The Shelf Talker: Floppy Disks, Lyndon Johnson and Narnia

Welcome to The Shelf Talker, a regular rundown of news, gossip and recommendations from and about authors on book tour.
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Welcome to The Shelf Talker, a regular rundown of news, gossip and recommendations from and about authors on book tour.

Ben Greenman is an editor at the New Yorker with the same name as about 19 guys TST sat next to in hebrew school. However, none of them wrote a lauded novel about a forgotten 60s funk band with a cover that borrows from Peter Max, "Hair", and the Wednesday night sleepwalkings of half of The Family Stone. Instead, at least one made a bonanza selling his father's floppy disk plant, retired somewhere and hasn't stopped laughing.

I should look him up.

Anyway, in Please Step Back, Mr. Greenman recounts the short career of Rock Foxx with a journalistic straight face. "A novel" remains emblazoned on the cover. We being far dimmer than Mr. Greenman (who has "a limited-edition handcrafted letterpress publication" listed as an upcoming project. Our upcoming projects include learning how to fold fitted sheets) are baffled by this even though we know the author spells it out. Somewhere.

No author has yet unseated Toure's 'Young, Black and Unstoppable' from his story collection "The Portable Promised Land" as our favorite tale of a fictional musician. But Greenman's efforts lead us by the short whiskers. Might the 60s, music, and the price of fame shine your cheeks too? Bring a fitted sheet to Ben Greenman's tour stops in LA, Seattle, Portland, Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia and New York to investigate.

Amy Krause Rosenthal did a solemnly awesome thing for the 2005 release of her book Encyclopedia of An Ordinary Life She hid hundred copies around Chicago, each with a letter asking the finder to let her know what they thought, a charming approach to book promotion, an activity often approached with all the levity of wart removal.

That's part of what we've liked about AKR's attitude and career from the beginning: It says being a writer should be the point of departure for creativity not one end of a closed loop. Some time back, she produced a CD Magazine and companion radio show called "Writer's Block Party," more evidence that the rewards of the literary life are as much whom you get to work with as what you get to work on.

Ms. Rosenthal writes mostly for kids these days and is currently on tour on both coasts and in the Chicago area. No word heard what razzle zazzle she'll give to this effort but if anything less than books that double as medical devices, we'll be sad.

Naw, just ribbing. We're too busy being charmed.

No surprise that TST is the very last to hear about Colson Whitehead's new novel Sag Harbor. We are perennially last party notified in all matters Colson Whitehead, from new books, to friends in common (one introduced us some years back), to his presence on Twitter to our birthdates in the same decade. Had we not met, we would have stayed convinced that any gentlemen named Colson Whitehead, had, at minimum, been elected to the federal bench by Lyndon Johnson.

But no, this Mr. Whitehead probably also watched "Welcome Back, Kotter" while revving at the literary starting line. Now, five books and MacArthur "Genius grant", our fandom is about 14 years too late, as timely and prescient as spats.

Eventually we came around and cheer the process of Mr. Whitehead as he visits bookstores and libraries on both coasts.

Text message to Mary Gaitskill, currently on tour for her new story collection "Don't Cry." Could we lay off the "Fear me, I'm icy!" vibe? TST loves it in your books ("Veronica" gave us night terrors for a week) but an author photo that looks like you brought unending winter to Narnia? We get you work doesn't find the world welcoming. We don't need a reminder engraved across your cheekbones.


Effusive and deserved praise for Indiebound's new iPhone app, which enables ordering any book you wish from an independent bookstore. From your phone. Home delivered. Also tells you the nearest independent from right where you're standing.

Downloaded immediately. Still dancing across the sky in celebration.

Befuddled wonderment at Hotel St. George Press, a small publishing house that "committed to producing books resistant to the predictable trends of genre, style and structure endemic to corporate publishing." It's an impressive mission backed digitally by a website as labrynthine as a Chinese puzzle box. Linked hallways and passages dead end in snatches of poetry, sound art and fables. The idea here seems to immersion, the way an old hotel seems to enrobe you in its history and the whispers of its ghosts.

Its an easy place to get lost and for all the right reasons. Which is why this sentence arrived a full 2 hours after the previous one. Three guesses as to where we were.

In a cafe in Berkeley, CA:

"Who would you rather make love to? Michael Chabon, Michael Lewis or Michael Pollan?"

A bachelor auction would settle this matter immediately.


We got to know Laila Lalami back during the last Iron Age, i.e. when the number of people who actively blogged about books could fit inside a large inner tube. Laila published a blog focusing on literature of the non-western world, a worldly and infinitely classier affair than whatever we were doing then, which, if memory serves, was composing mash notes to Amy Bender and matching Chuck Palahniuk and James Ellroy up in imaginary street brawls.

Anyway, Laila's blogging less since completing the story collection Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits in 2005 and now a novel Secret Son. She's on tour for the latter (Seattle, Portland, LA, Miami, DC) throughout the month of May.

Ms. L's one of those writing you feel smarter listening to. We've only heard her read thus far and haven't dipped in ourselves, an oversight we equate with sniffing Nestle hot chocolate while a stack of fine chocolate awaits consumption in the next room. Fixing this lapse has been ported to the "must do" list that hangs beneath our shaving mirror. We hope Ms. Lamani forgives us when she swings through the region Mid-May and we come out to offer congratulations and a hug.

Cheap cocoa stays at home.

Kevin Smokler is the co-founder of, the world's largest directory of author and literary events. Follow TST on twitter (@book_tour) or yell the old fashioned way at

Send items, mutterings and banana peels to Or pop us in 140 character gel caps on Twitter (@book_tour).

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