by Campbell Geeslin

A good ghost story is just about the only thing in literature that can cause goose- bumps on a reader. Scary tales were told long before Charles Dickens or Edgar Allan Poe.

            The first ghost story was found in Pliny’s Letters. He lived A.D. 62-113.  That tale is recounted in Roger Clarke’s A Natural History of Ghosts and retold in the London Review of Books. The following is a capsule version:

There once was a house in Athens haunted by “an old man, emaciated and filthy, with long beard and unkempt hair.” His chains rattled as he walked about at night. Anyone who tried to live in the house was driven to madness and death.

One night, Athendorus the Stoic (the first ghost buster?) sat up reading, waiting. At midnight, he heard chains rattling. A shadowy figure beckoned to him as it shuffled to a corner of the courtyard and disappeared.

In the morning a hole was dug at the spot where the ghost had vanished. A skeleton in chains was unearthed. The bones were given a proper burial and the house was no longer haunted.

Now, rub your arms briskly and your chill bumps, too, will vanish.

NEW LOOK: The New York Times Book Review has a new design. A new feature called Bookends asked two writers whether novelists are “too wary of criticizing other novelists?”

Zoe Heller, a novelist, wrote, “Whenever a novelist wades into the critical fray, he is not only helping to explain and maintain literary standards but also, in some important sense, defending the value of his vocation.”

Adam Kirsch, author of Why Trilling Matters, said that criticism is a way for writers to understand themselves and to discover how they did and did not want to write.  Kirsch concluded, “At the very least, novelists who do risk writing criticism should know they’re in the best of company.”

WINNER: The annual Hugo Awards were handed out in San Antonio where the 71st World Science Fiction Convention was held.

The award for best novel went to John Scalzi for his Redshirts. The New York Times said the book was a “comedic novel about a group of ensigns aboard a spaceship who discover they are part of a television show similar to ‘Star Trek.’”

One of Scalzi’s many books, described in a Wikipedia biography, is The Android’s Dream, which was “noted by some critics for an opening heavily dependent on flatulent jokes.”

Thought all those had moved into children’s books.

SELLING: Emily Liebert’s first novel, You Knew Me When, was published Sept 3. Liebert lives in Westchester County with her husband and their two sons. She is a former editor of Wag, a glossy suburban fashion magazine.

“Emily, you see,” wrote the current editor of Wag, Georgette Gouveia, “isn’t just launching a book. She’s launching a line of nail polishes, charms, and dresses tied to the three strong-willed women who dominate the novel, a story of friendship lost and restored.”

Liebert is quoted, “I would like to be starting a trend. I know how hard the publishing climate is.”

Wag’s editor wrote, “Emily figures if the book doesn’t get her into InStyle magazine, fashion and cosmetics might.”

How about readers? If they try the new lipstick worn by the novel’s heroine will they have a unique, sort of 3-D experience?

BIG BUSINESS: First editions, signed books, manuscripts, letters and other personal items of certain authors are sought by collectors. Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Philips and Bonham’s auction houses sell these items. So do rare-book dealers

Alexander Neubauer, who collects James Joyce, told The Wall Street Journal that collectors begin because they have “a basic love of literature in their lives, wanting to get as close as possible to the thing itself.”

Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Vladimir Nabokov, and other writers of that era bring top prices at auction but fade in and out of fashion. The record for a literary manuscript is the scroll on which Jack Kerouac typed On the Road. It was bought in 2001 for $2.4 million. An edited story and letters by the late David Foster Wallace were expected to sell for about $15,000 at auction. They went to a private collector for $125,000.

The article said prices fluctuate but “dealers say, it helps to be dead.”

MYSTERY: Another Chief Inspector Wexford novel by Ruth Rendell is due Nov. 5. The title is No Man’s Nightingale. An interview with Rendell ran in The Guardian. She was asked about advice for young writers.

She said, “I do give young writers advice all the time. I say, ‘Do you really want to do this? Are you so keen that you really can’t help it—you really enjoy it? If you don’t feel like that—if what you’re really saying is you want to see your book on a shelf in a bookstore—then just forget it, and do something else.’”

ON THE CASE: Hercule Poirot is returning to the scene of a crime. Agatha Christie died in 1976, but her estate has authorized Sophie Hannah, a mystery author, to write a new mystery about le petit inspecteur belge.

Hannah was quoted in The New York Times saying she “hoped to create a puzzle that will confound and frustrate the incomparable Hercule Poirot for at least a good few chapters.” Publication is set for next September.

Maybe anything with Agatha Christie’s name on it will be an automatic bestseller.  According to the Sept. 8 New York Times Sunday Magazine, Christie is the bestselling novelist of all time. Two billion copies of her books have been sold.  They still earn about $4 million in royalties every year.

LONELY: J.F. Powers, who died in 1999, wrote two novels: Morte D’Urban (1962), which won the National Book Award, and Wheat That Springeth Green (1988).  Both books are about Catholic priests.

Critics were admiring.  And so was Joseph Epstein, who reviewed a new book, Suitable Accommodations, by Powers’ daughter, Katherine A. Powers. The review was in The Wall Street Journal and stressed the late author’s difficulty in making a living to support his large family.

In a letter to a priest from whom he frequently borrowed money, Powers wrote, “I can’t believe I’ll ever make much on my work. I’m waiting for someone to point out that whatever else old JF may be, he’s never dealt in sex, But, no, there’s no one saying it, and America’s cleanest writer goes his lonely way.”

FIRST TIME: On September 24, a batch of Dr. Seuss titles will become available as e-books. These include The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham.

More than 600 million print copies of Dr Seuss books have been sold. E-book versions of picture books for children have not been big sellers. Can Dr. Seuss work some magic and change that?



Dr. William Glasser, 88, died August 23 in Los Angeles. The psychiatrist published more than two dozen books. His first, Reality Therapy (1965) sold more than 1.5 million copies. Other titles included Choice Theory: A New Psychology of Personal Freedom (1998) and a bestseller, Schools Without Failure (1969). He is quoted in a New York Times obit: “My question is always, ‘What are you going to do about your life, beginning today?’”

Martin Gross, 88, died August 21 in Ocala, Fla. He was the author of The Government Racket: Washington Waste from A to Z (1992), the Tax Racket (1994), both bestsellers, National Suicide: How Washington is Destroying the American Dream (2009) and several novels. A quote from him in People Weekly said: “I always know what people need and why, because I’m Mr. Joe Sixpack with a good brain.”

Frederik Pohl, 93, died Sept. 2 in Palatine, Ill. The master science-fiction editor and writer was co-author of The Space Merchants, a novel that was translated into 25 languages and sold millions worldwide. His novel Gateway (1977) won both Hugo and Nebula awards. In all, he published more than 65 novels (many were collaborations) and 30 short story collections. He also served on the council of The Authors Guild. His obit in The New York Times quoted him: “I like to talk to people and get them to change their views when I think their views are wrong.”

He added, “Why else would anyone write a book?”