by Campbell Geeslin
The gecko, a small lizard, seems like a resident in this house because of car insurance ads on the TV screen The company’s name is Geico (Government Employees Insurance Company). It promises to save customers 15 percent or more on premiums and tells us over and over that “everybody knows that.” After State Farm, Geico is the second largest auto insurer in the U.S.
Now a gecko is the title character in a middle-grade novel subtitled Matylda of the Bright and Tender Skin. The author is Holly McGhee, and publication is set for spring of 2016.
Many of the nocturnal geckos are unable to close their eyes. They lick them to get rid of dust. Turns out that a long tongue can be a handy windshield wiper. Maybe you didn’t want to know that.
READING CASUALTY: Two months after reading his students a fable about a prince who falls in love with another prince, North Carolina teacher Omar Currie resigned from the elementary school where he had taught third grade. The book was King & King (2003) by Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland. It was translated from the Dutch and first brought to Currie's attention during an education course that included strategies for introducing diversity to the classroom.
The Guardian reported that a student had come to Currie “in tears after his classmates taunted him, calling him ‘gay’ as an insult.” Currie, who is 25 and openly gay, said his sexual orientation had caused no prior difficulty at the school.
“When I read the story," he told the Associated Press, "the reaction of the parents didn’t come to mind. In that moment, it just seemed natural to me to read the book and have a conversation about treating people with respect. My focus was on the child, and helping the child.”
Instead, parents were on the phone protesting to the principal within hours and the backlash continued through the spring. At community meetings to discuss whether the book should be banned from the school, Currie was personally attacked, and told he would "spend eternity in hell."
By the end of the school year, he had had enough. He is now looking for a new job.
TUNED IN: Skyhorse Publishing and David Talbot, founder of Salon, are joining up to create Hot Books. The new imprint, said PW, will publish nonfiction titles on issues of the moment.
WHAT’S IMPORTANT: Ayana Mathis is the author of The Twelve Tribes of Hattie. She wrote a Bookends column for the June 28 New York Times Book Review. She said, “William Faulkner said famously: ‘But what is important is Hamlet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, not who wrote them, but that somebody did. The artist is of no importance. Only what he creates is important.’”
CENSORSHIP: The People’s Daily in Beijing recently published a list of 25 slang terms that the government frowns upon.
"At the top of the list," said The Wall Street Journal, "was 'your mom,' an imprecation with similar implications in Chinese as in English. Variations such as “your sister” and “F— your mother” also made the list."
The government also took a stand against “zhuangbility,” a Chinese-English crude term that means “pretending to be great.”
The Daily said: “Cleaning up the online language environment is not to suppress online language or unify online speech, nor is it to require netizens to speak like a book. But it is to create a comfortable living space for netizens at the cultural and societal level.”
First time I’ve seen the word “netizens.” Is that what I am?
BOOKS CHANGE LIVES: Jacqueline Woodson, 52, is the author of 30 books. The latest, a current bestseller, is Brown Girl Dreaming (2014), a memoir in free verse. She has won three Newbery Honor Medals and a National Book Award.
She told Kat Chow of NPR online that she wrote for ages 10 to 26 because “I think they’re so open and so honest and so hungry and so full of ideas.” Chow wrote that Woodson’s stories “confront issues like faith, race, sexuality, alcoholism and even sexual abuse.”
Woodson, who grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness in the segregated South, now lives in Chicago. In her online autobiography she said, “I believe books can change lives….I think it’s so important that, if I’m writing about the real world, I stay true to it. I read everything I write out loud. I have to know how it sounds.”
POPULAR PLACE: PW said there are 5,399 books listed on Amazon with highlander in the title. D.K. Comb’s The Highlander’s Touch, a historical Scottish romance, is a bestseller.
Combs, 19, self published the book in 2015. Seven chapters are free on Wattpad to entice new readers. Her fans call Combs the Cliffhanger Queen.
The author lives in Kentucky, far from the Highland she writes about. PW said her favorite authors are J. R. Ward and Sherrilyn Kenyon.
