Poetry and books from small presses don’t make the grade, either
No books by female authors appear on the list of the 10 best books of the year just posted by Publishers Weekly, the leading industry trade journal. I focus on reviews on One-Minute Book Reviews but have reacted to the shutout in tweets at www.twitter.com/janiceharayda that mention a couple of titles by women that PW might have included.
If you look at the trade journal’s list, you may notice that apart from having no books by female authors, it has no poetry or books from small presses. And 70 percent of the titles come from Random House and its imprints (Knopf, Doubleday, Spiegel & Grau, Ballantine and Pantheon) with the rest coming from Norton and Penguin. Best-of-the-year lists are arbitrary and often inscrutable, so I won’t try to dissect PW‘s here. But if I see noteworthy patterns emerging in these lists, I may comment on them in “Late Night With Jan Harayda,” a series of occasional posts that appear after 10 p.m. Eastern Time and don’t include reviews.
Yesterday Deborah Heiligman made the shortlist for the 2009 National Book Award for young people’s literature for her captivating dual biography, Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith (Holt, 268 pp., $18.95, ages 9 and up). And she might win in a walk if the judges gave the prize for the acknowledgments section of a book alone. Heiligman amusingly tweaks the clichés of the genre in her thanks to her husband, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jonathan Weiner:
“You put up with a lot as I wrote this book. You owed me, sure, but you have paid me back in spades. I’m ready for your next one. Jon read the book front to back in many drafts, and if there are any mistakes, blame him.”
Wouldn’t acknowledgements be more fun if everybody wrote like this?
What exit are these books from? At least three of the 20 National Book Awards finalists announced today or 15 percent have strong New Jersey ties. Lark & Termite (fiction) comes from Jayne Anne Phillips, director of the young Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing at Rutgers/Newark. Princeton University Press published Adrienne Mayor’s The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates: Rome’s Deadliest Enemy (nonfiction). And Lips Touch: Three Times comes from the Scholastic Books imprint of Arthur A. Levine, who lives in New Jersey. Annette Gordon-Reed, a professor at Rutgers/Newark, won the 2008 National Book Award for nonfiction for The Hemingses of Monticello.
About six weeks ago, I put my name on a library waiting list for The Lost Symbol. It’s a large suburban library that often buys multiple copies of big books – a half dozen or more of New York Times bestsellers — and might buy ten of this one. So if fewer than ten people are ahead of me on the list, I could have the book today. If a hundred people are ahead of me and each keeps it for two weeks, I might not have it for months.
Anybody want to guess whether I will get The Lost Symbol a) this week, b) next week, or c) when the Cubs win the World Series?
I will report back when my copy arrives.
A potential blurber seeks cash for his labors …
A “well-known name” asked for a $1,000 “honorarium” to give a blurb for a book, author David Macaray claims on the site for the Poynter Institute, the Florida school and resource center for journalists.
Horse-trading has existed in blurbing for as long as I’ve been following the publishing industry, and I’ve posted examples in the “Backscratching in Our Time” series on this site. But until now I haven’t heard of anyone asking for cash for praise for a comment that would appear on the dust-jacket of a book or elsewhere — which isn’t to say it it hasn’t happened. A hat tip to Bill Williams for letting me know about this one.
A lot of publishers seem to be trying to save money these days by skimping on copyediting and issuing more books with felonious typos. What’s wrong with that? I love this comment by one of the great muckraking journalists of the 20th century, which reflects the sentiments of many of us who have worked for daily newspapers:
“Typos are worse than Fascism!”
— I. F. Stone, as quoted by his daughter, Celia Gilbert, at his funeral in 1989
Haven Kimmel on Suzanne Finnamore’s Split: A Memoir of Divorce (Dutton, 2008):
“So perfectly right. I loved it, loved it, loved it. P.S. Loved it.”
Haven Kimmel on Suzanne Finnamore’s novel The Zygote Chronicles (Grove, 2002): “The Zygote Chronicles is tender and funny and perfect, and from now on I’m going to read it instead of having more children.”
Suzanne Finnamore on Haven Kimmel’s Something Rising: A Novel: (Free Press, 2005)
“It is impossible to put down, it is impossible to keep from laughing out loud, and it is impossible to imagine a more compelling and poignant coming-of-age story than Something Rising. Shades of Eudora Welty and Flannery O’Connor grace the text…her characters breathe and walk among us, haunting and glorious in their imperfection. It’s official: Haven Kimmel is a national treasure.”
This is the latest in an occasional series of posts on authors who praise each other’s books, inspired by “Logrolling in Our Time” in the old Spy magazine. You can find other examples of literary backscratching in the Backscratching in Our Time category. One-Minute Book Reviews welcomes suggestions about authors who should appear in this series.
© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com and www.twitter.com/janiceharayda
Good memoirs by editors are rare. This sounds improbable but makes sense. Editors might come across as perjurers if late in life if they told the truth about authors they had spent their career promoting.
An editor who can write is Diana Athill, who looks back on her career in English book publishing in Stet: An Editor’s Life (Grove, 256 pp., $13, paperback). Athill edited the British editions of books by Norman Mailer, Philip Roth, John Updike and others. And she offers perceptive comments about her work in her elegant but unpretentious memoir. (“Writers don’t encounter really attentive readers as often as you might expect, and find them balm to their twitchy nerves when they do; which gives their editors a good start with them.”) At 91 she won an overseas award for her new memoir of old age, Somewhere Towards the End (Norton, 192 pp., $24.95), that she talks about in a Telegraph interview.
© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.