A few posts back I touched upon the idea of the “style guide.” As a newly minted journalism student, I have been taught that these guides are essential for creating the “clean copy” that my editors will want to see. They are fascinating books in a way. In my AP Stylebook some entries are brief, just one word: tiptop says one, instructing me not hyphenate. Other entries go on for a few pages like the one for possessives, which explains how to deal with “nouns the same in singular and plural,” “special expressions,” and “quasi possessives.” I know, exciting. One of the undercurrents of journalism school seems to be that writing is a lot more than just putting words on paper. There are rules to be followed and facts to be vetted. The rules are covered by the Stylebook, but vetting the facts can often be done with The World Almanac and Book of Facts, where one might discover a daily astronomy calendar, a list of popes, and the name of every town in Alabama with more than 5,000 people. Armed with these two books, I ought to have much of the guidance I need, but I have also been known to refer to a couple of my favorite writing reference books when necessary. The Elements of Style is a thin, little book that is so elegant and efficient in teaching proper usage it supersedes many of the fatter, drier grammar books you may have encountered in your studies. I also love my The Synonym Finder, which I bought when I worked at the book store after a customer became misty when describing her devotion to it. I’m glad I bought it. Every time I go looking for a synonym, I find one so good that it feels like I’m cheating somehow. My reference library is by no means complete, however. I’m still looking for that perfect dictionary (any recommendations?). And though I’m always dropping hints that I’d love to get a nice hefty atlas for a gift, I still haven’t received one.
Australian author, Elliot Perlman scored a minor hit last year with his novel Seven Types of Ambiguity, and now Riverhead is capitalizing on that success by putting out a collection of Perlman's stories, originally published in Australia in 2000, but yet to appear in the States. The book, called The Reasons I Won't Be Coming, contains nine stories. The title story of this collection was good enough to be included in the The Penguin Century of Australian Stories.In his second novel, In Lucia's Eyes, Dutch author Arthur Japin, takes an episode out of Casanova and runs with it. The novel follows Lucia, Casanova's first love, who leaves him after she is disfigured by small pox, and, after years as a secretary, housekeeper and veiled prostitute, encounters Casanova 16 years later in Amsterdam. Japin's first novel, The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boachi, received a lot of praise. This new book has a different translator, and some early reviews - PW calls the translation "sometimes stilted" - wonder if In Lucia's Eyes is worse off for it. Knopf has an excerpt up.Michelle Lovric's novel, The Remedy covers similar ground - a 17th century woman, the colorfully named Mimosina Dolcezza, traveling across Europe before encountering her true love. Dolcezza is enamored with Valentine Greatrakes, whose business is concocting the remedies that the book is named for. The Remedy was shortlisted for the Orange Prize, which had this to say about the book: "Funny, mischievous and thoroughly melodramatic, written by an author with a poetic way with verbs. And featuring a slew of original recipes so you can concoct eighteenth century remedies in the comfort of your own home." An excerpt is available here.
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A little more than 10 years ago a couple of Wall Street Journal reporters got together to write about the calamitous rise and fall of RJR Nabisco, an episode that would epitomize the back room shenanigans of a decade of junk bonds and hostile takeovers. They ended up with fantastic book called Barbarians at the Gate, which was later made into a decent HBO movie of the same title. The book is a thrilling account of cutthroat billion dollar deals, and gross misappropriation of funds, like when the CEO has the company plane pick up his dog to keep him company at a golf tournament. Now, after barely a pause it seems, there are again dozens of stories of greed to be told, starting of course with the biggest one of all, Enron. Once again two Wall Street Journal reporters have used their singular knowledge and access to tell the story of the bust that has come to define the boom that preceded it. Rebecca Smith and John R. Emshwiller are the reporters who originally broke the story, and their book 24 Days, is as much about the collapse of Enron as it is about the investigative journalism that uncovered this massive fraud.On the way to work I caught the tail end of an interview with Richard Polsky. He was talking about how tremendously juvenile the world of high end modern art collectors, gallery owners, and artists can be. He was illustrating the point with a story about how a food fight erupted at a gallery, and an extremely expensive Ed Ruscha painting was marred by a grease stain from a thrown chicken wing. He describes this and the many other antics he encountered on his quest to purchase his first piece of modern art in