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Archives: April 2008

Ron Currie, Jr.: NYPL’s Newest Young Literary Lion

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“It’s very hard to create something beautiful in this world,” Ethan Hawke told the nominees for the New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award last night, “and you all have done it, and we’re in your gratitude.” (Earlier in the ceremony, he’d joked that after actors had read excerpts from the five shortlisted books, “we’re all going to applaud for the one you like the most.”) And then, when NYPL CEO Paul LeClerc announced that the $10,000 prize, awarded annually to a fiction writer under 35, was going to Ron Currie, Jr. for God Is Dead, a collection of linked stories about what happens to the world when the titular proclamation comes true, squeals of delight arose from the Viking table.

The money’s going to take a while to arrive, though: LeClerc informed the audience that dummy checks were being handed out at the ceremony because, at last year’s party, two of the runners-up managed to lose their $1,000 consolation prizes. (This, some of the guests might have said, is what happens when you have plenty to drink and nothing to eat but mixed nuts; one publicist and I were seriously contemplating whether or not we should run across the street and bring burritos back from Chipotle.)

With the annual PEN gala and the Triangle Awards taking place the same evening, the crowd was a bit subdued, but one could still spot some major literati. Amanda Peet was one of the celebrity readers, so David Benioff was in the audience, and I took the opportunity to talk to him about City of Thieves, which I had just started reading. Given that the opening scene is narrated by a screenwriter named David who’s romantically involved with an actress, how much of the subsequent story, in which that character’s grandfather recounts his experiences during the siege of Leningrad, is true? Very little, Benioff admitted, beyond the fact that his grandparents are from there and now live in Florida—but it’s still a great literary device, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the story turns out. I also caught a glimpse of essayist Sloane Crosley, who I’m told is on the library’s Young Lions Committee; I went over to ask her about that, but by the time I’d finished chatting with somebody else and turned around, she’d wandered off to another corner of the hall.

Are You Secure Enough to Take the One-Star Challenge?

It all started last week, when John Scalzi posted some of his one-star Amazon.com customer reviews, which describe his novels as “very slow, very boring, really not very interesting” and “just fluff and dreck.” And that’s okay, he says: “I am not under the impression that, alone among all writers who have ever existed, I will be the one whose work is universally acclaimed,” he wrote, “nor am I under the impression that when readers who feel burned by work are offered an avenue to express their displeasure, that they will rather prefer to stew privately.” He also completely rejected the Deborah MacGillivray approach to bad reviews—instead, he invited other authors to post their worst reviews “and then, you know[,] get past them.”

Naturally, mayhem ensued.

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So far—unsurprisingly, given Scalzi’s fan base—most of the authors participating hail from the science fiction/fantasy community, but crocheting handbook author Kim Werker is playing along too, conceding that someone out there believes “the projects [in Teach Yourself Visually: Crocheting] are ugly and I would not want to learn from this book.” But will the fancy lit’ry writers join in the fun?

James Frey’s Last Interview? We Shall See

There really isn’t that much to say about “James Frey‘s Morning After,” the profile running in June’s Vanity Fair that Michael Cader didn’t say last night at Publishers Marketplace. Save, perhaps, to note that this bid at redemption may have begun back in February, with a convenient Page Six item in which the newspaper owned by the company that owns the book publishers behind Bright Shiny Morning rechristened Frey as an “outsider.”

Or to wonder whether the article’s fourth-quarter assertion that “it was something of an open secret in the publishing world that the industry had been complicit in the scandal,” based on the idea that everybody “knows” memoirs have some element of fabrication, isn’t a rather melodramatic way of framing the situation. Granted, the “Margaret B. Jones” fiasco demonstrated that not much has changed in the way memoirs get chosen for publication despite all the post-Frey assurances—but “complicit in the scandal”? Whatever sells magazines, I suppose.

(That said, Evgenia Peretz is no doubt right when she suggests the novel “will test to what extent the public is willing to read James Frey the writer, and not, as he puts it, ‘James Frey the asshole,’” so we’ll be looking forward to getting our hands on a copy of Bright Shiny Morning and deciding for ourselves whether it’s any good.)

UPDATE: Though Frey tells Peretz he “doesn’t plan to speak to the press again after this interview,” Sarah Weinman emails that he may be cramming his schedule full of media interaction before calling it quits, as per the Bookseller profile also running this week.

Backstage at the LA Times Festival of Books

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Literary blogger and debut novelist Mark Sarvas sorts through the schedule for the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, trying to decide which panels he most wants to see. Mind you, this was taken Saturday morning, before many of us began refusing to walk across the UCLA campus in the blinding light and heat and contented ourselves with meeting our favorite authors in the “green room,” for which the Times appropriated the university’s faculty lounge—where you could see conversational pairings like Walter Mosley and James Ellroy on a regular basis. (Later in the day, when Richard Price appeared to be signing a copy of Lush Life for Ellroy, it was all taking place too far away for me to get a good picture. But it’s seared in my memory.)

