The inside scoop on the book world

— ENDING LIVES The much-admired, often-imitated Penguin Lives series — those short hardcover biographies that pair famous subjects with renowned writers (Jane Smiley on Dickens, Bobbie Ann Mason on Elvis Presley) — has hit a rather large bump. Viking, which produced the books with high-profile money manager Ken Lipper, has decided to ”take a breather and evaluate the success” of the program, according to Viking associate publisher Paul Slovak. The move follows reported significant losses in funds managed by Lipper, who had provided some of the backing — and office space — for the series’ general editor, Saul Bellow biographer James Atlas. ”It’s a financial story and an editorial story,” says Atlas, referring to differences he was reported to have had with Viking over whether the choices of subjects were commercial enough. According to Slovak, the decision ”has more to do with the somewhat demanding publishing schedule we set of doing six titles a year,” but he adds that the series has been successful, with the 22 volumes in print so far having sold more than 700,000 copies. Viking will publish the 10 books still under contract, while Atlas, according to insiders, searches for a new home for the series.

— FEAR AND LOATHING Just in case you haven’t gotten enough of that guy who helps ordinary folks stake their claim to fame by eating worms and unmentionable animal parts, Joe Rogan — the stand-up comic and host of Fear Factor — is shopping a book of ”rants.” ”It’s kind of a cool, hip version of Rants,” says Rogan’s literary agent David Vigliano (dissing the genre’s best-known practitioner, Dennis Miller). Vigliano adds that despite the working title, Fear Itself, the collection of comic essays will feature Rogan’s observations on the world, and not discussions of the show. Whew.

— HUSTLING A BOOK Larry Flynt, pornographer and First Amendment champion, has a book proposal going around that offers advice on everything from improving couples’ sex lives to American foreign policy. ”He’s always there with an opinion, [and] he doesn’t care who he annoys,” says the Hustler publisher’s agent, Kim Dower.