Saturday, April 14, 2012

Temple Grandin, Haruki Murakami...

My Norwegian editor, Birgit Bjerk, once told me about the time Temple Grandin came to Oslo. Grandin has Asperger's syndrome; she sent Birgit a list of things to avoid.  (Do not wear red.  Do not touch me.  And so on.)  Birgit followed these instructions.

On another occasion she went to a dinner at which Murakami was also present.  She had read about Japanese etiquette for gift-giving, and had wrapped her gift in accordance with this etiquette.

I have never actually given her a list of things I like and don't like, but if I did I'm sure she would follow it. One very nice thing she does do is recommend books - it was through her that I discovered Grandin, in fact.  She recommended a book by Janet Frame in which a character chokes on a vowel. Her hero is Merleau-Ponty; I knew his work, of course, but it is very cheering to have an editor whose hero is Merleau-Ponty. It cheers me up whenever I think of it. 

The thing I like most about Birgit, though, is that she is absolutely straight with you.  She says she doesn't finish most of the mss she is sent; if she finishes a book she usually publishes it.  She does not hunt around for nice things to say about a book she didn't like. She does not publish a book because it would make publishing sense; she has to believe people should read it.  She said once that she has to be honest about her reaction to a book because writers need to know where you stand.

It would cheer me up to have another book that she liked because I could go back to Oslo and hear about Merleau-Ponty. A long time ago we talked about a book about poker; sometimes I think I should finish this book so I can go back to Oslo and talk about Merleau-Ponty.

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