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Local Book Notes: Sex With Strangers

"A little over a decade ago, a forgotten book was suddenly remembered," Daniel A. Gross writes for the New Yorker in "The Custodian Of Forgotten Books."

"Its second life began when a fiction writer referenced it in a book of her own. A blogger read the new book, then tracked down a copy of the old one, and wrote about all this on his Web site. An archivist read the blog post and e-mailed it to a small publisher. By 2009, Jetta Carleton's The Moonflower Vine, first published in 1962, was back in print.

"Most novels are forgotten. Glance at the names of writers who were famous in the nineteenth century, or who won the Nobel Prize at the beginning of the twentieth, or who were on best-seller lists just a few decades ago, and chances are that most of them won't even ring a bell. When The Moonflower Vine resurfaced and ricocheted around the publishing world, it became an unlikely exception.

"What's strange about the journey of that book - and about our moment in the history of publishing - is that its rediscovery was made possible by an independent blogger, named Brad Bigelow. Bigelow, fifty-eight, is not a professional publisher, author, or critic. He's a self-appointed custodian of obscurity. For much of his career, he worked as an I.T. adviser for the United States Air Force. At his home, in Brussels, Belgium, he spends nights and weekends scouring old books and magazines for writers worthy of resurrection.

"'It can just be a series of almost random things that can make the difference between something being remembered or something being forgotten,' Bigelow told me recently. On his blog, Neglected Books, he has written posts about roughly seven hundred books - impressive numbers for a hobbyist, though they're modest next to the thousands of books we forget each year. 'It's one little step against entropy,' he said. 'Against the breakdown of everything into chaos.'

"Jane Smiley's 2006 book 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel contains essays about a hundred works of fiction. Bigelow recognized ninety-nine of them; The Moonflower Vine, about a family that lives on a farm in Missouri, was the exception. He was probably not alone in that, but he seems to have been just about the only person who did something about it. 'Not one editor in New York, to my knowledge, was moved to seek out the novel,' Robert Nedelkoff, the archivist who e-mailed Bigelow's blog post to an editor at the Chicago Review Press, told me.

"That editor, Yuval Taylor, made an offer to Carleton's descendants for republishing rights. (Carleton, who was born in 1913 and worked in copywriting, died in 1999. She never published another novel.) They consulted a writer friend, who called his agent, who landed a deal with Harper Perennial. The Moonflower Vine was reborn."

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Jane Smiley on The Moonflower Vine and its author, Jetta Carleton.

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Sex With Strangers
"Laura Eason has written one of the most-produced plays in the country right now, Sex With Strangers," Christopher Arnott writes for the Hartford Courant.

"She's a writer and producer on one of the most-talked-about TV series of the last few years, House of Cards. She's achieved that success the hard way, by writing deep and meaningful characters and placing them in complex situations.

"Hartford already has an inkling of what Eason can accomplish. The playwright adapted Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer for Hartford Stage in 2010, refusing to dumb down the story and delivering it full-bodied, replete with a dead cat and a grisly murder.

"Sex With Strangers marked a departure for Eason. While many playwrights might create a provocative, two-character work for essentially practical reasons - such a play would be easy to produce at economy-minded small theaters - Eason was already comfortably ensconced at a well-established company, Chicago's Lookingglass Theatre, which had the ability to develop elaborate, large-cast productions.

'Lookingglass, which Eason led for six years as its artistic director and has also served as a playwright, literary manager, co-developer of artistic development and performer, is best known for its expansive adaptations of such imposing literary works as Ovid's Metamorphoses, Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, Studs Terkel's Race and Lewis Carroll's Alice Through the Looking Glass.

"'I did not write Sex With Strangers with Lookingglass in mind,' Eason said during a phone interview from New York where she's a writer and producer on Netflix's House of Cards.

"Indeed, her friends would refer to the script as her 'Steppenwolf play,' more in the spirit of a different Chicago theater ensemble, renowned for contemporary realism. When Eason moved from Chicago to New York a decade ago, she made a conscious break from the sort of writing she was best known for.

"Writing a two-hander was, for her, 'kind of novel. I came from doing abstract performance work and adaptations. It was a fun challenge.'"

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Here's a sample:

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Unrelated, but maybe not:

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San Jose Scofflaws
"The city of San Jose's library system is facing $6.8 million in unpaid fines across its 23 branches," CBS San Francisco reports.

"That figure is roughly five times the amount of unpaid fines logged a few years ago in Chicago, a city nearly three times San Jose's population."

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Trauma Queen
"For more than thirty years, Marjorie Leigh Bomben has been a member of the Chicago Fire Department, starting her career as a candidate paramedic working on an ambulance in some of the city's toughest neighborhoods. Now a paramedic field chief, Bomben looks back on thirty years of service in It's Not the Trauma, It's the Drama: Stories by a Chicago Fire Department Paramedic," Firehouse.com reports.

"Bomben's tales range from funny to gory, from the dangers paramedics face to the history of a venerable old firehouse. Some, of course, are about saving lives. Others are about simply staying alive."

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White Rabbit Welles
"Citizen Kane is a great excuse to study a lost America, the culture and politics of Kenosha, Wisconsin, in the early years of the twentieth century, the involvement of the talented pianist Beatrice Welles, Orson's mother, in the women's movement and the artistic life of the time, the lapse of Orson's father, the rich and adventurous Richard Welles - the first man in town to drive an automobile - into drink and heart disease," Michael Wood writes for the New York Review of Books.

"It's good too to ponder the image of the five-year-old Orson dressed as the White Rabbit and telling the shoppers at Marshall Field's department store in Chicago that he has to hurry - 'or else it will be too late to see the woolen underwear on the eighth floor!'"

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Comments welcome.



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Posted on March 9, 2016


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