by Campbell Geeslin
British TV screenwriter M. J. Arlidge is the author of a novel, Eeny Meeny, due out in June. It will be the first in a thriller series about Detective Inspector Helen Grace.
“As I was writing the book,” Arlidge told PW, “I was reading a lot of Scandinavian crime fiction. They excel at creating fallen worlds in which everyone is tainted, and I suspect their influence can be felt in my characters. Patricia Highsmith and Graham Greene—two of my absolute favorites—are adept at doing the same thing.”
Arlidge also said: “All the best fictional detectives of recent times are female—Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander, The Killing’s Sarah Lund, The Bridge’s Saga Noren, and more besides. It just feels that the world is changing, and that finally it might be time for the women to take center stage.”
ABOUT BIOS: George Bernard Shaw said: “When you read a biography, remember that the truth is never fit for publication.”
MAGIC: Charles Duhigg, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The New York Times, is the author of The Power of Habit, a bestselling book of nonfiction.
In an interview with NPR, published on the Internet, Duhigg said that a Duke researcher had found that about 40 to 45 percent of the decisions we make each day are actually habits, not really decisions at all. “And without them we would go nuts.”
Duhigg explained that “the magic of habits is that because our brain stops working around that behavior, it frees up mental activity for other things.”
CLUB TALK: Colm Toíbín, whose novel, The Master, is based on Henry James, hosted the Wall Street Journal’s Book Club in April. His pick was James’s The Golden Bowl.
Toíbín said in a Journal Q&A that James had a lesson for every novelist: “He’s very careful not to mention anything that’s happening. . . . there’s such pressure on us to keep inserting contemporary things. If you concentrate on the characters, if you concentrate on subtlety and nuance, you can find something that a hundred years later will not seem dated because the drama remains so stark and fierce.”
Asked which writers today owe a debt to James, Toíbín said, “James Hollinghurst is very, very good at describing a room, and that change in the atmosphere of a room when somebody comes into it, or even the light changes. The other person who can do that is John Banville.”
Toíbín's new book is a study of the poet Elizabeth Bishop.
ILLNESSES: Lisa Genova’s fourth novel is Inside the O’Briens. It’s about a Boston cop with Huntington’s disease. Her first novel was Still Alice, and the movie version starred Julianne Moore.
Genova gave up her career as a neuroscientist to write. She told USA Today: “Most people are not going to pick up The Journal of Neuroscience and read about Huntington’s disease, but they might read a book called Inside the O’Briens.”
Her next book will be about ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
MAD MAN: William Souder is writing Mad at the World: John Steinbeck and the American Century. The publisher, Norton, said Steinbeck was a man who “helped reshape 20th century American literature, but came to question his own fame.” PW said the book will be published in the Spring of 2019.
KEEPING SPEECH FREE: Jack Shafer wrote about David K. Shipler’s new book, Freedom of Speech, in Sunday’s New York Times Book Review. Shafer writes for Politico.
“If the best measure of a book is how vigorously it causes a reader to quarrel with it,” he wrote, “Freedom of Speech excels.” In the book’s last section, Shipler recounts how a Washington theater that staged controversial works and sponsored free-wheeling discussion became the target of a small pressure group, which sought to disrupt its funding. Such pressure is neither censorship nor suppression of free speech. No theater, or poet, no filmmaker, no painter, no artist has a free-speech right to other people’s money. Indeed, deciding what sort of art you spend your (or your group’s) money on can be one of the highest expressions of free speech.
“Another way to appreciate Freedom of Speech is to read it as evidence that our First Amendment rights are in good repair. Oh, there may be a snake or two on the loose, but what paradise doesn’t have a tempting serpent?”
NEW TREND: Tom Perotta is the author of a novel, The Leftovers. On the cover of The New York Times Book Review, he wrote about a major shift taking place in fiction. Several new novels “read more like memoirs, or a series of lightly fictionalized journal entries, recounting the mundane lives and off-kilter ruminations of their first-person narrators, who are either post-graduate students or blocked writers."
