Category Archives: Authors and Books
By Sharon Reily, Reference Deaprtment
An accomplished young woman goes missing and is presumed murdered. Is her cheating husband the culprit or is she deviously punishing him for being unfaithful? After a massive search and media frenzy, she turns up alive. Sound like the premise of Gone Girl, right? Guess again. This actually happened to one of the world’s most beloved novelists!
The titles Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile, And Then There Were None might seem a bit familiar as some of the best known mysteries by the queen of whodunits, Agatha Christie. September 15 marks the 126th anniversary of Agatha’s birth in 1890. During a career that thrived from 1920 until her death in 1976, she penned 66 detective novels, 14 short story collections, the world’s longest running play (The Mousetrap), and created the beloved fictional detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. She also wrote romance novels under the pen name Mary Westmacott. Her intricately plotted tales of love, murder, greed, and jealousy have sold more than a billion copies, making her one of the most popular writers of all time.
But in 1926 Agatha, already an established writer, became the subject of a mystery herself – one that has never been solved. She simply vanished one wintery evening. She was found safe 11 days later, but with no memory or explanation of what had happened to her.
At 9:45 on the evening of December 3, 1926, 36-year-old Agatha Christie kissed her sleeping daughter Rosalind, and then drove away from Styles, her English estate. Her abandoned vehicle was found on a slope not far from her home with the hood up and lights on. There was no sign of Agatha, but her fur coat, driver’s license, and overnight bag were still in the car.
Her car had been left near “the Silent Pool,” a natural spring where several children reportedly had died. There was much speculation that she had drowned herself or had been murdered and a massive search ensued. The search for the author (whose recent novel, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, was already selling briskly) was at the time the largest manhunt in British history with over 1,000 officers and 15,000 volunteers on Agatha’s trail. A fleet of planes was employed – the first time they’d been used in England in a missing person’s case. Even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle got in on the action, taking one of Agatha’s gloves to a famous medium. Dorothy L. Sayers, creator of the Lord Peter Wimsey mystery series, examined the scene around the abandoned car. Their efforts turned up no clues.
By the end of the first week, Agatha’s disappearance was a national obsession, and was reported on the cover of the New York Times. Theories abounded. Some thought the disappearance was a publicity stunt to boost sales of her latest book, but it was already selling well before she vanished. Others thought she might have been injured in a car crash and wandered off suffering from amnesia. But the car showed no sign of an accident.
Some also suggested that Agatha was missing because of her husband’s affair. Her husband, Archie Christie, a former Royal Flying Corps pilot, didn’t hide his philandering ways from his wife. He was currently having an affair with Nancy Neele, a young friend of the couple, and Agatha’s car was found near a house where her husband was planning a rendezvous with Nancy. This suggested to some that Agatha was trying to thwart the affair, or even frame Archie and Nancy. Many even suspected Archie had killed Agatha.
On the 11th day of her disappearance, Agatha was recognized by a musician at the Swan Hydropathic Hotel, a luxury spa in Harrogate. She had registered there as “Theresa Neele” from Cape Town, curiously using the last name of her husband’s mistress. Later Agatha’s husband claimed that she was suffering from complete amnesia – she reportedly didn’t know him when he came to collect her at the hotel and she had also failed to recognize herself in newspaper photos during her stay there. Agatha, her family, and friends maintained a lifelong silence about the lost 11 days. So the mystery remained a mystery.
After the incident, Agatha resumed her prolific writing career, which continued with enormous acclaim for many decades. She also divorced Archie in 1928 and made a happier match with the renowned archaeologist Max Mallowan in 1930. They were married until her death.
In his 2006 book Agatha Christie: The Finished Portrait, Andrew Norman advanced a new theory that during her disappearance Agatha was experiencing a rare deluded condition called a “fugue state” — a psychogenic trance brought on by trauma or depression. The facts of her life in 1926 seem to back up his conclusions. Her mother passed away, and with immense sorrow Agatha spent a great deal of time alone clearing out the family home. This added strain to her marriage. She was also struggling to write her next novel. To top it off, Archie revealed he had fallen in love with a family friend, Nancy Neele.
Agatha completed her autobiography when she was 75, and one might assume this work would offer the definitive explanation of those 11 days in 1926. Wrong! Not one word about the disappearance is included. Still, Agatha offers some clues about her state of mind around the time of the incident that seem to bolster Andrew Norman’s theory. Of her time spent cleaning out her late mother’s house, she writes, “I began to get confused and muddled over things. I never felt hungry and ate less and less. Sometimes I would sit down, put my hands to my head, and try to remember what it was I was doing.” She later mentions her extreme loneliness and a sense that she was ill. She once started to write a check and could not remember her name. She also suffered a meltdown when her car wouldn’t start. Years later, she believed she had been suffering a nervous breakdown. Could Agatha have been offering an explanation of her odd disappearance, or was she covering up the fact that the incident was an elaborate hoax?
Almost 90 years later, the story of the missing author still sparks the imagination and has found its place in popular culture, a lot. While not touching on the disappearance, Agatha’s semiautobiographical novel Unfinished Portrait mirrors the disintegration of her first marriage to Archie at the time of the event. Dorothy L. Sayers, who failed to solve Agatha’s disappearance, used elements of it in her novel Unnatural Death. The disappearance was the subject of the 1979 film Agatha starring Vanessa Redgrave as the author and Timothy Dalton as Archie. There are also two new movies in the works about Agatha, one reportedly starring Emma Stone and the other Alicia Vikander. And of course, the Doctor Who episode “The Unicorn and the Wasp” offered a completely plausible explanation of Agatha’s disappearance involving a giant alien wasp (Series 4, Episode 7). It makes complete sense.
We’ll never know what really happened to Agatha Christie in December of 1926. The incident remains the greatest mystery in the life of one of our greatest mystery writers.
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
Very soon we will get a new Potter story. No one expected it and it has been long hoped for. We can now finally get more information on what happened to our favorite characters. Never again will we have to wonder what happened to Peter and Mrs. Tiggy-winkel…Wait, What?
