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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.

Daniel Radcliffe (third from l.) plays Harry Potter, who is a member of his House Qudditch team, in the films. (Warner Bros.)

J.K. Rowling writes history of Quidditch World Cup for the Pottermore website

By Staff Writer / 03.17.14

Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling has added a new original piece to the website Pottermore, this one detailing the history of the wizard sport Quidditch’s World Cup, and the essay is one of the most lengthy pieces of new writing that’s been added to the Potter site.

The first part of the essay is up now (it's found within the book "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" on the site) and provides some background into the tournament itself and historically significant World Cups, including “the Tournament that Nobody Remembers” that took place in Kazakhstan in 1877.

“Neither those in possession of tickets nor any of the players could remember a single game,” Rowling writes. “However, for reasons none of them understood, English Beater Lucas Bargeworthy was missing most of his teeth, Canadian Seeker Angelus Peel’s knees were on backwards and half the Argentinian team were found tied up in the basement of a pub in Cardiff.”

The second part of Rowling’s history will be posted on March 21 and will look at more recent Quidditch World Cups, examining those held in Harry's world since 1990. 

While it’s one of the longest pieces written by the author for the Pottermore website – which allows users to play as students of Hogwarts and purchase Harry e-books – it’s far from the first original material to come to Pottermore. The website allows users to peruse the first three books in the "Harry Potter" series as well as part of the fourth. As they do, they find occasional digital "moments" interspersed throughout the text. These "moments" are fresh commentary from Rowling on the Potter story. For example, at one point she offers additional background on Harry's aunt and uncle and their relationship to his parents. At another, Rowling delves into the life story of one of Harry’s teachers, Minerva McGonagall. This new material can be found only on the Pottermore website.

'Topsy' is by Michael Daly.

'Topsy' author Michael Daly discusses the unfortunate life story of a famous elephant

By Randy Dotinga / 03.14.14

Talk about a power struggle.

Around the beginning of the 20th century, Thomas Edison desperately wanted to dominate the world of electricity and vanquish a rival named Westinghouse. What better way than connect his foe to the snuffing of human life through electrocution?

That's quite a story in itself. But in a bizarre turn of events, an elephant named Topsy – the victim of cruelty and American-style show biz – would play a role and pay a price. She would be electrocuted in public and become a Coney Island legend.

Like many of his neighbors, journalist and Brooklyn native Michael Daly had heard of Topsy. But it was only after stumbling upon a story in an old New York Times article (titled "Elephant Lands in Jail for Swimming Narrows") that he began to explore a wild saga of elephant trading, circus magnates on the prowl, and a famous inventor gone positively rogue.

Daly expertly tells the tale in his recent book "Topsy: The Startling Story of the Crooked Tailed Elephant, P.T. Barnum, and the American Wizard, Thomas Edison."

In an interview, Daly talks about the remarkable world of elephants, the fascination that led to their landing on American shores, and the price paid by these extraordinary creatures.
Q: What about this little news story captured your attention?
A: It was about as remarkable a story I ever heard. They say a photograph is worth a thousand words, but sometimes a little bit of prose is worth a thousand photographs.

It was about how these men are fishing off Staten Island in the early morning darkness and all of a sudden they hear this trumpeting that makes them think of Judgment Day. They hear this form coming toward them and start rowing as fast as they can to shore, but this thing keeps pace with them .... and up comes this elephant just looking at them.
Q: The peaceful elephant, which had escaped from Coney Island, caused quite a stir. The delightful little news story from 1904 says it was "charged with being a vagrant" and locked up in a police stable but eventually was to be sent on its way back to Coney Island.

What else strikes you about this story?
A: One of the things I love about it is thinking about how elephants came to America across the water. The elephant might have had some impulse to just start swimming to get home.
Q: How did this story bring you to the unfortunate Topsy?
A: If you dig up the accounts, the elephant that swam was Fanny, who came over from Coney Island. The elephants there got very rowdy if they were over at one particular spot.

