Balzac was right. . . It's important for novelists to leave the ivory tower and immerse themselves in the most intense aspects of the real world. Which is why author Janet Evanovich shares the five things she loves about NASCAR.
This follows on the trend of converting book stores into coffee houses or (as with the Borders chain) removing books and replacing them with greeting cards and knick-knacks. My local Barnes & Noble has its spin-off Game Stop, the video game retailer, grafted on to its store. Not such a great idea for parents like me who bring their children to bookstores to get them reading instead of playing video games.
Of course, Chicago already has Hugh Hefner Way and Balbo Drive, named for Italo Balbo, a fascist Italian air minister from the 1930s. But, for the time being, the move to create a Saul Bellow Drive is at an apparent dead end.
Do the math: One Heinz award = 2.5 Man Booker Awards. That's a lot of catsup!
Amazon.com launches a contest to find the next great novelist. . . and then stops accepting submissions after it quickly gets to its 5,000 novel cap.
Media reports on the latest Whiting Awards -- for promising young writers -- focus on the key facts. Namely, that one of the recipients is a goat farmer, another is a Wyoming climber, a third has a tattoo. A boxing enthusiast ranks among the award winners. But no mention anywhere of how well they write.
Some aspiring writers go to workshops. Others get a degree in creative writing. Me? I just return to Elmore Leonard's ten rules. A recent interview with Leonard can be found here. And, for those who aspire to literary greatness, here are the rules:
1. Never open a book with weather. 2. Avoid prologues. 3. Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue. 4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said". 5. Keep your exclamation marks under control. 6. Never use the word "suddenly". 7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. 8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters. 9. Ditto, places and things. 10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
Aspiring writers don't get enough practical advice of this sort. I remember the time I pressed a successful author of suspense novels to give me a writing tip. He thought it over, and after careful consideration announced: "When you write about your hero getting into a fight, make sure the fight goes on for a long time." A single nugget like that is worth its weight in blogging paper.
And how much are my old Encyclopedia Brown books worth? A first edition of the initial Harry Potter book sold for more than $40,000 at an auction held by Christie's. Only 500 copies were printed during this first press run -- an inauspicious start for the most successful fictional works of our time.
Don't know what to read? One enterprising blogger has solved this problem by letting visitors to his site vote on what book he should pick. Catch-22 took first place, while The Scarlet Letter finished at the bottom. (The lesson here: not enough Puritans on the web.) The entire results available here.
The Millions presents its list of most anticipated imaginary books. Selections include Christopher Hitchens' future bestseller Moms Are Not Nice and A Perfectly Fine Generation by Tom Brokaw. Complete list here.
Worse than memorizing a page of Biblical begats: I cursed Mark Z. Danielewski while reading his House of Leaves for all the typographical quirks -- especially the pages that required me to put them up to a mirror to read the text. (That was even a bigger bummer than that ridiculously long sentence toward the end of Ulysses.) But Danielewski's interview with Callie Miller & Michele Reverte is refreshingly easy to read, except for the smattering of red letters spelling out his favorite city.
But, silly typography aside, House of Leaves is the best novel I have ever read about an empty house.
Martin Amis asks an audience whether they feel morally superior to the Taliban . . and only 30% raise their hands. Meanwhile the haughty journalist asks: Has Amis lost his marbles?
But does Ed McMahon come to your door with galleys? Publishers Weekly claims that a favorable review in its pages can make an unknown author into a millionaire. . . . And I never guessed that Publishers Weekly was affiliated with Publishers Clearinghouse.
The Unbelievable Lateness of Publication: Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being wins the Czech Republic's State Award for Literature. This 1984 book may be old news for the rest of us, but it is a new book in Kundera's former home country -- where it was published for the first time last year.
They should call it the BCS bestseller list: The sad truth emerges on how books get on the New York Time bestseller list. Hint: buying a cup of coffee for Sam Tanenhaus doesn't help. That's right . . . It's (mostly) decided by those bloody computers.
What's harder than reading all of Tolstoy's War and Peace? How about reading two new translations of War and Peace and comparing the pros and cons. Natasha Randall takes the plunge into 2,161 pages and lives to tell the story . . . twice!
Some people complain about the New York Times; others merely sell their stock. In the case of the Morgan Stanley, that amounts to $183 million in stock, dumped in one fell swoop. You want to buy a bit of history? NYT stock is at its lowest price in the last decade.
Don't let the bloggers hear about this: Hollywood screenwriters are on strike, demanding that pay schedules be set up for the use of their work on the Internet. Didn't anyone tell them that the web is set up as a gift economy?
From Peter Nicholson: "I enjoyed your alternative Nobel list. Can't agreethat Trilling was preferable to White - not surprisingly! W. S. Gilbert: now that's thinking out of the box. Auden not getting the prize - life ain't fair, but we know that already."
From Brent Gilmore: "And since your list is inclusive enough for Bob Dylan and Stephen Sondheim, isn't there a place for the literary intelligence of film maker Ingmar Bergman?"
From Richard Bleiler: "What a wonderful list! If there were any justice in the administration of the Nobel Prize for Literature, the list of prize winners would doubtless be much as you have it. But – but! -- how could you have omitted H. G. Wells? Surely he did more for the cause of literature and the enjoyment of reading and thinking, to say nothing of advocating social causes, than such writers as Freud, Trakl, Grey, and Zweig?"
From Trevor Butterworth: "Lagerkvist is far superior to Parker. . . .He's just not well-known in the English-speaking world; but Barrabas, the Dwarf and the Sibyl kick Dottie's ass (she was a better journalist than short story writer). Otherwise, I think your list is mostly spot on: Wittgenstein is a better philosopher than Russell, but a more readable one? Not sure on that. And there needs to be a place made for Mikhail Bulgakov. The Master and Margarita is an artistic AND popular triumph - and he predates everyone else on magic realism. Finally, the greatest omission: P. G. Wodehouse."
And how many copies did Anne Enright (winner of Booker Prize) actually sell of her book? Nielsen book scan show 3,300 copies sold, but Enright's publisher claims to have peddled 35,000. This proves what I've always suspected -- that the kids who are good in math grow up to get real jobs, while the rest opt for publishing.
But what a refreshing change from the music industry, where companies understate sales to minimize royalties, while everyone else exaggerates the figures.
And there is no truth to the rumor that the Booker short-listed books will be made available for free on-line. To which I say: "DUH!" Of course, publishers won't give them away. But imagine the impact if a philanthropist funded the on-line distribution of 10,000 free copies of each book on a first-come, first serve basis. I estimate a total cost of around $500 K per year. By comparison, sponsoring a NASCAR driver requires a commitment of $10 to $20 million.
The lesson is simple: the pen may be mighter than the sword, but it's still a wus compared to a souped-up Chevy.
Is the printed book review dead meat? Maybe not, but this cool interface for reading TLS -- that's the Times Literary Supplement for you philistines -- makes it a lot easier to skip the fishwrap and read on-line. It's free this week with simple registration.
Today's tongue-twister: Say In the Belly of the Beast three time fast. Then go back to YouTube.
Was Raymond Carver's reputation as a taut, minimalist writer really just the result of the tinkering of his editor Gordon Lish? Carver's widow, Tess Gallagher wants to let us find out. Hmmm, isn't this like learning that Ennio Morricone really wanted sappy string orchestra arrangements for those old Sergio Leone films?