When she was just 24 years old, British author Zadie Smith published her first novel, White Teeth.
The book went on to become an international bestseller, and introduced Smith as one of the world’s most promising new writers in 2000. Two years later came The Autograph Man and in 2005, On Beauty, another bestseller, was published. And this fall—November 12th to be exact—we have Zadie Smith’s first foray into nonfiction: Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays.
In her Foreword, Smith writes: “When you are first published at a young age, your writing grows with you—and in public. Changing My Mind seemed an apt, confessional title to describe this process. Reading through these pieces, though, I’m forced to recognize that ideological inconsistency is, for me, practically an article of faith. As is a cautious, optimistic creed, best expressed by Saul Bellow: ‘There may be truths on the side of life.’ I keep waiting, but I don’t think I’m going to grow out of it.”
Changing My Mind is divided into four sections—“Reading,” “Being,” “Seeing” and “Feeling”—and the essays cover topics ranging from personal experiences traveling the world to authors who have influenced her own writing to thoughts on public figures like Katharine Hepburn and President Obama to advice and lessons on the writing process.
Smith says that many of these essays were written at the request of editors for different occasions and publications. Some came from her own work on what might have been a new novel. Still others might have composed "a solemn, theoretical book about writing: Fail Better." But instead they come together to form a unique, deeply personal collection from one of our most talented—and talked about—writers.
The Penguin Press, Smith’s publisher, has high hopes for this new book. Will you pick up a copy come November?
Recently our web editor, Trisha Ping, blogged about the fact that it was Tesla’s birthday and asked if anyone had other Tesla spottings in literature. Synchronicity strikes again, since I happened to be reading a chapter in J.G. Sandom’s The God Machine (Google books preview here) that featured Tesla. I posted a comment that led to an email note of appreciation from the author, J.G. Sandom.
Since his page-turning, historical thriller had provided me with insight into the lives of Ben Franklin, Edison, Tesla and the much-maligned Judas—as well as several hours of reading enjoyment—I wanted to know when to expect the sequel to The God Machine.
But after a brief foray on the net, I learned I don’t have to wait for my next Sandom fix because a prequel, Gospel Truths, was published in 1992 and has been favorably compared to The Da Vinci Code and National Treasure.
If that book is anything like the one I just finished, I definitely concur. Sandom has a knack for combining legendary gospels, ancient secrets, star-crossed lovers and Masonic puzzles to create a simmering stew of conspiracy, intrigue and danger that keeps the plot pot boiling until the very end.
When asked what he’s working on now, Sandom said, “In between trying to make a living—I'm a single dad with an 8-year-old daughter—I've been outlining two new novels. One is a book called The Plague that looks at cyber-terrorism and the role of online identities in the world of social networking sites (as yet unsold but my agent is pitching); and the other is a sequel to The God Machine.” The sequel deals with another machine that Franklin invented, the one alluded to by Koster—Sandom’s long-suffering main character—at the end his book.
Sandom is one busy fellow. He also writes YA books under the pen name T.K. Welsh. Last month, he took part in a Skype online video reading and book conference with high school kids from upstate NY and had a letter about the experience published in the School Library Journal. “It was so much fun, and the kids loved it,” Sandom said.
Let’s hope he finds time to finish those other book projects. I’m waiting!
—Karen Trotter Elley
July 18 marks Nelson Mandela's 91st birthday, and in celebration Hachette Audio is releasing a remarkable three-disc audio version of Nelson Mandela's Favorite African Folktales.
The 23 tales from across the African continent, all wonderfully enhanced with traditional African music and music composed for this audio, are read by an amazing array of international performers, including Don Cheadle, Matt Damon, Whoopi Goldberg, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson, Debra Messing, Helen Mirren, Sophie Okonedo, Alan Rickman, Charlize Theron, Blair Underwood, Alfre Woodard and Forest Whitaker, who donated their time and talent.
The elaborate bonus materials include beautiful pieces of artwork to accompany each story, along with a hand-drawn map of Africa. Profits from the audiobook will go to ANSA, Artists for a New South Africa, a nonprofit working in South Africa and the U.S. to combat HIV/AIDS, and The Nelson Mandela Chidren's Fund, so while you and your family listen to these entrancing stories, you'll be contributing to a very good cause. The book's website lets you listen to a free sample.