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I got to meet almost everybody I wanted to meet over the course of the weekend; I was worried Saturday that I’d missed my opportunity to say hello to Pico Iyer, but then I spotted him in the lunch line Sunday afternoon and we chatted briefly about an interview I’d done with him in Seattle a decade ago, and how much I was looking forward to reading his new book about the Dalai Lama, The Open Road. I ran into Mark Harris, the author of Pictures at a Revolution, at the Book Soup booth during one of my few forays outdoors (for an interview you’ll read later on), and told him how much I was looking forward to the panel on Hollywood history he was about to do with Peter Biskind—so was everybody else, it seemed, because when I finally got there the auditorium was already filled to capacity.

I think the only person I didn’t get to meet was Peter Matthiessen, and I eventually found out that was because he’d never made it to Los Angeles, having bowed out a few days earlier due to health concerns, which I was gravely sorry to hear.

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Scene @ LA Times Book Prize After-Party

The after-party for the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, held on a large plaza behind UCLA’s Royce Hall, attracted a significant cluster of southern California’s literati, as well as the writers and publishers who were in town for the Festival of Books.

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I can’t remember exactly what novelist Tod Goldberg could have said to provoke such a reaction from memoirist Bridget Kinsella, but it probably wouldn’t be quotable here even if I could. (On his own blog, though, all bets are off.)

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So I’ve Got This Reading Wednesday Night…

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The second event in the Beatrice.com reading series at the Mercantile Library Center for Fiction is taking place Wednesday night, and the lineup includes two writers whose latest novels have recently been released in paperback. Arthur Phillips will be reading from his third novel, Angelica, while Paulina Porizkova shares an excerpt from A Model Summer, her debut novel. I’ll be doing my usual introductory remarks, and we’ll have wine and cheese and books for sale afterwards.

Even with the competition from PEN World Voices and various other literary events around town, I’m hoping for a good-sized audience for this reading (which starts at 7 p.m.). I hope you can make it!

Checking In with Dutton’s One Last Time

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I would have visited Dutton’s Brentwood Books while I was in town for the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books no matter what; my relationship with the store, and its role in shaping my career, is pretty well documented. And I knew going there this last weekend was essential, because of the store’s impending closure this Wednesday. Still, I was emotionally unprepared for the “final days” atmosphere when I arrived: The north wing of the store, which used to house the serious nonfiction and the classical music CDs, was already shuttered, with much of the remaining inventory shifted to the west wing—where there was plenty of room because they hadn’t been stocking new releases for a while now.

I sifted through the remaining paperback fiction, trying to remember various authors I’d been meaning to look into for a while now, and though owner Doug Dutton was obviously distracted, he was able to give me one last bit of advice about a CD I was contemplating. And then there was the two-volume Herman Melville biography by Hershel Parker—not only did they have it in stock, they had multiple copies, probably the only place outside the John Hopkins university bookstore that would! I snagged the least shopworn copies and added them to my pile…

I was heartened later that evening, at the LAT Book Prizes, when Kenneth Turan started the evening with a tribute to Dutton, which drew the only standing ovation of the evening. (Not even Maxine Hong Kingston, receiving the Robert Kirsch prize for American writing in the west, got quite as enthusiastic a response.)

Director of ‘The Secret’ Movie Asks, Believes, Doesn’t Receive, And Sues

byrne.jpgIf you’ve been hanging out on this planet, you likely know what a publishing phenomenon ‘The Secret’– the self-help book that basically tells readers to just wish for what they want really hard — has been. But news that the co-director of the megaselling movie the book was based on and the developer of the Secret website are independently suing ‘Secret’ creator Rhonda Byrne for a cut of her enormous profits has surfaced, prompting a lot of ‘Secret’ jokes. Like: “Nasty legal squabbling is most likely not what Ms. Byrne wished for. But it has nevertheless come to her.” And: “In its various forms, ‘The Secret’ makes life look simple. ‘Ask, believe, receive,’ the movie instructs. Legal fights are not always so straightforward.”

Did The Ghost of Vladimir Nabokov Tell His Son To Go Ahead And Publish His Unfinished Novel?

ghost.jpgApparently Vladimir Nabokov wanted the index cards containing his unfinished last novel, ‘The Original Of Laura’ burned, but Nabokov’s literary executor, his son Dmitri, now says that his dad has given him the go-ahead to publish from beyond the grave. Well, sort of.

Here’s what Nabokov told Der Spiegel, via the Times, about what motivated his decision to go against his father’s wish that the book be destroyed: “I’m a loyal son and thought long and seriously about it. Then my father appeared before me and said with an ironic grin: ‘You’re stuck in a right old mess. Just go ahead and publish.’”

By the time Nabokov spoke to Vanity Fair, though, the apparition had become more of a vague, new-agey sounding “presence.” “I feel that now, if he were to be speaking to me from this world or some other world, he would smile wryly, and say ‘Look, I see what kind of mess you are in. Why don’t you just go ahead and publish it? Have fun. Make some money if you want. And don’t worry about it.’ I felt that his presence was somewhere there, sustaining and supporting my decision.” Dad’s a friendly ghost, it seems.

“Cause I’m Glossy, And I’m Saucy, And I’m Down To Be Your Mr. Darcy”

butt.jpgCheryl Klein, a senior editor at Scholastic’s Arthur A. Levine Books, took the time out of her day to write a Sir Mix-a-Lot parody entitled “Baby Got Books.” She really did this. [PW]

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