Some Good Advice from Harper Lee

Today in books: an unauthorized Carly Simon biography will restore your faith in unauthorized biographies, a note from Harper Lee to a young fan, and poet Carl Sandburg's house is threatened by Illinois's budget cuts. 

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Today in books and publishing: an unauthorized Carly Simon biography will restore your faith in unauthorized biographies, a note from Harper Lee to a young fan, and poet Carl Sandburg's house is threatened by Illinois's budget cuts. 

  • Gossipy, unauthorized musical biographies are what the new, health-conscious Cookie Monster calls a "sometime food." They go down easy, but it's important to pick your spots. Ideally, it should focus on a solo artist (stores about band dynamics quickly get boring, unless that band is Fleetwood Mac) who was active between the years 1975 and 1981. Mingling with Hollywood types is a must. which explains why we're already looking forward to the Carly Simon biography More Room in a Broken Heart by Stephen Davis that's coming out next month. We have no strong feelings about Simon, but the early leaks promise a far-ranging look at lhe pecadillos of 1970s pop stars. Did Simon really have an affair with Mick Jagger when she was engaged to James Taylor? Bianca Jagger thought so, and told Taylor about her suspicions, who contronted Simon about it two days before their wedding in 1972, She denied it and the ceremony continued as planned. According to the book, the subject came up again years later when an angry Simon told Taylor that she lied to him, and that she and Jagger really were an item back in 1972. Zing! Sadly, Davis doesn't blow the lid off of who "You're So Vain" is about. He believes it's a composite of various apricot scarf owners. [Page Views]
  • Poet Carl Sandburg's house in Galesburg, Illinois, is a historic site, which means the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency is responsible for paying the $18,000 a year it takes to keep the house, "adjacent garden, visitors' center and a barn" operational for the 6000 or so visitors that come to western Illinois every year to see the bedroom of the boy who would grow up to call Chicago the "HOG butcher to the world.." At first blush, ;osing the site would seem to be the kind of thing that would upset resident of tiny Galesburg. According to The Galesburg Register-Mail, that's not entirely the case. "Over the years," the paper notes, "especially when the white-haired poet was still living, Galesburg residents debated how he felt about his hometown. Some felt Sandburg was happy to leave Galesburg." Back in 2001,  the paper ran an editorial in 2001 that claimed the author "loathed his roots." That's the great thing about small town newspapers. They never forget. [The Galesburg Register-Mail via the Chicago Tribune]
  • Back in 2006, a young reader named Jeremy who liked To Kill a Mockingbird wrote a letter to Harper Lee asking if he could have a signed photograph of the author. Being Harper Lee, she denied the photo portion of his request, but did send him back a hand-written note offering a piece of solid advice: "As you grow up, always tell the truth, do no harm to others, and don’t think you are the most important being on earth. Rich or poor, you then can look anyone in the eye and say, “I’m probably no better than you, but I’m certainly your equal.” It's great that she replied, great that she was nice, and great that Letters of Note has a photo of the original in Lee's own scrawl. If we can just convince the kneejerk contrarians not to weigh-in, we could be looking at a genuine Internet feel-good  story. [Letters of Note via Reading Copy Blog]
  • The Guardian has selected E.L. Doctorow's World Fair as the latest book in their Overlooked Classics of American Fiction series. Reading it again for his piece, Guardian critic Tom Cox observes that Doctorow has written "a rare thing: a book that makes you miss the past and the future simultaneously." When it came out in 1985, the reviews were poor, with The New York Times calling it "clumsy" and "peculiar" in the way it mixed memoir with fiction. It speaks to the book's brilliance and influence, writes Cox, that this narrative approach "now seems like a natural – perhaps even superior – precursor to Tobias Wolff's celebrated attempt to perform a not dissimilar feat in 1989's This Boy's Life." And when it comes to capturing the cadence and sense memory of a bygone era, Doctorow once again shows he's without peer among modern American novelists. Reading Doctorow at his best, Cox concludes, is like "being in a whiskery, erudite presence that has spent a goodly amount of time weighing the world." [The Guardian]
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