Five stars – beautifully written, imaginative, a delight to read
This book will appeal to three kinds of readers: those who admire good writing, those who love baseball and want to see more of it from the inside, and fans of Neil Gaiman.
Arthur Hittner’s two novels, as well as his multiple non-fiction books, encompass two of his main passions: baseball and art. The first, Artist, Soldier, Lover, Muse, I reviewed in mid-2018. In pre-retirement life he was a corporate lawyer in Boston but now has time to follow his muse — much like Singer, his four-fingered lefty. The shortage of one finger on his pitching hand is a big part of the story.
His non-fiction has covered baseball (Honus Wagner), art (Harold J. Rabinovitz, the model for his first novel), and cross-country travel, which he does frequently between his two bases in Massachusetts and Arizona.
Jake Singer is a lawyer in Cambridge having a drink or three with his buddies when he meets Kate, “A little wisp of a girl in a starched white blouse and a short black skirt,” who arrived to take his order. In one short paragraph he sums up her first day on the job and a page or two later — goaded by his drinking buddies — he’s asked her out. He starts out, as he narrates in one of the alternating first-person chapters, looking like a clerk in a Brooks Brothers store but Kate redirects him toward his more casual side. Along the way she rekindles his interest the promising baseball career that fizzled with the loss of his finger.
They marry, try and fail to conceive, which brings serious strains between them, and Kate dies, victim of a hit-and-run just at the time she’s preparing to leave him. Except that she doesn’t really leave, and it’s her role as the late wife that guides him to a reinvigorated if short baseball career.
This is the part that reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s 2001 opus American Gods. In that classic work the protagonist Shadow is released from prison a few days early because Laura, the wife he’s spent his entire sentence anticipating, is killed in an auto accident. Except that she, like Kate, hangs around, much to Shadow’s benefit.
Hittner is a good writer, so I expected an easy-to-read novel. But I was surprised at the pure skill displayed in the first chapter. Read it and you’ll read the rest.
Four-Finger Singer and His Late Wife, Kate: A Novel of Life, Death & Baseball. Arthur D. Hittner. Apple Ridge Press, Oro Valley, AZ, May 15, 2019. $6.99 Kindle, $16.95 paperback (Amazon Prime). I read an advance PDF and have ordered the Kindle edition.
I came late to this amusing and informative book, I’m sorry to say. It’s an amazingly detailed compilation and exploration of what the French would call curiosités or choses insolites but it’s also a broad cultural overview. It’s an example of the best of a certain type of book designed to explain France to English-speakers.
Between A and Z you will learn there are more than twenty-five varieties of garlic grown in France, and that the guillotine was designed by a doctor shortly before the French Revolution as a more humane means of execution. Attaching his name to it horrified him, and his family rechristened itself to escape the shame.
From Absinthe to Zidane
On the way to Zinedine Zidane you will make obligatory stops at Mata Hari, the legendary Dutch dancer executed as a spy (she was really a double agent) near the end of World War I, and a longish section on the history of restaurants, before ending with the entry for Zidane, the former soccer star. He used to be best known for the infamous headbutt during the 2006 World Cup final (which I saw on TV in Paris and will always remember), but he’s since become a respected soccer coach for Real Madrid.
Piu Eatwell is an Oxford graduate now living and writing in Paris, according to her website. She’s written several other books I was aware of but have not reviewed, including They Eat Horses, Don’t They, The Truth About the French, a well reviewed outline of the stories behind the myths Anglophones believe about the French. I found all of them on her list at Amazon.
F is for France was mismarketed, in my view. It should have been sold as a book of much broader general interest, like David Downie’s work, instead of a cabinet of curiosities. But I’m glad I came across it again. For a lover of France and Paris it is both an entertainment and a reference work. It will stay in my library.
My first exposure to F is for France was an advance reader copy I downloaded from Netgalley in 2016 and promptly forgot. When I ran across it again (while I was preparing Netgalley to support the publication of my next novel in a few months), I bought the Kindle version, which is the edition on which this review is based.
No onecould be happier than I that Doris-Maria Heilmann has published an author’s road map to sales success, “Book Marketing on a Shoestring.” Her advice for the marketing of my novel “Treasure of Saint-Lazare” helped it reach #39 on the all-Kindle best-seller list and in being chosen the best historical mystery of 2014 by the Readers’ Favorite book-review site. If you’re about to publish either fiction or non-fiction, read this book.
