Those of you who read this blog regularly may remember that the crisis regarding the manuscripts of the Timbuktu library which were in danger of being destroyed by an al-Qaeda group has been a concern of mine since I first learned of it a few years ago. Now a new book, just out, tells the story of the rescue of in excess of 377,000 manuscripts (work is currently underway to preserve the manuscripts as they were taken to an area with a wet climate). I have just downloaded the book to my Kindle and I will report back with a review – so check back for that…
By David Wright
Special to The Seattle Times
It has all the elements of a classic adventure novel. An intrepid librarian ventures across deserts and through jungles to unearth ancient manuscripts, building a great library in a legendary city, only to be forced to smuggle it book by book out from under the noses of brutal pillagers bent on destruction.
Yet despite its sensational title, Joshua Hammer’s “The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu” (Simon & Schuster, 288 pp., $26) provides a sobering look at an ongoing human and cultural tragedy across the Arab world.
Hammer’s reportage highlights a lesser-known front in the ongoing struggle within Islam between the tolerant majority and fundamentalist jihadis, a situation too often framed as a contest between Islam and the West. It is a story that couldn’t be more timely, and yet the tumultuous history of Timbuktu shows just how far this cyclical struggle predates the Arab Spring.
In a golden era from the 14th to the 16th centuries, Timbuktu developed from a wealthy trading hub between north and sub-Saharan Africa into a cosmopolitan city renowned for its scholarly culture, preserved and celebrated in thousands of beautifully delineated manuscripts.
These intellectual treasures have been repeatedly suppressed and destroyed over the years, by repressive warlords and anti-Semitic purges in the 15th century, Moroccan invaders in the 16th century and a Sufi “jihad of the sword” in the 19th century. The colonizing French in 1894 administered the coup de grace, exporting precious manuscripts to European collections, but by that time Timbuktu’s cultural patrimony had largely — and often literally — gone underground.
Starting in 1984, librarian Abdel Kader Haidara devoted himself to restoring his city’s heritage. Prospecting for books for the Ahmed Baba Institute, Haidara managed to recover a staggering number of manuscripts that had been scattered across the region in private collections, cached away in trunks, and buried in pits and caves. Haidara’s intrepid adventures call to mind the medieval book hunters whose efforts to ferret out the forgotten writings of ancient Greece and Rome helped fuel the Renaissance across Europe, as described in Stephen Greenblatt’s 2011 award-winning book “The Swerve: How the Ancient World Became Modern.” Just as then, clouds of intolerance were gathering on the horizon, and now a new Savonarola was kindling bonfires of the vanities under the banners of al-Qaeda.
Hammer does a fairly good job of disentangling the complex factors that led up to the jihadi takeover of Northern Mali and Timbuktu in 2012, a chaotic mix of hostage taking, uneasy alliances between Tuareg rebels and Wahhabi extremists, and the law of unintended consequences of the Arab Spring, when al-Qaeda militants plundered Qaddafi’s abandoned armories.
What is made vividly clear to readers who may be apt to view terrorism as something that happens on U.S. or European soil is the pervasive terror experienced across the Islamic world when “the bearded ones” roll into town to “turn the clocks back fourteen hundred years.” It is against this horrifying backdrop of menacing oppression and summary brutality that Haidara and his associates decide to risk life and limb to save Timbuktu’s libraries from the flames.
There’s no need to reveal here just how these brave librarians and citizens managed to smuggle 377,000 intact manuscripts out of harm’s way past a brutal totalitarian regime, through lawless wilderness and war zones to Mali’s capital city of Bamako far to the south. Suffice it to say that they earn their “bad ass” sobriquet several times over. Riveting skullduggery, revealing history and current affairs combine in a compelling narrative with a rare happy ending. So far.
David Wright is a reader services librarian at the Seattle Public Library.
Published March 5, 2016 12:20 AM ET
Pat Conroy, author of best-selling novels including The Great Santini and The Prince of Tides, died Friday of pancreatic cancer. He had revealed the diagnosis — and vowed to fight it — just weeks ago.
Novelist Pat Conroy, who announced last month that he was suffering from pancreatic cancer, has died, according to a statement from his publisher. Conroy was 70.
He announced his diagnosis on Facebook almost three weeks ago, saying “I intend to fight it hard.”
