Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Sunday Table: The Well of Loneliness

You never know what the Sunday Table is going to turn up. This time, it's a surprising edition -- bound in leather & marbled paper binding -- of Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness. In Danish. (With a typo on the spine.)

Have I read The Well of Loneliness? I have not. I started trudging through it many years ago, but never got to the end. Will I ever read it in Danish? I would say no.

But it gives me an excuse to tell a story, maybe apocryphal, maybe not, of how Loneliness fared in Hollywood. The book was a hot property in 1928, when it was published. It was banned in Boston, so there was much scandal around it, and many headlines, and no publicity is bad publicity, as Oprah herself would admit. Thus Radclyffe Hall's painful story of a woman who loves a woman came to the attention of Samuel Goldwyn, who had been recently forced out of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and had hung out a shingle of his own. (A shingle that would later produce Wuthering Heights, The Little Foxes, and The Best Years of Our Lives.)

From what I understand, Goldwyn wanted to snap up the rights to Hall's book before any of his competitors could get to it.

"Mr. Goldwyn," says his factotum, "it's a real sad story."
"That's okay," says Goldwyn.
"Sir," says his flunky, "it was banned in Boston."
"I don't care," says Goldwyn.
"Sam," says his flack, "it's about a lesbian."
"So," says Goldwyn, "in the movie, we'll make her American."

If only he had made her a Dane!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Why BEA should be more like Comic-con

Here's what strikes me about Comic-con -- besides the fact that it is a riotous celebration of visual arts, design, gaming, movies, TV, outsiders, and, oh right, comics. What strikes me is that it's also a riotous celebration of books. Johnny Depp makes headlines around the world when he appears on behalf of Alice in Wonderland. Pixar teases the masses with footage from The Princess and the Frog. Twilight's Robert Pattinson walks into a room and strong women faint. Even Ursula the Sea Witch got her start in a book. All while Harry Potter 6 opens worldwide.

What's wrong with us?

Why isn't BEA like this, for Gandalf's sake? When did we fall asleep at the wheel?

People have fun at Comic-con. They don't take themselves too seriously, even though it is Big Business. I found, the times the I went -- not this year, alas! -- that people were unfailingly generous to each other. Of course it's work and it's hot and crowded and sometimes the masks are scary. But mostly, it's a let-your-purple-hair-down fest of fun things to play with, look at, and read.

As BEA feels more and more dull, Comic-con feels more and more alive. Maybe it's time to open the gates to the Javits Center, and see where the crowds lead us. Can 125,000 story-loving people really be wrong?
PS: Thanks to Tony and Angela DiTerlizzi for the photos of themselves, the Ursulas, and Eoin Colfer.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Sunday Table

Today is Monday, but I'm a bit of a tardy person, so Monday is a perfect day to introduce a new feature on the Bunny Eat Bunny blog: The Sunday Table.

I live in a building -- we can call it 1455 West End Avenue -- that's filled with bookish people. A poet lives underneath us. An editor lives upstairs and down the hall. There are a couple of leftist journalists and bloggers, one on each elevator bank. And so, like many buildings in New York, 1455 has a book depository: a ponderous old walnut table in the hall where volumes that are unwanted by one apartment's denizens are happily -- even greedily -- snapped up by another's.

It entertains me to see what stays, what goes. And Sundays are a particularly good day to rifle through the table, because people are always making resolutions to clean and pare down and edit on the weekends, so the table fills up. (I have already found Steve Martini's The Judge on our own kitchen table, courtesy of my husband's very very bad book habit.)

If you look very carefully you can see that The Plant that Ate Dirty Socks is covering up a Dick Francis volume, though I can't see which one. I tend to date my career in publishing by volumes like The Plant that Ate Dirty Socks. In 1988 I was working at Scholastic's Apple imprint, editing books very like this one. We all went in for those photo-real images back then: covers that screamed,"Oh my gosh, what wacky things are happening in this story?!?" I'm glad that trend is past, but I know a lot of kids who still love that look. And note the success St. Martin's had with Ted Bell's Nick of Time just last year.

What do you bet that John Grisham's The Chamber is gone next Sunday, if not sooner, and that Time's Great People of the 20th Century will have trouble finding a home. High Blood Pressure for Dummies seems like too silly a title for anyone to pick up ("It's the salt, stupid!"), but there are niche markets in every building, so I won't bet on it.

My own contribution to the table this week, E. Lockhart's Dramarama, of which I owned two copies, disappeared between taking these photos in the early afternoon and coming home in the early evening. Maybe it was the sexy cover or the title or the author's excellent name. Or maybe the Sunday Table is too hard to pass by without taking a bite.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Men Who Read

Is there anything hotter than a man who reads? ALA was in Chicago this past week, and I was able to spend a few hours at the Art Institute. I steered myself away from their astonishing collection of Impressionist paintings, and headed for my faves, the Northern Renaissance masters, but on the way, I turned into a small gallery and beheld....HIM.

Fray Hortensio Felix Paravicino. He's usually in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, for those of you who follow such things. But there he was, in his intellectual and impatient and dark-eyed glory, waiting for me in Chicago.

Don't you just love that El Greco caught him looking up from not one book -- but two! I picture it this way: El Greco walks into Fray H's cell, says, You have to have your picture painted. Abbot's orders. And Fray Hortensio is like: I'll give you a minute to paint me, because yes, I am absolutely gorgeous, but I have got higher things on my mind. I am a 17th-century priest, after all. I am composing sonnets! Writing music! I am reading two books -- at the same time! I'm comparing texts! I am cross-referencing!

To this I say, a scant 400 years later: Let me interrupt your studies, Fray Hortensio! Please!

I flatter myself to think that if I'd encountered guy at the Hungarian Pastry Shop when I was in my salad days...well, he might not have hearkened to his calling. Actually, in that scenario, he would have ignored me for beautifully-proportioned lithe earth-mother of a waitress who would quickly have taken his order. But enough.

The point of this is that men who read are sexy. Especially if they have a Chicago connection. Like this guy...

...and my husband. But that's a blog for another day.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The agent's hat

My first day at the office at Sanford J. Greenburger. What I did today: solved a contractual problem and signed a visionary and innovative client; waited for the computer to recognize that I was a bona fide member of the company; bravely called a publisher to make a deal; happily received flowers from good friends. Read some good unsolicited material, too. All in all, an excellent day.

So today the agent's hat definitely looks like this.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Little Red Lighthouse

My husband has a sailboat, which we keep in the Hudson River. I have long wanted to take the boat up the Hudson to catch a glimpse of the Little Red Lighthouse from "at sea." So on Tuesday, we took the boat out.

It was a glorious day. Sunny skies, not a cloud in sight. Current was heading in and the winds were favorable. We zoomed up the river and took some glorious shots of the lighthouse.

We also saw this curious Quonset hut, decorated with the image of naked Neptune, a half-naked mermaid, and the Brooklyn Bridge (clad in steel). Also a random angel fish. It's truly wonderful what you can see from the water that you can never see from the shore.

Then, within three minutes, the weather changed dramatically. The wind was fierce. Thunder was rumbling. The sky was black. Lightning split the horizon. The Coast Guard advised "small crafts to seek shelter and put down anchor immediately. If you can hear thunder, you are in danger of being struck by lightning."


But there's no sheltered cover on the Hudson River, and as the rain beat down on us and we fought to the wind to get the boat anchored, I thought: Wow, what I won't do for my blog.