Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

Virginia Woolf, Lewis Carroll and Ernest Hemingway did their writing standing up, with a tall piece of furniture serving as a desk.

Now, Susan Orlean, author of The Orchid Thief and Rin Tin Tin, reports that she works at a tall desk—not just standing, but walking many miles on a treadmill while writing.

In an essay for The New Yorker, Orlean writes that her research revealed that sitting “for more than two hours causes the presence of good cholesterol to drop, and, in time, insulin effectiveness plummets. This can lead to cardiovascular problems, certain kinds of cancer, depression, deep-vein thrombosis, and type-2 diabetes.” If you want to avoid all those pitfalls, tall desks and special treadmills are now available on the market.

These words are being typed as my laptop sits on a tall chest of drawers. I stand, bouncing up and down on my toes, hoping to avoid deep-vein thrombosis.

BIG DAY: Last Tuesday was the publication date for Dan Brown’s Inferno. Booksellers are hoping that the book will make 2013 as profitable a year as erotic sex made 2012. In 2009, Brown’s The Lost Symbol sold a half million copies during its first week.  There are 190 million copies of the author’s books in print.

 Brown was quoted in The Guardian as saying that he did not read critics’ reviews of his books because “I’m not sure that they always share the taste of the masses.” The Guardian’s reviewer, Steven Poole, made his “review” a parody of the novel. He pretends he’s a tall, Dan Brown-like hero and writes: “In the long book, dramatic things happened in beautiful places.”

Brown and his New Hampshire home made an appearance on the Today Show, last week, when Matt Lauer was given a tour. There were secret doors, dark passageways and lots of shelves for research volumes.  Brown said that in writing Inferno, “I just spent the last three years in hell.”

CHINESE PROVERB: “A book is like a garden carried in the pocket.”

OBSESSED: Dana Spiotta’s new novel, about rock music and culture, is Stone ArabiaThe Los Angeles Times called the book “a novel of obsession.”

In an interview for the newspaper, the California author explained, “I have to say that movies have had as much impact on me as music.  And that I learned as much about narrative from movies as I did from reading novels, how to arrange stories, how to juxtapose things.”

In the June issue of The Writer, Spiotta is quoted: “When I do close readings of Ulysses with my creative writing students, we can feel our brain cells expanding. The artistic ambition—the pure exuberance of it—inspires us. We are reminded that the novel does not have to be a meager, highly familiar and slightly boring place. It can be a vast frontier of possibility.”

WHERE THE LITERARY STARS ARE: If you’ve been lost in space for the last few years, you may not be aware that Brooklyn is the place to be on every count: if you want to launch a restaurant, a beer palace, a band or a deluxe chocolate brand, cross the bridge and get started.

According to The New York Times, Brooklyn is also “where the brightest literary stars live in nice brownstones and write about dead parents (see Foer, Jonathan Safran; Lethem, Jonathan; Auster, Paul). So it’s not entirely surprising that [Austin] Ratner also lives in Brooklyn in a $3 million Brooklyn Heights brownstone he bought in 2011, or that he writes about not having a father.”

Ratner has a wife and two sons. His latest novel is In the Land of the Living. “Everything I do is in genuine pursuit of truth and beauty.”

All of which are ready to hand in Brooklyn, right?

COMPARED: In the current flapdoodle about the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont races, a quote from John Steinbeck trotted into view: “The profession of book-writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business.”

OLD VOICE: Frank Bascombe is a character in Richard Ford’s novels, The Sports Writer, Independence Day and The Lay of the Land. Now Ford has written a Bascombe short story. The author told The New York Times Book Review:  “I always think that when I’m writing Frank Bascombe I have the chance to write about the most important things I know, and that’s always been irresistible—as it probably is for most writers.”

LONELY: Irish writer Edna O’Brien’s first novel was The Country Girls, published in 1960.  Philip Roth called her “the most gifted woman writing in English.” She has written more than two dozen books.

Her latest, a memoir, is Country Girl.  O’Brien told an interviewer, “Everyone in my family, if not to say my neighborhood, and stretching to my country, opposed my writing, because they associated it with dalliance, with sin and with shame.”

In the May 20 New Yorker’s Talk of the Town, O’Brien was quoted: “A lot of memoirs end in catharsis. They’re hunky-dory with their mother and father, their sister and brother, and I feel that’s imposed. You’re alone with yourself, and your writing, and the feeling of one’s mind fraying, from a lot of things—the weight of time, the wailing of the foxes.”

Jonathan Yardley of The Washington Post admired the first half of O’Brien’s memoir. The second half dropped too many celebrity names, people that Yardley thought would soon be forgotten.

RAISIN EXPERT: David Sedaris’s new collection of essays is titled Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls. His eight earlier books have all been bestsellers, and last week, Janet Maslin tried to explain in The New York Times how he works.

“Oddball minutiae,” she wrote, “are to Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls what raisins are to raisin bread.” Sedaris clips ridiculous “raisins” from newspapers and describes his family’s and friends’ most bizarre behavior.

Maslin suggests that, in this ninth time around, there are fewer raisins and more bread.

NEW EDITION: Michael Dirda wrote in The Washington Post about the recent publication of a novel first out in 1939. This is worth a mention if only because of the author’s name–Oliver Onion. The title of his book is The Hand of Kornelius Voyt, and Dirda said it has an “unsettling eeriness.”

The novel is described as “a mixture of psychological suspense, existential theorizing, coming-of-age story and the kind of speculative fiction—about supermen and workers’ revolutions—that we associate with the 1930s.”

What do you supposed Oliver Onion put in his martinis?

TV’S DIVA: Dr. Joyce Brothers, 85, died May 13 in Fort Lee, N.J.  According to The New York Times obituary, she “was able to transform a single night—December 6, 1955, the night of her $64,000 question—into more than five decades of celebrity.” Her books included The Brothers System for Liberated Love and Marriage (1972), How to Get Whatever You Want Out of Life (1978) and Widowed (1990), a memoir.

TEAM AUTHORS: Fredrick L. McKissack, 73, died April 28 in Chesterfield, Mo. With his wife Patricia, McKissack wrote more than 100 books about African- Americans for children and young adults.

He was trained as a civil engineer, but said in a 2006 interview, “In those days there were so few books for and about the African-American child. Black kids need to see themselves in books.” The couple wrote biographies of W.E.B. Dubois, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and books about Pullman train porters, Negro league baseball and the Underground Railroad.

Comments: 1
  • Ned

    Forgot Thomas Wolfe who wrote standing up and on top of a refrigerator in Brooklyn no less! two items in one.