authors and a brand of fast-paced, action novels. Patterson delivers some straight talk about the industry, and his phenomenal success. Some excerpts from the interview with Jeff Rivera:

On creating books "for boys" -- "I believe that probably the best way to get most kids reading is to just give them books that they love. There's millions of kids in this country that haven't read a book that they like and that's not a good idea. And it's even worse for boys because they are more impatient."

On the key to his success -- "My success revolves around the fact that I am fairly analytical, logical, have a pretty good IQ but I've got street smarts too. You know, a lot of people who have nice IQ's are just dumb as a brick when it comes to thinking about how other people think and what they might like and how to act in public and things like that."

On the possibility of creating e-books directly -- "You know, it is something you think about every once in a while, but my life is good. I like the publisher and the people there and am not interested in hurting them. And I don't particular want to do something that would create more upheaval to people in the publishing business."

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 10:43 AM | | Comments (0)

November 23, 2010

Ina Garten and Google: last-minute Thanksgiving recipes

ina garten last minute thanksgiving recipes

If you're in a panic looking for last-minute Thanksgiving recipes, Ina Garten, the TV chef and cookbook author, is here to help, courtesy of today's Google doodle. By clicking through the artwork on Google's search page -- or right here -- you'll get recipes fit for a Barefoot Contessa, including "Perfect Roast Turkey with herb and Apple Stuffing," popovers and "Pumpkin Banana Mousse Tart."

Garten has written a slew of cookbooks as the Contessa. Among the themes are Parties, At Home, and In Paris.

Have a happy holiday!

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 9:29 AM | | Comments (1)

November 22, 2010

Most dangerous cities in America: where's Baltimore?

most dangerous cities in america

What's this -- Baltimore doesn't even place in the Top 10 of the most dangerous cities in America? (We were #11 on the list from CQ Press.) Maybe now our fair city can fade into the background a bit, and I won't be subjected to intense questioning about murder rates and other criminal activity whenever I travel. In Belgium last week, "The Wire" had preceded me, and folks asked me about the crime problems here. And on a plane from Connecticut this morning, my seat-mate wanted to know how safe the city was (irony of ironies -- he was headed to St. Louis, #1 on the CQ list).

Of course, there's no hiding the city's problems, when there are hundreds of slayings each year, and drug wars have devastated large swaths of East and West Baltimore. The city also has received more than its share of media attention from David Simon books and TV shows such as "Homicide," "The Corner" (shown here, and for my money, the best book ever written about the inner city) and "The Wire."

But I do wish we could get to the day when folks I meet would ask about the Inner Harbor, the BMA's Cone collection, Edgar Allen Allan Poe, or the Orioles pennant chances (OK, call me a dreamer). Anything but the crime rate.

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 1:30 PM | | Comments (3)

Comic-Con registration reopens to new problems

comic con

Comic-Con's online registration reopened today -- after the website for the San Diego event cratered on the original date, Nov. 1 -- but the problems haven't gone away.

Clicking on the registration button brought this message: "500 - Internal server error. There is a problem with the resource you are looking for, and it cannot be displayed." The dreaded Internal Server Error -- mightier than any superhero!

It must be frustrating for the thousands of fans looking forward to the 2011 West Coast gathering. And it's incredibly ironic that a convention based largely on futuristic characters can't master a simple online registration process.

Don't worry though. If you can't get through to the San Diego event, consider joining folks like Black Adam (Eric "The Smoke" Moran of Philadelphia) and Batman (Brian Gregory Camden, N.J.) at the Baltimore Comic-Con, Aug 20 and 21.

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 11:20 AM | | Comments (1)

November 19, 2010

Oprah's Favorite Things 2010: A Course in Weight Loss

a course in weight loss

Winning a National Book Award (like Baltimore native Jaimy Gordon did this week) may give an author a sales boost, but that's nothing like being picked as one of Oprah's Favorite Things.

