Tuesday, September 24th, 2013
I noted in my last post that I was yearning for crisper weather. The Reykjavik International Literary Festival definitely granted my wish! Iceland offered gorgeous blue skies, but the wind was regularly blowing at 50 miles an hour, and it hailed several times. Also, there was a sandstorm.
Crazy weather aside, I had a terrific time at the festival, which is a true haven for book lovers, and was also delighted to get to meet everyone at my wonderful Icelandic publisher, Salka, led by Hildur Hermóðsdóttir. I particularly enjoyed the cover they did for the Iceland edition, translated by Þórunn Hjartardóttir. It uses one of my favorite statues–Menelaus supporting Patroclus’ dead body, currently in Florence:
By the way, Iceland is just as beautiful as everyone says, routinely offering vistas like this:
I also learned about Iceland’s annual Christmas-season “book flood” a lovely tradition where everyone gives each other books for the holidays. My kind of place!
Thursday, September 5th, 2013
Delighted to announce that Library Journal gave my short story Galatea a starred review! The full text is here (my review is the last on the page).
In other news, The Guardian chose The Song of Achilles for their August book club, which included the chance to answer reader questions live for an hour. I had a great time and have never typed so fast in my life!
I’m also excited to be heading off to the Reykjavik Literary Festival next week, where I’m doing a reading and a public interview, and also taking part in the (gulp) Literary Death Match. (More details on times and places for all those on my appearances page.) One of my favorite books of the past year, Burial Rites by Hannah Kent, is set in Iceland, and will definitely be coming with me. If you haven’t read it yet, I absolutely recommend it.
As I was typing the date for this post, I realized with shock that exactly two years ago today The Song of Achilles was published for the first time by Bloomsbury in the UK. I can still remember just how nervous and thrilled I was holding the hardback in my hands. I can also remember being worried that it would never find an audience. But thanks to the loveliness and generosity of publishers, booksellers, and especially readers, it did. I am so grateful–thank you.
I wish you all a very happy start to September. After the heatwaves and humidity here in Cambridge, I admit to being eager for crisper weather!
Tuesday, August 12th, 2013
My new short story, GALATEA, based on the story of the sculptor Pygmalion, is debuting today in the US as an e-book single from Ecco, and is already out in the UK as a Kindle single with Bloomsbury. In the myth, Pygmalion falls in love with his own statue, and prays to the goddess Aphrodite for her to be brought to life. His wish is granted and the two marry. It’s a story that has inspired a number of retellings and adaptations including, most famously, George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, which became My Fair Lady.
I’ve always been fascinated by this odd myth, because it has so many resonances: the artist’s obsession with his or her own work, yearning for an unrequited love and, disturbingly, the fact that only a woman you create yourself is worthy of being your wife. It was this last idea that inspired my own version, which is narrated by Galatea, the statue-woman herself. In following this path, I was drawing primarily on Ovid’s Metamorphoses, in which Pygmalion is so disgusted by the women in his town that he begs the goddess to make his stone statue real, because only she is pure and perfect enough to be his wife.
By the way, I originally wrote the story for a myth anthology forthcoming from Penguin called XO ORPHEUS, edited by the terrific Kate Bernheimer, which has over fifty retellings of favorite myths. A definite must for myth-lovers!
April 9th, 2013
As a child, there were two places I always felt at home, the library and the bookstore. The hours I spent in them were unreservedly joyous; for me, there was no greater treat than being surrounded by stories. As an adult, the same love remains. I can’t pass a good-looking bookstore without going in and, as the lovely librarians at my local branch can testify, I’m there at least once a week and usually more. So I was especially excited to learn that The Song of Achilles was recently shortlisted for two awards, one associated with libraries in the US and one with independent bookstores in the UK.
Every year, the Massachusetts Center for the Book and the Massachusetts Library Association team up to nominate books for The Massachusetts Book Awards. The books all share either a Massachusetts subject, or an author who hails from Massachusetts, or both. I’m thrilled to announce that The Song of Achilles was shortlisted for the Fiction category! I was especially pleased to be there beside wonderful authors like Max Gladstone whose book Three Parts Dead I have raved about in previous posts.
