Thursday, December 20, 2007

Last-Minute Christmas Shopping Ideas

The busy folks at took the time to send me an email reminder about last-minute Christmas shopping, saying

Order now and have your packages shipped fast.
For Two-Day Shipping, order as late as
3 p.m. PST (time varies by item) on Thursday, December 20.

For One-Day Shipping, order as late as
1 p.m. PST (time varies by item) on Saturday, December 22.

Taking a cue from that, I thought I might revisit some of the books that I have discussed here over the past year or so, since blog readers tend to be readers first and surfers second.

For example, in June, under the heading "Scenes from a Debate Season," I quoted a long passage from Gary Alan Fine's book, Gifted Tongues: High School Debate and Adolescent Culture -- which might make a nice gift for anyone who enjoys the new Golden Globe-nominated film, The Great Debaters, starring (and directed by) Oscar-winner Denzel Washington.

Also in June, in a post called "Judy Garland and Homosexual Identity," I highlighted what I called "a darling coffee table book," When I Knew, edited by Robert Trachtenberg and illustrated by Tom Bachtell, saying:

When I Knew is a compilation of memories from gay men and lesbians from all walks of life (though a disproportionate number of them, it seems, are somehow connected to the entertainment industry), with a specific reference to the identifiable moment of their discoveries of being gay. It's a quick read, with only a handful of entries longer than a page. Many of the authors are well-known as adults and their childhood memories are sweet, bittersweet, sometime campy, sometimes wry, and always illustrative of what it is like to grow up gay in a straight world.

In March, I reported on two events featuring authors. The first, at the Cato Institute,
Brian Doherty summarized, in about ten minutes, his 800-page retrospective, Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement.
At the other, in Charlottesville,
syndicated radio talk-show host Neal Boortz spoke to about 200 fans and signed copies of his new book, Somebody's Gotta Say It.
(Boortz is also co-author of the best-selling The Fair Tax Book.)

In April, under the headline, "The Pope's Medieval Economics," I wrote:

Pope Benedict XVI, in a new book scheduled to be published next month, condemns the West for exploiting the Third World. News reports about the book -- called Jesus of Nazareth and excerpted earlier this week in the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera (which happens to be owned by Rizzoli, the publishers of the book) -- do not indicate whether the pontiff similarly condemns the rulers of Third World countries for their kleptocratic practices that serve to keep their subjects in poverty while the government elites party like the wealthy title character in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.

Somehow I doubt he does, since -- whatever the Pope's merits as a theologian and rhetorician, which are considerable -- he lacks an understanding of basic economics.

I followed that up the next month with a post entitled "Jesus, the Pope, and a Rabbi," noting:
Rabbi Jacob Neusner, a professor of the history and theology of Judaism at Bard College, explains how a 14-year-old book of his ended up playing a central role in a new book by Pope Benedict XVI called Jesus of Nazareth.

Rabbi Neusner writes:
In my 1993 book “A Rabbi Talks With Jesus,” I imagined being present at the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus taught Torah like Moses on Sinai. I explained why, for good and substantial reasons based in the Torah, I would not have followed Jesus but would have remained true to God’s teaching to Moses. Much to my surprise, Pope Benedict XVI, in his new book “Jesus of Nazareth,” devotes much of his chapter on the Sermon on the Mount to discussing my book.

“More than other interpretations known to me, this respectful and frank dispute between a believing Jew and Jesus, the son of Abraham, has opened my eyes to the greatness of Jesus’ words and to the choice that the gospel places before us,” the pope writes.
He ties this exchange of ideas to a lamentably lost tradition of disputation between religions, a tradition that was lively in the Middle Ages but began to decline during the Renaissance and nearly disappeared during and after the Enlightenment, when theories of religious tolerance gained ground (a good thing in comparison to the persecutions and pogroms that preceded it).

When discussing books, it simply is not possible to avoid the topic of Harry Potter. In a post called "Harry Potter: Economic Dynamo," I quoted extensively from a report about the business generated by the Harry Potter empire. The quotation said in part:
Here is a unique look at the Harry Potter effect.

