Friday, June 15, 2012
How do we discover the books that we read?
Publishers, who want to know how to market their books, ask this question. For me they come in several ways. I have a few veins of gold I want to share with you. I am only including the veins that panned out for me. The arrows indicate some great cases when one good one led to another.
The newsletter email from the Richard Dawkins foundation mentioned Steven Nadler. This prompted me to look up Congressman Jerry Nadler. Nadler's Wiki article mentioned he was a high-school buddy of philospher Alexander Rosenberg. Rosenberg wrote an interesting-looking book called The Atheist's Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions.
From classic movies:
The Grapes of Wrath → Steinbeck → Of Mice and Men
Moss Hart wrote the play “The Man who Came to Dinner” which then was made into a movie. It was based loosely on how incredibly rude he found Alexander Woollcott. So I read Hart’s Memoirs, Act One. How a poor boy from the Bronx, in love with Broadway, made good. Riveting! The movie also led me to read a collection of Woollcott’s articles from The New Yorker called While Rome Burns. This book proves its worth by letting us experience his unique voice, which comes out friendlier on paper than it did in person.
Now, Voyager→ more works by Prouty. Researching Prouty led me to The Writer magazine, in which she published an article in 1943. I embedded all the good parts of that article into the interview article on this website.
My editing courses at NYU exposed me to some newer fiction: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, Last Night at the Lobster and Let the Great World Spin—all winners. Last Night at the Lobster is a novella that can be read in one or two sittings, and goes down real easy.
From my interest in editing, I googled “How to be an Editor”. Number one in the results list? The Fiction editor, the Novel, and the Novelist by McCormack. The same interest in editing led me to read Jackie as Editor which in turn led me to Jacqueline Kennedy, Historic Conversations on life with JFK (CDs included). Learning about legendary editor Max Perkins (Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald) led me to read a novel by one of Perkins’ best authors: Time and the River by Thomas Wolfe. Also following the Perkins vein, and after reading a text on good writing which gave a few examples of Hemingway's craft, I was led to read the short story The Snows of Kilimanjaro.
From the ShopRite:
Robert Parker/Spencer series → The Great Gatsby (the protagonist is reading The Great Gatsby at one point in the mystery story, which led me to read it.)
From my parents' bookcase and attic:
Albert Ellis – A New Guide to Rational Living
Maya Angelou - I know why the Caged Bird Sings
I also picked up their tome by Ron Chernow, The Warburgs. I got through most of the 800 pages about this German Jewish banking family. And then when Chernow came out with Titan I was eager to dig in to this equally massive tome and learn about John D. Rockefeller. You have to be careful with these books by Chernow, though. After reading through a few of them, you are liable to look up and notice that several weeks of your life have gone by, unnoticed.
From the Pulitzer Prize website, and a fascination with reading about people in the “one percent”
The Late George Apley (won in 1938)
From a college buddy who wanted to make it in the theater as a director. I wish I had been able to save you, Mike:
All the works of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. The Maltese Falcon, et. al.
I don’t remember where I discovered Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions—I was only about fourteen. But then I had to read most of this author’s books. And when I came across his short stories, Welcome to the Monkey House, in the bookshelf in the laundry room in my apartment building, I was richly rewarded.
My interest in Atheism led me to God is not Great by Christopher Hitchens. I first discovered Hitchens when he wrote an article about Mother Theresa in Free Inquiry magazine.
Finally we come to Barnes and Noble - Union Square, NYC. I have come to trust them as a source. When they hosted an author event with Edward St. Aubyn and his latest, At Last, I figured I had to give this book a try. New to me, and it turned out to be a very welcome addition.
How did you discover some of your favorites?