Books = Gifts: Our Gift to You is a W. Somerset Maugham Giveaway!

Just in time for the holidays, we’re happy to unveil two newly reissued titles by one of the most prolific and popular writers of the 20th Century, W. Somerset Maugham.

Originally published in 1932 A WRITER’S NOTEBOOK and THE NARROW CORNER are on sale this week in new Vintage editions, and to celebrate, we’re offering the pair as a giveaway. Leave a comment about what books you’re looking forward to giving or receiving as gifts this season– the first five commenters will win.

A unique and exhilarating look into a great writer’s working mind, A WRITER’S NOTEBOOK is Maugham’s intimate journal, chronicling nearly five decades of his life. In it we see the origins of his incomparable vision and the sensibilities that would bring him to the forefront of literature. Covering the years from his time as a medical student in London to his travels around the world, it is by turns playful, sharp witted, and profoundly revealing. A WRITER’S NOTEBOOK is a compelling look at the inner thoughts and inspirations of one of literatures most significant authors.

Filled with adventure, passion, and intrigue, THE NARROW CORNER is a classic tale of the sea by a twentieth-century master at the height of his craft. Island hopping across the South Pacific, the esteemed Dr. Saunders is offered passage by Captain Nichols and his companion Fred Blake. The two men appear unsavory, yet any means of transportation is hard to resist. The trip turns turbulent, however, when a vicious storm forces them to seek shelter on the remote island of Kanda. There these three men fall under the spell of the sultry and stunningly beautiful Louise, and their story spirals into a wicked tale of love, murder, jealousy, and suicide.

Congratulations to National Book Award Winners!

Last night, the National Book Foundation revealed the recipients of the 2009 National Book Award, and we here at Vintage/Anchor are thrilled that Knopf/future Vintage author TJ Stiles took home the prize for best non-fiction!

His book, THE FIRST TYCOON: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt, won for its “deep and imaginative research and graceful writing,” and the NBF praised Stiles:

With few letters and no diaries, and with layers of legend to carve through, Stiles captures Cornelius Vanderbilt as a person and as a force who shaped the transportation revolution, all but invented unbridled American capitalism, and left his mark not only all over New York City but, for better or worse, all over our economic landscape.

Also honored at the ceremony were Vintage authors Gore Vidal, recipient of the Distinguished Contribution to American Letters for 2009, and Dave Eggers, recipient of the Literarian Award for his “outstanding service to the American literary community.”

A hearty congratulations to the rest of the winners as well, full list after the jump: Continue reading

Editor Spotlight: Vintage Editor Lexy Bloom on our rich Japanese Backlist

One of the interesting things about working as an editor at Vintage is discovering the many gems hiding on our vastly diverse backlist. Of particular interest to me is our Vintage International list, home to many of the great masters of modern Japanese literature, among others, such as Yukio Mishima, Kobo Abe, and Junichiro Tanizaki, and, of course, Haruki Murakami. As someone with an interest in contemporary Japanese fiction — I edit Natsuo Kirino and others — I had read some of the modern Japanese masters, but certainly not all of them. It’s been an enjoyable project for me to oversee the repackaging and repromotion of many of these classic novels.

A great place to start is with Junichiro Tanizaki’s fabulous novel THE MAKIOKA SISTERS, often called “the greatest Japanese novel of the 20th century.”

In 2007, Leonard Lopate selected this novel as part of his “Underappreciated Writers” series, stating this: “In the rigid literary society of Japan, Junichiro Tanizaki stood out by constructing long narratives whose imaginative content, amplitude, and structure can rightly be called novelistic. He eschewed shishosetsu – the Japanese genre that most closely resembles the novel but includes autobiographical details – choosing instead to call attention to the fictionality of his texts. . .”

Click  here to listen to entire piece.

On The Road with Director John Hillcoat

(First ten people to write in will get a *free* movie-tie-in edition of Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD)

Q: Tell me how you became interested in The Road and how the project came to you, and how that all began.

JOHN: It began with a meeting with Nick Wechsler in L.A. I was meeting various producers and discussing what sort of material I was interested in and mentioned that I liked strong literary stuff and that one of my favorite authors was Cormac McCarthy and also mentioned that Blood Meridian was a big influence on The Proposition. Nick had registered that in his mind and cut to probably seven months later, he popped out of the blue – we didn’t really keep in touch – and he said, “I’ve got an unpublished manuscript of Cormac McCarthy’s new book. Would you be interested?” Of course I read it, and it just completely knocked me over. And it kind of had a bigger impact on me than even his other work. I just knew then that I had to do it.