Today’s statement from Todd Doughty, executive director of publicity at Doubleday included comments from Conroy’s wife and his longtime editor:
“Conroy passed away this evening at his home in Beaufort, S.C., surrounded by family and loved ones. ‘The water is wide and he has now passed over,’ said his wife, novelist Cassandra Conroy. Funeral arrangements are currently being made at this time.
“Pat has been my beloved friend and author for 35 years, spanning his career from The Prince Of Tides to today,” said his longtime editor and publisher, Nan A. Talese of Doubleday. “He will be cherished as one of America’s favorite and bestselling writers, and I will miss him terribly,” Talese said.”
The Associated Press notes that four of Conway’s “novels of troubled relationships and dysfunctional families” were turned into movies, including his best-known books, The Great Santini and The Prince Of Tides.
“Conroy writes from his own experiences, as a child of a violent father,” said NPR’s Tom Vitale in a 1986 Morning Edition interview with the author. “Like his Prince Of Tides protagonist, Pat Conroy grappled with his own conflicted sense of identity, particularly as a Southerner”, Conroy told Vitale:
“I’m a military brat. My father was a Marine Corps fighter pilot from Chicago, Ill. I did not live in Southern towns, I lived on bases. I was a Roman Catholic, which is the strangest thing you can be in the South. Not only that, I married a Jewish woman from Bensonhurst. So when people refer to me as a Southerner … I liked it because I never had a home. It was the first name that was ever associated with me that put me in a place.”
Even 30 years later, Conroy’s determination to crack his identity hadn’t stopped. In the previously mentioned Facebook post, he added:
“I celebrated my 70th birthday in October and realized that I’ve spent my whole writing life trying to find out who I am and I don’t believe I’ve even come close. It was in Beaufort in sight of a river’s sinuous turn, and the movements of its dolphin-proud tides that I began to discover myself and where my life began at fifteen.”[Top]
Source: By Todd Leopold, CNN
Updated 8:31 PM ET, Fri February 19, 2016
(CNN) Harper Lee, whose debut novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” immortalized her name with its story of justice and race in a small Southern town and became a classic of American literature, has died. She was 89.
Her death was confirmed Friday by the City Hall in Monroeville, Alabama, where she lived.
In a statement, Lee’s family said, “The family of Nelle Harper Lee, of Monroeville, Alabama, announced today, with great sadness, that Ms. Lee passed away in her sleep early this morning. Her passing was unexpected. She remained in good basic health until her passing. The family is in mourning and there will be a private funeral service in the upcoming days, as she had requested.”
Added nephew Hank Conner in the statement, “This is a sad day for our family. America and the world knew Harper Lee as one of the last century’s most beloved authors. We knew her as Nelle Harper Lee, a loving member of our family, a devoted friend to the many good people who touched her life, and a generous soul in our community and our state. We will miss her dearly.”
Her publisher, HarperCollins, also released a statement. “The world knows Harper Lee was a brilliant writer but what many don’t know is that she was an extraordinary woman of great joyfulness, humility and kindness,” said the company’s president and publisher, Michael Morrison. “She lived her life the way she wanted to – in private – surrounded by books and the people who loved her. I will always cherish the time I spent with her.”
“Mockingbird,” which was published in 1960, was drawn from elements of Lee’s childhood in Monroeville. In steady prose shaded by memory and lyricism, she describes how an impulsive girl, Scout Finch, her older brother, Jem, their friend Dill and a variety of other townspeople get caught up in the case of Tom Robinson, a black man who’s been accused of rape in the Depression-era town of Maycomb, Alabama.
Through it all, no character is more indelible than that of Scout’s widower father, Atticus Finch. The scrupulous, fair-minded lawyer who defends the falsely accused Robinson in a racist courtroom set a standard for goodness and bravery that still resonates more than 50 years later.
“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand,” Atticus says to Scout at one point. “It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see through it no matter what.”
The book won the Pulitzer Prize, and Gregory Peck, who played Atticus in the acclaimed 1962 movie, earned an Oscar for best actor. Finch was named the greatest hero in movie history in a 2003 American Film Institute survey. His reputation is such that a 2010 poll by the American Bar Association Journal was titled “The 25 Greatest Fictional Lawyers (Who Are Not Atticus Finch).”
An earlier draft of the book, titled “Go Set a Watchman,” was published in 2015. The book was criticized for a different portrayal of Atticus, who voices racist sentiments, and questions arose as to whether Lee actually wanted it released.
Despite mixed reviews, the book was one of the top sellers of 2015.
