Max Perkins Editor of Genius

Max Perkins Editor of Genius

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by A. Scott Berg

How could I, someone who can limbo under the IQ score of 160 with the greatest of ease, possibly relate to a page turner with genius in the title?

Well, A. Scott Berg’s Max Perkins Editor of Genius, a 1978 National Book Award Winner, may be the finest, most readable book ever written about publishing—publishing when the book business was a very different industry indeed.

This is the biography of one of those once-in-a-lifetime (eye shade wearing) editors from the past, the man who steadied the quill holding hands of some of America’s iconic writers—Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Wolfe and Jones—until they’d all produced literary classics.

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Cavett

Cavett book cover

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by Dick Cavett and Christopher Porterfield
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. (1974)

News flash, we’re about to lose Letterman!

Late Night TV talk show addicts know that sinking feeling. Hell, we’ve been through it all before—Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Dick Cavett, Johnny Carson, Jay Leno and now Dave.

We watched them come, watched them nightly and then, sadly. . .watched them go.

But hey, on that May 2015 morning when Dave blows us his good-by kiss, odds are our bedmate isn’t going to roll over and say “Dear, sorry for your loss!”

But sleep tight my friends, Page Turners from the Past is here with a recent find, a little walk down memory lane with our old Late Night friend Dick Cavett.

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Forrest Gump

Forrest Gump book cover

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by Winston Groom
Doubleday & Company, Inc. (1986)

Now here’s a novel idea, one that Hollywood’s “idiots” might consider.

Why not take Forrest Gump, a little novel about an idiot savant and turn it into one of the greatest feature films in the industry’s history? Hell, all they’d have to do is feature Gump, the big bozo protagonist, a mentally challenged young man who somehow manages to find himself the centerpiece (from the ‘50s through the early ‘70s) of every event that impacted America—Alabama football, Vietnam, Watergate, US./China relations, NASA’s Space program, professional Wrastlin’, Hollywood, drugs and Rock ‘N Roll.

Using the latest film technology they might just lay in footage of the time (TV and movie news coverage), then drop Forrest into these actual historical moments. Why not score it with the music of the day—-Hound Dog, Blowin’ in the Wind, Walk Right In, and California Dreamin’ etc.,—–and oh, to pull this off, recruit a cast of geniuses—scriptwriters, directors, shooters, editors, actors.

Suddenly Paramount Pictures’ “idiots” are geniuses and the little novel, well it’s the basis and inspiration for Forrest Gump, an epic romantic-comedy and six-time, 1994, Oscar winning film—Best Picture, Best Director (Robert Zemeckis), Best Actor, (Tom Hanks), Best Adapted Screenplay, (Erick Roth), Best Visual Effects, and Best Film Editing.

Okay, as Forrest might say, “Theys done been there and theys done that!

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A Confederacy of Dunces

by John Kennedy Toole, Grove Press (1980)

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How to publish the Pulitzer Prize winning novel!

Create an incredible protagonist like Ignatius J. Reilly.  Simply come up with a 300-plus-pound Don Quixote, a physically and mentally objectionable middle-aged character, a stumbling, bumbling malcontent,a comedic genius of sorts, whose skewed psyche drives him to war with every living, breathing faction of society. An “equal opportunity  employer,” Ignatius hates everyone and everything — the middle class, the upper class, the lower class, rednecks, blacks, homosexuals, heterosexuals, movies, television, corporate America.

Drop this protagonist into New Orleans, a carnival-like setting where street life, rivers, docks and wharves beg the description of the written word. Take your readers to the French Quarter’s dives and topless bars and introduce them to genuine characters—drug dealers, porn pushers, bar tenders, whores, and undercover cops—locals who speak the dialect of the city in pitch-perfect Yat.

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Eyewitness to Power

THE ESSENCE OF LEADERSHIP — NIXON TO CLINTON

Eyewitness to Power

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by David Gergen, Simon & Schuster

The secret to good and accurate reporting?

Access!

To the reporter, for a story to be well told and with accuracy, it’s the difference between a lock and a key.

And for his insightful book Eyewitness to Power (2000), David Gergen, who served as a White House insider during four presidencies—Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton—well, he had that key.

His access afforded him—almost like no other— an up close view of the trials, tribulations, flaws, and strengths of these leaders and the power brokers who advised them.

