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Archive for the tag “Sylvia Plath”

Do we really need to see Sylvia Plath’s private letters?

A story in The Guardian, “Unseen Sylvia Plath letters claim domestic abuse by Ted Hughes,” focuses on letters Sylvia Plath wrote to her former therapist between 1960 and 1963, the last of which was sent a week before her suicide.

Sylvia Plath – Wikipedia photo

Scholars have sought information about this period of the author’s life for years and are drooling over the secrets contained in correspondence that isn’t part of any official public record (such as court proceedings) in hopes of understanding Plath, her poetry, and her marriage better. Frankly, I think the right of privacy shouldn’t end with a person’s death–and that goes to show that I would never make a literary scholar.

Fortunately, the letters won’t become wholly public yet because there’s a legal dispute over who owns them that may take a while to resolve. But the story in the Guardian gives everyone the gist of what, in my opinion, the public has no right to know.

I’ll stipulate that literary scholars and critics have always tried to more deeply understand authors’ influences, motivations, and output by looking at their lives through a microscope. This looking almost always includes studying and publicizing diaries, letters to friends and family, correspondence with agents and publishers, and other details that (when created) were considered to be private.

While the literary world sees the publication and analysis of such materials as scholarship, I see it as voyeurism that’s no higher in purpose than the scandal-oriented publications on display next to cash registers at grocery stores and gas station convenience stores. Sure, the analysis is usually better researched and better written, but it displays information that was never meant to be displayed.

Money often seems to drive such efforts. Person A, who was a close friend of Famous Person B, has a  box filled with the letters they received from that well-known author, actor, or artist. They see that they can make a lot of money by offering them to the public through an auction house. A scholar, museum or library archive buys them, Person A (who is now rich) believes without guilt that s/he has done nothing wrong, and the content of those letters is now open to everyone.

Unless Famous Person B tells Person A that it’s okay for the letters to be shown to biographers or donated to institutions engaged in scholarship, I believe such letters should be destroyed. They were never intended for public consumption and the death of Famous Person B doesn’t change that fact. Prying into an author’s private life may, indeed, shed additional light on his/her works, but the end does not justify the tawdry means.




Book Bits: BookExpo, Kindle Worlds, Judy Blume, ‘Life After Life’

EBookBitsvery year about this time, newspapers, magazines and web sites jump into the “Hot Beach Reads” business. Since the books listed tend to be lightweight, sizzling page turners, the hot involved doesn’t come from the beach. Dan Brown’s on the list this year because any book called “Inferno” is likely to involve heat.

Since I grew up in the part of Florida where we actually went swimming sailing and water skiing when we went to the beach, the part of Florida where people lay naked on the beach with a book was not part of my experience. Suffice it to say, I’m not a beach read person, but if you are, I trust you can find the links to books that go well with sand, surf, and sunscreen.

Here are your non-hot-beach-read links:

