Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Scribes of the uncanny

In honor of Halloween, we thought we’d offer you a chance to test your knowledge of the literary superheroes of the scary. See if you can match each author’s name on top with their classic works of horror, mayhem, thrills and chills below.

1. The Invisible Man
2. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
3. The Picture of Dorian Gray
4. Frankenstein
5. The Phantom of the Opera
6. Dracula
7. Pet Sematary
8. Rosemary's Baby
9. The Haunting of Hill House
10. The Exorcist

A. Bram Stoker
B. Shirley Jackson
C. H.G. Wells
D. Gaston Laroux
E. Mary Shelley
F. Stephen King
G. William Peter Blatty
H. Robert Louis Stevenson
I. Oscar Wilde
J. Ira Levin

Extra credit: Which book was published earliest?

See the answers in the comments area to this item.


Monday, October 29, 2007

A most interesting dinner party

This doesn't happen very often, but take a look at the authors top six nonfiction bestsellers in the country this week: Jessica Seinfeld, Stephen Colbert, Eric Clapton, Alan Greenspan, Rosie O'Donnell,and Clarence Thomas. What a collection of celebrities! If you can find the one thing (other than their successful books) that connects them, you're smarter than I am. But I'll tell you one thing. I'd love to get the whole batch of them over for dinner some night. Find out what they really think about this and that, although Mrs. Seinfeld might just think, mostly, about nothing, and from what I've seen of it, Rosie has no problem speaking her mind about anyone, any time, including in her new book. Would presidential candidate Colbert seek Justice Thomas's advice on potential court appointments? Would the normally reclusive Messrs. Greenspan and Clapton swap publicity tips?

It would be a meal to remember.


Friday, October 26, 2007

Nora Roberts wins Book of the Year (see it on TV)

We were excited to see that Select Editions fan favorite Nora Roberts recently picked up a top book honor. This past Monday at the Quill Book Awards held in New York City, Nora won the Book of the Year award for her enthralling novel Angels Fall, which Select Editions published last January. Readers had selected the book in online voting from among the Quill contest's 18 category winners. (Nora's book had also won the Best Romance category.)

Upon receiving the big award, Nora said that she was going to thank the appropriate people: Her fans. “Everyone seems to be thanking their husbands, wives and kids, but mine didn’t write this book,” she joked, before raising her Quill in honor of the readers who voted for her.

A one-hour version of the event, which was held at the swanky new Lincoln Center jazz theater, will be broadcast on NBC stations tomorrow night, Saturday, October 27. Tune in to see a host of celebrity presenters (including Brooke Shields, Al Roker, Stephen Colbert, Tina Brown, Dan Rather, Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York) plus many more best-selling authors, including Mary Higgins Clark. And the great thing is, they're all celebrating our favorite thing: reading!


Thursday, October 25, 2007

A character with the gift of giving

There is a character in the book Garden Spells that intrigues me no end. Her name is Aunt Evanelle, and like all the unusual Waverley women in the story, she has a remarkable power. For reasons she cannot explain, every now and then she is inspired to give someone a gift, usually an odd and often useless item, and sooner or later, the recipient absolutely has to have that very thing! As I say, Aunt Evanelle can't explain it, but the characters in the book know well that, whenever she gives you something, hang on to it, because eventually it is going to come in very handy.

Then again, I've got a few relatives that give me presents for my birthday or Christmas, and I have to admit, many of them are odd and useless. Too bad none of them are an Aunt Evanelle.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Secchione pieno di parole*

(See below for translation of Secchione pieno di parole)*

Peter Pezzelli’s Francesca’s Kitchen, appearing now in Select Editions, has started me thinking about all the many contributions Italian culture has made to our culture. First and foremost, of course, is food. As everyone who has read about Rhode Island’s most daunting fictional kitchen diplomat—Francesca Campanile—knows: Italian food has a special power to win over hearts and minds by means of the dinner table.

