Monday, October 29, 2007

Stop Following Me

I'm an idiot! I was thinking that Eric Clapton's new book would wallow in anonymity forever, never reviewed, talked about, or read - without any recognition or book sales whatsoever. Man, was I wrong! He was heroically saved this weekend by a stupendous review in the trusted New York Times Book Review. Whew! That was close! Oh, what's that? The reviewer, you ask? Why it's my old nemesis, Stephen King, of course! Who better qualified to write about Eric Clapton? What's that? Anyone who's ever written a music review, ever? Mmmmmaybe.

Yes, I have been over this King-thing, I understand. But what have we done to deserve this? Why is he shadowing me still! And is there no one else out there more qualified to review this book? King is the best you could find? (Like, perhaps, anyone on the Times' staff who writes their Music section. Or a novelist with occasional music themes in their works, like Nick Hornby, perhaps. Just an idea.) As I gleaned from the review itself, King is also a recovering alcoholic - an admirable part of his own biography, to be sure. But this is NOT his biography, it's Eric Clapton's. I know, its very hypocritical of me to want book reviewers to distance themselves, step back, and be objective. I certainly inject a very, very tiny degree of personal into what I write here on the Book Catapult. Whatever. But the Times is professional, unlike what this is. King's review reads like jacket copy for the most part - and he only contributes opinions based on his own experiences in Alcoholics Anonymous. I just don't think this is necessary - King's nonfiction columns etc, always read with an excess of buddy-buddy, I'm-your-pal-Stephen King claptrap that, frankly, seems juvenile and lame.

A sample before loading the Catapult for this guy, yet again: "Clapton is nothing so literary as a memoir, but its dry, flat-stare honesty makes it a welcome antidote to the macho fantasies of recovery served up by James Frey in 'A Million Little Pieces.'"

Oh come on, King, we're still on that nonsense? You're in the Oprah camp now, left shattered & weeping by the crack addict who lied to you? You're wearin' me out.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Wildfires etc

2007 San Diego wildfires from satelliteIt's inappropriate to write about books and other nonsense while the outer reaches of San Diego County are being engulfed by wildfires. So I will hold back. We had been living in San Diego for only four months when the Cedar fire occured back in 2003 and felt a bit disconnected from it all then, being relative newcomers. This time, although we are not in any imminent danger, living in central San Diego proper, it feels all the more real - maybe due to the sheer size and quantity of the fires this time around. Or maybe just because this feels more like home now. There's quite a bit of smoke & fine ash around, but other than it being abnormally hot and wicked dry, its hard to tell that the apocalypse has settled in just miles from our door. I think there's enough concrete between us and the fires to keep us safe.

That said, I cannot hold this back any more! Nora Roberts was awarded the Quill Awards Book of the Year for her romance novel, Angels Fall yesterday. As if the scorched earth around me were not enough, this surely is one of the seven signs of the apocalypse. I held back as long as I could, I'm sorry. Who are these "readers across the country " who thought that that was the best book written last year? I would totally denounce the Quills as being utter garbage right now, except for the following reasons: they awarded Brian Selznick the award for Best Childrens book. Brian is a good friend of the Warwick's Book Deparment, a part-time San Diegan, and his book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, truly rocks the house. That and the award for General Fiction went to The Road. Somewhat redeemed. But not really.

Side note: My mom told me that she was coincidentally reading The Road when all the fires started on Sunday. That's a rainbows, kittens, sunny day-type book - if all of those things are outside your real door, the book remains fiction. When you put the book down and see the same images on CNN, that's not so cool. She stopped reading.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

This Week's Short Review

Clapton: The Autobiography
When I was 15 or so, I remember spending most of one summer listening to my cassette tape recording of Slowhand by Eric Clapton. This would have been about the same time that "Poison" by Bel Biv Devoe was some seriously hot shit, so listening to a mellow guitar rock album from 1977 wasn't exactly popular behavior. But it had a lasting effect on me - and I was particularly struck by the diversity showcased on it by Clapton. This is the album with JJ Cale's "Cocaine" and EC's ode to Pattie Boyd, "Wonderful Tonight" on it, as well as one of my favorites, the red-hot, "The Core". He's all over the place, yet it has a very cohesive feel to it - and I was sold forever. Clapton is God! As my brain evolved, 461 Ocean Boulevard eventually became my second favorite album of all time (Exile on Main Street of course being number one.) And I lost my Slowhand tape.

