This month’s State of the Thing, LibraryThing’s monthly newsletter of features, author interviews and various forms of bookish delight, should have made its way to your inbox by now. You can also read it online.
We had a whole host of author interviews this month:
Which of these characters came to you first? Which was the most fun to create?
Kugel, the main character, came first; I liked the idea of a character whose tragic flaw was hope, the very thing we’re supposed to never give up or go without. And yet here was a person, it seemed, whose hope was getting him hurt, who might be better off if he gave up and just accepted things as they are, i.e. crappy. Mother, though, was the most fun to create. She is eternally hopeless and finds glory in suffering and pain in joy; I was given birth to by people just like that. Also, she moans about being in the Holocaust, which she never was, and that makes me laugh.
I also talked to Theodora Goss about her latest book, The Thorn and the Blossom: A Two-Sided Love Story, published this month by Quirk Books. You may want to watch the book trailer to get a sense of the book’s interesting design.
How did you come up with the idea to have the book designed this way, as a “two-sided love story”? Can you describe the design process bit for us?
I actually didn’t come up with the idea of the two-sided design myself. My wonderful editor, Stephen Segal, came up with it and called me to ask if I could write a story that would fit the format. It was quite a challenge! We didn’t want a story that would simply have two sides to it—that wouldn’t really be using the format. We wanted a story that could only be told in this way, that would use the format as part of the reading experience. And I think when you read the book, you’ll find that it does. You can only understand the story, particularly the conclusion, by reading both sides.
But I was the one who decided that it should be a love story (after all, what other kind of story is so particularly two-sided?), and who came up with the story of Brendan and Evelyn. And after I had come up with it, the basic plot and the characters, then the characters started talking to me, as they do anytime you write a story. They started telling me what they wanted to say and do.
I should also mention the wonderful artist, Scott McKowen, who captured the feel of the story so perfectly. I can’t think of a better way to present this book than the way Scott has presented it, with the gorgeous slipcase and the illustrations inside. I think in the end, the book was a collaborative effort between the three of us. And once it’s read, the readers will become a part of the collaboration as well, because this story isn’t just on the pages. In a sense, it exists between the two sides, and that’s the story the readers will have to put together themselves.
My third interview this month was with Susan Goodman, the H. Brown Fletcher Chair of Humanities at the University of Delaware, and the author of Republic of Words: The Atlantic Monthly and Its Writers, 1857-1925, recently published by the University Press of New England.
The Atlantic Monthly’s founders laid out quite an ambitious goal for themselves in 1857, “to be the exponent of what its conductors believe to be the American idea.” How did they manage to make a success of their magazine when so many similar ventures did not last?
As the country’s most intellectual and literary city, Boston brought together men and women who from the beginning of the magazine made it a powerful voice in American politics as well as the arts. Its success depended on a loyal group of contributors, informed and curious readers, often intent on self-improvement, and good management. Luck also played a part. The first issue, for example, contained Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem “Brahma”, which provoked a craze of parodies and made readers eager for the next issue.
I also chatted with Jay Wexler about his new book The Odd Clauses: Understanding the Constitution Through Ten of Its Most Curious Provisions, published by Beacon Press.
You write in the introduction that you first got the idea for writing a book about the Constitution’s “odd clauses” while you were working in the Office of Legal Counsel for the Clinton administration. Do you recall a particularly odd question the OLC was called upon to advise on while you were there?
There were all sorts of odd questions, but the one I spent most of my time on had to do with whether the President had the authority to create a national monument in the middle of the ocean. President Clinton was interested in creating a giant national monument in Hawaii to protect coral reefs, but it’s not immediately clear that the relevant statute giving the President the authority to create monuments (it’s called the Antiquities Act) gives him the authority to make monuments in the ocean. The question required a good bit of statutory analysis as well as analysis of the proper scope of the so-called “Property Clause” of Article IV of the Constitution. The legal opinion that came out of all that work is here. As it turned out, it was President Bush, not Clinton, who ultimately made the Hawaii monument.
And, last but not least, we have an interview with Susan Cain. Her first book is Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, published this month by Crown.
You describe in your opening chapters the rise of what you call the Extrovert Ideal. Give us the nutshell version: what is this, and how did it come to be such a powerful force in American culture?
The Extrovert Ideal says that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight. Our schools, workplaces, and religious institutions are designed for extroverts, and many introverts believe that there is something wrong with them and that they should try to “pass” as extroverts. The bias against introversion leads to a colossal waste of talent, energy, and happiness.
In my book, I trace how we shifted from a “Culture of Character” into a “Culture of Personality” at the turn of the 20th century. Big business, the media, the self-help industry, and advertising all went through radical changes that had the effect of glamorizing bold and entertaining personality styles. I also tell the surprising life story of Dale Carnegie, who morphed from shy, awkward farm boy into bestselling author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, and is a fascinating example of this cultural transformation.
And I talk about why the Culture of Personality is not a great model for the 21st century.
Catch up on previous State of the Thing newsletters.