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?
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.
As some Book Case readers know, before I came to BookPage in March, I was an Assistant Editor at Random House in New York City. I had the privilege of working with dozens of talented authors on hundreds of fascinating books. But one of my favorite projects—and one of the last ones I worked on before leaving Random House—was Mark Seal's Wildflower: An Extraordinary Life and Untimely Death in Africa.
Published in May of this year, Wildflower is the story of the captivating life and shocking death of world-renowned naturalist Joan Root. Mark Seal, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, is the gifted author. Mark took the time out of his busy schedule to answer a few of The Book Case’s questions about Wildflower and writing in general.
Wildflower evolved from a piece you wrote about Joan Root’s life and death for Vanity Fair. How did you first hear about Joan Root? What interested you in her story?
I read a one paragraph mention of her death in The New York Times Digest, headlined “Conservationist Killed”: “Joan Root, animal lover and conservationist who collaborated with her husband, Alan, on wildlife documentaries in the 1970s, was killed on Jan. 13 in Naivasha, Kenya. Root was shot to death by assailants who invaded her farmhouse, the police said. Two men were arrested, officials said. One of the couple’s films, “Mysterious Castles of Clay,” narrated by Orson Welles, showed the inner workings of a termite mound. It was nominated for an Oscar in 1978.” I had never heard of Joan Root, but was instantly riveted and wanted to know more. When I began researching her, a whole world opened—and I discovered a truly amazing woman who led two incredible lives, first as a famous filmmaker with her husband, Alan, with whom she shared a magical love and almost unbelievable adventure, and, after their divorce, as a brave and independent woman on her own, who put her life on the line to save the ecologically endangered lake on which she lived.
Tell us about your research and writing process. How did you tackle such a complicated project?
For the Vanity Fair story, I traveled to Kenya for Joan’s memorial service, interviewing her friends, fellow naturalists and ex-husband, Alan, as well as the police who investigated her murder. However, I felt like I had to get her voice in order to write a book about her—not an easy task when dealing with an intensely private woman, who barely spoke above a whisper and rarely gave interviews. Then, something incredible happened: Joan Root began speaking. Her ex-husband, Alan Root, emailed me, saying I was right about the speaking, but he had thousands of letters Joan had written to her mother, as well as letters she’d written to him during their painful separation and eventual divorce, and meticulously kept diaries over the years. I returned to Kenya and got the letters and diaries, which enabled me to find Joan’s voice, which became so critical for the book.
What do you hope readers will take away from Wildflower?
That we are all capable of second acts and second lives, and that one person can make a difference. Joan was an unlikely activist, but she put herself on the line for what she believed in. “It’s all talk, talk, talk, meetings, meetings, meeting but nothing ever gets done!” she once said. Her legacy is that she showed how action, instead of talk, can bring about change.
What can we expect from you next?
I’m working on a new nonfiction book as well as articles for Vanity Fair.
Any advice for aspiring writers?
Stay with it. And always concentrate on finding a great story. It’s often said that characters begin to speak to you—and they do. But it takes hard work and perseverance to get them talking.
For more on Mark Seal, check out BookPage’s review of Wildflower. Thanks for reading with us!
As one half of "The Whisky Couple," Hans Offringa conducts whisky nosing and tasting sessions throughout Europe and the USA. Offringa has just published Whisky & Jazz, a coffee-table book that combines two of his great loves. Read more about his inspiration for this book, volume two in a four-part series that combines whisky and the four senses.
Whisky & the Senses
guest blog by Hans Offringa
At the age of 18 I graduated from high school and, as a celebration ritual, was offered my first glass of Scotch whisky by a good friend. I instantly fell for the drink, and my natural curiosity made me go on a quest. It would turn out to be a lifelong quest. As a professional writer with more than 30 years of writing articles, books and manuals under my belt, I have been doing some serious traveling, mostly for research, from Scotland to Kentucky, from Hong Kong to San Francisco, from St. Petersburg, Russia, to the Sinai desert in Africa. My favorite country, however, is Scotland.
When I first visited that wonderful place some 20 years ago, the main purpose was to meet a series of distillers for interviews and photography. I fell in love with the countryside, with the people and with nature as a whole. Over the years I have traveled countless times to this part of the world and accumulated a wealth of knowledge and perhaps a bit of wisdom on the side thanks to the many people who were willing to help me: distillers, marketeers and fellow writers. In 1999, I published my first work about whisky with a Scottish business partner. It proved to be the start of a whole series of books and articles about the craitur. Three years ago I developed the idea to write four different coffee table style books about whisky and the senses. After all, we appreciate a good dram of whisky with our ears, our eyes, our nose and our palate. We hear a gurgling sound when we pour the whisky, we watch the colour, we smell the aromas and when we taste a sip, we feel a prickling sensation. Five senses cooperate closely to give us an impression of what we savour.
In 2007, part one, A Taste of Whisky, was published. In the book I describe how flavors and aromas come into being and how you can learn to discern them yourself. To top it off I asked four chefs from four different countries to create a 10-course menu with 10 single malt whiskies I selected specially for them. They all took an entirely different approach, as I had hoped for. On May 29 this year, part two was launched: Whisky & Jazz. In the first chapter, I compare the history of jazz with the history of whisky and identify areas of resemblance. In the second chapter, I describe the life stories of 10 jazz musicians followed by a chapter about 10 fine distilleries. The last chapter is a sipping and tasting guide, where I blend a particular song with a particular whisky, enhancing both the enjoyment of listening to music and the tasting superb whiskies. For each blend I wrote a blue note and a tasting note. Here you can find a link to the 10 pieces of music and listen to them while savouring your dram. Part three (looking) and four (feeling) of Whisky & the Senses are scheduled for publishing in 2010 and 2011. All four books can be read independently.
