Oh yes, it's going to be a big weekend for comic book fans: In addition to today's release of the “Iron Man 3 movie” tomorrow is also Free Comic Book Day worldwide.
The celebration, which is held on the first Saturday in May each year, first occurred in 2002 and gives fans an opportunity to get select comic books for free. Not every comic store participates, but it’s estimated that more than 2,000 stores across the globe participated last year.
This year, the roster of comic books being given away includes “Superman Special Edition,” a “Walking Dead” special issue, “Action Time Buddies,” and a combination “Sesame Street” and “Strawberry Shortcake” issue. Comic books for FCBD are chosen by retailers that are selected to be the deciders by Diamond Comic Distributers, the company behind the celebration. The number of free comic books available depends on the store.
The comics being given away are separated into Gold and Silver categories. Typically, the Gold publications are books released by a more high-profile publisher.
Diamond Comic Distributers is estimating more than 4.6 million comic books will be given away this year.
Not every comic book store will be participating, but you can search for one near you by using the store location tool found on the Free Comic Book Day website.
This year, the Edgars, one of the highest honors in the mystery writing genre, bestowed titles on books with subject matter ranging from a foreigner killed in China to a look at the world of crime during the Roaring ‘20s.
The Best Novel award was given to Dennis Lehane’s book “Live by Night,” which follows the son of a police captain as he explores the criminal underground of Prohibition-Era America. Lehane, a Boston native, paid sweet tribute to the recently threatened city in his acceptance speech, according to industry newsletter Shelf Awareness.
“Everything about me that people love, and everything about me that pisses people off comes from being from Boston,” Lehane said.
The Best Fact Crime award went to author Paul French for his work “Midnight in Peking,” which explored the death of a young Englishwoman in China in the 1930s as the country was experiencing tremendous change. (Check out Monitor writer Randy Dotinga’s Q&A with French here.) French came from Shanghai to accept his Edgar Award in New York City.
“It was a very long flight but obviously worth it,” French said during his acceptance speech.
The debut novel prize, titled Best First Novel by an American Author, went to “The Expats” by Chris Pavone. Pavone’s novel follows an American woman living abroad in Europe who is terrified her past is coming back to haunt her.
Meanwhile, the Best Paperback Original prize honored “The Last Policeman” by Ben H. Winters, a novel that centers on a police detective trying to solve a mystery as Earth is threatened with extinction.
The Best Critical/Biographical award went to writer James O’Brien for his book “The Scientific Sherlock Holmes” and the Best Short Story prize was given to writer Karin Slaughter for her piece “The Unremarkable Heart.”
In categories for younger readers, author Jack D. Ferraiolo was awarded the Best Juvenile mystery award for his book “The Quick Fix,” while the Best Young Adult prize was given to the book “Code Name Verity” by Elizabeth Wein.
The Grand Master prize, which honors an author’s body of work, was given to “Winter of the World” author Ken Follett and Margaret Maron of “The Buzzard’s Table.”
The Edgars also award writing for a mystery TV episode, and this year’s honor went to the installment of the BBC series “Sherlock” titled “A Scandal in Belgravia.”
In his acceptance speech, Follett noted the power that a great story can have over a reader.
“If they're hoping it will turn out this way, and fearing it will turn out that way, they're going to turn the page,” he said.
Hachette Book Group (HGB) will join a few of its five counterparts (collectively known as the "big six" in the American publishing world) in offering its full catalog of e-books to public libraries across the nation. New books will be made available in print and digital formats at the same time.
For US publishers, the decision to place e-books in libraries has not come easily. All have grappled with fears of losing sales of new titles if e-books are too readily available for borrowing.
But now, with Hachette's announcement, most of the major US publishers will be providing e-books to libraries. “This step moves libraries closer to ensuring that patrons will be able to enjoy the same access to e-books as they have to print books,” American Library Association president Maureen Sullivan said in a statement.
Most of the big publishing houses have pilot programs to test the waters of library content, and now all of them provide content for 3M's Cloud Library, which is the technology many libraries use. In a press release, Michael Pietsch, CEO of HBG, said, "I grew up in public libraries and appreciate deeply their importance to readers hungry for more." He went on to say that HGB's goal is "to have authors’ work available on as many bookshelves and platforms as possible."
The negotiations for publishing houses to make their works available for libraries hasn't been a very straightforward one. The concept of free books for the public has rankled publishers – and some authors – pretty much since its inception, but e-books are a source of particular concern, mostly because they don't degrade over time or with multiple uses.
Some on the library side of the equation have gone out of their way to assure publishers that they are sympathetic to their concerns. In a New York Times Op-Ed, New York Public Library President Anthony Marx said, "We have every interest in seeing that publishers remain sustainable enterprises and that authors are paid fairly for their work."
Currently, publishers – Hachette included – are being careful to limit the access library patrons will have to e-books, particularly when it comes to new releases.
