top of page

I'll give you half the money

Wednesday 12/20/23

Somewhat rosier...

I was at the Starbucks the other day. There were less than five people in there, and two guys in their sixties, I'd say, came in. One of them had a big book of Twain. I was reading Henry James, so one might have thought, "That's a good sign! Look at people reading! A high percentage!" But one of them was me and it turns out this guy was a retired BU professor.

They sat next to me, and the guy with the Twain book told his friend about how he and a woman--sounded like maybe it was his girlfriend--had stopped at a yard sale in South Carolina when they were driving back from somewhere. He bought a book there for $3, and later the woman found copies of that book going for a grand on eBay. "So I told her, 'You sell it, and I'll give you half the money.'" Then he told his friend, "I don't need the money," and the friend nodded.

Speaking of George Sanders: I always liked his appearance in Ray Davies' "Celluloid Heroes," though I wish Davies had pronounced Bela Lugosi's name properly.

I had mentioned writing a letter pertaining to The Solution. This is from some of it. Seemed worth reproducing in this record.

"A few days back I was reading the piece on Shane MacGowan--someone whose work I've written about often and been interviewed regarding much--that ran on your website, which caused me to look deeper, and to keep looking.

"My work has appeared virtually everywhere: The Atlantic, The New York Times, The New Yorker, Harper's, The Guardian, the New York Post, The Wall Street Journal. I'm the author of eight books to date. I keep a popular blog on my website that is five-years-old and approaching three million words long. I'm a guest on many radio programs and podcasts, places like NPR and what not. I say all of that with a qualifier: I find almost all outlets in publishing not only odious, but almost as if they never ask themselves: What is the value in this piece, this story, this book that we're putting out? What good does it do people? What are we really offering? What are we truly providing anyone? To whose life might we be adding?

"So often, everything is about everything else other than the work and what that work can do in this world. And it's those two things that are all I care about. All that I am about. So you can see already, perhaps, why I would be drawn to you before I even get into what I have.

"Beginning in June 2018, I started writing what has become 500 stories. I did so with great purpose, for different books. Not collections--but books. There is a big difference. One of those books is this one regarding which I think we would be ideally suited for each other. It's called The Solution to the World's Problems: Surprising Tales of Relentless Joy.

"I knew in writing this letter to you there would be a number of qualifiers. One of them pertained to the publishing system as mentioned above. Another is about the sheer amount of work I have produced. I realize that someone is apt to be dubious--to say the least--as to the quality of that work, in theory, at the outset. How good--or consistently good--could that work possibly be if someone was producing that much of it? I ask only that you judge my work as work.

"What I have isn't just good. It's special. It is for the world. It is for a world that I think needs what this is right now. It is for readers. It's for people who are not readers yet or were readers once but stopped.

"I don't believe anything is more important than joy and the fostering of joy, but joy doesn't mean "only" happiness. Joy needn't even include happiness. Joy is complex. Joy may contain sadness because joy requires cognizance. Fiction writers often seem to think--especially those who come from the MFA system--that in order for a work to be good, it must be miserable. We thus get a lot of contrived misery; not even work suffused with--and illuminated by--the pain that we all encounter at certain points of life. It's radical at this juncture, it seems, to have fiction that is not this way, and which is still artful, what some call 'literary,' though I recoil from the term, because it implies exclusion. A class system of readers.

"I have written this book to be open to all. So that all are welcome within its pages, and all may see themselves within. There is a great range to my work. People will often find it hard to believe that the same person who wrote this, wrote that. I encounter this all the time (to my admitted frustration; it's tiring saying, 'Yes, that was me, too,' repeatedly), whether it's with my fiction, or when someone sees me writing on hockey in Sports Illustrated and the Beatles in Rolling Stone and then John Singer Sargent in The New Criterion and an op-ed on the meaning of prayer in the New York Daily News (

"I have created the works for this book with fastidious purpose and planning. It's not some 'story collection.' Believe me, I know what that label almost always suggests and means: a disjointed book of composite pieces gathered together simply because one person put their name at the top of each of them. That's not what I do and that's not what this is. It's not an assimilation of things by me. It is an intensely concerted effort of artistic altruism. It is an aperture, or series of apertures, through which light is made to enter. It is a force of good. It is high-level entertainment, and high-level art, too.

"There isn't a single thing in this book that would be unfit for the eyes of a child. As I was writing for adults--and adults who very easily could include their children in the reading of this book--I was aware of such things. I would say it's a catholic book more so than a Catholic book, but that is because of its thematic expansiveness and how it is under-girded by faith. I would not wish to leave out non-Catholics. And I haven't. My concern is people. Not denomination. Not my background. None of this is about me. It's about people. It is for people.

"Here's what I thought was the wisest course for the purposes of this letter: I've attached the introduction to the book, the first story--from which the title comes--called "Best Present Ever"; and further components in 'The Installation,' 'My Nickel,' 'The Giver of Care,' and 'What the Mouse Knew.'

"Everything else is of this same quality. I'm determining a running order, and there are four other final works in the process of being completed. All told, this will be about thirty stories long. Some titles of the others: 'The Day I Met God,' 'The Girl Who Couldn't Cry,' 'The Speaker,' 'There Is No Young and There Is No Old,' 'Eye of Green,' 'Outlast the Earth,' 'The Fallen Leaf,' 'The Late, Living Mrs. Rinaldi,' 'The Quiet Chickadee,' 'How Dark Does Night Get.'

"I feel like this is an opportunity for us, in tandem, to do something special and valuable. Something with real purpose to the active good. When I wrote 'Best Present Ever,' I had the likes of Dickens' A Christmas Carol in my sights; I wanted something amazing and lasting. Something with timeless--but also timely--utility. Last year I 'gave' that story to people as a Christmas present. They read it with their families, and it became an immediate tradition.

"I have many new books of all sorts of stripes at the moment. I'm not saying that many of them would be a fit with you. I don't think that would be true, to be honest. Perhaps only one other would be. But this book seems to me the fit of fits. I feel almost like something was calling out for me to have seen that MacGowan piece and been led to the writing of this letter.

"I would really appreciate it if you would read what I've attached. There isn't anything like these works or this book. Nor do I believe anything would be more appropriate than us teaming together for this venture and purpose."

I listen to the Libertines' "Death on the Stairs" a lot. Why would anyone ever listen to the robotized vanilla-isms of someone like a Taylor Swift when you could listen to this instead? You can go out and listen to this whenever you want. This is real. Real is always better. Real is best.


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page