One report said they were digging and making these mournful noises where Topsy was buried. And I started thinking: If Topsy ended up there, where did Topsy start out?
Q: What did you learn about elephants and the way they live in their natural habitat?
A: Among females, who have sense enough to get rid of the males when they're old enough, the leader is the senior one, and seniority is the basis of authority. It's not the one with the biggest claws or the biggest teeth but the one who's been around the longest and knows the most in terms of experience.

It seems the perfect way to pass on authority.

And when an elephant is born, all of them become mothers to a degree. They're very caring with each other and that gentleness passes on from generation to generation.
Q: What does this tell you about nature?
A: We're raised to believe that nature is all about survival of the fittest and strongest, the fastest and most savage. This is a whole different notion of existence.
Q: Some of the most remarkable parts of your book look at the trade in circus elephants during the 19th century, a glorious time for circuses run by people like P.T. Barnum. Americans were amazed to see these huge creatures for the first time.

How big was the interest?
A: People would pay to see them, including the first elephant, who was named The Elephant because there weren't any others.

They'd move the elephant at night so no one could see it. In one town, people thought they'd lay out potato peels on the road and lead it to a bonfire so they could look at it. But the circus people were on to them and presented them at the bonfire with nothing more than a horse in a blanket.
Q: You explore the remarkable cruelty that the elephants endured thanks to circuses that wanted them to perform tricks but stay in line. What did you discover?
A: People would say that elephants are so big they don't feel it when you beat them. But when they stroke each other, they're so gentle you realize they must be very sensitive.

And while people talk about them being savage, they show incredible restraint around humans.
Q: There's a big debate going on now about how killer whales are treated at SeaWorld theme parks. Do you see similarities between their treatment and the way elephants were treated?
A: It's all unconscionable cruelty. But I'm not sure it's any better to be cruel to a beast who isn't aware. We think it's worse because these animals are more like us.
Q: Topsy the elephant eventually became part of a big dispute over the future of electricity and the type of current – direct or alternating – that would be used. You write about how Thomas Edison tried to use the debate to crush his competitor, named Westinghouse, and even tried to popularize the term "Westinghoused" to mean "electrocuted."

What was going on in his head?
A: There some scientists who can tell you about the God Particle and how all that works but have very little sense of practical uses. He was kind of opposite: He was able to come up with these incredible and practical inventions, but he really didn't understand how they worked.

He'd admit himself that he didn't know much about electricity. But he felt he was the first one and electricity was his, and who was this guy to come along?

He also couldn't stand to be wrong. The personal tragedy was that he was so desperate to beat Westinghouse that he lost control of his own company. I ended up feeling kind of bad for him.
Q: What should people be thinking when they read your book?
A: You might think about how elephant society works and how nature isn't necessary a bad neighborhood. And you might be a little more conscious of these elephants when you see them in the circus and at the zoo. If they rock back and forth, they're not entirely happy.

And you might think about how the great religion of that time was science, with the belief that science can deliver everything. They thought that electrocution would be this scientific bloodless way to kill people.

There's a film of Topsy being electrocuted on YouTube. The supposedly savage creature is so obliging. She raises her foot so they can adjust the sandal that will kill her; the people around her are not nervous or leery at all because they knew she wasn't dangerous.

You think how trusting she is. You have a situation where the executioners aren't nervous around the prisoner, and the prisoner has no idea of what's going to happen to her.

It's about as bad a thing you can think of. For all of us, if you see really bad things, you've got to ask: How did this happen and what can we do so it doesn't happen again?

Randy Dotinga is a Monitor contributor.

'Americanah' won the National Book Critics Circle fiction prize, while 'Five Days at Memorial' took the NBCC nonfiction award.

National Book Critics Circle select 'Americanah,' 'Five Days at Memorial' as winners

By Husna Haq / 03.14.14

Stories about love, race, and natural disaster dominated the scene at the National Book Critics Circle awards Thursday in a night of surprises for the esteemed organization’s annual ceremony.

Americanah,” the story of love interrupted when a young Nigerian woman immigrates to the US for college, won the prize for fiction, beating out Donna Tartt’s popular novel, “The Goldfinch,” as well as three other finalists, including Ruth Ozeki's "A Tale for the Time Being".

“Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital,” Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Sheri Fink’s account about the patients and families who took shelter at New Orleans’ Memorial Hospital during Hurricane Katrina, won for nonfiction. (See Books Editor Marjorie Kehe’s interview with Fink here.) Other nonfiction nominees included George Packer for "The Unwinding" and David Finkel for "Thank You for Your Service."

For autobiography, “Farewell, Fred Voodoo,” took the prize, beating out other nominees including Jesmyn Ward for "Men We Reaped," Sonali Deraniyagala for  "Wave," Aleksandar Hemon for "The Book of My Lives," and  Rebecca Solnit for "The Faraway Nearby." "Voodoo" is an account of Los Angeles author Amy Wilentz’s journeys to Haiti covering the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake.

For biography, Leo Damrosch won for “Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World". Other nominees in the biography category included Scott Anderson for "Lawrence in Arabia" and John Eliot Gardiner for "Bach."

Italian scholar Franco Moretti's “Distant Reading” won the criticism award and Frank Bidart's “Metaphysical Dog” won the poetry prize.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night was Adichie’s win for “Americanah." The author is no stranger to accolades, however. Her first novel, “Purple Hibiscus,” was longlisted for a Man Booker prize; her second, “Half of a Yellow Sun,” won the UK’s Orange Prize; and in 2008, she was awarded a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant.

Her NBCC award-winning novel “Americanah” tells the story of a Nigerian blogger who returns to her home country after studying in America to meet her childhood sweetheart. But it is as much a tale about race as it is about love. In the book, a fictional African-American writer in New York complains, “You can’t write an honest novel about race in this country.” As reviewer Steven G. Kellman wrote in the Barnes & Noble review of the novel, “Americanah is an attempt to do just that, with trenchant observations about social distinctions in not just one country, the United States, but Britain and Nigeria as well.”

In an interview with the LA Times last year, Adichie said the book drew on her own experiences living as an African among Americans.

“I feel as though being African, I can laugh at certain things that maybe if I were African American I wouldn't,” she said. “I don't know race in the way an African American knows race…. Sometimes it takes an outsider to see something about your own reality that you don't.”

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

'Marlene, Marlene, Queen of Mean' will be released this September.

Jane Lynch will co-write a children's book on bullying

By Staff Writer / 03.14.14

Jane Lynch, who memorably plays coach-turned principal Sue Sylvester on the Fox musical TV series “Glee,” will reportedly write a children’s book about bullying.

“Glee” often touches on themes of bullying, with the main characters, who are members of a show choir at a high school, often being ridiculed by their peers.

Lynch’s work will be titled “Marlene, Marlene, Queen of Mean” and will focus on a girl of the same name who revels in putting down others until someone takes her on.

Lynch is writing the book with Lara Embry and A. E. Mikesell and the book will be illustrated by Tricia Tusa.

“Marlene” will be released by Random House on Sept. 23.

'Boy, Snow, Bird' is by Helen Oyeyemi.

Helen Oyeyemi takes on a new fairy tale in 'Boy, Snow, Bird'

By Staff Writer / 03.14.14

Once again, writer Helen Oyeyemi has captivated critics with a new take on a fairy tale, this time focusing on the Brothers Grimm legend “Snow White” for her new novel “Boy, Snow, Bird.”

In “Boy, Snow, Bird,” which is set in 1950s New England, a woman named Boy Novak marries a widower who has a young daughter named Snow. However, when Boy gives birth to the widower’s child and the baby is born with dark skin, she discovers that the Whitmans are an African-American family who has convinced the town that they are white.

The book was released on March 6 and we named it as one of the best books of the month, as did Amazon. Monitor fiction critic Yvonne Zipp says the novel is an “unsettling book that casts a spell without ever using those four magic words [“once upon a time”] … [it’s a] riveting story about race and women’s identities in the 20th century.”

Oyeyemi’s first novel “The Icarus Girl” was inspired by Nigerian legends and her second, “The Opposite House,” drew elements from Cuban stories. "Mr. Fox," her fourth novel which was released in 2011, was inspired by the “Bluebeard” fairy tale most famously penned by Charles Perrault.

