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From Harry Potter-style mega-hits to controversy over banned books to hot competition for literary prizes, there is never a dull moment in the book world. Chapter & Verse keeps readers up-to-date on the latest in literary headlines. Check in with us daily to learn about books and their people - those who write them and those who love them.

'Game of Thrones' stars Natalie Dormer (l.) and Diana Rigg (r.). (Macall B. Polay/HBO/AP)

'Game of Thrones' is picked up for fifth and sixth seasons

By Staff Writer / 04.09.14

The hit HBO fantasy drama “Game of Thrones” has been renewed for both a fifth and sixth season.

The renewal announcement comes after the fourth season of “Thrones” premiered on April 6. The fourth season premiere episode was the highest-rated installment of “Thrones” ever, according to Deadline. The episode was also the most-watched HBO episode since the “Sopranos” finale.

“Game Of Thrones is a phenomenon like no other,” HBO programming president Michael Lombardo said of the renewal in a statement. “[Creators] David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, along with their talented collaborators, continue to surpass themselves, and we look forward to more of their dazzling storytelling.”

Just how long “Thrones” will run has been the topic of debate lately, as “Thrones” author George R.R. Martin is still working on the sixth book of what will reportedly be a seven-part series. The fourth season currently covers the events of Martin’s third book.

In a recent interview, Benioff and Weiss said they wanted the show to run for seven seasons, while Martin suggested they finish the show off with a film.

The 'Life with Archie' issue in which Archie will die will be released this July. (Archie Comics/AP)

Oh no – Archie of Archie Comics will die this summer!

By Staff Writer / 04.09.14

According to comic books publisher Archie Comics, readers should be prepared for a big twist come July.

At the end of the “Life with Archie” comic book series, which will conclude this summer, “Archie” protagonist Archie Andrews will meet his end.

According to the publisher, Archie will “sacrifice himself heroically while saving the life of a friend.” The “Life with Archie” series detailed what happened to the main character after he finished college. However, “Life” has followed two different timelines, one showing what Archie’s life would be like if he pursued a relationship with paramour Betty and the other following his life if he chose Veronica.

“The final issue, however, will show readers Archie's final fate in both timelines – and they're the same,” Archie Comics CEO Jon Goldwater told CNN.

The issue in which Archie will die will be issue number 36 and issue number 37, the final one, will jump forward a year and show how Betty, Veronica, Archie's friend Jughead, and others are dealing with his death, according to the publisher. Issue number 37 will be sold separately as well as with issue number 36 in a double-issue magazine, said Archie Comics.

He believes that Archie’s death is “the natural conclusion to the ‘Life With Archie’ series,” Goldwater said. As noted by CNN, since "Life" leaped forward to the future, Archie will still be around in what is the comics' present day.

Comic book fans are used to multiple resurrections for heroes, but Goldwater said of Archie’s death, “This isn't a story we're going to retcon a few weeks from now. This happened.”

Archie Andrews first appeared in 1941 when he was created by artists Bob Montana and Vic Bloom. "Girls" creator, writer, and star Lena Dunham was recently tapped to write a four-part "Archie" story that will appear in 2015.

'Doctor Zhivago' is by Boris Pasternak.

CIA used 'Doctor Zhivago' as a propaganda tool in Russia, says new book

By Husna Haq / 04.08.14

How’s this for a CIA secret: Among the biggest supporters of Russian classic “Doctor Zhivago” was the Central Intelligence Agency, which brought Boris Pasternak and his novel widespread success thanks to a secret printing that was part of a campaign to stir dissent in the Soviet Union.

“Drop books, not bombs” appears to have been among the techniques adopted by the US during the Cold War, according to a new book excerpted by the Washington Post describing the fascinating back story of one of the most recognized Russian classics in literature. 

The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book,” by Peter Finn and Petra Couvée, tells the story of how the CIA helped Pasternak’s novel gain entrée into Soviet society and how books play an important role in political and cultural warfare.

Some 130 freshly declassified CIA documents describe the unusual story behind “Doctor Zhivago."

The Soviet Union had banned publication of the novel, but when an Italian publisher happened to discover it, “Doctor Zhivago” was published in Italian in 1957. A mere two months later, British intelligence sent photos of the book’s pages to the CIA, urging the American agency to use the Russian novel as a means of propaganda.

The CIA was intrigued.

"This book has great propaganda value,” a CIA memo stated “not only for its intrinsic message and thought-provoking nature, but also for the circumstances of its publication.” 

“[W]e have the opportunity to make Soviet citizens wonder what is wrong with their government, when a fine literary work by the man acknowledged to be the greatest living Russian writer is not even available in his own country in his own language for his own people to read.”

Thus began a cunning clandestine literary operation. 

