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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.

The anniversary edition of 'Harriet the Spy' will be released on Feb. 25.

'Harriet the Spy' celebrates its fiftieth anniversary

By Staff Writer / 02.21.14

The childhood sleuth Harriet Welsch appeared on the literary scene 50 years ago and publisher Delacorte will release a 50th anniversary edition of Louise Fitzhugh’s children’s novel “Harriet the Spy” in honor of the occasion.

“Harriet” follows the girl of the same name, an 11-year-old who lives in New York City and loves to observe her friends and neighbors, writing down what she sees in her notebook. However, she finds herself being ostracized by her peers when they find her notebook and read her harsh opinions of them. The anniversary edition will be released on Feb. 25.

Fitzhugh released two other novels set in Harriet’s world, one, titled “The Long Secret,” in 1965, and another, “Sport,” which focused on Harriet’s best friend, in 1979. “Sport” was released after Fitzhugh’s death. “Harriet” was also adapted into a film starring Michelle Trachtenberg and Rosie O’Donnell in 1996.

Beth Horowitz, vice-president and publisher of Delacorte Press, edited the anniversary edition of “Harriet” and recalled that some critics were shocked at the time by Harriet’s rowdy behavior.

“A lot of people at the time were horrified that this girl threw a shoe at her father, had a tantrum, and didn’t want to apologize for all the things that I believe make her so interesting and honest – and a real individual,” Horowitz told Publishers Weekly. “Of course a lot of reviewers loved the novel and instantly got it, but there was certainly some negativity, mostly about the fact that Harriet wasn’t a good little girl.”

The new edition of the book will have a letter from Fitzhugh’s editor to the author that she wrote when “Harriet” was first released, writings on the book by 14 children’s book industry staff, and a map of the path Harriet takes to spy on people.

Author Judy Blume’s recollections about the book are some of the ones included in the anniversary copy.

“Finding Harriet as a young writer in the mid-1960s was inspiring,” Blume told PW. “It meant I wasn’t the only one who wanted to tell stories about kids who were real. Louise Fitzhugh remembered what it was like to grow up and wasn’t afraid to write about it. She was one of the authors who most inspired me, who continues to inspire me.”

Jack Black will reportedly star in a movie adaptation of the 'Goosebumps' children's series. (L: John Shearer/Invision/AP)

'Goosebumps' film adaptation is set to star Jack Black

By Staff Writer / 02.20.14

“Goosebumps” may be coming soon to a movie theater near you.

A film adaptation of the popular children’s horror series by R.L. Stine will star “Bernie” actor Jack Black as an author named Mr. Shivers, according to The Wrap. Mr. Shivers, who writes scary stories, finds that the creatures he wrote about are now popping off the page and his niece (Odeya Rush of “The Giver”) must figure out how to fight them. 

Rob Letterman, who previously directed Black in the 2010 film “Gulliver’s Travels” as well as directing the 2009 movie “Monsters and Aliens,” is set to helm the adaptation.

“Goosebumps” was previously adapted into a TV series that aired from 1995 to 1998. The original series started with 1992’s “Welcome to Dead House” and various spin-off series were released, such as “Give Yourself Goosebumps” (similar to the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series) and “Goosebumps Series 2000,” which Stine billed as even more frightening than the original books.

'The Martian' was released on Feb. 11.

'The Martian': Author Andy Weir discusses his new sci-fi novel

By Staff Writer / 02.20.14

Author Andy Weir has garnered good sales and positive reviews for his debut novel “The Martian,” which follows an astronaut who is left for dead on Mars.

“Martian,” which was released on Feb. 11, centers on Mark Watney, who is left by his fellow crew members on the red planet after a dust storm makes them return to Earth, believing an injured Mark to be dead. Left behind, Mark must use the scant available materials to keep himself alive.

The novel debuted on the IndieBound list for the week of Feb. 20 at number six and has received mainly positive reviews, with Publishers Weekly calling it an “excellent first novel… Watney’s solutions to food and life support problems are plausible, and Weir laces the technical details with enough keen wit to satisfy hard science fiction fan and general reader alike… Weir uses Watney’s proactive nature and determination to survive to keep the story escalating to a riveting conclusion.”