The writer's not alone in thinking up new versions of magical stories. Though some fairy tale films like 2013's "Jack the Giant Slayer" and 2011's "Red Riding Hood" and "Beastly" saw disappointing box office returns, new takes on fairy tales are still alive and well in pop culture. To name just a few examples: ABC is airing its third season of the fairy tale mashup series "Once Upon a Time," the "Snow Queen"-inspired Disney film "Frozen" is smashing box office records this winter, and the Stephen Sondheim fairy tale musical "Into the Woods" set to hit theaters this December.

Oyeyemi told NPR her fondness for reworking the stories of others began young. Reading “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott as a girl “turned me into a writer," she said, but "I had so many problems with it. I was so upset with Beth dying, with Jo and Laurie not getting married. So I just crossed out all those things and wrote new endings. Then I went from there to writing my own things and never really looked back.” 

For “Boy, Snow, Bird,” Oyoyemi says she was inspired to write the story because she had so many questions about the heroine of “Snow White.”

“I found it so strange how she could be so mild and so sweet after everything she's gone through,” she said. “She's thrown out of her house by her wicked stepmother. She has to live with these dwarves. There's so much front to it. And it started to scare me because I thought that beneath that front there must be so much suffering. Snow, in all her unexposed beauty, and being in a way public property of everyone who looks at her, goes through that. I find something so terrible about suffering in the open in public, with nobody seeing what's happening to you.” 

She notes that those who think fairy tales are only for the young set need to remember what actually happens in those stories. 

“Sometimes people ask me what I write and I say that I retell fairy tales, and they say, 'Oh, children's books!'” Oyeyemi said. “And that makes me laugh. People say things like 'I want a fairy tale existence.' The Brothers Grimm would be looking at them in this astonished way, like 'So you would like your whole family to be murdered and then eaten in a pie?' ”

Former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il reportedly wrote (or had ghost writers write for him) a children's book titled 'Boys Wipe Out Bandits.' (Itar-Tass/Reuters)

North Korean dictators: also successful children's book authors?

By Husna HaqCorrespondent / 03.13.14

What’s on the agenda for the average North Korean leader? Dreaming up bizarre diplomatic scuffles, opening new prison camps, overseeing the development of nuclear weapons – and, of course, writing children’s books.

That’s right, it seems North Korean dictators have at least occasionally assumed the role of children’s book author, with two former late leaders turning out popular books for kids with titles like “Boys Wipe Out Bandits” and “The Butterfly and the Cock” and complete with evil foreign invaders and virtuous North Korean heroes.

Those gems were brought to Western audiences by Christopher Richardson, a doctoral candidate at Sydney University who is researching North Korean children's literature for his PhD.

Among the titles Richardson discovered was “Boys Wipe Out Bandits,” which late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il reportedly dreamed up as a child, according to the BBC.

In it, “monster-like” enemies surround an innocent village, an obvious metaphor for North Korea. The enemies are vividly described and illustrated, with an ogre-like leader with cysts on his shoulder that “emit noxious gas when pierced.” By contrast, the villagers are “beautifully attired and softly-drawn,” writes Richardson, and ultimately repel the invading enemies with “merciless violence.” 

“As the sun rises, a triumphant [hero] Ye-dong restates the moral of the story, the wisdom of a child declaring that, 'no matter how formidable they are, we can defeat the enemy when we pool our strength and wisdom and have courage. Let's build our village to be an earthly paradise',” writes Richardson.

Another story, “The Butterfly and the Cock,” reportedly by Kim Il-sung, is a fable about a nasty cockerel, representing America, bullying other animals until a beautiful butterfly, representing – you guessed it – North Korea, intercedes.

Also from Kim Il-sung is “A Winged Horse,” about Japanese invaders threatening a peaceable nation until a child on a flying horse rescues his people.

Not surprisingly, the books contain clear lessons about North Korean virtues. It turns out children’s literature is actually critical to forming and upholding Korean identity, according to Richardson.

