#FridayReads–STARFISH, Patty Dann's sequel to MERMAIDS, her 1986 novel, later a film w/Cher. Narrator of new book is wise&witty, w/an edge.
— Philip Turner (@philipsturner) November 23, 2013
November 23rd, 2013
#FridayReads–STARFISH, Patty Dann's sequel to MERMAIDS, her 1986 novel, later a film w/Cher. Narrator of new book is wise&witty, w/an edge.
— Philip Turner (@philipsturner) November 23, 2013
November 16th, 2013
— Philip Turner (@philipsturner) November 15, 2013
November 14th, 2013
As a member of PEN America, I was invited to participate in a PEN speak-out Tuesday night that was part of Talking Transition, an event going on all week and next in Soho, providing input on policy and priorities to NYC’s incoming mayor Bill de Blasio, all citywide officeholders, and the new members of our City Council. Talking Transition is taking place in a big heated tent that’s set up on the north side of Canal Street, along Sixth Avenue. Each day this week has been devoted to a different topic–Tuesday night had an emphasis on Arts & Culture. PEN chose to devote its 90-minute slot to “Keeping NYC a literary and cultural capital.” On Twitter, you can follow transition events @TalkNYC2013 and the hashtag #TalkingTransition.
Each member who chose to speak was given just a 3-minute slot, so we really had to hone our points. The group, which included almost two dozen speakers, included several poets, administrators of poetry and literary programs, and publishing colleagues. The evening moved along with alacrity in front of a pretty good-sized audience under the big tent. This was the preliminary list of speakers, which came off with only a few small changes. I titled my own talk “Support the Book Economy, Foster Publishing Experiments.” The transcript of my remarks, delivered almost verbatim, is here, and below it is a point I would’ve made with a little more time.
Support the Book Economy, Foster Publishing Experiments.
When the recession hit in September 2008, the book economy in New York, was already in a parlous state. To choose just two measures, the rate of closure among indie bookstores was rising and the income of midlist authors was declining, along with their access to being published at all. A few months later, in January 2009, I was swept out of a corporate publishing job where I’d been the editorial director of a book imprint. Much as I could talk about my experiences over the past five years, or my three decades in the book business, this talk is not about me, for I am only one among 100s of publishing professionals who lost full time jobs in the months and years since the economic collapse who have yet to again find full employment. To get at the scale of the problem, consider that in 2009 Publishers Weekly started a “Comings & Goings” feature that allowed folks to submit their contact info so that others who wanted to be in touch, to hire them, or just to network, could do so. It had over 200 names at one point. And then last month another book news outlet, Media Bistro’s galleycat, created a directory of just freelance editors, which after a few weeks already has nearly 300 people in it. Based on my observations of book industry layoffs, I’m sure that these figures of self-selecting people only hint at the total numbers.
Clearly, there is still a wealth of great publishing talent in the city. That’s good news. And yet while many of us are still working as editors, marketers, and publicists, or working in adjacent fields like online news, often we are not being paid adequately, and sometimes not at all, for time spent on publishing tasks we hope will one day turn in to full time jobs or paying assignments. Regrettably, this condition persists even while the book industry has experienced a boom from digital reading that’s given greater exposure to book culture, increased the engagement of many readers, and left thousand of readers more avid for books, print and digital.
Yet, even while the boom has grown, the benefits of it are not being felt by most of the under-employed full time publishing workers. This dire situation offers the city an opportunity to capitalize on the talents of all these bookpeople with publishing incubators that would foster innovation, experiments, and new models to help business-savvy bookpeople turn their enterprises and current projects in to job-creating engines of the book and the New York City economy.
Therefore, I urge City Council and all citywide officeholders to establish public-private partnerships and other initiatives that would help make available low-cost or no-cost business enterprise advice (legal, accounting, financing); no-cost or low-cost workspaces where people could share cubicles, WiFi, and conference rooms. With philanthropic support, or venture capitalists with money looking to do good, a fund for experiments could be launched, with grants being provided to offer recognition, encouragement and a stipend. I urge the tech community, really a first cousin to digital publishing, to work with bookpeople to create new initiatives that will elevate the entrepreneurial efforts of New York City’s publishing community.
My addendum to these comments is an explicitly political point. One of the reasons that the economy remains anemic in New York City and around the country–with a lack of full employment for millions of people, not just publishing professionals–is that obstructionists in Congress have imposed austerity on the country. Since 2010, right-wing politicians have thwarted any ongoing economic stimulus that would, if enacted, help prime the pump and accelerate demand. This has been denied us, even at a time of very low interest rates. Now, with the victories of Mayor-elect de Blasio, many progressive citywide officeholders, including by far the most progressive City Council since I moved to New York in 1985, I hope that the city, and my own precious book industry, can have, courtesy of the new actors in city government, its own local and direct stimulus that will benefit publishing, readers, authors, and all of New York City.
