Archive for the ‘People’ Category


J.D. Salinger passes away

Catcher in the Rye author J.D. Salinger has died at age 91 in New Hampshire. [Obituary continues]

J.D. Salinger, a World War II veteran, is best known to me as much for The Catcher in the Rye as he is for his reclusion: after the success of Catcher (now required reading in high schools across the country, including mine), he shunned the publicity he had earned, even well before his work was associated with the death of John Lennon. At the time of Mr. Salinger's passing, he had not published anything in more than forty years. Even his character in the novel Field of Dreams was replaced by James Earl Jones' fictional author, Terence Mann. Though both novelists share reclusive traits, the book is worth reading for how large a role Mr. Salinger has in it; even if it is a work of fiction, it does much to humanize the the mythological author.

Rest in peace, dream catcher.

Miep Gies, keeper of Anne Frank's diary, passes away

Miep Gies, the last surviving member of the group who helped protect Anne Frank and her family from the Nazis, has died in the Netherlands aged 100. [Story continues]

The impact of Mrs. Gies' actions cannot be understated: a third of the manuscript she preserved was published as the book The Diary of Anne Frank, which became the first or most personified exposure to the Holocaust for many people. For readers, Anne's diary changed World War II's victims from people to persons.

The book has also seen countless adaptations on stage and screen, and was used prominently in the 2007 film Freedom Writers, based on a true story, which featured the character of Miep Gies. In one scene, a high school student calls her his hero. She responds, "Oh, no. No, no, no, young man, no. I am not a hero. No. I did what I had to do, because it was the right thing to do. That is all … Even an ordinary secretary or a housewife or a teenager can, within their own small ways, turn on a small light in a dark room."

I hope, first and foremost, that we never find ourselves in the world Mrs. Gies did — but, if we do, I hope we can follow her example and wisdom.

A country of typewriters

The New York Times recently reported that Cormac McCarthy, author of such novels as No Country For Old Men, would be auctioning the typewriter on which he wrote his 2005 bestseller. He's replacing it not with a computer, but a newer typewriter.

It's no surprise that there are authors who prefer typewriters, just as there are videophiles who insist on vinyl or retrocomputer enthusiasts who use computers with 16K of memory. But what is surprising is that such antiquated production methods are still in use in modern industries.

My father was once in a similar situation when he remained committed to running his home business using the same spreadsheet software for two decades. The files were kept in a format inaccessible to his lawyers, brokers, and accountants, so information exchange was never as easy as emailing an attachment; more often, he had to print the files himself, and sometimes then bring them to a printshop to be concatenated into a single larger document. He was tolerated as a client because he'd been with these firms since before Microsoft Office was standardized. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when his computer finally gave out, forcing his upgrade to a modern platform.

I suspect the same is true of Mr. McCarthy, who has been a published author since 1965; his track record has earned him a leeway that would not be afforded to fledging writers. The likelihood of one of his novels being a success is worth the added cost of hiring a transcriptionist to convert his work to digital format.

Still, the cost of such unwavering technological devotion must at some point be question — as the New York Post did earlier this year when it reported that the New York City police department had spent a million dollars on new typewriters. Much of the police department's work has been computerized, but, as evidenced by these bills, a few artifacts remain. Wouldn't this money be better spent on bringing our civil servants into the 20th century? Typewriters may be fine for the entertainment industry, but the time and cost of accommodating diehards like Mr. McCarthy is not a luxury our government may always have.

One book sale leads to another

Last Thursday's New York Times had an article about William Fiennes and his new book, The Music Room. Like last week's article about Neil Sheehan, this piece offers a glimpse into the author's background and methodology, without being a review of him or his work. Barely mentioned at all was Mr. Fiennes' previous work, The Snow Geese, published seven years ago. It makes me wonder how much influence a track record has on a book author's ability to get new contracts. Seven years is a lifetime in the book publishing industry. Does anyone even remember Mr. Fiennes' original book — and, if so, could he have gotten The Music Room published without it?

Once the contract is signed, does the previous book affect sales of the current one? My understanding is that sales of an author's current book are predicted by sales of his previous one. Will distributors and retailers thus look at how successful The Snow Geese was in determining how many copies of The Music Room to order? The books are on such different topics that it seems illogical to compare the two — yet it's exactly that practice that has led many an author (Stephen King) to write under a pseudonym (Richard Bachman) and thus avoid such expectations.

As an aside: did anyone notice that the picture of William Fiennes on page C1 was juxtaposed with a picture of actor Joseph Fiennes? Coincidence?

Reviewing A Bright Shining Lie's author

The New York Times today ran a review of Neil Sheehan's A Bright Shining Lie, though I don't see it as a review of the pending book as much as a review of the author and his methodology. I found that approach interesting, as it was a new one to me. I read plenty of books but don't often read about books. I know when a new movie is announced or about to be released, the director's filmography is often analyzed as a method of predicting his style and success with the new film; it never occurred to me the same sort of articles could be written about authors.

I couldn't tell if the reporter meant to cast Mr. Sheehan in any particular light. The constant referrals to his nocturnal ways seemed intended to enforce the stereotype of writers as those who work when the inspiration strikes, keeping ungodly hours. I half-expected the photo of Mr. Sheehan to have him either hidden in cigarette smoke or sitting at a typewriter. I walked away with more of an impression of the author than the book, though I would've liked more of the latter; instead I was thinking about watching Fail-Safe again.

Perhaps the NYT thought they made up for that lack with the sidebar referencing the online excerpt. Rather than the exclusive sale of serial rights from the publisher to the newspaper, the online version of the story simply links to Is this the typical sort of pre- release coverage for a book? Or are advance copies/galleys supplied to critics?

[Update: On October 4, the "excerpt" link was changed to within the domain, suggesting Random House's online excerpt was a limited-time exclusive.]

Michael Crichton passes away

(CBS) Best-selling author and filmaker Michael Crichton died unexpectedly in Los Angeles Tuesday, after a courageous and private battle against cancer, according to a statement released by his family. He was 66.

Crichton is best known as the author of Jurassic Park and the creator of ER. His most recent novel, Next, about genetics and law, was published in December 2006.

"While the world knew him as a great story teller that challenged our preconceived notions about the world around us — and entertained us all while doing so — his wife Sherri, daughter Taylor, family and friends knew Michael Crichton as a devoted husband, loving father and generous friend who inspired each of us to strive to see the wonders of our world through new eyes," the statement said. "He did this with a wry sense of humor that those who were privileged to know him personally will never forget."

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R.A. Salvatore on libraries and Massachusetts Question #1

Carolyn Noah, adminstrator of the Central Massachusetts Regional Library System, recently sat down with fantasy author and Leominster resident R. A. Salvatore to discuss his views on Question #1, which invites Massachusetts voters this November 4th to eliminate the state income tax. Mr. Salvatore speaks at length about the role public libraries and schools play and the mindset that will get Americans through current and upcoming economic hardships.

Here's the interview:

Pratchett's prognosis

I've recently decided work into my reading schedule some overlooked classics. I often confuse two titles on that list, Discworld and Ringworld, though I suspect the differences will become clear once I've actually finished them.

Some unfortunate news made the distinction all the clearer today: Terry Pratchett has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Though the Discworld author is optimistic — "I would just like to draw attention to everyone reading the above that this should be interpreted as 'I am not dead'" — I can't help but remember the slow decline experienced by James Doohan in a similar situation.

I hope to enjoy Mr. Pratchett's books before my appreciation for his wit is posthumous.