You must have thought that was pretty lucky- being a fan of the author and everything then having this unpublished manuscript come your way-

He knew that in some ways with The Proposition, in terms of it being creating a world of- where the landscape and the conditions are very harsh in this brutal sort of world and it was all location driven – it would appeal to me as well as the actual material. When I first read it, it had such a powerful, emotional impact, and I just couldn’t get it out of my head, and I knew it had to be done and that I had to make it somehow.

And had you always thought of Viggo to play the man or how did that come about?

Yeah. That was way back when – even writing the script – it was really tricky – there was a small group of about three actors that I was thinking about. And it became clear that Viggo had the qualities of someone that could be an everyman but also could have the intensity that that role demands and the kind of physicalness of the role as well. And just the versatility ‘cause it’s a range of emotions that that character goes through. I had in my mind people like Gregory Peck and actors just from another time that had this kind of strength to them and yet also a vulnerability. It’s very hard to find people that have a kind of a rawness, and Viggo’s very intense and very wound up, and that is what the father is all about ‘cause he’s so wound up and so haunted by the suicide of his loved one – his wife and partner – and yet the incredible ongoing relationship with his son and being so protective.  It is a love story, and it’s being sensitive and vulnerable and yet it’s such a challenging and extreme survival world that he has to do things that have to be credible – where certain actors it might be a stretch that they’re so tender and sensitive to a child and yet can physically do what he has to do.

I think it was you who said if anyone could survive in a post-apocalyptic world it would probably be Viggo.

Yes, and Guy Pearce, who’s the veteran. They’re the survivors and ‘cause the film’s all about survivor and there is something that Viggo has about him that is credible that he could survive extreme circumstances. And sure enough you’ve seen him dive into an absolutely treacherous, freezing ocean that no one is supposed to go near and endure all sorts of stuff. So, he’s clearly capable of that.

You’ve also assembled an amazing cast in the supporting roles. Do you want to talk a little about the casting? Did you immediately think of Guy for the veteran?

My problem was I couldn’t think of anyone but Guy as the veteran and we were just very fortunate (he was in the middle of another film) that we were able to get him. I’m really thrilled with the cast that we managed to get and the variety of different characters.  I was very specific about what we were trying to find in the different characters but also to get the variety of say Michael K. Williams brought a great kind of more urban, street thing, whereas Dillahunt – Garrett Dillahunt – we deliberately got a more country, hick, backwater type going on cause we wanted to get that feeling that there are all these people wandering around this new world fighting for survival and get that mixture of personalities and Guy certainly – like Viggo – has some similar qualities in that you can imagine him surviving. And Molly Parker was just great for the ending – a very difficult role to pull off ‘cause she ends the film really with Kodi. Really for them the challenge was  – in a fairly short time screen time – to give you a sense of where they’ve come from and the kind of emotional damage that they’ve all endured. Of course, Robert Duvall for the old man was extraordinary as well. He knows Cormac McCarthy, he’s so familiar with that world – that was really helpful – and he did something that was quite extraordinary under extreme pressure because our first day we were plagued by weather problems and the weather problem was simply a day like this where the sun’s out and the sun was our enemy. That’s been a running joke throughout the whole film that when it’s actually beautiful weather that most people love we all get depressed, and when it’s miserable we all get excited and run out into it. That happened with Robert, we had this bright, sunny day that just was just a disaster for the landscape we were in where there’s a huge coal ash pile of remnants of mining debris and scarred kind of landscape. We ended up really being pressurized for time, but he, within a couple of takes – we talked about trying something where he would bring an extra bit of history to the character in terms of that pain and damage because this guy’s old –  everyone’s wondering how the hell did he survive and where did he come from, and he’s very enigmatic sort of character. Really reminded me of a sort of Samuel Beckett type character. And he came up with the most extraordinary sort of bit of improvisation in the middle of the scene that was just heartbreaking and helped shape the scene in a very quick time. That was great. It was hard to work under those sort of conditions and when you have actors with that kind of wealth of experience, you kind of wish you had more time to do stuff. But he rose to challenge and beyond.

