On Authors and the Narcissism of Correspondence

 On Authors and the Narcissism of Correspondence

 

I recently finished a novel by Carlene Bauer, Frances and Bernard, which loosely reimagines the correspondence between Flannery O’Connor and Robert Lowell. It’s a lovely novel, as charming and witty as I hope O’Connor and Lowell to have been, and it speaks to a fascination that we bibliophiles have with the private letters of the great minds. In a related vein, there was another book, some years back, called First Words, which collected early short story efforts of prolific writers (with the author’s blessing), so that the reader could develop a more round perception of the fully formed artist. There’s something about the stuff we were never meant to see that is so interesting and exciting. There’s no editor. There are no rules. There’s nothing standing between us and the work.


All the same, I also always assumed that authors live with the expectation that all written efforts will, someday, be anthologized. Juvenilia, first drafts, journals, letters, line drawings, grocery lists—don’t all writers write knowing that those emissions might be collected and studied? I thought that was the great hope, even if we’re being coy about it. Why else save all those scraps and be so damn winning in your Christmas card?


Today, my deep and abiding love for Willa Cather is torn in two. On one hand, I’ve sat and studied at her feet (may they rest in peace), absorbing the brilliance of her books, ever hungry for more insight into her spectacular mind. On the other hand, this study has bred a sort of fierce loyalty to the woman herself—the woman and her wishes. Next month, Random House is releasing The Selected Letters of Willa Cather, 566 of the more-than 3,000 archived letters that have been discovered since Cather’s death. The problem, of course, is that Cather has always insisted upon being judged solely on her work and forbade the publishing of her letters. The question, friends, is: how serious was she about this embargo? How vengeful is the ghost of Willa Cather? Will she fully curse me if I buy the book? Or will it be more of a passive haunting? And if that’s the case, do you think her ghost would be willing to, like, field a few questions?


--Sus Long

 

March Madness: Quarterfinals

Hey sportsfans, 

The Tournament of Books is well into the Quarterfinals. Visit the Morning News tournament website for the play-by-play.

 

The March Bookseller of the Month

Our bookseller of the month for March is Mia. Each month, we ask a staff member a few questions about their relationship with books, and reading in general. Below are Mia's responses.

 

1. What kind of reader are you?

I like reading sacred texts, they keep me on the straight and narrow at least for a moment or two. Other than that I'm just drawn to certain books, mostly fiction and memoir.

2. Name three favorite titles that came out in the last three years.

The Death of Bees by Lisa O'Donnell was creepy and creative. I loved Wild by Cheryl Strayed, and Panorama City by Antoine Wilson.

3. What reading experience surprised you recently?

I was reading the life of BKS Iyengar, yoga master, and was astounded by the trials he persevered through. He is considered one of the great yogis of all time and writes of his own struggle at the beginning to do breath practice for more than a few breaths at a time for a couple of years. Now he practices for hours; that gives me heart.

4. What upcoming book are you looking forward to?

Something wonderful, I don't know what it is yet. Something like Just Kids, Year of Wonders, A Fine Balance; something spectacular.

5. If you could spend a day with one living author, who would it be and why?

I already got to sell books at an Anne Lamott event, I love the Annie. And BKS Iyengar, whom I plan to meet in India next September!

Check out some of Mia's favorite books on her recommendation page.

 

March Madness: The Tournament of Books

 

Happy March, everybody. I hope you've been reading hard because it is time, once again, for The Hunger Games! Just kidding, The Tournament of Books!

For those of you who don't know, this is the 9th Annual TMN Tournament of Books, a fight to the death between 16 of the year's best and brightest novels, as decided by a panel of fiction's best and brightest reviewers. May the odds be ever in your favor.

You can follow the tournament HERE

And these are your 2013 champions:

  • "HHhH" by Laurent Binet
  • "The Round House" by Louise Erdrich
  • "Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn
  • "The Fault in Our Stars" by John Green
  • "Arcadia" by Lauren Groff
  • "How Should a Person Be?" by Sheila Heti
  • "May We Be Forgiven" by A.M. Homes
  • "The Orphan Master’s Son" by Adam Johnson
  • "Ivyland" by Miles Klee
  • "Bring Up the Bodies" by Hilary Mantel
  • "The Song of Achilles" by Madeline Miller
  • "Dear Life" by Alice Munro
  • "Where’d You Go Bernadette" by Maria Semple
  • "Beautiful Ruins" by Jess Walter
  • "Building Stories" by Chris Ware
  • And the winner of the play-in round

 

All of these titles are available for purchase online through DIESEL or in any of our three locations! We'll be reporting on the tournament all month and would love to hear your thoughts on Facebook and Twitter.