  1. News: ‘Literary onslaught’ of BookExpo America hits May 30, by Bob Minzesheimer – “More than 500 authors will compete for attention at BookExpo America, the annual three-day trade show that opens May 30 in New York for 20,000 publishers, booksellers, librarians, agents and (on the last day at least) readers.”  USA Today
  2. amazonmainlogoViewpoint: Amazon’s Kindle Worlds: Instant Thoughts, by John Scalzi – “So, on one hand it offers people who write fan fiction a chance to get paid for their writing in a way that doesn’t make the rightsholders angry, which is nice for the fan ficcers. On the other hand, as a writer, there are a number of things about the deal Amazon/Alloy are offering that raise red flags for me. Number one among these is this bit: ‘We will also give the World Licensor a license to use your new elements and incorporate them into other works without further compensation to you.'”  Whatever See Also: Amazon’s Press Release and the “Christian Science Monitor” story Amazon’s Kindle Worlds fan fiction publisher draws mixed reactions.
  3. Milestones: “On this day in 1849 Anne Brontë died of tuberculosis, at age twenty-nine. This was the third death in eight months among the Bronte siblings, Emily’s and Branwell’s coming earlier.” Today in Literature
  4. tigereyesFeature: Judy Blume: ‘You cannot write with a censor on your shoulder’ by Maryann Yin – “Last night, Judy Blume and her son Lawrence Blume appeared in New York City at a special promotional event for the film Tiger Eyes. Attendees watched the film and joined a Q&A session with both Blumes. One audience member asked Judy how she dealt with the controversy and library challenges that followed her work.”  GalleyCat
  5. Feature: How Edmund Wilson said NO, by Cory Doctorow – “Here’s literary critic Edmund Wilson’s form-letter for turning down requests from strangers. As Tim Ferriss notes, Wilson wasn’t a hermit or antisocial, but he maximized the time he spent socializing with the people he liked by not letting strangers gobble up his time.” Boing Boing
  6. Quotation: “I love the silent hour of night, for blissful dreams may then arise, revealing to my charmed sight what may not bless my waking eyes.” ― Anne Brontë, Best Poems of the Brontë Sisters
  7. kerteszInterview: Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Imre Kertész, with Luisa Zielinski – “I was suspended in a world that was forever foreign to me, one I had to reenter each day with no hope of relief. That was true of Stalinist Hungary, but even more so under National Socialism. The latter inspired that feeling even more intensely. In Stalinism, you simply had to keep going, if you could. The Nazi regime, on the other hand, was a mechanism that worked with such brutal speed that ‘going on’ meant bare survival.” The Paris Review
  8. plathphotoEssay: Why Sylvia Plath Still Haunts Us, by James Parker – “Even half a century after her suicide, both her work and her life remain thrilling and horrifying.” The Atlantic
  9. Lists: 24 Classic Books’ Original Titles – “Yesterday, we came across this awesome piece that Book Riot did of 5 classic books with awful original titles (CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT FAULKNER’S THE SOUND AND THE FURY WAS ORIGINALLY NAMED TWILIGHT?! THIS MIGHT BE A VERY DIFFERENT WORLD IF THAT HAD ACTUALLY HAPPENED), and that got us thinking: what other working book titles did classic books have?” The Huffington Post
  10. mayoclinicFeature: Nora Gallagher On Dealing With A Mystery Disease, by by Nora Gallagher – “In 2009, author Nora Gallagher was diagnosed with a baffling illness that threatened to take her sight. She chronicles her medical journey in the new memoir, ‘Moonlight Sonata At The Mayo Clinic.'” The Daily Beast
  11. How To: How to Use Hyphens, by Marcia Riefer Johnston – “Hyphens are a regular source of confusion among Grammar Girl listeners. Since I thought the hyphen section of Marcia Riefer Johnston’s new book, Word Up!, was particularly helpful, this week, we have a show about hyphens based on an excerpt of her book.” Grammar Girl
  12. lifeafterlifekateReview: “Life After Life,” by Kate Atkinson, reviewed by Sessily Watt – “On February 11, 1910, Ursula Todd is born with her umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. She strangles and dies. Then, again, on February 11, 1910, she is born, only this time the doctor arrives in time to cut the umbilical cord. She lives to be a small child and then dies, only to return to February 11, 1910. Life After Life, the latest novel from Kate Atkinson, delivers on its title not through the reincarnation of multiple selves, but instead through a kind of lifelong version of the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day: the same self, the same time, over and over.”  Bookslut
  13. Feature: How Korea Promotes Its Literature and Writers to the World, by Dennis Abrams – “Throughout the 19th century, missionaries and traders worked to open Korea, the “Hermit Kingdom” to Western influence. And now, in the 21st century, the process is happening in reverse.”  Publishing Perspectives
  14. matadoraReview: “Matadora,” by Elizabeth Ruthm reviewed by Shawn Syms – “What does it mean to be a woman? To be alive? In her audacious third novel, Elizabeth Ruth examines such grand, universal questions through an historically specific mise-en-scène.” Quill & Quire
  15. News: Singapore to Regulate Yahoo!, Other Online News Sites, by Kevin Lim – “Websites that regularly report on Singapore including Yahoo! News will have to get a license from June 1, putting them on par with newspapers and television new outlets, in a move seen by some as a bid to rein in free-wheeling Internet news.” Editor & Publisher
  16. How To: Those %!@# Expletives, by Beth Hill – “The title notwithstanding, we’re not going to look at the swear-word kind of expletives, those four-letter words that can do a great job of rendering a character’s emotions at just the perfect time. What I want to talk about are the other expletives, the kind associated with grammar.” The Editor’s Blog

Seeker“Book Bits” is compiled several times a week by contemporary fantasy author Malcolm R. Campbell. Stop by my giveaway post for a chance to win a free copy of my latest novel, “The Seeker.”