But that’s not all. The Italian language, which is famously musical to the ear and suited to poetry and opera, as well as cuisine, has enriched the English language with a cornucopia of borrowings. Everyone knows spaghetti (which, by the way, means “little strings”), pasta, and ravioli are Italian words we use in everyday English. But here are a few naturalized verbal immigrants from the Old World that may surprise you.

Malaria, a disease transmitted by mosquitoes, was originally associated with the bad air—mala aria in Italian—around swamps and marshes.

Prima donna, is Italian for first lady.

Buffoon, someone who is clownishly foolish, comes from the Italian word for jester, buffone.

Cartoons are so popular in America you might think the term is native born. It’s not. The word comes from the Italian cartone, meaning a sketch, drawing or caricature.

Zany, as in wild, unpredictable, funny is one of my favorites Italian terms. The word, probably Venetian in origin, comes from a nickname for John, or Giovanni in Italian. When you think about it “Johnny” is not all that far, linguistically from Zanni.

You might have noticed that two of these terms refer to clownishness. Now, there is nothing especially clownish about the culture that gave the world the Renaissance. But there is something uniquely funny from Italy. And that is the highly influential native-born improvisational theater called Commedia dell 'arte, which was extremely popular in Europe from the 1400s through the 1700s, and had a lasting influence on Western drama from the works of the Britain's Shakespeare, France’s Molière and, more recently, the Irish-born Samuel Beckett.

*Word Nerd (as admitted in previous postings)


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Proof that readers live longer

A recent study in the Archives of Internal Medicine points out that older people who lack "health literacy"—meaning they can't read or understand basic medical information—may have a higher mortality rate than more literate patients. At the beginning of the study, the patients were asked about their health and backgrounds and given a health literacy test that required reading and some math. In the following years, those who had been identified as having inadequate reading skills were the most likely to die, even when overall education and other social factors were taken into account.

So keep those reading glasses prescriptions updated—it could extend your life!


Monday, October 22, 2007

Judging a book by its (UK) cover

An interesting, albeit minor, pastime could be comparing the U.S. and the British book jacket design for big-name authors. The most famous example regarding how different covers can be is the UK cover design of the Harry Potter books versus those from the U.S. It can be a matter of taste regarding which design you like better, but they certainly are different.

Here's a case in point closer to Select Editions' home. Look at The Sleeping Doll cover on the front of your Select Editions volume. Then look at the one from the U.K. (pictured above). I have to say the U.K. one has more creepy flavor than the more generic U.S. one. What do you think?


Friday, October 19, 2007

Tom's test kitchen

If you remember, we featured a stuffed mushroom recipe from Peter Pezzelli's family kitchen in the AfterWords section (page 271) that followed his tasty novel Francesca's Kitchen. And you may also remember that on October 8 on this very blog, I boldly vowed to try my hand at making another of Peter Pezzelli's favorite family recipes at home.

I wasn't able to corral my three daughters into the act. But I was able to whip up a version of Sue's Zucchini Frittata late one Friday night at home when all was quiet. (A rare moment at our place.) Below is a reprint of the instructions.

Since I was on my own for the event and since it was my debut frittata, as a test I halved the ingredients and followed the recipe closely. The result was beautiful. It was picture perfect, nice and fluffy—and a yummy late night supper. For cheese I used mozzarella. Along with the frittata, I enjoyed some white wine—Italian, of course. (I recommend Palazzone Orvieto Classico, about $9 a bottle.)

Of course, one of the first things I did the following Monday was e-mail Peter Pezzelli, to crow about my achievement and ask a few questions. More than one of my foodie colleagues here at the office had read the recipe and queried, "Twelve eggs?" It seemed too many and surely must require a huge skillet, they thought. Also I wanted to know Peter's wine and cheese recommendations for the dish. Here's his reply:

Hi Tom,
Yes, twelve eggs is correct. The more eggs you put into it, the thicker and more substantial the frittata comes out, but it's all a matter of taste. If you like it lighter, go with fewer eggs, but if you're serving a lot of people, you might want to use more. Sue usually uses grated Romano or Parmagiana cheese. She uses just an average sized skillet. The Orvieto you suggested sounds fine, but I generally prefer red wine. I like the Chiantis. Piccini is one that I've discovered that is very reasonably priced.
P.S. Have you tried eating the frittata with a little Tabasco or spicy mustard on it? Really good.

