Friday, August 16, 2013

One last time, A Naked Singularity

From A Naked Singularity, by Sergio De La Pava:
--noise background,

My getting out or what?!
That's how the novel opens, page 1 of 688. It's daring, but also engaging--how can you not keep reading after that?

It's been a while since I've written about A Naked Singularity here, assuming you probably didn't want to hear any more about it. But this week brought it back up, and in case you aren't monitoring US book news elsewhere, I want to make sure to share this: on Wednesday, A Naked Singularity won the $25,000 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Award as the best debut novel of 2012. The New York Times can give you all the details; the Wall Street Journal offers a good quote from Sergio (alongside a relatively bland one from me):
Mr. De La Pava, reached on his way to a speaking engagement at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in Scotland, said he intends to continue his legal case-load but was grateful to be recognized by an organization with a human-rights agenda. "What I do on a daily basis is very important to me," he said. "[PEN] has a social-justice mission, so it's even more meaningful."
I've been telling this to friends and colleagues all week, but it seems like something I should say publicly: I'm so, so happy for Sergio. He's a pleasure to work with and talk to, and, more important, he is seriously committed to both writing and his job as a public defender--and, above that, to the idea of justice, as his electrifying lecture last month at PS1 MoMA shows.

And the sense I have always gotten is that Sergio is much, much more interested in writing than in being a writer. In Experience, Martin Amis writes about the temporally dislocating aspect of book tours:
It was the late spring of 1995 and I had just returned from a three-week book tour of North America. On such tours, Ian McEwan once said, you feel like ‘the employee of a former self,’ because the book is now out there to be championed and squired, while you have moved on.”
It was three years after he wrote the book that he got an e-mail from the University of Chicago Press sniffing around the idea of publishing the novel; four years after he wrote it that we published it; five years after he wrote it that it won this major award. And yet when I asked him to do something--to talk to a journalist, to answer some questions, to make an appearance--he assented, readily.

The week has also been fun for me, of course. The life of a publicist involves always being careful to walk the line between seeming confident and actually promising anything. As a publicist, you have influence over a lot of aspects of a book's reception, but control over almost none. I suspect most publicists never get to have the experience I have enjoyed over the past year: when you sit an author down and lay out what you think you and your press can do for the book and what will happen--a plan that you saw, clear as day and positively vibrating with possibility, from the first fifty pages you read of his book--and then watching every single thing you talked about, and more, come to pass. To see it happen for a book you believe in this much, and an author you like this much, is, for a publicist, as good as it gets.

So now that you've read A Naked Singularity, what next? (Wait--you haven't read it? I'll wait. . . . Okay, now it's a week later, and you called in sick today to finish it. Worth it, no?) Well, in October the University of Chicago Press will be publishing De La Pava's intense and compelling second novel, Personae--but if you can't wait that long, you should check out his amazing essay in Triple Canopy from last year on boxing and Virginia Woolf.

For now, if I may: a toast to Sergio De La Pava and his wonderful book--and to all of you among my friends who had to listen to me yammer about it in the early days. Here's to many, many, many more books from his pen.

1 comment:

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