How did you work with Cormac? Do you want to talk a little bit about working with Cormac? It was a log on the fire wasn’t it when you actually-

I deliberately didn’t really have conversations with him until Joe and I were happy with the script, and Nick. And those conversations came after. We wanted to feel comfortable and crack it ourselves and then see what comes out of- and he is just an amazing man and very sharp and understands that they’re totally different mediums, so he has no problem with the fact- I’d mention some things that we did change and he was saying, “It’s your film. You know, it’s film. It’s something else,” and “Don’t worry about it,” and he ended up being very happy with what we were doing and our approach and very interested in what we were doing. But at the same time he was never over anything saying, “Oh, don’t know about that,”  so I think he just sees it very much as separate mediums, which they are.

Did you speak to him during the shoot?

I spoke to him in pre-production and during the shoot, updating him, and I kept trying to get certain things out of – there were certain things that he wouldn’t really reveal because he thought they’re best to be left interpreted how you want to interpret them. Some things he got specific about and then a lot of other things that were left very open in the book – open to interpretation, he wanted left that way because he didn’t want to lead us in that sense. We were very fortunate that he came up for a while with his son, just seeing them together it all kind of made sense. And his son was calling him “Papa” just like in the book and, as he said, his son John wrote half the book, as in they share- that’s where half of it comes from. It was really great to see that.

Was that the first time you’ve met him?

Yes. But I just kind of knew from the first long conversation that we had back in pre-production that he was very smart and actually quite open, very polite and respectful, and a gentleman – a Southern gentleman.

What was his reaction when you saw him – to the film and to what he was seeing?

He seemed to love what he was seeing. I think he got quite emotional when we showed him some of the meatier emotional scenes between Kodi (the boy) and Viggo, when the father dies. That material. He seemed very pleased, very moved, and that was lovely. I think he was very pleased that we went the location – like finding dramatic, interesting, extreme locations as opposed to just a kind of CGI film.

Do you want to talk a little bit about the casting of Charlize for the role of the woman?

Well that was the other thing about the woman in the book- we wanted to really try and enrich that character and present her argument for making that choice as very sound because in the book it’s very abrasive and harsh. And it is, and we still will do that, but what is great about Charlize is we wanted to try to find someone that had a real kind of gravitas, emotional kind of depth to again showing that transition of life from the world that we’re all, well some of us, the privileged few in fact are accustomed to and take for granted, and then having that all stripped away and the emotional damage and her refusal to accept the new world is a huge emotional shift. She’s someone that has already shown incredible range, and her transformation in Monster was pretty astounding. She seems to be one of those actresses that really is able to transform and go to real emotional depths. We’re yet to work together. That happens tomorrow morning in fact, but I’m very confident that she has those abilities.

And do you just want to talk a bit about Michael, the thief?

Oh yes, Michael K. Williams- ‘cause I love The Wire. That’s one of my favorite TV shows. He was great in that, and again, it was great, like with Robert Duvall, to have him do something in a very different context and this world that they’re in and these characters that they’re playing and the situation is so extreme that he’s in and he was so fearless about it – what he has to do in that scene. And just very truthful in what he does, and I think he’s one of those actors that just gonna keep surprising people. And that scene was incredible – what he did. He really thought carefully about the voice, the whole, again he’s very detailed and fearless and that was just great, and he really trusted me which was really great too- for him to go into a role like that, that is literally and metaphorically totally, again, goes from having something and losing absolutely everything in a very short time. To see that all play out was just great, and he was just great to work with.

And just finally- just again, what was the main part of the story of The Road that really drew you in or wanted you to make this film?

Firstly, it was the power of the center of the story, of the father and son, and the emotional impact that that made on me and seems to have on many people, and then also that world being so immediate and refreshing. What I love about Cormac McCarthy is the sort of depths of humanity he’s so unflinching in exploring and not shying away from, just how scary we really are and how we’re our own and the entire planet’s worst enemy and always have been and always will be. And yet – what is extraordinary about the book that isn’t in the other books is that incredible emotional richness and tenderness. And the world, the challenge of trying to- what I loved about the book as well was there was no discussion or build up of actually what happened. You don’t even know what happened, and I just loved that about the book. There was so much that was left unsaid in the way it should be left unsaid because if a disaster of that scale, whether it’s nuclear or a comet or whichever way it goes, any disaster on that scale would immediately from that day on it would be irrelevant about exactly what happened and what caused it. You’re purely from that day on fighting to cope with the radical change, and the way he kept that on a knife I thought was original and quite haunting and disturbing ‘cause it felt real and it felt particularly relevant and particularly real for these times.