Meanwhile, Kirkus Reviews noted that “the modern dialogue at times undermines the futuristic setting” but said that “Weir displays a virtuosic ability to write about highly technical situations without leaving readers far behind. The result is a story that is as plausible as it is compelling… sharp, funny and thrilling.”

Weir told industry newsletter Shelf Awareness that in his book, he wanted to get the same feeling of excitement he has when watching the film “Apollo 13,” in which astronauts and NASA staff scramble to create unorthodox solutions to rescue the spacemen. (The author said he penned the book without contacting anyone at NASA.)

“It's like MacGyver in space, with billions of dollars of equipment being misappropriated to barely stay alive, and everybody working together,” he said of the film. “And I just love that.” 

He said he thought the best way to balance out the science talk in his story for readers would be to make his hero, Mark, as relatable as he could.

“If the reader is rooting for the protagonist, they'll forgive you just about everything else,” Weir said. “He's really snarky and self-effacing… I had to get the humor in there, otherwise it's just a dry science lesson.”

'12 Years a Slave' stars Michael Fassbender (l.), Lupita Nyong'o (center), and Chiwetel Ejiofor (r.). (Francois Duhamel/Fox Searchlight/AP)

'12 Years a Slave': Would it be a good classroom teaching tool?

By Husna HaqCorrespondent / 02.19.14

Might “12 Years a Slave” be the next “Diary of Anne Frank”: a literary and big screen hit that translates well into the classroom?

The popularity of the movie – which is nominated for nine Oscars – propelled Solomon Northup’s memoir to the top of bestseller lists. And now educators are betting that that same popularity may render the gripping story about a free black man kidnapped into slavery before the Civil War into a golden learning opportunity for secondary school students.

That’s why movie director Steve McQueen is working with Penguin Books to encourage public schools to teach the story as part of slavery and Civil War lesson plans, according to a report in USA Today.

In the book, “Northup describes how he was lured from New York to Washington in 1841 and then sold into slavery. He endured horrific conditions on Louisiana plantations until he was saved by friends from the north,” as the paper reports. 

Though the book sold well when it was published in 1853 and was written in “surprisingly accessible prose for a  19th-century narrative,” it faded into obscurity, unlike another classic slave narrative, “The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave.” 

"This is a book nobody was really aware of, except scholars in the field, which is being introduced to the country," John Siciliano, executive editor of Penguin Books, told USA Today of "12."

And possibly, to public schools.

Penguin has so far planned a teacher’s guide, available in March, for educators to teach students Northup’s story and discuss elements of the Civil War and slavery. The publisher also has plans to work with curriculum developers to get the book into public schools in the US and UK.

Some schools are already integrating the book into lesson plans. At Quality Education School, an African-American-owned charter school in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, social studies teacher Aisha Booth-Horton introduced the book to her 11th-grade students as part of the slavery section of their American History curriculum.

Having read about the horrors Northup endured, initially, the students were angry.

But Booth-Horton pushed them to find the lessons in his struggle.

Soon, they were “creating a 21st-century version of Solomon,” “part President Obama, a little bit Mandela, and some Muhammad Ali,” she says.

Booth-Horton calls the book is "controversial" and "hard," but says it should be taught in schools.

"Any hard story should be told," she says, "but told under guided hands."

Movie director McQueen likens “12 Years” to another “hard” story that should be told – and has been – in schools across the country and the world.

“I live in Amsterdam and Anne Frank is all around us,” McQueen told USA Today. Like Anne Frank’s diary, he’s betting Northup’s story will speak to kids.

“[I]t’s so accessible, it’s readable, it’s so engaging. Solomon, like Anne Frank, is talking directly to us.”

For many school students, Solomon Northup may be to slavery what Anne Frank was to the Holocaust: a youth-appropriate entrée to one of the most painful parts of history.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

Aythor Huraki Murakami's book 'Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage' will be released in the US and the UK this August. (Elena Seinbert/Knopf)

Haruki Murakami's newest novel will arrive in the US this August

By Staff Writer / 02.19.14

The newest novel by popular Japanese author Haruki Murakami will be reportedly be released in English this August.

“Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage” was released in Japan this past April and, as noted by Monitor correspondent Husna Haq, quickly became a bestseller, with many standing in line outside bookstores to await the novel’s midnight release. The book sold one million copies in its first week of release and translated editions went on to become bestsellers

However, it wasn’t until this summer that the news came that an English version of “Colorless” would debut in 2014, and it was only this week that an official date was set. The English version of the book will arrive on Aug. 12.

According to the Guardian, translated editions of “Colorless” are currently still riding high on bestsellers lists in Germany, Spain, and Holland..

“Colorless” centers on a man who is disliked by his high school friends and begins to exmaine his life and his feelings of isolation.

Philip Gabriel is behind the English translation of the book.

The last novel released by Murakami, “1Q84,” was also a bestseller and was one of the books that made up the long list for the Man Asian Literary Prize. Some also speculated that the book might secure Murakami the 2012 Nobel Prize, but the award that year went to author Mo Yan.

Actor Jack O'Connell portrays Louis Zamperini in the film 'Unbroken.' (Axel Schmidt/AP)

'Unbroken' trailer gives a glimpse into the inspirational WWII story

By Staff Writer / 02.19.14

A trailer for the film adaptation of Laura Hillenbrand’s World War II nonfiction bestseller has been released.

“Unbroken,” which is being directed by Angelina Jolie, stars “About Time” actor Domhnall Gleeson and “Inside Llewyn Davis” actor Garrett Hedlund.

Hillenbrand’s book was first released in 2010 and tells the story of a lieutenant and Olympic track runner (he participated in the 1936 Berlin Olympics), Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell), whose plane crashes in the Pacific and who along with Russell Allen Phillips (Gleeson), who was on the plane with him, is captured by members of the Japanese navy.

The new trailer debuted during the Sochi Olympics and is narrated by Tom Brokaw. It includes glimpses of the real Zamperini as well as clips from the movie.

“Unbroken” is set to hit theaters on Dec. 25.

Check out the full trailer.

'Wonder' is by R.J. Palacio.

'Wonder' author R.J. Palacio announces new works

By Staff Writer / 02.18.14

Bestselling “Wonder” author R.J. Palacio will release three new books and an e-story, according to publisher Knopf Books for Younger Readers, and one of the books and the story will be set in the “Wonder” universe.

“Wonder,” which was released in 2012, was Palacio’s debut novel and quickly became a bestseller as well as garnering favorable reviews. Monitor critic Augusta Scattergood said the book, which follows a young boy with a facial deformity who is trying to attend school for the first time,  “should be read by every middle school student, and their parents and teachers.”

The e-story, titled “The Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story,” will center on the character first introduced in “Wonder” and will become available May 26.

“I think a lot of children identify with Julian – the bully – whether they admit it or not, and they struggle with whether he has any chance for redemption,” Palacio told Publishers Weekly. “I think ‘The Julian Chapter’ will bring some closure for this character who has sparked so much discussion among my readers.” 

A character named Mr. Browne, who is an English teacher, is introduced in the novel and one of Palacio’s upcoming works will be titled “365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne’s Book of Precepts.” The “precepts” (sayings that inspire people to act decently) will be from figures such as Anne Frank and Nelson Mandela as well as compiled from precepts Palacio has received from readers. The book will also feature communication, like e-mails and letters, between characters from “Wonder.” It will be released Aug. 26 (chosen for “Wonder” protagonist August Pullman?).

The subjects of the other two forthcoming books have not yet been released.

J.K. Rowling will release a sequel to her novel 'The Cuckoo's Calling' this June. (Lefteris Pitarakis/AP)

J.K. Rowling announces sequel to 'The Cuckoo's Calling' (+video)

By Staff Writer / 02.18.14

J.K. Rowling will be releasing a sequel to the mystery novel “The Cuckoo’s Calling,” which was published this April under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith.

It was discovered this summer that the “Harry Potter” author was actually the writer behind the mystery.

Now Rowling says a new novel following the exploits of detective Cormoran Strike and his secretary Robin, titled “The Silkworm,” will be released this June.

According to the novel’s publisher, Little, Brown, “Silkworm” will find Strike hired to investigate the disappearance of writer Owen Quine. His wife, who hires Strike, believes Owen has simply left for a few days and wants Strike to locate him, but the detective soon discovers that Quine’s whereabouts aren’t quite so easily solved and that the writer recently finished a book that contains thinly veiled and nasty versions of just about all his acquaintances.

