by Campbell Geeslin
Maria Bustillos is the author of Act Like a Gentleman, Think Like a Woman (2009). She wrote an article in praise of The Oxford English Dictionary (now available on the Internet) for the July 5th New York Times Sunday Magazine.
Bustillos said that “when you hold a book in your hands, it is very different from what happens when you are typing something onto a glassy, featureless screen. Online, your experience is personalized, but it is also atomized, flattened and miniaturized, robbed of its landscape. Physical books require you to literally hold some of the context of what you are reading, and that is a crucial dimension of understanding.”
SEQUEL: Jacqueline Kelly is the author of The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, a 2010 Newbery Honor winner. PW online said that the heroine is a “turn-of-the-century Texas girl with a passion to study science.” Now Kelly has produced a sequel, The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate, published last week.
Kelly said online: “Research can be fun, but it’s not always my favorite thing. I’d rather write the story than do the research.”
TIMES COMES FIRST: There is a constant flow of books written by members of the editorial staff of The New York Times. Public editor Margaret Sullivan noted that “Writing books certainly benefits Times writers. At the same time, the prominence of its writers enhances The Time’s reputation, and sometimes its journalism. . . .”
Sullivan asked, “What happens if reporters encounter news in the course of their book research?”
She concluded that “when something newsworthy emerges, it’s of paramount importance to put the paper and its readers first.
“Anything else can only detract from The Times’s credibility which must be protected—and not just because, ultimately it helps to sell books.”
WHAT COUNTS: The late novelist Norman Mailer said: “In writing, as in so many pursuits, it’s not the most gifted but the most determined who succeed. John Berryman thought talent was no more than twenty percent of a poet’s makeup. This is probably true for any type of writer. Those we hear about are more blessed with luck and persistence than ability and skill.”
NEW ART FORM: Audiobooks “are evolving into a vibrant and independent art form,” according to Alexandra Alter of The New York Times. “This week, [Stephen] King will find out whether his fans share his appetite for narrated books. In an unusual experiment, he released a new short story, ‘Drunken Fireworks,’ as an audiobook exclusive . . . months before the story arrives in print.”
King told the Times, “If you listen to something on audio, every flaw in a writer’s work, the repetitions of words and the clumsy phrases, they all stand out. As a writer, I say to myself, how will that sound?”
King said, “Every now and then, the discussion will come up, ‘Are audiobooks as good as books in print?’ and the answer to me is a no-brainer, and they might even be better.”
WHITEWASH: Tanya Landman is the author of Buffalo Soldier, a YA novel that won the Carnegie Prize. She wrote in The Guardian: “As a child I watched a lot of westerns. . . . ‘The Virginian,’ ‘The High Chaparral,’ ‘Alias Smith and Jones’. Any time we went to the cinema, the B movie always seemed to be a western. . . .”
“The more research I did, the more I found out that history had been whitewashed by Hollywood.”
Landman offers tips on her website: “Like any story, you take a character, you give them a problem and either they overcome it (happy ending) or it overcomes them (a tragic one).”
NEVER ALL: Joseph Finder’s new thriller, The Fixer, is a bestseller. The author told Gregory Cowles of The New York Times Book Review that the father-son relationship is among the most personal things he’s ever written.
Finder said, “My father died while I was writing the book and suddenly the center of gravity of the novel shifted: It became the story of a son trying to find out what kind of man his father really was, coming to a kind of reconciliation. A parent dies, and then there’s a sorting-through process. . . . I saw that it’s impossible to know a parent in the round. As a father, I get that. A child gets a sliver, never the whole.”
CARTOONIST TOO: Randall Munroe, 30, is a former NASA roboticist turned cartoonist and the author of What If?. This first book is a bestseller.
His website, xkcd.com, carries a discreet notice: “Warning: this comic occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults) and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal arts majors).”
MORE FROM RUSSIA: Americans aren’t reading enough Russian literature, the Russian government and academics decided. So dozens and perhaps more than 100 new translations of Russian modern literature and classics will be published by Columbia University Press.
Vladimir Tolstoy, a descendant of Leo Tolstoy, is an adviser on cultural affairs in Russia. He was quoted in The New York Times: “If Russian literature appears and is read then maybe it will help people understand the way we think. Literature is the best bridge to understanding people, what they’ve lived through and what sort of values they have.”
BIG EVENT: The publication of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman on July 14 “promises to be one of the biggest publishing events of the decade,” The New York Times said. Bookstores are holding read-a-thons, midnight openings, film screenings, discussion groups, and some are serving Southern biscuits, teacakes and lemonade.
Conflicting accounts of the book’s discovery a half-century after Lee put it aside to write Mockingbird put its author back on the front page again, further fuelling interest in the sequel.
HarperCollins is ready, with a print run of two million copies and record- breaking pre-orders.
BIG BIO: Former New York Times star writer Todd S. Purdum is a contributor to Vanity Fair and a senior writer at Politico. He is now working on a biography of the musical theater writing team of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. Publication will be in 2018, the 75th anniversary of Oklahoma!
PROMOTION STUNT: The republic of Malta invited three thriller writers to spend a week there in hopes that the tiny island in the Mediterranean would become a setting in their books.
The Guardian said, “It’s possible that more people in America have heard of Chris Kuzneski, Boyd Morrison and Graham Brown than have ever heard of Malta.” The authors' tour included a war museum and an ancient torture chamber.
Brown and his coauthor, Clive Cussler, had a top bestseller, The Storm, in 2012. He said, “We think we could set up a writers’ conference here and bring thirty or forty people in and they won’t want to leave either, just like we don’t.”
CROSSING: Anthony Doerr is the author of All the Light We Cannot See, a bestseller and the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer for fiction. He was interviewed for The New York Times July 5 Book Review and was asked, “What do you plan to read next?”
Doerr said, “Religion and the Decline of Magic, by Keith Thomas, because I opened it at the bookshop and discovered a bunch of sentences like this: ‘In North Wales it was reported in 1598 that people still crossed themselves when they shut their windows, when they left their cattle and when they went out of their houses in the morning.’”
CO-WRITERS: Nonfiction writer and magazine editor Katherine Russell Rich died of cancer in 2012 at the age of 56. She had just started her first novel, based on an unhappy love affair. Two of her friends, Amy Hempel, an award winning short-story writer and Jill Ciment, author of five novels, decided to write the book for her as a thriller, in a genre new to all three. The title is The Hand That Feeds You and it was published last week.
“She would love the idea that someone picked up the baton and carried what was going to be her first work of fiction over the finish line,” Ms. Ciment told the Times.
After they began writing, they showed the first 26 pages to Ciment’s husband, Arnold Mesches, 91. Ciment told The New York Times, “He said, ‘This can’t be a bestseller; there’s no sex in it.’” They took his comment to heart.
OUCH: The Guardian’s Digested Read column greeted E.L. James’s Grey with a summary.
“My little green car has gone under the sofa and Mummy won’t get it. I’m so upset I believe I will now turn into an S-and-M control freak later in life. I wake up in a cold sweat. I can’t get away from that recurring dream where I’m rewriting the same book as before.”
Grey sold more than a million copies in its first weekend and took the No. 1 spot on bestseller lists.