Self help, or “how to”, books are by no means recent, we have been offering our counsel to others by way of books for centuries, be that tips on to how battle, care for the sick, die well, or rule as a monarch. Surprise, surprise though, the advice being dispensed did, sometimes, conflict:
One of the most popular genres of “advice books” during this time was called “Mirrors for Princes.” They were often written by noble relatives, respected scholars, or religious leaders to be presented to new nobility as they came to power. These books were meant to instruct young royalty of their duties and their history. Most of these books, alongside records of battles and studies of other monarchies, instruct on the need for piety, benevolence, and the important of a praiseworthy life. A famous exception is the book The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli. Machiavelli taught that it was better to be feared than loved, better to be stingy than generous (so as not to encourage greed in your subjects), and how to avoid contempt and hatred while adhering to the rest of his suggestions. Unlike most Mirrors, Machiavelli’s book is still widely read today.
It looks as if “new” books by J.D. Salinger, the manuscripts of which have been sitting in a safe in the late US author’s house for possibly decades, may see the light of day sooner rather than later, even though it was apparently Salinger’s wish they not be published until 2051, though it seems this directive may only apply to certain works.
The Salinger books would revisit Catcher protagonist Holden Caulfield and draw on Salinger’s World War II years and his immersion in eastern religion. The material also would feature new stories about the Glass family of Franny and Zooey and other Salinger works.
I’ve been reading Christie and admiring her devious plotting since I was a teenager given to raiding my mother’s prized collection of murder mysteries. Her work and others from the 1920s and 1930s, a era sometimes called the golden age of detective fiction, always fascinated me. The wickedness of the poisons, the cold calculation of the poisoners in the stories, all influenced my own non-fiction book, The Poisoner’s Handbook, which takes a narrative look at forensic toxicology in that same time period.
My book was the No. 6 bestselling title in America for a while, right behind all the different “50 Shades of Grey” and “Gone Girl.” It was selling more copies than “Hunger Games” and “Bossypants.” So, I can sort of see why people thought I was going to start wearing monogrammed silk pajamas and smoking a pipe. But the truth is, there’s a reason most well-known writers still teach English. There’s a reason most authors drive dented cars. There’s a reason most writers have bad teeth. It’s not because we’ve chosen a life of poverty. It’s that poverty has chosen our profession. Even when there’s money in writing, there’s not much money.
This despite the profile generated by the overly reasonable cease and desist letter from Jack Daniel’s (a must read by the way), that played a part in propelling the book – whose original cover design bore a striking resemblance to the well-known whiskey’s bottle label – to the upper reaches of bestseller lists in the US.
It seems to me many people will only ever rate a book, movie, game, whatever, if they reacted strongly to it, that is, if they either loved it or hated it. If they enjoyed it, then they’ll often award it a rating of five (out of five), whereas if not, just one out of five.
I have seen better writing in a Hallmark card! Boring! Give me a good ole copy of Elvis and Me! A true story that really tugs at your heart strings! I sleep with that one under my pillow! Keep Moby Dick away from my bed!
James Bond is a pedant at the morning meal (“his favourite meal of the day”). His routine when stationed in London, as detailed in From Russia with Love, always comprises “very strong coffee from De Bry in New Oxford Street, brewed in an American Chemex, of which he drank two large cups, black and without sugar”. Foodwise it is a speckled brown egg from a French Marans hen, boiled for exactly three and a third minutes (“it amused him to think there was such a thing as a perfect boiled egg”). It is always served with wholewheat toast and a selection of preserves and a “pat of deep yellow Jersey butter”. Such fussiness conceals a deadlier truth. “I know all about you,” Miranda Frost warns him in the most memorable line of Die Another Day. “Sex for dinner, death for breakfast. Well, it’s not going to work with me.”