Saturday, October 22, 2011

Soup and Salad: Laura Miller's tin-foil hat, Harper Perennial's new publishing model, Essays: red-headed stepchildren of the NBA, Charles Dickens' demonic energy, Zombies eat highbrow fiction, Bellevue Literary Press does it right, BFFs: Eugenides, Franzen and DFW

On today's menu:

1.  Edward Champion (Reluctant Habits) mixes it up with Laura Miller (Salon) in the latest tussle in what Miller would call our insular literary community.  The issue at hand?  The National Book Awards.  Specifically, the piece Miller recently wrote for Salon, criticizing the judges for giving the award to what they think are well-deserving, obscure books which should be spoon-fed to the general public like spinach: "Like the Newbery Medal for children’s literature, awarded by librarians, the NBA has come to indicate a book that somebody else thinks you ought to read, whether you like it or not."  For his part, Champion says Miller was wearing her tin-foil hat when she wrote a column which amounted to "little more than irresponsible speculation."  So, here we go:

In this corner, wearing the green trunks and weighing in at 176 pounds....

And in the other corner, wearing gold trunks and tipping the scales at 183 pounds....

2.  Elsewhere at Salon, Kevin Canfield has this interesting report on the new publishing model of Harper Perennial (which, Canfield notes, is not unique to this particular imprint):
      In a sense, (Blake) Butler represents everything that Harper Perennial has tried to become since it started a rebranding effort in 2005, trying to find its niche in the unpredictable world of contemporary book publishing. Like Vintage Contemporaries did in the 1980s when it published a series of novels by Jay McInerney, Bret Easton Ellis and Tama Janowitz that captured the zeitgeist, Perennial, with its line of handsome, affordable paperback originals--many of which are penned by members of Butler’s generation--is trying to establish itself as the home of a new kind of literary smarts and style. It’s almost a small press inside a much bigger one--authors get paid less than they might even from another HarperCollins branch, but still benefit from the publicity and distribution muscle.
      “Some of the books we’re doing are almost avant-garde, a lot of them are by young writers, and a lot of the promotional efforts we do are online or in innovative new ways,” (Cal Morgan, editorial director of Harper Perennial) said in a recent interview. “But it still is all coming from this very deep-rooted sense of the physical book as our little sacred item.”
I was surprised to learn Harper Perennial places its books in off-beat merchandising locations like clothiers Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters.  Is this really true?  (I wouldn't know because I'm pretty much an Old Navy guy.)

3.  Back to the NBA for a moment....Ned Stuckey-French feels essays get short shrift in the non-fiction category.  He presents his case for "The Essay as Red-Headed Stepchild" here at Brevity.

4.  Lev Grossman has a lively piece on Charles Dickens in TIME.  Expect to see many more Dickens-centric posts here at The Quivering Pen in the coming months as we approach the bicentennial of his birth.  What can I say?  I'm a fan in the true fanatic sense of the word.  Grossman writes:
Dickens grew up to be a man of demonic energy: it’s like he was bitten by a radioactive scrivener that gave him superpowers. As a working writer who, like Dickens, writes novels and journalism, I can only read about his output with awe. He wrote his books as serials, published in monthly installments, and he sometimes went two at a time—he wrote The Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist simultaneously, punching them both out in 7,500 chunks. When he finished Pickwick he started Nicholas Nickleby, while never dropping a stitch of Oliver. Sometimes, after an especially intense writing jag, he would dunk his head and hands into a bucket of cold water, then keep right on going.

5.  The Atlantic looks at how "literary writers" like Justin Cronin (The Passage), Colson Whitehead (Zone One) and Benjamin Percy (the upcoming Red Moon) are legitimizing genre fiction with their fresh takes on vampires, zombies and werewolves: "Today's serious writers are hybrid creatures--yoking the fantasist scenarios and whiz-bang readability of popular novels with the stylistic and tonal complexity we expect to find in literature. Meet the New Mutants of American fiction."  Percy has this--pardon the pun--killer quote at the end of the article:
If (you) look at the best of literary fiction, you see three-dimensional characters, you see exquisite sentences, you see glowing metaphors. But if you look at the worst of literary fiction, you see that nothing happens. Somebody takes a sip of tea, looks out the window at a bank of roiling clouds and has an epiphany....In the worst of genre fiction, you see hollow characters, you see transparent prose, you see the same themes and archetypes occurring from book to book. If you look at the best of genre fiction, you see this incredible desire to discover what happens next....So what I'm trying to do is get back in touch with that time of my life when I was reading genre, and turning the pages so quickly they made a breeze on my face. I'm trying to take the best of what I've learned from literary fiction and apply it to the best of genre fiction, to make a kind of hybridized animal.

6.  "We are getting fantastic material," said Bellevue Literary Press Editor Erika Goldman. "It's a terrible climate out there and we are profiting."  That comes from this feature story on Bellevue Literary Press, the home of this year's National Book Award finalist The Sojourn by Andrew Krivak and last year's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Tinkers by Paul Harding.  The editorial team at Bellevue must be doing something right to have such a high percentage of winners from such a small catalogue of titles.  “We are dedicated to serious literary works and we don't compromise on quality for commerce,” said Ms. Goldman.  Oh, so that's it.  Not that they will, but it shore would be nice if other publishers had that same kind of dedication.

7.  Jeffrey Eugenides and Jonathan Franzen and David Foster Wallace star in "Just Kids" in New York magazine: "The crowd was overwhelmingly male, very close in age, largely from the Midwest, and engaged in a kind of generational struggle to make sense of the postmodern literary legacy--of Thomas Pynchon, John Barth, and others--that they found both consuming and unsatisfactory, especially as a guide to writing about the new, weird America of the eighties and nineties."


  1. Thanks for the shoutout, David. Thanks for all you do for books and writers.

  2. Is this really true?

    My wife always drags me into Anthropologie stores when we happen to visit a city that has one. The books they sell, and their comfortable chairs, makes it an enjoyable hour (or more!) for me as well. Lots of Taschen books there too.

  3. I shop at Anthropologie early and often. The only contemporary fiction I've ever seen there was the hardcover of SWAMPLANDIA! And really, I look at their stuff every week.

  4. Love your interpretation of the Laura Miller book-prize-as-spinach debate, which I really enjoyed this week. The Atlantic piece sounds great, off to check it out.