Thursday, July 31, 2008

Hate Has No Place Here

Pretty soon, everyone is going to know about this book - not because it is culturally, socially, or politically relevant to the national debate, but because the people at Regnery Publishing and every FoxNews "analyst" will be pushing it down all our throats. The Case Against Barack Obama: The Unlikely Rise and Unexamined Agenda of the Media's Favorite Candidate by David Freddoso appears to be nothing but the pure, unadulterated hate-mongering garbage that is prototypical of Regnery. Here's a recap of their pathetic history as a publishing house, in case you've forgotten: In 2004, Regnery published the book Unfit For Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry and started the smear campaign that eventually derailed Kerry's anemic campaign for president. Following in the wake of attack television ads run by the anti-Kerry "Swift Boat Veterans For Truth", the demand for the book far outpaced the availability - an initial 85,000 copy print run - and booksellers took the brunt of the customers' ire. People screamed (quite literally) about bookstore "liberal bias" and vast left-wing conspiracies designed to quash the book's sales - since there was a 2 or 3 week period when no one could stock it, even if they wanted to. Frankly, it was horrible and now Regnery is trying to do it again - but now it's up to you, dear readers, to stay educated and decide for yourselves.

I read the publication of this book as sad desperation on the part of the right-wing propaganda machine, the wheels of which are clearly rusting off. The "unexamined agenda" of Barack Obama? May I suggest simply visiting barackobama.com, Mr. Freddoso? One of Freddoso's main points also appears to be "Obama's poor judgment of character and deceitful nature" reflected in the Reverend Jeremiah Wright affair. Really? We're still on that? Sad, sad desperation. Freddoso is a regular columnist on the National Review - a site featuring gems like the "Liberal Fascism" blog and incoherent reasoning like: "The two biggest factors at play (concerning the popularity of atheism) are money and radical Islam" (Thomas D. Williams). I find the whole thing offensive and pathetic.

Hand in hand with this book release is the McCain campaign's stepping up of their attack ads and limp-wristed mudslinging. Their current hit advertisement begs states that Obama is "the biggest celebrity in the world...but is he ready to lead?" Talk about sad - McCain is basically spinning Obama's overwhelming popularity with the American people as if it were a bad thing. If Obama is that popular, who is the ad directed at? If everyone likes him that much, what's the problem?

"All I can say is we’re proud of that commercial", said McCain at a town-hall meeting in Wisconsin. And, after Obama's response: "We know what kind of campaign they’re going to run. They’re going to try to make you afraid of me. He’s young and inexperienced and he’s got a funny name. And did I mention he’s black?", McCain's groupies called it the playing of the "race card" by Obama. Really? Guess what everybody? He is black. And race is an issue in this country, whether the inbred, pasty-white crackers in charge want to admit it or not.

But what really summed up the whole deal for me wasn't all of this political jibber jabber - it was when my mom told me she didn't trust McCain because he can't use a computer and he's "got too much melanoma on his face". Now that's mudslinging - and it's good enough for me.

Just for fun, here are some other current Regnery titles (with handy bullet points from their website) to help you keep this all in perspective:

The Really Inconvenient Truths: Seven Environmental Catastrophes Liberals Don’t Want You to Know About - Because They Helped Cause Them ("Liberals are partly responsible for the resurgence of malaria in Africa because they banned the pesticide that used to have it under control" and "The Left’s campaign to replace oil with ethanol is largely responsible for the recent food shortages and skyrocketing prices at the grocery store.")

Ten Books That Screwed Up the World ("How Hobbes's Leviathan promotes the belief that we have a "right" to have and do whatever we want" and "How Mead's Coming of Age in Samoa promotes promiscuity and divorce.")

And Our Good Name: A Company's Fight to Defend Its Honor and Get the Truth Told About Abu Ghraib. (Written by the CEO of CACI, the government contractor involved in the brutalities at Abu Ghraib, it "details the allegations against CACI, the media’s distortion of CACI’s involvement, and the company’s successful fight to clear its name. Delving into controversial issues of government and media accountability, Dr. J. Phillip London reveals the untold story behind Abu Ghraib—the story that didn’t make national headlines.") Well it's about time.

Later

Finally, a reason for me to high-five Manny - watching his dust trail leaving the AL East. Bye, jerk.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Marko Approved - vol.2

Black Flies by Shannon Burke
This is about as raw as a novel gets. Not raw in it's crafting - which is outstanding and meticulous - but rather in it's atmospheric depictions and it's harrowing exposure of what happens to trauma experts when they're exposed to too much trauma. The plot is really just a year in the life of the big city paramedic...and the mental descent that that involves. Burke once worked as a paramedic above 125th street in Harlem (after leaving a similar existence in New Orleans) – it is this resume item that allows him to write this novel with such visceral, resonant reality. In fact, knowing this, it reads more like a memoir than some memoirs of recent publication - you know that Burke is not making this stuff up, and that is some scary shit. Watching Ollie’s 11-month descent from med school-bound rookie to world-weary, shattered battlefield medic is swift & shocking, but seeing him decide whether to pull himself up off the street is even more arresting and profound. A surprisingly moving novel about the people who save our lives every day & are too often overlooked.

