When is a book born? The French author Philippe Squarzoni asks this question repeatedly in his massive graphic novel, Climate Changed.
“When does a book start its life?” he wonders, and follows up with further questions. Is it when the first reader reads it, or is it earlier than this? Is it when the author finally finishes writing it, when all the edits and inserts and changes have been made? Or is it born earlier than that, when the author starts writing, when the idea makes itself known? I would add, and which idea? Books are never, at least for me, single ideas. They’re a theme followed by a jumble of thoughts, a notion trailing a plethora of never-ending possibilities. There might be a central plot, but a good book develops much as a tree does, with branches and roots and unexpected twists and turns stemming from the main trunk.
And then, of course, is a book ever really finished? I had a novel published some forty years ago and was looking at it yesterday. I thought I could bring it up to date, rewrite and modernize it, and resell it, since by now the rights have reverted to me. I’m not sure if it’s a good or bad idea. Late last month, I started writing a new book, a follow up to L’Amérique but I don’t yet know if it will fly. Is a book born if it goes nowhere, if it remains unfinished and never sees the light of day?
About two weeks ago, Arielle and I finished rewriting L’Amérique, essentially my memoirs of living in Paris and coming to America. We congratulated ourselves, baked a colorful six-pound cake and opened a bottle of sparkling cider. Then yesterday, Arielle had an idea: What if the editor had an input, a chance to describe for the reader the impact that the creation of an original work has on both the author and the editor. She wrote a couple of sample inserts, and they’re good. I think they help make the things more approachable. The first one is at www.seidmansagnier.com .
She wavered on the idea. It was good, no, it was bad… I thought the only time I’d seen something like this done was in one of William Boyd’s books, and it was not exactly the same idea. In Boyd’s novel, the literary agent chimes in, and it worked. Plus, I’ve always felt that editors get short-shrifted. A good editor creates a book as much as does a good writer, and many good editors have saved bad books written poorly by lazy authors.
So I think we’re going to try it, which means that L’Amérique is no longer finished. It’s undergoing additions.
This being said, I’m curious. I know a lot of writers read this blog. What do you think? When is a book born? When does a book end? I’d value your thoughts.