If you’re gift-challenged like me, holidays/birthdays/graduations and other gift-giving events have a way of sneaking up on you. We’re doing our part to help out by warning you a full week in advance that Sunday is FATHER’S DAY and if you don’t already have an idea for a present, you’d better get busy. Wait, there’s more. We’re also offering one lucky reader a chance to snag a Father’s Day gift collection without ever leaving the sofa. Our “Four for Father” collection includes these new releases:
That's what David Young, chairman and CEO of Hachette Book Group, hopes for Twelve's upcoming memoir from Senator Ted Kennedy. At a recent meeting with Books-A-Million, Young told buyers that editor Jamie Raab says True Compass "delivers" and described the book as "electrifying."
True Compass covers everything from Kennedy's youth to the current day in surprising detail. "Revelations in this book will amaze people," Young said, promising that Kennedy "went everywhere we wanted him to go" in the memoir -- including Chappaquiddick -- and that the scene where Kennedy informs their father of his brother Jack's death is especially poignant. The book will, of course, be embargoed until its October 6 release date. Will you read?
That’s the scoop, according to paleontologists studying a 47-million-year-old complete fossil unearthed around 25 years ago in an unused quarry near Frankfurt, Germany.
The lemur-like primate—scientific name Darwinius masillae, nickname “Ida”—is being hailed as the missing link; not necessarily our direct ancestor, but a member perched on a neighboring branch of the family tree. Or, as one oft-quoted scientist, Jens Franzen, put it to the BBC and others, not our “grand, grand, grandmother,” but our “grand, grand, grand, grand aunt.”
But, wait, Ida was found 25 years ago? Where's the breaking news?
Ida was in a private collection for most of that time, until being purchased (in secret) by the University of Oslo. Now, after years of clandestine research, the fossil is suddenly a star, subject of a book pubbing today—The Link: Uncovering Our Earliest Ancestor (Little, Brown) by biologist/writer Colin Tudge—an audiobook version also published by Hachette and a film. Find out about all these on the Ida website, where you can read about the discovery of the fossil, download the first chapter of the book or listen to a clip from the audiobook.
BTW, have you been to Google’s homepage today? Cool.
This morning's email brought news of a book deal for the passengers of US Air Flight 1549. Ballantine will publish their story on November 3.
From the press release:
A unique collaboration between many of the passengers themselves and two expert story-tellers, William Prochnau , MIRACLE ON THE HUDSON will provide the first and the only full account, minute-by-minute, of that fateful day, in the survivors’ own words. . . . The survivors' stories about their ordeal are moving and unforgettable. We see passengers watching as birds enter one engine. We relive the eerie silence in the cabin, save for fervently whispered prayers after both engines fail. We feel the impact as the plane violently hits the river, water pouring into the fuselage. We meet the passenger who opened the first door to safety, and another who stripped to his underwear in readiness for an impossible swim to shore. Then we see an incredible rescue take place from the viewpoint of the people caught in the middle of a frigid metropolitan river.
ETA: Perhaps more newsworthy than the passengers' book deal is the New York Times' report that some of them will actually be getting their luggage back. This may be a bigger miracle than their survival. [Via]
New York's gaggle of gossipistas has been all a twitter (figuratively and literally) about Michael Gross' latest exposé of the Big Apple's super-wealthy social glitterati. In Rogue's Gallery: The Secret History of the Moguls and the Money That Made the Metropolitan Museum (Broadway), on sale tomorrow, Gross does his damnedest to out as many "secrets" and secret-sharers as he can. His social scalpel sharpened, he set out to uncover the ugly, but alluring, underbelly of the cash-fueled power politics of the art world, with its elite egotists ever-battling for prominence. He maintains that "ever since its founding, the Metropolitan has bred arrogance, hauteur, hubris, vanity and even madness." And he goes on to say that the Metropolitan is "a huge alchemical experiment, turning the worst of man's attributes — extravagance, lust, gluttony, acquisitiveness, envy, avarice, greed, egotism, and pride — into the very best, transmuting deadly sins into priceless treasure."
Real dirt is dished all the way through, but the second half of the book, dealing with the living and the not-long-departed—Thomas Hoving, Annette de la Renta, her mother Jane Engelhard, Brooke Astor and Diana Vreeland are among the skewered luminaries--has the juiciest bits that titillate and tantalize. Not everyone was thrilled to talk to Gross. The Met's soon-to-retire leader, the ultra-elegant Philippe de Montebello, zipped his lip and told his staff, from curators to janitors, to zip theirs (a friend of mine had the pleasure of hanging up on Gross when barraged with inappropriate questions). In his acknowledgments, Gross thanks all the fearful folks who talked to him under the cloak of anonymity, to "protect their livelihoods or their social positions." Undeniably fun, Rogue's Gallery is a hefty (over 500 pages), detailed guilty pleasure that's hard to put down.