By Campbell Geeslin
It’s vacation time, and Emma Straub’s new novel is The Vacationers. The Guardian took note of the season by inviting her to list some favorite vacations in fiction.
Straub wrote, “I’ve always liked taking my fictional characters on vacation. As in life, I think it shakes characters out of their routines, which in turn leads to more zippy contradictions and conflicts and, yes, sex.”
Among Straub’s selections were: Read More…
Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings, “a portrait of a group of friends, starting one summer at camp and stretching out over the following several decades.” Choices are made that “set the course for the rest of their lives.”
Elaine Dundy’s The Dud Avocado, an American takes a trip to Paris in the 1950s and discovers “that Paris can’t solve all one’s problems.”
Courtney Sullivan’s Maine, in which a family’s cabin is the setting for three generations of women. The landscape is so lovingly described that “you will curse your own ancestors for not thinking to purchase a similar parcel of land.”
Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad has an African safari with “complicated family dynamics, irritating fellow tourists, and a proper animal attack: all the trappings of an excellent holiday.”
On Wednesday, The New York Times “Bits” blog reported on the surprising resurrection of John Brooks’ Business Adventures, a 1969 book long out of print. On his Web site, Bill Gates called it “The Best Business Book I’ve Ever Read” and added that he still has the copy Warren Buffett lent him. Behind the scenes, Gates helped coordinate an effort that led to the book’s republication and instant bestsellerdom.
As it happens, John Brooks, who died in 1993, was not only the “masterful storyteller” Gates hailed, but also a tremendously influential figure in the history of the Authors Guild. He served as our President from 1975-1979, and before that as Vice President and Treasurer. In a time of upheaval in the publishing industry—consolidation among publishers, new copyright legislation, changes in tax law—Brooks made sure the Guild was one of the strongest voices defending American writers.
The Authors Guild is committed to an inclusive, big-tent approach to its mission as the published writer’s advocate. The recent clash between Amazon and Hachette Book Group has called attention to the contrasting viewpoints of traditionally-published and self-published authors. During this dispute the Guild has spoken out against Amazon’s tactics—which needlessly imperil the livelihoods of authors who are not involved in the negotiations—while also challenging the major publishing houses to revisit the parsimonious stance they’ve taken on authors’ e-book royalties.
The Guild recognizes all authors’ rights to make a living from their books and to pursue the most suitable audience for them. It is a sign of the strength and diversity of our membership that two of our Council Members, Douglas Preston and CJ Lyons, have taken different public stands in defense of serious authors.
By Campbell Geeslin
“Sadly overlooked is . . . the summer non-read,” wrote Jordan Ellenberg in The Wall Street Journal, “the book that you pick up, all full of ambition, at the beginning of June and put away, the bookmark now and forever halfway through chapter 1, on Labor Day. The classic of this genre is Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, widely called ‘the most unread book of all time.’”
Ellenberg, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and author of How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking, provided his list of this summer’s candidates for most unread: Flash Boys by Michael Lewis, Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman and Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty.
Of Capital, Ellenberg commented that at 700 pages it may replace Hawking’s Brief History as the most unread book of all time.
BIG ADVANCE: James Rollins’s 20 novels have 6.7 million copies in print. He’s just been paid $15 million to write four more. The New York Times describes his books as “mostly science-fiction action and adventure thrillers.” The new books will be a continuation of his best-selling “Sigma” series. His tenth in that series, The Sixth Extinction, will be out in next month.
Rollins is a veterinarian and he said, “I can still neuter a cat in under 30 seconds.” He volunteers his vet services near his home in Lake Tahoe, Calif.
He also continues to meet with a dozen writers every other week. He said that his success has not inhibited his fellow writers: “Every time I come in, they tear me apart.”
Earlier this week vigilant browsers of Amazon.com were treated to a preview of its new e-book subscription service, Kindle Unlimited. The page, which was quickly taken down, announced that the service would offer “unlimited access to over 600,000 titles . . . for just $9.99 a month.”
Now it’s official. An Amazon press release confirms the numbers above, and announces some high profile offerings in its catalogue.
Subscription services, which allow readers to pay a monthly fee for unlimited access to all the e-books in the service’s catalogue, have been on the rise in recent months. The two leading firms in the subscription market—for now—are Oyster and Scribd, who both released statements welcoming the competition, according to a report by Digital Book World.
by Campbell Geeslin
Mindell Dubansky, a librarian at the Metropolitan Museum, collects objects that look like books—but aren’t books. They are made from wood, plastic, soap, granite, coal, slate, metal, ceramic, wax, and plaster.
The New York Times said, “She once paid $1,200 for an 18th century tea caddy disguised as a stack of books.“ She has “books” by the authors Y.B. Untidy, R. U. Laffin and Dusty Evsky. E. Raser is the author of Right the Wrong. It contains an eraser.