Throughout all this, Lee maintained a low profile. She had assisted her friend Truman Capote, the basis for Dill, while he researched his novel “In Cold Blood,” and though he reveled in the praise and fortune that came with fame, she resisted it.
“I never expected any sort of success with ‘Mockingbird,'” she told critic Roy Newquist for an interview published in 1964. “I didn’t expect the book to sell in the first place. I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of reviewers, but at the same time I sort of hoped that maybe someone would like it enough to give me encouragement. Public encouragement. I hoped for a little, as I said, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I’d expected.”
Even as “Mockingbird” became a fixture on high school reading lists and demands for her became ever more pronounced, she took shelter in New York and Alabama, hiding in plain sight. It wasn’t that she was reclusive, exactly; it’s that she preferred to let her work speak for itself.
At one event in her honor — and there were many — she was asked to address the audience at the Alabama Academy of Honor. She turned down the opportunity.
“Well, it’s better to be silent than be a fool,” she said.
‘I kept at it’
Nelle Harper Lee was born in Monroeville on April 28, 1926. She was the youngest of five children born to Amasa Coleman (A.C.) Lee and Frances Cunningham Finch. Though A.C. was not a widower like Atticus, Lee’s mother was mentally ill, so she and her siblings were essentially raised by her father. The two became very close.
She met Truman Persons, who was two years older, as a child. The tomboyish Lee and the sometimes petulant Persons, who was sent away by his parents to spend his summers in Monroeville, became close friends and would spend hours reading and making up stories. Recognizing his daughter’s imaginative temperament, A.C. Lee gave her an Underwood typewriter. She carried it everywhere.
Lee attended the University of Alabama, including a short stint in law school, but didn’t finish. Instead, she moved to New York where Truman Persons, now Truman Capote, had established himself as one of the country’s leading writers.
Lee, too, wanted to write but had little time to pursue the vocation until a pair of Capote’s friends, Michael and Joy Brown, gave her a Christmas gift: They would pay all her expenses for a year. Lee took two to write “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Though the book seems effortless, she told Newquist it came in stops and starts.
“Naturally, you don’t sit down in ‘white hot inspiration’ and write with a burning flame in front of you,” she said. “But since I knew I could never be happy being anything but a writer, and ‘Mockingbird’ put itself together for me so accommodatingly, I kept at it because I knew it had to be my first novel, for better or for worse.”
After she finished “Mockingbird,” Capote — fresh off the success of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” — invited her to assist him on a new project: the story of a murdered Kansas family, the Clutters. Lee became part secretary, part interviewer, part go-between for the flamboyant Capote. The work they did would become the foundation of Capote’s 1966 best-seller, “In Cold Blood.”
“Mockingbird” was published in July 1960 and became an immediate best-seller. Indeed, it’s never stopped selling; as of 2006, it had sold 30 million copies and moves a million more each year.
Lee was caught off guard by its success.
“I can’t say that (my reaction) was one of surprise. It was one of sheer numbness. It was like being hit over the head and knocked cold,” she told Newquist.
Book to screen
The book won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and was optioned for a movie. Lee was wary of Hollywood’s attention but was allowed some input. Her choice for Atticus was Spencer Tracy, but he was unavailable. The studio’s first choice was Rock Hudson.
When Gregory Peck was chosen, he traveled to Monroeville to meet with Lee. He became so attuned to the role that Lee burst into tears the first time she saw him in character. The two became lifelong friends. After filming concluded, Lee gave the actor her father’s prized pocket watch; later, Peck’s grandson was named for the author.
The movie has been called “the best-ever book-to-screen adaptation.” It captured Lee’s world just right: the dilapidated homes, the county courthouse (built on a backlot but based on the actual Monroeville building) and, above all, her characters.
The performers who played Scout and Jem, Mary Badham and Philip Alford, were Alabama-born acting novices. Brock Peters, who played Tom Robinson, broke away from the heavies he’d portrayed before landing the role. (More than five decades later, he would deliver the eulogy at Peck’s funeral.) Robert Duvall, who played the mysterious Boo Radley, was a screen newcomer. He would go on to a storied career.
With the success of the film, “To Kill a Mockingbird’s” place in the culture was cemented. But Lee never followed up. She worked on a second novel but never finished it. Later she tried her hand at a true-crime book. That, too, would remain incomplete.
