Displaying articles for: November 2011

Flap Rules

(A brief guide to writing the book descriptions that fill the space where, if you were to take the jacket off the book and lay it out flat with the outside of the jacket down, it would be the part that is farthest to the left, unless the book is in Hebrew and then, to be honest, I'm not sure where it would go)


  1. Always use "stunning," except when the book is about the history of the stun gun.
  2. Pair -- as in: "In this thrilling and dramatic story, about a brief but passionate affair between a brilliant and stunning movie star who is also a track and field champion and an expert and charming bow-and-arrow hunter and gatherer and a handsome and debonair backgammon and kung-fu master who comes and goes between the mysterious and dangerous jungles and rivers of Brazil and Argentina and the grand and glittering avenues and skyscrapers of New York and Hong Kong, you will be swept up and carried away by the dynamic and emotionally taut relationships and fates of the characters and their families and friends. "
  3. Always use "deeply."
  4. For that matter, always pair "deeply" with another adverb, except "profoundly." In No. 2, come to think of it, it should be "…about a brief but deeply and feverishly passionate…" etc.
  5.  Use items in a series as often as possible.  "In this stunning, deeply passionate, and thrilling tale of guns, gangs, and gambling…"
  6. Use alliteration.
  7. Infinitivize at least once per flap -- as in: "To read this stunning and deeply moving and thrilling novel is to be swept up and carried away …" etc.
  8. Use one or two but no more than two direct quotations from the text. They may be full sentences -- "'He was a genius, a stunningly evil genius'" -- or fragments -- "He was a 'stunningly evil genius,' we are told at the beginning of this deeply and dramatically thrilling novel." But in any case they may take up no more than 10% of the flap copy.
  9. Use "we" at least once per flap.
  10. In addition to "stunning," use at least three of the following adjectives for every flap: "Enthralling," "gritty," "original," "remarkable," "magical," "ground-breaking," "arresting," "dazzling," "heartbreaking," "compelling," "devastating," "captivating."
  11. Find a way to work in "best-selling," even if it has to take the form of something like "Often compared to the stunning best-selling novelist _________..."
  12. "Backdrop" is always good. "Against the stunningly dark and somber backdrop of pre-war Latvia," or "With the stunning backdrop of Oahu in the early Twentieth Century," or "We are deeply and dramatically moved by this stunning narrative and its remarkable and brilliant backdrop of Hollywood at its most dazzling and compelling."
  13. You may continue from the front flap to the back flap but only if the book itself is more than six hundred pages. (Not sure how to work "stunning" into this rule.)
  14. Use one and only one interrogative per flap. "What will the stunning and compelling climax of this deeply and subtly thrilling drama told against the backdrop of the amazing Maori culture and mythology of southern and central New Zealand?" or "'Why twenty and not twenty-one or twenty-two?' we may go so far as to ask." or "Where will the gritty treachery and betrayal end?"
  15. Try to end the flap with the word "resolve" or "resolution."  ("Stunning" should always be placed near the beginning.)
  16. Forget "subtly."

Daniel Menaker is the Editor of Grin and Tonic. His most recent book is A Good Talk.



Life can be difficult, according to the new novel Beach Wave: The Wizards of Keys by first-time novelist/computer program Heather T. T. Brightbee. The Brightbee Fictioneer program was created by [REDACTED] Publishing in order to bypass the sluggish and costly steps of hiring writers to create books. Using a complex algorithm which closely studies today's best-seller trends, the Brightbee has constructed what [REDACTED] is calling "the perfect novel."


The book tells the story of Persephone Solitary, the new girl at a wealthy prep school. She is dealing with the death of her father, the death of her secretive Uncle who owned an underground mansion and launderette, and the death of her best friend, who now talks to her via a divine telephone that only Persephone can answer.


The quiet and intelligent Persephone ("Sephy") is quickly seduced by the dark and handsome Noah Ravenlion, another new student. Together – andwith the help of three other new students, one of whom is (spoiler alert!) a Freemason, plus an English teacher who can travel backward in time but only about three seconds -- Sephy and Noah race to find the secret of the thirteen keys.