Congratulations to National Book Award Nominees!

Today the National Book Foundation revealed their list of nominees for the National Book Award 2009, and we here at Vintage/Anchor are thrilled to see two future titles on the list (the first ten readers to comment will receive a free paperback edition of their choice):

Jayne Anne Philips’ LARK AND TERMITE, an “intricate, deeply felt…incandescent and utterly original” novel (according to Michiko Kakutani at the New York Times) was nominated for the 2009 NBA in Fiction.

T.J. Stiles’ THE FIRST TYCOON: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt, the “illuminating, authoritative portrait of Vanderbilt that has been missing for so long,” (according to Alice Schroeder at the Washington Post) received a nomination in the Nonfiction category.

An enthusiastic “congratulations!” to both from the Vintage/Anchor team.

LARK AND TERMITE will be released as a Vintage Trade Paperback in spring 2010; THE FIRST TYCOON will be available in paperback the following summer.

Congratulations as well to their fellow nominees, after the jump:

Continue reading

The New Gutenberg?

Another day, another device destined to revolutionize publishing. Newfangled or fantastic — what do you think?


From the LA Times book blog, Jacket Copy

Insta-book machine to debut in Boston today with E.L. Doctorow’s help

September 29, 2009 |  7:50 am


The independent Harvard Book Store is gearing up for this afternoon’s unveiling of its new Espresso instant book machine, which can print a library-quality paperback book in just 4 minutes. Author E.L. Doctorow — who is doing a reading later in the evening — will be on hand to celebrate the machine’s debut, and to give it a new name.

Sadly, he won’t be cracking a bottle of Champagne over the Espresso’s bow — the bookstore decided a ribbon-cutting would be less sticky.

The Espresso machine, still fairly rare, heralds a possible new direction for bookstores. It addresses two of the boggy areas of the publishing business. First, publishers have always had to print and ship books to stores, which is costly and time-consuming. With a machine like the Espresso, all that needs to be shipped is a digital file. And at the end of book’s shelf lives, those that go unsold are returned to publishers, who, according to the traditional business model, buy them back. Again, this is costly, and for years authors’ royalty statements will show the cost of returns deducted from the money earned from sales of their books. With an Espresso, the bookseller would only print a book when a customer was ready to buy it, and returns would become moot.

That’s still largely hypothetical, however. Only a few publishers have signed with OnDemandBooks, the company that makes the Espresso, to deliver digital files to its bookstore machines. But its offerings expanded significantly — to the tune of 2 million public domain books — when it signed an agreement with Google earlier this month.

One of those public domain books is “Facsimile of First Edition of The Whole Booke of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre.” Commonly known as the Bay Psalm Book, it was the first book ever printed in the American colonies, in Cambridge in 1640. Honoring that history, it’ll be the first book to roll off the Espresso machine this afternoon.

“The level of response from our community has been amazing,” Heather Gain, the bookstore’s marketing manager, told Jacket Copy on Monday. “We received over 500 entries in our machine-naming contest.” In that phone interview, as the machine was going through its final calibrations, she admitted that the staff was excited about the machine. “We’ve been playing with it all day,” she said, “and it’s absolutely fantastic.”

— Carolyn Kellogg

Introducing: An Illustrated Interview

Coffee in Greenpoint with Hooman Majd

Hooman Majd says that he is “100% Iranian.” He was born in Tehran, he is the son of an Iranian diplomat, the grandson of an eminent Ayatollah, close friend and relative of former president Khatami, and the official translator for President Ahmedinejad. But Hooman finishes this sentence stating that his is also “100% American” since he attended boarding school in England and has been living in the United States since this Islamic Revolution. This paradoxical and unique perspective is the driving force of his book, The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran (Vintage Books, August 2009).

While you play the audio from the interview and scroll down panel to panel, my hope is that you have a small sense of being there with us. As Iran stutters and shifts into the future I will look to Hooman’s perspective again. The next time we meet I hope he’s wearing something easier to draw than a seersucker blazer.

