by Campbell Geeslin
With schools starting to open this time of year, the Times Book Review offered many pages of comment about that timely subject.
Asked to recommend a favorite book about schools, Times staffer Ariel Kaminer, said, “A great many books have recently come out that ask hard and necessary questions about higher education. Its value. Its impact on America’s class structure. Urgent issues, of course. But for favorites? I have to go with Don DeLillo’s novel White Noise. A savagely funny send-up of academia (and the hyper-specific anxieties it can engender) that does not ever stoop to outright ridicule.
AGE APPROPRIATE: The latest genre in publishing has been christened New Adult. It was started by authors who wrote about characters newly landed in young adulthood. The first books were published digitally and offered at low prices because the major houses wouldn’t touch them. But there was an audience that quickly turned them into bestsellers.
Tessa Woodward, an editor at Morrow and Avon, told PW: “The plot of the story can be as crazy as you could possibly imagine as long as the voice and the characters keep you turning the pages. As long as writers keep finding fresh ways to address the very popular tropes, readers will keep coming back for more.”
PW pointed out that New Adult novels also had a lot of graphic sex.
PROTEST: More than 1,000 writers in Germany, Austria and Switzerland signed an open letter to Amazon, accusing it of manipulating its recommended reading lists and lying to customers about the availability of books. The New York Times said this was “retaliation in a dispute over e-book prices.”
Nina George, one of the organizers of the protest, said, “We are not against Amazon, but for a fair book market, which means that Amazon is not our main enemy, but their methods are really bad and unfair.” Germany is Amazon’s largest market outside of the U.S.
WINNER: Last week, American Ann Leckie’s first novel, Ancillary Justice, won the Hugo award at the 72nd World Science Convention in London. The Guardian said the novel was “a space opera narrated by the artificial intelligence of a starship.” The book has also won a Nebula award, the Arthur C. Clark Award and the British Science Fiction Association Award.
Leckie lives in St. Louis, Mo., with her husband, children and cats. On her blog she shifted from science fiction to write about cilantro: “I don’t care about what herbs might be in style, I just like good food. And cilantro isn’t good food.” Later she added that cilantro “tastes like a mouthful of soap. Ick.”
LIKE NONFICTION: Ben Mezrich is the author of Seven Wonders. It will be published in September. PWasked him where he got the idea for writing a novel about an anthropologist who explores the Wonders of the World.
Mezrich said, “To me, writing a thriller like this is very similar to writing nonfiction; the process includes interviews with experts, historians, anthropologists, and grave diggers.”
Later he said, “I’ve got two more Grady (the hero) novels in the planning stages. . . . Jack Grady is a character I’d like to grow with. He likes to get his hands dirty, and it’s a damn big world.”
MAGIC MAN: Lev Grossman is book critic for Time magazine. His new book is The Magician’s Land, and he wrote about how he discovered that he wanted to write fantasy in an essay in The New York Times.
He wrote, “There’s a certain kind of respect that fantasy simply doesn’t get. But writing about magic felt like magic. It was as if all my life I’d been writing in a foreign language that I wasn’t quite fluent in, and now I’d found my mother tongue. It turned out I did have a voice after all. I’d had it all along. I just wasn’t looking for it in the right place.”
P.S.: Grossman was quoted again in Sunday’s Times Book Review. He denied that he had gotten anything from the Harry Potter books. Grossman said, “I borrowed the whole structure of The Magicians from [Evelyn] Waugh: the way they progress from this innocent idyll at Oxford, with hints of impending darkness, to going out in the world and just getting totally wrecked by it.”
BACKGROUND: Jodi Picoult’s latest novel, Leaving Time, will be published in October. The bestselling author has written 21 novels that have been translated into 34 languages in 35 countries. She’s 48 and lives in Hanover, NH, with a husband and their three children. She loves to travel and does a 30-city tour for almost every book.
Picoult told PW that she researches her topics extensively. “Whether it’s medicine or law, I go out and learn what I need to know from the people who know it. Something that I find interesting might not be a good topic for me to write about at that moment; it has to strike something personal in me.”
For Leaving Time, she studied elephants at a Tennessee sanctuary and elephant herds in Botswana.
HELP FROM WILL: The last volume in Ian Doescher’s trilogy, a mixture of Star Wars and William Shakespeare, landed on the bestseller list. The title is The Jedi Doth Return. The book was written in iambic pentameter.
PW quoted the first line: “Once more into the Death Star, dear friends.”
THAT WORD: For many decades the “f” word never appeared in The New Yorker. Founding editor Harold Ross never allowed it, and editor William Shawn followed his lead.
In recent years, it has begun to be accepted, and in the August 25 issue, the dam burst. James Wood wrote about James Kelman, a Scottish writer who won the Booker in 1994. His book’s title was the poetic How Late it Was, How Late.
Wood wrote, “It was reckoned that ‘fuck’ occurs four thousand times in the novel, twenty-one in the first three pages alone.”
Wood quotes all of a Kelman short-short story, “The Man for Fucks Sake,” that is only 13 lines long. The word that Ross and Shawn never allowed appears four times. Sometimes it has an “ing” added. Wood says it is ordinary usage in parts of Scotland.
I remember it was in constant use during my years in the Navy. It rarely seemed to be used as a verb or have anything to do with sex.
AT THE MET: Ben Lerner is the author of 10:04, a novel due out September 2. Scenes in the book are set in the Prado, the Picasso Museum in Barcelona and New York’s Metropolitan Museum.
The New York Times’sParul Seghal interviewed him at the Met while he looked at a painting of Joan of Arc. He pointed out flaws such a hand melting into paint. Lerner said, “What interests me about fiction is, in part, its flickering edge between realism and where a tear in the fabric of a story lets in some other sort of light.”
Later, he added, “Fiction isn’t an escape into an imaginary world. It’s about little redescriptions of the world that we exist in; it’s the power to imagine different futures.”
CATS & DOGS: Sophie Blackall is the author of The Baby Tree. In a review of picture books about dogs in The New York Times Book Review, she, a cat lover, wrote:
“As a child I learned all sorts of things from picture books. I learned about family and friendship, losing a tooth, moving house, and of course, about cats and dogs. I learned that dogs are slobbery but loyal and can rescue children trapped in wells, and that if you somehow become separated from them they will cross thousands of miles on bleeding paws to reach you. Cats are prim, selfish and full of disdain, but soft to pet. Cats are clever, dogs are goofy. Cats eat mice. Dogs eat bones. Oh, and cats are girls and dogs are boys. Even when they’re not.”