by Campbell Geeslin
Lydia Davis writes stories that are shorter than short-shorts. Some can be as brief as a single sentence. Last week, Davis, who lives in upstate New York, was awarded the $90,000 Man Booker International Prize. She is the author of a novel, The End of the Story (1995), and four story collections. The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis came out in 2009.
One of the Man Booker judges said her work was described as stories “but could equally be [called] miniatures, anecdotes, essays, jokes, parables, fables, texts, aphorisms or even apothegms, prayers or simply observations.”
BLURRED BORDERS: Is the line between young-adult fiction and adult novels about to disappear? Publishers Weekly traced the beginning of the end to the moment when adults weren’t ashamed to be seen reading a Harry Potter book on the subway.
Justin Cronin, the author of The Passage and The Twelves, sees a broader blurring of generational borders. “Thirteen isn’t what it used to be," he wrote in The New York Times Book Review, "nor, apparently is the 30 it’s become.
“Finding a manuscript that will satisfy both audiences has become the holy grail of publishing. It’s a tricky line to walk and few succeed.”
One line that remains firmly in place is that between books for small children and those for children at the beginning of adolescence. Meghan Cox Curdon, who writes about children’s books for The Wall Street Journal, described that moment “when puberty approaches and self-consciousness intrudes and it is no longer easy, or even possible to disappear into a saga of one’s own making simply by picking up a doll or a figurine and moving it about.
“This alteration is in some respects the real tragedy of adolescence, one that is felt most keenly by children of about 12 (give or take a year), who can sense themselves being forced out of Never Neverland whether they like it or not.”
One book that has gripped both adults and children for more than 100 years is Rudyard Kipling’s Kim (1901). For adults, it’s rich historical fiction set in India. The hero is a half-caste orphan boy and spy courier. Children as young as eight have found it a spellbinding tale of adventure.
Magic is about the only ingredient that Kim and the Harry Potter books share. Is a little magic all it takes?
TWO WORDS: The title of Sheryl Sandberg’s mega-selling Lean In has gained “a toehold in the cultural vernacular, but the phrase seems to have taken on a life of its own, even among (perhaps especially?) those who have not read the book.”
Motoko Rich made that observation in The New York Times and added: “’Lean in’ is the idiom of the moment for headline writers, the Twitterati and New Yorker cartoonists.”
The phrase, used in sports, is a metaphor for “embracing risk.” Now, Rich said, “the phrase can mean most anything.”
Okay, the time has come for you to lean in on that manuscript that lies half-finished on your desk.
ON HIS OWN: After two well-reviewed novels published by Random House had disappointing sales, Jon Clinch self-published his third, The Thief of Auschwitz.
The experience resulted in an e-book, Unmediated Ink, Lessons from the Self-Publishing Revolution, recently excerpted in PW. “Despite the glitches," Clinch wrote of the difficult, demanding process, "the book [Thief] is launched; it’s selling and that’s that. . . . I’ve made some mistakes, and next time I’ll do better. Perhaps by then the system will have improved a little. I can always hope. I always do.”
TAKING NOTES: Paul Theroux’s most recent travel book is The Last Train to Zona Verde. In an essay for The Wall Street Journal, he wrote, “It seems to me that all serious writers are note-takers.” He insists that no one can remember everything. Notes are vital or the best moments may be lost forever.
He warned: “No electronics, you see. No Palm Pilot, no Memo app in an iPhone, no voice recorder, no video, no contraption, no wires—just ink and paper.”
Theroux gave samples of notes made by Charles Dickens and Vladimir Nabokov and recommended a small notebook that fits in your pocket and will not fall apart. Take two pens, he said, because you will lose one. Be as unobtrusive as possible because people “generally don’t like being quoted.”
He concluded that a notebook becomes “an indispensible artifact . . . glowing with revelation.”
DAYDREAMER: Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son won this year’s Pulitzer for fiction. The award pushed the paperback version onto the bestseller lists.
A couple of years ago, Johnson told the Arizona State University alumni magazine that he got his love for writing while he was a student there. On Sunday, The New York Times Book Review picked up quotes from the Arizona article:
“As a young man, I was often told that I was a daydreamer, a rubbernecker, an exaggerator,” he said. “But in a fiction class all the things I had been criticized about came together to create something meaningful. That was a very powerful feeling for me.”
BUCK FIND: The manuscript for the novel The Eternal Wonder, by Pearl Buck, was completed shortly before she died in Vermont in1973. It was discovered recently and will be published for the first time on October 22.
Buck was the author of 100 books including novels, nonfiction and opinion. (One critic commented that her output was about 70 books too many.) Her most famous bestseller was The Good Earth. She won both a Pulitzer and the 1938 Nobel Prize for Literature.
SEE IT NOW: Jane Austen went to an art exhibit on May 24, 1813. She wrote about it in a letter to her sister. Now, 200 years later, that exhibition has been reconstructed online and called “What Jane Saw.” Janine Barchas, a professor at the University of Texas who led the project, told The New York Times, “It’s the closest thing to time travel on the Web.”
Joshua Reynolds portraits of many of the era’s famous people hung on the walls. Lord Byron and the prince regent attended the opening. If People Weekly magazine had existed, the event could have filled a single issue with the celebrities in attendance.
WRITER’S HOME: George Orwell spent five years in Burma (now Myanmar) as a police official. It was there that he wrote his first novel, Burmese Days. Now keepers of the Orwell flame want his shabby home in a remote area of Myanmar restored so it can be visited by his fans.
Has the café sink where Orwell washed dishes when he was down and out in Paris been turned into a shrine?
WHO DID IT? Jack the Ripper murdered five poor prostitutes in 1888 London. The identity of the serial killer has never been settled, but the number of possible suspects mentioned over the years is approaching 250. They include authors, artists, actors, a royal surgeon, police commissioners and Queen Victoria’s grandson, Prince Albert Victor.
The number of books written about bloody Jack runs close behind. Donald Rumbelow’s The Complete Jack the Ripper, is due out in June, and a handful of others are on the way. A hundred and twenty-five years later, PW noted, the “case is still open.”
LAST CLASS: Simon Critchley is an author and philosophy professor at the New School in Manhattan. His books include The Faith of the Faithless and On Humour (Thinking in Action). This spring he taught a “Suicide Note Writing Workshop.”
Critchley, 53, told a New York Times reporter (who sat in on the last class) that the workshop was “a way of mocking creative-writing workshops. We’re not mocking suicide. We’re doing this as a way to understand it.”
Students were given 15 minutes to write their own suicide notes. One wrote: “I am sorry, most to my dog. Love, Lauren. P.S. Please don’t bury me in Los Angeles.”
PRIZE WINNER: Haynes Johnson, 81, died Friday (May 24) in Bethesda, Md. The journalist and TV commentator won the 1966 Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the civil rights movement in Selma, Alabama. He was the author of more than a dozen books on American life and politics, including In the Absence of Power (1980), Sleepwalking Through History: America in the Reagan Years (1991) and The Age of Anxiety: McCarthyism to Terrorism (2005).
GOOD-BYE, LYLE: Bernard Waber, 91, died May 16 in Baldwin, N.Y. His most famous book for children is Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile (1965). A former designer and layout artist at Life magazine, where he worked for 20 years, Waber illustrated all 33 of his books. More than 1.75 million copies have been sold world-wide.