As a satirist once observed about an American vice president, it's hard to play second fiddle when you don't even have a bow.
The Constitution just doesn't give vice presidents much to do except wait around for something unfortunate to happen. Not all VPs have minded much: One had enough spare time to run a saloon. Others devoted themselves to pastimes like writing history books, dreaming about getting a law degree, and bashing the guy in the White House.
How'd that happen? For better or worse, who are the most memorable VPs? And how many have shot a man while in office?
For answers, I called author Joel Goldstein, a Saint Louis University law professor who's perhaps the nation's leading expert on vice presidents.
Q: One of Franklin Roosevelt's vice presidents famously declared that the office is "not worth a bucket of warm [bodily fluid]."
Setting aside his penchant for earthy language, was he right?
A: For most of our history, up until recently, Vice President John Nance Garner hit the nail on the head.
But the trajectory of the office has been in a positive direction. Since 1977, the beginning of the Mondale vice presidency, it has really been a serious office. All of the vice presidents from Mondale on have been integral parts of the executive branch, right in the midst of White House decision-making.
Q: In the beginning, vice presidents were runners-up in elections and sometimes didn't actually like the presidents they served with. And then they began to be tapped to balance tickets, right?
A: The 19th-century vice presidents were really ticket-balancers who were chosen by party leaders. Sometimes they had resumes that were totally implausible.
Chester Author was collector of customs at the port of New York, and I don't think anyone viewed him as presidential tinder. His job was to help carry New York.
Not long after the election, President Garfield was shot and lingered for 80 days. Then Arthur became president.
Andrew Johnson was a border state Democrat who was put on the ticket with Lincoln for political reasons. John Tyler had nothing in common with the policies of the Harrison administration, which only lasted for a month.
Q: Yet all of these men landed in the White House after presidents died. When did the political system start taking the vice presidency seriously?
A: The system changed around 1940 when the president became more powerful, the national government looked to do more, and the presidential candidates began to take a role in selecting their running mates. From 1976 on, it became increasingly clear that it was good politics to chose someone who was a plausible successor.
Q: Who are some of your favorite obscure vice presidents?
A: Garret Hobart, an unlikely guy who was McKinley's first vice president, had been a New Jersey state legislator. At that time, vice presidents were very peripheral to the business of government, but Hobart became very friendly with McKinley, and he played something of a role. He was an aberration. There's also Thomas Marshall, Woodrow Wilson's vice president, who compared being vice president to a catatonic state: "He cannot speak; he cannot move; he suffers no pain; and yet he is perfectly conscious of everything that is going on about him."
He also said "the only business of the vice-president is to ring the White House bell every morning and ask what is the state of health of the president." [Ironically, Marshall would be kept out of the loop when Wilson suffered a debilitating stroke and couldn't function as president.]
Q: I know from watching "24" on TV that the vice president does have an unusual power under the 25th Amendment: he or she can vote with the Cabinet to declare the president to be incapacitated and then take over, at least temporarily. Could this allow the VP to launch a coup?
A: You could imagine a situation when the vice president and Cabinet think the president is pursuing disastrous policies, and they declare him disabled. If there's a contest between the president on one side and the vice president and Cabinet on the other, ultimately the House and Senate have to decide the issue. Movies and novels have picked up on this theme.
Q: Who was the most influential vice president?
A: Walter Mondale.
Before him, vice presidents thought the way to become powerful would be to have the president delegate them turf.
He realized that presidents weren't going to give the vice president significant things to do. Presidents were more likely to give vice presidents menial things that would end up diminishing the vice president and eating up his time.
Mondale said he'd like to be an across-the-board senior adviser to the president, take on missions where the president thought he'd be helpful, and not have any ongoing program to run. That's what he and President Carter agreed to, and it worked well.
He created a model for other vice presidents.
Q: Who stands out among the least effective vice presidents?
