Tale of Two Publication Days: Baldwin and Franzen
Whatever today, August 12, means to anyone else, for Rosecrans Baldwin it's publication day for his debut novel, You Lost Me There, and therefore a vortex of excitement and fear around which he has been circling for five months. Well, probably for his whole adult life, but we only have evidence since March, because that's when he began recording his pre-publication diary for The Millions. It's full of the bizarrely impotent sort of drama--PW pans it! Time and EW like it!--of that in-between period after you finish your book but before anyone outside the industry can read it, and it's funny, funny, funny. ("What if You Lost Me There is perceived to be a bomb, would it be so bad? Playing around today, I figured out that Michiko Kakutani is an anagram for 'Atomic Haiku Kink.' Michiko alone becomes, 'Hi I Mock.'")
Three things make me want to read You Lost Me There: this fabulous diary; Baldwin's role as one of the people behind perhaps my favorite literary event of the year, the Tournament of Books; and the superb piece he wrote for Slate in June (cited in the diary) about novelists' use and abuse of dogs barking in the distance (and it's true: like @dankois I too was reading The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet right afterward and was horrified/thrilled to see Mitchell use the barking dogs at least twice). Here's a bit more from the diary:
This summer, a new David Mitchell novel and a new Gary Shteyngart novel will arrive on shelves, both of which I will rush out to purchase. A new Andrea Levy, new Tom McCarthy (Remainder—!!!), new Jennifer Egan. Six billion terrific “debut” novels will appear, I’m sure, in a year when many terrific novels have already been published. And then there’s Franzen. Franzen. For years, publishing executives have stage-whispered over lunch, “When will Franzen return to rezap our cojones?”
I am ridiculously lucky and deliriously happy to be so seriously f---ed.
Pretty prescient about what would turn out to be some of the big novels of the summer, which brings us to Franzen. Franzen. About whom we all got word yesterday that he would become "the first living novelist" to be on the cover of Time magazine in 10 years (since Stephen King in 2000). The cover of Time doesn't carry quite the cultural power it used to--that probably peaked when they killed off God with a question mark in 1966--but this still feels like a "moment," and I can sense an electric thrill running through the book world: "We still matter!" And as a big Franzen fan, who thinks his new Freedom (coming August 31) is in a league with The Corrections (and his underrated earlier Strong Motion), I love to see him getting his due.
My first reaction was, wow, ten years--in the old days, when novelists strode the earth like colossi, they must have been on the cover all the time. But Time sent out a "complete list" of the other writers who have made the cover, and it's pretty short:
Virginia Woolf (1937)
William Faulkner (1939)
Robert Frost (1950)
James Baldwin (1963)
John Updike (1968)
Norman Mailer (1973)
Alexander Solzhentisyn (1974)
John Le Carre (1977)
Michael Crichton (1995)
Toni Morrison (1998)
Stephen King (2000)
Jonathan Franzen (2010)
Suspiciously short, in my book, especially since I remembered seeing the stern but forgotten visage of James Gould Cozzens on Terry Teachout's blog a few days ago. And just a little searching on Time's site reveals plenty more writers:
Row 1: Cozzens, Cheever, Salinger, Hemingway (one of two), Joyce (also one of two), and Scott Turow from 1990; row 2: John Irving, Mario Puzo, Gore Vidal, Nabokov, Joyce Cary, John P. Marquand; row 3: John Dos Passos, Gertrude Stein, Rebecca West, C.S. Lewis, Kenneth Roberts (who?), and H.G. Wells. Needless to say, that's not everyone (Conrad, Sinclair Lewis twice, Willa Cather, Pasternak, etc., etc.).
In other words: yes, in the old days they did have a novelist on the cover every year. --Tom