by Campbell Geeslin
The Biographical Dictionary of Literary Failure was edited by C.D. Rose and reviewed in The Wall Street Journal by Dave Shiflett.
“Among the many types of failure that life has to offer," Shiflett wrote, "literary failure ranks among the most devastating. It is sometimes even more painful than romantic rejection, which may simply be the result of mundane factors (crossed eyes, a small income). Literary failure, however, is a thing of the soul, made all the more toxic when it comes at the hands of that confederacy of Precious, Insular, Sanctimonious, Smug and often Young (work out the acronym for yourself) writing program grads who seem to rule the literary roost.”
Shiflett quotes from the dictionary: “The power of writing is one of the greatest things we have, whether it is read or not. I was there, I saw.”
BIO OR LIT? Dana Stevens, a critic at Slate Magazine, wrote an essay about publishing an author’s letters for The New York Times Book Review.
“A great literary love letter feels like something no one but the intended recipient should be reading," she wrote, "yet it often shows the writer’s talents at the height of [his/her] power. And to the degree a reader believes that an author’s life and writing should be kept separate, the love letter serves as a puzzling test case. Is it a biographical artifact or a crafted literary work?”
TAKE THIS CASE: The 18-page “lost” 1950 letter from Neal Cassady to Jack Kerouac was withdrawn from auction last week. The estates of both men had challenged the ownership.
Jami Cassady-Ratto, one of Cassady’s daughters, told The San Francisco Chronicle, “It is a ‘manuscript’ always meant for publication, To call it a letter is like calling ‘Naked Lunch’ a lunch.”
P.S.: Samuel Beckett was quoted in a New York Times Book Review headline: “I Do Not Like the Publication of Letters.” A subhead said, “'These throw no light on my work'. . . but he was wrong.”
The head and subhead were followed by a review of The Letters of Samuel Beckett, Volume III: 1975-1965, edited by George Craig, Martha Dow Fehsenfeld, Dan Gunn and Lois More Overbeck.
INK, PLEASE: Christopher Kimball is the editor of Cook’s Country magazine and host of TV’s America’s Test Kitchen. He wrote about the year’s cookbooks for The Wall Street Journal. He said, “Cookbooks are one of the few categories that sell much better in paper than in digital form. Yes, cooking from an e-reader, phone or computer is still less than ideal, but I would argue that the sheer beauty of ink on paper is also irreplaceable.”
NEW IMPRINT: The American Bar Association's publishing division has launched a new imprint, Ankerwycke, in order to print fiction. The first book is lawyer/blogger David Lat’s Supreme Ambitions. Thirty-five titles are planned for 2015.
The New York Times explained that the bar association, whose usual fare runs decidedly to tomes, “wants to broaden its appeal, focusing on legal fiction and more accessible nonfiction.”
With John Grisham and Lisa Scottoline topping the fiction bestseller lists much of the year, who wouldn't want a piece of the action?
The Times pointed out that the new imprint is "named for an ancient tree in England where, according to legend, Magna Carta was signed." It is also the name of the estate where Henry VIII wooed Anne Boleyn, a much richer lode for a novelist.
QUOTE LIVES ON: Oliver Herford died in 1935. He was the author and illustrator of Little Book of Bones (1906) and several other books. He was called “the American Oscar Wilde,” and he once said that a manuscript is “something submitted in haste and returned at leisure.”
HEAVY: Henry Hitchings is the author of The Secret Life of Words: How English Became English. He reviewed the year’s new dictionaries for The Wall Street Journal.
Hitchings said, “All dictionaries are encyclopedias in disguise. But the Dictionary of Untranslatables . . . is one of the most remarkable discursive works of reference I have encountered. Across entries by more than 150 experts, it examines roughly 40 terms to do with literature, politics and philosophy. Though aimed chiefly at scholars, this giant tome [1,297 pages], edited by Barbara Cassin, is nonetheless a bonanza for anyone interested in the history of ideas—a kind of miniature Enlightenment, if not a readily portable one, as it weighs almost six pounds.”