Book Bits: Dennis Lehane’s Edgar, ‘The Village,’ Lauren Graham, ‘Southern Cross The Dog’

thoreauCalling him “Porcupine & Orchid.” Today in Literature notes the passing of  Henry David Thoreau on this day in 1862. His prickly attitude cost him the close friendships of many who respected both his and Emerson’s work. Today, readers seem to choose Walden over Emerson’s Self-Reliance.

Thoreau’s words are used today to illustrate points of view and as inspirations. My favorite is: “I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

  1. lehaneNews: Lehane Takes Home First Edgar, by Lenny Picker – “It took 18 years, and 10 books, but Dennis Lehane finally got to take home a small bust of Edgar Allan Poe. At the 67th Annual Edgar Awards Banquet, held Thursday night at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Manhattan, his Live by Night (Morrow), about a cop’s son gone bad, was named the Best Novel of the year by the Mystery Writers of America.” Publishers Weekly
  2. Quotation: “You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.” ― Henry David Thoreau
  3. villageReview: “The Village: 400 Years of Beats and Bohemians, Radicals and Rogues, A History of Greenwich Village,”  by John Strausbaugh, reviewed by Michael Dirda  – “Where’s the map? While there’s much to praise and enjoy in John Strausbaugh’s social and cultural history of Greenwich Village, there really should have been a map. People who have visited New York as tourists are likely to know that “the Village” comprises the streets and neighborhoods around Washington Square. You do know where Washington Square is, right? Near New York University? This book needs a map.”  The Denver Post
  4. News: Lauren Graham pens new novel, ‘Someday, Someday, Maybe’ by Alicia Rancilio – “‘Parenthood,’ ‘Gilmore Girls’ actress Lauren Graham’s new book ‘Someday, Someday, Maybe’ follows a 20-something aspiring actress named Franny Banks who is living in New York City in the 1990s.”  The  Christian Science Monitor
  5. flamethrowersReview: “The Flame Throwers” by Rachel Kushner, reviewed by Craig Seligman – “Rachel Kushner’s big, rich wonder of a novel takes place in the mid-’70s, mostly amid the downtown New York art scene. It captures the post-Pop moment when conceptualism flourished and a group of artists had burrowed so far inside their own heads that to see what they were doing, you had to follow them there.” Newsday
  6. Lists: Lee Child’s 6 favorite books – “The best-selling author of 17 Jack Reacher novels recommends six debut novels that led to greater things,” starting with Ian Flemming’s 1953 novel “Casino Royale.” This was the first James Bond novel, and it would be followed by eleven more.  The Week
  7. Plath - Wikipedia photo

    Plath – Wikipedia photo

    Feature: Sylvia Plath’s Darkest Sea: What an Unveiled Draft Poem Reveals, by Olivia Cole – “Now that her life story is the stuff of myth, it’s hard to imagine that when Sylvia Plath killed herself on February 11, 1963, she was the obscure American wife of Ted Hughes, a much more famous British poet. ”  The Daily Beast

