by Campbell Geeslin
On July 14, a sequel to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird will be published. Lee is 88 years old. The title is Go Set a Watchman. Mockingbird has sold 40 million copies and continues to sell more than a million copies a year in 40 languages. The first printing of Watchman will be two million copies.
The New York Times reported on Page 1, “Although written first, Go Set a Watchman is a continuation of the [Mockingbird] story, with overlapping themes and characters. But Ms. Lee abandoned the manuscript after her editor, who was captivated by the flashbacks to Scout’s childhood, told Lee to write a new book from the young heroine’s perspective and to set it during her childhood.”
Lee was quoted: “This isn’t the sequel. This is the parent to Mockingbird."
The next day, an essay entitled “Don’t Do It, Harper Lee” by Jessa Crispin, an editor and author, appeared on the Times op-ed page. She said she believed that an inferior new book could damage the classic Mockingbird.
The day after that, the Times had two more articles on Lee. Her lawyer issued a quote from Lee: “I’m alive and kicking and happy as hell with the reactions to Watchman.” The second article said that Watchman “has shot to the top of the Amazon bestseller list as a pre-order,” propelling Mockingbird to the No. 2 spot.
KINS’ PAPERS: Fifty-two letters, poems and other items written by members of Jane Austen’s family have been acquired by the Huntington Library in California. The collection contains materials from the Leigh family. Austin’s mother was Cassandra Leigh.
Huntington’s curator, Vanessa Wilkie, said the letters were “deeply personal” and “will help people develop a more vivid understanding of Austen’s immediate world.” The Guardian quoted from a letter by “A. Nonymous” who warned against falling in love with “Miss Fortune.”
NEW BIOGRAPHY: Patti Marxsen is the author of Helene Schweitzer: A Life of Her Own. Marxsen lives in Thun, Switzerland, and she and her husband have a condo on the coast of Maine. She is the author of two travel books, a book of short stories, essays, articles and reviews in 40 publications in the U.S., France and Switzerland.
Marxsen said she spent four years on this biography of Albert Schweitzer’s wife and found “a brilliant, accomplished woman.” Helene Schweitzer wrote 50 years of journals, was “publications assistant on her husband’s bestselling books, a devoted mother [of a daughter], and a hard-working nurse.” The book’s publication will be in April.
SOME LIKE IT DARK: Paula Hawkins is the London author of a bestselling thriller, The Girl on the Train. The suspense novel is about a young woman’s disappearance. The U.S. publisher, Riverhead, has nearly 500,000 copies in print. Last Sunday’s New York Times Book Review had a double-page ad of rave quotes from reviewers.
Hawkins has written a nonfiction book, The Money Goddess, and under the pen name Amy Silver, 25 romantic comedies. She was working on a romantic comedy, All I Want for Christmas, when she found that, “The books kept getting darker and more miserable. I realized I do tragedy better than comedy.”
Living in London is a plus. She told the Times, “I like bad weather—it suits my mood.” She is at work on a psychological thriller that she said is not a conventional crime story. “There doesn’t always need to be a killing in it. But there’s an atmosphere of menace that infects the everyday.”
THE PATRON: Robert Louis Stevenson wrote Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes (1879). On an opening page, he said: “Every book is, in an intimate sense, a circular letter to the friends of him who writes it. They alone take his meaning, they find private messages, assurances of love, and expressions of gratitude, dropped for them in every corner. The public is but a generous patron who defrays the passage.”
THE WINNERS: Last week, the American Library Association gave the Newbery Medal to Kwame Alexander’s novel, The Crossover. It’s about twin brothers, 13, who are basketball stars. The Printz Award for excellence in literature for young adults went to I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson. It’s about teenage twins who compete over everything.
Dan Santat’s The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend, won the Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book.
The New York Times said sales of children’s and young adult books grew nearly 22 percent in the first ten months of 2014.
FUNNY GIRL: Katherine Heiny, 47, lives in Bethesda, Md. She and her husband, a retired CIA agent, have two sons. Her collection of stories, Single, Carefree, Mellow, was published last week.
The New Yorker published one of her stories when she was 25. Then she spent years churning out 25 YA novels under the name Katherine Applegate.
Jennifer Jackson is Heiny’s editor. She said, “The thing that struck me first was how funny she is. It looks so easy, but to be flat-out funny and write jokes is incredibly difficult.”
Heiny is noted for her “zingy one-liners.” In a story, “Cranberry Relish” about a woman who has a disappointing affair with a man she met on Facebook, Heiny wrote: “The only thing worse than the first time they had sex was the second time they had sex.”
The New York Times said the stories had autobiographical footprints and quoted a character from one: “Josie thinks that the problem with being a writer is that you miss a lot in your life wondering if the things that happen to you are good enough to use in a story, and most of they time they’re not.”
HER METHOD: Joan Didion began her book of essays, The White Album (1979), with: "We tell ourselves stories in order to live. . . . We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the composition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the ‘idea’ with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.”
LETTERS: Anne Tyler’s new novel is A Spool of Blue Thread. She was interviewed for Sunday’s New York Times Book Review and was asked, “What was the last book you read that made you laugh?”
Tyler said, “Nina Stibbe’s Love, Nina: A Nanny Writes Home—another surprise, first because it’s nonfiction, which ordinarily I avoid, and second because it’s a book of letters, which I really avoid, But it’s funny and intelligent and irreverent, and the author keeps confessing the most egregious trespasses without batting an eye. I actually read it twice over, just because I wanted to figure out how she carried it off, but I still don’t know.”
FADED FAME: I recently flipped through the promotional pages at the back of a book published in 1931. Someone named J. E. Fletcher wrote 17 detective stories; one was titled Behind the Monocle. Ruby M. Ayres wrote a dozen romances—Lovers was one. Percival C. Wren wrote eight novels, including Wages of Virtue. Raphael Savatini listed an impressive 18 titles. One was The Hounds of God. Peter B. Kyne's 18 novels included The Thunder God. Emilie Loring wrote seven. One of these was The Trail of Conflict.
These books may have been intended as distractions from the Great Depression. The names of these forgotten authors and their books of more than 80 years ago is an interesting glance into the past. Has anybody reading this ever heard of any of them?
THE BEST THING: Anna Holmes, an editor at Fusion, wrote an essay for The New York Times Book Review about the responsibility of a reviewer. She said: “I am all for expressing one’s personality in prose, but when it comes to book reviews, critics should remember that the best thing they can do for readers is to be straightforward, unselfish, and to remember to get out of the way.”
BIG DEAL: James Frey, author of A Million Little Pieces, has sold a YA novel for $2 million. Movie rights are part of the deal. The title is Endgame, and The Guardian said the book is about dueling teenagers on a planet like earth where there are a dozen different races.
The deal provoked some unfavorable responses from potential readers who complained on the Internet that Frey’s book sounded too much like Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games.
READING: “Young Man Langston,” a dramatic reading adapted from the just published Selected Letters of Langston Hughes, will take place at Manhattan’s 92nd Street Y on Feb. 23. The script is by Arnold Rampersad and David Roessel, the book's editors. The New York Times said the reading draws on Hughes’s early years, from the publication of his signature poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” in 1921.