“Inferno,” the novel by Dan Brown based around Dante’s work of the same name, is publishing’s newest blockbuster, boasting high sales despite mixed reviews.
Washington Post reviewer Monica Hesse writes that it’s clear Brown has mastered his genre of page-turning historical mysteries: “He has perfected the breathless art of the cliffhanger chapter, the ooky villain, the historish backdrop.”
However, Hesse says she found herself distracted at times by actual inaccuracies.
“A simple Wikipedia search tells me that one of the important artifacts is believed to be a reproduction, not the real thing the reader is led to think it is,” she wrote. “The Consortium is real, too, Brown writes – and it might be, but would such an organization really have its headquarters in a giant yacht floating around in the Adriatic Sea? No matter. As with Brown’s other works, it’s more fun to read 'Inferno' when you accept that every whoa-ful tidbit is true.”
She also poked fun at one of Brown’s standard plot devices: the dying person who decides to leave enigmatic clues.
“Rather than using the last minutes of his life to scrawl, 'The [IMPORTANT OBJECT] is in the [SPECIFIC LOCATION]' on a crumpled napkin, he uses them to concoct an artsy, esoteric scavenger hunt through a foreign city,” Hesse writes of one character.
But USA Today's Brian Truitt found himself completely won over by the new book.
“[The book] comes close to the mega-popular 'The Da Vinci Code' in terms of entertaining tension,” he wrote of “Inferno.” “Brown has a definite formula in place for putting Langdon through his paces, but watching him go through hell is about as close as a book can come to a summertime cinematic blockbuster.”
“The early sections of 'Inferno' come so close to self-parody that Mr. Brown seems to have lost his bearings…. But 'Inferno' is jampacked with tricks,” Maslin wrote. “And that shaky opening turns out to be one of them…. the main emphasis here is hardly on gloom. It is on the prodigious research and love of trivia that inform Mr. Brown’s stories.”
Boyd Tonkin, reviewer for The Independent, said that he was unimpressed by Brown’s writing but that he admires the author’s plotting.
“However barmy his premises, however leaden his prose, Brown retains all the advantages of surprise,” he wrote of the story.
However, Telegraph reviewer Jake Kerridge was less enamored and called “Inferno” Brown’s worst work yet.
“As a stylist Brown gets better and better: where once he was abysmal he is now just very poor,” Kerridge wrote. “His prose, for all its detailing of brand names and the exact heights of buildings, is characterised by imprecision. It works to prevent the reader from engaging with the story.”
Meanwhile, “Inferno” is at number one in Amazon sales rankings, having spent 120 days in the top 100 and is Amazon’s most pre-ordered book of the year so far in both print and Kindle. The book is also number one for sales at the Barnes & Noble website.
And for those who prefer their Robert Langdon adventures on the big screen, there's good news. Brown told USA Today that he’s certain “Inferno” will become a movie like his previous works “The Da Vinci Code” and “Angels and Demons.”
Children’s author Judy Blume’s book “Tiger Eyes” has been adapted into a movie that will be released this summer. It is the first-ever film version of one of Blume’s books.
Blume adapted the book for the screen with her son Lawrence.
The fact that the movie is being released by an independent studio, Freestyle Digital Media, and in a fairly quiet fashion (it’s coming to theaters in a limited release and will be available on demand as well as on iTunes) has been a positive thing, Lawrence told Entertainment Weekly.
“The fact that we had total artistic control is rare,” he said of the filmmaking process. “For better or worse, it’s our movie.”
“We were able to do this with really nobody watching,” Blume added. “And it looks beautiful.”
“Tiger Eyes” follows Davey and her family – mother Gwen and brother Jason – after her father, Adam, is shot in a convenience store robbery. The family goes to stay in New Mexico with Davey’s aunt and uncle as Davey tries to recover from the death of her father.
Lawrence told EW that he first read “Tiger Eyes” when he was in college and that the book “affected [him] deeply,” partially because he and Blume moved to New Mexico when he was a teenager after Blume and his father divorced, and he struggled there.
“The divorce was hard, and what brought us to New Mexico was a guy,” Blume said of the time. “I don’t want to get into all that – but there was the good and the bad and the evil and the ugly.”
Lawrence said it was difficult getting the film made despite Blume’s fame and the current multiple young adult book adaptations happening at the movies.
