by Campbell Geeslin
“A handful of new studies,” The New York Times reported on Page 1 last Tuesday, “suggest that reading to a child from an electronic device undercuts the dynamic that drives language development.”
“There’s a lot of interaction when you’re reading a book with your child, said pediatrician Pamela High. "You’re turning pages, pointing at pictures, talking about the story. Those things are lost somewhat when you’re using an e-book.”
The Times quoted from a study presented at the White House last week that stressed the power of that engagement. “The quality of the communication between children and their parents and caregivers, the researchers say, is of much greater importance than the number of words a child hears.”
Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek, a psychology professor and lead author of the study said, “It’s not about shoving words in. It’s about having these clued conversations around shared rituals and objects, like pretending to have morning coffee together or using the banana as a phone. That is the stuff from which language is made.”
NOVEL DEFINED: Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North, a novel about the building of the Burma railway in World War II, won the 2014 Man Booker Prize last week. Flanagan is Tasmanian, and the third Australian to win the Booker.
“As a species," Flanagan said in his acceptance speech, "[the novel] is story that distinguishes us, and one of the supreme expressions of the story is the novel. Novels are not content. Nor are they a mirror to life or an explanation of life or a guide to life.
“Novels are life, or they are nothing.”
THE BAD ONES: Quote of the week prize goes to a children’s picture book, Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads by Bob Shea.
“Drywater Gulch had a toad problem. Why, those Toad brothers
would steal your gold, kiss your cattle, and insult your chili. Hootin’, hollarin’, and cusin’ all the while.”
PROLIFIC: R.F. Lucchetti, 84, is the author of 1,547 books. The Brazilian author’s pseudonyms include Vincent Lugosi, Brian Stockler, Mary Shelby and Isadora Highsmith. Titles include Vampires Don’t Have Sex, Weekend With Death and Last Night of Love.
Lucchetti told a New York Times interviewer, “I hated westerns. I ended up writing only sixty of them.” He explained that he managed to write some books in just three days. He said, “I always tried to stick to a routine, giving myself time to sleep and watch some television every evening.”
Lucchetti neither smokes nor drinks. He said, “Writing for me is a physical necessity. I never had the patience for physical exercise of any kind.”
Brazil has at least one other prolific writer. Ryoki Inoue, a former doctor, has published more than 1,000 books—many of his westerns written under the name Tex Taylor.
ABOUT WIT: Benjamin Errett, an editor at Canada’s National Post, is the author of The Elements of Wit.
He lists the best practitioners as George Bernard Shaw, Groucho Marx,
Mark Twain, Winston Churchill and Oscar Levant. Levant once said of a politician that “he’ll double-cross that bridge when he comes to it.” Of a banker, he said, “He’s a self-made man. Who else would help?”
Reviewer Dave Shiplett in The Wall Street Journal quoted an old story: “Lady Astor once told Winston Churchill that if she were married to him, she would poison his coffee. ‘If I were married to you,’ he responded, ‘I’d drink it,’”
Shiplett ends his review with: “A sharp tongue bites like a smiling serpent—as Lady Astor and other deserving parties have discovered to their eternal dismay and wit’s eternal glory.”
MULTI-WRITERS: “Exquisite Corpse” was the title of a story written by 15 authors for The New York Times T Magazine last Sunday. Contributors included James Patterson, Nicholson Baker, R.L. Stein, and David Balducci. Zadie Smith wrote the concluding paragraphs, set in a “revolting museum” in Italy.
Smith’s ending has a woman named Marie, inside a man named Ryan, about to enter the museum. “’Shall we?’ she asked. And they did.”
ALL ABOUT BONES: Kathy Reichs, a forensic anthropologist, is the author of 19 novels that have been translated into 31 languages. She is presently on tour, promoting her new bestselling Bones Never Lie. She is also a producer of the TV series “Bones.”
Reichs is on leave from her teaching job at the University of North Carolina. She uses her experiences in her books. Of her first novel, the award-winning Deja Dead (1997), she said, “Everything I describe in the book I actually did.”
Reichs was interviewed on the BBC’s World Book Club where she read a passage from Bones Never Lie that described in detail “the remains of a woman” who had been hacked to death.
Reichs said she has had to testify in court facing the accused killer. She said, “You have to be detailed and objective.”
PRE-BOND: Before Ian Fleming and James Bond there was E. Phillips Oppenheim and Major Martin Fawley. Oppenheim, who oversaw his family’s leather business, wrote more than 100 novels during his lifetime (1866-1946). Two of them are being reissued: The Spy Paramount and The Great Impersonation.
Michael Didra concluded his Wall Street Journal review of the books, first published in the 1930s, with: “If only one could still exchange a smile with a sloe-eyed countess over baccarat at Monte Carlo, shoot grouse and pheasant with cabinet ministers. . . . and actually say with a straight face, as one lecherous stockbroker does to an attractive typist: ‘Come and see my French water-colours.’ Ah, those where the days—and in the clubland thrillers of E. Phillips Oppenheim, they live on.”
GIVE HER A GOOD BOOK: Oprah Winfrey was once “the most powerful woman in publishing,” according to The New York Times Book Review. That was back when she had a daily talk show on TV and promoted her favorite books, which then sold millions.
Now she has a first book of her own on the bestseller lists: What I Know for Sure. She wrote: “Everything I do all day, I do in preparation for my reading time. Give me a great novel or memoir, some tea and a cozy spot to curl up in, and I’m in heaven. . . . Insight, information, knowledge, inspiration, power. All that and more can come through a good book.”
TRANSLATING: Marian Schwartz, an American, studied Russian at Harvard and at Leningrad State University. She has translated about 70 books from Russian into English over the last 35 years. She was the subject of an item in a promotional newspaper supplement, Russian Special Report, that appeared in newspapers last week. She won the 2014 Read Russia Award for Contemporary Literature last month for her translation of Harlequin’s Costume, by Leonid Yuzefovich.
“I became a translator,” she said, “largely because I felt that was the one role—bringing Russian literature to the English-speaking audience—I could play best. It was something a native speaker of Russian could not do.”
AN ENDING: In an article about Franz Kafka’s reputation in world literature, The Guardian quoted the last sentence of a story titled “The Passenger.”
After a description of a woman on a tram, Kafka ended his tale with, “I asked myself at the time, how is it that she is not astonished at herself, that she keeps her mouth closed, and expresses nothing of any wonderment.”
ARCHIVE: A hundred and fifty boxes of Elmore Leonard’s papers have gone to the University of South Carolina. They contain more than 450 manuscripts, letters and research used in his writing of more than 40 books, many short stories and screenplays.
The university also houses the archives of George V. Higgins and James Ellroy.
PARTY GAME: Neil Patrick Harris, the actor, is the author of Choose Your Own Autobiography. He was asked by The New York Times Book Review editors to name three writers he would invite to a literary dinner party,
Harris said, “David Sedaris, Roald Dahl and Agatha Christie. It would be formal, intellectual, wry, askew and someone would likely be murdered.”