"As with other publishers, Hachette is seeking a balance by offering a comprehensive list of e-books, but not unlimited, or cheap, e-book service. For new releases, only one e-book can be borrowed at a time. And libraries, many of which operate under tight budgets, will be charged three times the highest priced print edition for one year of e-book access to a new publication," reported the AP.
Despite such limits, Hachette's announcement marks another point of progress for the e-books in libraries movement.
They were all talking about the constraints of living in the White House, which is the topic of Kenneth Walsh’s new book, out Wednesday by Paradigm Press. The book is titled “Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America’s Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership.”
In it, Walsh, a veteran White House correspondent for US News and World Report, plumbs the seclusion of life at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. for a long line of US presidents and, along the way, drops some interesting details on Obama’s personal struggle in “the bubble.”
“Barack Obama has said that the hardest thing about being president is staying in touch with 'the flow of everyday life,'” Walsh tells USA Today. “And he has admitted that one of the biggest mistakes he made during his first term was confining himself to the White House too much.”
“Jarrett has gone too far in limiting others' access to the president, according to a number of White House and congressional sources,” writes Walsh in the book. “Her goal is to keep Obama in a cocoon of admirers who won't, in her mind, shake him up too much or present views that might be contrary to her understanding of Obama's positions.”
The upside, says Walsh, is that the President is on a perpetual mission to escape the isolation of the White House.
“More than most recent presidents, Obama has made a sustained personal effort to break out of the bubble...” he says.
How does the President of the United States stay in touch with his roots – and with average Americans?
In spite of Secret Service protestations, he keeps a personal BlackBerry that he uses to email friends. He does his best to travel outside Washington regularly. And he follows sports, especially basketball and football, “which gives him a break from the tedium and keeps him from obsessing about politics,” Walsh says.
Our favorite: Every evening, the President selects 10 letters from constituents and reads them to his wife.
All in an effort to escape the bubble, which, ironically, Walsh attempts to gain entry to in his “behind the bubble” book.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
It’s not often that readers find themselves laughing over footnotes in a science book.
But it's hard to resist when author Mary Roach, in her digestive system exploration titled "Gulp," notes that the uvula's less-known full name, "and my pen name should I ever branch out and write romance novels, is Palatine Uvula." Or when she points out that a possible World War II slogan to get people to eat meat wouldn't work because "Food Fights for Freedom" would "seem to inspire cafeteria mayhem more than personal sacrifice."
Roach has tackled other scientific topics in books including "Stiff," an examination of cadavers, and "Packing for Mars," an exploration of what it takes to survive in a spaceship, including a look at how astronauts deal with some of the less attractive bodily functions. In "Gulp," her discussion of the digestive system also takes her to some pretty unusual places – everywhere from the office of a saliva specialist to a conversation with Elvis Presley's former doctor about Presley's bowel troubles.
In an interview with the Monitor, Roach talked about "Gulp," how she felt about sampling unusual foods for research, and why her dinner conversation these days sometimes annoys her companions. Here are some excerpts of our conversation.
Q: What made you decide to write a book about the digestive system?
A: The proper question should be, What took so you so long? Parts of "Packing for Mars" led me to it. It's such a taboo topic.
Q: When you first began writing, did you consciously try to make the scientific information in your books accessible to non-science people, or is your informal writing style simply the way that you tackle any topic?
A: I started out my writing career writing for this magazine which later became InHealth, which later became Health, and there was a call for articles about topics of general interest to people explaining sort of how it worked.
That's sort of how I began writing. So it wasn't a conscious strategy, but that's just where I stayed.
Q: In the book, especially at the beginning when you're doing the olive oil sampling, you eat a lot of offbeat foods. Have you always been an adventurous eater, or were you just trying to get through the eating for research purposes?
A: When I was a kid, I hated everything. I was really skinny, and I'd have a milkshake with an egg in it. Growing up, I ate like five different foods. I was not an adventurous eater. But as soon as I left home, that all changed and from that point on, I've been a pretty enthusiastic eater of new and strange food.
Q: At one point in the book, you point out that offal was recently used on a cooking show for a challenge. You predict that offal will become popular. It seems like the less-used parts of an animal are now being found in high-class cuisine.
A: It was nice to see that theory actually play out. I think the last step in that chain [will be] where people begin to cook it in their home or buy it in stores or buy microwavable things. That's when I'll really be surprised, kidneys showing up in the Trader Joe's microwavables.
Q: After studying the digestive system and the positive and negative effects food can have, did you find yourself changing your diet at all?
A: I don't think I changed as an eater, I think I changed as a dining companion. I became a really annoying person to go out to eat with, because I'd be like, "Well, when you take a sip of wine, pay attention because you'll feel this gush of saliva coming in." People were like, "Please, can you stop?"
