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 for the paperback, or this one for the hardback and place your order. 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!
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.
Sunday, September 2nd, 2012
As I prepare to head off on book tour tomorrow, I can’t help but remember where I was a year ago at this time. My book—the one I had spent a third of my life working on—was a week from coming out. I was a worried, hand-wringing mess. Would anyone read it? Would bookstores carry it? Would I be able to resist thanking each person who bought it as if she had given me her kidney?
The answer to the first two turned out, thankfully, to be yes. The third remains a struggle.
I was also more than a little nervous about the book tour itself. I had read a lot of author horror stories about missed flights, impossible-to-find venues, non-existent or hostile audiences. I worried that I would fight my way through the Atlanta airport, only to arrive at an event so rattled I would be incoherent. But I was fortunate that accompanying me was my valiant fiance: map-reader extraordinaire, finder of late night snacks, checker of teeth for spinach, spirit lifter. So when those inevitable moments of travel panic arose (thanks again for canceling that critical flight, Delta!), they were much less horrible because I wasn’t facing them alone. If I have one piece of advice to new writers about book tour, it’s this: bring Nathaniel.
Like many writers, I have a streak of perfectionism that extends far beyond the page, and I spent the weeks before the tour trying to figure out the “right” way to do everything. Looming largest was my fear that I didn’t know the correct way to sign books. I obsessed over possibilities: should I use the inside board? The title page? Should I write the date or just a note? A friend commented, “I think you can just do it however you want.” But that, of course, wasn’t what I wanted to hear. I wanted the official memo from the Writer’s Association of the Universe on the correct procedure, so that there would be no chance of me messing it up. I was hurled into a panic at a terrific Jim Shepard reading when he wrote a charming note on the title page, then CROSSED OUT his printed name, and signed beneath it. Was that what real writers did? Would I be unmasked as an imposter if I didn’t do it? Nat reminded me that Ann Patchett hadn’t crossed out her name. My friend repeated herself: “I really think it’s up to the writer.” Which I suppose was the root of the problem. I’d written my book, but still didn’t feel like a writer.
Insecurities and airplanes aside, once I was on the road, I discovered that I really enjoyed book touring. I was getting to visit some of the best bookstores in the world, talk about stories I loved and meet fellow book-lovers–and I do mean lovers. After the first two events, I began carrying a notebook with me at all times to jot down all the passionate recommendations I was receiving. I was anxious before each event, but my years of teaching turned out to be terrific preparation. Once I began talking about the myths, I forgot my nerves and just enjoyed myself. And, as it had been in the classroom, the best part was always the audience’s questions. One of my favorite tour moments was an orthopedic surgeon who wondered if the Achilles’ heel legend had come from the fact that foot wounds are quite dangerous, because they are particularly susceptible to infection and gangrene. Who knew?
Inevitably, there were a few disasters. I remember a particular bookstore where I was booked only for a signing, not a reading. They led me to a table by the entrance where they had a beautiful display of my book all set up. My job, they said, was to convince everyone who came into the door to buy my book. “One author sold almost three hundred!” the bookseller added cheerily. The next hour was one of the worst in recent memory. I hate bothering people generally–bothering them to buy my book was actually a living nightmare. Worst of all was seeing the suspicion on people’s faces when I tried to say hello: she just wants something from us! Three hundred? Who was this god-like author? Lesson learned: don’t ever take a job as a newsie. The silver lining was a memorable a book-spree in that otherwise terrific store.
Which brings me to a word about brick-and-mortar bookstores. I have always been a lover of them, but this tour made me a fanatical convert. I have never seen such passion for books, such enthusiasm to connect readers and authors, and such thoughtfulness. One of these days I plan to write an essay singing the praises of all the best stores I have visited, from the incredible Main Street Trading Company in the Scottish Borders, to the fabulous Porter Square Books in my own backyard.
Overwhelmingly, my experience of book tour was one of gratitude–for the readers who came to my events, for the bookstores that promoted them, for the publisher that sent me on the road. Every time I stood in front of an audience, I was intensely aware of what a privilege it was to be there. All of which is to say: thank you. I am very much looking forward to the upcoming events!
Tuesday, August 28th, 2012
I’m thrilled to announce that the US paperback of The Song of Achilles comes out TODAY! Not only does it have an eye-popping cover, but it’s also chock full of new material, including two essays on Troy and Homer, illustrations of the main characters, discussion questions, and a Q and A between me and the terrific Gregory Maguire (author of Wicked).