Upon researching it, he was surprised to discover “that children's literature was so central to the DPRK's conception of itself that its leaders had taken the time … to pen treatises to its importance and even to write stories for themselves,” he told the UK’s Guardian. To wit: Kim Jong-il wrote a treatise, “Children's Literature Must Be Created in a Way Best Suited to Children's Psychological Features.”

For example, in “A Winged Horse,” the child hero cries out as he races to rescue his country from foreign invaders, “My dear horse, I am not afraid of that violent storm if you can get through it. Please understand that I am determined to risk my life to save the village.”

Richardson describes it as “a declaration of self-sacrifice and faith…."There could be no clearer statement of the revolutionary creed.”

And it turns out North Korean dictators aren’t so different from other leaders and celebrities after all: like many important figures, they probably used ghost writers.

“Even the publishers in the DPRK maintain a degree of ambiguity about the authorship of these tales, attributing the stories to Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, whilst acknowledging they were written down by someone else,” Richardson told the Guardian. “The government thus musters a team of ghost writers whose job is to capture the essence of the leader's political and literary wisdom, known as 'the seed.’”

Perhaps the biggest surprise, however, is that the stories are actually quite good. 

“I was astounded that children's books (purportedly) written by Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung were vastly more readable than one would expect from any political leader in the democratic west, still less a severe authoritarian,” Richardson said. “North Korean children's books and cartoons proved to be often entertaining, colorful, action-packed, and not so different to children's books and cartoons anywhere.”

A lesson, perhaps, for dubious Western audiences. And someday, a retirement hobby for current North Korean leader Kim Jong-un?

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

Mark Ruffalo stars in 'The Normal Heart.' (Victoria Will/Invision/AP)

HBO adapts 'The Normal Heart' for TV – check out the trailer (+video)

By Staff Writer / 03.13.14

A trailer has been released for the upcoming HBO adaptation of the Tony Award-winning play “The Normal Heart.”

“The Normal Heart” follows the beginnings of the AIDS crisis in New York City in the early 1980s. The play was written by Larry Kramer, based largely on his own life. The play opened Off-Broadway in 1985 and was performed in London and Los Angeles. It opened on Broadway in 2011 and won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play as well as the Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play (John Benjamin Hickey) and Best Featured Actress in a Play (Ellen Barkin.)

The film version stars Mark Ruffalo, Julia Roberts, Matt Bomer, and Jim Parsons, who is reprising the role he played on Broadway in 2011.

The movie version of “The Normal Heart” is directed by “Glee” and “American Horror Story” co-creator Ryan Murphy. It’s scheduled to air on HBO on May 25 and HBO is already developing a sequel.

Check out the trailer (and be aware there’s one instance of strong language).

Oprah Winfrey will release a book titled 'What I Know for Sure' this fall. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Oprah Winfrey will release a collection of her magazine columns

By Staff Writer / 03.13.14

Oprah Winfrey will be releasing a collection of her magazine columns this fall and the book will be titled “What I Know for Sure” – the same name as her popular  column.

Winfrey has written the column for O, the Oprah Magazine the past 14 years.

“The essays offer a rare, powerful, and intimate glimpse into Oprah’s inner life – her thoughts, struggles, and dreams – while providing readers a guide to becoming their best selves," the publisher Flatiron Books (an imprint of Macmillan), which will be releasing the book, said in a statement. "Candid, moving, exhilarating, uplifting, and frequently humorous, the words Oprah shares in 'What I Know For Sure' shimmer with the sort of truth that readers will turn to again and again.”

Winfrey will write an introduction for the book and, according to industry newsletter Shelf Awareness, the essays she wrote for the magazine will have been edited for "What I Know for Sure."

“What I Know for Sure” will be released on Sept. 2.

Pastor Mark Driscoll wrote 'Real Marriage' with his wife, Grace.

Pastor's church responds after he allegedly buys his way onto NYT bestseller list

By Husna Haq / 03.12.14

On Friday we reported on the pastor who reportedly used church funds to buy his way onto the New York Times bestseller list, setting off a firestorm of criticism and controversy.