A: Nelson Rockefeller, President Ford's vice president, was one of the most powerful people in the country -- governor of New York for four terms and leader of the eastern wing of the Republican Party.But the vice president role didn't fit him because he never figured out how to operate as vice president. In some ways he was obtuse, proposing things that were totally out of step with what President Ford was trying to do. He wasn't a very good follower.
Q: Who else had a troubled time as vice president?
Lyndon Johnson brutalized Hubert Humphrey, and Harry Truman didn't know about the Manhattan Project before Roosevelt died. Nixon hated Spiro Agnew. Chester Arthur wrote a letter to a newspaper questioning President Garfield's integrity, saying he hadn't been square.
And then there was Richard Nixon. At a press conference, President Eisenhower was asked about major ideas he'd heard from Nixon. "If you give me a week, I might think of one," he said. "I don't remember."
Q: Yikes. Well, at least Nixon didn't shoot anyone. Would you remind us who did?
A: Aaron Burr was the only vice president other than Dick Cheney to shoot somebody while in office.
Randy Dotinga is a Monitor contributor.
Literature reminds us that there are many kinds of courage and battles are fought not only on the ground but also in the pages of a book. Syrian author and journalist Samar Yazbek has fought Syria’s Assad regime in the pages of her own book, “A Woman in the Crossfire,” a revolution diary of sorts which, along with her vocal opposition to the Assad regime, has forced the author into exile.
For this Yazbek was granted the 2012 PEN/Pinter International Writer of Courage prize Monday. She will share the award with 2012 PEN/Pinter Prize winner British poet Carol Ann Duffy, who helped choose Yazbek as the award recipient.
The annual award, granted in honor of the late playwright Harold Pinter, is given to a British writer of outstanding literary merit. The winner then chooses a recipient for the Writer of Courage Award, which recognizes an international writer who shows “fierce intellectual determination."
“Giving the PEN/Pinter international writer of courage prize to the author of the Syrian revolution’s diaries is an important sign of the recognition of the Syrian people’s struggle,” Yazbek said of the award. “The honor is dedicated to the martyrs of the Syrian revolution, and to all those women who are working in silence, in particularly difficult circumstances inside Syria, and to those who move among the downpour of bullets and artillery fire, the tanks and fighter jets, in order to carry on the revolution of the Syrian people toward establishing a free and democratic society.”
“I have chosen Samar because of her literary skill... and her bravery in writing about her opposition to the bloody Assad regime when she is already such a prominent figure in Syria and so at increased risk,” Duffy said during the award presentation. “Harassment from the security services and denouncements from her family and clan have forced her to flee from Syria to Europe.”
This last point is especially noteworthy because Yazbek is from the very same Alawite clan to which Syrian president Bashar al-Assad belongs and was born in his ancestral region in northern Syria. As such, Yazbek has defected from her clan into the rebellion. With her book, she has taken an especially dangerous risk in speaking out against her own clan, an identity and affiliation that is of utmost importance in Arab lands.
“Woman in the Crossfire” chronicles the first few months of the Syrian uprising based on diaries Yazbek kept as well as stories from ordinary Syrians and those at the heart of the revolution. It is alternately courageous, arresting, and disturbing.
According to the UK’s “Spectator,” “In one of the most disturbing passages in her revolutionary diaries, written in the spring of 2011, she is questioned about her opposition writing, briefly blindfolded then taken into a series of rooms where she is forced to see men hanging in various states of torture and decomposition. Bodies covered in fresh and dried blood are suspended from metal clamps, ‘deep wounds carved all over them, like the strokes of an abstract painter.’ Assaulted by ‘the smell of blood and piss and sh**’ and the sounds of torture and screaming, she is shoved into a room where there is an unconscious young man ‘whose spine looked like an anatomist’s sketch,’ his back split open ‘as if a map had been carved into it with a knife.’ ‘Humans have become pieces of flesh on display, an exhibition of the art of murder and torture that was all for show.’”
Her depiction of accounts like this grisly scene forced Yazbek into exile in Paris with her young daughter in 2011, though she told the BBC she often returns to Syria. “I return all the time, but in secrecy,” she said. “Undercover.”
