THR’s 5 Books of the Week: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Stephen Cannell, Cassandra Clare and an Expose of Olive Oil

Two books of ultra-short stories, the final novel from Stephen Cannell, a look inside the olive oil industry, and a hot YA novel are the week’s big books.

The hot trend of the week is short stories—itty-bitty stories clocking in at just a couple hundred words or less.  In 420 Characters, the artist Lou Beach presents stories that started as Facebook status updates.  In The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories, Joseph Gordon Levitt offers a selection of illustrated micro fiction culled from selections posted on his website as part of an experiment in collaborative art.

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This week also bring a reminder of 2010’s sad passing of TV legend Stephen Cannell with the posthumous publication of his final book Vigilante

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The non-fiction pick of the week is Steven Mueller’s Extra-Virginity, which does for olive oil what Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation did for hamburgers.  Mueller traces the history of this valuable product from antiquity to the present, but the really disturbing part is his expose of the inferior quality control and outright fraud among today’s’ oil producers.

Finally, for Young Adult fans, there’s the much-anticipated release of The Clockwork Prince, the latest book from rising YA superstar Cassandra Clare. Book two of the prequel series Infernal Devices finds Tessa in Victorian London joining forces with the offspring of Angels and humans to battle demons.

Also of note this week is Red Mist, the newest Scarpetta mystery from Pat Cornwell; Ruthless, the tenth book in Sara Shepard’s PrettyLittle Liars series; and Inside Seal Team Six by Don Mann and Ralph Pezzullo, the latest book to capitalize on the public’s fascination with the secret commandoes responsible for killing Osama Bin Laden. 

Here are The Hollywood Reporter’s top picks of the week:

420 Characters by Lou Beach (Houghton Mifflin, 176 pages, $22)

Beach’s fascinating experiment in ultra-short fiction started out as Facebook status updates—the title refers to the maximum space allowed.  These stories—super-sized Haikus? One paragraph plays?—are the literary equivalent of an amuse bouche: Tiny portions packed with flavor.  Illustrated with original collages, this book is by turns fun, thought provoking, and surprising. (This review clocks in at exactly 420!!!!).



The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories: Volume I edited by Joseph Gordon Levitt (It Books, 88 pages $15).

The other big book of little stories was compiled by actor Joseph Gordon Levitt from more than 8,500 submissions to his hitRECord collaborative. Like in 420 Characters, these clever little stories—really more like illustrated haikus—often pack a wallop despite their slender length, running the gamut from funny to poignant to just plain strange.



The Clockwork Prince (Infernal Devices, book 2) by Cassandra Clare (McElderry/Simon & Schuster, 528 pages, $19.99).

With the Clockwork Prince, the second book in the Infernal Devices series—a follow-up to the earlier Mortal Instruments series—Clare emerges as a major YA star.  Publisher McElderry is giving the book a big roll-out: a 750K first printing, a collector’s edition with extra content, and a slick book trailer narrated by Gossip GirlsEd Westwick.  Clare has also made savvy use of social media to build her following.  The story, a prequel to the Mortal Instruments series, follows Tessa as she moves from New York to London in 1878, discovers she’s a shape shifter, and get involved with the Nephilim (the descendents of Angels and humans) as they battle demons and other magical creatures while trying to enforce the magical accords.

Vigilante by Stephen J. Cannell (St. Martin’s Press, 320 pages, $25.99).

This is the last book the well-known TV writer (Rockford FilesWiseguy21 Jump Street) finished before his death in September 2010 from cancer.  Vigilante finds Cannell’s venerable hero Shane Scully (the star of ten previous novels) investigating the death of LAPD antagonist and anti-gang crusader Lita Mendez, while being hounded by the crew from the reality TV show “Vigilante TV.”  The smarmy host Nixon Nash offers Scully a deal: Either let us in on the Mendez investigation or face a public takedown.  Scully concludes Nash’s pursuit of the Mendez killer “isn’t about justice; its about Neilsen ratings.”  Full of the unexpected twists and fast-paced shootouts one expects from a TV writer of Cannell’s caliber, Vigilante is a satisfying coda to his career.

Extra-Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil by Tom Mueller (W.W. Norton, 256 pages, $25.95).

Following the recent run of hit books about foods—SaltCod—Mueller tackles olive oil—the original globalized food.  The book, which started out as a New Yorker article, traces the history of olives and their oil from antiquity to the present.  Like other food products (tomato sauce for example), the Industrial Revolution made mechanized mass-production possible but undermined quality.  Extra-virgin olive oil is supposed to come from the best naturally grown olives pressed by humans.  The modern story of mass-market olive oil, however, is one of poor quality control, lax food-safety regulations, and fraud by organized crime syndicates relabeling inferior oil as extra-virgin.  Mueller celebrates the small band of artisanal producers, chefs, and foodies bucking the trend by producing high-quality oil in small batches.

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