As we reported, Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle reportedly paid marketing company ResultSource more than $200,000 to artificially place his book, “Real Marriage,” on the elite bestseller list. World Magazine reporter Warren Cole Smith, who broke the story, called it “distasteful if not immoral” and pushed the pastor for an explanation.

On Friday, Mars Hill Church responded to the negative coverage.

“In 2011, outside counsel advised our marketing team to use Result Source to market the Real Marriage book and attain placement on the New York Times Bestseller list. While not uncommon or illegal, this unwise strategy is not one we had used before or since, and not one we will use again,” the Church said in a statement posted on its website.

It continued, “All monies from the sale of Pastor Mark’s books at Mars Hill bookstores have always gone to the church and Pastor Mark did not profit from the Real Marriage books sold either at the church or through the Result Source marketing campaign.”

The church also said the “true cost” of the marketing campaign was “much less” than what was reported in World Magazine – about $210,000. However, it didn’t say what the actual cost was.

While Driscoll has remained mum on the subject, an article in the Christian Post reports that his recent Sunday sermon struck an apologetic tone.

"I love you (the church) very much and I want to do the best job that I can, and I'm devastated when I don't," said Driscoll during a sermon about the power of "the tongue." "Jesus gave His best and you deserve the best."

But while the church’s statement and Driscoll’s sermon appears apologetic, a post on the religious site suggests a significant change of message following the intense interest Driscoll’s book garnered.

As Patheos reported, when the bestselling scheme was first reported on March 5, Mars Hill Church defended the practice. In World Magazine’s article, the church’s communication director Justin Dean made this statement:

“Mars Hill has made marketing investments for book releases and sermon series, along with album releases, events, and church plants, much like many other churches, authors, and publishers who want to reach a large audience. We will explore any opportunity that helps us to get that message out, while striving to remain above reproach in the process. Whether we’re talking about technology, music, marketing, or whatever, we want to tell lots of people about Jesus by every means available. That’s what we’re all about and have been since 1996.”

As Patheos wrote, the initial statement and the one published after the news exploded in the blogosphere represent very different reactions, describing the use of ResultSource as “an opportunity,” and two days later, “an unwise strategy,” for example.

“[O]n this point, they have increased the confusion and left important questions unanswered,” writes Patheos poster Warren Throckmorton.

And while questions remain in this particular instance of publishing foul play, we can’t help but hope that for those considering such practices it rings a warning bell – and perhaps, for phony marketing campaigns, a death knell.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

'Game of Thrones' stars Emilia Clarke. (Keith Bernstein/HBO/AP)

'Game of Thrones' showrunners: HBO drama will run for seven seasons

By Staff Writer / 03.12.14

Seven is often an important number in fantasy worlds, credited with being more magical or significant than other numbers.

And according to “Game of Thrones” showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff, it’s the number of seasons the show will air in total. “Thrones” is debuting its fourth season on April 6. 

“It feels like this is the midpoint for us,” Benioff told Entertainment Weekly of the upcoming season. “If we’re going to go seven seasons, which is the plan, season 4 is right down the middle, the pivot point.”

Benioff noted that, like many other fantasy works, seven is a significant number in “Thrones” world as well.

“I would say it’s the goal we’ve had from the beginning,” he said of the seven seasons target. “It was our unstated goal, because to start on a show and say your goal is seven seasons is the height of lunacy. Once we got to the point where we felt like we’re going to be able to tell this tale to its conclusion, that became [an even clearer] goal. Seven gods, seven kingdoms, seven seasons. It feels right to us.”

“Thrones” writer George R.R. Martin has planned seven books in his Song of Ice and Fire series on which the TV series is based. He has so far released five of the novels, with the most recent, “A Dance with Dragons,” having come out in 2011. Martin’s sixth book, “The Winds of Winter,” will be the next book in the series.

The first two books in “Song” each took one season of the show, but Martin’s third book in the series, “A Storm of Swords,” has taken two seasons of “Thrones,” so it will be interesting to see how future books are divided for the show or if “Thrones” returns to its one-book-per-season pattern.

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