With their dystopian settings and young adult target audience, it’s perhaps inevitable that the “Divergent” series by Veronica Roth and the “Hunger Games” books by Suzanne Collins end up being compared to each other.
But at the moment, it’s the “Divergent” trilogy that’s making headlines. According to Amazon, the last book in the trilogy, “Allegiant,” is outpacing sales for the last book in the “Hunger Games” trilogy during the month before its release by almost five to one. “Allegiant” is due to be released Oct. 22, and Amazon is comparing its current sales numbers to “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay” pre-orders for the month before its release.
Despite the fact that it hasn’t come out yet, “Allegiant” is currently number seven on the Amazon bestseller rankings and at number three on the Barnes & Noble rankings.
"Divergent," the first book in Roth’s trilogy, came out in 2011. Today, “Divergent” and “Insurgent,” the second book in the series, occupy the third and fourth slot on the New York Times young adult bestseller list for the week of Oct. 13. “Hunger Games” is holding steady at number two on the NYT children’s series bestseller list for the same week.
“Divergent” is currently being adapted into a film starring Shailene Woodley which will be released this coming March. “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” the second in a planned film quartet based on Collins’ books, is set to come out on Nov. 22.
Can there be too much Jane Austen?
And now there’s this, a project to rework Austen’s six most popular novels into the present day. The Austen Project pairs six bestselling contemporary authors with Jane Austen’s six complete works. The authors will put a contemporary spin on the characters and setting, leaving the plot largely intact, for a decidedly modern Austen series.
The novels include “Sense and Sensibility,” “Northanger Abbey,” “Pride and Prejudice,” “Emma,” “Persuasion,” and “Mansfield Park.” The authors include Joanna Trollope, whose modernized “Sense and Sensibility” is out this October, as well as Curtis Sittenfeld, who will be reworking “Pride and Prejudice”; Val McDermid, who will update “Northanger Abbey”; and the latest author pairing to be announced, No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series author, Alexander McCall Smith, who will revamp “Emma.”
Authors for “Mansfield Park” and “Persuasion” will be announced later this year.
What can readers expect? Think light, humorous updates on the characters and their environments. According to the UK’s Guardian, in “Emma,” Mr. Woodhouse is obsessed with vitamins, Jane Fairfax plays the tenor saxophone, and Frank Churchill has been living abroad in Australia.
What won’t change, of course, is the romance.
“One of the issues, of course, is the erotic tension that pervades the original novel Emma,” McCall Smith told the Guardian. “That is there in large measure and will remain there in my version. And Freud will be looking over my shoulder as I write. I can't wait to begin my encounter with these delicious characters.”
Trollope’s reworked “Sense and Sensibility,” which HarperCollins will release later this month, bears this description: “Elinor Dashwood, an architecture student, values discretion above all. Her impulsive sister Marianne displays her creativity everywhere as she dreams of going to art school.”
McDermid’s reimagined “Northanger Abbey,” to be published in spring of 2014, features a CCTV camera and satellite TV dishes on the cover.
No matter the dozens of Austen spin-offs circulating the market, we’re predicting the Austen Project will be popular among the country’s countless Austen fans. To paraphrase one of our favorite authors, it is a truth universally acknowledged that there can never be too much Austen.
Some of the workers at the National Steinbeck Center, based in Salinas, Calif., are currently in the midst of a 10-day road trip from Sallisaw, Okla., to Arvin, Calif. – the same trip taken by the Joads, the family at the center of Steinbeck's novel. During the trip, the center staff plan to interview people daily.
The trip is intended to honor the 75th anniversary of “The Grapes of Wrath,” a milestone which will be celebrated next year.
“Very few works of American literature have inspired social change to the degree that The Grapes of Wrath did," Colleen Bailey, executive director of the National Steinbeck Center, told the Salinas newspaper The Californian. "The National Steinbeck Center hopes to inspire a new generation to read John Steinbeck's work, to understand its relevance, and to take social action to improve the lives of others.”
