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Harry Potter hacked?

Spoiler alert level: Elevated.

The mystery surrounding the end to fictional British boy wizard Harry Potter’s saga deepened on Wednesday with a computer hacker posting what he said were key plot details and a publisher warned the details could be fake.

The hacker, who goes by the name “Gabriel,” claims to have taken a digital copy of author J.K. Rowling’s seventh and final book, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” by breaking into a computer at London-based Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

For months now, leading up to the book’s July 21 release, legions of “Harry Potter” fans have debated whether Rowling killed Harry or one of his best friends, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, in the final book.

Gabriel has posted information at Web site InSecure.org that, if true, would answer that question.

“We make this spoiler to make reading of the upcoming book useless and boring,” Gabriel said in the posting.

Well isn’t that special? Maybe ol’ Gabriel was beaten up by one too many wizards as a kid.

Kyle Good, a spokesman for U.S. distributor Scholastic Corp., would not say whether the posting was accurate, but did warn readers to be skeptical about anything on the Web that claims to have inside information on the book’s plot.

“There is a whole lot of junk flying around,” she said. “Consider this one more theory.”

One that I hope to avoid finding out any more about in the next few weeks. Consider yourselves warned.

(And if it turns out that “Gabriel” did successfully hack into Bloomsbury, I trust that heads will roll and all legal recourse will be pursued.)

The Harry Potter Experience

Really sweet article by Rebecca Traister about a Harry Potter convention in New Orleans. Couple of comments:

1. I hadn’t realized that one of the biggest stars of the Potter fandom world, Melissa Anelli of The Leaky Cauldron, is a Staten Island girl. Always nice to see a fellow Islander making good.

2. I’ve touched on this before, but since Anelli brings it up, I’ll discuss it again.

Anelli is heading into what she calls “a summer-long pre-game” of conventions, fan gatherings, wizard rock concerts and movie premieres leading to July 21. But, she said, she is hoping to read the “Deathly Hallows” like a civilian.” “Once I get that book in my hands, the world doesn’t exist,” she said. “This is the last time we can savor these books this way, so I want to make sure I do that.”

And once she’s finished? Well, Anelli has her own book to write. And, she promised, “the site will continue to exist, at least through the movies.” But at some point, she said carefully, “You’ve got to move on. J.K. Rowling is moving on.”

“Being alive as the story is being delivered to us is magic,” Anelli concluded. “I like that I will always look back on this and be able to say, ‘I was there. And you know what? It rocked.'”

I totally agree that being able to say “I was there when” is cool. But I continue to believe that despite Rowling’s statements, the last chapter of the Harry Potter saga has not been written. Or, at the least, it doesn’t have to be written. Whatever else Rowling may want to do with her life (and if she wants to pull a Gary Larson and dsiappear from the public stage completely to enjoy the many fruits of her labors, I sure won’t begrudge her), there’s plenty more to be said and done. It’s really just a question of whether she’ll give other creators the license to explore new avenues with her characters.

3. Traister’s observation that “There’s not a lot in popular cultural life that’s built for smart people anymore. Harry Potter really is.” is mostly true, but maybe not as much as she makes it out to be. “Smart” pop culture has always been a niche. It’s just that Harry Potter has broken out of nichedom to be its own pop culture behemoth. But there’s still plenty of smart stuff out there in the niches, and with all the goodness of the Internet it’s a lot easier for people to find the niches that they fit into, which in turn makes it easier for them to thrive and propagate. Just as there’s never been a better time to be a sports fan, I think there’s never been a better time to have offbeat, small-market tastes, or to be an unabashed geek about something. Whatever it is, you never have to be isolated from others who share your geeky interests.

4. I can totally see the Rowling universe and its adherents turning into a Society for Creative Anachronisms clone. You could make the case they already have, after reading the Traister piece. Hey, if Jedi can be a religion, who knows where this can end up?

Seven weeks till July 21, baby. Seven weeks.

How unromantic

‘stina brings news of an incident at the Romantic Times Book Lovers’ Convention here in Houston. I’ll leave it to you to click over and read the details. All I know is that it looks like Fred Head finally found someone who’d vote for him.

What if Harry Potter was a black kid?

Interesting.

That’s the question that author Troy CLE initially tried to answer when he created his character, Louis Proof.

But it would be simplistic to paint Louis as simply a black version of the beloved Harry. Louis is a very different character. The brainchild of Troy, Louis loves listening to hip-hop, racing radio-controlled cars, and hanging out with his best friend, Brandon. If he sounds a little normal, maybe it’s because he is meant to be.

The story of the book – initially self-published, now a much-hyped Simon and Schuster release for May 22 – and the author is fascinating. More, including a brief plot outline, is here. I think I’ll keep my eyes open for this one. Thanks to Oliver Willis for the link.

A chat with Berke Breathed

The Chron has a chat with Opus artist Berkeley Breathed, who has a new children’s book out. There’s a TMI-style Q&A with him, and this interesting tidbit from the story:

His latest children’s book, Mars Needs Moms! (Philomel, $16.99), which goes on sale Tuesday, features a cranky boy and needy Martians in a story about the sacrifices parents are willing to make.

Mars Needs Moms! and Flawed Dogs, a previous book, are in development as feature films. And although there have been a jillion penguin films lately, don’t look for Opus on the big screen.

That project is gloriously dead and decaying on the Weinstein Co. beach, Breathed said. “They were set and determined to make the cheapest animated film in Hollywood history, and they finally gave up trying to figure it out, thank God. Opus shall remain the way he is without Hollywood’s interpretation sullying his dubious legacy.”

Probably for the best. I actually think Opus would be better served by another TV special, whether based on a book like A Wish For Wings That Work or not, as I believe Breathed would be able to have more control over the final product on that medium. Or heck, just get someone to show A Wish For Wings That Work again – it’s a sweet little Christmas special, which thanks to some friends I now have a VHS-to-DVD copy of. It definitely deserves a wider audience.