“Go Set a Watchman” was an earlier version of “Mockingbird.” The book engendered its share of controversy over concerns that Lee, by then in an assisted-living facility, hadn’t approved its release, despite a statement that she was “humbled and amazed that this will now be published.”
Regardless, “Mockingbird” was a career in itself.
The story was both a steady source of income and, eventually, somewhat of a millstone for Lee. She spent many years sharing a house in Monroeville with her sister, Alice, a centenarian who followed in her father’s footsteps as a lawyer. Strangers would knock on the door and ask for autographs. Lee sued a local museum over trademark infringement. She got caught up in a lawsuit in which she claimed she was “duped” into signing over the copyright to her book. The suit was settled in 2013.
Over the years, biographers and reporters would attempt to get close to Lee. For the most part, she resisted their blandishments, though one teacher, Charles Shields, wrote a 2006 biography, and a Midwestern journalist, Marja Mills, moved next door and eventually wrote a book, “The Mockingbird Next Door” (2014). By then, Harper Lee had suffered a stroke and both Lees needed more detailed care.
Nevertheless, there is no forgetting “Mockingbird.” The film lives on; it’s in the National Film Registry. Each year, Monroeville puts on a staged version of the story.
And, of course, there is the book, still selling, still being read, still moving many to tears.
The book, and its author, offer two qualities that are often in short supply: respect and restraint.
Perhaps there is no more moving example than a famous scene from the book and movie. Atticus Finch has just lost the rape trial. His client, Tom Robinson, will probably be put to death. In the balcony, Scout and Jem sit with Maycomb’s black community in stunned silence. As Atticus quietly leaves the courtroom, the Reverend Sykes, a local black leader, gets Scout’s attention. The citizens on the balcony are all standing. He urges her to do the same. “Miss Jean Louise,” he says, “stand up. Your father’s passin’.”
Lee never married and had no children.[Top]
A recently discovered map of Middle-earth annotated by JRR Tolkien reveals The Lord of the Rings author’s observation that Hobbiton is on the same latitude as Oxford, and implies that the Italian city of Ravenna could be the inspiration behind the fictional city of Minas Tirith.
The map was found loose in a copy of the acclaimed illustrator Pauline Baynes’ copy of The Lord of the Rings. Baynes had removed the map from another edition of the novel as she began work on her own colour Map of Middle-earth for Tolkien, which would go on to be published by Allen & Unwin in 1970. Tolkien himself had then copiously annotated it in green ink and pencil, with Baynes adding her own notes to the document while she worked.
Blackwell’s, which is currently exhibiting the map in Oxford and selling it for £60,000, called it “an important document, and perhaps the finest piece of Tolkien ephemera to emerge in the last 20 years at least”.
It shows what Blackwell’s called “the exacting nature” of Tolkien’s creative vision: he corrects place names, provides extra ones, and gives Baynes a host of suggestions about the map’s various flora and fauna. Hobbiton, he notes, “ is assumed to be approx at latitude of Oxford”; Tolkien was a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University.
The novelist also uses Belgrade, Cyprus, and Jerusalem as other reference points, and according to Blackwell’s suggests that “the city of Ravenna is the inspiration behind Minas Tirith – a key location in the third book of the Lord of The Rings trilogy”.
“The map shows how completely obsessed he was with the details. Anyone else interfered at their peril,” said Sian Wainwright at Blackwell’s. “He was tricky to work with, but very rewarding in the end.”
Correspondence between Tolkien and the late and acclaimed illustrator Baynes, who also worked on books for CS Lewis, as well as Baynes’s unpublished diary entries, gives further details about the sometimes thorny relationship between the two. On 21 August 1969, Baynes describes a visit to Tolkien and his wife in Bournemouth, “to chat about a poster map I have to do – he very uncooperative”.
The author later apologies for having “been so dilatory”, and a later lunch sees the author “in great form – first names and kissing all round – and pleased with the map”.
Henry Gott, modern first editions specialist at Blackwell’s Rare Books, said the map was “an exciting and important discovery: new to scholarship (though its existence is implied by correspondence between the two), it demonstrates the care exercised by both in their mapping of Tolkien’s creative vision”.
“Before going on display in the shop this week, this had only ever been in private hands (Pauline Baynes’s for the majority of its existence). One of the points of interest is how much of a hand Tolkien had in the poster map; all of his suggestions, and there are many (the majority of the annotation on the map is his), are reflected in Baynes’s version,” said Gott. “The degree to which it is properly collaborative was not previously apparent, and couldn’t be without a document like this. Its importance is mostly to do with the insight it gives into that process.”
