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October 16, 2013

Hollywood’s Favorite Cowboy

Viggo Mortensen in the movie adaptation 'The Road' directed by John Hillcoat

Viggo Mortensen in the movie adaptation ‘The Road’ directed by John Hillcoat

Author Cormac McCarthy, 76, talked about love, religion, his 11-year-old son, the end of the world and the movie based on his novel ‘The Road.’ He was just getting going.

By John Jurgensen

Novelist Cormac McCarthy shuns interviews, but he relishes conversation. Last week, the author sat down on the leafy patio of the Menger Hotel, built about 20 years after the siege of the Alamo, the remains of which are next door.

The afternoon conversation, which also included film director John Hillcoat of “The Road,” went on ’til dark, then moved to a nearby restaurant for dinner. Dressed in crisp jeans and dimpled brown cowboy boots, Mr. McCarthy began the meal with a Bombay Gibson, up.

The 76-year-old author first broke through with his 1985 novel “Blood Meridian,” a tale of American mercenaries hunting Indians in the Mexican borderland. Commercial success came later with 1992’s “All the Pretty Horses,” a National Book Award winner and the first installment of a Border Trilogy. Critics delved into his detailed vision of the West, his painterly descriptions of violence, and his muscular prose stripped of most punctuation.

The writer himself, however, has proved more elusive. He won’t be found at book festivals, readings and other places novelists gather. Mr. McCarthy prefers hanging out with “smart people” outside his field, like professional poker players and the thinkers at the Santa Fe Institute, a theoretical-science foundation in New Mexico where the author is a longtime fellow.

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March 29, 2013

Three Books About…The Road

the-roadBy Cath Murphy

Books can be about anything – elephants, antimacassars, milk cartons – but generally they are not. Books tend to cluster around certain subjects, old favorites cropping up time and time again, like regulars at a bar. But unlike barflies, who all seem to have learned the same hard luck story by rote, writers (good writers) can take the same base material and make it into something entirely original.

Contrast three writers on the same subject and what you end up with is not just interesting—what you end up with is inspiration.

For example: three books about roads. On the Road by Jack Kerouac, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, and The Famished Road by Ben Okri

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December 5, 2012

Books I Love: Ken Jennings

12632-v1-135xBy Ken Jennings

Books I Love is a series where writers talk about the books that inspired them, the books they keep coming back to, and the books they’ll always remember.

More than anything—war, raisins, people who say “supposably”—I hate writing “favorite books” lists. My new book, Because I Said So!, is about the scientific debunking of deathless parental clichés (don’t swim after you eat, swallowed gum sits in your colon for seven years, etc.), and so I sneakily asked Publishers Weekly if I could limit this list to books about parents and kids. How hard could that be? I thought. In children’s books, the parents are always dead. And in classic novels, the iconic parents are all impossibly saintly creations like Atticus Finch and Marmee March that no one really likes much. (Also, they have terrible names like “Atticus” and “Marmee.”) But even that didn’t narrow my list down enough: I found I still had no room for so many favorites: for Toni Morrison’s Beloved or Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book (about a grandmother, not a mother, but still), for any of Jonathan Franzen’s moms or Richard Russo’s dads. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry to all of you.

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October 24, 2012

A worthy selection, though I’ve no idea how they got there

Gaby Wood commends the announcement of the James Tait Black best winner prize, but is a little perplexed by the shortlist.

In 1919 Mrs Janet Coutts Black founded a literary prize in memory of her late husband, James Tait Black. He had been a partner in the firm of A&C Black, which published, among other things, PG Wodehouse’s first novel and Who’s Who. The prizes proposed by Mrs Black were to be made annually, for a biography and a work of fiction. They became, before the Booker Prize or the Whitbread or any of the others existed, Britain’s first literary awards.

The James Tait Black Memorial Prize today is distinguished but rather low-profile — due, perhaps, to its shunning of commercial sponsors. Unlike others, it is administered by the University of Edinburgh, and judged each year by PhD students and professors of English Literature there, who currently give one biographer and one novelist £10,000.