“It’s a Judy Blume movie,” he said. “That should be enough, you would think. What shocked me was that a big segment of the business knew who Judy Blume was but they didn’t understand who she was. Part of it is that the film business is run mostly by old white men – and some young ones, too – who didn’t grow up with her books.”
Blume’s writing has been adapted for TV previously, including a version of “Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great” which aired on television in 1991 and the TV series “Fudge,” which aired for two years starting in 1997 and was based off her children’s series which focused on little brother Fudge and his long-suffering older brother Peter.
The movie deal was originally with Amber Entertainment, but after filming the movie, the Blumes and the company parted ways. They eventually landed with Freestyle Digital Media.
Making the movie with Lawrence was “the highlight of my life,” Blume said.
“Although I've never read a book all the way through, I'm sure excited to write one,” Short said in a statement.
According to the publisher, the book will discuss Short’s time on the comedy shows “SCTV” and “Saturday Night Live” as well as his marriage to his wife, Nancy, who passed away in 2010.
Short says he has not yet decided on a title.
“But I’m toying with the title ‘If I’d Saved, I Wouldn’t Be Writing This,’” the actor said in his statement.
His memoir is planned for a fall 2014 release.
Short starred in “The Three Amigos” with Steve Martin and Chevy Chase in 1986 and starred as various characters on “Primetime Glick,” a spoof of talk shows, from 2001 to 2003. He also guest-starred in a 13-episode arc on the FX show “Damages” in 2010 and has voiced the Dr. Seuss character the Cat in the Hat on the Canadian TV show “The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That!” since 2010.
The actor also appeared in the Broadway production of "The Goodbye Girl" in 1993 as well as starring in the 2006 stage show "Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me."
Rumors that Microsoft was planning to purchase Barnes & Noble’s Nook Media caused B&N stock to rise and some in the book industry to wonder what this would mean for one of the last remaining big bookstore chains.
But the website Insider Monkey is now quoting someone they cite as “a highly placed source inside Microsoft” who says that the story of a possible deal is not true.
“This deal was nothing more than a rumor,” says the source, according to Insider Monkey. “Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) will not come out and deny or confirm for legal reasons, but the company has no intention of acquiring the NOOK unit.”
According to Insider Monkey, the source told them that because Nook uses Android software, it would not be possible for the Nook to be used with Windows 8.
B&N stock fell 9.5 percent after the story was posted, according to Shelf Awareness.
So for the moment, the future of Nook Media – the portion of Barnes & Noble that focuses on the Nook and its digital services such as tablets, e-books, and e-readers – remains in flux.
Talk about blazing hot.
We’re not just talking about Dan Brown’s forthcoming novel, “Inferno,” the author’s fourth and highly anticipated book in the Robert Langdon series – we’re also talking about its sales, which are expected to be smoldering.
“This should be the fastest and biggest selling novel of the year – it's hard to see how anything could beat it,” said Chris White, a fiction buyer for the UK’s Waterstones chain, according to media reports. “It'll be a huge hit now and throughout the summer, then see another peak at Christmas. It could well be No 1 on 25th December.”
If Brown’s previous novel sales are any indication, that’s not hyperbole.
Since its 2003 publication, the “Da Vinci Code,” the second novel in the Robert Langdon series, has sold 80 million copies, spent more than a year atop the New York Times bestseller list, and was made into a hit movie starring Tom Hanks. “The Lost Symbol,” Brown’s most recent work, sold more than half a million copies in its first week on sale in 2009.
Though it hasn’t yet been released as of Monday, “Inferno” is already No. 1 on Amazon’s Best Sellers list. Its hardback and Kindle editions are also in first and second place on its preorder chart. UK bookseller Waterstones told the Guardian that “Inferno” received the largest level of customer pre-orders since JK Rowling’s “The Casual Vacancy.”
(And, as the UK’s Independent pointed out, “It has already had the honor of dragging its Medieval namesake, the 14th-century Italian poem by Dante Alighieri, to the top of Waterstones’ poetry bestseller list – whether because people are interested in the new novel’s origin, or by mistake it is not clear.”)
All this in spite of minimal information about the actual book, much of which has remained a secret.
What we know: The book again stars Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon as he takes “a journey deep into [the] mysterious realm” of Dante’s Inferno in Florence, according to the sole interview Brown gave to the UK’s Sunday Times ahead of the novel’s publication. He also promised this would be “the darkest novel yet.”
