February 22nd, 2014
January 25th, 2014
— Philip Turner (@philipsturner) January 24, 2014
From 1992-97, when I worked for Kodansha America, the US division of the major Japanese publisher, I had many interesting and talented colleagues, some of whom worked in New York, and others at the home office in Tokyo. My colleagues included both Westerners and Japanese. I didn’t often meet the ones who worked in Japan, but would occasionally see their names on inter-office memos and catalog materials. Among this group was Les Pockell, a lithe and witty fellow who after many years with the company in Tokyo came back to New York, working for Warner Books, later called Grand Central. He was also an anthologist of poetry and story collections. Sadly, Les died in 2010 at age 68. A Japanese colleague working in New York those years was my boss, Minato Asakawa, whose idea it was to publish Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years, the autobiography of two African-American sisters, Sadie and Elizabeth Delany, then both more than 100 years old. It became a huge bestseller in hardcover and paperback, and was adapted into a Broadway play. Under Asakawa, I had the opportunity to acquire and publish many terrific books, such as A Diary of the Century: Tales from American’s Greatest Diarist by Edward Robb Ellis, and his one-volume hsitory, The Epic of New York City. Together, Asakawa and I published the Kodansha Globe series, which in many ways anticipated the fine list published nowadays by the New York Review of Books Classics imprint. Kodansha Globe combined titles in cross-cultural studies, anthropology, natural history, adventure, narrative travel and belle lettres. By the time I left Kodansha in 1997 we had published more than ninety Globe titles, including the first paperback edition of Barack Obama’s first book Dreams From My Father.
Another Westerner in the Tokyo contingent, though one I never met face-to-face was editor Barry Lancet. Last year, I read in PublishersMarketplace.com that Barry was going to debut as an author, publishing his first novel, a thriller. I made a mental note of that good news, and before I could get in touch with Barry to renew our old acquaintanceship, a mutual friend in the book business, publicity professional Jeff Rutherford, put Barry in touch with me. We exchanged personal and professional news and I congratulated him on publication of his first book. I was pleased then when in December I got a copy of Japantown from his editor at Simon & Schuster. After working through a lot of reading that piled up during the holidays, I started Japantown this week, and am totally engrossed by it. Here’s a rundown with no plot points you wouldn’t pick up in the first quarter of the novel.
The book is at first set in San Francisco where protagonist Jim Brodie works as a dealer in Asian antiquities** at the same time maintaining connection with the private detective agency his late father founded and ran in Tokyo, with many local employees. In the wake of the death of the younger Brodie’s wife Mieko in a mysterious and unsolved fire, Brodie’s a single dad living with his grade school age daughter, Jenny. Combining his two areas of expertise, Brodie is the new go-to-guy when the San Francisco Police Department find itself investigating a grisly mass murder with Japanese victims and characteristics: A Japanese family of five has been gunned down after dark in a public park. At the scene, Brodie finds only one clue, a paper artifact emblazoned with the same written character (kanji in Japanese) as was found at the scene of his wife’s death. Brodie doesn’t realize, though the reader knows, that even as he surveys the scene of the brutal killing he and Renna are being surveilled with lenses and cameras by unknown agents. Though not knowing the extent of the surveillance he’s under, he senses someone’s watching him, at his gallery and even at home with Jenny. With the obscure kanji in hand, Brodie undertakes an investigative trip to Japan, first putting Jenny in to the protective embrace of a police safe house. Once in Japan, the malign forces behind the killings begin taking aim at Brodie and one of his most trusted colleagues, Noda.
All the past work week I was looking for more time to read Japantown, and I’m glad it’s now the weekend, with some uninterrupted time for reading. Lancet’s writing is vivid and economical and the plotting assured. If you want to learn more about Lancet and his background, including some very good advice for aspiring writers, I suggest you visit his website or follow him on twitter @BarryLancet. I’ll post more about his book later, but for now I want to say I recommend it highly.
WEDNESDAY JAN 29 UPDATE I finished Japantown the other day and it was great to the last page! A totally gripping international thriller. I’ll post more about it later. Best thing is, I believe Barry Lancet’s already working on Book II.