I’m equally thrilled to announce that The Song of Achilles has been shortlisted for the Independent Bookseller Award in the UK, with an absolutely blow-your-mind list that includes some of my favorite books of the last year: Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel, A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki and Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo. I am honored to be in such company!
I am so moved to have been included on these shortlists and so grateful to all the librarians and booksellers who have encouraged me, not only as a reader, but also as a writer. In the past year and a half I’ve had the good fortune to visit so many outstanding independent bookstores and libraries, and in every case what makes them so outstanding is the people: the passionate and enthusiastic sellers and librarians whose tireless advocacy makes the world of books go round. I’m so grateful for all the support they’ve given my work and very glad for this opportunity to say: thank you for everything.
March 8th, 2013
Cambridge is once again snow-bound, and it seemed like a good time to post some updates on the last few months which have been excitingly action-packed. As some of you may know, I had the opportunity to attend not just one, but three literary festivals in India in the past few months.
The first was the Times of India Literary Carnival in Mumbai, where I had an event with the brilliant scholar Arshia Sattar, one of the pre-eminent translators of the Ramayana, moderated by the dynamic and gracious Devdutt Pattanaik who is as enthusiastic as I am about mythology. We discussed ancient Greek and Indian epic in front of a delightfully passionate audience. As I’ve mentioned previously, I love reading both the Ramayana and Mahabharata, and always find it fascinating to see the similarities and differences between their stories and the stories of the Iliad and Odyssey.
The Iliad and Ramayana share an earnest, young hero who makes some disastrous decisions (how disastrous, in the case of Rama, is still debated), while the Odyssey and Mahabharata share an emphasis on trickery and mischief, personified by Odysseus and Krishna respectively. One of my long-time ambitions has been to learn Sanskrit so I can read these texts in their earliest versions, and this has only made me more determined to do so.
Next up was the grand dame of Indian Literary gatherings, the Jaipur Literature Festival, founded by the amazing William Dalrymple. It was an absolutely wonderful time, filled with brilliant panels and enthusiastic audiences. I found myself scrambling to cram in every session that I could, and still felt like I missed half of all the literary riches on offer. The many memorable events included a lecture by the delightful Oxford professor, Faramerz Dobhoiwala, on his non-fiction book The Origins of Sex, which offers insights into how the Enlightenment led directly to the sexual revolution. I also loved the packed event on The Jewish Novel, with Linda Grant, Gary Shteyngart, Howard Jacobson and Andrew Solomon. Four very different voices, all fascinating. A few days later, I had the pleasure of hearing Andrew Solomon again, this time on the “Literature of Love and Longing” panel, which focused specifically on LGBT voices in literature. My own events were likewise a treat, since I got to share the stage with Devdutt for a second time, and lots of other literary luminaries, including the historian Tom Holland, Linda Grant, Jeet Thayil and Lawrence Norfolk. All of the festival’s events were taped and are available on Jaipur’s website, which I highly recommend.
And, of course, I couldn’t mention Jaipur without mentioning the fabulous parties in the evenings, including the Man Booker International Prize celebration in honor of its newly shortlisted authors. There were a number of names I didn’t know on the list, something I hope to remedy soon, but I always cheer to see Marilynne Robinson recognized, and Lydia Davis as well.
Aside from the bookish pleasures of the trip, I very much enjoyed getting to tour around Rajasthan. The forts and palaces were gorgeous, and I took particular delight in Jodhpur’s Mehrangarh fort which has a small but excellent museum. Some of its highlights included an ornate peacock howdah, or elephant seat, as well as a gallery of paintings from the miniature school. Also, a vivid collection of daggers, including the one in the center below, which has a special spring-loaded three-prong blade which leaps apart after you’ve stabbed someone, to provide maximum damage. Yikes.
Jaipur itself also has a wealth of historical sites, including the Amer fort and an amazing astronomical installation called Jantar Mantar. Built by the Maharajah Jai Singh II in the 1700’s, it features a huge sundial that tells time to within TWO SECONDS. The shadow falls on the curved wall which is marked with numbers.