So Marianne Williamson, the author of "A Course in Weight Loss," is a big winner today. Oprah released her 2010 list, a guide for holiday shopping, and Williamson's book was featured right up front.

The author says the book reflects her "understanding of the intersection between spirituality and weight loss. This book is a retraining of your consciousness in the area of weight, turning your journey to weight loss into a spiritual quest. As you restore your spirit, your body itself is reminded of its natural intelligence. By getting back to the truth of who you are, you will get to a place where all your problems with weight have disappeared."

You might need the book after buying some of Oprah's other favorite things, which include Beecher's "World's Best" Mac 'N' Cheese and Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Brownie Mix. Heck, I'll skip the book and head straight for the food.

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 7:48 PM | | Comments (3)

Baltimore native Jaimy Gordon wins National Book Award

jaimy gordon national book award

Congratulations to Baltimore native Jaimy Gordon, whose "Lord of Misrule" this week won the National Book Award for fiction.

Here's how the book is described by the publisher: "At the rock-bottom end of the sport of kings sits the ruthless and often violent world of cheap horse racing, where trainers and jockeys, grooms and hotwalkers, loan sharks and touts are all struggling to take an edge, or prove their luck, or just survive. ... Lord of Misrule follows five characters -- scarred and lonely dreamers in the American grain -- through a year and four races at Indian Mound Downs, downriver from Wheeling, West Virginia."

Gordon is an English professor at Western Michingan University. According to a news release from the school, she based the novel partly on her experience in the late 1960s working as a groom and hot-walker at Charles Town Race Track in West Virginia. In an NBA interview, she also noted that some key research took place at Pimlico, namely through "Bubbles Riley, born in 1914, now age 96, one of the people to whom Lord of Misrule is dedicated. Bubbles had done much more than rub horses in his day, at West Virginia tracks as well as Pimlico, and he is far too foxy, worldly, gregarious, savvy in business, and downright postmodern to have been the model for Medicine Ed, but he told me hundreds of things I needed to know in the course of writing Lord of Misrule, and he still does." You can see Gordon's acceptance speech in this video.

For all you Small-timore folks, the author is the daughter of the late David and Sonia Gordon. He was a founding partner of the Baltimore law firm of Gordon, Feinblatt, Rothman, Hoffberger and Hollander; she was an artist, educator and anti-war activist.

AP photo

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 4:48 PM | | Comments (4)

Freebie Friday book giveaway: The Emperor of All Maladies

the emperor of all maladies

Congratulations to Andy Flacks, the winner of last week's book giveaway: "The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey" by Walter Mosley. Enjoy, Andy

This week, we're turning to a non-fiction "biography" of cancer: "The Emperor of All Maladies" by Siddhartha Mukherjee.

The book has received solid reviews. The New York Times called it "powerful and ambitious." The Wall Street Journal said it was "well worth wading into, not least for its encompassing view of the science, philanthropy and politics that have defined the modern war on cancer."

To enter for a chance to win, leave a comment about what your reqading, and answer this question: Do you plan to give any books or other book-related gifts this year for the holidays?

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 1:20 PM | | Comments (20)
Categories: Freebie Friday

The Gettysburg Address: a stirring moment

gettysburg address

Today marks the anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln's 1863 Gettysburg Address -- so there's no better time to recall the great orator's speech, which was little noticed at the time, but has become larger than life.

The speech was delivered at the dedication of the National Cemetery, and followed a bloody battle that represented the beginning of the end for the Confederacy. Lincoln began: “Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."

If you've never been to the Gettysburg National Military Park, you're missing a tremendous opportunity. A beautiful new visitor's center provides the background of the Civil War (or, as they say in the South, The War Between the States). You can also visit the David Wills House, where Lincoln stayed on the eve of delivering his address. And much of the battlefield has been preserved, providing a stirring look at the days when the tide of war turned and our nation was preserved.