Prior to this, she wrote on women’s issues for Syrian newspapers and journals as well as several novels that challenged taboos, including “Heavenly Girl,” “Clay,” which cast a critical eye on the power of the Syrian military, and “Cinnamon,” which examines Syria’s social divide.
It is accounts like Yazbek’s – rare, chilling glimpses into an uprising and brutal crackdown that is largely kept hidden from the world community – which illustrate literature’s innate and compelling power and remind us of the crucial role literature must play in conflict.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
After seven years of litigation, Google and the American Association of Publishers (AAP) announced Thursday that they had reached a settlement in the Google Books scanning case. But the settlement leaves a key issue on the table and does little to resolve a higher-stakes suit against Google filed by individual authors.
The settlement with publishers allows publishers to decide whether Google can digitize their books or not. Publishers can “choose to make available or choose to remove their books and journals digitized by Google for its Library Project,” the AAP said in a statement.
Though this changes little in the way Google and publishers already partner – Google had already scanned some 20 million books for its Google Library Project – it does illustrate how far publishing has come in the Digital Age.
“Basically when the case was filed seven years ago, that was a long time ago, and the world has changed a lot,” AAP president Tom Allen told Publishers Weekly.
“Digital books were a new and daunting prospect when the publishers first sued Google seven years ago, but they have now become commonplace,” The New York Times reported in its announcement of the settlement.
“They had this lawsuit hanging around for years, and basically the publishers have all moved on,” James Grimmelmann, a professor at New York Law School who has been following the case, told The New York Times. “They are selling digitally now. That’s the future. This just memorializes the transition.”
The case against Google was originally filed in 2005 after Google had made public its plans to create the world’s largest digital library and partnered with several major research libraries to digitize books and journals in their collections. Authors and publishers argued this constituted copyright infringement and filed suit against Google, seeking financial damages and a court order to block the copying. A deal was reached in 2008 but was rejected by federal Judge Denny Chin, who said it raised copyright and antitrust concerns.
Thursday’s deal, which involved five publishers including McGraw-Hill Companies, Pearson Education, the Penguin Group, John Wiley & Sons, and Simon & Schuster, was reached privately and is not subject to court approval.
It allows publishers to decide whether to allow Google to digitize their out-of-print books still under copyright protection. Publishers who opt to have their scanned works included in the Google database will receive a digital copy for their own broad use, including rights to sell them on their own websites or make them available in other search engines.
As for Google, it can allow users to read 20 percent of scanned books online before purchasing entire digitized books from the Google Play store. Revenues will be shared with publishers, as per settlement terms.
“We’re very pleased, because the settlement acknowledges the rights and interests of copyright holders and publishers, and whether they’re going to make their rights available,” said Mr. Allen in a press statement.
“What’s really exciting about today’s settlement is the fact that Google will be getting access to books that have long been out of print that are in copyright,” said Tom Turvey, director of strategic partnerships at Google. “It’s good for users who weren’t able to buy them before, and for publishers.”
But the settlement does little to address the crux of the debate in the Google Books case – whether Google is infringing copyright by digitizing books. Instead, it simply allows both Google and publishers to agree to disagree, resolving the current debate but leaving more conclusive rulings for another time – and another fight.
“After Judge Chin rejected the settlement … [we] basically worked out an arrangement that doesn’t resolve the legal issues,” Allen told Publishers Weekly. “We agree to disagree on those, but as a practical matter, it does resolve our differences with Google.”
That “other fight” just may be the one tied up in court now, the much bigger case remains between Google and the Authors Guild, which represents individual authors affected by Google’s digitization project. The Guild said Thursday the publishers' settlement did not resolve its complaints against Google and its book-scanning project.
“The publishers’ private settlement, whatever its terms, does not resolve the authors’ copyright infringement claims against Google,” Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild, said in a statement. “Google continues to profit from its use of millions of copyright-protected books without regard to authors’ rights, and our class-action lawsuit on behalf of U.S. authors continues.”