I immediately wrote back to thank him and promised to revisit the recipe armed with a full dozen eggs this time and three kitchen helpers--my daughters--and to have some Tabasco at the ready.

Sue's Zucchini Frittata

1 dozen eggs
1/4 cup grated cheese
2 thinly sliced zucchini
olive oil
1 whole chopped onion
garlic salt and pepper

Spray bottom of skillet with cooking oil spray. Beat eggs and grated cheese together. Sauté zucchini in skillet with olive oil and onion until al dente. Season with garlic salt and pepper. Add eggs to skillet. Let cook. Use spatula to check bottom of eggs. When bottom of eggs is brown, place skillet in oven under the broiler to brown the top. Serve hot or at room temperature.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

A side note on Sarah Addison Allen

Sometimes we can’t fit everything we want to into our author biographies at the end of a selection. The good news is, now we can put them here!

Sarah Allen, author of Garden Spells told us that she grew up in the South, amid the beautiful mountains of western North Carolina, where, she says, her mother “still makes cornbread that is out of this world and her father plays old-time banjo, claw-hammer style.” Neither of these talents were passed on to Sarah, but she did become “very good at eating and listening.” The former, she says, made her “fond of elastic waistbands,” the latter turned her into a writer.

Now I’m hungry!


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

In praise of the author?

It's not unusual for authors to promote one another's books. For instance, Stephen King provides a quote saying that such-and-such is a good book. Or John Grisham tells us that this new author is great. Or someone whose work we know tells us that the book in our hand is worth reading. I'm used to that. But Donald Trump takes it one step further with his latest book. The quote in the recent ad for his book says the following: "It's the best thing I've written." And, of course, the quote is from Donald Trump.

My hat is off to this wonderful example of quiet authorial modesty. And who but Donald Trump could get away with it?


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Word Nerd

I’ve always been fascinated by word origins. One reason is simply the adventure of it all. You get to go places. English is such a rabid magpie language that it welcomes accretions from almost any source and from speech born in the remotest of countries: “Tote” and “gumbo,” for example, come from Africa. "Chow” and “ketchup” traveled west long ago from East Asia. And "pajamas” and “bungalow" are from India.

But tracking word origins is not just an exercise in virtual world travel. It can also be time travel—all the way back to Sanskrit, and beyond (if you dare). And then there's the history behind every word as it traveled into modern English, which is inherently fun to discover. In this category, one of my favorite kinds of words is one that always packs the promise of a curious back story—the eponym.

Say what?

No, an eponym is not an extinct animal species or a gastric complaint. It is a word that describes a word derived from a person’s name. We all know them: Pennsylvania (named for the father of the Quaker colonist, William Penn, 1644-1718), the Teddy Bear (think Teddy Roosevelt) or Sandwich (from the card-playing English earl).

Thus it was with considerable relish that I stumbled on an old paperback copy of the A Dictionary of Eponyms (C.L. Beeching, Oxford University Press) at a library book sale last autumn. This is really fun reading for a word nerd like me. Full of surprises. Who’d have thought, for instance, that the commonplace bright, pink fuchsia flower, a native of the Americas, is named for Leonhard Fuchs a 16th-century German botanist and professor of medicine at the University of Tubingen? Or that the Happy-Face yellow forsythia shrub that explodes across America each spring (originally an Asian plant) is named for William Forsyth, the Scots-born head gardener at the Royal Gardens in London during the reign of King George III?

Okay, I suppose it’s not all that surprising that botanical terms would be named after botanists. But the fact is, I never think about it—the words have become so everyday-common their eponymous ancestors have dropped out of sight.