And speaking of Opus, Breathed discusses the penguin’s ultimate fate as well as his own colorful past at UT in this Texas Monthly interview. Check it out.

Fifty years of “The Cat In The Hat”

TMI brings word of the golden anniversary of “The Cat In the Hat”, which was first published in March of 1957, and links to The Annotated Cat, a book about the two Cat books. One “did you know” fact they highlight:

The ring removal in The Cat in the Hat Comes Back recalls Ted Geisel’s work on the 1935 advertisement for a spot remover called Ex-tame.

Here’s the thing. Say you’re Dick or Sally. This cat, whose tricks you know all too well, has invaded your house again, and has introduced accomplices for his mischief. At the point where Little Cats A, B, and C succeed in blowing the pink stain outside onto the snow, does it really make sense to insist that they then clean up the snow? I mean, it’s snow for crying out loud. It’ll melt. Your house and everything in it is clean, and all you need to do is say “Okay, thanks very much, we’ll take it from here, nice seeing you, now goodbye.” Why wouldn’t you just do that?

Because it wouldn’t have made for any fun, I suppose. Seuss’ book is much more entertaining his way. We should be thankful that those kids didn’t learn enough from the previous time to leave well enough alone.

Last Harry Potter book due July 21

How big do you think the Day One sales for this will be?

The last installment of the Harry Potter saga will be published on 21 July, author JK Rowling has announced.

She confirmed the date fans will be able to get their hands on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on her website.

[…]

This is the 10th anniversary of the first book of the hugely successful series being published.

Shops opened at midnight and queues formed when the last book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, was released.

It sold 2,009,574 copies in Britain on the first day of its release, publisher Bloomsbury said.

Note that’s just Britain. The worldwide number is probably ten times that (I’m just guessing). I’ve reserved my copy via Amazon UK (we like the British versions at our house), that’s all I know.

When asked about Harry’s fate, Rowling has said she could understand authors who killed off their characters off, to stop others writing new adventures.

But she admitted being worried about the reaction from fans if the boy wizard came to a sticky end.

Rowling always made it clear the series would be in seven parts and much of the plot was almost set in stone.

In a recent web posting, she said: “I’m now writing scenes that have been planned, in some cases, for a dozen years or even more.”

While I’ve no reason to doubt Rowling’s assertion that there is no more to the Harry Potter series after Deathly Hallows, I continue to believe that we’ve not seen the end of the Potter universe. There’s way too much demand, and a nearly endless amount of material, some more obscure than others, from which to mine for further stories. The question is whether Rowling maintains absolute control over her characters, or if she allows other people to offer their own interpretations, presumably within some defined set of rules. The “Star Trek” franchise is a good model for that – there’s the official canon of the TV shows and movies, and there’s the free-form stylings of the novels and comics, which allow for all kinds of exploration but which can be (and have been) contradicted by later official releases. We’ll see.

A matter of mistaken identity

We’ve already established that Olivia likes to know the names of all of the characters in her books, including those whom the author does not identify. The subject came up again on Monday night as we read Down on the Farm with Grover.

At the end of the book, a large group of Sesame Streeters come with Grover to his uncle’s farm to help with the harvest. Olivia knows who most of these characters are, but on Monday night she pointed to one of them and said “Who’s that?”

This time, I knew the answer. “That’s Roosevelt Franklin,” I said, pleased to be one step ahead of my daughter.

“No!” she said, which totally took me aback. What do you mean, “no”? I know who my Muppets are, dammit!

We argued about this for a minute or two, at which point I used the master debate tactic of “Daddy says it’s time to get into bed and go night-night”, which worked better than my answer to her identity question went. After lights out, I went downstairs and told the story to Tiffany.

“Oh,” Tiffany said. “She asked me that question last night. I didn’t know what his name was, so we picked a name for him. We decided his name was Sammy.”

Well, at least that explains why she didn’t like my name for the character. I think the lesson here is that the answer is always “Go ask Mommy”. I feel confident that this will serve me well in other situations, too. For as long as I can get away with it, anyway.

The coda to the story is that Tiffany read this book to Olivia last night. The name question came up again, but this time Tiffany informed Olivia that Daddy had done some research and now we knew that the character’s name really was Roosevelt Franklin. Not in Olivia’s world, he’s not – she insisted on Sammy. Eventually, a compromise was reached. The character’s name is now officially Sammy Roosevelt Franklin. I’ll be informing the Children’s Television Workshop later today.

Eternal questions, Episode One

So I was reading Green Eggs and Ham to Olivia this evening, and just as I was getting underway she pointed to the story’s protagonist, the guy who does not like green eggs and ham, and said “What’s his name?”

Umm. Uhh. Let me get back to you on that.

Tiffany overheard my dilemma and came to my rescue, as Olivia had apparently asked her that same question last night. “We call him the Hat Man,” she informed me. The Hat Man it is. When Olivia pointed at him again later in the story and said “Hat Man”, I understood.

I figure this is just the first of many, many questions that she will ask me that I will have no idea how to answer. Clearly, I need to work on my improvisation skills for the future.

How would you have answered?

Harry Potter and the Intellectual Property Conundrum

I found this story about the band “Harry and the Potters” to be fascinating on many levels.

Brothers Paul and Joe DeGeorge each portray Harry, the former as Harry in his Seventh Year, the latter as Harry in his Fourth Year.

They now have a total of three garage-pop/indie rock full-length CDs out — a self-titled one from 2003, 2004’s Voldemort Can’t Stop the Rock, and this year’s Harry Potter and the Power of Love. And yes, all of their songs are about Harry Potter; indeed, they are written as if by the young Gryffindor seeker. (Sample titles: “Cornelius Fudge Is an Ass,” “In Which Draco Malfoy Cries Like a Baby,” “My Teacher Is a Werewolf”.)