LAW SUIT THREATENED: Future printings of Lena Dunham’s bestselling Not That Kind of Girl will be altered, according to The Guardian. The name of an alleged attacker is a pseudonym, but a man claims to match a description of “Barry” and has taken legal action.
Dunham said she was dismayed by reactions to her book. She said, “My work has been torn apart in an attempt to prove I am a liar, or worse, a deviant myself.”
ANSWERS: Actress and author Anjelica Huston was interviewed in Sunday’s New York Times Book Review. Her two memoirs are titled A Story Lately Told and Watch Me. She was asked, “What’s the one book you wished someone else would write?” and she replied, “A book that comprehensively explains men.”
Asked whom she would like to write her life story, Huston said, “Me. So I did it. Or Laura Hillenbrand—she’d make it exciting.”
BAD AWARD: Jonathan Beckman is senior editor of the London Literary Review. He oversees the annual Bad Sex in Fiction Award. He wrote an essay for The Wall Street Journal on how a writer can avoid becoming a candidate for that award.
Among his rules, the first was “Just make sense.”
Then he said one should not become “so delirious that not merely are minds shattered but planets spin out of orbit, constellations unravel in starbursts, and the very fabric of space-time is shredded by sheer euphoric energy.”
The third is “Don’t get carried away by metaphor,” and he quotes from the 2009 winner: “She holds him tight and squeezes her body to his, sending delightful sailing boats tacking to and fro across the ocean of his back. With her fingertips she sends foam-flecked waves scurrying over his skin.“
Beckman concludes: “The Bad Sex Award is about something more basic and universal: the virtue of precision in writing.”
HEADING TO TV: J.K. Rowling’s detective novels, The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm, will become a BBC television series. Filming is expected to begin next year.
What I want to know is what actor is going to get the role of Cormoran Strike, a one-legged war veteran and ex-military police investigator?
MEMORY: An auction of 75 copies of Robert A. Caro’s The Power Broker (1974) raised $28,000 for PEN. All the copies were annotated and signed by the author, who wrote in The New York Times Book Review that he was “so glad that this year I read The Power Broker again, at last. The moment when I thought of its ending—and of the shape of the book—was a crucial moment in my life. And I had forgotten it.”
It was a moment when Robert Moses, in his old age, made a bitter speech about all the anger that he felt from a public, displaced by his “improvements.”
FOUND: Teffi was the pen name of a largely forgotten Russian writer named Nadezhda Alexandrovna Buchinskaya. William Grimes in The New York Times joined those trying to return her to the ranks of literary stars by writing that she has been compared to Chekhov, Colette, Dorothy Parker and David Sedaris.
The Pushkin Press just published Subtly Worded and Other Stories, and her memoirs are being translated for The New York Review Books Classics series.
The Times took the opportunity to quote her. An admirer once gave her a box of chocolates, “each one in a wrapper decorated with her name and portrait. She intended to share them with friends but ate them all. ‘I had gorged on fame until I’d made myself ill.’ She wrote. ‘That’s when I [understood] the flip side.’”
INSIDE INFO: Adam Plantings has written a book, 400 Things Cops Know: Street Smart Lessons From a Veteran Patrolman. He was a San Francisco policeman for 13 years. He said a police station is “like high school except everyone’s armed.”
Bestselling author Lee Child mentioned the book in several interviews. George Pelecanos, another crime novelist, recommended the book on Twitter. The Wall Street Journal called the book “the new bible for crime writers.”
THE END: Last Sunday, Gregory Cowles ended his column in The New York Times Book Review with an item about the latest edition of the Guinness World Records. Cowles wrote that it has “an entry for the most blank pages in a published book: Sheridan Simove’s 2011 study What Every Man Thinks About Apart From Sex, which contains 196 blank pages.”