BLOOD, GUTS & A CHRISTMAS STORY

By LINDA G. RASTELLI

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Veteran illustrator and author Elise Primavera, creator of the best-selling “Auntie Claus” picture book series, was giving readings in local schools when she hit upon some startling information about her market.

“I’d be doing a charcoal sketch, and they’d shout out, ‘Have a skeleton! ‘The wolfman!’ ‘A gravestone with RIP!’” says the Red Bank resident. “Then, ‘Put [in] an old tree, with a noose hanging off it, with a dead guy, and a hand coming out of the ground, dripping blood.’”

Primavera knew she was onto something.

“How can you ignore that?” she says. “This is what I keep hearing — ghosts, monsters, blood and guts.

“That’s what they want,” she says with a mischievous laugh. “There’s a need for this. Not enough nooses with dead guys.”

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NEW OWNERS ‘WIDE-EYED’ ABOUT BOOK BIZ

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Whether they were its customers or not, book lovers of a certain bent had to have been disheartened to learn recently about the planned closing of Princeton’s Micawber Books, a 26-year-old store situated on historic Nassau Street opposite the immensely evocative Princeton University main campus.

As the December 29 story in the New York Times noted:

Independent bookstores, of course, have been under siege for nearly two decades by the megachains and the Web retailers, and have been steadily dropping away, one by one. Now, though, the battle is reaching some of the last redoubts.

Which made us wonder: if an independent book store can’t survive in bookish, high-traffic Princeton, what chance does any bookstore have, let alone one in the somnolent little burg of Fair Haven?

So we decided to drop by for a pulse check at Monmouth County’s only general interest, non-chain bookstore.

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TERRY GROSS WAFTS INTO TOWN

Terry Gross’s National Public Radio interview show, called Fresh Air, could hardly have a more apt name.

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The variety of fascinating personalities that cycles through her studio at WHYY in Philadelphia is proof that there is an alternative to the same-old lineup of guests making the talk show rounds to hawk big-budget movies and other dreck.

A recent week’s roster included filmmaker Stephen Frears; the authors of new books on the Bush Administration and the Holocaust; and Ray Manzarek, formerly of the Doors.

But that’s just the beginning. Gross is a seductive can-opener of an interviewer, one who almost always manages to get her guests to reveal surprising aspects of themselves and their relationships to their work.

Then again, sometimes she doesn’t. Next Saturday, Dec. 12, Gross comes to the Count Basie Theatre to show that it doesn’t always work out as well as it sounds on the radio.

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LOVE IS NEVER HAVING TO ASK: ‘AM I YOUR ONLY HUSBAND?’

Say what you will about the New York Times, but its obit writers know how to take the sting out of death.

Yesterday’s edition carried the delicious obituary of Rupert Pole, 87, “one of the two simultaneous — and simultaneously unwitting — husbands of the novelist, erotic adventurer and copiously confessional diarist Anaïs Nin,” the Times reported.

Nin, of course, was the author of a series of smutty diaries that, as the Times put it:

chronicled her affairs with an international cast of luminaries, including the novelist Henry Miller; the critic Edmund Wilson; the psychologist Otto Rank, who happened to be her therapist; and the Spanish composer Joaquín Nin, who happened to be her father.

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Note the Red Bank connection: Wilson was born and raised in the borough.

The obit informs us that Pole (who died July 15) was married to Nin for 11 years, from 1955 to 1966, and

For all that time, Nin was married to her first husband, Hugh Guiler, whom she wed in 1923. (A banker, Guiler later became an experimental filmmaker under the pseudonym Ian Hugo.) For years, she performed a precarious balancing act, dividing her time between Mr. Pole’s spartan cabin in the Sierra Madre and Guiler’s opulent apartment in New York.

If Mr. Pole knew of Nin’s double life — and for years he apparently did not — he did not object much.

How could he not have known?

“He was sort of a great cipher,” Deirdre Bair, the author of “Anaïs Nin: A Biography” (Putnam’s, 1995), said in a telephone interview on Friday. “He was stunningly handsome. Incredibly shy. Not really very bright. And just incredibly self-effacing. She was his star: everything radiated around her, and he loved being in her background.”

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