by Campbell Geeslin
The name of an author I hadn’t thought of in years turned up in an essay in last Sunday’s New York Times Book Review. Several of her books ran as serials in The Saturday Evening Post. My mother read the installments out loud to the family, No better way to end a day has ever been invented.
The writer was Helen Macinnes and one of her most famous titles is Above Suspicion, a spy thriller. She was the subject of the Review’s article by Sarah Weinman, editor of Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives: Stories from the Trailblazers of Domestic Suspense.
Something Macinnes wrote 70 years ago was quoted: “Nowadays the word Communist or Fascist rouses the same emotions as Protestant and Catholic once caused. If these religious factions can learn to live together by giving up all persecution and forms of torture, it is quite possible that a future world will see many forms of political ideology living and working side by side.”
Weinman concluded that “the novels of Helen Macinnes provide the grim lessons we need under the guise of suspenseful entertainments.”
FADING FANS: John Cleese, a star of the comic gang, Monty Python, is the author of a memoir, So, Anyway…
He complained to The Wall Street Journal about “the loss of broader general knowledge that had allowed for a wider variety of jokes.”
Cleese said, “In my day anyone who [was] vaguely educated—in other words, they know where Pakistan [is]—or that they had a vague idea which century Henry VIII [lived in]—would give you the opportunity for all sort of humor.” The audience for Monty Python is made up of “very smart fans. If we had a fan competition up against the Rolling Stones or the 49ers, I think our fans would win.”
In his book, the WSJ said, “Cheese charts this change in comedy’s range, as well as his own trajectory through the entertainment world.”
BIOS: Stacy Schiff is the author of Cleopatra: A Life. In an essay for The New York Times Book Review, she wrote, “All biographical subjects misbehave; every biographical subject misbehaves in his own way. Among the worst offenders may be the stoic and the selfless. They are only slightly less discourteous than the diary-destroyers, though neither holds a candle to the author of the matchless (and accurate) memoir. Then there is the subject who leaves his biographer to flounder with years to go. Could there be anyone worse than Dashiell Hammett’s three decades of writer’s block?”
Well, yes, Schiff claims: “That would be the late bloomer. The great writer who publishes her first book at 58 to become famous at 80.” That’s Penelope Fitzgerald, the subject of a new biography by Hermione Lee.
GENDER BIAS: Book review website Goodreads analyzed 40,000 members and found that they preferred books written by their own sex. “Of the 50 books published in 2014 that were most read by women, 45 are by women and five are by men,” The Guardian reported. One of those “men” was Robert Gailbraith, who is J. K. Rowling.
Women read twice as many books published in 2014 as men.
AUTHORS HELP: Sales of books have fallen during the last two Christmas seasons so authors are pitching in this year to help bookstores. Donna Tart, David Mitchell, Dan Brown, Hillary Clinton and many more have signed 500,000 books for Barnes & Noble. Mo Willems sketched his pigeon character in his books for children.
Independent bookstores had authors on hand during the holidays. Last Saturday, about 1,200 authors signed books, greeted customers and worked behind the counter at more than 400 independent bookstores. The New York Times said that the holiday period was when ”many of them make as much as 30 percent of their annual sales.”
HOW TO: William Gibson’s latest novel is The Peripheral. He quoted Robert Heinlein’s advice to writers in The Guardian.
Gibson wrote that “in order to become a writer you must write, you must complete that which you have written, you must submit it for publication and while waiting for acceptance or rejection, you must commence writing something else. It’s rinse/repeat. And [Heinlein] said if you’re unwilling to do that, it’s very unlikely to happen.”
ARCHIVE: Gabriel Garcia Marquez died last April at age 87. He was banned from entering the U.S. for several decades because he criticized American imperialism. His archive is going to the University of Texas. It contains manuscripts, notebooks, photo albums, correspondence and personal artifacts, including two typewriters and five computers.
Jose Montelongo, a Latin American literature specialist at the University of Texas, told The New York Times, “It’s like an open window into the lab of a renowned alchemist who didn’t always love the idea of having the recipes of his potions be known.”
There isn’t a lot of personal material. Garcia Marquez's son Rodrigo Garcia, a film director and screenwriter, said that his father was a “phone person” who wrote few letters to family members. “What he would say was, ‘everything I’ve lived, everything I’ve thought, is in my books.’”
P.S.: When the above news appeared, “There was an outcry in Colombia,” the Times said. “Many in the Colombian cultural establishment questioned why the national library had let such a valuable part of its patrimony slip away.”
Within hours, the Colombia library had a statement from the Gabriel Garcia Marquez family that it would receive his Nobel medal, the typewriter on which he wrote One Hundred Years of Solitude and some books from the author’s library.
LITERARY LETTER: An 18-page letter from Neal Cassady to his friend Jack Kerouac turned up in the trash and will be auctioned December 17. According to The New York Times, the letter “prompted Kerouac to toss his drafts and rewrite [On the Road] in a stream-of-consciousness style.”
HATE-MAIL MAILER: Norman Mailer hated to write letters. But he turned out 45,000 of them because he felt guilty if he let any letter to him go unanswered.
Now, 714 of his letters have been published in Selected Letters of Norman Mailer, edited by J. Michael Lennon. In one letter, quoted in The New York Times, Mailer wrote, “For Christ’s sake, it’s precisely because I am a professional writer that I write such bad letters. I hate the thought of losing a good phrase or turning a sentence nicely when it isn’t for keeps.”
MAILMAN TOO: John Donaldson, 95, died last month in California where he spent his last years. He was the subject of an “About New York” column by Jim Dyer in The New York Times. Donaldson lived in Levittown where he wrote, unsuccessfully, novels, stories and poems.
He was celebrated in California at a signing party for a privately printed book of his poems. They were salvaged by his son Greg Donaldson, a journalist and associate professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He said of his father, “It’s okay not to be recognized, but much worse to be almost-recognized. He became a mailman so he could write.”
AN EXPERIMENTAL NOVEL: Ali Smith’s new novel, How to Be Both, won a $15, 700 Goldsmiths Prize for “opening up new possibilities for the novel form.”
In Cambridge, England, Smith, 52, was interviewed for The New York Times. Reporter Sarah Lyall wrote that the book is of “stories that fit over and around each other, one about the life of a young girl in contemporary England, and the other, incongruously but somehow not incongruously, about a fresco painter in Renaissance Italy.”
Smith, 52, said, “Every great narrative is at least two narratives, if not more—the thing that is on the surface and then the things underneath which are invisible.
“I wanted it to be so if you did swap the stories, the stories would be self-standing, but each way around would deliver you a different take.”
Publication date in the U.S. was December 2.
LITERARY LETTER: Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre were friends before 1952, when they became bitter rivals. A letter from Camus to Sartre has surfaced at Nicolas Lieng’s bookstore, Le Pas Sage, in Paris.
Lieng said, “I’ve made many great discoveries over the years, but I knew that this one would touch many people.” In it, Camus asks Sartre to hire a young actress for a play he is directing and mentions the "repulsive attitude” of Francois Mauriac after the death of Andre Gide.
DEATH: P. D. James, 94, died November 23 in Oxford, England. The headline in The New York Times obit called her the “queen of crime.” She was the author of 18 novels. The first was Cover Her Face (1962). She was quoted in her obit: “I think I’m very frightened of violence. I hate it. And it may be that by writing mysteries I am able, as it were, to exorcise this fear, which may very well be the same reason so many people enjoy reading a mystery.”