his book I Bought Andy Warhol, which is, from everything I've heard, a tremendously funny jab at the inner circle of modern art.I read Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware about two months ago, and it continues to infect my brain as few other books have. Reading the book felt like a view into the psyche of writer and artist and character, a comic more real than a dream yet somehow just slightly less real than life. I was delighted to see that Chronicle Books that will allow me to further delve into the world of Jimmy Corrigan. Acme Novelty Datebook is the collected sketches of Ware from when he was writing Jimmy Corrigan. There are many things packed onto the pages: sketches for Jimmy Corrigan, great little sight gags and five or six panel comics that lead into a pleasant oblivion, and a lot of stuff that seemingly comes from nowhere and leads to nowhere, but is fascinating to look at. The book is beautiful. I can't wait to spend more time with it.Three Pt. 2 (Advice for Those Abroad)My buddy Cem is trying to figure out what to do next. He's currently in northwestern Thailand near the border with Burma. Help me help him decide what to do. Here are his three options:1. Stay in town and teach English to Burmese Refugees. Commitment: 2 months2. Move to the border town of Mae Sot and work with 10 young guys who live in a shack in the woods and produce an anti government magazine that they circulate in the refugee camps, internationally, and in Burma. Also teach english to Shan and Wa and Karen exile youth part time. Commitment: 3 months3. Pack up and head into Burma itself for 3 weeks doing major research for a big article, also purchasegood to sell at home (laquerware, etc). Record everything in Arabic script. Work on article and get published via NY contacts. Leave for Cairo or the beach when I get back.(I'm leaning towards option three by the way)
On day ten of our recent cross-country drive, it became clear that we had twenty hours left of driving and no more music and nothing to say to each other again, possibly ever. At one point we realized that we were fools and that for ten days we could have been listening to audio books instead of children's programming on the Focus on the Family radio station, which is evidently the only radio station broadcasting in some portions of the country, which explains a lot of things about a lot of other things.We went to a Barnes and Noble in a strip mall in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and found that our audio options mostly consisted of self-help, Janet Evanovich, Sean Hannity, and six ponderous Classics. Moby Dick, at twenty-one hours, was the closest to our remaining driving time, so that was our pick. To my great shame, I have tried and failed to read that novel a number of times. It's not the length, but the alarming density of it. The sentences, while exquisitely made, are exhausting, so many of them one after another like that. I had never listened to a book on tape, because the concept sounded too confusing, but I thought it might be an ideal format for this, my own white whale (if you will).And it was great! We were having such a fun time with Ahab and Queequeg and the gang, and during the parts which made my eyes glaze over in reading (like the whale classifications and whatnot), I could just look out the window and listen to the dulcet tones of Audie Award™ Winner Frank Muller!We had just finished disc six of eighteen, somewhere around chapter forty, and I went eagerly for the next one. Only to find that instead of discs 7-12, we had been given two sets of 13-18. There was a lot of suffering in the car at that moment. My traveling companion suggested, with choice words, that we call the company and have a representative read us those chapters over the phone. Unsurprisingly, however, their solution was to mail the missing discs. To our home, in which we will have no need for an audio book. It's so obvious that I am never finishing Moby Dick.
A year and a half ago, when BEA was in New York, Max and I decided, against our better judgment, to attend a panel discussion on the fate of book reviewing. The headliner was the intellectual performance artist Christopher Hitchens. However, we both walked away more impressed by the grit, gravity, and grace of panelist John Leonard than we were by Hitch's charming bloviations.I'd been reading Leonard's "New Books" column in Harper's for years, but I emerged from that panel with a more expansive sense of the man, and promptly dug into his essays of the 1970s and 1980s. Those were years when vernacular brio and moral seriousness were not mutually exclusive - when glibness wasn't held in such high esteem. Like Pauline Kael, Leonard made criticism feel like a vital part of the American intellectual landscape.Moreover, Leonard was a fearless explorer (and often defender) of the new and the unconventional. To name but one example, his last essay for The New York Review of Books (on Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policeman's Union) was a model of sympathetic inquiry.Leonard's death last week, at age 69, is thus both a substantial loss and a reminder that the life of the mind still matters. Leonard was a great critic. He was also something nobler: a great reader. He will be missed.
