by Campbell Geeslin
The lives of real-life writers are being turned into fiction. Novelist Thomas Mallon, author of Fellow Travelers and, most recently, of Watergate: A Novel, wrote in Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, “This territory seems to be expanding of late.”
Mallon lists Colm Toibin’s The Master (about Henry James), Jay Parini’s The Passages of H. M. (about Herman Melville), David Lodge’s A Man of Parts (H.G. Wells) and the newly published Arctic Summer by Damon Galgut, based on the life of E.M. Forster.
“In Arctic Summer," writes Mallon, readers "will find a narrative voice reminiscent of Forster’s own calm, percipient one. Galgut depicts the novelist participating in ‘buttoned-down conversation about books and travel and opera and architecture’ all the while unable to ‘keep his gaze from sliding sideways, to the figure of the servant who bent in to clear the plates.’”
AUTHOR BIO: Philip Weinstein has written about William Faulkner, Marcel Proust and Franz Kafka. Now, the Swarthmore professor has written about the life and work of a living author. Jonathan Franzen: The Comedy of Rage will be published in the fall of 2014.
An announcement of the deal on Publishers Marketplace's website said the book is about “Franzen’s metamorphoses as a person and as a writer—from his ultrasensitive childhood through his Swarthmore years, his troubled marriage and his tumultuous self-appraisal during the 1990s, up to his arrival on the mainstream cultural scene as a literary icon.”
TELLING STORIES: John Casey’s new book is Beyond the First Draft. Casey’s Spartina won the National Book Award in 1989. He teaches at the University of Virginia.
Allan Massie, author of Cold Winter in Bordeaux, wrote about Casey’s book in a Wall Street Journal review: “Students of creative writing are often told, ‘Show, don’t tell.’ Fair enough. Showing is important, but the word ‘narrative’ derives from the verb to narrate,’ which means, simply, to tell. A story is first of all something told. It begins perhaps, ‘a man came over a hill as the sun began to sink in the west.’ In our youth it is simple storytelling that grips us. It may continue to do so. Think of Dumas or Stevenson, Buchan or even, surprisingly perhaps, Faulkner. When I read Faulkner, I hear a story being told by a man sitting in a rocking chair on the porch with a jug of corn liquor within reach. The story goes to and fro, backward and forward, but the telling is always there, compellingly there.”
NOT BANNED: The annual Banned Book Week was declared, and the American Library Association listed those books that people had asked to be banned. Cartoonist Jeff Smith created a character named Bone in a book that parents wanted banned. The book brought complaints, the association said, because of its “political viewpoint, racism, violence.”
Smith said when he heard Bone was on the list, he thought, “Hey, this isn’t the worst thing that can happen. A lot of my heroes are on the list. Mark Twain, Melville, Bradbury, Steinbeck, Vonnegut; authors whose work is about something—that do the kind of writing I aspire to.” Smith told The Guardian, “You can’t take away someone’s ability to choose what [he wants] to read.”
FAT NOUNS: Chloe Rhodes is the author of An Unkindness of Ravens: A Book of Collective Nouns. She wrote about that subject for The Guardian. Among her favorite collective nouns were several about animals:
“A murder of crows” began in medieval folklore. Five hundred black birds were said “to gather together before suddenly setting on one of their number and tearing it to pieces.”
“A bloat of hippopotomuses” happens because they have “a layer of fat that helps them float well.” They also eat grass and probably have bloated stomachs.
“A shrewdness of apes” was put into use 500 years ago when the word shrewd meant wicked.
“A parliament of owls” comes from C. L. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. He borrowed from Chaucer’s poem “The Parliament of Fowls.” Dictionaries now say Lewis’s collective noun is the correct term for a group of owls.
LUCKY TRAVELERS: More than 16,000 people applied for Amtrak's first literary “residency” program when it was announced last year. Twenty-four were selected for the free round-trip train trip with a sleeping compartment and free meals. The idea was set in motion by Alexander Chee who said in an interview that he did his best writing on trains.