I confess, I’m a little amazed that in this day of extra zealous guardianship of intellectual property that such a thing as “Harry and the Potters” can exist. I mean, what do you think the life expectancy of a “Buzz and the Lightyears” would be? Maybe they’ve been sufficiently below the radar these past three years, but still.

Having said that, I think this exactly the sort of thing where a property owner is reasonably well served by a little benign neglect. I see this band as basically a fan fiction habit that got out of control. They’re not hurting JK Rowling’s brand, and they’re not adversely affecting her bottom line – if anything, they’re likely to help it by converting a few non-fans into fans and some casual fans into rabid ones. If and when this group comes to her attention and her attorneys get involved, I hope some sort of very low cost licensing deal can be worked out.

Oh, and from the interview with the brothers who comprise “Harry and the Potters”, I found this highly amusing:

HP: I see that you’re on the road with Draco and the Malfoys. What’s it like touring with your archnemesis?

PD: There’s been sort of a surge in Harry Potter-related bands…With the Malfoys, they’re from Rhode Island and they saw us on the Internet and they invited us to come play at a house party. So we went down there and everybody had a good time, and then they wanted to have us back to do a Harry Potter-themed show, so they put together that band pretty much as a one-off, it was like “We’ll be Draco and the Malfoys and we’ll make fun of Harry and the Potters.” And their set was riddled with curse words and stuff, ’cause it was a house party. But we thought it was hilarious, so we got them to clean up a few of their words and started having them play with us around Boston. And one of them is a fantastic drummer, so he sits in with us after the Malfoys set.

HP: Do you all interact in character?

PD: Yeah, we do. We boo them while they play, and if something goes wrong with their drum machine or something, we’ll say things like, “Who you got drumming for you? Some squibb?”

That’s just too funny. I wonder what some of the other Harry Potter-related bands are like.

Anyway. I linked to this partly so I could also link to Lance Mannion’s analysis of who is and isn’t likely to die at the end of the seventh book. Check it out.

And They Cook, Too

I know that when the vast majority of the public thinks about blogs and bloggers (at least, the vast majority of that tiny slice of the public that knows who and what we are), words like “Cheetoes” and “Jolt cola” are often involved. Well, via Julia, I’m pleased to tell you that some bloggers at least have perfectly viable culinary skills. See for yourself in And They Cook, Too, which is not just a cookbook but also a fundraiser for Doctors Without Borders. A listing of the recipes within is here, some sample pages are here (PDF), and you can order this baby here for the everyday low price of $15. Bon appetit!

Dean James leaving Murder By The Book

Of local interest only, but if you’re a fan of detective fiction in Houston, you’re probably acquainted with Dean James, manager of Murder By The Book, Houston’s best source for all things mysterious. According to the email I got last week, James is leaving his post at MBTB:

It is with a sad heart that we announce that Dean James has left Murder By The Book after working here for two decades.

Mississippi-born & raised, Dean James came to Houston in the 1980s to attend graduate school, and began working at Murder By The Book part-time. His extensive knowledge (his mind’s the proverbial steel trap) and breadth of reading quickly made him a hit with our customers. Since coming to Houston & Murder By The Book, Dean has earned a Ph.D. in history from Rice, a Master’s in library science, and as a writer, the Agatha & Macavity Awards for Non-Fiction. With co-author Jean Swanson, Dean wrote By a Woman’s Hand and Killer Books; with Jan Grape and the late Ellen Nehr, he co-edited Deadly Women. On his own, he’s the author of four Simon Kirby-Jones novels, one (so far) Wanda Nell Culpepper mystery, three other non-series works of suspense and several short stories.

In 1996 he began full-time work and became manager of the store. All of us – customers and staff alike – are really going to miss him.

But don’t worry about never seeing Dean again… not only will he drop by the store often and work a few of the signings, he’ll be teaching an eight-week course at Rice University’s School of Continuing Studies, entitled “Strong Poison: The British School of Murder and Mystery”, beginning next month.

The worldwide popularity of the works of Arthur Conan Doyle, Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, and P.D. James raises the question: What makes the English novel of murder and detection so appealing and so distinctive from its American counterparts? Writer and historian Dr. Dean James will trace the development of crime fiction in England from Victorian times through the age of the “great detective” and the “Golden Age” of mystery writing, to the present day, when a new generation of English crime writers is emerging. Authors to be discussed include: Wilkie Collins, R. Austin Freeman, Margery Allingham, Reginald Hill, Gladys Mitchell, Anne Perry, Jacqueline Winspear , Peter Lovesey, Val McDermid, Ken Bruen, and many, many more! Book sales at the class provided by Murder By The Book.

For more information or to register for “Strong Poison,” please contact Rice University’s School of Continuing Studies at (713) 348-4803 or online at http://www.scs.rice.edu.

McKenna Jordan, who has a Bachelor’s in English Literature from the University of Houston, will work at filling Dean’s shoes as Murder By The Book manager.

I got many a good recommendation for new authors by Dean James. His presence at the store will indeed be missed. Good luck with your new gigs, Dean!

Harry Potter is good for you

I love stories like this: Scientists say Harry Potter can prevent broken bones

Harry Potter may not yet be able to mend broken bones with a wave of his wand, but the pint-size wizard of book sales apparently has the power to reduce playground injuries, British scientists reported in a study published this week.

Working on a hunch, a group of trauma surgeons from Oxford’s John Radcliff Hospital ran a statistical study on the correlation between the incidence of “musculoskelatal injuries” among 7-to-15 year olds and the release of new volumes in the phenomenally popular Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.

Lo and behold, on the weekends when two of the titles — “The Order of the Phoenix” and “The Half-Blood Prince” — were released, emergency-room attendance rates for the designated cohort dropped by nearly half compared to “normal” weekends, 36 and 37 kids respectively in need of mending rather than an average of 67.

