by Campbell Geeslin
Rob Hill Sr. is the author of About Something Real, a self-published, self-help book. When it didn’t sell very well, “he began driving from campus to campus and church to church,” the August 23rd New York Times Magazine said, “reading and speaking. . . . Without realizing it, he joined the swelling ranks of writers who earn a living primarily through their speaking engagements, which feed into the writing career.”
Hill has now written three more books, all self-published. Two are available only as spoken-word audiobooks with beats behind them. He told the Times, “I’m not depending on anyone to sell the book for me. And I’m versatile. Nobody gets a higher percentage of sales than I do.”
WHEN ANIMALS TALK: “Animal characters pose a conundrum for novelists,” wrote Sam Sacks in his Wall Street Journal column on fiction. “Those who imbue them with too many human qualities are guilty of anthropomorphism (Theodore Roosevelt attacked such writers as ‘nature fakers’); those who deal strictly in scientific fact, on the other hand, neglect the imagination that is fiction’s main catalyst.”
Sacks was writing about Brian Doyle’s novel, Martin Marten. Doyle said, “We don’t have good words yet for what animals feel; we hardly have more than wholly inadequate labels for our own tumultuous and complex emotions and senses.”
Sacks wrote, “With becoming humility, Mr. Doyle looks for those words anyway.”
LETTERS: Suzanne Marrs and Tom Nolan have edited Meanwhile There Are Letters—those exchanged by the authors, Eudora Welty and Kenneth Millar. Welty lived in Mississippi and Millar, a Canadian master of the detective novel who wrote as “Ross Macdonald,” lived on the West Coast. For many years they conducted a “slow-fire, long-distance tete-a-tete.”
The review ends with a quote from a letter Millar wrote to Welty in 1970: “Love and friendship are surely the best things in life and may, it seems to me now, exist beyond life, as we want them to, like light from a star so immeasurably distant that it can’t be dated and questions of past and future are irrelevant.”
STREAMLINED PROSE: By the time he died in 1940, Scott Fitzgerald had published four novels, including The Great Gatsby. Now, writes Ron Charles, editor of The Washington Post Book World, parts of another novel have been discovered in a box in the Princeton University library—catalogued but apparently overlooked for decades.
The fragment of about 2,500 words is thought to be the beginning of Ballet School—Chicago. Andrew Gulli, editor of the mystery magazine The Strand, ran across the manuscript and told Charles that Fitzgerald was thinking of a book because there was a “whole outline of several chapters.”
“He was a real lunatic about going over things,” Gulli said. “He would scratch whole paragraphs, and in his cursive made things more economical in pencil. He was obsessive about trying to find a shorter way. He was always trying to streamline.”
Over the years, Gulli has found lost stories by John Steinbeck, Tennessee Williams, Joseph Heller and Dashiell Hammett. Gulli said, “The world’s neglect is my opportunity.”
YAWN: The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep started out as a self-published book in Swedish by Carl-Johan Forssén Ehrlin (2011). An English translation was published in 2014, and the children’s picture book has “surged to Amazon.co.uk’s top spot in both the U.K and the U.S.” Words that sounded as if they might put a child to sleep were especially chosen.
Ehrlin was quoted on theguardian.com: “I never thought I would write a children’s book. I never planned for it, it just came to me in a split second one day when I was driving, and I felt directly that I needed to write the book . . . I woke my mother up—she was with me in the car. I told her to quickly write down what I said and all we found was a napkin and an old pencil that barely worked. I got all the characters . . . and the basis of the story. Then when I got home I had to write everything down and start to make sense of the story.”
LIFE IN LETTERS: Lucia Berlin was 68 when she died in 2004. A collection of her short stories, A Manual for Cleaning Women, was published last week. John Williams of The New York Times said that, “by her early 30s, she had been divorced three times and had four sons. She worked as a house cleaner, a substitute teacher and a hospital clerk. She got much of her roving, rowdy life onto the page in vivid stories that garnered the respect of a modest audience and now could be on the verge of making her posthumously famous.”
