Who's Really Who | Newberry

Who's Really Who

There are certain double standards practiced at the Book Fair. We alphabetize the Fiction, Literature, and Mystery sections but we do not do so in, say, Poetry or Drama. Books and Authors is a deliberately broad category: the history of books, criticism of literature, lives of authors, and book pricing guides all go into it. Political Science is defined narrowly: these books deal with how politics works (or doesn’t) whereas political events of the past—the Presidential Election of 1960—wind up in History, and lives of politicians go in Biography. (This prevents us from having to decide which people are politicians and which ones are statesmen. Yes, we WOULD argue about that…after we got done discussing the term “stateswomen”.)

What brought these thoughts on was the appearance of a slim hardcover mystery by Richard Castle. We are going to put this in HB Mystery A-L and alphabetize it under C. From a strictly library sense, this is totally, totally wrong.

And it’s a bit inconsistent with our practice with other books. When we get in a book written by John H. Watson, for example, we frequently alphabetize it under M, for Nicholas Meyer, or E, for Loren D. Estleman, or…. This does confuse a few people; the things I grumble when I see one of the volunteers has alphabetized the book under W do not bear repeating.

See, John H. Watson, or Dr. Watson, as he is more commonly known, is Sherlock Holmes’s sidekick. The name A. Conan Doyle appears on all his earlier work, but later, other writers started writing their own Holmes stories, and Watson is almost always their narrator. It became a custom to put “from the memoirs of John H. Watson, edited by John Fortescue Smith” on the Holmesian pastiches written by Smith. Debate continues on whether or not Dr. John H. Watson was, in fact, a fictional character, but let us assume for the purposes of argument that he was.

The pen name is a fairly common phenomenon, and we alphabetize the works of Samuel L. Clemens under T for Mark Twain. Clemens used the name publicly and there can be no question but that he existed. (And that people should know to look under T and not C.) Twain was “real”.

The phenomenon of books written by unreal, fictional characters is also not a recent one. The creation of a book narrated by someone whose name appeared on the title page as author goes back centuries, and it was a matter of personal choice—a matter of sense of humor or protection from lawsuits—whether you made it obvious you were doing this, as when Laurence Sterne put his name right there on the title page of the memoirs of Tristram Shandy or when William Makepeace Thackeray hid himself under the name M.A. Titmarsh so successfully that some online booksellers still list these under Titmarsh without any reference to Thackeray.

But the late twentieth century was a grand and glorious time for characters in books to write their own books. Lemony Snicket wrote so successfully about a series of unfortunate events that the fact that the author of the books has a different name will never become popular. Pittacus Lore is currently doing similar work for a small group of authors. We do not, so far, alphabetize children’s books, but if we ever do, Lemony Snicket’s volumes will be found securely under the letter S, not H.

I worried about this sort of thing when we started getting in the mystery novels of Jessica Fletcher. For those of you too young to remember, Jessica Fletcher was a mystery novelist who solved crimes in her spare time. She was also a fictional character, played by Angela Lansbury on the TV series “Murder She Wrote”. The books themselves were written by the man given credit as Jessica Fletcher’s co-author, Donald Bain, who wrote a LOT of books we get with other names on them. (He wrote the Coffee, Tea or Me series, for example.) But we alphabetize these under F, the name of the fictional character, and not under B, for the man who actually wrote the books (and an autobiography called Murder HE Wrote.)

So as you possibly figured out at the beginning of this sermon, Richard Castle is the lead character in the TV series Castle, a mystery author who writes novels about Jonathan Rook, a character a lot like Richard Castle. ABC went all the way with these books, allowing no hint on the books that Richard Castle does not, strictly speaking, exist. It took some time, even with the help of the Interwebs, to learn that the books are written by a man named Tom Straw. Unless this is symbolic, and they are erecting a straw man in front of the fact that they are actually transferring these books from an alternate dimension where Richard Castle really writes them.

You understand how complicated this becomes. Come July, you will find these books under the letter C. If you want to do further research on who really wrote them (or those books by Shakespeare, which we do not alphabetize) the library is upstairs.

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