by Campbell Geeslin
Gabrielle Hamilton is a chef, restaurant owner and the author of Prune and Blood, Bones and Butter. In an interview with Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, she said, “The perfectness of reading is when a book hits you and you hit it and during those hours you are completed in a way you have never been before. The you you were when you started the book is no longer; you are changed forever after; you become somehow denser, more solid and yet clearer and cleaner and more organized in your heart and mind at the same time.”
A SIMPLE LIFE: Literary critic James Wood of The New Yorker wrote in the November 24 issue: “Modern literature is mostly written not by aristocrats but by the middle classes. A certain class confidence, not to say imperiousness, can be heard in well-born writers like Nabokov and Henry Green; Tolstoy’s famous line about Ivan Ilyich—‘Ivan Ilyich’s life had been most simple and most ordinary, and therefore most terrible’—represents surely a count’s hauteur as much as a religious moralist’s lament.”
AN ENGLISH VERSION: Last month a writer practically unknown outside his native France was awarded the Nobel Prize. Patrick Modiano has written nearly 30 works of fiction, "said to be so similar in style and subject," the Wall Street Journal reported, that they “read like chapters of a single, ongoing book.”
Modiano himself said of his novels that “often the same faces, the same names, the same places, the same sentences come back from one to another like the motifs of a tapestry that one has woven half in sleep.”
Suspended Sentences (1988), a collection of three novellas, is being published in U.S. by the Yale Press. WSJ said the stories are “an account of the narrator’s childhood years under the inattentive care of his absentee parents’ friends, three peculiar women who then dropped out of his life for good.”
FIRST NOVEL: Atticus Lish, 43, is the author of a novel, Preparation for the Next Life. He was interviewed by John Williams of The New York Times. Lish’s father Gordon Lish is the now-retired, long-time “fabled editor” at Knopf, but his son claimed, “I didn’t know how to get published.” He sent his manuscript to Tyrant, a small publisher, where it was accepted. Williams described the young Lish’s prose as “alternately sensitive and brawny.”
The plot is a love story, with the setting mostly New York: “From far away, they heard a rumbling that grew louder and louder until it reached them and the subway came thundering over their heads and screeched and slowed and came smashing to a stop. It exhaled and all the doors opened and the cold white light from inside the cars was cast down from high up above and the intercom spoke.“
CAT TALES: It has been said that no book about a dog has ever lost money. There are seven books about dogs published to every three about cats. But three books about cats are on The New York Times’ list of bestselling animal books. They are Catification by Jackson Galaxy and Kate Benjamin, Cat Sense by John Bradshaw, and A Street Cat Named Boy by James Bowen.
Bradshaw says that there are three cats for every dog on the planet.
UNREAL: Jonathan Franzen has written a new novel. It won’t be published until September 2015 but The Guardian treated the announcement like a major news event. The title is Purity, the name of the main character, who is looking for her father. She’s called Pip.
The author’s Freedom and The Corrections each sold more than a million copies. Jonathan Galassi, publisher of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, said that this new novel has “a kind of fabulist quality to it. It’s not strict realism. There’s a kind of mythic undertone to the story.”
Sight unseen, The Guardian has already put the book in the running for next year’s Man Booker Prize.
EDITING WORDSWORTH: Book critic Michael Dirda wrote in The Washington Post: “William Wordsworth once described poetry’s ideal diction as that of a man speaking to other men. Today we would make that ‘men and women.'“
FEMALE PROBLEM: Emma Jane Unsworth lives in Manchester, England. She is the author of a novel, Hungry, the Stars and Everything (2011), Animals (2014) and many short stories.
In a blog for The Guardian Web site, Unsworth wrote, “Monstrous men are more welcome in serious fiction, but create an unlikeable female character and you’re in for trouble.
“Female writers are too often conflated with their characters, as though women aren’t granted the same imaginative capacities [as men]; after all, how could a woman possibly create a monster without being one herself? There’s a redactiveness here, a critical meanness. We have a way to go before female characters can head out, undefined by gender, to seek the impossible meaning of it all.”
BIG LEAP: In August, sales of children’s and young adult books jumped 20.9%, according to PW.
MUSIC MEN: Martyn Waites is the author of a dozen novels of crime fiction including Speak No Evil (2011). He is an amateur musicologist and wrote about the role music can play in crime fiction in The Guardian.
“Like many other writers,' said Waites, "I give my lead character the same tastes as [I have] so it’s easy to use songs I know to create [a] kind of emotional shorthand while I’m working. The tone of the music seeps into and informs the writing. It can soundtrack a scene, create an atmosphere in a few sentences where whole paragraphs would have to be used otherwise. Elmore Leonard and George Pelecanos are the undisputed masters of this, giving a scene an immediate sense of time and place just by what they’ve got playing on the jukebox in the background of a scene and their character’s cultural responses to it.”
Could you ever have guessed that my radio is playing Bach this month?
AT THE TOP: The top books of the year were selected by PW’s reviewers and editors. The book on the magazine’s cover was Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James.
Listed first among children’s picture books was My Grandfather’s Coat by Jim Aylesworth. The young adult book singled out was The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean by David Almond.
SPEECH: Ursula K. LeGuin, 85, was awarded the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at the National Book Award ceremony last week. She has published 22 novels, more than a dozen children’s books, and many volumes of poetry, translations and short stories.
The New York Times said that she “took publishers and writers to task for bowing to corporate pressures to make books more profitable.”
She said, “I have had a long career and a good one, and here at the end of it, I really don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river.” Could she have been referring to a certain stream in South America?
NEW SHOP: A bookstore has opened in Greenwich Village. Its name is Bureau for General Services-Queer Division. At the “christening,” the performer and visual artist Gio Black Peter wore only black boxers and read a poem while standing between two beer-drinking men.
One of the owners, Greg Newton, told The New York Times, “The Bureau needs to be a very lively, active space where people come to hang out, kind of like a salon. We can’t just put books on a shelf and wait for people to buy them.”
PICTURE BOOK: Novel Interiors: Living in Enchanted Rooms Inspired by Literature will be published next month The author is Lisa Borgnes Giramonti.
A photo of overflowing library shelves looks as inviting as Louisa May Alcott’s “wilderness of books,” where Jo March liked to retreat. Rooms full of unfinished projects reminded Borgnes Giramonti of Virginia Woolf’s pleasure for some creative chaos of one’s own. “It means that there’s life and soul and action and ideas,” the author told The New York Times.
DEATH: Richard Eder, 82, died November 21 in Boston. He was an admired writer for The New York Times and a book reviewer for it and The Los Angeles Times. His obit said his reviews were “known for their vivid, sometimes startling imagery and informed by his professional travels, for their familiarity with and advocacy of global literature.” He was awarded a Pulitzer for his criticism in 1987, when working for the L.A. Times.