Sunday, September 03, 2006

It's No Laughing Party When You've Been on the Murder Mile

George Bernard Shaw was once browsing in a used bookstore and discovered one of his own books which he had inscribed to a friend: "With esteem, George Bernard Shaw." According to the story, Shaw purchased the book and sent it back to the original recipient, adding in pen: "With renewed esteem, George Bernard Shaw."

Novelist John McNally (who was raised on the southwest side of Chicago) recently came across a novel he had inscribed to one of his literary heroes for sale at a used book site. After writing about the incident, McNally took some bizarre and random shots from folks who didn't realize his outrage was pretend. Yes it's true that Ursula K Le Guin never asked for a copy of McNally's book and once she received it she was under no obligation to cherish it forever. But certainly the image of the legendary Le Guin, a writer who has sold millions of books and whose work I greatly admire, peddling unwanted volumes off her shelves for spare change is funny.

Of course we don't know that this is what happened. Ms. Le Guin might have given the book away or donated it to a library or thrown it in the recycling or lost it on a train, and the person who sold it to a used bookstore might have been several readers removed from her. But the fact that John McNally found this book for sale is also funny. Funny, funny, funny.

Or maybe it's only funny if you're a writer.

Anyway the amused writers here at The Outfit have also combined to sell millions of books (I realize this is a little like Dale Berra saying that he and his father Yogi have combined to hit hundreds of home runs, but indulge me) and we've found a better use for our book overflow than diverting it through eBay.

I have an old buddy from Cooperstown Central School named Scott Hayford who is now a Major in the United States Air Force. Major Hayford just returned safely from his fourth tour in Afghanistan but while he was over there he wrote me about how much books are valued by soldiers in the field.

Basically the way it works here is the infantry go out on patrols for 1 to 5 days.  Then they come back in for refit.  Most of the time it's moving around and protecting teams of medical personnel or construction workers, or holding shurras with the local leadership trying to develop better security and getting the people to trust the new government.

It's tough, corruption is part of the culture, narcotics, smuggling, and just outright crime is all over as well.  So a lot of the time we are struggling to figure out if the attack on a police force was taliban, al qaeda, or just an argument between the drug guy and the cops over payoffs. It's crazy sometimes.
Anyway, the soldiers are out there and a good book is always a good thing to have lying around.  A lot of reading going on here.

So this week the seven of us are shipping several crates of our own books over to Kabul. These soldiers are certainly brave but they are also anxious and bored and nervous and homesick and if a few hours lost in a novel helps release the tension a little then that's a good thing.

You don't have to be an author of course but If you're finished with some books written by someone else and you were thinking about giving them away, I encourage you to box them up in a care package and send them to:

345th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
APO AE  09355

For obvious reasons the soldiers prefer paperbacks (please continue to donate hardcovers to your local library) and I'm told they also like mysteries and suspense novels and thrillers above most else. Inscriptions from John McNally optional.

On an unrelated note, next week Libby and I will be appearing at the Midwest Literary Festival in Aurora, Illinois. On Saturday, September 16 I'll be doing a humor panel as well as a thriller panel, the former with my friend and My First Presidentiary co-author John Warner, and the latter with David Morrell, James Rollins, JA Konrath, Raymond Benson, and David Angsten.

On Sunday, September 17, Libby will be talking mysteries with Konrath, Michael Black, Julie Hyzy, Julia Buckley, and Steve Mandel. Then she will be joining William Barillas, Robert Goldsborough, and Judy Merrill Larsen for a discussion of books set in the Midwest.

The Midwest Literary Festival is an intimate event with lots of big name authors. I doubt you will ever find a more convenient time and place to discuss We Were the Mulvaneys with Joyce Carol Oates and also Hollywood Squares with Shadoe Stevens. Or, as is my intention, vice-versa.

Another author featured at the festival will be the great Dennis Lehane, who is not just an acclaimed novelist but also one of several writers for the best show on television. If you haven't been watching The Wire, maybe the most novelistic series in American TV history, you're seriously missing out. Season Four begins September 10 on HBO.


David Terrenoire said...


When I was a GI, books sent by friends and family were a connection to another world, a place I knew once, and could know again with luck and time. I still have a collection of Conrad in my library that a girl sent to me. Heart of Darkness takes on a whole new resonance when you're surrounded by the politically shifting madness of Central America.

So, please, send books. I have recently moved to a 1200 sq. ft. house and have culled my library down to a few dozen boxes of books I could not part with, including that Conrad collection. The rest I sent to GIs in Iraq.

And yes, some of them were books inscribed to me by their authors. I didn't think they'd object.

Send books. You'll be doing more good than you can possibly know.

Kevin Guilfoile said...

Thanks, David. And I'm sure those books get passed around a lot, too. One book will be read many times.

John McNally said...

I would be happy to inscribe any books, and I'll inscribe them to anyone you want me to. "To Mr. John Cheever, whose work has meant so much to me..." "To Mr. Garcia Marquez, who inspired this South Side tale of magical realism." Just tell me what to write! Oh, and The Wire rocks. Can't wait for Season Four. Great blog, folks.