The Round Up is looking for your finest gritty flash fiction of 1000 words or less for our special “Flasher’s Edition” of the Round Up. The deadline is November 15th.
For more information and guidelines please visit here.
Oscar Pistorius, superstar athlete, was back in court this week for his sentencing hearing, after a culpable homicide conviction. Journalist Mandy Wiener says his case reminds her of a favorite book.
The art of letter writing is also an act of preserving history. The correspondences gathered in the book Letters Of Note tell stories of delight, hope and loss — and the nature of human connection.
Appearing at No. 13, The Map of Heaven examines people's near-death experiences alongside beliefs about the afterlife.
Someone, Alice McDermott's story of a young Irish-American woman in Brooklyn, appears at No. 9.
In Being Mortal, Atul Gawande argues against the premise that medical practitioners should always aim to extend life. It debuts at No. 3.
A wandering woman falls in love with a reverend in Marilynne Robinson's latest novel. Lila debuts at No. 2
The lists are compiled from weekly surveys of close to 500 independent bookstores nationwide.
Audie Cornish speaks with Frank Ciulla about a poignant letter cherished by his family. It was written after his father was killed in the Lockerbie bombing in 1988.
The former International Space Station commander achieved Internet stardom with his in-space rendition of David Bowie's "Space Oddity." His new book is An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth.
Ben Tripp's young adult debut is a charming romp through a thoroughly theatrical 18th-century England populated by swashbuckling highwaymen, fairies and circus performers.
After meeting backlash, the author apologized for lamenting the long prison sentences handed to some users of child pornography. Also: Stirrings are afoot in the worlds of Harry Potter and Twin Peaks.
As part of our series Letters of Note, former Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley tells Audie Cornish how he once replied to an angry letter from the Ku Klux Klan.
The Highland Park, TX Independent School District has been in the news recently regarding seven books that were unilaterally suspended last month from the English curriculum by Superintendent Dawson Orr.
Opponents to several titles questioned how books are chosen for school assignments and they have demanded that books be removed until they have been re-approved by new committees. On September 24, parents in the school district received an email from Superintendent Dawson Orr and Principal Walter Kelly responding to the requests. You can read in the email that books (Nineteen Minutes and Perks of Being a Wallflower) that were on the approved list before have been removed. Seven books were suspended from the current curriculum. And books that may have “unsuitable” content now require a parent permission form.
Dr. Dawson Orr received a lot of criticism for banning the books. Many parents joined efforts to reverse his action. There were many concerns about how removing the books would effect the standing of AP classes with the College Board. And parents demanded that their children have the freedom to read books that were chosen by professionally educated teachers. In Dr. Orr’s September 29 email to parents, he openly takes responsibility, explains his reasoning, and apologizes for his misstep. While the superintendent has since reinstated those books to the reading list, there is still much discussion about district policy, book selection, and permission slips.
According to the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, parent permission slips should be sent home for all books that meet the following criteria:
- Books that currently are being challenged by HPISD parents
- Books that are on the American Library Association’s Top 10 Challenged Book List by Year – going back 10 years (http://www.ala.org/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/top10)
- Books that have been indicated by our local HPHS literary selection committee as needing a permission slip
This is where the Office for Intellectual Freedom has stepped in. OIF Director Barbara Jones submitted a letter to the school board, superintendent, and principal expressing concern at the use of permission forms and particularly at the use of ALA’s annual Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged and Banned Books List as a means of identifying so-called “objectionable texts.” In the letter, Jones writes:
[ALA's] Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged or Banned Books List is not and has never been a judgment on the quality or educational suitability of a work or a valid designation that the book is “objectionable.” This is especially so since many challenges to books are determined to be without merit. Indeed, many challenges are motivated not by a challenger’s concern about educational suitability but instead by the challenger’s discriminatory and often unconstitutional beliefs regarding literature that incorporates themes and elements addressing race, religion, homosexuality, or unorthodox views. These biased and uninformed challenges, often disguised as an “unsuited for age group” objection, should never be used as grounds for determining restrictions on public school books and curricula. Employing the ALA’s Top Ten Most Challenged or Banned Books List as a curriculum standard substitutes the unthinking opinion of a crowd for the considered judgment of the professional educators on your
Moreover, delegating the Board’s legal authority to determine what books may be freely taught in the classroom to a private association like the ALA raises certain due process issues, especially when the criteria used to determine the ALA Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged and Banned Books list are not narrowly and reasonably drawn definitive standards but the mere circumstance that someone, somewhere, complained about the book for any one of a number of reasons.
Read the rest of the letter from OIF here.
The Highland Park School Board met on Tuesday night and the issue continued to dominate discussion. Read a report of the meeting here.
