by Campbell Geeslin
The Bible is a popular hunting ground for titles. Jonathan Safran Foer found one, Here I Am, for his next novel. The quote is from Genesis. When God ordered Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, Abraham replied “Here I Am.”
The novel is the first installment of a three-book deal with Farrar, Straus and Giroux. It is concerned with a Jewish family that falls apart after the parents’ marriage falters. Foer’s agent was quoted in the Times, “It’s not an autobiographical novel except in the sense that any mature novel reflects a lot of life experience. The book reflects growing up and coming to terms with the world.” Foer and his wife, author Nicole Krauss, parted in 2014.
Publication is set for next September.
HAIL TO STEIN: Here’s a tribute to Gertrude Stein: “She has for the past half century kept hammering away at words—and frequently knocking the daylight out of them.” The writer was Samuel Steward who wrote essays under the name of Philip Sparrow. They have just been published in a book: Philip Sparrow Tells All.
The Times's review of the book was full of quotes. Here’s another: “There are six stages in getting drunk: Jocose, amorous, bellicose, morose, lachrymose, and comatose.” Comatose drunks are the worst, Sparrow concludes—“A vegetable grater on everyone’s nerves and patience.”
MONOPOLY: “Good lines alone don’t make a book, especially a novel,” wrote Dwight Garner in The New York Times. “But string enough of them together and you’re well on your way.”
Garner then quoted lines that he recalled from his book reviewing in 2015: “A man’s daughter is his heart. Just with feet, walking out in the world,” is from Mat Johnson’s Loving Day. “Bugs Bunny wasn’t nothing but Br’er Rabbit with a better agent,“ is from Paul Beatty’s The Sellout. “Death is the only monopoly,” is from Joshua Cohen’s Book of Numbers.
EARLY START: “Can you imagine a writer writing about a writer?” Elizabeth Strout asked at a New York press luncheon. Her fifth novel, My Name Is Lucy Barton, will be out January 12. Strout's first book, Amy and Isabelle and all her subsequent ones, have been bestsellers. Her fourth novel Olive Kitteridge, won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009.
Interviewed by Cary Tuhy for PW, she said, “I have been writing sentences since the time I was old enough to hold a pencil."
“I like to think I come to the page without judgments," she told Tuhy. "I always have hope for my characters. I have to come with a purity of heart.” Her characters, she says, "wander into her mind unbidden....Lucy wanted her own book."
Tuhy asked Strout what she would like to be if not a writer. Strout said, “I think I would have liked to be a doctor, an internist. I’d like to hear people’s bodily complaints and then diagnose them.”
Reviewing Lucy Barton in Time, Sarah Begley wrote that Strout “captures the ache of loneliness we all feel sometimes, ‘with longings so large you can’t even weep.’”
CRISIS: On her website, author Jane Green complained about driving in her car on a highway surrounded by 45-year-old men on bicycles. She asked, “Could this be the modern version of the male mid-life crisis? They run out and buy shorts in fifty shades of black.”
Green has published 17 novels, and there are more than 10 million copies of her books in print. She just signed a four-book deal with Berkley. PW said her next book will be a novel, Falling, due out in July.
Green is a graduate of New York’s French Culinary Institute and one of the books under contract will be a cookbook.
WORD OF 2015: Can a three-letter suffix be a word? Bernie Sanders, Democratic candidate for president, helped spark a 169% rise in searches for the word "socialism" in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary. But searches for other words ending in "ism"—terrorism and fascism being among the most frequent—boosted the suffix "ism" to the status of most looked up Word of the Year." Perhaps that shouldn't come as a surprise. Merriam's unabridged English dictionary lists 2,733 words that end in "ism."
THE BLURB BUSINESS: Who is “Master of the Compelling, Captivating, Dazzling Blurb?” asks a headline in the Times. The subhead: “How much is a Malcolm Gladwell endorsement really worth?”
Laura M. Holson wrote: ”It’s hardly news that when it comes to selling books, blurbs from even famous people are of dubious value.”
A. J. Jacobs is the author of four books, including The Year of Living Biblically. He is a former prolific blurbist. He told the Times, “It’s hard to compete with Malcolm Gladwell. He is always going to get the front cover. I get the back cover, or maybe, inside.”
Author Gary Shteyngart said, “Everyone is friendly. No one really punches people like in Norman Mailer’s day. We stand around and drink white wine in blue jeans and talk about health insurance. People are afraid to send a bad blurb.”
WHAT’S IN A NAME: Wade Rouse is the author of four humorous memoirs. His next book, due out in March, is Charm Bracelet by Viola Shipman. Viola Shipman was Rouse’s grandmother, and the inspiration for his new book, “a novel about how the charms of an heirloom bracelet reconnect three generations of women and remind them what’s most important in life.”
Rouse wrote in PW that the story was inspired by his grandmother’s “charms and lessons.” The pseudonym is both homage and reward. “My grandmother encouraged me to become a writer," says Rouse. "She was a seamstress at a local factory, but she dreamed of being a fashion designer." And now she's an author, sort of.