Talking About Books . . .

The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Tom Swift, and the Bobbsey Twins all have the same father.  He is also the father of some lesser known kids including the Motor Boys, and the Outdoor Girls.  Their father is Edward L. Stratemeyer, and he was born 150 years ago in Elizabeth, New Jersey.  Stratemeyer felt that there was a market for children’s literature, and he was right.  For years he wrote all the books that his syndicate produced himself, but due to the demand for new adventures he eventually had to hire a group of novelists to flesh out the plot outlines he gave them.  The author of the Hardy Boys series is supposedly Franklin W. Dixon, and the author of the Nancy Drew series is supposedly Carolyn Keene, but both names of pseudonyms just as Betty Crocker is a pseudonym.  Many writers have penned Stratemeyer’s books over the years including his daughter, Harriet, who wrote a number of the Nancy Drew mysteries after Stratemeyer’s death in 1930.  The history of the Stratemeyer characters is too detailed to include here, but is available in a number of books – and at various internet sites.

The characters have had to change with the times, of course, in order to interest young readers today.  For instance Nancy Drew is now the heroine in some graphic novels with manga-style artwork, and the Hardy Boys now narrate their own adventures by alternating chapters in each book.  Their dress and slang have changed, and the cars they drive have also changed.  Nancy Drew, who used to drive a blue convertible now drives a hybrid, uses a cell phone, and wears clothes that show a lot more skin than in the old days.

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In the book world “remainders” are the books you buy at a sharp discount because they are not selling well at regular prices.  To authors, remainders are an embarrassment because they imply that the books are not popular with the reading public.

Facing this humiliation head-on, a number of authors have formed a rock band called The Rock Bottom Remainders.  The personnel, who change from time to time, have included Maya Angelou, Amy Tan, Roy Blount, Jr., Stephen King and Barbara Kingsolver.

In 1993 the band undertook a nine city east coast tour, and then wrote a book about their experiences entitled Mid-Life Confidential: The Rock Bottom Remainders Tour America with Three Chords and an Attitude.  Each of the 15 band members (which at the time included Stephen King, Amy Tan, Barbara Kingsolver and Dave Barry) wrote a chapter for the book, and King’s wife, Tabitha, provided photos.

Founded in 1992 by the late author and musician Kathi Kamen Goldmark, The Rock Bottom Remainders band has raised over two million dollars for charity.

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“There’s only one thing to do with critics: bathe them in hot tar.”  So said Irish writer Brendan Behan of those who review literary works.  In fact, many books considered classics today were savaged by reviewers when first published.  Flavorwire has compiled some less than flattering reviews of 15 now-classic novels.

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For his 2007 book, The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books, editor J. Peder Zane got 125 American and British authors to send him a list of their ten favorite books – ranked in order of preference.  He then assigned points to each book, and compiled a number of lists including “The Top Top Ten List,” “Top Ten Works of the Twentieth Century,” “Top Ten Mysteries and Thrillers,” and “Top Ten Works by British Authors.”  He also includes a brief description of each and every book recommended by the authors.

Here is his “Top Ten Mysteries and Thrillers” list:

  1. The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler
  2. The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson
  3. Red Dragon by Thomas Harris
  4. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
  5. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carré
  6. The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain
  7. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
  8. Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain
  9. The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
  10. Everybody Pays by Andrew Vachss

Zane continues to poll writers about their favorite books and publishes their responses on his website.  He publishes lists submitted by readers as well.

What are your favorite 10 books?  Send your list to me at, and I’ll post them in a special section of my blog.

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Here’s the challenge: create a novel using the 140 characters available in a single tweet.  The Guardian newspaper issued that challenge to some well-known writers and published 21 creative responses.

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Not being content to simply be the biggest book retailer in the world, Amazon is now in the book publishing business.  However, things are not going particularly well.  For example take the case of Penny Marshall’s memoir My Mother Was Nuts.  Reports indicate that only 7,000 copies or so were sold during its first four weeks on the market.  The problem stems from the fact that over the years Amazon has made enemies of brick-and-mortar chains like Barnes & Noble as well as every independent book store in the United States by selling at steep discounts and not being forced to collect sales tax in many cases.  Now that Amazon needs outlets (other than their website) they are finding that the usual channels for selling books are unavailable.  So, unless things change, authors may decide that the lure of making deals directly with Amazon (thus by-passing agents and others) may not be as appealing as they first thought.

In other Amazon news, the company says it will hire 50,000 temporary workers for the holidays.  It also predicts that thousands of those workers will be hired full-time after the holiday rush.

And, if you don’t have enough book related lists to follow, you can add Amazon’s list of the 100 most popular authors.  Believe it or not, the ranking is updated each hour.  Fame is, indeed, fleeting.  See the ranking here.

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Just when I think I’ve seen it all, here comes another fascinating invention.  This time it’s a rocking chair for iPad users.  Not impressed?  Take a look and read the article here.

Are you impressed now?

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CBS This Morning has started a book club and the first selection is Doris Kearns Goodwin’s popular Team of Rivals.  On Thursday, November 15th Goodwin will appear on CBS This Morning to discuss her book and the movie based on it.

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Surreal adj. bizarre, fantastic, grotesque.  Yes, that pretty well describes Edward Docx’s experiences with some very strange people (or perhaps I should say “characters”) he met in the Swiss town of Meiringen as they celebrate the “death” of their hero Sherlock Holmes at the Reichenbach Falls.  Also, his analysis of why we love Sherlock so much, which is near the end of the essay, is quite thought provoking.

The Reichenbach Falls actually exist as does the ledge where Holmes and Moriarty fought to the death.  A plaque on the path to the ledge bears this inscription: “At this fearful place, Sherlock Holmes vanquished Professor Moriarty, on 4 May 1891.”

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See if you can define these words that have been added to the Oxford Dictionary Online this year: chillax, droolworthy, frankenfood, illiterati, locavore, and muffin top.  You can find the definitions for these words and more here.

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