the historical novelist's heart beats faster

There are multiple articles out there that will give you the facts on this bit of news: the American Communist Party has donated its entire historical collection to the NYU libraries.

And so what, you’re wondering. The NYT article puts a more story-teller-ish spin on this:

The songwriter, labor organizer and folk hero Joe Hill has been the subject of poems, songs, an opera, books and movies. His will, written in verse the night before a Utah firing squad executed him in 1915 and later put to music, became part of the labor movement’s soundtrack. Now the original copy of that penciled will is among the unexpected historical gems unearthed from a vast collection of papers and photographs never before seen publicly that the Communist Party USA has donated to New York University.

The cache contains decades of party history including founding documents, secret code words, stacks of personal letters, smuggled directives from Moscow, Lenin buttons, photographs and stern commands about how good party members should behave (no charity work, for instance, to distract them from their revolutionary duties).

I heard a longer report about this on NPR and the archivist was beside himself with excitement. He told stories about pulling a small box out from under a desk (the party gave him complete access to their offices) and finding Joe Hill’s will.

Something like this really is an embarrassment of riches. If you have any interest in New York in the 1920s, this goldmine has your name on it. If you wanted to write a novel with the McCarthy hearings as a backdrop, this collection would give you a lot of material to work with.

Of course it’s going to take them years to catalog it all. I know they are getting dozens of requests every day from historians of all kinds, and access it going to be difficult for a while. I’ll be watching as they begin to make materials available. I’ve got my eye on that stack of personal letters.

new versus used books

Here’s the summary (and this is my take alone):

1. If you can afford to buy new books, that’s an excellent way to support the work of authors you like best.

2. If you can’t afford to buy new books, the next best way is to borrow from the library. Libraries deserve support. Libraries also support authors.

3. There are times and situations in which buying a used book is reasonable. If the work is out of copyright or out of print and/or if the author has been dead for a while.

If I buy a copy of a book new, I am then comfortable buying a second copy used if it’s for my own use.

If the author is new to me, I will get his or her work out of the library until I decide whether or not I want to purchase the books new.

Once I decide to buy a used book, I will try to get it from a nonprofit. For example, a library or school sale. There are a number of organizations that collect and sell used books for non-profits. The most visible one is Better World Books.

These are my guidelines. Everybody has to decide for themselves how best to proceed.

waiting room jitters

You know those old movies where the father is smoking one cigarette after another while he paces the waiting room? Sterile white hospital, a couple other tired looked men who need shaves.

Then the nurse comes out and announces whatever it is, and his face lights up. Gee, he sez. That’s swell. He’s happy; no reviewers around the corner waiting to spring details of the delivery or newborn on him with pithy commentary. Now they just have to go home and raise the kid.

For some reason I’m feeling very anxious Tied to the Tracks. I am more nervous about this book than I can remember ever being about any other book. There are some obvious reasons for that, but they are really too easy to be the whole story.

Now see, I’m not asking for sympathy. I have nothing to complain about; in fact, career wise, I’m pretty well off. It’s hard to get review space these days, so when I tell you there was a two line blurb in the Washington Post, you should remember that sometimes there really is no such thing as bad publicity. Because those two lines? Not nice. My agent called to paraphrase and it went something like this: run of the mill chiclitromance; completely predictable.

I don’t suppose you’re surprised to find out that the Washington Post is disdainful about anything that smacks, no matter how faintly of (whisper it) romance. Now, I don’t think the ending is completely predictable (there are a number of endings, and some of them go interesting places), but that’s beside the point. And what was the point again?

Oh yeah. To the WP, being able to predict the ending of a novel is a mortal sin, and thus am I cast into the fires of wapostian hell.

But Booklist loves Tied to the Tracks, and Booklist is all about librarians, and I hold librarians and libraries in much higher regard than WaPo, so I’m fine. Really. No need to worry about me, nosirreee.

Oh, and the person who went to Barnes and Noble and was told they didn’t have it? They do have it, or will. but I’m glad you’re calling Village Books. They are nice people, and deserve support. However, if you do try to buy it someplace and they don’t have it, would you send me an email and let me know? My editor needs to be kept in the loop on that kind of thing.

Finally: in a month or so I want to post about the theory of the Super Duper Magical Negroes (those litcriterati, such wags. such players with language). Because I have been thinking about this, and I have come to the conclusion that Curiosity is not a SDMN. Nor is Miss Zula Bragg. But I’d like to hear your thoughts on that.

Link via RydraWong via the Radiant Robyn Bender.

book mania

When I’m having trouble writing (which, yes, I am having today. And yesterday, and for about five days now) my mind skitters around like a rat in a maze.

Usually one little thing will lodge in my head to distract me from working on what’s wrong and fixing it. I am very aware when this happens. It takes huge effort to stop the avoidance cycle and get back to work. Often the thing that I obsess about instead of writing has to do with books.

LibraryThing, which is wonderful in so many ways, enables my book mania. Or maybe I should say it launches my book mania into the stratosphere. There’s something about wandering around a thousand libraries that puts me in a hypnotic state, until I focus on one book.

This weekend that book was War and Peace, which I saw on one list or an other. (Longest novels? Novel with the longest names? Novel everybody owns but nobody reads?)

Well, I read it. A long time ago, but I did read it. And, here’s where the mania comes in: it wasn’t in my LibraryThing library. Which means I had to trot off and try to find it and figure out why it wasn’t in the LibraryThing library. Except I couldn’t find it. Somehow I lost Leo Tolstoy, and I never even noticed. He may have been missing for years, and I went on blithely.

Obviously he must be replaced.

Now the real problem: which edition?

You can’t just order any edition of Tolstoy. Asking Amazon for War and Peace, you never know what piece of poorly translated dreck they’ll send you. What you need is, a recommendation from somebody who knows Tolstoy really well. And I happen to know a scholar of Russian literature who fits that bill… except where is her email address?

You see? The chase is on.

Even after I settle on an edition (in this case the 1942 Simon & Schuster Inner Sanctum edition) I still have to find one. And I have to find one that is in fairly good, but not collectible shape. However, I do want the original bookmark that came with this edition, because it has all the names of the characters on it in order of appearance.

It’s off to abebooks to see if I can track a copy down for a reasonable price.

All of this takes time, you must realize. Lots of time. Time in which I could be delving into the stuckedness of the chapter I’m trying to write.

So I found Leo (with the helpful bookmark) and I paid the ransom so he’ll be delivered here to sit on a shelf in my library. Right there, on that spot, between the Norton Critical edition of Mansfield Park. And now I have to forbid myself any more glances at anybody’s library for fear I’ll notice some other book I’m missing. And back to to work.