For those of us born in the last century, our childhoods were gilded with the tales of Peter Rabbit, Squirrel Nutkin and Jemima Puddleduck. That number includes the parents, grandparents and great grandparents of today’s children. We’ve read the stories to our children who hear these tales, now in their second century, and fall in love the characters as we did. Most people will find a forgotten stuffed bunny with brown plastic eyes and a little blue Jacket hidden somewhere in their closets, attics or memories. Many of us have never heard a new story from her. There have been a few found works, some as late as 1973, but nothing since then. We’ve never known the anticipation of a new book from Beatrix Potter the way we desperately awaited the books about Harry Potter (including this year’s The Cursed Child). But that will change. In September of this year we will get the first new Beatrix Potter story in a generation. The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots is being released on September First to honor the 150th anniversary of her birth (her actual birthday is July 28th hence this particular post).
The Story of the New Story
We have this new gem thanks to the work of Jo Hanks and Quentin Blake. Ms. Hanks, who works for Penguin Random House Children’s Publishing, found a reference to a reference to the Tale of Kitty-in-Boots in an out of print biography of Beatrix Potter from the 1970s. The biography referred to a letter that Potter had sent to her publisher along with the manuscript for kitty in boots. She had sent the story, along with a sketch of the titular character and some layouts for the book to her publisher in 1914 and had meant to finish but kept getting interrupted. The interruptions, a lengthy illness and the First World War, were sufficient to keep Ms. Potter from returning to the work before her death in 1943. Ms. Hanks took what she had learned of this missing tale and scoured the Potter Archives at the Victoria and Albert Museum and found the story, in the form of handwritten school notebooks and a dummy book. Also included were a black and white sketch of the villain Mr. Tod, and a single color drawing of Kitty. The story was complete, but with only two sketches extant, a new illustrator was needed.
Finding an artist willing to take on the work of one of the most beloved children’s authors and illustrators is never going to be easy or quick. This is where Quentin Blake arrives. Blake is no stranger to working with iconic authors. His name may not be known by all, but if you’ve read a book by Roald Dahl, then you are familiar with his work. When presented with the 100 year old manuscript, Mr. Blake jumped at the chance to work on a story that “might have been waiting for [him].” He even went so far as to draw the unnamed owner of Kitty as an elderly Beatrix Potter.
The New Story
The story of Kitty-in-Boots revolves around, as Potter herself put it in the letter to her publisher, “a well-behaved prime black Kitty cat, who leads rather a double life”. Not content to laze and sleep as most cats do, this cat likes to dress as a country squire when no one is looking and go hunting. Without giving too much away Jo Hanks told the BBC that “The tale really is the best of Beatrix Potter. …It has double identities, colourful villains and a number of favourite characters from other tales.” Perhaps best of all is one more glimpse of Peter Rabbit, albeit a slower and portlier one.
The Woman We Never Knew
Beatrix Potter actually was the kind woman who wrote books about small animals that we all believe her to be, but she was also a great deal more. She was a child of privilege, the daughter of a lawyer and granddaughter of one of the wealthiest textile printers and members of parliament. Her cousins are the ancestors of the Duchess of Cambridge, meaning that Beatrix herself is related to the future King George VII.
She was also a well-regarded amateur scientist. After receiving encouragement to make her watercolors of fungi more technically correct, Beatrix began in depth study of mushrooms and other fungi. Due to the limited educational opportunities afforded women of her time, she was primarily self-taught. At one point she even submitted some theories to the director of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, Sir William Thiselton-Dyer. Because of her gender and her status as an amateur Thiselton-Dyer rejected her ideas, as they disagreed with the accepted theories of the day. Beatrix was not to be put off lightly, however. After refining her theory with the encouragement of noted Kew Gardens Mycologist, George Massee, she finalized a paper to be presented to the Linnean Society of London. She could not present her work, “On the Germination of the Spores of the Agaricinea,” but Masse agreed to do so for her. Beatrix removed her paper from consideration because she noted a contaminated sample, and the work was never published. The paper is still reviewed as a respected work by today’s mycologists and her watercolors continue to be used for fungi identification.
On top of being an author and illustrator, and a respected amateur mycologist she was also a pioneering conservationist and business woman. She was very passionate about Herdwicke sheep and became a prize winning breeder. Her employees loved her because she was not afraid to try the latest methods and always hired the best personnel. The Business acumen that worked well on her farm also carried over into her writing. It was Beatrix who began the merchandising of her characters when she registered an idea for a plush peter rabbit with the patent office in 1903, making Peter the first licensed character.
Ms. Potter was a follower of Canton Hardwicke Rawnsley, the founder of the National Trust for Places of Historical Interest or Natural Beauty. She acted as a patron for the Girl Guides, the British version of the Girl Scouts. When she died, she left 15 farms and most of her total property to the National Trust. Because of this donation and her work in conservation of land, flora and fauna she is credited with preserving much of what is today’s Lake District National Park.
For More on Potter, her Characters and Studies see:
- The Complete Tales by Beatrix Potter (J E POT)
- Beatrix Potter’s Art by Anne Stevenson Hobbs (709.2 HOB)
- Beatrix Potter: Artist, Storyteller and Countrywoman by Judy Taylor (92 POT)
- At Home With Beatrix Potter: The Creator of Peter Rabbit by Susan Denyer (823.912 DEN)
- Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life: the plants and places that inspired the classic children’s tales by Marta McDowell (823.912 MCD)
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
Love a good mystery? Looking for a new author to read? Since May is Mystery Month, you’re in luck!
First off, I need to tell you about a great database we subscribe to: Books & Authors. B&A offers new ways to explore books, authors, genres and topics. This database makes exploration of genre fiction and essential non-fiction fun! You can also look through lists created by libraries under Expert Picks & Librarian Lists to find new mystery genres to read. One of the best features is looking up a book you just enjoyed and finding a list of similar books and finding new authors to read. And you can access this list at home, before you come to the library, or go on READS.
