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

Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

In March, 2,300 Americans were asked to name their favorite books and the Bible was No. 1. The results were posted on the Harris Poll Web page. Gone With the Wind was No. 2 and No. 3 was the Harry Potter series.

Next, were To Kill a Mockingbird, Moby-Dick, The Catcher in the Rye, Little Women, The Grapes of Wrath and The Great Gatsby. No surprises there.

But over the years, this list has changed in interesting ways. In 2008, it included novels by Stephen King, Dan Brown and Ayn Rand.

“In literature as in love, we are astonished at what is chosen by others,” Andre Maurois wrote in 1963.

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Posted in Along Publisher's Row

Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

Memorial services were held in both Colombia and Mexico last week for Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who died April 17 in Mexico City, where he had lived most of his life.

The Colombia ceremony was held in Aracataca, the remote town that served as the setting for One Hundred Years of Solitude. The New York Times reported that Marquez had said it “was his grandmother’s matter-of-fact way of telling the most fantastic stories that inspired the narrator’s voice in One Hundred Years of Solitude.”

Elena Romero, 33, a Cataquero housewife, told The Times, “Because Gabriel Garcia Marquez won the Nobel Prize, Aracataca is known throughout the world.”

“We gave him his nationality,” said Jorge Polo, 54, a Colombian merchant who had met Marquez, “and he gave us recognition. We thank him for the happiness of having been born in Aracataca.”

The other memorial service was held in Mexico City’s Palace of Fine Arts with thousands attending. The ceremony was broadcast live on TV. After Marquez’s widow and two sons placed an urn with his ashes on a black pedestal, “A long, loud applause rose up, for more than a minute,” the Times said.

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Posted in Along Publisher's Row

Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

“The Science of Stories” was the title of a workshop held at Stanford University.  It was mentioned by Alison Gopnik in The Wall Street Journal.

Gopnik said that “scientists and scholars talked about why reading Harlequin romances may make you more empathetic, about how 10-year-olds create the fantastic fictional worlds called ‘paracosms’ and about the subtle psychological inferences in the great Chinese novel The Story of the Stone.”

That Chinese novel, a love triangle, is also called Dream of the Red Chamber. It begins: “When the Goddess Nugua undertook to repair the Dome of Heaven, she fashioned at the Great Mythical Mountain under the Nonesuch Bluff 36,501 pieces of stone, each 120 feet high and 240 feet around. Of these she used only 36,500 and left the remaining piece in the shadow of the Green Meadows Peak. However, the divine hands of Nugua had touched off a spark of life in the Stone and endowed it with supernatural powers. . . ”

She also touched off a tale that continues to be read after more than a century and a half.

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Posted in 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