04/04/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Shelf Talker

Welcome to The Shelf Talker, a weekly rundown of news, gossip and recommendations from and about authors on tour. We debuted last week on the Huffington Post amid loud thumps and furious whispers of impropriety.

Keep tibits, endorsements, scandal and nasty bits coming to

On the Road:

The good people at William Morrow were kind enough to let us know that novelist Jerry Stahl will be laying tracks up and down both coasts this spring (New York, Socttsdale, LA several times) in support of his new novel Pain Killers. As the tale is told, Mr. Stahl was a writer for television shows like "Alf" and Moonlighting" when a heroin addiction laid him low. Writing the smack-memoir Permanent Midnight brought him back to his feet and was made into a 1998 film starring Ben Stiller. Four novels have followed.

According to its trailer, Pain Killers contains incest, prostitution, codeine addiction, prison and good bit on Dr.Mengele. That it lacks downhill skiing or elephants tumbling out of the sky has us a little sad.

We last saw Mr. Stahl several years ago on a live radio show discussing his past with the swaggering regard Led Zeppelin once held for hotel rooms. Having never spent an evening kissing a sewer grate and usually in bed by 11, he rattled our delicate souls a bit. Might he only sign our book if we had wounds from a street fight? A neck tattoo etched via claw hammer? The YouTubed Stahl seems to have mellowed a bit, pensive and steely-eyed instead of steely-eyed and ready to coldcock a nun.

Please Jerry, don't hurt us.

We've been fans of Mary Roach since the 2003 release of Stiff, her hilarious study of dead bodies and human cadavers.

You heard that right. Hilarious. And deader than Marley's Ghost.

Her third effort Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex had us at "Bonk." Which means we'll be chasing her down at as many of the nearly 20 events she's doing this spring (in Arizona, Texas, New York, Utah and all over California) and getting hot and bothered over her success. Some of which we attribute to her wise choice to avoid our event ideas for Stiff (morgue signings, booksellers dressed as zombies) and lead first with her intelligence and charming manner. And although we can only imagine what parallel lunacies have been offered up for Bonk (readings at swingers clubs? Lube giveaways? The loins reel), Ms. Roach seems to believe in a dual punch to the mind and funny bone, a coupling we strongly support. With lube or without.

Short story writer Thomas Glave caught our eye when two of our favorite bookstores (Hue-Man in Harlem and City Lights in San Francisco) went a-raving about his upcoming appearances. His second collection The Torturer's Wife, has been out since December and is, according to sources, "disquieting, graphic, semi-experimental compendium examining violence and ignorance in and out of wartime."

Good. With that title, anything less would have elicited a deserving yawn.

Mr.Glave's holding court in New York, San Francisco and St. Louis through March. We've never had the pleasure but, given his Vita and headshot, we're expecting much. He's already taken home an O. Henry award, NEA fellowship and a Village Voice "Writer on The Verge" citation since 2000. Sartorially, the fella's working an array of dreadlocks not spotted since the demise of the Wailers.

We've about had it with all the lousy haircuts in literary circles and urge more authors to follow Mr. Glave's lead. In fact, name an author most in need of a dreadlocking and we'll post the results in next week's column.

I'll cast the first stone: Philip Roth.


An events manager in Georgia reporting a novelist enraged when all 50 copies of her books sold out after an event. She suggested the store head to the local supermarket to buy more. We suggest she fly a kite.

An author in southern California reporting an earthquake knocked him off his hotel bed while he practiced reading for that evening's event. Odd? Only that he was naked at the time and the fall aroused the interest of a nearby housekeeper. Moments after, he shoed her away while his new book covered his, eh, galley proofs.

On a shelf talker in San Francisco. "These books will never be on Oprah. And we like them that way."


Please do not try to be as smart as author Johnathon Keats because, by our calculations, it is impossible. An author, critic, and performance artist, Keats has achieved a kind of wacky-genius fame for art pieces like selling his thoughts to gallery patrons in 2000 and choreographing a ballet for honeybees in 2006. None of which we knew about when he had a drink with us a few years back and politely discussed the local arts scene in our shared home town. Around beer #3, he drew several conclusions we didn't understand but would have listened to all night anyway.

Anyway, Mr. Keats has just released a collection of fables called The Book of the Unknown, and is doing a handful of March events in San Francisco, Boston and New York.

If listening to really smart people whose wisdom doesn't make you feel like an imbecile is your idea of an evening well spent, we recommend. If it's your idea of an evening well spent only when paired with a thermos of absinthe, we recommend still. Anticipate a momentary genius spike best deployed to impress friends, lovers and honeybees.

But probably not.

Kevin Smokler is the Co-founder of, the world's largest directory of author and literary events. Send dish, comments and pick-up lines to