The story clunks along awkwardly at first, but things pick up in the second chapter, when Sephy inherits her grandmother's attic. What follows is a scene dripping with tension, mystery, sex, spiders, and regret. It's difficult to review the novel without giving away certain plot points, but at the risk of being coy, I will say this much: the roguish werewolf vs. sexy were-lobster battle left nothing to be desired. Who wins the fight? Answer: The reader.


Some may object to Noah's subsequent chapter-length self-help monologue in which he describes how to live a fulfilled life without GPS. But the speech's impact is brilliantly heightened by that fact that Noah delivers it while he and a completely nude Sephy are trapped in a mannequin/puppet factory that, ten years ago to the day, was involved in a suspicious fire related to a local Kingsford charcoal cult.


In any case, "author" Brightbee knows what her readers want, and her readers want dragons, psychic children who were right all along, and a sassy elderly woman who offers harsh advice with a shovelful of sugar. This last would be Mrs. Happley, the raunchy, tell-it-like-it-is, 76-year-old Sunday school teacher who follows Sephy and the gang around saying her charming catchphrase, "Me-oh-my! Sweet potato pie!"


The dragons may seem shoehorned into the story, as they appear only during one car chase when Sephy and Noah race to the museum to locate the Sixteen Phantoms of Rembrandt, but there are hints that the dragons will play a larger rule in future books, as will the mermaids, Billy Todd (the orphan without a home who possesses prodigious piano skills), and the monstrous Man Frog who wants only to be accepted. Still, there are enough dragons, mer-people, talented orphans, and frog folk to keep even the most diehard genre enthusiast satisfied.


But this novel boasts more than just sex, secrets, non-threateningly attractive monsters, self-help, and short words. Readers will be pleasantly surprised by Chapter 16, which jettisons traditional prose for the sake of a challenging but not too difficult Sudoku puzzle. (Hint: Find the 6's first.) And toward the end of the novel, there is a seamlessly integrated three-page interview with the cast of Mad Men.


If I have one real complaint about this book, it's that the cover is TOO good. True, the evocative image of a child's hand offering a broken yo-yo to the ocean may be -- just may be -- as powerful an image as ever created. But no ocean ever looked as ocean-y as this one. Still, the recipe section in the back is a godsend, and the complementary pedometer can change a life one step at a time.


Has the Brightbee program succeeded in generating the perfect bestseller? According to the blurbs on the back of the book from such literary heavyweights as Jonathan Franzen and "Jane Austin," the answer is yes.


Dan Bergstein now leads in most polls.


Live-Blogging the New Mead Unveiling


10:00AM: The lights are down in the Dayton Convention Center, where hundreds of journalists await Mead CEO David Woodman's unveiling of the latest glittering product. Rumors swirl: five-color pen? A no-rip spiral-bound notebook? Or, as Woodman has coyly suggested, an improvement on the company's flagship sheet of paper?


10:02AM: Woodman takes the stage to a rock-star ovation from the paper-geek crowd, dressed in his trademark relaxed-fit chinos and short-sleeve white collared shirt with a wacky Mead-product tie -- today's is a cascade of expanding files.


10:05AM: Woodman spends a few minutes crowing about Mead's successes the past year: sales of 2-inch binders are up 27%; they've opened their first iconic Mead Store in China, employing two dozen "Mead Notables" to handle customer questions; and Mead has just sold its one hundred millionth 1.5-inch binder. Yes, yes, we know, Mead owns the paper-products industry, get on with it…


10:07AM: "What we are unveiling today is a paradigm shift in information processing," Woodman intones. "It will change the way you present and receive data; it will change the way you think."


10:08AM: From the ceiling descends an opaque rectangle haloed in light, with the new product obscured behind it. It might be a sheet of paper -- yet, from my seat fifty feet back, it seems a tad small…


10:10AM: Whoa. *rubs eyes, pinches self* My estimate of the size wasn't inaccurate. Mead has created the SlimPaper, the world's first 8.25-by-10.75-inch piece of paper, shrinking the preexisting letter-size sheet by a full quarter inch. The crowd's collective intake of breath is audible. Woodman beams; the iconoclast lives for moments like this. Um, anyone not buying Mead stock right now?


10:17AM: Okay, what you're all waiting for: the specs. In addition to the length-width minimization, Mead's engineers have thinned the sheet from 0.1 to 0.08 millimeters -- breaking a barrier no one thought possible. For a 500-sheet ream, this translates to a full ten millimeters. And formerly twenty-pound bond paper now weighs nineteen pounds, fourteen ounces -- with no loss in sheet density. I've been covering the paper industry for twenty-five years, and I'm flabbergasted.


