B.J. Novak, a former actor and writer on “The Office,” has signed a two-book deal with Knopf for what is reportedly a seven-figure sum.
Novak’s first book is due in 2014 and his literary agent Richard Abate said the work is a collection of stories. The literary genre of the second title is unknown.
“The closest analogy for me is Woody Allen,” Abate, who is also the representation for other NBC stars like Tina Fey, Tracy Morgan, and Mindy Kaling, told the New York Times of Novak's work. “Underneath these stories is a real intellectual curiosity. I think their appeal is that they’re incredibly accessible and comic, but at the same time they’re exploring the modern condition.”
Novak served as a writer, producer, and director and played temp Ryan Howard on the sitcom “The Office,” which he left last year. He appeared in the 2009 film “Inglourious Basterds” and recently did a guest stint on former “Office” co-star Mindy Kaling’s new show “The Mindy Project.”
Critics are raving over the musical adaptation of the Roald Dahl children’s book “Matilda,” which opened April 11.
However, as Guardian writer Emma Brockes noted in her review of the American show, “there is tough competition on Broadway, and not everything travels.”
But it’s hard to imagine how the reception to the Broadway production could be better.
“It would be easy to call it the best British musical since Billy Elliot, but that, I’m afraid, would be underselling it,” Time reporter Richard Zoglin wrote. “You have to go back to The Lion King to find a show with as much invention, spirit and genre-redefining verve.”
Chicago Tribune writer Chris Jones called it “the best family musical in years,” while USA Today writer Elyse Gardner, who gave it three-and-a-half stars out of four, wrote that it’s “the smartest musical to arrive on Broadway in years… Matilda is also affecting, and enchanting, in a way that homegrown hits of late haven't been.”
The literary version of “Matilda” was first published in 1988 and tells the story of the titular protagonist, the prodigy-level smart daughter of two neglectful parents who send her to a school ruled over by a cruel headmistress.
An American and European nonprofit organization called Worldreader is pursuing its mission of making electronic books available to families through their cell phones and e-readers. The group says that it is currently reaching hundreds of thousands of people.
Worldreader, co-founded by former Amazon executive David Risher, is particularly interested in bringing e-books to families through their cell phones because these are so readily available and many readers can easily access titles that way. The organization also brings e-readers to schools in developing countries.
A visit to Ecuador inspired Risher to create Worldreader. He was working at an orphanage and was told that the library building was inaccessible because it was locked and the leader of the orphanage had lost the key. In addition, the months it took for books to arrive in the area meant young readers didn’t have a steady supply of new titles to try.
According to a recent blog post, the organization is now reaching more than 500,000 readers through their phones. Users download a Worldreader Mobile app that allows them to access the organization’s books, which include more than 1,200 free titles available through the app.
“There are more mobile phones than toothbrushes on this planet,” Risher said in a statement. “Together with our growing e-reader program, Worldreader Mobile connects us to millions of the world’s poorest people, providing the books they need to improve their lives.”
The organization’s statistics showed that their users read 60,000 hours per month total and that 70 percent of those using the program are women.
According to Worldreader, two of their goals are getting communities more focused on reading and pushing literacy rates higher than UN predictions.
“The opportunity to provide books for all is great, but so are the challenges,” reads a statement on the organization’s website. “This is at the heart of what Worldreader hopes to address.”
The Nobel medal, which is being auctioned with a draft of Faulkner’s acceptance speech, will be available for bidding at legendary auction house Sotheby’s in New York in June. The auction house estimated the medal and speech would fetch between $500,000 and $1 million.
Also being auctioned are Faulkner items such as manuscripts of some of his stories, including “The Trapper Story” and “Mammy Callie,” as well as multiple leather-bound copies of his books, letters written by Faulkner to various correspondents, and a book of poetry Faulkner hand-wrote for his wife.
The items are being auctioned off by Faulkner’s heirs, but the family has not spoken about why they decided to sell them.
“This auction is for people who are serious about modern literature," Justin Caldwell, a Sotheby’s books specialist, told the Associated Press. "This is not something they are going to see very often… this much Faulkner material in the same place.”
The selling of the Nobel medal is something that does not occur often. In 1976, an anonymous seller placed an ad in the Los Angeles Times, offering a Nobel Prize medal for at least $15,000. A spokesperson for the Swedish embassy stated at the time that it was the first medal being sold he’d ever heard of. In 1985, the medal of Sir William Cremer, who had won the prize in 1903, was sold at an auction for more than $40,000.
In addition, by an odd coincidence, today – the same day that the news that Faulkner's medal would be sold was made public – the family of scientist Francis Crick announced the sale of Crick’s Nobel medal, which he won in 1962, for $2 million.
This year includes the 50th anniversary of Robert Frost’s death, and April’s observance of National Poetry Month is a good time to remember the 20th century’s most celebrated American poet.
Frost (1874-1963) is perhaps best known for poems such as “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” and “The Death of the Hired Man,” compositions inspired by the New England countryside that nevertheless attained universal appeal.
