Sunday, July 17, 2011

Soup and Salad: John Updike rests in peace, Bookstores charge admission to author readings, Two "Best Short Stories" lists, Trials & tribulations of a novelist's first book deal

On today's menu:

1.  John Updike's family holds a memorial service two years after his death.  From the local newspaper:  Those who came to honor the prolific Pulitzer-Prize-winning writer, praised for his literary "Rabbit" series and the chronicling of late 20th century American life in many novels, short stories, essays and poems, read from his works and witnessed the marking of his Pennsylvania resting place with a New England-style slate memorial.  Carved by his younger son, Michael J. Updike, 52, Newbury, Mass., the black marker is highlighted at its top with a wry, smiling facial portrait of Updike with attached angel's wings, as if the author's soul is transcending to heaven, his spirit living on.  At the marker's bottom are carvings of a scythe, representing the divine harvest, an hourglass for the shortness of life and a skeleton for the fragility of life, according to Michael...."I started the memorial last year, but it took awhile because I did it at my leisure," son Michael said. "You could say working on it was therapeutic, but we (the family) also felt Pennsylvania needed some special recognition of him."

2.  By now you've probably heard some independent bookstores are charging patrons to attend author appearances ("Come Meet the Author, but Open Your Wallet").  The Millions helps put it in perspective in this article: "...if open access to readings diminishes, will readers grow more familiar with an author’s brand than with the real person behind a text? Considering that packaging and promotion are just as much part and parcel with being writer as creating content, why shouldn’t an author’s public appearances be monetized? Writers have increasingly become products in and of themselves while getting paid less and less for their literary artifacts."
What do you think?  Would you pay to hear an author read from his/her work?  If so, which author(s) would make you open your wallet?  Sound off in the comments section below.

3.  The Library of America's Reader's Almanac blog examines two "Best Short Stories" lists--one from 2011 compiled by One Story, one from 1914 by the New York Times.  Most of the results are predictable; but there are some writers from the 1914 list who have slipped off the shelf into obscurity.  Irvin S. Cobb, anyone?

4.  Speaking of obscurity: I'd never heard of novelist Alex Shakar before, but he has an interesting story to tell The Millions about his first book deal back in 2000:

      “We’re closing in on a deal,” my agent told me on the phone. “I’m just turning him upside-down now and shaking him for loose change.”
      It was midday on a Monday in early August of the year 2000. The Nasdaq, rested from its breather in the spring, was sprinting back up over 4,000 toward its March peak. Vice President Gore, demolishing the Bush son’s early lead, was pulling even in the polls. TV commercials depicted placid investors being wheeled on gurneys into operating rooms, stern-faced doctors diagnosing their patients with dire cases of money coming out the wazoo.
      The previous Friday, bidding on my first novel had reached six figures, then paused for people to track down more cash. I’d later learn one editor spent the weekend trying to reach her boss on his Tanzanian vacation, finally getting through via the satellite phone of a safari boat on the Rufiji river, but that he wouldn’t OK a higher bid because he couldn’t get the manuscript in time.
      I was 32. I’d never made over $12,000 in a year.

1 comment:

  1. A writer has the right to pursue whatever cash he can get out of his work, but I wouldn't pay to go to a reading. Readings are like ads. I don't buy t-shirts advertising someone else's business or product; why would I pay a writer to advertise his work?

    Some tiny fraction of my taxes goes to programs like the National Endowment for the Humanities and my state Humanities Council (which is bringing in Sherman Alexie later this year) - they can pay writers for readings. I'd rather spend my disposable income on books.