A funny thing happened during Granta’s B.E.A. panel on the state of American writing on Friday, when a woman from the audience asked Paul Auster whether it was his idea to turn Timbuktu, a novella he published in 1999, into a children’s book.
For a moment, Mr. Auster looked at the questioner blankly. “But it’s not a children’s book,” he said. Perhaps she had gotten confused, because the story is told from the perspective of a dog named Mr. Bones?
The woman insisted that she knew what she was talking about—that the book she was referring to was an adaptation, published with full illustrations and packaged as a kids’ book. Mr. Auster said it was the first he’d ever heard of such a thing.
Sherman Alexie, who was also on the panel, asked Mr. Auster if that’s what happens when you write 40 books. Smiling tentatively, Mr. Auster deferred to his literary agent, Carol Mann, who was seated a few rows away from the woman who’d brought the matter up. Ms. Mann indicated she was not aware of a Timbuktu for kids either, and promised to look into it.
At that point, Picador publicist James Meader, who works on Mr. Auster’s paperbacks, submitted in a somewhat sheepish tone that he had a copy of the book in his office, and would send one to him directly. Soon someone in the audience had Googled the book on her iPhone, and raised her hand to share her findings. “It has a gray fluffy dog on the cover looking over its shoulder,” she reported.
Had Picador published a Paul Auster book without telling him or paying for the privilege? That’s kind of what it seemed like!
Asked for her reaction after the panel, Ms. Mann said only that she was astonished, and was looking forward to sorting it out.
But no. As Mr. Meader later explained to The Observer, Picador had had nothing to do with the mysterious book, which had in fact been published by a small German company called Minedition. “It’s kind of a macabre idea for a children’s book,” Mr. Meader said, “Because as you may know, the dog does commit suicide at the end.”
In an interview today, Ms. Mann said she had gotten in touch with Minedition and that contracts and copies of the book—which is distributed by Penguin in the USA—are on their way to Ms. Mann’s office. Turns out a computer crash was to blame!
“It’s not really a big deal if that’s what you’re thinking,” Ms. Mann said. “It was a labor of love by a German packager-publisher, and they came to us with illustrations and an abridgement and then they disappeared. We had looked at it—Paul completely forgot about it but he had seen it, we both had. Apparently this little company’s computer server went down and the computer crashed so all of our back and forth was lost.”
“There’s absolutely no duplicity!” she clarified.