The subject, Brown told the Sunday Times, “is so vibrant and so horrifying that it does a lot of the work for me. I'm not writing about the masons and ancient histories, which is kind of ethereal. I'm writing about Dante's vision of hell.
“It wasn't until the 1300s and this version of Inferno that it became terrifying. Dante has had enormous influence on the Christian view of hell.”
Which, apparently, spurs sizzling sales in the 2010s.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
Maya Angelou’s new book “Mom & Me & Mom” – released a month before this year’s Mother’s Day – focuses on her relationship with her mother.
The book by Angelou – the author and poet well known for her many autobiographies as well for her role at Bill Clinton’s 1993 presidential inauguration – discusses her life with her mother. Angelou and her brother were separated from their mother for many of their early years, living with their grandmother while their mother struggled with her marriage.
“Mom & Me & Mom” tells the story of how Angelou and her mother were able to reconnect later in life. Angelou told the Huffington Post that she realized recently how supportive her mother was of her.
“When teachers or people in authority put me down or in one way or another tried to make me feel less than equal to what they thought I should be – my mother was on my side,” she said.
“Mom & Me & Mom” was released on April 2. The writer’s other autobiographical works include perhaps the most well-known, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” as well as “The Heart of a Woman” and “A Song Flung Up to Heaven.”
Reviews of Angelou’s newest memoir have been mostly positive, with the Monitor’s books editor Marjorie Kehe writing that “admirers of Angelou’s now-classic memoir 'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings' will delight in this sequel.”
“Her memoir [is] both a tender read and a lovely tribute to the special gifts that only a mother can bring,” Kehe wrote.
Boston Globe writer Carmela Ciuraru agreed, writing that “page by page, Angelou’s story is astonishing.”
“There is a slightly frustrating lack of chronology in this book, and several odd lacunae in the narrative – but life is messy, and so is memory,” she wrote. “What matters is that 'Mom & Me & Mom' is a superb account of reconciliation, forgiveness, and survival.”
Fiona Sturges, a writer for The Independent, was also impressed.
“'Mom & Me & Mom' is a profoundly moving tale of separation and reunion, and an ultimately optimistic portrait of the maternal bond,” she wrote.
However, Bernardine Evaristo of The Observer found contradictions in details between “Caged Bird” and "Mom & Me & Mom" distracting.
“Memory, it seems, is a fickle, fictional, fantastical thing,” Evaristo wrote of differences in Angelou’s portrayal of her mother in the two books. “'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings' was a ground-breaking triumph. 'Mom & Me & Mom' does a good job of undermining it.”
As previously reported by Monitor writer Husna Haq, a mother in the Northville school district asked that an unabridged version of the diary – which was written while Frank was in hiding with her family during the Holocaust – be removed from her daughter's middle school. The parent, Gail Horacek, objected to passages in which Frank discusses female body parts. She requested that an abridged version of the diary – which does not include such passages – be used instead.
However, school officials ultimately decided that the unabridged version would remain in classrooms.
Robert Behnke, the assistant superintendent for instructional services, wrote in a letter to the community that taking out the book “would effectively impose situational censorship by eliminating the opportunity for the deeper study afforded by this edition.”
Behnke also wrote that if a parent objects to a certain reading selection, the school is always willing to discuss alternatives.
“As always, in the event that a concern surfaces during a unit and is brought to the teacher’s attention, adjustments can be made to move the student to another literature selection and/or an alternative assignments can be discussed,” he wrote, according to an article for the Observer and Eccentric newspapers, which are based in Detroit.
Horacek told Detroit’s Fox affiliate that she felt the sections where Frank discussed her body were “pretty pornographic.”
“It's inappropriate for a teacher to be giving this material out to the kids when it's really the parents' job to give the students this information,” she said. “It doesn't mean my child is sheltered, it doesn't mean I live in a bubble, and it doesn't mean I'm trying to ban books.”
“The Diary of Anne Frank” has been the subject of complaints before, with the American Library Association reporting several objections by parents to the book over the last 20 years.
Wright's is the latest name being mentioned in discussions about the film adaptation of E.L. James’ erotic bestseller. Casting rumors have also run rampant, but the identity of the actors who will be portraying billionaire Christian Grey and college student Anastasia Steele has not yet been confirmed.
The Hollywood Reporter cited “multiple sources” stating that Wright had become a frontrunner for the director’s job. However, they also stressed that nothing was certain.