An Illustrated Interview by Isaac Littlejohn Eddy

Hooman Majd in conversation with Isaac Littlejohn Eddy, pt. 1

I refuse to call myself an expert in Iran because no one is an expert in Iran.
Hooman Majd in conversation with Isaac Littlejohn Eddy, pt. 2

President Khatami asked me right before the book came out... 'How do you think it's going to be received by the public?'
Hear the Hooman Majd in conversation with Isaac Littlejohn Eddy, pt. 3

Having had the experiences that I've had and being who I am, I'm taking advantage of it.
Hooman Majd in conversation with Isaac Littlejohn Eddy, pt. 4

I was on an NPR show in June, it must have been only a week or so after the election...
Hooman Majd in conversation with Isaac Littlejohn Eddy, pt. 5

I don't have the relationship with Islam that my mom has... but I'm not an athiest.
Hooman Majd in conversation with Isaac Littlejohn Eddy, pt. 6

I was sitting with the Iranian Ambassador at the UN a few weeks after the election...

Isaac Littlejohn EddyIsaac Littlejohn Eddy is a cartoonist and writer living in Brooklyn. He has a non-fiction series about his neighborhood called Fort Greene Illustrated published in the New York Times blog, the local. Isaac also performs as a Blue Man nightly at the Astor Place Theater. He can be reached at


What We Talk About When We Talk About Book Covers

We design most of our covers in-house at Vintage and Anchor. On occasion we like to get a fresh take on things and look to outside designers for help. I asked Peter Buchanan-Smith to take on the redesign of Raymond Carver’s backlist for the 25th anniversary of Vintage Contemporaries. He came up with the perfect idea: using the stunning and luminous, suburban night photography of Todd Hido for the covers. Peter conducted the following interview with Todd exclusively for the Sun and Anchor.

—John Gall

Click the images above to see Peter Buchanan-Smith and Todd Hido’s creations in full-size.

Peter Buchanan-Smith: Hi, Todd. Thank you for agreeing to do this interview with me. When John Gall at Vintage asked if I would be interested in re-designing the Raymond Carver library I responded as if it was my call to arms—this was the moment I had been preparing for. Carver’s short stories have had a profound impact on me. I soon found your large body of work—the desolate landscapes, abandoned motel rooms, and the nocturnal detached homes—and there was absolutely no doubt that these images would be (had to be!) the new face of Raymond Carver. I have to admit that it was only after I had submitted the first round of designs that I learned that this tailor-made well of photographs was even more too good to be true: much of it was actually shot in Carver Country (the Pacific Northwest). With all of this in mind, I have 5 questions I am dying to ask you…

The most obvious: what impact has Raymond Carver’s work had on you?

Todd Hido: Firstly, I must say that when I first heard of the possibility of you wanting to use my photographs on the reissue of his books I thought “my god this might be one of the most important and significant things that my images are ever used for”—a dream really to contribute something to such an amazing author’s body of published work.

As for his impact on my work—when I read Carver I see pictures.

It makes me lust after going out to hunt for places to shoot.

I think for me the biggest influence he has had on my work is that when I discovered [his work], it put words, stories and characters in my mind that I had been searching for.  I instinctively knew these people from my past experiences—they totally resonated with me.

PB-S: What drew you to the Pacific Northwest / Carver Country in the first place?

TH: I have been to Yakima and that area of Central Washington many times to shoot. It was a place that reminded me of where I grew up in Ohio.

Rough around the edges. Worn out. Snowy, rolling hills surrounded by lots of rural farmland with a working class ethic. I also shoot near Sacramento often; he lived there as well.

PB-S: Tell us about the place where Carver and the landscape intersect in your mind. How did he come into your imagination as your traveled the Northwest? Could you feel him as your drove through those streets late at night?

TH: For me the imagined intersection happens when I am looking for stories that might illuminate or inspire my images.

I find many of my pictures of places to actually be about people—really about relationships.

Carver’s words fill in the void of me not really knowing much about the people who live where I photograph. {I never interact with the people—I just shoot} He gave me ideas about who the people were that I imagined living in the places and landscapes I photographed. Those ideas are always with me when I shoot.

Later a real intersection happened when I first used one of his poems, “The Phone Booth” at the end of Roaming, my book of landscapes. It was the perfect thing to help clarify what I was feeling. It is a very poignant poem about endings and not knowing where to go from there.

