Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

With the merger of Penguin and Random House, two meaningful imprints of the past will lose their distinction. Boris Kachka is certain that this will happen.

He is the author of Hothouse: The Art of Survival and the Survival of Art at America’s Most Celebrated Publishing House, Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Whew, that’s a lot of title.

Kachka wrote an essay for The New York Times’ op-ed page about the merger and what consolidation means, making use of an old quote:

“‘A new imprint on a book gathers character through the years,’ declared the first sentence of the first catalog printed by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 1946. But an old imprint, once merged, tends to lose it. Even Penguin and Random House aren’t immune. . . . Maybe Random Penguin, as a few wags have suggested, would have been a more apt name.”

THE BEST TIME: Saul Bellow believed, “You never have to change anything you get up in the middle of the night to write.”

STORY POWER: “All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them,” Isak Dinesen wrote.  She was quoted by Stephen Grosz in his new book, The Examined Life, reviewed by Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times.

Kakutani said that Grosz “goes on to argue that stories can help us to make sense of our lives, but that if ‘we cannot find a way of telling our story, our story tells us—we dream these stories, we develop symptoms, or we find ourselves acting in ways we don’t understand.’”

Grosz is a psychoanalyst and an admirer of that master storyteller, Sigmund Freud. Like Freud, Grosz recounted the stories of some of his most troubled, most interesting patients.

BIG THREE: If books were racehorses, having three titles on a bestseller list at one time would be a trifecta.

John Green has a trio of young adult novels selling like champions. Last week The Fault In Our Stars was No. 1, Looking for Alaska was No. 4, and Paper Towns was No. 9. All three have been award winners too.

Green, 36, lives in Indianapolis with his wife, their two children and a dog named Fireball Wilson Roberts (called Willy).

Green’s exposure on the Internet is impressive.  He’s a veteran blogger. There are countless quotes on several subjects. On authors he said, “We have this habit of romanticizing the lives of writers. I remember when I was a kid, I was like ‘I want to be Kurt Vonnegut.’”

There is a YouTube video on Ireland AM that proves Green enjoys a good laugh.

NO, NO: More than once, the late Maurice Sendak was asked if he would ever write a sequel to his 1963 Where the Wild Things Are. A couple of years ago, he was doing a video interview in Britain when that question popped up again. He replied, “Go to hell. I’m not a whore. I don’t do those things.”

Now The New York Times has reported that there is a poem written by Geoffrey O. Todd with illustrations by Rich Berner. Their planned book, set 30 years after Sendak’s account, is called Back to the Wild. In it, Max takes his daughter, Sophie, to see the Wild Things. The creators said they had “been very careful not to impinge on Mr. Sendak’s copyright and have taken the necessary legal advice around this whole project.”

HarperCollins, publisher of Sendak’s classic, disputed that and said, “Any such unauthorized sequel would clearly violate the estate’s right to create derivative works.”

A jury of Wild Things could settle this rumpus in a minute.

TEXAS IS HOT: Leon Hale, 90 plus, is a Houston newspaper columnist and novelist whose works include Turn South at the Second Corner, Bonney’s Place and Addison. We once worked together on the late Houston Post.

He e-mailed last week and filled me in on the Texas July: “Down here we are totally crisp, from the dry weather. Beginning to look like the ‘50s, when we spelled drought drouth. And I wrote a drouth story that you said was so sad the readers could use their tears for purposes of irrigation. Nicest thing anybody ever said about my prose.”

HOW TO: Daniel Silva is the author of many bestselling spy thrillers.  His latest is The English Girl, published July 16.

In a bite-sized article on the Sunday New York Times Magazine there was “How to Hook a Reader” by Daniel Silva. The entire piece was as follows: “Something pivotal must happen: someone has to die, someone has to disappear; a bomb has to go off, something important has to get stolen. (I try not to have a knife enter a body, or a gunshot.)”

Now you have Silva’s formula for success.

THE HOT ONES: The list of top selling books in the first half of the year did not include any biographies, science books or histories. Liz Bury of The Guardian noted, “Publishers traditionally keep their big nonfiction books until the end of the year so they can benefit from the huge gift market that coalesces around Christmas.”

No one will be surprised that Dan Brown’s Inferno was the top seller.

But second was 5:2 Fast Diet by medical journalist Michael Mosely and fashion writer Mimi Spencer. The title is explained: eat whatever you want five days a week but cut back on Saturday and Sunday. They also claim that their “diet can ward off Alzheimer’s disease.”

POOR AIM: Back in 1864 when Wilkie CollinsThe Moonstone was published, a reviewer wrote: “Mr. Collins is nearly as clever as anyone who has ever fried a pancake in a hat.” That critic should eat his own hat. More than a couple of hundred years later, The Moonstone is still selling. Check it out on Amazon.

Critic Kenneth Tynan said: “A critic is a man who knows the way but can’t drive the car.”

HIS LAST: A novel with the title Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish is being published this week. David Rakoff wrote it during the last year and a half of his life. He was well known as a prize-winning essayist of three bestselling collections.

A friend, Joel Lovett, wrote an article about him for The New York Times. Lovell said, “The process of writing had always been an exercise in anguish management for him (he once said in an interview that writing was like having his teeth pulled out—through his penis), but to me and other friends this book seemed different. He discussed the fate of his characters, he read passages to visitors from his bed, he sent e-mails saying he was feeling good because the writing had gone well that day.”

Rakoff did not live to see his novel, written in rhyming iambic pentameter, published. He died of cancer last August. He was 47 years old.

HISTORIAN: Edmund S. Morgan, 97, died July 8 in New Haven. Longtime professor at Yale, he was author of a bestselling biography of Benjamin Franklin, written when he was in his 80s. Other books included The Puritan Family: Religion and Domestic Relations in 17th Century New England (1944), Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea (1963), and American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia (1975).

He once told an interviewer “the only experience you can have directly is of the place you live and the time you live in. History is a way of giving you experience that you would otherwise be cut off from.”

LATE: Vikram Seth was the author of the hugely successful A Suitable Boy, published 20 years ago. In 2009 he signed a $1.7 million contract with Penguin to write a sequel for publication this fall.

Seth reportedly failed to make his deadline.  Talks are ongoing, and his agent, David Godwin, told The Times of India, “It would be unfair to say the deal has been called off. Vikram has been known to take his time with his books. Our aim is to settle [on a new date].”

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