10:25AM: So it looks good, as we say, "on paper." But how's the performance? Woodman demonstrates with a standard ballpoint, scrawling some words: "Who wants…" The pen glides effortlessly over the surface, with sparkling crispness and enviable ink receptivity. Woodman's full sentence takes shape: "Who wants my old laptop?" It garners hearty laughter from the journos. Next, Woodman whips out a four-color and clicks on the red. Then the green. Then the blue. The primary colors pop. One imagines it's what it felt like gazing upon a Mondrian at the Met in 1942. And that's not all; Woodman says the SlimPaper backgrounds will come in pure, cloud, downy, ivory, cream, and off, with the Christmas rollout of a special-edition U2 sheet in pitch-black.


10:32AM: Woodman draws concerned gasps when he slides his index finger along the SlimPaper's edge. But he holds it up: Look, Ma, no blood. "At Mead, we're very concerned about safety," he says. "That's why we've invented revolutionary MicroRounding™ technology, to virtually eliminate paper cuts." He receives a standing O; there's not a single parent in the room who hasn't lost sleep over what we assumed were the necessarily intrinsic perils of paper.


10:38AM: Enough boring office work; how does the SlimPaper handle the fun apps? Woodman doodles, and doubts about the sheet size vanish -- the 88.6875 square inches easily accommodate stick figures, dialogue balloons, and "three-dimensional" cubes. Then he plays a glorious full-page game of Hangman, calling on the crowd for letters. "K-I-L-L-E-R-A-P-P." Good one, Dave.


10:45AM: Woodman ticks off the other advances: 105% recyclability; thirty-year non-yellowing shelf life; enhanced airplane constructability. "But what we're most excited about," he says, as he folds a fresh SlimPaper in half, "you'll have to see to believe." He counts aloud with each new fold -- two, three, four -- as the sheet thickens. He reaches eight, a mischievous gleam in his eyes. "Hmm," he muses, "I sort of feel like folding this piece of paper a ninth time." My colleague Victor Lassiter, of the New York Record of Paper, can't control himself. "If you can fold that paper again, I'll eat it," he shouts from the front row.


10:48AM: Woodman grins and, with the ease of a seasoned origamist, folds the paper a record-breaking ninth time. The room bursts into applause. Lassiter shakes his head, a smile on his face, and walks on-stage to eat his words. "Fortunately for Vic," says Woodman, "the SlimPaper is completely edible, with hints of rosemary and tarragon." He unfolds the piece and rips it in two, and the men -- sometime-nemeses infamous for sparring in the press -- enjoy a late-morning snack together.


10:50AM: Sales of the SlimPaper will commence tomorrow, at three different price points depending on ream size; the cost of the now-obsolete BrightPaper is expected to drop accordingly. And Woodman announces an exciting new partnership sure to shake up the musty world of paper: The SlimPaper will be sold in a packaged deal with the scorching-hot Microsoft Zune.


Teddy Wayne is the author of Kapitoil.


The bReader


Introducing the new bReader reading device! It includes everything the popular eReader offers, and so much more. The bReader combines the nostalgia for printed books with the power of technology and the lust for unnecessary though impressive add-ons!


The first thing you'll notice is that the bReader feels "real." To those who miss the smell and feel of a real book, the bReader is made from brand new library books that no one was going to read, and each device has been manhandled by 130 random strangers with sticky fingers, to give it that authentic, library feel. The case was also dipped in the tears and palm sweat of librarians.


Older customers often have a difficult time navigating the user interface of some eReaders, but the bReader has dealt with this problem head-on by hiring twenty-five members of our greatest generation to design and tweak the interface. Thanks to the wonderful designers, such as Edith Monroe (87) and Mort Sanders (84) the bReader now features the Assisted Living App (named by Mort himself). From the main page, users can use the app to easily find books, movies, very nice music, recipes, photos of grandchildren, produce prices, and, finally, reasonable shoe stores. But unlike other mobile devices and gadgets, no button pushing or even touching is necessary. The different items just pop up randomly, and without rhyme or reason. Stare at it long enough, and the item you're looking for is sure to appear eventually. 