Mock volumes have been produced since 1411. Dubansky said, “Books make you feel important. Books make you feel learned. They reflect to others how you feel about yourself.”
CURSE & BLESSING: Joyce Carol Oates wrote an introduction for a 1988 Writers at Work collection of interviews that had appeared in The Paris Review.
Oates wrote, “Flannery O’Connor, attacked by critics for her ‘dark’ and ‘pessimistic’ vision of life, observed that no writer is a pessimist; the very act of writing is an act of hope. And so it is. And so do most writers perceive it, as a vocation, a privilege, a curse that nonetheless contains a blessing. John Hersey puts it most simply, and most honorably: ‘Writing is the only real reward’.”
DRAMA: The main character in a new Broadway play, Sex With Strangers, is “a 40-ish female novelist.” She has “retreated from the publishing world after being stung by the indifferent reception to her first novel.”
The actress who plays her, Anna Gunn, told The New York Times, “When you feel so deeply about what you’ve chosen to do as a career—that’s a calling and you can’t do anything else—and then you kind of get slapped the first time out, and you see the people around you skyrocketing to fame . . . “
Playwright Laura Eason said the character ”is not someone who’s insecure. She actually feels and knows she is very talented. She just hasn’t gotten the acknowledgment she believes she deserves.”
We want to share with you an open letter on the Amazon-Hachette, written by Richard Russo, novelist and co-Vice President of the Authors Guild.
The primary mission of the Authors Guild has always been the defense of the writing life. While it may be true that there are new opportunities and platforms for writers in the digital age, only the willfully blind refuse to acknowledge that authorship is imperiled on many fronts. True, not all writers are equally impacted. Some authors still make fortunes through traditional publishing, and genre writers (both traditionally published and independently published) appear to be doing better than writers of nonfiction and “literary” mid-list fiction. (The Guild has members in all of these categories.) But there’s evidence, both statistical and anecdotal, that as a species we are significantly endangered. In the UK, for instance, the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society reports that authors’ incomes have fallen 29 percent since 2005, a decline they deem “shocking.” If a similar study were done in the U.S., the results would be, we believe, all too similar.
In an attempt to coax authors and public opinion to its side in its ongoing dispute with Hachette Book Group, Amazon has proposed that both parties give Hachette authors all e-book revenue from sales on Amazon as long as the stalemate lasts.
The offer was made to Hachette yesterday, after it was sent to a small group of writers and agents, among them Authors Guild President Roxana Robinson, who dismissed it as illusory. “If Amazon wants to have a constructive conversation about this, we’re ready to have one at any time,” she told the New York Times. But, she continued, the proposal “doesn’t get authors out of the middle of this.” Hachette also saw through the offer, calling it “baloney.”
Is the groundswell of anti-Amazon sentiment finally getting to the retailer? Guild Council member Douglas Preston’s open letter to Amazon, signed by hundreds of high-profile authors, has been getting its fair share of press in recent days. On the other hand, authors who self-publish through Amazon have started their own petition supporting the bookseller on Change.org.
The bottom line, according to Robinson, is that this dispute must be resolved in a manner that protects authors’ livelihoods. “What writers want is a long-term healthy publishing ecosystem,” she said, “not a temporary windfall.”
In a recent op-ed piece for the New York Times, Authors Guild President Roxana Robinson ventured an answer to one of the thorniest questions faced by writers of fiction. “Who owns the story,” she asks, “the person who lives it or the person who writes it?”
Since authors must draw on the stories of others, they are open to charges of exploitation. Robinson recalls once hearing a critic say, of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, that Stowe had no right to write about the black experience. Drawing on her own experience writing about a young male Marine in the novel Sparta, Robinson reaches a different conclusion, arguing that “it’s empathy”—not exploitation—“that allows a writer to feel her way into someone else’s experience.”
“A writer is like a tuning fork: We respond when we’re struck by something. The thing is to pay attention, to be ready for radical empathy. If we empty ourselves of ourselves we’ll be able to vibrate in synchrony with something deep and powerful.”
See the entire opinion piece here.
Novelist and Authors Guild Council Member Douglas Preston has gathered a grassroots opposition to Amazon; his open letter to the bookseller is currently catching wildfire among the authorial community.
The letter calls on Amazon to resolve its dispute with Hachette without incurring any more collateral damage to authors and readers. “No bookseller,” Preston writes, “should block the sale of books or otherwise prevent or discourage customers from ordering or receiving the books they want. It is not right for Amazon to single out a group of authors, who are not involved in the dispute, for selective retaliation.”
Preston began circulating the letter two weeks ago, hoping to find a dozen fellow authors to add their signatures. Publishers Weekly reports that the list of supporters—still growing—had snowballed to over 300 by this morning, and includes such luminaries as Stephen King, Scott Turow, Nora Roberts, and James Patterson.
Preston, who hasn’t yet sent the letter to Amazon, is still collecting signatures. To add your name to the list, send Doug an email at email@example.com.