“Both these weekends were in mid-summer with good weather. It may therefore be hypothesized,” the doctors concluded, tongues firmly in cheeks, “that there is a place for a committee of safety conscious, talented writers who could produce high quality books for the purpose of injury prevention.”

My injury-prone college roommate could have found a way to hurt himself while reading, but I admit he had a special talent. I’m keeping this tidbit in my back pocket for the next time I run into someone who claims the Potter books are evil.

Rowling about to embark on Book Seven

JK Rowling will begin work on the last Harry Potter novel on January 15.

2006 will be the year when I write the final book in the Harry Potter series. I contemplate the task with mingled feelings of excitement and dread, because I can’t wait to get started, to tell the final part of the story and, at last, to answer all the questions (will I ever answer all of the questions? Let’s aim for most of the questions); and yet it will all be over at last and I can’t quite imagine life without Harry.

However (clears throat in stern British manner) this is no time to get maudlin.

I have been fine-tuning the fine-tuned plan of seven during the past few weeks so that I can really set to work in January. Reading through the plan is like contemplating the map of an unknown country in which I will soon find myself. Sometimes, even at this stage, you can see trouble looming; nearly all of the six published books have had Chapters of Doom. The quintessential, never, I hope, to be beaten Chapter That Nearly Broke My Will To Go On was chapter nine, ‘Goblet of Fire’ (appropriately enough, ‘The Dark Mark’.)

Despite all her protestations, I can’t quite see this as being the true end of the Harry Potter universe. Even if the series ends in a way that would preclude further sequels (for example, if Harry dies, or if Book Seven has a coda that takes us through the adult lives of the main characters), I suspect there will be a strong demand for stories involving just about any other characters of interest. People still buy “Star Trek” novels and comics, after all. The main question is what will Rowling allow to happen to her intellectual property, since Lord knows she won’t need the money. But first, we need to see how this plotline ends. Stay tuned.

Passion at the pit stop

I don’t think any snarky intro I can think up could be any better than just a straight announcement that there will be a new line of NASCAR-themed Harlequin romance novels hitting a bookstore near you soon.

The new project, in conjunction with romance publisher Harlequin Enterprises Ltd., kicks off with “In the Groove,” to be published in late January, right before the Daytona 500. It’s an attempt to appeal to a female fan base that isn’t likely to be wooed by Caterpillar and Lowe’s. Of NASCAR’s estimated 75 million fans, roughly 40 percent are female.

Gentlemen, start your emotions.

“When the wife or girlfriend goes to get a book about NASCAR, so many times it’s a book that they would get for their husband or boyfriend,” said Kerry Tharp, NASCAR’s director of public relations for licensing. “Now, maybe they can get a book that they would be more interested in and still have the NASCAR storylines.”

The novels will feature NASCAR themes and have the NASCAR logo on the cover. The first will be written by Pamela Britton, the author of such works as “Tempted,” “Cowboy Lessons” and “Dangerous Curves.” NASCAR established a set of editorial and style guidelines for the novels to help protect the sport’s image.

I can only surmise that this means there will be no depictions of quickies during tire changes.

The mind reels at the possible permutations if this takes off:

Fabio as the Grand Marshal of the Daytona 500.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. swapping Budweiser for Celestial Seasonings.

The traditional champagne-spraying celebration in Victory Lane being replaced by a long bubble bath.

Kurt Busch resolving his problems by writing heartfelt notes on scented stationery instead of punting whoever he’s mad at into the wall. (Wait. That one’s not such a bad idea.)

OK, people, I know we can do better than that. Leave your suggested titles and/or plot synopses in the comments.

Teacher Man

Note to self: Obtain a copy of Frank McCourt’s latest book, if for no better reason than to see if his description of life at Stuyvesant High School matches up with my memory of it as it did for Julia. Oh, and also to see if he confirms or denies those rumors about him and that cute blonde math teacher. Hey, gossip never has an expiration date, you know?

My question for Bill

This article on Calvin and Hobbes cartoonist Bill Watterson is interesting, but ultimately doesn’t tell us a whole lot about the famously publicity-shy cartoonist that we haven’t read elsewhere. With one exception:

Bill Watterson, 47, hasn’t made a public appearance since he delivered the commencement speech in 1990 at his alma mater, Kenyon College. But he recently welcomed some written questions from fans to promote the Oct. 4 release of the three-volume “The Complete Calvin and Hobbes,” which contains every one of the 3,160 strips printed during its 10-year run.

Among his revelations:

• He reads newspaper comics, but doesn’t consider this their golden age.

• He’s never attended any church.

• He’s currently interested in art from the 1600s.

None of those facts are particularly compelling to me, but I can’t tell you how much I wish I’d known about this in time to submit a question of my own. What I’d have asked him is “Are you aware of all those damned peeing Calvin stickers out there, and would it have killed you to have done something to protect your copyright?” Because I’d sure like to know the answer to that.

UPDATE: According to two commenters so far, Watterson has said that he’s aware of the peeing Calvin stickers and has made some efforts to stop them, but as they’re made and sold by a zillion tiny distributors, there’s no easy way to do that. Fair enough. I think what I wanted from him as far as protecting his copyright goes would have been to actually take a louder and more public stance about this phenomenon. Use the fact that he’s the creator of one of the best-loved comic strips of all time to tell everybody that he doesn’t like these stickers and wished people wouldn’t make, sell, or buy them. Who knows, maybe doing so early on, especially when the likeness of Calvin in these things was so apparent you could tell which individual strip it was taken from, would have killed this industry in its infancy. I guess what bugs me is that I’ve never seen a direct statement from Watterson about this, and I’ve always interpreted that as indifference on his part. I’m glad to hear that he really does care, but I sure do wish that fact were more widely known.

Harry Potter is in the house

The good news: Our copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince arrived yesterday from Amazon UK.

The bad news: Tiffany got to it first, so I have to wait until she’s done reading it.

