February 2008 Archives

Obama out front in book sales race

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NEW YORK — Maybe it’s the prose, or the charisma, or the novelty. But if voter excitement were measured by book sales, then Sen. Barack Obama would be the clear front-runner.

Sales have exploded in 2008 for the works of Obama, the Illinois Democrat who has steadily climbed in the polls all year. Sales have stayed flat for the works of Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who quickly and surprisingly became his party’s presumptive nominee after he seemed finished last summer.

‘‘There’s no question that Obama is a phenomenon but to many people he’s still a discovery and they may be coming to his book to get to know who he is,’’ said Jonathan Karp, head of the Twelve imprint at Hachette Book Group USA, which just released McCain’s Hard Call in paperback. ‘‘I think people already know who McCain is, and he has demonstrated a long and broad appeal to readers.’’

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., signs copies of The
Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the
American Dream
in Hyde Park in October 2006.

| Charles Rex Arbogast~AP

According to Nielsen BookScan, which tracks about 70 percent of industry sales, combined sales for Obama’s Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope were averaging more than 35,000 a week in late February, more than triple the pace of early January, when Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton was still favored to be the Democrat nominee.

Dreams From My Father, a memoir, first came out in 1995; The Audacity of Hope, a political book, in 2006.

Meanwhile, McCain’s sudden prominence has had no discernible impact on Faith of My Fathers, a highly praised, best-selling memoir released in 1999, and on Hard Call, a book about character in public life first released last August and out in paperback with a printing of 50,000. Both books, according to BookScan, have been averaging less than 1,000 sales a week, as have sales for McCain’s Worth the Fighting For and Why Courage Matters.

Weekly sales for Clinton’s memoir, Living History, have also averaged 1,000 or less throughout 2008. The book was a near-instant million seller when published in 2003.


A medical mystery for 'CSI' fans

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Murder, medicine and forensic investigation collide in Lawrence Goldstone's fiction debut, The Anatomy of Deception (Delacorte, 340 pages, $24), which takes place in Philadelphia in the late 1800s, around the time autopsies were just becoming a legal practice.

The Anatomy of Deception

The first paragraph sets the scene:

March 14, 1889

For days, clouds had hung over the frigid city, promising snow, an ephemeral late winter veneer of white, but the temperature had suddenly risen and a cold, stringing drizzle had arrived instead. Jostled along in the derelict hansom, clad in her maid's blue worsted dress and plain wool cloak, her fingers and feet felt bloodless. The gloom that hung over the river penetrated the thin walls of the coach until it seemed as though she were breathing it.

Publisher's Weekly says: "With this top-notch historical page-turner and his proven versatility in nonfiction, Goldstone can expect to win over many new fans."

Here is a review from the Associated Press...

B&N Great New Writers Awards 2008

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Barnes & Noble has announced that Kate Braestrup's memoir, Here If You Need Me, and Joshua Ferris' debut novel, Then We Came to the End — both published by Little, Brown — are the winners of the 15th annual Discover Great New Writers Awards. Each author will receive $10,000 and a year of additional marketing and advertising support.

Here If You Need Me Then We Came to the End

Publisher's Weekly gave starred reviews to both books.

On Braestrup's: "It may take ingenuity to interest browsers in a memoir by a middle-aged mother who, 11 years ago, was suddenly widowed, then became a Unitarian-Universalist minister, and now works as chaplain to game wardens in Maine. But good memoir writing does not depend on celebrity or adventure ... and Braestrup's insightful essays are extraordinarily well written, mingling elements of police procedural and touching love story with trenchant observations about life and death."

On Ferris': "At once delightfully freakish and entirely credible, Ferris's cast makes a real impression."

Second place winners ($5,000 each): Elizabeth Samet for Soldier's Heart (Farrar, Straus & Giroux); Matthew Eck for The Farther Show (Milkweed Editions).

Third place ($2,500 each): Yaroslav Trofimov for The Siege of Mecca (Doubleday); Vendela Vida for Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name (Ecco).

Note: Chicago writer and former Sun-Timesman Robert Kurson (Shadow Divers and Crashing Through) served on this year's nonfiction jury panel.

Following Oprah's lead

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After the phenomenal success of one of Oprah's recent giveaways — free downloads of Suze Orman's book, Women & Money — Random House has decided to do the same thing with Charles Bock's debut novel, Beautiful Children.

Beautiful Children

Orman's book was available for download for 33 hours earlier this month— enough time for 1 million copies to fly through cyberspace and for the paperback version of the 2007 title to hit Amazon.com's top 10.

Beautiful Children takes place in Las Vegas, where a 12-year-old boy goes out with a friend one day and doesn't come home, sending his parents into a tailspin and connecting a motley group of strangers.

Fellow author Jonathan Safran Foer had this to say about Bock's debut: "Beautiful Children careens from the seedy to the beautiful, the domestic to the epic, all with a huge and exacting heart."

