by Campbell Geeslin
If you visit your editor in her (or his) office, you may soon find that you can no longer shout at her (or him). When she (or he) tells you to cut out those three paragraphs you spent a week on, polishing them to perfection, you must behave.
If all publishers go the Hachette way, your editor will work in a no-privacy cubicle. At Hachette, chief executive Michael Pietsch, has given up his private suite for a six-by-seven-foot cubicle. One of 519 identical cubicles for company employees.
There was room, however, for Jonathan Mahler from The New York Times to sit and interview Pietsch in his new office. The top man told the reporter, “I looked into the future and thought, ‘Are profits going to be easier to come by or harder?' I think they’re going to be harder. We need to save as much money as we can and still have a nice office.”
Pietsch admitted that he had given himself a window.
AN OLD QUESTION: Marilynne Robinson wrote about her bestselling Housekeeping in The New York Times. She remembered, “I thought I was writing an unpublishable book, so I was undistracted by other considerations than my own interest in the workings of memory and the ability of language to evoke what I ‘saw’ in memory. I found that the common old question, ‘What was it like?’ stimulated recollection and recruited words and images that made my sense of the thing remembered, a place or a smell or the glint of light on water, much more accessible to me than I could have anticipated. . . . I wrote much of the book in a darkened room.”
DEFINITION: Poetry, said the late poet Ted Hughes, “is a revealing of something that the writer doesn’t actually want to say but desperately needs to communicate, to be delivered of.”
BIG FAIR: This year's Miami Book Fair runs from November 16 to 23. More than 500 authors will be featured. Expected attendance will be 200,000.
In the past, C-Span’s Book TV covered the fair, and the emphasis was on nonfiction. This year PBS will stream it live for three days (November 21, 22, 23) and fiction is expected to be included.
Rich Fahle, executive producer of the PBS coverage, was quoted in The New York Times: “We were looking for something a little bit different, with more energy.” He said the event was “an amazing collection of people and stories in one place.” Jeffrey Brown of PBS NewsHour and author Kelly Corrigan will host.
GONE COMIC: Gillian Flynn’s novel, Gone Girl, continues as a big bestseller. Now Flynn has written a story, “Masks,” that will be published as a comic book in February. The New York Times said the story “chronicles the life of a mother who dons a ‘Happy Homemaker’ mask and a track suit to give her son’s bully a taste of his own medicine.”
The story was originally published last April in The Guardian.
AWARD: Nominees for The Literary Review's annual award for “the most egregious passage of sexual description in a work of fiction” were announced in The Guardian.
A passage from Richard Flanagan’s much-praised The Narrow Road to the Deep North was quoted: “He kissed the slight, rose-colored trench that remained from her knicker elastic, running around her belly like the equator circling the world. As they lost themselves in the circumnavigation of each other, there came from nearby shrill shrieks that ended in a deeper howl.”
A large dog interrupts the couple’s pleasure.
LOOKING TO BE FREE: Next month, 75 first editions, each annotated by its author, will be auctioned to benefit PEN.
One participating writer is Philip Roth. He revisited Portnoy’s Complaint in Sunday’s New York Times and wrote that the book was “the fourth of 31 books. In writing it, I wasn’t looking for my freedom from anything other than the writer I had started out to be in my first three books. I was looking not for my catharsis as a neurotic or as a son, as some suggested, but rather for emancipation from traditional approaches to storytelling. While the protagonist may be straining to escape his moral conscience, I was attempting to break free from a literary conscience that had been construed by my reading, my schooling and my fastidiousness—from a habitual sense of prose decorum.”
CODE CRACKER WANTED: “Decoding the Renaissance” is the name of an exhibit that opened last week at Washington’s Folger Shakespeare Library
One of the books on display is the Voynich Manuscript, on loan from Yale. Beautifully illustrated, the volume’s text is in a language that scholars have failed to decipher since the 15th century. Ron Charles of The Washington Post wrote, “Perhaps the thousands of spies slinking around Washington, D.C., can finally crack the code.”
BEAR WRESTLER: Comic actress Amy Poehler’s Yes Please hit No.1 on the hardcover bestseller list. She was quoted in an interview with Canada’s The National Post. “Writing is like wrestling a bear," she said. "It’s hard, manual labor. It’s very blue-collar. There’s nothing fancy or sophisticated about writing a book. [Still,] like any hard thing, once it’s over you forget all the pain and do it again. . . . I finished another book last night.”
ANOTHER AWARD: Bestselling Chilean-American author Isabel Allende will be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House on November 24.
Sixty-five million copies of her 21 books in 35 languages have been sold. The Guardian noted that previous literary recipients include Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou.
NAUGHTY WORDS: “The book that dare not speak its name gets a followup with the publication of a sequel to the sleeper hit of 2011, Go the F*k To Sleep,” The Guardian reported. It sold 1.5 million copies. The author was Adam Mansbach.
His sequel is You Have To F*ing Eat, and it is read by British actor Stephen Fry in a video on the Internet. I checked it out and heard the F word (and the four-letter S word) lovingly emphasized too many times to count.
Mansbach, who wrote three literary novels before his big hit picture book, was interviewed last week in The New York Times. He said, “For a literary novel to have this kind of readership would be practically impossible, sadly. It is weird that before this, the thing I was best known for by a much smaller group of people was writing fiction that dealt with race, with whiteness, with white privilege, with hip-hop.”
FAMILIAR VOICE: Richard Ford’s new novel, Let Me Be Frank With You, is the fourth to have fictional Frank Bascombe as the narrator. Bascombe first appeared in short fiction in Esquire magazine. Then in 1986, he narrated The Sportswriter.
The first paragraph of that novel doesn’t fool around with any fancy prose. Ford began the book with, “My name is Frank Bascombe. I am a sportswriter.”
ADVICE: Padgett Powell, author of Edisto, wrote about remembering Donald Barthelme. The late Barthelme was Powell’s creative writing teacher at the University of Houston. The article is in a university publication.
Barthelme observed, “The main strategy is to say something new using two syllables or two words not heard in a while, perhaps never heard together, perhaps not heard before.”
Barthelme instruction: “Give them a clean, perfect manuscript.”
Another Barthelme observation: “A good editor will stop reading if you show her a usage error or a typo.”
A DRAMA DID IT: Somali author Nuruddin Farah is the author of Hiding in Plain Sight. He teaches at Bard and was interviewed in Sunday’s New York Times Book Review. He was asked to name the book that made him what he is today, and he said, “I would say that reading Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House just as I embarked on writing my first novel, From a Crooked Rib, made me the writer I am today.”
Asked what he planned to read next, Farah said, “I am planning to read Smilla’s Sense of Snow, by Peter Hoeg, and The Circle of Reason, by Amitav Ghosh, the two novels I’ll be teaching in the coming weeks.”
MISSED SHOT: The December edition of Vanity Fair suffered from deadline embarrassment. It featured a major article about Amazon vs. just about everyone else in publishing a few days after the dispute had been settled.
Vanity Fair’s article ended with the author, Keith Gessen, and a lawyer looking out an office window in Seattle. Geesen wrote that the lawyer “pointed at the dozens of yellow and red construction cranes that rose in spikes above Seattle all the way to the water. He made sure I was looking and said, ‘That’s all Amazon.’”