by Campbell Geeslin
Donald Barthelme once said that he would never write about the weather in any story. In last week’s New Yorker, “Writers in the Storm: How weather went from symbol to science and back again” Kathryn Schulz analyzes the shifts in perception and interpretation of weather over the centuries.
“Storms sent to punish, lightning to frighten, thunder to humble, floods to obliterate: across nearly all cultures the first stories that we told about weather were efforts to explain it, and the explanations invariably came down to divine agency.”
“At the dawn of the 19th century" she writes, “nearly everything about weather remained a mystery. No one understood the wind. No one knew why temperatures dropped as you climbed closer to the sun. No one could explain how clouds, with their countless tons of rainwater, somehow remained suspended in midair.”
Schulz wrote about how we talk about the effects of an asteroid strike, “of global climate change nudging planetary temperature out of the range of the habitable. “She concluded: “End-times narratives offer the terrible resolution of ultimate destruction. Partial destruction, displacement, hunger, want, weakness, loss, need—these are more difficult stories. That is all the more reason we should be glad writers are beginning to tell them: to help us imagine not dying this way but living this way. To weather something is, after all, to survive.”
NO DRAFTS: Marilynne Robinson has a new book of essays, The Givenness of Things. In an article in the November/December Poets & Writers, she is quoted on writing fiction.
“I don’t write drafts. The first sentence in my novels is the first sentence in my notebook, and I write from beginning to end. I don’t revise. The scene is written in the order in which it comes to the page. In a way, it’s as if there are different voices in my mind. The illusion of hearing the language is always very strong with me.”
ALOUD: Actor Michael Ian Black’s new book, Navel Gazing, is due out in January. In a review of an audio version of Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions in the November 22 Times Book Review, he wrote: “All reading is a form of reading aloud, even when the reading is done in silence. The very act of transferring the words of another into the brain activates the inner voice, the voice that we ‘hear’ when we read to ourselves. All reading is therefore a vocal performance, generally just for an audience of one. Consider how much the language of reading and writing supports this notion: We talk about an author’s voice and tone and rhythm. We ask, ‘What is the author trying to say?’”
STORY CHASER: David Baldacci, a former lawyer and the author of 36 books, has more than 110 million books in print. He was interviewed in the November/December Writer’s Digest.
“I am a guy who’s always had a story that he wanted to tell and that’s all I ever think about. And trust me, never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that Absolute Power [his first novel, published in 1996] was going to take off. When I sent Absolute Power to a bunch of agents I had already begun writing my second novel, because I figured, ‘I’m not going to hear back from these guys. I’ll just write another novel and have some fun with it.’ That’s me—just a guy who’s always chasing the next story.”
NO ISLANDS: Tom Nolan reviews mysteries for The Wall Street Journal. In a review of the late Ruth Rendell's posthumously published Dark Corners, he wrote, “Rendell put a permanent stamp on crime fiction with 65 novels of screw-twisting suspense, written under both her own name and the pseudonym Barbara Vine…. Even in the odd world Ruth Rendell created, for worse or for better, no soul is an island.”
IT’S ECO’S FAULT: “We can thank, or maybe the word is blame, Umberto Eco for The Da Vinci Code and its successors,” Sam Sacks wrote in The Wall Street Journal. “Long before globe-trotting Harvard ‘symbologist’ Robert Langton was a turtle-necked glimmer in Dan Brown’s eye, Mr. Eco’s The Name of the Rose (1980) and Foucault’s Pendulum (1988) were international phenomena that set the template for the biblio-thriller, in which the sleuthing is done by literary scholars. Mr. Eco may not have invented the genre—Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time (1951) famously turns on what a character calls ‘academic investigating’—but he established its heavy breathing, conspiratorial worldview and its infatuation with textual arcana.”
Sacks was reviewing Numero Zero, Eco’s latest.
TIMELY: Jane Mayer, a staff writer for The New Yorker, is the author of a new book, Dark Money: The Hidden History the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. It’s due out in January.
The Times said the book “explores how a network of rich conservatives—foremost among them Charles and David H. Koch, the billionaire industrialists—are seeking to fundamentally reshape American politics.”
“The book,” the Times said, “could hardly be timelier. It will land during a heated presidential primary season that has prompted a national debate about issues like income inequality, tax reform and the regulation of business.”
TRANSLATIONS: Random House has announced it will be publishing three books by the 2015 Nobel Prize winner, Svetlana Alexievich. Second-Hand Times will appear in 2016; War’s Unwomanly Face and Last Witness will appear in 2017. All three are oral histories based on interviews. Voices From Chernobyl, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2005, was first published in the U.S. by Dalkey Archive Press.
BIRTHDAY: Bill Henderson started the annual Pushcart Prize anthology 40 years ago, and John Williams wrote about it in his Open Book column in the November 22 Times Book Review.
The first volume included stories by Raymond Carver, Anne Tyler, Cynthia Ozick and William Gass. Asked what he looks for, Henderson said, “It’s always been what knocks me off my chair. I wish I could make it more profound.”
“It’s not about me,” Henderson added “It’s about the people out there in the world—the writers who will not quit.”
BIG BUY: The New York Public Library has purchased the archive of The New York Review of Books. The collection includes correspondence between the editors Robert Silvers and Barbara Epstein, who founded the magazine in 1963. The New York Times said contributors include Susan Sontag, Oliver Sacks, Robert Lowell, Mary McCarthy and Noam Chomsky.
HOW TO: Leslie Jamison is the author of The Empathy Exams. In response to the Times’s Bookends question of the week—“Before becoming a writer, did you ever hold a job that later informed your work?”— she said the notion of “‘before’ didn't quite ring true for me, because I've had most of my jobs while I was a writer.”
“Just before my first book was published, I worked at a small bakery in Iowa City…and after my first book was published I worked there just as I had before… 10-hour shifts, two or three days a week.” She said, “the humility of that kitchen, confronting what I didn’t know—that has felt most resonant across my writing life."
“Writing hasn’t felt like getting progressively better at a single task: it’s felt more like stumbling toward the bewildering call of each new project, learning how to be a person who knows nothing; how to arrive on time, put on a batter-smeared apron and show up for whatever happens next.”
ROCKING WRITERS: John Seabrook, 56, is the author of The Song Machine, a book about today’s music scene. Seabrook is a staff writer for The New Yorker and a co-founder and lead guitarist of the Sequoias, a literary cover band that counts his boss, David Remnick, staff writer John Colapinto and the novelist Rebecca Donner as members. In a piece in the Times last week that reported on Seabrook's launch party/concert at Bowery Electric, he was quoted: “Some people have to go to Afghanistan, some people have to investigate drug cartels. I had to listen to Katy Perry.”
Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, also plays guitar. He said a recent rehearsal “sounded like barrels falling off a mountain. We were as sloppy as Pigpen from ‘Peanuts.’ It was actually kind of frustrating.” But he added, “the rare time where we actually nail a song so that it sounds almost like music—it’s kind of transporting.”
THIRD BOOK: American Ballet Theater soloist Misty Copeland has her third book underway, a health and fitness guide, Ballerina Body, to be published in 2017. The Times said it is to “include meal plans, exercise regimens, and motivational advice for dancers and non-dancers.” Copeland is the author of a bestselling memoir, Life in Motion (2014) and a picture book, Firebird, (2104).