by Campbell Geeslin
If ever there was a man who is quotable, it is Clive James, 75, the London critic, poet, TV host and guest, stage personality, novelist, autobiographer—and then some.
He was the subject of a profile titled “A Writer Whose Pen Never Rests, Even Facing Death” by Steven Erlanger in The New York Times.
James is suffering from leukemia, emphysema and kidney failure. He said he could “use up a lifetime supply of anything in two weeks.”
He told the Times, “like all writers who write poems, I would like it most if I were remembered for those—but it might not happen.”
He once compared Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie “Pumping Iron” to “a brown condom filled with walnuts.”
A recent James book is Unreliable Memoirs. He said, “the Australians and British see it as a vision of Arcadia, although the Americans have never taken to it. They don’t like that word ‘unreliable.’ For the U.S. edition, I should have called it Totally Reliable Memoirs.”
CLASSICS: There are now 520 works of Greek and Latin literature available on a digital platform developed by the Harvard University Press.
Tom Holland, writing in The Wall Street Journal, said, “From Homer to St. Augustine, [the Harvard platform] provides access (for a subscription fee) to the manifold glories of classical Greek and Latin. For authority and completeness, nothing rivals it among the other online resources in the field.” Holland’s most recent book is a new translation of The Histories of Herodotus.
FILTH: Does a filthy beginning of a story make you want to read on? Johanna Leggatt wrote an essay on that subject in The Guardian. She said that Christos Tsiolkas, author of the bestselling novels Barracuda (2014) and The Slap (2010), had opened his new collection of short stories with the following: “My mother is best known for giving blowjobs to Pete Best and Paul McCartney in the toilets of the Star-Club in Hamburg in the sixties.” The title of the story is “Hair of the Dog.”
Leggatt wrote, “The importance of a story’s opening paragraph cannot be overstated: if the author can immediately conjure a world the reader will want to dive into, [he sets] up a solid foundation of trust between reader and writer.”
Leggatt went on to wonder if “some readers will be so affronted by the language they won’t stick around long enough to find out.”
NEW IMPRINT: Amazon’s top-selling author Barbara Freethy has started a new imprint, Hyde Street Press, to ease her books into a print format. She has written almost 50 romance novels and sold 4.3 million e-books. PW said her output includes three series: The Callaways, Angel Bay, and the Wish Series.
CELEBRITY SELLS: Publishers are aware that a celebrity’s name and photo on a book jacket can sell copies. Three books on the current bestseller lists are by actors: Alan Cumming's Not My Father’s Son, Neil Patrick Harris's Choose Your Own Autobiography (with David Javerbaum) and Cary Elwes's As You Wish (with Joe Layden). Apparently, only Cumming had no help worth mentioning.
RESEARCH: The Keystone is a publication of the Wittliff Collections and Library in San Marcos, Texas. The fall edition carries an article about Cormac McCarthy to accompany an exhibition of a portion of the archive that McCarthy has given to the Wittliff.
The prize-winning author of The Road and No Country for Old Men did extensive research for his fiction. McCarthy read J. Frank Dobie’s works about scalp hunters while he was working on Blood Meridian. The Keystone said, “On exhibit are McCarthy’s carefully annotated passages in Dobie’s writing and samples of how McCarthy later adapted those sections into his own work.”
WARNING: At a recent panel, hosted by PW, a number of publishers warned that “the overwhelmingly white make up of the industry threatens its long term viability.”
BIO: Emmanuel Carriere, 56, is the author of a biography: Limonov: The Courageous Adventures of the Radical Soviet Poet Who Became a Bum in New York, a Sensation in France, and a Political Antihero in Russia. The book was published last week in the U.S. and Carriere was interviewed for The New York Times.
Carriere said of his subject, “After two weeks, I knew even less than before what I thought about him—first, if I liked him or disliked him, and if I thought he was quite a good guy or a villain.”
The book is written, the Times said, “in a galloping third person.” And Carriere admitted, “I made no fact-checking. If I am wrong, I don’t care. I know it’s not very American.”
HORROR: Cemetery Dance Publications publishes modern horror, 25 to 40 books a year. The New York Times singled it out last week for a Halloween article.
The managing editor, Brian James Freeman, told the Times, “[Horror] was my first love as a young reader. The summer I turned twelve, I stumbled upon a secret stash of Stephen King books hidden away in the bookcases in our basement.” (Cemetery has published many Stephen King books in limited editions.)
The same article included a mention of the Centipede Press, a one-man operation founded by Jerad Walters that publishes illustrated editions of both vintage and current horror writers. Walters said he started publishing newsletters and comic strips in the fourth grade. “Making books was always something that I wanted to do.”
WRITING WHAT SHE KNEW: Stephanie Danler, 30, is the author of a first novel, Sweetbitter. She worked as a waitress, and when she finished her novel she told a regular café customer, Peter Gethers, an editor at large at Penguin Random House. He said the usual: Have your agent send it to me.
Gethers picked up the manuscript when it came in. He read ten pages and said, “Oh, my God, this woman is an extraordinary talent. One doesn’t see a lot of first novels like this, or any novels like this.”
Danler had worked at several restaurants while she earned a masters degree in creative writing at the New School. The novel is about “the glamorous, cutthroat and sometimes seedy world of elite Manhattan restaurants.”
Knopf plans to publish it in 2016.
QUOTES: “Andrew Wylie, arguably the most powerful literary agent in the world—who once described himself as a ‘ravenous dog’—has now sunk his teeth into Amazon, describing the online retailer as a sort of Isis-like distribution channel.’”
The quote is from an article about a speech Wylie gave to an authors’ meeting in Toronto. The Guardian published his remarks.
Wylie criticized publishers for agreeing to give Amazon 30% of digital profits “but was adamant that the tide was turning against the online giant.”
Last March, Wylie said, “If you have a choice between the plague and Amazon, pick the plague.” Amazon was asked to respond, but it did not.
MYSTERIES: Bruce Springsteen is the author of a picture book, Outlaw Pete. He was asked by Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, “If you had to name one book that made you who you are today, what would it be?’
Springsteen said, “One would be difficult, but the short stories of Flannery O’Connor landed hard on me. You could feel within them the unknowability of God, the intangible mysteries of life that confounded her characters, and which I find by my side every day. They contained the dark Gothicness of my childhood, and yet made me feel fortunate to sit at the center of the swirling black puzzle, stars reeling overhead, the earth barely beneath us.”
DEATH: Poet Galway Kinnell, 87, died Oct. 28 in Sheffield, Vt. In 1982, he was awarded both the Pulitzer and a National Book Award. All the books he wrote between 1960 and 2008 are still in print. He was quoted in a New York Times obit: “Probably more than most poets I have included in my work the unpleasant, because I think if you are ever going to find any kind of truth to poetry it has to be based on all of experience rather than on a narrow segment of cheerful events.”
Back about 1857, France’s Charles Baudelaire made a similar comment in one of three draft prefaces he wrote for his famous collection of poems, Flowers of Evil. He said that “poetry is like the arts of painting, cooking and cosmetics in its ability to express every sensation of sweetness or bitterness, beatitude or horror, by coupling a certain noun with a certain adjective, in analogy or contrast.”