Shelf Life

Tender look at Mailer

Norman Mailer (right) and his personal assistant Dwayne Raymond, author of “Mornings with Mailer.’’ Norman Mailer (right) and his personal assistant Dwayne Raymond, author of “Mornings with Mailer.’’ (Christina Pabst)
By Jan Gardner
Globe Correspondent / January 31, 2010

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Around Provincetown, Norman Mailer was known as a regular guy. He chatted with locals as he ran errands.

Dwayne Raymond waited on Mailer’s table one night, and subsequently they would bump into each other from time to time. Whenever they did, Mailer always wanted to know what Raymond, a struggling writer, was up to. Three years later, in 2003, Mailer invited Raymond to be his personal assistant.

Raymond quickly figured out how to handle Mailer’s idiosyncrasies, cooking his meals, running interference with technology for him, typing his handwritten pages, and making editorial suggestions (some of which Mailer accepted).

For four years, Mailer was in the thick of working on “The Castle in the Forest,” his epic novel about Hitler. Mailer in research mode wanted books by the dozens delivered to the house. Raymond preferred online research. Sometimes he tried to cover his tracks, lest Mailer unleash a rant about the evils of technology.

“Mornings with Mailer” (Harper), published Tuesday, is Raymond’s tender memoir and an illuminating look at the mind and methods of a Pulitzer Prize winner who kept writing up until he died in 2007 at the age of 84.

In the winner’s circle
The folks at Wellesley Booksmith were thrilled when a favorite book of theirs won the Newbery Medal, one of the top prizes in children’s literature, earlier this month. “When You Reach Me” by Rebecca Stead (Random House) is a taut tale of mystery and time travel about Miranda, a sixth-grader living in New York City, circa 1979. Stead will give a reading at Wellesley Free Library at 6 p.m. Feb. 9.

Drawing from life
Art imitates life in three new books by faculty members at Emerson College. Richard Hoffman, whose 1995 memoir “Half the House’’ led to legal action against a perpetrator of sexual abuse, revisits that crime in his first collection of fiction, “Interference & Other Stories’’ (New Rivers). In Hoffman’s stories, tender truths emerge out of ordinary goings-on - a nursing home visit, a traffic stop, a 40th birthday celebration, a trip to the grocery store.

Risa Miller, a graduate of Emerson’s MFA program, has published her second novel, “My Before and After Life’’ (St. Martin’s). The widowed father of two grown sisters living in Brookline decides during a trip to Jerusalem to become an Orthodox Jew. Certain they can change their father’s mind, the sisters launch a rescue mission. Miller, who has lived in Brookline and Jerusalem, navigates the complicated relationship between adult children and parents with sensitivity and humor.

Steve Yarbrough will read from his new novel, “Safe from the Neighbors’’ (Knopf) at 2 p.m. today at Newtonville Books before heading to the South on an author tour. A native of Mississippi, Yarbrough has set his novel against the backdrop of a seminal event in his own life: the day in September 1962 that James Meredith arrived to integrate the all-white campus of Ole Miss.

Coming out
■ “Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism” by Melanie Joy (Conari)

■ “Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?” by Seth Godin (Portfolio)

■ “The New Frugality: How to Consume Less, Save More, and Live Better” by Chris Farrell (Bloomsbury)

Pick of the week
Laura Lucy of White Birch Books in North Conway, N.H., recommends “The Bricklayer’’ by Noah Boyd (Morrow) : “Steve Vail, now a bricklayer, was an FBI agent until his attitude got him fired. But the FBI has come calling because it needs someone who can work outside the box and get results. Boyd has written a smart, sexy, thrill-ride of a read.’’

Jan Gardner can be reached at