“Sources caution that there is no deal in place, and Wright has not officially won the job,” the Hollywood Reporter article read.
Universal Pictures did not comment on the matter.
Wright has taken on literary adaptations before with the 2007 adaptation of Ian McEwan novel “Atonement” as well as 2005’s “Pride and Prejudice” and 2012’s “Anna Karenina,” though filming James’ erotic novel would obviously be a very different kind of project. “Karenina” actress Keira Knightley starred in all three Wright adaptations, but the star has said before that she’s not interested in the part of Anastasia Steele.
Meanwhile, for those who are wondering how the book could ever be adapted for the screen, “Grey” screenwriter Kelly Marcel said she’s writing the script aiming at an NC-17 rating.
There may have been no war more necessary than World War II. But the Americans who lived in the late 1930s and early 1940s couldn't see into the future, and many believed Germany and Japan didn't pose a major threat. War, they argued, would be a disaster.
As author Lynne Olson writes in her new book, a roiling debate erupted across the US, pitting two of the nation's most admired men against each other. Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America's Fight Over World War II, 1939-1941, captures a forgotten battle over the country's role in the world and the lives of American soldiers.
The Monitor's Danny Heitman called "Those Angry Days" an "absorbing chronicle." Olson has plenty of experience writing about international affairs: In 2010, I wrote in the Monitor that there was "plenty to appreciate" in Olson's previous book, "Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood With Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour."
In an interview, I asked Olson about the fiery movement against the war, the bizarre personality of Charles Lindbergh, and the lessons of the big debate today.
Q: It took the United States more than two years to enter World War II. Why were Americans so unwilling to protect Europe – including friends like the UK and France – from a rampaging Germany?
A: The US has had an isolationist tradition from the beginning. There was an old idea that we had established ourselves as a country to get away from Europe and stay away from all the entanglements in Europe and the rest of the world.
We got into World War I, but that was an anomaly, and most Americans believed the result was not very good: We'd gone into a war to save the UK and other allies from Germany, to make the world safe for democracy, and it didn't work. We got Adolf Hitler.
We were quite slow in coming around to the idea that this was a different threat that Hitler was posing, that we probably should get in.
Q: What surprised you the most about this great debate over whether the US should enter the war?
A: This debate was bitter and passionate.
Most Americans don't really know that much about this period of 1939-1941. We skip over it and go straight to Pearl Harbor.
Actually, it was a very hard-fought nasty fight that really involved millions of Americans. That really surprised me.
Also, a large group of military leaders – many if not most of the high-ranking officers in the Army, Navy and Air Force – were trying to sabotage FDR's policy, especially helping England.
I thought there would be a fair amount of militarism in the military, but a lot of the big brass in the military were very much against going into the war. They thought we should focus on defending ourselves.
They leaked information from within their own services to isolationist members of Congress and to Charles Lindbergh.
Q: Who were the isolationists, those who wanted the US to mind its own business?
A: The isolationist movement was very complex.
When people think of isolationists, they think of Midwesterners – conservatives, mostly Republican – who lived in a part of the country that didn't have much to do with the rest of the world.
In fact, isolationists were found in every spectrum of the political landscape.
Many were pacifists. They believed war would destroy the domestic reforms of the New Deal, and civil liberties would be severely curbed.
College students were also against the war. Now we think of World War II as the good war, the just war, the war that we had to get into. But back then, there was an anti-war movement on college campuses, just like during Vietnam, made up of young men who knew they would be on the front lines.
One of the interesting things I discovered is that the America First organization, the most influential isolationist group in the country, was founded by campus leaders who were mostly Republican but certainly not conservative.
They included men who went on to have illustrious careers: Gerald Ford, Sargent Shriver, Potter Stewart.
Q: What was President Franklin Roosevelt up to during this time?
A: His main goal was to help keep Britain afloat and surviving.
In the summer of 1940, Great Britain was vastly outnumbered and very close to going down to defeat. He didn't want to go war, certainly in terms of sending an army, but FDR was intent on keeping Britain alive by sending as much aid as he possibly could.
Q: Lindbergh himself is a complicated character. What did you find intriguing about him?
A: He's one of the strangest, most conflicted men I've ever written about.
Q: Was he truly a bigot?
A: He was a racist and felt the white race was superior to every other, and we shouldn't get in a war in other countries that were the right race.
Q: What about his sympathy toward the Nazis?