As Lincoln said: "The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us–that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion–that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 11:30 AM | | Comments (4)

November 18, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows movie reviews

harry potter and the deathly hallows movie reviews

Movie reviews for "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 1" -- certainly the most highly awaited adaptation of the year -- are starting to come in. At the risk of seeming movie-heavy on the blog this week, with yesterday's Green Lantern post, here are some excerpts from reviews:

Tribune newspapers -- It takes its time. It has a heavy heart, and a sluggish middle passage. By conventional "wow" standards it offers the least magic and conventional energy of the films so far. ... What works especially well this time? The little things. Alexandre Desplat's musical score is the best of the series so far, never going for bombast when an undercurrent of emotion or menace or comfort will do instead.

Boston Globe -- “Part One’’ features the most deliriously inspired moviemaking since “The Prisoner of Azkaban,’’ from 2004, but I’m not sure I believe Warner Bros. is ready to part with a franchise that’s pulled in the equivalent of the gross domestic product of most of the islands in the Caribbean. ... “The Deathly Hallows’’ ends as it begins, in Lord Voldemort’s creepy thrall. But the film has enough moments of silence and shots of its three heroes doing nothing so much as looking spiritually put-upon to pass muster at European art houses. On one hand, scenes of Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson), and Ron (Rupert Grint) trekking through the woods and across moors are precious filler. On another, they’re daring.

Salon -- The over-under for making sense of "Deathly Hallows" is five. If your consumption of Potter books and movies totals at least that much, and includes one or more iterations of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" (sixth in the series), you should be fine. If you lack at least a moderate degree of immersion in the Potter canon, though, then this movie seriously isn't for you. Sure, doing some homework on Wikipedia or fan sites might help, but it's no substitute; you won't greet the members of the extended Weasley family with the same affection, welcome the deus-ex-machina reappearance of the magical elf Dobby with the same joy, or squirm in your seat at the ongoing soul-torment visible within Draco Malfoy and Severus Snape.

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 10:05 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Books to Movies

November 17, 2010

Green Lantern movie trailer: Ryan Reynolds looks good

green lantern movie trailer

Gotta love the Green Lantern movie trailer, the latest big screen adaptation of a comic book hero.

Green Lantern was never one of my favorite comic book heroes -- I was more partial to Spidey, The Flash and Superman. But I'm a big Ryan Reynolds fan, and I think he can bring some comic relief to the shoot-em-up story line, and some humanity to balance all the special effects. What Michael Keaton, a very talented comic, could have done more of as Batman.

Interesting that the Green Lantern trailer comes out as the frenzy builds for Part 1 of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows." Folks are having a hard time waiting a few days for that movie. Now they'll have something to look forward to next summer.

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 6:50 PM | | Comments (1)

November 16, 2010

Prince William engagement: reading about the royals

prince william kate middleton

To get a closer look at Prince William, whose engagement to Kate Middleton was announced today, you can dive into some books. As you can imagine, with all the attention devoted to British royalty, there is no shortage of reading material.

This Vanity Fair excerpt from Katie Nicholl’s new book "William and Harry: Behind the Palace Walls" describes the prince's start at the University of St Andrews: "She was shy and quieter than the other girls, which William liked, and he looked forward to their meetings. Often Kate would go running before breakfast and arrive at the dining hall just before breakfast was over. Within weeks William was bold enough to invite her to join him. ... Health-conscious like his father, William would choose muesli and fruit, as did Kate. They quickly discovered they had plenty in common. Kate was a country girl who loved playing sports and was a keen swimmer, like William. She was also a good skier and, just like William, had enjoyed a gap year traveling around the world before going to St. Andrews.

Kate also has sparked some quickie bios, including "Kate Middleton: Princess in Waiting" by Claudia Joseph and "William's Princess: The Love Story that will Change the Royal Family Forever" by Robert Jobson.

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 12:35 PM | | Comments (2)

November 15, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows premiere

The frenzy over the Nov. 19 release of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" has begun to build with tonight's New York premiere -- including these video interviews -- an event covered in detail on, and some other pop culture sites.