This time, the suit may result in a more decisive ruling on copyright infringement and fair use.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
He’s done it again. Bill O’Reilly, host of Fox News’s “The O’Reilly Factor,” self-described “champion bloviator,” and chronicler of presidential assassinations including the bestselling “Killing Lincoln,” just released another presidential thriller.
“Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot,” co-written with Martin Dugard, chronicles the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy with all the suspense and drama of a popular thriller (and, by some accounts, few of the citations of a history book).
“Killing Kennedy” seems destined to enjoy the same success as “Killing Lincoln,” which sold more than 2 million copies since its release a year ago. “Kennedy” hit shelves this Tuesday and is already #2 on Amazon’s bestseller list, above even J.K. Rowling’s “The Casual Vacancy.”
Of course, everything about O’Reilly, including his literary success, draws controversy. Some historians, including a deputy superintendent at Ford’s Theatre, found errors in O’Reilly’s “Killing Lincoln” as well as a serious shortage of documentation. (At one point, Ford’s Theatre, site of the assassination, even refused to carry the book.)
In an interview with USA Today, O’Reilly called the errors “picayune” and attributed the criticism to jealousy. “These guys toil in obscurity their whole lives and a punk like me comes along and sells 2 million copies. They’re not happy.”
Any wonder he invites controversy?
With this trademark confidence, O’Reilly describes “Killing Kennedy” as “history that’s fun to read” in a “populist way. No pinheaded stuff, just roar it through!”
Co-author Dugard, O’Reilly told USA Today, did most of the research, leaving the writing to O’Reilly, whose approach is to make history accessible with thriller-like foreshadowing, dramatic details, and a you-are-there present tense. Along the way, complain his critics, he takes literary liberties with history, as in this line that describes a 1962 party in which Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe rendezvous: “There is an intimacy in their movements that leaves no doubt they will be sleeping together tonight."
(Though there is no source for this in the book itself, for the record, O’Reilly claims this line is based on an article in the British tabloid, “Daily Mail,” confirmed by a federal agent who was at the party.)
Historians cringe at O’Reilly’s lack of citation and occasional “literary liberties,” but to his credit, the Fox News host and former high school history teacher says he writes popular history “to get people engaged with their country.” Few history books are fun to read, he tells USA Today. “Even the really good ones, by Robert Caro and these guys – I mean, they’re brilliant guys, but to get through 800 pages, you either have to be retired or on vacation for six weeks.”
(Caro’s fourth book on Lyndon Johnson, “The Passage of Power,” is 712 pages with 79 pages of footnotes. O’Reilly’s “Killing Kennedy” is 325 pages with seven pages of sources.)
“Killing Kennedy” deals with the former President’s professional and personal life, including his many extramarital affairs. Perhaps its most intriguing subject, however, is not Kennedy, but Lee Harvey Oswald, who O’Reilly calls “.…crazy, and I mean crazy.”
O’Reilly doesn’t solve the mystery of Kennedy’s assassination in “Killing Kennedy,” or find evidence of a conspiracy, but he doesn’t rule it out.
“I know that Oswald killed Kennedy,” he tells USA Today. “Now, was he pushed? Encouraged to do it by outsiders? Possibly. Possibly. Was he sitting down with Fidel Castro? No.”
“Killing Kennedy” may not receive the academic accolades of a Caro tome, but it will get history – however flawed in its retelling – into the hands of many more people.
We can’t help but think that’s a good thing. What do you think?
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
“Amazon’s New Kindle is The Best E-Reader You Can Buy,” trumpets Business Insider, which calls it “the only e-reader you should consider buying.” “The Screen Makes it the Best E-Reader Yet,” says Time, adding in the article, “it’s a joy.” PC Tablet calls it “one of the most technologically advanced readers,” NBC News calls it “the new king of e-readers,” and TechCrunch says it’s “a reader’s dream.”
With its October release, we’re guessing Amazon is angling to get its Paperwhite e-reader on readers’ gift lists this holiday season.