Finally, here are pictures I took Monday and Tuesday night when I attending Talking Transition events. PEN Participants had been asked to submit favorite quotations, our own, or those of other writers, which you’ll see in a tweet cloud in many of the photos. Please click here to view them.
November 8th, 2013
#FridayReads, Nov 8–While I’m sure I’ll be reading a proper book or two this weekend, my reading this week has been dominated by work-related materials–nonfiction book proposals, fiction manuscripts and lots of promising queries on submission to me in my work as a literary agent, part of my publishing work. Here’s a rundown on some of what I’m looking at, only in generalities out of deference to the writers whose work I’m considering: 1) a proposal for a book that will explore the motive behind one of the most infamous consequential political crimes of the 20th century, while also one of its least examined; 2) a hardboiled crime novel about the theft of an election in a battleground midwestern state; 3) several works by a British scholar with a rigorous approach to unexplained phenomena involving the super- or even the paranormal; and 4) an original manuscript that includes the original heretofore unpublished memoir of Hollywood’s most idiosyncratic, even weird, movie-making mogul.
November 7th, 2013
November 20 Update: Interesting to see in today’s Deals Report from PublishersMarketplace.com that Sidney Blumenthal is going to publish a new multi-volume biography of Abraham Lincoln with Simon & Schuster. Judging by the report, it looks as if the biographical trilogy is well underway, with the first book due to come out in 2015. Having published two books with Blumenthal in 2008, and found him a very capable author, I’m glad to see he’ll soon be publishing again.
Former assistant and senior adviser to President Bill Clinton and political journalist for publications including the Washington Post, the New Republic, Vanity Fair, and the New Yorker Sidney Blumenthal’s A SELF-MADE MAN, A HOUSE DIVIDED, and JUDGMENTS OF THE LORD, a three-volume biography of Abraham Lincoln exploring new sources coupled with original interpretations that promise to give readers new insights into Lincoln, his genius, and his world, to Alice Mayhew at Simon & Schuster, for publication beginning in 2015, by Robert Barnett at Williams & Connolly.
— Philip Turner (@philipsturner) November 6, 2013
Yesterday, a Buzzfeed story by Rosie Gray about writer and pundit Sidney Blumenthal* coming to the defense of his author son Max, whose current book Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel had received a critical review in The Nation from Eric Alterman, left me considering the frequency with which family members step in to attack detractors when they see a spouse, child, or sibling being criticized. This week alone, Doug Ford has been agitating on behalf of his brother, Toronto mayor, Rob Ford, demanding that Police Chief Bill Blair resign his office (merely for stating he was “disappointed” upon viewing tape of the mayor smoking from a crack pipe). A day earlier, it was Mackenzie Bezos, wife of Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, and a published novelist, giving a poor review to Brad Stone’s new book, The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, actually posting her knock on the book’s Amazon page. Talk about meta!
I have to question the judgment and wisdom of these three. While the impulse to defend a loved one is understandable, indulging in it is far from the wisest step they could take on behalf of their kin. Even if the comments are well-reasoned and not ad hominem–a contrast seen between the comparatively measured words of Ms. Bezos and the blustery rhetoric of Doug Ford–why do these defenders of the clan fail to see that their comments will be believed by many people to be little more than self-interested attacks on their relatives’ critics? It almost doesn’t matter how they put it–with many people they simply begin as an impeached source. Blumenthal’s critiques of Alterman’s review haven’t been made public, as Gray’s story reports he sent his pushback in emails only to a selected list of contacts, not on the Web or out loud in sullen tones to a national broadcaster.** But whether the words are cool or overheated, not only are these familial defenses often not believed, they also make the relative appear weak and unwilling or unable to fight his/her own battles. What’s more, in hitting the “publish” button on her “review” did Ms. Bezos not consider that she’d be lending Stone and his publisher a welcome jolt of publicity and attention in prominent media around the world? Maybe to Ms. Bezos an attempt to correct the record is more important, but I say she committed a strategic mistake.
After reading yesterday’s story about Blumenthal and Alterman, this morning I read a post on the Guardian book blog, “Is MacKenzie Bezos’s one-star Amazon review part of a trend?“, with even more examples of ill-considered missions on behalf of spouses, including the 2011 example of Ayelet Waldman attacking critics of her husband Michael Chabon’s first childrens book. She denounced “jackasses” and “fucking Amazon reviewers giving Awesome Man 1 star… IT WAS WRITTEN FOR LITTLE KIDS”. Hmm, talk about intemperate.
