by Campbell Geeslin
“I was born in a large Welsh town at the beginning of the Great War—an ugly, lovely town (or so it was and is to me) . . .”
It seemed only right to let a Dylan Thomas quote help mark the centennial of his birth, October 27, 1914. Cultural institutions in the U.S. and Britain “set the dial to Thomas nonstop, “ wrote William Grimes in The New York Times. In Swansea, his hometown in Wales, there was a Dylathon—36 hours of poems, letters and short stories read by Ian McKellen, Jonathan Pryce and Matthew Rhys. Prince Charles recorded “Fern Hill” for the occasion. A week-long festival was held in London.
In New York, the Poetry Center opened “Dylan Thomas in America: A Centennial Exhibition.” Thomas’s radio play "Under Milk Wood” was presented here and broadcast live in Wales. Actor Michael Sheen said, “Thomas is just hard-wired into the Welsh psyche. The poetry is everywhere.”
So let’s give Thomas the last words too: “Now I am a man no more no more/And a black reward for a roaring life.”
ECHO: Twenty years ago, Richard Preston published The Hot Zone, a nonfiction book about Ebola that sold 3.5 million copies. It’s back on the bestseller list, and 150,000 more copies have been released.
“Ebola is invisible," Preston told The New York Times. "It’s a monster without a face. With the science that we have now, we can perceive Ebola as being not one thing but a swarm, and the swarm is moving through the human population and expanding its numbers. . . .It’s the nonhuman other that all human beings are contending with in many different ways.”
Preston wrote a dispatch about the new crisis for last week’s New Yorker. He explained why Ebola is such a frightening mystery: “the virus is a parasite that lives, normally, in some as yet unidentified creature in the ecosystems of equatorial Africa. This creature is the natural host of Ebola: it could be a type of fruit bat, or some small animal that lives on the body of a bat—possibly a bloodsucking insect, a tick, or a mite.”
MORRISON’S PAPERS: Princeton University, where Toni Morrison taught from 1989 to 2006, will be the permanent home to her papers. These include manuscripts, lyrics, a play, diaries, photographs, proofs of books, lectures and correspondence. A selection of the Nobel Prize winner’s work is on display through November 24 at Princeton’s Firestone Library.
DOCTOR’S WISH: Atul Gawande is the author of the bestselling Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. He was asked by The New York Times Book Review, “Whom would you want to write your life story?”
Gawande said, “A great thriller writer—maybe Elmore Leonard or Donald Westlake . . . They’d give my life more suspense, more intrigue and snappier dialogue than it really has.”
TWO BESTSELLERS: Gayle Forman, an author of young adult novels, lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two daughters. Last week, her novel If I Stay (2009) was No. 1 on the young adult bestseller list and Where She Went (2011) was No. 3.
Forman was busy giving a speech in Tulsa. She told the audience that there were a dozen rules to follow to become a successful writer. These included: “Only write ‘important’ things; see every project through; write for the market, and write novels easily adapted into film.” She has a large presence on the Internet.
MEMOIR: Diane von Furstenberg, 67, sat for an interview to promote her new memoir, The Woman I Wanted to Be.
She told Alexandra Wolfe of The Wall Street Journal that she did the book because she “was ready to share.” She wrote about her parents, her relationships, her idea of beauty, her business, and the famous wrap-around dress that made her fortune.
She said, “Words are so powerful that you cannot take them lightly. So I went and I spoke very candidly about everything, except I had more men [as lovers] than I talk about in the book.”
UNDER THE INFLUENCE: Rock guitarist Joe Perry is the author of the bestselling Rocks: My Life in and Out of Aerosmith. Comments he made on Fox News were quoted in Sunday’s New York Times Book Review.
Perry admitted that several of his songs were written while he was taking drugs and said, “there’s a point where it definitely can help free you up to be more creative. But the problem is it also makes you feel really good and it’s easy to let it get out of hand. In the beginning, I think it can be useful. Yeah, I wrote some great stuff when I was high or after I’d had a couple of beers—but it certainly turns around. . . . All of a sudden you care more about having that feeling than you do about writing songs.”
WHAT’S IN A NAME? Month9Books has started a new imprint, Tantrum Books, for middle-grade readers, ages seven and up. PW said that four to six titles would be released annually.
Two of the October 21 crop were Santa Command, King of the Mutants, by Samantha Verant, and Curse of the Granville Fortune by Kelly Hashway. Do kids throw a tantrum if a book doesn’t have a long title?
AIR MAN: Samuel Hynes, 90, of Princeton, N.J., is the author of The Unsubstantial Air: American Fliers in the First World War, published last Tuesday. He flew 78 combat missions as a Marine pilot. In 1988 he published Flights of Passage, a memoir about what it was like. The retired professor is an Auden scholar. He taught at Swarthmore and then at Princeton.
In an interview with Charles McGrath in The New York Times, Hynes said, “People fly, but they don’t write about it anymore. They don’t seem to come away with any stories or with the will to tell stories. But that’s what it was back then—the romance. Or maybe the romance was in the flying, not the fighting. Maybe that’s it.”
LION: Author Joan Didion, 80, is the subject of a documentary film being made by her nephew, Griffin Dunne, an actor and filmmaker. Dunne is asking for financial aid from Kickstarter.
Melissa Locker began her Guardian article about the project with a Didion quotation from her book Blue Nights: “Memory fades, memory adjusts, memory conforms to what we think we remember.”
Dunne is also quoted: “People don’t know what Joan sounds like. They don’t know that a woman so tiny in frame is a lion.”
FAN FANTASY: Last spring, Anna Todd, 25, put a few chapters she was writing about a tattooed pop band celebrity on the free fiction Wattpad site. The title is After. The New York Times said those chapters have “turned into a lucrative career.”
After has more than 2,500 pages and been viewed more than a billion times. It’s called fan fiction fantasy because the hero is Harry Styles, named after a real pop band star. Todd told the Times, “The only way I know how to write is socially and getting immediate feedback on my phone.” She drew on the comments from readers to help her shape the story.
Todd has signed a six-figure, multi-book deal with Simon & Schuster. The publisher is changing all the real names of the band Todd used into fictional names and is turning all those Web pages into a four-book series. The first will be published in November.
NEW IMPRINT: Awesomeness Ink is a new YA imprint. It was launched with two titles: Runaways by Beth Szymkowski and Side Effects by Jen Calonita.
PW said that Cindy Eagan (formerly with Little, Brown) edited the books in both print and digital formats.
WINNERS: Three women were the winners of Kirkus Reviews’s new annual prizes. Fifty thousand dollars each went to Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast, Euphoria by Lily King and Aviary Wonders Inc. by Kate Samworth.
SEASONAL: Sunday’s New York Times Book Review promoted itself with: “A blood-chilling issue filled with thrillers, horror, science fiction and noir; some updated witches, and a natural history of ghosts.”
Essayists were asked to name the most terrifying book they had ever read. Francine Prose said it was Hans Christian Anderson’s The Red Shoes. Ayana Mathis named a children’ book, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1976) by Mildred D. Taylor. Mathis said she re-read Taylor’s story of an African-American family in the 1930’s South as an adult—and it was still frightening.
DEATH: Park Honan, 86, died Sept. 27 in Leeds, England. An American, he taught at the University of Leeds and wrote biographies of Shakespeare (1998), Matthew Arnold (1971), Christopher Marlowe (2005) and co-authored a biography of Robert Browning (1974).
In a New York Times obit, he was quoted as saying that understanding the life of a long dead person required “changing oneself, one’s outlook, one’s orientation, until it is possible, at least approximately, to think and feel in the distant lost world of the subject.”