All of that leads to my reading of his book in 2007, of course. Clapton has lead a very public life - from his days of inebriation and smack addiction in the 70's, to stealing George Harrison's wife, to his son Conor's death in 1989 (not his fault, people), to his resurgence on MTV in the 90's - and I have followed his career like a faithful nerd through all of it. So, not much of his public life came as much of a surprise to me in this book. That said, this is a very candid, (seemingly) honest memoir of EC’s life as a rock god, his struggles with fame, addiction, & healthy relationships, and the crafting of some of the greatest rock albums of all time. I think he realizes how lucky he is to have survived his own life – and his natural humbleness regarding his own work and his awe at the artists he’s worked with feels genuine. His awe becomes your awe - he neither surrepticiously nor blatently name drops, but when his path crosses with Lennon, Dylan, Duane Allman, Keith & Mick, Hendrix, or any other iconic figure from the music world of the 60's & 70's, it causes you to step back a bit. It's not Pulitzer material, but it is surprisingly well-written, insightful, quite human, and very personal. Am I biased in this? Hell yes, Clapton is God, remember?

I heartily recommend dusting off (or going out to purchase immediately, if, god forbid, you're collection is lacking) any of your old Clapton LP’s to further enhance this. To be honest, 461 Ocean Boulevard and the Layla album are in constant rotation with me anyway, but nonetheless, play these while you read the book, it will only make it more interesting.

*Bonus - fun facts from EC:

- He had an imaginary friend as a child that took the form of a small horse.

- The World Cup is fixed.

- Upon first impressions, John Lennon was a wanker.

- He vaguely remembers performing a whole concert in the 70's while lying down on stage with the microphone propped next to his head.

- Winds of change: " the end of this decade, I think it's unlikely that any of the existing record companies will still be in business." (One can only hope.)

Friday, October 12, 2007

How Do You Spell "Fear"?

Here's an update on the Von Holtzbrinck spelling mistakes story that I broke to the world last week: they are so distraught at the negative press (solely coming from this website) that they have decided to change the name of their company in order to gain a certain degree of anonymity. From now on, their US branch will be known as Macmillan, or Macmillan Publishers Services. Brian Napack, president of Macmillian had this to say: "Macmillan. We publish. Watch us." Oh I will, Brian. You cannot escape the Catapult.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

An Open Letter

Dear Southern California college football teams,

I just wanted to thank you for salvaging my sporting weekend for me - in light of the Cubbies being swept and all. (Not that I'm a true Cubs fan, but c'mon, 99 years?) UCLA, your inept play and lack of talent helped overshadow the same from my Fighting Irish, so thank you. And USC, it's just nice to see your coach & fans humbled a bit by a pretty crappy Stanford team.

UCLA, I am sorry that your regular quarterback was injured - nobody likes to see that - but thank you for replacing him with Mr. McLeod Bethel-Thompson. McB-T threw the ball twice to ND's Maurice Crum (left), which was nice, and allowed Maurice to strip the ball from him and score a touchdown also. McLeod also lay down for 4 sacks and threw 2 other interceptions - very friendly of him - while the rest of the team fumbled the ball five times. All of this poor offense made ND's look stellar. Well, maybe not "stellar", but at least "not as horrible". While McB-T was making a mess, the Irish had just 46 yards rushing and 96 yards passing - both enough to keep them back down at the bottom of the national statistics charts. But, you allowed them to win their first game since last November, so thanks for taking one for my team.

And USC. I hate your guts, what can I say. (Maybe, "ha ha", I guess.) How did you manage to lose to Stanford? And at home? You were favored by a ridiculous 41 points. Stanford had surrendered 141 points to UCLA, ASU, and Oregon combined. Wow. (By the way, UCLA only managed 6 points against the Irish defense.) The silly-named John David Booty's 4 interceptions and a Stanford TD with under a minute to go made a sad-faced Pete Carroll and a celebration for the Stanford band. Thanks for the laughs & good times.

In summary, even though I live in Southern Cal, I don't particularly like your college football teams - and I dislike your obnoxious fans even more. So on a weekend where both UCLA and USC lose in sad, pathetic fashion - even at the hands of my sad, pathetic team - I heartily salute you both. Thank you.

