Mr. Peanut’s Best of 2010

It’s been nearly four months since I’ve posted an entry, incon­tro­vert­ible evi­dence that I’m a lame blog­ger. But I’ve been fiendishly busy and am most happy to report that I’ve fin­ished edit­ing Ladies and Gen­tle­men, my short story col­lec­tion, due out in June 2011, when Vin­tage pub­lishes Mr. Peanut in paper­back. I’d say that’s nice work for four months’ time, but I also put on my reporter’s hat sev­eral weeks ago to write about the clos­ing of Nashville’s “inde­pen­dent” book­store, Davis-Kidd, which has been an inte­gral part of the city’s lit­er­ary com­mu­nity for thirty years. I’ve got noth­ing against Ama­zon or e-books; they have their place and aren’t going away. Nothing’s free, though, and con­sumers should remem­ber that they advo­cate with their pock­et­books. In my ideal world, booklovers would ded­i­cate a per­cent­age of their yearly book-buying bud­get to inde­pen­dent book­sellers. Oth­ers quoted in the arti­cle, such as FSG pres­i­dent Jonathan Galassi and Knopf’s Vice Pres­i­dent Gary Fisketjon, put these things into per­spec­tive far bet­ter than I, so have a look at the story if you believe inde­pen­dent book­stores are as much a place to shop as they are a cause.

This being the sea­son of lists, I’m thrilled to report that Mr. Peanut was a New York Times Notable Book, a New Yorker Reviewer’s Favorite, one of seven works of fic­tion on The Economist’s Best of 2010, and #9 on Bookpage’s Top Ten. My most select com­pany was one of four nov­els in the Book Lady’s Best of 2010: Genre Busters. Mr. Peanut was also a final­ist for the Flaherty-Dunnan award, which deservedly went to Karl Mar­lantes’ novel Mat­ter­horn. It was a thrill to be on that short list, and it was a gas meet­ing the other finalists.

Crazy busy I remain, how­ever, and since I don’t have the time to recap every­thing that’s hap­pened since mid-August, I thought I’d sup­ply a year-end list of my own. Lists are great because they only seem com­pre­hen­sive. Here goes:

Best Lit­er­ary Star-Gazing Event: The Cen­ter for Fiction’s Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize Din­ner – Held at the New York Rac­quet & Ten­nis Club and made pos­si­ble by the gen­er­ous sup­port of the lovely Nanny Dun­nan, this party/dinner was attended by a jaw-dropping assem­blage of lumi­nar­ies such as Mar­isha Pressl, E.L. Doc­torow, Jay McIn­er­ney, Kathryn Har­ri­son, David Rem­nick, Deb­o­rah Treis­man, Nora Ephron, and Mona Simp­son. Had a chance to talk with Jonathan Galassi, Richard Ford, and James Salter. Told the lat­ter that I’d read A Sport and a Pas­time twice this year. His response: “You could have found bet­ter ways to spend your time than that.” Not so much.

Best Speech: Richard Ford’s pre­sen­ta­tion of the Maxwell E. Perkins Award to Amanda “Binky” Urban – Ford was wry, warm, appre­cia­tive; also, flat-out hys­ter­i­cal. The best line (I para­phrase): “Writ­ers love to hear about how much money their agents are mak­ing. We love to get their calls from pri­vate jets or St. Barthes. We’re built to live vicariously.”

Best Bit of Lit­er­ary Crit­i­cism: Salman Rushdie – Saw Sir Rushdie speak at the Miami Book Fes­ti­val, where I appeared with Jonathan Trop­per (This Is Where I Leave You) and Larry Doyle (Go, Mutants). Rushdie explained that he’d writ­ten his most recent novel, Luka and the Fire of Life, for his sec­ond son, and gave the first draft to him for an appraisal. After the boy read it, Rushdie asked what he thought. Son to father: “It doesn’t have a lot of jump in it.” Father to son: “Give me that back.” Rewrites ensued.

Best Lit­er­ary Elbow-Rubbing Event: The Miami Book Fes­ti­val – Not only is the festival’s scale amaz­ing but also seems a mind-boggling exer­cise in logis­tics. I had a chance to meet sev­eral heroes. Michael Cun­ning­ham (I’m a huge fan of The Hours), Jonathan Franzen (I’d brought my copies of both The Cor­rec­tions and Free­dom for him to sign), Jen­nifer Egan, and Julie Orringer. The nov­el­ists I shared time with, Jonathan Trop­per and Larry Doyle, were lively and fas­ci­nat­ing, though most audi­ence mem­bers were there to see Trop­per, who has writ­ten, it seems, the Great Amer­i­can Sit­ting Shiva Novel (say that three times fast). I had a chance to talk with Scott Turow and Lev Gross­man and also got to hear Dave Barry’s rock band. He looked like he was hav­ing a ball onstage; he also needs to keep his day job.

Best Nerve-Wracking Moment: Mr. Peanut’s Lin­coln Tri­an­gle Barnes & Noble Read­ing, New York – My high school dean of stu­dents was there, a man I still fear, as were numer­ous friends and fam­ily. So was Jonathan Franzen, who was sit­ting front-row cen­ter. Dude has got to stop stalk­ing me.

Best (Bad) Lit­er­ary Award Nom­i­na­tion: The Lit­er­ary Journal’s Bad Sex Award – Franzen and I were the two Amer­i­cans nom­i­nated, and I’m get­ting a lit­tle weary of him grab­bing onto my coat­tails. Still, I’ve never seen such a minor award get so much cov­er­age, from the Guardian to the Huff­in­g­ton Post to The New Yorker. What is this, the end of August? Is it a slow news cycle? Have there been no shark attacks? By the way, male writ­ers dream of win­ning this award at least once every 60 seconds.

Best Lit­er­ary People-Watching Event: East Hamp­ton Library’s Authors Night – I was pretty psy­ched to attend, since I wrote many pages of Mr. Peanut in the East Hamp­ton library’s stacks, plus I got to meet author Sam Lip­syte and have a won­der­ful din­ner at Ken Lipper’s home after­ward. This being East Hamp­ton in sum­mer, there were, I’m afraid, no attrac­tive women to be seen anywhere.

Best Beach Read­ing: East Hampton’s BookHamp­ton – It’s a fan­tas­tic inde­pen­dent book­store with a ter­rific staff. They also run an incred­i­ble read­ing series year-round. I can’t wait to return next summer.

Best Cas­tles: Edin­burgh, Scot­land – I did an appear­ance at the Edin­burgh Book Fes­ti­val with Impor­tant Arti­facts author Leanne Shap­ton, but spent most of my time walk­ing the city, climb­ing Cal­ton Hill on a day so windy you couldn’t hear your­self think, march­ing up Princes Street through the gaunt­let of Inter­na­tional Fes­ti­val actors, odd­balls, and musi­cal acts all the way to the Edin­burgh Cas­tle, and eat­ing more pork belly and hag­gis than is advis­able. I also played golf at Braid Hills, a course north of the city, with two of the cra­zi­est Scots­men on the planet, who not only sup­plied local knowl­edge on sev­eral blind tee shots but also pointed out J.K. Rowling’s castle-sized home. We fin­ished our round at four and they took me out for drinks afterward—many, many drinks.

Best Home­grown Lit­er­ary Event: The South­ern Fes­ti­val of Books – I finally got to meet Amy Green, was intro­duced by leg­endary local jour­nal­ist Jim Rid­ley, I appeared on John Seigenthaler’s A Word on Words twice, and I also got to eat plenty of bar­beque. Nashville rules.

See you back in 2011.