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Bookmarks: Shakespeare, Waugh, Sedaris, Seinfeld, Bush

Some book-related links:

  • Stolen Shakespeare folio recovered in U.S. (Dallas Morning News)
  • The battle over Brideshead Revisited (Times Online)
  • David Sedaris in Ottawa (The Ottawa Citizen)
  • Latest round in the Seinfeld cookbook fight (The New York Times)
  • Corruption alleged over donations to Bush presidential library (Think Progress)
  • Baghdad bookseller holds out hope for Iraq (Financial Times)
  • Who needs bookstores when you’ve got libraries? (Scrimisms)

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Helter Skelter author accuses Bush of murder

Vincent Bugliosi, the L.A. prosecutor who tried Charles Manson and wrote about the case in Helter Skelter, has a new book that accuses President Bush of the murder of American soldiers who die in Iraq. The book is a bestseller, but has received very little mainstream attention so far.

From The New York Times:

Mr. Bugliosi, in a recent telephone interview from his home in Los Angeles, said he had expected some resistance from the mainstream media because of the subject matter — the book lays a legal case for holding President Bush “criminally responsible” for the deaths of American soldiers in Iraq — but not a virtual blackout.

His publisher and publicist said they had expected that Mr. Bugliosi’s credentials would ensure coverage — he is, after all, fairly mainstream. His last book, a 1,612-page volume on the Kennedy assassination, Reclaiming History, which was published last year, sought to debunk the conspiracy theorists. It is being made into a 10-hour miniseries by HBO and the actor Tom Hanks.

Mr. Bugliosi said bookers for cable television, where he has made regular appearances to promote books, have ignored his latest offering. MSNBC and Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” were two outlets Mr. Bugliosi had thought would show interest, but neither did.

“They are not responding at all,” he said. “I think it all goes back to fear. If the liberal media would put me on national television, I think they’d fear that they would be savaged by the right wing. The left wing fears the right, but the right does not fear the left.”

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Shrink rap

Raj Persaud, Britain’s celebrity psychiatrist and media darling, is on trial for what the Guardian is calling “blatant cribs” in his 2003 book From the Edge of the Couch.

Persaud is accused of passing off the scholarship of other psychiatrists as his own, both in the popular book and in several articles. He admits his actions were inappropriate, but doesn’t believe his faux pas was dishonest, or that it will shame the medical profession.

One of his victims, Professor Richard Bentall, told the medical tribunal he was “flabbergasted” when he saw his work basically cut-and-pasted into Persaud’s book.

From the Guardian:

[Bentall] had given permission for standard quotes but expected them to appear in quotation marks with proper attribution. Instead, he said, the material appeared in the book “looking as though it had been authored by someone else”.

[...]

Bentall said he admired 45-year-old Persaud’s media skills and ability to present complex medical matters to the public, but could not understand how he could plagiarise so blatantly. He said: “I find it hard to believe that somebody with the reputation of Persaud would deliberately set out to do something so obviously wrong.”

Bentall then delivers a final blow:

“I actually thought it was rather stupid. It seemed to be fairly obvious that this would be found out by somebody.”

Persaud blames the slip-up on stress, deadlines, and his busy day job.

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David Sedaris: survivor

A new collection of David Sedaris essays – entitled When You Are Engulfed in Flames – comes out next week, and Entertainment Weekly has used the opportunity to check in with the humorist and to find out how he survived all those accusations of “reportorial inaccuracy” that dogged James Frey and Augusten Burroughs, et al.

If you ask Sedaris, the Frey backlash, culminating in a public shaming by Oprah Winfrey, was overblown. ”His punishment outweighed his crime,” says Sedaris. ”I don’t recall Oprah Winfrey calling George Bush a liar when he was on her show. And those lies cost thousands of people their lives.”

So to get back to that question he always gets from the crowd: As he’s strip-mined his own North Carolina upbringing and subsequent adulthood, how much has Sedaris himself made up? Plenty, he has frequently and cheerfully confessed. But it doesn’t matter because he’s a humorist, right? The New Republic begged to differ last spring. In an article titled ”This American Lie” by Alex Heard, TNR accused Sedaris of doing more than just stretching the truth. ”With some of his stories, especially the early ones, like in Naked,” says Heard, ”he’s taken every liberty a fiction writer [does]. It makes the story very funny, but also makes it something you shouldn’t call nonfiction.” Responds Sedaris: ”I’ve said a thousand times I exaggerate. Why is it news when somebody else says it?”