And then there were the gorgeous temples. I particularly loved Ranakpur, a beautiful Jain temple which has 1,444 columns, all of them different. The marble carvings are absolutely beautiful, and I couldn’t resist this demon-head at the entrance.
Last of the three was the Kolkata Literary Meet, where I shared an event with the artist and author Amruta Patil, whose graphic novel Adi Parva is the first in a series of planned works retelling the Ramayana. It’s excellent.
It was an unforgettable trip and I’m so grateful I had the chance to go. Next up: a post on the wonderful students I had the pleasure of meeting in California, as well as some exciting news about hats. (Yes, hats). I hope that those of you in the current snowbelt are safe and snug. Happy almost-spring!
Back in December, some lovely readers had gotten in touch wondering about getting signed copies of The Song of Achilles for holiday gifts. I spoke to the wonderful people at Porter Square Books, my local indie, worked out a plan for making it happen and posted the news on my website. What I didn’t expect was the astonishing and moving number of responses that we got, and I wanted to offer this late but very heartfelt thank you. It means so much to me that my book was something people wanted to give to their loved ones as a gift, and stopping by Porter Square to inscribe the books was one of the treats of my holiday season.
Since then, readers have been in touch asking if they can still order signed copies and, after discussing with Porter Square, we’ve decided to make the offer permanent. So it’s now official! Signed, personalized copies of The Song of Achilles are available year-round, and in ordering them you’re also supporting a terrific indie bookseller. Here’s how you get one: 1) Follow this link*. 2) In the “order comment” section of the order form, please say that you’d like it signed by me, and include the name of the recipient and any personal message you’d like me to add. And yes, ordering one for yourself is okay!
I feel so grateful to have such wonderful and supportive readers. Thank you!
UPDATE, August 2014: Porter Square Books now ships internationally!
*UPDATE, August, 2016: I’ve left the Boston area, so the link above has been changed to the current lovely indie bookstore that’s co-ordinating this, Main Point Books in Wayne, PA.
Monday, December 31st, 2012
On this last day of 2012, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the previous year, and to offer my thanks: to the bookstores that stocked me and the bookseIlers that championed me, and most of all to my readers–those of you who took the story of Achilles and Patroclus to heart, who mentioned it to friends, who wrote me lovely notes, who pressed copies of my book on your book groups, and supported me in a thousand other ways. I can never say enough how grateful I am.
As for reflections, a number of readers have asked how my life is different (or not) since winning the Orange Prize. Here’s a recent essay I wrote for Waterstones on just that topic.
December is the time of the infamous “best books” list, which I generally avoid making, because as soon as I draw one up, I am stricken with the thought of seven other novels I have left out. But here’s a piece I did for The Millions that includes some favorites from my reading year. And here, below, are some of the ones I was stricken about missing:
1) Doc, by Mary Doria Russell, a novel about Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp that completely enraptured me–so much so that I both listened to it on audiobook AND read it on the page. It’s wonderful both ways, and I recommend it wholeheartedly, even if you thought you had no interest in Doc Holliday. Also, a personal bonus for me: Doc Holliday loved Classical literature, and there are a number of references to the Odyssey, and Homer, as well as Vergil.
2) Joan Wickersham’s beautiful book of short stories, The News from Spain. I had the good fortune of hearing her speak about the book in person at the Boston Book Festival and she’s just as piercingly smart and elegant as her writing.
3) The Ramayana. In preparation for my event at the Mumbai Literary Festival (Our Ram, Their Achilles), I reread this ancient epic in a number of versions, including the abridged R. K. Narayan retelling and the excellent translation by Arshia Sattar. Reminded me of how much I love epic poetry in general, not just from ancient Greece. Next up: The Mahabharata.
4) I also loved reading Three Parts Dead which was a debut novel by an author-friend of mine, Max Gladstone. It’s a ferociously smart fantasy novel which draws trenchant inspiration from the financial crisis–while also featuring gods, gargoyles and wizard-lawyers. I appreciated Max’s gripping, clean prose and particularly admired his terrific and complex heroines, all-too-scarce in fantasy novels. Bonus: makes a great gift for lawyer friends.