Taking pains not to show “the hand of the United States government,” the CIA conspired with a Dutch publishing house to print Russian-language editions of the book, then distributed the books across Europe to Soviet expats as well as to Soviet citizens in the Soviet Union. Among the venues used to distribute the books was the Vatican pavilion at the 1958 Brussels Universal and International Exposition. 

The CIA later developed and published a miniature edition of the novel, small enough to easily hide in a pocket and conceal from Soviet authorities.

Soviet citizens embraced “Doctor Zhivago,” and the novel spread far and wide – eventually to Soviet satellite countries.

The book chronicles decades of wars, revolutions, and Communist oppression from the perspective of physician-poet Yuri Zhivago, whose love for two women forms the backbone of the story. Both romantic and religious, “Doctor Zhivago” was antithetical to Marxist ideology.

“Pasternak's humanistic message – that every person is entitled to a private life and deserves respect as a human being, irrespective of the extent of his political loyalty or contribution to the state – poses a fundamental challenge to the Soviet ethic of sacrifice of the individual to the Communist system," John Maury, chief of the agency's Soviet Russia Division, said in a memo, according to Reuters

Ultimately, both the CIA mission and the novel itself were triumphs.

It was, writes the Post, “an audacious plan that helped deliver the book into the hands of Soviet citizens who later passed it friend to friend, allowing it to circulate in Moscow and other cities in the Eastern Bloc. The book’s publication and, later, the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Pasternak triggered one of the great cultural storms of the Cold War.”

And while “Doctor Zhivago” has received attention thanks to the success of this particular CIA operation, and by the awarding of the Nobel Prize for Literature to Pasternak in 1958, we’re intrigued by the larger trend it represents – the use of books as weapons, as propaganda tools to fight what was ultimately a war of values.

“During the Cold War, the CIA loved literature – novels, short stories, poems. Joyce, Hemingway, Eliot. Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Nabokov,” writes the Post in a fascinating aside. “Books were weapons, and if a work of literature was unavailable or banned in the Soviet Union or Eastern Europe, it could be used as propaganda to challenge the Soviet version of reality. Over the course of the Cold War, as many as 10 million copies of books and magazines were secretly distributed by the agency behind the Iron Curtain as part of a political warfare campaign.”

It’s an unlikely story with an unsurprising message: books, not bombs, win hearts and minds.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

Tracy Chevalier will retell 'Othello' for the Hogarth Shakespeare series. (Courtesy of Sven Arnstein/Dutton)

Hogarth Shakespeare re-tellings project adds more authors

By Staff Writer / 04.08.14

More acclaimed authors have signed on for the Hogarth Shakespeare series.

As we previously reported, the Random House publishing imprint Hogarth announced this past summer that it would be publishing a series of novels in which modern-day authors would adapt some of Shakespeare’s most famous stories as novels. The series would kick off in 2016 (the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death) and “Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal” writer Jeanette Winterson and “Breathing Lessons” author Anne Tyler were two of the first to sign on, Winterson to adapt “The Winter’s Tale” and Tyler to take on “The Taming of the Shrew.”

As noted by Monitor contributor Bruna Lobato, the publisher also announced recently that Jo Nesbø, author of the “Harry Hole” series, will be adapting “Macbeth” for Hogarth.

Authors Margaret Atwood, Howard Jacobson, and – the newest addition – Tracy Chevalier have also joined the project. Atwood has chosen “The Tempest,” while Jacobson went with “The Merchant of Venice” and Chevalier will retell Othello.

“The Tempest has always been a favourite of mine, and working on it will be an invigorating challenge,” Atwood said of her choice in a statement. “Is Caliban the first talking monster? Not quite, but close.”

Meanwhile, Jacobson noted that his play of choice is a controversial one.

“For an English novelist Shakespeare is where it all begins,” he said in a statement. “For an English novelist who also happens to be Jewish The Merchant of Venice is where it all snarls up. ‘Who is the merchant and who is the Jew?’ Portia wanted to know.  Four hundred years later, the question needs to be reframed: ‘Who is the hero of this play and who is the villain?’ And if Shylock is the villain, why did Shakespeare choose to make him so? Only a fool would think he has anything to add to Shakespeare. But Shakespeare probably never met a Jew, the Holocaust had not yet happened, and anti-Semitism didn’t have a name. Can one tell the same story today, when every reference carries a different charge? There’s the challenge. I quake before it.”

And Chevalier noted that the protagonist in the drama of her choice has some characteristics that are familiar to her.

“Othello is essentially about being an outsider and the price you pay for that difference,” she said in a statement. “Most of the protagonists in my novels are outsiders, geographically or mentally, so writing Othello’s story was an irresistible opportunity.”

