The problem of the time of writing
Dear readers! I’ve been really delinquent with My Life and Thoughts. You must all have thought I was either dead, or not thinking anything. In fact, I’m writing a book! The working title is The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them and it’s coming out as an FSG “paperback original,” so my thrifty readers don’t have to wait for the hardcovers to get remaindered! And, I mean, which among us is in this game for the money, right?
When I mentioned the subject of advances to my fellow blogger Grisha Freidin, he kindly shared with me the following anecdote, from the forthcoming Norton Critical Edition of Isaac Babel’s Selected Writings (ed. Gregory Freidin):
Babel rented an apartment from Roza Lvovna Ginzburg in 1926 in Chisty pereulok [in Moscow]. <…> “At first,” said to me her sister, Zinaida Ginzburg, with a chuckle, “the apartment was to go to Viktor Shklovsky. But Mayakovsky was honest enough to warn me of possible danger: Shklovsky might turn on the faucet and forget to turn it off. There may have been other candidates but ultimately the choice fell on Babel. When Babel arrived, I asked him if he was married. He replied: ‘If a morning dew or a slight breeze blowing over a haze can be called a wife, then yes.’”
“Oh what a thieving type he was!” said Zinaida, “and he liked lying, too… But what a magnificent, what an irresistible raconteur! I am still seeing his clever little eyes before me. Zhenya, his first wife, was very devoted to Babel’s writings, and of course, everything he wrote was truly brilliant. He was not sentimental, he could empathize with another’s misfortune. But he could be cruel, too. <…> You are asking me how Babel managed to get his advances from the publishers? Nobody could get bigger advances than Babel. ‘Zinochka,’ he once told me his secret, ‘you must always ask for big numbers.’”
Ha ha, Mayakovsky totally ratted out Shklovsky for being a plumbing-illiterate dreamer! And FSG had better look out next time, because now I know the Isaac Babel secret for getting big advances.
So anyway, The Possessed will largely consist of already-published things (including “Babel in California,” “The Murder of Leo Tolstoy,” and “Summer in Samarkand” and its sequel, which is also coming out in the next n+1)… but there are going to be new things, too, and I’m working really hard on them, so these aren’t going to be big blogging months for me. Unless of course one morning a magic smiley German lady shows up to notify me of the wonderful surprise:
In the meantime you are all in my thoughts, dear readers, from the garden-gnome genealogists, to the banana pie bicyclists, to the past, present, and future graduate students!