As noted before on Read Street, the final book in the Harry Potter series has been sliced into two parts for the big screen. The trailer looks great -- I caught it in a theater last week -- and I'll be serving up review excerpts as the week progresses. For the moment, you'll have to be satisfied with the red carpet shots of Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson et al>

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 7:30 PM | | Comments (4)

November 12, 2010

Freebie Friday book giveaway

Welcome to an abbreviated, vacation-time Freebie Friday. Congratulations to mrsshukra, the winner of Anita Shreve's "Rescue." Her recommendation for transporting the reader to another place was Peter Mayle's "A Year in Provence," a book that I thoroughly enjoyed. Mayle helped launch the modern "Year of/in ... " genre, one that has had authors walking the Bible and cooking like Julia Child.

This week's giveaway is "The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey" by Walter Mosley. Here's how the author's website describes the book, which was released this week: "At ninety-one years old, Ptolemy Grey is one of the world’s forgotten: by his family, by his friends, by even himself. Marooned in a cluttered Los Angeles apartment overflowing with mementos from his past, Ptolemy sinks deeper into lonely dementia and into a past that’s best left buried. He’s determined to pass the rest of his days with only his memories for company. Until, at his grandnephew’s funeral, he meets Robyn and experiences a seismic shift, in his head, his heart, and his life.

"Seventeen and without a family of her own, Robyn is unlike anyone Ptolemy has ever known. She and Ptolemy form an unexpected bond that reinvigorates his world. Robyn will not tolerate the way he has allowed himself to live, skulking in and out of awareness barely long enough to cash his small pension checks, living in fear of his neighbors and the memories that threaten to swallow him. With Robyn’s help, Ptolemy moves from isolation back into the brightness of friendship and desire. But Robyn’s challenges also push Ptolemy to make a life-changing decision that will affect both of them: to recapture the clarity and vigor of his fading mind and unlock the secrets he has carried for decades."

For a chance to win, tell us what you're reading, and add your favorite work for the upcoming holidays. It can be a book, movie or song. My favorite: "Scrooged" with Bill Murray.

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 7:26 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Freebie Friday

November 11, 2010

Baltimore Ravens Le'Ron McClain sparks book award

leron mcclain

I may be a few thousand miles from Baltimore, but I'm keeping track of the Baltimore Ravens -- albeit belatedly. After this week's game, I'm ready to award Read Street's first annual Know Your Books award to Channing Crowder of the Miami Dolphins.

In Sunday's game, he accused Ravens fullback Le'Ron McClain of spitting on him. After the game, Crowder took off on a rant againt the referees, saying they were visually challenged. Among the choice words for the officiating crew: "Stevie Wonder and Anne Frank. Who's the blind girl? Helen Keller, then. I don't know who Anne Frank is. I'm mad right now. I'm not as swift as I usually am."

I say the National Football League should require Crowder to read "The Diary of a Young Girl" and "The Miracle Worker," and submit a 500-word essay exploring the similarities and differences between Anne Frank and Helen Keller.

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 4:37 AM | | Comments (1)

November 10, 2010

John Cleese and the bookseller's nightmare

And now for something completely different -- a comedy skit that will help get you through the week. Ask your local bookseller or librarian how accurate this is. I bet they say it's all too real. (Thanks to MobyLives for pointing it out.)

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 6:00 AM | | Comments (4)

November 9, 2010

Seeking adult Muggles who LOVE Harry Potter

Here's a request from the newsroom for adult Harry Potter fans.

Are you a grown up of a certain age who isn't ashamed to admit that you're dying to see the latest Harry Potter movie next week? Are, perchance, you more into the books and movies than some kids you know? Do you buy your Wizard Rock T-shirts in men's and women's sizes???

If so, The Sun needs to talk to you for a story about Harry Potter's adult fans.

We're looking for people in the Baltimore area willing to chat with reporter Jill Rosen about their love for the series (which, technically is a children's book, no?) If you wouldn't mind her calling, please email: as soon as you can.

