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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.


by Chris O'Brien

18 Jul 2007

SAN JOSE, Calif.—Harry Potter dies!

No, wait, he lives!

If you’re lying awake at night counting the minutes until Saturday when the final Harry Potter book is released, then boot up the computer and get Googling. Copies of the closely guarded Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows may have leaked onto the Internet, sparking legal skirmishes and outrage among fans who are trying to avoid spoilers at all costs.

The apparent leak demonstrates how difficult it can be to keep secrets in a digital age. But the key word is “apparent.” Because amid all the wailing and gnashing of teeth, there’s one question that nobody will answer: Are the copies real?

So read on, you Muggles. This story is spoiler-free.

by Jason B. Jones

16 Jul 2007

This is the first of what I hope will be a series of short looks at books from academic presses which I think might interest a wider readership. In each, there will be first a mini-review, and then a brief interview with the author.—JBJ

Impotence: A Cultural History
by Angus McLaren
(University of Chicago Press, 2007)

Laughing at erections is the province of middle- and high-school humor; laughing at impotence is a more adult entertainment. In the Friends episode, “The One with Monica’s Thunder,” Chandler has a momentary loss of power.  Shaken, he asks Joey if it’s ever happened to him.  Joey says, sure—happens to everybody.  Not a problem.  But when Chandler asks what he does in those situations, Joey’s answer leaves him even more disturbed: “Do it anyway.” 

This brief scene illustrates a central difficulty with conversations about erections and impotence: Questions of definition abound.  What looks like a simple question—am I hard or not?—turns out to have a long and interesting backstory.  Angus McLaren’s new book, Impotence: A Cultural History (University of Chicago Press, 2007), surveys Western approaches to erection, impotence, and infertility since the Greeks.  And these approaches are shockingly different.  An early Christian culture emphasizing celibacy, for instance, is necessarily going to take a very different view of impotence than is, say, a late-Victorian one worrying about the decadence of the West.

Impotence is a fascinating book, one that easily sustains its most basic claim, which is that “every age has turned impotence to its own purposes, each advancing a model of masculinity that informed men if they were sexual successes, and if not, why not.”  Despite the presence of a blurb from Dr. Ruth on the back cover, McLaren is a refreshingly low-key guide to the vicissitudes of impotence.  The book is almost unmissable for its extensive cataloging of tests (“fifteenth-century English courts sometimes employed ‘honest women’ to examine the man”) and treatments (ranging from the implantation of monkey and goat glands, to the construction of mechanical scaffolding, to various forms of pastes, salves, and unguents, applied topically, orally, or anally).

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