The inside scoop on the book world

By Matthew Flamm
September 07, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT

LEPER UPPER Chalk another one up to the department of historical narratives, producer of such instructive best-sellers as In the Heart of the Sea and Isaac’s Storm. Lisa Drew Books/Scribner has just acquired The Colony, by Outside magazine editor John Tayman, which will tell the tale of the leper colony — still in existence, with 47 inhabitants — on the island of Molokai, Hawaii. ”It’s a piece of American history that people are completely unaware of, and it’s just an amazing and heartbreaking story,” says Drew, who sources say won the book at auction with a $400,000 bid.

ACTING LESSONS Ellen Burstyn, who added a new chapter to her career playing an addict in Requiem for a Dream, will tell the whole story of her life in Lessons in Becoming Myself, which Riverhead Books will publish in fall 2003. In other new acquisitions: Hyperion has agreed to pay in the neighborhood of $1.5 million, sources say, for three books by Clark Howard, the consumer advocate and talk-radio personality.

TOLKIEN EFFORT ”Who will read 423 pages about an unfinished journey undertaken by mythical creatures with confusing names?” worried Houghton Mifflin editor Anne Barrett about an early manuscript of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring (the first installment to the epic adventure trilogy) in 1953. ”Probably no one, but I still say it is wonderful and — with my heart in my mouth — [worthy] to publish.” Such a quaint display of nerves to look back on, given Mifflin’s recent celebration of the seventh printing of The Lord of the Rings ($20), the one-volume movie tie-in edition for the upcoming New Line Cinema film. With a million copies now in print, and the first of the three films still months away, readers are ringing in a Tolkien resurgence.