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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.

Members of the Rock Bottom Remainders include writers Amy Tan (l.), Stephen King (center) and Scott Turow (r.) (Michael Dwyer/AP)

Author band the Rock Bottom Remainders calls it quits

By Staff Writer / 06.19.12

Author supergroup the Rock Bottom Remainders will be playing their last concerts this weekend after two decades together.

The band will perform one show in Los Angeles on June 22, which is also the date of their twenty-year anniversary, and a second in Anaheim on June 23 at the American Library Association convention. Only those attending the ALA convention will be able to attend the second show.

The final lineup for the concert will be writers Stephen King, Dave Barry, Ridley Pearson, Sam Barry, Amy Tan, Mitch Albom, Matt Groening, Scott Turow, James McBride, Greg Iles and Roy Blount, Jr. All proceeds from the show will go to charity, which has been the rule for every Remainders show.

“A few years ago, Bruce Springsteen told us we weren't bad, but not to try to get any better otherwise we'd just be another lousy band,” King said in a statement. “After 20 years, we still meet his stringent requirements. For instance, while we all know what 'stringent' means, none of us have yet mastered an F chord.”

Barry said the group was originally brought together by writer, publishing consultant and musician Kathi Kamen Goldmark, who died last month. She was in charge of a business that brought writers to events and, when she realized that many of the writers she shepherded from place to place were music fans, she decided to see if the authors would be up for a charity performance.

“She sent a fax around to the [authors],” Barry told the Long Beach Press-Telegram. “And if you responded to the fax, you were in the band. You know, the same way the Beatles started.”

Barry said the band will be honoring Goldmark during the show.

“We will be paying our respects to her during the shows, but in a fun way,” he said. “She wouldn't have wanted some maudlin tribute.”

Barry told the AP that Goldmark’s death was part of the reason the band decided to disband.

“We sort of felt this would be a good time to end it because it just isn’t going to be the same without Kathi,” he said.

Guitarist for the Byrds Roger McGuinn, who became involved with the band through author Carl Hiaasen, will be appearing with the Rock-Bottom Remainders for the last two shows.

“They’re not as bad as they claim to be,” McGuinn told the AP of the band.

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The Microsoft Surface could be made available to coincide with the holiday season. (Rene Macura/AP)

Microsoft Surface: first serious iPad competitor?

By Husna Haq / 06.19.12

Watch out, Apple. Microsoft’s mystery announcement is out of the bag and it’s giving the iPad a run for its money.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer unveiled Microsoft Surface, a new tablet that heads a “whole new family of Microsoft computing devices,” Ballmer announced at the mystery event at the Milk Studios in Hollywood, Calif., Monday afternoon.

From what we’ve seen and heard, the Surface tablet is perhaps the first serious competitor to Apple’s iPad tablet. What’s more, it’s got the capability of a PC – as good for creating content as it is for consuming, according to Ballmer’s highly anticipated announcement and demo.

The 1.8-pound device will have a 10.6-inch Gorilla Glass 2.0 screen with a thickness of 9.3 mm. Like the iPad, it’s got a magnetically-connected magnesium case that doubles as a kickstand for viewing video – and it also has a full multi-touch keyboard, a major advantage for users who want a more versatile tablet.

Another advantage? The Surface tablet also comes with Microsoft Word, a full-size USB drive, and can run a full Windows desktop, making it a true tablet computer. It will run on Windows 8. The tablet also comes with digital ink so users can use a magnetic stylus to write on it.

Microsoft hasn’t yet released price points on the Surface tablet, which will be available in later this year, probably timed to the holiday season.

As for e-reading, the Surface tablet may not be ideal: at 10.6 inches, it’s more unwieldy than most books. Readers who want a device solely for reading would probably be better off with a Kindle or Nook. E-reading wasn’t featured at Microsoft’s Monday’s demo.

This device, however, is poised to take a chunk out of the tablet market, especially the corporate tablet market. Unlike Apple, Microsoft is the software of choice for corporate America. With Surface, Microsoft offers security (Apple’s security has always been suspect in most corporate settings) as well as compatibility – existing Microsoft software can run on the Surface tablet.

“If you use your PC to design and create things, this is for you,” Ballmer said at Monday’s announcement. “It’s a full PC.”

It may not be ideal for reading, but this is one tablet we’re excited about.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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Rielle Hunter's book "What Really Happened" offers her version of her affair with John Edwards, as well as its aftermath.

