by Campbell Geeslin
In 2012, booksellers and publishers “were surprised and angered” when Pulitzer Prize officials, for the first time in decades, failed to award a fiction prize, depriving them of the bump in sales the award has guaranteed for decades.
This week, booksellers and publishers are sighing in relief. The 2013 fiction prize went to The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson. It is set in North Korea, where today’s young dictator, very much in the news, threatens an atomic blast.
Other promising payoffs in the letters division included winners of the history prize: Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam by Fredrik Logevall; biography: The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss; nonfiction: Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America by Gilbert King, and poetry: Stag’s Leap by Sharon Olds.
Publishers of the all the above ran advertisements. Four of the five winners were published by Random House divisions.
LECTURE: At least one successful author is being treated like a great cello soloist. Da Vinci Code writer Dan Brown will talk of “symbols and secrets” at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall on May 15. Ticket buyers will get a copy of his next book, Inferno. Fans at cello concerts go ungifted.
LONG LIFE: Truman Capote once told an interviewer, “After Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which ended a whole cycle of books, they said, ‘Oh, Truman Capote is finished.’”
Six years later he published In Cold Blood.
More than two decades after his death, Breakfast–with much of Capote’s dialogue from the book intact—lasted 17 previews and 38 Broadway performances. Sometimes a book really is the best.
THE NO, NO BOOKS: Every year, about this time, the American Library Association issues a list of the books most “frequently challenged,” by would-be censors. In 2012, these included Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher, Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James, Looking for Alaska by John Green, the Scary Stories series by Alvin Schwartz, Beloved by Toni Morrison and The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.
The public scolding certainly hasn’t hurt Walls. Her booklist, led by Castle, got a full page advertisement in the Times last week with the banner head: “Celebrating 6 Years on The New York Times Bestseller List.” The ad boasted that four million copies of Castle are in print.
P.S.: Sherman Alexie, included in the above list because of his Diary of a Part-Time Indian, had an hour-long chat about his books with Bill Moyers on PBS-TV. Alexie read a poem that said, several times over, that the four president heads carved on Mount Rushmore were “silly.”
ON FAME: Julie Klam is the author of several books, including You Had Me at Wolf and Friendkeeping: A Field Guide to the People You Love, Hate, and Can’t Live Without. Her writing for cable’s Pop-Up Video earned her an Emmy.
Klam has written a book that PW says reveals “that being famous is nothing like we thought it was.” It is due out next year.
GRANTA’S LIST: A dozen women made Granta’s list of the Best of Young British novelists announced last week. Most of the “20 Writers Under 40” cited have foreign roots: Pakistan, Nigeria, Hungary, China, Australia and Jamaica.
Critic Stuart Kelly, one of the Granta judges, wrote in The Guardian, “The list shows that the novel can be both realist and meta-fictional, post-colonial and domestic, avante-garde and traditional.”
NEW MODEL: The independent London publisher, And Other Stories, is setting up a New York office.
Founded in 2010 with a focus on contemporary international fiction, the house publishes a small list of English originals and works in translation, using a subscription model “on the principle that great new books will be heard about and read thanks to the combined intelligence of a number of people: editors, readers, translators, critics, literary promoters and academics.” Subscribers sign up to be sent two, four or more listed titles in advance, with no idea what they will be getting (in quality paper editions or e-book form).
The house made a splash last year with Deborah Levy’s Swimming Home, which had been passed on by several big houses as “too literary to prosper in a tough economy,” and was then shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. And Other Stories’ Fall/Winter 2013/2014 list includes works by authors from Brazil, Argentina, South Africa and Switzerland. Its 11 Commandments of publishing can be perused here.
GENRE: Remember Goliath, the Bible’s favorite bully? Mark Twain knew a thing or two about bullies as well. But now we are in a true Golden Age. Books about bullies qualify as a genre these days, a bit like chick-lit a few years back.
Elizabeth Bird of the New York Public Library told The New York Times that this fall “we are seeing bullying titles coming out as never before, and there is no end in sight.”
Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones, young YA authors, who share a Facebook site called “Young Adult Authors Against Bullying,” have put together an anthology of essays called Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories.
SPY GUY: Book critic Dwight Garner brought the career of John le Carré, 81, up to date in Sunday’s Times Magazine (April 21). The crusty old spy novelist said that his family was “under strict orders to speak up if they think I am not writing well any longer, because at this point I could write the telephone directory and get money for it.”
LITERARY STROLLS: Want to walk in the footsteps of some great writers and see if it elevates your prose?
The Times Sunday Travel (April 21) named some writers and the walks that inspired them. Proust followed the route of John Ruskin in Venice; Virginia Woolf summered in St. Ives and walked the shoreline, admiring the lighthouse; Nabokov chased butterflies in the South of France, and Baudelaire “made an art of walking the streets of Paris.”
WRONG COLOR: Last week’s New Yorker remembered Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick with a cartoon by Mick Stevens. It shows a peg-legged seaman at the rail of a sailing ship surveying an ocean and a great red whale. The caption said: “Another disappointment for Captain Ahab.”
DEATH: Al Newharth, 89, died last Friday (April 19) in Cocoa Beach, Florida. The mastermind behind U.S.A. Today believed in giving newspaper readers what they said they wanted—in small doses. He was the author of a memoir: Confessions of a S.O.B.