For all the remembered writers of the 20th century, John O'Hara may not be among them. He was, however, commercial, and in his own words, he said, "I'm not some hairy philosopher. I'm just an ordinary guy who happens to write well."
Appointment in Samarra (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
O'Hara was one of the 20th century's best-selling authors. His biographer, Matthew J. Bruccoli, claimed O'Hara published more words than any other writer in the century. The public loved O'Hara, and he wrote for them. Critics were less kind.
Still, O'Hara knew what he was about. "The United States in this century is what I know," he said. "I want to record the way people talked and thought and felt, and do it with complete honesty and variety."
The Schuylkill County (PA) Historical Society, the birthplace of O'Hara, is now trying to keep O'Hara's memory alive. The Society got an early start on preserving the history of the area, having incorporated in 1903, but only last month decided to build an O'Hara collection. Their collection began simply enough with the recent donation of two letters written by O'Hara, one dated in 1954 and the other dated in 1961, and they serve as a cornerstone for other artifacts to come from the author's life.
Upon publication of O'Hara's first book, Appointment in Samarra, the New York Herald Tribune wrote that, "The genuine value of Appointment in Samarra is the author's grasp of his dubious hero's character." Hemingway praised the book highly and Edmund Wilson wrote that the book was "a memorable picture of both a provincial snob, a disorganized drinking-man of the twenties, and of the complexities of the social organism in which he flourished and perished."
Last year, Penguin Classics re-issued Appointment in Samarra, and other O'Hara books have followed. The author is finally receiving a bit of his critical due, particularly for his later works, which remain some of best portraits of the 20th century.
These three association copies, and more than six hundred other modern first editions, all inscribed to Basbanes, are being offered en bloc by Lux Mentis Booksellers in Portland, Maine.
Most readers hardly need an introduction to Nick Basbanes. He has been, since the publication of A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books in 1995, the book world's foremost expert on bibliophilia, as well as FB&C's featured columnist. Prior to that, Basbanes was book review editor and literary columnist for the Worcester (Massachusetts) Telegram & Gazette from 1978 to 1991 and a freelance reviewer and writer from 1991 to 2000. It was during these years that Basbanes interviewed scores of authors. In the introduction to the sale catalogue for the collection of association copies, Basbanes writes that asking each author to sign a book for him "was central to my transformation from an impassioned reader who already loved books for their content into a bibliophile who treasured them as material objects."
Two of the inscribed books recall a lighthearted rivalry between Annie Dillard and Roy Blount, Jr. Basbanes had met with the two writers on the same day. Blount had inscribed, "It's nice to be able to discuss the concept of raunchiness with you just before you get to Annie Dillard." To which Dillard "replied" in her inscription: "...with all best wishes after a jolly old time at the Ritz-Carleton on the day of his talk with slightly more raunchy Roy Blount Jr."
Some of the authors he interviewed more than once (and so he collected more than one title), including Margaret Atwood, Harold Bloom, James Lee Burke, Pat Conroy, Michael Crichton, Louise Erdrich, P.D. James, Norman Mailer, David McCullough, and Maurice Sendak. He has a few Updikes too, one of which is inscribed "For Nick, the bibliophia expert," and a few from Joseph Heller, who referred to Basbanes as "an old and welcome friend."
All of the books are in very good to fine condition, and some even include a bit of publishing ephemera--review slips, press releases, publicity photos. It is, as Basbanes describes it, "a snap-shot of the literary scene of the day as it unfolded."
The price for the collection is available upon request from Lux Mentis.
Images courtesy of Nick Basbanes.
Last fall, the NSC sponsored a migration reenactment in which a team of artists traveled along Route 66, presenting programs and collecting oral histories related to The Grapes of Wrath and its themes. (An article in our spring issue interviews two participants.) A documentary by P.J. Palmer about that experience will premiere at the May festival.
Image: Courtesy of NSC.
You can get a copy of the anthology through the Morbid Anatomy gift shop, or by supporting for $25 or more a new campaign to help build their new museum space. You can also read more about the Morbid Anatomy Library & Museum in our spring issue.
Image: Courtesy of Morbid Anatomy.
"Migrant," by José Mateo, illustrated by Javier Martínez Pedro; Abrams Books for Young Readers, $17.95, 22 pages, ages 10 and up.
Over 5.5 million children of illegal immigrants live in the United States whose stories go largely undocumented. Migrant chronicles the tumultuous trek of a young Mexican boy who enters the United States with his mother and sister. The
border crossing is perilous, but the family arrives safely in Los
Angeles. There the story ends, leaving readers to wonder what happens
next - does the family stay in the United States, or are they deported? Does the boy speak English? Author José Mateo says he kept the characters in Migrant anonymous
because there are so many untold, complex tales of woe and desperation
that hopes this story may speak for those without a voice.
composed as a modern day codex, bound in an accordion foldout. The text
is translated in English on one side and is in the original Spanish on
the reverse. Read top to bottom, the text and illustrations recall the pre-Hispanic society that flourished in Mexico.