The center staff will aim to answer the questions “What keeps you going?,” “What do you turn to in hard times?,” and “What brings you joy when times are tough?” during the journey.
The group left on Oct. 4 and is scheduled to finish the trip on Oct. 14. On the journey, they’ll also be organizing meetings to discuss “The Grapes of Wrath” and delivering talks on the time period in which the novel is set.
Answers to the three questions the group posed as they traveled will be displayed at the center next April.
The center is also encouraging others to get involved in the anniversary celebrations with activities on their website, such as a contest in which participants are asked to relate a story of how they got through a tough time. The winner will receive an iPad mini. Another option for those wanting to get involved is the Community Conversation in a Box kit on the center’s site, which gives readers instructions on how to organize a “Grapes of Wrath” talk in their own areas. Others can try the Map Your Story activity, in which participants are invited to show a map of where they live and talk about how the environment has affected them personally.
Check out the center website here.
Breathe bookstore café is thinking government workers on furlough may have some extra time on their hands.
So the Baltimore store is offering a 10 percent discount to any government staff member who shows an ID card at the register.
“I just can't believe the government actually shut down,” Susan Weis-Bohlen, the store’s owner, wrote in breathe’s weekly newsletter. “I always think things like this can't happen, but I was proved way wrong this time! So I would like to help all of our friends whose emails end in .gov…. breathe bookstore café is a nice place to hang out while you wait to get back to work!”
The initiative was selected for the “cool idea of the day” section of the website of booksellers industry newsletter Shelf Awareness.
Breathe Bookstore Café opened in 2004 and hosts weekly meditation sessions in addition to operating its café.
The current series of movies began with the 2005 release of “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” then “Prince Caspian” followed in 2008. The most recent, “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” appeared in 2010.
Mark Gordon of The Mark Gordon Company will produce the movie along with the C.S. Lewis Company.
“Like many readers, both young and old, I am a huge fan of C.S. Lewis’s beautiful and allegorical world of Narnia,” Gordon said in a statement. “These fantasy stories inspire real-world passion among millions of devoted fans around the world. As we prepare to bring the next book to life, we are humbled and excited to contribute to the outstanding legacy of Narnia.”
“Silver” does not include any of the Pevensie children, who were the heroes of “Lion” and “Caspian.” Only the two younger siblings, Edmund and Lucy, appeared in “Dawn,” and “Silver” centers on the children’s cousin Eustace and his schoolmate Jill.
Walden Media was behind the first three film adaptations, but the deal between Walden and the Lewis estate expired in 2011 before a fourth movie was made. However, Walden Media told Entertainment Weekly before the deal came to an end that the next book Walden would have chosen to adapt would have been “The Magician’s Nephew,” a book which, chronologically, takes place before “Lion.”
Some fans – including including Guardian writer Ben Child – feel the Lewis estate should have stuck with that plan.
“Executives had the chance to take everything right back to the start and shoot the rather wonderful The Magician's Nephew,” he wrote. “The Silver Chair rivals only the confusingly biblical (at least, for me as a young reader) The Last Battle for twee tedium. The Magician's Nephew is a lot more fun.”
Child admired the work done by actress Tilda Swinton as the wicked White Witch in the first movie and noted that, as “Magician” is a prequel, Swinton could have returned for a movie adaptation of that book.
“Both 2008's Prince Caspian and 2010's The Voyage of the Dawn Treader suffered from a distinct Swinton deficit,” he wrote. “The apparently ageless Swinton, should the film-makers have been able to recruit her, would have had plenty to chew on [in ‘Magician’].”
Other fans agree with Child's pitch.
“Why… would you film The Silver Chair before The Magician's Nephew?” Twitter user Nina Martinez wrote.
Some, however, disagree.
“Silver Chair was the best one anyway!” Twitter user Sean Miller tweeted upon the announcement of the next movie adaptation.
No release date has yet been announced for the new movie.
If there’s one author who knows how to stir controversy, it’s Jonathan Franzen. The author engaged in an legendary feud with talk-show queen Oprah Winfrey, blasted e-books as “not for serious readers” and damaging to society, and struck out at some of the nation’s most prominent literary critics, most famously calling the New York Times’ Michiko Kakutani “the stupidest person in New York City” for giving his 2006 memoir a poor review.
