A Good Day
24 June 2009
The other day, post-showdownatTheMillions, I was a little despondent (if you’ve read my essay, “How to Become a Writer,” you know that I have thin skin) and found myself wandering into a bookstore in Chelsea called 192 Books.
It used to be that bookstores unfailingly cheered me up; there was always something to discover, whether or not I actually bought something. And also a feeling of home, of sharing something fundamental with the other (possibly-despondent) browsers — all of us in search of hope in the form of beautiful writing.
These days I brace myself a little when entering a bookstore. The publishing process robs one of some of that book-buying/book-browsing innocence. It’s easy to get caught up in the sense that it’s all just sausage-making and to see nothing but pork fat and innards — loud displays, sensational jacket covers, the same-old-top-10-best-selling authors front and center. I don’t begrudge any bookstore, independent ones especially, for whatever they need to do to stay afloat; it’s more that my awareness of all the machinations now blares, infringing on the homecoming.
But at 192, something wonderful is being preserved. The place is curated, not window-dressed. It feels like a person, or group of persons, is behind the particular arrangement of books — not a McPerson, not a sales formula. Even in hard economic times, they seem to continue to understand their job as a mission — proactive, not merely reactive. As a consumer, I feel respected — encouraged toward a highest common denominator, not a lowest one.
Two of the new fiction releases on display were Joe Meno’s The Great Perhaps, and Kate Walbert’s A Short History of Women, both of which are going on my to-read list. A terrific profile of Joe Meno by Edan Lepucki at The Millions first got my attention, and then the jacket copy at 192 really got my attention. Here’s an excerpt:
…Each [of the Caspers] fears uncertainty and the possibilities that accompany it. When Jonathan and Madeline suddenly decide to separate, this nuclear family is split, each member forced to confront his or her own cowardice, finally coming to appreciate the cloudiness of the modern age. With wit and humor, The Great Perhaps pre-sents a revealing look at anxiety, ambiguity, and the need for complicated answers to complex questions.
Having gone through the process of creating catalogue copy, this struck me; for blurbs and summaries there is often a push toward punchy advertising speak. This one seemed to me somewhat uncompromising; you can hear the author’s voice. (I mean, when you are releasing a book in the U.S. for the summer and thinking about how to hook the general reader, would the words cowardice, cloudiness, anxiety, ambiguity, complicated, and complexity rush to mind?)
A short video of Kate Walbert discussing “advice for young writers” over at Scribner/Simon & Schuster gives us a spare, truthful, and encouraging voice — bling-less and down-to earth. “Don’t give up,” she says, then goes on to share the fact that the first novel she published was the third novel she’d written. There is so much wisdom, and liberating realism, in that kind of established-writer’s revelation.
Both Meno and Walbert have been at this a long time. Congrats to both of them on their auspicious releases.