Galley Girl: The Biography Edition

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Kurt Cobain

Daily Variety reports that Riverhead, a division of Penguin Putnam, has bought the rights to publish the notebooks of the late Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain for close to $4 million. Publishers got a sneak peak at the journals last week, and insiders who have read excerpts from Cobain’s 23 notebooks (about 800 pages written over several years), tell TIME the early buzz is warranted.

The diaries include a handwritten draft of lyrics to Cobain’s generation-defining single, "Smells Like Teen Spirit," with verses crossed out and circled. Cobain obsessively lists his 50 favorite CDs during various periods, often naming albums by fellow Seattle band the Melvins. There are also letters — to bandmates, to lovers, even a note firing the band’s first drummer. Publishing sources describe the diaries as an intimate look at an artist who cherished his privacy. Says one, "I got a sense of him as a businessman, as a writer. His personality came through powerfully." Several passages reflect Cobain’s well-documented heroin addiction and bouts of depression (he committed suicide in 1994). Others — like a huffy list of band rules — reveal the surprising ambition of an artist who popularized a genre — grunge — that scorned popular success.

PW and Kirkus both give starred reviews to "The Letters of Arturo Toscanini," edited by Harvey Sachs (Knopf; April 28). Says Kirkus, "A rich and vivid collection of the great conductor’s correspondence. Music historian Sachs (no relation) learned of these letters after publishing his definitive biography (‘Toscanini,’ 1978), and while they contain no startling revelations, they give us a much better understanding of a man who famously refused all interviews and wrote no memoirs. In his introduction, Sachs predicts that Toscanini’s numerous affairs will garner the most attention, and there are indeed many, many pages of 'erotic, pornographic ravings.’ After a while, this seemingly ageless adolescent’s ardor grows wearisome, and we are grateful that he also wrote copiously about more interesting matters like music...Music, history, and gossip from a master musician and letter." PW agrees. "This will be catnip to music lovers. FORECAST: Toscanini has never lost his hold on the public imagination. Wide review attention, as well as the sensational nature of some of the material here, should ensure sales above what such a volume might normally inspire."

Sneer at tabloid journalism if you will, but the National Enquirer sold 6.5 million newsstand copies of its issue with Elvis peacefully at rest in his open casket. In September, Iain Calder, the Enquirer’s editor-in-chief for 30 years, will detail such feats of tabloidism in an as-yet untitled memoir for Talk Miramax. This is the guy who knows where all the bodies are buried, even before they’re buried.

On May 13, Simon & Schuster will publish "Citizen McCain" by Elizabeth Drew. Kirkus gives the book a thumbs up. "Washington insider and accomplished journalist Drew provides a fly-on-the-wall portrait of the congressional maverick and his struggle to reform campaign-finance laws...Drew clearly approves of McCain, though never so much as to allow partisanship to get in the way of her usual careful reporting. A useful exposé of how things get done — and buried — in Washington."

Who will succeed John Paul II as Pope? "Conclave: The Politics, Personalities, and Process of the Next Papal Election" (Image/Doubleday; paperback; June 18) by John Allen Jr. explores that question. Says Kirkus, "An oddity, an instant book dedicated to an event that has yet to happen...Allen’s roster of candidates and their qualifications will be the strong selling point of ‘Conclave.’ Breathless though the prose is, it conveys much that is of use including, for instance, a thorough discussion of just what the job of pope entails (settling squabbles and travelling a lot) and how popes get elected in the first place. For Vatican watchers, a good reference to have on hand when the smoke next rises over St. Peter’s Square."

On May 29, Hyperion will publish "Firehouse" by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author David Halberstam. The book will be a portrait of Engine 40 Ladder 35 on W. 66th Street, which lost 12 men in the WTC attack. According to the publisher, "In the tradition of John Hersey’s ’Hiroshima,’ Halberstam tells the story of the community within this firehouse, before, during and after the cataclysmic events of September 11th." The book grew out of an article commissioned by Vanity Fair, where Halberstam is a contributing editor.

Caroline Kennedy, editor of the best-selling "The Best-Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis," is at it again. "Profiles in Courage For Our Time," edited by Caroline Kennedy, will be published by Hyperion on May 1. Kirkus approves. "Character sketches of 14 men and women who have won the Profiles in Courage Award, which recognizes elected officials who ‘stood fast for the ideals of America...By and large, a refreshing sampling of political legacies cleaving to the notion of equality and justice on behalf of the weak and exploited." In October, Hyperion will publish "Patriotic Poems," Kennedy’s collection of patriotic poems, song lyrics, historical documents and speeches. These non-newsy collections are a boon for journalists, who get access to the normally inaccessible Kennedy. Her last book, "The Best-Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis" spent many weeks near the top of the NYT fiction list.