by Campbell Geeslin

Thomas Kunkel is the author of Man in Profile: Joseph Mitchell of The New Yorker.

The book was reviewed in the April 27 New Yorker by Charles McGrath. He said: “Mitchell practiced what he called a ‘wild exactitude’ and his style is hard to describe except by extensive quotation. His writing is at once spare and leisurely, lyrical and precise, funny and a little mournful.”

“You can still see unmistakable signs of his influence—blocks of foursquare declarative sentences, a patient layering of detail, passages of precisely rendered dialogue, a tone of quiet amusement—in current New Yorker writers like Alec Wilkinson, Mark Singer, and Ian Frazier.”


LISTEN IN: Robert Frost’s voice has the roughness of a walk through one of his woods. To mark National Poetry month, the Library of Congress has posted online 50 recordings by poets such as Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, Gwendolyn Brooks and Paul Muldoon.

Additional material will be posted each month.

THE VOICE: Actor Reese Witherspoon is going to record the audio version of Harper Lee’s novel, Go Set a Watchman.

Witherspoon was quoted in The Guardian: “As a Southerner, it is an honor and a privilege to give voice to the Southern characters who inspired my childhood love of reading, Scout and Atticus Finch.”

FINDING PAPER: Nick Cave’s new book is The Sick Bag Song, an epic narrative poem about his travels across North America. He explained to The New York Times, “I think we all do it, don’t we? You’re on a plane and you need a piece of paper and you reach for a sick bag.” Cave, 57, was born in Australia and lives in Brighton, England.

The Sick Bag Song is “a mash-up of prose, poetry, song lyrics and autobiography,” the Times said. It’s not available at Amazon or in bookstores. It’s being sold online through to Cave’s fans.

WINNERS: The Pulitzer Prizes were announced last week and the award for fiction went to Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See.

Elizabeth A. Fenn’s Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People took the history prize.  

The biography prize went to David I. Lertzer’s The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe.

Gregory Pardlo’s Digest took the poetry award.

The nonfiction award went to Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History.

P.S.: Among the winners listed in the item above is Gregory Pardlo, 46, a resident of Bedford-Stuyvesant, in Brooklyn. His book of poetry, Digest, had sold only 1,000 copies before the Pulitzer. His publisher has gone back to press for 5,000 more.

Pardlo was the subject of an article in The New York Times. “He has cobbled together a living through a string of teaching positions,” the paper said. He is getting his PhD in English at City University of New York.

Of Bed-Stuy, the poet, who is African-American, said, “We like to think, we’re people of color and this is our neighborhood, but the truth is we’re the gentrifiers. . . .

“My neighborhood now is schizophrenic. The community I describe in the book no longer exists.”

AN UNPUBLISHED BOOK: In an interview in The Guardian, Jan Morris, author of many books, including four about Venice, said that she was not a travel writer. Just call her a writer, she insisted.

One of her books, Allegorizings, “will go to press in London and New York the minute I kick the bucket . . .” She explained that, “it is loosely governed by my growing conviction that almost nothing in life is only what it seems. It contains nothing revelatory at all."

CHANGES: Steve Berry, 60, is an author, professor and former attorney who lives in St. Augustine, Fla. His new bestseller is The Patriot Threat. His website says that he writes thrillers with “history at the heart of every novel.” More than 18 million of his books are in print in 51 countries.

Ten of his novels have had Cotton Malone as the hero. In an interview with Bookreporter, Berry said of the fictional Malone, “There are definitely some changes coming for him. I think that’s important; characters need to change. Just as in life, in fiction nothing ever stays the same.”

MORE SEUSS: The first printing of a new book, What Pet Should I Get?, by the late Dr. Seuss will have a first printing of 1 million copies. PW said the manuscript was discovered in 2013 by the author’s wife and his secretary, Claudia Prescott. It is due in stores July 28.

ANOTHER BESTSELLER: C.J. Box’s 19th novel, Endangered, is a bestseller. His books have sold more than six million copies in the U.S. alone. Three of them, about game warden Joe Pickett, have been optioned for movies.

A page on Goodreads lists 42 choice Box quotes. “Two sharp brown eyes surveyed the room like drive-by shooters,” is one. Another describes some characters as “a bunch of granola eaters who hate George Bush.”

A SECRET: Ian Caldwell grew up in Virginia and graduated from Princeton. He and his wife live in Vienna with their three children. It took him ten years to write his new bestselling novel, The Fifth Gospel. It’s about two brothers who are priests.

There are quotes from his fiction on Goodreads. A sample: “I’d begun to realize that there was an unspoken prejudice among book-learned people, a secret conviction that they all seemed to share, that life as we know it is an imperfect vision of reality, and that only art, like a pair of reading glasses, can correct it.”

SPY MAN: Olen Steinhauer is an author of spy stories. His latest is All the Old Knives.” In an interview in Sunday's New York Times Book Review, he was asked, “What makes a good spy novel?”

Steinhauer replied, “For me, it’s the moral madness of the ends/means equation that comes up more often in spy fiction than in, say, murder mysteries. The best espionage stories not only ask questions about how spying is performed, but they also question the value of the job itself. And when the profession becomes a metaphor for living, the spy novel can delve into the very questions of existence, while thrilling the reader with a convoluted plot. Do all that well, and you’ve got a potential classic on your hands.”

HER OWN CRITIC: Perhaps what the world needs now is the late Dorothy Parker. She explained why she gave up writing poetry in The Paris Review:

“Like everybody then, I was following in the exquisite footsteps of Miss Millay, unhappily in my own horrible sneakers. My verses are no damn good. Let’s face it, honey, my verse is terribly dated—as anything once fashionable is dreadful now. I gave it up knowing it wasn’t getting any better, but nobody seemed to notice my magnificent gesture.”

NO ANSWER: “Our cover this week features new books by Karl Ove Knausgaard, Per Peterson and Asne Seierstad,” columnist Gregory Cowles wrote in the Sunday Times Book Review, “while Jo Nesbo turns up at No. 9 on the hardcover fiction list.”

Nesbo is quoted from an interview that ran in the Yorkshire Post: “People ask me, What is it with Scandinavian crime fiction? And I’ve been trying to come up with a smart answer, but I really don’t know.”

DEAR MOM: In a letter to his mother, Thomas Wolfe wrote: “Publishing is a very mysterious business. It is hard to predict what kind of sale or reception a book will have, and advertising seems to do very little good.” And that was before e-books were born.

WORD-BIRDS: Diane Ackerman is the author of The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us. In an essay for The New York Times, she wrote: “Many of us write in a solitary mania, in a small room, while staring at blank sheets of paper or a blank screen. For years, we collect and preen a flock of fine-feathered thoughts. Then, through brain-numbing labor and a tiny doses of magic, the pages fill with meaningful words and phrases (until eye glaze sets in, and they become little more than word-birds, perching on invisible wires).”

JOB DESCRIPTION: The late humorist (and poet) Ogden Nash said he'd “rather be a great bad poet than a good bad poet.”

ONE DAY: Zoe Heller was asked by The New York Times, “What do you read while you write?”

She said, “My hope is that I will one day write a novel about the lifestyles of the rich and famous, and then, all that time I spent finding out about the provenance of Victoria Beckham’s designer leggings and how Anne Hathaway washes her face will prove to have been a cunning investment after all.”