The Shelf Talker: Hip-Hop, Watchmen and New Zealand

Nelson George is a one man Harlem Renaissance, more responsible than nearly any other writer for chronicling hip-hop and contemporary black culture's conversion into the lingua franca of our age.
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Welcome to the Shelf Talker, a weekly rundown of news, gossip and recommendations from and about authors on tour.

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On the Road:

We here at TST love author Nelson George with an invigorating mixture of admiration, stewed jealousy and wanton desires of best friendship. The author of fifteen books, Mr. George is a one man Harlem Renaissance, more responsible than nearly any other writer for chronicling hip-hop and contemporary black culture's conversion into the lingua franca of our age. Along the way, he's been a columnist for Billboard and The Village Voice, written the definitive book on the history of the form (until Jeff Chang's Can't Stop Won't Stop held time). And helped finance Spike Lee's debut film She's Gotta Have It. Oh and he's buddies with Chris Rock.

To your humble host, who spend much of second grade recess breakdancing on an old refrigerator box, this makes Nelson George every bit as cool as the inventor of Missile Command. If they are the same person, we're moving in tomorrow.

It's no surprise that the author tour for Mr. George's new memoir City Kid (a tale of his growing up in Brooklyn in the 1960s and 70s) is a role call of our favorite bookstores (Hue-Man in Harlem, Book Soup in West Hollywood) as well as a few non-retail spaces that portend the future of the author visitation business. And while Mr. George could read in the license renewal line at the DMV and we'd attend, his publisher's choice of venues is keeping with the bleeding edge of culture we've come to expect from the man.

Nelson George conquers both coasts (DC, New York, Oakland and Los Angeles) throughout April. Look for us around that way as we would not miss it.

Perhaps residing in a small country like New Zealand has motivated novelist Linda Olsson to take full advantage of our roomier American environs when it comes to book touring. The evidence? Her campaign duties in support of the paperback release of her novel Sonata for Miriam appear less literary than presidential: No less than 17 events in 9 states and (we assume) a lot of kissing babies and building dedications.

Unfamiliar with Ms. Olsson's work heretofore, we visited her website and found it charming in an art school-earnestness sort of way. Of her work, her zazz in front of a crowd or New Zealand, we know not. But we admire her stamina enough to recommend her in these pages and plan on visiting her events not only to drink in well-reviewed literature but to shed pounds. Given the physicality of the tour she's set for herself, we're guessing her events begin with a round of squat thrusts followed by hot stone ankle massages for all.

Last week's lunchtime poll: "What author does not currently have dreadlocks but needs them badly?" Netted a bounty of great answers. Among our favorites were.

• Norman Mailer (i.e. "The Naked and the Dread")

• Joyce Carol Oates (although she would probably dread and undread 4 times in a single evening while writing a novella in verse).

• Margaret Atwood

• David Sedaris (i.e. "Naked" and Dreaded)

• James Ellroy

• JT LeRoy

And many author too delicious and profane to recite here.

Like the poll? Shall we do this again? Whisper in our ear at


A shelf talker in Boston: "This space intentionally left blank by a reader newly in love with this book."

On a men's room wall in a bookstore in Philadelphia: "If you can read this, you can read books too MF*er."


Dalton Conley is an author we admire a great deal but is most likely imaginary, like The Smurfs or a civil discussion of politics. Why, we submit? Because each photo we've seen of Professor Conley captures him in mid-bussle -- bag over shoulder, hair blown by passing traffic -- and yet, we have no recorded evidence that the man has left home. Ever.

His latest book Anywhere, U.S.A: How We Got from the Company Man, Family Dinners, and the Affluent Society to the Home Office, BlackBerry Moms, and Economic Anxiety is the kind of pop-socio catnip that should net Mr. Conley speaking engagements an any of our favorite Next Big Idea conferences. Certainly enough then to fund a few stops at book stores, nearby universities or send a mash note to Terry Gross. And who knows, perhaps all of this has happened already but how are we, the faithful, to know? "Events" is a missing tab from his website and his presence on BookTour is scant. Barely there details of his travels on his publisher's website leads us to believe they've never met him. Or that "Dalton Conley" impersonates an NYU sociology professor and is really a member of the Watchmen. His name does seem like a superhero alias no?

Dalton, you out there? Let us know, brother. We're eager to yell out loud about this new book of yours but if you're a shut-in or not made of metabolizing cells, we'd rather not go there. We got burned pretty bad Alf's autobiography "From Melmac to You" back in 1986. And if vanishing from sight is a performative example of being "Anywhere U.S.A", we get it. Now how about some face time?

A final note: The Shelf Talker will be absent next week taking in the orbiting meteor-sized insanity that is The South by Southwest Interactive Festival. We return the follow week with a full report.

Kevin Smokler is the Co-founder of, the world's largest directory of author and literary events. Send dish, comments and pick-up lines to

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