Casanova Was a Book Lover: And Other Naked Truths and Provocative Curiosities About the Writing, Selling, and Reading of Books

Hamilton, John Maxwell

Published by Louisiana State University Press, 2000
ISBN 10: 0807125547 / ISBN 13: 9780807125540
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Everyone knows which books people buy; they can just look at the best-seller lists. But who knows which books people steal? Who, for that matter, knows that authors ruin the book market by writing too much? Or why book critics are not critical? Or why librarians need to throw out more books? Who, indeed, knows the answer to that all-important question in our democracy: should presidents and presidential candidates write books? (The answer is no.)

In this irreverent analysis of the book industry, John Maxwell Hamilton -- a longtime journalist and public radio commentator -- answers these questions and many more, proving that the best way to study books is not to take them too seriously. He provides a rich history of the book -- from the days when monks laboriously hand-copied texts to the tidal wave of Titanic tie-ins -- and gives a succinct overview of the state of the industry today, including writing, marketing, promoting, reviewing, ghostwriting, and collecting.

Throughout, Hamilton peppers his prose with spicy tidbits of information that will fascinate bibliophiles everywhere. For instance, did you know that Walt Whitman was fired from a government job because his boss found Leaves of Grass, and its author, immoral? Or that the most stolen book in the United States is the Bible, followed by The Joy of Sex? How about that Dan Quayle's 1989 Christmas card read, "May our nation continue to be a beakon of hope to the world"? Or that Casanova was an ardent lover of books as well as women?

Hamilton offers an inside look at the history and business of book reviewing, explaining why, more often than not, reviewers resemble "counselors at a self-esteem camp" and examining the enormous impact of the "Oprah effect" on the market. As the self-appointed Emily Post of the book world, he advises publishers, authors, and readers on proper etiquette for everything from book parties ("Feel free to build a party around a theme in a book, no matter how tacky") and jacket photos ("You should not show off your new baby unless [your] book [is] about raising kids"), to book signings ("Just because an author has given you an autograph does not mean they want to become your pen pal") and promotion by friends and relatives ("They should carry the book at all times on public transportation with the cover showing").

Both edifying and enjoyable, Casanova Was a Book Lover fills a Grand Canyon--sized void in the literature on literature. It is indispensable for book enthusiasts who want to know the naked truth about reading, writing, and publishing.

Review: "To all reviewers," John Maxwell Hamilton dedicates Casanova Was a Book Lover. "Because only ungrateful asses would pan a book after having it dedicated to them." Hamilton needn't have taken the precaution. According to his editor, "Our modern reviewer is like a counselor at a self-esteem camp." If so, then gather round the fire, campers--it's time to enlarge Mr. Hamilton's ego. Hamilton's inquiry into the world of books and writing and publishing is sharp, fresh, and witty--erudite but devoid, thankfully, of academese. Each chapter addresses a single, often quirky aspect of the book world. One bemoans the idiocy of most acknowledgments pages, another the cheerleading and book-reportish quality of contemporary reviewing. The book's first chapter examines the writer's economic struggle, cheerily noting the convenience, in this regard, of his or her being in jail: "the big advantage ... is that a writer need not worry about making money or fret about having to take time out for cooking or doing the laundry." Later chapters include an etiquette guide for authors and readers ("reading your friend's book is a nice thing to do, but not required"--whew!), a survey of bad writing by presidents of the United States, and an exploration of the complicated decision-making that takes place at the inundated Library of Congress.

Among the most amusing bits here (though the primer to banal acknowledgments wins hands down) is Hamilton's list not of the bestselling books, which gather momentum just by being popular, but of the best-stolen books. These, he says, are the books people really want. Topping the list, as the Gideons are well aware, is the Bible, the stealing of which, Hamilton muses, "might seem to defeat the purpose of wanting it in the first place: salvation." Even the Waldorf Astoria stocks used books, "so wealthy guests can steal them." Of course, most struggling writers would love to write a book so desired it becomes theft-worthy. A book's success, though, says Hamilton, depends largely on "the talent that best serves a writer," luck. "Sometimes," he adds, "the worst luck, like dropping dead, can be the most fortuitous of all." --Jane Steinberg

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Casanova Was a Book Lover: And Other Naked ...
Publisher: Louisiana State University Press
Publication Date: 2000
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: Near Fine
Edition: 1st Edition

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