Blackwell’s is selling a range of works by Baynes, who died in 2008, aged 85, including a range of her original signed drawings from the Narnia books.
This article was amended on 23 October 2015. The map was not found by a Blackwell’s Rare Books specialist, but found in a book handed into the shop. This has been corrected.[Top]
In 1938, Ernest Hemingway made a recording to promote the publication of The Fifth Column, his play about the Spanish Civil War written while he was covering the conflict for American newspapers in 1937.
“While I was writing the play, the Hotel Florida, where we lived and worked, was struck by more than 30 high-explosive shells,” he said. “So if it is not a good play, perhaps that is what is the matter with it. If it is a good play, perhaps those 30 some shells helped write it.”
It’s classic Hemingway: simple declarative sentences about rising above the heat of battle in the face of death.
A new exhibit, 54 years after Hemingway’s death, tells a different story. Declan Kiely, curator of “Ernest Hemingway: Between Two Wars” at New York’s Morgan Library, says, “So much of his great writing is about failure. It’s about weakness. It’s about fear.”
The first manuscript in the show — and perhaps the rarest — is four pages on Red Cross stationery handwritten in a Milan hospital in 1918 by a teenage Hemingway wounded during World War I. It’s the writer’s first story to feature his alter ego, Nick Adams. Here, he is a badly injured soldier who falls in love with a nurse, then takes his own life.
Kiely notes that it has many hallmarks of the Hemingway style, including pared-down dialogue, brief descriptions and an arresting first paragraph: “Nick lay in bed in hospital where from outside came the hysterical roar of the crowd walking through the streets.”
The story has no title. It was never published and, until now, it’s never been displayed.
But it contains the raw material for one of Hemingway’s most celebrated novels, A Farewell to Arms. He wrote 47 different endings for the novel before settling on the one he liked.
“That is all there is to the story,” reads one of the four endings on display at the Morgan Library. “Catherine died and you will die and I will die and that is all I can promise you.”
“It doesn’t get much bleaker than that,” Kiely says.
Alongside the alternate endings are the first two pages of the first draft of A Farwell to Arms. Kiely notes the multiple revisions until the “absolutely beautiful, poetic, haunting beginning of the novel” starts to take shape for the very first time: “In the late summer of that year, we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and a plain to the mountains.”
Hemingway worked hard to write prose that looked so simple, says Sandra Spanier, a Hemingway scholar at Penn State University and editor of the author’s collected letters, being published in 17 volumes.
“I think that what’s valuable about this exhibit is that we can see the inner workings, we kind of see behind the curtain the tapestry with all the knots and flaws showing — but see how he worked his way into, I think, perfection in certain cases,” Spanier says.
The exhibit — which includes handwritten first drafts, outtakes, letters, notebooks and photos — lays out Hemingway’s papers in chronological order: handwritten drafts of his early stories; the first two chapters he cut from his 1926 breakthrough novel, The Sun Also Rises; and the letter from F. Scott Fitzgerald convincing Hemingway the chapters had to go.
Hemingway saved everything and, miraculously, almost everything is intact, says curator Declan Kiely.
The papers survived multiple transatlantic voyages and the Cuban revolution in 1959. A month after Hemingway’s death in 1961, Mary Hemingway — the author’s fourth wife — returned to Cuba, packed up his belongings and shipped them to Tampa, Fla., via shrimp boat. They bounced between Tampa and New York, where they stayed until 1972, when they were donated to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston. They’ve been in storage there for four decades.
But Hemingway might not have been so thrilled about the show at the Morgan. He gave written instructions that his letters should never be published — his wife waited 20 years after his death before agreeing.
He never kept a journal, he put all his experiences into his stories and he didn’t like to talk about himself, as he made clear in the brief acceptance speech he recorded when he won the 1954 Nobel Prize for Literature.
“I have spoken too long for a writer,” he said. “A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it.”[Top]
October 08, 2015 7:05 AM ET
By: Colin Dwyer
Investigative journalist Svetlana Alexievich has been awarded this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature, the Swedish Academy announced Thursday. Alexievich is the first writer from Belarus to win the prize.
Alexievich won “for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time,” according to the citation for the award.
