Sunday, November 26, 2006

Notes from a Vacation

The Milwaukee airport has a marvelous used and rare bookstore, of all things, where I picked up Max Perkins, Editor of Genius, by A. Scott Berg. Perkins is the Ursula Nordstrom of grown-up books -- the editor of The Great Gatsby and The Sun Also Rises, the architect of most of Thomas Wolfe's novels -- and thus far the biography is both entertaining and enlightening in showing how very little editing has changed in the eighty years since Perkins first labored. On the other hand, this is my favorite anecdote so far, about Perkins's boss in the Charles Scribner's Sons' office:

William Crary Brownell, the editor-in-chief, white-bearded and walrus-mustached, had a brass spittoon and a leather couch in his office. Every afternoon he would read a newly submitted manuscript and then "sleep on it" for an hour. Afterward he would take a walk around the block, puffing a cigar, and by the time he had returned to his desk and spat, he was ready to announce his opinion of the book.
Now that's the way to work out an editorial letter!


From my layover in Milwaukee I flew home here to Missouri, where I've had a lovely time with my family . . . just eating, talking, and watching football, but at Thanksgiving, who needs anything else? Yesterday we went up to Iowa to see my Klein cousins, and today we enjoyed a massive, hilarious, round-the-house, uphill and down-, backstabbing and trash-talking game of Killer Klein Croquet, capped off with the best final gate ever: over a ledge, up a ramp, down a deck, off a slide, into the gravel, nothing but wicket. My sister Melissa managed to accomplish this feat first, and hence she captured the Frog, who will now take up residence in North Kansas City. Congrats to the kid!


If you've ever seen a book cover and thought "Pshaw, I could do better than that," Penguin UK has a new line of classic novels with blank white covers just for you. The first six titles: Marcus Aurelius's Meditations, the Grimm Brothers' Magic Tales, The Waves by Virginia Woolf, The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde, Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, and Emma (whence I heard of this, through AustenBlog). You can e-mail your finished creation to the Penguin staff and they may use it in their online gallery. I think my cover for Emma would be modeled after the Hirschfeld drawing for the Original Broadway Cast Recording of My Fair Lady: Harriet Smith as a marionette with Emma pulling her strings . . . but Emma as a marionette as well, with her strings held by the ever-wise Jane Austen.


I know I've praised the LiveJournal of screenwriter Todd Alcott before, but I've been particularly impressed by the quality of the criticism and writing in his recent posts: meditations on dystopias, Brice Marden, and James Bond, reviews of classic films, and scenes from the Happy Ending Shakespeare Company, among others. He's especially worth reading if you like thinking about story structure and the great question used as his tagline: "What does the protagonist want?"


A book you should all go out and read immediately: Keturah and Lord Death, by Martine Leavitt. I took this up knowing nothing about it, besides that it was a National Book Award nominee, and I came away amazed and moved by the beauty of Ms. Leavitt's story. As the Front Street Books site says, "Renowned for her storytelling, Keturah is able to charm Lord Death with a story and thereby gain a reprieve—but only for twenty-four hours. She must find her one true love within that time, or all is lost." It is a marvelous book, thoughtful, surprising, and romantic, but always with an awareness that there are larger and more important things than romance, which gives it a depth not often seen in the here-and-now of YA literature. And the writing is pure and fine. Don't miss it.


I am thankful for my life, and the people and books and things in it, every day. Thanks to all of you for being part of it.


  1. Thanks for the Max Perkins, Editor of Genius tip. One of my all-time fave reads is Dear Genius, the Letters of Ursula Nordstrom. Any coincidence that both titles use the word Genius?

    So, when they write a book about you, what would you like the title to be?

    - Jay

  2. Thanks for the Todd Alcott blog referral. LOVED his Rolling Stones concert review!!!


  3. So ... you going to start smoking cigars now?

  4. Jay, I thought about adding -- but couldn't figure out how to work it in -- that whenever I hold the Perkins book in public, I worry people will think me like Percy Weasley with Prefects Who Gained Power!

    My title can be Cheryl Klein: Minion to Genius. Or maybe "Handmaiden" or "Amanuensis," or just plain "Lackey." :-)

  5. Welcome back!

    An airport with a used and rare book store? Sounds like heaven meets hell, making air travel almost a delight.

    The wicked wickets sounds great! You should have a map showing the travels of Frog.

    I'm off to check out blank book covers. I stumbled on to a blog that showcased cool book covers, both old and new. I wish I could dig up the link.

    Best thoughts,