Reviews: Rita Lakin’s “The Only Woman in the Room”; Rex Stout’s “A Right to Die”

by CJ Verburg

The Only Woman in the RoomThe Only Woman in the Room by Rita Lakin

This delightful memoir offers a rare look behind the scenes at some turning-point TV shows back when television was first taking off: Doctor Kildare, The Mod Squad, Peyton Place, The Rookies. Rita Lakin didn’t set out to be a Hollywood screenwriter — in those days, that wasn’t an option for a woman. Widowed with three young children, her urgent quest was to support her family. Not surprisingly, she got in the the back way, as a secretary. Hard work and some lucky breaks turned a few brick walls into doorways, and for the next 25 years Rita Lakin rode the roller-coaster: sometimes given a hand, sometimes kicked in the face. She shares the fun she had meeting celebrities, and also breathes 3-D life into names the rest of us only see in the credits, such as Aaron Spelling and Sydney Pollack. Not least, she reminds us that the key to success is collaboration, not confrontation — though there are moments when you do have to stand your ground, go out on a limb, or just close your eyes and jump.


A Right to Die (Nero Wolfe, #40)A Right to Die by Rex Stout

Nero Wolfe meets the civil-rights movement. Published in 1964, A Right to Die is a fascinating literary-historical periscope into the language and attitudes of left-leaning successful white men (e.g., author Rex Stout) when the fight against racism was first gaining traction. The politics are muted, but there’s a jaw-dropping racist outburst from one character whose prejudices have been hidden until Wolfe rips back the curtain.

This particular case enters the West 35th St. brownstone of the famous detective in the person of Paul Whipple, whom Wolfe (and his assistant and narrator, Archie Goodwin) met many years ago at Kanawha Spa in West Virginia. Then, Whipple was a student at Howard University and kitchen staffer at the Spa; now, he’s a Columbia University professor and the father of a young man who works for the ROCC (Rights of Citizens Committee) in Harlem. Paul Whipple opposes his son’s plan to marry a wealthy white volunteer. Wolfe owes him a favor; but as he sets out to repay it, a simple inquiry mushrooms into a murder investigation.

Racial attitudes and information in the U.S. have expanded so much since 1964 that this book feels more dated than most of Stout’s mysteries from that era. Still, definitely worth reading!

View all my reviews

Digital Book World: the Evolution of 21st-Century Publishing

When Boom-Books entered publishing in 2011 — the dawn of modern history, technologically speaking — DBW was our go-to source for information and insights on e-books: a daily newsletter we read voraciously, plus an annual conference we ignored. Seven years has switched the tail and the dog. As e-publication burgeoned, and info overload swamped the DBW newsletter, the fading conference was acquired by F+W Media. A year ago F+W Media sold it to Score Publishing, which specializes in interactive content creation, and particularly organizing conferences in that vast field. Key point: Score is perhaps best known for its VoiceFirst.FM media network, which centers on voice technology such as Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa.

The first DBW conference under the new(est) ownership will be held Oct. 2-4 at the Music City Center in Nashville. Sponsors and participants range from Amazon and ALLi (the Alliance of Independent Authors) to Virtusales (publishing software) and Writers Boon (“a discount marketplace for writers”). Score Publishing hosted the Alexa conference last winter, and it will fold the existing iBooks Author Conference into this one.

Score CEO Bradley Metrock is a vocal advocate (aptly) of voice-first technology: the premise that consumers are depending more and more on audio as a way to find products and services. In publishing, this means “Not just audiobooks — which comprise the fastest-growing sector of the industry — but also podcasts. . . . as well as voice assistants.” ( Metrock describes this year’s Digital Book World as “the gathering of the wide world of publishing, from trade publishing, to scholarly and academic publishing, to independent publishing, to corporate publishing across medium to large companies across the world, to educational publishing, and all the tech companies which serve publishers large and small.”

It sounds grandiose, but on the granular level it means Score has its sights aimed at every critter in the landscape, from ants to elephants. The award-nominees list alone is a microcosm of the future as Metrock and his colleagues envision it. For instance, the three nominees for Trade Publisher of the Year are HarperCollins, Macmillan, and Penguin Random House. All three also are candidates for Publisher of the Year, competing with Audible Studios, Netflix, China Publishing Group (中国出版集团), Dark Horse Comics, Tapocketa Animation Studio, and the more traditional (i.e., book-focused) Sourcebooks.

What does all this mean for the future of content communication, the corporations that are its conduits, and the opportunities and limits looming for customers? That’s a discussion way beyond the scope of this post. For now, grab your periscope and check out Digital Book World 2018 at

Warning: our email address was temporarily hijacked

We regret to announce that on Tuesday and/or Wednesday Sept. 4-5, nefarious miscreants hijacked our email address to send out a highly sophisticated Spam mailing, with attachments.

Security was re-established by midday Wednesday. However, because the recipients were not on any list of ours, and we have no way to identify either the recipients or the sender(s), we are unable to issue any warning other than this one.


We’re deeply sorry for the intrusion.