It has been a lot of fun to read about reading and write about writing with you all for the last two months! As I turn my attention to other projects, I am happy to be officially handing over 100% of the reins to Ron and Andy, secure in the knowledge that they will continue to keep you informed about what’s new in the secretly exciting world of book publishing. (NB to publicists: Please don’t stop sending me free books).
Curtis Sittenfeld’s third novel ‘American Wife,’ out September 2nd, is narrated by one Alice Blackwell, a former children’s librarian haunted by the memory of a tragic, random accident. Oh, and her husband is a George W. Bush-like US President. As Alice tells the story of her life, Sittenfeld allows us a nuanced, clear, almost psychic glimpse at what life might be like for one of the most public women in the world. Here, she answers two questions about the hotly anticipated book, one obvious and one random.
Barbara Jones, who joined Hyperion‘s Voice imprint from More magazine in February, will replace Pamela Dorman as that imprint’s Editorial Director. Dorman will return to Viking, where her new title will be “Vice President and Publisher of Pamela Dorman Books/Viking.” Jones will be responsible for doubling the size of Voice’s list. Per their respective press releases, Viking’s president Claire Ferraro says, “All of us at Viking and Penguin are delighted that Pam is coming home,” while newly minted Hyperion president Ellen Archer says, “I want to thank Pamela Dorman for all of her great work. I wish her the very best in her next publishing venture.” So that worked out for everyone.
Because heaven knows the world needs more book blogs, the New Yorker now has a blog called The Book Bench, named after their office’s discarded-book pile (pictured). And Harpers now has Sentences. The latter, so far, is pretty super—entirely the work of contributing editor Wyatt Mason, it features long, discursive entries about recent reading and original reporting about Jonathan Franzen‘s recent public chat with James Wood at Harvard. The Book Bench, so far, has long linkdumps and posts about recent lit news with punny headlines like “A Pose for Emily [Dickinson]” and “Pain in the Library.” There’s also an odd, snobby post entitled “Bookspotting” that makes fun of an overheard conversation between an “Edie Falco look-alike” and a friend in a fancy Tribeca restaurant, about how reading books on tape are easier than reading “all that text.”
Emily Dickinson had the attic. Rivers Cuomo had the garage. And in an essay in this month’s Details, Michael Chabon stakes his claim on … the basement. Playing in the basement as a child, he writes, “helped form the basis of my life as a writer, a denizen of the basement of my soul.”
He continues: “I suppose it is no accident that basements, hidden lairs, and underground settings have features so routinely in my fiction … In almost everything I’ve written you can find buried treasures, Batcaves and hidey-holes, half-forgotten underground worlds that perhaps encode the rapture and the bitterness of my own isolation.” He goes on to bemoan and then celebrate his current California residence’s basementlessness. Um, at length.
Sometimes I feel like writing essays like this for magazines like Details — another recent example is Jonathan Safran Foer‘s discourse on his vegetarianism in Real Simple — is, for marquee-name authors, sort of like when movie stars shoot ads for whiskey or sunglasses or gum in Japan. You know? It’s like part of them thinks no one will ever find out. Seriously: “denizen of the basement of my soul?”
Speaking of books that give us more insight into Presidential candidates’ inner lives, it’s worth mentioning that Little, Brown is savvily repackaging David Foster Wallace‘s long essay about hanging out on John McCain’s campaign bus, which was originally published as an article in Rolling Stone and was also collected in ‘Consider The Lobster’, as a book called ‘McCain’s Promise: Aboard the Straight Talk Express with John McCain and a Whole Bunch of Actual Reporters, Thinking About Hope.’ It has a new foreword by Jacob Weisberg and it comes out on June 1.
Lately I’ve been enjoying two very different works of nonfiction by two very different young, talented ladies. One, ‘He’s A Stud, She’s A Stud,’ by Feministing.com’s Jessica Valenti, is a handy reference guide to “49 double standards every woman should know.” And the other, ‘Have You No Shame’ by Rachel Shukert, is a memoir by a lady who has had to deal with adversities as varied as growing up Jewish in Omaha and fishing out what the back cover politely terms an “errant feminine hygiene product.” (It’s not a chapter you’ll soon forget.) Being a woman can be quite tricky, is the overall conclusion a reader of these two books might draw. Here are my favorite lines from each book:
“Have you ever been sitting by yourself — reading in a park, drinking at the bar, whatever, and a guy comes up to you? What the fuck is that?” — ‘He’s A Stud, She’s A Slut’
“[My vagina] smelled like that smell that hits you sometimes in the subway, so fetid, rotten, and overwhelming that you know that you’re in a place where the body of an enormous rodent is currently decomposing, or a homeless person has recently been naked.” — ‘Have You No Shame’
I highly recommend both.
Bob Morris used to dole out delightfully crotchety etiquette tips in the Sunday Style section, but like many people who are great at telling other people what to do, he was less than expert at dealing with his own problems. Like, for example, helping his widowed dad find lasting love — while searching for a suitable match for himself at the same time. But everything worked out … well, I suppose you have to read the book to find out how everything worked out. Bob not only answered my questions, he included bonus advice on how to look good in your online dating profile picture.
Isn’t it weird how, sometimes, a good review can make you not want to read a book? That’s what was happening to me with Michiko Kakutani’s review of Joseph O’Neill’s ‘Netherland.’ Oh, great, I was thinking. Another ‘coming of middle age’ story. And it has resonances of ‘The Great Gatsby’! And the narrator starts drags himself out of a depression via sports — cricket — and a friendship with a “charismatic Trinidadian entrepreneur and storyteller.” Oy.
But then I read this, from the Times‘ excerpt from the first chapter, and decided to suspend my probably-dumb prejudices.
“Now that I, too, have left that city, I find it hard to rid myself of the feeling that life carries a taint of aftermath. This last-mentioned word, somebody once told me, refers literally to a second mowing of grass in the same season. You might say, if you’re the type prone to general observations, that New York City insists on memory’s repetitive mower—on the sort of purposeful postmortem that has the effect, so one is told and forlornly hopes, of cutting the grassy past to manageable proportions. For it keeps growing back, of course.”
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