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November 30, 2012

Writer Ann Patchett’s bookstore thrives in digital age

By Bob Minzesheimer

When novelist Ann Patchett opened a bookstore here in her hometown a year ago, she wondered if she was “opening an ice shop in the age of Frigidaire.”

One year later, Parnassus Books is thriving in an age of e-books when ordering and reading is a click away and browsing takes on a new digital meaning.

As the store celebrates its first anniversary this month, Patchett says, “People might not use ice to refrigerate anymore, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still want some ice in their scotch and in their tea. There is still a real place for ice. And when the power is out, we are mighty grateful for a bag of the stuff.”

Parnassus doesn’t sell ice. It does sell books, $2 million worth in the past year. Most were the old-fashioned kind, paper and ink.

Ask Patchett, 48, if she’s bucking a trend, and she defiantly says, “We are the trend.”

Until early last year, she had been busy enough just writing novels. Six in all, including her 1992 debut, The Patron Saint of Liars, set at a home for unwed mothers, and Bel Canto starring an American opera singer held hostage by Latin American terrorists, which won the PEN/Faulkner Award in 2001.

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August 26, 2012

J.K. Rowling writes ‘Casual Vacancy’ for adults

By Deirdre Donahue and Craig Wilson

Once upon a time, J.K. Rowling set children’s imaginations on fire. Can the creator of Harry Potter ignite a similar conflagration for a grown-up audience?

The British author will find out on Sept. 27, when more than 2 million hardcover copies of her first novel for adults hit U.S. bookstores, along with the digital edition. It will be simultaneously released in the U.K., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Germany.

Set in the little English town of Pagford, The Casual Vacancy (Little, Brown, $35) revolves around an election held after a member of the parish council unexpectedly dies. Despite the Miss Marple terrain, press materials describe the novel as “blackly comic … Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty facade is a town at war.”

“I expect the world to be ecstatic at the range of her imaginative reach,” predicts Rowling’s American publisher, Michael Pietsch. One of the few to have read the embargoed book, he calls Rowling “a genius, one of the great writers of all time.” Reading the 512-page novel, he says, “reminded me of Dickens because of the humanity, the humor, the social concerns, the intensely real characters.”

No wands, apparently: “This book isn’t Harry Potter,” says Pietsch. “It is a completely different concern.”

But the secrecy surrounding The Casual Vacancy isn’t. As with Harry Potter, there are no advance copies for the media, no early reviews.

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March 22, 2012

When a book gets popular, parodies aren’t far behind

By Carol Memmott

Parody may be the sincerest form of flattery, especially when it comes to blockbuster books.

The Hunger Games and A Game of Thrones are just the latest to be spoofed.

The Hunger Pains from The Harvard Lampoon (Touchstone, $13.99, in stores) is a send-up of Suzanne Collins’ young-adult novel about a dystopian society in which teenagers fight to the death on live TV. The parody arrives as the highly anticipated movie version is set to open Friday. Collins’ heroine is Katniss Everdeen; Hunger Pains renames her Kantkiss Neverclean.

•On sale Tuesday is A Game of Groans: A Sonnet of Slush and Soot (Thomas Dunne, $9.99) by George R.R. Washington (Chicago-based writer Alan Goldsher). It’s a parody of George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones, the first book in the epic A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series. It’s perfectly timed, too: The second season of HBO’s Game of Thrones miniseries premieres April 1.

•Published last year, The Girl With the Sturgeon Tattoo (St. Martin’s Griffin, $9.99), by the pseudonymous Lars Arffssen, was inspired by The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.Stieg Larsson’s computer hacker heroine, Lisbeth Salander, is called Lizzy Salamander in the parody.

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February 16, 2012

‘Charlotte’s Web’ and 99 more ‘great’ kids books

By Bob Minzesheimer

Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White’s 60-year-old novel about how a determined farm girl and a noble, vocabulary-building spider save a naïve runt of a pig, is No. 1 on a new list of the “100 Greatest Books for Kids.”

The rankings, released today by Scholastic Parent & Child magazine, are aimed at “generating controversy and conversation,” says Nick Friedman, the magazine’s editor in chief.

In that spirit, why is J.K. Rowling’s groundbreaking debut, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, only No. 6, chosen to represent the entire series?


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December 18, 2011

The Kindle Fire’s big security problem

Filed under: e-tailers — Tags: , , , , , — Bookblurb @ 5:37 am

By Mark W. Smith

Security concerns are giving some consumers another reason to hold off on the Kindle Fire, one of the holiday’s hottest gadgets.

The Fire, launched with heaps of hype as a possible competitor to the Apple iPad, is a more inexpensive option for buyers looking for a tablet-like experience in an e-reader.

But concerns grew this week over the device’s security.

In order to use the Fire, users must tie it to an account — with credit card on file — that is set up to purchase items with just one click.

