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Archives: September 2005

Amazing Psychic Powers orMastery of the Obvious?

Galleycat, last Friday: John Barry’s Rising Tide is “hovering around #15 [on Amazon]–and I’m betting it cracks the top ten tonight… when C-SPAN airs a live, one-hour special.”

PW Daily, yesterday: “Rising Tide is currently #9 at Amazon.com. What’s your reaction to all the renewed interest in the book?”

As it happens, Barry hates that people are turning to his book as a response to the tragic aftermath of Katrina: “Every time I get a phone call for another interview request, it’s like a stab.” Not that he wouldn’t consider writing a Katrina book, but “in terms of really understanding the impact of the storm on our society, it’s got to be at least a decade, and probably longer.”

Staking Out the Territory

bushnell.jpgI don’t know if there’s an exact parallel in publishing to the film studio practice of moving your blockbusters around so they don’t compete with somebody else’s blockbusters, but in this fall’s chick-lit sweepstakes, Candace Bushnell’s one-month headstart on Lauren Weisberger is certainly noticeable. Today’s NYT profile of Bushnell (left) is the cap on a weekend media spree for Lipstick Jungle that included interviews in the Sunday Times of London and the Connecticut Post, plus a widely distributed AP piece. Then there’s last week’s Newsday feature, plus all the national press…

Meanwhile, the early buzz for Weisberger’s Everyone Worth Knowing is barely out of the gate–so far, it’s only been mentioned in one fall fiction roundup. October will be her month, no doubt, but now I’m curious to find out whether the buying patterns for the genre are such that there’s a reasonable expectation women will buy Weisberger’s hardcover as soon as they’ve completed Bushnell’s. You tell me.

Books-to-Film Wowing ‘Em in Toronto, Venice

Reports are coming in from the Toronto Film Festival, and Lloyd Grove is one of the many attendees who’s just wild about the film version of Christopher Buckley’s Thank You For Smoking–which, he reports, proved so popular that Buckley himself couldn’t get into the screening. The Hollywood Reporter is less impressed, calling Jason Reitman’s feature-length debut as a director “amusing and clever but only skin deep.” A literary movie that’s getting even stronger buzz is Shopgirl, Steve Martin’s carefully orchestrated adaptation of his own novella. Co-star Claire Danes reveals there’s a real shopgirl behind the tale, but Martin would clearly rather trade dieting tips with Grove than talk about it.

UPDATE: Meanwhile, over at Venice, Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain gets the Gold Lion. The long-anticipated homoerotic cowboy romance, starring Heath Ledger and Gyllenhaal, is based on an Annie Proulx short story published in the New Yorker in 1997.

Gabbo! Gabbo! Gabbo!

kunkel.gifIsn’t it funny how, just two weeks after his debut novel, Indecision, got front-page coverage in the NYTBR–heralded as “the funniest and smartest coming-of-age novel in years,” no less–Benjamin Kunkel makes the cover again with an essay on “the American terrorist novel“? On the very same day that A.O. Scott celebrates “the next-gen literary intellectuals” in the Magazine, leading off with…you guessed it, Kunkel?*

At this rate, I’m beginning to think that cute little character could take America by storm. Or at least W. 43rd Street. Well, all of Manhattan, really, since the Daily News, Sun, and Voice all give wildly enthusiastic raves, while Newsday contributes a supportive profile–although I still for the life of me can’t figure out what Michiko was trying to say.

(In all fairness, good on the n+1 and Believer crowd for scoring the attention. Scott doesn’t give mention any other new-ish magazines on the scene, but there’s Small Spiral Notebook and Land-Grant College Review, for starters…)

* Scott then writes through nearly three-quarters of the 5,000-word piece before deciding “now is probably the time to disclose that Kunkel’s literary agent… is also mine.”

Whither “Reality Books,” Revisited

Last week, I noted a mounting debate over nonfiction books in which the author deliberately subjects himself or herself to an ordeal for the sake of a story, like Barbara Ehrenreich in Bait and Switch. AJ Jacobs made a case for the genre as a valid platform for social critique; now, the pseudonymous Agent 007 discusses how these books are viewed behind the scenes.

Agent 007: “In this age of reality television, ‘reality books’ are likely to be popular as well. Personally, I’m not in favor of what I’ve heard referred to as ‘stunt journalism.’ I make exceptions for stellar writing, particularly from journalists, but the Joe Schmoe who decides to embark on something for the sole purpose of getting a book deal is something I am not interested in. An example is the deal, announced in Publishers Marketplace in late May, for Richard Smith’s American Crime Spree, ‘the true account of his journey across America on a mission to break as many absurd laws as possible during summer vacation (without getting arrested).’

“I didn’t see the proposal. Perhaps it was quite good, but apparently, not only had the book not been written before the sale, the author had yet to take the trip. And still, the book is planned for a spring 2006 publication.

“I predict these fabricated-concept books won’t enjoy the backlist sales of books that come about more organically or those penned by top-notch journalists. I’m probably an idealist, but I do believe authenticity coupled with brilliant writing wins out in the end.”

