Jonathan Galassi Posts

David Duchovny, “Holy Cow”

Holy Cow…My editor told me if I add some sex, curses, and maybe some potty humour, this will sell better to my “audience”. I don’t know who my audience is. I want everybody to hear this story, but my editor says human adults won’t take a talking animal seriously…So she’s gonna market it as a kids’ book. Which is fine by me, I like kids, but then she says, “Adults are gonna read this book to their kids so you have to sprinkle little inside jokes along the way with some allusions to pop culture from the last thirty years so they don’t get too bored. …”  ( p. 29)
 
David Duchovny’s debut novel, Holy Cow, is about Elsie Bovary ( a cow), Shalom, formerly known as Jerry ( a pig who has converted to Judaism) and Tom ( a turkey). These anthropomorphic animals are living happily together on a farm, when for personal reasons they decide to escape. It is a memoir dictated by Elsie to her editor at a secret location. Elsie discovers that most cows end their lives in an abbatoir, so wants to go to India where cows are revered, Shalom is keen to visit Israel and Tom wants to go to Turkey. This motley group of friends manage to buy airline tickets online and go off on international travel. Along the way, Shalom manages to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict and is nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. 

It took about twelve hours for Shalom and Tom to descend from the silly sky. But that’s the thing, you can’t just stay high. What goes up must come down. I had spent a long time dreaming of India, it’s true. But I’m not upset that India didn’t turn out the way I had planned, didn’t in the end  match up with my dream India. Without my vision of a dream India, I never would have gone anywhere, never would have had any adventures at all. So I guess it’s not so important that dreams come true, it’s just important you have a dream to begin with, to get you to take your first steps. ( p.203)  

According to David Duchovny, this story began as an idea for an animation film. He pitched it to Disney and Pixar,  but it was rejected. This was ten years ago. Plus he was always keen to visit India. Finally he was persuaded by Jonathan Galassi, Farrar, Straus and Giroux to write it as a novel. David Duchovny studied English Literature at Princeton and Yale where he submitted a thesis on Beckett called “The Schizophrenic Critique of Pure Reason in Beckett’s Early Novels”. But as he said in his NYT interview, he likes fooling around with words. He likes language, “more Joycean, although that will sound really pretentious.”

Holy Cow may be a bildungsroman in the guise of a fable for children, but it really does not matter. It is a story that is smart. This is going to achieve cult status for its zaniness, sharp wit and intelligent irreverence with which it takes on “serious issues” such as religion, politics, conflict, animal slaughter, and vegetarian/vegan debates.  The storytelling is pithy, with the dialogue moving at a crackling good pace. As David Duchovny said in an interview to Kirkus, “Years of acting had made me sensitive to dialogue.” The illustrations by Natalya Balnova are perfect. Read it.

Holy Cow novel, UK website: http://www.holycownovel.co.uk/

Elsie on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HolyCowNovel

David Duchovny interviewed by Kirkus: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/tv/video/kirkus-tv-david-duchovny/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=image&utm_campaign=020315

Interviews in the New York Times ( 30 Jan 2015) : http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/01/magazine/david-duchovny-i-like-fooling-around-with-words.html?_r=0  and LA Times ( 30 Jan 2015): http://www.latimes.com/books/jacketcopy/la-ca-jc-david-duchovny-20150201-story.html#page=1

Reviews from The Guardian ( 4 February 2015): http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/feb/04/holy-cow-david-duchovny-review and Washington Post ( 3 February 2015): http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/actor-david-duchovnys-first-novel-holy-cow-is-a-madcap-fable-about-growing-up/2015/02/03/7638c694-a8b2-11e4-a06b-9df2002b86a0_story.html and Huffington Post ( 3 February 2015): http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/02/david-duchovny-book_n_6598702.html?ir=India

David Duchovny Holy Cow Headline, London, 2015. 

5 February 2015

Landays

Landays

pix by Seamus Murphy, Landays, Poetry Foundation, 2013In my dream, I was the president. 

When I awoke, I was the world’s beggar. 

In Afghan culture, poetry is revered, particularly the high literary forms that derive from Persian or Arabic. But the poem above is a folk couplet – a landay – an oral and often anonymous scrap of song created by and for mostly illiterate people: the more than twenty million Pashtun women who span the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Traditionally, landays are sung aloud, often to the beat of a hand drum, which, along with other kinds of music, was banned by the Taliban from 1996 to 2001, and in some places, still is.

A landay is a kind of poetry that has few formal properties. Each has twenty-two syllables: nine in the first line, thirteen in the second. The poem ends with the sound “ma” or “na”. Sometimes they rhyme, but more often not. In Pashto, they lilt internally from word to word in a kind of two-line lullaby that belies the sharpness of their content, which is distinctive not only for its beauty, bawdiness, and wit, but also for the piercing ability to articulate a common truth about war, separation, homeland, grief, or love. Within these five main tropes, the couplets express a collective fury, a lament, an earthy joke, a love of home, a longing for the end of separation, a call to arms, all of which frustrate any facile image of a Pashtun woman as nothing but a mute ghost beneath a blue burqa.

