Along Publisher’s Row

Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

A select number of New York authors are being paid to appear at book club meetings where their books are on the menu.

Book the Writer was started by novelist Jean Hanff Korelitz last month. The club pays $750. Book the Writer’s cut is $350; the author gets $400. Venues are limited to Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Korelitz, the author of Admission (2009) and a recent transplant to Manhattan with her husband, the poet Paul Muldoon, told The New York Times, “Most of us, whether or not we are ‘successful,’ really struggle financially in the city. Also, we’ve reached this point at which we’ve come to assume art should be free, and copyright is under assault, etc., and the bald fact is that the artist has to live, too. So I liked the idea of creating (or at least extending) a new income source for writers.”

Book the Writer authors for hire include Kurt Anderson, A.M. Homes, Zoe Heller, Amy Soln and Alexandra Styron.

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Posted in Along Publisher's Row

Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

With all the hysterical headlines and TV chatter about the Super Bowl, how about a time out? The game has been around a long time.

Back in 1925, Robert Benchley wrote an essay entitled, “How to Watch Football.” This was before television. To smart guys like Benchley, Prohibition, which began in 1920, was a joke.

Benchley’s suggestion was: “Start drinking from the flask at, let us say, ten o’clock in the morning of the game. If necessary, or rather as soon as necessary, re-fill the flask. Be within calling-distance of a good, soft couch, with an easy pillow for the head. Don’t eat any lunch. Turn the heat on in the room and shut the windows.

“Then when it comes time. . .for the game, you will already have started with Old Grandpa Sandman, on the road to Never-Never Land . . . .You, my little man, will be safe and warm at home, [which] after all, is the place to be on the afternoon of the game.”

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Posted in Along Publisher's Row

Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

Ewan Clayton is the author of The Golden Thread: The Story of Writing. He is a Brit, a former monk, a calligrapher and teacher. A reviewer of his book said, “He brings his craftsman’s perspective to his history of the Roman alphabet from its start to its finish.”

In an interview with PW, Clayton said, “Two things [about writing] fascinate me. First, the act of writing itself. Making contact with another surface and then moving across it in a sequence of movements, it’s like a dance or a kind of free-running in a city of letterforms as you surmount the challenges that each new combination of shapes throws at you, and always you keep your flow going. The second thing is what happens to a document after it is written, the activity that surrounds it.”

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Posted in Along Publisher's Row

Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

Are women authors who write about women ignored by critics?

Novelist Jennifer Weiner (The Next Best Thing, 2012) was the subject of an eight-page Profile in the Jan. 13 New Yorker.  The title was “Written Off,” and it dealt with her “quest for literary respect.”

Weiner’s titles have sold 4.5 million copies and spent 249 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list. None has ever been reviewed in the Times Book Review.

Weiner made her case: “There is so much antipathy today toward the idea of fiction existing for pleasure or escapism. I just have a very hard time seeing entertainment as a bad thing. The things that come up again and again in my books, like a man who thinks that you are beautiful just as you are: is that sentimental, wish-fulfillment bullshit that isn’t ever going to happen in real life? I feel like it’s something that we want, and I believe in it, even if it is sentimental.”

Weiner gives many readers what they want. But literary critics may be looking for something else—the prose and perception of a Jane Austen or George Eliot.

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Posted in Along Publisher's Row

Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

E.B. White’s fame continues mostly because of a pig and a spider (Charlotte’s Web, 1952).  But throughout his life, he had a special affection for dogs.

Now, his granddaughter, Martha White, has collected and edited E.B. White on Dogs—a book of essays, letters and poems about his canine friends.

Over the years he had labs, Scotties, half-breeds and mutts.  He wrote of his “ignoble dachshund, Fred,” “I like to read books on dog training. Being the owner of a dachshund, to me a book about dog discipline becomes a volume of inspired humor. Every sentence is a riot.”

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Posted in Along Publisher's Row

Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

“Dickens, writing profusely about Christmas, reciting popular works before audiences in England and America, became the author who seemed to embody the very spirit of the season.”

That quote is from the late Jack Newcombe’s introduction to A Christmas Treasury, a book he edited in 1982. Newcombe was on the staff of Life magazine.

He quoted Dickens too, of course: “Who can be insensible to the outpourings of good feeling, and the honest exchanges of affectionate attachment, which abound in this season of the year.” That is from Dickens’ Sketches by Boz, written in 1836.

William Makepeace Thackeray wrote about Dickens’ The Christmas Carol in 1844: “It seems to be a national benefit, and to every man or woman who reads it a personal kindness. What a feeling is this for a writer to be able to inspire, and what a reward to reap!”

