Monday, November 24, 2008

A Christmas Sweater Controversy?

Glenn Beck, the until-recently CNN Headline News (and soon to be Fox) commentator, isn't someone I know except by reputation. Since I tend to follow left-of-center sources, it's not surprising I haven't heard much about him that makes him look good. He seems to be part of the right wing crowd that includes Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly and Michael the Savage Weiner (in case you didn't know, hatemonger Michael Savage's real last name is Weiner).

So it was a bit of a surprise to see Beck's name pop up with the #1 hardcover fiction book on the Publishers Weekly list last Friday morning, especially with a book that sounds, based on description alone, like something Robert Cormier (The Chocolate War, I Am the Cheese) or some other popular writer for young adults might have written. But over the weekend, I read a blog post by Squidoo's Seth Godin, who remarked that Oprah Winfrey's popularity and her book club can have ten times the effect on a book's sales as being on The New York Times best seller list. Since Beck has his own show on both TV and radio and a large right wing following, it makes sense his book would shoot to the top on both the PW and NYT lists.

Still, I wanted to check something on the NYT list. On that list, a dagger (†) beside a book title indicates booksellers report bulk orders. This happens often with books put out from the various right wing publishers as an attempt to manipulate the ratings. This morning (Monday) I went to the NYT list to see if Beck's book had a dagger. Nope, no †.

But there was something I hadn't seen on Amazon's page, which is where I go both to list the book in an Amazon Spotlight module on my Squidoo lens, Best Sellers - Fiction - Hardcover and to get information for the blurbs I write about each book. The NYT list entry isn't for just "The Christmas Sweater by Glenn Beck." It's for "The Christmas Sweater by Glenn Beck with Kevin Balfe and Jason Wright." Interesting.

I started doing some checking around to find out who these other two guys are. Balfe is a co-author with Beck on a previous book Beck got a lot of attention (something he seems very good at doing) for, An Inconvenient Book. He's also the creative director of Fusion magazine, for which Beck is editor-in-chief. Wikipedia says this about Beck's involvement in the magazine: "Beck is credited as the magazine's editor-in-chief, with Kevin Balfe as creative director and Liz Julis as managing editor. Beck himself writes little or none of the material, but is involved in overseeing the process to make sure it matches his 'voice.'"

Jason Wright showed up in my searching. Amazon has a bio page on him that notes: "He also edited and appeared in Americans on Politics, Policy, and Pop Culture: The 101 Best Opinion Editorials From (2005)." And he's the author of several young adult novels, including one called Christmas Jars published in 2005.

Then I went back to Amazon's page for The Christmas Sweater. I did a search for "balfe" and got no results. Same thing for "wright". Searches are not case sensitive, by the way. It's rather interesting that in an extensive page of publicity and reviews, which includes Beck crowing about beating out Stephen King and Oprah-recommended author Wally Lamb for the #1 spot, there is no mention at all about two people who contributed to the book and who are listed along with Beck on the NYT list and many other places as contributors.

Word is that the book is based on a personal experience of Glenn Beck's. OK, I'll take that as true. But I have to wonder how much of the writing is really his. Also, it bugs me that Amazon doesn't mention his two collaborators.

Here's a link to the Amazon page:

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