Landays began among nomads and farmers. They were shared around a fire, sung after a day in the fields or at a wedding. More than three decades of war has diluted culture and displaced millons of people who can’t return safely to their villages. Conflict has also contributed to globalization. Now people share landays virtually via the internet, Facebook, text messages, and the radio. It’s not only the subject matter that makes them risque. Landays are mostly sung, ….women singers are viewed as prostitutes. Women get around this by singing in secret — in front of only close family …Usually in a village or a family one woman is more skilled at singing landays than others, yet men have no idea who she is. … . (p.195-6)

One leading theory of landays’ origin traces back to the Bronze Age arrival of Indo-Aryan caravans to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India around 1700 BCE. These poems could have evolved out of a communication through call and response back and forth over a long caravan train. Many of the poems refer back to this nomadic way of life, as well as to the moon, flowers, nature. As ancient songs, they are thought to be related to the Vedas, the Hindu scriptures at least five thousand years old and comprised of couplets called slokas, not unlike landays, except that they are sixteen rather than twenty-two syllables long. (p.221)

The call and response nature of landays has morphed into teasing and sparring love poems between men and women; a kind of stichomythia that rivals that of ancient Greece. Although it’s possible that a woman might sing one part and a man another, they’re not really antiphonal. …

These opening paragraphs are extracts from the special issue of Poetry ( http://www.poetryfoundation.org/media/landays.html) put together by Eliza Griswold with the help of Ilya Kaminsky and the Harriet Monroe Poetry Institute, Catherine Halley and poetryfoundation.org, Jonathan Galassi and Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and the Pulitzer Centre. It is a slim volume that consists of many examples of landays, but is a wonderful account of Eliza Griswold’s attempts at gathering the landays, interacting with a women’s literary group on the radio in Afghanistan called Mirman Baheer and a generous amount of pictures taken by Seamus Murphy. As she notes in the introduction ” finding, collecting, recording, and translating these little poems word by word posed an extraordinary challenge. Gathering them led Seamus and me through the pages of out-of-print collections, and in secret into refugee camps, private homes, a horse farm, and several weddings. Since landays belong to the hidden world of Afghan women, many won’t share them in front of one another out of fear that they’d later be gossiped about. Some requested that their names be changed or that I not record how I came by the landays that they whispered to me. One husband hurried up to me after I’d had tea  with his wife and asked the subject of the landay that she’d given me. ‘Separation’, I told him. The poem was about sex.” (p.198-9)

Her description of the translation process is also fascinating. This is what she has to say on p.200-1

“Translating these poems was an intricate process. I collected most of them in person with two native Pashto speakers, both of whom were, of necessity, young women. Over gallons of green tea …we transcribed the poems in Pashto, which has the same characters and sounds as Arabic, so I could sound out words although I had no clue of their meaning. On the fly, we’d rough out an English version in the car or during lunch to gauge whether the landay merited the time it would take to render properly in English. Then, along with a translator, I translated the selected poems word by word into English. Working from that frequently nonsensical literal translation, I sat with a handful of native Pashto speakers — academics, writers, journalists, and ordinary women — and went over each poem to make certain the translations made sense. My versions rhyme more often than the originals do, because the English folk tradition of rhyme proved more effective way of carrying the lilt of the Pashto cover into English. The most useful note on translation came from Mustafa Salik, one of Afghanistan’s leading novelists: “Don’t worry so much about being faithful to the Pashto. Get them right in English so that people can enjoy them.”

If you can, buy this slim volume of Poetry. It is well worth every penny spent. A treasure. A document that will exist for a long time. I have to thank Dipika Mukherjee for having sent this edition to me from Chicago. I am so glad she did!

1 Oct 2013 

Poetry ( vol CCII, No 3, June 2013) Poetryfoundation.org

$3.75 USA $5.00 CAN £3.00

On “discoverability” in publishing. (PubSpeak, BusinessWorld, Aug 2013)

On “discoverability” in publishing. (PubSpeak, BusinessWorld, Aug 2013)

PubSpeak, Jaya

( My monthly column, “PubSpeak”, in BusinessWorld online. July 2013 is on “discoverability”. Here is the link to the orignial url http://www.businessworld.in/en/storypage/-/bw/publishers-search-tools-to-find-readers/r1013160.37528/page/0 )

Publishers’ Search Tools To Find Readers

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose on why it is the discovery of a book that ultimately matters for the business of publishing

How does a reader ‘discover’ an author/book? Today digital technology is rapidly becoming a unifying factor in the coming together of print and electronic forms of publishing. It is also responsible for the “discoverability” of a book. Traditional forms of discovery – curation in a brick-and-mortar bookstore, word-of-mouth recommendations, libraries, second hand bookstores, gifts, book reviews in newspapers and magazines and book clubs continue to be significant. Literary prizes too are important.