‘Voices From Chernobyl’: Survivors’ Stories
On her personal website, Alexievich explains her pursuit of journalism: “I chose a genre where human voices speak for themselves.” Fittingly, Alexievich prefers to leave the stories to her many interviewees, letting eyewitness accounts shed an unsettling light on tragedies like World War II, the Soviet-Afghan War and the disaster at Chernobyl — an investigation that has been read aloud in excerpts on All Things Considered.
For that work, Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster, Alexievich interviewed hundreds of people touched by the massive 1986 nuclear meltdown, which spread radioactivity on the wind across much of Eastern Europe.
“All of my books consist of witnesses’ evidence, people’s living voices,” she told the Dalkey Archive Press. “I usually spend three to four years writing a book, but this time it took me more than ten years.”
In an interview following the announcement, the Swedish Academy’s permanent secretary, Sara Danius, elaborated on the decision.
“For the past 30 or 40 years, she has been busy mapping the Soviet and post-Soviet individual,” Danius said. “But it’s not really about a history of events; it’s about a history of emotions.”
If you’re new to Alexievich’s work, Danius added, she recommends beginning with War’s Unwomanly Face — a history the Soviet women who fought as soldiers in the Second World War.
It has been quite a long time since a nonfiction writer won the Nobel. Not since the heady days of Bertrand Russell and Winston Churchill, over half a century ago, has an author won for a career of work primarily in nonfiction. Alexievich’s prize breaks that long dry spell.
The 67-year-old is the 112th writer — and 14th woman — to win the prize. She will receive her medal at a ceremony on Dec. 10.[Top]
Written by: KATE WARD
The author well-known for capturing significant moments in history, E.L. Doctorow, has died, according to The New York Times. Doctorow was 84, and died following complications from lung cancer on July 21, 2015. Though he penned several pieces of work — including 12 full-length novels — he is perhaps most famous for his 1975 book Ragtime, which not only has made its way onto several best-of literature lists and won the National Books Critics Circle Award, but also was popular enough to be turned into a film and Broadway show of the same name.
Doctorow, who released his first novel in 1960, was active on the literary scene for decades. In fact, his last piece of work — Andrew’s Brain, which delves inside one unfortunate man’s mind and life story — was released in 2014. This, after Doctorow spent years releasing notable novel after notable novel, like 1971’s The Book of Daniel (also adapted for film audiences), 2005’s The March, and 2009’s Homer & Langley. And fans of the author would never ignore his work in short fiction as well — Doctorow wrote four short collections and one play, 1979’s Drinks Before Dinner.
Still, even though books like The March attracted heaps of praise from former critic John Updike and others, none of Doctorow’s books got quite the amount of attention as Ragtime, which used real historical figures like J.P. Morgan and Booker T. Washington and mixed them in with a fictional plot. Though it earned him some criticism, the novel surely attracted enough fans to balance out any historians crying foul. “I did have a feeling then that the culture of factuality was so dominating that storytelling had lost all its authority,” Doctorow told New York Magazine in 2008. “I thought, If they want fact, I’ll give them facts that will leave their heads spinning.”
Prior to breaking into the literary scene, Doctorow worked in several jobs. Though he even spent time in a position at LaGuardia Airport, where he worked in reservations, he burst onto the scene as an editor, honing his skills while working with fellow greats like the James Bond franchise’s Ian Fleming and The Fountainhead author Ayn Rand. And, after taking a place editing literary history, the author focused on history himself. But despite his ability to stun readers with his ability to bring the past to the page, Doctorow has said that he doesn’t like to put himself in the historical fiction category. As he told NPR in 2014:
Some people think of me as a historical novelist — I don’t agree with that. I think all novels are about the past, the near past, the far past, some of them have a wider focus and include more of society and recognizable events and people. The historical novel seems to me a misnomer, and many of my books take place in different places, in the Dakotas, or down south in Georgia or the Carolinas, so it’s just as valid to call me a geographical novelist as an historical novelist. I think of myself really as a national novelist, as an American novelist writing about my country.
And, as a novelist, he was able to continually garner more-than-stellar reviews, surprising critics and readers with new ideas (i.e. playing with different styles of narration) with each new release. As Doctorow also told NPR:
The ideas carried along by the artists who keep changing, keep looking for more, something truer, something greater. But generally speaking, the insistence on storytelling of a realistic nature has predominated and continued in the old ways. So what I’m guided by — perhaps it’s futile — is Ezra Pound’s injunction, when he was talking to the poets, he said, “make it new, make it new.