If you’ve ever been among her clients, you know already that Doris is the source of an endless river of ideas. As she points out very early in the book, her advice is for every type of author, from the traditionally published (who still don’t get much publisher support and virtually no budget at all) to the hobby writer. She will certainly be involved in marketing my sequel, “Last Stop: Paris.” The manuscript is going through its second round of editing and the cover is being designed.
“It all adds up to this fact,” she writes. “No matter how you publish, or plan to publish, it is up to you, the author, to market your book.”
“Book Marketing on a Shoestring” goes on sale Monday on Amazon and elsewhere. I strongly suggest you take a look at it. Take advantage of her 30 years of experience in the book world.
It’s both a narrative and a reference book
Doris helps authors as a consultant. She throws out ideas and suggestions and leaves her clients the responsibility for choosing which ones to implement.
This book is absolutely full of them, and one of its best points is its structure.
First, it’s a narrative of book marketing, assembled from hundreds of ideas and suggestions she’s made over the years.
Second, and perhaps more important over the long run, it’s a reference book. The iBook version she provided for my review has a matchless table of contents that makes it easy to find any or all of the topics she covers.
Of course, ebooks being ebooks, she loaded the text with links, both to her own blogs and to outside information. You could market your book using her material alone, although there are many other good marketing information sources out there. (There are also a lot of bad ones, several of which I ran across — and paid money to — in the process of marketing “Treasure of Saint-Lazare. Needless to say, that won’t happen when I begin marketing “Last Stop: Paris,” which should be published in six months or so.)
Here are the best places to find Doris. In addition, she’s active in social media.
In the 60s, Jim Goldsborough was the star Paris reporter for the Paris Herald-Tribune (later to be the International Herald Tribune and the International New York Times). He recently published The Paris Herald, a roman à clef mined from his exciting days at the Herald. It was a yeasty time in France — the war was barely 20 years in the past, DeGaulle was (once again) in power, and the fate of the Paris Herald hung very much in the balance after the failure of its mother ship, the New York Herald Tribune.
I reviewed the novel for Part-Time Parisian last week and recommend it highly, especially if you’re a journalism or Paris junkie (I’m both). The book is here on Amazon. It’s available in Kindle and hardback editions.
————- John Pearce: Jim, we were almost contemporaries at the Herald-Tribune, although we never met, probably because I was working from Frankfurt. I remember Buddy Weiss very well indeed, along with some of the other characters in The Paris Herald. How much of you is in The Paris Herald? In other words, how autobiographical is it? Tell us about your time there.
Jim Goldsborough: I’d have a hard time making the case that the experiences of Rupert Archer, the lead character of my story, didn’t parallel some of mine. They did. But there’s a good deal of invention in my story, which is why it’s a novel rather than a straight history of the Herald Tribune. As for some other characters in the book, sure I could have used the customary disclaimer, “any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.” But that line is typically used to keep people from suing, and newspaper people tend to be suees rather than suers. Many of the characters in my story are real people and I use their real names – Jock Whitney, Kay Graham, Punch Sulzberger, Ben Bradlee, to take four – and their actions in the book try to be true to events. Some of the fictitious characters may be identifiable, and some not. Some are pure invention, though their actions serve real events. It is a work of historical fiction, and I have used a typical technique, interlacing fictitious characters with real ones, to tell the story.
JP: I was an admirer and devoted follower of your stories, and I very much enjoyed your novel — I will review it a few days after this interview appears. Tell me what you most enjoyed about working at the newspaper, and what effect it’s had on the balance of your career, both in journalism and in your non-fiction writing?
JG: I think that any of us who worked on the Herald Tribune in the late 1960s would say that those were the best years of our lives. Maybe we didn’t realize it at the time, but in retrospect we surely understand our good fortune to have worked for that newspaper in those exciting times. Covering Charles de Gaulle at the height of the Cold War, would be the highlight of any reporter’s career. The Herald Tribune in those days was an old-fashioned newspaper where you got off work just before midnight and downed too many demis at the Berri Bar waiting for the first edition and worrying about how you’d translated de Gaulle’s latest thunderbolt. We were underpaid and overworked but exhilarated to know we were the first truly international newspaper and that all Europe was out there waiting for what we wrote. For me, a young reporter who’d arrived in Europe knowing next to nothing, the time in Paris was transformational. I went on from there to become Edward R. Murrow Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Newsweek bureau chief, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment in New York, author of a half dozen articles in Foreign Affairs and three books. Hemingway had it right: Paris is a moveable feast. You leave it but it never leaves you. I knew I would never be content until I told the story of those years in Paris.