Perotta finds these new novels "fresh, unpredictable, intellectually stimulating and often quite funny." The book he is giving a rave review to however—Kate Atkinson's A God in Ruins—is decidedly old school. Atkinson, Perotta writes, “deploys the whole realistic bag of tricks, and none of it feels fake or embarrassing. In fact, it's a masterly and frequently exhilarating performance by a novelist who seems utterly undaunted by the imposing challenges she's set for herself.”
ABOUT HITLER: Timur Vertes is he author of Look Who’s Back (2011), a satirical novel about Hitler. It has sold two million copies in Germany and came out last week in the U.S.
Vernes was quoted in The New York Times: “Most people were sick of hearing all this serious guilty stuff and I thought, ‘Okay, we can take a shortcut.’ We’ll tell the same story but we’ll make fun of it.” Hitler awakens like Rip Van Winkle and becomes a celebrity talk show host on TV.
SHORTHAND: Kate Bolick is the author of the nonfiction Spinster. In a Time Magazine review, Bolick is quoted: “A wholesale reclamation of the word spinster is a tall order. My aim is more modest: to offer it up as shorthand for holding onto that in you which is independent and self-sufficient, whether you’re single or coupled.”
THEFT: A signed first edition of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude was stolen from a locked, guarded display case at a Bogota book fair. A signed copy like the one stolen has been sold for $23,000.
The owner, Alvaro Castillo, pulled the rest of his books from the exhibition.
WINNER: Kamel Daoud, an Algerian novelist, won the Académie Goncourt for best first novel last week. The Meursault Investigation is a retelling of Albert Camus’s The Stranger (1942) from the viewpoint of the murder victim’s brother.
The book will be published in the U.S. in June.
OBSERVATION: Poet Dan Chiasson reviewed two new books of poetry in the May 11 New Yorker. He said, “We all have, in our heads, a marionette theatre where we stage what we might have done and should have said. There we are always the conquering puppet.”
SERIES: “Bookmarked” is the name for a new series that will feature personal narratives about the books that influenced an author’s desire to become a writer.
John Knowles’s A Separate Peace: Bookmarked, by Kirby Gann will be the first out, in early 2016, followed by Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five: Bookmarked, by Curtis Smith.
PW reports that a Bookmark title on Stephen King’s Different Seasons, by Aaron Burch and one by Paula Boma on Christiana Stead’s The Man Who Loved Children will follow in spring 2016.
BRANDO MEMENTO: Gregory Cowles writes about bestsellers in a column for The New York Times Book Review. On Sunday, he wrote that Nobel Prize-winner Toni Morrison—whose God Help the Child is currently No. 5 on the Times’s diction list, can seem intimidating, but has a playful side.
Cowles wrote, “The critic John Leonard once reported that she liked to chat with Fran Lebowitz about Court TV, and [Morrison] told The Telegraph that Marlon Brando used to call her just to recite her work. ‘I still have his number in my iPhone! How could I erase that?’”
WRITER TOO: Photographer Sally Mann is the author of Hold Still: A Memoir With Photographs. In 1992, Mann became a controversial figure after she published nude photos of her young children in her third book, Immediate Family, which coincided with an article about her work in The New York Times Magazine that asked "has she knowingly put them at risk by releasing these photographs in a world where pedophilia exists?"
PW said of Hold Still, “The book reveals Mann to be a writer whose authorial voice is just as telling, daring, and riveting as her photography.”
GOLDEN OLDIE: Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic Dune is 50 years old, and book critic Lev Grossman wrote a tribute in the May 11 Time magazine.
Grossman wound up with: “Herbert wasn’t a playful writer—Dune is a virtually humorless novel—but he was a dab hand with aphorisms. Here’s one of them: “It’s not that power corrupts, but that it is magnetic to the corruptible.’”
CHOICE WORKS: Lisa Von Drasek is curator of the University of Minnesota’s Children’s Literature Research Collections. She wrote about how to get children to read in Sunday’s New York Times Book Review.
Drasek wrote about what will turn children into readers: “Summer reading lists don’t work to keep kids reading. What does work is taking them to the public library and signing them up for summer reading programs. What does work is surrounding kids with all kinds of books—comics, how-to-make-paper-airplanes books, fantasy series—and letting them choose what they like.”