by Campbell Geeslin
The author of The Revenant, Michael Punke, may be the most successful novelist to decline invitations to talk about his book since J.D. Salinger.
Revenant was originally published in 2002, when Punke was a young lawyer working in Washington, D.C., getting up at five a.m. to work on his writing. The book got good reviews at the time, and though sales were modest, he sold the film rights. It was reissued last fall to coincide with the release of the blockbuster movie that is based on it.
But these days, Punke is working for the State Department in a sensitive job and according to the Washington Post, "federal ethics rules prohibit him from doing any side work…that might enrich him."
"Oh, he wishes he could talk about it," his brother, Tim Punke, told the Post. "Can you imagine having your book turned into a movie, having Leonardo Di Caprio in it?"
P.S.: Movie versions of books don’t hurt their sales at all. Oscar contenders are doing well on the trade paperback list, as the Times noted in Sunday's Book Review with a photo lineup of Punke’s The Revenant, five weeks as No. 1, Andy Wein’s The Martian, No. 2 in its 65th week, and Brooklyn by Colm Toibin, No. 4 in its 13th week on the list.
EXPANSION?: A juicy, scary vision of the future popped up last week when, in the middle of answering questions about foot traffic in shopping malls, Sandeep Mathrani, the chief executive of General Growth Properties, a 120-site mall giant, let drop the news that Amazon’s “goal is to open, as I understand, three hundred to four hundred bookstores.” Both the news and the messenger came as a surprise to Amazon watchers.
Last year, Amazon opened its first physical bookstore in Seattle. It features only a small sampling of the books available on Amazon’s website. Reporting on the Mathrani's surprising news on February 2, The Times noted that Amazon's books sell for the same price in the store as they do on its website, and “any expansion of its brick-and-mortar presence is likely to send shivers down the spines of other booksellers.”
By the next day, Mathrani had backtracked, and General Growth posted a statement on its website saying that whatever the boss had said "was not intended to represent Amazon's plans."
APOLOGY: “When is criticism unfair?” The Times asked in its Bookends column. Alice Gregory, a contributing editor at the Times Style magazine and one of the responding essayists, wrote about her early career as a critic, starting at 23. "I labored under the delusion that that it didn't matter whether or not I knew anything at all. I'd confidently critique nonfiction books about topics I'd never thought about before. I'd make arguments about novels by authors whose other books I hadn't read."
There's something to be said for critical writing "done by very young people who don't yet know how much they have to lose,” Gregory said, but offered an apology to writers she had reviewed all the same.
“I don’t think I was unfair to those books, but I do think I was unfair to the people who wrote them. There is a difference, and I am inclined to acknowledge it in a way that I once, even quiet recently, was not.”
FUELED BY RED BULL: “I write every day,” said Chris Bohjalian, author of the bestselling The Guest Room, on [Penguin Random House’s website] Signature. “I’m at my desk with an eight-point-four-ounce can of Sugar Free Red Bull (the first of two I finish by lunch) by six a.m. The goal each day is to produce a thousand words. . . . As novelist Jodi Picoult has observed. . . ‘You can edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.’”
GOD’S NAME: Pope Francis's The Name of God is Mercy, published in the U.S. by Random House, has been floating close to the top of the Times bestseller list for two weeks. Michiko Kakutani gave the book a "selling review" a month ago, and last week Inside the List columnist Gregory Cowles weighed in.
"It’s not every day that a pope lands on the best-seller list," wrote Cowles. "In fact it’s happened just once before, in 1997, when Pope John Paul II hit No. 13 with the memoir Gift and Mystery, about his decision to become a priest."
Cowles described Francis's book as a reflection of "two traits that have marked Francis' papacy from the start: humility and clarity."
“'I believe that this is a time for mercy,'” he announces near the front, and for the rest of the book he stays on message as methodically as any campaigning politician—or, for that matter, any pop star who knows that all you need is love.”
BACK WHEN: U.S. Senator Cory Booker is the author of United. Asked in a By the Book interview in the Times what he especially enjoyed reading, he said he read nonfiction almost exclusively these days “But when I was young, I loved reading science fiction and fantasy. I devoured everything from The Chronicles of Narnia to Edgar Rice Burroughs’s books about John Carter the Virginian, who was transported to Mars. Today I leave my science fiction and fantasy for the movie theater and stick to books about history, politics, biography. I seek true stories that inspire.”