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Archives: June 2007

My Lunch With Leslie and Lesley

When I first came up with the idea of inviting Leslie Schnur and Lesley Dormen out together, I just thought that the similar first names would make for a cute gimmick on which to hook an item, but the two authors ended up having much more in common. Within five minutes of sitting down for lunch Monday, they had discovered that they’d grown up within thirty miles of each other in Ohio and took turns commiserating that neither had heard about the Jewish Book Council auditions before last weekend’s NYTBR story.


The two continued to compare notes on the life cycles of their recently published books. Schnur (left) admitted that even with her pre-authorial career as the former editor-in-chief of Delacorte and Dell, she was occasionally caught off guard, but she also agreed with Dormen that by not publishing until this moment in their lives, they were able to manage their expectations somewhat more realistically. “I don’t need to be a #1 bestseller,” Schnur quipped about her new novel, Late Night Talking, “but I’d like to be a #21 bestseller.” Dormen was even more modest in her aspirations for the linked story collection The Best Place to Be, concentrating on literary regard. “It seems like total serendipity if that intersects with a cultural moment,” she reflected, “but the cultural moment is Devil Wears Prada, and that’s not what I’m writing.”

Touring the Met with Museum‘s Author


When I told Danny Danzinger‘s publicist that I thought we should do our interview about Museum, his new book about the Metropolitan Museum of Art, at the Met, I confess that my reasons were entirely selfish: I just hadn’t been there in a couple years, and I wanted to see the new Greek and Roman antiquities wing. Turns out I was actually doing him a favo; the last time he’d been through these galleries was during the early morning, and the light streaming into the rooms during our afternoon tour was wonderful. “It’s like I’m seeing it with new eyes,” he marveled as we wandered. “In my interview with Philippe de Montebello, he talks about how he would want to take his ‘last walk’ through the Met at noon… Now I see what he means.”

“I just thought this museum was so much fun,” he said when I asked how he decided to start his book. “Europe’s museums are so gloomy, and it feels like people go to them out of a sense of duty. And I’d never been to an American museum before my first visit here. We don’t even have many American things in British museums.” As we talked about the people he’d interviewed during his research, he observed at one point that he hoped he didn’t sound obsequious, “the way the Post described me,” and I took the opportunity to refer to last month’s reports about how passages critical of the Met had been toned down. If Museum chooses to celebrate the Met and its people, I prompted, not every book needs to be a tell-all. “Oh, I wouldn’t have minded writing that sort of book,” he responded. “When I wrote my book about the London Philharmonic, after all, one of the reviews was headlined ‘Bed Hopping & Bitchery.’ But this is a genuinely harmonious place.”

In Europe, Autobiography Counts as Fiction

PW Daily’s European correspondent Rüdiger Wischenbart comments on what might seem unusual to US and UK book trade but is common practice in Europe: memoirs and any form of autobiography is automatically classified as fiction. So all that controversy surrounding Gunter Grass’s memoir PEELING THE ONION? It matters, but less than we might think because it’s not considered to be true-blue nonfiction.

So why is that the case? Olivier Nora, head of the prestigious house Grasset, now part of the Hachette universe, adds both pragmatic as well as fundamental pieces to the riddle. On the one hand, he says to PW, only fiction titles can be picked for certain prestigious awards that are often a key to success in France. But, more profoundly, he points to that long tradition of French “auto-fiction”, of “telling the world”, or even, in the words of the poet Louis Aragon, of “mentir vrai” (or, “to lie truthfully”), which all push those narratives towards fiction. Bernhard Fetz, a Vienna-based researcher with the Austrian National Library specializing in all types of biography, is even more succinct: “While Germany, or France, have a mostly idealist tradition in culture, Britain, and hence the U.S., have always had a more pragmatic approach.”

Anna David: Chick Lit Is Never a Compliment

anna-david.jpg“I didn’t see what the big deal was about chick lit,” Anna David told me yesterday afternoon as we waited for our salads to arrive, recalling observations of the literary tussles other writers have had over that label before the publication of her own debut novel, Party Girl. “You have books out! What do you care what they’re labeled as? But now I’m noticing that my book is only described as chick lit by people who are deriding it…and I feel like I’ll end up offending somebody no matter what I say about chick lit.” (In fact, GalleyCat readers were already anonymously nudging us about David’s thoughts on the subject in the Huffington Post.) “I wrote a book about the most important and profound experience I’d ever had—getting and staying sober—and it’s being categorized among books about wearing Manolo Blahniks while trying to land a guy?” she asks rhetorically. “But there’s just no term for women’s fiction that doesn’t sound derogatory.”