Now it seems the author is turning his infamous ire on Twitter.
Speaking with BBC Radio 4’s Today program, Franzen complained that the literary world has become obsessed with Twitter to the point of valuing that self-promoting social medium over literary talent.
Not surprisingly, the Twitterverse struck back, with Francesca Main, editorial director at Picador, tweeting, “Most of the authors on Twitter have a book out far more frequently than those who spend loads of time grouching about it."
And Sunday Times columnist and novelist India Knight added, “Lighten up, Franzo.”
As the newspaper pointed out, it’s not the first time the author has bemoaned social media. Just last month he wrote a piece for the Guardian lamenting the tweeting, texting, Internet-surfing, and social media-obsessed ways of the modern world.
And as we wrote earlier, Franzen has been called a Luddite for deploring the Internet, Amazon, and e-books, respectively.
Interestingly, his latest book, “The Kraus Project,” is an examination of the works of satirist Karl Kraus, himself a critic of technology, consumerism, and popular media.
Here’s our theory: In lieu of promoting himself via Twitter and social media, like many of his comrades, Franzen engages in periodic spats with critics, talk show hosts, and the media to stir controversy and draw attention to his latest work.
It’s the kind of publicity even a devoted tweeter could only dream of.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
Reading is, by nature, a solitary activity, but does perusing serious fiction make you better at interacting with other people?
A new study published in the journal “Science” and conducted by researchers at New York’s New School for Social Research found that those who read what the researchers defined as “literary fiction” did better on exams that tested skills such as emotional intelligence and empathy. Those who read literary fiction such as titles by Anton Chekhov or Jesmyn Ward did better on these tests than those who picked up a book that fit into the popular fiction category or nonfiction.
The researchers, Emanuele Castano and David Comer Kidd, believe this is because “features of the modern literary novel set it apart from most bestselling thrillers or romances.”
“Through the use of … stylistic devices, literary fiction defamiliarizes its readers,” they wrote. “Just as in real life, the worlds of literary fiction are replete with complicated individuals whose inner lives are rarely easily discerned but warrant exploration.”
For the literary fiction category, novels including the National Book Award finalists from recent years and those which received the PEN/O. Henry Prize for short fiction were used on test subjects. Popular fiction selections came from a collection of recently released popular titles or books that are currently Amazon bestsellers, while Smithsonian Magazine was the source of nonfiction reading selections.
Test subjects ranging from 18 to 75 years old were used.
“This is why I love science,” Erdrich said. “[The researchers] found a way to prove true the intangible benefits of literary fiction…. Thank God the research didn’t find that novels increased tooth decay or blocked up your arteries.”
Ward said in an interview with NPR that she was also very excited by the findings.
“If that's true, then that's exactly what I want to happen when I write,” she said. “Part of the reason that I write about what I write about is that the people I grew up with, poor people and black people, are underrepresented in fiction. So it's amazing to me that a study like this shows that people are seeing these characters and can empathize with them and sympathize with them. It makes me feel like what I'm trying to do is working.”
May the Force be with readers.
The second annual Star Wars Reads Day is being held Oct. 5 and will include events at various stores all over the country. Lucasfilm, the production company behind the Star Wars movies which was founded by “Star Wars” creator George Lucas, created the event in 2012 in partnership with various publishers, including Scholastic, Dark Horse, and Workman.
Various stores, including chain companies such as Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million as well as indie bookstores, and both school and public libraries will be holding events to celebrate (some schools and school libraries are celebrating the day today rather than Saturday). According to Publishers Weekly, more than 2,000 events will be occurring all over the world, which is a 67 percent increase from last year.
“Reading and Star Wars have gone hand-in-hand since 1976, when the novelization of the original Star Wars movie was released,” Lucasfilm director of publishing Carol Roeder said in a statement. “Over the years, many fans have discovered the joy in reading through Star Wars books, and we hope to continue encouraging more people to read.”
