Archive for August, 2009

According to the White House, President Obama has taken the following books on his vacation on Martha’s Vineyard:

  • The Way Home by George Pelecanos
  • Lush Life by Richard Price
  • Hot, Flat, and Crowded by Tom Friedman
  • John Adams by David McCullough (a Vineyard resident)
  • Plainsong by Kent Haruf

Forgotten Agatha Christie novel discovered 30 years after her death… in the attic of her holiday home

By Paul Harris

 Last updated at 8:46 AM on 20th August 2009

 Agatha Christie left behind her an intriguing glimpse into her everyday life – and an unpublished novel They had lain undiscovered for decades, gathering dust in a battered cardboard box.

There were shopping lists and jottings, hastily scribbled notes, and page after page of virtually indecipherable handwriting in blue-lined notebooks.

 Had this been a clear-out of some anonymous old woman’s attic, the musty papers would surely have been sent to the dump.

 But these particular papers belonged to Dame Agatha Christie. And somewhere in the 70 years of ideas and inspiration that they chronicled lay a priceless literary jewel.

For when the notebooks were analysed, the draft of an unknown and unpublished Hercule Poirot story emerged.

 Now – in a piece of detective work worthy of the moustachioed detective himself – it has been extracted to produce the first new Poirot tale since 1975 from the so-called queen of crime, who died in 1976.

Author and dedicated Christie enthusiast John Curran has painstakingly threaded together the secret notes and handwritten ingredients of an unseen story that eventually became a typed script.

 The jottings were scattered with other notes throughout some of the 73 exercise copybooks found 30 years after her death among possessions in her seaside home.

 Mr Curran’s four-year labour of love means that from beyond the grave, one of the nation’s best-loved authors has effectively rekindled the wily Belgian sleuth’s career.

 In true Christie style, it also means that readers have had to wait until this final chapter in her remarkable life to discover the denouement.

 Or rather they would have – if the Daily Mail had not secured the right to publish the work for its Poirot-loving readers, beginning this Saturday.

It would be churlish to reveal now precisely what happens in “The Capture Of Cerberus,” the original version of a completely different short story which borrowed that title in 1947.

But even the legendary Poirot – played so successfully by David Suchet in the longrunning TV adaptations – would need a few clues. And naturally, he’d want to establish their provenance.

 That is founded in the 1930s, when Christie began to commit her thoughts to paper before making a typescript.

 The very first line places our hero in Geneva. But the story revolves around a Nazi dictator in the run-up to war – and, unusually for the author, has an overtly political tone.

 The fact that Christie presented the manuscript for publication in 1939 is probably the reason it was never published.

Her dictator bore a thinly disguised resemblance to Adolf Hitler, and the work might have been considered too sensitive to release as part of a collection of short stories that appeared in 1940.

John Curran came across it one Friday in November 2005, after being invited to examine Dame Agatha’s papers at Greenway, her holiday retreat in Devon.

 Like a literary Aladdin’s cave, two locked rooms at the top of some stairs contained such treasures as a complete run of signed first editions . . . manuscripts and typescripts . . . personal correspondence . . . posters, contracts and diaries.

 The old cardboard box on a bottom shelf must have looked terribly ordinary in contrast.

 But John Curran knew how important it was the instant he lifted the lid. ‘The first words that I read were “The Body In The Library – People – Mavis Carr – Laurette King”.’

 Those notes told him that here lay the outline for some of her most celebrated works.

Death On The Nile, he found, was originally planned as a story for Marple, not Poirot.

 Ten Little Niggers had more than ten characters in its early stages. And Christie had clearly toyed with various solutions for Crooked House.

 The box also revealed an unpublished version of a story – The Incident Of The Dog’s Ball – which was virtually the same as a published one but contained a major and fascinating difference.

 Finding so much detail about his literary heroine, Mr Curran said, was ‘like dying and going to heaven’.

 It was “The Capture Of Cerberus,” however, that emerged as the prize. In his book he says: ‘I realised I was looking at something unimaginably unique – an unknown Poirot short story, one that had lain silently between its covers for over 60 years.’

Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks – Fifty Years Of Mysteries In The Making is published on September 3 by Harper Collins, £20.

12 Things: Librarians not to mess with

Louis Peitzman

Thursday, August 20, 2009

1. Henry DeTamble (“The Time Traveler’s Wife”)

Henry doesn’t just time travel – he also lies, steals and drinks just about everyone under the table. Who said librarians were mild-mannered?

2. Rupert Giles (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”)

Sure, he gets knocked unconscious more often than any other character, but he’s also handy in a fight or when researching ancient evil.

3. Evy Carnahan-O’Connell (“The Mummy” series)

Behind every great male adventurer, there has to be a great female librarian. Evy even manages to come back from the dead, using, of course, a book.

