The Shelf Talker: Ramen Noodles, Harold Bloom, and Poisonous Plants.

Welcome to the Shelf Talker, a regular rundown of news, gossip and recommendations from and about authors on tour. Send notices, idle gossip and vicious rumors to Or digest at 140 characters on Twitter (@book_tour).

On the road:

Ragtime in 1970s New York. Framed around Philippe Petit's famed highwire walk between the towers of the World Trade Center.

Relevant to exactly nothing, said highwire walk happened on TST's first birthday. Which means we'd probably love this novel even if it pushed us into a mud puddle.

Author: Column McCann.

Publisher says he's got three other novels, two short story collections and a Pushcart Prize in his trophy case. We're hoping he doesn't have Colm Toibin's passport because we've confused the two on about 93 occasions thus far.

Whereabouts:: A Cadillac assortment of independent booksellers in Portland, Cambridge and Northern California through July, plus the Seattle Public Library (aka Plato's Retreat for the literary slut) and something called the Bryant Park Reading Room, which we will be setting up shrine in upon our next visit to New York.

Why Go: According to Vanity Fair. we're about one errant sideburn away from the 1970s returning to New York. Let the Great World Spin seems a easy way to mindjack into that crazy time without having to take hit off Studio 54s "Man in the Moon." Although a) that would be fun and b) would explain the whereabouts of that moon, which we've always wanted to know.

  • Book: Home Safe, novel concerning novelist Helen Ames, recently widowed, having a tough time with her daughter, her missing retirement money and herself.
  • Called "a book that looks at the nature of creativity, the mother/daughter relationship, and the surprising places one can find love and meaning," by its publisher, that doesn't scream originality to us, but these things tend to be about character and nuance instead of surprise plot twists involving phantom battleships and plague outbreaks.

    Author: The sicko prolific Elizabeth Berg, who has logged about a dozen books since 1993, slightly over one a year.

    Whereabouts:. Libraries and Indies around Berg's home city of Chicago through the second week of June. Sources tell that, even though her publisher offered, Berg will not be sending a robot double in her place.

    You see, Random House had politely asked Berg to up her productivity to what they saw as the reasonable rate of one novel a month instead of every other year. Berg demurred and also insisted on sending herself on the road to represent Home Safe instead of the Elizabeth E970 designed to give her more time to write.

    Good choice.

    Why Go: You don't have to tell us that this one sounds like a "girls book" which is descriptor we enjoy about as much as "melon head." TST is comfortable enough with the parts the good lord gave us that reading about mothers and daughters and clothing swaps and what to wear on a first date with Harry Connick Jr. doesn't make us squeamish. Or bored. Rather, a little giggly. And empowered.

    Author: Amy Stewart, the Mary Roach of the garden patch. In the business of taking the inconspicuous, the overlooked and difficult to explain and rendering it as heady, pop entertainment.

    Which puts her on the short list of our heroes of contemporary literature.

    Whereabouts: Ms. Stewart is either a complete masochist or just plain loves to tour. Her June slate includes a whooping 12 events up and down the west coast and New York at bookstores, garden clubs, churches, anywhere with 12 square feet of dirt and folding chairs it seems.

    Will audiences be fed deadly herbs? Demonstrations are a must.

    Ms. Stewart sounds like just our type with a gabby, nerdly dedication to a subject we don't understand but would happily have her explain while lying together under a hydrangea bush.

    We'll be calling on our friends, the sublime Algonquin Books (and Ms. Stewart's publisher) to set up this meeting. In the meangtine, we're going shopping for coveralls. With racing stripes.


  • We haven't messed around with Scribd just yet but have been blabbing tediously about the societal need for a "YouTube of Text" since that hamster started shaking it. A "YouTube of Text" we'd argue, just before everyone would leave the room, would enable books to be published, quickly, in any sized unit, do away with the words "out of print" and make any text instantaneously available to a worldwide readership.
  • Scribd looks like it. FOTST Meg White Clayton and Kemble Scott are both experimenting with offering pieces and whole enchiladas of their latest efforts. We eagerly await reports of their homesteading on this, the wild frontier.

  • Overheard in an MFA classroom in Southern California..
  • "Freshman mistake. Never sleep with someone you think is a lesser writer than you."

    Wisdom unsubstantiated by history, to say the very least.

  • TST has always thought that literary journals and the Internet were as natural a match as silk sheets and Barry White. Online you can select exactly what to read, when and how and have it delivered to you through a number of devices and technologies. You don't have to remember to resubscribe or pick up the mail. That takes care of precisely the annoyances we have with the print journals that should get read but often don't.
  • Thank you then for the Fiction Writers Review, a poorly titled, beautifully executed effort TST met for the first time while visiting his home town a few weeks back. The creation of a husband and wife team of professors at the University of Michigan, FWR (which I'm alternately titling. For Winners. Really), focuses on literary conversation of the contemporary moments, a giant relief from the Harold Bloom playland of most journals live in where publishing jobs are plentiful, media competition a creation of Asimov and where readers have no greater concerns than lost sestinas, republished in their original Cree.

    No, Fiction Writers Review has present-day issues in mind and essays on narrative in video games and the economics of publishing are living proof. Interviews, book reviews and a pretty good blog round out the offerings.

    It's an old, serviceable formula for such things just done with perspective and mindfulness of its place in the cultural dialogue. We're happy to know it while its still in training wheels because the roads to rip as it grows will be many.


    As funerals are for the elderly, TST fears that independent bookstore closings may increasingly become places writers run into each other. Which is where we meant Andy Raskin, with the dust of the soon-departed Stacey's Books growing cold on our cheeks.

    Mr. Raskin is a very nice fellow who has written a memoir/cultural history about Ramen Noodles. Yes, Ramen Noodles. If that means nothing to you, you either a) did not go to college in the early 1990s or b) never arrived at a toll booth wondering how you'd afford the 75 cents to get through.

    That makes it sounds as though reading Mr. Raskin's book amounts to some sort of Gen X. hall pass, an ankle tattoo from Woodstock 94. We're preferring to view it as a study of love and foodstuffs, a simultaneous glance of thoughtfulness towards the mundane and its brother, the revealing.

    And lasting, we hope, until payday.

    Kevin Smokler is the CEO of Follow along on Twitter @book_tour or the old fashioned way