People often ask me why I started and maintain this blog. It's not for the cash, the glory or the chicks. (Mrs. TEV sees to that.) Nor is it, contrary to some wags, about free books. The best part about this blog has been the people it's connected me with, other smart, literary folks. And now the part that's better than best is that I've been able to do something useful because of those connections.
The first of these smart, literary folks who has a role in this tale is Matt Weiland. He's now gone over to The Paris Review but last November he was still working with Granta, which had just published Tom McCarthy's Tintin and the Secret of Literature. Regular TEV readers know I'm Tintin obsessed, and Matt helped arrange a copy of the book for me, with which I was immediately and deeply taken. When I inquired as to its American publication date, he advised me it had not yet found an American publisher. Too European, he suspected.
This news sent me off and running to the second of the smart, literary folks who has a role in this story, Soft Skull Press's publisher Richard Nash. We've become regular correspondents over the years, and I dropped him a line to alert him to the existence of the book, urging him to check it out, complaining that the lack of a US publisher was criminal.
Well, Richard was off to the races and this past weekend, he officially acquired the American rights for Tintin and the Secret of Literature. I don't overstate my role in all this - this fine book would surely have found a home here before long. But of everything I've done through this blog, this is the thing I'm proudest of - being part of actually bringing a book to you.
I conducted a brief Q&A with Richard on the occasion of the acquisition:
TEV: Were you a Tintin reader as a child?
Richard Nash: Big confession! No. I only read dumb British comics (Dandy, Beano) and went up-market by reading Asterix and Obelix. But Tintin - well, he was just out there in the world, like Elvis. I never really listened to Elvis, watched Elvis movies, but you just know Elvis. He had hips, Tintin had the hair.
RN: One of the things that drives me as a publisher is my curiosity about the world. I publishe in order to discover. Tom, from the first page, engendered in me a desire to discover what he had to say about Tintin. To me, this is a world-in-a-grain-of-sand book. Like the Salt book, or that book about the history of barbed wire, or God: A Biography. Also: The utter commitment. Tom commits to the premise of the book like a paratrooper off a helicopter.
TEV: Chris Ware has suggested that Tintin's essential sexlessness is one of the reasons he's not bigger stateside. Why do you think Tintin isn't better known in the US?
RN: Well, I’m at sea there. Unfortunately, I guess, asking an Irishman why a Belgian’s books aren’t better-known in the US is probably a waste of time. But, the process of publishing this book, that will help me find out the answer to your questions. In fact, if you wouldn’t mind, could we re-do this interview in 18 months? That would be very interesting for me at least, to see what I’ve learned, about Tintin, about Tintin in relation to American culture and politics...?
TEV: Deal! Until then who do you think the ideal reader of Tom's book is? And what reason would you give a non-Tintin reader for taking a look?
RN: Oh wow. I think Tom creates an ideal reader through the writing of the book. In effect, the book is about reading, a kind of reading of the world. So I suppose the ideal reader is a person willing to submit to Tom’s readings, but also a person will to read a reading. A mixture of humility and arrogance then, but with unbounded curiosity soaking the whole shebang. And, by implication, I think I’m hinting at the reasons. I’d suggest reading it because, in subtle ways, you’ll read EVERYTHING a little bit differently after you read this book. Another title for this book could have been READING DEGREE ZERO.
TEV: Despite your Tintin neophyte status, do you have a favorite Tintin adventure? Character?
RN: Based exclusively on Tom’s book: The Castafiore Emerald and...Herge himself!
TEV: When can Americans look forward to Soft Skull's edition of Tintin and the Secret of Literature?
RN: May 2008.
As you can probably imagine, I think it's a title well worth waiting for. Until then, you can read an excerpt of it here.