Former leading New Zealand publisher and bookseller, and widely experienced judge of both the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Montana New Zealand Book Awards, talks about what he is currently reading, what impresses him and what doesn't, along with chat about the international English language book scene, and links to sites of interest to booklovers.
Monday, July 29, 2013
Better Late Than Never. Sometimes.. Vikram Seth misses his deadline.
Joon Mo Kang
By JOHN WILLIAMS
Published: July 26, 2013 - The New York Times Sunday Book review
The author Vikram Seth is in hot water for missing a deadline for a sequel to his 1993 novel “A Suitable Boy,” for which he received a $1.7 million advance. One clue for the delay might be found in the previous book’s length: some 1,350 pages. If the follow-up approaches that girth, the need for a bit more time sounds perfectly reasonable.
This wouldn’t be the first time an author has missed a deadline. When Diane McWhorter agreed to write about the civil rights era in Birmingham, Ala., where she grew up, she imagined two years would be more than enough time to produce a manuscript. “And then two years into it, I didn’t even know what it was about,” she told The Times in 2001. The book, “Carry Me Home,” delivered 19 years after the deal’s ink dried, won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction in 2002, and Time magazine named it one of the 100 “best and most influential” nonfiction books published since 1923.
McWhorter and Neil Sheehan (whose award-winning book about Vietnam, “A Bright Shining Lie,” took 16 years to write) testify to the benefits of a publisher’s patience, but long-delayed fiction may not be as blessed. In 1991, when Harold Brodkey published “The Runaway Soul” (contract: 1964), critics pounced. In The Times, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt complained of the book’s “bogus philosophizing.” In the Book Review, D. M. Thomas called the narrator’s style “awful” (“monstrously” and “gargantuanly” so). The moral: Be careful what you wait for.
Los Angeles’s Finest
If the Great American Novel proves an elusive beast, how about the Great City Novel? L.A. Weekly recently concluded a 32-book tournament to determine the best book set in the City of Angels. Contestants included Joan Didion’s “Play It as It Lays” and Bret Easton Ellis’s “Less Than Zero.” (How the field didn’t include a novel by Bruce Wagner is beyond this East Coaster.) The winner was “If He Hollers Let Him Go,” by Chester Himes, a 1945 story about the struggles of a black shipyard worker. Sarah Fenske, the alt weekly’s editor in chief, wrote: “You would never call Himes the greatest L.A. novelist of all time. (Save that, perhaps, for Chandler.) He came, he grew disgusted and he left. What remains is the book he left behind — a blistering, brilliant and, yes, bitter book that captures the rage and fear of everyone who has tried to make it in this town and found it wanting.”