Falling in Love

A couple times in my life I’ve avoided falling in love. The first time I was aware of doing it was in 1985, which was a watershed kind of year for me: I had a breast cancer scare (that turned out to be benign); My father went into a steep decline and died; A six-year long relationship finally crashed and burned; I met the Mathematician; I started field work for my doctoral dissertation; and I saw a movie that I tried not to see.

The Eric Garden was a tiny theater on Nassau Street in Princeton, just across from the university. I didn’t often have money or time for the movies, but then one day I saw a new movie poster to the left of the ticket booth.  Recall that this was long before you could google a movie trailer to see what it was about, so the poster was all I had, but on that basis it was clear to me that this was a movie I would adore.

Look at it, this object of my reluctant admiration. I still get a flush when I see it, all these years later.

The odd part: I simply could not make myself buy a ticket and go inside. I waited until the last day of its run, and then, sure enough, I was very put out with myself for waiting.  I would have happily bought another twenty tickets and seen it twenty more times. Assuming of course my graduate school budget had stretched so far. Because I waited, it was a couple years before I could see it again, but I thought about it, a lot. 

So now this phenomenon has repeated itself, but this time with a novel. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society came out in 2009 so it has been about eight years that I’ve successfully avoided reading it. I somehow knew that I would love it, and so I stayed away from it. 

I’m here to confess that again, I was wrong to wait. I just finished it, at 2 a.m., and I’m kicking myself because now I know that The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is one of those novels that I will re-read every year. I’ll start feeling lonely for it first. Then the story will keep intruding into whatever I’m thinking about until I  give in, sit down and read it again. There are maybe six novels and just as many movies that have this ability to kidnap my attention.  

As I just finished reading this novel, I need to think about it for a while before I’ll be able to put into words why I like it as much as I do. Of course that will mean reading it again. Once or twice, at least.

Moonflower Vine on the horizon

[asa book]0061673234[/asa] I haven’t mentioned NeglectedBooks.com in a while, probably because I hesitate to go there too often myself. Every time I do I get caught up for hours. Lists of great books that have been forgotten, often with images of the original dust covers (why am I so mezmerized by these? no idea) — what’s not to obsess about?

At any rate, NeglectedBooks has a lot of information on The Moonflower Vine — one of my all time favorite novels, long out of print — and its journey toward new release-dom. The new edition is published by Harper Perennial and will be available on March 24, 2009. (Clicking on the cover image above will take you to the Amazon order page.)

There’s  a short piece on the history of this novel in Publishers Weekly (via  Robert Nedelkoff):

by Lynn Andriani — Publishers Weekly, 2/2/2009

Books fall into obscurity all the time. If they’re lucky, someone rescues them and reintroduces them to a new audience—which is exactly what happened with The Moonflower Vine, a 1962 novel by Jetta Carleton, a one-hit wonder from Missouri who lived from 1913 to 1999. But in this case, it wasn’t just a person who rescued the long forgotten novel. With the help of a Web site called NeglectedBooks.com—and novelist Jane Smiley—The Moonflower Vine will be reissued by Harper Perennial in April, and will even benefit from a co-promotion with Vintage.
The Moonflower revival began when a small press contacted Carleton’s grandniece, Susan Beasley, telling her it wanted to reissue Moonflower, which is set on a farm in western Missouri during the first half of the 20th century. Beasley got in touch with agent Denise Shannon, who didn’t know the book but Googled it and wound up on NeglectedBooks.com, a site launched in 2006 that features thousands of books that have been, according to the site, “neglected, overlooked, forgotten, or stranded by changing tides in critical or popular taste.” Run by Brad Bigelow, who works as an IT project manager for NATO, the site features books with links to online sellers and also links to publishers who reissue books, like NYRB Classics, Paul Dry, Persephone and many others.
When NeglectedBooks featured Moonflower in December 2006, it had an endorsement from Jane Smiley, who also grew up in Missouri; Smiley had included it among the classics she discussed in her 2005 book, Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel. Robert Gottlieb, former editor-in-chief of Knopf, had edited Moonflower, and later said, “Of the hundreds upon hundreds of novels I’ve edited, this is literally the only one I’ve reread several times since its publication.” When Moonflower was first published, it spent more than four months on the New York Times bestseller list. After reading about it on NeglectedBooks, literary agent Shannon—who’d never been to the site before—ordered it from a used bookseller. She loved it and went on to sell it to Terry Karten at Harper Perennial, along with five foreign publishers.
Smiley, whose novel Moo is just out in paperback from Vintage, wrote the foreword to the new edition of Moonflower, and will promote it along with her book when she goes on tour in April. “Jane has been like a fairy godmother for this book,” said Shannon. Smiley will participate in events in Missouri, tied in with the ReadMOre Festival, a statewide literacy program that has chosen Smiley’s A Thousand Acres (1991) as its 2009 selection. Copies of Moonflower, Moo and A Thousand Acres will be sold at all events.mondwinden

My only quibble here is that I claim to be the Fairy Godmother for this novel. I first read it in German in 1975 and then went through contortions to find the English language original, and ever since I have given away dozens of copies. Whenever I see one in a used book store, I buy it and press it on somebody. As I will press this new release on you all. I’ll be giving away some of the new edition as soon as they are available.

