Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

In London, The Hatchet Job of the Year Award went to A. A. Gill for his Sunday Times review of Morrissey’s Autobiography. The autobiographer is a British singer and lyricist.

Gill wrote: “This is a book that cries out like one of his maudlin ditties to be edited. . .It is a heavy tome, utterly devoid of insight, warmth, wisdom or likability.”

Gill also wrote that the book was “a potential firelighter of vanity, self-pity and logorrheic dullness. . . laughably overwrought and overwritten, a litany of retrospective hurt and score settling.”

The judges said Gill’s review was the “angriest, funniest and most trenchant” book review of the year. It is available on the Omnivore website, and quotes were generous in The Guardian and The New York Times. “Gill’s evisceration of Morrissey has a kind of music of its own,” said The Los Angeles Times.

Gill’s Hatchet Job Award was an ax buried in a book and a year’s supply of potted shrimp.

P.S.: In Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, the question asked of two writers was: “Why publish negative reviews?” Francine Prose wrote that after three decades of refusing to review books she didn’t like, she had begun writing occasional negative reviews. She said, “It’s a question of what gets under my skin. . . . If something bothers me that much, life is too short not to say so.”

Zoe Heller wrote, “Banning ‘negativity’ is not just bad for the culture; it is unfair to authors. A review, however aggressively unfavorable, is generally obliged to provide supporting evidence for its judgments.”

TIMES CHANGE: Sarah Churchwell is the author of Careless People: Murder, Mayhem and the Invention of The Great Gatsby. Joanna Scutts reviewed it for The Washington Post Book World.

Scutts wrote that Churchwell pointed out that early reviews of the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic were “dismissive.” H.L. Mencken called the book “a glorified anecdote.”

Scutts commented, “Today, criticizing ‘Gatsby’ is like firing champagne corks at the moon.”

FASTER, FASTER: “The book business is upending its traditional timetable by encouraging a kind of binge reading, releasing new works by a single author at an accelerated pace,” wrote Julie Bosman in a Page One article in The New York Times. “Series publishing has boomed . . . as publishers have searched for story lines that can keep readers hooked for several books rather than just one.”

Fans of genre books—sci-fi, romance, erotica and thrillers–are impatient and don’t like to be kept on tenterhooks.

Susan Wasson of Bookworks in Albuquerque told The Times, “With the speed that life is going these days, people don’t want to wait longer for a sequel. I know I feel that way. When I like a book, I don’t want to wait a year for the sequel.”

The three Shades of Grey books showed the way. And the sequels triggered more sales of earlier Grey titles. The trio has sold 90 million copies worldwide.

TRYING AGAIN: Nathan Filer’s Where the Moon Isn’t was published in the U.S. in November. Unnoticed by most reviewers, it sold poorly.

In Britain it was released under the title The Shock of the Fall, and in January won a Costa Book Award—a prize that honors books written by authors who live in Britain or Ireland.

Now the American publisher, St. Martin’s, is starting its U.S. campaign over with The Shock of the Fall as the title. It’s available as an e-book immediately. Advance print copies will go to booksellers and critics. Publisher Jennifer Enderlin at St. Martin’s told The New York Times, “We’re going to give it a whole new push, as if it’s a first-time publication again.”

OBSERVATION: In an article in the Wall Street Journal, reviewer Alexandra Mullen made a sweeping generalization: “Too many biographies of literary figures content themselves, once the dramatic years of growth are past, with litanies of dinner parties and awards.”

PACK RAT: He may have become famous because of his uncluttered prose, but Ernest Hemingway was unable to throw away letters, lists, telegrams, useless insurance policies, bank statements, passports, tickets to bullfights, a page of his son Patrick’s homework and lots and more lots of Christmas cards.

All of this clutter, digitized, is now available at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.  The New York Times quoted the text of a telegram sent by Ingrid Bergman after Hemingway won the 1954 Nobel: “THE SWEDES AREN’T SO DUMB AFTER ALL.”

QUIP MAN: Gary Shteyngart has attracted a lot of media attention while promoting his latest book, a memoir entitled Little Failure. The reason is obvious: the immigrant, whose parents brought him from Russia to the U.S. when he was seven, is funny.

In talking about his life as a writer, he told The Wall Street Journal, “My mother was dying for me to become a lawyer. And now lawyers are being laid off left and right, but writers never really had a job to begin with.”

Shteyngart thinks he writes better when he works outside the city. He said, “Manhattan has changed. It’s horrible, it’s all Duane Reade and Chase. It gets so dull some days I have to mug myself.”

NAME GAME: Yahoo is described on the Web as “an American multinational Internet corporation headquartered in Sunnyvale, Calif.”

When I hear the name Yahoo I think of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.  Swift’s shipwrecked hero believed that “Yahoos were a species of animals utterly incapable of amendment by precepts or examples.”

Gulliver spent years trying before he gave up on the Yahoos, writing, “I have now done with all such visionary schemes forever….I should never have attempted so absurd a project as that of reforming the Yahoo race in this kingdom.”

Yahoo has hired a woman, Marissa Mayer, to shift it into the profit column. Is she capable “of reforming the Yahoo race”?

THE END: Elizabeth Kolbert is on the staff of The New Yorker and the author of a just published book, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History.

In a Science Section interview in The New York Times, Kolbert said that when she was looking for a subject, “I kept bumping into . . . the reality that climate change was actually part of an even bigger phenomenon: the many ways humans are changing the planet.”

Later she said that, “in writing a book about extinction, I went to some of the most amazing places on Earth. I walked across the Great Barrier Reef [one of the sites that is doomed] at night!”

Kolbert said the last living creatures, after we human beings are gone, will be roaches and rats.

Her book also got the cover of Sunday’s Times Book Review. Former Vice President Al Gore wrote the review. Kolbert, he said, “makes an irrefutable case that what we are doing . . . is clearly wrong. And she makes it clear that doing what is right means accelerating our transition to a more sustainable world.”

WORD SHIFT: A. C. Grayling is a philosopher and master of Oxford’s New College. In his new book, Friendship, he writes about the word “friends.” “Friends with benefits” means casual lovers. Living in the “friend zone” means being romantically frustrated.  Some things are referred to as “user-friendly” or “eco-friendly” or “business friendly.”

In a Wall Street Journal review of the book, Micah Mattix, an assistant professor at Houston Baptist University, wrote that Grayling’s point is that “friendship until recently was considered one of the rarest, most demanding but also most rewarding kind of human relationships.”

Now, thanks to Facebook, many millions are “friends” of people they have never met.

ECHO: From out of the past comes a flood of former bestsellers. Random House is publishing more than 30 titles, written decades ago, by James Michener. This time they are e-books and paperbacks.

Forty years ago, Arthur Hailey’s Airport (1968), Hotel (1965) and Wheels (1971) were major bestsellers. Eleven of his books are coming out again as e-books, priced at $14.99 each.

The Wall Street Journal explained, “Random House’s recent experience republishing John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee novels, both in paperback and digitally, showed that e-books now sold better than print versions of backlist titles.”

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