by Campbell Geeslin
NPR’s Terry Gross, who marks her 40th anniversary as host of "Fresh Air" this fall, was profiled by Susan Burton in the October 25 Times Magazine. The title was “How to Talk to Strangers.”
Burton quoted comedian and "WTF" podcaster Marc Maron, who called Gross "'the most effective and beautiful interviewer of people on the planet.’”
She quoted Matthew Weiner of "Mad Men," who "imagined being interviewed by Gross years before it happened, and once it did, 'you're like: Oh, this is my fantasy of a conversation. I'm not even talking about people hearing it. I'm taking about having the conversation."
And she quoted Gross. “I try not to make it about me. I try to use my experiences to help me understand my guests’ experiences but not to take anything away from them.”
WHAT WAS SAID: Svetlana Alexievich, 67, this year’s Nobel Prize winner in literature, was the subject of a profile, “The Memory Keeper,” in the October 26 New Yorker.
"This is oral history stripped down to segments so raw that it can stretch both credulity and the reader's tolerance for pain," wrote Masha Gessen.
Alexievich's first book, War Has Not a Woman’s Face, was published in 1984. The subject was World War II, and she interviewed women almost exclusively, including women in the military. "I had no interest in how many people they had killed or how," she told Gessen. "I wanted to know how a woman feels."
“Women tell things in more interesting ways. They live with more feeling. They observe themselves and their lives. Men are more impressed with action. For them, the sequence of events is more important.”
MEMOIR-BIO: Film director David Lynch (“Twin Peaks”) has signed with Grand Central Publishing to write a memoir-biography. He has a title, Life & Work, and a collaborator, Kristine McKenna, a journalist and a friend, who will interview about 90 of Lynch’s family members, former wives, friends and artistic collaborators. “I want to get all the right information in one place,” Lynch said in a statement released by Grand Central, “so if someone wants to know something, they can find it here.” The Times said publication is scheduled for 2017.
SPORTS GUYS: TV sportscaster Bob Costas will write a memoir with the help of sportswriter Mike Lupica. Costas was quoted in the Times: “Mike has a very distinctive voice, and it’s a voice I like, but if it sounds more like him than me, we haven’t accomplished what I wanted and he knows that. At the same time, you want some of the wit and bite and ability that he will bring to it.” Publication is expected to be in 2017.
HELPING: The New York Times October 25 Book Review introduced a bimonthly column by Molly Young. It’s about self-help books, but Young said that self-help “was a dreadful and clumsy name” for a category that deserves better. “After all, the premise of self-help is a lovely one! It is the assumption that we are all fundamentally help-able, which is neither insignificant nor obvious.”
Her inaugural selections skipped the popular romance, diet and exercise categories in favor of 100 Deadly Skills: The SEAL Operative's Guide to Eluding Pursuers, Evading Capture, and Surviving Any Dangerous Situation; Foolproof, Why Safety Can be Dangerous and How Danger Makes Us Safe, and Richard Branson's The Virgin Way: Everything I Know About Leadership.
PODCAST TO PRINT: The podcast Welcome to Night Vale launched to no notice in June 2012 according to its creators, the playwrights Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor. Over the course of a year, the eerie, ongoing story of a desert town "somewhere in the Southwestern United States… where all the conspiracy theories were real" was downloaded about 150,000 times. One year later, "for reasons its creators still can't fully explain," said the Times's Alexandra Alter, the twice-monthly 25-minute show took off. In July 2015, it was downloaded 2.5 million times ($1.99 on iTunes). In August, the number of downloads more than tripled.
Spinoff offers came from every direction for every possible format. The writers picked "book." They got themselves a literary agent, a contract with Harper/Perennial and sat down and wrote a 401-page novel about two of the Night Vale characters, "a pawnshop owner named Jackie who doesn’t age, and a single mother named Diane, whose shape-shifting teenage son, Josh, disappears."
"The ending was especially tricky," Alter wrote. "Finally, Mr. Fink settled on something that would be almost impossible to pull off on the radio: a single, punctuation-free sentence that stretches on for nearly four pages. The project has given him a deeper appreciation for the challenges of writing long-form fiction."
“'You want to go up to every person that’s written a novel and go, "Good job,”' he said."
ONE MORE: J.K. Rowling's third by-Robert Gailbraith mystery is Career of Evil. Michiko Kakutani said that the book is a “tale about a serial killer, who likes to slice up his victims and cut off body parts as trophies.”
Meanwhile, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, based on a Potter-sequel tale Rowling co-authored with playwright Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany, is scheduled to open in London's West End in 2016.
FAVORITES: Stacy Schiff is the author of The Witches: Salem 1692. In an interview in the October 25 Times Book Review, she was asked to name a favorite novel. She said: “You mean the one I annoyingly urge on everyone? [Giuseppe Tomas di] Lampedusa’s The Leopard , though anecdotal evidence proves you have to be over the age of thirty—or a premature nostalgic—to see it for the masterpiece it is. May I add Shirley Hazzard’s Transit of Venus  and [V.S.] Naipaul’s House for Mr. Biswas , both utterly flawless? I nearly hand out copies of Jane Gardam’s Old Filth  at street corners.”
INVISIBLE FORCES: The Times’s Dwight Garner reviewed David Mitchell’s new novel, Slade House, last week. The quote Garner used to end the review came from Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas (2004): “Power, time, gravity, love. The forces that really kick ass are all invisible.” Garner added: “Fear belongs on that list, too.”
ABOUT WRITING: Steven Pinker, a Harvard professor and linguist, is the author of The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. The bestselling book was published last year. Many years ago, in a review in the Times Charles McGrath wrote: “When you first learn how to do it, writing is hard, and for some of us it never gets any easier. Writing is hard because thinking is hard.”
OUTDOORS: Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods was published in 1998. Thanks to the movie version just out, starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte, the book is back on the nonfiction bestseller lists.
Bryson walked the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail when he was in his forties. A blurb on his website “Facing savage weather, merciless insects, unreliable maps and a fickle companion whose profoundest wish is to go to a motel and watch 'The X-Files,' Bryson gamely struggled through the wilderness to achieve a lifetime’s ambition—not to die outdoors.” So far, so good. He's now 63.
WHAT BOOKS ARE MADE OF: Matt Bell is the author of Scrapper. In an essay, “Influence Looming,” in the October 25 Times Book Review, Bell wrote: “Novels have two primary sources: writer’s life experiences or their art experiences—although I suppose more religious writers might also make room for divine inspiration. While it’s popular in publicity to focus on the life experience that informs a book, a writer’s art experiences are just as responsible for how a story emerges from the imagination and eventually appears on the page. As Cormac McCarthy once said: ‘The ugly fact is books are made out of books. The novel depends for its life on the novels that have been written.'”
THE REWARD: Jay Parini is the author of Empire of Self: A Life of Gore Vidal. In an October 26 New Yorker review of the book, the famously viper-tongued Vidal is quoted as having said that the three saddest words in the English language were Joyce… Carol… Oates. “But, although Vidal made ‘harsh critical remarks’ about Oates at every opportunity,'" Parini says he once caught him reading a volume of her essays, and—‘he admitted’—enjoying them.”
In her introduction to the 1988 collection of Paris Review interviews, Writers at Work, Oates said that “most writers perceive [writing] as a vocation, a privilege, a curse that nonetheless contains a blessing. John Hersey [one of the interviewees in the collection] puts it most simply and most honorably: ‘Writing is the only real reward.’”
Hersey, in turn, provided a quote from Gabriel Garcia Marquez: “One word of falsity in journalism destroys the whole, but one actual fact in a fiction may make it seem believable.”