There are another two great websites to consider when looking for new authors. You might already know about Good Reads for looking up reviews. But did you know they have genre lists? You can browse through page after page of books, read the blurbs and make your lists. The second site we use often is Fantastic Fiction. This is a great website that gives you series information either with an author search or a title search about British and American authors.
If you’re looking for new mystery books, try Stop, You’re Killing Me. It’s a great website for mystery lovers. You can look for new mysteries by job (archaeologist, pathologist, farmer, antique dealer), by location or country, by historical time periods, by awards and by read-alikes. It’s almost a one-stop shopping/reading center!
Most people choose what mysteries to read based on the New York Times Book List or word of mouth. But there are many genres of mysteries and many places to find more titles to read. There are police procedurals, thrillers, legal thrillers, historical mysteries, gothic mysteries, paranormal mysteries, cozy mysteries, mysteries set in foreign countries and in futuristic settings.
Cozy mysteries can be addictive. These are usually a series about amateur sleuths and you don’t want to miss one. Some of the popular authors are Agatha Christie, Susan Wittig Albert, Julia Spencer-Fleming, and many more.
Gothic mysteries are usually set in a dark, spooky mansion or castle, with suspicious sounds and people. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen and Wuthering Heights may have been some of the first Gothic novels, but they certainly weren’t the last. Mary Stewart, Phillis A Whitney, Victoria Holt, Barbara Michaels and V. C. Andrews are preeminent in this genre. Diane Setterfield, M. J. Rose, John Harwood, Kristen Callahan are more contemporary authors of this genre.
If you get tired of mysteries in a current setting, try a historical mystery. There are so many series set in the middle ages. One of the best featured Father Cadfael, soldier and man of the world who became a monk. Most of the mysteries take place in the monastery or on the grounds. Another good series features Marcus Didius Falco, and is set in ancient Rome. One of the most popular was written by Arian Franklin, who unfortunately passed away several years ago. Her detective was a woman physician who lived under Henry II of England’s rule.
John Grisham made the legal thriller a genre. Everyone was pleased when he wrote a sequel to A Time to Kill. Other authors in this genre are Scott Turow and John Ellsworth and John Lescroart. And we can’t leave out Earl Stanley Gardner, who started it all with Perry Mason. He is credited with influencing many people to become lawyers.
International mysteries, which are set in foreign countries, are fun to read. You learn about other countries, how the police and justice system work and they are absorbing. Just about every country in the world has had at last one mystery set in it. The Scandinavian countries are very popular locations now, what with The Girl Who and Wallander series. Jo Nesbo is very popular, and Icelandic and Finnish stories are in the running as well. One of the continued favorites read is Donna Leon, which features Commissario Brunetti in Venice. And Louise Penny must be mentioned here again since her series takes place in the Toronto area.
One good example of a paranormal mystery series is the character of Aunt Dimity, a ghost who assists in solving mysteries. Barbara Hambly has a series with a physician in Victorian England seeking the assistance of a vampire. Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake would fit here, too; she’s a vampire slayer. Patricia Briggs has quite a following with her series featuring Mercy Thompson; Simon R. Green has his Tales of the Nightside. Charles Stross, Dan Simmons and Nora Roberts write mysteries with a more science fiction edge.
Police procedurals are mysteries are solved by police as they go about their daily duties, working with clues, putting them together, solving the crime and catching the bad guys. The detective novel is similar, but the crime solver has a few more liberties, and we learn more about their lives and sometimes loves and if you have an amateur detective, those are often considered cozy mysteries. . Louise Penny was won many awards for her police procedurals. They are also excellent to listen to. Other authors to consider are Carol O’Connor, Ed McBain, Michael Connelly, and Bill Pronzini.
Psychological suspense thrillers are the ones you can’t put down and keep you up at night. Remember Gone Girl? That was Gillian Flynn, who is a master of this genre. There are other authors too; S J Watson, Paula Hawkins (The Girl on the Train), Iris Johansen, Lisa Gardner, Jonathan Kellerman, Patricia Highsmith, Henry James, Dennis Lehane, Tana French, Mary Kubica and many, many more.
- http://bna.galegroup.com/bna/ (our Books and Authors database)
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
Four hundred years ago, Shakespeare died on April 23. His impact on the world is uncountable. The world is ready to celebrate Shakespeare! The United Kingdom kicked it off in January with Shakespeare400. So many things are happening throughout the whole year! To find out what is happening throughout the world, check out Shakespeare Anniversary; they’re keeping a list of happenings worldwide, covering the whole year.
Recent (re)discoveries of the First Folios:
On 11 July 2008, a folio was recovered that had been stolen from Durham University, England, in 1998, after it was submitted for valuation at Folger Shakespeare Library, The folio’s value was estimated at up to £15 million. The book, once the property of the Bishop of Durham, was returned to the library, but it had been mutilated and was missing its cover and title page. The folio was returned to public display on 19 June 2010 after its twelve-year absence.
In November 2014, a previously unknown First Folio was found in a public library in Saint-Omer, Pas-de-Calais in France, where it had lain for 200 years. Confirmation of its authenticity came from Eric Rasmussen, of the University of Nevada, Reno, one of the world’s foremost authorities on Shakespeare. The only other known copy of a First Folio in France is in the National Library in Paris.
In April 2016 a new discovery was announced, a First Folio having been found in Mount Stuart House on the Isle of Bute, Scotland. It was authenticated by Professor Emma Smith of Oxford University. The Folio originally belonged to Isaac Reed.
The Folger Shakespeare Library is sending some of their precious First Folios touring around the country to celebrate Shakespeare’s life and work. Researchers believe that 750 or fewer copies of the First Folio were printed; 233 survive today, 82 of which are in the Folger collection. After Shakespeare dies, two of his friends published this book in 1623 (folio refers to the large size of paper, which was usually saved for more important documents like theology, history, and royal proclamations.) in 1623. These first Folios are books containing 36 Shakespeare plays. Some of these plays had not been published before, anywhere. Without this book, some of his plays would have been lost, possible forever. More locally, The Wonder of Will, from the Folger Shakespeare Library, has a list of where the First Folios will be in the United States. In Tennessee, a first Folio will be on view at The Parthenon from, Nov 10 2016 – Jan 8, 2017.
