Thursday, December 19, 2013


It's the Yuletide season and predictably, the bookstores are astocked with books cynically cobbled together to appeal to the stereotypical Right Wing, Conservative, Christian gift-buyers.  Like the shoe cobbler waking in the morning to find the elves had repaired all the shoes, we can always depend on a slew of Right Wing media darlings to slap their names on books ghost-written by other people and proudly claim authorship.  And the target audience gobbles them up, slaps wrapping paper on them, and down under the Xmas tree they go for dad, grampaw, or your looney uncle to exclaim their glorious pleasure on Xmas morning at the gift given to them. 

I happen to have a moral problem (and I know it's just me) with people who slap their names on books when they didn't actually write them.  So, today I'm going to spotlight the ghost-writers and shine the light on them.

The trend in the past has been to bury the ghost-writer's name in the "Acknowledgements" section of the book.  Isn't that classy?  "I'm going to pretend I wrote this book and get all the royalties and recognition but I'm so magnanimous that I'm going to toss an acknowledgement bone to the actual author at the end of the book at the same time I'm thanking my wife, my editor, my manager, my mom, and my dog."  Sometimes that's made it tricky for me to dig through the string of names to glean the true author, and sometimes I may have missed it, but I don't think so.

The current trend, in this mass media age of bad publicity, is to at least put the real author's name on the cover, just make sure that the font is about 1,000 times smaller than the name of the liar who's claiming authorship and getting all the attention and money.  Today I am going to spotlight 5 current books that I believe are ghost-written and shine the light on who I think was the real author rather than the one who gets sole or top-billing.

1. The first book to spotlight is RUSH REVERE AND THE BRAVE PILGRIMS. 

The description goes like this: "Join Rush Revere on exciting time-travels with his special horse Liberty! Rush Revere travels back in time to experience American history as it happens...."  I'm sorry, that's as far as I could get before throwing up in my mouth.

Anyway, nobody reading this better believe Rush Limbaugh actually wrote this book himself or you really should just leave right now.  I'm serious.  Leave.

He may have come up with this insipid concept but that's where his contribution ends if even that.  It actually sounds more like something his yes-minions probably came up with one day while clipping his nails and popping his back zits.

So, since Rush is not one for class, it should be expected that he would not have the decency to actually put his ghost-writer on the cover.  Instead he just emblazons the book narcissistically with his name and likeness and a self-gratifying note that "he" is a New York Times Best-Selling Author.   So I flipped through this nauseating piece of propaganda and murky history replete with lots of illustrations of bobble-headed Rush Revere toddling through history telling us what really happened.  Were this a sarcastically self-aware endeavor I could see how it could be hilariously rewriting history with a post-modern cynicism.  Instead, it's just more lazy pandering and continued plundering of the Conservative citizens's coffers to fill his already quite sizeable girth. 

At the end of the book we finally get to the Acknowledgments and as Christoper Schoebinger is the only person thanked for some non-specific "assistance" I am going to climb out on my Ghost limb here and point the finger at him.  I take no issue with him for getting that paycheck.  Ghost gotta eat, right?  But someone seriously needs to stick a pin in the Rush balloon of false piety and self-righteous gluttony and pop it.

2. The second book to spotlight is  KILLING JESUS.

This book is purportedly authored by Bill O'Reilly as you can see by the enormous lettering for his name.  However, in teeny tiny letters under Bill's name you can see who the actual author is: Martin Dugard.  So, while Bill is taking all the credit for this book, it's Martin who gets all the blame. 

I think this summary of the book from The Guardian puts it pretty well:  "Jesus, the little guy, is an enemy of the big corrupt tax-oppressing Roman empire, which is itself just a version of Washington, only even more venal and sexually depraved. This Jesus is a tax-liberating rebel who incurs the wrath of the Jewish and Roman powers by threatening their joint fleecing of the people. As a member of the populist right, he is not, of course, in favour of redistribution: Bill O'Reilly's Jesus does not tell the rich to give away their money to the poor."

Good Catholic Bill O'Reilly celebrates the birth of our peace-loving Savior by attaching his name to a cynical money-grab directed specifically at milking those in this country who feel their government is conspiratorily out to get them.  And what better way to do this than hang a government conspiracy around Jesus' neck on the cross.  Ho Ho Ho! Merry Xmas!


You gotta know up front that Glenn Beck rubs me wrong in every way. So the idea that he's going to slap his name on a book that purports to tell me 12 little "thrillers" as a way of learning about history turns my stomach a little. 

