Wednesday, February 21 , 2018, 3:54 am | Fair 42º


Susan Miles Gulbransen: 6 Footnotes About Books Old and New

How does a classic book sell in today’s modern world? Look at Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Austen wrote the book in 1796 when she was 20 years old. Her father, Rev. George Austen, sent the manuscript the following year to Thomas Cadell, a London publisher.

The poor man will probably be remembered forever as the man who turned down Pride and Prejudice instead of his accomplishments as an influential publisher.

The manuscript finally sold in 1813.

Just how is that classic selling today? According to Nielsen BookScan, a data collecting service for the publishing industry, the novel published over 200 years ago has sold more than 20 million copies. Reportedly you can buy one of 130 different editions through Amazon.

Given that this “fashionable novel” appears on nearly every list of the most important 100 books to read, Pride and Prejudice is not doing badly for an old book — written by a woman at that!

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Was it my love as a youngster for Nancy Drew mysteries that prepared me to become an adult addicted to the Kinsey Millhone series by one of our most popular local authors, Sue Grafton?

No way can I remember how many Nancy Drew books I read, although there were 175 volumes published between 1930 and 2003 by a variety of authors under the pseudonym of Carolyn Keene.

I know that I’ve read 24 volumes of Grafton’s Alphabet Series featuring the sharp, out-there and clever investigator Kinsey because Grafton is now working on the Y book (number 25, that is).

She used the alphabet for her titles in part from her father, C. W. Grafton, a bond lawyer from Louisville, Ky., who also wrote crime novels.

His hero, Gilmore Henry, solved mysteries in The Rat Began To Gnaw The Rope (1943) and The Rope Began To Hang The Butcher (1944).

These titles came from an old the nursery rhyme, “The Old Woman and Her Pig.” Unfortunately he did not publish any more of the series, although part of the third novel was written with the next line of the rhyme, “The Butcher Began to Kill the Ox.”

Sue Grafton published her first of the series, A Is for Alibi (1982) four months after her father died. She admits that the alphabet dictating 26 books was a “cheeky” choice. Looking back today, maybe not so cheeky after all. She has written more than half the Y book, due out in 2017.

When I first interviewed Grafton after D Is for Deadbeat in 1987, I asked what she planned to write after the Z volume was done.

“Numbers come next,” she said.

In a recent discussion, I asked the same question.

“If my sanity is intact and I am mentally agile, I might turn to stand-alone books with Kinsey Millhone.”

Kinsey’s work in Santa Barbara’s pseudonym Santa Teresa ain’t over yet!

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Is there something familiar in the name “Scout” Award? Booksource, a business located in St. Louis, Mo., provides educational institutions with new and classic titles for library and classroom collections. They offer over 30,000 titles from more than 150 publishers at a 25 percent discount along with other services.

Over the years, their staff did mock awards “designed to celebrate books that should have a lasting place in classroom libraries.” Overall winner? To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

Last year they made the award real by inaugurating the 2015 Booksource Scout Awards with eight categories.

Once more a Santa Barbara author was recognized. This time Lee Wardlaw received the award for Favorite Poetry Book: Won Ton and Chopstick: A Cat and Dog Tale Told in Haiku, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin and published by Henry Holt and Co. last year.

This 30th published book of hers was also named a 2016 Notable Poetry Book by the National Council of Teachers of English.

When younger, our two grandsons (ages five and eight) adored Wardlaw’s first book, Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku. Who knows how many times they’ve asked to have us read it to them?

The oldest boy now reads it, if not Won Ton and Chopstick, out loud to the younger boy. Count me as their No. 1 audience.

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What’s the difference between reading as a child and as an adult? Francine Prose (Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932: A Novel) wrote in a recent New York Times “Book Ends” column about her conclusion after a neurologist friend suggested why.

She reports, “…adults are likelier than children to cross-reference when they read, to compare people and things in a book with people and things they know, which is why an adult reading experience may be a ‘dip’ compared with the child’s ‘soak.’

“I enjoy reading a book written centuries ago and discovering a character almost exactly like someone I know. And so I am cross-referencing: My attention is divided between the fictional character and the era-life counterpart,” she wrote.

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When writing the May edition of “Beyond Books” column on Pico Iyer (The Art of Stillness, TED Press, 2015), we had trouble figuring time for an interview. At one point he wrote back something that stayed in my mind as so true.

“The greatest luxury of all used to be lots of space. Now it’s lots of time — or any time at all. What we crave most is even the tiniest opening in our schedule.”

Iyer is about as global as you can get. Born of Indian parents in Britain, raised in Britain and Santa Barbara, and married to a Japanese woman, he now lives in Japan. He mentioned his reaction when he returns to his hometown Santa Barbara to visit his mother.

“When I get here, I find myself surrounded by Japanese gardens, the small pieces of stillness and meditation that friends have built in their back yards, stepping stones to tiny ponds of koi, or stone lanterns set next to hermits’ sheds, and I see how the people in the New World try to escape their immediate surroundings through these little splashes of the East, like a single foreign term thrown into a sentence (wabi, sabi, Zen). There are many more sushi bars in Santa Barbara than I ever see in Kyoto.”

He will be interviewing author Elizabeth Gilbert (Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, 2015) In Conversation with Pico Iyer Saturday, May 6, 2017, for UCSB Arts & Lectures.

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On a final note, have you wondered why so many people around you are want to be writers? One answer came from British author Graham Greene in Ways of Escape (1980) as quoted by Perry Garfinkel in the health section of the Los Angeles Times.

“Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.”

Noozhawk columnist Susan Miles Gulbransen — a Santa Barbara native, writer and book reviewer — teaches writing at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference and through the Santa Barbara City College Continuing Education Division. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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