by Campbell Geeslin

Now there are simplified versions of Moby-Dick, Les Miserables, Romeo and Juliet and other classics in thick-cardboard bound books for infants.  About 300,000 copies of a BabyLit series have been sold.

Linda Bubon, of Chicago’s Women and Children First bookstore, told The New York Times, “If we’re going to play classical music to our babies in the womb and teach them foreign languages at an early age, then we’re going to want to expose babies to fine art and literature.”

Parents have been advised by experts to read to infants early and often.  What, do you suppose, does a six-month-old make of Sense and Sensibility?

NEW VOICE: Betsy Franco is the author of more than 80 books for children. She’s also a poet, playwright, editor, actress, and mother of three sons. Her new book is Naked, her first novel for adults. It’s due out this month. The main character is Camille Claudel, a real-life sculptor who was Rodin’s model and mistress.

Franco visited a Claudel sculpture, The Implorer, in storage at the Metropolitan Museum. Franco told PW, “Camille was the first woman I’ve written in the voice of; usually the voice that comes out of me is that of a young man.” This happened, she thinks, because of her sons: James, the movie star and writer; Tom, an illustrator; and David, an actor. She said, “I know a lot about their culture, the way [young men] talk.”

Franco said, “When I write a book, I don’t think about why I’m doing it; I don’t wait for inspiration. I just sit down and write every day.”

UP AND AWAY: Pantheon came up with a new way to get big publicity for Richard Holmes’s new book, Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air. The British historian, with reporter Charles McGrath, took a ride in a hot-air balloon. The result was six big photographs and a lot of text in The New York Times.

In Norfolk, England, ballooning is popular. Holmes said that he often sees flame-propelled balloons from his study at dusk, when they seem to him like “celestial pilot lights.” He borrowed from Wordsworth: “I like to say that my heart leaps up when I behold a dragon in the sky.”

CLUES: In a review of Meg Rosoff’s Picture Me Gone, Meghan Cox Gurdon of The Wall Street Journal said the novel was about a 12-year-old girl who watches “the adults around her failing to understand emotional clues that seem obvious to her.”

Gurdon begins her review: “To see crucial details that other people overlook, to deduce important conclusions from tiny scraps of evidence--such gifts of observation lie at the heart of the appeal of characters like Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple and Adam Dalgliesh. Who doesn’t envy these fictional sleuths their powers of insight?”

TECH TALK: What, if anything, has technology done for today’s writers? That was the subject of last Sunday’s New York Times Book Review.

One of the many who commented was Frederick Forsyth. His new book is The Kill List.  He wrote that things have not changed. “People, in their loves and hates, lusts and greeds, strengths and weaknesses, courage and cowardice are much the same. The readers still like the good guy to win and the bad one to meet an unhappy end. And a rattling good story is still a rattling good story.”

SEA MAN: Lincoln Paine is an editor, a maritime historian, and author of four books. His latest is The Sea and Civilization: A Maritime History of the World.

Paine told PW that he thinks “everyone needs some grasp of world history—an appreciation of the simmering cultural stew from which we’ve all been ladeled into the present.”

He also said, “the magic of writing history of any kind is to arrange what you do know in a way that tells an interesting, coherent, and fundamentally honest story.”

VOICE: Sarah Young’s controversial books began in 2004 with Jesus Calling.  The book, made up of 365 daily devotionals, has sold nine million copies in 26 languages.

This mega-seller was followed by books for children, two more devotionals, and a Jesus Calling-themed Bible.

Young’s books have stirred comment because they are written “as if [Jesus] were giving new revelations to her personally,” The New York Times said in its “Beliefs” column.

Young has suffered from Lyme disease and has moved to Tennessee from Australia. She submits to interviews only by e-mail: “With a written interview I can work when I am able and rest when I need to.”

She said that she writes “by asking Jesus to guide my mind as I spend time with Him—to help me think His thoughts.”

HOW AMAZON DID IT: Around 2004, publishers and retailers began to wake up to the fact that Amazon was edging into what they had assumed was their territory. “Amazon has eliminated all gatekeepers except itself,” said an article in The New York Times.  The headline was “A New Book Portrays Amazon As a Bully.”

The book is The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone. The author says an Amazon executive in Europe “took an almost sadistic delight in pressuring book publishers to give Amazon more favorable financial terms.” Books would be moved to full price, taken off the recommendation list, or competing titles would be promoted until Amazon got better terms out of the publishers.

The Everything Store was written with Bezos’s cooperation.

A NEW CATCHER? Stephen Metcalf is a playwright and screenwriter (Pretty Woman). His first novel is The Tragic Age. PW said the book was being pitched as “Catcher in the Rye for a new generation.”

The main character is a high school senior who is heir to a major fortune. The publisher, St. Martin’s Press, said the lad was “part genius, part philosopher, part social critic and part lone misanthrope.”  Let’s hope he is part interesting too.

CALL HIM PROF: Neil Gaiman was called a “fantasy-novelist, comics creator, screenwriter, director, library defender and Twitter presence” in The New York Times.

Next spring he will be on the staff at Bard College.  A release from Bard said Gaiman will teach “an advanced writing workshop exploring the history of the fantastic, approaches to fantasy fiction, and the meaning of fantasy today.”

EXCERPT: Publishers seem to believe that one way to attract attention (and sell books) is to hire an author to imitate a deceased writer of big sellers. The granddaddy of posthumous authors is Ian Fleming, who died in 1964, but has been turning out new adventures by proxy ever since. The latest is Solo by William Boyd.

P.G. Wodehouse died in 1974, but Bertie and his famous manservant have only recently been revived. The hired author was Sebastian Faulks. The book, due out this month, is Jeeves and the Wedding Bells.

The November issue of Vanity Fair has an excerpt.  Just about any sentence makes clear that the shimmering lightness of Wodehouse’s prose simply cannot be brought back to life. Imitation Wodehouse: “My heart, already skipping the odd one from the prolonged eye contact, now began to beat the sort of rhythm you hear in the Congo before the missionary gets lobbed into the bouillon.”

LOTS OF COPIES: Sherrilyn Kenyon’s 22nd novel in her “Dark-Hunter” series is titled Styxx. PW calls her a “paranormal author.”  The series began in 2002 with Night Pleasures.

Her sales have been paranormal too--more than 35 million copies of her novels are now in print in 100 countries.

GRAVE GUARD: “The novelist needs both a dictionary and a cemetery,” Allan Gurganus wrote for the op-ed page of The New York Times.  His latest novel is Local Souls.

Gurganus grew up in a house next door to a cemetery, and he now lives in another house that sits beside a cemetery. He described how a stone marker provided a name for a fictional character. Other grave things have gone into his story telling, too. He tells how he stopped a man from taking stones from the ancient cemetery wall for a home patio. Gurganus shamed him by asking if his mother would approve of what he was doing.

The author ended his essay with, “I sure do guard my graves, you see. And—far too soon—they’ll return the favor.”