July 2008 Archives

Dine at your own risk

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This week I've been reading Waiter Rant: Thanks For the Tip -- Confessions of a Cynical Waiter (Ecco, 302 pages, $24.95) and here is my unabashed recommendation: If you eat out with any regularity, read this book!

Waiter Rant

It's written by a New Yorker who calls himself "The Waiter," and he's the creator of the popular and award-winning Waiter Rant blog. This week, however The Waiter was outed as Steve Dublanica and though it's not been confirmed, the restaurant in which he worked -- which he calls "The Bistro" throughout the book -- is the Lanterna Tuscan Bistro in Nyack, N.Y., according to New York magazine.

Dublanica also appeared this morning on the "Today" show and announced his "retirement" from waiting tables. (Probably a good thing, since he also disclosed that one of his favorite retaliation moves was to pass gas near rude customers and then walk away.)

The book is hilarious and disgusting and very insightful. Dublanica not only tells tales about what servers might do to you if you're rude -- spit in food; fill coffee with regular instead of decaf; play hockey with meat if it's sent back; tell the customer his credit card has been denied -- but also gives good tips for diners: "If a restaurant's bathroom is nasty," he writes, "the odds are good that the kitchen doesn't bother maintaining Health Department-mandated levels of hygiene either."

Appendix A -- "40 Tips on How to Be a Good Customer -- should be studied and committed to memory. I've always thought of myself as a pretty pleasant restaurant patron, and as I read through the list my assumption stands, except for Rule No. 4: "Sit where you're seated!"

"Please let the hostess do her job," Dublanica writes. "She's only trying to seat customers evenly so that everyone gets the best service possible without overwhelming one server. And trust me, when your waiter overhears you whining about your table, he or she will know that you're an annoying table snob who thinks you're entitled to underserved rock-star treatment and that, in all probability, you're a bad tipper to boot."

I have a restaurant pet-peeve, and if I had a blog dedicated to restaurant pet-peeves, this would be my first entry: Getting seated next to the bathroom or the kitchen door, or the restaurant entrance door, or the busing station -- when the restaurant is FULL of empty tables! Obviously in that situation I don't think it's obnoxious to ask for a better table, but of course now I'll be much less likely to do so.

What does Chelsea Read?

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No, not the former president's daughter. I'm talking about Chelsea Handler, who's been on the best seller lists for several months with her second book, Are You There Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea.

Chelsea Handler Are you There Vodka
Chelsea Handler

I received a press release today promoting Jackie Collins' participation in the "Guest Books" feature in the Barnes & Noble Review. Each week a new author lists his or her three favorite books. Collins' favorites are Mario Puzo's The Godfather, F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and Luke Rhinehart's The Dice Man.

But I digress.

I was more interested in a previous participant -- Handler. I didn't know much about the comedian until her book was doing so well on the charts. So I decided to check out her E! Entertainment talk show, "Chelsea Lately." Turns out, there's a quirky, funny oddball beneath the blond facade.

Handler lists the following as her three favorite books:

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand: "It's nice to read a book about something that has nothing to do with anything you could ever think of."

One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus: "Even though it is a novel, you know these events really happened to these women."

Naked by David Sedaris: "Laugh-out-loud funny. No Matter how many times you read it, it is still funny."

SuperMcCain and Obamaman

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There is no question that our state's junior U.S. senator, Barack Obama, has lit a fire in the political landscape of this country. The youth of America might even refer to him as a superhero. One might also say the same about Sen. John McCain, with his storied military history and commitment to public service.

IDW Publishing has jumped on the election 2008 bandwagon and given both presidential candidates the supehero treatment with a pair of comic book biographies: Presidential Material: Barack Obama, (by Jeff Mariotte and Tom Morgan) and Presidential Material: John McCain (by Andy Helfer and Stephen Thompson).


The books highlight key incidents in the presidential candidates' lives leading up to their participation in this current and historic presidential campaign. Both comics are 28 pages of story and art, plus annotations, and will be released on Oct. 8 for $3.99. IDW also will release a trade paperback flip-book edition for $7.99.