How to get a copy? If you want to try your hand against the fates, Ecco is sponsoring a Goodreads Giveaway. Or, for the sure thing, just head down to your local bookstore and pick one up!
I also want to take a moment to thank all the teachers who have gotten in touch to let me know that they will be teaching The Song of Achilles in their classrooms—I am so honored! Coming soon, as promised: The Song of Achilles, the teacher’s guide.
Likewise, I want to thank the book clubs who have chosen my book as one of their selections. I’ve been very much enjoying speaking with some of you over Skype, and look forward to meeting more of you in the days ahead.
Last but not least, I’ve updated my event schedule for the next several months, which includes stops in New York City, London, Boston, Oklahoma, and Indiana. Lots more to come soon!
Sunday, June 17th, 2012
My apologies for taking so long to post the news here, but I hope better late than never. It is my huge honor to announce that on May 30th, I was awarded the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction. I was then, and still feel now, completely humbled, bowled over, and struck dumb with joy. Simply going to the reception for the shortlistees felt like such an honor–I was sharing the shortlist with Ann Patchett (more on how amazing she is coming up), as well as Georgina Harding, Anne Enright, Cynthia Ozick and Esi Edugyan. Each of their books is terrific.
It was a particularly poignant evening because the Orange Prize is going to be Orange no more; the telecommunications company Orange has decided to stop sponsoring the prize (no word yet on who the new sponsor will be). It was such a privilege to meet Kate Mosse, one of the original founders of the prize, and hear stories from its early days. It was a privilege too to hear her speak about the Orange Prize’s mission: bringing great fiction by women writers to everyone. In a world where often two or three men are getting reviewed for every woman, the Orange Prize serves a vital function.
This year’s Prize Chair was the novelist Joanna Trollope, whose grace, thoughtfulness and smarts were an inspiration. Here she is announcing the prize, followed by my acceptance speech. Which is a good time to mention the lovely Ann Patchett again, whose dress I was wearing. Ann, as you may know, already won the Orange Prize once, for her terrific Bel Canto. This time around (she was nominated for State of Wonder), she unfortunately couldn’t make it to the reception because of previous book obligations. So she had contacted me and said that she had a great orange dress, and did I want to wear it? My answer was an emphatic yes, especially after discovering that luckily/strangely, we are exactly the same size. As I said above: an amazing, and incredibly generous, woman.
I only had a few moments at the podium to thank the enormous number of people who were so helpful to me in writing this book; I didn’t even make it through half of everyone who deserved mention. So let me take a moment now to name three groups that I especially wanted to thank: my teachers, from grade school through graduate school, who supported and nurtured my love of Classics, literature and writing. My amazing students, whom I feel so lucky to know every single day. And my readers (and if you’re reading this, I think you count). In the wake of the prize, I received such a moving flood of notes from people offering congratulations and kind words about my work. After so many years spent writing in solitude, it is deeply meaningful to me to hear that people have connected to these characters. Thank you. And I will try to reply to everyone, it just might take a bit of time for me to do it.
I promise to post some pictures soon from my UK trip, and to return to Myths of the Week once I catch my breath a bit. In the meantime, I am hard at work on a short story set in Homer’s world, due to be published next month. More on that to come!
Thursday, April 19th, 2012
I was absolutely thrilled and bowled over that The Song of Achilles was shortlisted for the Orange Prize. It is a huge honor for me to be in the company of such amazing authors: Ann Patchett (State of Wonder), Cynthia Ozick (Foreign Bodies), Esi Edugyan (Half-Blood Blues), Georgina Harding (Painter of Silence) and Anne Enright (The Forgotten Waltz).
By total and wonderful coincidence, I was actually with Ann Patchett on the day the shortlist was announced, doing a reading at her bookstore, Parnassus Books. Ann was so gracious and lovely, and I also got to meet her Parnassus partner, Karen Hayes, and the Parnassus staff, all of whom were just terrific. A giddy, unforgettable evening!
If you love having signed books, you might want to check out Parnassus’ First Editions club–you don’t have to live in Nashville to join!
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
- Exciting shortlist news! Mass Book and UK Independent Bookseller Awards
- Update: India
- Signed copies of The Song of Achilles–Year Round!
- Reflections on 2012, traveling and the Orange Prize
- In Praise of Literary Adaptations
- My Year in Reading
- Reflections on 2012, Book Recommendations and New Essays
- Signed Copies of The Song of Achilles
- General news
- Shortlisted for Stonewall