Warner Twelve : exciting new imprint
Also in today's blog
Max Perkins : Editor of Genius
Jonathan Karp, another editor of genius?
Comments on comic books and Lost Horizon
Candid comments from readers
Recently, at a meeting in the public library of a Spanish village not far from mine, the Englishman on my left was trying to recall the name of a crime writer he admired. Suddenly, as we were about to depart, he remembered it - Phyllis Whitney. [Of whom more in a future blog.]
My memory is equally erratic. Recently I couldn't remember the title of a book on my summer bookshelves. It eluded me all day until suddenly, at supper time, it returned - Max Perkins: Editor of Genius.
Yet a few days ago, seeing the book title Seabiscuit on the screen, I had an immediate and clear recollection of a book published by Heinemann half a century ago, Sea-Wyf and Biscuit by J M Scott. In 1957 it was filmed as Sea Wife.
"In 1942, a cargo ship jammed with British evacuees from Singapore is sunk by a Japanese sub. A small lifeboat carries a beautiful woman, an army officer, a bigoted administrator, and a black seaman. Only the seaman knows the woman is a nun. The men reveal their true selves under the hardships of survival."
The movie's chief claims to fame are that a famous director, Roberto Rossellini, walked out on it and that the nun was played by Joan Collins.
Seabiscuit, the book that triggered these memories, is about an American race horse which was
"such a phenomenon in his day that his name was mentioned in more newspaper articles in 1938 than Franklin Roosevelt's or Hitler's. His epic battle that year against War Admiral at Pimlico stands as perhaps the greatest horse race in history. But he also was a "rough-hewn, undersized horse with a sad little tail and a knee that wouldn't straighten all the way," shepherded to his success by a half-blind jockey, an almost mute trainer and an owner who once made his living in bicycle repair."
The most remarkable thing about this book is that its author, Laura Hillenbrand, although you wouldn't guess it from her photo, had to overcome a terribly disabling illness to write it. Her account in the New Yorker of her long struggle against ME, and the support she had from her partner Borden, is one of the most touching real life love stories I have read.
What I find surprising is that, although I read the UK book trade press and a wide variety of newspaper and magazine book pages, neither Seabiscuit - which has attracted 607 reader reviews at Amazon - nor Laura Hillenbrand had registered with me until this week.
The only reason I have discovered them now is because Christopher Hitchens, one of my favourite columnists, has a book coming out next year called God Is Not Great: The Case Against Religion, of which he writes -
"All religions are versions of the same dangerous untruth, which is that we are both created and supervised by a supernatural force. Incalculable damage is done every day by adherents of this fantasy. A defense of humanist values, and of the secular society promised by the American Revolution, is the most important task of the free mind."
The connection between Hitchens and Hillenbrand is that the publisher of both books is Jonathan Karp. In June there was an article about him in Publishers Weekly.
"Of all the stories told about Jonathan Karp, perhaps the one that stands out most is this: in a meeting a few years ago, the editor stood, held up a record from musician/author Rupert Holmes and said, essentially: "This man changed my life, and I am going to publish his book." The story, even allowing for exaggeration, showcases vintage Karp: boyishly cheerful, ineluctably passionate and, sometimes, a little indifferent or oblivious to how others hear him. (I mean, the guy wrote the piña colada song.) It's clear that these traits helped the 41-year-old shoot through the profession as though in a pneumatic tube. They are also, perhaps, what precipitated his abrupt resignation from the most prestigious job in publishing."
That job was being editor-in-chief at Random House. In August, the New York Times reported that Karp, who started his career as a reporter, is also a lyricist. He wrote the musical comedy How to Save the World and Find True Love in 90 Minutes that premiered at the New York International Fringe Festival later that month.
Karp has now re-surfaced as publisher and editor-in-chief of Warner Twelve, a new imprint which launches in April 2006. WT's mission statement begins -
"Talented authors deserve attention: committed and sustained focus on
their work, in the editing and the marketing, from the moment of acquisition through the paperback publication. Warner Twelve is devoted to the principle that each book matters. We will publish no more than one book per month. Every author will have a chance to reach the broadest possible readership. We will publish meaningful stories, true and fictional. Stories told artfully by authors who have a unique perspective and compelling authority. The singular book. Books that explain our culture; that illuminate, inspire, provoke, and entertain. We will seek to establish communities of conversation surrounding our books. Talented authors deserve attention not only from publishers, but from readers as well. To sell the book is only the beginning of our mission. To build avid audiences of readers who are enriched by these works - that is our ultimate purpose."
Comment on comic books
After reading last Sunday's blog, Stephen Bowden hit the Comment button to reprove me for sounding "rather snobbish" in my comment about comic books. I took his advice and went to look for Raymond Briggs.
Comment on Lost Horizon
Sue Horsley emailed -
"Dear Anne I've just been on your blog and was interested in your comments about the novel Lost Horizon. It is one of my favourite books. Having seen the original film and the remake made in the 1970s, I managed to track down the book when I was on holiday in Nepal. Recently I saw an interesting BBC programme titled Shangri-La, part of Michael Woods 'Search of Myths and Heroes' series. He was suggesting that Hilton got his idea for the book from a place named in Buddhist history called 'Shambala'. Information can be found on the
BBC website. Best Wishes Sue
At the site I learnt that Michael Wood is a broadcaster and film-maker, and the author of In Search of the Dark Ages, Domesday and In Search of England. He has over 80 documentary films to his name, including 'Art of the Western World', 'Legacy', 'In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great', and 'Conquistadors'.
There are six pages of interesting reading, including a book list. I particularly want to read In Search of Shangri-La by Michael MacRae.
One of the quotes I copied is -
"In the increasingly pessimistic 1930s, when Western civilisation seemed bent on a path to self-destruction - and when, as Carl Jung put it, 'the smell of burning was in the air' - the story of a kind of earthly paradise had an irresistible appeal."
In 2005 the smell of burning is even stronger than it was in the Thirties. But it would be difficult to convince today's readers that, somewhere, there is an undiscovered earthly paradise.
Candid comments from readers
Reading candid comments about their books by readers on the other side of the world is a relatively new experience for writers. How do they know what is being said/written? They ask Google to alert them to any mention of their pen name. This is not a sign of megalomania. It's normal curiosity, particularly understandable among non-literary authors whose books are seldom reviewed.
I have been to Wellington in New Zealand, although not to the café in St Paul's Square where one of my books changed ownership recently. On October 10 someone called Kereru15 left a long out-of-print 400-pager called Time & Chance in what
Bookcrossing calls "the wild", in this case in St Paul's Café.
Kereru15, who gives his/her age as 52, described the book as "Saga based around restoring the family estate and all the interesting and intriguing people that come in to do it. Easy read."
About three weeks later the book was picked up by a 30-year-old called Ageja who marked the book 7 out of 10 and wrote, "Don't be put off by the dated style of writing and exaggerated characters. The story came together well and provided a good bout of 'escapism' from modern fiction. Worth a look! :)"
Judging by the "smiley" at the end of Ageja's comment, my guess is that she mostly reads chick lit, so I wasn't cast into deep gloom by the "dated style of writing" comment. I was a bit puzzled by "exaggerated characters", but perhaps that is because some of the people in Time & Chance are English aristos who do tend to be larger than life.