Along Publisher’s Row

Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

Actress Lauren Bacall, 89, died August 12 in Manhattan. She was the author of two autobiographies, and is believed to have written them herself. One of her many strokes of luck was that her editor was Robert Gottlieb, probably the best in the business. Lauren Bacall, By Myself won a National Book Award in 1980. Now (1984) was the title of the second autobiography.

Her Page 1 obit in The New York Times ended with a quote: “I spent my childhood in New York, riding on subways and buses. And you know what you learn if you’re a New Yorker? The world doesn’t owe you a damn thing.”

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Posted in Along Publisher's Row

Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

“Google and Barnes & Noble Unite to Take on Amazon,” said a headline in The New York Times. The two were zeroing in on a fast, cheap delivery of books in Manhattan, West Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area. Customers can get books through the Google Shopping Express.

The Times explained: “Amazon poses a persistent and growing threat to Google and Barnes & Noble. Its rise has contributed to lagging sales and diminished foot traffic in Barnes & Noble’s physical stores, and it dominates the online market for print books.”

Google uses couriers who pick up products from local stores and deliver them in about three to four hours. Service is free to subscribers of Google Shopping Express, and costs $4.99 per delivery for others. Amazon charges $5.99 for members of its Prime program and $9.99 for others.

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Posted in Along Publisher's Row

Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

Oprah Winfrey can sell books and so can Stephen Colbert.

Colbert, whose America Again: Re-becoming the Greatness We Never Weren’t, is published by Hachette, has been waging a fierce public counter offensive against Amazon’s freeze play on Hachette book orders.

His latest weapon in the good fight was a first novel by a young writer named Edan Lepucki, whose California isalso published by Hachette.

“We will not lick their monopoly boot,” said Colbert as he suggested that viewers pre-order California from independent bookstores. The upheaval caused by Amazon, Colbert told his audience, “is toughest on young authors who are being published for the first time.” He also recommended the novel to his 6.6 million Twitter followers.

The book, published last Tuesday, has become “one of the most pre-ordered debut titles in Hachette history,” said The New York Times, quoting a company spokeswoman.

Lepucki’s book tour was expanded, and she signed 10,000 copies at Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon. The original print order of 12,000 copies has been expanded, too—to 60,000 copies.

Last Sunday’s Times Book Review described California as a novel “in which characters traverse a cross-section of mid-collapse landscape, framed by the gradual decline of civilization.”

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Posted in Along Publisher's Row

Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

David Leavitt’s eighth novel is The Two Hotel Francforts. For an interview in Sunday’s New York Times Book Review he was asked to name his favorite novelist of all time and a novelist writing today.

Leavitt said, “Penelope Fitzgerald. The Beginning of Spring, The Gate of Angels and The Blue Flower are novels I return to again and again, with joy and awe.

“Among writers working today, I have the greatest admiration for Norman Rush. I also admire John Weir, who deserves to be far better known than he is. And I was floored by Edward St. Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose novels.”

The Blue Flower has been noted by so many writers that I got a copy from my library and read it. They were right.

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Posted in Along Publisher's Row

Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

Do we need two books to tell us that our manners these days could stand some improvement?

Amy Alkon, author of a syndicated column, wrote in her new book: “Today rudeness of all kinds is at its peak . . . and this dismal condition is due in large part to technology.” She blames e-mail, text messages, tweets and Facebook. Well, technology can hardly be blamed for the title of her book: Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck.

Edwin L. Battistella called his book Sorry About That. He wrote that apologies from corporations, celebrities, and politicians are not intended to “express genuine remorse or accept blame but to make the offence go away as quickly as possible.” Wall Street Journal reviewer Barton Swaim wrote: “In today’s culture an apology need not be an admission of guilt or a plea for forgiveness. If you do it well, it’s an opportunity to insist that you are actually a wonderful person.”

Today, we just say, “I take full responsibility for that” awful, crude, embarrassing remark I made. And hope the rotten words are soon forgotten.

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Posted in Along Publisher's Row

Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

“These things I learned by reading books aloud, into the pricked and critical ear of my son,” James Parker wrote.

Last Sunday was Fathers Day and Parker, an author of a biography, Turned On, and a contributing editor at The Atlantic, wrote about the impact of fatherhood for The New York Times.

He said reading to his son led to the following rules: “Keep it crisp; tell a good story; don’t muck about; don’t be afraid to say the same things twice, if it’s important; respect the reader; have some loyalty to your characters; and when you feel the urge to get descriptive, sit on it. (Much of this comes under Elmore Leonard’s tenth rule of writing: ‘Try to leave out the part that the readers tend to skip.’)”

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Posted in Along Publisher's Row

Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

“Historical fiction may be the literary equivalent of cilantro,” wrote Barbara Kingsolver in the New York Times Book Review this Sunday. “Consumers tend to love or hate it irrationally, and rare is the artist who can rally a conversion. I’m of the former persuasion, keen for the surprise bits of fact that shake out of a well-researched story.”

The occasion was a front page review of Kimberly Elkins’s novel What Is Visible, a fictional exploration of the Pygmalion story of Laura Bridgman. A childhood illness left Bridgman blind, deaf, and with no sense of smell or taste. She was famous 50 years before Helen Keller came along.

The Elkins review ran side by side with one titled Euphoria, by Lily King, a fictional account of an event in the life of Margaret Mead. Reviewer Emily Eakin wrote: “The steam the book emits is as much intellectual as erotic (for Mead these hardly seem to have been a distinction).”

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Posted in Along Publisher's Row

Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

Sarah McGrath is executive editor at Riverhead. Last year that publisher had four big bestsellers. McGrath was interviewed by PW, and she described what she looks for when she opens a manuscript:

“I want a book that makes you forget what you are doing. That can be because of the beauty of the sentences, or because of the propulsion of the plot, or the emotional effect it has on you. Hopefully, it’s all three of those things.”

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Posted in Along Publisher's Row

Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote a letter to a friend in 1881. The author was happy about a book he was working on. “If this don’t fetch the kids, why, they have gone rotten since my day. Will you be surprised to learn that it is about buccaneers. . . That it’s all about a map, and a treasure, and a mutiny, and a derelict ship . . . and a seacook with one leg, and a sea-song with the chorus ‘Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum’ (at the third Ho you heave at the capstan bars), which is a real buccaneer’s song, only known to the crew of the late Captain Flint.”

Stevenson admitted: “It’s awful fun, boys’ stories; you just indulge the pleasure of your heart, that’s all.” The quotes about the creation of Treasure Island (1883) are courtesy of The Wall Street Journal.

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Posted in Along Publisher's Row

Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

No writing teacher would allow it. Editors would turn pale.  But Roz Chast’s new memoir, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, is written “in capital letters, underlined words and multiple exclamation points,” wrote Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times.

The memoir and the review are illustrated with Chast’s cartoons, “scribbly people go from looking merely frazzled and put-upon to looking like the shrieking figure in Munch’s “The Scream” – panicked and terrified as they see the abyss of loss and mortality looming just up the road.”

A small Chast drama between a mother and child also plays out on the cover of the May 12th New Yorker. That’s the Chast way to celebrate Mother’s Day.

Only Chast could wring laughs from such subjects.

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Posted in Along Publisher's Row