John Edwards' mistress discusses their relationship in forthcoming book

By / 06.18.12

Rielle Hunter, John Edwards’ mistress, discusses their relationship and its aftermath in her forthcoming book “What Really Happened: John Edwards, Our Daughter and Me.”

Hunter, who says she began a relationship with the married politician in 2006, says Edwards was “temporarily insane” when he denied paternity of her daughter, Quinn.

“Think about it,” Hunter writes. “Sane healthy people do not deny their children, especially on national TV, simply because they are afraid of their abusive spouse's reaction. Only a mentally off person would do that.”

Hunter also calls Edwards’ wife Elizabeth a “witch on wheels,” saying that she was “bonkers because she had been in denial” about his affairs and that at one point, she “physically attack[ed] [Edwards] during all the screaming.”

Hunter discusses a conversation she had with Edwards that occurred before the politician’s indictment in which she asked him where he would be going if he was sent to jail.

“’What kind of jail would it be? One of those country clubs?’” she says she asked him.

“He said, ‘Yeah,’” Hunter wrote.

Hunter says Edwards told her he’d probably be in jail in Virginia and that she decided if that was the case, then she and her daughter Quinn would move to Virginia.

She writes that Edwards told her he was involved with three other women, but that he later confessed that had been a lie, designed to prevent her from getting attached to him.

“Johnny didn’t do anything out of character,” Hunter says in “What Really Happened.” “He has a long history of lying about one thing only – women – and I mistakenly thought I was different.”

Of the brief time when Edwards aide Andrew Young claimed paternity of Hunter’s child, Hunter writes, “The thing that I regret the most is going along with this stupid idea and allowing this lie to go public.”

She writes that Edwards is “a great dad” to her daughter Quinn.

Hunter says she isn’t sure what will happen between her and Edwards but that she still has feelings for him.

“The jury is still out,” she writes. "But I can honestly say that the ending is of no concern to me anymore. The love is here. And as sappy as it may sound, I love living in love."

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The headstone in Arlington National Cemetary honors four unknown soldiers who died on the U.S.S. Maine, the sinking of which helped set off the Spanish-American War. (Randy Dotinga)

Military historian Michael Stephenson: Who dies in battle and how?

By Randy Dotinga / 06.18.12

A few years ago, military historian Michael Stephenson came across the graves of two British soldiers near his home in Dorsey, England. One died in the First World War, the other in the second. They were father and son, bound by blood and the way theirs was spilled.

"When I saw them, I thought about how we owe a debt to the people who have died in war," Stephenson says, "and the best way could I pay it would be to look at the factors throughout the centuries that contributed to their deaths."

He does just that in his new book "The Last Full Measure: How Soldiers Die in Battle," a sobering and crucial look at the evolution of death on the battlefield and the ways that warriors come to terms with serving as killing machines.

I reached Stephenson at his home in New York City, where he now lives, and asked him what divides and binds the soldiers of human history.

Q: What is the main theme of your book?

A: On one level, my book is really about the mechanics of soldiers getting killed, what happened in terms of weaponry and the development of weapon technology and tactics.

The great arc is from close-up fighting to very distant fighting, of the soldier getting farther from the person who will kill him.

The 2,000th American soldier in Afghanistan was just killed. Most of the deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq, and going back to World War I, were delivered to the soldiers from a very great distance.

We live in a disassociated society. The soldiers we send to Iraq and Afghanistan are a tiny minority, and we as a society are disassociated from their experience. We're distant from these men, and they're distant from the ones who kill them.

Q: What has this distance meant?

A: Death comes in an utterly anonymous way and is in no way connected to a person. It robs soldiers of a certain kind of heroic possibility – fighting somebody face to face, being overcome or overcoming them. That's where the heroic tradition is rooted.

Q: What else does your book examine?

A: It looks at the attitudes of the men toward the prospect of their own deaths, the deaths of their comrades and killing other people.

It also examines the idea of the heroic and what you have to do to put your life on the line. Is it patriotism, some kind of religious belief or just the belief in your friends? What do men think, what do they feel, what do they fear?

Q: There's always been a certain kind of code to warfare, right? We can kill our enemies in a certain way, but it's wrong to adopt other methods. How did that evolve?

A: If you go back to ancient warfare, the men who fought with bows and arrows or slingers or threw javelins were always considered to be absolutely without any redeeming feature whatsoever. They somehow breached the heroic code because they didn't face their enemies, they didn't test their strength against the other person's strength.

As the centuries go by, you get the same feeling about people who use guns. Even crossbow men were despised.

