Between the Covers 27/05/2012

Your weekly guide to what's really going on inside the world of books

Will Self suffered a blow on Tuesday when part of his house collapsed.

The author of eight novels told how masonry suddenly tumbled down the front of his London townhouse with a "tremendous roar". So far, the cause has yet to be ascertained, though "wear and tear" has been suggested, which is not covered by insurance. Between the Covers is no structural engineer, but we do remember an article Self once wrote describing his study. "I've been typing in this room for a decade now, and although every couple of years there's a savage purge, the impedimenta creep back from the Siberia of the waste bin," he wrote. He went on to list the many items of ephemera cluttering the room, and finished with this conclusion: "I can't throw anything away. Anything. I'm going to end up like one of those old weirdos who lives in a network of tunnels burrowed through trash." Surely there's no connection?

***

Bad news for organisers of the Charleston Festival, which kicked off in Sussex on Friday. American writer Edmund White has had to pull out, due to ill health. The author of The Joy of Gay Sex was due to speak this Friday about his new book, Jack Holmes and his Friend, before scooting off to do the same at Hay. Happily, IoS reviewer Philip Hensher has stepped in to replace him. In the meantime, here's wishing Ed a speedy recovery.

***

An opportunity to buy autographs of Tolkien, Voltaire and Tennyson has arisen in Berlin next month. Antiquarian dealer J A Stargardt is holding a sale of 1,200 items at the Kempinski Hotel on 5 and 6 June, including 300 letters and manuscripts by some of Europe's greatest writers. Perusing the catalogue, we see there's a rather dull letter by the poet Algernon Swinburne, in which he frets about cheques and proofs; there's also a grovelling letter from William Makepeace Thackeray, in which he apologises for not having given a friend a ticket to his lecture, and offers her hospitality "of Barmecide victuals". But the star lot must be the letter from JRR Tolkien, written in 1967, in which he reveals his dislike for children's fiction: "I am afraid I cannot help you in the matter of children's books, one, because after a long absence, my own affairs take all of my present limited strength and secondly, because I have never been a lover of books for children and have seldom read any since my childhood." Not even his own?

***

Hats off to agent Patrick Walsh, who has sold a biography of Bo Xilai, the disgraced Chinese politician, to The Bodley Head. US rights have been sold for a "high six-figure" dollar sum to Doubleday. Xilai, once tipped to lead China's Communist Party, was suspended from the Politburo in March over his connections to the suspected murder of British businessman Neil Heywood. Kay Peddle, an editor at Bodley Head, snapped up Knocking Down the House, by Chinese author and political exile Jiang Weiping, within five days of Walsh submitting a proposal. Weiping has spent six years in a Chinese prison because of his work investigating the corruption of the nation's ruling elite. Walsh describes the book as "on one level an entertaining and gripping read; on another, and perhaps more important, a rare glimpse into the constant battle between the conservative and progressive factions of the Communist Party's leadership, seen through the prism of Bo Xilai's overweening ambition." We can't wait.

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