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Posts Tagged ‘Rachel Donadio’

Wait, Blurbs Don’t Flow Like Honey from the Rock? Really?

donadio.jpgIt was back in 2006 that I first mentioned the two types of Rachel Donadio stories you could find in the New York Times Book Review. On a good day, you’d get sharply reported articles like the backstory on J. Robert Lennon‘s Happyland or a dispatch from the Jewish Book Network auditions. On a not-so-good day, it seemed as if she would just flip through her Rolodex and collect some new quotes on a tired perennial like the alleged death of book parties or the state of the literary feud… or yesterday’s back-pager on what’s up with author blurbs—how hard it can be to get one, and how much some writers agonize over giving or not giving one.

How lame a topic is this? It is so lame a topic that Salon already covered the territory two weeks ago, in the traditional Salon manner: They found a published author willing to complain about life’s unfairness. At least Donadio’s version isn’t whiny, but it still doesn’t give her much of an exit line.

Yes, exit line: Donadio, it was announced a few weeks back, is leaving the Book Review to become the Times bureau chief in Rome. It could be a productive shift, if some of her previous features, like last year’s review of Gomorrah or the profile of Antonio Monda, are any indication. With any luck, she’ll continue to make connections to the literary world from her new Italian outpost—it’d be great to see more stories that play to her strength of laying out a clear, navigable path through unfamiliar territory without losing sight of the “strangeness” of her surroundings.

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The Jewish Book Network Puts Authors on Audition

One of the most common stories I heard throughout BEA came from authors who had survived one of the several evenings sponsored by the Jewish Book Network right before the trade show began. Almost American Idol-style, authors were asked to get up onstage, recite a two-minute speech about why Jewish Book Fairs and JCCs should invite them to their events, and wait for a judgment call to be awarded later. Nervewracking? Certainly. A story idea? Absolutely.

So it’s no wonder the NYTBR’s Rachel Donadio not only got to the idea first but sat in on one of those evenings, which featured a cavalcade of authors from M.J. Rose to Katharine Weber to Howard Jacobson and Charlotte Mendelson, two UK-based authors who’d flown in – on their own dime – to audition. None of these authors would have taken part if not for Carolyn Starman Hessel, director of the Jewish Book Network and in possession of an “uncanny ability” to get people excited about books and authors like Nathan Englander, Nicole Krauss and Jonathan Safran Foer, whose early careers owed some debt to the Book Fair circuit.

For most authors, Donadio writes, the audition experience is ” somewhere between JDate and a camel auction,” said Jeffrey Goldberg, a writer for The New Yorker who toured last year to promote PRISONERS his memoir about serving in the Israeli Army and befriending a Palestinian inmate. “Camels are very skittish, and so are writers. We don’t like having our teeth inspected. But if we’re going to sell, we know we have to have our teeth inspected.” His advice? “Do not follow the woman who just published a book on how all her children were murdered in Treblinka. It’s much preferable to follow a woman who has 100 halvah recipes.” Sound advice, to be sure.

A Further Look Inside the NYTBR

The Queens College Knightly News‘ Literary Editor, Michael Orbach, recently spent a day at the New York Times’ Book Review Offices, interviewing editor-in-chief Sam Tanenhaus as well as editors Dwight Garner & Rachel Donadio and frequent contributor Liesl Schillinger. Much of the information isn’t new (the fiction/non-fiction disparity; how books are chosen; favorite authors) and the inevitable litblog question is asked of everyone (Donadio kindly namechecks GalleyCat as a resource “to guide me to interesting stories in the world press that I might otherwise have missed”; all but Tanenhaus, who somehow manages to know exactly what blogs are saying about the TBR without reading them – a remarkable feat of psychic ability or hypocrisy, depending on your standpoint – say they check in anywhere from occasionally to once or twice a week) but Orbach does manage to get Tanenhaus to speak of how the Book Review functions within a working newspaper:

Remember, we’re folded inside a big newspaper, or people go to the homepage, the webpage, and find us, so we’re a small slice within the newspaper. That’s a lot of what our role is: in a sense, to cover books, in addition to what the daily newspaper does; our writers have more room, somewhat more time, but that’s all it is, to give a snapshot of the literary world on any given moment.

Ron adds: Tanenhaus may be drawing the heat for his remarks about the blogosphere, but I thought it was Garner who laid out his viewpoint most concisely: “A lot of the stuff that’s out there is almost comically vicious; it’s sort of a race to the bottom, to see who can belch out the ugliest possible thing in the grossest possible way.” (Of course, when pressed on the matter, some would say that they were being satirical.) What interested me, though, were the insights into the interviewee’s literary perspectives, like Schillinger’s efforts to read books for fun on the side, or Donadio’s admiration for South African literature now that, in her view, “Europe is over, its intellectual class engaged with the past.” If there’s any money left in the travel budget, I for one would love to hear what she has to say about the scene in India