— Book sales (Nielsen BookScan) - Since 1998, when Nielsen began measuring book sales in the United Kingdom, the six Harry Potter books have sold more than 22.5 million copies in the UK alone. In the United States, the Harry Potter titles published after 2001 have sold more than 27.7 million copies.

— Box Office sales (Nielsen EDI) - Combined, the first four Harry Potter films have grossed more than $3.5 billion worldwide. The first film, “Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone,” is the fourth all-time highest grossing film worldwide.

— Advertising (Nielsen Monitor-Plus) - In the U.S., ad spend for all Harry Potter branded merchandise (including books, movies, DVDs and other promotional products) totals $269.1 million from 1998 to date. Outside of the U.S. from 2000 to date, $119.3 million was spent on total advertising for all Harry Potter branded merchandise in Canada, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, Switzerland, and the U.K.

The Harry Potter phenomenon now consists of seven books, five movies, and countless spin-off products, among them:

Changing directions completely, one cannot forget "Mormon Beefcake," sparked by a Washington Post story about a new 2008 calendar featuring hunky (male) Mormon missionaries. The 2008 Men on a Mission Calendar generated a lot of buzz and has turned into a best-seller. Whether it is an effective proselytizing tool remains to be seen.

Last month, in "Geography and Literature for $400, Alex," I noted how the books of Kurt Vonnegut are still selling well, months after the author's death and often decades after they were first published, and selling much better than books by his contemporaries, Norman Mailer and William Styron. I cited an AP story that reported:
While Mr. Vonnegut's death in April led to a significant jump in sales for his books, the change was far smaller for the works of Mr. Mailer and Mr. Styron, both of whom, unlike Mr. Vonnegut, won Pulitzer Prizes. Books by all three writers are still used in classrooms, but Mr. Vonnegut's are read more both on and off campus.

"I think it has something to do with the fact that Vonnegut has more of a word-of-mouth following. He's a little more pulpy and countercultural," says Keith McEvoy, general manager of Shakespeare & Co. Booksellers in downtown Manhattan. "We had a huge spike after Vonnegut died, but I didn't see anything like that for Mailer or Styron."

Other books by Mr. Vonnegut are also strongly outselling his contemporaries. "Cat's Cradle" has sold nearly 130,000 copies since 2006, according to Nielsen BookScan, and "Breakfast of Champions" totals 74,000. Meanwhile, Mr. Styron's "The Confessions of Nat Turner," winner of the Pulitzer in 1968, has sold less than 2,000 since 2006, while Mr. Mailer's "The Armies of the Night," a Pulitzer winner in 1969, sold just 3,000.

In one of my several vblog-posts (vblog = video blog) about the Virginia Film Festival, I reported about screenwriter Stewart Stern's lifelong love for Peter Pan in all its incarnations -- book, play, movie, musical, and more. Stern's uncle was Adolph Zukor, who produced the first film (silent) version of the classic children's story, and his remembrances were charming. (One might say as enchanting as fairy dust.)

There are plenty more books (including plays) that I discussed this past year that are not mentioned here. To my surprise, this has turned into a retrospective of this year's blogging, although it may seem a bit mercenary. Really, I will not complain in the least if, while reading this, you choose to buy something from one of my advertisers -- if not, then TLA Video's online store (see "Christmas Shopping List"). Or, if you're really pleased, there's always the tip jar.

Green Chri$tma$, indeed -- but a merry one, too, followed by a happy new year!


Kenton said...

The last time a high school policy debater looked like the kid on the cover of that book, I believe, was approximately when Eisenhower was president.

Rick Sincere said...

I think Hoover might have been president. Debaters wore neckties in the 1950s -- at least from what I've observed in old yearbooks from my high school.

The next time debaters looked like that was in the mid-1970s, when Nixon and Ford were president and leisure suits were all the rage.

Though the hair might have been longer and more unruly!