SHCHARANSKY STORY: Two weeks before the world press reported that the Soviet government might be about to release famed refusenik Anatoly Shcharansky--on Jan. 20, Shcharansky's birthday, to be exact--British historian Martin Gilbert completed the final page of what Viking/Penguin will publish in May as the first, and to date only, authorized biography of Shcharansky. As Gilbert explains, the book originated two and one-half years earlier, when close friends of the political prisoner urged Gilbert to write a "fully documented, detailed account of his life that would establish beyond a shadow of a doubt his innocence of the charges for which he was serving 13 years in prison and labor camps." At the time, he said, "it was their hope that my book, when published, would give further strength to the campaign for his release."
So, "with Avital Shcharansky's encouragement, I reconstructed Shcharansky's life as a Jewish activist and as a prisoner." Scheduled for publication under the Elisabeth Sifton Viking imprint, "Shcharansky" draws upon eyewitness accounts and previously unpublished documents that Gilbert has collected. Included are the many messages Shcharansky and his friends compiled inside the Soviet Union to alert the world to their plight; material from his trial--the first full account of a recent Soviet political trial; and Shcharansky's letters from prison to his friends and family.
Originally dedicated, Gilbert said, "to Avital and her husband in the hope that they would be 'swiftly reuinted,' " the biography now will be dedicated to a group of other Soviet Jews still imprisoned in that country.
AIR-CONDITIONED NIGHTMARE. One of the jewels of the UCLA library's special collections is its unique collection of Henry Miller manuscripts and memorabilia, most of them a gift of the author. A major addition was made to that collection last month through the good offices of an anonymous benefactor and the mediation of Jake Zeitlin, Los Angeles book dealer and literary savant. The addition, purchased at a Sotheby's auction: the notebook Miller kept during a 1940-1941 tour of the United States. Some of the material in the notebook would later be published as "The Air-Conditioned Nightmare." But according to David Zeidberg, curator of the collection, the extensive unpublished material--full of Miller's sardonic observations on the America of his day--will be of even greater interest to researchers. For unlike other Miller manuscripts which, though many of them passed to his heirs at his death, had been on deposit at UCLA and were known to scholars, the 1940-1941 notebook had always been in private hands.
DULL, DULLER, DULLES. Do the unacknowledged authors of publishers' "flap copy" ever manage a subtle rebellion? Consider the flap copy of "The John Foster Dulles Book of Humor" by Louis Jefferson, Dulles' security officer for five years (St. Martin's, forthcoming in June): "Jefferson describes in flavorful detail life with John Foster Dulles: searching for Chivas Regal with Dwight Eisenhower; dumping ice on Harold Macmillan during the Suez Crisis; getting drunk with the Russians at the Geneva Summit; and"--hang on now, this will really break you up--"catching the eye of Indira Gandhi."
MAYBE WE'VE BEEN DOING SOMETHING WRONG ALL THIS TIME: After all the untold zillions of books on how to get rid of stress, along comes Dr. Peter G. Hanson to tell us about "The Joy of Stress" (Andrews, McMeel & Parker). Insisting that the heretofore dreaded stress "increases our efficiency," Hanson maintains that "no world records of any kind have ever been set without stress," and that "stress is a mandatory ingredient of professional, financial and personal success." Or, as the doctor cautions: "Enjoy the thrill of stress and leave the threat behind."
THE TYRANNY OF THE IRVINE CRITICS. The New York Times Sunday Magazine recently devoted a lengthy article to "The Tyranny of the Yale Critics." The tyrants in question were, in the first instance, French critic Jacques Derrida, whose "deconstruction" has had a kind of institutionalization in New Haven, and J. Hillis Miller, who has led the way in institutionalizing it.
Even as that article was being published, Miller had accepted a chair at the University of California, Irvine, and Derrida's famous seminar will also be offered at Irvine starting next year. No word yet as to whether it will continue to be offered at Yale.
Welcome to the Autel California.
PRIZES: Sacramento TV anchorwoman Christine Craft has been named winner of the 1986 Rhodora Prize for Women's Literature, presented by Capra Press of Santa Barbara. The award honors Craft's forthcoming "Christine Craft: An Anchorwoman's Story," to be published this fall by Capra. In addition to publication, the prize carries with it a cash award.
MORE PRIZES: Jean Fritz, novelist and historian for children, has won the 1986 Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, presented every three years by the Assn. for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Assn. Fritz has published nearly 30 books, many of them juvenile novels set in Colonial America. Previous winners of the award include Maurice Sendak, Dr. Seuss, Beverly Cleary, E. B. White and, in 1954, Laura Ingalls Wilder herself.
HIGH HOPES: For most of his youth, Peter B. Kaplan was a serious acrophobic. So much so that he was practically petrified to go upstairs. To conquer his terror of heights, he joined the Army and signed on as--what else?--a sky diver. Kaplan has been climbing tall things--the antenna of the Empire State Building, the towers of the Brooklyn Bridge, the torch of the Statue of Liberty--ever since. In fact, photographer Kaplan went so far as to be married at the top of the Empire State Building. Now his work is contained in a new book, "High on New York" (Abrams: $24.95), that shows the Big Apple from what can only be called a new vantage. Along with his photography, incidentally, Kaplan also gives self-improvement seminars. The topic: overcoming fear.
AND THE WINNER IS: This year's winner of the Edgar Award, the mystery writer's counterpart of the Oscar, will be announced May 9 in New York. Among the nominees is Santa Monica novelist/journalist Dick Lochte, author most recently of "Sleeping Dog" (Arbor House).
MORE WINNERS: Fiction Network, the San Francisco-based newspaper syndicate, has chosen two Californians--Ken Chowder of Saratoga and Merrill Joan Gerber of Sierra Madre--among the winners of its 1985 competition. A third winner, Rosalind Warren, is a bankruptcy lawyer in New England. "We want fiction that will appeal to a wide range of readers," FN editor Jay Schaefer said in explaining the parameters of the 1986 contest (deadline is June 6). "If a writer can satisfy our three judges--each with a different literary-newspaper background--the story will receive $1,500." Details, rules and entry blanks for the contest may be obtained by sending a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Fiction Competition, Fiction Network, P.O. Box 5651, San Francisco, Calif. 94101.