'The Leftovers' stars Justin Theroux. (Todd Williamson/Invision/AP)

'The Leftovers' trailer offers a peek at the literary adaptation (+video)

By Staff Writer / 04.08.14

HBO has released a trailer for the network’s adaptation of Tom Perrotta’s novel “The Leftovers.” 

“Leftovers” was first published in 2011 and focuses on a Rapture-like event in which more than a hundred people disappear from a small town and those who are left behind struggle to come to terms with what happened and why they are still there.

HBO’s adaptation of the novel stars Justin Theroux, Liv Tyler, Amy Brenneman, and Christopher Eccleston, among others. The TV show will debut on June 15 and will run for 10 episodes for its first season.

The voiceover in the trailer notes that “2 percent doesn’t sound like much but 2 percent of the entire planet, of every person on it – that’s more than the world’s 10 largest cities combined,” ending on a creepy note: “And like that, they were gone.”

Check out the full trailer.

Benedict Cumberbatch will portray both Hamlet and Richard III in productions. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Benedict Cumberbatch will star in 'Richard III' for the BBC (+video)

By Staff Writer / 04.07.14

“Sherlock” actor Benedict Cumberbatch will be taking on another famous Shakespeare role.

It had previously been announced that Cumberbatch will play the title role in a production of “Hamlet” that will be mounted at the Barbican Centre in London which will begin in August 2015. Now, Cumberbatch will also be playing the title role in “Richard III” for a production that will air on BBC Two.

“Richard” will be directed by Dominic Cooke, who served as the artistic director for the Royal Court Theatre, at which Cumberbatch appeared in the play “The City” in 2008.

“I can’t wait to work with Dominic Cooke again to bring this complex, funny and dangerous character to life,” Cumberbatch said in a statement.

Cumberbatch won an Olivier Award in 2012 for his work in the play "Frankenstein."

The next episode of 'Ask! Authors! Anything!' will find author Megan McCafferty chatting with Laurie Halse Anderson, whose book 'The Impossible Knife of Memory' was released this past January.

Megan McCafferty urges readers to interact with YA authors via new web series

By Staff Writer / 04.07.14

Author Megan McCafferty wants you to follow the instructions in the title of her new series, “Ask! Authors! Anything!,” and prep some questions for young adult authors.

McCafferty, author of the “Jessica Darling” young adult series, is currently the host of a new series that takes place on Google Hangout. On the web series, McCafferty interviews various writers and users can submit questions through McCafferty’s Twitter account or the Tumblr site for the show.

On the first “Ask!” show, on which McCafferty interviewed “The Moon and More” author Sarah Dessen and which took place on March 24, McCafferty did so with help from students from the Ann Richards School for Young Leaders in Austin, Texas.

The second episode of “Ask!” will take place on April 21 and will find McCafferty chatting with “Speak” writer Laurie Halse Anderson. A chat between McCafferty and Rita Williams-Garcia of “One Crazy Summer” will take place on May 19 and McCafferty will be speaking with “If I Stay” writer Gayle Forman sometime in June.

“The beauty of this series is that with today’s technology, we can bring together authors, fans online, and a ‘live audience’ of students from anywhere in the country,” McCafferty told Publishers Weekly.

She said the Ann Richards School students will be the participants in the web series through June but that booksellers, librarians, or teachers should get in touch if they want their book club, students, or other group to be the participating young adults.

“I didn’t want this series to be simply two authors talking,” McCafferty said. “I view the students as co-hosts, and with readers getting into the conversation with their questions, it really becomes an interactive event.”

If viewers don’t tune in for the live show, clips are available for viewing on “Parks and Recreation” actress Amy Poehler’s site “Smart Girls at the Party.”

Yahya Hassan's poetry has become wildly popular in Denmark. (Jacob Ehrbahn/AP)

Meet Yahya Hassan, the Danish-Palestinian teen poet sensation

By Husna Haq / 04.04.14

It’s the story of a Danish-Palestinian teenager who has seemingly lived a lifetime in his 18 years: abused as a child, he is a ward of the state who finds a voice in poetry, becomes a surprise success in Denmark described as a cross between Rumi and Eminem, but the same verse criticizing his family, country, and religion earns him adulation as well as death threats.

His name is Yahya Hassan and he’s become a Danish literary sensation of sorts.

First, the numbers: Hassan, at a mere 18 years, penned a poetry collection with a first print run of 800 that has since sold more than 100,000 copies in a country with a population the size of Miami. It has also brought him at least 30 death threats, 1 attempted assault, and widespread attention.

His work is an eloquent declaration of his abhorrence for “the Danish welfare state, his family, and Danish Muslims at large for hypocrisy, cheating, and failure to adapt,” as the New York Times put it, words that have brought him a mixed bag of reactions: commercial success from mainstream Danes, death threats from Muslim extremists, and “a dubious embrace by right-wing politicians.”  

