by Campbell Geeslin
Mary Beard is a classics professor at the University of Cambridge and the subject of a profile in the September 1 New Yorker. Her latest book is Laughter in Ancient Rome: On Joking, Tickling, and Cracking Up.
The magazine article is mainly about the constant attacks to which Beard is subjected because she is a smart woman who makes herself heard. She often appears on England’s BBC television. She said, “It doesn’t much matter what line of argument you take as a woman. If you venture into traditional male territory, the abuse comes anyway. It’s not what you say that prompts it—it’s the fact that you are saying it.”
She is subjected to threats of “a predictable menu of rape, bombing, murder, and so forth.” One tweet directed to her: “I’m going to cut off your head and rape it.”
TIME OFF: Bill Hayes is the author of The Anatomist: A True Story of Gray’s Anatomy. In an essay called “On Not Writing” in The New York Times, he wrote, “To be a writer is to make a commitment to the long haul, as one does to keeping healthy for as long a run as possible. For me, this means staying active physically and creatively, remaining curious and interested in learning new skills, and of course giving myself ample periods of rest, days or even weeks off. I know that the writer in me, like the lifelong fitness devotee, will be better off.”
DEFINITION: E.B. White wrote: “I think poetry is the greatest of the arts. It combines music and painting and storytelling and prophecy and the dance. It is religious in tone, scientific in attitude. A true poem contains the seed of wonder.”
REAL FICTION: David Mitchell’s new novel, The Bone Clocks, is just out. He is an English author who lives in Ireland with his wife, KA Yoshida, and their two children. Five of his six novels have been nominated for the Booker Prize and The New York Times says Clocks is his “most ambitious work yet.”
Mitchell told the Times, “In the same way that my novels are built of hyperlinked novellas, I’m sort of building what I’ve taken to calling in a highfalutin way the ‘uberbook’ out of hyperlinked novels, because I’m a megalomaniac, and I like the idea of maximum scale.”
Later, he said of his fictional characters, “It’s nice to never have to say goodbye. They’re already real, fully formed characters, and I like to think that they bring baggage with them and bring an element of credibility and concreteness, maybe making the story feel a degree or two realer.”
Times critic Michiko Kakutani wrote in a review that “the plot—which seems to borrow from such disparate sources as Minority Report, The Da Vinci Code, Men in Black and Shirley MacLaine’s writings about reincarnation—proves a creaky, jerry-built vehicle that devolves into lots of silly mumbo-mumbo. The resulting novel is simultaneously dazzling and hogtied, genuinely moving and sadly unconvincing.”
On the cover of the August 31 Times Book Review, Pico Iyer called The Bone Clocks, “David Mitchell’s latest head-spinning flight into other dimensions.”
NEW WILDER: Pioneer Girl, an autobiography by Laura Ingalls Wilder, written in the 1930s and rejected by publishers, will come out this fall. Wilder was the author of eight novels about her life. Four more, compiled from her diaries, letters and manuscripts, were published after her death at the age of 90 in 1957.
The Guardian said Pioneer Girl “unveils experiences that informed her children’s books.” Fans of the “Little House” series will be interested to read about actual events that were used, often considerably altered, in her fiction.
LOST: Faithful and Virtuous Night is the title of a new collection of poems by Louise Glück. The Guardian selected one of the poems, entitled A Work of Fiction, as Poem of the Week. It was described as “a narrative as meditation. . .in which oppositions potently register: water and fire, real and fictional lives, the stars above and the tiny tobacco-star of a cigarette.”
The narrator of the poem describes the feeling of loss that has come after completing the writing of a novel. It begins:
“As I turned over the last page, after many nights, a wave of sorrow enveloped me. Where had they all gone, these people who had seemed so real?”
TEACHING TEMPLATE: Zoe Heller, author of The Believers (2008), was asked by The New York Times if she thought writing could be taught, and Heller told of her daughter’s experience:
“No one has ever talked to her intelligently about structure or style. Instead, she has been given a single graceless formula for writing a book report and told that any departure from it will result in the automatic subtraction of marks: ‘In the first sentence, state your general theme; in the second sentence, state your thesis; in the third sentence provide a road map of how you will advance your thesis through the rest of the essay and make sure that all subsequent paragraphs correspond accordingly.’
“Composing an essay that conforms to this sort of template is the prose equivalent of wearing a too small, too stiff bridesmaid’s dress. It’s a joyless exercise, and the results are never pretty. Writing can be taught, but it deserves to be taught better than this.”
HIS THANKS: Charles Dickens wrote: “I must gratefully acknowledge that I have never gone through the sheets of any book I have written without having had presented to me by the corrector of the press something I had overlooked—some slight inconsistency into which I had fallen—some little mistake I had made—in short, without having set down in black and white some unquestionable indication that I had been closely followed in my work by a patient and trained mind, and not merely by a skillful eye.”
SMART GUYS: Walter Isaacson, author of biographies of Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, Henry Kissinger and Steve Jobs, has a new book, The Innovators, due out October 7. The subtitle is “How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution.”
Columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin of The New York Times got an advance copy and wrote that Isaacson’s book “is a series of profiles of dozens of geniuses who collectively helped create the modern digital world. The book is filled with gems of no-names (at least to most of us) whose seemingly small ideas had huge impacts.”
One smart guy profiled is William Shockley, “a physicist who was among those who invented the transistor. [Isaacson] quotes a journal in which Shockley wrote of his transistors: ‘Idea of setting world on fire, father proud.’”
INDOORS: Alice McDermott, author of Someone: A Novel (2013) and Charming Billy (2009), lives near Washington, D.C. with her husband and three children. She wrote an article for The Washington Post about the National Book Festival, held August 30 at the Convention Center.
McDermott wrote: “Those of us who know the transporting wonder of the reading life know that it little matters where we are when we read, we are always inside, sheltered in that interior room, that clean, well-lighted, timeless place that is the written word. Where, to borrow from The Time Machine, ‘gratitude and a mutual tenderness still live on in the heart of man.’”
PRIZES: Robert Haas, U.S. poet laureate from 1995-1997, a MacArthur Fellow and the winner of a National Book Award in 2007 and a shared Pulitzer in 2008, has won the $100,000 Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets. The ceremony will take place October 17.
GREAT SPY: Ben Macintyre’s latest book is A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal. He was asked by The Wall Street Journal to write about books that have spying as their subject.
Macintyre called Kim Philby’s My Silent War “perhaps the best spy novel of all time.” Macintyre wrote: “Written after he had fled to Moscow in 1963…the book was a deliberate attempt to set the record crooked: In it, Philby rubbished the former friends and colleagues in M16 that he had comprehensively betrayed, painted himself as a master spy of superhuman cunning, insisted that his actions were the result of noble adherence to a cause and stolidly maintained that Marxist paradise was just around the corner.”
Later Macintyre summed up: “his courage, chutzpah and guile are intoxicating….A lifelong communist, he was also a crashing snob and a determined elitist. As a Soviet spy within M16, he was a member of the most exclusive club in the world.”
SONG INTO BOOK: Bruce Springsteen turned a song from a 2008 album into a picture book for adults. The title is Outlaw Pete, it’s about a bank-robbing baby, and according to The New York Times, it can be read to children.
“It’s a book for anybody who loves a good Western,” said his publisher, Jonathan Karp. Publication date is November 4.