Here's another one that might surprise you:

Shrapnel, which now means any sort of explosive fragment, is named for Henry Shrapnel (1761-1842), a British army officer who invented a devastating artillery shell filled with musket balls that exploded and broke apart on impact. The weapon was particularly effective against French forces at the Battle of Waterloo.


Monday, October 15, 2007

What’s on your list?

The Strand bookstore, a venerable literary institution in New York City whose tagline is "80 Miles of Books," recently celebrated its eightieth birthday with a huge party at its sprawling, historic store on Broadway, in an area that used to be known as New York’s Book Row. At the party, guests were asked for a list of their five favorite books of all time. The general public was also asked to submit lists on-line. The books that got the most votes now comprise a list called the Strand 80, revealed today—a fascinating, eclectic collection.

That got me thinking about that age-old question: if you could only take one (or two or three or five or ten) books with you to a desert island, which books would you take? Hmm . . . a question that’s both wonderful and awful to contemplate. Here’s my list, in no particular order:

Three Poems by John Ashbery
The Revisionist by Douglas Crase
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
There’s Something in the Back Yard by Richard Snodgrass
Our Town by Thornton Wilder
The Voice That Is Great Within Us ed. by Hayden Carruth
Here Is New York by E. B. White
The Anxiety of Influence by Harold Bloom
My Life As a Man by Philip Roth


Friday, October 12, 2007

Deaver goes to the dogs

In the current Select Editions, you may have noticed that the author photograph of Jeffery Deaver makes room for an unusual friend. The furry face belongs to Jeff's pet Briard, Chance. Briards are medium sized, very hairy sheep-herding dogs, often tan and black. Briards and their silky shags had their heyday on U.S. television in the 1960s: one called Tramp starred on My Three Sons and there was also Fang on Get Smart. One silly fact about the Briard is that when taking a rest out working in the field, they have been mistaken for haystacks.

Over the years, Jeff has owned an eclectic variety of dogs, among them Dachshunds, basset hounds, retrievers, poodles, collies and terriers. He's also had cats and a salamander. Now 56-year-old Jeff has taken his passion for pooches to a logical extreme: he's become the proud owner of show dogs. A few years ago one of his miniature poodles placed third at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. And In 2007, the lovely Chance won Best of Breed (Briard) at Westminster.

Jeff often features dogs in his books and when he auctions off characters for his novels, the proceeds go to the American Kennel Club's Canine Health Foundation. You could say Jeffery Deaver has become one of dogs' best friends.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

A great deleted scene from Garden Spells

Sarah Addison Allen has a lovely website for her novel Garden Spells (appearing in the current edition of Select Editions). On her website, Sarah tells readers, "Garden Spells didn't start out as a magical novel. It was supposed to be a simple story about two sisters reconnecting after many years. But then the apple tree started throwing apples and the story took on a life of its own... and my life hasn't been the same since."

Also on Sarah's website you can read the book's original prologue which she later deleted (click on "Deleted Scenes.") The prologue's too long to print here but we encourage you to read it since it's full of background info about those magical Waverley women. It's also full of spoilers so don't read it until after you've read the book.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Home-grown experiment with body language

As I was reading, and then editing The Sleeping Doll, Jeffery Deaver's terrific thriller in the latest Select Editions, I got to thinking. His heroine, Kathryn Dance, is an expert in kinesics, or reading body language. She can tell if the bad guys are lying by nonverbal cues. Hmmmm, I thought, I wonder if this works for teenagers. I decided to conduct an experiment.

"Did you walk the dog today?" I asked my 14-year-old daughter. "Uhhmmn," she said as she sat at the computer IMing her Very Important Friends. Let's see. She did not look at me. She did not stop what she was doing. The dog was circling around in an agitated manner. Conclusion: she did not walk the dog. Further probing revealed my initial guess to be correct.

I tried additional research. "What time did you go to sleep last night," I asked my night-owl 16-year-old daughter who sleeps till noon whenever possible. "Not that late," she said. She met my gaze only fleetingly. She began chewing her nails. "How late is not that late," I probed. "I don't know," she said, irritation creeping into her voice. "Around midnight. And why do you care?" The nail-chewing intensified. She looked annoyed. The signs were all there. She had gone to bed WAY past midnight. Further probing revealed that she had watched her DVD of Pride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time, dragging herself to bed at 2 a.m.

