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.”
SECRET: A reader sent this quote from Edna O’Brien: “There is a hidden criminality in writing. While you are doing it, it is your secret.”
NEW TRAINER: For some time now it has seemed as if almost every biography of a new writer included the information that he or she attended the Iowa Writers Workshop.
Now, there are several authors who were trained—not in Iowa—but by creating narratives while playing computer games like Dungeons & Dragons.
Junot Diaz, whose The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao won the Pulitzer in 2008, is a notable example. But The New York Times also listed China Mieville (The City & the City), Brent Hartinger (Geography Club), Cory Doctorow (Little Brother), Sherman Alexie (The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian), Stephen Colbert (I Am America, (And So Can You!)), Sharyn McCrumb (Bimbos of the Death Sun), and Scott Stossel (My Age of Anxiety).
Diaz told the Times that while gaming D&D, he “learned a lot of important essentials about storytelling, about giving the reader enough room to play.” Diaz said he believes, “I’m not sure I would have been able to transition from reader to writer so easily if it had not been for gaming.”
SHE DOES IT: Bella Andre’s latest romance is Always on My Mind. She has sold more than 3 million self-published e-books. She and her husband and two children have homes in Northern California and the Adirondacks.
She was interviewed for Writer’s Digest and ended up giving some advice: “I think the big thing is that it’s just never been a better time to be a writer. It’s a world of opportunity. You can do whatever you want. You can do it how ever you want. . . . It’s amazing. I don’t have to convince anyone. I don’t have to sell anyone on it. I don’t have to run it by an agent or a publisher. I’ll just do it.”
COMMAND: In a cartoon by David Sipress in the July 21 New Yorker, a king in a crown sits on his throne. He scowls fiercely and says to a soldier, “I’m concerned about my legacy—kill the historians.”
HANGOVERS: Authors and alcohol keep surfacing as a subject of interest. Sam Kean, author of The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons, wrote in the Wall Street Journal:
“Kingsley Amis once distinguished between physical hangovers and metaphysical ones. Physical hangover needs no introduction: Queasiness, headaches, that rundown feeling. In contrast, metaphysical hangovers are more personal and psychological: ‘that ineffable compound of depression, sadness . . . anxiety, self-hatred, sense of failure, and fear for the future’ we experience while reliving a night out. It’s a useful distinction. Lord knows alcohol has physical effects, but booze can carve us up mentally as well.”
BIG SELLERS: In Japan, two books of photo images of hamsters’ bottoms have sold nearly 40,000 copies. The title of one of the books is Hamuketsu—So Cute You Could Faint. A third book on that subject will be out later this month,
Jun Hongo wrote in the Japan Real Time blog, “Male hamsters appear to be more popular because they have bigger and rounder buttocks.”
ON THE SET: The late actor Philip Seymour Hoffman starred in a film version of John le Carré’s A Most Wanted Man. It opens at theaters this week. Le Carré wrote an article about the making of the movie for the Sunday New York Times Arts & Leisure section.
Le Carré said, “There’s probably nobody more redundant in the film world than a writer of origin hanging around the set of his movie . . . .Alec Guinness actually did me the favor of having me shown off the set of the BBC’s TV adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. All I was wanting to do was radiate my admiration, but Alec said my glare was too intense.”
LETTER: A reader of the Sunday Times Book Review, Steven S. Berizzi of Norwalk, Conn., wrote a letter to the editor about Hillary Clinton’s Hard Choices. He said, “If the First Amendment permitted it, a federal statute might prohibit all major officeholders from publishing insipid, self-serving and insufficiently revealing memoirs while still active in public life, but would require every one of them to create a completely candid account for the historical records shortly after retirement.”
SEA TALES: Jonathan W. Jordan is the author of Lone Star Navy: Texas, the Fight for the Gulf of Mexico and the Shaping of the American West. He wrote in The Wall Street Journal: “Naval histories for the popular audience are scarcer than their terrestrial counterparts. One reason is that the geography of sea warfare is, literally, fluid: tourists and historians cannot photograph or gawk at stone markers commemorating, say the engagement of Nova Scotia between the American frigate Alliance and the HMS Atalanta in 1781. Naval battles are so measured in ships captured and sunk, not cities taken or battlefields held and lost. And the tangible effect of sea engagements on land wars is hard even for veteran strategists to fathom, leaving history lovers with only a fuzzy idea of why control of the sea matters.”
OBSERVATION: In his new biography of Tennessee Williams, John Lahr wrote that the late playwright had “made a spectacle of his haunted interior.” The book’s title is Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh.
THRILLER: Daniel Silva’s new spy thriller, The Heist, got a big send off last week with a full page advertisement in The New York Times and an interview on television’s Today Show.
Shortly after his TV appearance, Silva wrote about it on his Web site: “I got a chance to talk about my new book [and] the possibility of a Gabriel Allon movie.” Allon is a fictional art expert and spy who has solved a lot of mysteries in 14 of Silva’s 17 books.
ON POETRY: Last Sunday’s New York Times Book Review concentrated on contemporary poetry. Columnist John Williams looked back in the files and came up with a 50-year-old quote from John Malcolm Brinnin’s review of John Berryman’s 77 Dream Songs. The poet was described as “a verbal sculptor who pretends like mad that he’s mad.” Brinnin wrote, “dreams, like movies, accommodate ellipses, allowing objects and fields of interest to shift and change instantaneously.”
TRAINED: Amy Bloom is the author of two novels and two collections ofstories.A new novel, Lucky Us, is out at the end of this month. Her Web page says she teaches at Yale.
Before Bloom became a writer, she was a psychotherapist. She was asked what impact that had on her writing, and she told PW: “It’s a great gift. It was the training to listen, to observe. Those skills are very much what you need as a writer. Keep your mouth shut and see what’s happening around you. Don’t finish people’s sentences for them. Don’t just hear what they say, but also how they behave while they’re saying it. That was great training for writing.”
EARLY WORK: Elmore Leonard died a year ago. A collection of 15 unpublished stories, written while he was working at a Detroit ad agency in the 1950s, will be released in the fall of 2015. Jennifer Schuessler in The New York Times described Leonard as “the wise-cracking, adverb-murdering, grand old man of crime fiction.”