Saturday, August 22, 2015

"Publishing: A Writer's Memoir," by Gail Godwin

Gail Godwin is both a critically acclaimed author and a popular one, although, by her own description, less popular than in the past. She is the author of fourteen novels, two short story collections, and two nonfiction books. Her best-known novels include “The Odd Woman” and “A Mother and Two Daughters.” Her style is a bit understated, and often alludes to spiritual and ethical themes. She focuses on relationships between and among people, and does so beautifully and thoughtfully. Over the years, I have read, admired, and liked all of her novels and short stories. Thus I was pleased to read “Publishing: A Writer’s Memoir” (Bloomsbury, 2015), a kind of behind-the-scenes story of how the author came to write; how she found an agent and publisher; how negotiating for publishing contracts worked for her; how publishing companies kept changing, along with their editors and other personnel; what it is like to do a book tour; and the various wonderful and occasionally not-so-wonderful people she met through her writing and publishing life, among other topics. The story is not told in chronological order, but rather in thematic chapters that move backward and forward in time. In a sense, each chapter is a mini-collection of relevant vignettes. Godwin is diplomatic, so there are no shocking disclosures or even putdowns of people she met along the way, yet her feelings are subtly conveyed and we readers are drawn in to listen to her stories. There are many fascinating details about how books are edited, how titles are chosen and sometimes argued over, how book covers are selected, and much more. There are also a few brief glimpses of her life with her late husband, her beloved retreat in Woodstock, and other personal aspects of her life. This is a slight and quiet book, but one that attracted me, and I think would be of interest not only to Godwin’s readers, but to anyone interested in the world of book writing and publishing. The writing is illustrated and enhanced by charming, simple line drawings done by Frances Halsband.
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