Tuesday, December 2, 2014

In Memoriam: P.D. James, Mark Strand, Kent Haruf.

As booksellers, we meet a lot of authors. Sometimes we first read them when the event is signed up and they become our new favorite author, but every so often, someone visits who has been a long-time favorite. I can't even count the number of authors I read and loved over the years whom I eventually got to meet at Boswell, or before that, at Schwartz. With the passing this past week of three beloved authors, our thoughts turned to the great books that each of them brought to us.

Kent Haruf's first novel was The Ties that Bind, but it was Plainsong that really made him a star. His previous novel, Benediction, was recommended by several booksellers, most notably Hannah and continues to sell for us. It is apparently being made into a play, to premiere in Denver next year. His final novel is also do for publication. I am pretty positive that Mr. Haruf did visit Milwaukee back when Schwartz was around, but I can't find the details. He taught at SIU* before moving back to Colorado, so it wasn't really that far away. We're hosting an SIU professor next February, Scott Blackwood for his novel, See How Small. Stay tuned for details.

Todd was telling me that Mark Strand is one of his favorite poets, and he's not alone - Strand was named U.S. Poet Laureate back in 1990. His most popular books include the recent Collected Poems and 2009's New Selected Poems. His edited anthology The Making of a Poem is very popular as course adoption. While I don't think we hosted Mr. Strand, I'll bet he either came to UWM or Woodland Pattern over the years. Just guessing!

And then there is P.D. James. I haven't read her lately, but I devoured her first ten or so books. Back when I was at Warner Books, they were among the backlist that went into our library with the Popular Library acquisition, and we continued to co-publish her for at least a couple more books with Scribner (who can forget our die-cut skull image for The Skull Beneath the Skin?), which is so long ago that it was an imprint of Macmillan, not Simon and Schuster, but not the current Macmillan but the old Macmillan. Confused? So is everybody.

The last time I got to see James was at her signing at the Brookfield location of the Harry W. Schwartz Bookshop. I was in charge of telling folks they had to tell people in line that there book had to be bought at Schwartz in order to get it signed. This is now common practice at large events, but back then, I guess not so much. These tended to be the jobs I was given at large events, though I would say the worst was detouring folks at Alverno College to another building in the middle of a snowstorm.

I did actually meet Ms. James once before, back when Warner's Mysterious Press co-publishing venture reprinted her one excursion in true crime, The Maul and the Pear Tree. It was my job to get her to her day of interviews in New York. She actually didn't want the book to come out in the U.S. and did it as a favor to Warner, or so she told me. Since that time, her legacy grew and grew, and continued to have success through Death Comes to Pemberley, a current Masterpiece Theatre production.

A fellow bookseller noted to me that death comes in threes, and while I'm not superstitious, it is quite the coincidence that all three were published by the same division of Penguin Random House. Whatever the explanation, how lucky we were to have our lives touched by these three writers!

*Southern Illinois University

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