by Campbell Geeslin

Poet Philip Larkin, who died in 1985, is to have a memorial stone near Chaucer’s in Westminster Abby. He was described in The New York Times as “a malcontent with a reclusive streak and an acid take on his own success.” Larkin refused to become England’s poet laureate because he was afraid “it would drag him too far into the public eye.”

The dean of Westminster, Very Rev Dr. John Hall, said, “I have no doubt that his work and memory will live on as long as the English language continues to be understood.”

In the introduction to his Collected Poems (1988), Larkin is quoted on his ambitions for his poetry: “Auden’s ease and vividness were the qualities I most wished to gain,” he said. His poem “A Writer” was written in 1941. The last verse is:

“He lived for years and never was surprised:

A member of his foolish, lying race

Explained away their vices: realized

It was a gift that he possessed alone;

To look the world directly in the face;

The face he did not see to be his own.”


RETELLING: Laila Lalami, a 2015 Pulitzer Prize-finalist for her novel, The Moor’s Account, was born in Morocco. In a praiseful review in the New York Times Book Review of Kamel Daoud’s The Meursault Investigation--a literary response to Albert Camus’s classic The Stranger—she wrote that “to be successful, a literary retelling must not simply dress up an old story in new clothes. It must also be so convincing and so satisfying that we no longer think of the original story as the truth, but rather come to question it.”

REREADING: Charles McGrath was the editor of The New York Times Book Review from 1995 to 2004. Recently he wrote in the Times about James Joyce’s Ulysses and said that it is “a book you can never exhaust. Whenever you go back, you find something you hadn’t noticed before--sometimes a joke, a pun, sometimes a heartwarming detail about [the fictional character] Bloom, sometimes just a magical phrase like ‘the heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit.’”

MURDER MOST TASTY: “A little more delicious strychnine and butter sauce for your fish, vicar?” Or a slice of that scrumptious cake, so appropriately named Delicious Death? These dishes are going to be cooked in Agatha Christie’s kitchen on September 15, the 125th anniversary of Christie’s birth.

French writer Anne Martinetti will recreate recipes from Christie’s novels—dishes that conceal the taste of poison.

The Guardian said Christie’s grandson still remembers the delicious meals cooked by his Granny. And survived to praise them.

RATS AND SQUIRRELS: Christopher Healy is the author of the Hero’s Guide trilogy. In The New York Times Book Review, he wrote, “Animals can be an author’s best friend. Talking animals, to be precise. Since the dawn of folklore, anthropomorphic beasties have been reliable go-to guys when a story simply wouldn’t be as much fun with plain old human protagonists.”

The book under review was Ratscalibur by Josh Lieb with rat knights, squirrel sorcerers, and guinea pig guards.

AT THE TOP: Nelson DeMille’s Radiant Angel shot to the No. 1 spot on the bestseller lists. John Corey, DeMille’s fictional agent, has a job watching the Russian diplomats at the U.N. “Corey realizes something the U.S. government doesn’t: The all-too-real threat of a newly resurgent Russia.”

DeMille’s first books were New York detective novels. He hit it big in 1976 with By the Rivers of Babylon. He has written more than a dozen novels. His bio online says he has used the pen name Jack Cannon

Asked how he gets suspense into his novels, DeMille said on Talk City: “I use the cliff hanger technique. I try to end every chapter with an air of suspense. I try to leave the reader wanting to turn the page. I try to use short sentences, short paragraphs and short chapters to keep the reader’s interest.”

A FAVORITE THING: English actor Stephen Fry has just published his third memoir, More Fool Me. He was asked by Vanity Fair to name his most treasured possession. He said, “A signed photograph. ‘To Stephen Fry. All the best, P. G. Wodehouse.’ I wrote to him when I was a schoolboy.”

NEW SHOES: Sydney Landon is the author of Mended, the third and last romance of a trilogy. It is a bestseller and so were the two earlier novels: Weekend Required (2012) and Not Planning for You (2013). Landon lives in Greenville, S.C., and has spent the last 25 years working in accounting.

In a Smashwords bio, Landon credits her husband with keeping her calm and rational while also understanding her need for a new pair of shoes every other week. They have two children, and she claims she enjoys being a mini-van driving, soccer mom.

Goodreads provided quotes from Landon’s books. A couple of samples: “Words were his weapon of choice, and he used them like knives.”

And “It’s no secret to any woman that men turn into big babies when they are sick. . . A woman can work 12 hours with PMS and a heavy flow and not complain; men can stub their toe and be bedbound for a month.”

STARTING YOUNG: Candace Bushnell is the author of Killing Monica. She was interviewed in the June 21 New York Times Book Review and asked, “What book hasn’t been written that you’d like to read?”

Bushnell said, “The book I’d like to read would be called World Without Men. I’ve been wanting to write it since I was eight years old and realized I had the soul of a radical feminist.”

THE FOUR BIG ONES: Gary Saul Morson is a professor of Slavic literature at Northwestern University. He was interviewed in Russia Beyond the Headlines, a paid promotional supplement in The New York Times. He was asked why he had his students read Anna Karenina, The Brothers Karamazov, War and Peace and The Idiot.

Morson said that “these great Russian novels tower over other great novels, in Russia and elsewhere. They probe the ultimate questions of human life—what makes a life meaningful, what is honesty, what responsibility we owe to others and similar timeless questions.”

Later in the interview, the professor said: “I tend to think we do not know who will be a classic for at least fifty years, since people always overestimate the quality of current works. The reason is that all a writer has to do is endorse currently fashionable beliefs and he will seem profound.”

OCTOPUS KISS: Sy Montgomery is the author of the bestselling The Soul of an Octopus. In an interview for Canada's CBC News, she agreed that octopuses don’t have the best reputation.

Montgomery said, “It has something to do with being an invertebrate and being covered with slime . . . and those suckers. But the suckers are great. It’s kind of like being hugged and kissed at the same time. You go home and you’ve got hickeys on your arms to explain to your husband. But you’ve been having this meaningful interaction with an octopus.”

ADVICE: Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction (2001) offers advice from an expert author—Patricia Highsmith. The Guardian provided some quotes:

“The setting and the people must be seen as clearly as a photograph.”

A writer “should sense when something is wrong, as quickly as a mechanic hears a wrong noise in an engine, and he should correct it before it becomes worse.”

“Every writer should not think he is bad or finished [if a book fails to get to market] . . . Every failure teaches something. You should have the feeling, as every experienced writer has, that there are more ideas where that one came from, more strength where the first strength came from, and that you are inexhaustible as long as you are alive.”

LOATHING: Anna Holmes is an editor at Fusion. In a Bookends column in The New York Times Book Review, she wrote: “The ascendance of digital media and the demand for a constant churn of online content has generated some astoundingly sloppy writing and thinking, but it has also invigorated and complicated the marketplace of ideas in ways I never thought possible. Does the added competition for eyeballs, clicks, likes and accolades occasionally fill me with loathing, both for myself and the industry I happen to be in? Yes, of course. But I think it makes me a better writer, meaning: I wouldn’t have it any other way,”