 

Diesel A.V. Club: Bookseller Gone Viral

 

 Did you see this video of Diesel bookseller, Ian, singing "I Dreamed A Dream" as Gollum? We're very proud.

 

Three Good Things: In Snow, In Song, In Darkness

 

1. When life gives you snowdrifts...

"While the many in the Northeast were sledding and digging out our cars, artist Sarah Cohen made the most out of the abundant snowfall in Boston this past weekend. She explained: 'My books are usually made from ice and melt, referring to the melting icecaps, global warming, and the loss of books through newer technologies like the e-reader. It's all related. And just like ice, the snow books will also disappear over time--representing that permanence is always fleeting and that books may also disappear from contemporary culture.'" Read more

2. A New Opera

"Adapted through the decades for stage, screen and TV, this tale is now an opera, opening March 1 in Berkeley. A co-presentation of San Francisco Opera (which commissioned it) and Cal Performances, it's 'a trip from darkness to light,' says composer Nolan Gasser, also known as architect of the Music Genome Project, the technology behind Pandora, the Internet radio service. 'And by the time you get to the end, we're swimming in a sea of consonance and melody.' The story is 'about as universal as it gets,' he adds. 'That's what has filled me and inspired me. And it's just proven to be such a fantastic source for an opera because, whether you're in China or San Francisco or on the Andromeda galaxy, any intelligent being would be inspired by the nature around them. Because we all come from it.'" Read more. (Big fan of musical adaptations? Here's...something.)

3. The Dark Horse Printz Winner

"For many recipients of the Caldecott, Newbery, and Printz Medals, the phone calls from the award committees come while the first pot of coffee is brewing or the kids have just been sent off to school. Not so for this year’s Printz winner, Nick Lake, who lives near Oxford, England, where he’s publishing director at HarperCollins Children’s Books. Lake, who won the Printz on Monday for his novel In Darkness (Bloomsbury), had been working at home for hours when the phone rang: 'There was an American voice on the other end, and I thought, "That’s strange,"' he told PW by phone on Tuesday. When the Printz committee informed Lake that he had won, he said, 'My reaction was one of utter disbelief. I asked them if they were sure they didn’t want to give it to someone else, which evidently authors do not usually ask. It was pure shock and surprise in the middle of a working-from-home day.'” Read more. Read In Darkness

 

I'm shopping local. I don't want to live a life of loneliness and
disconnection even if it might be cheaper. Price is important,
but it is not the only thing that is important."
--Author Jon Katz on Bedlamfarm.com

February's Bookseller of the Month

Our bookseller of the month for February is John Peck. Each month, we ask a staff member a few questions about their relationship with books, and reading in general. Below are John's responses.

1. What kind of reader are you?

My tastes are all over the map, and when I read I like to ping-pong between genres - if I've just finished a novel, I'll move on to a book of essays, then a graphic novel, then poetry, then some reference book that isn't really supposed to be read, like an atlas or a cookbook - I can read atlases and cookbooks for hours. I love new authors, but to me reading is about looking back, reliving some golden age - in that sense, I guess I'm a fairly conservative reader, even though most of what I read is on the darker, stranger side of the spectrum. I believe in canons, plural, as in each reader assembling his or her own. Mine is made up of authors like Borges, Lorca, Lispector, Murakami, Spicer, Calvino, Gogol, Brautigan, Vonnegut; authors who create worlds. I've been on a massive sci-fi kick lately, and have been hungrily reading and re-reading everything from A Fire Upon the Deep to Ender's Game to Neuromancer.

2. Name three favorite titles that came out in the last three years.

The new translations of Lispector from New Directions, particularly Hour of the Star; Amazing Everything, the long-overdue first collection from Scott C, one of my favorite cartoonists; and the updated edition of How To Cook Everything, my all-time favorite cookbook.