This means that anyone given access to the device can buy, with just a tap, e-books, apps, TV shows and music.

Even more concerning: If a user has recently logged into the shopping app, the next person who picks up the Fire can use that app to buy anything from the Web giant’s catalog, even if the device has briefly gone dormant between uses.

Any items purchased will ship to an address on file with the account. If the second user tries to ship to a new address, the user does lose access to the account holder’s credit card.

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December 4, 2011

Deadwood’s David Milch to adapt William Faulkner for TV


By Bob Minzesheimer

David Milch, a Yale English professor before becoming a successful TV writer and producer, has signed a deal to adapt William Faulkner’s novels and short stories into TV movies or series.

Milch’s Redboard Productions announced the deal with Faulkner’s literary estate. It gives HBO the first opportunity to finance, produce and distribute the projects as movies, miniseries and series.

No word yet on what Milch will adapt, or when.

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October 28, 2011

Profanity is making a splash in book titles

Filed under: Publishers — Tags: , , , , — Bookblurb @ 5:45 am


By Deirdre Donahue

Somewhere, Maxwell Perkins is weeping.

Publishing used to be a gentleman’s profession. But the trend of using profanity in titles — already common in pop songs and even on Broadway — has now spread to books.

In the past year there have been three songs on Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart with the f-word in the title. Chris Rock starred in the Broadway play The Mother—— With the Hat. And now publishing is awash with best sellers whose unprintable titles are, for the most part, being coyly disguised by asterisks and other symbols over select vowels on the jackets. They include:

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October 6, 2011

‘Fed Up with Lunch’ exposes worst school meals

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , , — Bookblurb @ 3:26 pm

By Nanci Hellmich

In January of 2010, an elementary school teacher decided to eat school lunch every day for a year and write about it anonymously as Mrs. Q. on her blog, Fed Up With Lunch.

She secretly photographed the meals, ate them and then described the taste and texture of heavily processed chicken nuggets, an unusual peanut butter and jelly sandwich that made her sick, mystery meats and reheated vegetables. She developed a following of thousands of people.

This week she is revealing her identity for the first time — Sarah Wu, 34, a speech pathologist in the Chicago public schools — and releasing her new book, Fed Up With Lunch (Chronicle Books). “With the blog, I really wanted a public record of these meals that I couldn’t believe were being served to kids,” she says. “I thought the book would reach a wider audience.”

It all started one day when Wu didn’t have time to pack her own lunch and bought a school lunch instead. It was a hot dog encased in soggy dough, six tater tots, a Jell-O cup and chocolate milk, she says. “I thought to myself, ‘I cannot believe this is the food the kids are eating.'”

She was working in a large elementary school where more than 90% of the kids qualified for free and reduced lunches. “Many of my students were coming from poverty,” says Wu, who has a 3-year-old son. “Their families were living paycheck to paycheck. Many of my students relied on school lunch for their best meal of the day.”

In all, she ate 162 school lunches in a year. more

September 27, 2011

Megachurch pastor Rob Bell seeks life beyond the pulpit

For pastors with ambitions to reach huge audiences, there’s often no better platform than the megachurch, which has given rise to powerhouse media empires from T.D. Jakes to Max Lucado to Joel Osteen and many others.

But some high-profile pastors are opting to leave congregational ministry altogether to pursue publishing and other media ventures full time. And that, some observers say, carries its own risks and rewards.

On Thursday (Sept. 22), up-and-coming pastor Rob Bell announced he’s leaving Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Mich. in December. Bell’s best-selling book, “Love Wins,” raised more than a few eyebrows with the premise that hell doesn’t include eternal torment. Now he’s moving on.

“Our founding pastor, Rob Bell, has decided to leave Mars Hill in order to devote his full energy to sharing the message of God’s love with a broader audience,” the church said in a statement.

Bell’s resignation makes him the latest in a string a celebrity pastors who have said goodbye to weekly sermons, potluck dinners and other staples of church life. “A New Kind of Christianity” author Brian McLaren, “Crazy Love” author Francis Chan, “Deep Church” author Jim Belcher and the popular British Bible scholar N.T. Wright have all left their church leadership positions in recent years.

Having left high-profile pastoral roles, these big-name pastors have become prolific publishers. But not all evangelicals are convinced the gospel is well-served when pastors trade a local flock for a global one. more

September 3, 2011

What are the 100 most wanted out-of-print books?

By Whitney Matheson has just released its list of the 100 most sought-after out-of-print books in America — and you might be surprised by the findings.

For instance, none other than Madonna tops this year’s list with her book Sex. Stephen King occupies two places in the top five. A copy of Cameron Crowe‘s Fast Times at Ridgemont High comes in at No. 16, and Johnny Cash‘s Man in Black lands at No. 7.

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