Six Degrees of the Library Collection: from Margaret Mitchell to Roald Dahl

It has certainly been awhile since I did my last Six Degrees of the Library Collection post (a series where we highlight random connections between the books and the authors you can find in the library’s collection). These posts are a lot of fun, but a lot of work to write, so they often fall down the priority list. However, a recent radio piece gave me a bit of inspiration.

The piece I heard highlighted that this year is the 75th anniversary of Margaret Mitchell’s book Gone With the Wind. First published in May 1936, the book was a best seller, a Pulitzer Prize winner and, of course, the inspiration for one of Hollywood’s most enduring films. The southern US setting for the novel was a familiar one for Mitchell, who was born and raised in Atlanta. A startling fact about Mitchell that I hadn’t known was that she died at the age of 48 after being struck by a car.

A grim point of inspiration, but I have to admit that it got me wondering if there were other authors who’d had similar accidental deaths. In a strange double tie to Mitchell (and her famous character Scarlet O’Hara), American poet Frank O’Hara was also killed in an automotive accidenthe was struck by a dune buggy while walking on a beach. O’Hara was an American Poet of the New York School and his largely autobiographical poetry frequently focused on his New York surroundings. The website offers selections of his poetry (including some read by the poet) and the library owns a few collections.

Before his career as a poet, Frank O’Hara was a student and then served in the military in the Pacific during World War II. Another famous American author who was a World War II veteran was J.D. Salinger. The author of Catcher in the Rye was drafted and served in Europe beginning in 1942: he was involved in active combat, and was eventually assigned to a counter-intelligence unit. At the war’s end, he returned to the US and published the books that would bring him fame. You probably know where I’m going with this, because aside from his writing, the other thing that Salinger is famous for is being reclusive: he published nothing since the 1960s and was rarely seen in public. He died at home in 2010.

Another famously reclusive author is Thomas Pynchon: in fact his reclusive nature is so similar to Salinger’s that at one point there were rumors that the were the same person. Pynchon is an important author of postmodern fiction, and is cited as an influence by many acclaimed writers (both of the postmodernists and not) including T. C. Boyle, David Foster Wallace, Don DeLillo and Ian Rankin. Unlike Salinger, Pynchon has been actively writing over the years: his most recent novel was 2009’s Inherent Vice. Hiding from public view has not entirely kept Pynchon out of pop culture: he has made cameo appearances in two episodes of the animated TV series the Simpsons. In both cases the animated likeness appears with a bag over his head.

Cameos on the Simpsons have become one of my favourite aspects of that show, and lots of famous folks (including lots of authors) have done them. In one of the Pynchon episodesDiatribe of a Mad HousewifeMarge publishes a romance novel and among other things the Simpson family visits a book fair. Sharing the animated stage with Pynchon at that fair is Tom Clancy.

Fans of political thrillers and page turning adventures likely know Clancy’s name. In fact, even if you’ve never read a Tom Clancy book at all, you’ve probably heard of him, and maybe even seen one of the film adaptations of his bestselling books, including Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger starring Harrison Ford in the lead role. Movie adaptations are standard fare for popular novels, but did you know that several of Tom Clancy’s books have been made into board games? It’s true! Both The Hunt for Red October and Red Storm Rising have board game editions.

You know who else has had a book made into a board game? Ken Follett. His historical novel The Pillars of the Earth was adapted as a board game by a German company that is known for its games based on novels. Pillars of the Earth was a big change in writing style for Ken Follett. Before the 1989 historical epic was published, Follett was more known as an author of thrillers. The switch to historical fiction had a big payoff for the author, Pillars of the Earth was a huge bestseller as was its 2007 followup World Without End.

Ken Follett hails from Cardiff, Wales, a fact that links him to another famous writer, Roald Dahl. If you’re like me, you probably have great memories of Dahl’s children’s classics like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but Dahl also penned short stories that were geared toward adults. The library owns a few collections of these stories (including The Best of Roald Dahl,) which wikipedia notes often feature “a dark sense of humour and a surprise ending”

There you have it: from Margaret Mitchell to Roald Dahl in six steps. Have two authors you’d like to see connected? Make a suggestion in the comments field below.


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