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.