A Calculus of Writing, Applied to a Classic

Larry Tohter in the New York Times Book Review:

ScreenHunter_01 Feb. 11 09.54 Zachary Mason’s critically praised first novel comes with a largely self-explanatory title: “The Lost Books of the Odyssey” purports to be a compilation of 44 alternate versions of Homer’s epic. What that title cannot possibly convey, though, is the unusual journey of Mr. Mason’s manuscript on its way to publication by Farrar, Straus & Giroux last week.

Mr. Mason, 35, a computer scientist specializing in search recommendation systems and keywords, once worked at Amazon.com. He avoided writing workshops and M.F.A. programs as a matter of principle, and produced “The Lost Books” at night, during lunch breaks and on weekends and vacations.

“I’ve been writing for many years, but just small stories or fragments of things that could become stories,” he said. “I decided after a long time that if I was going to be serious about writing, I had to do a book. So I started looking through my notes, looking for things I thought were worth preserving, and some things jumped out at me. And so I sort of extracted them from my notebooks, and they seemed to imply a shape, and the shape was this book of themes and variations.”

Early reviews of the book have been enthusiastic. Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times called it a “dazzling debut novel.”

More here.