by Campbell Geeslin
Blanche Jennings Thompson was the editor of Silver Pennies (1925), a collection of poems for children. In the preface, she wrote, “If a poem is worthy at all, it isn’t tough—it is frail and exquisite, a mood, a moment of sudden understanding, a cobweb which falls apart at a clumsy touch.”
More quotes about poetry appeared in Sunday’s New York Times Book Review: “Writing poetry is an unnatural act,” Elizabeth Bishop once wrote. “It takes skill to make it seem natural.” John Keats wrote in an 1818 letter, “If poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves to a tree it had better not come at all.”
WHERE: “I revised the last eleven drafts,” Mona Simpson wrote in The New York Times Magazine, “red-penciled the copy editing and marked the first-pass galleys at different places in the house.” She was photographed in her kitchen.
Simpson was one of five authors who described the places where they write. Her new novel is Casebook. She said that she wrote “sitting on the floor next to the heating vent, on my bed, at the kitchen table, leaning back in my chair with my feet up on the desk.”
“Instead of a dedicated room,” she explained, “my best trigger is the actual habit of reading over the texts from the day before. Marking. Changing. Fussing. This ritual amounts to a habit of trust. Trust that I can make it better. That if I keep trying, I will come closer to something true.”
ENCORE: Robert Gailbraith (a.k.a. J.K. Rowling) will publish his second book, The Silkworm, in June. The Guardian said it was about a novelist who is “murdered after writing poison pen-portraits of nearly everyone he knows.”
Rowling will help promote the book with an appearance at the Harrogate crime-writing festival in July.
LOVING CHARACTERS: Laura Lippman is the author of After I’m Gone, a novel. In an interview in The New York Times Book Review, she said, “I’m leery of writers who are too in love with their protagonists and assemble choruses of secondary characters to sing their praises. She’s so beautiful! She’s so smart! Nancy Drew is a prime example, but it happens in literary fiction too.”
FLOODING: For centuries English literature has been concerned with rain. The Canterbury Tales begins with sweet April showers.
Alexandra Harris in The Guardian wrote, “Cosmic disorder in Shakespeare comedies is a recognizably daily and practical affair.” King Lear begs the “cataracts and hurricanoes” to “spout till you have drench’d the steeples and drown’d the cocks.” Jonathan Swift published “A Description of a City Shower” in 1710. Poet John Gay, in 1716, offered a “poem as a literary umbrella to be opened against the storm.” Robinson Crusoe, in Defoe’s 1719 tale, made a hat “to shoot off the rain.” In Charles Dickens’s Bleak House, it rains for the first 11 chapters.
All this makes a suitable literary background for the current floods in England.
SNOW DAMAGE: As might be expected, a February headline in PW was: “Winter Weather Disrupts Book Sales.” The article said that cold weather and snow “had led to cancelled events and store closures, some for more than a day.” It certainly didn’t help anyone’s bottom line.
BLACKOUT: David Stuart MacLean is the author of The Answer to the Riddle Is Me: A Memoir of Amnesia. He was doing research for a novel in India when an anti-malaria medication caused a break with reality. After a total blackout on a train platform, he slowly regained his identity although “the amnesia haunts him like a hangover long afterward.” That quote is from The New York Times Science Section.
MacLean said it felt as if “I was chasing myself, hoping that I could reconstruct enough of a working resemblance to that old self to slip back into. It was like building a plane while flying it.”
The Times’s Gregory Cowles admired the memoir and wrote, “if the writer’s task is to ‘make it new,’ then losing your memory turns out to be an unexpected boon.”
FINDING AN END: Lorrie Moore’s new book is a collection of stories entitled Bark. In an interview in The New York Times, Moore said, “Each story feels like its own creature, its own response to something. Writers are just helpless before the stories they want to write. They just have to write them.”
Later, she called novel writing a “form of insanity.” The writer has to keep endless company with imaginary characters. “How a novel finishes,” she said, “is there’s a moment when you know it has problems, and you don’t know how to fix them. That’s when you’re done.”
The Times’s reviewer Michiko Kakutani found the stories in Bark “disappointing” and hoped that it would “turn out to be just a bump in the road.”
David Gates, author of The Wonders of the Invisible World, reviewed Moore’s stories on the front cover of the Sunday Times Book Review. He concluded, “If I’ve made Bark sound like no fun at all, all I really mean is that it does its dreading in style. In the world according to Moore—the ‘planet of the apings,’ as one character thinks of it—who could ask for more?”
NOW ON STAGE: Neil Gaiman is a prolific author of bestsellers. He is going to perform a stage version of his story The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains. This 90-minute tale of buried treasure has a musical score and images displayed on a screen behind Gaiman. The multimedia event was commissioned by the Sydney Opera House and performed in Tasmania in 2011.
Performances are scheduled for San Francisco on June 25 and at Manhattan’s Carnegie Hall on June 27. The New York Times said a new edition of the novelette with illustrations will be published by William Morrow, also in June.
BEST EDITORS: Actor and TV writer B. J. Novak is the author of One More Thing. In an interview with The Boston Globe, he said that he had polished the stories by reading them on stage as part of comic routines.
Novak said, “The audiences were the best editors a person could have. If you write something kind of boring and you read it in front of a hundred people, you will feel how boring it is. You will be ashamed and embarrassed, and you will never want to say those sentences again until you make them a lot more interesting.”
NEXT: Haruki Murakami’s latest novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, will be published in the U.S. in August. Last year in Japan, the book sold more than a million copies during its first week.
The Guardian explained that the character in the title is ostracized by his high school friends because his name—alone of the group—includes no kanji character denoting a color.
VANDALIZATION: Copies of Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl have been vandalized in Japan’s libraries. The BBC reported last week, “Pages have been ripped from at least 265 copies of the diary and other related books.” The motivation is a mystery. Police are investigating.
SIGNING: The annual Travel Show in New York’s Javits Convention Center on March 1 and 2 will include a booth with 20 authors on hand to sign their travel guides, books about travel, and cookbooks.
DEATH: Mavis Gallant, 91, author of 116 short stories published in The New Yorker, died February 18 at her home in Paris.
Her obituary in The New York Times had a quote from her about her stories: “Every character comes into being with a name (which I may change), an age, a nationality, a profession, a particular voice and accent, a family background, a personal history, a destination, qualities, secrets, an attitude toward love, ambition, money, religion, and a private center of gravity.”