by Campbell Geeslin
Jeffery Deaver’s latest mystery is The Starling Project. He has published 35 novels and sold 40 million copies of them, but this new “book” is coming out as an audiobook only. In a Page 1 article, The New York Times said, “If Mr. Deaver’s readers want the story they’ll have to listen to it.”
Deaver said, “My fans are quite loyal. If they hear I’ve done this and that it’s a thriller, I think they’ll come to it.” He told the Times that he hadn’t had a clue about how to write a sex scene for audio. “Do we have a zipper sound? Two shoes hitting the floor?” They went with swelling music.
There are no plans to have a printed version of the book. Deaver said, “There are so many time-wasting alternatives to reading out there, and authors are up against formidable competition. . . This is an easier way for people to get access to good storytelling.”
THE HEAP: Samantha Harvey’s new novel is Dear Thief. Several quotes from it are included in a review by James Wood in the December 8 New Yorker. The book’s unnamed narrator is a divorced woman, in her 50’s. She works in a nursing home.
The novel is a letter to the former friend who stole her husband, the thief in the title: “You would think that living is a kind of scholarship in time, and that the longer we live the more expert we become at coping with it, in the way that, if you play tennis enough, you get used to coping with faster and faster serves. Instead I find that the longer I live the more bemused I become, and the more impenetrable the subject shows itself to be. I sit on a heap of days.”
BOOK BUYERS: President Barack Obama and his daughters, Sasha and Malia, went Christmas shopping at the Washington, D.C., Politics and Prose bookstore. The annual event was covered by the press and TV.
The family trio bought 17 books, including several for children. At the checkout counter, the family faced a copy of The Stranger: Barack Obama in the White House by Chuck Todd. The jacket cover has a photo of the President on it. Malia commented, “Looks like a sad book.”
THE MEXICAN WAY: The Guadalajara International Book Fair ended Dec. 7. It had 19,000 book professionals and 750,000 public visitors. PW said it was not like the fairs in London or Frankfurt—“it is conducted in a more relaxed style.”
FAST-FOOD LIT: How about a little literature with your tamales? Buy your lunch at a Chipotle, a Mexican-fast-food franchise, and read a snippet of "ennui-alleviating" prose by 10 famous writers printed on Chipotle bags and cups. In a guest column in The New York Times, Teddy Wayne reported that the famous-author-product promotion was suggested to Chipotle by Jonathan Safran Foer. Toni Morrison and Malcolm Gladwell are among the contributors.
Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball, said during an interview on TV, “It pays very well to write a Chipotle cup.” But Lewis added, “My greatest fear is this is what I’m going to be remembered for.” He noted that he also got a card that entitled him to eat free, with guests, for a year at any chain location.
TV interviewer Conan O’Brien said, “That’s how we honor our writers in this country. Other countries give them, like, a Nobel Prize. We give them a year’s supply of fast food.”
FOR CHILDREN: Marjorie Ingall, a columnist for Tablet magazine, wrote in The New York Times Book Review about holiday books for children.
She said, “The holidays are so unpredictable. Some years you’re stuck on an iceberg with your menorah; some years you’re cowering in a muddy border trench facing German soldiers; and some years you’re kidnapped by a vaguely demonic wooden horse named Trott-trott. You just never know.” The books she reviewed “offer very different perspectives on wintertime adventures.”
SURPRISED: Tana French’s fifth novel, The Secret Place, was published this fall. It is a murder mystery. French is a former actress who grew up on several continents.
She told PW that she “stays faithful to the characters.” She didn’t know who committed the murder in The Secret Place until she wrote it. She said that her stories are as much of a surprise to her as they are to the reader.
French, who is Irish and lives in Dublin, writes several hours a day, six days a week. Each novel takes her about two years. She has written a third of her next one.
NO MORE POETRY: Michael Coffey is a former co-editorial director of PW. The author of three books of poetry, he has now written a book of short stories, The Business of Naming Things. The publication date is in January.
Coffey told PW, “This book began as a memoir, with my trying to search for some kind of identity. Having been adopted, this is where my search began. . . Many of these stories deal with fathers and sons, and my experience, of course, is of both. I came to understand that, rather than truth telling with the facts, having the freedom to write these fictional stories allowed me to find my footing and a kind of moral center.”
Later he said, “When I found out who my birth parents were in 2006, I didn’t write any more poetry. I was interested in story—what was my story?”
POETRY: In The New Yorker, the poet Dan Chiasson listed many titles that named a poem and continued with, “and Other Poems.” He was reviewing a new book, The Poem She Didn’t Write and Other Poems by Olena Kalytiak Davis.
Chasson wrote that such titles “conjure a world in which poetry was a game played across the ages, masterpiece versus masterpiece. The struggle was dynastic, the combatants were male, unless, like Plath, they had internalized (in Plath’s case, tragically) the patrilineal rules for advancement. Anthologies were printed and syllabi distributed, and so the canon was formed.”
LARKIN’S WAY: In a letter to The New York Times Book Review, SaraKay Smullens wrote of her puzzlement about a Clive James review of a biography of the poet Philip Larkin. She wrote, “What James does not get his head around or grasp in the slightest, is that the poetry of a genius like Larkin, combined with what no doubt (this review suggests) was dirty talk as he did whatever he did, no matter how limited, can take a lady over the moon.”
ON THE ROAD: In an essay about the year’s travel books in The New York Times Book Review, Andrew McCarthy, author of The Longest Way Home, writes that “even once sleepy places like poor Provence have become hackneyed and played out.”
McCarthy continued: “There is, of course, nothing new under the sun. Since everyone now chronicles his travels for any and all to read about, as well as serves as his own National Geographic photographer, the genre of travel writing has had to morph and stretch to maintain any currency.” The six travel books he reviewed help “illuminate why travel, and travel writing, still matter.”
MORE TRAVEL: Jan Morris’s most recent book is Ciao, Carpaccio! Asked in an interview for the Times’ Book Review to name her favorite travel writers, she said: “Colin Thubron for his lyricism, Paul Theroux for his professionalism, Robert McFarlane for his Macfarlanism and grand old Patrick Leigh Fermor, who died in 2011, for his irrepressible joie de vivre.”
LAUGH: Bruce Handy, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, wrote about humor books in Sunday’s New York Times Book Review. He said, “Most art doesn’t command attention past a generation or two, because most art isn’t very good. Nonetheless, it sometimes feels as if comedy in any guise—written, visual, staged, filmed—is the most evanescent art of all, especially given the binary response it provokes, either amusing you or not. A book or painting or drama that no longer speaks to us can be shrugged off, but an unfunny joke grates—comedy might be dismissed by some as a lower art form, but in a weird way we hold it to a higher standard."