by Campbell Geeslin
Matt Ridley is the author of The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge. He was asked in the October 18 Times Book Review: “What genres do you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid?”
Ridley replied: “I don’t really avoid anything, but I rarely read self-help, spiritualism, business or fantasy. Like many men I know, I read less fiction than I probably should. I get a special thrill out of reading about things that actually happened, or that are really true. Fiction, unless it is truly great, feels too much like playing tennis without the net.”
A CLOSER LOOK: Jacqueline Kelly is the author of The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate. In an essay in the Times Book Review, she wrote: “With all the emphasis today’s educators and policy makers are placing on the STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—you would think there would be a steady stream of novels capable of inspiring young girls to consider a future in those fields. Not so. Such books come around so infrequently that special attention should be paid to them when they do.”
Kelly was reviewing The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin. Kelly suggests that the book’s dedication might read: “For all those kids who need a gentle nudge to look closer at nature and science.”
EARLY STARTER: R. L. Stine’s most recent book is The Lost Girl. More than 400 million copies of his books have been sold, according to the October 19 Time magazine. He said, “When I was nine, I knew I wanted to be a writer.”
A movie based on his Goosebumps series opens this month, but Stine said he can't work the way they do in Hollywood. “It’s total collaboration, if you like that. I kind of like sitting in a room and, you know, writing what I want to write.”
MAGICAL MAINE: Ann Beattie’s 19th book is The State We’re In: Maine Stories. A photograph of her is on the cover of the October Poets & Writers. The magazine includes an excerpt from one of the stories: “What Magic Realism Would Be.”
Beattie wrote: “One bride sprained her ankle running after her stupid pink lilies and baby’s breath—she went down like Humpty Dumpty, and a seagull swooped up the bouquet and dropped it too far out over the rocks for anybody to retrieve it, although the best man tried. But that—real life—you couldn’t write. You had to write Magical Realism, in which no doubt the seagull could recite Latin proverbs while it was being philosophical about the flowers not being fish.”
WINNER: The Jamaican author Marlon James won the Man Booker Prize for A Brief History of Seven Killings, a novel that The New York Times called “raw, violent” and The Guardian “uncompromising” and “not for the faint of heart.”
The author told The Guardian that Killings, about Jamaica in the 1970s and 80s and the attempted assassination of Bob Marley, was turned down 76 times before publication.
James, who currently lives in Minneapolis and teaches at Macalester College, is the first Jamaican to win the Booker, currently worth about $80,000.
A BIG LIFE: In a new biography, Ted Hughes: The Unauthorized Life, Jonathan Bate describes the British poet, who died in 1998, as “crow, blood, mud, death, short line, break, no verb.” After the poet Sylvia Plath met Hughes at a party, she wrote in her diary: “That big, dark, hunky boy, the only one there huge enough for me.” They married, had two children, and divorced.
The Guardian reported that Carol Hughes, the poet’s widow, claimed that the book has “significant errors of fact, as well as damaging and offensive claims.” Hughes said she found 18 errors in 16 pages.
Early last year, the Hughes estate had withdrawn its cooperation with the author.
HER NEXT BOOK: John Heilpern had lunch with “punk-rock pioneer” Patti Smith and wrote about the encounter in the November Vanity Fair. Smith was promoting her novel, M Train. She wrote in that book, “Oh, to be reborn within the pages of a book.”
Smith, Heilpern wrote, “is already writing her next book, a thriller—the kind she loves to read, or catch on TV, like the adventures of that mess of a detective and opera-lover, Wallander. And she’s edging back in time toward reopening the notebooks she filled compulsively in Detroit when she was writing a novel about a traveler who never left his room, but went everywhere.”
A STABLE SCENE: Luc Sante is the author of The Other Paris, to be published this month. In a review of Richard McGuire’s Here in the Times Book Review he wrote:
“You are looking at a corner of your living room, a scene that remains stable, boringly or reassuringly so, day after day, year after year. And yet that corner serves as a frame for many human activities over [the] years. It accrues joys and sorrows, from the cocktail party and the ceiling leak that immediately dissolve into vague recollection to the enduring memory of the crib and the deathbed. And if your house was built for others, perhaps before you were born, countless parallel scenes will have taken place there beforehand, just as they will continue after you are gone. Furthermore, the land on which your house sits will experience the entire history of the planet, from primordial ooze to whatever unimaginable post-human future awaits.”
MEMOIR-HISTORY: The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has signed with Crown Publishing Group to write a memoir. The publisher said the book would “double as a cultural history of China over the past 100 years, told through the prism of …[Weiwei's] own life story and that of his father, Al Qing.” Weiwei's father was a painter and a poet. Publication will be in Spring 2017.
TWO MORE: David Lagercrantz is the author of The Girl in the Spider's Web, a continuation of the late Steig Larsson’s trilogy that began with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The Guardian said that the author would write two more books that feature the fictional Lisbeth Salander.
BIO: Michael Lewis is the author of Liar’s Poker (1989), Moneyball (2004) and several other bestsellers. He wrote an 18-page (lots of photos) bio of Tom Wolfe for the November Vanity Fair. The title is “The White Stuff.”
The 85-year-old Wolfe is quoted: “There are two kinds of writer’s block. One is when you freeze up because you think you can’t do it. The other is when you think it’s not worth doing.”
SO LONG TOMBOYS: Like clothing, a word can become old-fashioned and fall out of use. The New York Times declared last week that we have outgrown “tomboy.” New phrases like “gender-nonconformist” or “gender-expansive” are taking its place.
Jennifer Baumgardner, publisher of The Feminist Press, told the Times, “Tomboy doesn’t feel present tense to me at all. It feels retro, this affirmative way of talking about a girl who likes boy things, as if boy things were better.”
PROVERBS: James Parker wrote in the Bookends column of the October 18 Times Book Review: “In Britain in the 1980s, an insurance company called Commercial Union ran an ad campaign with the slogan ‘We won’t make a drama out of a crisis.’ Genius. Better than timeless. That line penetrated my proverb-layer . . . and sits there now with Marcus Aurelius, Mark Twain, George Constanza, all the garnered pith and wisdom of the classics. Use it on your spouse sometime: ‘Now, dear, let’s not make a drama out of a crisis.’ (Don’t use it too often.)”
GAMES: Simon Parkin is the author of Death by Video Game. In a review of Jane McGonigal’s Superbetter: A Revolutionary Approach to Getting Stronger, Happier, Braver, and More Resilient—Powered by the Science of Games in Sunday's Times Book Review, he wrote: “In the Walt Disney film, Mary Poppins proves herself an early proponent of gamification. ‘In every job that must be done there is an element of fun,’ she sings. ‘You find the fun and snap! The job’s a game.’ With brevity that few contemporary gamification gurus can equal, Poppins encapsulates the movement’s mantra.”
SIGN OFF: “A book is good company. It is full of conversation without loquacity. It comes to your longing with full instructions, but pursues you never.” – Henry Ward Beecher