Among the invited travelers were Erika Krouse, a fiction writer; Anna Davies, a young-adult novelist; and Darin Strauss, a novelist and memoirist.
FAST START: Last April, PW predicted that Heroes Are My Weakness by Susan Elizabeth Phillips would be one of the top romance books this fall. It’s “a little bit Stephen King, a little bit Daphne du Maurier,” PW said. The novel started out as a bestseller.
The first chapter, which describes a Maine blizzard, is available on Phillips’s Web page. I read the beginning: early on, the heroine has a conversation with her oversized red suitcase. The luggage is quoted, “You know I hate the cold. How could you bring me to such an awful place?”
TOUGH GUYS: Leonard Cassuto is the author of Hard-Boiled Sentimentality: The Secret History of American Crime Stories. He wrote about tough guys in American literature in The Wall Street Journal. The creations of Raymond Chandler (Philip Marlow) and Dashiell Hammett (Ned Beaumont of The Glass Key) were listed.
Cassuto included a tough guy named Edgar Huntly in a 1799 novel (of the same name) by Charles Brockden Brown. It is the first American frontier novel and “was powerful enough to have influenced the likes of Poe, Hawthorne and Melville—and it remains disturbingly relevant today.”
FLUFF: “A sassy cat so fluffy he floats,” is the hero of A.N. Kang’s The Very Fluffy Kitty Papillon.
The children’s book earned six figures in a three-book deal with Disney-Hyperion. Kang does the illustrations too, PW said.
UNHAPPY MAN: Barry Miles is the author of a new biography of William Burroughs, Call Me Burroughs: A Life. “Burroughs did not have a happy life,” Miles writes, and quotes from the author’s Last Words: “You never loved anybody except your cats, your Ruski and Spooner and Calico. . . . Mother, Dad, Mort, Billy—I failed them all.”
Andrew O’Hagan wrote in The New York Review of Books, “The punk generation, and the Beat Generation before it, would position Burroughs as a kind of peerless, immoral literary gangster, but we now can begin looking at him as a fatal role-player with an upsetting and huge talent. But how do you get to be a man whose conscience is somehow cleansed by the relentless contemplation of filth?”
NAMES: Marilyn Stasio wrote in her New York Times Crime column: “When it comes to naming names, Walter Mosley knows no peer.” Mosley’s new Easy Rawlings novel is Rose Gold. In it, there is a “cop called Frisk, a guru who goes by Vandal, a boxer known as Hardcase Tommy Latour and a black militant with the excellent moniker of Most Grand.“
A MOVIE HELPED: PW reported: “Movies may have had a poor showing at the box office—it was the worst summer for Hollywood since 1997—but the books that inspired a few films shot to the top of most bookstore bestsellers lists.”
Helen Stewart at Quail Book & Music in Raleigh, N.C., said, “If John Green [The Fault in Our Stars] writes it, teens will read it.”
Other books picking up sales because of movies were James Dashner's The Maze Runner; Gayle Foreman’s If I Stay, and Lois Lowry’s The Giver.
WORD MAN: Who would have thought that a biography of Peter Roget would make a picture book for children? Jen Bryant did and the result is The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus.
Bryant wrote: “In 1852, Roget published his Thesaurus, a word that means ‘treasure house’ in Greek. People snatched it from the shelves like a new kind of candy. The first thousand copies sold out quickly. Peter [Roget] was suddenly a popular author.”
Meghan Cox Gurdon in The Wall Street Journal wrote: “The last big illustration in this cheerful account shows a jumble of words and pictures all tucked into wooden compartments, an image that captures Roget’s achievement almost as expressively as the doorstop-size reference books that still carry his name today.”
BLUNT: Betty Hallbreich, 88, is the author, with Rebecca Paley, of I’ll Drink to That, a memoir. For many years, Hallbreich was a personal shopper at Bergdorf Goodman. In Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, columnist Gregory Cowles wrote: “in a 2013 documentary about [Hallbreich’s] employer, Isaac Mizrahi remembered her telling one client to buy a dress because ‘it’s not as terrible as what you came in with.’”