Some stores have been selected as “premier” locations, and these spots are where “Star Wars” authors such as Jeffrey Brown of the “Jedi Academy” middle-grade series and Tom Angleberger of the Star Wars origami titles as well as illustrators of the books like Brian Rood will be appearing. Stores that are designated as holding premier events include the Barnes & Noble locations in Austin, Texas and Madison, Wis. as well as Denver’s Tattered Cover Book Store and the Wordstock Festival in Portland, Ore.
Locations which are holding Star Wars Reads Day were given a kit containing crafts and tips for holding the event, among other items, two months before the day by the Star Wars Reads organization. Events are required to be free.
“The stores come up with very creative ways of celebrating,” Roeder told Publishers Weekly.
Check out the list of events here to see if Star Wars Reads Day is being celebrated near you.
'Run, Brother, Run' author David Berg discusses his brother's murder – a crime made famous for the wrong reasons
Judging by media coverage, the most notable thing about the new book Run, Brother, Run: A Memoir of a Murder in My Family is the last name of the alleged killer. It's Harrelson. As in Charles, the father of the actor Woody Harrelson.
But there's much more to this story than a link to celebrity. Attorney David Berg, whose brother Alan was murdered in 1968, is wry, wise, and heartbreakingly perceptive as he chronicles the extraordinary lives of those around him. He and his brother both struggled to please a difficult and unscrupulous father. Alan ultimately followed the boys' father into a life of shady business practices. His lifestyle brought him into contact with underworld figures – including alleged contract killer Charles Harrelson (who was charged with Berg's death but finally acquitted).
Berg survived the death of his brother and ultimately – after immense emotional pain – found a path forward. "Run, Brother Run" isn't one of those inspirational true-crime books that boast of victims who forgive or criminals who find redemption. His story is much more realistic (Berg finds plenty that's unforgivable, especially in himself) and much more powerful because of it.
In an interview, I asked Berg about the major elements of his story – the state of Texas and the city of Houston, a disapproving father and a son who wanted to please him, and the grief-stricken author's road to a kind of peace.
Q: Houston, where you lived in the 1960s, plays a major role in your memoir and even becomes a character in itself. How does Texas affect your family's story?
A: I remember driving across Texas and loving the freedom as I barreled down the road toward a different kind of life.
But Texas also had a great deal to do with my brother's death in how a man like Charles Harrelson could live and prosper and not be sent to jail for a very long time, how he could be acquitted of my brother's murder because he was tried in a rural, Southern and bigoted jurisdiction.
Q: What was Houston like during this time of incredible growth when it lurched toward becoming one of the five biggest cities in the country?
A: Houston was growing and out of joint, out of kilter, a pinball banging in one direction and then another, a mirror image of my family's life.
Nobody was actually from Houston. They were all from somewhere else. There were people in search of fortune, from good families and bad families, producing a culture as wild as the wells being drilled there.
Q: Did they like it there?
A: Everyone in Houston is ambivalent about Houston. Very few people say, "Man, I love this place, and I never want to leave it."
Q: You write about the influence of your father over the lives of you and your brother. What role did he play?
A: Machiavelli writes that the world conspires, usually in the form of a disapproving parent, to obscure our talents and gifts even from ourselves. The sooner you're able to shake that bond, the more likely you are to succeed.
Even up until the moment of his death, my brother Alan was still seeking his father's approval. He was smart and funny and a very capable guy and a great salesman, too, but he never understood that about himself. Up to the moment he was murdered, he was still seeking Dad's approval.
Q: What about you?
A: Somehow, I knew my father's approval was not worth winning.
Q: How did this tragedy affect you?
A: I know that I was ashamed of the way Alan died on some subconscious level, and I was ashamed of being ashamed. I think I poured all of that anger and embarrassment into my practice and the way I lived my life. It was like rocket propulsion.
Q: In your book, you don't spare yourself from blame. You're even too hard on yourself at times. What's behind that?
A: I don't know of a person who's lost a sibling who doesn't find some way to blame themselves.
