An old truism goes that when Catholics sin, they go to confession, but when Protestants sin, they go out and buy a book (it didn’t say anything about what Mormons do). If that rule still applies today, then Protestants are doing a whole lot of sinning. Buried in this BBC News story about how Wal-Mart will soon be stocking an entire line of Bible-based action figures like Goliath and Sampson (a simultaneously surprising and yet terrifying prospect), is this little nugget: Sales of religious books in America went up 5.6% in 2006. And apparently Christian book-buyers spend half as much again on books as the average American. So whatever those atheists, and other non-Christian religious types are doing with their time, it doesn’t appear to be reading.
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GRAPEVINE, Texas—Publisher Nan A. Talese took up a fresh defense of A Million Little Pieces this weekend, defending the “essential truth” of the discredited memoir—while criticizing Oprah Winfrey and her fans.
Asked about the book during a session at the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Writers Conference of the Southwest on Saturday, Talese said her experience with author James Frey had not changed the way she handled memoirs.
“I’m afraid I’m unapologetic of the whole thing,” she said. “And the only person who should be apologetic is Oprah Winfrey,” who she says exhibited “fiercely bad manners—you don’t stone someone in public, which is just what she did.”
Calling Winfrey’s behavior “mean and self-serving,” Talese said that readers should be able to decide for themselves about whether to believe an author, and that Frey was clear about how believable he was.
Don’t you just love Kate McCulley?
NPR’s Talk of the Nation introduced me to her last week, and now I’m officially addicted to her blog, The Grammar Vandal. McCulley is a 22-year-old Bostononian who goes around the city correcting grammar mistakes on signs. Her passion is a beautiful thing. She mentions, openly and honestly, during the NPR interview that “bad grammar is a sign of a person who isn’t educated”, and that she considers herself a “vigilante”. Some of her best work includes sticking as apostrophe adhesive on a sign reading “Professors Row”, and raising a local farmer to hero status on her blog for his correctly-worded “Farmers’ Market Today” sign.
Someone needs to employ this woman to travel the world correcting linguistic wrongs. I’d love for her to clean up my town—we’re constantly choking on, among other things, restaurant menus displaying “hamburger’s”, “parmigana/parmagiana/parmagina”, and even, believe it or not, “sapghetti” (it’s written in huge letters on a walkway!). And I thought it was only backwards hick towns like mine that suffered this level of grammar-cancer.
Fight on, Grammar Vandal! We need you.
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.
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.