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Clinton-Patterson Thriller Jumps to the Top on Amazon

The Free Press WV

Bill Clinton’s debut novel had the year’s biggest opening so far for a work of fiction, reports the AP. The President is Missing, a thriller he co-wrote with James Patterson, sold 250,000 copies its first week. Alfred A. Knopf and Little, Brown and Co., the book’s co-publishers, announced Wednesday that the number includes hardcover, e-book, and audio sales. NPD BookScan, which tracks around 85% of print sales, reported sales of 152,000 copies. That’s BookScan’s top-selling fiction debut since the latest Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which came out last fall, and biggest first week for adult fiction since Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman sold more than 700,000 hardcover copies in 2015. The book spent much of last week at No. 1 on Amazon.com and elsewhere despite some awkward and contentious moments in interviews with the former president. Clinton responded defensively to questions from NBC’s Craig Melvin about the #MeToo movement and whether he owes an apology to former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

The novel begins with a president facing impeachment for supporting terrorism and tells of his efforts to thwart a potentially apocalyptic cyberattack. “By any measure, this was a terrific opening week of sales, one that exceeded even our own optimistic projections,“ Michael Pietsch, CEO of Little Brown’s parent company, Hachette Book Group, said in a statement. “Sales continue apace this week, with Father’s Day on the horizon.“ The novel combines Patterson’s long background in thrillers and Clinton’s perspective as a former president. Reviews ranged from mocking (“Reveals as many secrets about the US government as ‘The Pink Panther’ reveals about the French government,“ wrote Ron Charles in the Washington Post) to admiring. In the Wall Street Journal, Barton Swaim called the book “beach reading of a high order.“

An inside look at the writing, production of ‘The Simpsons’

The Free Press WV

“Springfield Confidential: Jokes, Secrets, and Outright Lies from a Lifetime Writing for The Simpsons” (Dey Street Books), by Mike Reiss with Mathew Klickstein

When television’s longest-running cartoon show first hit the airwaves, most of its writers and producers gave it six weeks at best. The one optimist in the crew figured it might last 13 weeks.

That was nearly three decades and some 640 episodes ago. As the first prime-time cartoon show since “The Flintstones,” ″The Simpsons” has managed to maintain solid ratings, offer creatively offbeat humor and entertain viewers in dozens of countries across the globe.

Writer Mike Reiss was among those with little hope for the show’s prospects when he signed on in the late 1980s for want of better options to advance his comedy career. But concerns that the fledgling Fox Network might cancel the show vanished after it won effusive praise from critics and fans alike.

Reiss, a four-time Emmy winner who has been with “The Simpsons” for most of his career, gives readers a laugh-out-loud account of how the show came to be, the way episodes are developed, the voices behind the characters and a raft of Simpson trivia that may surprise the show’s most loyal fans.

Reiss, colleague Al Jean and a handful of other writers came to the show with a Harvard education and an immersion in comedy through their work on the “Harvard Lampoon.” While creator Matt Groening got the acclaim for the show’s success, Reiss credits the late Sam Simon for assembling the writers and setting the tone of “The Simpsons.”

Reiss’ book takes readers inside the writers’ room, where about a half-dozen people spend the workday pitching jokes. It’s part of a prolonged process that begins with a 45-page script and goes through the recordings by cast members, animation, editing and musical scoring. Each episode requires nine months and eight full rewrites to complete.

The author is often asked how a network as conservative as Fox came to embrace a show that can seem “liberal to the point of anarchy.” He explains that Fox, as a daring newcomer when the show debuted, gave the writers immense freedom. It also didn’t hurt that “The Simpsons” raked in big profits and that network founder Rupert Murdoch was a big fan.

The book is a treasure trove of anecdotes and interesting details about the show, which has even become a subject of study at many colleges. Half the production budget, or about $2 million per show, goes to cast members. A full orchestra participates in each week’s production, even though it would be cheaper to simulate sound with a synthesizer. The most popular foreign market for “The Simpsons” is Latin America, where it is dubbed into Spanish by a Mexican cast.

