by Campbell Geeslin
Mary Karr’s latest book is The Art of Memoir, due out this week. She is the author of three memoirs: The Liars’ Club (1995), Cherry (2000) and Lit (2009).
In a piece on Karr and the genre, The Wall Street Journal’s Alexandra Wolfe wrote: “Airing your life story in raw detail can be daunting. And although Ms. Karr has bared a lot in her books, [she says] I’d rather lift my shirt than write about some parts of my life’". That includes writing about sex: ‘If somebody was nice enough to sleep with me it should remain private.’”
Writing a memoir is “cathartic," Karr says, "but the purpose of it is not your catharsis. You’re publishing it to create an emotional experience in another human being, and for me, unless another human being reads it and has that feeling, there’s no point.”
In a New York Times review of The Art of Memoir, Janet Maslin wrote: “Another memoirist’s skill that she demonstrates but doesn’t mention here: Sound uncertain even if you’re as good as Mary Karr. Readers will love you for your imperfections. Works every time.”
NEW: Columbia University's new imprint, Columbia Global Reports, launched this year. Headed by Nicholas Lemann, dean emeritus of the Columbia Journalism School, the imprint will publish four to six titles a year on “underreported global issues.” Among its first releases is Little Rice: Smartphones, Xiaomi, and the Chinese Dream by Clay Shirky. It describes “China’s attempts to become a tech innovator.”
A WEEPER: Hanya Yanagihara is the author of A Little Life, a bestseller. The Wall Street Journal said, “The novel’s slow but steady build is unusual in publishing,
particularly given the hurdles this book had to overcome: It is 720 pages long. It is Ms. Yanagihara’s second novel, following The People in the Trees, which won critical praise but didn’t sell well. And it deals with very dark subjects.” It’s about what happens to four men who were roommates at an elite college.
Sam Sacks, a WSJ critic, said A Little Life is “a major American novel.”
THE EAR: Joan Acocella is the author of Twenty-eight Artists and Two Saints. In a long piece about Elmore Leonard in The New York Review of Books, she writes that “Leonard had a taste for the grotesque, for an almost magical ugliness,” and that “Many people would say that Leonard’s greatest gift was his ‘ear,’ meaning, broadly, the ability to write English that, while it sounds extremely natural, is also beautiful and musical.”
“When critics speak of a writer’s ear, this often carries a political implication, of the democratic sort. They are talking about writers (Mark Twain, Willa Cather) whose world, by virtue of being humble, would seem to exclude beauty and music, so that when the writer manages to find in it those riches, the world in question—and, by extension, the whole world—comes to seem blessed.”
The Library of Congress has just released two collections of Leonard's work, Four Novels of the 1970s and Four Novels of the 1980s.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Knopf, the publishing house, turns 100 this year, and author Dave Eggers wrote about Sonny Mehta, the editor in chief, in the October Vanity Fair. Mehta’s Manhattan office has “book-stuffed mahogany shelves, a pair of leather chairs, uncountable first editions, and the distinctly ahistorical smell of cigarette smoke. Situated in similarly paper-strewn offices all around him are Knopf’s team of editors, to whom Mehta gives all credit, and who work much as editors did in 1915. They read proposals and manuscripts, advocate for them, and then hope the numbers work.”
Mehta is quoted: “On a good day I am still convinced I have the best job in the world.”
WHAT IS LOVE? The question posed in the Book Review’s Bookends feature this Sunday was “Whatever happened to the novel of ideas?”
Benjamin Moser, a Bookends regular and the author of Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector, wrote: “The novel of ideas is not a naturally occurring species.” He went on to say, “It is odd that books about love are often assumed to be ‘light.’ Anyone who has ever fallen in love at the wrong time or with the wrong person—or at the right time and with the right person—knows how disruptive, how illogical love is. And it is this incomprehensible part of our lives that novels, from their beginnings, have helped us to understand. Exact definitions elude us. But love, whatever it may be, is not an idea.”
JUST A WRITER: Ron Rash is the author of a new book, Above the Waterfall, published this week. He has written six novels, six short story collections and four poetry compilations. Born in Chester, South Carolina, he has lived in a succession of small Carolina towns, North or South, ever since.
“I’ve had some people who pretty much have implied that I must be some hillbilly who got hit by lightning and somehow learned to tell these stories,” he told The Wall Street Journal, referring to stereotypes of Southern writers as savants who come up with books simply by sitting on their front porches and spinning.
His subject is Appalachia. “Mountain people around the world have told me this—you feel two things. One, a sense of being protected. You’re also being reminded of how small and insignificant you are.”
BIG NAMES: David O. Stewart is the author of The Wilson Deception, a historical thriller out this month. On his website, he describes it as “a blend of history and suspense.” Among his characters are several familiar names: Allan Dulles, Georges Clemenceau, T. E. Lawrence, David Lloyd George, Winston Churchill and Woodrow Wilson.
TINGLE: In a review of Joy Williams’s The Visiting Privilege, the Times’s Dwight Garner wrote: “We read with our minds, Vladimir Nabokov said . . . but ‘the seat of artistic delight is between our shoulder blades.’”
Nabokov added, “That little shiver behind is quite certainly the highest form of emotion that humanity has attained when evolving pure art and pure science. Let us worship the spine and its tingle.”
AVOIDING TRUMP: Asked by the Times Book Review what was the last book that made him furious, Salman Rushdie said “Books by politicians are usually annoying; Obama’s Dreams From My Father is a rare exception. I did once accidentally see a book by Donald Trump in a bookstore and had to move away quickly.”
WRITING AUTOBIOS: Tracey Thorn is the author of Bedsit Disco Queen and Naked at the Albert Hall. She is a member of the musical group Everything but the Girl. The Guardian asked her why so many female musicians of a certain age, including Kim Gordon and Chrissie Hynde, were producing memoirs. Thorn said, “I think it’s partly because we’re the generation who are a bit more empowered, and it’s partly to do with our fans growing up. People who liked our records now work at publishers and can commission us.”