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Monday, April 30, 2007

Massive new Edith Wharton biography released

Can't remember how long ago I read that Hermione Lee, perhaps best known for her brilliant biography of Virginia Woolf, was at work on an exhaustive look at Edith Wharton.

At 880 pages, Edith Wharton was favorably reviewed in yesterday's New York Times Sunday Book Review. Probably wouldn't matter to me if it were panned. I'm a HUGE fan of R.W.B Lewis' 1975 Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of her, but will soak up anything about my favorite author of all time.

I can't concentrate on work until I first dash off to Barnes & Noble.

UPDATE: I purchased the book yesterday. At three pounds, it is definitely NOT a traveling book.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Impassioned plea to save newspaper book sections

Scott Freeman writes passionately in today's "Insider High Ed" about the need to preserve book coverage in daily newspapers.
I am writing this as a member of the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC), and am mainly addressing people who belong to the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) and the Association of American University Presses (AAUP).

On behalf of my colleagues, I am making a plea to you for solidarity. We are in trouble. We need your help.

Over the past several years, the economics of daily newspapers have become much more complicated and many paper owners have felt that their profit margins weren’t large enough. Coverage of books has been one of the easiest things to cut. And the cuts have tended to come early and often. They have taken the form of various measures, including shrinking the space available for reviews and interviews; reductions of freelance budgets; and the increased use of syndicated material. Most book pages have always had very small staffs. Now it is rare that more than one editor handles the reviews full-time, and in many cases the entire section has been closed down.

Such cuts are usually explained as a matter of economic necessity – the decisions framed in terms of meeting the perceived interests of the public. But the reduction or elimination of book coverage has occurred even in cities where readers clearly want and expect it.

While he is hopeful that some other forms of media will pick up the book reviewing slack, he's not waiting and is advocating action now.

This week and throughout May, the National Book Critics Circle will be trying to raise some public recognition of where things now stand – and to create some pressure to reverse the trend towards downsizing and elimination. We have about 700 members. Not all of us are editors or reviewers for newspapers. But we do see the book pages at newspapers as part of the cultural ecology, so to speak. Halting their destruction seems like a necessary thing.

What can you do? I asked John Freeman, the outgoing president of NBCC, who responded by naming some very specific actions that would be helpful.

(1) Sign the petition to reinstate the book-section editor at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

(2) Write to your local newspaper’s publisher to express support for its book coverage. And if your paper doesn’t have such a section, ask why not. “It always baffles me,” as Freeman says, “why university towns like New Haven, Durham, Champagne-Urbana and Iowa City have virtually no book pages in their papers.”

(3) Talk to your local independent bookseller. Local literary scenes are often undercut by the power of superstores and the reliance of newspapers on “wire” copy about books (that is, material issued by syndication). Smaller bookshops are rallying points for opposition to these trends.

(4) Review books for your local paper. This requires developing a voice that may sound rather different from the one you might use when reviewing books for a professional journal. An easygoing style doesn’t always come easily. But it can be enjoyable to acquire and to practice, and newspaper ink has addictive properties.(“The more the academy engages with the public through reviews,” Freeman told me, “the better chance we have of connecting tradition with culture, and judging new works of art accordingly.”) And if you already review, consider becoming a member of NBCC.

(5) Whether or not you join NBCC, please make its blog Critical Mass part of your Web-browsing routine. Over the past year, it has become the “blog of record” for literary and publishing news. And insofar as book-folk have a rallying point in dealing with the changes at newspapers, Critical Mass is it. Freeman says it will have updates on efforts to challenge cuts at The Raleigh News & Observer, The Minneapolis Star Tribune, The Philadelphia Inquirer and The L.A. Times.

Here in Cleveland, it's a good idea to send a note of support to The Plain Dealer Publisher and book editor Karen Long. Karen is an incredibly intelligent writer and editor whose books selections and pages are one of the few true enjoyments of the Sunday PD.

As for me, I'll continue to review here from time to time. In the past week, I've received three selections from publishers that I've chosen to keep for review:

"Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America 1789-1989" by Michael Beschloss (Simon & Schuster / May 8, 2007)

"A Church in Search of Itself: Benedict XVI and the Battle for the Future" by Robert Blair Kaiser (Vintage Books / April 10, 2007)

"Floor Sample: A Creative Memoir," by Julia Cameron (Tarcher/Penguin / April 19 2007)

The debris on my desk

Whenever I print something that seems important enough to hang on to yet not urgent to read, it lands on top of my scanner/printer. I don't want to file immediately without having read it because it may be something about which I can write or enter or be inspired or pitch.

But the stack is getting precariously high and off balance just enough to go fluttering into the black hole behind my desk. Sorting through two months of stuff I find:

An offer from Cingular to upgrade my cell phone at no charge.