Chinaman
Caroline Newbury, VP Marketing and Publicity, Random House Publishers India explains the link well with reference to their author, Shehan Karunatilaka winning the DSC prize worth $50,000 in 2012 for his book Chinaman. “Any prize which supports both new and established writers is to be praised but the DSC Prize is a special case for its specific promotion of writing about South Asia,” says Newbury. “Since its DSC Prize win we have reprinted Shehan Karunatilaka’s Chinaman and its prize-winning credentials definitely help bring it to a wider readership in India and beyond.”

Yet it is the popular modes of discovering a book including online reading communities like Goodreads and Riffles; advertisement banners in e-mails and on websites; automatic recommendations on online retail sites like Amazon, Flipkart; conversations and status updates in social media spaces such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest; following literary curators; bloggers; and even movie adaptations of a book.

50 Writers
Two books that I read recently – 50 Writers, 50 books: The Best of Indian Fiction and Reading New India: Post-millennial Indian Fiction in English, apart from being thought-provoking commentaries on literature, are a good way of discovering authors. The first is an anthology of essays discussing books from Indian fiction, across languages and the second a critique with a synopsis of the stories of predominantly commercial fiction. The texts complement each other well, but for a reader they are valuable for discovering fiction hitherto they have unheard of, especially since the fiction discussed is recommended by academics, authors, critics and literary tastemakers.
reading-new-india-post-millennial-indian-fiction-in-english

It is important to delineate the thin line between discoverability and promotion of a book. Discoverability would depend largely upon the gravitas of the book, the whispers that are heard about a book in various contexts. But promotions would be the marketing blitzkrieg created by the publishing houses. These could include the predictable book launches, panel discussions, and author tours, interviews in the prominent newspapers and participating in literary festivals. Now add to that list partnerships with coffee chains. Authors too are beginning to hire PR firms and consultants to strategise and create a media buzz for their books.

Last week two publishing professionals – Jonathan Galassi, head of Farrar, Straus & Giroux (http://www.vulture.com/2013/07/farrar-straus-giroux-jonathan-galassi-on-hothouse.html) and Anakana Schofield, debut novelist ( http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2013/jul/25/anakana-schofield-how-to-write ) – raised the fundamental question about the meteoric rise in the number of writers, but where are the readers? It seems that for the first time in publishing, there are more writers than readers. It should be considered as a happy trend. More to publish, more to sell. But are there any takers? Or more importantly, how do you discover a book you want to read so that you will buy?

On 1 July 2013 Penguin and Random House announced that their merger had been approved. From 2014, the merged entity Penguin Random House is expected to be publishing 15,000 titles a year. Assuming these are all new titles of the front list, it will be a formidable stable of authors. But at the rate of publishing 41 books a day will only make it tougher to locate a title.

And if this is the scenario in English-language trade publishing how does the rest of publishing fare? Some of the other categories to be considered would be trade lists in other languages, translations, children’s literature, non-fiction, and of course academic publishing. All kinds of authors are struggling to be heard/ read.

And this conundrum of discovering an author or a relevant text extends beyond trade publishing to academic publishing too. Last week The Bookseller, a publishing industry daily, announced that “Google is to bring a textbook sale and rental service to the Google Play store this August in time for the Back to School season. The company announced it had partnered with academic publishers Pearson, Wiley, Macmillan, McGraw Hill and Cengage Google Play will offer textbook rentals and sales for up to an 80 per cent discount, the company has said, which is the same claim Amazon makes for its Kindle textbook rentals.”

This is similar to the CourseSmart model provides eTextbooks and digital course materials. It was founded in 2007 by publishers in higher education including Pearson, Cengage Learning, McGraw-Hill Education, Bedford, Freeman & Worth Publishing Group (Macmillan) and John Wiley & Sons. According to research firm Outsell Inc Online products accounted for 27 per cent of the $12.4 billion spent on textbooks for secondary schools and colleges in the US last year. Publishers like Pearson Plc and McGraw-Hill Education are also creating online versions of their texts, often loaded with interactive features, and selling students access codes that expire at semester’s end.

These alternative methods of discovering an author may be worth exploring. It is probably “easier” to experiment with dedicated platforms for textbooks where the selling price of a title is exorbitant. So, offering short-term licences (“access codes”) to academics and students to review, rent and (in moderation) print relevant pages creates a wider community of users.

Plus, it is increasingly becoming an important alternative source of revenue generation for publishing firms, although reservations exist about the adoption of a digital format by students, indications are that students prefer books. Whereas for trade publishers investing in platforms will be economically unviable unless you are Penguin and create Book Country. But for most others it will be an expensive proposition unless they opt for digital catalogues. Hence an online, interactive, cross-publisher catalogue service that supplements or replaces traditional hard-copy publisher catalogues like Edelweiss, whose tag line is “Finding your next favourite book is a lot easier”. As marketing executives say books are a low-cost product so media copies are distributed but it is the discovery of a book that ultimately matters for the business of publishing.

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose is an international publishing consultant and columnist
@JBhattacharji