Publishing cycles may be slow—but when a celebrity death is involved, those wheels tend to start turning a little more quickly. Ian Halperin, who has written biographies about Kurt Cobain and James Taylor, was already at work on a bio of the King of Pop when his sudden death made headlines. Simon & Schuster put the project in overdrive, and Halperin updated the manuscript with a chapter on MJ's death and funeral in time for a crash publication about three months ahead of schedule and less than two weeks after the news broke: July 14. So if you haven't had enough of the media madness surrounding MJ and his family—or would rather learn your King of Pop trivia in print instead of through breathless reporting—one of 500,000 copies could be yours. The audio version, from Tantor Audio and read by Richard Allen, will come just a week later on July 21.
"We lost a good one." When I opened my email Monday morning, that was the subject line on a message from Nashville book publicist Tom Robinson about the death of his friend, writer Paul Hemphill. An acclaimed columnist for the Atlanta Journal in the 1960s, Hemphill went on to write 16 books, chronicling the South in essay collections, novels, memoirs and biographies. We asked Tom to share his personal recollections of the soft-spoken writer who captured the South in a way few others have:
Paul Hemphill has been my literary hero since 39 years ago when I first opened the cover of his debut bestseller The Nashville Sound: Bright Lights and Country Music. Last weekend he passed away in Atlanta.
For the last 30 years “Hemp” allowed me to be one of his many friends. For that I’ll always be thankful. He could weave sentences about the blue-collar South like no one else, because he was blue-collar South. That ability to lay it on paper grabbed so many of us and thank goodness we never shook it. Hemphill’s wheelhouses were the south, sports (with heavy emphasis on his Auburn War Eagles and Atlanta Braves) and country music. “I’m talking REAL country music,” Hemphill would say. “Country music has steel guitars, fiddles and singers with names like Hank, Merle, George, Kitty, Patsy and Loretta.”
So it came as no shock when about six years ago I answered my phone and the familiar soft voice said, “Tom, it’s Hemp. I’m going to write a book on Hank Williams. I think it can work, don’t you?” Work? There was no one better to connect the dots on this one. Hemp was born and raised in Alabama, Williams home state, when the country singer was alive and making his mark on the world. Like Hank, he’d also experienced broken dreams, divorce and a bout with alcohol, all well chronicled by the author. The big difference was that with the love of his wife Susan, Hemphill lived to conquer his demons and saw his life and writing age like fine wine.
“Now I’m planning to come to Nashville and do some serious research,” he said. “I need your help.”
My assignment was to get him together with Don Helms, Hank’s steel guitar player. A quick call to Helms and it was arranged, with a bit of a twist. “Tom, do I need to pull out the steel for Paul?” Helms asked. I’d been to Don’s house when he’d favor guests with those Hank hits, like he did on the historic record sessions. It was incredible how he could still make the lonesome steel cry. “That’d be great,” I said. “We’ll surprise him.”
When the interview day came, Don greeted us at the door and led us to the den, where Hemphill looked with astonishment at the double-neck instrument as Don sat behind it. “Have a seat gentlemen,” Helms offered. We did and he gracefully started in on the chords and reeled off many standards … Cold, Cold Heart, I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry, Your Cheating Heart. The Hank hit parade continued with Hemp grinning like a kid at Christmas. “This is the real deal,” Hemphill whispered to me. As Helms played on the author leaned in, right ear almost touching the chords, making sure not to miss a single, haunting note. The entire time he grinned. “That’s the sound,” Hemp said nodding his head. “Just like on the records.”
He wrote the book, Lovesick Blues, and it earned praise from reviewers across the country. Once again, Hemp nailed it.
Last summer we lost Don Helms. Now Paul Hemphill. Wednesday at his memorial service in Decatur, Georgia, they will read the prologue he penned for Lovesick Blues. In it Hemp reflects on hearing Williams for the first time on radio while riding across the country as a kid with his truck-driving dad. As Hemphill’s loving wife Susan put it, “It’s only right that Paul gets the final word.” Amen to that.
Tom Robinson is a Nashville resident and author/book publicist and media consultant. He also produces the monthly online column, The Author Forum, at BookPage.com.
I didn't catch Little Bee pre-pub, but after reading a few pages in an Oxford bookstore I had to buy it. Luckily the UK practice of putting new books out in paperback made this an affordable and travel-friendly option. If you're put off by the back cover copy (which basically says, this book is so good we can't tell you anything about it), read a few pages and see if you're not captivated by the voice of Little Bee, a 16-year-old Nigerian refugee with a surprising connection to Kidman's well-to-do character, Sarah, and her husband. Unlike many over-hyped novels, this one delivers. Little Bee follows Cleave's Incendiary, a novel in the form of a letter to Osama bin Laden in response to an (imaginary) terror attack on a London football stadium. Unfortunately, the pub date set for Incendiary was July 7, 2005, the day of the London tube bombings, and the novel failed to get the promotion it deserved. We're glad to see Little Bee bring Cleave some well-earned success.