Since everybody knows about Shakespeare’s plays and some about his sonnets, I thought I would share some less known information about the Bard of Avon:
- By tradition, it is generally supposed that Shakespeare was born on April 23, 1564, which is Saint George’s Day, the national day of England, and the same date as Shakespeare’s death in 1616 at the age of 52.
- Even though we know a great deal about Shakespeare, there is no evidence for what he did between 1585 and 1592, when he moved to London and began his writing career. Thus, there is no record of how his career began or how quickly he became famous.
- In Shakespeare’s time, theaters had no curtain and used little or no scenery. Playwrights described the setting within the text of the performance.
- Shakespeare’s works contain first-ever recordings of over 2,000 new English words, including critical, frugal, excellent, barefaced, assassination, and countless. The British journalist Bernard Levin put all the words into a handy list which you can find online.
- The full inventory of Shakespeare’s possessions, which would have listed his books and other historically important information, was probably sent to London and was probably destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666.
- In his will, Shakespeare left his wife the second-best bed. Ann Cook, Professor Emerita at Vanderbilt in English, whose specialty is Shakespeare explains this. The second best bed was the one they had used. The best bed was always reserved for guests.
- Shakespeare is popular world-wide. According to Stephen Marche, author of How Shakespeare changed the World, Any night you could go to see a Shakespeare performance in any major city in the world and most of the minor ones, on every continent. By the 19th century, he was the most popular playwright in India and Japan.
- And yes, in 1890, Eugene Schieffelin, a New York pharmaceutical manager, imported 60 starlings into the United States. He wanted to introduce every bird mentioned in Shakespeare into the United States. The other birds he brought over did not have such a huge impact on the country. Starlings surely did! (also from How Shakespeare changed the World)
- Oddly enough, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (author of the famous classic The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote de la Mancha) died on April 22, 1616. In Barcelona this date is St. Jordi’s Day (St. George) and is celebrated throughout Catalonia. The legend goes that there was a dragon terrorizing the country but St. George came to the rescue and slew it. A rose tree rose up from the blood of the dragon. From that time on, men give women and women give men books. It’s one of the biggest days of sales for booksellers in Spain!
- Love in Lowercase by Francesc Miralles tells of this legend.
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
Percy Bysshe Shelley, perhaps one of the greatest poets of the English language, universally admired by students of literature, a revolutionary mind in literature and philosophy and college drop out. Okay, that is not entirely correct. He was actually expelled. Yes, expelled. That guy that you were required to study by your senior year English teacher and whom your Literature 201 professor went on about for days was actually expelled from Oxford. Now the Romantic poets were not exactly known for being good little boys and girls, and most of Byron’s poor behavior came in the form of romantic conquests and there was also the all too common descent into penury and debt that plagued them all at one time or another. But no, not Shelley. He had done something entirely unacceptable, something so scandalous it would cause his father to stop speaking to him (although in honesty, it was one of several occasions where his father refused to speak to him so take that as you will).
What was this heinous crime? What terrible transgression did he commit? He wrote a paper. Yes, just a paper. Well, technically it was a pamphlet. It was 13 pages on a topic that would be none too popular today either. The pamphlet was titled “The Necessity of Atheism” and its author was listed only as “Thro’ deficiency of proof, an atheist.” Shelley never did actually cop to writing it, but it is believed that he and a friend named Thomas Jefferson Hogg wrote and published it in small numbers in the late winter of 1811. They both had talked it up amongst their fellows at Oxford and made sure copies were disseminated far and wide, going as far as to mail them to the bishops, professors and heads of the college. This was probably a bit too much cheek for the Oxford Dons.
The pamphlet itself was actually very blasé. It can be summed up quickly as saying due to a lack of empirical evidence of G_d’s existence; it is safer to be an atheist. It is not the very strong argument of a died in the wool zealot, nor was it actually written very well. It was, however, enough to bring him before a disciplinary committee. Some believe that it was helped by another of Shelley’s publications from that year, a poem called “A Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things” that Shelley had published alone as a Gentleman of the University of Oxford, that made a great outcry against the Napoleonic Wars that were nearing an end at that time. Whatever the reason turned out to be, when Shelley refused to confirm or deny his authorship of either works he was expelled. Hogg met the same fate.
Shelley wrote to his father 3 days after the expulsion had taken place. He was convinced that his father would at least sympathize with him. He Wrote:
“I know too well that your feeling mind will sympathise too deeply in my misfortunes. I hope it will alleviate your sorrow to know that for myself I am perfectly indifferent to the late tyrannical violent proceedings of Oxford.”
Sir Timothy Shelley felt no sorrow for his son. His own copy of “The Necessity of Atheism” has the word “impious” scrawled across it. In fact, the Baronet went to see his son and in the presence of the aforementioned Hogg raved, cursed and cried at his son, finally insisting that Percy return home to be educate by teachers Sir Timothy would choose. This began a rift that would eventually keep the two from speaking to each other for years and damaged their relationship in ways that were never to be mended.
To many modern Americans, “The Necessity of Atheism” and “A Poetical Essay” are just a bit of youthful rebellion, common to people in their late teens. They would have been articles in your school’s underground newspaper twenty or forty years ago. Today they would be blog posts from online aliases or facebooks status updates. Your parents might not approve, but nothing that would warrant expulsion and being disowned. Shelley held to his beliefs and rarely compromised them. He never abandoned them wholly, but only modified them as his life brought him greater scope of experience.
In an ironic twist, these two pamphlets as well as Shelley’s letter to his father are all part of the collection of the Bodleian Library and are part of a travelling collection called Shelley’s Ghost. In fact a copy of “A Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things”, once thought lost to the world was added at some expense to the library’s collection as the 12 millionth items in 2006. The Bodleian is the much celebrated research library of Oxford University and the second largest repository in Britain. If you go to see it you can also take in the rather grand memorial to Shelley placed on Oxford’s campus, a place too noble to accept him in life and only too willing to lionize him, deservedly so, in death.