Posted by Kim Walker at 11:47 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Books to Movies

A call for manuscripts -- Baltimore style

gregg wilhelm citylit project

I'm on vacation this week, so for a guest post I called in a publishing pro and teacher who wants to help his students uncover The Great American Novel. Gregg Wilhelm does great work at The CityLit Project, so all you aspiring authors should lend an ear:

Do you have a manuscript or book proposal? Many authors, aspiring or previously published, may not be aware that the country’s only student-staffed, campus-based book publisher is located right here in Baltimore at Loyola University.

Apprentice House started in the mid-’80s when local publisher and Loyola adjunct professor Barbara Holdridge concocted a pretend publisher for which her students made mock seasonal catalogs. Later, Communication Department professor Andrew Ciofalo created a soup-to-nuts publishing course whereby advanced technology allowed students to craft media kits for books complete with cover concepts. When another leap in technology made it possible to print books digitally in small quantities, the decision was made to actually publish books that would be made available in the marketplace.

So while there are campus-based university presses and student-produced print journals, no where at the undergraduate level is there a concerted effort to use students as staff who are involved in the publishing of real books.

Loyola’s Communication Department now offers three courses that dovetail with the typical departments of any publishing house: acquisitions or project development, book design, and marketing (we are still trying to figure out where long-form manuscript editing fits into the curriculum). Since 2006, Apprentice House has published nearly 30 books by authors as diverse as a local vegan essayist to a Salt Lake City-based journalist, from a Gilman student to a global peacebuilder. Check them out here.

This fall I am teaching Introduction to Book Publishing, where projects are developed by 23 student-acquisitions editors. An acquisitions editor needs to be a Jill-of-all-trades because she evaluates book proposals or manuscripts based on their editorial merit, production feasibility, and marketability in light of the sort of publishing house she represents. But how do projects cross her radar?

A proactive editor looks ahead at upcoming anniversaries and marries an idea with a writer (think there are a few star-spangled manuscripts being readied for 2012 through 2014?); fishes in pools where writers tend to swim (bars, sure maybe, but I am thinking about readings, association meetings, blogs…if you are writing short posts about a certain topic maybe a longer sustained exposition lurks within you); and sifts through piles of unsolicited manuscripts looking for what just might be a piece of gold (in the early ’90s an editor at Random House rescued from the pile of unsolicited manuscripts a novel about a murder that shakes up a hum-drum Baltimore suburb; first-time author Mary Cahill’s Carpool became a best seller).

It’s the latter where Apprentice House’s student-editors lack experience, because we have no pile of manuscripts through which to sift. So here’s the traditional “call for manuscripts.” Contact us!

Apprentice House strives to “publish for the backlist,” meaning projects that will have a long shelf-life (which tends toward nonfiction like history, memoir, and essays but away from picture books because of the costs involved). Apprentice House is not a subsidy press (it enters into a standard publishing contract with authors it agrees to publish), books are available through the country’s largest wholesaler and via, and the production quality speaks for itself.

But there are certain idiosyncrasies that come with such a unique model, such as editing (as stated above, long-form editing has not been integrated into course work), no advances (as a nonprofit activity, the press operates on a break-even basis), and marketing (the lion’s share falls to authors because unlike other publishers, our staff turns over every 14 weeks!).

So prospective Apprentice House authors must embrace the press’s educational mission and possess the patience to work with young people who are just learning the process. We have found it to be an educational experience for both student and author.

Interested writers can check out Apprentice House’s submission guidelines and email me directly at I will then assign proposals or manuscripts to students in search of projects this semester.

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 6:00 AM | | Comments (2)

November 8, 2010

George Bush memoir: Kanye West slap was low point

Bits of George W. Bush's White House memoir, "Decision Points," are starting to trickle out, and among the tidbits is that he considered an insult from Kanye West a low point of his administration. In the aftermath of Hurrican Katrina's devastation of New Orleans, the pop star accused Bush of not caring about black people.