This was also featured as the cover review of the New York Times Book Review for May 25. Check it out.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Marko Approved - vol.1

The King's Gold - Arturo Perez-ReverteThe King's Gold by Arturo Perez-Reverte
The fourth in Perez-Reverte's "Captain Alatriste" series of swashbuckling novels set in 1620's Spain. After returning from the war with the Dutch in Flanders (the subject of last year's The Sun Over Breda), Alatriste and his mercenary compatriots find themselves in Seville, short on doubloons & looking for work. The Spanish treasure fleet is due into port soon and el Capitan is covertly tasked by King Phillip IV to steal one of the gold-laden ships before corrupt officials can steal it first, effectively undermining the wealth and power of Crown. This is another of Perez-Reverte's "Spanish pulp fiction" adventures - if you're looking for highbrow literature that will change your life, get lost - this is nothing but a good time - albeit well-researched and oozing authenticity - filled with mustachio-twirling bad dudes ("Gualterio Malatesta", how's that for an evil moniker?), long lost colorful curses & oaths ("God's teeth!" or "a pox on't!"), and enough sword-fighting and backstabbing (both literally & figuratively) to keep even the most jaded...Errol Flynn? fan entertained. Well, you know who you are.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Christopher "The Third" Reich

I've been debating whether or not to post on this subject over the last couple of days simply because of the work-related ramifications that may occur - since I was not present at the "event" in question, everything I am reporting on is strictly due to "interviews" I've conducted. I've decided to not really go into specific details, so as not to damage the reputation of any of my colleagues - the reputation of the author at the center of this shitstorm, well, that I couldn't possibly care less about. (His name is Christopher Reich. Oops.) For the record, the opinions in this post are no way representative of the staff, management, or ownership of Warwick's Books - it is solely Seth Marko's opinion. That opinion being: author Christopher Reich is an asshole.

Glenn BeckI have never met this man - my opinion is based entirely on his behavior surrounding his book signing in San Diego this past week. Again, I feel that to delve into specifics is somehow crossing a line, so I will make some general comments: it is a shame that there are prima donna authors out there - people who are actually lucky enough to have had their books published and read by millions of people (currently at #13 on Amazon.com) - who do not have the good sense to acknowledge the hard, grass roots work that goes into making an author a bestseller. Without small independent booksellers putting debut novels in the hands of readers, 4th tier authors (which is pretty generous, believe me) like Christopher Reich would be lost in the squirming mass of humanity that is the world of published fiction - and they would never end up on a fascist radio talk show like The Glenn Beck Program. (Seriously, here's the transcript - of special note: the impending, totally justifiable war with Iran that they both are looking forward to.) I am not, nor will I ever be, the bookseller that wastes a customer's time with crap-tastic genre fiction like Mr. Reich's books, but there are enough booksellers out there who have taken the time to embrace his work for what it is and direct consumers to it who in no way deserve to have f-bombs rained down on them at a book signing for not having "enough" copies of the author's new book on hand.

Christopher Reich=JerkHere's the process for a book signing: a bookstore confirms that an author will be making an appearance at their store. The bookstore then reviews the sales of the author's previous titles and makes a decision, based upon the experience of the book buyers and on the author's previous sales history, on how many books to purchase in order to have enough for every customer attending the event. If a store only sold 2 copies of the author's last novel, then the amount purchased for the event is going to be on the conservative side - maybe 30 - so as not to get caught with 100 extra copies of the book needing to be returned. Returning copies is not a hardship, per se, but there is simply no need to have an excess looming over the author during an event attended by 6 people. It is generally for the protection of both the author and the store - there is nothing malicious or stupid about this process. As the author: throwing a hissy fit over the amount of books available (say, sixty) for your signing is not appropriate behavior. Calling the employees of a 112-year old bookstore "incompetent" (or some variation thereof) is also not appropriate. Use of the word "fuck" in mixed company - say, to bookstore employees prior to your book signing - is generally considered inappropriate. Nor is it appropriate to actually laugh at the store employees working overtime to deliver 75 extra copies from Costco to the signing so that you stop crying. Why is that funny? Assholes behave like this.

Again, I was not in attendance during all of this, but I felt it needed to be written about. Sorry about all the swearing, but it was meant to be in the spirit of the event. And one last hint for authors out on tour: if you decide to spend $2500 of your own money on throwing a catered champagne-toast party for your book's release at a independent bookstore, do not throw that figure in the face of the event coordinator if you are unhappy about sales at the event. As in, "I didn't spend $2500 to sell 75 fucking books." (Yes, the f-bomb was part of the real conversation.) I've met hundreds of humble, grateful authors who would give their front teeth to sell that many copies at a book signing. (Very, very few of them would throw themselves a catered ego-party at a bookstore either - seriously, what's up with that?) Maybe 60 copies was not enough for your event, as you invited all 100 of your friends, but criticism laced with curses is not the best approach to remedying the situation. All that does is get your cheeks into the Book Catapult.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Breath by Tim Winton

Tim Winton"I couldn't have put it into words as a boy, but later I understood what seized my imagination that day. How strange it was to see men do something beautiful. Something pointless and elegant, as though nobody saw or cared."

