Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

The novel’s hero is Harry Handsome. In the next book by the same author, Harry’s brother Ted is the main man. In the third, their cousin, an orphan who lived with the family, becomes sheriff. Each novel sells more copies than the previous one.

In genre publishing, the connected series has become a popular route to big success. Novels with characters that reappear in a series (or books linked by a single community) have caught on with fans of Debbie Macomber, author of the Dakota series. PW credits her with inventing this approach.

Others who have been successful with linked novels are Sherryl Woods (Trinity Harbor series), Susan Wiggs (Calhoun Chronicles) and Susan Mallery (Buchanan series).

PW reported that Robyn Carr (Virgin River series) took the connected novels route to success. Her latest, The Wanderer, sold 48,000 copies in its first week to become a No. 1 bestseller.

FETE: The Harvard University Press is celebrating 100 years of publishing. It began in 1913 and is in the process of converting 10,000 titles into digital format.

The press’s first bestseller was Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings in 1984.

I opened my treasured copy of Welty’s memoir to see how well I remembered the last paragraph:

“As you have seen, I am a writer who came of a sheltered life. A sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within.”

SACKS TIME: How many authors are the focus of an arts festival? At least one: Oliver Sacks.   The Live Ideas Festival, last week in Manhattan, had a new ballet score based on Sacks’s Awakenings, and a new dance theater work concerned with the themes of perception.

Choreographer Bill T. Jones, who leads the arts group, told The New York Times, “Perhaps more than anyone in recent history, Dr. Sacks has contributed to the growing understanding of the role of creative expression within the mind-body connection.”

LIKE FREUD: Oliver Sacks’s name came up again when novelist Hilary Mantel wrote in The Guardian about how one of his books, Migraine, changed her life. She explained, “Like Freud before him, he has elevated the case history into literature.”

In a New York Review of Books essay on Sacks’s most recent book, Hallucinations, Michael Greenberg wrote: Sacks “prefers to look through a wide-angle lens rather than a microscope. His impulse is to amplify his observations, to look beyond the minute working of the brain to the varieties of human experience itself.“

THE GAME: Jonathan Franzen’s latest book is Farther Away: Essays. He was interviewed for the “By the Book” feature of The New York Times Book Review (April 28) and said, “I like fiction by writers engaged in trying to make sense of their lives and of the world in which they find themselves, writers who palpably have skin in the game.”

SO LAUGH: Owen King’s first novel, Double Feature, was published in March. An earlier book, We’re All in This Together, was a novella and short story collection.

King, who also writes screenplays, is the son of novelist Tabitha King and mega-author Stephen King.  An interview for USA Today appears on the Internet. Looking very young in owl-eye glasses, Owen was asked what it’s like to have a famous father. He said, “My dad is my dad.”

About writing, young King was quoted in PW: “There is writing that is entirely serious, and it doesn’t ring true to me because I think often times life is very, very funny. Even the worst, most humiliating, savage disappointments in retrospect have elements of black humor.”

THEFT: London’s Lambeth Palace houses an historic book collection.  Last week, officials there revealed that two years ago they received a letter from a lawyer for a deceased former employee who had admitted that he had taken books from the palace.

Some 1,000 volumes, many from the 17th century, were found in the man’s attic, including an early copy of Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part Two.

Officials had been aware that a number of volumes were missing, but most were thought to have been lost during a bombing in World War II.

As far as is known, none of the stolen books has ever been offered for sale. Robert Harding, a rare book dealer, said, “The scale of the theft is quite extraordinary. It’s one of the biggest such thefts in recent decades.”

The BBC World Service provides a detailed account on the Internet.

NOTED: Nine letters, written in 1941 to a young woman in Canada, have been added to the J.D. Salinger holdings at the Morgan Library & Museum. The author was 22 years old and just beginning to be published in magazines.

Dave Itzkoff wrote in The New York Times that “the unsettled young Salinger reveals himself to be as playful, passionate and caustic as Holden Caulfield, the self-questioning adolescent who would become his most enduring creation.”

LIT: With six photographs that looked as gaudy as a circus parade, the New York Daily News announced the opening last Friday (April 26) of the movie version of Salmon Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children.

That bestselling book, published in 1981, marked the beginning of Rushdie’s career.

Rushdie told the News, “I wish I knew why it took so long. Every writer friend has been able to get books made into films with sickening regularity.”

The News’ article begins with the fact that the writer has been married four times. Rushdie said, “My children have forbidden me to do it again. They say I am getting to be like Zsa Zsa Gabor.”

The article ends with “I tell [my children] that Norman Mailer and Saul Bellow were both married more times than I was. But they’re not impressed.”

A film reviewer for The New York Times said that the movie, for which Rushdie wrote the screenplay, “feels drained of the mythic juice that powers the book.“

NEW YA IMPRINT: Zondervan, a division of HarperCollins Christian Publishing, is launching a new young adult imprint, Blink, this fall.  The imprint will be aimed at the general trade, not just the Christian market.

STAYING POWER: Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler is a bestseller.

Fowler said on NPR that Zelda and her husband F. Scott Fitzgerald were “two sides of one coin.  So it’s very difficult to imagine that we would be talking about either one of them had they not been a pair.”

But a lot of people are talking about just Scott right now, because a new movie version of The Great Gatsby opens May 10, and sales of a new paperback edition of Gatsby out from Scribner with two different coversone the starry blue Art Deco original, another with an image of Leonardo Di Caprio, who stars in the moviehas been breaking records. A New York Times Page One article on Friday (April 26) said, “No other paperback sold more copies” last week, and the book landed on bestseller lists at independent bookstores.

SPOONLIKE: Quote from an advertisement in the London Review of Books: “The book is like the spoon, scissors, the hammer, the wheel. Once invented, it cannot be improved.”

DEFENDER: Edward de Grazia, 86, died April 11 in Potomac, Maryland. He was the lead lawyer on several important cases that helped end the censorship of sexually explicit books. He started by challenging the banning of the Greek play Lysistrata, written 2,400 years ago by Aristophanes. He then took on Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer and William S. Burroughs’s The Naked Lunch.

Officialdom finally gave up and bans were lifted. De Grazia was also the author of Girls Lean Back Everywhere: The Law of Obscenity and the Assault on Genius.

MUSEUM TALE: E.L. Konigsburg, 83, died April 19 in Falls Church, Virginia. She wrote 20 books and illustrated about half of them herself. In 1968 she won the Newbery for From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. In 1997, she won another Newbery for The View From Saturday.

The New York Times had an article (April 24) about the impact the Mixed-Up Files had on the Metropolitan Museum where two fictional children spend the night after getting lost. That book “continues to dance in the imagination of children and adults alike, transforming any museum trip into an adventure.”

The museum shop has hardcover copies of Mixed-Up Files for sale.

 

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