Q: You warn readers in your book when things are coming that are a little unpleasant. If you're discussing these topics at events or book signings, do people get grossed out, or do they know what they're in for?
A: I was at the San Francisco Jewish Community Center and I think sometimes the audience isn't necessarily Mary Roach people but they're JCC subscribers. The guy who runs the program said he was looking at people in the audience and there was one woman who picked up the edge of her shirt and put it over her mouth or something as if she was going to throw up. So apparently there were people looking a little stricken.
Usually the people who show up at these events are people who know my work and come knowing what to expect or come on an empty stomach.
Q: Some of your questions to scientists were a little unusual. How was the reception from the science community as a whole to your investigations?
A: They were delighted. The exception being, I think Michael Levitt would rather talk about something else by now. [Levitt is an expert in gastrointestinal gas.] He was nice enough to talk to me, but I think he'd rather talk about some of his other work.
The guy, [ecologist] Dick Tracy with the mealworms and the stomach, the whole experiment was really fun. [Roach watched as Tracy tested to see if a mealworm could eat its way out of another animal's stomach.]
Even Rodriguez [the fake name of a prisoner whom Roach questioned about his smuggling of objects in his rectum] enjoyed talking about his rectal skills. Apparently that's a normal topic of conversation [in prison].
Q: In the section on taste, when you talked about snack foods and artificial flavoring, the topics are similar to Michael Moss's new book, "Salt Sugar Fat." Have you had a chance to check that out at all?
A: I haven't had time, I would like to very much. I had thought about writing more about food science and corporate food science, but I ended up looking more at the equipment rather than the food.
The other thing is that it's a difficult world to get access to. You've got to get in touch with people who used to work for the company – there's all kinds of nondisclosure agreements and lawsuits, so I have to applaud him that he was available to get in and get access. Very impressive.
I'm so glad that book is doing well. It's a great project and I'm glad he did it.
Q: Do you have any new projects lined up?
I have an idea that may or may not pan out that I'm looking into. But I'm still going!
The Tsarnaev brothers, the two suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing case, will be the focus of a new book by a biographer who has previously tackled Vladimir Putin, according to publisher Riverhead Books.
Masha Gessen, whose previous work is titled “The Man Without A Face,” is Russian-American and has worked as a journalist in Chechnya. She will be departing her current job at Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe, where she worked as director of the Russian-language sector.
There is currently no scheduled release date or planned title.
The book will “reconstruct the struggle that ensued for each of the brothers between assimilation and alienation, and their metamorphosis into a new breed of home-grown terrorist, with their feet on American soil but their loyalties elsewhere, a split in identity that opened them to a deadly sense of mission,” according to the press release from Riverhead Books, which is an imprint of Penguin.
Riverhead’s Jynne Martin told the Atlantic Wire that Gessen told them she felt particularly qualified to write the book on the brothers because she emigrated from Russia to Boston when she was young. She later returned to Russia.
“She was talking to us about how to her there’s actually this very personal and real sense about what it means to be displaced from your culture,” Martin said.
There’s no word on whether the Tsarnaev family will speak with Gessen.
Few figures are as polarizing as Amanda Knox, the American student originally convicted of the murder of her roommate, Meredith Kercher, in Perugia, Italy, during a study abroad gone wrong. The murder conviction was ultimately overturned in Oct. 2011, after Knox had spent four years in prison.
Most folks long ago made up their minds about Knox’s guilt or innocence, casting her in their mind’s eye either as the “she-devil” seen in the tabloids or an angel-faced young girl entangled in a sordid affair of another’s doing.
“Waiting to be Heard,” Knox’s highly anticipated new memoir, which was published Tuesday, might actually change that.
According to early reviews of the book, “Waiting to be Heard” reveals a gentler side of Knox, one that just might shift readers’ views of the American student.
That’s because the book, a selection of memories from her time in Perugia, offers what might be the first real look at the figure at the center of this drama: Knox herself.
From her relationship with her divorced parents to her excitement over her trip to Italy to the harrowing years she spent in prison, the memoir paints the most comprehensive picture to date of Knox and invites readers to sympathize with her.
“Passages in which Knox contemplates suicide – and even how she would do it – will surely soften even her staunchest critics,” writes The Daily Beast. “Her scenes of sweltering in jail and the bullying and sexual advances by other inmates are also insights that few have heard before... Likewise, her description of how she felt at both verdicts – the first when she was convicted and the second when that conviction was overturned – finally add words and emotions to the pictures that ran across the world’s media.”
Reviewing the book for The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani writes of Knox: "She emerges from these pages less as a Jamesian heroine or Kafka-esque protagonist than as a naïve, impetuous, somewhat quirky girl who loved soccer and the Beatles and who suddenly found herself caught up in a Hitchcockian nightmare, with bad luck and some bad judgment calls leading her into a labyrinth seemingly without end."
