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A Lesson in Literary Lingo

ike in any industry, there’s a lot of jargon in book publishing. As if it were yesterday (and not 15 years ago), I can vividly recall sitting in a production meeting on my first day as managing editor at Running Press, a gift book publisher in Philadelphia. So many terms were flying about that it felt like everyone was speaking a different language entirely: Belly bands, fore-edges, errata. Kind of sexy, right? More like nerdy — book-nerdy — and ranging to decidedly unsexy with the likes of recto, flush, and gutter. More, you ask? Well, a galley is an early (not final) bound version of a book that’s sent to reviewers to build buzz before publication. A blurb is a “this is the best book ever — read it immediately” quote (usually by a prominent writer) featured on a book’s cover to lure readers in. And a debut is an author’s first published novel. All together now: A galley of Sally Smith’s debut was sent to Reese Witherspoon in hopes she’d write a clever blurb for it — and pick it for her book club. I don’t need to define book club for y’all, right? All of this (circuitousness) was prompted by my noticing that three of the “new & notable” books I’ve selected for this issue (turn the page to see) are debuts: Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips, Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett, and On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong. The fact is, there are several “big” (non-debut) novels from “established” writers due to publish around the same time. Did I think about highlighting them in this column, instead of these newbies? Yes, though the consideration was brief. Those big-time writers already have a following, and, trust me, you will hear about them elsewhere (and everywhere). I’ve never been much of a bandwagon-er,

and I have an unwavering affinity for underdogs, not to mention a particular fascination with debuts: what led up to them, how they were received and whether they were successful, what the author did, or didn’t do, next. Take for instance, Jane Austen’s debut, Sense and Sensibility, which was relatively successful when it hit the British literary scene in 1811. Too bad it was published anonymously, since female authors weren’t taken seriously (and weren’t allowed to sign contracts) in those days. An 1818 co-edition of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion was the first to identify Austen as the author — a year after her death. F. Scott Fitzgerald dashed out his debut, This Side of Paradise, in hopes its publication would convince Southern belle Zelda Sayre to marry him. It was quickly accepted by Scribner in 1919, and the book was a smashing success, launching their legendary (if tumultuous and — especially in her case — tragic) life together. Harper Lee was more of a one-and-done writer. Her 1960 debut, To Kill a Mockingbird, was an instant hit, so beloved and instantly iconic that Lee never published another book. (In her lifetime, anyway. Don’t even get me started on the whole Go Set a Watchman debacle.) These days — in the social media era — it is particularly fascinating to witness how quickly word can spread about a debut, months before its publication even. Three that particularly caught my attention recently were In the Distance by Hernan Diaz, Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney, and There There by Tommy Orange. All had so much buzz around them that I was skeptical whether the books could live up to the hype. But they did — to me, anyway. And I eagerly await their follow-ups. →

“First learn the meaning of what you say, then speak.” — Epictetus

May | June 2019 theeastnashvillian.com

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Profile for The East Nashvillian

The East Nashvillian 9.5 May-June 2019  

The East Nashvillian 9.5 May-June 2019