I can understand that Bush would feel singed by that remark. He always seemed like someone who didn't care deeply about political rhetoric or philosophy -- but wanted to be known as a regular guy. So saying that he had written off blacks would hurt.

Bush is making the rounds of the talk shows, including Oprah and the Today Show, to promote "Decision Points, which will be released tomorrow. You can get a taste of the interviews in this segment with Matt Lauer.

Meanwhile, here's an excerpt from the New York Times review: A dogged work of reminiscence by an author not naturally given to introspection, “Decision Points” lacks the emotional precision and evocative power of his wife Laura’s book, “Spoken From the Heart,” published earlier this year, though it’s a considerably more substantial effort than Mr. Bush’s perfunctory 1999 campaign memoir, “A Charge to Keep.” ... The prose in “Decision Points” is utilitarian, the language staccato and blunt. Mr. Bush’s default mode is regular-guy-politico, and his moods vacillate mainly among the defensive and the diligent — frat boy irreverence, religious certainty and almost willful obliviousness.

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 6:00 AM | | Comments (8)

November 5, 2010

Freebie Friday book giveaway: Anita Shreve's Rescue

rescue anita shreve

Congratulations to Judy Dudley, the winner of last week's giveaway: "At Home" by Bill Bryson.

This week, one lucky commenter will win "Rescue," the latest novel from Anita Shreve. It gets high blurb-praise from Dennis Lehane ("pitch-perfect"), Richard Russo ("by turns harrowing and heartfelt") and Augusten Burroughs ("deeply moving").

Here's how Shreve herself describes it: "Rescue is about a Vermont EMT named Webster who has been raising his daughter alone since she was a toddler --- the age at which the mother, Sheila, left them. The girl, Rowan, now 17, is beginning to break away from her father in ways Webster finds hard to understand. As he tries to keep his daughter on an even keel, he wonders if he did the right thing when his marriage begins to unravel."

I have travel on my mind as I prepare for a trip to Brussels, so for a chance to win "Rescue," leave a comment about your favorite book about a foreign city or country -- one that really transports you. Bonne chance, mes amis!

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 10:45 AM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Freebie Friday

Fair game movie reviews -- the Valerie Plame story

This week's highlighted adaptation is "Fair Game," which is based on the book by Valerie Plame, the CIA operative who was outed by the Bush administration. She and her husband, former diplomat Joseph C. Wilson IV, were caught up in political intrigue after he wrote a report about Iraq that did not support administration suspicions about that nation. Here are some excerpts from reviews:

Los Angeles Times -- [T]he hitch in "Fair Game" is that the nakedness of what was publicly done to Plame and Wilson may be more compelling than the filmmakers counted on. They chose to focus much of their efforts on how having the White House gunning for the couple affected their personal relationship, but they shouldn't have. Though that dynamic is of interest, it is frankly dwarfed by the outrage you have to feel at both the misuse of governmental power and the pro-war propaganda offensive, and that unbalances the film. The way that Plame was considered, ... "fair game" in a world of brutal realpolitik is so disturbing it overwhelms the personal drama that accompanied it.

Roger Ebert -- What's effective is how matter-of-fact "Fair Game" is. This isn't a lathering, angry attack picture. Wilson and Plame are both seen as loyal government employees, not particularly political until they discover the wrong information. ... This topic has been so poisoned by misinformation that a rational discussion seems impossible. I suppose the question becomes, how well does "Fair Game" work as a movie? I suspect it will work better the more you walk in agreeing with it.

Entertainment Weekly -- Directed with born-again three-dimensional finesse by Doug Liman (Mr. & Mrs. Smith), the movie scrupulously retraces the events of the Plame affair in a way that probably won't influence anyone's political views of it one iota. Yet Fair Game, as it evolves from a spy-game mystery into an inside-the-Beltway Scenes From a Marriage, enriches our human understanding of what the politics meant.