Over the years, the 725 guest stars have ranged from Stephen Hawking and three of the Beatles to Larry King, Joe Frazier and Elizabeth Taylor. The few who have turned down an invitation include Bruce Springsteen, Tom Cruise and every U.S. president from Gerald Ford to Barack Obama.

Reiss wades into the recent blowup over Apu, the Hindu convenience store clerk whose sing-song accent made the show a target amid allegations of racial stereotyping. The author suggests that “maybe after three decades, time has run out for Apu.”

Most of the show’s famous catchphrases are uttered by Bart — “cowabunga,” ″eat my shorts,” ″ay caramba” and “don’t have a cow” — but the most popular is Homer’s “D’oh,” which came about by chance. It was written in scripts as (ANNOYED GRUNT), but cast member Dan Castellaneta read it as “D’oh!” The rest is history.

This entertaining book is certain to resonate with devoted “Simpsons” viewers and even those who only watch the show sporadically. Who, after all, wouldn’t want to know why the characters are yellow or which of the nation’s many Springfields can claim the Simpson family as its own?

“The Simpsons” is rooted in the principles of family and folly, says Reiss, who is often peppered with questions about the show’s enduring popularity and when its long run might finally end. His reply: “The day people all over the world start treating each other with love, respect and intelligence.”

Book Review: Ex-NGO aide probes Bangladesh history in ‘The Storm’

The Free Press WV

Arif Anwar’s debut novel, “The Storm,” arrives just in time for the Atlantic hurricane season with a subtle, circular tale about the individual effects of poor disaster planning and even poorer governmental response.

The novel’s inspiration was the 1970 Bhola cyclone, which struck what is now Bangladesh and killed up to half a million people, primarily because of storm-surge flooding.

I’ve covered hurricanes in Miami for nearly 15 years, and I expected Anwar, who was born in Bangladesh and has worked with large non-governmental organizations on poverty and public health issues, to delve into the details of that storm, which should still serve as a cautionary tale for coastal communities. The storm data seems a rich mine for storytelling: hostile relations between India and what was then East Pakistan that hindered communications about hazardous conditions, how the storm’s landfall took so many by surprise, or its legacy as one of the world’s deadliest natural disasters.

But Anwar doesn’t take such a macro view of the storm. It’s a catalyst for the narrative, but it’s also something that happens almost entirely offstage.

Instead, Anwar drills down to an almost microscopic viewpoint to explore Bangladesh’s struggle for independence through intimate, interconnected stories that span 60 years.

The result is less like a catastrophic flood and more like an illustration of the butterfly effect: a Japanese pilot crashing his plane in World War II ripples through the lives of a British doctor, a poor fisherman and his wife, a wealthy couple displaced by the Partition of India and a doctoral student trying to navigate U.S. immigration policy to stay with his U.S.-born daughter in the wake of Sept. 11. The fears they face and the choices they make loom larger than any weather phenomenon.

“The Storm” ends up as a richly realized, instructive tale about what to do with people set adrift by major disturbances, and about filtering broad strokes of storm data to study individual people who follow some rules and break others to find security and do what they think is right.

Her way: 3 new lifestyle books coming from Martha Stewart

The Free Press WV

Martha Stewart’s next three lifestyle books will be showcases for “the Martha way.”

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt told The Associated Press on Monday that Stewart’s new series would feature her take on everything from entertaining to decorating. The first release, “The Martha Manual,” is scheduled for January 2019. In a statement issued through her publisher, Stewart said the book would be a “go-to resource” for mastering “the Martha way.”

The magazine publisher and television host has released dozens of books, with recent works including “Martha’s Flowers: A Practical Guide to Growing, Gathering, and Enjoying” and “Martha Stewart’s Newlywed Kitchen: Recipes for Weeknight Dinners and Easy, Casual Gatherings.”

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