5) After hearing Jess Walter speak, I immediately procured several of his books. The first one I tackled, The Financial Lives of the Poets was wonderful–and has one of the best Good Cop/Bad Cop scenes I’ve ever encountered in literature. I am looking forward to reading his new novel, Beautiful Ruins.
Finally, I had the opportunity to write a piece for the Center for Fiction on five of my favorite novels inspired by classics books. Sadly, the Aeneid counts as a poem, not a novel, otherwise it would have been first on the list.
I am wishing you all a wonderful 2013, and thank you again, for everything.
November 29th, 2012
Holiday season is here, and a number of lovely readers have gotten in touch with me about getting signed, personalized copies of The Song of Achilles for gift-giving. After a bit of thought, I cooked up a plan with the terrific Porter Square Books, my local indie bookstore which I can never rave about enough. Porter Square Books has arranged that if you order a copy of The Song of Achilles by December 3rd, then they will have time to get it back to you, signed by me, for December 25th. All you have to is: 1) follow this link*, and place your order. 2) Be sure to write in the “order comments” box at the bottom that you’d like it signed by me, and please include the name of the recipient, and any personal message that you’d like me to add. And that’s it!
I am wishing everyone a very very happy almost-December!
*UPDATE, August 2016: I’ve left Cambridge, so I’ve updated the link above to lead to Main Point Books, the current lovely indie that’s co-ordinating this!
November 5th, 2012
My apologies for the longish absence–a lot has happened since my previous post, including finishing a new story (more on that soon), lots of book-touring and also hunkering down with the rest of the East Coast to weather Hurricane Sandy. As it turned out, we were incredibly lucky up here in Boston, and didn’t lose power at all–though I did go for a walk in 50 mph winds, which isn’t an experience I’m going to soon forget. But the devastation in New York and New Jersey is absolutely staggering, and many people are still, a week later, without heat, shelter or food. The emergency workers there have done an incredible job, but there is still much to do–not to mention in other communities that Sandy hit, like Haiti and Cuba. A good time to consider a donation to the Red Cross, or other first-responder organization.
October was a month of Book Festivals, and I had the good fortune to attend some truly amazing events and meet lots of terrific authors–including the lovely Joan Wickersham and Justin Torres, the hilarious Michael Perry, and dynamite debut author Karen Engelmann. My must-read list is longer than ever now (just the way I like it) and I’ve started with Joan’s new book of stories, “The News from Spain,” which is one of the most beautiful, piercing things I’ve read in a long time.
A particular highlight was the Boston Book Festival, where I got to hear Junot Diaz speak about the short story, along with Edith Pearlman and Jennifer Haigh. Here I am waiting in a VERY long line for that event!
I also had an event of my own: a conversation about The Song of Achilles and the Iliad with David Elmer, an incredibly gracious Classics professor from Harvard. Lots of great, Homeric conversation, followed by a signing.
And speaking of Homeric conversation, I thought I would pass on this piece that Classics graduate student Hamutal Minkowich, at the University College of London, wrote in response to her reading of The Song of Achilles, and a conversation we had in London.
Hope that all of you are safe, warm and dry–or will be very, very soon.
Sunday, September 30th, 2012
I was incredibly honored to learn that I was shortlisted for Stonewall’s Writer of the Year. Stonewall is an amazing organization, and I am proud to be connected in any way to the work they do. Being named alongside Jeanette Winterson (who has always been a literary hero of mine), as well as the amazing Patrick Gale makes it all the more humbling. I had the good fortune to meet Patrick and hear him speak at the Cape Town Open Book festival last year, and I can offer this advice: if you ever get the chance to go to one of his events, you must. A more lovely, funny and smart individual you will not find. Also, his written Jane Austen imitation is AMAZING.
Reviews“A startlingly original work of art by an incredibly talented new novelist... a book I could not put down.” Ann Patchett, author of the Orange Prize-winning Bel Canto