The good news: She’s a really fast reader.

The bad news: Neither of us has much free time for reading these days.

So, the ban on telling me anything about this book will please continue until I say otherwise. I thank you for your indulgence in the matter. In the meantime, if you want to discuss something Potter-related here, try this US News article on how the Potter books are (slowly) helping to arrest a trend of not reading by kids.

Are you ready for Harry?

The Chron goes all Harry Potter as the hours tick down to the official release at 12:01 AM. Bookstores all over town will be open along with eager kids and their bleary-eyed parents, no doubt lined up with randomly-drawn numbers so there’s no rioting over who gets to be first.

Of course, if you really really wanted to be the first kid on your block to have a copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, you should have done this.

Not about to let this marketing opportunity disappear, The Fairmont Newfoundland has conjured up a Hocus-Pocus Package ($160, double), which includes a voucher for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince when it goes on sale at midnight at the local Chapters bookstore — a half-hour ahead of the East Coast, thanks to the province’s unique time zone.

How often does one get to be the first kid on one’s continent to do something?

As for us, we established a pattern of buying the British versions of the books, so we’ll be a few days behind as or order ships across the pond from Amazon UK – I got the email confirming its departure earlier today. Those of you who’ll be up reading all night tonight, please don’t tell me anything about it for the next two weeks or so.

RIP, Ed McBain

The great and highly prolific novelist Evan Hunter, who sold over a hundred million books as crime writer Ed McBain, has died at the age of 78 from cancer.

In a 50-year career, Mr. Hunter, sometimes as Ed McBain and sometimes using other names, wrote a vast number of best-selling novels, short stories, plays and film scripts. With the publication of “Cop Hater” in 1956, the first of the 87th Precinct novels, he took police fiction into a new, more realistic realm, a radical break from a form long dependent on the educated, aristocratic detective who works alone and takes his time puzzling out a case.

Set in a New York-like metropolis named Isola, “Cop Hater” laid down the formula that would define the urban police novel to this day, including the big, bad city as a character in the drama; multiple story lines; swift, cinematic exposition; brutal action scenes and searing images of ghetto violence; methodical teamwork; authentic forensic procedures; and tough, cynical yet sympathetic police officers speaking dialogue so real that it could have been soaked up in a Queens diner between squad shifts.

I’ve been a fan of McBain’s for many years now, and I’ve read most of his books. A favorite of mine was one he wrote as Evan Hunter, Criminal Conversation. It’s a book that has a lot of dialogue, and there are few writers who do dialogue better than he did. I may have gotten started on mysteries with Encyclopedia Brown, but it was Ed McBain who made me appreciate the genre as an adult. Rest in peace, Ed McBain.

(Thanks to Matt for the tip.)

Memed again

Ginger has tagged me with a book meme, so let’s dive in.

1. How many books do you own?

I’ve never counted, but we have one bookcase’s worth upstairs (plus an overflow box) and three more cases downstairs, not to mention 20 or so books in Olivia’s room and some cookbooks in the dining room. So, maybe a couple hundred all together. I’m under strict orders to throttle back book purchases because we don’t have the space for them, and both of us regularly dump used books at Half Price or whatnot.

2. Last book read.

“Turncoat”, a thriller by Aaron Elkins. I do a lot of my pleasure reading now while travelling, as there’s often too much to do at home, but this one was read while not on the road. I’m most of the way through Peter Robinson’s “Close to Home” now – it’s a British police story – which I started on the plane to Colorado. Mysteries of all stripes are my main reading passion.

3. Last book purchased.

My in-laws give me a $100 gift certificate to Murder by the Book every year as a birthday present, and that’s most of my bookbuying these days. I used about $65 worth of it in March; the haul included the two books mentioned above.

4. Name five books that mean a lot to you.

I’ve never been much for Literature, so this list may seem a little weird.

– The “Enclyclopedia Brown” mysteries. My love of the genre didn’t spring from a vacuum, you know. My parents saved all my old EB books, so they’ll be Olivia’s some day.

– The Baseball Encyclopedia. Hey, back in 1979 when the Internet didn’t exist, this book was the Holy Bible for statistics-obsessed baseball fans, which was a pretty good description of my 13-year-old self.

– “Illusions”, by Richard Bach. Didn’t everybody go through a Richard Bach phase in college? I admit it was a bit of a comedown to reread “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” a few years afterwards and realize that it’s the same book, but disappointment can be a good learning experience.

– “The Mystery of the Aleph”, by Amir Aczel. As a math major, the concept of infinity, and different types on infinity, is one of the most challenging and bedevilling things to grasp. This is the best book I’ve read on the subject – it’s mostly a biography of Georg Cantor, who revolutionized how we think about it. He also went mad, which lends some poignance to it all.

– “Planet Ocean”, by Brad Matsen and Ray Troll. The book we all should have read as kids during the dinosaur-fascination phase most of us go through. It’s a beautifully illustrated guide to the wonderful and strange creatures that walked and mostly swam the earth hundreds of millions of years ago. It’s a book I plan on reading with Olivia in a few years, though we’ll start with their more kid-oriented “Raptors, Fossils, Fins, and Fangs” first.

5. Five people to tag.

Like Ginger, I say anyone who wants to do this should give it a shot. I’d go ahead and tag Hope, Julia, Perry, Sarah, and Christina. Have fun, y’all.

Harry Potter cover art

Meet Mary GrandPre, the artist who has drawn the covers to all the Harry Potter books, including book number six.

GrandPre, 51, of Sarasota, Fla., [has] been drawing him for the cover of each blockbuster book, as well as creating the illustrations that come at the start of each chapter. She’s drawn him from a boy of 11 in book one to age 16 in book six.

“It’s a challenge to take a character … and make sure he ages correctly and make sure he looks like he would look if he were to get a year older,” she told The Associated Press. “I feel like I’m his mom, I comb his hair or I mess it up, I make sure he looks good before he goes out the door.”

