Along Publisher’s Row

Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

About 40 mystery writers and would-be mystery writers showed up at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, where Herman Melville and other notables are buried. The writers spent a day touring graves and a mausoleum. They heard from a man who works for a company that builds crematories. James Barron went along to cover the event for The New York Times.

The idea for this day of background research came from Linda Fairstein, author of Bad Blood and a former prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney’s office. Her great grandparents were buried at Woodlawn, and she had visited the place as a child.

Lawrence Block, a writer of bestselling mysteries, noted on Twitter: “At Woodlawn Cemetery. Need men’s room or grave of someone we don’t like.”

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Posted in Along Publisher's Row

Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

Steven Pinker, a Harvard psychologist and prolific writer, is the author of a new book, The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century.

In an interview with Scientific American, Pinker said, “The main difference between good writing and turgid mush—academese, corporatese, and so on—is that good writing is a window on the world. The writer narrates an ongoing series of events which the reader can see for himself, if only he is given an unobstructed view.”

Scientific American said of The Thinking Person’s Guide that Pinker “shows readers how to take apart a piece of fine writing to see what makes it tick.”

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Posted in Along Publisher's Row

Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

The lives of real-life writers are being turned into fiction. Novelist Thomas Mallon, author of Fellow Travelers and, most recently, of Watergate: A Novel, wrote in Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, “This territory seems to be expanding of late.”

Mallon lists Colm Toibin’s The Master (about Henry James), Jay Parini’s The Passages of H. M. (about Herman Melville), David Lodge’s A Man of Parts (H.G. Wells) and the newly published Arctic Summer by Damon Galgut, based on the life of E.M. Forster.

“In Arctic Summer,” writes Mallon, readers “will find a narrative voice reminiscent of Forster’s own calm, percipient one. Galgut depicts the novelist participating in ‘buttoned-down conversation about books and travel and opera and architecture’ all the while unable to ‘keep his gaze from sliding sideways, to the figure of the servant who bent in to clear the plates.’”

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Posted in Along Publisher's Row

Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

“Writers are starting to realize that in predicting the future, they have actually helped shape it,” wrote Nick Bilton in The New York Times. He suggested that some sci-fi writers may have contributed “to dark advances in technology.”

H. G. Wells first wrote about atomic bombs in 1914. George Orwell predicted an N.S.A.-like surveillance state. “And writers have been envisioning incredibly destructive weapons of all shapes and sizes, for centuries,” Bilton said.

Back in 2011, Arizona State University president Michael Crow challenged Neal Stephenson, the author of several sci-fi novels, to stop writing dystopian stories and offer ideas with a brighter outlook.

Last week, the university released Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future. There are no dark stories. Co-editor Kathryn Cramer told the Times, “We’re hoping to show that there are a lot of things we can do better.”

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Posted in Along Publisher's Row

Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

Emily St. John Mandel’s new novel is Station Eleven. She is 35 years old, has published three earlier novels, and lives in Brooklyn.

Mandel told The New York Times, “When I started writing, there were a few post-apocalyptic novels, but not quite the incredible glut there is now. I was afraid the market might be saturated.”

It wasn’t. Knopf bought Station Eleven with a six-figure advance. That was more than Mandel earned for all three earlier novels.

Times interviewer Alexandra Alter said, “Some trace the current literary fascination with the end of civilization to The Road, Cormac McCarthy’s 2006 novel, which became a bestseller and won the Pulitzer.”

Mandel said, “It’s almost as if The Road gave more literary writers permission to approach the subject.”

In the September 14 Times Book Review, the reviewer of Station Eleven, Sigrid Nunez, wrote that the book “offers comfort and hope to those who believe or want to believe that doomsday can be survived, that in spite of everything, that people will remain good at heart, and that when they start building a new world they will want what was best about the old.”

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Posted in Along Publisher's Row

Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

There’s no better way to start things off than by quoting from E. M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel (1927).

He wrote that a character (referred to here as “it”) in a book “is real when the novelist knows everything about it. He may not choose to tell us all he knows—many of the facts, even of the kind we call obvious, may be hidden. But he will give us the feeling that though the character has not been explained, it is explicable, and we get from this a reality of a kind we can never get in daily life.”

Forster ends his chapter on “People” by writing: “And that is why novels, even when they are about wicked people, can solace us; they suggest a more comprehensible and thus a more manageable human race, they give us the illusion of perspicacity and of power.”

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Posted in Along Publisher's Row

Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

Mary Beard is a classics professor at the University of Cambridge and the subject of a profile in the September 1 New Yorker. Her latest book is Laughter in Ancient Rome: On Joking, Tickling, and Cracking Up.

The magazine article is mainly about the constant attacks to which Beard is subjected because she is a smart woman who makes herself heard. She often appears on England’s BBC television. She said, “It doesn’t much matter what line of argument you take as a woman. If you venture into traditional male territory, the abuse comes anyway. It’s not what you say that prompts it—it’s the fact that you are saying it.”

She is subjected to threats of “a predictable menu of rape, bombing, murder, and so forth.” One tweet directed to her: “I’m going to cut off your head and rape it.”

TIME OFF: Bill Hayes is the author of The Anatomist: A True Story of Gray’s Anatomy. In an essay called “On Not Writing” in The New York Times, he wrote, “To be a writer is to make a commitment to the long haul, as one does to keeping healthy for as long a run as possible. For me, this means staying active physically and creatively, remaining curious and interested in learning new skills, and of course giving myself ample periods of rest, days or even weeks off. I know that the writer in me, like the lifelong fitness devotee, will be better off.”

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Posted in Along Publisher's Row

Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

With schools starting to open this time of year, the Times Book Review offered many pages of comment about that timely subject.

Asked to recommend a favorite book about schools, Times staffer Ariel Kaminer, said, “A great many books have recently come out that ask hard and necessary questions about higher education. Its value. Its impact on America’s class structure. Urgent issues, of course. But for favorites? I have to go with Don DeLillo’s novel White Noise. A savagely funny send-up of academia (and the hyper-specific anxieties it can engender) that does not ever stoop to outright ridicule.

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Posted in 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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