One of the reasons I’m surprised at the inability of these people to not enter the fray is that in connection with my own wife and teenage son, operating in social media, we typically check with one another before “liking” something by the other, or “tagging” them. We recognize that in one’s social and professional life one doesn’t always want to be shadowed by family members. This prompts the question whether Max Blumenthal, Rob Ford, and Jeff Bezos each gave their blessing to the attacks by their father, brother, and wife, respectively. For my part, if it were me I would say to my loved one, “Please, keep out of it.”
*Disclosure-In 2008 I published two books with Sidney Blumenthal and around that time had dinner with him and his son, Max, journalist Joe Conason, and a handful of other people. I found Max to have a noticeably angry disposition.
** Consider though that this may make a writer more apt to use invective, if he thinks his venting will never be published.
November 2nd, 2013
Had fun TUES nite at the pub party for Peter Warner’s new thriller The Mole, fictional memoir of a Cold War spy. pic.twitter.com/gRwkiByt4n
— Philip Turner (@philipsturner) November 2, 2013
The picture in the above tweet shows the present and former chiefs of Thames & Hudson, the publishing company that Will Balliett (r.) heads up nowadays, and which author Peter Warner–here mulling his inscription for Will’s copy of Peter’s new book–ran for many years prior. Will and I were colleagues from 2000-06, when we both worked at Avalon Publishing Group. I was glad I could attend Peter ‘s launch party last week, as he is also a publishing friend of many years. His new novel, his third, is The Mole: The Cold War Memoir of Winston Bates, published Oct 22 with Thomas Dunne Books at St. Martin’s Press. It’s already had an excellent review in Washingtonian magazine. Calling the book “crafty, critic John Wilwol added, ”Warner knows Washington intimately, and he particularly nails the way that the right social access can lead to professional success.”
Peter has established a Tumblr blog where he’s sharing the documentary underpinnings of his novel, with such artifacts as photos of CIA directors Allen Dulles and Richard Helms, a U-2 spy plane, and Senator Richard Russell, the politician on whose staff title character Winston Bates serves. Captions on the blog are cleverly written from the persona and in the voice of Bates, an expat Canadian now working for Russell, who was in real life one of the most powerful figures in the US senate. Though I haven’t begun reading it yet, this novel, like several I’ve read in recent months, especially Jayne Anne Phillips Quiet Dell, is part of a genre I’ve begun calling “documentary fiction,” with books that draw on events, artifacts, and figures from history. To show the other, more imaginative side of his enterprise, Peter Warner has created a Facebook author page with postings about the creative underpinnings of the book. This comment of his caught my eye, as the proprietor of a sister blog to The Great Gray Bridge called Honourary Canadian.
“My Personal Alternate History
In my last post I wrote about The Mole as a different take on the literary category of alternate history. But I think almost everyone has, in the back of his or her mind, an alternative life story that comes to mind on occasion: What if I had taken that job? What if I had made that investment? What if I had married that crazy person? In my case there is one alternate history that I share with almost every man of my generation: What if I had moved to Canada as a war resistor or to escape the draft during the Vietnam War era? There are also tens of thousands of American men, now Canadian citizens, who probably wonder: What if I hadn’t moved to Canada to avoid the draft? In my case, I was lucky to get a draft exemption after couple of years of anxiety. Subsequently, my publishing career took me to Canada at least twice a year for more than twenty years. I am sure having regular opportunities to imagine myself as a Canadian while in Canada played a part in the central plot of The Mole—that there might have been a Canadian “sleeper” at the heart of the American political establishment, doing his best (or worst) to undermine the so-called “American Century.” In Canada, I sometimes sensed in my friends a kind of ironic armor they had developed to accept (sometimes endure) that huge, well-intentioned, sometimes irrational, culturally inescapable, totally oblivious neighbor to the south. I hope Canadian readers will look at The Mole as a kind of delicious literary revenge.”
I did not have quite the same experience of the Vietnam era as Peter, since I am a bit younger than him, but my brother Joel, almost four years older than me, certainly did sweat the draft lottery along with millions of other older teenage boys in the US. One more connection that I found I have to The Mole is through a history book I published at Carroll & Graf in 2006, How the Cold War Began: The Gouzenko Affair & the Hunt for Soviet Spies, by Canadian historian Amy Knight. She chronicles the strange events involving Igor Gouzenko, a Soviet cypher clerk who in 1945, while employed at the Soviet embassy in Ottawa, walked away from his desk and defected to the West with a trove of secrets and information that indicated a Soviet spy network was then operating in North America. It became an international cause celebre, lasting for several years, with Gouzenko seeking and receiving permission to live in Canada. It was, for its day, an Edward Snowden-type event.
