Among the few movies I’ve seen in recent months, Sideways was one of the best. The director, Alexander Payne, has made a career out of bringing quirky, character driven novels to the screen. This time, the source material was a novel by the unknown and struggling Rex Pickett. According to this article from the Guardian, Rejected by 15 publishers, Sideways was still without a home when Payne happened to read the manuscript and liked it. Even with the possibility of a movie in the works, Pickett had to work hard to get it published. St Martin’s initial reluctance turned out to be quite lucrative:Then, finally, a publisher bit. “A lot of people think the book was only sold because it got made into a movie,” Pickett says. “That’s not true. It was bought when there was no guarantee it was going to be a movie. So that rankles me a little bit.” Apart from anything else, the film’s uncertain status meant that the book deal wasn’t worth much money up front. “St Martin’s Press paid me almost nothing. But that did mean my advance, what little it was, was earned out very quickly. Now I get a dollar for every copy sold!” He still sounds slightly giddy at the thought.I haven’t read this book, and I’ve heard that it’s just so-so, but I love the Rex Pickett rags to riches story.
Brian, one of my more well read and more ebullient friends, sent me this email emoting about one of the more underappreciated writers of the 20th century, Joseph Roth. Roth’s reputation and body of work were recently addressed in a New Yorker piece by Joan Acocella. Here’s Brian’s reaction:took the advice of the New Yorker and started reading Joseph Roth’s collection of short stories and am totally overwhelmed. read “Stationmaster Fallermayer” from the collection on your next break. amazing. i just ordered Radetzsky March from amazon (along with seamus heaney’s translation of Beowulf) –j. roth is one of those writers that was meant to write as we are all meant to breathe and move and sleep — his prose is beautiful: perfect constructions and his sentences convey much human truth — one of those guys who writes a line and immediately we ‘know’ it as we have felt it a million times but have never been able to articulate it the way he does… i look forward to pillaging his oeuvre…. He makes it sound pretty great. Unfortunately I didn’t get to read “Stationmaster Fallermayer” during my break at work yesterday, but I certainly intend to soon.
Six months after David Foster Wallace’s suicide, The New Yorker published a novella-length piece by journalist D.T. Max on Wallace’s last difficult years and his encompassing effort to surpass Infinite Jest. That article started the drumbeat for two books: The first, The Pale King, was released last April and pored over by critics and readers; the second, Max’s biography, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: The Life of David Foster Wallace, arrives next week. The biography was written with the cooperation of Wallace’s family and is the first definitive treatment of the author’s life.
What follows are the book’s opening paragraphs:
Every story has a beginning and this is David Wallace’s. He was born in Ithaca, New York, on February 21, 1962. His father, James, was a graduate student in philosophy at Cornell, from a family of professionals. David’s mother, Sally Foster, came from a more rural background, with family in Maine and New Brunswick, her father a potato farmer. Her grandfather was a Baptist minister who taught her to read with the Bible. She had gotten a scholarship to a boarding school and from there gone to Mount Holyoke College to study English. She became the student body president and the first member of her family to get a bachelor’s degree.
Jim and Sally had their daughter, Amy, two years after David, by which time the family had moved to Champaign-Urbana, twin cities in central Illinois and the home of the state’s most important public university. The family had not wanted to leave Cornell—Sally and Jim loved the rolling landscape of the region—but Wallace had been offered a job in the philosophy department in the university and felt he could not turn it down. The couple were amazed when they arrived to see how bleak their new city was, how flat and bare. But soon, happily, Jim’s appointment turned into a tenure-track post, Sally went back to school to get her master’s in English literature, and the family settled in, eventually, in 1969, buying a small yellow two-story house on a one-block-long street in Urbana, near the university. Just a few blocks beyond were fields of corn and soybeans, prairie farmland extending as far as the eye could see, endless horizons.
Here, Wallace and his sister grew up alongside others like themselves, in houses where learning was highly valued. But midwestern virtues of normality, kindness, and community also dominated. Showing off was discouraged, friendliness important. The Wallace house was modest in size and looked out at other modest-sized houses. You were always near your neighbors and kids in the neighborhood lived much of their lives, a friend remembers, on their bikes, in packs. Every other kid in that era, it seemed, was named David.
There was elementary school at Yankee Ridge and then homework. The Wallaces ate at 5:45 p.m. Afterward, Jim Wallace would read stories to Amy and David. And then every night the children would get fifteen minutes each in their beds to talk to Sally about anything that was on their minds. Lights-out was at 8:30 p.m., later as the years went on. After the children were asleep, the Wallace parents would talk, catch up with each other, watch the 10 p.m. evening news, and Jim would turn the lights out at 10:30 exactly. He came home every week from the library with an armful of books. Sally especially loved novels, from John Irving to college classics she’d reread. In David’s eyes, the household was a perfect, smoothly running machine; he would later tell interviewers of his memory of his parents lying in bed, holding hands, reading Ulysses to each other.
