Anxiety, Birds, and Books

Reading and Writing


I spoke with Roz Chast, on the eve of her winning the National Book Critics Circle award for best memoir for her book Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? This book should be required reading for anyone with parents.

Interview with Jonathan Franzen

Reading and Writing


A year ago I interviewed Jonathan Franzen about his book, The Kraus Project: Essays by Karl Kraus, translated and annotated by Jonathan Franzen with Paul Reiter and Daniel Kehlmann (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) which is among the final five selections, in the category of Criticism, for the 2013 NBCC awards.

My intro is below, but you can read the entire interview at NBCC’s blog, Critical Mass.

At 6’2″, Jon Franzen fills the door frame of his New York City apartment where we meet, yet he’s not menacing in the least. In stocking feet and slightly stooping, he answers the door light-footed, friendly, buoyant even…not what you’d expect from the curmudgeonly misanthrope, Luddite, or any of the other names he’s been called by his detractors.

But scale, even at the name-calling level, is something Franzen can’t avoid. With the overall critical and commercial success of his two earlier novels, The Corrections and Freedom, and within those books his concomitant analysis of American society, he cemented the novel as not only relevant, but necessary in understanding the complexities of being human in a modern world. Needless to say, oversized gravitas shadows his work.

Dear Author, Promote Thyself.

Reading and Writing

To read or to store? That is the question. Keep yourself and your books relevant. Promote thyself.

As an NBCC book critic, there are things I do before critiquing a book: I read the book; I try to hear the author speak or read his or her own work; and I try to rest my opinions of the scope and intention of the published work…rest assured published author, I proceed with caution, care, and respect for you…because YOU have published a book, no easy feat itself. But what should you expect from your assigned publicist?

Expect nothing. If you depend solely on your publisher’s publicist to help your book gain exposure, well, don’t. My recent attempt to try to obtain the thinnest of information about a forthcoming author and his book was met with fairly unresponsive emails for the author’s publicist, someone explicitly named as the person of contact on the Advanced Reader’s Copy I received. Often it seemed my emails were skimmed, responded to hurriedly, or not understood at all. The odd responses I received to my simple question (“does your author have any events in [UNNAMED LOCATION] that are NOT listed on his website?”) reinforced my belief that you, dear author, should take care to promote yourself. Your publicist could be: underpaid, overworked, not reading emails carefully, inexperienced, busy with their 4th of July preparations (I got an “out of office” reply on July 1 preceding the July 4 holiday) or suspiciously, not as interested in the sale of your book as you are. I’m not saying all publicists are not paying attention…but some, unfortunately, fall into this category. (Apologies to those of you doing your job brilliantly).

Besides writing your book, the most important draft is that of your promotion plan. This could include anything from a follow up children’s book of your novel, a book club guide, or a kick ass website, blog included. You could also start a nonprofit, participate in panels, teach a class, write a column, anything that will keep your readers interested in you and your next book (you do have a next book, right? That should be in your promotion plan, too). And if you do blog or Facebook or Twitter, (which you should; eBook sales grew a whopping 164% from 2009 to 2010 so your book and your name should be omnipresent on the web) please don’t stop as soon as your book tour begins; your book sales will decline just as quickly as your interest in yourself. In other words, if you are not interested in yourself and your publicist is queuing up at the barbeque or the Martha’s Vineyard Ferry, your book will die dusty upon the sale table at your nearest Barnes and Noble or drop precipitously from eBook enigma to digital death.