The stories are described as “transparently autobiographical.”
ABOUT DIDION: Tracy Daugherty is the author of biographies of Donald Barthelme and Joseph Heller. Now he has written The Last Love Song, a bio of writer Joan Didion.
Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times wrote that the Didion who emerges “is both a frail, angst-ridden outsider and a shrewd Hollywood and New York insider; a vulnerable witness to history and a hardheaded survivor; a writer drawn to the theatricality and extremes, and a woman who prizes order and control.”
Tracy’s biography “evinces a deep appreciation of her skills and idiosyncrasies, and an understanding of how writers like Conrad, Hemingway and her college professor Mark Schorer (who sharpened her awareness of textual nuances and the use of point of view) helped her forge her singular style.”
DESK PHOTO: “Here’s Haruki Murakami’s desk—is yours as tidy?” theguardian.com asks. The author has a big-screen Apple computer but also a jar full of pencils and a pen, a lamp, scotch tape and not much else. The caption says, “A world of stories . . . “
BEACH BOY: The author’s photo on the jacket of Jonathan Franzen’s latest novel, Purity, due out September 1, shows him on a beach, barefooted, carrying his boots. He might be smiling.
The photo inspired an essay (blogs.artinfo.com) by Scott Indrisek, executive editor of Modern Painters, who wrote, “let’s forgive him the tropical levity of this portrait. Why don’t we? It’s the dawn of a kinder, gentler, chiller Franzen. Wherever he is, hair-ruffled, five-o’clock-shadowed and laughing, bearing his own camera on a tourist-y strap—Antigua? The Bahamas? Tahiti—this photograph is begging you to make the proverbial right-swipe.
“As for Purity itself? I haven’t started it yet, but I plan to do so next week—on the beach, naturally.”
WHITHER AMAZON? Elizabeth Egan is the author of a first novel, A Window Opens, out this week. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and their three children. She was interviewed for The New York Times by Alexandra Alter. Egan is the book editor at Glamour magazine and her novel’s main character is a book editor at a woman’s magazine.
Alter wrote that the novel “is already causing a stir in the literary world, in part because it feeds into pervasive anxiety about the role of Amazon and the future of independent bookstores and publishing over all. It also arrives, coincidentally, in the midst of a debate about the work culture at Amazon.”
Egan told Alter, “I wanted to show a woman who is having a middle-age coming of age. [Egan had just quit after a year at Amazon.] I was unemployed, I was feeling at a huge crossroads professionally, and I was almost forty.”
Egan has just sold a second novel to Simon & Schuster.
CHOICES: Daniel Kahneman is the author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, a bestselling book. The New York Times said the book discusses how we make choices in business and in personal life. The author is an Israeli-American, winner of the 2002 Nobel in economics, notable for his work on the psychology of judgment and decision making.
“Poverty is clearly one source of emotional suffering,” he is quoted on brainyquotes.com, “but there are others, like loneliness. A policy to reduce the loneliness of the elderly would certainly reduce suffering.”
BEGINNERS’ BOOKS: Laura Lutz is a school librarian in New York City. In an essay, entitled “Word Play” in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, she wrote, “A children’s book editor once asked me what kind of books were needed most in libraries. My immediate response was, ‘Beginning readers!’ Then I had a question: why aren’t there more available? The editor’s reply was just as fast: ‘Because they’re too hard to write.’
“That’s tough to argue with. The vocabulary matters (so-called sight words, which are short, commonly used words that are typically memorized, are a hallmark) but so does sentence length and structure; compound sentences can confuse new readers. The plot needs to be established quickly, and there should be predictable elements to help a child decode the language. And lest one think, ‘That doesn’t sound too hard,’ there are also design factors to consider, including the font, the number of lines per page, the amount of space between words and lines and the placement of illustrations.”
The classic "I Can Read" book is Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik. It begins in big type:
It is cold.
See the snow.
See the snow come down.
Little Bear said, "Mother Bear, I am cold…”