** Antiquities dealer is a profession I’m partial to in mysteries, like the POT THIEF series for which I’m the agent, with J. Michael Orenduff’s six books which went on sale this week from Open Road. In the POT THIEF books, set in an Albuquerque, main character Hubie Schuze is a dealer in Native American ceramics, and a capable ceramicist himself. The books are memorably titled: The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras,The Pot Thief Who Studied Ptolemy,The Pot Thief Who Studied Einstein,The Pot Thief Who Studied Escoffier,The Pot Thief Who Studied D. H. Lawrence, and The Pot Thief Who Studied Billy the Kid. As the titles suggest, Hubie’s reading and appreciation of classic texts by, and the venerable lives of scientists, writers, a chef and an outlaw, make for enjoyable mystery fiction.
November 4th, 2013
Love this color video of friends-artist Romare Bearden&writer Albert Murray talking art on a Harlem terrace in 1981. http://t.co/B4u3Zl5T4z
— Philip Turner (@philipsturner) November 4, 2013
The important African-American artist Romare Bearden was at one time good friends with my late author, Edward Robb Ellis, author of A Diary of the Century: Tales from American’s Greatest Diarist (1995). Ellis wrote at length about their friendship in that book, which reflected on Bearden’s upbringing in Pittsburgh, and the life he lived that led to his distinctive style of collage-making and painting. In the years since I worked with Eddie, whenever I read about Bearden, I feel I almost know him, from Eddie’s fulsome recollections. When the writer and critic Albert Murray died last August, he was eulogized in many venues, most memorably for me by Paul Devlin in Slate, where I was delighted to be reminded that Bearden and Murray had also been very close, as friends, and indeed as frequent collaborators (when Bearden needed something written, Murray often wrote it). Typifying their relationship is the revealing video I tweeted out earlier tonight, and which I’m eager to share here, too.
February 22nd, 2013
[Editor's Note, Feb. 22, 2013: The post below is a revised version of a piece I published on Feb. 22, 2012, the last anniversary of Edward Robb Ellis's birthday.]
Book business friends who’ve known me for some years may recall that I’ve been extremely fortunate in working with remarkable authors of advanced age. There’s the distinguished photojournalist Ruth Gruber, who turned 102 on her last birthday, with whom I’ve had the privilege of publishing six books over the past decade and a half, including Virginia Woolf: The Will to Create as a Woman–a republication of Ruth’s 1931 seminal thesis on Woolf, the first feminist reading of the author, written before she’d become an international icon–and Exodus 1947: The Ship that Launched a Nation and Ahead of Time: My Early Years as a Foreign Correspondent. Ruth’s still going strong, with a bio-documentary out on her, also called “Ahead of Time.”
Another author I began working with who was then in their eighties was Edward Robb Ellis, who like Ruth Gruber, was born in 1911. In 1985, Ellis was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the most prolific diarist in the history of American letters. By the time I met Eddie in the early 90s he had already published tremendously readable narrative histories, A Nation in Torment: The Great American Depression, 1929-39; Echoes of Distant Thunder: Life in the United States, 1914-1918; and one his adopted hometown, The Epic of New York City**. In 1995 I published his magnum opus, A Diary of the Century: Tales from American’s Greatest Diarist, with an Introduction by Pete Hamill, based on the diary Eddie began keeping in 1927 at age sixteen, which he kept faithfully until the year of his death seventy-one years later. This is part of the flap copy I wrote for a 2008 reissue of the book:
When I published the book with Eddie on Labor Day in 1995, we scored a rare kind of hat trick, booking interviews on all three network morning shows. Matt Lauer interviewed him on the TODAY Show, Cokie Roberts on “Good Morning America,” and Harry Smith on CBS’s “Early Show.” It was clear that Eddie’s status as a reporter from journalism’s golden age–or at least what morning show hosts and producers believed had been a golden age–had endeared him to them. I have videos of those appearances, but unfortunately haven’t transferred them to the Web and they are not on youtube. Picture Eddie wearing a red neckerchief with a khaki safari jacket and looking very dashing on TV.
