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Tuesday, Apr 19, 2011
The scandal over the possible truthiness of Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea leaves us with a lesson that apparently needs to be taught again and again.

The 17 April edition of 60 Minutes was surprisingly book-heavy for these tweetable times, with two segments being focused on recent books and, more particularly, on the men who wrote them. The second was the less eye-opening of the two, being a somewhat quizzical take on the new memoir by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. This is the same Allen who cashed out to a tune of some $40 billion, which he then spent on philanthropy, but more eye-catchingly on a Jimi Hendrix guitar, his own ocean-going yacht that’s bigger than a football field, and a hanger full of vintage war planes, not to mention a couple of pro sports franchises. Leslie Stahl looks at Allen crook-eyed while he awkwardly tells stories about what a screaming jerk Bill Gates was, and tells him that she’s getting a certain Howard Hughes vibe, as are those viewers paying attention…


The Gates story – about how he and Steve Ballmer supposedly conspired to dilute Allen’s share of the company after Allen was diagnosed with cancer – was the book’s attention-grabber that hooked people in. But pretty quickly it becomes apparent that that’s not the narrative 60 Minutes wants to pursue. The feeling the whole piece leaves one with is pretty sour, and will likely not result in anybody rushing out to get Allen’s book, Idea Man; a pretty astounding thing given that this is the man who was instrumental in creating the dominant corporate-technological apparatus of the late 20th century. The book is hobbled before it even gets out of the gate.


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Monday, Nov 22, 2010
Stewart and Colbert highlight books that are either new and relevant to the news of the day or just plain fascinating in some way. The short, humorous conversations key in on the most interesting elements of the books, and the authors usually have just enough time to make their case and whet my appetite for more.

Is this what it’s like to watch the Home Shopping Network? Somebody comes on screen and talks about a new kind of soap or a wondrously diamondesque piece of jewelry and you just can’t help yourself? Like a person possessed, you pick up the phone or the keyboard and the transaction’s complete before you know what happened. I don’t know for sure—I’ve never watched much shopping-specific television, but I do know that I keep buying the books because of pleasant, smiling people I see on television. That sounds like how HSN and QVC are supposed to work, right?


I’m a terrible impulse buyer, especially when it comes to books. In the old days, I would find it almost physically impossible to walk out of a bookstore without something, at least a magazine. For a while though, I thought I’d overcome this uncontrollable desire for the printed word. As I noted a few weeks back, I’d broken the cycle of buying thanks to switching over to e-books, mostly through Amazon’s Kindle App on my phone and various tablet devices. For me, coming away with some downloaded free samples scratched that itch for new words.


But I recently looked at my list of actual e-book purchases and found that I’d become subject to a new source of temptation—the teasing, seductive power of a five-minute interview with Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert. I’ve long been impressed by the fact that authors make up such a large percentage of the guests on both shows. Not only are they authors, but they’re not usually particularly famous ones. Instead, Stewart and Colbert highlight books that are either new and relevant to the news of the day or just plain fascinating in some way. The short, humorous conversations key in on the most interesting elements of the books, and the authors usually have just enough time to make their case and whet my appetite for more. Sometimes I download the sample, just like in the store, but there’s a special power seeing the author live has over me. If I feel a connection, I want to support them, I want to buy the book.


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