Her own genre interests became clear early in the conversation. “If a book mentioned drugs or addiction,” she enthused, “I was on board. It didn’t matter what the writing was like, fiction or nonfiction.” She said she “bought every word of A Million Little Pieces,” but had an epiphany listening to the opening chapters of My Friend Leonard and realizing that his story was just too dramatically contrived. And then the division of HarperCollins formerly known as ReganBooks bought Party Girl the week that Oprah shamed James Frey on national television. “I don’t know if that helped or hurt my book,” David admitted, but she was glad things went the way they did. “It was always my first choice. I didn’t know much about publishing, but I knew Judith Regan‘s name, and I knew she was successful.” And though David didn’t actually meet Regan herself until several months after the manuscript was bought, reading the novel, you can practically see the rationale behind the acquisition; David’s story (which nobody pretends isn’t autobiographical) is classic ReganBooks, sensational yet not transgressive and aimed squarely at big emotional truths in the vein of, say, Toni Bentley‘s The Surrender.

David will be rejoining her HuffPo interlocutor, Rachel Kramer Bussel, at the Columbus Circle Borders tonight for another conversation. “If you come,” she promises, “I’ll tell you Ann Coulter stories.”

Bloomsbury on the Acquisition Prowl

When a company is flush, they usually want to expand their reach and share the wealth, so to speak. And as the Bookseller reports, Bloomsbury is no different, revealing today in advance of its annual general meeting that it is “actively considering” a number of possible acquisitions, though nothing is specified. Chairman Nigel Newton said: “We have been working hard this year in pursuing potential acquisitions and the company is actively considering a number of opportunities.”

Newton highlighted the group’s six point development strategy, which it said was “progressing well”. He said: “In the medium and long term, Bloomsbury is guided by a clear development strategy which will support its development. We are confident that the building blocks for Bloomsbury’s future are in place – a future where our core expertise will continue to play a fundamental role, namely publishing, in whatever form, books of the highest possible quality, with content which excites and pleases readers.”

Publishers Waiting for Change in Fopp Status

The Bookseller’s Graeme Neill reports that publishers are still in the dark over the future of their book orders with Fopp, after the high street chain canceled book orders and said it was in negotiations with its bank. “We haven’t had any contact from them, nor any indication of what the future of the business is,” one publisher said. Another added: “It would be nice to have some communication from them. We are hearing nothing. They bring a nice diversity to the high street, so it would be a shame if they were in trouble.”

When contacted by The Bookseller, a number of stores said they were not closing. “The company has been talking to banks and suppliers to negotiate new deals from them,” one sales assistant said. “The stock take last week was rather unusual but we needed an accurate valuation of how much the business is worth.”

HMV Full Year Results

HMV, parent company of Waterstone’s, announced the financial results of the year ending April 28, 2007. Total sales of merchandise increased 3.8 percent, inclusive of a 3.5% fall in like for like sales. Like for like sales up 3.8%, including an 8.8% increase in HMV UK & Ireland. Chief Executive Simon Fox commented, “The turnaround plan we announced in March is progressing well and we are on track. The benefits of our actions are beginning to come through and are reflected in the good start we have made to our new financial year.”

Fishburne to Write/Direct Alchemist Flick

Variety broke the news yesterday afternoon: Laurence Fishburne is adapting The Alchemist, the Paulo Coelho “adventure novel” that has become 21st-century America’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull, for a big-screen Warner Bros. release. Fishburne has already written the screenplay, and is also expected to direct the film—insert your own “red pill/blue pill” jokes here. Now let’s see Coelho complain that nobody in America appreciates him… although there’s no guarantee the flick will actually succeed. The box office for adaptations of other prominent metaphysical novels like The Celestine Prophecy and Peaceful Warrior, as recorded by IMDb, isn’t exactly encouraging, and let’s not forget the drubbing The Fountain took from critics and audiences. On the other hand, you might retort, What the #$*! Do We Know?

How Much Must Rumsfeld Show & Tell?

The New York Sun has a story this morning on Donald Rumsfeld‘s informational tour of the New York publishing world, as the former secretary of defense has apparently shown a few houses something, which a former aide insists couldn’t possibly be an outline or a proposal, “in an effort to gauge how much information he would have to disclose in the memoir in order to justify a large cash advance.” Reporter Gary Shapiro mentions our item from May about Rumsfeld’s trip to the Penguin building, and gets quotes from other potential buyers and industry observers, all of whom seem to agree that if he’s willing to open up about the war, a publisher might be willing to spring for a first printing in the neighborhood of 250,000-300,000 copies.

Happy Ending’s Big Finale, Plus an Epilogue

amandastern-nytimes.jpgBefore Amanda Stern (left) closes down the Happy Ending reading series for the summer, she’s got one more great lineup planned for this evening, with musical guests One Ring Zero joining readers Eliza Griswold, Jean Thompson, and Alison Bechdel. Once that’s over, Stern will be heading out to Southampton for the weekend, but it’s a working getaway: Fashion collective LOLA New York is throwing a party at the Blue&Cream clothing boutique, which will start carrying her debut novel, The Long Haul, the first step in “an innovative platform to disseminate risk-taking literature to… Generation Y.” And after that, she’s off to Yaddo for a month (and, if everything works out, filing a dispatch or two for my literary blog, Beatrice).

photo: Gareth McConnell/NYT