Some of the sleuthing Heard did seems solid, including, for example, getting Sedaris to confirm that he invented details of encounters with mental patients in 1970. But many a bizarre situation checked out true, and Heard’s contention that Sedaris’ work amounts to a mean-spirited exploitation of his family and others seems, well, grossly exaggerated. Sedaris’ Little, Brown publisher, Michael Pietsch, shrugs off Heard’s piece as ”a ludicrous exercise” that ”ignores a great American literary vein of essays in which great writers take liberties with their personal experiences.”

But the more pressing question is: how much longer will Sedaris be able to mine his personal life for stories? As the EW article points out:

[...] fame and scrutiny change things, including audience perceptions, and Sedaris worries that success may be dulling his outsider-loser edge. Maybe nibbling at his credibility, too. The withering assessments of his own lunacies haven’t diminished, but the events are tamer and backdrops fancier: swanky hotels, the first-class section of an airplane. ”I don’t know if I’ll get away with it,” says Sedaris. ”I’m trying to write about what’s happening to me now. So there I am sitting in first class, right? I don’t know if people will say, ‘F— you, I never get to sit in first class!”’

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Trouble continues to brew for ex-commando author

From the Toronto Star:

It’s a tell-all book about an elite military unit the Department of National Defence didn’t want published for reasons of national security, and now pointed questions are being raised over whether some of the incidents it chronicles actually happened.

The 261-page book, titled Nous étions invincibles (We Were Invincible), is billed as the first insider’s account by a former member of the Joint Task Force 2, a covert anti-terrorism unit stationed near Ottawa.

The unauthorized memoir, penned in French, went on sale in Quebec last Wednesday – a day after its Quebec City-based co-author, Denis Morisset, was arrested on charges he contacted two minors for the purposes of committing a sexual offence.

Some of the exploits Morisset recounts – like the unit’s role in taking out 17 Shining Path guerrillas during a Peruvian hostage-taking in 1996 – have been documented elsewhere. But others, such as claims that six of his fellow unit members have committed suicide, the tale of a botched mission in Afghanistan, or the account of a commando raid to “eliminate” hostage-takers during an Ottawa bank heist in 1994, can’t be independently verified. A spokesperson for the Ottawa Police Service told the Toronto Star “there was no such incident.”

We obviously have no idea who’s lying in this case – whether Morisset is at all credible, or whether the charges against him are legit – but is somebody to quash the book and undercut his allegations, having unnamed spokesmen deny them and having him arrested on a sleazy charge the day before the book is launched would be one way to do it. Speaking hypothetically, of course.

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One last time ’round with James Frey

Vanity Fair has an interview with A Million Little Pieces author James Frey – his first major one since his notorious appearance on Oprah’s show in 2006, and his last for a while, at least according to Vanity Fair. The magazine – as is its right – pumps up the “butterfly broken on the wheel” aspect of the story and comes on like a 1930s noir tell-all:

The story of what really happened with A Million Little Pieces has not been told in its full complexity. Owing to a non-disclosure agreement between Frey and Random House (which owns Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, the imprint that published it), neither he nor the publishing house can speak about what happened. But an investigation by Vanity Fair suggests that the story is significantly more complicated than Man Cons World. There were no fake Web sites, no wigs worn, no relatives pretending to be spokesmen for nonexistent corporations. It is the story, first, of a literary genre in which publishers thought they had found the surefire recipe for success, but one with such dangerously combustible ingredients that it could explode at any moment. On the one hand, memoirs have often been afforded a certain poetic license to stray from absolute truth in the interest of storytelling. On the other, they have the appeal of the real. Over the years, the marketplace hungered for more of both. Give us more drama! And tell us it’s all true! The publishing world responded, pumping up both. It was inevitable that one day the mixture would blow up in someone’s face. Frey had the right story to tell, the talent to get heard, the soaring ambition, and the right professional champions hungry for a hit.

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Travel guides are killing themselves

Following the recent controversy over whether or not a Lonely Planet guidebook author faked some of the book’s contents, Chris Taylor – who has himself written a number of Lonely Planet guides – weighs in on what he sees as an industry in decline.

Guidebook publishers will deny this, but the travel publishing industry is bound to exploit demand for what is widely seen as a glamour job — travel and get paid for it. But with so many competing guidebook series, many titles do not generate sales revenue that justifies the legwork that results in genuine personal recommendations. Most publishers who make claims to the contrary are being disingenuous.

