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by Chris Barsanti

23 Jul 2007

Everyone at the airport had extra baggage with them this weekend, namely the 750-odd-page hardcover Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Some readers had just started, others seemed to be over halfway through already, their faces a mask of exhaustion and anticipation. If it seemed like a race, that’s because it was. The point was to finish the book as fast as humanly possible before the ending or any major plot points were ruined by the professional spoilers who were eagerly posting pages on the Internet and spreading the word as fast as possible. (Anecdotal evidence points to adolescent kids, the same kind who like to tell their younger classmates that Santa Claus doesn’t exist—when, that is, they take a second from pulling the wings off flies—shouting out plot spoilers at the midnight release parties.) In some sense, it wasn’t necessary, as most all the rumors floated before the books went on sale turned out not to be actual spoilers but just snarky guesses. For some reason all this guesswork was deemed grand entertainment by many, including the irritating pair of fellow travelers sitting near me who demanded to know, “Who dies?!”

In any case, the weekend is over, the sales totals are still being counted and exclaimed over (8.3 million!), and the book is finished; what next but the hangover? As someone who has never quite felt comfortable with the term “guilty pleasure,” I do find that to be the term that came up in my mind time and again upon completion of each J. K. Rowling book, and now that I have closed the cover on the series as a whole and thought of the books that I could have read in the same time period, I can safely say: I think I wasted my time.

by Kembrew McLeod

22 Jul 2007

Love Is a Mix TapeLife and Loss, One Song at a Timeby Rob SheffieldCrownJanuary 2007, 224 pages, $22.95

Love Is a Mix Tape
Life and Loss, One Song at a Time
by Rob Sheffield
January 2007, 224 pages, $22.95

“I met Renée in Charlottesville, Va., when we were both 23,” Rob Sheffield writes. “When the bartender at the Eastern Standard put on a tape, Big Star’s “Radio City,” she was the only other person in the room to perk up. So we drank bourbon and talked about music.”

The tall, skinny, geeky grad student soon found himself at her doorstep, sputtering, “I don’t know what your type is. I don’t know what your deal is. I don’t even know if you have a boyfriend. I know I like you and I want to be in your life, that’s it, and if you have any room for a boyfriend, I would like to be your boyfriend, and if you don’t have any room, I would like to be your friend. Any room you have for me in your life is great.”

Before long, he was making her mix tapes, a rite of passage shared by most music-obsessed lovers. Almost as quickly, she reciprocated.

Love Is a Mix Tape is a new memoir by Sheffield, whose smart, witty “Pop Life” music column is one of the saving graces of Rolling Stone magazine. Chronicling his romance with fellow rock critic Renée Crist, a woman I knew, Sheffield’s book is a moving meditation on love and loss—and the (musical) ties that bind us.

“Before I met her, I was just another hermit wolfboy, scared of life, hiding in my room with my records and my fanzines,” Sheffield writes. “Suddenly, I got all tangled up in this girl’s noisy, juicy, sparkly life.”

A noisy, juicy, and sparkly life, yes—but a brief one.

by Cari Tuna

19 Jul 2007

MINNEAPOLIS—Saturday’s debut of the seventh and final book in the Harry Potter series may be a magical time financially for its author and publisher, but it’s less so for bookstores—especially independent ones.

Faced with steep discounts from chains and big-box stores, a swath of midnight extravaganzas and a long list of rules tied to the occasion, some local shops are opting for a more subdued release.

“It’s definitely not a big moneymaker,” said Mary Magers, part owner of Magers & Quinn Booksellers in Minneapolis. “(But) you can’t not carry the book.”

by Chris Barsanti

18 Jul 2007

When in doubt, bring on the vampires. That is, if you can’t do zombies. That’s the advice which prospective young authors should take from last week’s news that Ballantine was slapping down a cool $3.75 million for the North American rights to a postapocalyptic vampire trilogy. The author is one Justin Cronin, who’s won a passel of awards (like the PEN/Hemmingway) for previous books, neither of which seem to have anything in common with the genre-busting, megaplex-ready trilogy that he’s now indebted to produce. According to New York magazine, there’s good buzz—but that could just mean a couple of agents like the thing (one of whom is quoted as gushing, “Usually I hate this stuff, and I love it!”).

One has to wonder, though, given Cronin’s relatively tony pedigree, whether this development could auger a slew of New Yorker-worthy writers giving up their post-ironic depictions of collapsing marriages and damaged relationships for the wide-open fields of genre. After all, Michael Chabon, Margaret Atwood, and Cormac McCarthy have already made the crossover. Just think of the possibilities: Ian McEwan’s lesbian vampire hunters! Khaled Hosseini’s teenage zombie massacre (in Kabul)! Gunter Grass’s alternate universe World War II manga series! And Sven Birkerts could launch his own space opera series in which bookish aliens descend upon Earth and threaten the species with extinction unless we learn to appreciate libraries more.

It’s a thought…

by Ari Y Kelman

18 Jul 2007

Denzel Washington, one of the voices in The Bible Experience

Denzel Washington, one of the voices in
The Bible Experience

The 2007 Audie (the Oscar for audiobooks) for “audiobook of the year” was awarded to The Bible Experience, a new 19-CD recording of The New International Version of the New Testament.  Produced by Inspired by… Media Group, The Bible Experience features a full cast of A and B list African American performers from Denziel Washington and Angela Bassett to MC Lyte and Eric Benet (nee Mr. Halle Berry).  Combining the The New International Version of the New Testament‘s contemporary sensibility, lush musical accompaniment, and effusive individual efforts, it is, as the title insists, not just a recitation of the Bible, but a full-blown “experience”.

Since its release in November, 2006, The Bible Experience has become something of a juggernaut, even among other versions of the Bible.  The good book was featured on Oprah, was the subject of a story on NPR, and received coverage in almost every major newspaper in America.  All told, The Bible Experience has sold over 800,000 units in eight months, and it has quickly become Zondervan publishers’ (one of the leading Christian publishing houses in the United States) best selling title.

To become a best-selling title as a version of the best selling-book of all time is itself, no small feat, and I think the popularity of this version suggests something new is afoot in the world of faith, text, media and message.  In effect, it is a revision of the old question about style and substance, but in this case, the stakes seem higher.  And, with all due respect to Mr. Jackson’s powerful Pulp Fiction riff on Ezekiel 25:17, substance generally trumps style in questions of faith.


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