A: He'd been very impressed by Germany when he went there to visit in the 1930s and he felt they couldn't be beaten. He was a real technocrat and saw that the Germans as being technical experts. He had no empathy for human beings at all. He was really blinkered.
The weird thing about all this is that he hated politics and hated publicity. But he felt that he had to try to do everything to keep the US out of the war, and he was willing to enter this publicity cauldron to do that.
Q: Could he have landed in the White House?
A: There was all this speculation about his running for president, and Philip Roth wrote a novel based on that, but he never would have done it.
He was an independent guy who valued his own beliefs, and he would not bow or kowtow to anybody. That's the way he felt.
Q: One of the amazing things about Lindbergh, who seems callous and robotic, is the fact that he landed a warm and sensitive wife. Anne Morrow Lindbergh would become a celebrity herself, beloved for her many books. She'd live into the 21st century. Did she bear the burden of all the humanity in their marriage?
A: It's a very strange relationship.
She was really his opposite. He was tone deaf to other people; she was very emotional and sensitive, a reader and a brilliant writer.
He valued action, she valued the life of the mind.
At the beginning, she had a major inferiority complex. She got tired of his control of her life, but could never really do anything about it.
Q: To make matters even more complicated, her family supported the British. How did that play out?
A: She was really caught in the middle. While she was supporting Lindbergh, her mother was a big activist in the interventionist movement and her sister Constance was married to one of the biggest British propagandists in New York.
Q: Now we think of Lindbergh as misguided and brainwashed. But what about the other side of the story? Was he actually onto something?
A: Part of what Lindbergh was saying was perfectly understandable. Then the racist and anti-Semitic comments really hurt him.
Q: Did he ever have any second thoughts?
A: There is no sign that he regretted anything he said.
It's just extraordinary. Even after the war, when the Holocaust and all the atrocity came to light, he refused to admit this was a necessary war for the US to be in. He kept insisting we should have not gone to war. He never could acknowledge, as far as I know, that he was wrong.
However, Anne did say that they had been very blind to what Hitler was doing.
Q: What do you think of him personally?
A: I certainly don't admire him, but I have some sympathy for him.
He was never happier then when he was in a cockpit, and that's where he should have remained. But he was caught up in this world of celebrity in his mid-20s and had absolutely no preparation, nor the personality for it.
Someone said to me, "Nobody was less equipped to be Charles Lindbergh than Charles Lindbergh. No one was less equipped to be the most famous man than him."
He never could cope with it, and then the kidnapping and murder of his son created this huge psychological wound that he never recovered from.
I feel somewhat sorry for him, but it doesn't excuse the reprehensible things he did.
Q: How does the battle over getting into World War II matter now?
A: It's always important to understand the complexity of history, to know that things are not often what they seem.
What impressed me was how this was a really full-throated national debate. This debate did not just go on in the White House and Congress. It went on in classrooms and bars and beauty parlors. People were actively involved on either side.
It was bitter and nasty, but it was a real exercise in democracy.
Randy Dotinga is a Monitor contributor.
According to company documents unearthed by the website TechCrunch, Microsoft is offering to purchase the digital assets of Nook Media for $1 billion. This would include Barnes & Noble’s Nook e-readers, e-books, and tablets.
Also interesting: according to the documents, Barnes & Noble plans to stop producing its Nook tablet devices by the end of the fiscal year 2014. Instead, the company is focusing on a plan where content produced by Nook could be accessed by users through apps on what the company called “third-party partner” hardware. The documents didn’t specifically mention Nook e-readers, according to TechCrunch. Whether this would involve Microsoft tablets such as the Microsoft Surface is unknown.
Microsoft had already teamed up with Barnes & Noble, investing $300 million in the company in April of last year and announcing that it would be working with B&N on the digital side of its business.
Neither Barnes & Noble nor Microsoft commented to TechCrunch for the article.
What would the deal mean for each company? Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis at market research firm NPD, pointed out to PCWorld that Microsoft would have a partner that would give it more entertainment content for its devices.
“It appears that Microsoft [with its rumored Nook buy] is looking for a content partner brand that they can use to help develop content opportunities beyond the movies and music they provide today through Xbox Live,” Baker said. The content with Nook could also include e-textbooks, a growing market.
“Barnes & Noble would lose the unit that added attention and store traffic... and kept its stock higher,” he wrote. “It’s not a clear parallel yet to Borders, but it’s hard to ignore the comparison.”