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
Amy Tan was born on February 19, 1952 in Oakland, California. Happy 64th, Amy! We’re all very glad that you are recovering from your harrowing bout of illness from Lyme Disease. Yes, Amy Tan, the famous author, contracted Lyme Disease. Unfortunately, it was misdiagnosed for years and she had thought her writing career was over. And what a career she has had!
She is most famous for her novels about Chinese families, especially The Joy Luck Club.
- In The Joy Luck Club, four Chinese-American daughters learn the history and back story of their mothers in this novel. The mothers, who meet up regularly to play Mah Jong, called themselves the Joy Luck Club. It was a major best seller and book club favorite.
- In The Kitchen God’s Wife, two best friends have kept each other’s secrets. Now that one of them is deathly ill, the other believes it is her duty to tell her secrets to her friend’s daughter. But the friend gets better – now what?
- In The Hundred Secret Senses, Olivia meets her much older half-sister for the first time. It is like meeting someone from another world. And really it was another world. Kwan grew up in China, Olivia in America.
- In The Bonesetter’s Daughter, Ruth Young’s mother LuLing is slowing succumbing to Alzheimer’s. Before she loses herself completely, she gives Ruth some of her writings, which reveal a very different side of her mother.
- In Saving Fish from Drowning, Bibi Chen has planned a picaresque journey of the senses on the Burma Road. After she dies unexpectedly, she watches her tour group veer off the path into the unknown.
- In The Opposite of Fate, which is a series of essays Tan writes about her works. Some have likened it to a long conversation with Ms. Tan.
- The Valley of Amazement, Tan’s last novel, is the story of three women, connected at times with love and then by hate and by the painting The Valley of Amazement.
- She also wrote the children’s book Sagwa, the Chinese Cat (illustrated by Gretchen Schields), which was published in 1994. A mother cat tells her kittens the story of their ancestry. The family descended from Sagwa, who was famous for changing the way Siamese cats look forever. After she fell into the ink pot, and changed the wording of a harsh rule with her footprints, it was decreed by the wise magistrate (foolish until Sagwa’s assistance) that henceforth all Chinese cats should have dark faces, ears and paws. Sagwa was also made into an animated children’s television series in 2001. It was very popular on PBS Kids and often reruns. It aired for one season only, and cancelled in 2003.
And to think, her writing career was almost halted in its tracks because of her undiagnosed Lyme Disease. Her story is like so many of those suffering with this mysterious, debilitating and hard to diagnose disease. In 1999 she first began showing the symptoms. Symptoms which nearly debilitated her: anxiety, numbness, vision problems, brain lesions, hallucinations. She found she was having trouble reading, couldn’t remember what was on the page after she read it. She was having trouble writing and speaking – both of which are incredibly important for authors. She went from doctor to doctor, took test after test. She took steroids, then Prozac (which gave her nightmares), until, finally, one doctor ordered an ELISA test (which was used to screen for Lyme Disease). She read up on this disease and every symptom fit, however, some physicians still expressed doubt she had it, since she lives in San Francisco. What they didn’t consider is that she does have a house in New York state, and she does take walks in the woods there. She found a Lyme Disease specialist in San Francisco who finally diagnosed her. Once she began taking anti-biotics, her symptoms began to ease, but she will have to take these pills for life. Tan co-founded LymeAid 4 Kids, which helps uninsured children pay for treatment.
Here are some extra fun facts about Amy Tan you may not know:
- She found out later on that her mother had been married before in China, and had left behind three daughters, and the memory of her mother’s suicide. Amy got to meet her step-sisters finally.
- Her older brother and her father both died of brain tumors within six months of each other.
- In college, she had a double major of English and Linguistics. She continued in schooling and got her Master’s in Linguistics then started on her doctorate.
- She worked in the field of helping children with developmental disabilities.
- She was one of the founding members of the band the Rock Bottom Remainders, along with Dave Barry, Stephen King, Matt Groenig, Barbara Kingslover and Roy Blount, Jr. The Remainders’ first performance was in 1992 at the American Booksellers Association convention in Anaheim, California. They also played at the opening of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland in 1995. They gave their last concert on June 23, 2012, at the annual conference of the American Library Association also in Anaheim, where they played their first concert. Even though the band is no longer playing gigs, they are fondly remembered by authors, teachers and librarians everywhere. Plus there’s always Youtube…
- She wrote the libretto for the opera composed by Stewart Wallace based on her book The Bonesetter’s Daughter.
- She was a free-lance business writer for several years before she started writing fiction at the age of 33.
By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department
Happy 78th birthday! I really wish you lived closer to me so that I could take you out to lunch and buy you a present, although nothing I could give you would remotely compare to the marvelous gifts that you have bestowed upon readers of all ages over your prolific and inspiring career. I mean, seriously—find me a woman in North America whose life as a young adult wasn’t made just a little bit better as a result of reading Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. (Although, I guess there are some unfortunate people out there who were deprived of the opportunity to read Margaret and Deenie and Forever, which in turn possibly inspired you to become an active proponent of the National Coalition Against Censorship.) I hope your day is as fantastic as your books. Blessings on you—
Stacy Parish, Williamson County Public Library, Franklin TN
(Author’s note: So, yeah. I have serious doubts that Judy Blume will ever read my birthday wishes to her, but I’m still going to put it out there. Doesn’t cost me anything.)
If you’ve read this far (bless your heart) and are wondering to yourself: Who is this Judy Blume that you speak of? Then please, Dear Reader, continue. Judy Blume, nee Judith Sussman, was born on February 12, 1938 in Elizabeth, New Jersey, a suburban town just west of New York City to Esther and Rudolph Sussman, a homemaker and a dentist. Judy, as she preferred to be called, had a brother David, who was four years her senior and preferred to spend his free time working on mysterious and often volatile science experiments in the garage. Hence, she found herself being the one who entertained her parents and other family members with her games and performances, much like funny, charismatic Sally Freedman in Starring Sally J. Freedman As Herself. In fact, Judy would again draw upon her own childhood experiences, seven years and seven books after publishing her award-winning Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret., as the basis for Sally, and her brother David as the model for Sally’s sardonic loner brother Douglas.