3. What reading experience surprised you recently?

I picked up the audiobook of Guns, Germs and Steel, thinking I'd listen to it in the car, but ended up listening to it entirely on headphones, mostly while walking. It was a great way to absorb such an epic book, and I now associate certain passages with whatever part of the city I was walking through when I heard them.

4. What upcoming book are you looking forward to?

Since Tenth of December is already out, I'll say The Fun Parts by Sam Lipsyte. Also, my friend Ben Catmull's book Ghosts and Ruins is coming out from Fantagraphics this fall, and it looks amazing.

5. If you could spend a day with one living author, who would it be and why?

Dead authors are so much easier to choose from; you can imagine them brooding their way through the afterlife. The worry with living authors is that it will actually happen, and will be underwhelming, so I'd have to choose someone who knows how to have a good time - how about Slavoj Zizek?

Check out some of John's favorite books on his recommendation page.

 

Love Month: OLM Visits Diesel Malibu

 

A visit from our funny valentines over at Our Lady of Malibu!

Women Who Raised Me: Episode Four

 

I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea, I grew up with a wonderful, attentive mother. Super parents, both. Really. But a young girl and developing bibliophile requires a whole host of literary mothers to show her the way. It takes a village.

Episode Four: Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The year is 2005 and I hate my sophomore English teacher. She's teaching the class Charlotte Perkins Gilman's story "The Yellow Wallpaper" and demonstrating the main character's psychosis by crawling around the room on her hands and knees. We are only fifteen, but we can sense that this is not the first time this total whack-job has crawled around on a dirty floor in a crowded room. But I digress.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman was a novelist, poet, editor, lecturer, and political activist. This is a woman who spoke her mind. One of the remarkable things about "The Yellow Wallpaper" is Gilman's candor about her own experience with postpartum depression and her creative working-out of what would have been seen, at the time, as an extreme failure as a woman. It's also a fantastic piece of horror about the betrayals of the mind. Do not read this if you actually have any yellow wallpaper in your house.

 

Next Time: I find out that women were funny back when people didn't smile in pictures.

 

Read Episode Three: Ursula Hegi

Read Episode Two: Kate DiCamillo

Read Episode One: Maud Hart Lovelace

 

Four Good Things: Tactile Edition

1. Indie Bookstores on the Rise!

" The American Booksellers Association welcomed 43 indie bookstores that opened in 2012 in 25 states. Among them were six branches of existing businesses and seven selling primarily used books. California is home to seven new stores; New York, five; Florida and Texas, three; and Kansas, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina, two." Read more...

2. Putting it Down on Paper.

"There is a kind of naive sophistication to the commonplace idea that writing is writing, a text is a text, on the screen or on the page. Against this, I take the words of these old men as a clue to a subtle transformation that took place in recent decades, prefiguring the more noticeable arrival of the ‘electronic book’." Read More...

3. The Indie Impact Study Series.

"Communities as different as Las Vegas, New Mexico, and Louisville, Kentucky, have at least one thing in common: Their independent businesses recirculate a substantially greater proportion of their revenues back into the local economy than do their chain competitors. This, according to a national study, The Indie Impact Study Series: National Summary Report, a summary of 10 localized studies conducted by Civic Economics, in partnership with the American Booksellers Association, over an 11-month period from 2011 - 2012." Read More...

4.  The Argument for Paper Books.

"Okay, for anyone who's still not convinced that books--paper books, as sold in brick-and-mortar bookstores--are not absolutely indispensable to even the most shallow among us, here's my go-to argument, my deal closer, as it were. Listen up, horny people, and hipsters: Anyone who ever said they got laid reading an e-book is lying. It is physically impossible to look cool in the coffee line holding a tablet. You just can't do it! But if you've got a thin volume of Baudelaire poems, say, or a Murakami novel, look out! That Rolodex you bought at Goodwill is gonna fill up in a hurry, bro! You know why? Because books are social currency, always have been. Books will always be cool. Even if most people don't read them. As long as they buy them, the rest of us will be okay." 

-Jonathan Evison, author of The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving,
in an essay called "The Argument for Books: 'Heavy, Smelly, Cumbersome,
Perfect Bound Books

 

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