From Barbara Walters to Dan Brown, the embarrassing books they wish we’d forget
When, in 1981, Lynne Cheney published her frontier novel, Sisters, which featured some now-notorious Sapphic erotica on the prairie, it must have seemed daring. She couldn’t have known that her creative choices would cause some serious discomfort 20 years later, as her husband became a leader of an administration hell-bent on outlawing gay marriage and her own lesbian daughter became pregnant with her lover. We bet Mrs. Cheney, like many authors, wonders whether it might have been better for everyone had she never put pen to paper.
Thanks to the Web, literary fiascos may never again slip softly into the safety of oblivion. “Out of print” no longer means not available. And though you might be able buy up all the copies for sale on Amazon, good luck purging your dud from all those used book stores, not to mention excerpts posted on vicious blogs. Bill O’Reilly, the “novelist,” learned this lesson the hard way. And years before The DiVinci Code, Dan Brown wrote a hacky dating advice book—under the name “Danielle” Brown. Even if your involvement in a project was entirely tangential, you’re unlikely to escape the rude gaze of public scrutiny. Former New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey, for example, wrote the introduction to a beefcake-filled book called Swat Fitness in 2003, a skeleton he’d no doubt prefer remain in the closet. Radar scoured the remainder bins so you don’t have to. Below, some less-than-proud moments from world of publishing.
HOW TO TALK WITH PRACTICALLY ANYBODY ABOUT PRACTICALLY ANYTHING (1970)
THE PLOT: Barbara Walters is seated next to Arisotle Onassis at a lunch interview. She almost doesn’t know what to ask him, but thanks to her journalistic prowess, it all works out. In fact, it turns out to be a wonderful experience. Barbara then purchases a bikini to reward herself for coming up with the crucial ice-breaking questions that saved the day. She is now selflessly offering to share those with you.
EXCERPT: “If you were suddenly given a million dollars and told that you had to spend it just on yourself, what is the first thing you would buy?” This question is especially pleasing to someone who doesn’t have a million dollars. It brings the instant smile of a happy daydreamer.”
RAVE REVIEWS: “In the thirteen years since this book originally was published, Barbara Walters has talked with many people about many different things. The average American, on the other hand, does not meet celebrities or royalty and would be much more interested in learning how to handle other types of difficult conversations. The author, one assumes, has no difficulty asking the boss for a raise or striking up a conversation in a singles bar”—UPI, 1983
OH, AND: Wawa might not have even written the book. Toronto’s June Callwood, a “house ghost” for Doubleday in New York, claimed to have worked on it. According to Beverley Slopen in the Toronto Star, during the writing process, Walters asked, “Is there any way we can get this down to my level?” Barbara later denied there was another writer involved.
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