Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Why you can't miss Bill Goldstein's "The World Broke in Two," and why, because I am biased, it's a good thing lots of other booksellers at Boswell are loving it.

Being that there are no events at Boswell this week, I thought I'd use the time to talk about a special program coming in mid September. It's an event over thirty years in the making!

Our featured author is Bill Goldstein and the book is The World Broke in Two: Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster and the Year That Changed Literature. It was published on August 15 and it's gotten all sorts of great attention:

--Glen Weldon on NPR wrote: "The ingenious conceit of Goldstein's book is to follow, using excerpts from both their correspondence and their diaries, the intertwined personal and literary lives of four writers — Virginia Woolf, D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster, and Eliot himself — as the three seismic shocks of those publications ripple through their lives, and their work. To do so, he narrows the focus and imposes strict parameters. Very strict, as it turns out: Apart from some contextualizing commentary, The World Broke in Two rigorously limits itself to the span of days from January 1st to December 31st, 1922.

And later he notes: "The book comes alive in the ceaseless churn of these intersecting egos, as they turn their withering writerly gazes upon one another — and, less eagerly, upon themselves. Their professional and personal jealousy, spite, anxiety and outrage — the familiar hallmarks of the writer's personality — become a kind of humanizing background noise, drawing us in and allowing us to see them more fully."

--Eric Bennett writes in The New York Times Book Review: "In his fresh account of four modernists, Bill Goldstein, a former editor of the books section of this newspaper’s website and an interviewer for NBC New York, does not tell this story. Instead The World Broke in Two chronicles Morgan (Forster), David (Lawrence), Tom (Eliot) and Virginia (Woolf) as they wage personal battle in tremendous earnest against blank sheets of paper to create important new works from the inner recesses of their genius. Goldstein offers a snapshot history of their careers in deference to the American now, embracing not only the chatty familiarity of first names but also, and more significant, the biographical details of authorship that most 21st-century interest in literature seems to depend upon."

--And just one more, Tom Zellman in the Minneapolis Star Tribune: "Goldstein’s insightful and graceful prose reveals four authors during troubled moments of their careers, and he is fortunate in having a trove of writings from which to draw. Forster, Woolf and Eliot knew each other very well, read one another’s writings with an eye to what might be artistically useful, and reviewed one another’s work in journals. This year-in-the-life chronicle gives us a remarkable look at the gestation of literature."

I could list all the amazing advance quotes that the book received, and I assure you, we've been using them as we promote our event. But there's another interesting story here that connects Goldstein, not just to these authors, but to Boswell.

So I have known Bill forever, or so it seems at this point in my life. We actually met when we were both in college, in New York, between our freshman and sophomore years. We met at a youth group, where coordinators would bring us together to, well, in the language of the times, rap. I met a lot of other kids at this program, but Bill and I clicked and remained close friends. And as an aside, my friend from college who dragged me to the group also wrote a book, about managing global health through innovative solutions in the developing world. So apparently I've always found good company with writers, even when I didn't know they were writers at the time.

I remember two things about Bill from his college years. He was obsessed with Publishers Weekly and had been reading it since he was a kid. And he was obsessed with Proust, the subject of his senior thesis in college. (editor's note: No, he wasn't! His senior thesis was on George Eliot. His close friend Scott was the Proustian. He didn't read all of Proust until grad school.) One has to put this in perspective - the book he went on to write is about a bunch of people obsessing over Proust. I find that fascinating. And yet I haven't written a book about the failed marriage of James Taylor and Carly Simon, so apparently not all teenage obsessions play out in the rest of our lives.

One of the things that we bonded over was our shared love of the written word. I will always be grateful to Bill for recommending Barbara Pym to me. And can you believe it? The New York Times did yet another story about her continuing influence in "The Enthusiast" column. I was very happy to read Matthew Schneier's essay, particularly because it singled out A Glass of Blessings, which is my favorite, but partly because it was the first Pym I read. And you know how it is about firsts.

We kept in touch. We wrote letters to each other. Remember letters? And then we graduated. I was desperately scrambling for a job. I toyed with the idea of the music industry (Bill's obsession with Publishers Weekly was paralleled by mine with Billboard), but for practical reasons, I focused on trying to get a job in advertising and, because I had a math degree, market research. I had a few interviews, but nothing was coming together. At this point, Bill, who to no one's surprise, was now working at Publishers Weekly, told me about an opening at Warner Books, a mass market house. Because their publicity department was structured as part of an in-house ad agency (for tax purposes, I assume), it would look great on my resume. And because they owned not one, but three record companies, I might have an in to transfer. It made sense.

I was offered the job. And after a time, I decided I liked the book part more than the advertising part. And a few lunches with friends who had similar entry-level jobs at the record companies (yes, that's what we called them in those days) confirmed that much as I loved music, I was more of a book person. So that's how my life in the book world began. And I really think that if it were not for Bill Goldstein, I might not be here today, at Boswell.

So that's only one of the reasons why I want to have a really great event with Bill when he comes to Boswell on Monday, September 11. But the other reason is because I know how enjoyable this evening is going to be and you're going to be sad if you miss out. So many of you tell us how much you love the classics, and Goldstein's book brings the authors behind several of the classics you most love to vibrant life.

Here's my recommendation: "Bill Goldstein’s history of this period, is an intensely researched, beautifully woven literary history, or perhaps it might be fairer to call it a group biography, focusing on a moment when everything changed, and modernism began to pervade the cultural consciousness. It’s an intimate and personal journey, and at the same time, a light into the creative minds of the day, sort of a nonfiction version of Colm Toibin’s The Master. The World Broke in Two made me want to drop everything and read each of the authors highlighted in the story." (Daniel Goldin)

But you're probably thinking, now that we know about Daniel's long-time friendship with Bill, how can we trust him? So here's one from Boswellian Conrad Silverberg: "Some years mark a stark division, separating what comes before from what comes after in uncompromising and irreversible terms: 1776, 1865, 1945 are obvious examples. For literature, 1922 is such a year. Bookended by the February publishing of James Joyce's Ulysses, considered by many to be the single greatest novel in the English language, and the translation of Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time in the Fall, the year marks a clean break from traditional forms of linear narrative storytelling, and plunges us deep into the psychological explorations and innovative structures of modernist writing. As Willa Cather reflected in 1936, "The world broke in two in 1922 or thereabouts". Goldstein's book is a lively, nuanced, and utterly enthralling tale of how this break affected four writers in particular: Virginia Wolff, TS Eliot, EM Forester and DH Lawrence, who all struggled with and found renewed inspiration from this new world."

Or why not take the advice of Jane Glaser, another Boswell bookseller?: "I am so impressed with the research and detail that author Bill Goldstein put into The World Broke in Two that I feel as though I've been transported back to 1922 on a literary journey where I'm sitting at a roundtable discussion with Virginia Woolf, E. M. Forster, T.S. Eliot and D.H. Lawrence as they share the intense struggles they're having in trying to break out of writer's ‘inanition’ and meet the war weary readership whose world has been changed forever. This is an engaging and enlightening view into the birth of modernism in literature and is the best nonfiction I've read this year."

We have two more booksellers reading The World Broke in Two. No quotes from them yet, but maybe soon. So now it feels like time for an ending to this post. How about "If you love classic literature, you've got to read The World Broke in Two?" Eh, sort of sells the whole thing short, but endings are tough. Ask any writer. Hope to see you on September 11, which I just learned is D.H. Lawrence's birthday!"

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