Judy Blume was a voracious reader as a child, and loved stories and books of all kinds. She says that she spent most of her childhood making up stories inside her own head, but no matter how much she read, she never found any characters in those books whose lives and experiences were relatable to her own. Books of that era were often “sanitized for your protection,” to borrow a phrase one of my coworkers uses frequently. That is, nobody had an agonizingly annoying little brother who went into their room and messed with their stuff and swallowed their turtle (a la Fudge, from Tales Of A Fourth Grade Nothing), nobody was bullied (Blubber), nobody started their period (Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret), and you can be absolutely certain that nobody ever wrote about their father being shot and killed in a convenience-store holdup (Tiger Eyes.)
After graduating from high school, Judy was accepted by and enrolled in Boston University, where she spent all of two weeks before contracting mononucleosis. She returned home to New Jersey and transferred later that year to New York University. Life for Judy, as it does for most of us, proceeded apace—during her junior year of college, she began dating John Blume and was soon engaged to be married; she lost her beloved father, whom she affectionately called “Doey-bird,” in July before her senior year; she married John later that summer; and by the time she graduated from college in 1961, she was pregnant with her first child. Her daughter Randy was born later that year, and two years after that, the family moved from their apartment in Plainfield, New Jersey, to a house a few miles away in Scotch Plains. While living there, Judy gave birth to their second child, a son they named Lawrence. (How fun is this–Judy has stated in interviews that Lawrence was the inspiration for the character named Fudge, and Lawrence directed the critically-acclaimed film adaptation of Tiger Eyes in 2012.)
As a young suburban homemaker, Judy didn’t enjoy the activities that the other wives and mothers did. Golf, tennis, and shopping held no charm for her, and as a result, Judy often found herself being bored. Determined to make her life more interesting and to flex her creative muscles that had atrophied since childhood, she tried for a time to write songs. When that didn’t work out, she started making crafts out of felt, but she found that quite unsatisfying and also developed an unfortunate rash from the craft glue. Then one fine day when she was twenty-seven, Judy received a brochure in the mail from her alma mater (NYU) that advertised a class on writing for children. She was already trying to write and illustrate children’s books, so this was a positive omen. Judy signed up for the class, and even took it again the following semester. Her patience and persistence paid off, and before her second semester ended, she had a few of her stories accepted for publication in a magazine and was paid the roaring sum of $20 per story. And the rest, as they say, is history. Her first full-length children’s book, The One In The Middle Is The Green Kangaroo, was published in 1969, and in the decades since, her novels for children and young adults have exceeded sales of 85 million copies and have been translated into 32 languages.
By the end of the 20th century, Judy’s original demographic of readers had grown up and had children of their own. Her books had extended from the first generation and were still popular with—and relevant to—the next one. Her original readers were also rewarded with several adult novels from Judy’s beautiful mind—Wifey (1978), Smart Women (1983), Summer Sisters (1999) and In The Unlikely Event (2015.) Just as with her children’s and young adult novels, these books all showcased Judy’s transcendent talent for chronicling family life and its convoluted, often messy, occasionally hysterical, events. She also published a nonfiction book, titled Letters To Judy: What Your Kids Wish They Could Tell You in 1986. Inspired by a 10-year-old girl named Amy, the purpose of the book was to illustrate what kids were thinking and feeling about different issues such as divorce, sex, drugs, suicide, et cetera, issues that kids might be hesitant to approach their parents about and parents in turn might be completely in the weeds for talking to their children about.
Lucky readers are we, as the delightful Judy Blume shows no signs of slowing down, even as she approaches her eighth decade on the planet, and that her books of such timeless quality have endured along with her. What a marvelous way to spend a winter afternoon, curled up with a cup of tea and some of the charming characters she brought us—Margaret, Deenie, Davey, Fudge, to name just a few. Happy birthday, Judy Blume! Mazel tov, and thank you.
Suggested reading and sources:
- Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume, Bradbury Press, 1970. (J F BLU)
- Everything I Needed To Know About Being A Girl I Learned From Judy Blume, edited by Jennifer O’Connell, Simon & Schuster, 2007. (813 EVE)
- Summer Sisters by Judy Blume, Delacorte Press, 1988. (F BLU)
- Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume, Delacorte Press 1981. (J F BLU)
- Who Wrote That? Judy Blume by Elisa Ludwig, Chelsea House Publishers, 2004. (J 92 BLUME)
- Women Who Broke The Rules: Judy Blume by Kathleen Krull, Bloomsbury USA, 2015. (J 92 BLUME)
*The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and not intended in any way, shape, or form to influence anyone to trespass into their sibling’s room and swallow their pet. The author and her employer hereby absolve themselves of any such untoward behavior being emulated by WCPL patrons, their families, neighbors, classmates, yada yada yada.
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
On January 15, 1831, Victor Hugo finished one of his famous novels— Notre Dame de Paris. It had taken him only four months, after missing many deadlines set by his publishers. This was his first novel; it was a hit in Paris and France from the very beginning. Hugo had already gained fame because of his poems (he was granted many gifts and a 3000 franc annual pension from King Louis XVIII.) He lived during turbulent times. When he was two, Napoleon became Emperor of France. During his eighteenth year, the Bourbon dynasty was restored and Napoleon overthrown. It is no wonder that The Hunchback of Notre Dame was set in turbulent times. And it also explains the French reaction to the work. The French had all lived through Napoleon and the struggles, not to mention the French Revolution that had occurred within living memory.
