Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Jed Rubenfeld's extraordinary bestseller

[Posted 1 May 2007]

Also in today's blog

Claudia Roden and Liz Fielding
Is there a danger that reading will stop?

Now to tell you something about the marvellous book I was lent while in hospital last week. It's so enjoyable that I'm rationing myself to 30 pages a day.

Had I been on top form last month, I should have spotted a photograph of the author on page 18 of Publishing News [13 April issue], part of their coverage of the 2007 British Book Awards.

Being an early riser, I don't often stay up late and the opening scenes of the TV coverage of the Awards didn't tempt me to watch the whole thing. Which was a pity because I should have liked to see Jed Rubenfeld receiving his award for The Interpretation of Murder.



Extract from Publishing News : "It was a family celebration for Jed Rubenfeld, who took the Richard & Judy Award for his debut novel The Interpretation of Murder [Headline]. He was accompanied at the Awards by his wife, Amy Chua, also a best-selling author, and agent Suzanne Gluck of William Morris. His children were back at the hotel – "I can't wait to tell them. I'm thrilled beyond description – this is the only honour I've had in my life," claimed the high-flying Yale law professor. Having refused a two-book contract, what about that second novel now the first is so successful? "I'm going to skip the second one," he replied. Straight on to the third, then!"

Last Friday's issue of The Bookseller shows Rubenfeld's book at No 1 on the Top 50 chart with a total of 453,140 units sold.

Neither the R&J Award or the No 1 spot on the Top 50 chart would have influenced me to buy the book had I not been lent it. Too many books are hyped to the skies these days and prove disappointing.

For a change, the praise for this book is justified. I agree with The Times critic who wrote "…and unusually intelligent novel which entertains, informs and intrigues on several levels" and with the Independent reviewer's comment, "Rubenfeld's brilliant conceit is to weave this real-life event into an accomplished thriller…a dazzling novel."

Bookreporter has an interesting interview with Rubenfeld whose site is here.

Why am I enjoying this story so much? Partly because it's full of what so many current novels lack : interesting information. I have been to New York only once – an enthralling experience – and therefore am keenly interested in its history.

On p 7 the author writes – "At the beginning of the twentieth century, an architectural paroxysm shook New York City. Gigantic towers called skyscrapers soared up one after another, higher than anything built by the hand of man before. At a ribbon-cutting ceremeony on Liberty Street in 1908, the top hats applauded as Mayor McClellan declared the forty-seven-storey redbrick and bluestone Singer Building the world's tallest structure. Eighteen months later, the mayor had to repeat the same ceremoney at the fifty-story Metropolitan Life tower on Twenty-fourth Street. But even then, they were already breaking ground for Mr Woolworth's staggering fifty-eight ziggurate back downtown.

On every block, enormous steel-beam skeletons appeared where empty lots had been the day before. The smash and scream of steam shovels never ceased. The only comparison was with Haussmann's transformation of Paris a half a century earlier, but in New York there was no signle vision behind the scenes, no unifying plan, no disciplining authority. Capital and speculation drove everything, releasing fantastic energies, distinctly American and individualistic."

Some readers might find those details boring. I find them enriching. They enhance a gripping murder story. I like to emerge from a book knowing more about the world than I did on Page 1, and Rubenfeld satisfies that hunger in a way that too few contemporary novelists do. Particularly women writers who nowadays seem to concentrate almost exclusively on "emotion", much of it tediously repetitive.

Supermarket fiction seems to be going the same way as supermarket vegetables, increasingly tasteless and lacking in nourishment. Yesterday, fancying a tomato with my bread-and-feta-cheese lunch, I cut up a Guernsey- shop-bought tomato which, apart from being red, bore little resemblance to a tomato from the street market where we shop in Spain. In a word, it was tasteless.

The problem is that UK supermarket shoppers, unless they spend time in mainland Europe, don't realise how second-rate most imported produce has become. The same thing seems to be happening with popular fiction.

Claudia Roden and Liz Fielding


A comment by Liz Fielding, on yesterday's Bookworm blog referred to cookery writer Claudia Roden. [See first photo] I'm pretty sure I have one of her books on my Spanish shelves but haven't yet got around to trying the recipes.

Cooking was one of my passions back in the Seventies, but other interests have taken over and being married to a first rate cook is another disencentive.

As I used to in an earlier, less stressful era, Liz Fielding writes for Harlequin Mills & Boon. She has amazing energy. [See second photo]



Liz not only has a website, but also a blog and now a place on MySpace. The three sites must need a good deal of attention and I wonder if they are worth the time involved? It's difficult to judge how rewarding these promotional exercises are.

But with parent companyHarlequin currently publishing over 1,300 authors from around the world – I think there were fewer than 40 authors when I joined the Boon brothers' list more than half a century ago – today's M&B writers have a much tougher row to hoe than their predecessors.

Is there a danger that reading will stop?


Extract : "The truth is that the book and newspaper businesses share the same dreadful fear: that people will stop reading. And the fear may be well-founded. Across the country, newspaper circulations are down — and this is clearly part of the reason for the cuts to book sections. At the same time, the book business increasingly relies on an aging customer base that may not be refueling itself with enough new readers.

In the past, newspaper executives understood the symbiotic relationship between their product and books. People who read books also read newspapers. From that basic tenet came a philosophy: If you foster books, you foster reading. If you foster reading, you foster newspapers. That loss-leader ends up helping you build and keep your base."

Read more of this piece by Michael Connelly, author of 17 mysteries, most of them featuring LAPD Det. Harry Bosch, at the L A Times.

8 Comments:

At 02 May, 2007, Blogger Biby Cletus said...

Nice post, its a really cool blog that you have here, keep up the good work, will be back.

Warm Regards

Biby Cletus - Blog

 
At 02 May, 2007, Blogger Liz Fielding said...

Anne, I take your point about all the blogging and myspace taking up an awful lot of time. They do -- all of which could be more usefully employed writing the books. But actually I do rather enjoy it.

Sometimes I like to live in my own head and be "an author", rather than live in the heads of my characters. :)

 
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