Not surprisingly, this master writer was also a master reader, and when the Massachusetts Library Association asked Frost to name his favorite books, he wrote an interesting top 10 list in 1934.
“‘The Odyssey’ chooses itself, the first in time and rank of all romances,” Frost told readers in introducing his first pick. “‘Robinson Crusoe’ is never quite out of my mind,” he added in offering his second choice. “I never tire of being shown how the limited can make snug in the limitless.”
“Walden,” Henry David Thoreau’s classic, came in at No. 3. “Crusoe was cast away; Thoreau was self-cast away,” Frost observed. “Both found themselves sufficient. No prose writer has ever been more fortunate in subject than these two.”
The tales of Edgar Allan Poe ranked fourth on Frost’s lists. “Here is every kind of entertainment the short story can afford,” Frost wrote.
For his fifth and sixth choices, Frost picked “The Oxford Book of Verse” and editor Louis Untermeyer’s “Modern American and British Poetry.” James Fenimore Cooper’s “The Last of the Mohicans” earned a No. 7 spot because, wrote Frost, the novel “supplies us once and for all with our way of thinking of the American Indian.”
Frost recommended his eighth choice, Anthony Hope’s “The Prisoner of Zenda,” as “surely one of the very best of our modern best-sellers.”
“The Jungle Book,” Rudyard Kipling’s famous adventure story, was No. 9. “I shall read it again as often as I can find a new child to listen to me,” Frost explained.
Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Essays and Poems” rounded out the list at No. 10. Frost found in Emerson “the rapture of idealism either way you have it, in prose or in verse and in brief.”
Frost’s Top 10 list appears in “Frost: Collected Poems, Prose & Plays,” a 1995 Library of America edition that’s a handy introduction to his work.
Meanwhile, as spring deepens its hold on the calendar, it’s not too early to start thinking of a summer reading list. Half a century after his passing, Frost’s recommendations seem a good place to start.
The man behind President Obama’s rise to the presidency is telling all.
That’s right, David Axelrod, Obama’s former senior advisor and campaign strategist, is writing a memoir.
Penguin Press announced Tuesday that it’s closed a deal with the mustachioed political strategist for a memoir set to be released in the fall of 2014. According to news reports, the book had bids as high as $1.5 million.
“Mr. Axelrod will write a personal biography of his professional life, from his years as a young newspaperman in Chicago, through his decades as a political strategist – working with figures ranging from path-breakers Obama, Hillary Clinton and Deval Patrick to the more notorious John Edwards and Rod Blagojevich – and finally through his 20-year friendship with Barack Obama and his years as the president’s senior adviser,” a Penguin Press statement read.
Now, let’s be honest – memoirs are a dime a dozen these days and this is the umpteenth political book or memoir we’ve reported on in the last several weeks. (Remember Hillary Clinton’s, Condi Rice’s, and Jeb Bush’s?)
But we’re putting our money on this one. That’s because, whatever one’s political affiliation, Axelrod is a brilliant strategist with a fascinating set of experiences and a reputation for straight-talking candor – three ingredients that should make for a great read.
Expect to hear about his early days as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune and his work as a political strategist for a number of notable politicians. Of course, readers will be most interested in his years of work for and friendship with Obama. Axelrod and the President actually go further back than the presidency. The strategist was a key advisor to Obama during his successful 2004 Senate run and his 2008 White House victory. He worked for a few years as a senior advisor in the Obama White House before joining Obama’s re-election effort in 2012.
“I have taken an extraordinary journey, filled with rich history and unforgettable characters,” Axelrod said in a statement. “In this book, I look forward to sharing them, and reflecting on the enormous change I've seen over a lifetime in journalism and politics.”
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
Barnes & Noble is looking to expand its clout in the increasingly popular self-publishing world with a new branch called Nook Press.
Nook Press replaces B&N’s previous self-publishing service, which was titled PubIt! Nook Press offers authors a simplified process which will allow them to write, edit, and publish in one location. Also, they will now be able to ask others to read what they’ve written on Nook Press before publishing.
“We're thrilled to bring all the new and exciting features of Nook Press to existing PubIt! authors and new writers looking for a quick, effective and free one-stop self-publishing platform that delivers high-quality e-books to millions of book-loving Nook customers,” Theresa Horner, the vice-president of digital content at Nook Media, said in a statement.
Nook Press is partnered with the company FastPencil and uses some of FastPencil’s technology. Through the program, writers can assign a price to their titles that is anywhere between $0.99 and $199.99 and writers who have priced their books between $2.99 and $9.99 will get 65 percent of the list price. Authors who chose a price at or below $2.98, or more than $10, will get 40 percent. Writers will also be provided with sales reports on how their books are doing.
Once they’re published, books will be put in the Nook store within two or three days, though titles created through Nook Press can also be sold anywhere.
