by Campbell Geeslin
Steven Pinker, a Harvard psychologist and prolific writer, is the author of a new book, The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century.
In an interview with Scientific American, Pinker said, “The main difference between good writing and turgid mush—academese, corporatese, and so on—is that good writing is a window on the world. The writer narrates an ongoing series of events which the reader can see for himself, if only he is given an unobstructed view.”
Scientific American said of The Thinking Person’s Guide that Pinker “shows readers how to take apart a piece of fine writing to see what makes it tick.”
HUNGRY? Randall Munroe’s bestselling What If? has a subtitle: “Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions.” Sunday’s New York Times Book Review quoted from the back cover: “Humans can’t digest the cellulose in paper, but if we could, eating this book would give you about 2,300 calories (including the cover).”
JUST AN ONLOOKER: A film version of Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice premiered at the New York Film Festival. The novelist refuses to be photographed or interviewed so there is always interest in any information that surfaces about him. The question of the moment was: Does Pynchon appear in a cameo role in Inherent Vice? Director Paul Thomas Anderson refused to say either yes or no.
Actor Josh Brolin, one of the film’s stars, was quoted on Pynchon in The Guardian: “He came on [the set] as the kind of mercurial iconoclast that he is. He stayed in the corner.”
SLANG: Kory Stamper is a lexicographer and editor for the Merriam-Webster dictionaries. She wrote an op-ed page article for The New York Times entitled “Slang for the Ages.”
Stamper said, “English is fluid and enduring: not a mountain, but an ocean. A word may drift down through time from one current of English (say, the language of World War II soldiers) to another (the slang of computer programmers). Slang words are quicksilver flashes of cool in the great stream.
“Some words disappear and others endure. “
INSPIRED: Dennis Lehane is the author of 11 novels, including Mystic River and The Drop. He wrote about influences on his writing in The Wall Street Journal.
Lehane said: “When I turned fourteen in the summer of 1970, three galvanizing influences hit me—reading Richard Price’s urban masterpiece, The Wanderers, seeing Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets and hearing Bruce Springsteen’s “Jungleland” from his 1975 album Born to Run....
“I started writing seriously at age 15, and 'Jungleland'—a neon-washed love story between two doomed souls—was a big influence.”
Lehane said he once met Springsteen backstage after a concert and saw sweat pouring from the musician’s jacket. Lehane found an implied message: “If work comes too easy, you did something wrong.”
FOUND GUILTY: A court in China found writer and economic professor Ilham Tohi guilty of bewitching his students. He also “exploited foreign forces to create pressure to make Xinjiang an international matter.” Last May, Tohi was awarded the 2014 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award.
Tohi was sentenced to life in prison. PEN American Center held a vigil last week.
WINNER: Brooklyn’s John Kenny, 52, won the $5,000 Thurber Prize for his Truth in Advertising, an account of the corporate culture he knew from his many years as a copywriter. The judges praised “the wit, accuracy and punch of this smart novel.”
Ron Charles, editor of The Washington Post’s Book World, wrote, “Funnily enough, no woman has ever won the prize in its 14-year history.”
ON THE ROAD: “In an era when author tours and splashy book parties have grown increasingly rare,” The New York Times said, “[Lena] Dunham has organized a traveling circus of sorts.”
The 11-city tour will promote Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl, her first book. Each program will open with acts that Dunham selected from videos submitted to her. She saw videos of a ukulele player, gymnasts, and stand-up comics. She told the Times, “I want it to have an arts festival feel, which is why we now have all these remarkable, special weirdoes who I found on the Internet.”
Literary agent Russell Galen was quoted in the Times: “The mere fact that someone is successful in this vastly larger medium [TV] makes publishers and editors go all aquiver at the prospect that we may be able to tap into this behemoth world that we’re normally cut off from.”
Tickets for the Dunham's appearances are $38, and include the $28 book. All sold out.
ANTI-AMAZON: Some of the world’s most distinguished authors, including Nobel Prize winners, have joined hundreds of other writers to protest Amazon’s mistreatment of Hachette writers. Philip Roth, Orhan Pamuk, Salman Rushdie,
V.S. Naipaul and Milan Kundera have signed on.
Ursula K. Le Guin wrote in an e-mail to The New York Times: “Amazon is using censorship to gain total market control so they can dictate to publishers what they can publish, to authors what they can write, to readers what they can buy. This is more than unjustifiable, it is intolerable.”
CONFERENCE: Hybrid publishing was the main topic for discussion at the annual Christian Fiction Writers Conference in St. Louis. It centered on authors who publish “via some mix of digital, indie and traditional means,” PW said.
Robin Lee Hatcher, author of more than 70 books, was given the Lifetime Achievement Award. Hatcher lives near Boise, Idaho, and according to her Internet bio, enjoys “reading books that make her cry.”
THE POWER OF BOOKS: “Can a book transform a reader’s life for the worse?” The New York Times asked. More than a thousand readers responded, and “the resounding answer was yes.”
Cited No. 1 was Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, “a book that has the power to turn a person into a cold, heartless human being.” Mein Kampf was second and the Bible was third. Other books named were The Catcher in the Rye (“it still depresses me”), the Fifty Shades series (“wasted time”), the Twilight series (“felt my I.Q. drop 20 points”) and self-help books. One reader said that Ulysses made her “feel very insecure about my ability to read.” David Huskins said his life was changed for the worse by The Weight Watchers Cookbook.
DEMYSTIFYING THE SOUTH: Historian James M. McPherson is the author of Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief. He taught nearly 40 years at Princeton and was asked by The New York Times Book Review: “If you had to name one book that made you who you are today, what would it be?”
McPherson said: “C. Vann Woodward, Origins of the New South, 1877-1913. Coming of age in Minnesota in the 1950s, I saw the South as a mysterious almost foreign land. Woodward’s book, and his other books and essays, helped to demystify the region.”
ANOTHER BOND BOOK: Anthony Horowitz is using unpublished material by the late Ian Fleming to write a new James Bond novel. The title is Murder on Wheels and publication is next September. Fleming wrote the plot outline for a TV series that was never produced because of the success of the Bond movies.
Horowitz, author of the bestselling Alex Rider series and takes on Sherlock Holmes, told The Guardian that “having original, unpublished material by Fleming has been an inspiration. This is a book I had to write.” Fleming wrote 14 Bond books, and more than 100 million copies have been sold worldwide.
P.S.: Cryptic comments set in capital letters and scattered throughout the text in advance copies of Horowitz’s newest novel, Moriarty, may have puzzled some readers. Sarah Lyall explained them in a Times article titled “The Case of the Unexpected Messages”: They were exchanges between Horowitz and a copy editor, published by mistake in the galleys.
Lyall’s reaction: “it is interesting to see firm authorial pushback in action. He just wants things the way he wants them. And he comes straight to the point: ‘I’M NOT CHANGING THIS.’”