4. Flynn Carsen (“The Librarian” series)

Noah Wyle doesn’t exactly have action-star looks, but he buffed up for his turn as the titular librarian in this ridiculous made-for-TV series.

5. Karma (Marvel Comics)

When she’s not shelving books at the University of Chicago library, Karma is seriously messing with your head. No, literally: She can control minds.

6. The Librarian of Unseen University (“Discworld”)

The Librarian may look like an orangutan, but don’t call him a “monkey” unless you’re prepared to face the violent consequences.

7. Marian Paroo (“The Music Man”)

OK, she’s a little less powerful than the others on this list, but it takes some real sway to reform a professional con artist like Harold Hill.

8. Alicia Hull (“Storm Center”)

Again, it’s not all about physical strength. Fighting against censorship, Bette Davis’ Alicia Hull is a force to be reckoned with.

9. Tsui Chik (“Black Mask”)

Jet Li thinks he’s a librarian, but he’s actually a government-trained supersoldier. Not that library work can’t be equally hard core.

10. Mike Hanlon (“It”)

Over the course of Stephen King’s epic novel, Hanlon battles racist bullies, his fading memory and – oh, yeah – the ultimate evil.

11. Conan the Librarian (“UHF”)

Though more a gag than a character, Conan the Librarian will forever be remembered for his battle cry: “Don’t you know the Dewey Decimal System?”

12. Lisa Guidarini (Various)

Occasionally wears high heels to work, has never worn her hair in a bun, and does not own one of those bead glasses hanger thingies. Rebel with a cause. And do not feed her after midnight!

– Louis Peitzman,



Margaret Atwood’s book tour for ‘Year of the Flood’ will feature live performances with original music, local actors and the author herself as narrator.

August 18, 2009

Bruce DeMara – entertainment reporter

Margaret Atwood is radically redesigning the concept of a standard book tour. The acclaimed Canadian author is using a live performance with original music, local actors and the author herself as narrator to promote her latest novel, The Year of the Flood, her publisher announced yesterday.

Her tour for the book will feature six Canadian stops, including St. James’ Cathedral at 65 Church St. in Toronto on Sept. 24.

“It’s a chance to break free from the traditional structure of a book tour,” Atwood said in a statement. “I felt this particular novel deserved a more complex presentation. It’s also a great chance to work with other creative minds and see their interpretation of the story come to light.”

Ellen Seligman, publisher of fiction at McClelland & Stewart and editor of Atwood’s 13th novel, which will be released Sept. 22, called the project “unprecedented” in the annals of publishing.

The Year of the Flood, a follow-up to Atwood’s novel Oryx & Crake, is set in a future where the world has undergone dramatic change as a result of decades of environmental degradation. The final blow comes in the form of a pandemic that decimates virtually all of humanity, leaving a scattering of survivors.

But Seligman said, despite the book’s dark nature and theme, “there is definitely a sense of hope (by the end) because it’s people gathering in groups together.” That’s where the idea of live performance and bringing together people from local community meshes with the book, she said.

“The idea of this performance and gathering the public – these are public performances and very inexpensive tickets – is a way of kind of joining everybody together in this global concern, which is our world and life as we know it.”

The hour-long performance will feature 14 hymns – one for each chapter – which Atwood wrote, to the music of L.A.-based composer Orville Stoeber.

A three-person cast will perform along with a choir, all of whom will be local talent. Atwood has helped to design an interactive website for the book tour, including a blog and a Twitter feed.

In her first entry, Atwood said she and husband Graeme Gibson are travelling to the U.K. by ship and said two Coronation Street cast members will perform with her in Manchester. Events will also be held in Ottawa, Kingston, Sudbury, Calgary and Vancouver, with proceeds going to Nature Canada.

Details of the Toronto cast have yet to be finalized. Ticket information is available at

I reported for work at our branch library about fifteen minutes late. No big deal. I was still there early enough  – the program started at 7:00 and it was only 5:30.

Then it hit me. I forgot to print off the attendee list for the event. A program promising to fill the room to capacity, requiring every attendee to be checked in by name. No problem! The director of the branch let me use his computer. Crisis averted, list printed.

I noticed how terribly hot it was in the branch library. But no matter. All that mattered was everything was in order for the program.

Or almost.

I skipped back downstairs to the meeting room, then I remembered. I hadn’t printed the handout for the program. Our printer at the main library was broken yesterday, so I thought oh no problem. I’ll print it out when I get to the branch. Looking up I saw it was only 6:00. I had a full hour to print out the handouts and make copies.

For whatever reason, none of the branch computers I tried would let me access my work email. My work email. From the library, where I work. Granted, it’s our branch. Still, it’s our library, with networked computers.

The presenter had gotten there by this point, and I told her my quandry. She cheerily re-sent the handout to my yahoo address, accessible from the web. It came through, and I printed it out. Success! And with a half hour to go!

