Saturday, July 16, 2005

Around reading (Ali Smith and Toby Litt)

I recently received a copy of New Writing 13, a literary journal from England. This 350-page publication contains "new writing from established writers and names to watch" from around the British Isles. Admittedly, I am not very familar with contemporary British lit. The only authors I recognized in this 46-author collection are David Mitchell, John Berger, Fay Weldon, Kate Atkinson, and Muriel Spark. (For those interested, here is the page on the book.) However, I did recognize the names of the journal's two guest editors, Ali Smith and Toby Litt. Each are themselves authors with a handful of books to their credit. Each author has been critically acclaimed. And each share a particular interest in - Louise Brooks.

In speaking about her first book, Free Love and Other Stories (Virago, 1994), Ali Smith stated in an interview with the Times of London that her editor "kindly let me have the cover I wanted, a picture of Louise Brooks from the G. W. Pabst film Diary of a Lost Girl (1929)." ( link to article ) Like many first books, it was published in a small edition, gained a few reviews, and quietly won a prize. In another interview, Smith noted, "My first book, a collection of short stories called Free Love, had almost no promotion at all. It had a charming photo of Louise Brooks on it, though, and was an interesting size, slimmer and longer than your usual book of short stories, and has become, apparently, very rare and highly collectable. That's what comes of a *really* tiny print run." On another occassion, the author added "Best was when I saw a man in front of me in a queue buying my first book. That was very exciting. I think it was the picture of Louise Brooks that did it for him. I often wonder if he liked the stories." I have been searching the internet in vain for a scan of a first edition of Ali Smith's first book - with the Louise Brooks cover, but have been unable to find an image. Does anyone have a copy ? Would anyone be able to send a scan ?

It was a Louise Brooks book cover that caught Toby Litt's attention. In a 2004 interview with the London Independent ( link to article ), the British novelist said "I'd never heard of Adolfo Bioy-Casares' The Invention of Morel (New York Review of Books £7.99). Initially attracted to it by the beautiful cover photo of silent film actress Louise Brooks, I found it to be an equally beautiful novel of unrequited love and parallel worlds." Elsewhere, in writing about Bioy-Casares' seminal 1940 novella, Litt said "This is a strange book. . . . The narrator falls in love with one of them, Faustine. . . . Faustine is based upon the great silent film actress Louise Brooks, star of Pandora’s Box and Diary of a Lost Girl. (It was her picture on the cover that first attracted me to this book.)" **  Notably, Pandora's Box also makes Toby Litt's list of the all-time top ten films on the author'swebsite.

Perhaps it's just coincidence, but here we have two "emerging" 21st century authors who have an interest in a 20th century icon and muse, Louise Brooks. Has anyone read either author?

** The Louise Brooks Society webpage devoted to Adolpho Bioy-Casares played some small part in putting the actress on the cover of the NYBR reissue of The Invention of Morel, a classic work of "magical realism." Prior to its publication in 2003, the publisher (who had come across the LBS webpage) contacted me about finding an appropriate image for the cover. I steered them toward this picture of Brooks asleep and dreaming, books at her feet.

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