I suppose Smith must have just finished his cross-country rampage of misdemeanors, after months of planning. Anybody know if he managed to get himself arrested?

Beginner’s Luck

lauren.levin.jpgThe most impressive detail in the Sunday Styles piece on Same Sex in the City co-authors Lauren Levin (left) and Lauren Blitzer isn’t that the two landed their first book deal (as WWD reported last month) at 24, but that Levin’s scored a contract to write a dating guide for lesbians less than a year after coming out. Though that actually could work to her advantage, as she’s perhaps still in just the right frame of mind to connect with the intended audience of women who put down The Straight Girl’s Guide to Sleeping With Chicks feeling slightly unsatiated. Not to mention how much fun she’ll have doing all the necessary research…

(photo: Michael Nagle/NYT)

Some Inappropriate Hyperbole to Carry Us Out…

From The Times of India:

“Controversy has erupted over the 24-hour-old, inexplicable, so-called ‘literary award fatwa’ imposed on Salman Rushdie, whose magnificent, multi-national, much-hyped, four-day-old novel on ‘iron mullahs’ and a Kashmiri jihadi was left off the shortlist of the world’s most prestigious, financially lucrative Man Booker literary prize.”

As exciting as it is to see journalism that dispenses with the myth of objectivity altogether, I don’t think failure to make a literary shortlist is quite the same as a worldwide call for assassination, especially since the Booker chair is on record as believing Shalimar the Clown is Rushdie “writing at his best.” (The review’s in London’s Evening Standard, which doesn’t seem to like giving away news on the Internet much.)

Among the other “flabbergasted” reactions in the literary press, Nigel Reynolds takes a calmer view in The Telegraph, noting that, in the UK (as opposed to the U.S.), 2005 “has been hailed as one of the best years for fiction in a long time.” So it’s not as if Rushdie was getting excluded in order to celebrate, say, five unknown women from London.

We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful

haobsh.jpgAccording to Publishers Lunch, Nadine Haobsh just signed a two-book deal with Morrow’s Carrie Feron. The first book, according to the item, is described as an untitled memoir, ” in which the Ladies Home Journal associate beauty editor recently fired for her blog, Jolie in NYC, dishes about the beauty industry.” And though every prior indication was that she was working on a novel, I wouldn’t be surprised if the second book turns out to be nonfiction as well, since Nadine (freely admitted: so lacking in objectivity) stands ready to become the next Bobbi Brown…

Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again

Here’s another tidbit from the Publishers Lunch deal roundup which answers Elizabeth’s “not entirely rhetorical question” as to who’d get a Katrina book out first:

“Tulane University professor and historian Douglas Brinkley’s untitled book on New Orleans, juxtaposing the human drama wrought by Hurricane Katrina through personal and eyewitness accounts with a rich historical perspective of his city, to Claire Wachtel at Morrow, in a major deal, by Lisa Bankoff at ICM (world).”

Brinkley told his tale of riding out the storm at the Hyatt to Bill O’Reilly last week, but the story this book had better include is his boat ride with Sean Penn.

The Franz Experiment

marcus.jpgPW Daily has heard about the October issue of Harper’s, and predicts offended sensibilities throughout the literary community over an essay by Ben Marcus (left): “Why Experimental Fiction Threatens to Destroy Publishing, Jonathan Franzen and Life As We Know It: A Correction.” (I think Stephen Zeitchik might have actually read the article, but it’s not clear whether Harper’s gave him a copy or just told him the highlights.)

“Franzen’s first two novels, Strong Motion and The Twenty-Seventh City, included elements of experimental fiction and, according to Marcus, didn’t work very well as novels. The piece argues that Franzen turned to The Corrections (which Marcus likes, by the way) because Franzen couldn’t do more challenging styles very well and, Marcus implies, because he craved fame.”

Yeah, that sounds like it might be just a tad too snarky for The Believer. Yet it’s actually not too far from the way Heidi Julavits feels; Marcus’s wife described Franzen in a 2001 interview as one of the most obvious examples of “writers who performed decently as youngsters but were clearly NOT at the peak of their powers when they debuted all those years ago.”

Marcus, you might recall, was the leading candidate to take over the Iowa Writers’ Workshop before Lan Samantha Chang wound up with the gig. I interviewed him three years ago, and he had one of the best insights I’d ever heard about creative writing instruction:

“I try to see what people want to do and then offer myself as a really serious reader of what they’re pursuing. I’m as challenging as I can be, but on their terms. I think every writer has a fantasy of what their piece might be if everything went well; I try to help recognize what that is and give constructive responses that help the students get to where they want to be… You teach a writer to read himself or herself as closely as possible, and let that scrutiny lead to more complicated, stronger work. That’s how we get better–by reading ourselves and finding things we want to work on.”

Now I’m sort of curious to see what it is Marcus believes Franzen decided to work on in The Corrections–and dying to find out what they might have had to say to each other when they shared the dais for a New School panel on Proust back in 2003.

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