Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

So A Guy Walks Into a Pawn Shop

What’s new in Tennessee books—and at Chapter 16—on December 3, 2009

In 1963, Cormac McCarthy walked into a pawnshop in Knoxville and plunked down fifty bucks for a portable Olivetti manual typewriter. As McCarthy told The New York Times earlier this week, he was heading to Europe and needed “the smallest, lightest typewriter I could find.” The machine, which Christie’s will auction tomorrow, has served McCarthy well, according to an authentication statement he wrote for the sale: “I have typed on this typewriter every book I have written including three not published. Including all drafts and correspondence I would put this at about five million words over a period of 50 years.” Proceeds from the auction, which is expected to bring in $15,000 to $20,000, will benefit the Sante Fe Institute, a nonprofit interdisciplinary scientific research organization, where McCarthy keeps an office. The normally taciturn McCarthy discusses the Olivetti, as well as his working method, here.

Nashvillians John Bridges and Bryan Curtis—who have sold more than a million etiquette books—are now using a decidedly newfangled tool for spreading the word about old-fashioned manners. For witty advice on the proper way to text in a symphony hall (there isn’t one), announce an engagement (Chelsea got it wrong), respond to an invitation (just do it), and maintain sanity in the mall during shopping season (“rise above the milling grege”) check in daily at their blog, Gentlemanners: Out To Change the Way the World Behaves.

Cornelius Vanderbilt no doubt understood well the rules of polite behavior, but etiquette didn’t get in his way as he pursued capitalism with a vigor unmatched before him. T. J. Stiles’s new biography, The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt, has just won the National Book Award for nonfiction. You can find out more about the book and Vanderbilt—who, in 1873, presented a small university in Nashville with a million-dollar endowment to heal the wounds of the Civil War by “strengthening the ties which should exist between all sections of our common country,” though he never set foot on the campus himself—here.

In a deal the Commodore would surely have admired, Publisher’s Weekly announced Monday that Nashville native Sam McLeod, who now lives on a farm near Walla Walla, Washington, has sold his memoir, Big Appetite: My Southern-Fried Search for the Meaning of Life, to Trish Todd at Touchstone Fireside. Todd, also a Nashville native, has already created an unusual marketing strategy for Big Appetite: the book will be sold in 1,600 Waffle House restaurants around the South. Look for the title, sunnyside up, in June 2010.

This week at Chapter 16, we’re highlighting new nonfiction titles by Andrew B. Lewis and Bruce Feiler—though neither is a Tennessee writer, both books prominently feature events that took place in the state—as well as a profile of children’s author Helen Hemphill. We’ve put up a new poem, too: “On the Night of the First Snow, Thinking About Tennessee” by Charles Wright, who has won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, among many other honors. Don’t miss it in the poetry section, above. It’s the kind of poem that calls a person home.