Beautiful Children is available through Friday at www.beautifulchildren.net/read, with a free electronic edition also available through online retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Black history put in modern perspective

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Stanford law professor Richard Thompson Ford takes on a hot-button topic during Black History Month. The press release in his new book, The Race Card: How Bluffing About Bias Makes Race Relations Worse (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 388 pages, $26), poses the question: "What do Katrina victims waiting for federal disaster relief, millionaire rappers buying vintage champagne, Ivy League professors waiting for taxis, and ghetto hustlers trying to find steady work have in common? All have claimed to victims of racism."

The Race Card

Here's a review from the Associated Press:

And the Oscar goes to ...

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Today's book celebrates that time of year that avid moviegoers love: Oscar season. It's that month or so leading up to the presentation of the Academy Awards on live television. (Tune in at 7:30 tonight on WLS-Channel 7 to watch the awards and check out Richard Roeper's Red Carpet Diaries online).

Veteran entertainment reporter Mary McNamara has spent much of her 17 years at the Los Angeles Times covering Oscar season, so she's well-schooled in the behind-the-scenes drama that goes along with it. In her debut novel, Oscar Season (Simon & Schuster, 325 pages, $24), McNamara takes what she knows — the parties, the stars, the PR machinery, the tantrums, the back-stabbing, the indiscretions and, of course, the gift baskets — and throws a murder mystery into the mix.

Oscar Season

Supersick, superfunny

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Newmarket Press annouced that it has submitted the word "phallographics" for inclusion in the Oxford English Dictionary. Editors at Newmarket coined the term to describe the art featured throughout the newly published Superbad: The Drawings (96 pages, $15), a tie-in to last year's hit teen sex comedy "Superbad."

Superbad 2

For those who may not have seen the movie, the character of Seth, as a grade-schooler, had a compulsive habit of drawing penises in various and outrageous situations, in a notebook. You get to seem them all in the end credits. As much as it pains me to admit it, they're sickeningly funny.

The book also includes a foreword by "Superbad" screenwriters Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg, who explain how they recruited Evan's brother David Goldberg (a lawyer in Vancouver, Canada) to create the illustrations for the film.

And in case you're wondering, the definition of the new word is as follows:

phal*lo*graph*ics (fa'lo graf'iks), n. The pictorial representation of a phallus, or a depiction relating to or resembling a phallus.

President's Day hair check

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Which president in history had the best hair? Certainly John F. Kennedy had good hair. Ronald Reagan and BIll Clinton, too. There are others throughout history, but who am I to judge what was in style from before I was born?

The aforementioned former presidents were all handsome as well, which does not always go hand-in-hand with good hair.

Why does any of this matter, you ask? It shouldn't matter, but appearance can make or break a candidate, and Ben Shapiro examines this subject in his book, Project President: Bad Hair & Botox on the Road to the White House (Thomas Nelson, 304 pages, $22.99).

Project President

Here's what Shapiro concludes about the father of our country: "Today's media would have savaged Washington. [He] would have faced scrutiny over his lavish spending habits, questionable military tactics, gold-digging and his cold austerity, though he would have gained points for keeping his hair."

Shapiro even got Tim Gunn, the fashion guru of Bravo's "Project Runway," to blurb the book: "I'm constantly citing the power of dress. It's semiology: our clothes send a message about how we want to be perceived, and where is this more powerful and evident than in elected offices. In Project President, Ben Shapiro captures presidential semiotics with a potent narrative and deft analysis. It's simultaneously fascinating and hilarious!"

Though Shapiro's book is already a little out of date — he scrutinizes some candidates that are no longer running for the presidential nomination — it's still fun reading.

Here's a review from the Associated Press...

All Lincoln All the Time

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In today's print edition of the Sun-Times, we dedicated all our Books space to the subject of Abraham Lincoln. You would think that all that could be written about our nation's 16th president has been written. Not so.

John Barron states in his review of President Lincoln: The Duty of a Statesman by William Lee Miller that "Lincoln always emerges as the year's freshest most appealing character. Any year." (Click here to read full review)

With that in mind we've seized upon the passion of many of the historians who've written about Honest Abe recently ...

Hearts and flowers through the ages

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Ah, Valentine's Day. The primping, the pressure, the proposals! Today we take a look back through history at some lovers' correspondence, specifically that which dealt in marriage proposals.

Will You Marry Me? Seven Centuries of Love (Touchstone Books, 112 pages, $14.95) was originally published in 1940. Perhaps this newly bound reissue will inspire Internet-age folks to take paper to pen and snail-mail a little romance to their loved ones.

Will You Marry Me?

Here's a smattering of smitten folks' marriage-minded missives...

Poet Tom Sleigh wins Tufts Award

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NEW YORK (AP) — Poet Tom Sleigh’s Space Walk has been named this year’s winner of the Kingsley Tufts Award, a $100,000 prize given to someone "who is past the very beginning but has not yet reached the acknowledged pinnacle of his or her career."

Space Walk

Janice N. Harrington’s Even the Hollow My Body Made Is Gone, a debut collection, received the $10,000 Kate Tufts Discovery Award.

