You start by thinking about all the things a novel should do: tell a compelling story, create vivid characters and reveal them in all their particularity, illuminate the human condition in general, reveal ordinary experience with a vividness that enables us to see the familiar world anew, open fresh possibilities for language… you can easily spend a whole afternoon just listing the requirements, and you should.
Then you divide the list into three categories. You can use a new sheet of paper with three columns, or you can just mark the first sheet with three symbols, like maybe an asterisk and a pound sign and a smiley face.
- Category One is “Things I Can Do.”
- Category Two is “Things I Can Maybe Do Without.”
- Category Three is “Things I Need to Learn.”
“This hope was not unmixed with the glow of proud delight—the joyous maiden surprise that she was chosen by the man whom her admiration had chosen.”
So I think I’ve won that one.
Emails we’ll probably regret sending
To whom it may concern at the East Preston Book Club:
Regarding the following post on eastprestonvillage.co.uk:
Happy New Year!! What a great start we had…a magnificent buffet, fun, glitz and glamour! This month we have two nominations… 1st out of the hat was…’The Unknowns’ by Gabriel Roth. HOWEVER, as this is a little inaccessible. We have a choice… 2nd out of the hat was…’Sweet Tooth’ by Ian McEwan. Available at WSCC libraries. Choose either OR both! See you there, it’ll be lovely to meet you!
Happy New Year to you too, and congratulations on your magnificent buffet. I am delighted to learn that The Unknowns has been nominated for your club, and further delighted to hear that it was picked first out of the hat.
I am sorry to hear that you found it “a little inaccessible.” Please know that this was not my intention in writing the book.
But I must take issue with your choice of Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth to serve as a presumably more accessible substitute. There are plenty of reasons to spend one’s limited reading time on any book by the great Ian McEwan rather than my own poor effort, of course. But since accessibility is the issue of the day, I do feel the need to point out that Sweet Tooth (a) engages in a good deal of slippery metafictional gamesmanship, and (b) depends at a crucial point on the reader correctly understanding the tricky mathematical puzzle known as the Monty Hall problem. Whereas The Unknowns, although not blessed with McEwan’s Booker-winning prose style, doesn’t do either of those things.
Wishing you great success for February’s meeting,
“Bring me a box!” shouted the king.
A box was brought.
“Open the box,” the king commanded.
The box was opened. The king was silent.
“What’s the matter, sire?” asked the king’s chief advisor.
“I wanted there to be a frog in the box,” said the king.
“You’re not used to real ketchup,” she said. We were standing in the supermarket and she was trying to get me to taste her small-brand ketchup on a cracker. Who would eat ketchup on a cracker? “You’re used to ketchup that’s all sugar and salt.”
“That’s right,” I said. “I like ketchup that’s all sugar and salt. Sugar and salt taste good.”
“You think they do, because you’ve ruined your palate,” she said.
“So does my two-year-old,” I said. “Has she ruined her palate? As a one-year-old would she have preferred this watery sauce to proper thick Heinz ketchup?”
“No, you have,” she said. “She doesn’t decide what ketchup to use, does she?”
“Yes, she does,” I said. “We have a little blind taste test every week, with fish sticks and little dipping cups and four different brands of ketchup—two mass-market, two artisanal—because that’s how much of a shit we give about ketchup in my household. She always goes for the Heinz. Who doesn’t?”
“You’re being sarcastic,” she said.
“And you’re being sincere,” I said. “That’s the difference between our approaches to this conversation.”
Authors Gabriel Roth and Megan Abbott write each other letters (via email)