The intense publicity did eventually subside and about 20 years after his defection, Gouzenko actually appeared on Canadian TV, disguised by a hooded mask that had eyeholes cut out for him to see. To Americans, it looks instantly like a KKK hood, though I’m pretty sure it wasn’t seen that way in Canada in 1965. Knight chronicles this as the all-too-amazing-to-be-true-but-is story that it was. Among the odd aspects of the incident was that Gouzenko, who somehow evaded the supervision at the embassy with his pregnant wife and their two-year old son, could not at first get any Canadian authorities to accept that he was an authentic defector. They ended up walking around Canada’s capitol city for more than 40 hours, finally being believed after first futilely visiting several Canadian government offices.* Occurring even before WWII had ended, the Gouzenko incident set off a cascade of frantic maneuvering among leaders of the USA, Canada, Soviet Union, and Britain, their intelligence services, and even our FBI. The countries were all nominally still allies, but this episode displayed the ill will and suspicion that would dominate the Cold War.
It is against that historical backdrop that a character like Peter Warner’s Winston Bates operates. All these personal connections to Peter Warner and The Mole have me eager and excited to begin reading his book.
*Via this link is a fascinating video of Gouzenko’s appearance on the CBC news program “Seven Days.” The first CBC host to speak is the great broadcaster Patrick Watson, later a novelist, who in 1979 visited Undercover Books, my bookstore, for a great in-store appearance promoting his novel Alter Ego, a kind of “Memento”–type story, written many years before that entertaining film was made.
October 25th, 2013
#FridayReads, October 25–Grant Lawrence’s The Lonely End of the Rink: Confessions of a Reluctant Goalie. Very excited to begin reading my copy of the new book by my friend, Canadian broadcaster Grant Lawrence, which just landed in my mailbox this afternoon. The book, which chronicles his uneasy relationship with the Canadian national sport, was officially launched last night with an event in Vancouver, BC. Grant loves to meet with booksellers and readers and is one of the hardest working authors I’ve ever observed. On his website you can find details on the extensive book tour he’s taking, with stops in many Canadian cities between now and December 12.
I loved Grant’s first book Adventures in Solitude: What Not to Wear to a Nude Potluck and other Stories from Desolation Sound, a memoir of the many summers he’s spent in the wilds of coastal British Columbia, in the environs of a family cabin on the vividly named Desolation Sound. It went to #1 on the BC Bestseller List, won the BC Book Prize for the 2010 Book of the Year, an award given by booksellers, and was a finalist for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Non-Fiction. I’m hoping for similar success for his new book, which I will begin reading this weekend.
[cross-posted at my other blog Honourary Canadian]
October 24th, 2013
I was really glad to discover a great new place for literary events and book talk last night in Brooklyn. The venue is Mellow Pages Library and Reading Room and it’s located on Bogart Street just steps away from the Morgan St. subway stop of the “L” train in Bushwick. It’s on the ground floor of a loft building that also houses a number of art galleries. It’s big, square-ish room with handsome walnut paneling and big windows, with a true library ambiance. Their tumblr includes this statement: “Mellow Pages is an independently-run library & reading room located in Brooklyn, NY focusing on providing limited-print fiction and poetry to the neighborhoods of Bushwick, East Williamsburg and Bed-Stuy. With a collection of over 1,200 titles and zines, come check out the space and have a coffee, crack into a new one.” The picture to the left shows how they feature and display the amazing zine collection they hold.
I went there to represent Talonbooks of Vancouver BC, whose francophone author Daniel Canty was launching his new novel, Wigrum in a joint reading with Oana Avasilichioaei, his translator. Here’s a link to the full post on the reading that I’ve just published with pertinent links and lots of pictures at Honourary Canadian, my second blog which I launched about a month ago.
I’ve been dipping in to the novel all week in advance of the reading and am really loving it. It is a kind of Borgesian exercise, ostensibly the census of an idiosyncratic collection of objects, owned at one time by the elusive figure, Sebastian Wigrum. The printed book itself is beautifully presented with crisp typography and clean design on bright white paper. Precise drawings, each one well printed, depict each of the 149 objects in Wigrum’s mysterious collection. This imaginary world has also produced a novel with marginal notes and an index. At the Honourary Canadian post, you can read about five of the objects catalogued in the novel. Below are the front and back covers of Daniel Canty’s handsome book. I highly recommend exploring this fictional universe.
Readers of The Great Gray Bridge can buy books from Powell's Books of Portland, OR. You may search for a book here, or in my blog posts click on a title, many of which now link directly to Powell's site. They then return a portion of your purchase to help maintain this site.