Associated Press -- While it's convincing as a political thriller, "Fair Game" is, in some ways, actually more intriguing as an examination of a marriage under pressure, the kind none of us could possibly imagine. Watts and [Sean] Penn ... make us feel as if we're truly watching the intimate, often uncomfortable exchanges between a husband and wife, parents of twins struggling to maintain some sense of normalcy during the most extraordinary circumstances. They're so good together, they actually make you wish "Fair Game" had dug a little deeper into their relationship. It's the rare movie that's not quite long enough.

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 6:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Books to Movies

November 4, 2010

"Henrietta Lacks" tops Amazon's Best Books of 2010

henrietta lacks

Rebecca Skloot's retelling of the story of Henrietta Lacks sits atop Amazon's list of the best books of 2010. "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," explores the ethical issues surrounding medical research -- and whether patients should share in the resulting monetary rewards. There also is a strong subtext of racial bias in the events, which took place a half-century ago at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

As we noted earlier on Read Street, while the young black woman from Baltimore County was being treated for cancer at Johns Hopkins, a researcher was able to keep some of her cells alive outside her body -- a remarkable breakthrough for medical research. Those "HeLa cells" were spread around the world, helping to develop the polio vaccine and forge advances in such areas as chemotherapy, gene mapping and in vitro fertilization. Yet Lacks' role was not acknowledged for years, and her family reaped no financial gain, leaving them understandably bitter.

I understand why these lists come out so early -- so booksellers can land a spot on gift lists as the holiday shopping season nears. But pity the poor author whose book is released in December -- or next week -- and misses out. Among them: former president George W. Bush, whose memoir "Decision Points" will be released Tuesday.

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 12:50 PM | | Comments (4)

November 3, 2010

Sparky Anderson in hospice care: recalling his legend

sparky anderson

Bad enough that baseball season has ended, but now we learn that Sparky Anderson, one of the game's legendary managers, has been placed in hospice care at his Thousand Oaks, Cal. home for complications resulting from dementia.

For someone like me, who grew up in the era of The Big Red Machine (and remembers all too well what followed Carlton Fisk's Game 6 homer in the '75 Series), Anderson was a constant presence in baseball dugouts. In this photo, he's pictured with the Baltimore Orioles' Brooks Robinson, after the O's won the 1970 World Series. The former manager of the Cincinnati Reds and Detroit Tigers won 2,194 games, the third-highest total in major league history, behind only Connie Mack and John McGraw. Anderson, 76, was the first manager to win World Series titles in both leagues, the AP notes.

His autobiography, "They Call Me Sparky," shows off his homey, straight-shooting style. "I ain't no martyr," he says, according to an review. "I ain't no hero. And I don't want no bowl of chocolate ice cream, whipped cream, and cherries just for doing the right thing." For more on Sparky's legacy, check out "The Machine," and "Wire to Wire."

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 1:28 PM | | Comments (1)

November 2, 2010

DiCaprio as serial killer in The Devil in the White City

dicaprio the devil in the white city

Leonardo DiCaprio as a serial killer -- that may be only news scarier than the political sniping and bickering that awaits us after Election Day.

DiCaprio has acquired the movie rights to Erik Larson's book, "The Devil in the White City," and plans to play the role of serial killer H.H. Holmes, according to Deadline. The book tells of Holmes' criminal exploits, targeting young women amid the backdrop of the World's Columbian Exhibition of 1893 in Chicago. The book was a big hit -- and, considering the subject matter, I've suprised at how many women tell me they loved it.

It will be tough role for DiCaprio -- it's hard to beat the menace of Anthony Hopkins, who set the serial killer standard in the movie adaptation of Thomas Harris' "The Silence of the Lambs." But DiCaprio has taken on challenging roles before, so let's see whether he can duplicate the success of the book.

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 5:05 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Books to Movies

November 1, 2010

Comic-Con registration crashes; back next week?