“Cuckoo” became an instant bestseller after the real author was revealed (against Rowling’s wishes – a lawyer at the firm for which she was a client told a friend and the author sued him). Many publications didn’t review the book until after it was discovered that Rowling was the author, but most gave “Cuckoo” positive reviews, with New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani calling the book “a highly entertaining book that’s way more fun and way more involving than Ms. Rowling’s sluggish 2012 novel, ‘The Casual Vacancy’” and praising Cormoran Strike as “an appealing protagonist.”

'The Hindus: an Alternative History' is by Wendy Doniger.

Penguin Books India pulls controversial book on Hinduism

By Husna HaqCorrespondent / 02.17.14

We’ve seen the chilling effects – in China, Russia, and America, among scores of other countries – when politics and publishing collide. 

The latest country to join the censorship bandwagon is India, where publisher Penguin Books India recently agreed to withdraw a book about Hinduism from circulation in India, including destroying all copies of the book currently in the country. 

“The Hindus: An Alternative History,” by Wendy Doniger, a professor of religion at the University of Chicago, was pulled by Penguin Books India after a four-year legal battle that began when the Hindu nationalist group Shiksha Bachao Andolan filed a suit against the publisher in 2011, claiming the book disparaged Hinduism and comprised “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings.”

The lawsuit accuses Doniger of “hurt[ing] the feelings of millions of Hindus” in the book, which it calls “a shallow, distorted and non-serious presentation of Hinduism” which is “riddled with heresies and factual inaccuracies.”

In a statement released by PEN Delhi, Doniger said, “I am deeply troubled by what it foretells for free speech in India in the present, and steadily worsening, political climate. And as a publisher’s daughter, I particularly wince at the knowledge that the existing books (unless they are bought out quickly by people intrigued by all the brouhaha) will be pulped.” 

The decision, not surprisingly, has drawn international outrage from writers including Arundhati Roy, William Dalrymple, Neil Gaiman, and Hari Kunzru, as well as organizations like the National Book Critics Circle and the global community of writers PEN International. 

In an open letter published in The Times of India, Man Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy blasted the publisher, writing, "[Y]ou have fought for free speech against the most violent and terrifying odds. And now, even though there was no fatwa, no ban, not even a court order, you have not only caved in, you have humiliated yourself abjectly before a fly-by-night outfit by signing settlement. Why?"

In a statement, Penguin Books India has defended its decision: “Penguin Books India believes, and has always believed, in every individual's right to freedom of thought and expression, a right explicitly codified in the Indian Constitution. This commitment informs Penguin's approach to publishing in every territory of the world, and we have never been shy about testing that commitment in court when appropriate. At the same time, a publishing company has the same obligation as any other organization to respect the laws of the land in which it operates, however intolerant and restrictive those laws may be.”

More specifically, “those laws” refer to section 295a of the Indian penal code, which prohibits “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings or any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.”

As observers have pointed out, the law also makes it difficult for Indian publishers to uphold international standards of free expression.

Perhaps the more chilling point is that “The Hindus” – which, we should add, was shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle’s prestigious non-fiction award in 2009 – is only the latest in a series of publications recently withdrawn in the face of protest.

“The recall of ‘The Hindus' made Penguin the second Indian publishing house and third liberal institution in recent times to capitulate to a Hindu group,” writes Bloomberg. “In 2008, Oxford University Press agreed to cease publication of a scholarly essay on the Ramayana, and in 2011, Delhi University agreed to take the same essay off its syllabus.”

There’s more: In January, Bloomsbury India removed copies of “The Descent of Air India,” against the author’s wishes, and published an apology to a government minister who was strongly criticized in the book, the NYT notes.

It adds, “In December, the Supreme Court granted a stay of publication of 'Sahara: The Untold Story,' an investigation of Indian finance and real estate conglomerate Sahara India Pariwar, until a lawsuit filed by Sahara Group’s head was resolved.”

The latest book ban underscores an alarming trend in Indian intellectual discourse: that writings that offend any person’s religious sentiment, or as the lawsuit put it, “hurts the religious feelings,” will be curtailed, and with it, freedom of speech.