In the 2008 reissue of A Diary of the Century I included an Editor’s Note explaining that at even 200,000 words and more than 600 pages, the book had constituted less than 1% of the entire Ellis Diary. A reference book aficionado, Eddie was fond of saying that his whole diary clocked in at more than 20,000,000 words, or roughly half the length of the Encyclopedia Brittanica. My Note explained that in his later years Eddie arranged for the Ellis Diary to find
“a permanent home with the Fales Library of New York University. Indeed, even before the last day of his life–which arrived on Labor Day 1998, so fitting for a man who always called himself a ‘working stiff’–more than five dozen oversize bound volumes, were hauled from his Chelsea apartment to the Greenwich Village campus of NYU. . . . It was my privilege to read into those bound volumes of the Ellis Diary, and I promise the reader that I found no dross there. With this revival, on behalf of Eddie’s literary executor Peter Skinner and literary representative Rita Rosenkranz, I take this opportunity to state that it is our intention to revive interest in A Diary of the Century, and then go on to create new books drawn from the Ellis Diary.”
With the possibilities afforded by the Internet clearer than ever, the above goal remains high among my personal priorities. Though Eddie was suspicious of new technology, and the World Wide Web was still new when he died, A Diary of the Century, with every entry bearing the date he wrote it, will lend itself beautifully to blogging someday; in fact, it’d be fair to say that Eddie was a kind of proto-blogger before the term was known. In addition to this recollection of Eddie, I have posted a selection of readings from his diary, and here’s a link to a recent story I wrote about Eddie’s work with Letts of London, the diary publisher who’ve been selling blank journals since 1796.
February 22nd, 2013
[Editor's Note, Feb. 22, 2013: The post below is a revised version of a piece I published on Feb. 22, 2012, the last anniversary of Edward Robb Ellis's birthday.]
Entries from A Diary of the Century by Edward Robb Ellis, about whom I blogged earlier today, on the occasion of what would have been his 102nd birthday, February 22.
Monday, October 5, 1931 This morning I got a letter from Mother saying that the First National Bank of Kewanee has closed. That’s the bank that has every cent I own. Mother also said that Grandpa Robb had all of his money there, and now Grandma is worried to death. Many of the people in Kewanee stood in front of the closed doors of the bank, weeping and cursing. One of Mother’s women friends ran up and down our street, bewailing the fact that her family has lost everything. . . . Here I am at age 20–absolutely penniless.
University of Missouri, Sunday, January 3, 1932 Today I saw my first bread line–200 starving men forming a gray line as they waited for food. The sight of them disturbed me.
Saturday, January 9. 1932 Nace Strickland is the best room mate one could have. Today he told me something that happened when he was a child. Raised in St. Louis, he didn’t know much about country life, so he was excited when two of his aunts took him for a drive on back roads. In one pasture he saw a bull mounting a cow, whereupon Nace exclaimed: “Hey, I didn’t know those things could milk themselves.”
Kewanee, Illinois, Saturday, June 11, 1932 Last night I dreamed I held my diary under a shower and was delighted when the words did not wash off. Does this mean I think my diary may make me “immortal?”
Monday, February 19, 1934 Some of my favorite songs: My Silent Love . . . Lullaby of the Leaves . . . I’ve Got the South in My Soul . . . Time on My Hands . . . Old Rockin’ Chair . . . Piccalo Pete . . . Harmonica Harry . . . I Kiss Your Hand, Madame . . . Somebody Loves Me . . . I Surrender, Dear . . . Body and Soul . . . All of Me . . . You’re My Everything . . . Mona Lisa . . . The Man I Love . . . What Wouldn’t I Do That for Man . . . Mood Indigo.