Something went seriously wrong today as the hugely popular San Diego Comic-Con opened registration for the 2011 event, which attracts thousands of fans. Technical problems prevented all but a few from signing up. "We do not know what the technical issues are, so we have temporarily closed registration. We will announce on Monday, November 8th, the new date and time that registration will reopen," a message on the website said.

In the meantime, don't forget about Baltimore's own, albeit smaller, version. The 2010 event was held in August, and next year would mark the 12th year that the event has been held here.

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 5:05 PM | | Comments (0)

On Election Day 2010, VOTE! (and then read)

election day 2010

On Election Day 2010, plan to put down your book for an hour or so and take advantage of one of our most important rights: voting for local, state and national representatives. Here in Maryland, a deep blue state, many of the elections were settled in the Democratic primary. But we still have an interesting race for governor, and a 1st District Congressional race that mirrors national themes.

The folks who commented last week for Freebie Friday (we're giving away "At Home" by Bill Bryson) also had some good recommendations for Election Day reading. One of my all-time favorites is Robert Penn Warren's "All the King's Men," -- a novelized version of Huey Long's populist rise. It echoes today's tea paty fervor, and would be a good book to include on the syllabus for any political science class. Other suggestions from Read Streeters:

-- Fareed Zakaria's "The Post-American World. Travis said the "connections made in that book offer so many insights that it's not hard to find comparable ideas and situations, even on the local and neighborhood levels of government."

-- "A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House." Denah said: "Schlesinger's is a truly unique perspective with a glorious narrative."

-- "Imperium" by Ryszard Kapuscinski, Jonathan said, "is superb. Whether he's talking about the downfall of the Soviet Union or civil war in Angola, the man turned journalism into poetry. R.I.P."

Judy enjoyed Sarah Palin's biography, "Going Rogue."

Michelle said, "I usually enjoy any book by Amy Goodman. I also really enjoyed 'The Shock Doctrine' and 'Blackwater' by Naomi Klein and Jeremy Scahill, respectively."

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 1:00 PM | | Comments (1)

Pat Conroy honored by Enoch Pratt Free Library

pat conroy

This weekend, the Enoch Pratt Free Library will give Pat Conroy -- "The Great Santini," "The Prince of Tides" -- a lifetime achievement award. The Baltimore Sun's Michael Sragow talked to Conroy about his development as a writer and his love of literature, the theme of the author's latest book, "My Reading Life."

Here's an excerpt from the article, which ran in Sunday's editions: Wolfe's book ["Look Homeward, Angel"] was more than therapy for Conroy; it was an aesthetic milestone. "It still has that power over me," Conroy said last week. He has remained loyal to it, though generations of critics and scholars have denigrated its capacious, charged and sometimes overly abstract or poetic prose. Early on, his teachers tried to restrain his Wolfean impulse by handing him copies of Hemingway.

But, he said, "I was never going to be a part of any minimalist trend." He saw in Wolfe's lyrical outpourings a struggle for exactness as well as amplitude. "My own overripe, pretentious prose style has been with me since the beginning. That is my personality. I cannot change these things," he said. ...

Conroy's approach to literature is sensual and instinctive. The act of writing is a physical pleasure for him: He continues to compose his books with fountain pens on legal pads. He's currently working on a nonfiction book about the man his father became after the publication of "The Great Santini." When his mother sued for divorce, she contended, "It's all there," as she handed the judge a copy of the novel. "But by the time my father died," Conroy said, "he was a greatly loved man. I loved him unflinchingly. I think Dad deserved my looking at this change."

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 9:15 AM | | Comments (1)
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About the blogger
Dave Rosenthal came to The Baltimore Sun as a business reporter in 1987 and now is the Maryland Editor. He reads a wide range of books (but never as many as he'd like), usually alternating between non-fiction and fiction. Some all-time favorites: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole; Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupery; and anything by Calvin Trillin or John McPhee. He belongs to a book club with a Jewish theme.
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