Not a bad investment for what will certainly become a collectors' item.

Former book review editors unite in protest

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Former editors of the Los Angeles Times' Sunday Book Review are protesting the impending demise of the section as they knew it and encouraging readers and writers to protest with them. Here's an excerpt from their letter:

"Angelenos in growing number are already choosing to cancel their subscriptions to the Sunday Times. The elimination of the Book Review, a philistine blunder that insults the cultural ambition of the city and the region, will only accelerate this process and further wound the long-term fiscal health of the newspaper."

As a book editor who's been through the process of losing a section and being downsized in another, I sympathize with them. But wake up, people! The fiscal health of the newspaper business was in the toilet long before they decided to ax a section. Now is the time to take what you're left with and do what you can with it. Just as the newspaper business as a whole is trying to figure out ways to reinvent itself, book review editors must do the same, whether it be by running shorter reviews, beefing up online content or what have you. Stop complaining about loss of culture and glorifying the past and move into the 21st century -- where books are still plenty and people are still reading!

Read the entire letter here.

Grove Press has announced it will publish New and Selected Poems by the newly appointed poet laureate Kay Ryan.

"We are proud to already have three of Kay's collections in print and thrilled to make this addition to our list," said Joan Bingham, Ryan's editor and vice president/executive editor at Grove Altantic. "Her appointment is especially exciting for us because Kay's Elephant Rocks was the inaugural book in the Grove Poetry Series begun in 1996."

Along with Elephant Rocks, Ryan is the author of two other books available under the Grove Press imprint: Say Uncle (2000) and The Niagara River (2005).

View video of Ryan talking about one of her poems, "Home to Roost."

Kate Summerscale wins Johnson prize

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The story of a murder case that gripped Victorian England won Britain’s richest nonfiction book prize Tuesday.

Kate Summerscale’s The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: Or the Murder at Road Hill House beat five other titles for the $60,000 Samuel Johnson Prize for Nonfiction.

Suspicions of Mr. Whicher

Summerscale’s best-selling book tells the story of an 1860 child murder that tested the mettle of one of Scotland Yard’s first detectives and inspired writers including Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Arthur Conan Doyle.

Named in honor of the 18th-century critic and lexicographer, the Samuel Johnson Prize is open to English-language books in the areas of current affairs, history, politics, science, sport, travel, biography, autobiography and the arts.

The other finalists were The World Is What It Is, Patrick French’s often unflattering biography of writer V.S. Naipaul; Mark Cocker’s bird book, Crow Country; Orlando Figes’ chronicle of Stalin’s Russia, The Whisperers; Blood River, Tim Butcher’s account of retracing the steps of Victorian explorer H.M. Stanley; and New Yorker music critic Alex Ross’ The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century.

Last year’s winner was Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s Imperial Life in the Emerald City, about life in Baghdad’s Green Zone.


Read the Sun-Times review of The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher.

Marcus Sakey wins Strand award

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Congratulations to Chicago mystery novelist Marcus Sakey, who has won the 2007 Strand Magazine Critics Award for best first novel for The Blade Itself. Laura Lippman won the best novel award for What the Dead Know. The winners were announced at an invitation only cocktail party in Manhattan, by bestselling author Jonathan Santlofer.

"This was such a great group of nominees, it must have been difficult to choose the winner," said Frank Simon, Associate Publisher of The Strand. "Laura and Marcus were worthy winners, in the past few years Laura has produced a fantastic body of work and Marcus is a new talent who I have no doubt in the future will be nominated for the best mystery novel award."

1-9 white chicagolit 7.jpg The Blade Itself
Marcus Sakey set his debut novel, The Blade
in Chicago, the city he calls home.
(John H. White~Sun-Times)

The Blade Itself, which has been optioned by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck's production company, is about childhood friends who take different paths after they partner in a pawnshop robbery that ends up going horribly wrong.