My travels to the East coast last weekend swept away any doubt about the importance of the current wave of bestselling books about the Bush administration. In airport lounges, on planes, and in the New York City subways people everywhere are getting their news, not from the Times or from the weekly newsmagazines, but from a handful of books by people who enjoyed unfettered access to the current administration. I especially noticed an abundance of copies of Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack as well as a handful of copies of Richard Clarke's Against All Enemies, (which, at the moment, come in at number one and number six respectively on Amazon's Top 100). The content of these books is interesting, but so is the phenomenon behind them. According to many who have been following this trend, we are in uncharted territory. In the Times, David K. Kirkpatrick explains why all of this is unprecedented and suggests that the administration's vigilance over the information that ends up in newspapers and magazines has caused a spillover into books. Here is the article.
Twitter had its big moment last week, but unlike so many other technology start-ups in the seeming parade of millionaire-makers over the last two decades (with the obvious exception of Amazon.com), Twitter has developed a special following in the literary community, from high-brow to low. Perhaps that's not surprising. Writers revel in words, and Twitter, nearly alone among hot technology start-ups, is mostly about words, crafting them to meet the medium's peculiar restraints and sending them out into the world to be engaged with or ignored. Twitter is like some atomized version of the writer's process. With Twitter, ideas go out piecemeal, the whole process taking a millionth the amount of time it would if you were to glom all those ideas together into one big whole and turn it into something as unlikely-seeming by comparison as a book. This speed, then, may be deeply satisfying -- even addictive -- as writers bypass so much of the toil of getting a book out of their brains and off to readers (New York's Kathryn Schulz elaborated smartly on this idea last week.) There is no uniform stance on Twitter in the literary community, of course. Some, like Teju Cole and Colson Whitehead, find it vital; many others -- led by a certain one-time Time coverboy from the Midwest, do not. Some writers have more prosaic feelings about Twitter. Novelist Peter Orner wrote, "Some are talented at it; others, less so." Zadie Smith is not on Twitter. Nor are Jeffrey Eugenides (though his vest once was), Michael Chabon (not really, though his writer wife Ayelet Waldman is), George Saunders, or David Mitchell. Jennifer Egan is, but just a little bit. Nonetheless, Twitter appears to be here to stay, for a while anyway. And it will remain a pastime for writers looking for book news, inspiration, distraction, literary puns, and every other thing they might want. But it wasn't always that way. In the not too distant past, the literary lights of Twitter pecked out their first 140 characters and waited to see what Twitter would bring. Curious, I dug back into the Twitter archive to see how these writers took their first steps into Twitter. What follows are the very first tweets of some of Twitter's well-known practitioners from the literary world. Finishing the website entries for my fall novel The Year of the Flood. — Margaret E. Atwood (@MargaretAtwood) July 8, 2009 How does a petty trader come by N30 million worth of cars? Police hope Israel Ubatuegwu, of Ajah, has a good explanation. — Teju Cole (@tejucole) June 7, 2011 @R_Nash proud to be a part of ennui 2.0 — colson whitehead (@colsonwhitehead) March 15, 2009 Preparing for Book Expo America in the office in Dumbo. The last time we've to schlap boxes ourselves. Next year we pay the Teamsters... — Richard Nash (@R_Nash) May 30, 2007 Last night at the Norman Mailer Award Ceremony in NYC, Oliver Stone said beautifully: "A serious writer is a rebel." — Joyce Carol Oates (@JoyceCarolOates) October 5, 2012 trying to figure out if someone does a decent MP3 workout, which will magically transform my iphone and my body at the same time. — Ayelet Waldman (@ayeletw) January 27, 2009 @JaneGreen I talked to Rufus just this morning...ok, I interviewed him for T+L — Dani Shapiro (@danijshapiro) April 24, 2009 Slaughtered by Sam A. and Jefffery Y. at post-diner breakfast ping-pong. Licking wounds. — Dwight Garner (@DwightGarner) February 13, 2009 Here's a video of my speech at the NBCC in NYC last week: http://tinyurl.com/dfe8rt — Ron Charles (@RonCharles) March 17, 2009 Testing... — Sarah Weinman (@sarahw) April 24, 2007 reading — Susan Orlean (@susanorlean) December 23, 2007 doesn't want to be an editor. oops, too late. — Emma Straub (@emmastraub) December 3, 2008 I just opened my present from Dave McKean, The Big Fat Duck Cookbook. Heavy as a stone and beautiful. "See?" he said. "I do read your blog." — Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) December 26, 2008 @ShitHomemaker - this is my first tweet and it's your fault. — Salman Rushdie (@SalmanRushdie) September 15, 2011 Fine, then. I'll twitter. — John Green (@realjohngreen) December 11, 2008 No matter what I do there are always 5 emails in my inbox that I am avoiding. — Doug Coupland (@DougCoupland) April 1, 2009 I've reached the limit on how many Facebook friends I can add. So here is a new page. — Amy Tan (@AmyTan) August 12, 2010 http://www.thewriterscoffeeshop.com/publishinghouse/books/detail/23 — E L James (@E_L_James) April 12, 2011 First Tweet ever, prompted by Jeff Howe's essay in Sunday's NYTBR. Velly interesting. Helloooooo? — Erik Larson (@exlarson) May 22, 2012 Does anyone know who @BretEastonEllis is? — Bret Easton Ellis (@BretEastonEllis) April 10, 2009 @erlson You just got me to join Twitter. — William Gibson (@GreatDismal) April 1, 2009 coveting Susan Lewis' hair. — Jennifer Weiner (@jenniferweiner) April 3, 2009 @chuckpalahniuk This is Dennis, webmaster at ChuckPalahniuk.net. Please contact me via my site email address. Thanks! — Chuck Palahniuk (@chuckpalahniuk) January 28, 2009 Becoming far more wired than I probably really need to be. — Joe Hill (@joe_hill) January 4, 2009 hi, i'm gary shteyngart, a furry 39-year-old immigrant man trapped in a young dachshund's body. LOVE ME!!!!!!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/RgLBxjYO — Gary Shteyngart (@Shteyngart) December 1, 2011 I'm going to do it right this time. — Emily Gould (@EmilyGould) May 21, 2009 today felt like the unabomber but i wasn't plotting anything or planning anything or trying to bomb anything and i was wearing 4-inch heels — Kate Zambreno (@daughteroffury) June 29, 2012 Wessex Man http://tinyurl.com/yw93xb — New York Times Books (@nytimesbooks) March 18, 2007 News: Netherland wins PEN/Faulkner award: It was overlooked for the Booker prize and the prestigious US Nat.. http://bit.ly/AufPL — Guardian Books (@GuardianBooks) February 26, 2009 Podcasting: http://tinyurl.com/6hc9z4 — NY Review of Books (@nybooks) July 2, 2008 Check out our feature on the best audiobooks coming this spring. — Publishers Weekly (@PublishersWkly) January 31, 2009 Mario Bros. meets Macbeth: What do a pixelated plumber and a murderous king have in common? Nintendo DS -- in En.. http://tinyurl.com/5gr5m4 — L.A. Times Books (@latimesbooks) December 10, 2008 Hello, world! Official Library of Congress Twitter feed here. So nice to see 215 followers before so much as a single tweet! — Library of Congress (@librarycongress) January 27, 2009 Welcome to the new GalleyCat Twitter feed, regularly collecting tweets from Senior Editor Ron Hogan, Editor Jason Boog, and Jeff Rivera. — GalleyCat (@GalleyCat) August 26, 2009 Welcome to @nprbooks! We'll use to to share our book coverage and hopefully talk about some good books, too. / @acarvin — NPR Books (@nprbooks) January 8, 2010 We noticed lots of sites use Twitter for feedback. We created this account as a placeholder, but please visit our Feedback Group anytime! — goodreads (@goodreads) August 19, 2008 56 years after William Styron warned us about chasing the zeitgeist, The Paris Review is now on twitter. From issue 1: http://bit.ly/BCnnE — The Paris Review (@parisreview) September 4, 2009 Culling together work for Electric Literature no.2, planning events for October, spinning splendidly through another day at the office. — Electric Literature (@ElectricLit) August 31, 2009 Rick Moody on running out of luck: http://tinyurl.com/ckno8d — The Rumpus (@The_Rumpus) January 29, 2009 What will be named top book of the decade? http://bit.ly/AMgq8 What's your pick? — The Millions (@The_Millions) September 21, 2009 What's the best part of B.G.'s "Bling Bling" video? Pre-tattoo'd Wayne, zooming red VW Beetles, or the crew's outdoor fine china picnic? — Nick Moran (@nemoran3) February 2, 2011
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