Amazon began shipping the e-reader Monday. The Paperwhite comes in two versions, WiFi only and WiFi/3G. Base prices, in which readers will encounter ads, are $119 for the Wi-Fi and $179 for the Wi-Fi/3G.
We checked out more than a dozen reviews online, and, besides a few minor complaints, they were overwhelmingly positive. The most touted feature of the new Paperwhite is its improved paper-like backlit LED screen. Reviewers are praising the new screen, which uses built-in LED backlights to uniformly illuminate the screen for comfortable paper-like reading in all environments, from bright sunlight to pitch-black rooms – all with far less eye strain. Still based on E-Ink, the screen has better resolution and contrast than older models, with more sharp, crisp text.
The Paperwhite’s other features include:
• 8-week battery life
• 6 crisp, clear fonts readers can choose from, with better contrast
• 1100 books in its memory
• 1 million+ titles for less than $10
• 180,000 Kindle-only titles
• Built-in Wi-Fi which lets readers download books within 60 seconds
• Time to Read feature which tells readers how long until a chapter done
• Parental control options for kids reading
• Tools that allow users to add, edit, delete and export their own notes in the text, and highlight and clip key passages. They can also share highlighted parts of the text directly on Facebook and Twitter without having to leave the page they're on.
Unlike the Kindle Fire, which attempted to compete with Apple’s iPad and received mixed reviews, the Paperwhite is not marketed as a gadget that can do it all – it’s strictly an e-reader and by all accounts, it excels, making it a good bet for bibliophiles.
Of course, there have been some complaints. The touch-screen isn’t as responsive as what many folks with smartphones and tablets are used to, says Business Insider’s Steve Kovach. “There’s an annoying delay between the time you tap on the screen and the action happens. It doesn't feel natural,” he writes.
And like all recent Kindles, the Paperwhite comes with ads on the lockscreen, which some users find annoying. (You can pay an extra $20 to opt out.)
Some have complained about its lack of a speakers and headphone jack and have said it’s not entirely comfortable to hold.
But by and large, reviewers are unmistakably smitten.
“Forget Everything Else, This is the E-Reader You Want,” says Gizmodo.
Decide for yourself here.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
Where did mother and former star architect Bernadette Fox disappear to, right before her family was due to leave on a trip to Antarctica? It's the question her daughter Bee is trying to answer in the new book "Where'd You Go, Bernadette" by Maria Semple, author of "This One Is Mine" and former TV writer for shows like "Mad About You" and "Arrested Development."
In "Bernadette," Bee searches for her mother by combing through documents, secret letters, and e-mails. As Bee looks for the truth, Semple skewers the city of Seattle and the hyper-involved parenting style embraced by the adults at Bee's private school, with whom Bernadette butts heads repeatedly before her disappearance. This includes one mother who nags Bernadette about clearing out blackberry vines that have grown over onto her property.
In an interview with the Monitor, Semple, a Seattle resident, discusses the reaction her Seattle neighbors have had to her book, the exact moment she knew she was onto something good with her "Bernadette" manuscript, and why it makes sense that "Arrested Development" has found success on DVD. Here are excerpts of the conversation. (Spoilers for "Bernadette" follow.)
Q: What appealed to you about TV writing?
A: My father was a screenwriter and I kind of grew up in that world. I always had a mind for characters and dialogue, and my head was filled with that stuff, so it seemed like a good place to start.
Q: To discuss one of the TV shows you wrote for, what was your favorite part about writing for "Mad About You"?
"Mad About You" fit my sensibility the most of any show that I worked on, and as a result, it was really fun. It felt like a very natural fit.
What I liked about ["Mad About You"] was being able to use stuff from real life. There were other TV shows that had a lot of weird, stilted jokes, and with "Mad About You," it was much more observational. The humor was much more about being a couple, and I really liked that. I feel like that was the most fun, to be in a room with writers and just kind of tell stories about a fight that you had that morning with your spouse – and to all of their horrors, it would end up in an episode.
That, to me, comes more naturally to me than a much more stilted type of comedy.
Q: How do you feel about the fandom that's sprung up around "Arrested Development"?