BIG THINGS: Jenni Desmond is author and illustrator of a children’s picture book, The Blue Whale. The first sentence is: “Once upon a time, a child took a book from a shelf and started to read.”
Megan Cox Gurdon, who writes about children’s books for The Wall Street Journal, said: “Like dinosaurs and volcanoes, great blue whales tend to occupy an outsize place in the imaginations of young children—appropriately enough, given their vastness. These magnificent aquatic creatures can be “the same length as a truck, a digger, a boat, a car, a bicycle, a motorcycle, a van and a tractor—all lined up.” An illustration shows them all.
When I was seven years old, a gigantic whale on a trailer was hauled to west Texas. It cost a nickel to walk around a platform that ran around the stuffed creature. The terrible odor has been the stuff of dreams ever since.
CENTENNIAL: Knopf was founded 100 years ago and has had only three people at the helm: Alfred A. Knopf, Robert Gottlieb and Sonny Mehta.
Mehta was quoted in PW: “For the three of us who led Knopf it has always been about the books and our authors. There has always been great continuity among the people who have worked here and I think that it leaves us in pretty good shape as we face whatever future challenges come our way.”
PW cited another example of the house's tradition of longevity: advertising director Nina Bourne, who was hired in 1968 and stayed with Knopf until her death in 2010 at the age of 93.
GET HAPPY: “'The thing about happiness,' Julian Barnes remarked in his novel Talk It Over (1991)," wrote the Times's Dwight Garner in Sunday's book review, "is that ‘you can’t expect it to come flopping through the door like a parcel.’ You’ve got to be responsible for delivering your own.”
Garner was reviewing The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey by Rinker Buck. The book describes a trip of 2,000 miles through six states in a mule-drawn wagon. Garner said that “Buck doesn’t oversell what happened out on the trail….But he collects his share of transcendent moments and near disasters, which have more in common than you might imagine. This shaggy pilgrimage describes a form of happiness sought, and happiness found.”
BORROWED A BIT? Shin Kyung-sook, a popular novelist in South Korea, admitted that she may have plagiarized material for a short story she wrote decades ago. She apologized and said the story, “Legend,” would be cut from future collections. “It’s all my fault,” she said. “I haven’t been careful enough.” She claimed that she hadn’t read the story “Patriotism” by Yukio Mishima, but both stories have a passage that describes a sexual awakening in a young couple. She said, “I am in a situation where I don’t trust my own memory.”
One of her novels, Please Look After Mom (2011) has sold more than 2 million copies in South Korea. Upset by the online controversy over possible plagiarism, Shin said she would continue writing. “If I stop writing I am as good as dead.”
ABOUT ALICE: “Alice: 150 Years of Wonderland” opened last week at Manhattan’s Morgan Library & Museum. The exhibition comes just after the U.S. publication of The Story of Alice: Lewis Carroll and the Secret History of Wonderland by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst.
Getting a title for his innovative book was a problem for Lewis Carroll. The original, Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, “sounded too much like instructions about mines.” Other choices were Alice’s Doings in Wonderland and Alice’s Hour in Elf-Land.
Among writers who claimed Carroll as a forebear were Andre Breton, Jorge Luis Borges and Vladimir Nabokov. Nabokov said he called the author “Lewis Carroll Carroll” because he was “the first Humbert Humbert.”
BEDSIDE BOOKS: For months, the By the Book interview in The New York Times Book Review has had a portrait sketch as the illustration. Last Sunday, there was a photograph taken by photographer Sally Mann, the subject of the interview. It showed a cluttered bedside chest and a small dog on the bed.
The photograph is part of Mann’s answer to a question: “What books are currently on your night stand?”
Mann replied: “Does everyone’s bedside table look like this?...In the deep background, Proust (considering how much I loved the first half, you’d think I’d get the rest of it read) and Flaubert in Egypt. . . . “ She lists several more books and then concludes: “Who knows what’s there by the time this goes to press, although Proust and Flaubert never move. And neither do the Harper’s and New Yorkers that I religiously keep up with. See, I am so sleep-deprived that I dangled my preposition.”