  8. Quotation: “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” ― Henry David Thoreau
  9. Feature: Done with Tolstoy, by Kevin Mahnken – “”In Crime and Punishment, there is a sentence that goes like this: ‘It was a very simple matter and there was nothing complicated about it.’” Richard Pevear lets the words hang in the air, along with a note of faint bafflement. From his Paris apartment, one half of the world’s only celebrity translation team is recollecting some of the knotty, cross-lingual jumbles that he has spent his working life trying to untangle.”  Humanities See also: Anna Clark’s 2009 interview with Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky in “The Millions.”
  10. Fast Fact: “In the first quarter ending March 31, Amazon’s net sales rose 22%, to $16.07 billion, and net income fell 37%, to $82 million.” – Publishing Pointers
  11. homageCommentary: Homage to Orwell: Revisiting George Orwell’s classic account of the Spanish Civil War, 75 years on, by Mick Hume – “George Orwell could have been killed twice in the Spanish Civil War. Once when he was shot in the throat by General Franco’s fascist forces; then when he was hunted by official Communist agents who, with the backing of Stalin’s Soviet Union, stabbed the revolution in the back and imprisoned, tortured and killed leading leftists and anarchists who were ostensibly on the same Republican side. Orwell learned the hardest way that the war against fascism in Spain was also a civil war against Stalinism.”  Spiked Review of Books
  12. Bestsellers: “The Hit” by David Baldacci; Whiskey Beach” by Nora Roberts; “Fly Away” by Kristin Hannah; “Daddy’s Gone a Hunting” by Mary Higgins; “Paris: The Novel” by Edward Rutherfurd. Reuters
  13. chengInterview: Bill Cheng (“Southern Cross The Dog), with  Kelly McEvers in A Tale from the Delta, Born of the Blues” –  “It was important to me to have — just communicate this feeling of what it’s like to feel like you have no choice, to feel like the things that happen to you happen because of how the universe wants to use you. There is a way of thinking about and viewing free choice and destiny in blues music that’s very much built into the genre.”  NPR
  14. Obituary: Author Andrew J. Offutt Dies at 78 After Extended Illness – “Andrew J. Offutt, who published more than 50 books under a variety of names, died on April 30 after an extended illness, Morehead News reported. He was 78. He served two terms as president of the Science Fiction Writers of America and was a consultant to Writers’ Digest Criticism Services. Offutt was also the father of novelist Chris Offutt.” Shelf Awareness
  15. BeingBornReview: “A Guide to Being Born: Stories,” by Ramona Ausubel – “Lyrical stories arranged around themes of birth, gestation, conception and love—yes, in that order…Ausubel has a gift of language so rich that even the most mundane events are invested with poetry, and many of her characters are in need of all the poetry they can muster.”  Kirkus Reviews
  16. How To: “Moot” Versus “Mute” by Mignon Fogarty – “A fan who shall remain nameless wrote to me with this problem: ‘In negotiations today, a union rep provided me with handouts of proposals she’d labeled ‘mute.’ Help!'” Grammar Girl
  17. News: U. K. Spending on printed and digital books rose 4 percent to more than $5.1 billion – “British publishers brought in their highest-ever annual sales in 2012, with stronger sales for digital formats outweighing a slight decline in printed books.”  The Hollywood Reporter

seekergiveaway“Book Bits” is compiled several times a week by Malcolm R. Campbell, author of contemporary fantasy novels including “The Seeker”

Book Bits: Sylvia Plath, MFA program donation, ‘Mary Coin,’ Neil Gaiman, Tom Clancy


In this week’s list of stories, the $50,000 donation to the Michigan creative writing program (Item 4) is the basis for Laura Miller’s viewpoint in Invest in readers, not MFAs (Item 6).

One tends to hear conflicting information about the values of these programs, some of it being that they’re unnecessary for a writing career and/or tend to teach status-writing (learning to write what’s currently popular) rather than a presenting a stronger focus on the pure art and craft of the work. See what you think.

Here are a few books and writing links for your weekend:

  1. Bestsellers, March 7: Calculated in Death, J. D. Robb; Safe Haven, Nicholas Sparks; Alex Cross, Run, James Patterson; The Storyteller, Jodi Picoult; Never Too Far, Abbi Glines – USA Today
  2. PWlogoNews: Shortlist for ‘PW’ Bookstore and Sales Rep Awards 2013 – “Publishers Weekly released the shortlist for the 2013 PW Bookstore and PW Sales Rep of the Year. The awards, now in their second decade, signify a singular achievement in the book industry for both independent booksellers and sales representatives.” Publishers Weekly
  3. News: Facebook Acquires Storylane, a Story-Telling Platform, by Om Malik – “Facebook is buying Palo Alto, Calif.-based startup Storylane in what is a talent-oriented acquisition. Storylane wanted to become a new kind of story-telling platform much like Evan Williams’s Medium and Rebel Mouse. ” Editor & Publisher
  4. News and Commentary: Sam Zell’s wife donates $50 million to Michigan creative writing, by Carolyn Kellogg – “In my book, donating money to support creative writing programs is generally a good thing. But I’m — hmm, let’s call it conflicted — over a $50-million donation to the University of Michigan’s MFA program in creative writing from Helen Zell, wife of Sam Zell.” The Los Angeles Times
  5. Parravani


    Interview: Christa Parravani (“Her”) with Alexis Burling – “Writing ‘Her’was my rescue, though I didn’t think of it that way at the time. I was spinning out of control with grief, trying my best to get a hold of the crisis of losing Cara. In a time when I felt out of control of everything, and so far lost in longing for my twin, my manuscript pages were a safe place to spend time. ” Book Reporter

