by Campbell Geeslin
Lydia Davis’s most recent book is Can’t and Won’t. Asked to name her favorite collection of short stories for the Sunday New York Times Book Review, she said, “My favorite would have to be some Platonic ideal of an anthology that exists only in my imagination and that is composed of one story each from all the best story writers, past and present, including the usual suspects (Hawthorne, Hemingway, Mansfield, Tolstoy) but also less-well-known writers, like Jane Bowles and Lucia Berlin, and contemporaries not only from the U.S. and U.K. but from many other languages and cultures. It would be a wonderful anthology.”
PUSH-PULL: The late mystery writer Raymond Chandler said, “The faster I write the better my output. If I’m going slow I’m in trouble. It means I’m pushing the words instead of being pulled by them.
ROOM TO WRITE: Adam Thirwell is the author of Lurid & Cute. The London writer wrote about the room he works in for The New York Times Style magazine. He said, “A writer’s room feels so empty. So I try to have as many work implements as possible, to somehow make the act of writing more real. In this room, there’s an Apple desktop and a chalkboard, an iPad and various notebooks and felt-tip pens. I write on an outsize table, not a neat escritoire as if I might be cutting film or pasting up collages.”
QUARRELING: Famed New Yorker editor Harold Ross said, “Editing is the same thing as quarreling with writers—same thing exactly.”
FOR GROWN-UPS: What book at Amazon is selling more than bestsellers by Paula Hawkins, Harper Lee and Anthony Doerr? Since the spring of 2013, Secret Garden has sold more than 1.4 million copies in 22 languages. It’s a coloring book for adults by a young Scot illustrator, Johanna Basford.
A sequel, Enchanted Forest, came out in February and “is selling through its first print run of nearly 226,000 copies,” The New York Times said. Fans tell Basford that they find coloring in her books soothing, and their online postings of pages they had colored are what sent sales soaring.
“People are really excited to do something analog and creative, at a time when we’re all so overwhelmed by screens and the Internet,” she said. “And coloring is not as scary as a blank sheet of paper or canvas. It’s a great way to de-stress.”
A third book with an ocean theme is in the works.
WHAT ELSE? Holly Robinson’s new novel, Haven Lake, is out this month. She and her husband have five children and live in Massachusetts and Prince Edward Island.
Robinson wrote a Soapbox essay for PW. She said that she had written a half-dozen novels that hadn’t sold and then her agent sold the first commercial fiction she had written—an emotional family mystery.
“Looking at it now,” she wrote “I realize that the novel incorporates everything I have ever loved about reading: characters in turmoil, exotic places and secrets revealed, page by page, until (I hope) the reader is racing along to the book’s conclusion, staying up all night to find out what happens next.
“Yes, I write commercial fiction, and I love it. What else could I write when that’s what I love to read?”
QUESTION: Kyle Minor is the author of a story collection, Praying Drunk. He wrote in The New York Times Book Review: “What it is, what is was and what comes after are what we’re left to contemplate in the white space that follows every story. Because what else makes a story worthwhile except the attempt to reckon with the near-inarticulable answer to the question we’re all asking in the dark: What was all that?”
Minor was reviewing Night at the Fiestas: Stories by Kirstin Valdez Quade.
ANOTHER BESTSELLER: C. J. Box’s 15th novel about game warden Joe Pickett is Endangered, No. 2 on bestseller lists.
Box lives with his wife and three daughters outside Cheyenne, Wyoming. He has worked as a ranch hand, surveyor, fishing guide, newspaper reporter and editor.
How many gruesome mysteries have charming small children? In the first Joe Pickett novel (2001), the fictional game warden’s two small daughters prove to be important and highly original characters.
Box has a long list of quotes from his books on the Web including: “He sometimes wished that every human was allotted a certain number of words to use for their lifetime. When the allotment ran out, that person would be forced into silence.”
OPERA BUFF: The creation of a mystery detective who loves opera doesn’t seem at all odd if the setting is in Italy. Donna Leon’s new novel, Death at La Fenice, is about Commissario Guido Brunetti’s favorite entertainment.
Marilyn Stasio in The New York Times Book Review said that this book describes “the psychology of stalkers. . . .But for opera buffs, going backstage at Teatro La Fenice is the real treat.”
SPORTS: In a 1992 essay the late George Plimpton wrote: “There are superb books about golf, very good books about baseball, very few good books about basketball and no good books about beach balls.”
The title of the essay: “The Smaller the Ball, the Better the Book: A Game Theory of Literature.”
PW quoted Plimpton in their roundup of new sports books for spring. It was noted that there were “a few curveballs” on this year’s list—-soccer and cycling.
POETRY EVERYWHERE: Last week kicked off the O. Miami Poetry Festival. Director Scott Cunningham was quoted in The New York Times: “Miamians should watch out for poems on buildings, on fences, in the mail, even in the bathroom.”
The Times said that male Miamians “will be pleased to see poetic passages in gold leaf paint applied to urinals all over town by the artist Ian Thomas. Without going ”into details, let us say that the project is interactive, and the works will be ephemeral.”
ANY USAGE IS OKAY: Oliver Kamm is a columnist for the London Times. His latest book is Accidents Will Happen: The Non-Pedantic Guide to English Usage.”
In The Wall Street Journal, he wrote an article entitled: “There Is No ‘Proper English’.” The subtitle was “Never mind the grammar scolds. If people say it, it’s the right way to speak.”
Kamm wrote, “It is well past time to consign grammar pedantry to the history books. . . . Whatever is in general use is a language (not any use, but general use) and is for that reason grammatically correct.” Then he gave his primamatur to double negatives, split infinitives and ending a sentence with a preposition. “You may use ‘hopefully’ as an adverb modifying an entire sentence,” Kamm insisted.
MOBY LIVES ON: A cartoon by Kim Warp in the April 6 New Yorker has an old man with a wooden leg sitting in front of his fireplace. Above the mantel is a gigantic stuffed white whale. The man puffs his pipe, and his wife, seated across from him, asks, “Happy?”
GOLDEN AGE SCI-FI: Tom Shippey is sci-fi columnist for The Wall Street Journal. He wrote: “Back in the Golden Age of sci-fi, when space exploration was just around the corner, there was a consensus about the solar system. Mars was arid and worn-out, but Venus was a world of ocean and swamp, green and lush, possibly with female humanoids to match. Surely there would be dinosaurs, too. A great setting for romance, and everyone fell for it from [Isaac] Asimov to [Roger] Zelazny.
“The dream ended on Dec. 14, 1962, when Mariner 2 began to report back. The planet’s clouds were sulfuric acid, the atmosphere was carbon dioxide and the surface was the hottest place in the solar system.”
The book reviewed was Old Venus, a new collection of 16 stories about the long-imagined planet, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois.
Martin made news again when an excerpt from a novel in progress, The Winds of Winter, was released. Since the fifth book in the popular series, “A Song of Ice and Fire,” came out in 2011, “rabid fans have been loudly agitating for the next volume.” The New York Times also said the series had topped more than 60 million copies worldwide. Martin, who had been writing scripts for the HBO “Game of Thrones” series, said he would concentrate now on finishing Winds of Winter.
RICH ROAD: David Brooks, The New York Times’s political-cultural columnist, has a new book out on April 14. The title is The Road to Character. The Internet said the book “tells the story of ten great lives that illustrate how character is developed, and how we can all strive to build rich inner lives . . . “
END NOTE: William Watson wrote in Collected Poems (1905): “April, April,/Laugh thy girlish laughter;/’Then, the moment after,/Weep thy girlish tears!”