by Campbell Geeslin
There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparell’ed in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
That’s the first verse of a William Wordsworth ode. Imagine it without the six commas. Some famous poets had problems with punctuation, and David Crystal wrote about them in The Guardian. Wordsworth asked a chemist to correct his punctuation before his poems got to the printer. In 1768, Thomas Gray asked his printer to correct “anything you find amiss in the punctuation, a business at which I am ashamed to say I am not adept.” Lord Byron asked for help, saying, “I am, I fear, a sad hand at your punctuation.”
Mark Twain, however, was certain that he was an expert. In 1889 he wrote in a letter: “Yesterday, Mr. Hall wrote that the printer’s proof-reader was improving my punctuation for me, and I telegraphed orders to have him shot without giving him time to pray.”
BARE FICTION: Bestselling comic essayist Sloane Crosley has written a novel, The Clasp. In an essay on her publishers’ author page, quoted in The Times Book Review, she wrote that writing a novel, is “harder in almost every way except for the typing (same set of keys, still no spikes on them). The analogy I’ve been using these days is that publishing nonfiction feels like reading poetry onstage and publishing fiction feels like doing it naked while playing the piano.”
THE SPARK: Reed Farrel Coleman is the author of 20 novels, including the best-selling Robert B. Parker’s The Devil Wins. Coleman brings back the late Parker’s fictional Jesse Stone on a case that begins with three bodies found in an abandoned factory. Coleman teaches English at Hofstra University and lives with his family on Long Island.
In an interview on thebigthrill.org, he said, “Sometimes the whole plot of a novel appears in my head. Other times, l read something in the newspaper that will spark an idea and that will get me going, Sometimes I only know the ending. Sometimes I only know the title. I go with it. . . . I don’t enjoy writing an outline because it destroys my enjoyment and surprise.”
PERFORMING POET: Alec Wilkinson wrote about the poet Kenneth Goldsmith in the October 5 New Yorker. Goldsmith is the inventor of “uncreative writing” —the piecemeal assembly of random words and phrases: “When skill is out of the picture,” he told Wilkinson, “and it is in most of my books, then you’re left with the concept. My cutting and pasting is an acknowledgment of this. I’m dead serious that this is writing now. You may not want to hear that or think of it as writing, but I’m telling you that the moving of information is a literary act in and of itself. Even when people aren’t reading it.”
Asked why he was invited to read at the White House, and he said, “Because I’m a charismatic performer. My work is unreadable, but it’s performable.”
OPTIMIST: Margaret Atwood’s latest novel, The Heart Goes Last, was published last week. “Like a mad scientist from one of her futuristic novels,” wrote the Times's Alexandra Alter in a piece about author and book, “Margaret Atwood is an avid tinkerer who seems willing to experiment with almost any digital technology….The story unfolds in a grim, futuristic America, where financial collapse has left much of the population unemployed, homeless and scavenging.”
Atwood, 75, was the first writer to deliver a manuscript to a literary art project, Future Library, in Norway. Titled Scribbler Moon, her book will be published with 100 other texts in 2114. “It’s a very hopeful thing,” she said. “It assumes that a hundred years from now, there will still be readers, there will still be a library, there will still be books.”
NEXT FALL: Comic Amy Schumer has a book with the tentative title The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo due out in the fall of 2016.
FUELED BY ALCOHOL: Emma Jane Unsworth is the author of a novel, Animals, published last week.
The book is about female friends, 29 and 32, with serious drinking problems. Times reviewer Sarah Lyall points out that Unsworth borrows a description of a hangover from Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim. “His mouth,” Amis wrote, “had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night.”
LURID LIFESTYLE: Chrissie Hynde is the author of a bestselling memoir, Reckless. She was quoted by Gregory Cowles in The New York Times Book Review. Cowles said that she managed to hide the more lurid elements of her rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle from her mother and father. She wrote in the memoir’s prologue: “I couldn’t have told this when my parents were alive. I would have had to leave out the bad language and tell a lot of lies about what I’d been doing all that time I was gone.”
LIFE’S CUSHION: Faith Sullivan is the author of Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse. In his column in The Wall Street Journal, Sam Sacks wrote that Sullivan “celebrates the oft-disparaged pleasures of escapist literature: ‘Life could toss your sanity about like a glass ball; books were a cushion’.”
NO PICTURES: B.J. Novak is an actor, stand-up comic, screenwriter and author of The Book With No Pictures. The book is listed as a bestselling picture book in The New York Times, but there are no images.
A video of Novak reading from the book to children seated on a classroom floor has had more the two million hits on YouTube. Words like “blundre” made the children laugh, and when he read about “a hippo named Boo Boo Butt,” they screamed in an uproar. They thought the line “my head is made of blueberry pizza” was funny too.
Should he ever need a new career, he'd be a shoo-in in pre-school.
HIDDEN KEYS: The French writer Patrick Modiano won the Nobel Prize in Literature last year. He has published a book every couple of years or so since 1968. A few have been available in English for some time but his three earliest novels, grouped under the title The Occupation Trilogy, and his most recent So You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighborhood have just been published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
In one book, Honeymoon, the narrator is trying to find out who he is. The doctor who lived across the street when he was a boy, told him: “The best witness could be the child who once lived there. You would need to find him….”
Modiano tells the reader “that we all hold the keys to mysteries of our own making. If only we knew where we hid them.”
ENVYING BLOOM: Colm Toibin's most recent novel is Nora Webster. In an interview in Sunday’s Times Book Review, he was asked to name his favorite fictional hero. He said, “I wish I was Leopold Bloom, the man who wanders Dublin in Ulysses. I love the way he notices and registers things, his wit, his sensuous good humor. I envy all the fun he had when he went to Nighttown and got involved in gender-bendering.”
GAINING CONTROL: Lauren Groff is the author of Fates and Furies, a bestseller. She does her writing in a drafty garage in Gainesville, Florida. Kirkus says the novel is “besotted with sex.” Groff’s favorite novel is George Eliot’s Middlemarch.
Interviewed by Jayson Skipper for The Rumpus, she said, “A lot of my work comes from a place of despair and fear. I often write in order to gain some sort of control over aspects of my life or the world that seem too dark to look at directly.”
SOLD: A collection of Jack Kerouac material, including correspondence with Neal Cassady and Allen Ginsberg, has gone to Emory University. It was purchased from Kerouac’s brother-in-law, John Sampas. It includes a passport with Kerouac’s name misspelled and a number of family photographs.