In another book of mine Between the Two, I used his poem “Energy.” This one was mostly portraits of women. His poem is about his daughter. She easily could have been one of the people in my book! My favorite line in that poem is:

Can take a cigarette down to the filter in 3 draws, just like her mother.

PB-S: Knowing that you have been on the trail of Raymond Carver for so long, did it ever cross your mind (even subconsciously) that the real reason you might actually be taking these pictures is to some day end up as Raymond Carver covers?

TH: Never in a thousand years would I have thought that my work would be so lucky to end up on his book covers—it might actually be fate!

PB-S: Throughout the course of this project I have looked at your photographs endlessly, weighing them up left right and center, trying to find the one that will strike that perfect note. Now that a few of these images have been selected, and have finally made it into print, do you see those images – the ones you have analyzed more than anyone – any differently now?

TH: They certainly have more gravity to me. I love the selections you have made so far. I feel it is a special union—dark, stark, based in reality, but hopeful. It opens the images up for me more.

Honestly, I can’t wait to line them all up in a row!

What I am very curious about is how the longtime fans and collectors of Carver will see them. I really look forward to the response.

Todd Hido has a show of his photographs opening on September 10th at the Bruce Silverstein Gallery in New York City.*
*John Gall is the Art Director for Vintage and Anchor Books.*

Candid and Uncensored with Andrew Davidson and Karen Essex

            In their respective novels The Gargoyle and Stealing Athena, Andrew Davidson and Karen Essex both tell parallel stories that take place in two different time periods, intertwining the lives of people separated by centuries.  The books also explore common themes of the mystical, the mythic, karmic debt, the creation of art, and romantic love.   In a candid and uncensored phone conversation, the authors compare their writing processes and talk about the sometimes numinous, sometimes laborious procedure by which they create stories and bring their characters to life.

(Click here to listen to entire conversation: )

Karen Essexstealing athenaThe GargoyleAndrew Davidson







KE: Hi Andrew. When I wrote to you I said that Doubleday had sent me a galley of The Gargoyle before it was published and I read it…

AD: Right.

KE: … and I really enjoyed it…

AD: Ah, thank you.

KE: When Anchor asked me to participate in this dialogue, even though I am on a deadline, and I am rather far behind at this point, I was going to skim The Gargoyle again, but the truth is that I have now re-read every word of it, because I was just enjoying it way too much.

AD: Well, I apologize.

KE: So if I’m late on my deadline, I’m just going to say call Andrew Davidson, it’s all his fault.

AD: I think that’s a very wise… blame me, that’s the way to go.

KE: Uh huh, I will.

AD: Okay, good. Before we get into the question, what’s the deadline? Do you have another novel coming out? Or is it an article of some sort?

KE: I’m here in London, writing my next novel, which is a Victorian gothic novel, and it’s due in November.

AD: Okay, we’re going to come back to the question that you’re just about to get to, but my question to you before we get to that question is: how are you so unbelievably prolific? Because I just finished reading Stealing Athena, which was great, by the way…


KE: Thank you.

AD: … and there’s a lot of words in it. How did you get another book out of your body so quickly?

KE: I am remarkably unblocked in most situations, though Stealing Athena was the hardest thing I ever wrote.

AD: Why was that?

KE: Well, it was because of the enormous amount of historical research that I had to assimilate, and then spit out into a narrative that didn’t sound like a history lesson.

AD: But still, Stealing Athena was only two years after the book that came before it, is that correct?

KE: Right.

AD: Wow. I’m sorry to get on this….

KE: Quite all right.

AD: But seriously I am in awe. I just don’t know how you can write that much.

KE: I’m not sure how to answer that question, because people always ask me what my process is, and I always say my method is the obsessive-compulsive method of writing. Which is, that once I get going on something, I almost don’t let it go. In a weird way. Someone once asked me if I took weekends off, and I just laughed, and I said, “I take my work with me to the bathroom.”

AD: Right.

KE: And I wasn’t kidding. I’m trying to correct these measures now, but….

AD: The interesting thing is that I write, I think, by that obsessive-compulsive method a bit as well, but what it ends up doing for me is dragging me off down alleyways that are incredibly fascinating, and I write twenty or thirty pages about, but I discover that it ends up being one paragraph in the finished work.

KE: Right. Well, The Gargoyle was your first novel. Correct?

