by Campbell Geeslin
The publication of Go Set a Watchman, written by Harper Lee 50 years ago, has caused much comment in literary land. Alexandra Alter in The New York Times wrote that Atticus Finch, the saintly lawyer in To Kill a Mockingbird, was an aging racist "who has attended a Ku Klux Klan meeting, holds negative ideas of African-Americans and denounced desegregation efforts."
The Times's Michiko Kakutani, who broke the publisher's release date, quoted Atticus saying to his grown daughter: "Do you want Negroes by the carload in our schools and churches and theaters? Do you want them in our world?"
Vanessa Thorpe wrote in The Observer that, "It is as if the Statue of Liberty had been discovered to have cloven hooves."
HEINLEIN FAN: Andy Weir’s first novel is The Martian, a bestseller. He is a software engineer and a historian of manned spaceflight.
In a BookBrowse interview, he said his novel was “the story of an astronaut trying to survive after being accidentally left behind on Mars.”
Asked what book he would take to Mars if he were allowed only one, he said, “Growing up, I loved the early [Robert A.] Heinlein books most of all. So if I had to pick one, I’d go with Tunnel in the Sky (1955). I do love a good survival story.”
A LITERARY DRINK: Charles Dickens’s The Pickwick Papers (1870) has supplied a name for a new punch. David Wondrich, a cocktail historian, told The New York Times, “That’s his most convivial book. It’s full of people tippling and gin punches.”
The name of the new cocktail, the invention of Maison Ferrand, a French spirits house, is “Plantation Pineapple Rum Stiggins’ Fancy.” The Times said, “The Reverend Stiggins preached temperance between nips of his beloved pineapple rum.”
TARGETED: Joe Queenan writes a column called “Moving Targets” for The Wall Street Journal. “Return of the Living Dead Authors” was a recent headline.
Queenan wrote: “Tom Clancy is back with a new thriller, officially titled Tom Clancy Under Fire. This is a remarkable achievement, given that he died almost two years ago. Actually as the cover of the book indicates, in print about one quarter the size of the words TOM CLANCY, Tom Clancy’s Tom Clancy Under Fire was written by Grant Blackwood.”
“In continuing to churn out Tom Clancy novels that were not actually written by Tom Clancy, his publisher is following in the rich tradition of V.C. Andrews, who has published an assortment of gothic family horror novels written by Andrew Neiderman since she died in 1996.“
SMALL TALK: Leslie Jamison is the author of The Empathy Exams. In an essay about genre labels in The New York Times Book Review, she concluded, “It seems to me that genre labels are just a way of making small talk at the picnic which only mattered—in the end—as prelude to the more complicated years of conversation that followed.”
SUMMER READ: Elin Hilderbrand is the author of The Rumor. The New York Post called Hilderbrand “the queen of the summer.”
The book’s publisher, Hachette, has a teaser description of one of the book's characters on its website: “Nantucket writer Madeline King couldn’t have picked a worse time to have writer’s block. Her deadline is looming, her bills are piling up, and inspiration is in short supply.”
With Rumor a hot bestseller, that can’t be autobiographical.
BOY POETS: Jeff Gordinier reviewed two new books of poetry, Ron Padgett's Alone and Not Alone and Nick Flynn's My Feelings, in The New York Times. Gordinier wrote: “These days we’re taught to be leery of the man-child, that sloppy, skateboard-toting guy of a certain age who seems determined to cling to the concert t-shits and skillfully avoid adulthood for as long as he can.
“Among male poets though, the preservation of a stubborn streak of boyishness can feel like an advantage, at least when it comes to coaxing readers into the backyard soap-bubble of a poem. It might even be a job requirement.”
MEMOIRS: Noelle Howey is the author of Dress Codes: Of Three Girlhoods—My Mother’s, My Father’s, and Mine. (2003) Her father liked to wear women’s clothes.
She wrote an essay, “They’ve Said Too Much,” for The New York Times Book Review about memoirs written by the young. Hers was written when she was 29. She said, “I am still stubbornly proud of my memoir. I’m still glad I wrote it when I did—and my fellow younger memoirists concur. Here’s why: Whatever early memoirs lack in perspective, they make up in urgency, the sense that here is a story that must be told.”
