by Campbell Geeslin
The title certainly smacks of a grand ambition. The book is On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand-Year History. The author is Nicholas A. Basbanes who writes and lectures about books. On Paper is his ninth book.
Basbanes is noted for A Gentle Madness, a book about those who become obsessed by collecting books.
While doing research that “explores the nature of paper,” the author learned how to make the stuff. Research and writing took eight years.
Along the way, he collected curious things. He told PW that one of these was “a strip of red tape . . . that had just been removed from some old public records at the National Archives, and was about to be thrown in the trash—a nice detail to mention in a chapter about bureaucratic ‘Red Tape’”
A QUESTION: “Love the Words” is the title of an exhibition that opens at the 92nd Street Y. It displays letters from T.S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas, Robert Lowell and other poets and authors to show the Y’s role in New York’s literary history.
The exhibit, reviewed in The New York Times (Sept. 22), has a photo of Norman Mailer next to one of Cynthia Ozick. They are paired because of a YouTube record of a 1971 panel discussion on feminism. Ozick stood up and asked Mailer “what color his ink ran after he dipped into his testicles.” The event was at Town Hall, but Ozick said she had always fantasized about asking him that question at the Y.
BUSY: Peter Ackroyd is the author more than 50 books. The second volume of his “History of England”, Tudors: Henry VIII to Elizabeth I, will be out in the U.S. Oct. 8.
Ackroyd’s typical day was described in The New York Times Style magazine:
“He begins by writing and doing research for a history book, turns to a biography sometime in the afternoon and finishes the day reclining on a bed in a room adjacent to his book-lined office, writing a novel, in long hand.”
Ackroyd told the interviewer: “I suppose the routine was originally designed to inhibit boredom, and also to earn money. But now it’s just become second nature.”
He said he had been celibate for years and added, “I’m happy not to have to bother with any of that. It gets in the way of your work.”
AWAKENED: Mary Karr’s latest book is Lit: A Memoir. She paid tribute in Time magazine to the late Seamus Heaney. She included a quote from the Irish poet: “Between my finger and my thumb/The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.”
Karr wrote that she heard that read by the poet himself at a literary festival in England in 1977. She said those lines “snapped me awake.”
INVITATION: The Man Booker Prize of 50,000 pounds will be open to U.S. authors next year. During its first 45 years, the prize was restricted to writers from the UK, Ireland and Commonwealth countries. Trustee chairman Jonathan Taylor said in a statement: “The expanded prize will recognize, celebrate and embrace authors writing in English, whether from Chicago, Sheffield, or Shanghai.”
The Guardian reported a crush of negative reaction from the British. Writer and broadcaster Melvin Bragg told the London Times, “The Booker will now lose its distinctiveness. It’s rather like a British company being taken over by some worldwide conglomerate,”
Linda Graut, whose novel, The Clothes on Their Backs, was short listed in 2008, said the change would “create a huge imbalance in favor of U.S. authors.”
MAKE A MESS: “Clean Up Your Desk! But not if you’re looking to be creative” was the title of an article in The New York Times’ Sunday Magazine this week.
A study at the University of Minnesota showed that “disordered offices encouraged originality and a search for novelty.” Kathleen D. Vohs, who conducted the study, said that a messy office seemed “to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can produce fresh insights.”
COSTUMED: To help sell Let Me Go, her sixth novel with detective Archie Sheridan hunting a serial killer, author Chelsea Cain signed books in Portland, Ore.
Cain dressed for the occasion in a blood-splattered nurse uniform. PW ran a photograph. Her skirt was very short.
Another treat: fans who showed up were given “necklaces made from fake body parts.” Wouldn’t you like to wear a human toe dangling from a chain around your neck?
BIG DEAL: Fantasy novelist Terry Pratchett’s first book for his new publisher, Doubleday and Anchor, will be Raising Steam, out in March. The best-selling Brit—an O.B.E. since 1998— has a 10-book, seven-figure deal. His previous books have sold more than 80 million copies, according to The New York Times.
His editor, Edward Kastenmeier was quoted, “With mainstream readers warming to the work of Neil Gaiman and George R.R. Martin, we see this as a crossover moment for Terry, an opportunity to expand his audience.”
Gaiman and Martin have made fantasy fiction popular with general readers.
CROWD: The Brooklyn Book Festival was held last Sunday, September 22. A full-page newspaper advertisement for the event listed the names of almost 150 participating authors and ended with “and many more.” Was there room for any potential book buyers?
CELEBRITY CHASER: Robert Wilson, editor of The American Scholar, is author of Mathew Brady: Portraits of a Nation.
Brady is best known for photographs of the Civil War, many “stolen” from other photographers.
Wilson said on the PBS NewsHour that Brady had “devoted himself to taking photos of the famous.” His studio was on Broadway, near P.T. Barnum’s Museum, and Brady took tips on becoming famous himself from that great showman.
Did a Brady portrait of Abraham Lincoln help make the great man President? Lincoln said it did.
AFTER A TSUNAMI: Elizabeth Gilbert has been a writer since childhood. After the incredible success of Eat, Pray, Love, she wondered if she was going “to be able to come out of that tsunami and ever do anything again. Or am I going to Harper Lee out? Go J.D. Salinger for the rest of my life?”
What she did was write a novel, Committed, published in 2010. She said, “I threw it out in the world like a grenade.” The article about her in the Sunday Magazine of The New York Times (Sept. 22) didn’t say if it exploded, but Gilbert has now published The Signature of All Things. This new book is an historical novel about a strong woman. The article suggested that it is a sequel to a play Gilbert wrote when she was in the fifth grade. Her drama was performed for the whole school, and it was her “first literary success.”
CATMAN: A cartoon cat got 360 million hits on YouTube, and now it is starring in a book, Simon’s Cat vs. the World. It’s due out as a paperback original in October.
British cartoonist Simon Tofield is the man responsible. He was quoted in an interview for The Washington Post: “Living with four cats provides an endless source of inspirational material. Cats are such expressive animals who tell you what they think through body language.”
GIFT: James Patterson’s books earn multiple millions a year. Last week he said on CBS-TV’s This Morning that he was going to give $1 million to independent bookstores that have a children’s department. He hopes it will help these stores to hang on and stay in business. “It’s okay if your kids buy ten books a year,” he said.
LESSON LEARNED: After years in journalism, Martin Fletcher has taken up fiction. His new book is a novel, Jacob’s Oath, due out October 9.
Fletcher told PW: “Fiction has become another way of understanding the world around me. My goal as a fiction writer is to learn as much as I can about a subject, set up a premise, and to let the story begin to tell itself.”
“Jacob’s Oath,” PW said, “explores the experiences of European Jews right after the Holocaust.”
INTERVIEWS: John Freeman’s new book is How to Read a Novelist. An interview with him is in the October issue of The Writer.
Freeman himself has interviewed hundreds of writers and reviewed thousand of books. The profiles of authors that he wrote for newspapers and magazines provided the material for his new book. He wrote in his introduction: “The only thing an interviewer can do to capture what a novelist truly does is to make them talk and tell stories, and think aloud. . .. Writers are always evolving, publishing.”
Freeman teaches a class in structure of the novel at Columbia University.