I think it makes sense, because it was a show that was almost perversely not meant to be understood the first time you watched it. I think that has a lot to do with why it was canceled. It almost dared you to try to understand the show the first time around, and it was very intricate and there were a lot of jokes that would play out over several episodes and it worked much better as this whole.
There were so many winks to the real fans, and it was very self-referential, and that type of thing really works well with repeated viewings. It makes sense to me that that's how it's found a second life. It's more appropriate.
Q: Your first book, "This One Is Mine," was set in Los Angeles, while "Bernadette" is set in Seattle. Is there anything particular about the places you have lived that draws you to use them as settings?
I think because I try to keep things as real as I can, or I try to start from a place of reality, I almost don't have the imagination to write a book that's not set where I am. It's smarter for me to set the books where I am physically because I'll have a lot of interesting observations. There'll be a lot of details from life that'll pop up for me.
I never really intended either book, at all, to be so place-oriented. I didn't sit down and think, "Okay, I'm writing an LA novel" or "Oh, I'm writing a Seattle novel." It's really surprised me that this is a "Seattle novel." When I turned it in [if] someone had said to me, "Does Seattle play a big part in your book?" I'd have said, "Not really." I really didn't see it that way, but obviously, this is how it's being read and perceived, which is fine with me. I'm happy about it and I certainly understand, but I'm mainly trying to get the characters right and get the details right, give my characters and my story and my novel authority, write with a real sense of authority. I think that's the most important job of a novelist, to bring authority to their writing.
I don't know if it's a failure of imagination on my part, but I'm not going to be writing about Paris in the 1800s. I feel like it would come off as just ludicrously uninformed, even if I did a lot of research. Everything that I write, it's really close to home, mainly because I'm afraid of not having authority.
As I was starting to write it, when I knew I was onto something really cool with the book was when I started writing about the blackberry vines going under the fence and the neighbor. Everyone's had that, the "Hey, if you wouldn't mind, that tree might fall into my yard, so could you...." Really small little things from life. But as soon as I wrote that, I just had this really excited sense that it wasn't going to end well. This is going to be causing a lot of really good trouble for the characters.
Q: Have you heard anything from fellow Seattle residents about the comments your characters make in "Bernadette" about the city?
People love it here. Maybe I've heard from a couple of people, they were a little prickly, but just generally, people love it. Most importantly, for me, is all the mothers at my school just love it.... They're all reading it and have a real sense of ownership of the book, which makes me feel really happy. They're really proud that a mother in school wrote it and I think because I don't have that relationship with them, they're my friends.
Nobody at school feels threatened by the book. My sense is a real sense of celebration about the book in Seattle, and particularly the parents, and they think it's funny. I think if anyone is like those parents, I think they can laugh at that aspect of themselves.
Q: And of course you had the note to the mothers saying 'None of you are gnats' [Bernadette's sarcastic term for the mothers at Bee's school because of their persistence and other annoying characteristics] in the acknowledgements.
Exactly. Now, I probably wouldn't put that in the book, but at the time, I really was afraid. I still am very much like the character of Bernadette. I'm not really a big volunteer person, I don't like hanging around at the stairs to pick up the kids. I always drive through. They all laugh at me, all the parents do, because they know I have a good heart, they just know that I have a very low tolerance for that sort of school socializing. I put that in because I was worried. I thought, "Oh, they'll think this is what I really think about them." Really, it's been the opposite.
Q: The reader's impression of Bernadette changes several times over the book as they hear from Bernadette herself and see Bernadette from the point of view of other characters. What do you hope readers will think about Bernadette by the end of the novel?
What I hope that they'll get from the book is that it's about a woman who has decided to move forward and can move forward, and I think that's really what the book is. She's kind of stuck at the beginning of the book, kind of obsessed with the past, and paralyzed in the present. And that's really what her character flaw is, just unable to move forward.