Award-winning artist and amate
papermaker Javier Martínez Pedro rendered the images using pen and in.
Reminiscent of ancient Mayan hieroglyphs, the throngs of anonymous
people spiral down the foldout mural, descending from a life of relative
calm into a world of uncertainty. Pedro's art is on his own handmade amate paper, a product similar to papyrus and is only produced in the artist's village of Xalitla.
book beautifully demands a people's right to exist, and will no doubt
incite readers to learn more about this situation taking place right on
Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk flew to the UK to talk about his life and writing at the invitation of the chancellor of the University of Oxford, Lord Patten of Barnes, for the chancellor's lecture in this year's Oxford Literary Festival, which ran from March 22-30. The chancellor's lecture has been presenting international literary figures, including the late great poet and fellow Nobel winner Seamus Heaney last year, an event I regret missing.
The Sunday Times ended its sponsorship of the festival after nearly ten years, and FT Weekend took over as the new title partner. The festival also went "ticketless." As a festival-goer since 2009, I was hesitant to attend this year, recalling that even last year's festival was not like what it used to be. Many had voiced their disappointment about the fact that there was no marquee and personally, I felt there was something celebratory about the marquee, and without it, it was as though there was nothing special going on. Having known only lovely spring festival days, last year, it rained when we were in Oxford, and there was no marquee to shelter us when, ironically, it was needed the most.
So when it was announced that a new marquee would be set up outside the Sheldonian Theatre, I was more than eager to come visit Sheldonian first when we arrived on Saturday, March 29. When we arrived, A.C. Grayling was about to have a book signing, but I hardly noticed as I was already drooling over signed editions of Michael Scott's Delphi. Canadian novelist, poet, and critic Margaret Atwood was also in town as she was the guest speaker at the closing festival dinner at the Great Hall of Christ Church (the one used as Hogwarts Hall in Harry Potter films) that night. The Atwood dinner was a black-tie event and obviously not appropriate for my three-year-old; besides, I knew it would coincide with the Pamuk event that I had already planned to attend.
Still six hours to wait before the chancellor's lecture, from Sheldonian we took the obligatory walk amongst the dreamy spires, to Christ Church and then to the river to watch the punts and pedalos. We took our daughter to Alice's shop, a.k.a. "The Old Sheep Shop" in Through the Looking Glass, a.k.a. the shop where the real Alice, Miss Liddell, used to buy sweets. It is tiny, always packed, and a major tourist trap, as we've found in previous visits. Nevertheless we are always drawn back like children who wouldn't mind being lost in a sweet shop. Our daughter was enthralled, recognizing each Alice in Wonderland character she saw on every item.
After afternoon tea, I headed back to Sheldonian Theatre on my own to listen to Pamuk. The chancellor introduced him and interviewer Jason Cowley, who used to edit Granta and is now the editor of New Statesman. While it was quite an experience to have been there in person, I must admit I've heard more interesting and in-depth interviews with Pamuk elsewhere. The jump across topics - politics, religion, life, books, among other things - was dizzying.
Somebody in the audience asked Pamuk a question related to translation: if we who do not read his work in Turkish are missing anything? For a man whose work is translated into 46 languages and whose primary task is to write, he said translation is such a "vast geography," and he could only check English, but he worked closely and went over the work carefully with his translators. "If we know you'd miss a joke (in Turkish) we did our best to supply another joke," he said. He explained further that there is that anxiety of being a bad writer in translation, "you definitely lose a bit, alliterations, jokes that depend on the nature and structure of the Turkish language." (It brought to mind a tea and chat I had with Sophie's World author Jostein Gaarder while a graduate student in Oslo. He said some readers do get angry about some things in his books, and it turned out he didn't even write them as the translation was not accurate.) But oh, to read Pamuk in the original Turkish!
There was also a question about his museum that opened two years ago, conceived when he was writing The Museum of Innocence. He said of it, "We have quite a number of visitors, the museum is doing fine, it's open except on Mondays, and if you happen to be in Istanbul, please visit." [Editor's note: the spring issue of FB&C contains an article on bookish Istanbul, featuring Pamuk's museum.]
As interesting as the many layers of stories in Pamuk's novels are, I am curious as to why some critics are not as interested in his lectures and nonfiction, which are the ones I like to explore. I brought two books of his with me -- he signed my copy of The Naïve and The Sentimental Novelist (Harvard University Press, 2010), and my copy of My Father's Suitcase (the Nobel lecture), one of only 1500 copies printed privately for Faber and Faber, is more precious now with his dedication in it. It is not every day when one gets to meet a Nobel Prize winner. It was nice to return to the festival after all.
--Catherine Batac-Walder is a writer living in the UK. She has covered the Oxford Literary Festival for FB&C before, both in 2012 and 2013.
Images credit/copyright: Catherine Batac Walder.