One thing I wish I had done  all along — scanned the various covers I’ve come across, which range from the abstractly gorgeous to the downright tacky.

five things you can do to support your favorite authors: new & improved!

Talk to people about YFA’s newest book, let them know why you like it; mention it at dinner with cousin Trudy or in an email to a friend you think might like it. And if you have no friends who fall into this category, consider that you might need to get out more.

The next time you are in a bookstore, ask for YFA’s newest book, and also for one of his or her backlist. If they don’t have it, look surprised. If they volunteer to special order it, say, thank you, but (a) I saw a pile of them at B&N or (b) I’ll get it from Amazon.

Every once in a while, buy one of YFA’s books new. If you have Joe Morgenstein’s fifteen volume series of novels about a pirate with a weakness for high heels, but you got them all used, then consider buying volume sixteen, Manolo Masquerade, new. Because used books don’t really help YFA out much.

If you visit the author’s website or weblog, look for clickables. You know, “digg this” or “stumbled upon” or “technorati favorites” or “email this to a friend”- and click ’em – in moderation, but do click. Think of it as a thumbs up, much appreciated by YFA.

Concise Amazon reviews that provide balance Maybe not so much in terms of actual sales, but they do a lot to dispel that feeling that you’re shouting into an empty room.

Let’s turn this around

Edited to reformat and reformulate::

Let’s take for granted that you want a good story, plot, characters, and all that. What else makes the experience of reading a novel or a body of work more enjoyable or interesting? You can pick all or none of 1-13, or tell me to mind my own business with 14. If there’s something you’d like to suggest, please mention it in the comments. (if you don’t see the poll, hold on; I’m tinkering).

Well, shoot. The polling plugin isn’t working with the new version of WordPress, so I’ll have to do this the old fashioned way. Here’s a list of things you might like or dislike. If you are so inclined, could you tell me which ones appeal to you?

  1. maps (somewhere inside the book)
  2. illustrations (other than maps)
  3. a note from the author about how the book came to be
  4. a note from the author on the research (if there was any)
  5. suggestions for further reading that’s relevant to the book’s theme or setting
  6. a cast of characters list
  7. footnotes (this has been done in novels, specifically in The French Lieutenant’s Woman, for example)

more specifically to the author, are these things you’d rather have, or not have

  1. an author website
  2. an author weblog that is regularly updated
  3. a discussion forum maintained by the author
  4. discussion forum, but it can be anywhere and the author doesn’t need to be present
  5. author biography
  6. photographs
  7. book recommendations and reviews
  8. writing tips and exercises
  9. interviews with other authors
  10. giveaways/contests

Use the comments to tell me what you think, okay? This would be a help to me — and other authors, too.

romantic comedy, via Billy Mernit

I’ve fallen behind with weblog reading. Really behind. Even the weblogs I love best. Billy Mernit has been going great guns without me, which makes me feel … I dunno. Frantic to catch up, maybe. It’s like finding out that you were sitting outside in the hallway while [your favorite musician] was in the auditorium playing her heart out, but you just couldn’t get your algebra homework done in time to go in.

Or something. So maybe that’s reaching a little far, okay. What can I say? Romantic comedy types tend to big gestures.

[asa book]0307395375[/asa]So Billy Mernit is the master of the romantic comedy film (if you don’t want to take my word for it, go over there and read the blog); and now he’s got a novel coming out. I’m looking forward to it and I’m dreading it. I’ll read it the minute it comes out. I hope I love it. I hope I hate it. No, I really do want to love it. But think about this: people jump through hoops to get Billy Mernit to read and comment on their rom com scripts, and now I’ll be paying to read his novel.

Really, I’m thrilled for him. Of course. But does he have to be good at everything?

Those of you who have been around here for a long time may remember that I wrote a screenplay with my friend Suz (mentioned recently), a romantic comedy set in Chicago and Italy in the early sixties. We had huge fun doing it. Good Neighbor Bob (the X-Files producer, I’ve mentioned him before) read it and said two things: (1) it’s hysterical and (2) you’ll never get an American film company to do it.

What about Chocolat? We asked. Set in rural France. A quasi rom-com. Did well at the box office.

Financed and made in Europe, said he.

So it sits in a drawer. We look at it now and then and think of turning it into a novel, because while Billy Mernit doesn’t have any trouble getting people to look at his screenplays, I can usually get people to look at my novels.

Now, about his top ten post-war romantic comedies. Here they are. I’ve crossed off the ones I don’t agree with:
The Apartment; The Graduate; Annie Hall (alternate: Manhattan); Tootsie; Moonstruck; Say Anything (alt: Jerry Maguire); When Harry Met Sally; Groundhog Day; Four Weddings and a Funeral (alt: Notting Hill); A Fish Called Wanda. (alt: There’s Something About Mary)

So we only agree on about half of the ten. Here is my list, reordered, with replacements: When Harry Met Sally, Groundhog Day, Annie Hall, Moonstruck, Bull Durham, Say Anything, Stranger than Fiction, Impromtu, Purple Rose of Cairo, While You Were Sleeping.

And now for something a little different: Continue reading…