by Campbell Geeslin
It was a sad day for the book business when Oprah Winfrey’s book club ended.
Then, last week, the Today Show devoted about five minutes to a new Book Club. The New York Times said publishers “were giddy at the prospect of a potential successor to Oprah’s book club, which in its prime, consistently lifted books to bestseller status.”
The first selection was Samantha Shannon’s The Bone Season, a debut novel with promised sequels. The author is a 21-year-old who just graduated from Oxford. She started writing at 13.
The Bone Season is set in the year 2059 with a heroine who is able to enter other people’s minds. Film rights have already been sold.
The author insisted on TV that all this fuss had become dream-like. “But I hoped for it,” she admitted.
The Today Show plans to feature a new book once a month.
SUSPECT: Because someone at the F.B.I. thought his books had “anti-progress themes,” William T. Vollman was suspected of being the Unabomber. He is the author of 11 books and many articles. His F.B.I. file, opened when he sued under the Freedom of Information Act, is hundreds of pages.
Vollman wrote about this experience in Harper’s Magazine in an article titled “Life as a Terrorist.” Vollman was interviewed on NPR last Thursday. He told the interviewer, “The main thing that I have to hide is that I don’t have anything to hide.”
The Unabomber case was solved, but Vollman’s file was kept open and the F.B.I. considered him a suspect during the anthrax case in 2001—mainly because he had been a suspect in the Unabomber case.
Vollman is a winner of the National Book Award for a book titled Europe Central (2005). His most recent book is An Afghanistan Picture Show: Or, How I Saved the World, published in July.
FIVE MORE: J.D. Salinger died in 2010 at the age of 91. A documentary film and a book to be published September 3, say that the author instructed his estate to publish at least five “secret” works beginning as early as 2015. Last Sunday The New York Times published a photo of the author on Page 1 and a lengthy article inside. Some of the “secret” books are about the characters in his previous stories and books, but there is totally new material too.
“He’s going to have a second act unlike any writer in history,” said Shane Salerno, the co-author of the book Salinger and the film’s director. “There’s no precedent for this.”
HE COUNTS: There is a new kind of fictional character out there, and the claim is that he represents this era.
According to PW, he appears in Drew Chapman’s first novel, The Ascendent. He is “a half-Irish, half-Mexican kid from the slums of Long Beach, Calif. He’s a video-game player, a pot-smoker and a numbers savant.”
Marysue Rucci, editor-in-chief at Simon & Schuster, agreed that the kid “is the perfect antihero for the 21st century.”
Pardon me, but didn’t the late Elmore Leonard (See Deaths below) create enough antiheros for the last century and the 21st century too?
FAT’S BIG: Slender is a plus when it comes to people, but fat books are in style. Kirsty Gunn, writing in The Guardian, said big books signal that they are literature, not just entertainment.
Phillip Meyers’ The Son is 560 pages. Sergio de la Pava’s A Naked Singularity is 876 pages.
Notable at the Edinburg Book Festival were David Peace’s Red or Dead at 720 pages. Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries is 832 pages. Richard House’s The Kills is 1,200 pages.
To justify its price, Gunn wrote, a big book must offer special value. She concluded that a big book “had better change us, make us different from how we were when we started—make us bigger, somehow, ourselves.”
PRIVACY, PLEASE: The late poet Philip Larkin said: “I can’t understand these chaps who go around American universities explaining how they write poetry: it’s like going around explaining how you sleep with your wife.”
ON REALISM: James Patterson, creator of Alex Cross and multiple other titles, was interviewed in The New York Times Book Review of August 25.
He said that thriller writers don’t need to be realistic all the time. “Sometimes I come across reviews carping that a certain thriller isn’t very ‘realistic’ or that such and such a scene ‘would never happen in real life.’ Makes me think of an art critic accusing Klee or Chagall of not being very realistic”
IN HIDING: Alice Hoffman has written more than 30 books. Her most recent novel is The Dovekeepers.
She told The Writer that working on a novel “serves the purpose that reading used to serve for me. I always feel like reading saved my life because it was a place for me to escape.”
For Hoffman, “Writing is like being high because you are not there. You’re experiencing something on a different plane.”
NEXT: After more than 40 years with Simon & Schuster, Larry McMurtry will publish his next novel with Liveright. The title is The Last Kind Words Saloon.
William Grimes, in The New York Times, said the novel will be “a fictional retelling of the friendship between Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday set against an Old West backdrop of barrooms, brothels and cattle ranches.” It’s scheduled for publication in June 2014.
BOOK CLUB: Cartoon by Edward Steed in the August 26th The New Yorker: Four untidy cave people sit around a coffee table. Each is holding a Moses-like stone tablet. One says, “Well, I really enjoyed it, and it definitely made me want to read more by this author.”
ABOUT A SON: Yet another book that started life as a blog is being published. It’s Lori Duron’s Raising My Rainbow: Adventures in Raising a Fabulous, Gender Creative Son, and it is due out September 3.
The son is C.J. His mother told PW, “C.J. tells people he’s a gender non-conformer. It gives him power . . . that there’s a name for his difference, and that there’re other kids out there like him.”
While writing the book, Duron read her early blogs and found “how uncomfortable we were before.” She said, “Rainbow is not a book about parenting—it’s a parenting memoir.”
NEW VENTURE: David Stewart lives in Garrett Park, MD. He is the author of American Emperor, Impeached and Summer of 1787, all histories. His first novel is being published this month. The title is The Lincoln Deception.
Stewart wrote in an e-mail, “I took care to make sure the history is solid, except when I had to make it up—hey! It’s a novel. In giddy moments, I refer to it as The Da Vinci Code in American history.”
TRAVELER: One of Tom Miller’s books is Trading with the Enemy: A Yankee Travels Through Castro’s Cuba. Miller lives in Tucson, Arizona, and conducts trips to Cuba with those he calls “people in the literary and journalistic worlds.” That, he said, includes Guild members who can go as “professional researchers.”
Miller sent an e-mail to say that his next trip will be January 4-11, 2014.
Penelope Casa, 70, died August 11 in Manhasset, Long Island. She was the author of several books on Spanish cooking beginning with The Foods and Wines of Spain (1982). Other titles included Tapas: The Little Dishes of Spain (1985), Delicioso! Regional Cooking of Spain (1996), Paella! Spectacular Rice Dishes From Spain (1999) and La Cocina de Mama: The Great Home Cooking of Spain (2005).
John Hollander, 83, died August 17 in Branford, Conn. The poet was author of The Night Mirror: Poems (1971), Spectral Emanations (1978) and many other collections of his poetry. Poet J.D. McClatchy was quoted in The New York Times obit: “His materials—high intelligence, wit, philosophical depth, technical virtuosity—looked back to an older era of poetry’s high ambition, His work never pandered; it astonished.”
Elmore Leonard, 87, died August 21 in Bloomfield Township, Mich. He was the author of more than 45 novels: westerns and crime genres. The New York Times reviewer Marilyn Stasio praised his “louche characters, deadpan dialogue and immaculate prose style.” He wrote many bestsellers, won awards, and had several novels made into popular movies. Titles included Hombre (1961), The Big Bounce (1969), Glitz (1985), Pronto (1993), and Riding the Rap (1995).
Albert Murray, 97, died August 18 in Harlem. In a Page 1 New York Times obit, he was called “one of the last surviving links to a period of flowering creativity and spreading ferment among the black intelligentsia in postwar America.“ In addition to magazine articles and essays, he wrote nine books, including South to a Very Old Place (1971), The Hero and the Blues (1973) and Stomping the Blues (1976).