Saturday, March 31, 2012

Soup and Salad: John Kennedy Toole's Lost Manuscript, Patricia Ann McNair's Inspiration, Steven Millhauser Takes the Prize, The Birth of a Book, Running With Dickens, Lemony Snicket's Cover, Steve Almond Heads to Alaska

On today's menu:

1.  The Millions has the account of a biographer's dream--the discovery of a lost manuscript.  In this case, the original manuscript of John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces.  Cory Maclauchlin, whose book about Toole, Butterfly in the Typewriter: The Tragic Life of John Kennedy Toole and the Remarkable Story of A Confederacy of Dunces, has just been released--Biography Project Alert!--describes his quest for the Dunces grail:
      I have been researching and writing about Toole for seven years, digging through archives, interviewing his friends and family, trying to decipher Toole’s character, his fears, his desires, his angels and demons. And I have often contemplated that missing manuscript. His mother claimed she discarded all the “[Robert] Gottlieb edits” in order to showcase her son’s “pure genius.” Still, seeing how Toole altered the creation that he felt defined him would certainly offer insight into his final years. But no one I interviewed seemed to know its whereabouts. The Toole Papers at Tulane University does not have it, nor does the Walker Percy Papers at UNC Chapel Hill. Some of Toole’s friends had heard that Percy’s typist threw the “badly smeared, scarcely readable carbon” away after she retyped it. Walker’s wife, Bunt, didn’t believe that story. She suspected it might be in Walker’s miscellaneous papers that had been boxed-up after his death in 1990. But the family scoured the boxes and found nothing.
      I had nearly given up on the question of the original manuscript until a year ago when I interviewed Lynda Martin, the sister of Toole’s best friend in high school. “The manuscript?” she said in a soft southern accent. “Yes, well I have it in my closet here at home.” I nearly dropped the phone as she explained Toole’s mother had given it as a gift to her brother after the novel was published. When her brother passed away in 2008, she acquired it. It had a few penned-in edits, she explained, but not drastic revisions. “I don’t know what to do with it, really” she said. “I considered selling it at auction.” Christie’s estimated its value up to $20,000, if deemed authentic. She hadn’t called Sotheby’s yet. “Please” I begged, “just hold on to it. I’m on my way down.”

2.  At The Story Prize blog, Patricia McNair has an evocative account of where she finds inspiration for her short stories.  It begins like this (and gets even better as it goes on):
      I sit with my husband at a restaurant, and across the way near a large, haunting, abstract painting on a brick-face wall, another couple lean in toward one another, then away. The man leaves his hand on the table between them, palm up; the woman pulls her shoulders back and crosses her arms over her chest. She is weeping.
      I lived in a house in a small subdivision between two lakes in Iowa, and the wife of the couple next door was badly scarred. A deep caving in of flesh was where bone and muscle should have been, but wasn't. I found out later that her husband shot half of her face off. A hunting accident. They gave up hunting. She stopped eating meat.

3.  Speaking of The Story Prize: Steven Millhauser won for his collection We Others: New and Selected Stories. The other finalists were Don DeLillo and Edith Pearlman.  Congratulations to all three for reminding the world that sometimes the best things in life come in smaller packages.

4.  And now for a peek behind the wizard's curtain....The birth of a book, from start to finish:

5.  Good luck to 61-year-old Iain Dempster who will attempt to complete the 26-mile London Marathon "whilst performing a dramatic reading from the works of Charles Dickens" in order to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Society.  (Pun alert)  He has great expectations that he'll get through the hard times of the race without twisting his ankle.

6.  I've already told you about my high hopes for the next Lemony Snicket book, the first volume in a new series which will be released in October.  Now my excitement soars because Little, Brown has unveiled the cover of the book.  It's illustrated by one of my favorite graphic artists, Seth, and it's splendid indeed:

News of the cover came with this warning from Snicket (aka Daniel Handler): "I suggest extreme caution....The distribution of this cover image should be on a need-to-know basis, limited to librarians, booksellers, readers, e-readers, educators, journalists, muck-rakers, bloggers, tweeters, men, women, and children."

7.   Steve Almond is on his way to Alaska for a quick, frozen tour.  The 49 Writers blog has a short 4.9-question interview with the author of Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America, God Bless America and other books without "America" in the title.  As the author of an an absurd novel myself, I really appreciated Steve's response to what role humor plays in fiction:
Look: everyone has a particular sense of humor. That's just how people work.  Humor isn't some tool in our writer's toolkit. It's an evolutionary adaptation we developed to deal with the bad data of the world around us and inside us. What I exhort people to do is simply let their sense of humor onto the page, to not withhold from readers one of the central facets of their personality. I don't mean to make jokes as a way of avoiding the serious stuff of literature. In fact, I mean just the opposite: that sometimes the only way to get to the darkest stuff is by coping to the utter absurdity of yourself and the world. That's what humor is.
What really freaked me out was when Steve mentioned he almost went to grad school at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks 15 years ago.  That would have put him there at the same time I was getting my MFA from UAF.  Under the right circumstances, I think we could have been BFFs.

1 comment:

  1. Hello, David, And thanks so much for the nod here. I am very honored to be in such fine, fine company as those you speak of on Quivering Pen. -PMc