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Jon Stewart Takes On Garrison Keillor and Needy Audience Members at the Book Expo

"Garrison Keillor wrote in a Times op-ed yesterday that the publishing industry is dead," said Jon Stewart, emcee of today's Book Expo breakfast panel that featured authors John Grisham, Mary Roach, and Condoleeza Rice. "And I thought, 'Thank God, I don't have to get up early tomorrow morning.'" Stewart (whose second Daily Show book, Earth (The Book): A Visitor's Guide to the Human Race, will be released in September) then added, "Funny, I thought [Keillor] was dead … No one understands cutting-edge media like a man who does written radio plays about a fictitious town."

Rice spoke first, discussing her forthcoming book, Condoleeza Rice: A Memoir of My Extraordinary, Ordinary Family and Me (out in October): She said that while she had started out intending to write about her time in the Bush administration, the book turned into a simple and heartwarming story about "my own personal, implausible journey." It did sound like a decent read, and she revealed that her family became both Presbyterian and Republican more or less by accident. "Don't make me like you!" Stewart whimpered, pretending to choke up. "That was marvelous. When's that other book coming out, the other one you were talking about?"

He handled Grisham with kid gloves, then introduced Roach by pretending to have forgotten her name. But Roach (Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers) was the oddest and funniest speaker; her new book, Packing for Mars (due in August), explains some of the less savory aspects of space travel: floating dandruff, foot fungus, and the difficulty of defecating in zero gravity ("no gravity, no poop"). Strong stuff for booksellers trying to enjoy their morning muffins.

While Stewart seemed to have forgotten Keillor, his ire was later redirected exactly where it belonged: squarely at the self-indulgent audience members who participated in the Q&A. You know the type: those desperate advice-seekers ("How much do you write a day?" "What do you do if your agent doesn't like your work?") who are probably to blame for turning even obscure authors into bitter misanthropes.

"Do you have a question," Stewart slowly groaned into the mike at one long-winded guest. "You're killing us." After a few more questions, he said, "Does anyone have a question where we don't end up having to help you people? Is anyone here okay with what's going on at this point in their careers, and maybe just curious about the shit we do?"

Photo: BEA