It's funny because even though I openly say, "Oh, I'm like Bernadette," I was at a reading the other day and someone said, "If you are Bernadette, then you love Bernadette" and I said, "Oh, no, I think she's awful!" She's filled with self-pity, she feels like a victim. I don't feel like, "Oh, you've got to love her from the beginning." I hope I've written a challenging character.
I'm surprised that people don't dislike her more than they do. I think because her stuff is funny, I can kind of get away with [it]. She's a good mom, and I think that, being a good mother, people like her.
What I'm hoping is that you have your fingers crossed that she is going to move forward in the end. I think there's a lot to recommend her. She's smart and talented and she's a good mother, and at the end of the book, she's committed to try. And that's kind of all anyone can do.
One of the book's pivotal locations is Antarctica. Have you ever traveled there?
What inspired you to put it in the book?
We were going over Christmas and we booked [the trip] in February. I'd heard it was kind of the best trip in the world.
I started writing the book in October and because I knew I was going to be in Antarctica, I kind of vaguely was pointing the book in the direction of Antarctica. I kind of knew, okay, they're going to Antarctica, but I really didn't figure out much more than that. I didn't know that she would disappear. I didn't know any of that stuff.
But when I went down to Antarctica, something happened to me – just a very minor thing where I got off the boat one day, went around, saw all the icebergs and came back and went to scan my card. And the thing went "Bong" and "See someone" and someone said, "Oh, don't worry about it, you must have not scanned out. It still thinks you're on the boat."
And I went, "Oh." The plot-lover in me is always thinking of plot, there's my plot point. I kind of figured out, someone can get off the boat and you wouldn't know for two weeks. That seems like something I can use.
Q: Do you have any projects coming up?
I feel like I'm kind of purposely waiting years before I write my next novel. I feel like good novels come from personal pain and they come from a unique perspective and whatever unique perspective I had, I put in that book, and I haven't changed enough to have another unique perspective.
Unlike Bernadette, I am always moving forward. Because I'm always moving forward, I have faith that something's going to present itself to me that'll be interesting enough and resonant enough to write a novel about.
Kelly Burdick, the executive editor for independent publisher Melville House, penned a column Oct. 2 saying that despite Barnes & Noble’s well-known policy of not carrying titles published by Amazon, he had seen Amazon-released book “My Mother Was Nuts” by Penny Marshall at a New York Barnes & Noble location. When he did a “Find in store” search for Marshall’s book on the company’s website, he said the website indicated that the book could be found at Barnes & Noble locations in Seattle, San Francisco, Boston, and Washington, D.C., among others.
“In any case, it’s not much of a boycott,” Burdick wrote. “A real boycott would mean not stocking Amazon’s books. Guess that’s harder than it looks.”
In the wake of Burdick’s column, Barnes & Noble stated, “Our policy has not changed. We are not carrying Amazon titles.” The company reportedly e-mailed its stores instructions to take the Amazon books off the shelves, according to the Melville House column.
“Girls” creator and star Lena Dunham is reportedly planning a memoir/advice book that she is currently shopping around to publishers.
The tentative title of the book is “Not That Kind of Girl: Advice by Lena Dunham,” and some say Dunham’s literary agency is asking publishers for at least $1 million for the book.
The book would cover romance, eating well, work, and other topics, according to an e-mail obtained by Slate.
Dunham’s show “Girls,” of which she is the creator, producer, writer and star, was recently nominated for several Emmy awards, including Outstanding Comedy Series, Outstanding Directing in a Comedy Series, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (for Dunham), and Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series (also for Dunham, for the pilot episode of the show). Dunham was previously known for the 2010 film “Tiny Furniture,” in which she directed, wrote and starred.
Two writers and a journalist-cum-author are among the 23 academics, artists, and scientists awarded MacArthur “genius” grants this week: Dominican-American Pulitzer-Prize winning writer Junot Diaz, Ethiopian-born writer Dinaw Mengestu, and David Finkel, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post journalist specializing in military service and sacrifice.