Were there some closer to these presidents than Gergen?  Absolutely.  Have cronies, confidants, adversaries, reporters, hacks and serious historians recorded/written accounts— from inside and out—about these American commanders-in-chief? Read More »

Dead Solid Perfect

By Dan Jenkins

BROADWAY BOOKS

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Golfers whose reading isn’t limited to eye-balling three or four putt greens might want to give Dan Jenkins’ Dead Solid Perfect a read.

The 1974 laugh-out-loud novel is better than an 8-foot, “Ah, hell, pick it up!” gimme putt!

But golfers be warned!

This one’s a spoiler, so loaded with original one liners and characters that it will make you REALLY want to take a Big Bertha to that guy in your foursome who cranks out the game’s clichés —“Uh, does your husband play?”  and “Nice putt, Alice!”

What we have here in this one-of-a-kind novel is the compelling story of Kenny Lee Puckett, a journeyman touring Pro who finds himself saddled by the three women in his life (two ex-wives and a current) while right smack in the middle of his first pressure packed hunt to win a US. Open Golf Championship. 

So if making birdies while fighting Donnie Smitherton, his “best friend,” for the lead of a PGA Major isn’t enough stress, there’s the weight of the “wives”—Old Number One’s a blackmailing, money grubbing, “whore-lady”; Old Number Two’s fighting cancer (which is emotionally killing Kenny); Old Number Three, well she’s enjoying pro golf’s fast lane, riding her partner (his game, fame and “friends”) like a 15-handicapper two down in a double-press Nassau.

And the story?  Well, it’s told by Kenny Lee Puckett, our struggling pro. But the voice is pure Jenkins “his own self” and “stronger than rent.”

PC readers be warned!

You may want to stay well behind the ropes on this novel’s perspective of life on the PGA tour. Read More »

Shelley: Also Known As Shirley

By Shelley Winters

Shelley Also Known As Shirley

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Hooray for Hollywood!

In this (1980) tell-it-all autobiography Shelley Winters, a genuine Tinsel Towner, takes us back to the days when the starlets had stars in their eyes . . . and in their beds.

We follow Winters (Shirley Shrift) from her dysfunctional Brooklyn childhood—money’s tight, her dad goes to jail on false charges of arson, there’s an early teen pregnancy, and she’s struggling, wrestling with age-old teenage questions.

The answers come through loud and clear in this entertaining and compelling life story and oh, a big no to her doubts regarding her own intelligence (she was very smart) . . . and a bigger “no way” on the ugly duckling worry!

Can we say, Blond Bombshell?

Most of us aren’t old enough to recall the Bombshell years and therein lies the secret and secrets of this page turner. Read More »

The Ballad of the Flim-Flam Man

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A Novel

By Guy Owen

Any wanna-be conmen out there, grifters who’d like to put a bit of spit and polish on their scams?

Give The Ballad of the Flim-Flam Man a read.

This hilarious primer for the con follows the trail of the larcenous Mordecai Jones, the man who wrote the book on scamming.

And what an incredible teaching opportunity the novel affords Mordecai—coaching the art of tat, punchboarding, three-card monte, the Slick Box, the pocketbook, Medicine Man, smack, and finally, the granddaddy of them all, the pay off. Read More »

Last Days of Summer

lastdays

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A Novel

By Steve Kluger

There’s not an avid page turner who doesn’t have favorite characters from American literature.

For me it was always Huck Finn, Jay Gatsby, Holden Cauldfield, Atticus Finch and Ignatius J. Reilly. . . hell Br’er Rabbit for that matter.

But now, having read Steve Kluger’s Last Days of Summer (1998 William Morrow), I’m of the humble opinion that one Joey Margolis of Brooklyn, New York, may just top them all.

Never have I read a character that can hold a candle to Margolis. Or hold a gun to the little beggar (for that matter), which most of the people who come into contact with him—at one time or another—at least threaten to do. Read More »

The Life and Times of the THUNDERBOLT KID

thunderboltkid

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A MEMOIR

By Bill Bryson

Writing nostalgia can be tricky. Experiencing sentimental longings or wistful affections for the past is one thing. Presenting these emotions in a way that enables a reader to readily identify with the writer’s past, well that’s another.

So, should any creative writing teachers out there find themselves looking for a textbook, one that might help students better understand this delicate, challenging genre, here’s a thought.

Try The Life and Times of the THUNDERBOLT KID, by Bill Bryson.

In this hilarious, keenly insightful memoir one will find all the ingredients that make for a great reminiscence–identifiable characters (parents, teachers, adults in general), annoying traits (the human condition so fill in the blank here), historic markers (products, entertainment, America’s Civil Defense), the setting of time and place (home town when the good old USA was the good old USA). Read More »