My brother was a father figure to me, really the only father I ever had, and what I see now is that I blame myself for something I could have never done then: Take a different seat at the table, take his hand and say: "Don't screw up anymore, you've got to get out of this business."
But it wasn't our relationship.
Q: What advice would you give people who are recovering from tragedy?
A: What I would not advise people to do is what I did. When I began to write the book, 40 years after Alan died, I realized that I'd never talked about him, not to my sons, not to anybody. Rarely did I mention him and never how he died.
I took a kind of macho pride in that. I'd spared my family from any burden from Alan's death. But nothing helped me as much as writing this book. I left a great deal of my anger and a lot of my memories on those pages.
Q: What's the best way to move forward after emotional trauma?
A: The first thing I would tell them to do is to take some time before they seek help to let their feelings sink in. But fight mightily against self-pity. It's toxic. Once you indulge in self-pity, you're writing yourself off.
And I suggest getting therapy. You don't need to load up your friends and relatives with the tragedy that's befallen you.
I encourage people to find their own gifts, their own talents. Everybody's got a gift and talent, but it may be obscured, most often by a disapproving parent. You have to throw that off and pitch yourself into what you're good at doing.
Find what you love and pursue it with passion. That's good advice, tragedy or not, and it's especially important when you're caught in the maelstrom of grief.
Randy Dotinga is a Monitor contributor.
Thanks to several bestselling mystery series, including “The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency,” “Isabel Dalhousie," “Portuguese Irregular Verbs,” and “44 Scotland Street,” Scottish writer Alexander McCall Smith is one of the most successful authors in the world.
In a new book released last month, Smith credits a lot of his creative inspiration to W.H. Auden, the British poet who lived from 1907 to 1973. “I have learned so much from this poet,” Smith writes in a slender volume titled “What W. H. Auden Can Do for You.”
“My life has been enriched by his language. I have stopped and thought, and thought, over so many of his lines. He can be with us in every part of our lives, showing us how rich life can be, and how precious. For that, I am more grateful to him than I can ever say.”
Smith’s 137-page testimonial is part of Princeton’s “Writers on Writers” series, in which contributing authors pen small books celebrating their debt to other wordsmiths. Previous books in the series include Philip Lopate on Susan Sontag, C.K. Williams on Walt Whitman, and Michael Dirda on Arthur Conan Doyle.
Auden, regarded as one of the major poets of the 20th century, immigrated to the US in 1939 and became an American citizen, but he returned to Europe for his final years. His poetry remains popular today, and one of his most celebrated poems, “Funeral Blues,” was featured in the 1994 film “Four Weddings and a Funeral.”
“I believe that if you read this poet, and think about what he has to say to you, then in a subtle but significant way you will be changed,” Smith tells readers. “This happened to me, and it can happen to you.”
Here, in honor of Auden’s influence on Alexander McCall Smith and thousands of readers around the world, are 10 quotes from the revered bard:
1. "Sob, heavy world,
Sob as you spin,
Mantled in mist, remote from the happy."
– from "The Age of Anxiety"
2. "Let us honor if we can
The vertical man
Though we value none
But the horizontal one."
– from “Epigraph for Poems”
3. "About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window
Or just walking dully along."
– from “Musee des Beaux Arts”
4. "Earth, receive an honored guest;
William Yeats is laid to rest.
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry."
– from “In Memory of W.B. Yeats”
5. "In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark"
– from “In Memory of W. B. Yeats”
6. "Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye."
– from “In Memory of W.B. Yeats”
7. "To us he is no more a person
Now but a whole climate of opinion."
– from “In Memory of Sigmund Freud”
8. "If thou must choose
Between the chances, choose the odd;
Read the New Yorker; trust in God;
And take short views."
– from “Under Which Lyre”
9. "Some books are undeservedly forgotten; none are undeservedly remembered."
– from "The Dyer’s Hand”
10. "It takes little talent to see clearly what lies under one’s nose, a good deal of it to know in which direction to point that organ."
– from "The Dyer’s Hand”
Danny Heitman is a Monitor contributor.