I’m just back from the Boston leg of my book tour where I did presentations at the Saint James Armenian Cultural Center in Watertown and the Brookline Booksmith. Former schoolmates of mine organized the Saint James event, and the afternoon was a warm homecoming for my novel and me. The Brookline Booksmith, which has now hosted me for each of my books, also provided an enthusiastic welcome. Just before boarding the train back to New York City I taped a cable TV show called “The Literati Scene with Smoki Bacon and Dick Concannon.” My touring is two-thirds of the way finished—next up are Spotty Dog Books in Hudson, New York and the American Library in Paris, followed by the AGBU Centers in Montreal and Toronto.
A month after the official publication date, I’m taking pause to consider where things are with my book and with the state of publishing in general. The other day I told my mother that I have been feeling as though I’m selling Girl Scout Cookies door to door. My mother said, “You never liked doing that, did you?” (As a matter of fact, I quit Girl Scouts in part because I hated doing that.) This morning when I wrote to my agent that it seems as though I’m engaged in house-to-house urban combat, she replied, “I feel like that most days.” (For a funny video portrait of the promotional life of the writer check out Book Launch 2.0)
An essay by writer Deborah Copaken Kogan entitled “My So Called ‘Post-Feminist’ Life in Arts and Letters” was posted on The Nation web site earlier this week offering a sharp and dismal look at sexism in the publishing and reviewing worlds. She discussed how important a review in The New York Times is to the fate of a book, and her own frustration about the esteemed publication’s silence on her work. She decided to take action by “composing a carefully worded private e-mail to the editor of The New York Times Book Review, alerting him to his neglect of all four of my published books. He responds graciously with two sentences in which he promises to share this information with his colleagues. Eight months later the novel remains unreviewed.”
My first two novels were not reviewed in The New York Times, and until last month the only mention my work had garnered from them was in an article about the Palestine Festival of Literature by the then Jerusalem Bureau Chief Ethan Bronner. ALL THE LIGHT THERE WAS did receive a brief review in the “Newly Released Books” column a few weeks ago. I didn’t send it out at the time because I was smarting from a comment embedded in the paragraph. But the mention was important to the publisher and for my novel in part because it provided a laudatory quotation from “the newspaper of record” to be used on the paperback edition.
To be fair, many good books receive few reviews because of the sheer volume of newly released titles and the diminished number of review pages. But it is instructive to look at comparative analyses about who does the reviewing and who gets reviewed. The VIDA Women in Literary Arts 2012 Count released on 4 March 2013 showed the unbalanced way that women and men are represented in mainstream literary magazines and book reviews. Roxanne Gay at The Rumpus did a breakdown by ethnicity of writers reviewed by The New York Times, amply displaying that women are not alone in this struggle. But as bad as things are for women writers and writers of color, it could be worse—look at the film industry.
Ending on a more positive note, I’m sharing a recent interview about ALL THE LIGHT THERE WAS and what I’m now calling, thanks to a suggestion from my editor, my ARMENIAN DIASPORA QUARTET. You can read it on News.Am in English, Armenian or Russian.
April 11, 2013