Booknews: Reflections on a Looking Glass
Edited by Judy Quinn -- 12/20/99
A respected science writer rekindles America's love affair with Lewis Carroll's classic

No joke is funny unless you see the point of it," writes Martin Gardner, longtime Scientific American columnist, in the introduction to The Annotated Alice, The Definitive Edition (a $29.95 November release from W.W. Norton), explaining why he would do "something preposterous" like textual exegesis on Lewis Carroll's delightful stories.

"It's hard for modern readers to understand many of the references at this remove in time. For instance, when Victorians were forced to shake hands with people they saw as inferiors, they would extend only two fingers instead of their whole hand. Humpty, prideful as he is, g s this one better, offering Alice only one finger."

Gardner's Alice, currently making waves in holiday sales both in trade stores and at, where it has reached the Hot 100, is an old idea come to fruition yet again: Gardner came up with the notion of contextualizing Carroll's classic back in the 1930s, though he didn't have himself in mind to write it.

"I thought Bernard Shaw ought to annotate Alice--he was a big fan of Carroll," said Gardner. "I suggested this to various publishers, but Shaw declined, so Clarkson Potter suggested that I do it, and I agreed to give it a try."

The careful Gardner took a couple of decades to do so, but when the Potter edition came out in 1960 it was a revelation to many in its demonstration that that the exegetical could be fun. Annotated Alice spawned a series of annotation titles from Clarkson Potter, and helped pave the way in the popular press for such science-oriented writers as Stephen J. Gould, Carl Sagan and even John McPhee. Over the years, Gardner collected letters from readers with new notes and corrections to the Potter edition, and by the mid-1980s was ready to update the book. By that time, though, Random House had acquired Clarkson Potter, and instead, brought out in 1990 More Annotated Alice, with a separate list of notes and turn-of-the-century illustrations by Peter Newell, rather than the original classics by John Tenniel. Unfortunately, this meant that to get the full effect of the notes, readers had to have both books open at the same time. Still, combined, the books have sold some one million copies during their Clarkson Potter/Random House life.

When Random House agreed to give Gardner back the rights to his books, his Norton editor, Bob Weil, suggested combining the two versions to produce one definitive edition, including recent discoveries, such as "The Wasp in a Wig," an episode written by Carroll for the first edition of Alice, but dropped at Tenniel's suggestion. Other appendices include copies of Tenniel's original sketches; and "Alice on the Screen," a list of all the film and TV productions based on Alice, compiled by Carroll scholar David Schaefer.

Norton is treating The Definitive Edition as a brand new publication, with extensive mailings to trade stores and listings in Christmas catalogues, and the effort seems to be paying off. Weil reports that Alice is well into a second printing, having sold out in both trade stores and Internet retail sites as soon as it was available.

Gardner, meanwhile, is already looking forward to his next book with Norton, due out in September, Did Adam and Eve Have Navels?, which turns some popular notions upside down, a la Alice.

Unrepentant Look at Oft-Demonized Drug

How to Stop Time: Heroin from A to Z, released by Basic Books this September, has achieved that back-handed compliment of success: it's starting to make booksellers' most stolen books lists.

Why the swipes? The publisher suspects it's because of author Ann Marlowe's controversial--but obviously to some, alluring--view of the oft-demonized drug: in her memoir of being a heroin user in a seven-year stint while working the disparate gigs of Wall Street analyst and Village Voice rock critic. As a mention in the November 21 New York Times Book Review noted, Marlowe is "a coolly cantankerous woman, reformed but unrepentant."

Marlowe, who also holds a Ph.D. in philosophy, shaped her book into an accessible format--it's arranged like a dictionary, with reminiscences organized alphabetically. The structure has made for lively readings on her bookstore tour. She's done a slew of radio, and will appear on Leeza.

But at least one media outlet was wary of Marlowe's message. The New York Post reportedly tried to stop a story on "How to Stop Time" (it got pulled from the NYC edition but it was too late to yank out of it's the paper's Long Island edition) due to concerns that Marlowe's book wasn't quite in sync with family values.

But such criticism seems to make the book all the more valuable. Agent Nicholas Ellison reports steady sales and indications of interest here (although working off its initial low five-figure printing) as well as abroad, with German, U.K. and Spanish deals already secured.

Small Press Success

A Rawlings Revival

During her lifetime, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, a transplanted Midwesterner best known for her 1939 Pulitzer Prize--winning The Yearling, set in Florida's Cracker country, reigned with Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe as a star at Scribner, where each was edited by the urbane Maxwell Perkins.