In this context, Lonely Planet is probably one of the most responsible industry players. Nevertheless, pay rates for Lonely Planet writers have dropped with the proliferation of competing guidebook series in the past two decades. When Lonely Planet chief executive Stephen Palmer told the BBC (Lonely Planet is 75% owned by BBC World, the commercial arm of the BBC) this week that “we’re pretty confident we pay at the top of the range”, his confidence was not misplaced. What he neglected to say — and I have seen many examples — is that his company’s internal authors’ forum bristles with author posts about pay rates that have forced them to cut corners.

Read the whole piece here.

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The duelling Clancys

According to The Baltimore Sun, hometown hero Tom Clancy is heading to Maryland’s highest court today to do battle with Wanda T. King – formerly Wanda Clancy – over rights to a series of books that bears his name.

At issue is a lucrative series of a dozen books called Tom Clancy’s Op-Center – a fictional U.S. anti-terrorist agency written in a Clancy-esque style and given muscular titles such as Op-Center: Acts of War and Op-Center: State of Siege. [...] Clancy will fight to overturn a 2005 decision by a Calvert County Circuit Court judge giving [his ex-wife] control of [the] series.

While Clancy and former-friend-turned-business-adversary Steve Pieczenik are credited with creating the series, the bulk of the writing has fallen to a less exalted author named Jeff Rovin – whose name can generally be found on the covers in much smaller print than Clancy’s. [...] The famous writer apparently became disenchanted with the series after King walked away with an equal share of the Jack Ryan Limited Partnership as part of the couple’s divorce settlement. In an e-mail introduced as evidence in the case, Clancy said of the Op-Center books: “I don’t even read them.”

The most gossipy parts of the story are toward the end, when Sun reporter Michael Dresser looks back at the messy-sounding divorce that preceded all of this.

Tom and Wanda Clancy’s marriage of more than 25 years apparently began falling apart in 1995, when she filed for divorce charging that her husband had committed adultery with a New York woman nicknamed “Ping-Ping” whom he met over the Internet.

[...]

In the Calvert County trial, Clancy claimed he wanted to take his name off the Op-Center novels for business reasons. Among other things, he claimed that the books were not making money and were hurting his “literary reputation.”

[...]

Pieczenik quoted Clancy as vowing to kill the Op-Center series before he would give “another dollar” to King and describing her in terms that devoted family man Jack Ryan would never have uttered about the mother of his children.

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The First Annual Hooker Prize

Who says booksellers are the last guardians of good taste in an ever-more tawdry world?

From AbeBooks:

Welcome to the Hooker Prize – in honor of Elliot Spitzer and his fall from grace in a New York minute, AbeBooks.com has compiled a list of 10 recommended non-fiction reads about hookers, madams, high-class callgirls and prostitutes. Prostitution, of course, is the oldest profession in the world and has fascinated readers for centuries. Since the 1970s, there has been a wealth of memoirs from ‘ladies of the night’ so here’s the literary lowdown on the callgirl culture.

Yes, The Happy Hooker by Xavier Hollander is #1.

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The coming year in memoir fraud

We here at Quillblog remember a day – back when we were young and having remarkable and poignant experiences we reserve the right to one day lay out in book form – when memoirs were expected to be at least within the neighbourhood of the truth. In these relativist times, however, when the boundaries between “truth” and “fiction” are just about non-existent, a memoir is most commonly defined as “a novel, told in the first person, that sells a hell of a lot of copies.”

Over at Slate, Meghan O’Rourke wonders how the hell this all came to be. Slate also give us a sneak peek at the memoir scandals we can expect to see over the next couple of months, including at-last revealed stretchers from St. Augustine (“’There’s just no reason to believe that the thornbushes of lust ever grew rank about his head,’ says historian Carlo Ricci….”) and Persepolis author Marjane Satrapi (“Satrapi does in fact have both lips and eyelids. She also confessed to ‘completely making up the whole two-dimension thing.’”).

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Eva Stachniak's Empress of the Night

Eva Stachniak poses with a copy of her book, Empress of the Night

Tea and snacks inspired by Eva Stachniak's Empress of the Night

Rimma Burashko with author Eva Stachniak

Eva Stachniak talks to the audience about the best and worst of Catherine the Great's favourites

Eva Stachniak smiles as she signs a copy of Empress of the Night for a fan

Fans wait in line to have their copies of Empress of the Night signed by Eva Stachniak

Fans wait in line to have their copies of Empress of the Night signed by Eva Stachniak

Lesley Strutt, Dean Steadman, Amanda Earl, Alastair Larwill and Frances Boyle

Frances Boyle, Dean Steadman, Lesley Strutt and Alastair Larwill

Amanda Earl

Jewel of the Thames launch

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