That same idea is applied to sharpshooters and snipers. Often snipers were despised by their own side because they were considered to be illegitimate. You shouldn't shoot people from that distance.

The last chapter of the book is how soldiers in modern warfare have been killed by what they'd consider underhand ways – blown up by a roadside bomb, killed by a sniper from a mile away.

There's a feeling that they've been robbed by a certain kind of dignity.

Q: I interviewed a Civil War historian last year, and he spoke about the intense shock that greeted the soldiers who headed into the first battle with a sense of bravado. They discovered, to their horror, that war is a dirty and grisly business, far from the glorious portraits painted in the romanticized books they'd read. Can we ever get close to understanding the experiences of soldiers without being warriors ourselves?

A: I don't think my book can ever really answer this question: How do you get close to that experience, of the prospect of you or someone else being killed, the smell and the noise of it?

I've got a file just on the sound of weaponry and of people being hit. That immediacy is something that's very hard to get over in a book.

The experience of reading about it, or even of seeing it in very realistic news clips or movies, is not the same at all as being there.

In a society like ours, we live a kind of ersatz experience, a sort of pretend experience. We watch movies and play computer games dedicated to combat and violence, but nothing ever could give you the sense of what it must be like.

Q: What surprised you as you researched the book?

A: How chaotic warfare is.

If you read about military history, quite a lot of it is written as if it were a sort of chess game. This unit moved here, and they did that and moved there.

Underneath all that is a bloody desperate irrationality. The most accidental things happen, the plans get modified. The chaos is quite extraordinary.

Q: What has changed the least about warfare over the centuries?

A: The blood.

If you get stabbed by a Roman gladius sword, if you get hit by a high-velocity shell, your body is destroyed and there is blood. That has never changed.

It's hard to staunch blood, even with the most modern techniques, and we haven't been able to devise a way to have a good old war with no one getting hurt.

The hurt is the thing that connects all of these soldiers, all of them. I wanted to write this book because I had a deep sense of that, and I was also a bit disturbed by the easiness with which we send our young men and women – and they've always been young, and they've nearly always been poor – to fight for us.

When they come back, we are suddenly very lax about looking after them, and this has been true for centuries and is true today. We don't quite want to pick up the tab when they come back.

Randy Dotinga is a Monitor contributor.

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The interactive map on Canadian book site 49th Shelf allows readers to find books based on location or add titles for others.

The '100-Mile Book Diet': Could it work for you?

By Staff Writer / 06.15.12

“Local” is a word that’s been all over the place in terms of eating and shopping, and now it’s made its way into the book world as well.

The Canadian book site 49th Shelf has started a campaign titled “Read Local: The 100-Mile Book Diet,” which urges readers to take on books that are set within 100 miles of their homes.

The site has an interactive map that allows site users to find books based on location or add titles for others. For example, “Consumption” a debut novel by Kevin Patterson, was added to the federal territory of Nunavut in Canada because the novel takes place in Rankin Inlet, an area in Nunavut, and is full of local detail.

Julie Wilson, who is the website host for 49th Shelf, told the CBC that she believes the diversity of Canada makes it a perfect fit for the project.

“Books inform our sense of place in ways we simply can't imagine on our own, and [reading] reflects our country back to us through a variety of voices and experiences,” Wilson said. “By asking readers to literally put a book on a map, we provide yet another means of coming to know our country.”

The map on 49th Shelf will have certain themes throughout the summer, including a planned "Eat Your Way Across Canada" motif, according to the 49th Shelf website.

What about your neighborhood? Would a "100-Mile Book Diet" make sense there? And if so, would you adopt it?

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“Canada,” Richard Ford’s seventh novel to date, is the story of Dell Parsons, a teenage boy whose parents are sent to jail for robbing a bank, leaving him and his twin sister, Berner, to fend for themselves. "Canada" illustrates the way that one foolish decision can destroy a family.

Richard Ford: Why writing is an act of optimism

By J.P. O’ Malley / 06.14.12

Richard Ford published his debut novel “A Piece of My Heart” in 1976.  But it was “The Sportswriter” (1986) – the book which introduced the world to Frank Bascombe, and other marginalized characters trapped on the edge of the American Dream – that distinguished Ford as a preeminent voice in literary fiction. The two books that followed, “Independence Day” (1995), which won him the Pulitzer prize in fiction, and “Lay of The Land” (2006), completed the Frank Bascombe trilogy.