But more recently she's also become a list star at the University Press of Florida. Located in Gainesville, near the former journalist's Cross Creek cottage and now-gone orange grove, the press has amassed a sizable lineup focused on her. Probably none of it, though, generated more pre-pub excitement in-house than November's Max & Marjorie, editor Rodger L. Tarr's voluminous collection of the correspondence exchanged by Rawlings and Perkins from 1930 until his death in 1947. (Tarr, a Rawlings scholar at Illinois State University, earlier edited Florida's collections of her p try and short stories.)

Happily, the staff's enthusiasm proved infectious. Supplying jacket blurbs, FSG editor-in-chief Jonathan Galassi hailed the revelation of the disparate pair's surprising closeness as "a wonderful illustration of the special relationship between author and editor that even today lies at the heart of publishing," while S&S editor Michael Korda praised it as "a pleasure to read." PW gave it a starred review (Forecasts, Nov. 1).

B&N also selected the book to include in its co-op program "Adventures of the Mind, "which generated an order of 1,000 copies to fill displays in the chain's 94 top-selling stores nationwide. The displays went up in mid-November and will remain through January 3. It's the first time the Florida press has had one of the titles it recommends for B&N co-op programs picked up by the retailer.

And in tandem with B&N's promotion, general reviewer and ordering response has resulted in quick dwindling of the book's initial 4,000-copy first printing, with a second printing now in the works.

Also apparent is Max & Marjorie's impact on Florida's MKR list, according to publicist Lizbeth Kent: "Each time we introduce a book to that line, we get inquiries on others we have available in it. This fall we also published Idella Parker, an autobiography by Marjorie's beloved maid at Cross Creek, so we have had lots of talk about." So much, in fact, that the press is clustering the MKR attractions on its Web site,, with a link to the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Society, which is also based in Gainesville.--Bob Summer

In the News

It's Quiz Time

Who wants to be a millionaire? As we all know from the gonzo ratings and pop culture breakout of the ABC show of the same name, practically everyone.

The frenzy could reach a crescendo next month, when the show g s on to the regular schedule and other TV networks join the hot-again quiz show bandwagon. In addition to Fox, already on air with Greed, January will bring NBC's revival of Twenty One and most likely CBS's launch of a show called Winning Lies.

Hyperion has the headstart in any book stakes that may arise from the trend: officially on sale only for a week, its tie-in Who Wants to Be a Millionaire paperback has already gone to press three times for a current total of 150,000 copies in print.

Hyperion editor Mary Ellen O'Neill had pitched the idea of the book late last summer, soon after the show, hosted by Regis Philbin, first aired.

The book was originally scheduled for a mid-January release, to time with its permanent broadcast schedule.

But after the show's breakout performance during the November sweeps, Hyperion decided on a holiday crash--a smart move, since consumers seem to believe that the book's collection of questions, written by the show creators, is a sort of SAT prep guide that could help them acquire that dreamed-for dough.

Hyperion pitched its last-minute book and used it to grab reps' attention for all discussed titles at its most recent sales conference. Senior v-p and managing director Bob Miller began with the announcement of the publication of the book, then alerted the reps to a sheet of multiple-choice questions that they would answer after all the other title presentations. The first rep to shout out the correct response received a One Hundred Grand chocolate bar, with 10 such prizes given to get a total of, yes, a "million dollars" worth of candy. Each rep also entered his or her answer sheet for a drawing for a "Millionaire's" trip to New York City (two free tickets to a taping of the show, hotel and airfare).

Beyond that rep outreach, expect the usual ABC/Disney synergy to spread awareness of the book, with promotional giveaways to the studio audience; copies sent to all ABC TV affiliates for promos and special sales; and planned ABC Radio cross promo with Buena Vista's interactive CD-ROM Millionaire game, which has already sold 250,000 copies and has a whopping new issue of 700,000 now in the works.

The interactive nature of the game will be played up on as well as the house's new linked Web site,, which fortuitously launches in January.

In print, the book will be featured in Hyperion's full-page New York Times holiday ad.

How far this craze will go, however, is anyone's guess, and none of the logical tie-in partners to the other new quiz shows (HarperCollins, S&S, et al.) returned calls about their possible companion books.

Indeed, while Hyperion's six-figure sell-in of the book is a respectable marker, especially these days, the quiz show phenomenon may in the short term do some disservice to books: NBC is preempting some segments of Dateline, often an important promo platform for books, as it tests Twenty One. Stay tuned.