Since I think the man to have a messianic complex and to be a functioning delusional, his idea of what he construes as "untold" stories of America immediately make me cringe at the perverted prism of reality through which he would have directed the actual author to write through.

I will say this, though, I do think Glenn involves himself in the construction of these books with his name on them more than some of these others.  However, I don't believe he wrote the actual book so putting his name at the top in huge letters is a huge problem for me.

I noticed that the cover doesn't make any mention of anyone other than Glenn Beck as the author.  Nice to see good old traditionalists like Glenn and Rush are sticking to the olden ways.  But I look inside the book to the credits page and what I see is a book written by Kevin Balfe and edited by Glenn Beck's daughter Hannah and overseen (editor-in-chief style) by Glenn.

4.  The fourth book to spotlight is COMMAND AUTHORITY.

There is a new "Jack Ryan" movie coming out soon so, as one would expect. Tom Clancy's book publisher has to make sure we get a new "Jack Ryan Novel" out there to feed the marketing.  It doesn't matter that Tom Clancy died in October. 

Of course, I don't think Clancy's actually written anything attributed to him as author in years, so this isn't surprising.  Mark Greaney is the author of this one.  And by all accounts, if you like this kind of book, you'll like this one.  But boy, the Tom Clancy conservative readership just keeps on sucking this stuff in like powdered candy don't they?

The further adventures of President Jack Ryan Sr. and covert warrior Jack Ryan Jr. will further titillate and tantalize those out there with thrills, espionage, and politics.  And all the while reinforcing those conservative values that we all associate with such drama and without any need for deep philosophical analysis or graphic sexual content. 

5. The fifth book to spotlight is actually a couple of books together:  HAPPY, HAPPY, HAPPY: MY LIFE AND LEGACY AS THE DUCK COMMANDER and SI-COLOGY 101: TALES & WISDOM FROM DUCK DYNASTY'S FAVORITE UNCLE.

Purportedly "written" by Phil Robertson and Si Robertson, respectively, of the tv-series DUCK DYNASTY, I think the timing of these books could not be better.  With the recent controversy and removal by A&E of Phil from the show, I expect these books to be flying out of bookstores and winging their ways under Xmas trees posthaste.

I don't think I can fully express how exasperatingly horrific these books appear to someone like me. It's like someone crafted a pander stew of everything that is intended to capitalize upon ignorance, blissful nostalgia, rubbernecking, lack of critical thinking, nonsense posited as good old "horse sense", and just a putrid air of self-righteousness masking pure money grabs.

Normally I don't assign any real malice to the ghost-writers and just assume they are doing it for the paycheck.  But in my opinion, the true author of these books, Mark Schlabach, has likely carved himself out a quaint little corner of Hell for his future by tying his present-day fortunes together with this embarrassing blip in history that is currently a painful boil on humanity's ass.

If there really is a Krampus, he's got his eyes set on Mark this Xmas.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR! Interview with Tavi Gevinson of

Tavi Gevinson is a 17 year-old writer and magazine editor for an online magazine called Rookie Mag [].  Independent comics publisher Drawn and Quarterly partnered last year with Tavi to bring Rookie Mag to life as a physical book collection ostensibly like a school Yearbook.  The ROOKIEMAG YEARBOOK VOL. 1 (still available for purchase) was successful enough to make VOL. 2 inevitable.  The ROOKIEMAG YEARBOOK VOL. 2 (available now) is more than just a mere collection of blog postings.  It is 350 pages full of the best articles, interviews, collages, photo editorials, and illustrations from teens and for teens over the past year, but also includes celebrity contributions (Judy Blume, Mindy Kaling, and others). 

The book itself is an impressive production and Tavi herself may simply be the most accomplished 17 year-old I’ve ever met.  I’m retroactively embarrassed by my slothful 17 year-old self now.

Keith Howell (Me):  Nice to meet you, Tavi.

Tavi Gevinson (Tavi):  Nice to meet you, too.

Me: Well, I've read through your ROOKIEMAG YEARBOOK VOL. 2. I shared one of the articles with my 16 yr old homeschooled daughter and then posted it on my FB page. 
The "No More Nice Girls" article.

Tavi: Oh, that makes me so happy! I hope she liked it. “No More Nice Girl” is one of my favorites. That writer, Sady Doyle, is so talented.

Me: It was exceptionally sharp.  Well-written.

I appreciated her perspective.

The whole endeavor, the website and book are damned impressive work.  I hope you realize that. :)

Tavi: Thank you so much.

We all work really hard on it, it's a labor of love for sure, so this period of time when we have events and signings and can see Rookie live offline is extremely rewarding.