  6. Viewpoint: Invest in readers, not MFAs: A $50 million donation to creative writing programs is a misplaced effort to foster literary culture. by Laura Miller – Creative writing programs, while a good thing, “have difficulty imparting to their students a central truth of most authors’ lives: Nobody cares about your work. When it comes to books, the supply is much larger than the demand.” Salon
  7. Quotation: “Books are funny little portable pieces of thought.” –  Susan Sontag  See also: Susan Sontag on Writing
  8. plathReview: “American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath,” by Carl Rollyson, reviewed by Mega Marshall – “Carl Rollyson’s refreshingly judicious and often eloquent portrait of Sylvia Plath, the sixth major biography published in the half-century since the poet’s death in 1963 at age 30, arrives at an interesting moment.The confessional style, which Plath made famous with the searing lyrics of “Ariel,” written during the months following the breakup of her marriage to the poet Ted Hughes, is no longer dominant.” The Denver Post
  9. Commentary: The Rise of First Person Storytelling: Women’s lifestyle journalism is being transformed by the millennial movement, by T. J. Raphael – “When I was in journalism school (which, frankly, wasn’t that long ago), my professors decried what was thought to be a golden rule, one that I have broken several times already: Do not write in the first person.” Folio
  10. Lists: Love that writing advice, the good, the bad, and the strange, by Malcolm  R. Campbell – “Some wise and/or humorous words about writing have been around for so long, they’ve become almost lame, yet each new generation of readers and writers discovers them and posts them in writing blogs and Facebook.” Malcolm’s Round Table
  11. bridgestockInterview: Bob and Carol Bridgestock (“Deadly Focus”), with Morgen Bailey – “The Diary of Anne Frank as a young teenager changed my reading habit to biographies, autobiographies’ and factual works. Books for me have to have the element of truth in them. I have to believe to enjoy, and I think I get this element in fiction if I know a writer has ‘been there.’” Morgen Bailey’s Writing Blog
  12. Feature: Authors and Domain Names: Claiming Rights to Names and Titles – “Productive authors increase in status and over time become recognized by the general public as the source of their literary works. At the beginning of a career authors simply start out as names.  They become brands when readers recognize them as sources for goods and services in a trademark sense.  Names can acquire value separate from the individuals who answer to them.  Authors who have achieved “brand” recognition qualify for trademark registration, as exemplified by J.K. Rowling whose licensees own a host of trademarks in a variety of jurisdictions and Classes.  Domain names are different from trademarks in that anyone can purchase a domain name, even the name of an author who has become a brand. ” Legal Corner for Writers
  13. MaryCoinReview: “Mary Coin,” by Marisa Silver, reviewed by Charles Finch in “Dorothea Lange’s iconic photograph inspires a skillful novel” – “Special recognition therefore goes to Marisa Silver, whose new novel, Mary Coin, fictionalizes the circumstances of the most famous image of the Depression – Migrant Mother, by Dorothea Lange. Though imperfect, the book is a skillful, delicate apprehension of that photograph and its moment in history.” USA Today
  14. How To: Imagine Beyond What is Safe, by Beth Hill – “I spend a lot of time with writers as they’re trying to find the best way to word a phrase, the best way to frame a scene. But sometimes what’s needed is not a quest for that one perfect word that will make a passage sing. Sometimes the writer needs to take a broader look at a story and simply imagine.”  The Editor’s Blog
  15. claremontNews: Marianne Boruch Wins Kingsley Tufts Award – “Claremont Graduate University has announced the winner of the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, given annually to a mid-career poet for a book published in the previous year. At $100,000, the Kingsley Tufts Award is one of the largest monetary poetry prizes in the United States.” Poets & Writers
  16. ThreatvectorReview: “Threat Vector,” by Tom Clancy and Mark Greaney – “In which Jack Ryan, Junior and Senior, take on most of the bad guys in the world. Guess who wins…A satisfying thriller, with enough evildoers left over to ensure the possibility of another Ryan-Ryan adventure.” Kirkus Reviews
  17. Feature: The Deadly Math Mistake That Will Make Your Freelance Business Fail, by Carol Tice – ” lot of writers aren’t good at math.  When I say that, I don’t just mean that we didn’t get an “A” in algebra back in high school. Or that a lot of writers don’t want to take article assignments that require heavy number-crunching.” Make a Living Writing
  18. gaimanNews: Joe Wright to Adapt Neil Gaiman’s Upcoming Book, by Jesse David Fox – “Deadline reports that Focus Features, along with Tom Hanks’s Playtone, have acquired the rights to Neil Gaiman’s next novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which comes out this June. Joe Wright (Anna Karenina, Atonement) is attached to direct. ” New York Magazine

“Book Bits” is compiled several times a week by Malcolm R. Campbell, author of paranormal short stories and contemporary fantasy novels.

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