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April 23, 2012

Just How Much Does a Pulitzer Prize Help a Book’s Sales?

By Gabe Habash

Part of the outcry over the lack of a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction selection this year relates to the sales increase that each year’s winner inevitably receives, and how that windfall will be absent in 2012. But just how big of a sales increase does a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel experience? Using Nielsen BookScan, PW took a look at the last five winners of the fiction prize—A Visit from the Goon Squad, Tinkers, Olive Kitteridge, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, The Road—and the effects the win had on sales.

The trade paperback for Jennifer Egan’s Goon Squad (Random House) was released just four weeks before its Pulitzer victory in April 2011. Weekly sales of the book immediately tripled following the announcement—in the week leading up to the announcement, the book sold 3,800 copies; the next week, after the announcement, the book sold 9,578 at the outlets tracked by BookScan (about 70% of print sales). Sales then hovered around 10,000 copies per week until June, and the book finally dipped under 5,000 copies per week in the week ending September 11, 2011. On average, following the Pulitzer, Goon Squad’s weekly sales for a three month period were triple what they were before the prize. To date, the book has sold 280,000 copies in trade paperback at outlets followed by BookScan. It should be noted that none of these figures includes e-book sales, which would’ve likely figured into Egan’s novel’s sales most prominently out of all the past winners.
Paul Harding’s Tinkers perhaps benefitted the most from winning the Pulitzer. Published in early January 2010 by Bellevue Literary Press, the book had only sold 1,120 copies at BookScan-tracked outlets before the Pulitzer announcement. To date, it has now sold 360,000 trade paperback copies in outlets followed by BookScan. The weekly spike is also astounding: in the week before the announcement, Tinkers sold only 40 copies. The next week, immediately following its Pulitzer victory, it sold 1,042 copies, doubling its total sales in a seven-day span. The following week, sales continued to climb, reaching 6,131 copies, and weekly sales remained steady around 5,000 until January 2011, 10 months after it won the Pulitzer.

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December 3, 2011

Can science fiction lead us away from economic collapse?

Post-apocalyptic visions ... Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee in the film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's The Road

Recent SF novels dealing with the fall of western capitalism seem right on the mark. But do they offer any answers?

By Damien Walter

It’s a truism that science fiction, however distinct its vision of the future, is always just as much a reflection of its present. The golden age of SF writers, including Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein and Arthur C Clarke, predicted near futures of a colonised solar system and an era of engineering marvels from robotics to space elevators. But, viewed through a historical lens, their futures say far more about the cold war politics of 1950s America than the post-industrial world of 2011. If science fiction provides a record of the hopes and fears of each generation for the future ahead, what do contemporary SFwriters say about today?

Seed, by debut novelist Rob Ziegler, extrapolates a future rooted in the economic and environmental concerns of the early 21st century. In common with novels such as Paolo Bacigalupi‘s The Windup Girl, it explores one of the main preoccupations of science fiction in recent years, the collapse of western-style capitalism. Hardwired into Ziegler’s post-apocalyptic vision of a US ravaged by famine and warfare, is an exploration of the extreme material scarcity that the collapse will create for generations to come.

Through a Rust Belt landscape of decaying cities and starving refugees, Ziegler weaves a fast-paced action plot, creating a powerful metaphor for the choices we face today in a world of economic uncertainty. Seed’s narrative turns on the mega-corporation city state that controls the future economy, significantly named Satori, the Zen Buddhist term for spiritual enlightenment. Solutions lie, Ziegler’s novel suggests, not in the military or political spheres, but in our capacity to address and improve our own nature as humans.

If western capitalism is the victim in much of contemporary science fiction, then China is often the beneficiary. Maureen F McHugh’s China Mountain Zhang is surely among the most prescient SF novels of the last century. In McHugh’s future, China’s command economy dominates the world, and the US has become a secondary power following the Cleansing Winds Campaign, a socialist revolution similar in nature to China’s own cultural revolution.

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