For David, his mother was the center of the universe. She cooked his favorites, roast beef and macaroni and cheese, and baked his chocolate birthday cake and drove the children where they needed to go in her VW Bug. Later, after an accident, she replaced it with a Gremlin. She made beef bourguignonne on David’s birthday and sewed labels into his clothes (some of which Wallace would still wear in college).
In September, I posted that Michael Chabon’s next book, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, his first full-length adult novel since The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, was to be released on April 11, 2006. Alas, the book has been delayed. Chabon’s done with the manuscript, but there were scheduling problems with his publisher, HarperCollins. Chabon announced the delay on his Web site:HarperCollins had been sort of rushing the thing along, over a steady but polite murmur from the author that perhaps they were moving too quickly. The manuscript was complete. It was not impossible to make the April 11 pub date. But we didn’t even have a finished jacket. Many people who were selling and marketing the book hadn’t had the opportunity to read it. Everything just felt too rushed and when that sense of undue haste finally caught on at the publishing house, I was able to persuade them to see reason, and wait.The new date is now “Winter 2007.”
I spend so much time talking about serious (grown up) books that I sometimes forget that books had a completely different hold on me when I was a little fella. These days I like to read something that will challenge me, and I seek people out who will discuss a particular book with me. We turn the book around in our heads poking it and prodding it, making this or that judgment, and then we set the book carefully aside and rush onward to the next one. It really doesn’t bear much resemblance to the way my five year old self felt about books. Back then it was the purest escape. I could open a book and be utterly immersed within its confines. Such is the boundlessness of the young imagination that I could dwell in the same book almost endlessly. I gave no thought to picking up the same book day after day for weeks on end. As we grow older, our imaginations atrophy and it becomes difficult to immerse ourselves in a story and pictures in the same way. There are, however, a special handful of books that are powerful enough to remind you of what it was like to be five again. The Olivia series by Ian Falconer is able to do this. Something about the dreamy illustrations and the antics of a stubborn pig can make you forget yourself for a few minutes. The third Olivia book comes out today. It’s called Olivia . . . and the Missing Toy, and if you are at a bookstore today and you want a bit of merriment, take a look, you won’t be disappointed.
Amazon made a splash last week in unveiling its mp3 store. With this effort, Amazon is going head to head with Apple and its popular iTunes music store. iTunes has more songs on offer and is familiar to millions of iPod owners, but Amazon aims to bring people aboard by offering DRM-free songs with a more flexible pricing scheme. Amazon’s DRM-free mp3s can be transferred to as many devices you want, while iTunes songs are more limited.This is no doubt of interest to many music fans, but I was curious to see if Amazon would extend its expertise in more literary realms to this new audio offering. So far the selection of “spoken word” content is fairly limited – it can be found under the “Miscellaneous” heading. Amid quite a bit of comedy, however, there are some gems here and there for those that enjoy the occasional audio book, though you won’t be finding any bestsellers here. Among the intriguing items I spotted, are some historical, literary and cultural artifacts:The Ultimate Orson Welles (including the famous War of the Worlds radio hoaxSpeaking Personally… by Aldous HuxleyChe Guevara SpeaksFour Inaugural Addresses by Franklin D. Roosevelt; See also: The Best Of The Speeches (1960 – 1963) by John F. Kennedy; Campaign ’56: Sounds of an Election YearThe Lenny Bruce Originals, Volume 2Allen Ginsberg (including a track called “First Party At Ken Keasey’s“; See also: HowlAnthology of American Literature by Neal Pollack & Pine Valley CosmonautsBritish War Broadcasting 1938-45 (Pt 1); See also: Dunkirk & The Battle Of France & Flanders 1939-40Buckminster Fuller Speaks His Mind (a six-disk set); See also: Fuller’s The Clock is Stopping: The Human ScenarioCasablanca – The 1943 Radio Production starring Humphrey BogartThe Daemon Lover and the Lottery by Shirley JacksonDionysus by Jim MorrisonThe Exciting History of the Alaska Gold RushFuturism And Dada Reviewed 1912-1959Good Morning, Vietnam (not the movie)The Great Carl Sandburg: Songs of AmericaThe Historic Second Declaration of Havana: Feb. 4, 1962 by Fidel CastroLots more in there too.