The fight against the book coincides with a potential ideological shift in India, which, three months ahead of a national election, has increasingly seen right-wing Hindu nationalist groups shore up power in the world’s largest democracy. Though the pulling of the book has no direct relationship to the elections, some observers have noted a rise in the influence of right-wing Hindu nationalists like Dinath Batra, the 84-year-old retired headmaster who spearheaded the campaign against Penguin and Doniger’s “The Hindus.”

Wrote novelist Hari Kunzru in the UK’s Guardian, “The Hindu far right … has become expert in wielding the weapon of offense to silence critics.”

In fact, many authors who criticized Penguin Books India’s decision directed their censure not toward the publisher, but at the antiquated laws and political campaigns against such books.

“Indian publishers have faced waves of threats from litigants, vigilante groups, and politicians,” PEN India pointed out.

Doniger herself has said she doesn’t “blame” Penguin, which after years of defending the book in court, was “finally defeated by the true villain of this piece – the Indian law that makes it a criminal rather than civil offence to publish a book that offends any Hindu, a law that jeopardizes the physical safety of any publisher, no matter how ludicrous the accusation brought against a book.” 

Echoes historian Dalrymple, The "real villains are the laws in this country, which were old colonial laws drawn up in the 1890s, and which make insulting religion a criminal offense…The reality is that it is very difficult to defend yourself because the law is stacked very heavily on the side of any lunatic. It's shocking, appalling, dreadful and entirely negative, but I can understand why Penguin did what it did. They should have defended it, but I can understand why, with the law as it is, they decided they couldn't win the case.”

Amidst the furor, there may be a silver lining after all: the ruckus has sent “The Hindus” skyrocketing up bestseller lists, and perhaps more importantly, has brought international attention to the wave of book bans in India, and with it, renewed pressure against the forces behind the suppression.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

Isabel Allende says she wrote 'Ripper' for fun, and draws the distinction between the thriller and her 'serious' novels that focus more on 'character, relationships and research.' (Peter Morgan/AP)

Isabel Allende disdains mystery genre

By Bruna LobatoContributor / 02.14.14

Chilean writer Isabel Allende, best known for her magical realism, planned to retire in 2011. However, she changed her mind and, instead, graced her readers with a murder mystery.

“Ripper” is Allende's first thriller, “an atmospheric, fast-paced mystery involving a brilliant teenage sleuth who must unmask a serial killer in San Francisco.”

"The book is tongue in cheek. It's very ironic," she told NPR. "I'm not a fan of mysteries, so to prepare for this experience of writing a mystery I started reading the most successful ones in the market in 2012".

“I realized I cannot write that kind of book. It's too gruesome, too violent, too dark; there's no redemption there. And the characters are just awful. Bad people. Very entertaining, but really bad people,” said Allende. “So I thought, I will take the genre, write a mystery that is faithful to the formula and to what the readers expect, but it is a joke. My sleuth will not be this handsome detective or journalist or policeman or whatever. It will be a … 16-year-old nerd. My female protagonist will not be this promiscuous, beautiful, dark-haired, thin lady. It will be a plump, blond, healer, and so forth.”

The research for the book involved reading a few books of the genre and attending a mystery writers conference, where she learned about forensics and criminology from detectives, policemen, and from the questions of her fellow students.

“For example, if I inject my victim with a blood thinner and I stab the victim 13 times and then I hang the victim upside down in the shower, would the blood congeal in the bathtub? I would never come up with that kind of question or that kind of situation. But if you ask me now ... I am an expert. I can kill anybody and not be caught,” she said.

Allende also said that she does not like formulas in books, as the characters in such books are more like caricatures. “For a writer like myself, who is so much into character, relationships and research, I needed to write this book in my style and make fun of the genre,” she told Reuters.

But some readers have been offended by Allende’s comments. One comment on the NPR website advised the "The House of the Spirits" author to “stick to what she knows [if she] sees the genre as being beneath her." The owner of the Houston bookshop Murder by the Book, McKenna Jordan, went as far as to send back the 20 signed copies of the thriller that he had already ordered, after hearing Allende’s interview on NPR.

The author added that she loved writing the crime novel, nonetheless. “I loved the process and fun of it, it's nothing transcendent or serious. It's just enjoyment for me and the reader.… But I don't think I will go back to that genre in the near future,” she said.

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