GrandPre, who has been illustrating books for 15 years and working as an artist for 25 years, had no idea what she was getting into when she got the call from Scholastic, Rowlings’ American publishers, about creating the art for the first book. She asked to read the work, to see if would be a good fit. (She still gets to read each book before creating the art, making her one of the few people in the world who has actually read book 6 already! Don’t bother asking her what happens, she won’t tell you.)

GrandPre loved what she read. “It’s like a candy store for an illustrator,” she said. “I connected with Harry pretty quickly and loved the way J.K. described everything; she’s such a visually thinking person. You can’t pass that up.”

Pretty good gig if you can get it, that’s for sure.

New Harry Potter book in July

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince will hit bookstores on July 16.

“We are delighted to announce the publication date,” which also will take place in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, said the joint announcement by Nigel Newton, the chief executive of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc in England, and Barbara Marcus, the president of Scholastic Children’s Books in the United States.

“J.K. Rowling has written a brilliant story that will dazzle her fans in a marvelous book that takes the series to yet greater heights. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince delivers all the excitement and wonder of her best-selling Harry Potter novels,” they said.

[…]

The 2005 publishing date means that fans will be spared the seemingly interminable three-year wait between Potter IV, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and Potter V, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which came out in summer 2003.

The publishers’ statement and Rowling’s Web site did not say whether the new book’s length would top the industrial-sized 870 pages of Order of the Phoenix.

There’s a minor spoiler for HP:HBP towards the end of this AP report, so click carefully if you’re one of those people who wants to know nothing about it before you begin reading. Loads more information about all things Harry Potter can be found on The Leaky Cauldron (thanks to Lis Riba for the pointer).

It’s Just A Game

Did you know that Charles Shulz drew a second comic strip in the 1950s, before “Peanuts” really took off? I didn’t. The strip was a one-panel, three-day-a-week affair called “It’s Just A Game”, and it featured something you never saw in “Peanuts”: grownups. Mark Evanier has the details.

Tom Hanks’ War

Tom Hanks has bought the rights to the book Charlie Wilson’s War.

More than a year after publication of the book Charlie Wilson’s War, the Washington lobbyist and former Texas congressman continues to ride the wave of interest in his story.

Last week, Wilson entertained Houstonians by the scores with the tale — from a distant diplomatic era — of his surreptitious arming of the Afghans in battle against the Russians.

In addition to speeches before several nonprofit groups, the popular Texan was the toast of a few private gatherings. A bonus for those audiences — Wilson’s insights into the current conflagrations in the region.

Mary and Evans Atwell invited 60 friends to the Bayou Club Wednesday night for dinner with Wilson and his wife of five years, Barbara. News to many at the dinner — Tom Hanks has bought movie rights to the book written by George Crile.

This is from Shelby Hodge’s gossip column, so the rest is about various Boldfaced Types (tm, Betsy Parrish) and the parties they attended. I just wanted to note that I have a copy of Charlie Wilson’s War on loan from Ginger and hope to read it in the near future.

I think my favorite Charlie Wilson story is told in one of Molly Ivins’ books. Wilson liked gadabouting in South America, and he stirred up his share of trouble along the way, to the point where his life was threatened by some politician or other. Wilson gave it no heed, but the threat made its way to his mother’s ears, and she panicked. After trying to reach him on the phone for a few days but failing – because he was off in South America again, of course – she finally called House Speaker Tip O’Neill. According to Wilson, the call he then got from O’Neill went like this: “I just spent an hour on the phone with your mother. I don’t HAVE an hour to spend on the phone with your mother. Get your ass back to Washington and stay there.”

Char Miller

Char Miller, editor of Fifty Years of the Texas Observer, gets profiled in the San Antonio Current this week.

Miller has become so ubiquitous (he recently referred to himself with characteristic self-deprecation as a “media whore”) and so universally respected, that it’s easy to forget he’s a bona fide progressive. Or perhaps it’s just that we think of him as our progressive. But Miller is in favor of spending more money on education (“I think San Antonians, rich and poor, have been undereducated”), he’s suspicious of developers (the business community likes a weak council, he says, “because they can influence policy making through staff and they don’t have to deal with council”), and he’s ambivalent about cars (” … in postmillennial San Antonio, which is utterly dependent on the automobile … we daily flee the very human set of interactions that once made this community so livable”). Now he has his own printing press in the Trinity University Press, which this fall is coming out with a collection of his essays, Deep in the Heart of San Antonio: Land and Life in South Texas. As students of history can tell you -Miller is a professor of economic, social, and environmental history at Trinity where he recently chaired the History and Urban Studies programs – Gutenberg’s invention set in motion a cultural revolution that is still underway, taking knowledge and information out of the exclusive control of the elites and putting it in the hands of the common people.

Miller is interested in doing much the same thing with his writing, moving it out of the academic journals and into the hands of citizens. “What I wanted to do was write a book that spoke to my very deep needs and interests about this community, but which I hoped could talk to neighborhood associations, could talk to the City Council, could speak to power brokers of one kind or another, and not necessarily convince them, but raise issues.” It’s no coincidence, it seems, that Miller chaired the search committee that hired Trinity University Press Director Barbara Ras. “Part of the press’ mission is to find really high quality books that speak directly to the experiences of people in this region,” Miller says, “and in that process generate and sustain a kind of intellectual life that hasn’t been happening.” Or has been happening in small pockets. The press’ first run of titles also includes Fifty Years of the Texas Observer, a collection of articles from the state’s journal of progressive and radical politics, edited by Miller.

I took two classes from Char while I was at Trinity, and I enjoyed them enough to briefly contemplate a history minor. I regained my senses once I realized I don’t do so well reading books on deadline (as you may have noticed), but the classes I took were still cool. Anyway, it’s a nice piece, so check it out.

