by Campbell Geeslin
“Look, I don’t care what you say, just make sure you tell it all and get my inner life.” Those were the instructions from the late Norman Mailer to J. Michael Lennon, his authorized biographer. Lennon is professor emeritus at Wilkes University. The biography, A Double Life, will be out October 15.
Lennon said that Mailer complained, “They just quote what I say on stage when I’m drunk or have gotten into a feud, so [people don't] get the fact that I’m wrestling with ideas and problems.”
In a PW interview Lennon said, “The thing about Mailer was that he wanted to be the first to try this or do that. He had breakthroughs writing about sex, about violence, using four-letter words. He wanted to go into forbidden territory, to write about orgies and incest and orgasms.”
Oh, those “ideas and problems.”
COMPLAINT: In his most recent New York Times Book Review column, “Inside the List”, Gregory Cowles praised a quote from Billy Crystal’s bestselling Still Foolin’ ‘Em. The comic complained about Congress and then said, “If you want to get paid for doing nothing and blocking progress, become a movie studio executive.”
BIOS: Amazon Publishing will offer a new series called “Icons”—short biographies “of significant people.” Co-editors are Ed Park and James Atlas. The plan is to release titles on a bi-monthly basis. Names of subjects will come later.
FEST: In an effort “to recapture its place as a center of literature,” a festival of international writers was held in Paris. Among the many authors attending were Richard Ford, John Banville, Salman Rushdie, and Michael Ondaatje. The New York Times reported that the authors “held intimate—and sometimes not so intimate—talks with their readers and literary enthusiasts. Several events were at the Louvre Auditorium, which holds some 400 people.”
Pakistani writer Nadeem Aslam told how he had spoken only Urdu until his family was forced to flee Pakistan for Britain. He was 14 years old. He taught himself to write in English by copying longhand William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, and Toni Morrison’s Beloved.
Two of Aslam’s novels, Season of the Rainbirds and The Blind Man’s Garden, were published this year. He told The Guardian that he has “eleven more novels to write.” They are already mapped out.
WINDING UP: Peter Matthiessen, a founder of The Paris Review and winner of a National Book Award, has a novel coming out next spring. An earlier novel was At Play in the Fields of the Lord and the nonfiction The Snow Leopard. The title of the new book is In Paradise. He was quoted in The New York Times: “at 86, it may be my last word.”
3 JACKETS: Liane Moriarty is an Australian romance novelist who has had five international bestsellers. Her latest is The Husband’s Secret.
Moriarty wrote on her blog: “Other authors twirl about the Internet, tweeting and blogging and Facebooking and commenting and linking and I can’t even find my mobile phone.”
The Husband’s Secret was promoted with the line: “A woman’s life is upended when she discovers a letter from her husband she was not meant to read.” Curiously, the books’ three different jackets suggest none of that. The U.S. edition shows a pink flower being shattered. The Australian edition has a single red balloon against a blue-green sky. The UK cover has a pink butterfly in a jar held by hands with pink painted fingernails.
The author said in her blog that she liked all three.
ONLINE IS BETTER: Online book clubs are about the books, while “flesh-and-blood book clubs” too often are about “failing marriages, high-achieving kids and kitchen renovations.” That was what Judy Abel wrote in The New York Times Style pages.
Chris O’Connor is founder of Booktalk, an online club that has been going since 2002 and has 8,000 members. He was quoted: “You read books you probably would never consider picking up if you were with the same group of five or six people who sit around having coffee once a month.”
TITLES: Did you ever read a novel called High Bouncing Lover? Or one called A Silence in the Water? You probably have, but those early titles were replaced at publication with The Great Gatsby and Jaws.
Caroline Leavitt wrote an essay in PW about how difficult it is to get the right title for a novel. She said, “The name can be about the theme, or it can be a character’s name, or may be just a phrase taken from chapter six.”
The title of Leavitt’s 10th novel is Is This Tomorrow. She said, “Without the question mark the name seems provocative.”
Or maybe it just looks as if someone made a mistake.
HER RULE: Sue Grafton’s W Is for Wasted immediately hit no. 1 on the bestseller lists. She told The Times Union of Albany how she invents her stories: “My rule is, I don’t tell the book. The book tells me. I have to sit there, and I have to be an open channel. Pardon the woo-woo talk.”
WORD PORTRAIT: The late Richard Brautigan, a poet and author of a novel (Trout Fishing in America, which sold four million copies), said of an unnamed writer: “The novelist was in his late forties, tall, reddish, and looked as if life had given him a stream of two-timing girl friends, five-day drunks and cars with bad transmissions.”
SELLING POINT: A shelf full of books about “the war to end all wars” will mark its centennial next July, the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I.
Matt Weiland, a senior editor at Norton told PW, “Anniversaries are absurdly important for publicity. I can sometimes feel that no books will be covered unless its subject matter abides by a strict anniversary algorithm: it must be X years old, where X ends in the digit 5 or 0.”
DaCapo’s executive editor Robert Pigeon said, “I’m hoping that Downton Abbey and War Horse might spark American interest in that most significant war.”
Both Weiland and Pigeon (and maybe every other publisher) will offer books on that subject.
GIFT: Helen Gurley Brown, who created the Cosmo Girl and wrote a bestselling advice book (Sex and the Single Girl), died in 2012. When she first came to New York from Arkansas, “she used the New York Public Library as an oasis,” Hearst executive Eve Burton told The New York Times. “It was the only place where she could feel safe and free to write and think.”
Brown’s refuge has just been rewarded with $15 million from the Helen Gurley Brown Trust. The money will go to a new educational and antipoverty program at the library’s branches.
BOOK HUGGERS: A half-page of photos of bookends were displayed in the Home section of The New York Times. One pair looked like small staircases and cost $450. A pair of bronze cubes were $680. Lidded jars were $500 each.
Why not just pick up a couple of discarded bricks and brush them clean? Your books won’t know the difference.
DOG LOVER: David Rosenfelt has written a dozen books that include a Golden Retriever named Tara. She belongs to a fictional lawyer Andy Carpenter, a dog lover.
This summer, Rosenfelt published a nonfiction book call Dogtripping. In it there’s a chapter called “Please Don’t Kill the Dog.”
The 12 thrillers are chronological and Tara should be 17 years old by now. But, Rosenfelt writes, “she’s not, and she’s never going to be. Andy’s Tara is going to be nine for as many books as I write. Andy could be in a home sucking oatmeal through a straw, and nine-year-old Tara will be by his side.“
This is to reassure readers who have begun to check the end of Rosenfelt’s books before they buy. They want to be certain that Tara lives on.
GOOD BOOKS: Finally, the first President has a library at Mount Vernon. George Washington’s books—the majority replacement copies of ones he owned—include Henry Fielding’s History of Tom Jones, a Foundling and a four-volume Don Quixote, translated by Tobias Smollett.
In an article about the library’s opening on Sept.28, Edward Rothstein of The New York Times quoted Washington’s successor John Adams as saying that Washington was “too illiterate, unlearned, unread for his station and reputation.”
But our first President clearly enjoyed reading for pleasure.