Sakey spoke to the Sun-Times last year about the book's connection to Chicago:

"The book couldn't be set anywhere else," he said. "Chicago is really a character and something of a crucible, too. It's a beautiful city with tons of opportunity, but at the same time it's a city of tremendous divisions. South Side vs. North Side and white collar vs. blue collar and opportunity vs. lack of hope. I really wanted to make that into the frenetic backdrop of the novel."

Sakey has since been quite productive. His latest novel, At the City's Edge (St. Martin's Minotaur) came out in January, and another new one, Good People (Dutton), comes out next month.

Lippman a former journalist for The Baltimore Sun, has won several other top crime fiction prizes, including the Edgar, the Anthony, the Shamus, and the Barry. Her latest novel, Another Thing to Fall, was released in March by William Morrow.

What Chicago's buying

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The people of Chicago have spoken — with their book-buying dollars. This week's Crain's Chicago Business is chock-full of charts and graphs and information in its Market Facts 2008 feature.

Among the findings under "Media & Culture," the mag lists the top five best-sellers in Chicago since Jan. 1, 2008. It's a curious little all-nonfiction list. Not surprising is that the No. 1 spot is an Oprah's Book Club selection.

A New Earth The Last Lecture Three Cups of Tea Strengths Finder Eat This Not That

1. A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle (paperback)

2. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow

3. Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace ... One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin (paperback)

4. Strengths Finder 2.0: A New and Upgraded Edition of the Online Test from Gallup's 'Now, Discover Your Strengths' by Tom Rath

5. Eat This Not That: Thousands of Simple Food Swaps That Can Save You 10, 20, 30 Pounds — or More! by David Zinczenko (paperback)

Island of Eternal Marketing

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Daina Chaviano's The Island of Eternal Love (Riverhead, 336 pages, $25.95) has been translated into 20 languages around the world, including English, introducing Chaviano to English-speaking readers for the first time. Her story of "three families from opposite corners of the world — from Africa, Spain and China — that spans more than a century" is a dreamy tale of love and loss.

Island of Eternal Love

Read M.E. Collins' Sun-Times review of the book.

And if you're still unsure of what it's about or whether to read it, check out this bizarre "trailer" I stumbled upon on YouTube. There is no commentary, only imagery, music and text. I've never seen such a thing and am wondering if it helps sales?

The Top 100, according to EW

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Do you think The Road by Cormac McCarthy is the best book of the last 25 years? Where do you think Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes ranks? Or The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown? According to Entertainment Weekly magazine, they rank No. 1, 36 and 96, respectively.

For the magazine's 1000th issue, the folks at EW came out with a bunch of lists they're calling "The New Classics," broken down into the 100 best movies, TV shows, albums and books, among other things.

I would argue that the books list would have been the most difficult to compile as many, many more new books come out in a given month than movies, TV shows and albums. And given that such lists are heavily subject to the tastes of those making the list, don't be surprised if your favorite from the last quarter-century didn't make it. That said, it's fun to read.

This is what EW's had to say about its No. 1 selection, the barely 2-year-old The Road: "We don't need writers of Cormac McCarthy's caliber to inform us of looming planetary catastrophes; we can read the newspaper for that. We need McCarthy to imaging the fate of the human sould if the worst really does come to pass."

The Road America
No. 1: The Road by Cormac McCarthy.
No. 100: America (The Book) presented by The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Interspersed throughout the list are little breakouts, such as "The 10 Longest Books," "Oprah Blessed Titles" and "Five Memoir Shockers," to name a few. EW.com's poll to elicit readers' favorite authors of the last 25 years ended up with:

1. (surprise!) J.K. Rowling (46 percent)
2. Stephen King (30 percent)
3. John Grisham (10 percent)
4. Cormac McCarthy (8 percent)
5. Toni Morrison (6 percent)

Here is my own Top 5 culled from EW's Top 100 (EW's ranking in parentheses):

1. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving (No. 73)
2. Cathedral by Raymond Carver (No. 75)
3. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers (No. 15)
4. Possession by A.S. Byatt (No. 27)
5. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer (No. 11)

Read the entire list of 100 Best Books of the Last 25 Years.

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