New Orleans, Tuesday, July 23, 1935 Last night I went to the Golden Dragon, a Negro nightclub on South Rampart St., to listen to Louie Armstrong. Not long ago he came back to New Orleans where he was born, came back in triumph because in England he had played a command performance for King George VI. This is his homecoming, so Louie lifted up his golden trumpet and blew his glad notes. . . . The rasping and gurgling of his voice made my spine feel like a xylophone. he slid from one note to a lower one and then careened down to a guttural bass note lower than my worst sin. As he sang he mopped his face and weaved back and forth, but he kept his black eyes on the mic under his nose, like a serpent hypnotizing a bird. . . . Not only were black people welcoming Satchelmouth home again, but white men and women were to be seen amidst the mob of happy people packed into the Golden Dragon. The waiters were having the times of their lives. They jigged and shuffled and bared their teeth in song as they wafted trays of drinks over the heads of the swaying hundreds. One waiter was busy lighting cigarets in his mouth and then handing them out with a flourish to the dusky damsels sitting at a nearby table. It was an adoring audience. Every time Louie picked up his trumpet, the folks settled into a trance of expectation, and Louie didn’t fail them. Like another Gabriel, he blew his horn and opened the gates to heaven.
New York City, Thursday, May 22, 1947 Today I arrived by train in New York City, which I’d never seen before, walked through the grandeur of Grand Central Terminal, stepped outside, got my first look at the city and instantly fell in love with it. Silently, inside myself, I yelled: I should have been born here!
At the World-Telegram Building I was interviewed by Lee Wood, executive editor, and B. O. McAnney, city editor. They hired me, told me to go back to Chicago to wind up my affairs there, then report for work here on June 2. I walked up Barclay Street toward Broadway and near City Hall saw something that astonished me. Crossing Broadway at Chambers Street was a horse-drawn wagon full of horse manure.
Wednesday, March 23, 1949 Once upon a time there was a man who was in love with a bridge. The time is now, the man is Fred Bronnenkant, and the bridge is the Brooklyn Bridge.
He waits on her hand and foot, for Fred is a bridgeman and riveter employed by New York City. She is a queen–perhaps the most photographed, most painted, most sketched, most ethced, most written-about, most movie-filmed bridge in the world.
Fred, now 74 years old, has been in love with the Brooklyn Bridge ever since he was assigned to her 30 years ago. It’s not that he’s in love with bridges–any old bridge. Not at all. Fred drove rivets into the Williamsburg Bridge, further up the East River, and he bossed a steel gang on Queensborough Bridge, still further north.
As he and I stood beneath the Brooklyn end, he gazed up at the gray Gothic pylon and mused aloud, “Never has been a bridge like this one, never will be.”
A tall sturdy man, he stropped his hands against his overalls as he spoke. A shadow of embarrassment filled his deep-set blue eyes, embarrassment such as many men feel when talking about the women they love, for Fred regards the Brooklyn Bridge as his woman, his mistress.
At home he has a wife who knows all about this love affair because the bridge is all he ever talks about. she’s jealous too. From time to time she will wail: “You think more of that bridge than you do of me!”
A man who quit school after the sixth grade, Fred paws for words as he tries to explain the great passion of his life. “I guess,” he mumbles, looking down at his shoes, “I guess I just love this here bridge more than any man ever has.” . . .
He tends her lovingly. with the help of seven other bridgemen and riveters, Fred sees to it that she is properly maintained. . . .
Why, she’s alive!” he’ll exclaim forgetting to be embarrassed. ” She has more life in her than anybody. . . . The way she shakes up and down when traffic passes over her! The give in her! And in winter she contracts like–” He pauses. Pulling a toothpick from the band of his hat, he stabs the air trying to pinpoint his meaning.
“It’s like–well, in the winter she contracts like a woman sort of shrugging into her fur. Know what I mean? Then, in the summer–”
His eyes roam his upper eyelids. Find the proper phrase, he lowers his gaze. “You might say, well, like in the summer she expands and it’s like a beautiful girl throwing her clothes open to the sun and air. . . . When I die, there’s just one thing: I want my hearse to drive across the bridge. The last time. You’ll see to this, won’t you. Please?”
© 1995 Edward Robb Ellis
February 8th, 2013
I’m pleased to have a new consulting client, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE), a non-profit organization that acts as the voice that independent booksellers and the book community raise in opposition to censorship and book banning. I’ll be working with them on fundraising and marketing, and over time, I hope their social networking. The funds ABFFE raises support programs promoting free expression, like their signature initiative, Banned Books Week. ABFFE also advocates for bookstore customer privacy. This has become a flashpoint several times over the past couple decades.
