When a Methodist man and a Jewish woman, both writers, get together in longterm holy matrimony in Vermont, the result is not only a household full of books and novels, it also involves a romantically-coded message on the dedication page of climate activist Bill McKibben’s comic cli-fi novel “Radio Free Vermont.”
“For Spunky Knowsalot,” the mysterious three-word dedication reads simply on the first page of McKibben’s debut novel. Spunky who?
Readers across the country have been picking up the 250-page comic fable of rural political Vermont “resistance” ever since the book went on sale in early November and wondering just who Spunky Knowsalot could be.
Turns out, according to publishing sources in Vermont this reporter spoke with recently, it’s s none other than McKibben’s wife, the writer and fellow intellectual Sue Halpern. The novel was published by Manhattan literary maven David Rosenthal, who runs the indie Blue Rider Press imprint for the PenguinRandomHouse conglomerate.
There’s a long history of book dedications going to writers’ husbands and wives, often in secretly-coded or mysterious messages. Michael Chabon did it on the dedication page of his novel ”The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, writing: “To Ayelet. Bashert.” Fantasy writer George R.R. Martin did it in “A Star of Swords,” writing “For Phyllis, who made me put the dragons in.” And Jeffrey Archer dedicated ”Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less” to “The Fat Men,” his two young sons, then aged three and one. The list of family-oriented book dedications is a long one. Add Bill McKibben’s sweet, secret nod to his wife in 2017.
Dedications are often deliberately coded, publicly acknowledging an important relationship, while at the same time trying to keep it private.
So with first-time novelist Bill McKibben lovingly and warmly dedicating his debut novel to “Spunky Knowsalot,” new ground has been broken in the history of literary dedications.