The new bReader recommendation app, Sir Picks-a-Lot, is also top-of-the-line and on the bleeding edge of technology, using an algorithm so complex that eight men died during its programming. Once you finish a book and rate it, the app will offer finely tuned suggestions for other books, and more. For instance, depending on how you rated the latest Jonathan Franzen novel, the app will advise: "You may also like Neil Gaiman's American Gods, cedar wood, the first twenty minutes of Ghostbusters, breaking up with your significant other, eggs for dinner, getting a haircut that suits your age, the ocean, women with hearty laughs, helmets, clock radios that have those flippy number tiles instead of purely digital readouts, and, finally, buying that turtle. Also, you have a little something on your chin. No -- other side."


Reading can be difficult, but the bReader alleviates all literary stress with the Buddy app. Having trouble with a particular sentence? Switch the Buddy into "Knowsy" mode and the voice of Sir Ian McKellen will help you sort it out, and read it to you slowly and with great patience. (Warning: Ian may sound condescending. It's just his way.)  Or, switch to "Best Friend" mode and the friendly voice of Amy Adams will offer words of encouragement such as, "Wow. That sentence really is a toughy. I can't even figure it out, and I'm a computer. You're so brave for getting as far as you did. Why not watch The Real Housewives of New Jersey? Heard it's a good one! I love Teresa! Squeeeee!"


Reading in a noisy restaurant or at a party? Simply rotate the bReader in a counterclockwise motion and the polite but firm voice of actor John Goodman will say, "Shhh," so you won't have to. If you don't like John Goodman's voice, you can switch to Gary Sinise, Helen Mirren, or "Cockney Chimney Sweep". And for large crowds, switch to "Angry Tommy Lee Jones."


Children can enjoy the bReader too, thanks to the Lil' Book Worm app. The app will turn even the densest prose into easy-to-read children's literature by adding in fun elements of magic and adventure. Here's a sample from David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest: "The little girl grabbed the wizard's treasure map and ran for the giant boat called The Phantom Whale! Her best friend, the talking kitty, ran after her. Oh, and addiction takes many forms, from addiction to drugs to addiction to athletics. Anyway, the wizard's map began to glow…."


Along with the features mentioned above, the bReader includes thousands of fun apps. The Sownd Trakkkk app provides fitting background music for any book. (Creepy, detuned music box sounds for horror novels. Swelling orchestra numbers for romances. Slide whistle noises and tuba toots for self-help books. Flemish techno for non-fiction books about Flemish techno.)


And say so-long to lugging around book pedestals and lecterns. The Mag-Nut app applies a high powered magnetic field around the bReader, allowing it to float three inches above metal surfaces, thus saving your hands from purely mechanical toil. (Note: Activating this app will erase all data on computers within a 3-mile radius. May cause atrophied hands and spontaneous pregnancy.)


Yet more apps: The Smart Ass app will read books to you with sarcastic, ironic inflections. Example, "Call me Ishmael. [Duh!]" The Camo app hides the title of the embarrassing book you're reading and every so often will chirp, "Now turning the page of Dante's Inferno." Add your own haughty smirk for best results. The Gordon App is based on our friend Gordon who reads a lot. Activate the app, and Gordon's not-annoying-at-all voice will say, "Oooh. This is a good part. You're gonna like this," or "Get it? Did you get that? It's funny. Let me read it to you again." The Falconer's Glove app will call any and all birds of prey in your area! (It is recommended that you cover the bReader in a real falconer's glove before activating. And stand back.) 


Finally, two more unique and crucial apps. The Annotated Buscemi app will add Steve Buscemi's annotations to just about every book. Curious to read his thoughts on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, or The Brother's Karamozov? Of course you are. And for those who fall asleep while reading, turn on the Priva-C app. The bReader is then is guaranteed to not silently judge you while you sleep, nor will it contact robbers online and alert them of your weariness. Can your eReader make that same pledge?


With so many apps, including the HapApp – an app that changes sad endings (Example: Marley the Immortal Dog and Me), this is the only bReader you can't live without. Why is it a bReader instead of an eReader? There's an app that will explain it.


Dan Bergstein is no longer a lineman for the Steelers or the county.


July 23: Jessica Mitford died on this day in 1996.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.


When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).