His work is a curious mix. Written only in capital letters, his verse has been described as one of “abrupt clarity,” while the contours of his subject matter – his life – remains mystery.

According to clues pieced together by the NYT and International Herald Tribune, Hassan spent his early childhood in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, moved to Denmark, and experienced trouble at home. He was a difficult child with an abusive father who, according to Hassan’s own verse, displayed violence at home and tenderness at the mosque. By age 13, Hassan was such a menace to his family at home and society at large – he dropped out of school and was engaged in petty burglaries and low-level drug dealing – he became a ward of the state, passing through a series of Danish institutions. The result: a searing bitterness toward the state, his family, Muslim immigrants, and Islam as a whole, all of which burns through the pages of his controversial verse.

His journey to poetry is unclear, though reports have hinted at various entrees – long periods of isolation in which he discovered literature, a government-run hip hop workshop, a teacher who recognizes his talent and encouraged Hassan to write.

His poetry is typically rife with profanity and graphic depictions of his life and experience.

Poems like “Childhood” and “Disgusted” deal with issues like the immigrant ghettoes, the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, religion, and child abuse. 

In “A Radius of 100 Meters,” he “provides a depressing panorama view of a few thousand square meters of ghetto life, describing his father’s violence as well as his social security fraud,” according to the Tribune.

“Long Poem” hints at the hypocrisy of Muslims, pointing to superficial displays of faith betrayed by amateur acts of vigilantism.

Muslims – and Muslim immigrants in Europe – are his main target.

“He finds particular fault with the ways their lives in Denmark are circumscribed — as are those of so many modern immigrants — by clinging to the remote control that brings satellite TV, in this case Al Arabiya and Al Jazeera, to their living rooms,” reports the Times.

“There’s something wrong with Islam,” Hassan told the Wall Street Journal. “The religion refuses to renew itself.” It needs a “reformation,” he said.

It has raised eyebrows – a Muslim-born immigrant Dane and self-professed atheist, taking aim at Muslims in a country where cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad fanned intense passion and protest in 2005.

It has also made Hassan, a Muslim immigrant turning on his religion and “his people,” a darling among Danes.

“I knew when I would tell my story would break many taboos and many people would get offended and my parents would get angry,” he told the WSJ. “But my premise was that I would have to tell it as it is.”

Few poets are as surprising or as polarizing as Hassan: Depending on who’s reading, he is a hero, a traitor, a genius, an angry kid.

For readers who think they’ve got him figured out, however, Hassan has another message. 

“What I write, that’s my identity, that’s who I am,” he said in another interview. “But that doesn’t mean I am the way my readers think I am. The reading depends on the individual reader, the reader’s reality. I’m not responsible for the interpretation.”

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

'Game of Thrones' stars Natalie Dormer (l.) and Diana Rigg (r.). (Macall B. Polay/HBO/AP)

Kind of creepy: 'Game of Thrones' generator gives you a Westeros death

By Staff Writer / 04.04.14

The HBO drama “Game of Thrones” is notorious for the number of characters it kills off and the way it axes characters viewers think must be safe.

So, with the show set to return for its fourth season on Sunday, April 6, the website Vulture has created a “Game of Thrones” Death Generator.

“If you were to suddenly find yourself in the Seven Kingdoms, how might you meet your maker?” Vulture writers Margaret Lyons, Justin McCraw, Josh Wolk, and Aaron Pederson write. “Disease? Warfare? Being tossed into a giant hole? Oh, there are so many ways to go.”

The generator has you click to find out what nasty end you would meet with in Westeros. This writer became “dragon lunch.”

Visitors to the site should be advised that the generator reflects some of the adult content on “Game of Thrones.”

Bryan Cranston will reportedly write a memoir that will include thoughts on his time working on the acclaimed TV show 'Breaking Bad.' (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

'Breaking Bad' actor Bryan Cranston will write a memoir

By Staff Writer / 04.04.14

Breaking Bad” fans, your favorite show may be over, but you still have something left to look forward to.

“Bad” star Bryan Cranston has announced he will be writing a memoir that will include reflections on his time working on the AMC drama.

“Walter White taught me a lot — some of it useful, some of it dangerous," Cranston said in a statement about his famous role. "With this book, I want to tell the stories of my life and reveal the secrets and lies that I lived with for six years shooting 'Breaking Bad.'”

The book will be released by Scribner in the fall of 2015, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Cranston received three Best Actor Emmy Awards for his role as Walter White. The show also secured the Best Drama award in 2013 and “Bad” actress Anna Gunn received the Best Supporting Actress prize.

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