John Miller and Mark Molesky signed copies of their book "Our Oldest Enemy: A History of America's Disastrous Relationship with France" (Doubleday) at the Fabiani Society's book fair in Midtown on Tuesday. The book trenchantly challenges the myth of the "sister republics" and argues that France has obstructed American interests more often than not throughout history.
Asked how the book has fared in reviews, its authors told the Knickerbocker that the Wall Street Journal liked it and the New York Times did not. They said they were not surprised by the Times' position. But Mr. Molesky said he was surprised that the review by Bernard-Henri Levy had been so "apoplectic."
The Knickerbocker caught up again with Mr. Molesky yesterday, when he spoke before the New York Discussion Group, which is led by Herbert London of New York University.
In the discussion that followed the talk, Mr. London said he is always quite surprised that the French adore Jerry Lewis and Abbott and Costello "and then talk about the lack of sophistication in the United States."
Mr. London also described the "extraordinary disconnect" the French have in believing that glories of their past still continue. He said, "I'm reminded of the critic who once noted, 'Victor Hugo actually believes he's Victor Hugo.'"
NATION SO CONCEIVED
"I've only had a few days to work on my one-man Gore Vidal show," said Al Franken, who replaced Mr. Vidal as a speaker at the Nation magazine's dinner celebrating its 139th anniversary. He went on to perform a pitch-perfect impression of the author.
Mr. Franken referred to the phrase "you break it, you own it," a retail policy that holds a customer responsible for damage done to a product. General Colin Powell erroneously attributed the phrase to Pottery Barn while speaking of U.S. military actions in Iraq. Mr. Franken said, to audience laughter, "You can bring back something you broke to Pottery Barn, but you cannot loot the Pottery Barn."
In the audience were cartoonist Jules Feiffer, actor Alec Baldwin, Senator Corzine, Peggy Kerry, Ruth Messinger, Eric Alterman, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, John Waters, Danny Schechter, Hendrik Hertzberg, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, and many others.
In her remarks, the editor of the Nation, Katrina vanden Heuvel, said "American journalism has a way of absorbing and neutralizing its mavericks and nonconformists," but Barbara Ehrenreich remains the person she always was: "ferocious feminist, stubborn socialist, irascible idealist." Ms. Ehrenreich, seated with her friend, an author and a professor at CUNY Graduate Center, Frances Fox Piven, received the 2004 Puffin/Nation Prize for Creative Citizenship.
Ms. vanden Heuvel said one consequence of "the rightward drift in our national politics - and the complicity of a timid mainstream media" was her magazine's growing prominence as the voice of independent thought and opposition. "George W. has something to do with our circulation increase," she said.
The master of ceremonies was best-selling author Calvin "Bud" Trillin, who writes poetry for the magazine. Wearing a paisley tie, Mr. Newman read a toast:
Let's quaff some cold beers for the Nation
A sort of year's end celebration
You're all up for sanctification
You've doubled the rag's circulation
Of course that makes Victor Victorious
With language politically laborious
It's also quite nice for Katrina
She skips out on the banker's subpoena
Above what I writ is quite silly
So you won't have to replace Bud Trilly
"I thought," Mr. Trillin rejoined, to audience laughter, "Newman and I had a deal - I wouldn't do any love scenes and he wouldn't do poetry."
AND DON'T SPEAK TOO SOON
The editor-in-chief of Akashic Books, Johnny Temple, told the audience at the Small Press Book Fair "please do not come up" to the editor of the New York Times book review, Sam Tanenhaus, and beg him to review your work. The reason? So he'll come back to the fair, Mr. Temple said.
Mr. Temple also plays bass in two groups, "New Wet Kojak" and "Girls Against Boys." Mr. Tanenhaus said, to audience laughter, "It's every speaker's nightmare to follow a rock 'n' roll star."