I learned from Kathryn Dance (and Jeffery Deaver) that body language CAN help you uncover the truth. Now, if they could only teach me how to deal with teenagers...


Tuesday, October 9, 2007

James Patterson's Women's Murder Club on TV

Reader favorite James Patterson, whose thriller Step on a Crack will appear in the January '08 volume of Select Editions, is proud of the Women's Murder Club television series, starring Angie Harmon of Law & Order, premiering this Friday, October 12, on ABC. If you remember from 2nd Chance, a Women's Murder Club mystery Select Editions featured a few years ago, the Club is an all-female group of experts—a medical examiner, a newspaper reporter, and a young assistant district attorney, led by a San Francisco police detective. Says Patterson, "I think it's going to be some pretty good TV. I'm at the very least thinking this may be a fun experience based just on the fact this will be the first time a living, breathing #1-bestselling book series will have a show on TV at the same time the books are still being written. I'm happy to be a part of it and can't wait to see how the characters come to life on the little screen and the page at the same time."

ABC is working hard to promote this new series, with the network running website previews and interviews with the director and actresses from the show. The show's promotion campaign is billing this as a cross between Sex and the City and CSI, with a little Law & Order thrown in, so if that sounds like your cup of tea, check it out this Friday.


Monday, October 8, 2007

Peter Pezzelli's family kitchen

"One of my favorite things in the whole world," says Peter Pezzelli (right), author of Francesca's Kitchen, "is to come home, especially after a long day, and smell dinner cooking in the kitchen when I walk through the door. When you're tired and cold and hungry, is there anything better? No matter how crazy your day might have been, sitting down to a nice meal with your family has a way of centering you and restoring your sanity. Sleep might be the balm that knits up the raveled sleeve of care, but good food is what keeps it from falling apart in the first place."

Here is a favorite Pezzelli family recipe from the author's sister, Sue, who makes a simple dish that, says Pezzelli, "always brings a smile to my face."

I plan to try this recipe soon with my three daughters, ages 4-9-13. (The four-year-old will, no doubt, get to do the spraying.)

As Peter Pezzelli would say: Buon appetito!

Sue's Zucchini Frittata
1 dozen eggs
1/4 cup grated cheese
2 thinly sliced zucchini
olive oil
1 whole chopped onion
garlic salt and pepper

Spray bottom of skillet with cooking oil spray. Beat eggs and grated cheese together. Sauté zucchini in skillet with olive oil and onion until al dente. Season with garlic salt and pepper. Add eggs to skillet. Let cook. Use spatula to check bottom of eggs. When bottom of eggs is brown, place skillet in oven under the broiler to brown the top. Serve hot or at room temperature.


Friday, October 5, 2007

The internet is a book review wonderland

Maybe you’ve noticed the news lately about how, to save money, newspapers are cutting back on book reviews and book publishing coverage generally in their pages. For example, the Atlanta Constitution just cut the position of “book editor” and the Los Angeles Times folded their prestigious book review, which had been a separate standalone section on Sunday, into the opinion pages of the Saturday paper.

While it’s probably true that these money-saving moves will reduce book coverage in a few traditional venues, and that’s too bad, at the same time the web has opened up a virtual book information bazaar to the global book loving community. First, there are the remaining traditional newspaper’s websites, which the omnipresence of the internet makes available to anyone with a computer regardless of location, rather than only to the locals lined up at the newsstand. Besides those outlets there’s the internet cornucopia of blogs, commercial sites and community sites. Then there’s the international English-language book sites from such far-flung places as Australia and the United Kingdom. Put them all together and it’s certainly a more richly varied, broader, more populist and more accessible than ever before.

From time to time we’ll post some URLs from book information and review sites that we think you might like. And send us any that you'd like to share with the Select Editions community, too. Here’s a few to start with.