Canada,” Ford’s seventh novel to date, begins in Montana in 1960. It’s narrated by Dell Parsons, the son of a retired Air Force pilot, and a schoolteacher. At the beginning of the novel, Dell’s parents are sent to jail for robbing a bank, leaving him and his twin sister, Berner, to fend for themselves. The story illustrates the way that one foolish decision can destroy a whole family, mapping out a future of destitution and loneliness. The book sees Ford return to a simpler style of prose, marking a distinctive shift away from the more elaborate language of the Frank Bascombe novels.

Here Ford talks about his memories of the late Raymond Carver, why writing is an act of optimism, and how art makes life.
Q. Was it hard to leave behind the voice of Frank Bascombe for this novel?

The challenging part for me was to find a diction that wasn’t just a replication of those other books. As far as getting away from Frank, and the kind of extravagances that Frank’s vocabulary imposes, that wasn’t hard at all. I still love to write notes in Frank’s voice. I thought “The Lay of the Land” was the right point to separate myself from Frank Bascombe.

Q. What’s the significance of the title of this book, “Canada”?

I always found as an American, that Canada was a place that attracted me. I felt I could accommodate to Canada extremely well if I had to. I think of Canada as a kind of psychic-moral-spatial refuge, whereas I think America – even though it’s my home – is challenging all the time. I experience America in many ways. It doesn’t make me want to abandon it, but it certainly does make it a very strange place to live sometimes.      

Q. Would you say you are a positive writer who explores existential failures in your books?

I feel that’s exactly what I am – an optimist, who believes with Sartre, that to write about the darker possible things is an act of optimism. But what I’m looking for is drama, which occurs when people are at a loss, and not succeeding. I try to find a vocabulary which makes those things expressible. In the process of making those expressible to a readership, it becomes an act of optimism, because it imagines a future in which these things will be understood, and be mediated in some way. Writing for me is always an act of optimism. I probably wouldn’t do it otherwise, no matter how dark things are.

Q. Do you believe art is an escape from the boredom of life?

I would never say boredom. You can make yourself bored sometimes, but I don’t think life itself is boring. For me, it’s a slightly more complex idea. Life is an onslaught. It’s imagination, or art itself, which makes life interesting. Henry James says “art makes life, art makes importance” and that’s kind of what I think life is: this onslaught that you deal with it through your imagination. 

Q. You quote Emerson in “Canada” and “Independence Day.” How has he influenced you as a writer?

What Emerson tries to do in his essays, is what I try to do in writing novels and stories, which is, to take the most complex things I know, and the most important things I think I understand, give accessible language to them, and attempt to say something important that has not been said before. What I’m talking about are typical Emersonian kind of subjects: character, self-reliance, poetry, and art. I use Emerson as a model, because he works so hard at trying to give a voice that is accessible to things in life that can seem so difficult, important, and inaccessible to us. Particularly things which provoke and confound us by their inconsistency, by the appearance of one thing (this is why “Canada” is about Canada) which might seem to be quite similar, but which in fact – like Canada and America – are very distinct. It’s a telling sign of our genius as human beings that we can see, among things that are alike, significant and insignificant distinctions.

Q. Why do the characters in your novels travel so much?

I’m interested in how people exhibit who they are, and exhibit their success as human beings, by how they affiliate and accommodate new moral and spatial settings. That is where I have been able to detect where drama lies. I’m interested – just talking intellectually here – in borders, between someone who is considered marginal, and someone who is considered mainstream. I am the child of parents who lived through the Depression, and I was made to learn very early in life that you can easily slide out of the picture, and no longer be a successful citizen, by forces acting on you that you cannot control.

Q. Is this why so many marginal characters turn up in your books?

Well I have sympathy and empathy for them, because I know they are just a blink away from a wholly different and successful life. There is a passage in “Canada” in which Dell talks from his adult perspective, about seeing men sitting out in the cold in front of rescue missions, and when he sees men in that situation, he says “they’re my father, they’re my father.”

Q. Could you talk about your relationship with the late Raymond Carver?

We just really took to each other. It started in friendship and affinity, by having parents that both came from the same part of America and from the same social environment. It grew to be more of a relationship among writers. I felt like when Ray got famous, that I wasn’t so much in his shadow, but I was just his pal, and I was along for the ride. It actually was extremely comfortable to be writing at the same time that he was, because I liked his work, and he seemed to like mine. He encouraged me, and if I was in his shadow I was quite comfortable there. One of the profound losses of my life was that he died when he did, and that I couldn’t go on living in his shadow.   

Q. How do you know when the language is working for you when you are writing?

The degree to which I can hear the language, read it out loud, see it on the page, and know that it has a kind of felicity. I estimate my success by how the words sing to me. Then I have a certain confidence that it’s getting me where I should be going.

