Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

Memorial services were held in both Colombia and Mexico last week for Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who died April 17 in Mexico City, where he had lived most of his life.

The Colombia ceremony was held in Aracataca, the remote town that served as the setting for One Hundred Years of Solitude. The New York Times reported that Marquez had said it “was his grandmother’s matter-of-fact way of telling the most fantastic stories that inspired the narrator’s voice in One Hundred Years of Solitude.”

Elena Romero, 33, a Cataquero housewife, told The Times, “Because Gabriel Garcia Marquez won the Nobel Prize, Aracataca is known throughout the world.”

“We gave him his nationality,” said Jorge Polo, 54, a Colombian merchant who had met Marquez, “and he gave us recognition. We thank him for the happiness of having been born in Aracataca.”

The other memorial service was held in Mexico City’s Palace of Fine Arts with thousands attending. The ceremony was broadcast live on TV. After Marquez’s widow and two sons placed an urn with his ashes on a black pedestal, “A long, loud applause rose up, for more than a minute,” the Times said.

ONE MORE: Movie producer Harvey Weinstein wrote a remembrance of Marquez for The New York Times. He had met the writer socially, and he wanted the film rights to One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Marquez told Weinstein “he would be thrilled to give us the rights. Then he added that he had just one condition: that we must film the entire book but only release one chapter—two minutes long—each year for 100 years.”

NONAGERIAN WINNER: Elizabeth Spencer, 92, was awarded the $30,000 Rea Award for “significant contributions” to the short story form. She is the author of The Light in the Piazza (1960) and has won five O. Henry Prizes.

LESSONS: Creative writing teachers tell us to “write about what you know” is the way Michael Kinsley began an article in the April 28 New Yorker.  He said the teachers hoped “to avoid twenty-five stories about robots in love on Mars.” He continued with, “And what could you know better than the inside of your own head?

“Almost anything. And almost anyone else is better positioned than you are to write about the foreign land between your ears. You are the person least qualified to be writing about changes in your own brain, since you need your brain to comprehend those changes.”

The article is “bad news for boomers.” It’s about the impact that the growing number of old people with Alzheimer’s will have on our society.

HOT LETTER: The University of California has added a complaint-filled letter written by Lewis Carroll to its collection of more than 3,000 Carroll-related items.

In the letter, acquired by auction for $19,800, Carroll wrote, “I hate all of that [celebrity] so intensely that sometimes I almost wish I had never written any books at all.”

Abby Sanders, curator of the university’s collection, told The New York Times: “here in Los Angeles, where celebrity culture goes hand in hand with the film industry, Carroll’s thoughts on fame are especially poignant.”

QUESTION: Louis Menand reviewed Adam Begley’s new biography, Updike, for the April 28th New Yorker.

John Updike was the author of 60 books. Menand wrote: “David Foster Wallace once asked, quoting, he said, a friend, ‘Has the son of a bitch ever had one unpublished thought?’”

THE CHEEVER WAY: John Cheever’s impact lives on. Matthew Weiner, the creator of TV’s “Mad Men” show, told The New York Times Book Review (April 27) that “Cheever has a voice filled with irony and comedy and pain that, on some level, I’m always seeking to emulate. His short stories present themselves as episodes of TV do—with plenty of story and flawed characters presented without judgment. A story like ‘The Lowboy’ focuses on siblings fighting over an inherited piece of furniture. That’s the kind of world I want to live in creatively.”

LITERARY DEFINED: Anita Mason is a British novelist, author of Bethany (1981), The Right Hand of the Sun (2008) and several other books. In an article for The Guardian, she wrote that genre fiction fits into slots: crime, romance, science fiction and fantasy.

Then Mason defined literary fiction: “Literature is writing of high quality, sustained by intelligent structure and informed by original thought. It requires integration of all the elements into an intellectually and emotionally satisfying whole. Trickiest of all: it has to say something,”

ABOUT THE TITLE: Tim McNulty, poet and environmentalist, is the author of three poetry collections and 11 books of natural history. His latest book is Ascendance.

He explained the book’s title in an interview in The Oregonian.  He said that ascendance “embodies the incredible power and drive of wild salmon ascending their native rivers to spawn. In its more symbolic context it is the magic of wild creatures, plants, forests and natural systems to renew and restore themselves.”

POET PRIZE: Claudia Rankine won the $50,000 Jackson Poetry Prize. She was quoted in The New York Times, “Often a division is made between politics and poetry, and I like to think this is a moment when the intersection is recognized.”

A new collection, Citizen, will be published in October.

ON CENSORSHIP: The New York Council for the Humanities funded a lecture last week titled “Sin and Subversion: The Rise and Fall of Book Censorship in America” at Purchase College, State University of New York. Professor John Howard said that from the 1870s through the 1960s, censorship of literature was legal. Then, judges’ rulings on Ulysses and Lady Chatterley’s Lover changed that.

“Today,” Howard said, “community concerns rather than legal sanction drive efforts to remove books deemed ‘inappropriate’ from library shelves.”

Two librarians read “inappropriate” passages from Ulysses, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, The Color Purple and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Boy. Considering what gets into public print and digital display these days, the excerpts read seemed almost Victorian.

THE PURPOSE OF POETRY: In an unsigned notice of a book about The Divine Comedy, entitled Reading Dante by Prue Shaw, The New Yorker’s reviewer wrote: “At the outset, the poet writes to win the favor of his beloved, Beatrice; by the end he sees that poetry’s true purpose is to exalt the virtues of its subject.”

FETE: The Dodge Poetry Festival will be held again in Newark, N.J. on October 23-26. Among the poets featured will be Billy Collins, Gary Snyder, Sharon Olds, Rita Dove and Robert Pinsky.

PBS-TV has covered this event in the past, and I hope they will again.

WORDS: Novelists, more and more often, are including words from a foreign language in their prose, according to William Grimes in The New York Times. He quoted Isabelle de Courtivron who wrote in Lives in Translation: Bilingual Writers on Identity and Creativity (2003) that by “‘immigration, technology, post-colonialism and globalization,‘ powerful forces . . . ‘have dissolved borders and increased cross-cultural mobility.‘”

Grimes also quoted Yoko Tawada, a Japanese émigré who lives in Berlin and writes in German. She said, “All interesting literature is born in that moment when you are not sure if you are in the place with one culture. So I don’t think I’m exceptional: I’m in a special situation, but it is a very literary, poetic situation.”

PROSE DID IT: The books that John Muir wrote remind us of the power of prose.

“Here indeed is the tree-lover’s paradise,” Muir wrote in The Yosemite, “the woods, dry and wholesome, letting in the light in shimmering masses of half sunshine, half shade; the night air as well as the day air indescribably spicy and exhilarating; plushy fir-boughs for campers’ beds, and cascades to sing us to sleep.” And later, “when we arrive in front of the Sentinel Rock, [Yosemite Falls] is revealed in all its glory from base to summit, half a mile in height, and seeming to spring out into the Valley sunshine direct from the sky.”

Because of Muir, the National Park Service, the Sierra Club and other conservation groups were born, and vast areas of wilderness were saved.

 

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