Along Publisher’s Row

Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

Adam Begley’s biography of John Updike was published last week. Begley wrote, “He wasn’t despairing or thwarted or resentful; he wasn’t alienated or conflicted or drunk; he quarreled with no one.” Doesn’t sound like Hemingway, Fitzgerald or Faulkner or anyone else on the short list of great American authors, does it?  The quotes are from a review in The New York Times.

On the sensitive subject of sex, Begley wrote: “That Updike had affairs, sometimes with his friends’ wives, is not news.”

On that subject, Rebecca West, who wrote two biographies, observed: “Just how difficult it is to write a biography can be reckoned by anybody who sits down and considers just how many people know the real truth about [the subject’s] love affairs.” Her subjects were St. Augustine and Henry James.

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Posted in Along Publisher's Row

Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

The deep lines of a life of adventure—of “searching”—are vivid in a photograph of Peter Matthiessen’s face in Sunday’s The New York Times Magazine.

The 86-year old author died April 5 in Sagaponack, N.Y. He is the only writer ever to win the National Book Award for both nonfiction and fiction. His last novel, In Paradise, was published April 8.

Matthiessen had leukemia. He was interviewed at his Long Island home just before being hospitalized. The photograph was by Damon Winter.

Jeff Hemelman’s account of the author’s life ended with a quote from one of his more than 30 books, The Tree Where Man Was Born (1972). Matthiessen wrote: “Lying back against these ancient rocks of Africa, I am content. The great stillness in these landscapes that once made me restless seeps into me day by day, and with it the unreasonable feeling that I have found what I was searching for without ever having discovered what it was.”

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Posted in Along Publisher's Row

Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

“The Internet long ago revamped publishing and bookselling,” wrote David Streitfeld in The New York Times.  “Now technology is transforming the writing of fiction, previously the most solitary and exacting of arts, into something nearly the opposite. It is social, informal and intimate, with the result not only consumed but often composed on the fly.”

Wattpad is the new way to tell stories. More than 2 million writers produce 100,000 pieces of material a day for 20 million readers. For free. For nothing.   Charles Melcher, host of an annual Future of Story Telling conference, told The Times, “Now that everyone’s been given permission to be creative, new ways of telling stories, of being entertained, are being invented. A lot of people are lamenting the end of the novel, but I think it’s simply evolving.”

Allen Lau, Wattpad’s chief executive, was interviewed at the company’s office in Toronto. He said, “Almost all our writers serialize their content. Two thousand words is roughly ten minutes of reading. That makes the story more digestible, something you can do when standing in line.”

Readers respond to the writers. The Times said that traditional publishing is watching Wattpad closely, “not only as a source of new talent but also for techniques to increase reader engagement.”  But the writers go unpaid.

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Posted in Along Publisher's Row

Along Publisher’s Row

by Campbell Geeslin

“An ambitious young writer can’t simply write: he or she must link, tweet, podcast, and brand.” That advice comes from James Wolcott in the April Vanity Fair.

In his column, Wolcott wrote, “The brandmaster of flash is Malcolm Gladwell, who has parlayed his platform as a social-trends reporter for The New Yorker into a series of popularizing bestsellers (Outliers, The Tipping Point) and princely sums on the speakers’ circuit. His face was planted on the sides of New York buses to publicize his latest book, David and Goliath, a fitting place for the Carrie Bradshaw of Starbucks intellectuals.”

One of Wolcott’s suggestions for becoming a brand: “Learn how to wait until Charlie Rose reaches the end of his question before answering, no matter how dusty long it takes.”

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Posted in Along Publisher's Row

Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

At last, the book business has become the background for a spy thriller. The author is Chris Pavone and the title is The Accident, published last week. His first novel, The Expats (2012), was a bestseller. He lives in Greenwich Village with his wife and twin sons.

“Any setting can be a good setting for a novel,” Pavone, 45, told The New York Times. Husband of a top publishing executive and a former editor himself, Pavone said that he used his experience in writing The Accident.  But in an early draft, he said, “I had thinly veiled versions of real people. I got rid of that.”

Pavone is now on a book tour and has already begun a third novel. This one will be set in the world of travel magazines. He said, “It offers compelling opportunities for a travel-writer protagonist to embark on a secret life of international intrigue.”

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Posted in Along Publisher's Row

Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

Like the main character in his novel Grendel, John Gardner (1933-1982) has just about disappeared in the mists of time. For several years he was a major figure in American literature. Now, he and his almost 30 books seem to have vanished.

In addition to being a prolific novelist, critic and reviewer, he was an admired and influential writing teacher, a regular at Breadloaf and a mentor to Raymond Carver. After his death, his lectures were published in On Becoming a Novelist (1983).

In it, he observed: “A poet to practice his art with success, must have an ear for language so finely tuned and persnickety as to seem to the ordinary novelist almost diseased. The short story writer, since the emotional charge of his fiction must reveal itself quickly, has a similar need for compression, though a need less desperate than the poet’s. In the novelist, a hypersensitive ear may occasionally prove a handicap.”

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Posted in Along Publisher's Row

Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

In last week’s orgy of pre-Oscar hype, there was an interesting quote from Steve McQueen, film director of 12 Years a Slave.  McQueen also stages art exhibitions.

He told The New York Times, “I always see art as poetry and filmmaking as a novel, doing the same thing but differently, one abstract and the other one linear.”

Spoken as a man of literature.

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Posted in Along Publisher's Row

Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

Blanche Jennings Thompson was the editor of Silver Pennies (1925), a collection of poems for children. In the preface, she wrote, “If a poem is worthy at all, it isn’t tough—it is frail and exquisite, a mood, a moment of sudden understanding, a cobweb which falls apart at a clumsy touch.”

More quotes about poetry appeared in Sunday’s New York Times Book Review:  “Writing poetry is an unnatural act,” Elizabeth Bishop once wrote. “It takes skill to make it seem natural.” John Keats wrote in an 1818 letter, “If poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves to a tree it had better not come at all.”

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Posted in Along Publisher's Row

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.

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Posted in Along Publisher's Row

Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

Someone at The New York Times Book Review must have been shot by Cupid’s arrow. In a roundup just before Valentine’s Day, 20 authors responded to the question, “What can literature tell us about love?”

Eileen Myles, author of Inferno: A Poet’s Novel, wrote: “Literature is love. I think it went like this: drawings in the cave, sounds in the cave, songs in the cave, songs about us. Later, stories about us. Part of what we always did was have sex and fight about it and break each other’s hearts… We love the feel of making the marks as the feelings are rising and falling. Living in literature and love is the best thing there is. You’re always home.”

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