J.P. O'Malley is a freelance writer based in London.


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The driveway of author J.D. Salinger had a sign warning visitors not to trespass. (Edmund Fountain/Valley News/AP)

Bill supported by J.D. Salinger's family is vetoed in New Hampshire

By Staff Writer / 06.14.12

A bill titled Senate Bill 175 which aimed to control the use of a person’s identity for 70 years after his or her death – and which was spearheaded by the family of author J.D. Salinger – was vetoed by New Hampshire governor John Lynch.

Lynch called the bill "overly broad" and said that it "would potentially have a chilling effect on legitimate journalistic and expressive works that are protected by the New Hampshire and United States constitutions,” according to the Concord Monitor.

Under the bill, control over a person’s identity was a right that could be inherited by family or other heirs.

The "Catcher in the Rye" author’s son, Matt Salinger, said he and his family had worked to bring the legislation into being after his father’s image began popping up on t-shirts, coffee mug,s and other souvenirs without their permission.

“My father moved [to New Hampshire] in the ‘50s because it was beautiful but also because of a certain kind of respect for individual rights,” Salinger said in an interview with the Associated Press speaking about his father’s decision to live most of his life in the Granite State. “He basically wanted to be left alone and do his work, and New Hampshire, he quickly sensed, respected that.”

Salinger said he was extremely unhappy with the verdict.

“I’m stunned and just hugely disappointed that Gov. [John] Lynch saw fit to veto something that was the result of thousands of hours of well-intentioned, diligent, bipartisan work,” he told the AP.

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'Write or Die' is available as an iPad app but can also be bought in a desktop version.

A new app keeps you writing – or else

By Staff Writer / 06.14.12

For many writers, procrastination is their biggest demon. They find themselves opening new Facebook windows and Googling their own names while an empty Word document sits on their desktop.

But a new app, titled Write or Die, hopes to change all that.

“As long as you keep typing, you're fine,” the website reads somewhat ominously. “But if you become distracted, punishment will ensue.”

Within the app writers – who type inside a file that looks like a word document – can set the word count they’re aiming for as well as specifying their own “punishment” mode. The least serious is the "gentle" mode. At this level, a pop-up window appears to remind the writer to keep typing if there is no activity after a specified amount of time has passed.

At the next level – the "normal" mode – a “most unpleasant sound” will play if writing ceases.

At the level known as the "kamikaze" mode, text in the document will be deleted until writing recommences.

“It requires only that you recognize your own tendency towards self-sabotage and be willing to do something about it,” the website says of the app.

The app is available for the iPad and can also be bought as a desktop version.

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The flowchart has 101 books as possible results for a reader.

What should your teen read this summer? Just ask this flowchart

By Staff Writer / 06.13.12

Looking for a title for your child for summer reading this year – or maybe you just want a book to read yourself?

The website, a site which serves as a resource for educators, has compiled a flowchart which lets students (or their parents if they’re looking for something to read) select a book based on questions about what they’re interested in reading. The list has 101 options for titles, from “Les Miserables” by Victor Hugo to “A Great and Terrible Beauty” by Libba Bray.

Sample options include “An Underdog Rises,” “Troubled Youth” and “Relationship Strife” under the category “Transformations,” which is listed under the Contemporary Fiction category. Those looking for a nonfiction read confront the questions “Tragedy?,” which, if they select yes, leads them to “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer and “A Night to Remember” by Walter Lord.

See the full chart here.

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Thomas Pynchon has not commented to the media for decades.

Thomas Pynchon's novels are released in e-book format

By Staff Writer / 06.13.12

Author Thomas Pynchon, one of the few remaining writers to resist converting his work into digitial form, has allowed his books to be sold in e-book format, according to the Penguin Press, which will publish the works.

Penguin will release e-book versions of Pynchon’s eight books, including “Gravity’s Rainbow” and “The Crying of Lot 49,” starting today.

President and editor-in-chief of Penguin Ann Godoff said that she believes Pynchon simply felt the moment was right.

“There has been a great desire to have all of Tom’s books in digital format now, for many years,” Godoff told The New York Times. “He didn’t want to not be part of that.”

And Godoff said the author also was motivated by a desire that would be felt by any writer.

“I think he wants to have more readers,” she said.

Pynchon, who is an intensely private writer, would not comment on the move to e-book format. Pynchon’s wife Melanie Jackson, who is a literary agent, is said to have negotiated the deal.

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