SIDELINES: Dorothea Benton Frank is the author of 14 novels. All the Single Ladies, published last month, is a bestseller. It is about a trio of women in South Carolina who struggle with the challenges of being single. Her first novel, Sullivan's Island (2000) has sold more than a million copies.
Frank lives in Montclair, N.J. She and her husband have two children. Her web page bio says that she is “an avid cook, enjoys fly fishing, reading, and travel and is a frequent speaker on the creative process for students of all ages.”
BELIEVE: Etgar Keret is the author of a memoir, The Seven Good Years. In a By the Book interview in the July 12 New York Times Book Review, he said: “I love short stories and graphic novels and try to avoid autobiographies and memoirs, since I tend to mistrust people who are telling a story they have such a great stake in. As someone who has just released a memoir, I must add that unlike others, I am totally trustworthy when it comes to telling my life story.”
FANTASIES: J.T. [John Thomas] Edson, who died last year, wrote more than 137 novels, most of them Westerns. Edson lived in Melton Mowbray, England, and said he had “never been on a horse.” When he was young he was fascinated by Western movies and admired actors like Audie Murphy who starred in those films.
“The world of the western,” Damien Walter wrote in The Guardian, is about as historically accurate about 19th century America as the world of the Shire in Lord of the Rings is about pre-industrial England. Both are fantasy worlds, absented from reality, crafted by expert fantasists.” To supplement his income, Edson also worked as a postman and at a chips shop.
ABOUT SEX: Jennifer B. McDonald is a former editor at The New York Times Book Review. In a review of Summerlong by Dean Bakopoulos in that supplement, McDonald wrote: “Sex, in fiction, as in life, it is a great catalyst, setting knickers and plots atwist. Also as in life, the sex in fiction, especially that had by adults behaving badly, is often far less interesting than the underlying tensions and motives that led to the bad behavior in the first place.”
McDonald concluded: “If you’re looking for a sustained, intensely meaningful performance, the novel may disappoint. But if you’re down for a fling—complete with titillating premises and foregone conclusions—then dive in. It’s summertime, after all.”
ADVICE: Jennifer Blanchard is the author of Butt-in-Chair: A No Excuses Guide for Writers Who Struggle To Get Started (2013).
She offered tips for curing writers’ block on HuffPost's Books blog. One of her suggestions: “Write down all the fears, doubts and excuses that get in the way of you doing the writing, then shred it, tear it up, burn it in the fireplace, get rid of it.”
QUOTES: R. J. Palacio is the author of a middle-grade bestseller, Wonder. It’s about a boy with a facial deformity who is enrolled in a mainstream fifth-grade class.
Goodreads offers six pages of quotes from the book submitted by readers with “like” buttons for other readers to click on. “Some things you can’t explain,” says one. “You don’t even try. You don’t know where to start. All your sentences would just jumble up like a giant knot if you opened your mouth. Any words you used would come out wrong.”
Another says: “Learning who you are is what you’re here to do.”
NEW YORK: Scott Hutchins is the author of A Working Theory of Love (2012). He wrote a review of Taylor Antrim's Immunity in The New York Times Book Review and began with: “What is it about shiny, clean, contemporary New York that inspires writers to evoke it wrecked, dangerous and falling apart? Does a certain sickness settle in at the sight of another branch bank? An anomie at the word ‘artisanal’ or the discovery of an undercover J. Crew? Gotham is expensive, clean, incredibly safe and full of Chipotles. Without anyone quite catching the switch—here’s the fear—rock ‘n’ roll has become middle management.”
MANN QUOTED: Alice Gregory is a contributing editor at T: The New York Times Style Magazine. In an essay about novelists as moralists in the Times Book Review, she quoted Thomas Mann, who wrote in Buddenbrooks of the “wide-eyed expression that children put on when someone reading a fairy tale to them is tactless enough to insert some general remarks on morals and duty—a mixture of embarrassment and impatience, piety and boredom.”
DEATH: John A. Williams, 89, died July 3 in Paramus, N.J. His family sent the Guild an obituary that said in part: “A key figure in the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s, Mr. Williams was a prolific novelist, poet, journalist and playwright. He also wrote biographies of Martin Luther King and comedian Richard Pryor as well as the libretto for the opera Vanquil.” Probably best known for his novel The Man Who Cried I Am (1967), Williams was the recipient of many awards and was inducted into the National Literary Hall of Fame.