David Bruce: The Coolest People in Books — Autographs and Inscriptions, Books

Autographs and Inscriptions

• On June 26, 1997, J.K. Rowling’s first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was published in the United Kingdom. She went to a bookstore to see her book, and she was tempted to sign all the copies, but she decided not to in case she got in trouble.

• Because he was so famous, humorous poet Ogden Nash was frequently asked to give his autograph. This didn’t bother him, except when young autograph hounds thrust a piece of paper and a pen at him and said, “Who are you? Sign here!”


• Some writers are incredibly prolific. At age 73 in 2008, science-fiction writer Robert Silverberg had written approximately 300 novels, 600 short works of fiction, and 100 nonfiction books. Is that all, you ask? No. He has edited approximately 100 anthologies. (Let’s not mention all the Forewords and Introductions and other miscellaneous writings.) He writes so much that he has used more than 50 pseudonyms to keep from overwhelming readers. Of course, once in a while people ask him how he writes that much. He replies, “One word at a time.” As you would expect, he has many anecdotes about his years of writing. For example, when he was still a college student, a professional science-fiction writer named Randall Garrett moved into the apartment next door. Mr. Silverberg had already started writing and publishing science fiction, and Mr. Garrett told him, “I’m a professional writer with a lot of experience. I think we could work together. You are very disciplined; I am not.” Mr. Silverberg says, “It worked out beautifully for two or three years. When he would fall asleep at his typewriter because he’d been up all night drinking, I would pick up the manuscript and continue writing. Eventually I got married, and my wife said, ‘That man is not going to enter this house.’” By the way, a good writer nearing the end of his life ought to be able to think up a good epitaph, right? Right. Mr. Silverberg says, “A few years ago, I actually did come up with a mocking sort of epitaph for myself. It’s this: ‘Here lies Robert Silverberg. He spent most of his life in the future. Now he’s in the past.’”

• In 2008, Paul Constant, book critic for the Seattle newspaper The Stranger, attended BookExpo America (BEA), the annual book-industry convention. One thing he noticed was what he called “unscrupulous booksellers” who grabbed as many free advance reader’s copies as possible so that they could later sell them online — illegally. Of course, the publishers are aware that unscrupulous booksellers do this, and so they have a rule against bringing rolling luggage carts to the convention because the carts can be filled with many, many free advance reader’s copies. However, Mr. Constant writes that “some demented booksellers find ways around that: One woman wheels into the hall in a wheelchair and then stands up and wheels the empty chair around to stack books in the seat like a wheelbarrow.”

• Novelist Leif Enger got the writing bug from Lin, his brother, a writer of short stories whose first solo-written novel is Undiscovered Country, a retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but set in Minnesota. Their father read Lin’s novel, then watched Mel Gibson’s movie version of Hamlet. The father, who may be a little biased, says, “I think Lin’s a little better than Shakespeare.” Leif has written a Western titled So Brave, Young, and Handsome, for which he did research on the history of the Hundred and One ranch. Among other things, the managers had brought in Geronimo, who was then old, and had him shoot a buffalo. Leif says, “They billed it as ‘Geronimo’s Last Buffalo.’ Nobody knew it was really his first buffalo because the Apache didn’t hunt buffalo.”

• While in France, William Donaldson bought a pornographic novel and started reading it in public, first taking the precaution of putting a different book jacket on the novel. The book jacket was for a compilation of essays against the A-bomb, including essays by Bertrand Russell, Philip Toynbee, and other intellectuals. Peter Ustinov happened to be walking by, and seeing the book jacket, he asked Mr. Donaldson if he could look at the book. Mr. Donaldson readily gave him permission and handed the book to him. Mr. Ustinov read one filthy paragraph, and then looked at the book jacket. Then he read another filthy paragraph and again looked at the book jacket. Finally, speechless for once in his life, he handed the book back to Mr. Donaldson and exited.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


The Coolest People in Books

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