Notre Dame de Paris was a huge hit for him—even a sensation. The English translator for Hugo retitled the novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame because at the time of its publication in English, Gothic novels were popular. Thus all the confusion! Hugo titled it as he did because the main character really is the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, not Quasimodo or Esmerelda. Hugo wanted to bring attention to the condition of the famous cathedral—it was badly in need of repairs. It was attracting thousands of tourists who had read the popular novel. The book also inspired a renewed appreciation for pre-Renaissance buildings, which thereafter began to be actively preserved.
All his adult life, he passionately advocated for an end to the death penalty. He is credited with convincing the British government to spare the lives of six Irish people convicted of terrorist activities, and is also considered in the removal of the death penalty from the constitutions of Geneva, Portugal and Colombia. His archives show that he wrote a letter asking the USA, for the sake of their own reputation in the future, to spare John Brown’s life, but the letter arrived after Brown was executed. What would have happened if the letter had arrived before??
When Napoleon III came to power, Hugo declared him an enemy of the state and moved abroad. He spent fifteen years in exile in Brussels, then Channel Islands. Jersey expelled him soon after arrival, but Guernsey was welcoming. His home in exile is a museum now.
When he returned to Paris in 1870, he was touted as a national hero. He suffered a small stroke, his two sons died and his daughter was committed to an insane asylum, all in a short time period. His wife had died several years earlier; his devoted mistress died two years before him. The whole nation of France celebrated his eightieth birthday. Paris had one of the largest parades ever to celebrate it. For nearly six hours people marched past his window! He was recovering from a small stoke and was not able to leave his bed, but he was propped up so he could watch. He was also given a traditional gift that was only given to kings. Paris even renamed a street after him. Most of the large towns and cities have streets named after victor Hugo. When Hugo died at age 83 from pneumonia, his coffin was laid under the Arc de Triomphe for an all-night vigil. Nearly 2 million people marched in his funeral. He was buried with all honors in a crypt with Alexandre Dumas and Emile Zola.
On to the novel: On January 6, 1482, during the Feast of Fools, a huge crowd is milling around the Cathedral of Notre Dame, taking part in the celebrations. There is a maypole, a mystery play and a bonfire. Esmerelda, a Gypsy, singing and swaying, catches the eyes of several men: Captain (of the guards) Phoebus, Grigoire, Archdeacon Claude Frollo and Quasimodo. Frollo orders Quasimodo to kidnap Esmerelda, but he is caught by the guards, flogged and put in stocks. Esmerelda gives him water, gaining his undying love. Later, after Esmerelda is charged with Phoebus’ attempted murder, Quasimodo saves her from death by taking her to the sanctuary of the cathedral. But the sanctuary doesn’t last long. She is retaken, and hanged. Frollo laughs during the hanging so Quasimodo throws him off the cathedral. Quasimodo finds Esmerelda’s body in the graveyard and stays there until he dies of starvation.
Hugo introduced the concept of the novel as Epic Theatre in Notre Dame de Paris. This was a giant epic about the history of a whole people, with the figure of the great cathedral as witness and silent protagonist. It was the first novel to have beggars as protagonists. It was also the first work of fiction to encompass the whole of life, from the King of France to Paris sewer rats, in a manner later co-opted by many others authors, including Charles Dickens. The popularity of the book in France also kick started the historical preservation movement in Paris and the rest of the nation and strongly encouraged Gothic revival architecture. Ultimately it led to major renovations at Notre-Dame in the 19th century; much of the cathedral’s present appearance is a result of this renovation. Read the rest of this entry →
By Sharon Reily, Reference Department
“Pseudonym” comes from the Greek pseudonymos, meaning “having a false name, under a false name,” and writers have used pseudonyms or pen names for centuries. Everybody knows that “Mark Twain” was the pen name for Samuel Clemens, and by now most readers have figured out that “Robert Galbraith” (The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm) is a pseudonym for Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling. But did you know that “J.K. Rowling” is also a pseudonym? Rowling’s real name is Joanne (no middle initial) Rowling! Why would an author choose to write under a different name? And just who are some of these writers who’ve pulled the literary wool over readers’ eyes with alternate identities?
To Conceal Gender
One of the most common reasons for writing under an assumed name is to conceal the author’s gender. Women writers simply weren’t always taken as seriously as their male counterparts, and some of the most celebrated authors of all times had to use masculine pen names to insure their works were given the same consideration as male writers, or even be published at all. Among the most famous are the Brontë sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne. Charlotte published her works, including the classic Jane Eyre, under the male pen name “Currer Bell.” Emily used “Ellis Bell” for her masterpiece Wuthering Heights, while Anne wrote Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall as “Acton Bell.”
To Conceal Identity
Louisa May Alcott published her most famous work, Little Women, under her real name, but she began her career writing as “A.M. Barnard.” Mary Ann Evans began writing as “George Eliot” to distance herself from the female romance novelists of the Victorian era. She revealed her true identity after her novel Adam Bede was well-received, but continued using her pen name for her other works, including Middlemarch. Karen Blixen, author of Out of Africa, is better known as “Isak Dinesen.” Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin is famous as “George Sand.” Women writers still use male or androgynous pen names. Science fiction novelist Alice Mary Norton wrote as “Andre Norton” to increase her marketability with her primarily male audience. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter publishers urged her to use initials instead of her real name Joanne for fear the target audience of young boys wouldn’t read something written by a woman. Jane Austen hid her identity but not her gender when she published Sense and Sensibility as “A Lady.”
To Switch Genres
Sometimes writers known for specific genres just want to try something different, which can be confusing and off-setting to their faithful readers. So they choose to use pen names. Mystery writer Agatha Christie also wrote romance novels as “Mary Westmacott.” Nora Roberts, mainly known for her romance novels, branched out into science fiction as “J.D. Robb.” Anne Rice, famous for her Vampire Chronicles, writes erotic fiction as “A.N. Roquelaure” and “Anne Rampling.” (For the record, her real name is Howard Allen O’Brien, so “Anne Rice” is also a pen name.)