In the 1990s, Whitewater Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr subpoenaed the bookstore purchase records of Monica Lewinsky. Kramer Books & Afterwords in Washington D.C., was the target of Starr’s efforts. At a Book Expo America during the 1990s I recall picking up a t-shirt emblazoned with the message “Subpoenaed for Bookselling” that I wore for several years afterward. Then, after 9/11 the Bush administration, in enforcing the Patriot Act, demanded that Denver’s Tattered Cover bookstore and several public libraries hand over the purchase records and circulation history of some of their customers and patrons. ABFFE was in the trenches throughout these instances, helping booksellers and librarians resist the demands.
The first assignment I’m working on with ABFFE is the expansion of their affiliate program. Under this banner, companies that sell sidelines to bookstores, such as their newest partner Filofax, contribute to ABFFE a percentage of the sales they make to American Booksellers Association (ABA) member bookstores. Sidelines from Filofax include journals, and planners, as well as Lamy pens and pencils and diaries from Letts of London. Other affiliate partners supply bookstores with such items as reading glasses and bookmarks. I’ve drafted a press release announcing ABFFE’s new partnership with Filofax, which also mentions my new work with the foundation. The release, posted on the news portion of ABFFE’s website, is being circulated to book industry news outlets and bookstores around the country. I will be reaching out to sideline companies to recruit them for the program, and to booksellers, asking them who their best sideline suppliers are. If you’re interested in ABFFE’s work, I encourage you to follow them on Twitter where their handle is @freadom, or to like their Facebook page.
This is a particularly welcome assignment for me, having started out in the book business as a retail bookseller. Undercover Books, which I ran with my sibling and our parents, was an active member store in the ABA. My late brother Joel served as an ABA board member. We were activist booksellers, and Joel especially relished working on issues like those that ABFFE often confronts. In 2000 he ran for Congress as a Libertarian party candidate, placing reader privacy high on the list of issues he campaigned on. When Joel died in 2009, my sister Pamela and I made ABFFE one of the organizations that friends of the family and longtime Undercover customers were encouraged to donate to in his memory.
Happily, yet another personal connection pertains here. Readers of this blog may recall my longtime association with author and notable diarist Edward Robb Ellis (1911-98), who stands still as the writer remembered for having kept a diary longer than anyone else in American history, from 1927 until the year of his death. Between 1995-98, I edited and published four of Ellis’s books, including A Diary of the Century: Tales From America’s Greatest Diarist, with an Introduction by Pete Hamill, and The Epic of New York City, both of which are still in print today.
Eddie, as all his friends called him, was a passionate advocate and ambassador of diary-keeping, so much so that after the Guinness Book of World Records recognized him and his diary in their 1981 edition for his achievement in American letters, the aforementioned Letts of London, in the business of making diaries since 1796, arranged with Eddie to publish “The Ellis Diary,” a handsome red leatherette bound, gold-ribbon bookmarked blank diary. You can imagine then how tickled I was when as part of this new assignment I scanned the catalogs and materials ABFFE director Chris Finan gave me to read up on Filofax’s business, happily discovering their association with the venerable Letts of London. Moreover, when I called and introduced myself to Filofax USA’s Paul Brusser, I learned that Letts of London is actually now Filofax’s parent company–it’s clear this long-living British company is still going strong. I wonder if anyone with Letts of London today remembers Eddie Ellis and “The Ellis Diary.” One of the nice things about this new gig is it may offer me the chance to find out! Below you’ll find some artifacts illustrating my work with Eddie Ellis, and his relationship with Letts of London.