To the staff copier I went, the copier that collates, making life much easier. I was beginning to sweat from the heat, but with everything else going well that was a small inconvenience. I’d worn a light sweater over a sleeveless top, thinking the branch library would be as cold as our main library. I hadn’t bothered shaving my armpits (gross detail, sorry), because the main library is known for keeping a temperature equivalent to a meat locker. I never thought I’d need to remove the sweater, since it had felt so good that morning.Not so much at our branch. And I couldn’t remove it, because I was too lazy to take two minutes with a razor.

Whistling, I copied one set first, to test that all was well. Then the copier jammed.

Bending over to open all the little doors I saw a sheet stuck in the roller. Stuck tightly, and I do mean tightly. I pulled on the paper and it ripped. My perspiration increased; sweat beginning to roll down my temples. Finally, using an advancing roller I got the piece of paper out. Success!

But the printer still said there was a paper jam.

When I bent over again, my back suddenly gave out. I have an off and on problem with sciatica. It strikes when I least expect. And last evening I least expected it.

Sweat now ran down back, sides, and popped out on forehead. Curses scrolled through my brain.

Not one to ask for help,  I toughed it out. Grabbing the copier I straightened up all I could, massaging the muscle that had seized up in my lower back. Still, nothing I did convinced the copier I’d dislodged the errant paper.

Light bulb moment: the patron copier! I asked one of the lovely circulation workers for the bypass key, then realized that copier does not collate. Inconvenient. Oh, and did I mention the program had started by that time, and I still hadn’t shown my face downstairs in the meeting room? All I could do was hope everyone had gotten a seat, imagining nightmare scenarios of people rioting, climbing over each other, scratching and clawing.

Sweat increasing, I unbuttoned the sweater and, when no one was looking, pulled out my shirt and flapped it to get a breeze.

I put in sheet one of four, and set it to copy for all EIGHTY FIVE expected attendees. It started copying …. one……..two…….three…. agonizingly slowly. I stuck in sheet two, and flew downstairs – as quickly as one can while hunched over – with sheet one. I told the presenter I’d be back down with sheet two.

And I was. Still half bent over, I went back upstairs, where sheet two was still in process. Fifty…fifty-one…fifty-two… I’m holding myself up with, of all things, the wheelchair we have in case it’s needed by a patron. By this point it was looking inviting to me.

Sheet two finished. I hobbled to the elevator, delivered it, and came back up where sheet three was printing. I thought. That’s when the lovely lady at circulation told me, “It just stopped. I don’t know why.”

It had run out of paper.

The copier paper in a storage cabinet, on the bottom shelf, which may as well have been forty feet down a well. I used a series of contortions – similar, I imagine, to the affliction known as St. Vitas Dance – and grabbed another ream of paper. I refilled the copier, sweat now running down backs of legs, down sides, back, face and neck.

Forty-one… forty-two… forty three…

I went ahead and put in sheet four, figuring it would take them a while to get through sheets one and two, anyway. By the time Quasimodo delivered sheets three and four they hadn’t even worked through sheet two. One small blessing amidst torturous pain and suffering.

Making my way to the back of the room, I realized all the seats were taken. Knowing I couldn’t stand for an hour and a half, I rummaged through the storeroom and found a stool. A high stool. I climbed, painfully, onto my seat. Thankfully, It was much cooler in the basement, and I could at last relax. Sweat began to dissipate.

Then the presenter asked me, “Oh, could you close the door? I got complaints last time that people couldn’t hear from the noise in the hall …”

Oh God.

Sliding off the stool, I forced myself to straighten up again, making it to the front of the room without falling over. Back at my stool, I unelegantly climbed back aboard. Leaning back against the wall – the nice, cold wall – I found a measure of relief.

The program came off fine, then of course once it was over the patrons had questions. I was standing by then, giving my back another hard rub. The director came downstairs with the key, so we could lock the library and go home. I stifled my impulse to scream, SHUT UP AND LEAVE, WOMAN!!! I gritted my teeth and held a plastered smile.

FINALLY, she went, making us all ten minutes late closing up. Two Naproxen tablets later (which, in case you’re wondering, have no impact on relieving sore muscles), I was lying comfortably on the sofa. At last.

One of the worst days in the history of my four years at the library was, finally, blessedly over. Notice I said “one of.”

Don’t you sometimes wonder, why me, and why this long string of horrible events? It can make a girl paranoid the Universe is out to get her.

One positive thing, it makes for a good story. The only positive thing. Print this out and re-read it next time you think you’re having a bad day. If you still think your day trumps this I am so, so sorry.

And, my final words of wisdom: TAKE TIME TO SHAVE YOUR ARMPITS. Unless you’re a man, of course. That would be weird.