Article: 10 ways for journalists to use LinkedIn

Photo shot list, draft deadline and revised themes for my small schools story (draft due next Friday)

Direction to tomorrow's lacrosse game in Medina

Religion reporting at JCU last Friday (missed that one)

Rules for Writer's Digest annual competition (deadline: May 15, yeah, that's not likely)

Forum on border detentions this Sunday (I need to go to this for story I'm working on, but it's Michael's First Communion on Sunday)

April meeting of Thomas Merton Society (oops, that was last night)

The Maternal is Political submission guidelines from Seal Press (deadline: June 1, hmmm, possible, I'll hang on to that one)

"'In the Pain Cave': Award-winning journos on long-form writing" by Greg Lindsay on mediabistro

Rejection e-mail from Mother Jones (need to file that in my expansive rejection file)

Excel list of teachers participating in an online discussion about working in urban schools for story for KnowledgeWorks (THAT'S where I put the list!).

Market info on kids, travel and essays for Washington Post and Christian Science Monitor (I have the start of three essays in an electronic file and should really try to work on at least one).

BookExpo America/Writer's Digest Book Writer's Conference (seriously unlikely--talk about wishful thinking!).

Market info on selling reprints

Medical study on hearing loss (I see a note about pitching FOB of Health, which I recently discovered is in management turmoil. Hmmm, maybe Prevention?)

Medical study about religion and alcoholic recovery (lost opportunity with Beliefnet)

Cleveland Clinic Sports Health spring newsletter (wanted to do something on lacrosse and preventing injury)

Possible pitch on Cleveland woman doing medical work in Central America's State of the News Media Overview

Okay, now, back to work.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Bill Moyers Journal: Buying the War | Excerpt | PBS

The latest must-see TV coming from PBS is Bill Moyers Journal: Buying the War. Tune in at 9 p.m. on April 25.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Time is not on my side

Time—or lack of it—seems to be a theme this week. One friend e-mailed how she needed a person to handle her schedule. And then there's this from Cleveland's own Carl Monday.

My problem started while I was on vacation. As we drove home my mind meandered over the many stories I want to write and the markets I'd like to pitch and the research I have to do and the books I want to read and the programs I'd like to attend and the conferences I can't miss and the places I want to travel and the people I'd like to meet with and...well you get the idea.

My goal, one day, is to be content with my life. To not feel as if I'm missing out or not quite good enough. I'm not sure I'll ever get to that point, but I suppose it's a goal worth shooting for.

Now that I've recovered from my post-vacation self-pitying rant, I'm trying to find ways to better use my time. I haven't identified any solutions, but here's what I struggle with:

How do I divide my week into time for research, pitching, reporting, writing and editing?

How do I manage the many ideas for stories and how do I keep fewer of them from slipping through the cracks?

How do I get into a regular rhythm of pitching stories so it doesn't feel so angst-ridden and unproductive?

How do I expose my work in the best way possible to attract attention and more work?

How do I find time to write for fun or enter one of the many writing contests that appear in my e-mail? And what do I do with all the pages of rules I've printed in the hopes of seriously entering?

The advice of Dr. Leo Marvin in the movie, "What About Bob?" keeps popping into my brain—"Baby steps, Wendy." Suppose I should try to take a smaller bite out of my work and see how that goes down...

Nah! That's just not me. Bring it on!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


"All sorrows can be borne, if you put them into a story." — Isak Dinesen

Sunday, April 15, 2007

In need of attitude adjustment

We arrived home at about 3 this afternoon from a week of cold, wet, windy weather in Florida. I'm feeling more stressed out then before my vacation. Internet access was spotty all week and I was unable to access the hundreds of e-mails slamming my inbox. Sadly, I felt compelled to check and was unable to sleep or rest because I couldn't check.

So I sit here tonight trying to wade through the requests for this information and that report and connections with this person and that team info and more crap than I can possibly process.

I am angry that we spent so much money on a vacation that included weather only marginally better than here in Cleveland. I am angered at the inability to take a week with my family and not concern myself with work.

I'm not alone. All around the Adagio resort were mothers and fathers with Bluetooth devices conducting deals around the pool or on the patio balconies. Folks were dashing down to the beach late because they were checking e-mail or picking up faxes. Sad and pathetic.

Makes me want to just check out of the whole scene completely.

Whenever I'm away something happens that's pivotal to my work. Rejections from magazines always arrive and a story I've been working on since December is written about in the paper and now has a New York Times reporter on it. F@#*-ing A!

How do I adjust my attitude to have a productive week? How do I fight the overwhelming urge to chuck my laptop and cell phone into Lake Erie?

Wednesday, April 04, 2007