by Campbell Geeslin
Miranda July’s arrival as a first-time novelist made a big splash in The New York Times. The book’s title is The First Bad Man and publication date is January 13. July, 40, lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their two-year-old son. She is an artist, an actor, screenwriter, film director and author of a book of stories, No One Belongs Here More Than You (2007).
She was the subject of a major article on the front of the Times’s Art section last Friday and the “By the Book” interview in Sunday’s Book Review. On Friday it was revealed that she is planning a large-scale work of art for exhibition in London next year. She said, “What’s most comfortable for me is to know that the next thing I’m going to do is completely different. That’s my security blanket.”
In the Review, she was asked what drew her to the work of Lydia Davis, Steven Millhauser and Amy Hempel. July said, “They are liberating writers, writers who make you feel like you can write (even if you can’t really). They seem to show seams, process, unfinished thoughts, and that gives dignity to one’s own imperfections. One starts to feel that if her imperfections are perfect, then maybe mine are too.”
ABOUT THE ESSAY: Phillip Lopate is the author of an essay collection, Portrait Inside My Head. He wrote in The New York Times Book Review, “The great promise of essays is the freedom they offer to explore, digress, acknowledge uncertainty; to evade dogmatism and embrace ambivalence and contradiction; to engage in intimate conversation with one’s readers and literary forebears; and to uncover some unexpected truth, preferably via a sparkling literary style.”
Lopate was reviewing Charles D’Ambrosio’s Loitering: New and Collected Essays.
GONE: “Just call it the Gone Girl effect,” wrote Sarah Hughes in The Guardian. “Following the success of Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel and the recent acclaimed David Fincher-directed film adaptation, fiction in 2015 is set to be dominated by unreliable women.”
Hughes has looked ahead and observed that “this year’s most compelling reads are all about lost girls, some of whom . . . turn out to have a core of steel in their soul.”
SURVEY: Members of PEN around the world “consider freedom of expression to be under significant threat . . . in democratic and nondemocratic countries.” In a survey of PEN members reported on in The New York Times, “Some 75 percent of respondents in countries classified as ‘free,’ 84 percent in ‘partly free’ countries, and 80 percent in countries that were ‘not free’ said that they were “very’ or ‘somewhat’ worried about government surveillance in their countries.”
MISTAKE? An atlas destined for Middle Eastern schools that erased the state of Israel drew such immediate, heavy criticism that the publisher, a subsidiary of HarperCollins, promised to pulp the lot of them. The reason for the deletion, they explained, was that including Israel would have been “unacceptable” to their intended customers.
"Way to go, Collins!" said one letter to The Guardian. "While we are at it, let’s delete Sweden from the map of Europe, Venezuela from the map of South America and Russia entirely. In fact, let’s all design our own maps and leave out all the countries we don’t particularly care for.”
BORN ON TV: Bratva, a crime novel by Christopher Golden, was “lifted wholesale” from the cable TV series, “Sons of Anarchy.” In a Page 1 article last week, The New York Times said, “The novel was commissioned by the show’s creator . . . to keep fans engaged with the characters—and with the show’s lucrative line of clothing, jewelry, action figures and other merchandise—after the finale.”
Other novels have been based on “Homeland,” “Broadchurch” and a sci-fi series “Fringe.” The Times promised that “more titles are coming soon.”
EXHIBIT: The Grolier Club in Manhattan has an exhibit entitled “One Hundred Books Famous in Children’s Literature.” It’s admission free and on display until February 7.
The curator, Chris Loker, wrote, “Literature for children is forged from the same enduring elements as literature for adults: power narrative, unforgettable characters, illustration that stirs the imagination, and insights that engage the mind and heart. Children’s books with these qualities often shine for generations, some achieving landmark fame.”
Among the 100 books on display are an anonymous Little Red Riding Hood (1875), Jean de Brunhoff’s Babar (1931), Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (1868), and E B. White’s Charlotte’s Web (1952).
THREATENED: Kamel Daoud, an Algerian writer, is the author of Meursault, Counter-Investigation, which retells Albert Camus’s The Stranger. Daoud’s version has caused him to receive death threats, The New York Times said.
Daoud learned French when he was nine by studying at his grandparents' house. His character in the book is quoted, “You drink a language, you speak it and one day it takes possession of you.”
Daoud said that Camus was a major influence on him. Camus’s “philosophy help to liberate me. When I was a Muslim, all the world was explained to me. With Camus, I learned the sense that life depends on me and my acts. I learned I was responsible for my life.” Daoud, a columnist and father of two, vowed, “I won’t be exiled.”
AN INDIE’S LIFE: Since 2012, Kathryn Le Veque, 50, has self-published 44 works of fiction. Most independent writers’ books are on Amazon, and it has started a new borrowing service, Kindle Unlimited.
Le Veque told The New York Times that before Kindle Unlimited she sold about 6,000 books a month at $4 a copy or higher. Now Kindle Unlimited pays her $1.38 for each book that is borrowed. To get those borrowers to buy, she has dropped some of her prices to as low as 99 cents. Her revenue has gone up about 50 percent.
LeVeque told the Times, “I am able to drop prices and by the sheer volume of sales, increase my income. Most authors can’t do that because most of them don’t have fifty novels for sale.” But to keep up, she now has a part-time editor and two part-time assistants. She also keeps writing, producing as many as 12,000 words a day. She said, “When I’m in the full swing of writing with a deadline, I’m writing eighteen hours. . . . It doesn’t feel like work. It feels like doing something I love.”
NAME DROPPING: Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg resolved to read two books a month in 2015. He is posting his choices on his Web site. His first selection last week was Moises Naim’s The End of Power. The impact was immediate.
Power was published in March 2013 and sold 20,000 copies. The New York Times said, “It has sold more than that number of e-books since Mr. Zuckerberg’s announcement.” Booksellers ordered 10,000 more copies. The book jumped up to No. 18 on Amazon’s bestseller list.
Publishers are hoping that Zuckerberg will be the next Oprah. The mere mention of a book by Winfrey on TV could sell a million copies.
EYE ON THE BALL: Patricia Cornwell’s latest mystery, starring fictional medical examiner Kay Scarpetta, is Flesh and Blood. It is a bestseller.
Cornwell wrote for the AARP magazine about a book that she said changed her life. In high school, she said, she cared only for tennis, and the book she read was The Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey. She said that the book “taught me how to inhabit a moment until everything is in slow motion—like a ball coming at you, closer, closer, focusing so intensely you see its seams.”
Cornwell said, “When I sit down to write, I remind myself to stay in the moment. It’s not about how anything ends.”
QUILT: Leslie Jamison is an essayist and the author of The Gin Closet (2011). She was asked, “Why do we hate cliché?” by The New York Times Book Review. She said, “I once knew a man who spoke almost entirely in clichés. What he said was like a patchwork quilt, phrases sewn together in jagged veers of thought. Where there’s smoke there’s fire . . . if you play with fire, you’re bound to get burned . . . it all comes out in the wash . . . this too shall pass . . . one day at a time. His voice tacked between these phrases as he spoke—less like a sermon, more like a song. He was offering these clichés as gifts. They had helped him survive his own life.”
WORK ON: Michael Bond, the 88-year-old creator of the popular Paddington bear books, told The Guardian, “If you’re a writer, people don’t expect to you to retire. I don’t want to retire, and I’m very happy and very lucky that I’m working.”