Sincerely, Seth

Friday, October 05, 2007

God Hates the Yankees

Finally the world has begun to right itself.
Or, "Here's some deodorant, cuz you stink." See you at Spring Training!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

I Hayte Speling Mistackes

Is having a proofreading department too much to ask of a publishing company? Or, if such a department does already exist, is it too much to ask that they possess at least a small fraction of competence? Checking to see whether words are spelled correctly - say, using a spellcheck program like the one available on any common word processing program created since 1984 - should really be part of the job for a company that prints and distributes volumes of the printed word as their business. For about a year or so, I have been noticing that the St. Martin's Minotaur imprint of Von Holtzbrink Publishing (VHPS) is horrible at checking for typographical errors. (The head of their Proofreading Department is pictured at left, during a break at last year's BEA.) Or, maybe they do check for errors, but are unable to spell words in English and/or cannot discern between the correct spelling of a word and the incorrect spelling, often on the same page of a finished, published book. I first noticed this while attempting to read "A Case of Two Cities" by Qiu Xiaolong, sometime last year. I was about 50-60 pages and at least 10 errors in, when I recall saying, in lame, cinematic, melodramatic fashion, "If I see one more goddamn typo, I will throw this f***ing book across the room!" This was a finished, hardcover copy of the book, mind you, not an uncorrected proof - I took it right off the stack of 2 at work. My first clue as to the half-assed nature of the proofreading came about 5 pages in, where this passage lay wallowing in its own filth: "When Shanghai Morning was founded the previous year, he was appointed the editor-in-chief. Like other newspapers, Shaghai Morning was still under the ideological control of the government...." I did not type "Shaghai" to be a jerk and to help prove my point - this is how it appears in the finished edition of the book itself. If you can't find a copy in your local, undiscerning bookstore, check out the excerpt at And, by the way, Blogger's remedial, mildly retarded spellcheck program doesn't know that word either.

So, like the big baby that I am, I have avoided the Minotaur imprint pretty much since then, with the exception of Ken Bruen paperbacks, which are printed in the US through VHPS. (I did come across an error in the last novel, "Ammunition", but I can't remember where it was right now - you'll have to trust me on it for the moment.) So today, I'm doing my job, shelving books, being a jerk, when I pick up five copies of "How I Learned to Cook: Culinary Educations from the World's Greatest Chefs" edited (and I use this term nearly in jest) by Kimberly Witherspoon and Peter Meehan and published by Bloomsbury Press, a division of our friends at VHPS. As I picked these up in one hand to bring them out to the rickety old ghetto-spinner out front, I must have turned them so that the spines faced me. When my eyes fell across the spines, I thought I was having a stroke or a seizure at first. It had been a long day, I had been shelving books and rearranging things all over the store for most of the afternoon, it was hot in the receiving room - maybe I was hallucinating or, well, stroking out. This is what I saw:

Don't feel bad if it takes a minute to notice the error - even though it's HORRIBLE and INEXCUSABLE, your mind does try to rearrange the letters so that they appear in the correct order. (If you can't see the problem, please visit the Holtzbrink website for career opportunities.) This joke would be funnier if Bloomsbury did not have the following solemn, soulless message in their Careers section: Proofreaders/Freelancers: Please note that due to having an established list of freelance help and proofreaders that we use on a regular basis, we do not accept speculative applications for the above. Thank you though for your interest in our Company.

How does this happen? Is there no one at home in the VHPS offices? Is this what passes for acceptable in the world of books in the 21st century? Have they bitten off more than they can handle by having (unless I have miscounted) 84 imprints under the VHPS umbrella? (By contrast, Random House's US division has, I believe, 165 imprints and Perseus, fresh from acquiring 150 PGW imprints has at least 200, and I have never noticed anything like this on any of their books.) I find this embarrassing, actually. I am embarrassed for everyone at Bloomsbury who had finished copies of this book in their hands and failed to notice that the longest word in the title was spelled wrong on the spines of most likely 40,000 copies (the reported initial print run for the paperback). Actually, scratch that - I don't feel embarrassed for the "freelance proofreaders" that missed this egregious error, among countless others. They are incompetent fools, whose sole job, I would presume, is to make sure that there are no fucking spelling mistakes on the covers of any books!

I will build the most enormous Book Catapult yet, in order to launch the entire Von Holtzbrink Empire into the blazing, unforgiving sun! Spellcheck that, suckas.