* CNN collects up-to-the minute book gossip, interviews, and reviews.
* Want to read a review before you buy? Bookwire makes the world of reviews easily searchable.
* The Chicago Tribune still has a great book section mixed in with their breaking news, complete with author video interviews.


Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Is it the characters that matter... or the author?

Since Robert Ludlum's death in 2001, 12 books with his name have been released. According to his estate, all the books were left behind as unpolished manuscripts in his safe when he died.

Then last spring we received in our offices a manuscript called Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Betrayal written by novelist Eric Van Lustbader. It seems that with the Bourne movies starring Matt Damon doing so well, Ludlum's agent decided it would be a shame to just let the franchise fall apart. He turned to Ludlum's friend Lustbader, known for the 1980s book The Ninja. So the character of desperate but crafty Jason Bourne lives on in books and in films. And while we here in the Select Edition office were a little skeptical of this change of provenance, it seems that Bourne fans couldn't care less. This second Bourne book by Lustbader came out this summer (just before the latest hit Bourne movie) and was another hard-cover best-seller. (For more things Ludlum, click on his official website. You'll note a small TM next to his name every time it appears--which is a lot.)

This kind of situation isn't rare; it's just the latest in the line of literary legacies being handed down. It's happening right now between an aging Dick Francis and his eager writer son, Felix, who will carry on his father's characters and writing voice. And "books from the estate of" have been coming from Ernest Hemingway and V.C. Andrews for years. Not to mention all the Sherlock Holmes stories that came into creation, including science fiction tales, when that legendary detective went into the public domain.

Here's a fun question: If you had the chance to wish back into existence a favorite literary character who ended when the author did, who would you wish for? (And note that Scarlett O'Hara's already been brought back to literary life--several times.)


Tuesday, October 2, 2007

"Angelas Dotter," for example

In a comment to a September 4 posting of mine, a blog visitor wondered how our international editors choose their Select Editions titles. I thought I'd put the answer in this new post.

There are some great similarities from country to country (we publish 17 different editions). Every edition is basically looking for a good story, first and foremost. American books, especially American bestsellers, often travel around the world, getting translated into multiple languages. So to some extent, international readers all enjoy exactly the same books. Authors like Nicholas Sparks, Michael Connelly and Dick Francis hit bestseller charts in country after country. As in the US, part of an international editor's job is picking the best of the best. And the editors may also be looking for the discovery books, the surprises, the new authors. They feel as we do in the US, that a good mix of stories is the best way to assemble their volumes.

But there are definitely cultural differences. Some countries, like the UK, use more thrillers because that's what their readers want. Some countries lean a little heavier on the romance. Some countries, especially France and Germany, have local authors that their readers enjoy. The goal is that the editor in whatever country keeps an ear to the ground, giving the local readers what they want, as best they can. It's a fun process, especially when you think that a book you're reading today might be read tomorrow, in an entirely different language, by someone halfway around the world.

Speaking of which, the only thing that may slow our international colleagues down is that they need to get our American books translated. And I'll admit that sometimes I can tell those books by their covers, but sometimes I can't. I don't speak French, but a Mary Higgins Clark book entitled Deux petites filles en bleu wasn't hard to figure out as Two Little Girls in Blue. But Angelas Dotter by Kristin Hannah? Well, that's Sweden's translation of The Things We Do for Love (published in Select Editions in 2005). How were we supposed to figure that one out?

The world is an interesting place.


Monday, October 1, 2007

Magical seeds?

The book Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen has a character who is famous in her town for the creations that come out of her garden and her kitchen. It’s almost magical how she control people’s feelings by the food they eat. To promote the book, the publisher has sent out a little packet of seeds to booksellers around the country. The thing is, there’s no information on the package as to what power, exactly, the seeds have. Are they magical? How, one wonders, will they control people’s feelings? So far no one in our office has had the nerve to plant them and find out. Then again, maybe it’s herbs for seasoning your boss’s salad so that you’ll get a raise. It could be we just don’t know what we’re missing here.