by Campbell Geeslin
“The Science of Stories” was the title of a workshop held at Stanford University. It was mentioned by Alison Gopnik in The Wall Street Journal.
Gopnik said that “scientists and scholars talked about why reading Harlequin romances may make you more empathetic, about how 10-year-olds create the fantastic fictional worlds called ‘paracosms’ and about the subtle psychological inferences in the great Chinese novel The Story of the Stone.”
That Chinese novel, a love triangle, is also called Dream of the Red Chamber. It begins: “When the Goddess Nugua undertook to repair the Dome of Heaven, she fashioned at the Great Mythical Mountain under the Nonesuch Bluff 36,501 pieces of stone, each 120 feet high and 240 feet around. Of these she used only 36,500 and left the remaining piece in the shadow of the Green Meadows Peak. However, the divine hands of Nugua had touched off a spark of life in the Stone and endowed it with supernatural powers. . . ”
She also touched off a tale that continues to be read after more than a century and a half.
LOOKING AHEAD: Ian McEwan’s novel Amsterdam won the Booker in 1998 and his Atonement won a second Booker in 2001. Now he has a new novel, The Children’s Act, coming out in September.
The Guardian said that the “plot revolves around parents who are refusing treatment for their sick son because of religious beliefs.”
ON BAD GUYS: Edmund White teaches at Princeton. His most recent book is Inside a Pearl: My Years in Paris. In a cover essay on Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, White wrote that authors today usually avoid evil characters “because the whole category of Evil seems too theological or because modern psychology assumes that every bad act can be traced to childhood neglect or abuse and thus be explained away. I have to give my students an assignment to write about bad guys in order to get them to do it. But when they do write about them, it’s such a release!”
AMBITIOUS: Anne Perry’s Death on Blackheath was published last month. It is the 29th Victorian mystery from this prolific writer. There are 26 million copies of her books in print.
Most mystery writers just aim to entertain, but Perry told PW that she wants her books “to make a difference in readers’ lives.” She want to teach readers “something of the human condition—a wisdom and compassion, an understanding of life that enables feeling empathy for people whose path may be very different from our own.”
REMEMBERING: Tributes to the late Peter Matthiessen appeared in The Guardian. John Irving said that he and Matthiessen often exchanged early drafts of their work. Irving wrote: “Those were the special days for me—when I had a friend I dared show what I was up to, when I was still unsure of what it was.
“You can’t ever duplicate a friend like that.”
Novelist Claire Messud attended a class that Matthiessen taught at Yale. “He was an inspiration of a rare kind: a spiritualist, an adventurer, a sage with a great laugh and an immortal gift: a remarkable and pure literary talent.”
PLATO’S AFTERLIFE: Plato at the Googleplex is the title of a book by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein. She is an American author of six novels and a visiting professor at the New College of the Humanities in London. In her latest book, Goldstein has Plato on a speaking tour of Google’s headquarters, on a cable news show and visiting a neuro-science lab.
Goldstein talked about her interest in Plato with Alexandra Wolfe of The Wall Street Journal. Wolfe wrote that Goldstein thought “that by bringing him into today’s conversations, his words would carry more weight.
“Ultimately, his character learns from today’s society, too.”
Goldstein is quoted: “He shows that philosophy is still relevant and still makes progress.”
LIMIT: Kimberly Elkins’s novel What Is Visible is due out in June. The main fictional narrator is based on Laura Bridgman, a real person who was unable to see, hear, smell or taste.
Elkins told PW that she had approached writing about such a character by talking with Jonathan Lethem. He had written Motherless Brooklyn with a narrator who suffered from Tourette’s syndrome. Elkins said that Lethem explained he “knew better than to delve that intently into the psyches of real people because it would prevent him from making the character truly his own.” Elkins said, “I heeded that advice.”
SHORT STORIES: Acts of God is the title of the 12th collection of short stories by Ellen Gilchrist. Her Victory Over Japan won the 1984 National Book Award. She lives in Mississippi and Arkansas.
Jonathan Yardley of The Washington Post wrote a generally praiseful review of Acts of God but complained about her “weakness for epiphanies” and gave an example: “The human race. You have to love it and wish it well and not preach or think you have any reasons to think you are better than anyone else. Amen. Good-bye. Peace.”
ABOUT JACKSON: A collection of fiction, lectures and nonfiction articles by the late Shirley Jackson will be published in 2016. Most of the material appeared in women’s magazines in the 1940s and 1950s. Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House won a National Book Award.
This new collection has been edited by two of her children, Laurence Jackson Hyman and Sarah Hyman DeWitt.
The New York Times said the 50th anniversary of Jackson’s death in 2016 will also be marked by the publication of a biography by Ruth Franklin.
ONLY WARDEN: C. J. (stands for Charles James) Box has another bestselling novel, Stone Cold, about game warden Joe Pickett. It’s the 13th in a series. Author Box lives outside Cheyenne, Wyoming, with his wife and their three daughters.
There are lots of novels with a hero who is a detective or a sheriff, but there is only one series with a game warden, Joe Pickett. The fictional Pickett lives in Wyoming with his wife and three daughters.
Box— who does not have a sideline as a game warden— told an interviewer that he knows who some of his readers are. He said, “We’re always invited to the Wyoming Game Wardens association [meeting] every year, and it’s fun to talk to those guys, and most of them read the books.”
A collection of short stories, Shots Fired: Stories from Joe Pickett Country, will be published in July.
READING TODAY: “Few of us have the time—or the discipline—to read a book in one sitting,” wrote Maggie Galehouse in The Houston Chronicle. “Over days or weeks we consume a story in fits and starts.” But during those gaps between active reading, there’s “a living-with-the-story aspect, that, in the best of circumstances offers a satisfied ache.” To be caught up in reading a great book is to live on two planes.
A reader knows that every book must end, but Galehouse asks, “how many of us have saved the last 10 or 20 pages of a favorite book until we can’t stand it any longer? It’s a kind of death, finishing a book you’ve loved.”
SUCCESS: Brandon Sanderson’s Words of Radiance landed the No. 1 spot on bestseller lists in late March and continues on the lists. The book is the second in a projected 10-volume series that The New York Times described as “a sprawling epic” and “traditional stuff for fantasy fans.”
Sanderson, 35, talked with The Times about his success: “You just want to be able to make a living. The dream was that someday I might sell a book.
“But the high point now is that at the end of the day, I get to tell stories for a living. I just really, really enjoy doing this—and I am having a blast.”
INTERVIEWER: Robin Roberts is a TV anchor and author of Everybody’s Got Something, a memoir of her bone marrow transplant for a blood disorder. In an interview in Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, she said, “I always look forward to interviewing authors on [TV]. I was especially excited to meet Patricia Cornwell and Danielle Steel. I have long admired their strength, talent and creativity both personally and professionally.”
DEATH: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 87, died April 17 in Mexico City. He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982. The “conjurer of literary magic,” as The New York Times called him, was the author of One Hundred Years of Solitude (1970), Love in a Time of Cholera (1988) and other novels. He believed that it ”was enough for the author to have written something for it to be true, with no proofs other than the power of his talent and the authority of his voice.”