But the left-leaning author, a vocal opponent of George W. Bush, was much more than a novelist. Doctorow also spent some of his early years as an actor and even aspired to be a playwright before he gravitated towards novel-writing. It was a craft he might not have followed as faithfully in his later years, but it helped him develop a “heartbeat” in storytelling — something that readers of any of his novels would pick up on. And, just like his own Ragtime, the books Doctorow loved tended to be cinematic in nature. The author has said that his favorite books as a child were, among others, Treasure Island and Charles Dickens’ A Tale Of Two Cities.
And that’s perhaps the most admirable thing about Doctorow — the love for his craft, and others who practice it. He’s passed on his knowledge everywhere from Sarah Lawrence University to University of California Irvine, and valued his favorite works just as his fans value his. As he told The New York Times in 2014, “I think of them as precious objects.”[Top]
Harper Lee’s controversial book Go Set A Watchman (written before To Kill A Mockingbird) will be released on July 14. With just days to wait for its release, you can read the first chapter in The Wall Street Journal. As you must know (everybody knows, don’t they?) To Kill A Mockingbird is the only book published to date by Harper Lee. It won a Pulitzer Prize and was made into an Academy Award winning movie staring Gregory Peck as the lead character, Atticus Finch. Ms Lee has always said she did not want to publish another book. The new book, Go Set A Watchman, was supposedly “discovered” in 2015 but controversy surrounds that claim as a rare book dealer was brought in to evaluate the value of the manuscript along with a Southeby’s auction house employee. Ms Lee is currently living in an assisted living facility. Her sister, who is recently deceased, was Ms Lee’s protector. The first printing will consist of two million copies (yes, folks – that is 2,000,000 copies). The unprecedented quantity of first editions will make this an unlikely book for collectors to find attractive.
Wikipedia tells us: “The title comes from Isaiah 21:6: “For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.” It alludes to Scout’s view of her father, Atticus Finch, as the moral compass (“watchman”) of Maycomb.”
To read the first chapter (or to hear Reese Witherspoon read the first chapter) go HERE.
This combined set of To Kill a Mockingbird with Go Set a Watchman (Dual Slip-cased Edition) can be purchased by clicking on the image below.[Top]
If you think you’d shell out a lot for a rare book, I bet you wouldn’t pay this much. At a recent auction a first edition copy of The Hobbit inscribed by J.R.R. Tolkien fetched — are you ready for it? — £137,000, or about $209,000. The buyer paid an unprecedented amount for the rare book, exceeding even the already-staggering projected sale price.
Leading up to the auction, The Guardian reports that the book was expected to go for between £50,000 and £70,000. Until that point, the most a copy of The Hobbit had fetched was around £50,000, back in 2008. Although a record at the time, it looks like a steal in comparison to the latest sale. Book collectors can get seriously into it.
So, what made this particular copy so special that someone was willing to pay for it more than cost of my college education (and without the help of Sallie Mae, mind you)? Besides the fact that people love The Hobbit, it’s one of only a “handful” of inscribed presentation copies. The exclusive group to whom Tolkien gifted them includes the likes of his buddy C.S. Lewis. (I don’t think I even want to know how much that copy would sell for. Probably the equivalent of my undergrad plus a hypothetical medical degree.) This particular book was given to Katherine Kilbride. Now deceased, she was a student of the author at Leeds University back in the 1920s.[Top]
On Thursday, May 28, 2015, the 2015 Prizes were awarded at a luncheon ceremony at Low Library on the Columbia University campus in New York City. The names of the Prizewinners had been announced on April 20, 2015.
For distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life, Ten thousand dollars ($10,000).
Awarded to “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr (Scribner), an imaginative and intricate novel inspired by the horrors of World War II and written in short, elegant chapters that explore human nature and the contradictory power of technology.
Also nominated as finalists in this category were: “Let Me Be Frank with You,” by Richard Ford (Ecco), an unflinching series of narratives, set in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, insightfully portraying a society in decline; “The Moor’s Account,” by Laila Lalami (Pantheon), a creative narrative of the ill-fated 16th Century Spanish expedition to Florida, compassionately imagined out of the gaps and silences of history; and “Lovely, Dark, Deep,” by Joyce Carol Oates (Ecco), a rich collection of stories told from many rungs of the social ladder and distinguished by their intelligence, language and technique.[Top]