AD: That’s right. Yes.

KE: And you wrote it without a deadline.

AD: Without any deadline whatsoever.

KE: Right. So I had the same experience. My first novel was Kleopatra, it took me about… it took me seven years from the time I thought about it and began to research it to the day I sold it, to what was then Warner Books. So… and I did a lot of research that took me down fascinating alleyways, which had nothing to do, in the end, with the finished book. But I’m here to inform you that now that you’re a big success…

AD: Yeahhh….

KE: … you’re going to have to learn to write faster. And you will.

AD: Okay.

KE: My experience has been that you now have a readership, and your readership is waiting for you.

AD: Right. But….

KE: So….

AD: …my feeling in my case is that, umm, I mean I’m certain that I could put something out in two years, but I don’t know if my readership would be happy with it, because I know I wouldn’t be.

KE: Right.

AD: Yeah.

KE: Yeah, this is… I think this is one of the issues that we novelists deal with, and I… This is what separates what I would call, for lack of a better word, a “career novelist”…

AD: Right.

KE: … you know, from someone who has a story or two in them. I think that it takes a brain-shift, almost, to transform oneself into a person who can write to satisfy a readership. And I don’t mean that that’s the primary goal, that we should be feeding product to our readers, but I look at people who are writing thick, idea-driven books like Philip Roth, and John Updike, and the late Iris Murdoch—these are all incredibly prolific people.

AD: Really, really are.

KE: So at some point I think they made that shift. And I think that you’re at the beginning now, so I bet you that if we had this conversation in five years into the future, you wouldn’t be so concerned about it.

AD: Well, you know, I think it’s interesting. Because I don’t think it’s necessarily—I completely understand what you’re saying, first of all—but I don’t necessarily know that it’s exactly what you’re talking about, as much as it’s just the different ways that people create. For example, I mean, in music, you’ve got, say, Leonard Cohen versus Bob Dylan. And at some point Bob Dylan was putting out an album every fifteen minutes, and Leonard Cohen puts one out every four years if we’re lucky.

KE: Um hmm.

AD: And that’s just how they approach it. And… recently, I’ve been going through the work of John Fowles. And I…

KE: Oh yes!


AD: … and I’m absolutely loving his writing, and the books are so different, and he, I think, produced only seven novels in his life. Well, I mean clearly, here’s a “career novelist” who is just not somebody who writes in quite that quick way. And it’s not better or worse, obviously.  The one thing I’ve discovered in this last year and a half, where I’ve actually been meeting professional writers, because I didn’t know anybody before that, is just that everybody works in ways that absolutely surprise me. When I talk to other writers and they say, “Well, this is my method, this is my process,” sometimes it’s all I can do to keep from blurting out: “REALLY? That works for you?”

KE: I think my favorite weird process story is that of Graham Greene, who got up early every morning, put on a beautiful suit, wrote exactly five hundred words, would stop mid-sentence, once he had reached his five hundred words, was often done by breakfast time, and then would go sort of be a social butterfly, go and hang out with his wealthy friends on yachts in the Mediterranean.

AD: Which is not a bad process at all.

KE: No. Why can’t I learn that one?

AD: Yeah.

KE: I don’t really see it forthcoming, but that’s the process I would most like to learn.

AD: And why can’t I learn it, either? Interestingly, in Stealing Athena, there’s—you talk about the “daimon,” the indwelling spirit inside people…

KE: Uh huh….

AD:  At one point during the writing The Gargoyle, I wrote a five-page tangent on the history of the word “daimon,” which obviously never made it in. In the finished version of The Gargoyle, the word gets referenced once. I needed to write my way through those five pages to know that it didn’t belong in the book at all.

KE: Um hmm. No, I can see that, and I—but I do think that the more that you experience the form of the novel, the more proficient you will be at not needing to go down those roads.

AD: Well, you know, we’ll have to have a conversation in five years and see if I’ve learned anything. (Both laugh.) All right, so let’s go back, I think I interrupted you mid-question, about five and half minutes ago, maybe a little more….

KE: Yes. Well, now that you’ve said that you don’t want to talk about personal things, I’m going to just pretend you didn’t say that and I’m going to ask you, if—because your book is so vivid—I’m going to ask you if you were ever, like your character, either a pornographer, or a burn victim, or a substance abuser.

