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Book News for Tuesday, November 18, 2008

  • The Mouse that Roared: Happy 80th birthday, Mickey Mouse!

    Walt Disney’s "Steamboat Willie" premiered on November 18th 1928 at the Broadway Theater.

    Now, please stop poisoning our children's minds with those relentless fantasies about "happily ever after" that will never, ever come true.

    And quit with the crappy, direct-to-DVD sequels already.

  • A Bestseller by Any Other Name: Barack Obama may be the man who can make a bestseller with a mere mention — even if he doesn't actually name the book in question.

    When President-elect Barack Obama appeared on “60 Minutes” on CBS on Sunday in his first interview since winning the election, he mentioned having read “a new book out about F .D. R.’s first 100 days” without specifically naming a title or author.

    That tantalizing reference set off a scramble for the claim to First Reader rights all day Monday before a spokesman for Mr. Obama disclosed what the president-elect had actually read.

    The publishers and authors of at least three such books that could fit Mr. Obama’s description each spent much of Monday wondering whether they had just gotten a plug from the soon-to-be leader of the free world.

    The New York Times, naturally, follows the long, complicated trail.

    (I hope I'm not giving anything away by revealing that Obama was referring to two books: Jonathan Alter's The Defining Moment and F D R by Jean Edward Smith.)

  • Palin the Ass: Governor Mooseburger stands to scrape up $7 million for a book deal.

    I've got an idea: let's pass a virtual hat around and collect $7 million that we'll give to Sarah Palin to NOT write the book.

    Don't you think $30 would be better spent on nothing by Palin than on her book? And the relentless publicity tour that would bring her back into the public eye? Not to mention all those winks and "oh, goshes" and "gee whizzes" and hockey moms and six-packs??

    It's like the series of dreaded, never-ending sequels to the annoying blockbuster movie you hated in the first place. And speaking of which...

  • Outliers and Vampires: Last night was the Los Angeles premiere of Twilight, the new film based on Stephenie Meyer's bestselling tween vampire novels.

    The Huffington Post reports — brace yourself — there were screaming teenagers present! Who screamed as the young movie stars strode down the red carpet!

    More than 600 people were allowed inside special holding areas along both sides of the premiere's red carpet. The self-proclaimed fanpires gawked, squealed and begged for autographs and photos with the stars. Others spilled out beyond the barricades and across the street from the premiere. Many held up handmade signs.

    Expect to see this same story on the covers of next week's Time, Newsweek, and Psychology Today magazines.

    The movie opens nationwide this Friday. Set phasers for "swoon."

    (Related: if anyone really cares, here's the story of how the major movie studios blew it and let Twilight slip right through their fat, greedy, clueless fingers.)

    I've had some lively email exchanges with a coworker — whom we'll call "Bellafan" — who seems unnaturally excited about the upcoming movie event. If it were up to me, from the moment I grimaced through the first teaser trailer on, you'd never have read two words about the thing. But Bellafan is insistent with the news reports, and I'm not strong enough to resist his steely gaze, alabaster skin, and Aquiline features.

    In discussing this seeming obsession — Bellafan insists it's the phenomenon, rather than the movie or book by themselves, that is so irresistible — I am reminded of Malcolm Gladwell's new book Outliers, which I've been reading this past week.

    (Yes, it's just as good as Blink. If you're someone whose life hasn't quite amounted to what s/he had always expected, and you suffer from terminal envy of those whose lives have (or seem to have), then it's even better.)

    Gladwell's book is about... well, here's what it's about:

    Now consider the Twilight series. The media likes to pump it up as some kind of unforeseen phenomenon — and how much the media claims contribute to that perceived phenomenon, I leave up to you — that erupted out of nowhere, with an author whose one-of-a-kind gifts have attracted the devotion of millions of readers (and, potentially, viewers).

    But is that really the case?

    I'm not gonna get all Gladwell on your ass, but let's look at the contributing factors, from previous successes that paved the way — from Harry Potter to Buffy the Vampire Slayer to the Laurell K. Hamilton novels (which the outline of the Twilight series vastly resembles, only with fewer were-monster orgies) — to the tween-oriented culture that has elevated adolescent fads into massive successes, all the way up to a struggling book industry that's starving for a bestselling book series to pump up its dwindling sales, and would do anything for another Harry Potter-sized smash.

    One of Gladwell's frequent observations is that nothing happens in a vacuum. He includes a list from Forbes magazine of the richest people in human history, and notes: "Of the seventy-five names, an astonishing fourteen are Americans born within nine years of one another in the mid-nineteenth century." He reasons, quite convincingly, that the circumstances of that period — the railrood boom, the rise of Wall Street — were just right for someone born in the 1830s to become not only successful, but a full-fledged tycoon.

    Likewise, it's no coincidence that computer industry moguls like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Paul Allen were all born around 1955. The circumstances — along with the environment in which they were raised, plus a heaping spoonful of pure, unadulterated luck — made them the perfect age for the home computer boom that made their fortunes.

    If Stephenie Meyer had written her book a year earlier, or a year later, she might have missed the window. If there were more explicit sex and less Mormon-y chest-heaving-with-no-touching-the-sin-parts, we might not be talking about the book now. And if Bellafan weren't so obsessed, there's no way we'd even be discussing this in Book News.

    So, in closing, you have Malcolm Gladwell to thank (or not) for Twilight. Here endeth the lesson!

÷ ÷ ÷

Brockman is the head writer for the daily Book News posts on the blog. In his free time he's hard at work on his fictional memoir, which changes titles daily.

The views and commentary posted by Brockman are entirely his own, and are not representative of the whole of Powell's Books, its employees, or any sane human being.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Twilight (Twilight Saga)
    Used Mass Market $1.00
  2. Outliers: The Story of Success
    Used Hardcover $6.50
  3. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without...
    Used Hardcover $4.95
  4. Breaking Dawn (Twilight Saga #4)
    Used Hardcover $1.95
  5. Whose Birthday Is It?: A... New Trade Paper $4.99
  6. Blue Moon
    Used Mass Market $2.50
  7. Sarah Palin: A New Kind of Leader Used Trade Paper $5.95
  8. The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred... Used Trade Paper $3.75
  9. FDR
    Used Trade Paper $10.95

2 Responses to "Book News for Tuesday, November 18, 2008"

    Kelly November 19th, 2008 at 10:04 am

    Thanks, Brockman. As always, you enlighten. LOVE the segue, btw. I for one
    will be avoiding all things Twilight as a vampire avoids sunlight. Thank God
    Stephen King has a new novel out right now to keep me shut in for a few days.
    I might check out Outliers, as well . . .

    Brockman (Post Author) November 19th, 2008 at 11:08 am

    Kelly — I don't want to dash your hopes, but King's new book isn't a novel. Just after Sunset is a new short story collection... but when it comes to King, that's just as good, right?

    I must admit, I wish Uncle Stevie would write a YA vampire romance novel in which everyone suddenly turns really savage and not a single throat goes un-ripped. Don't you?

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