I'm not a surfer. Being born on Long Island Sound, we didn't really have anything surfable, so the sport never had a pull over me like it does with some - it looked like fun, but it was never anything I looked to as an aspiration. Now, living amongst the surf culture in Southern California, I still don't follow the idiosyncrasies of surfing society, but I have grown to appreciate it for what it is. The old school surf philosophy has a distinct appeal - the understanding of your surroundings, a respectful meditation helping to forge a visceral connection with the sea itself. Being towed out to the big breaks by jet-skis seems like another activity all together - and completely off the mark. Too competetive, too sport-like for what surfing really seems to be about. This brings me to Tim Winton's newest book, Breath, which manages to conjure up that mythological one-with-the-ocean imagery & pull it together into a beautifully written novel.

BreathI hate to call this a "coming-of-age" tale, as that conjures images of unappealing tripe like A Separate Peace or Dead Poets Society - a more friendly tag for this would be a "remembrance of the formative years of youth" novel. Yeah, I just made that up. Told as said "remembrance of youth" by Bruce Pike, EMT and self-proclaimed "old man" living in Western Australia, it follows him as a teen, learning the complexities of friendship, love, lust, and surfing - not necessarily in that order. Bruce pairs up with the wild-child and pub rat, Ivan "Loonie" Loon at age 11 and the two become inseparable - spending hours holding their breath underwater in the local river, as Pike is banned from the sea by his worrisome parents. It doesn't take long for this game to wear thin and the two boys rebelliously make their way to the ocean where the surfing bug bites hard. And once they meet the mysterious hippie big-wave surfer, Sando, ("It's about you. You and the sea, you and the planet.") they learn that there is more to surfing than just riding waves and saying "stoked" (although, no one uses "stoked" in late-20th century Western Australia, thankfully).

"I will always remember my first wave that morning. The smells of paraffin wax and brine and peppy scrub. The way the swell rose beneath me like a body drawing in air. How the wave drew me forward and I sprang to my feet, skating with the wind of momemtum in my ears. I leant across the wall of upstanding water and the board came with me as though it was part of my body and mind. The blur of spray. The billion shards of light. I remember the solitary watching figure on the beach and the flash of Loonie's smile as I flew by; I was intoxicated. And though I've lived to be an old man with my own share of happiness for all the mess I made, I still judge every joyous moment, every victory and revelation against those few seconds of living."

It's truly transportative at times - again, "Marko don't surf", but Winton's descriptions of life among the big waves made me fleetingly wish that I had the ability and the courage to get out there. Much of the novel is just that - Pike, Loonie, and Sando learning to live by surfing the unsurfable. And, yes, there is an element of "coming of age" for young Brucie Pike (wink, wink), if you know what I mean. But it is Winton's capturing of that magical, indefinable element to surfing and laying it all out there for you in erudite, brilliant prose that makes this worth the read. My only complaints are actually compositional - mainly in the "introduction" and "conclusion" sections. These are told from "elder Bruce's" perspective, rather than as first-person "child Bruce". They attempt to alternately set up the tale and wrap things up neatly in the end, neither of which are necessary and both of which serve only to distract and deflect from the story as a whole. They never should have made the final cut, as they are just too neat in conjunction with the rest. But don't let that scare you off, gentle reader - read it if you love surfing, but also read it if you have never stood on a board in your life - if you take that deep breath, I think the latter group will get more out of it.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Indiana Goes Back to the Drawing Board

Well, it took a few months, but it seems that sometimes, the American judicial system actually does the right thing. A few months back, I wrote about the passage of an Indiana law - H.B. 1042 (see "Booksellers or Smutsellers?") - that would have forced retailers to register with the state if they would be selling any materials deemed to be "sexually explicit". It was an absurdly vague law without any defining boundaries, resulting in the drawing of a huge net across anyone selling any books or magazines with remotely sexual imagery or passages and forcing them to register like a sex offender. Thankfully, federal Judge Sarah Evans Baker saw the light - she had this to say in striking down the law: “A romance novel sold at a drugstore, a magazine offering sex advice in a grocery store checkout line, an R-rated DVD sold by a video rental shop, a collection of old Playboy magazines sold by a widow at a garage sale - all incidents of unquestionably lawful, non-obscene, non-pornographic material being sold to adults - would appear to necessitate registration under the statute.”

Though I'm still shocked at the margin with which this phony law passed through the Indiana senate: 44-2. If you live there, you really need to vote those clowns out as soon as possible. These are the kinds of questionable voting records that need to be seriously scrutinized come election time - something I fear that the American public tends not to do as often as we should.