The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.
A paper in the Christmas edition of the Medical Journal of Australia posits a new theory of why, in fantasy novels, the bad guys tend to lose: Vitamin D deficiency. The authors write, "Systematic textual analysis of The Hobbit supports our initial hypothesis that the triumph of good over evil may be assisted to some extent by the poor diet and lack of sunlight experienced by the evil characters." In other words, a Gollumesque "aversion to sunlight ... may lead to vitamin D deficiency and hence reduced martial prowess."
Janet Dailey, whose romances sold hundreds of millions of copies around the world but whose reputation was tarnished by a plagiarism scandal, has died at 69. Snapp-Bearden Funeral Home in Branson, Mo., confirmed her death to The Associated Press. In 1997, the bestselling writer Nora Roberts sued Dailey for copyright infringement. Dailey admitted that she had borrowed from Roberts' work in her novels Notorious and Aspen Gold, blaming the copying on "a psychological problem that I never even suspected I had." Perhaps best known for her Calder series, about a ranching family in Montana, her most recent novel is Merry Christmas, Cowboy.
The novelist Hugh Nissenson, who gained critical success even as his books sold poorly, died on Friday at 80, according to The New York Times. His 1985 novel The Tree of Life was a finalist for the National Book Award (then called the American Book Awards). He told an interviewer that for the novel, which was set on the Ohio frontier, "I learned how to throw a tomahawk and made my way through a forest in upstate New York, armed with a replica of a flintlock rifle, and wearing Indian moccasins, buckskin leggings and a buckskin shirt." In 1961, Nissenson covered the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem for Commentary magazine, and said that afterwards, he "could no longer believe that God was operative in human history." He spoke openly about a history of depression, telling the Times in 2001, "All my life I have fought depression. I lost weight. I couldn't eat. I lost between 26 and 40 pounds. I had six major breakdowns. It wasn't fun."
For Guernica, J.M. Coetzee translates Wilma Stockenström's story The Expedition to the Baobab Tree from Afrikaans: "A few days ago I had seen the hammerhead shark leaping in spasms there on the beach where fish-drying racks cast their grid shadows. It was trying to lift its whole body up from the sand as if wanting to swim upwards into the sky. Sometimes one eye was buried in the sand, sometimes the other; one saw doom, the other spied hope, and in uncertainty the poor thing struggled. Spasmodic jerks, fanatical till death, eyes that till death bisected the world."
Mike Tyson describes his reading life for The Wall Street Journal: "I love reading philosophy ... Nietzsche's my favorite. He's just insane. You have to have an IQ of at least 300 to truly understand him. Apart from philosophy, I'm always reading about history. Someone very wise once said the past is just the present in funny clothes."
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