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The Overflowing Beach Bag – Part 1

Each summer, I get childishly excited at the prospect of what to read on my summer vacation. I could, of course, blame my enthusiasm on my profession — as a book editor, I read so much for work that it’s often hard to make time to read for pleasure. But truthfully, that’s not really the whole story: I am somewhat embarrassed to say I’ve always been like this, and my job has only made it worse.

So, what should you pack in your summer beach bag? Today’s installment: The deliciously big, long, messy, wonderful novels that you won’t want to put down.

Warning: These novels are the kind that make you want to skip a meal or two. They’re the ones that might make you ignore your friends/significant other/family when they try to talk to you on the beach, or suggest an afternoon of exploration or shopping in some lovely nearby town. Last summer, the book that held this position for me was Abraham Verghese’s CUTTING FOR STONE, and when it rained for three days straight on Cape Cod, I was secretly happy to be able to stay in bed with a blanket and immerse myself in Verghese’s masterful story of twin brothers, medicine, and the entirely absorbing world of Missing Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from the 1950s to the present. Ten others that share this mantle are, in no particular order:

THE FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE by Jonathan Lethem: Lethem so grounds you on Brooklyn’s Dean Street in the 1970s that when he veers toward the fantastical, you buy ever second of it. An urban masterpiece of friendship and heartbreak.

HALF OF A YELLOW SUN by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Adichie writes some of the best characters going and in this novel, which won Britain’s Orange Prize and was shortlisted for the NBCC award, she allows readers to understand the origins and events of Nigeria’s terrible Biafran War, through two remarkable sisters and the men who love them.

THE ROTTER’S CLUB by Jonathan Coe: One of the funniest, warmest, most heartbreaking novels I’ve ever read. High school friends in Birmingham, England in the 1970s come of age together; when you finish it, you’ll immediately want to read THE CLOSED CIRCLE, a sequel that takes place twenty years later.

ACTS OF FAITH by Philip Caputo: Geopolitics come alive in this novel set in Sudan by one of our finest journalists turned novelists. Caputo understands better than anyone the ways that religion, corporations, government and greed intersect during a humanitarian crisis; and he writes great characters too.

ON BEAUTY by Zadie Smith : A literary ode to E.M. Forster’s HOWARD’S END. Smith uses Forster’s classic novel as a template for her own, which she sets at a thinly disguised version of an Ivy League university, in what is a fabulous satirical novel of race, class, and gender writ large.

MATING by Norman Rush: “Had Jane Austen been in the Peace Corps in Africa in the 1980s, MATING is the book she might have written,” says A meditation on the meaning of love and romantic relationships, Rush’s novel, which won the National Book Award in1991, is one of my all-time favorites.

A FINE BALANCE by Rohinton Mistry: Few novels are as stunningly beautiful as this one, about four strangers thrown together in an unnamed seaside city in India in 1975 and the friendship that develops between them. It reads like Dickens in India. If you liked “Slumdog Millionaire,” this book will amaze you.

THE EMPEROR’S CHILDREN by Claire Messud: A brilliant comedy of manners about three friends on the cusp of 30 in New York City as the 21st century begins. Messud is eagle-eyed and precise about the entitlement and aspirations of her characters, as well as the world they live in, and every detail is perfectly drawn — including an excellent twist at the end.

THE LINE OF BEAUTY by Alan Hollinghurst: Britain in the 1980s comes to life in this Booker-Prize winning novel about Nick Guest, aspiring James scholar, a gay man discovering his own sexuality in a very straight Tory moment in Britain. One of my favorites scenes involves a dance-off with Margaret Thatcher. . . and Hollingurst writes, line by line, some of the most exquisite sentences I’ve read.

THE WIND-UP BIRD CHRONICLE by Haruki Murakami: You can’t go wrong with what remains my favorite of Murakami’s long books featuring Toru Okada, the pasta-cooking jazz-listening hero; his signature disappearing cat and wife; a prostitute of the mind; a fabulous scene at the bottom of a well; and an aging war veteran who has been permanently changed by the hideous things he witnessed during Japan’s forgotten campaign in Manchuria.

Next up: Short, quick, steamy summer reads to whip through in one afternoon.

*Lexy Bloom is a senior editor at Vintage/Anchor and a paperback junkie. At age ten, she packed a trunk filled entirely with books and brought it to summer camp. Family and friends have never let her forget this.*