Fun fact: in the UK, Little Bee was called The Other Hand and featured a generic "literary fiction" type cover, a big contrast to the fanciful US jacket. Which do you prefer?
Watch an interview with Chris Cleave here.
Most fans of Audrey Niffenegger’s debut smash The Time Traveler’s Wife know she has a new book coming out this fall. On sale September 29th, Scribner is pitching Her Fearful Symmetry as “a spectacularly compelling ghost story set in and around Highgate Cemetery in London.” We’ve been on pins and needles waiting for our advance copy to arrive, and I was thrilled when I saw it in the mail last week—just in time for the weekend.
Although I’m only 75 pages in, I think it’s safe to say Niffenegger has avoided the dreaded sophomore slump. This novel feels wholly original and it’s something I would have picked up and kept reading even if I didn’t recognize the name on the (very spooky) cover.
The story begins as Elspeth Noblin dies of cancer in London. She has been long-estranged from her twin sister, Edie, but nevertheless leaves her London flat to Edie’s twin daughters—Julia and Valentina—who never knew their Aunt Elspeth. 20-year-old Julia and Valentina have lived in America their whole lives, and they are intrigued by their aunt’s generosity and a chance at an exciting new life in London. But Elspeth’s inheritance has conditions—the twins must live in her apartment together, and they must stay for at least one year; even stranger, Edie and her husband Jack are forbidden to set foot in the flat.
I know from the jacket copy that the twins will have another roommate in their new London home—the ghost of Aunt Elspeth. And I’m excited to see what the girls will learn about each other, their family’s history and why their mother and her twin sister Elspeth have been estranged all these years. In addition to being a fantastically gifted writer, Niffenegger is a guide at Highgate Cemetery—so the reader can expect lots of first hand creepy detail.
I learned from the all-knowing Google that today is Nikola Tesla's 115th birthday.
Surprisingly, this scientist has appeared in at least three recent works of fiction. (Links will take you to the BookPage reviews.)
Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day (who doesn't appear in that book?)
Samantha Hunt's The Invention of Everything Else
And Toni Jordan's Addition—but just as a photo on the wall.
Anyone have other Tesla spottings in literature?
Fans of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity have something to sing about: Juliet, Naked, his new novel (on sale September 29th) will take readers back into familiar territory: the music world.
According to USA Today, “[The novel] features a reclusive, Dylan-like, English singer/songwriter who gets involved, via e-mail, with a woman in rural Pennsylvania." As for his novel’s title, Hornby says it has nothing to do with nudity: “It’s comes from the title of the new, acoustic version of 'Juliet,' the greatest album by his fictional musician, who’s hoping to stage a comeback.”
Following a collection of essays, Housekeeping vs. The Dirt, a novel for young adults, Slam, and a collection of columns, Shakespeare Wrote for Money, this is Hornby’s first novel since 2005’s A Long Way Down. Music lovers and Hornby readers, rejoice.
When I arrived at the Books-A-Million offices for a few publisher meetings back in May, I had just missed their meeting with Penguin. As Julia and I walked in, most of the reps were talking about one thing: Level 26: Dark Origins, a new "digi-novel" coming in September from Anthony Zuiker, the creator of "CSI." They'd just seen a sample of one of the video "cyber-bridges" that readers will get a link to every 20 pages or so in the book. By all accounts, the video had the same quality as a TV show or film, and the killer was more terrifying than Hannibal Lecter.
This picture certainly lines up with that assessment. Apparently he wears a rubber suit of some kind so as not to leave any forensic info at the crime scenes. Creepy!
Info on the novel's plot is as vague as it gets ("the story of the world’s most heinous serial killer, and the one man who can stop him"—heard that one before?), but with a gimmick like this, they may be thinking it's not necessary. There will be three Level 26 novels, and Dutton paid a reported seven figures for the trilogy.
Soap opera fans will find this blend of TV and books to be nothing new (the novels of "Kendall" from "All My Children" and the unforgettable Hidden Passions by "Tabitha Lennox" spring to mind). But this is the first time readers have to get up after 20 pages, go to the computer and search for a video link, something that seems less than ideal to me—but might appeal to YouTube aficionados with smartphones. And who knows, the online content might be exciting enough to send readers racing through the pages to get to the next "cyber-bridge." I'm happy to see publishers trying something outside the standard print format, though. What do you think? The way forward, or two steps back?