Along with a pediatric neurosurgeon, mandolinist, geochemist, economist, photographer, mathematician and others, these writers were chosen “for their creativity, originality, and potential to make important contributions in the future,” according to the MacArthur Foundation. Each will receive a $500,000 no-strings-attached grant over the next five years to allow them “unprecedented freedom and opportunity to reflect, create, and explore.”
The Foundation said Dominican-born Diaz offers “powerful insight into the realities of the Caribbean diaspora, American assimilation, and lives lived between cultures” in his Pulitzer Prize-winning debut novel, “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” and two short story collections, “Drown” and “This Is How You Lose Her.” (Here's our review of “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.")
Called “vibrant and soulful,” “screamingly funny,” and “always searching,” Diaz is known for introducing American readers to largely ignored and overlooked communities of immigrants, especially Dominicans, through his raw, vernacular-laden books. The author reveals the immigrant life, said the Foundation in its award announcement, by creating “nuanced and engaging characters struggling to succeed and often invisible in plain sight to the American mainstream.”
Diaz, himself once “invisible in plain sight,” once lived in an apartment with “almost no furniture and garbage bags for window shades…I was going nuts from my lack of success,” he told the Barnes and Noble Review, as reported by Chapter & Verse.
“It would never have dawned on me to think such a thing was possible for me,” Diaz told Fox News Latino. “I came from a community that was about as hard-working as you can get and yet no one saw or recognized in any way our contributions or our genius. I have to wonder, but for circumstances, how many other kids that I came up with are more worthy of this fellowship than me?”
He called the award “transformational" and said “It allows you to focus on your art with very little other concerns,” he said, as reported by the Guardian. “It’s kind of like a big blast of privilege.”
Thirty-four-year-old Mengestu is also known for writing about the immigrant experience and the African diaspora. Author of novels “The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears” and “How to Read Air,” Mengestu was awarded the grant for “enriching [the] understanding of the little-explored world of the African diaspora in America in tales distilled from the experience of immigrants whose memories are seared by escape from violence in their homelands,” said the Foundation.
“The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears,” his debut novel about Ethiopian immigrants forging a new life in Washington, D.C., won the L.A. Times Book Prize for first fiction in 2007 and Mengestu was named one of the New Yorker’s 20 under 40 in 2010.
“Part of what the MacArthur fellowship does is remind me that the work I've done is relevant – not necessarily what I write about, but the people who populate my work,” Mengestu said of the award. “That those people have a significance and meaning that sometimes might be overshadowed or lost in the larger narrative of the world, and it's important to keep writing out of those experiences.”
Washington Post journalist David Finkel is author of “The Good Soldiers,” for which he spent eight months embedded with an American Army infantry battalion that went to Iraq as part of the American troop “surge” in 2007.
“His work is typically the product of months of grueling reporting from remote and harsh locales – Kosovo, Iraq, Yemen, Central and South America and parts of the United States,” writes the Washington Post.
Finkel pushes “beyond the constraints and conventions of traditional news writing” to produce stories “that heighten the reality of military service and sacrifice in the public consciousness,” said the Foundation. “As newspapers continue to contract and move away from immersion-based, long-form reporting, Finkel remains committed to crafting sustained narratives with an uncommon candor that brings poorly understood events and ordeals” to public attention.
“They’re not just endorsing my work in particular but a type of journalism,” Finkel told the Post. “I like to think this is an endorsement of long-form journalism, in which you stay long enough to tell the story.”
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
The new children’s book by Rick Riordan, “The Mark of Athena,” recently took the place of “The Casual Vacancy” as number one on the Amazon bestseller list, and the book has already spent 148 days on the Amazon top 100 list before even being published. “The Mark of Athena” comes out today.
The new book is the third book in the "Heroes of Olympus" series, which is itself a sequel to the "Percy Jackson & The Olympians" series. The "Percy" series was adapted into a film, titled “Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief,” in 2010.
“I grew up reading Rowling,” a Publishers Weekly user named Keira Jaimee Clark wrote online. “And while I plan to pick up Casual Vacancy at some point before the new year, MoA is much further up my priority list - I'm picking up a copy tomorrow!”