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.
MASSAGE MAN: F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “You can stroke people with words.”
DEFINED: “What do people mean when they call a novel ‘Dickensian’? asked Francine Prose in The New York Review of Books. Her new book, Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932, will be published in the spring.
Her answer to the question: “A large cast of vividly drawn characters, some of them grotesques with comically descriptive names and odd tics of speech and behavior; a plucky orphan who overcomes a childhood blighted by humiliating poverty or simple lower-class misery; numerous and ingeniously interconnected subplots; panoramic shifts of location; a narrative that makes the reader finish each chapter eager to begin the next...”
KID STUFF: Poet John Ciardi said, “You don’t have to be a poet to suffer. Adolescence is enough suffering for anyone.”
OVERVIEW: Publishing these days was described as a “bleak wasteland,” in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. Michelle Dean wrote: “Writing a big, imaginative epic, and particularly one aimed at children or that vaguely defined demographic, ‘young adult,’ will get you plenty of money and status in the grown-up population. You’ll get your big Hollywood movie, and you’ll get your New Yorker profile.”
“Cruelly, the gilded age of young-adult literature threatens to suck the life out of the whole thing.”
Later in the essay, Dean wrote: “Most of the Next Big Things appear to have escaped any serious redlining. It seems their ‘editors’ simply pray to the gods of chance that the author lands on a critical featherbed, rather than being thrown to the wolves.”
FILM VERSION: Author Joyce Maynard appeared on TV’s Today Show to talk about how her novel, Labor Day (2013), had been turned into a movie. She was interviewed by Matt Lauer, who observed that many authors complain about film versions of their books.
Maynard claimed that she was thrilled by the movie. She said that the only time she was on the set was on the first day, the last day and one day when she taught actor Josh Brolin how to make a pie. She said, “It’s the sexiest pie scene you’ve ever seen.”
ANOTHER NEWBERY: Last month, Kate DiCamillo was named national ambassador to young people’s literature. On Monday she was handed her second Newbery Medal. This one was for Flora and Ulysses, a story about a squirrel with magical powers.
DiCamillo told The New York Times that the idea for her book began in early 2009. She found a sick squirrel on her front step. She said, “I started to think about ways to save this very interesting squirrel’s life.”
BOOK INTO MOVIE: Sheryl Sandberg’s bestselling memoir, Lean In, has been bought by Sony’s film division. At 44, Sandberg, a Facebook executive, is one of the world’s youngest billionaires.
Can Meryl Streep do a big money accent?
NEW GENRE: Bestselling Chilean novelist Isabel Allende lives in San Rafael, Calif., and has been in the U.S. for 26 years. She has published 20 books and her latest, out this week, is her first mystery. The title is Ripper, and the setting is San Francisco. To get background, she went to a mystery writers’ conference and met detectives, policemen and forensic pathologists.
She told The Wall Street Journal, “People ask me, ‘What do you mean with this book?’ Nothing! There’s no symbolism of any kind, so don’t try to find anything meaningful in there.”
Allende is already working on a new book. She started it on January 8, the date on which she began to write her blockbusting House of the Spirits 32 years ago. But she said, “If I start talking about the book, I don’t have the energy to write it. It sort of dilutes in words.”
ANOTHER: Former President Jimmy Carter will have a new book out in March and the title will be A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power.
The New York Times said it will contain anecdotes from his travels around the world and explores “all aspects of women’s lives.”
IMAGE: Jorge Luis Borges was quoted in The New York Review of Books: “One of a writer’s most important works—perhaps the most important of all—is the image he leaves behind of himself in the memory of men, above and beyond the pages he has written.”
The quote was taken from Professor Borges: A Course on English Literature, a collection of lectures Borges gave at the University of Buenos Aires in 1966, just out in a new English translation from New Directions.
Borges urged students to give up on a book if it bored them. If it did, “that book was not written for you.” Borges believed that “One falls in love with a line, then with a page, then with an author. Well, why not? It is a beautiful process.”
GONE ON AUSTEN: Eudora Welty’s admiration for Jane Austen inspired an essay in Welty's The Eye of the Story: Selected Essays & Reviews (1978), "The Radiance of Jane Austen.”
“The sheer velocity of the novels, scene to scene, conversation to conversation, tears to laughter, concert to picnic to dance, is something equivalent to a pulse beat," Welty wrote. "The clamorous griefs and joys are all giving voice to the tireless relish of life. The novels’ vitality is irresistible for us.”
Welty concludes, “It is not her world or her time, but her art, that is approachable, today or tomorrow. The novels in their radiance are a destination.”
LETTERS: The following quote is from Here and Now: Letters, 2008-2011 by Paul Auster and J.M. Coetzee. Coetzee wrote: “It is not uncommon for writers, as they age, to get impatient with the so called poetry of language and go for a more stripped down style (‘late style’). The most notorious instance, I suppose, is Tolstoy, who in later life expressed a moralistic disapproval of the seductive power of art and confined himself to stories that would not be out of place in an elementary classroom.”
Later, Coetzee added: “One can think of a life in art, schematically, in two or perhaps three stages. In the first you find, or pose for yourself, a great question. In the second you labor away to answer it. And then, if you live long enough, you come to the third stage, when the aforesaid great question begins to bore you, and you need to look elsewhere.”
INSPIRED: Jason Epstein is the former editorial director at Random House. He reviewed Hothouse: The Art of Survival and the Survival of Art at America’s Most Celebrated Publishing House, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, by Boris Kachka, for The New York Review of Books.
Epstein ended his review with, “To regard books and their content reverently is human nature, otherwise how explain the persistence, millennium after millennium, of Homer and the horror we feel when books are burned, as if we ourselves were at stake? Since nothing need be lost in cyberspace, one may hope that Boris Kachka’s wonderful book and its hero survive digitally to inspire generations of online publishers as yet unborn.”
The book’s hero is Roger Straus.
FAN: Gary Shteyngart is the author of a recent memoir, Little Failure. In an interview in Sunday’s The New York Times Book Review, he said, “As literary fiction’s foremost blurber, I will never publicly admit to disliking a book. Do you know how hard it is to write one? Every time I see a writer crying on the streets of Brooklyn, I give her a hug and nine bucks for a latte at Connecticut Muffin. We’re all in this together.”