By Campbell Geeslin
It’s vacation time, and Emma Straub’s new novel is The Vacationers. The Guardian took note of the season by inviting her to list some favorite vacations in fiction.
Straub wrote, “I’ve always liked taking my fictional characters on vacation. As in life, I think it shakes characters out of their routines, which in turn leads to more zippy contradictions and conflicts and, yes, sex.”
Among Straub’s selections were:
Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings, “a portrait of a group of friends, starting one summer at camp and stretching out over the following several decades.” Choices are made that “set the course for the rest of their lives.”
Elaine Dundy’s The Dud Avocado, an American takes a trip to Paris in the 1950s and discovers “that Paris can’t solve all one’s problems.”
Courtney Sullivan’s Maine, in which a family’s cabin is the setting for three generations of women. The landscape is so lovingly described that “you will curse your own ancestors for not thinking to purchase a similar parcel of land.”
Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad has an African safari with “complicated family dynamics, irritating fellow tourists, and a proper animal attack: all the trappings of an excellent holiday.”
TRAILER: Almost three minutes of scenes from the movie version of Fifty Shades of Grey were shown on TV’s Today Show last week. The stars, Jamie Dorman and Dakota Johnson, were on hand to be interviewed. The premiere will be next Valentine’s Day. The Washington Post’s Ron Charles called the movie “wildly anticipated.”
More than 100 million copies of the Fifty Shades trilogy have been sold in more than 50 countries. Charles said the books had “spawned so many essays of cultural criticism that you’d rather be tied up in the Red Room of Pain and whipped with a cat o’ nine tails than read one more.”
IN HOUSE: What happens when a staff editor on The New York Times Book Review writes a book? Amy Rowland’s first novel, The Transcriptionist, is about a young staff member of a newspaper very much like the Times.
Rowland was quoted by the Review’s John Williams. “The characters are inspired by real people—people I made up who are real to me. You can (usually) trust a Times reporter, but never trust a Times novelist.”
The review in last Sunday’s Times was by Amada Eyre Ward, author of four novels, who wrote, “What stays with me in The Transcriptionist isn’t Rowland’s postmodern pyrotechnics, but the ache of relating to a woman who is in the process of recognizing her own despair.”
CUTS: What has happened in the past when a text or illustration appeared that “might upset an unsuspecting reader”? In The Republic, Plato “argued that literature was a breeding ground for immoral behavior. The solution was to keep fiction out of the hands of children (ignorance being the sincerest form of protection).” The quotes are from The Wall Street Journal where Amanda Foreman wrote about editing that amounted to censorship.
The English translation of Plato’s works substituted “beloved” for “boyfriend” to try and avoid any suggestion of same sex goings-on.
More recently, cutting and pasting has “proven popular in some quarters.” Smoking became a no-no, so Santa’s pipe was removed from the poem ‘T’was the Night Before Christmas. An ashtray was erased from the classic Goodnight Moon.
SPOONS? TV scriptwriter and actress Lena Dunham has produced a book, Not That Kind of Girl. Her promotional tour, starting in New York on Sept. 30, is almost sold out. Dunham was paid more than $3.5 million for the book.
The 11-stop tour will have the author on stage with writers Mary Karr (in Boston), Curtis Sittenfeld (in Iowa City), Carrie Brownstein (in Portland) and Zadie Smith (at BAM in Brooklyn). The New York Times said, “Fans can still try to squeeze in via a . . . contest which invites people to audition to be Ms. Dunham’s opening act at a number of stops by submitting a brief video showing their proficiency at ‘singing, comedy, musical spoons, etc.’”
A BOOK TOO: “Unlocking the Truth” is the name of a young musical group from Brooklyn: Malcolm Brickhouse, 13, Alec Atkins, 13, and Jarad Dawkins, 12. They were a hit on YouTube, and a contract for an album is in the works. They are writing a book for G. Putnam’s Books for Young Readers.
Charisse Jones is helping out with the book, The New York Times said. She worked with ballet dancer Misty Copeland on her memoir, Life in Motion.
NEW SERIES: Chelsea Cain has just published One Kick, the first novel in a new series featuring a character called Kick Lannigan, 21. This character was kidnapped at the age of six and rescued five years later.
Cain told PW: “I’m interested in the exchange of power between characters; I set up conditions—abductor and abductee, serial killer and detective—that just take this dynamic to the extreme. But the power is always shifting. I guess it’s the shifting that interests me most. Who has the upper hand and when.”
She also said, “Memory is a fiction we tell ourselves, just a piece of the truth.”
RESCUED: Stephan Eirik Clark spent 13 years writing a novel, Sweetness #9. He is a creative writing professor in St. Paul. He had the misfortune of having the book listed on Amazon as “currently unavailable” because of the current problem between Amazon and Hachette, Clark’s publisher.
TV’s Stephen Colbert rode to the rescue and urged viewers of “The Colbert Report” to order the book in advance from independent booksellers. Overnight, the novel, which will be out in August, became No. 3 on Powell’s Books bestseller list.
“It’s a little bit surreal,” Clark said in a New York Times quote. “You can’t expect it and when you get it, you’re not really sure what to think about it.”
NO FAULT: Julie Strauss-Gabel is editor and publisher at Dutton. She arrived there in 2002, just in time to work on John Green’s Looking for Alaska.
She told PW that the success of that book “taught me to be loud. To discover that confidence is a huge part of being an editor and a huge part of being a publisher: learning to trust my gut.”
She has edited all of Green’s novels. He told PW, “Her editorial letters are famously intimidating.” Green recalled that, after she had read the first draft of what became The Fault in Our Stars, “I think the letter began with a single sentence about how the novel was in moments very interesting and ambitious. Then came twenty pages of relentless critical analysis that forced me to rethink everything about the story.” Published in 2012, Fault has sold more than a million copies. The big hit movie version didn’t hurt.
VARIETY: Dean Koontz, author of The City, is a familiar name on bestseller lists. The New York Times Book Review said he had written horror, sci-fi, thrillers and mysteries. He added “love stories, comic novels, and stories with a spiritual edge. “
Koontz told the Times, “I’ve never felt that I write in any genre. . . . I’m only doing what all writers felt free to do before the paperback revolution, before publishers aggressively Balkanized fiction into genres for marketing purposes. We forget that Mark Twain wrote a time-travel story, that John P. Marquand won a Pulitzer for The Late George Apley but also wrote Mr. Moto mysteries. If I had to write the same thing time after time, I’d become a plumber.”
FAVORITE: Bill Gates, that man with all the billions, wrote an article entitled “My Favorite Business Book” for The Wall Street Journal. The book he praised is John Brooks’s Business Adventures, recommended to him by Warren Buffett, a friend with a few billion of his own.
The chapters that make up Brooks’s book were first published in the 1960s as articles in The New Yorker. “Brooks wrote long articles that frame an issue, explore it in depth, introduce a few compelling characters and show how things went for them,” Gates said. “John Brooks’s work is really about human nature, which is why it has stood the test of time.”
CHIPS: Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote, “Nature, when she invented, manufactured and patented her authors, contrived to make critics out of the chips that were left.”
THE LAST ONE: James Parker is a contributing editor of The Atlantic. He was asked by The New York Times Book Review, “What are the last literary taboos?”
Parker wrote that obscenity, blasphemy, and profanity were no longer taboo and there was only one forbidden thing remaining. He described it as, “A gray shape, sitting on an upturned popcorn bucket, with a finger up his nose. He looks like somebody waiting for a piano tuner to arrive, to tune a piano he doesn’t own. He is Boringness, last of the taboos, and the villagers won’t touch him.”