Even the Hollow

Administered by Claremont Graduate University, based in Claremont, Calif., the awards were established in the early 1990s by Kate Tufts in honor of her late husband, poet Kingsley Tufts. Previous winners include Alan Shapiro, Carl Phillips and Michael Ryan.

Lincoln-Douglass book wins Lincoln prize

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NEW YORK (AP) — A biography of Gen. Robert E. Lee and a book about the relationship between President Lincoln and abolitionist Frederick Douglass were this year’s winners of the Lincoln Prize for Civil War scholarship.

James Oakes, author of The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics, and Elizabeth Brown Pryor, who wrote Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters, each will receive $20,000.

The Radical and the Republican Reading the Man

‘‘James Oakes and Elizabeth Brown Pryor have made major contributions to our understanding of leaders who — by their writing, political leadership, and military genius, and by either their capacity for, or resistance to, change — altered the way America regards both itself and its people,’’ Lincoln Prize founders Richard Gilman and Lewis Lehrman said in a statement Tuesday, Lincoln’s 199th birthday.

Previous winners of the award, founded in 1990, include Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals and David Herbert Donald’s Lincoln.

Motorcycle-riding nun in the rain forest

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Note to authors: If you write a book about a nun, chances are you'll get featured on this blog. So, today I bring another one to the attention of our readers: The Greatest Gift: The Courageous Life and Martyrdom of Sister Dorothy Stang (Doubleday, 256 pages, $21.95), by Binka Le Breton.

The Greatest Gift

Sister Dorothy went to Brazil as a missionary in the mid-'60s and never left. She worked tirelessly to help poor farmers in the rain forest to sustain and protect their land. In the end, she was killed; hopefully not for nothing.

Here's a review from the Associated Press...

New James Baldwin bio

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The late James Baldwin (1924-1987), author of Native Son and Go Tell It on the Mountain, among others, was a product of Harlem. It was in his bones and informed much of his writing, even though he left the New York neighborhood in his late teens.

Journalist and longtime Harlem dweller Herb Boyd has written Baldwin’s Harlem: A Biography of James Baldwin (Atria Books, 272 pages, $24).

Baldwin's Harlem

Here's a review from the Associated Press ...

Bhutto book out next week

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Slain Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto finished writing Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West (Harper, $27.95) several days before her Dec. 27 death, and the book will be on store shelves Feb. 12, according to Bloomberg News.


Bhutto's husband, Asif Ali Zardari, and the couple's three children, have written a new afterword, and Bhutto's collaborator, Mark Siegel will step in for the book tour.

According to the publisher, "In Reconciliation, Bhutto recounts in gripping detail her final months in Pakistan and offers a bold new agenda for how to stem the tide of Islamic radicalism and to rediscover the values of tolerance and justice that lie at the heart of her religion."

Harper also has doubled the first printing, from 50,000 to 100,000, in anticipation of added interest due to Bhutto's death. Also, in April, Harper will re-release Bhutto's 1989 autobiography Daughter of Destiny, with a new epilogue written by Siegel.

A church of a different sort

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"In the Church of 80% Sincerity, we understand that the basic motivating factor for all human beings is not self-preservation or sex or love. It is the desire to not be embarrassed."

I'm not sure I've ever read a more true statement. It comes around the middle of David Roche's The Church of 80% Sincerity (Perigree, 160 pages, $19.95).

The Church of 80% Sincerity

Roche's "church" is a "church of choice for recovering perfectionists," he states in the introduction to the book. "We think 80 percent sincerity is as good as it gets. You can be 80 percent sincere 100 percent of the time or 100 percent sincere 80 percent of the time. It's in that 20 percent area where you get some slack and you can be yourself."

Write your memoir in six words

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That's what the editors of Smith magazine asked folks to do for their curious little paperback, Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-word Memoirs by Famous & Obscure Writers (Harper Perennial, 219 pages, $12).

Not Quite What Was Planned

The idea seems a little silly, I know, but its origins are indeed literary — it's based on Ernest Hemingway's legendary six-word story: "For sale: baby shoes, never worn." You have to admit, that's pretty powerful — and it forces the reader to speculate as to what the bigger picture is.

Love is in the air

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It's February, which means Black History Month, Lincoln's birthday, Washington's birthday and, of course, Valentine's Day. We'll cover all of these on the blog throughout the month. First up is a collection of stories compiled by Jeffrey Eugenides — a former Oprah Book Club author for his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Middlesex.

My Mistress's Sparrow is Dead (HarperCollins, 587 pages, $24.95) features love stories from writers past and present, including Vladimir Nabokov, Alice Munro, Raymond Carver, William Faulkner, Lorrie Moore, Bernard Malamud, Grace Paley, Denis Johnson, Stuart Dybek and many more.

My Mistress's Sparrow

The coolest thing about this book is that, according to Amazon.com, all proceeds from this book will go directly to fund the free youth writing programs offered by 826 Chicago, which is part of the network of writing centers across the United States dedicated to supporting students with their writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write.

Here's a review of the book from the Associated Press...

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from February 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

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