“The Hammer”

New to my bookshelf – The Hammer, by Lou Dubose (that would be longtime Texas Observer editor Lou Dubose) and Jan Reid. Sean-Paul of The Agonist was kind enough to not only get me a copy of this book, but get it autographed by the authors as well. Thanks, Sean-Paul! It’s next on my to-be-read list after Fifty Years of the Texas Observer, which (sigh) I’m still working on. (If you just can’t wait for me to get my butt in gear and finish writing a review of it, you can give yourself solace by reading these two reviews instead.)

Anyway, “The Hammer” looks like a fun book and a good read, and one of these days (I swear!) I’ll write something about it.

Book signing postponed

The planned signing of Fifty Years of the Texas Observer at the Holcombe Barnes & Noble in Houston, originally scheduled for this Sunday has been postponed. No word yet on a makeup date. And yes, I’m still working on reading the book.

AusChron reviews “50 Years of the Texas Observer”

Thumbs up from the Austin Chronicle on Fifty Years of the Texas Observer. They even noticed the George H.W. Bush “compassionate conservatism” meme from 1964. I’m still lagging behind on finishing this book, but this is as good a time as any to post an update about upcoming in-store events, which includes one here in Houston:

9/9/2004 5-7pm
The Twig Bookshop (San Antonio)
5005 Broadway St
(210) 826-6411
Reading and signing with Char Miller and contributors

9/18/2004 2pm
Barnes and NobleFiesta Trails (San Antonio)
12635 IH 10 West
(210) 561-0205
Reading and signing with Char Miller

9/19/2004 4-5pm
Barnes and Noble University Village (Ft. Worth)
1612 S. University Dr. #401
(817) 335-2791
Reading and signing with Char Miller

9/26/2004 1-4pm
Barnes and NobleVanderbilt Sq. (Houston)
3003 W. Holcombe Blvd
(713) 349-0050
Signing with Char Miller

9/27/2004 7pm
Barnes and Noble Westlake (Austin)
701 S. Capital of TexasHwy. #P860
(512) 328-3155
Reading and signing with Char Miller

I plan on being there for the Houston signing. I hope (hope!) to have read it all by then.

Local angles

Still working my way through Fifty Years of the Texas Observer – these things do go in fits and starts sometimes, you know? The book is divided into sections, with an intro and an afterword by founding editor Ronnie Dugger. Section one was about people (“Heroes and Hucksters”), while section two, which I’ve just finished is about places (“Local Angles”). This one has a lot of humor in it, which I find to be one of the stronger parts of TO’s writing. Subjects include:

– A “startling expose of how Governor John Connally’s plot to bankrupt liberals and other heavy drinkers” with a new alcohol law that mandated airplane-style single serving bottles.

– An amusing look at the battles faced by the crew that filmed the satirical movie Viva Max! (based on a novel by Jim Lehrer, yes, that Jim Lehrer), about a ne’er-do-well Mexican general who recaptures the Alamo after his girlfriend tells him that “his men wouldn’t follow him to a house of ill repute”. It contains this wonderful description of the Daughters of the Alamo, who did their best to keep those Hollywood ruffians from soiling their shrine:

Mrs. Scarborough pointed out that: “We are not little old ladies in tennis shoes.” And several of her companions, one of whom had come straight from the country club and still wore golf shoes, nodded solemn agreement.

– The story of the world’s largest cake, to celebrate the Sesquicentennial in 1986

– And my favorite, the story of a gambler who was convicted of premeditated murder after he bashed a loan shark’s head in with the frozen body of his poodle (whom the loan shark had previously killed for failure to repay a debt).

There are other stories from various locales, ruminations on change, loss, and getting by in the world. The one online entry is from 2001, The Wounds of Waco, about a cameraman named Dan Molloney who was unfairly blamed for tipping the Branch Davidians about the ill-fated raid on their compound and never recovered from it.

The next section is called “The Political Tumult”. I can already see a few themes to discuss. More later. Remember, there are book signings coming up in Austin and San Antonio in September.

Book signing opportunity

Want to hear Molly Ivins and other Texas Observer authors read from Fifty Years of the Texas Observer, and maybe score an autograph? You lucky duckies in Austin and San Antonio will have your chance in September:

Sept 8 BookPeople, Austin 7:00 p.m. Details here.

Sept 9 The Twig, San Antonio 5-7 p.m. Details here.

Sept 18 Barnes & Nobles at Fiesta Trails, SA 2p.m. Details not online yet.

Sept 27 Barnes & Nobles at Westlakes, Austin. Details not online yet.

If and when they come to Houston, Dallas, or elsewhere, I’ll let you know. You can preorder thru Amazon.com or through the bookstores above. Trinity University Press will have its online shopping function available later this month.

A game of inches

Now that Kevin has kindly sent a boatload of readers here to find out about Fifty Years of the Texas Observer, I thought I’d discuss another article from that book, one from the much more recent past. This one, The Pols He Bought, is from 1999 and as such can be found on the Observer web page.

That article is about far-right hospital bed magnate James Leininger, first profiled on the Observer pages two weeks previously, and the influence he wielded on the 1998 elections with an infusion of late cash.

John Sharp didn’t lose to Rick Perry. Nor did Paul Hobby lose to Carole Keeton Rylander. Instead, the two Democrats lost their races to James Leininger’s money. Leininger helped guarantee two loans – a $1.1 million loan to Perry on October 25 and a $950,000 loan to Rylander on October 1 – that likely made the difference in the races for lieutenant governor and comptroller, the closest races on the statewide ballot. Perry beat Sharp by 68,700 votes. Rylander beat Hobby by 20,223 votes, in one of the closest statewide races in Texas history. In each race, about 3.7 million votes were cast. Sharp lost by 1.8 percent of the vote, Hobby by 0.55 percent.Handicapping political races is an inexact science, and there is no way to prove that Leininger’s loans were the decisive factor in the two races. “It’s almost impossible to narrow down the result to a single thing,” says Bruce Buchanan, a professor of government at U.T.—Austin. “But when the races are as close as those two races, it’s reasonable to suggest that money like that may have made the difference.”