November 23rd, 2012
This week, more of a #FridayRe-Reads than a #FridayReads
#FridayReads, Nov. 23–The Double Game, Dan Fesperman’s brilliant riff on the spy novel genre, and Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 by Edwin Burrows and Mike Wallace. It may be the distractions of the holiday week–I’ve just been re-reading a couple of favorites. Last summer I blogged about Fesperman’s novel, and found it so irresistible I’ve picked it up again. The author ingeniously embeds plot points and clues in his story from books by giants of the genre–Le Carre, Ambler, Greene, Buchan, Childers, and others–actual volumes that are in the personal library of the novel’s narrator. It’s a true tour de force, and so good I find myself challenged to say something truly intelligent about it. It was published last August, and I’ve been a bit disappointed to see that it seems to have been published without the notice it deserves.
Gotham, published by Oxford University Press in 1999, is a rare book written by scholars in that it is as readable as any novel or potboiler. Although the narrative proceeds chronologically from the establishment of New Amsterdam through the incorporation of the five boroughs in to one great city, there are tremendous set pieces in it–on the electrification of the metropolis; the Draft Riots; the rise of a national publishing scene from Manhattan, and many others. A second volume, bringing the history of the city up to the present, is due to be published at some future point. Meantime, I relish this initial volume, so good on so many aspects of New York City history. Before publication it was praised by the late Edward Robb Ellis, about whom I blogged on the latest anniversary of his birthday. I published four books by Ellis, including his worthy predecessor to Gotham, The Epic of New York City. Eddie blurbed Burrows’ and Wallace’s book, saying, “Gotham is a masterpiece. It is the best history of New York ever written. It will be read a century from now.”
This week I’ve also read and savored writer Nick Paumgarten’s thorough examination of the Grateful Dead’s library of in-concert live recordings that’s running in the current New Yorker. I actually disagree with some of his dismissive conclusions about the Dead’s music, but am appreciative of the effort he went to in listening to these many hours of music, as well as visiting with the archivists and band members such as Phil Lesh.
September 26th, 2012
So glad to be one of the 35 contributors to Rust Belt Chic: A Cleveland Anthology, with my essay, “Remembering Mr. Stress, Live at the Euclid Tavern,” on a venerable bluesman I followed avidly for years when I lived in Cleveland. Among the writers in the book is Connie Schultz, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist who for many years worked at the Cleveland Plain Dealer. She has recently left the paper while her husband, Sherrod Brown, runs for re-election to the US Senate from the State of Ohio. Today, on the Rust Belt Chic Facebook page, I saw this, a note from Ms. Schultz:
“Sherrod didn’t get home until after midnight last night, but as soon as he saw my newly arrived stack of ‘Rust Belt Chic: The Cleveland Anthology,’ he had to pick up a book and take a look. ‘Wow,’ he said, over and over, as he recognized one writer’s name after another, read aloud some of the titles and marveled at the photos.”
At the time of Rust Belt Chic’s publication earlier this month, I cross-posted my essay on Mr. Stress and wrote these paragraphs to introduce the book to readers. Allow me to quote myself:
As a sign of just how community-oriented the book really is, editors Trubek and Piiparinen asked all the contributors, in the event that the book sells well enough to make back its expenses and reaches into profitability, would we want an honorarium payment, or would we choose to plow our earnings into another indie project to be chosen first from among book ideas presented by us contributors, with one (or if we’re really fortunate, more than one) project being chosen for funding. I have a ready book idea–a new volume to be culled from the Guinness Book of World Records-recognized diary of Edward Robb Ellis, whose A Diary of the Century: Tales from America’s Greatest Diarist, I edited and published in 1995. I was happy to choose the second option offered.
With all that said, I’ll continue this preamble by saying I hope you buy the book as a print or a digital edition, or one of each, not because of charitable intentions (though that’s okay too) but because it offers more than fifty fine examples of narrative journalism, chronicling a distinctive part of the country that is too often overlooked on the literary and cultural map. I also urge you to follow the book’s Twitter feed, @rust-belt-chic. On my own Twitter feed, @philipsturner, I’ve started a hashtag, #MrStress. You may also ‘like’ the Rust Belt Chic Facebook page. Thank you in advance for supporting this exciting experiment in cultural urban renewal.
Thanks for your support of Rust Belt Chic: A Cleveland Anthology, and I hope you enjoy reading my essay on Mr. Stress, cross-posted here on The Great Gray Bridge.
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