JP: You used a lot of real identities in the book, which I know must have made it more interesting to all of us who worked there at one time or another. How have your old friends reacted to the sudden fame?
JG: To a degree “The Paris Herald” is a roman à clef, though some of the principal characters – Whitney, Sulzberger, Graham etc. – don’t need a clef because I use their real names. As for many of the invented characters, some who may bear some resemblance to real people, the only complaint I’ve heard so far came from someone who was left out. I understand. If an author is molding his characters on real people he’s going to choose the most interesting models. Readers should not jump to conclusions. I’ve used not only imagination and invention but also amalgamation. Henri de Saint Gaudens, for example, a key French figure in the story, is a composite of two men who worked for President de Gaulle at the time. Saint Gaudens is in effect an original. So is Theo le Tac. So is Tonton Pinard.
JP: When you and I knew it the Paris Herald was truly a Paris newspaper, right down to the ratty offices on Rue de Berri. It was more like something out of The Front Page than the sixties and seventies. I don’t see as much Paris in the International New York Times. What’s your view about how it has changed over the decades? What has it done to the special feeling a lot of Americans have for Paris?
JG: James Gordon Bennett Jr., the man who sent Henry Stanley to find Dr. Livingstone, started the Paris Herald in 1887. At the time it was strictly a Paris newspaper – like the New York Herald and New York Tribune were strictly New York newspapers. Newspapers kept to their hometown. Later, as transportation improved, the Paris Herald began to be distributed around France and soon around Europe. This was especially true after the two world wars when the Herald Tribune’s American readership was spread around the continent. When the Americans went home in the 1930s and 1950s, the newspaper had to refocus, starting to target English-speaking Europeans. By my time, the owners knew the Herald Tribune had to become more European oriented. The changes that began in the 1970s – to move out of Paris, to cover less of Paris and more of other countries, were inevitable. Those moves also changed what had been a real Paris newspaper into what my friend Don Cook of the Los Angeles Times called a Neuilly “computer center.” One change that was not necessary was to change the name of the newspaper. That was an a-historical act of arrogance and contumely that is inexcusable.
JP: Some of the most interesting scenes in your book illustrate very clearly that the French government doesn’t hesitate to involve itself in the day-to-day work of journalism. Did you see the effects of such meddling in the day-to-day editing and publishing decisions of your own work?
JG: As a rule, the French government did not mess with the Paris Herald or International Herald Tribune. Before my time, there were a few cases of censorship related to coverage of the Algerian War, but French newspapers went through that as well. In my time, there were frequent cases of official complaint, but that is no different from what I’ve experienced on U.S. newspapers when government officials think you’ve been unfair or even wrong. As far as censorship, I know of none. As I make clear in my novel, the French government understood and understands the advantages to France of having the Herald Tribune (oops, New York Times) published in Paris, even though Paris may not be covered as much as it was. In my time, the government knew it was touch and go whether we would remain in Paris, especially in 1968 with the anti-Vietnam demonstrations and May revolt. The government was careful to do nothing that would strengthen the case of those in the newspaper’s ownership, especially Jock Whitney, who wanted to move the newspaper to Germany or Switzerland.
JP: What’s next? Do you have any other Paris-related projects in the oven? This is a Paris blog, and I’m a part-time Parisian, so I’d certainly like to write about another Goldsborough Paris book.
JG: My next novel is not about Paris, sorry to say. It is about Cuba. But after that, who knows? My daughter lives and works in Paris so I come over as often as I can. I stay in touch with French friends and events. A writer never knows what will pique his fancy. I wrote the first draft of The Paris Herald years ago in New York and put it in my trunk as I moved on to other newspaper jobs and to write other books. It might have remained there if the New York Times hadn’t decided two years ago to air brush the hallowed Herald and Herald Tribune names from history – just as Stalin air-brushed Trotsky and Mao air-brushed Liu shaoqi away. Changing the newspaper’s name was an offense that needed an answer so I pulled out the manuscript, worked on it for about a year, sent it off to an agent and then to a publisher. Maybe the next time I come to Paris I’ll see something that inspires me to do a new book on Paris. That’s David McCullough’s thesis in his book The Greater Journey, isn’t it? How Paris has inspired Americans though the ages. I see no reason why it should stop.