Leininger’s money certainly provided critical ammunition to both Perry and Rylander:

• More than 10 percent of the $10.3 million that Perry raised before the election came from the loan guaranteed by Leininger and two other businessmen.

• Nearly 25 percent of the $3.85 million that Rylander raised in the year prior to the election came from the loan guaranteed by Leininger and four others.

• On the same day Leininger’s loan to Rylander was approved, her campaign wrote a check for $850,000 to National Media in Alexandria, Virginia, for media buys.

• Within five days of getting the money from Leininger, the Perry campaign spent slightly more than $1 million on media, with the bulk of that money ($966,000) going to David Weeks, Perry’s Austin-based media consultant.

• Leininger’s money came at critical times for both campaigns. When Rylander got the money from Leininger, she was trailing Hobby in the polls and was being outspent more than two to one. From July through September, Hobby had spent $3.7 million. Rylander had spent almost $1.7 million. In late October, when Perry got his loan, he was in a dead heat with Sharp, with polls showing both candidates with 37 percent of the vote. And Perry was being outspent by a margin of almost three to one. From July to September, Perry spent $2.3 million. Sharp spent $6.8 million.

Now, I don’t fully buy into the notion that Leininger’s cash was the difference maker. Texas was already fairly solidly Republican by 1998, and the top of the ticket that year featured the then-very-popular Governor George W. Bush, who destroyed challenger Garry Mauro by a 2-1 margin. And finally, Sharp and Hobby had a fair amount of cash, solid reputations, and good name recognition themselves. Leininger’s money certainly helped Perry and Strayhorn, but I won’t claim it was necessary or sufficient.

That said, these were two very close elections. A little change here and there, and the Democrats would have won two of the top four offices available that year (there was no Senate race in 1998). John Sharp would have then ascended to the Governor’s mansion in 2001 when Bush headed to Washington, and while both he and Hobby would have faced strong challenges in 2002, it’s fair to say that running as incumbents they’d have done a hell of a lot better than Tony Sanchez and Marty Akins did.

Under this scenario, it’s likely that we’d be hearing a lot less about the decline and fall of the Texas Democratic Party. This is not to say that the actual decline and fall would have been arrested or reversed with these two wins in 1998. The underlying problems – lack of a bench, no cohesive philosophy, strong population growth in the heavily Republican suburbs, GOP death grips on Harris and Dallas Counties – wouldn’t have gone away. Things might look OK for the Democrats on the surface, but the troubles would be there to see for anyone who’d bother to look, much like a candidate who’s tied in the polls but getting clobbered on the internals. They’d still have their work cut out for them if they wanted to be a real force again.

What would probably be different would be how much ground they’d concede while they got their act back together. I think it’s a lot more likely that Governor Sharp could have gotten a compromise redistricting bill passed in 2001, which would have avoided the court-drawn map and thus short-circuited the one plausible argument that the DeLay crew had when they steamrolled the 2003 sessions. The Republicans probably would have still won the State House in 2002, but they might not have had such a friendly map from the Legislative Review Board to work with, and as such Tom Craddick still might not have wrested the speakership from Pete Laney. Who knows what might have happened with the budget in the last Legislative session with Sharp and/or Hobby in office, or if Perry and/or Strayhorn had won in squeakers instead of routs? Maybe without being distracted by redistricting, they’d have straightened out school finance. You never know.

You can play that kind of what-if game all day. Here’s something that for sure wouldn’t have happened if John Sharp had won:

For his part, Perry made certain that he repaid Leininger’s loan. Records show that his campaign paid off the $1.1 million loan on December 17, an amazingly quick turnaround. How did he do it? In part, by pressuring lobbyists. After the election, several lobbyists who had supported Sharp were contacted by Perry’s campaign and told that they were expected to help retire Perry’s campaign debt. In some cases, they were given specific amounts of money to raise and/or contribute, with amounts ranging up to $50,000. Said one lobbyist who asked not to be identified, “There was no direct mention of the Leininger loan, but you don’t have to do any high math to put two and two together. Most of the people who were contacted understood where that debt came from.” Republican Party political director Royal Masset even circulated a memo, advising Republican statewide elected officials to tell lobbyists who supported Democratic candidates that it was now going to cost them a premium to get on the “late train” with the Republican winners.

Sullivan insists no fundraising quotas were given and dismisses the complaints as “sour grapes from lobbyists whose guy lost the election.” Perhaps so. But questions about Leininger’s influence over Perry and Rylander will undoubtedly continue, particularly as the issue of school vouchers becomes more prominent.

As shown by his secret trip to the Bahamas with Leininger and others, Perry is still paying that debt back in one way or another. Had it not been for those few votes here and there, ol’ Jim would have gotten a much lower return on that investment.

Bone!

Nice article on the conclusion of the “Bone” and “Cerebus” comic sagas. I’ve been a big fan of “Bone” since my ex-roommie Matt introduced me to it a few years ago. I have all of the bound collections of the “Bone” comics, since they’re much easier to store and keep track of than the comics themselves, and I’m glad to see that the last chapters will be available soon, though of course I’m sorry to see it come to an end. I totally agree with this:

More than any other current comic title, “Bone” deserves — and could support — the kind of popular attention that elevated Harry Potter from the rank and file of children’s books.

Yep. I’d love to see this adapted as a full-length animated feature, though sadly I know it’d never get the support it needed to justify the expense. Anyway, do yourself a favor and check out “Bone”. You’ll be glad you did.

“The Complete Peanuts”, Volume One

Mark Evanier reviews the first of the Complete Peanuts volumes and explains why you should spend a few extra bucks and order it straight from the publisher instead of Amazon. Check it out.