GOOD NEWS: Adam Kirsch is a poet and author of books about Lionel Trilling and Benjamin Disraeli. He wrote in The New York Times Book Review:

“The best literary news of 2013 is that, as Evan Hughes reported in The New Republic, books have not succumbed to the downward spiraling revenue trend: Sales of books in all formats actually grew by almost $2 billion in the last five years, and e-books have turned out to complement printed books without replacing them. It’s easy to see why writers should be happy—they can continue to get paid for their work—but this is equally good news for readers, who still need publishers to find, foster and distribute good writing.”

FACT OR FICTION: Richard Yates said of his writing, “The emotions of fiction are autobiographical but the facts never are.” He was quoted in The Guardian.

ABOUT BIOS: Gary Giddings is director of the Leon Levy Center of Biography at CUNY Graduate Center. He is the author of Celebrating Bird: The Triumph of Charlie Parker.

In an essay for The Wall Street Journal, he wrote: “Comparing life-writing to fiction writing, Andre Maurois argued that ‘biography is a means of expression when the author has chosen his subject in order to respond to a secret need in his own nature.’ We may buy biographies to learn about the subject, but we keep reading because the biographer has put something undeniably personal in the portrait.”

HANDICAP: Kimberly Elkins’s first book, What Is Visible: A Novel, isn’t due out until June but promotion has already begun. Amazon is taking orders, explaining that the book’s main character is blind, deaf and has no sense of taste or smell. Illness struck when she was two years old, 40 years before Helen Keller was born.

We are told that this fiction is written “in an intricate style, populated with many true historical figures.”

Elkins’ big challenge: her seriously afflicted heroine is one of the narrators.

REPEAT: Hollywood has announced that it will remake Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. Sydney Lumet directed a 1974 version with a cast of stars that included Vanessa Redgrave, Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery and Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot. It is frequently shown on TV.

There was also a TV version in 2001 with Alfred Molina as the detective.

Why a new version? I certainly remember who did it. Don’t you?

ON RELIGION: Sam Sacks writes a column, Fiction Chronicle, for The Wall Street Journal.  Recently he observed: “Reading a work of religious fiction is a little like stepping inside a house of worship. If the book professes the tenets of your faith, you read it to have your beliefs reaffirmed or refocused. But if you are an outsider to its creeds—if you are just visiting—you must be particularly open minded to resolve whatever beauties and truths it has to impart.”

AN ENDING: The late Geir Kjetsaa was professor of Russian literary history at the University of Oslo. He was also a translator and author of Fyodor Dostoyevsky: A Writer’s Life (1985).

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Posted in Along Publisher's Row

Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

What does it take to make a great book cover design? Nicholas Blechman is art director for The New York Times Book Review, and he selected ten jacket designs as the best in 2013.

Blechman said, “I am drawn to covers that elegantly express an idea, that beautifully integrate type and image, that have a singular vision of visual voice.”

Two of the jackets are mostly black. Red is strong on three. All have a minimum of type.

In the same issue of the Review, the Times’ 10 best books of the year were listed. Five were fiction and five were nonfiction.  Review staffer John Williams said that this was a pretty good year because in 1973 only three books had been named: Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, Doris Lessing’s The Summer Before the Dark, and John Clive’s Macaulay: The Making of a Historian.

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Posted in Along Publisher's Row

Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

“When I find books that I love, I feel the author is writing for me alone, and feel a private joy.” The quote is from Liu Xia, the wife of imprisoned Chinese Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo. He has been sentenced to 11 years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power.” Ms. Liu is living under house arrest in Beijing.

Another quote from one of her letters to a friend: “My reading has no specific goal, for me it’s rather like breathing—I have to do it in order to live.”

A translation of the letter was sent to The New York Times by Perry Link, a professor at the University of California, Riverside. Ms. Liu described herself as “feeding on books.”

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Posted in Along Publisher's Row

Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

Are you ready for your close-up?

In a plot twist only a sadist could dream up, a new Italian TV show called Masterpiece pits aspiring novelists against one another reality-show style, with a payoff to the winner of a 100,000 first printing. If the program is a hit in Italy—where writers are revered but sales are pitiful—a U.S. version cannot be far behind.

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Posted in Along Publisher's Row

Along Publishers Row

The surprise success of the season is a book of photographs of New Yorkers on the street, each with a quote from the subject in reply to questions asked by Brandon Stanton, a 29-year-old photographer from Georgia. The title is Humans of New York “which has become an instant publishing phenomenon,” The New York Times said.

The pictures with quotes were first posted on Facebook, where they were viewed by more than a million fans. Now, 145,000 copies of Humans are in print.  But during a signing at Barnes & Noble in Union Square, the store ran out of books.

The exposure on the Internet and the book have made Stanton famous. The Times’ Julie Bosman wrote that student Jessica Ruvin stopped him on the street and asked him to pose for a photo with her. She said, “I’m such a big fan. He exhibits the best part of New York—people on the street.”

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Posted in Along Publisher's Row