J.K. Rowling wrote her adult mysteries The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm as “Robert Galbraith” to “publish without hype or expectation” and received unbiased reviews from critics without the preconceived notions her name carries. Novelist Evan Hunter (born Salvatore Albert Lombino) saw his most success writing crime fiction as “Ed McBain” (the 87th Precinct series). Hunter’s 2005 New York Times obituary explained that McBain and Hunter bylines were kept very separate “to avoid any confusion or shock that readers of Evan Hunter’s ‘serious’ books might feel when exposed to the ‘mayhem, bloodshed, and violence’ that were Ed McBain’s meat and drink.” Isaac Asimov, best known for his popular science and science fiction works, wrote a series of juvenile sci-fi novels as “Paul French.” Poet Cecil Day-Lewis published detective novels as “Nicholas Blake.”
To Avoid Saturating The Market
Early in Stephen King’s career, his publishers felt writers should be limited to putting out only one book a year. To get around this restriction, he created “Richard Bachman.” He came up with the name while on the phone with his publisher – he had a Richard Stark novel on his desk and a Bachman Turner Overdrive song was playing. King wrote four novels as Bachman but once his cover was blown, he declared Bachman dead of “cancer of the pseudonym.”
A more extreme example is provided by horror master Dean Koontz. Throughout the 1970s, Koontz published as many as eight books a year, and since his editors told him that writing in different genres under the same name was a bad idea, and risked serious overexposure, he chose some aliases: “Aaron Wolfe,” “Brian Coffey,” “David Axton,” “Deanna Dwyer,” “John Hill,” “K.R. Dwyer,” “Leigh Nichols,” “Anthony North,” “Owen West,” and “Richard Paige.” Koontz is suspected of using other names as well, but only admits to writing under these ten pen names.
To Separate A Writing Career From A “Day Job”
Nevil Shute Norway published his novels, including A Town Like Alice and On the Beach, as “Nevil Shute” to protect his aeronautical engineering and business careers. Renowned Egyptologist Dr. Barbara Mertz is better known as “Elizabeth Peters,” writer of the bestselling Amelia Peabody mystery series. Sir Walter Scott wrote Waverly and other novels anonymously to protect his reputation as a poet. “Ann Landers” was a pen name created by the popular advice column’s original author, Ruth Crowley, who didn’t want it confused with another column she was writing about child care. Joe Klein, TIME magazine political columnist, wrote the novel Primary Colors, based on Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign, as “Anonymous” and went to great lengths to protect his true identity.
As a Pen Name for a Group of Writers
It turns out that some well-known writers never existed at all! The Hardy Boys series by Franklin W. Dixon was written instead by several ghostwriters. Likewise, the Nancy Drew and Dana Girls series were not the work of Carolyn Keene, who didn’t exist, but by different ghostwriters. Laura Lee Hope, credited with The Bobbsey Twins series, was also just a pseudonym for several ghostwriters.
No matter why a writer chooses to use a pseudonym, whether to mask gender, explore different genres, or maintain professional and personal privacy, key results are the unlocking of creativity, the freedom to write as one pleases, and the opportunity to have one’s work made available to readers. Without the use of pen names, some of literature’s greatest masterpieces (and works of popular fiction) might never have been written or published.
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
The well-known author and poet Robert Louis Stevenson was born 165 years ago in Edinburgh, Scotland on November 13. We are very lucky that he didn’t go into the family business of building lighthouses!! He left us with children’s poems in A Child’s Garden of Verses, many other lyric poems, and of course, his novels, Kidnapped, Treasure Island and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Louis (he was never really called Robert) was sickly as a child, and continued to struggle with ill health all his life. His mother and father had lung problems and he inherited his breathing problems from them both. His family often moved to warmer climates during the colder weather, which he and his family continued later on in his life. His parents were well-off and well-read and moderate Presbyterians. His nurse Cummy (Alison Cunningham) was fervent in her beliefs and scared young Louis out of sound sleep many nights with her scary stories of sinners going to hell, and supernatural beings coming to get him. It’s no wonder he had such a great imagination!
He was tutored at home often, attending school sporadically, because of his ill health, and only liking playing games at recess. He wrote stories throughout his childhood, but his father determined he needed to have a career, so he was sent to Edinburgh University to become a lawyer. He did pass the bar, but never practiced. His father came to understand that Louis would have to be a writer, and continued to support him from time to time until his death. Louis travelled and wrote about his travels. He traveled and met people, most of them ended up helping him with publishing or editing his works. When he was 26, he met an American woman, Fannie van der Grift Osbourne, while they were staying at a hostel in France. He fell in love but she was still married (with two surviving children) and unsure about her feelings. She returned to America to gain a divorce and Louis, desperate to see her again, sailed across the ocean in steerage, and then traveled across county to Monterey, California. He nearly died- his health was never very good after this trip. They married and began to try to find the best places for his health to live. It was while happily married with Fanny that he wrote his most famous books. Lloyd, Fanny’s son helped him with Treasure Island. He was a teen at the time and found the story involving. He helped make the map.
The Stevensons found the best place for Louis’ health were the South Sea Islands and ended up living in Samoa. Louis became involved in his adopted country and wrote a book about the history of the Islands that was well received. The natives called him Tusitala (Teller of Tales). He died in Samoa at the age of 44, after a massive brain hemorrhage in 1894. He wrote his own epitaph, his poem Requiem.
For bit a of levity, Nancy Horan, who recently wrote a fictionalized biography about Stevenson’s wife, Fanny, wrote an article for the Huffington Post about things you never knew about Robert Louis Stevenson.
- He invented the sleeping bag – too bad he never got to see one for sale in a store. Wonder who saw his and went on to invent a better version?
- He wrote The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in eight days, while bedridden and recovering from a bout of illness.
- He used a pseudonym when he published Treasure Island in monthly chapters in a children’s magazine. He probably thought Captain George North would be more seaman-like.
- He gave away his birthday to a twelve-year old girl. They were talking and she said she’d never had a birthday since she was born on Christmas Day. He was appalled that she’d never had an actual birthday and wrote a legal letter giving her his birthday. (This makes me think he must have been a fun person to be with!)