by Campbell Geeslin
Like the main character in his novel Grendel, John Gardner (1933-1982) has just about disappeared in the mists of time. For several years he was a major figure in American literature. Now, he and his almost 30 books seem to have vanished.
In addition to being a prolific novelist, critic and reviewer, he was an admired and influential writing teacher, a regular at Breadloaf and a mentor to Raymond Carver. After his death, his lectures were published in On Becoming a Novelist (1983).
In it, he observed: “A poet to practice his art with success, must have an ear for language so finely tuned and persnickety as to seem to the ordinary novelist almost diseased. The short story writer, since the emotional charge of his fiction must reveal itself quickly, has a similar need for compression, though a need less desperate than the poet’s. In the novelist, a hypersensitive ear may occasionally prove a handicap.”
FRIENDS: Wally Lamb’s most recent novel, We Are Water, hit the bestseller lists upon publication. His first two novels, She’s Come Undone (1998) and I Know This Much Is True (2008) received effusive endorsements from Oprah and became mega-sellers.
In a Writer’s Digest interview, Lamb said, “In some ways [writing] is very childlike. I had imaginary friends when I was a kid. And as a 63-year-old guy, I still have them. What are fictional characters, if not your imaginary friends?”
DIARY MAKING: The following is from the opening pages of Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea (1964), the novel as diary critics have said defines Existentialism:
“This is what I have to avoid. I must not put strangeness where there is none. I think that is the big danger in keeping a diary. You continually force the truth because you are always looking for something.”
THE FUN STUFF: Boris Fishman is a journalist, essayist, and author of a nonfiction book, The Creative Writer. His first novel is A Replacement Life, due out in June.
Fishman told PW, “When you write fiction, you’ll start a sentence using something in your experience as a departure point, but before the sentence has finished—if it’s a good sentence—it will have taken you to a new place involving things that may never have happened in real life.”
Later, he said, “I really enjoy creating characters who are largely positive, but who sometimes do things that make you not like them for a moment, because that’s what real people are like. There are no saints and few villains, and the fun stuff is in the middle.”
FIRST BOOK: All Joy and No Fun is the title of a book about parenting by Jennifer Senior. In Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, Gregory Cowles quoted from Senior’s acknowledgments in All Joy: “Writing your first book is not unlike the early days of raising your first child. You’re awed by the magnitude and meaning of this new undertaking, certainly, but also housebound, perpetually preoccupied and (perhaps worst of all) presumed to be competent at something you know essentially nothing about.”
LIFE AS RESEARCH: Jane Green’s 15th novel is Tempting Fate. She works in The Writers’ Room in Westport, Conn., the town where she lives with her husband and their children. She was interviewed for Wag, a Westchester, N.Y., magazine. Her bestselling novels, she said, “tackle the problems that face—and can empower—real women.”
She told Wag that her editor, Jennifer Enderlin at St. Martin’s Press, asks for many revisions and that it “has made me fall in love with writing again. I actually really love seeing how the book changes and seeing how much better it can be.”
Green has a contract to write two books a year. She says, “My research literally just involves talking to my friends and talking to friends of theirs,” she says. “I’m just fascinated by people and what they do, and why they do it and how it turns out. I do my research through living.”
QUOTE: In an unsigned review of The UnAmericans by Molly Antopol, The New Yorker included a quote from the book. A character asks her granddaughter, who keeps writing stories about the older generation, “Why don’t you go out in the sun and enjoy yourself for once, rather than sitting inside, scratching at ugly things that have nothing to do with you?”
POEMS: A dozen lullaby poems by Margaret Wise Brown were found in a trunk in her sister’s barn. Brown, the author of Goodnight Moon (1947), died in 1952. Sterling executive editor Meredith Mundy told PW, “We worked [on the poems] from what were really quick rough drafts, some of which were scribbled on the back of napkins or were fragments written on trains during Margaret’s travels.”
The new poems, to be published this month, are illustrated by 12 different artists.
ONE SENTENCE: Teju Cole is the author of Every Day Is for the Thief, to be published March 25. In an interview in Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, he said, “I cherish James Salter’s short stories, and his every sentence.”
That endorsement sent me to my copy of Salter’s collection, Dusk and Other Stories (1988). The first sentence of a story “American Express”: “It’s hard now to think of all the days and nights, Nicola’s like a railway car, deep and gleaming, the crowd at the Un, Deux, Trois, Billy’s.”
Un, Deux, Trois, where I used to have lunch, is still on West 44th Street.
NEW SITE: A new website, offtheshelf.com, is made up of reviews, interviews and articles about books that are at least one year old. Carolyn Reidy, chief executive of Simon & Schuster, said the website is about books “that you may have missed in the often overwhelming number of titles that get published every year.” Books by many publishers will be featured, The New York Times reported.
LAUGH LAST: The 2014 Pubic Library Association Conference was scheduled for March 11-15 in Indianapolis.
Association president Carolyn Antony told PW in advance that the programs would end with David Sedaris. She said, “Everyone is sure to leave laughing.”
SEASONAL: Charles Simic’s poem “Dear Spring” was in Sunday’s The New York Times T Magazine. It ended:
“While we stamp our feet and wipe our noses here,
Worrying the wood for the stove is running out,
The snow on the roof will bring the house down.”
CANCELED: Last week it was reported that John Lefevre’s twitters about gossip in Goldman Sachs’ elevators was going to be a book--fiction published as nonfiction.
Last Thursday, The New York Times said that Simon & Schuster had canceled the deal. Lefevre told The Times, “If they want to back away from a signed contract, be my guest, nothing changes. It has always been a fun hobby, and the book will come out anyway.”
AN ENDING: Dr. Sherwin B. Nuland’s book, How We Die (1994), won a National Book Award for nonfiction and sold a half million copies.
His memoir, Lost in America (2003) told of his Russian emigrant family, poor and plagued by illnesses and deaths. His mother died when he was 11, and his father was chronically ill. Nuland learned later his father had syphilis.
Nuland died March 3 in Hamden, Conn. He had served as chief surgical resident at Yale-New Haven Hospital. Other books included The Wisdom of the Body (1997) and The Doctors’ Plague (2003).
Nuland was quoted in the Times obituary: “And so, if the classic image of dying with dignity must be modified or even discarded, what is to be salvaged of our hope for the final memories we leave to those who love us? The dignity we seek in dying must be found in the dignity with which we have lived our lives.”