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That’s absurd! A week of weird news from the book world

April 23, 2010

Danielle Steel

Yesterday, desperate for something of interest, I wrote about a typo that resulted in the phrase “fresh ground black people” appearing in an Australian cookbook. But really, I could have chosen any number of odd bits this week. Like Danielle Steel’s assistant going to prison, the anniversary of pot, news that reading helps Alzheimer’s patients. And more.

The closer I look at the Danielle Steel story, the curioser it gets. Her former assistant, Kristy Watts, 48, was sentenced to two years and nine months in jail for embezzling “more than $750,000” from the best-selling novelist, according to the Los Angeles Times. Steel claims the true figure is closer to $2.7 mil.

The Times pointedly wonders how anyone could not notice as nearly $3 million evaporated. But apparently that’s couch change for  Steel, who’s written 75 bestsellers (!). In 2008 alone, she earned $30 million.

Watts worked for Steel from 1993 to 2008, mostly as a bookkeeper (how many authors have “payroll?” Steel does), a job that paid her $200,000. Which, I don’t know, seems like a lot to me — but not enough to finance Watts’ “lavish lifestyle,” which included a $1.3 million home in San Francisco.

Apparently Watts’ husband didn’t notice anything amiss, either. After all, he’s only a police officer. Maybe in California every cop married to a bookkeeper lives in a mansion.

George Pelecanos

Speaking of law & order: Tuesday, April 20, was for reasons lost in the haze of history, the unofficial National Pot Smoking Day. The L.A. Times and The Daily Beast both thoughtfully provided lists of marijuana-themed books, including Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me, by Richard Farina; Budding Prospects, by T.C. Boyle; The Savage Detectives, by Roberto Bolano; King Suckerman, by George Pelecanos, and several others. Enjoy. The books, I mean (and add your own fave to the list).

Meanwhile, researchers have discovered that patients afflicted with Alzheimer’s –even those who can no longer carry on a conversation — can still read, according to The New York Times. That may seem profoundly counter-intuitive, but it’s true.

“All of my research demonstrates that people who were literate maintain their ability to read until the end stages of dementia,” said Michelle S. Bourgeois, a professor of speech and hearing science at Ohio State University. Alzheimer’s patients benefit from

Damon Knight

reading and being read to, a practice that facilitates interaction with family and friends.

In other brain news: A new book argues that middle-age people, contrary to popular myth, think more clearly than young adults, according to an NPR story. Science writer Barbara Strauch set out to write about why the brain declines as we age, but discovered all kinds of evidence to the contrary.

Her book, The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain, details studies that discovered people age 40-65 are better at  “inductive reasoning, verbal memory, vocabulary” than they were in their 20s.” Gee. I feel smarter already! Meanwhile, no word on whether  Strauch’s brainy oldsters celebrate 4-20…

And last, just in time to conclude an absurd blog,  novelist Michael Foley thoughtfully lists 10 masterpieces of literature exploring the absurdity of human existence. Over at the Guardian, his list includes Waiting for Godot, by Samuel Beckett; The Magic Christian, by Terry Southern; Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis;” and Ecclesiastes from the Bible.

An excellent list, although human absurdity is a theme that runs through most great (or even good) literature. It’s not confined to the absurdist subgenre of modernism. Some titles I’d add to Foley’s list: Candide, by Voltaire; Galapagos, by Kurt Vonnegut; Damon Knight’s Why Do Birds and Charles Willeford’s High Priest of California, both underappreciated novels that should be classics.

I”d also add The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, if only for the sequence on the feud between the Shepherdsons and Grangerfords, which ends with one upstanding Christian family murdering all the male members of another. Like Huck, I found it devastatingly senseless. I’d also include Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled if it were half the length. At 535 pages, it’s just, well, absurd.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Candice Simmons permalink
    April 26, 2010 3:00 pm

    I have nothing to say about Steele, other than to pretend I’m too sophisticated of a reader to know who she is.

    As for marijuana theme books–how can you talk about it without mentioning Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters. I alude specifically to The Electric Koolaid Acid Test.

    Finally, I will just say:

    Wait Here!
    –Godot

  2. John Karwacki permalink
    April 26, 2010 9:17 pm

    “On the Road” Kerouac or “Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas” Thompson for the weed. “Confederacy Of Dunces” Toole and “The Trial” Kafka for absurd.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      April 27, 2010 11:59 am

      Good suggestions, from the both of you.

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