Peter Mendelsund has designed hundreds of book covers, including two new ones of his own: Cover and What We See When We Read. He talks about his process and why "dead authors get the best" covers.
Petite Mort, Beatrice Hitchman’s debut novel, opens with a Le Monde article—Paris, 1967—announcing the discovery of a thought long-lost silent film reel from 1914. The article also mentions the mysterious fact that a crucial segment of the film is missing. Following this news brief, the novel moves back in time to 1909, where it effectively begins with two sisters, Adèle and Camille. The two are young, carbon copies of each other, sitting in a tree harassed by local boys, but saved, at the end of this first scene, by the town priest, Pere Simon. Very soon after, we discover that Père Simon plays a much larger role in Adèle’s life: exposing her for the first time to film, and coaching her with acting lessons. He is the impetus for her to run away, in 1913, to Paris, in search of a career on screen. Cinema, we discover, in these first brief chapters, is akin to religion for Adèle—a faith she believes will save her.
Adèle, as protagonist and sometimes narrator, is not terribly sympathetic: she’s haughty and snobbish, insistent on her gifts even if she never displays them, judgmental of all around her. After a number of unsuccessful attempts to ingratiate herself amidst the cinema-gentry, she lands a job as a seamstress at Pathé studios and this new job drastically alters the course of her life. She begins an affair with André, a famous director and husband to tempestuous film star, Terpsichore (real name: Luce), and André soon installs Adèle in his home as his wife’s assistant. Ambitious Adèle proves naïve over the truth of this arrangement—surely it will lead to a role for her—but soon enough, in a series of fraught, blink-and-you-might-miss-them moments, Adèle falls for Luce. I cannot tell much more of the plot without spoiling the central secret of this novel, and this secret—concealed by a labyrinthine structure and an enormous cast of characters—is really the main thing Petite Mort has going for it.
I’m not much of a cinephile, and Petite Mort, throughout, feels very much like a screenplay. There isn’t a ton of character development (though there is plenty of backstory) or emotional depth here—it can be difficult, much of the time, to discern why the characters are behaving the way they are; what, besides trouble, that they want; and who to trust.
Hitchman can craft a pretty sentence, and her explorations of duplicity and doubles, secrets and identity, are interesting, but Petite Mort is jumpy. Like the electricity of Edison—whom André spends a brief stint working for—the current of this novel does not run smooth. It leaps “erratically from point to point, arriving at its destination through the route that suits it best.” The movements back and forth in time, the switches in points of view, the attempt to link the 1967 reporter’s story with Adèle’s (a necessary element, I admit)—the entire montage of scenes is sinuous but unwieldy. As the novel winds to a close, it feels less and less like viewing a film and more and more like unraveling a tangled reel. The mystery at the center of Petite Mort is so obscured by drama that in the end, one almost forgets one is trying to solve it.
Those who love a wild ride will enjoy the ceaseless action of Petite Mort—there is, perhaps because of its structural eccentricities and unlikeable characters, not a dull moment in this book. But those in search of more complex characters and a satisfying conclusion may be disappointed in the simple trickery behind this novel’s smoke and mirrors.
By Beatrice Hitchman
Paperback, 9781846689079, 288 pp.
November 2014 (Paperback Edition)
Before his death, crime novelist Elmore Leonard chose to host his archives at the University of South Carolina. Now, the school is unveiling the first of these items. Also: McSweeney's goes nonprofit.
Author G. Willow Wilson and artist Adrian Alphona introduce the new Ms. Marvel — a 16-year-old Muslim girl from Jersey City — with elegant line work and utterly believable characterizations.
This month, Crown Archetype is releasing actor Neil Patrick Harris’ unconventional “memoir” Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography.
About the book:
Tired of memoirs that only tell you what really happened?
Sick of deeply personal accounts written in the first person? Seeking an exciting, interactive read that puts the “u” back in “aUtobiography”? Then look no further than Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography! In this revolutionary, Joycean experiment in light celebrity narrative, actor/personality/carbon-based-life-form Neil Patrick Harris lets you, the reader, live his life. You will be born to New Mexico. You will get your big break at an acting camp. You will get into a bizarre confrontation outside a nightclub with actor Scott Caan. Even better, at each critical juncture of your life you will choose how to proceed. You will decide whether to try out for Doogie Howser, M.D. You will decide whether to spend years struggling with your sexuality. You will decide what kind of caviar you want to eat on board Elton John’s yacht.
Choose correctly and you’ll find fame, fortune, and true love. Choose incorrectly and you’ll find misery, heartbreak, and a hideous death by piranhas. All this, plus magic tricks, cocktail recipes, embarrassing pictures from your time as a child actor, and even a closing song
Audie Cornish speaks with Amy Corcoran, who shares a treasure from her childhood: a letter she received when she was 7 years old, from her favorite author at the time, Roald Dahl.