Me: In this day and age, where publishers are going to the web more and more, what was it within you that got you thinking along the lines of doing it reversed — taking it from the web to the printed age and doing it so creatively?

Are you a tactile learner?

Tavi: I don't know if I'm a tactile learner so much as I'm just impatient. I knew how I wanted the series to look when we started talking about doing the first one, and figured I would learn the technicalities of the process along the way.

Me: Are you the type who just says "I want it to be like this." and expect someone to just figure out how to get that done or are you more...fluid about it.  Like maybe have a generalized concept and feel it out as you go?

Tavi: My way of operating with Rookie has never been to just say "I want it this way" and let people fill in the blanks. There's always a conversation going on, any kind of disagreement never feels personal: we're all just here to make the strongest work we can for our readers.

A lot of Rookie is about using the online to get our readers to do stuff offline. We post a lot of DIYs (Do-It-Yourself) on stuff like starting a band, making a journal, all of that. And our readers respond to that, to the kind of attention to detail many of us have, that weird connection to who we used to be as they can be memorialized in tangible objects like a dress or a book or what have you.

So I knew our readers would like to have a version of Rookie they could hold in their hands, experience in a more visual way, keep on a nightstand. For this reason, it was also important to make it worth it -- not to do a copy-and-paste website-to-book.

Every spread was exhaustively decorated and thought through.

Me: Yes it is.  It's not just a reading book, it is interactive.  It's informative and interesting, but also fun.

I would also imagine that your schedule is just jam-packed most days.  Do you still find time for purely pleasure reading?

Tavi: It's nice of course when a book we read for English is also pleasurable to me. I try to make time for both but usually I can only stick with what I have assigned for school.

Me: Understandable.

What stories out there inspire you? (film, comics, books, whatever). 

Do you find inspiration in stories?

Do you have a favorite poet, for instance?

Tavi: Yes, absolutely -- even though Rookie is not the same as, you know, making a fantastical movie or something, even though it's not fiction and we are trying to be honest, I feel most inspired after reading a book or watching a movie. I think it's because they create a feeling in you that makes YOU want to do the same, and that's important to us at Rookie, inspiring our readers to be creative themselves, instead of just taking in what we do.

I love Patti Smith and E. E. Cummings and Margaret Atwood.

Most of my favorite movies are teen movies, dark comedies like HEATHERS

Me:  HEATHERS is amazing! I was there when it first came out!

How do you take it knowing that there are people (many of whom you've never met) who are inspired by you? 

Is that humbling or energizing?

Tavi: I know I can't read into it too much -- I gave a talk about “fangirling” at the Sydney Opera House and Melbourne Writers Festival in August about this -- because so much of what people love about a writer, musician, etc. is more a reflection of the person who loves it. So I'm very happy people respond to what I do or can see me as "inspiring," as you say, but I know there's a lot that goes on between my putting myself out into the world and how they receive me. I also just think it's unhealthy to take any feedback too personally, whether it's positive or not. It's just tricky territory.

Me: You have a healthy attitude.  Very wise.

Tavi: Ultimately, however, you know, I'm not complaining. For as much as there's no for sure way to measure the validity of every single ounce of feedback from every single person, I am pleased and flattered that the overall response to what I do has been encouraging.

Me: What has been the biggest surprise (or surprises) to you about embarking on this endeavor?

Tavi:  Hmmm. That it's happened at all, really.

I think about ROOKIE YEARBOOK VOL. 1 and it's like, HOW did we get on the phone with Drawn & Quarterly in mid-May and then get a book out by September? The ROOKIE machine is crazy and magical.

Me:  The book itself is kind of crazy and magical. I can't think of anything else out there like it.

Tavi: Thank you so much! That's so nice of you to say. 

Also, (another surprise), when I went to Fashion Week regularly and wrote about fashion and worked with fashion magazines, everyone thought that industry would like, poison my brain. Honestly, I think there is that kind of cattiness in a lot of different areas I've worked in. It's not exclusive to fashion, or any industry.

It's just that when stuff like power comes into play, people get insecure or threatened or what have you, and then they forget about what they actually love about their work, and they act out -- whether they work in fashion, publishing, film...The risk in saying this is making myself the exception, and I'm not; I get disillusioned, too.

But if you're asking what the biggest surprises have been, that's one of them: that I have witnessed more cattiness among adults with jobs than I have in high school.

Me: Thank you for chatting with me, Tavi.  You've been very gracious.  Okay.  Take care.  I hope we can talk again another time.

Tavi: Yes! Thank you!

*This interview, with slight re-edits, was originally published under my "Prof. Challenger" nom de plume at Aint-it-cool.