Thursday, January 5, 2023

More on Allegra Goodman - being a reading completist and so forth.

I can be a bit of a completist. When it comes to authors, that means reading everything they publish, though sometimes I have caveats. When the author is prolific, that can be quite a challenge, and what happens when you realize that 25 pages into the book that you really don't like it. Do you decide to exclude this author from this less-than-coveted pantheon? Or do you plow through, hoping at best that the book had a slow start and at worst, that it's just a hiccup and the next book will be better?

I was thinking about this upon hearing about the death of writer Fay Weldon at 91. I read a lot of Fay Weldon in the 1980s and 1990s, even working backwards through her older titles. But I just couldn't keep up. The Guardian obituary didn't even bother to count. The Fantastic Fiction website lists 36 novels, six collections of short stories, and seven works of nonfiction. I have read 16 of her books, including her memoir, Auto da Fay, and the book she wrote for hire for Bulgari, titled The Bulgari Connection. I don't think I will ever catch up.

That said, I am intrigued by her writing book, Why Will No-One Publish My Novel: A Handbook for the Rejected Writer, which came out in paperback through Head of Zeus, imported by IPG, in 2019. 

After reading the forthcoming Künstlers in Paradise (March 14), I thought maybe I should start trying to catch up on Cathleen Schine. She has 12 novels and I have read seven of them. I have three options: 1) Start at the beginning 2) Work backwards 3) Take whatever I can get! I'll keep you posted. 

And so we return to Allegra Goodman. There were times when I might have fallen off the completist wagon (here are the caveats - I have read neither her kids book nor her cowritten textbook), but there were champions out there who helped me through, most notably our sales reps, those unsung (or at least undersung) heroes of publishing. A sales rep (Mark) got me to read The Family Markowitz. A fellow bookseller Dave, who, no surprise, went on to be a sales rep (he's talking to our buyer right now!), convinced me to go back and read The Cookbook Collector, one of my favorite Goodman works. There are so many recommendations of his that have steered me well over the years. 

And then there's Sam. I started, I stopped. It felt so different from his other books. And am I in that moment of life when I want to read a coming of age story? But then I spoke to our rep John, and he convinced me to go back. It was the kind of pep talk you expect a coach to give one of his players. I was convinced. And I soon became entranced by the story, and more than that, saw how the book was different and yet was so clearly an Allegra Goodman novel. I wrote my staff rec. And sent it in. I try to get at least one rec in for each monthly deadline, but you're at the mercy of pub dates. 

Crazy thing - it wound up being selected as the Indie Next recommendation, my first in years. As is the case for the new shorter recs with 25 books being featured, it was too long and needed to be cut. But I guess, unlike some things I write, it was actually cuttable. Reprinted here: "You’ve never read a novel like Sam. Sam’s seminal years leave her insecure at best, entering adulthood with a number of missteps. Rock climbing gives her purpose; it doesn’t take her where she wants to go, but leads to unseen paths. Powerful.”

I followed this up with a virtual event request. And being that I've been writing back and forth with Goodman's agent about books, it struck both of this that this would be an interesting and unique conversation. She has gotten me to read many terrific books (shout out to Belinda Huijan Tang's A Map for the Missing!), but I love that she reads books from authors that aren't current or potential clients. And I love that she was a fan first, and only started representing Goodman with Sam. And I really love that she is a former bookseller. 

I am excited that I found my old write up of Intuition. It was still back in the days when most of my reviews weren't meant for the public, but apparently I did write this up (or a something very similar) for one of the old Harry W. Schwartz newsletters. 

"A Cambridge research lab is the setting for Intuition the keenly insightful new novel by Allegra Goodman.  Cliff, a young postdoc on the verge of career failure may have made a cancer breakthrough.  Another associate, Robin, suspects a problem, but she’s also his ex-girlfriend, whose own research has been sidetracked by his success. Don’t think, however, that this is just a two-character study.  The lab itself is having funding problems, and this breakthrough could be just what they need, but the controversy splits the partners, one of whom is more interested in chasing the limelight and funding more than the research itself.  Oh, and the director of the competing lab who is encouraging Robin along the way is just deliciously icky.   I’ve already been debating the finer points of the story with friends in publishing; one thought it stupendous, the other was exasperated by the whistleblower.  I agree with both, but I thought the exasperation with Robin was well thought out; this is a book that is as much about perspective and moral ambiguity as anything else - Robin isn’t a heroine in a Robin Cook novel, after all."

Not that there's anything wrong with being a heroine in a Robin Cook novel. It sounds thrilling!

As a bonus, I transcribed my write up of The Family Markowitz, which until now was only available if you happened to be my pen pal in the 1990s: "Rose Markowitz has been uprooted from her New York apartment to an old-age home in Venice, California. Her neighbor tells her to stop being so old fashioned and take off those plastic slipcovers. Is Rose saving her furniture for her own death? Well, Rose gives up the slipcovers only to watch the material go, and finds out that her neighbor sold the slipcovers at a yard sale. So goes Goodman’s hilarious novel/inter-connected stories about one family’s travails through life. Henry and Ed, Rose’s sons, are respectively gallery manager.Laura Ashley manager/poet and college professor/terrorism expert. Ed’s wife Sarah has set aside her own writing to raise  their children, and daughter Miriam has returned to the Orthodox faith. Whether writing about Henry’s super-Anglo wedding, the oral history project for which Rose is a subject, or the spiritual/academic conference in Minnesota that Ed attends, Goodman mixes hilarity and truth in equal parts, totally fulfilling the promise of 1989’s Total Immersion.

I only just now realized that the heroines of The Family Markowitz (Rose) and Künstlers in Paradise (Mamie) are living out their golden years in Venice, California. More than coincidence?

Join us for the virtual event on January 5, 7 pm Central Time, or use the link here (should be live by January 10) to watch the recording.

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