By and large, the narrative Knox weaves is one of a naive and immature young girl whose traumatic experience in Italy was a cruel coming-of-age.
“I went in a naive, quirky 20-year-old and came out a mature, introspective woman,” she writes near the end of the book – a campaign of sorts, for asserting her innocence and mending her image.
Does it work?
The Daily Beast said it best. “Those who feel she is complicit will find it lacking. Those who feel she is innocent will agree with every word.”
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
Cuomo’s memoir will be “a full and frank look at his public and private life – from his formative years in Queens, New York, his long record of fighting for justice and championing government reform, his commitment to public service, and his election and service as the 56th Governor of New York State,” according to a statement from the publisher.
“He will reveal the story of his history and will share personal and private moments that shaped his life: his father's legacy, his personal trials and tribulations, and his role as a father to his three girls,” HarperCollins said of the book in a statement.
According to The New York Times, the publisher is trying to decide what to do about a planned biography of Cuomo that HarperCollins was going to release. New York Post columnist Fredric U. Dicker was going to pen a book about Cuomo to be released this year, but relations between Dicker and Cuomo have grown frosty, according to the Times.
HarperCollins representative Tina Andreadis said Dicker’s book is still under contract.
Cuomo’s memoir announcement comes as those in the political world speculate on whether he’ll try for a presidential run in 2016. A New York Post article reported that Cuomo would not run for president if Clinton decided to do so, but Cuomo refuted the article.
“There is no truth to the assertion that I am talking presidential politics and strategy and what Hillary Clinton should do or shouldn’t do or what I’m doing presidentially,” Cuomo said, according to the Associated Press. “The only discussions I’m having are how to help this state… and to the extent that I’m focusing on politics, it’s my race next year.”
It’s the gold standard, the highest honor, the single most important mark of excellence and prestige.
In the publishing world, there is no prize more coveted than the Pulitzer, a distinction that sets the cream of the book crop apart from the rest.
And with that distinction comes the so-called “Pulitzer bump,” a sharp increase in book sales that award winners and their publishers eagerly await.
At least, according to media reports.
Two weeks after the 2013 Pulitzers were announced, all five winning books have, in fact, seen an increase in sales.
The numbers, however, are woefully underwhelming.
“Embers of War,” by Fredrik Logevall, saw 2013 sales increase from 40 (yes, you read that right) copies before the announcement to 353 after it, according to Nielsen BookScan and Publishers Weekly.
Sales of Tom Reiss’s “The Black Count,” inched up from 135 to 501 copies.
Sharon Old’s “Stag’s Leap” saw sales increase from 51 copies to 492.
And Fiction winner “The Orphan Master’s Son,” by Adam Johnson, saw sales increase from 413 copies to 2,477 after the award announcement.
Sales of 353, 492, 501? We’d hardly call that a windfall.
The most surprising case of all is nonfiction winner Gilbert King, whose book, “Devil in the Grove,” had been remaindered before his Pulitzer win.
That’s right, publisher HarperCollins had started liquidating the book – poised to become a Pulitzer-winner – at reduced price, due to extremely low sales.
This, in an industry where soft porn (“Fifty Shades”) and Snooki (“Shore Thing”) are runaway bestsellers.
It’s a peculiar phenomenon, that such highly acclaimed works (all of which had been well-reviewed in the press) are so poorly rewarded in the marketplace. But we can’t say we’re surprised. After all, film often suffers the same fate – fine work sometimes means low interest and sales.
Maybe the good news is that strong sales are not required to win a Pulitzer. And fortunately there are many authors willing to ignore the sales tickers and trends to continue to produce high-quality literature that earns accolades.
We only hope it earns readers and sales, too.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
Children’s and young adult books experienced a spike in sales for 2012, and publishers have a teenage girl with a bow and arrow to thank.
According to a new report by the Association of American Publishers, young adult and children’s books experienced a 13.1 percent increase in sales from 2011. Publishers Weekly points to “The Hunger Games” trilogy by Suzanne Collins as the main reason for the jump, since “The Hunger Games” books were a large part of the reason that sales of children’s and YA hardcover books increased 11.2 percent for the year.
Children’s and young adult e-books also experienced a massive increase in sales, with e-books sales increasing by more than 120 percent in 2012. E-book sales of adult titles also increased for the year.
Paperbacks were the only category in the children’s and young adult books sector to fall slightly, experiencing a 4.5 percent decrease from 2011.
Other good news? According to the AAP report, American publishers’ net revenue increased by 6.2 percent for 2012.
It will be interesting to see the sales numbers this time next year for young adult and children’s books, as it seems that area of publishing often benefits from a success story like “The Hunger Games” trilogy, the "Twilight" series by Stephenie Meyer, or the "Harry Potter" books to drive their numbers. Will 2013 bring another smash hit series?