05/13/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Shelf Talker: Arugula, Poetry, and New Best Friends

Welcome to the Shelf Talker, a weekly rundown of news, gossip and recommendations from and about authors on tour. Keep the dirtbombs flying at

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Now then...

On the Road:

We've enjoyed Ruth Reichl's food writing for considerably longer than we've been able to cook for ourselves, say several years last Tuesday. And although Ms Reichl has edited Gourmet for a decade and won every award her profession offers, we're still grateful her three books have been about our relation to food as humans, family members and as a culture, instead of recipe-laden scolds that turning our linen closet into an apiary makes us better citizens. Said different, how a mind like Ruth Reichl's works is, to this eater, more important her policy position on putting bread in the refrigerator.

A blessed confirmation then on her fourth effort, Not Becoming My Mother: and Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way, a slim, thoughtful investigation of the life one Miriam Brudno gave up to raise a family -- as a bookseller, businesswoman, an intellectual who counted Bertrand Russell and Max Eastman amongst her correspondents.

No food talk here, just family, memory, loss and the sorrow of wasted potential. A dark cornerside this writer has not shown us heretofore.

We look forward to hearing more as Reichl visits a half dozen cities (New York, Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, LA, Philly and Boston) through April and May.

Few questions, we pray, from the audience on how to wash arugula. It only seems right.

Let's talk numbers. Novelist Walter Mosely has written 35 books, about 2 a year, since 1990. Four have been mystery series but there's science fiction, young adult novels, and erotica in there too.

Touring in support of his new mystery, The Long Fall, (his 16th), he's done 19 events in 13 states packed into a little more than 3 weeks of touring. And Mr. Mosley is 57 years old.

We stand in awe. And crawl in shame.

Speaking of mysteries (and no, we don't mean the success of Coldplay), our dear friend Cara Black has written about 693 of them, all set in Paris and featuring ace gumshoe Aimee Leduc. We have no idea if "gumshoe" is a gender-neutral word but we're keeping it that way. If not, Ms. Leduc may be described as a "gumstilleto" and if you please, your humble narrator a "gumoldsneakers."

Anyway, Ms. Black always takes each new volume of her fabulous series on the road, this month at a half-dozen venues throughout the San Francisco Bay Area in support of Murder in The Latin Quarter. You didn't hear it from us, but she's been known to bring wine to these gathering. TST's requests for exotic cheeses have been headed from time to time. Yes, she reads from her books, which are rich, sexy fun, but also peppers in a few stories about the crazy, fabulousness she's witnessed spending time in Paris the better part of her adult life.

Paris, lust, murder, cheese? Our hope is that Ms. Black continues on as long as our human appetite for these delicacies endures. And with a few hundred titles left before catching Georges Simenon, that other great myteryist of arrondissements and chardonnay at lunchtime, we're confident she will.


The Showdown in Texas mentioned in last week's column apparently still has some wind behind it, if one lays an ear down on the twitter tracks.

Good news to this bear even though kicking over hornet's nest isn't his preferred springtime activity. But in this case, we're talking about the survival and future of something he loves. Trouble in service of positive change? Worth a swift one or two.

Recent additions include a arrow-sharp assessment from our new best friend The Digitalist who had these wise words to add.

"Publishers have to be bold, have to be different and have to set the agenda, rather than let it be set for them. The digerati want freshness and new ideas, not indecision and meekness."


Added also to our new pantheon of heroes is one Michael Tamblyn and his we-say-canonical presentation "6 Projects That Could Fix Publishing for the Better."

We haven't had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Tamblyn yet (and wonder if that's actually his real name because, save Amber Tamblyn, we're pretty sure "Tamblyn" means "not actually a word" in old Norse) but ask him to please get in touch. We have a fez with "visionary" handsewn on the crown we'd like to give him.

Last note: TST will be attending the Mardi-Gras-for-book-people known as Book Expo America in New York the last week of May. Until then, the future of this careening-stagecoach-of-a-business-of-ours talk will be kept to a wonk-free minimum.

Important matters of restroom vandalism and Philip Roth's hairstyle to resume next week.


TST generally doesn't read poetry for the same reason we don't drink Pinot Noir -- As boorish troglodytes, we have a reputation to uphold. But we gotta say, one Rebecca Foust and this new collection of hers Dark Card may nudge us into the light.

Ostensibly about raising a son with Asberger's Syndrome, (eh), thematically about cruelty and intolerance (what's that?), "Card has a dozen 5 star reviews on Amazon and won several chapbook and poetry contests (phone ringing?). The poet herself's got two Pushcart Prize nominations under her desk and has had work run in the North American Review, one of our favorite publications we're entirely too dumb to be reading regularly and therefore would enjoy a post at reviewing board games (hello!).

Faust is on the road up and down the west coast in events sprinkled up through mid November. Which means she's either got a pushy brother-in-law as a publicist or has a similar fearlessness about poetry's place in the public square to what she revealed in Dark Card.

We like it. With nod and smile this time, instead of a grunt.

Kevin Smokler is the Co-founder of, the world's largest directory of author and literary events. Complaints and grievances should be sent to where weeping over bonbons will undoubtedly ensue.