It's a crowded marketplace: Amazon has its self-publishing service, Kindle Direct Publishing, and even traditional publishers are getting in on it, as with Simon & Schuster’s new publishing house Archway Publishing, which the company created with Author Solutions Inc. Meanwhile, New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani chose a self-published book as one of the best titles of 2012 and a recent study revealed that self-publishing has almost tripled since 2006.
“You’re a wonderful ambassador for poetry,” a reporter tells Caroline Kennedy one day earlier this month, as hundreds of people line up outside the Coolidge Corner Theater in Bookline, Mass., waiting to hear Kennedy speak about "Poems to Learn by Heart," the latest collection of poetry for which she has served as editor.
Kennedy’s eyes grow wide for a moment. Then she graciously accepts the compliment, explaining why she thinks poetry matters, particularly to young readers: “Poetry broadens your horizons and helps kids distinguish what’s important information and authentic feeling from a lot of the noise and fragmentary sources of information that they get.”
For Kennedy herself, reading and memorizing poetry began at an early age. “Poetry was something woven into the holidays and into our family life,” she says. “My grandmother used to love having everyone recite ‘The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere’ when we came to see her. She had grown up in Concord [Mass.], so it felt very special to say it with her,” recalls Kennedy. “Only my Uncle Teddy learned the entire poem.”'
The family also exchanged copies of poems on Christmas and birthdays. “Poetry is a wonderful thing to share across the generations,” notes Kennedy. “The words and the language that you’re introduced to when you are young really stay with you and hopefully can give you a sense of a much a larger world that you want to explore.”
Kennedy’s mother, Jacqueline, loved poetry as well, and expected hand-written poems from Caroline and her late brother, John, on special occasions. When the siblings felt competitive, they’d recite the poems by heart. “I learned ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,’ ” she remembers proudly.
Her brother, in contrast, once chose the poem “Careless Willie,” which includes the line “Willie with a thirst for gore, nailed his sister to the door.”
Those experiences taught Kennedy that poetry has the unique ability to engage children and help them understand feelings and ideas. “As long as you know the world of words, you can’t be alone,” she says.
Poetry reassures during difficult times, as it did for Kennedy after the death of her mother: “Poetry says what I’m thinking better than I do.”
The new collection contains many poems that are reassuring, she says. “If you are in the middle of something unpleasant, you can read them and they will settle your mind and your thoughts.
Unfortunately, many people in the United States haven’t been exposed to poetry, or to the joys of reading, she says. “We have a literacy crisis in this country. Fourteen percent of adults can’t read, and far too many students find it difficult and don’t enjoy it and feel that school isn’t really relevant to their lives,” Kennedy explains. “I’m hoping that people will give poetry a second chance because I think it really does give you an entry into so many dimensions of life, and of learning.”
Kennedy’s belief that poetry empowers was reinforced as she worked with students at DreamYard Prepatory, an arts school in the Bronx. Every couple of weeks for one semester, Kennedy met with four young writers who helped her select work for “Poems to Learn by Heart,” including some monster and fairy poems. “Their eyes and ears expanded the range of poems and provided valuable input,” she says.
Kennedy was so impressed with the students’ expressiveness and passion that she chose the poem “Voices Rising,” written by the school’s slam team, for the final volume. The piece demonstrates that young people care about current events and issues, she feels, and that “poetry is a group act, not a solitary act.”
The book also features a number of war poems, because “it’s good to talk about suffering and loss,” says Kennedy. “We need to help kids find their voice so they can advocate for change.”
Does Kennedy view her work advocating for poetry as a form of service? “Nothing is more important than how we raise our children,” she says with quiet conviction. “It’s a long-term security and moral issue.”
A love of books was key to her father’s development, she says. “My father became a voracious reader, and that developed his sense of patriotism and the importance of courage.”
As for her mother, when asked how she would feel about “Poems to Learn by Heart,” Kennedy smiles broadly. “I think she’d be quite happy. I’d love to have her as an editor.”
Elizabeth Lund regularly reviews poetry for the Monitor and The Washington Post.
He knows when you are sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, but now college professors even know what students are doing outside of class – like whether they’re reading their e-textbooks and taking notes.
That’s thanks to CourseSmart, a new Silicon Valley digital tracking technology that allows professors to track their students’ use of digital textbooks. The program is the ultimate academic Big Brother. According to a report in the New York Times, thanks to the program, professors “know when students are skipping pages, failing to highlight significant passages, not bothering to take notes – or simply not opening the book at all.”
CourseSmart gives each student using its text an “engagement index,” based on how many times the e-textbook was opened, for how long, how many pages were read, how much and what sort of material was highlighted, and whether notes were taken. That “engagement index” is available for professors to use to understand how individual students are responding to course material.
The CourseSmart technology, which was unveiled last year, is poised to be widely adopted by universities this fall. Already, more than 3.5 million students and educators use CourseSmart textbooks, according to the NYT. Among the schools that have already adopted the program are Clemson University, Central Carolina Technical College, Stony Brook University, and Texas A&M San Antonio.
Not surprisingly, the program is raising some controversy, with detractors calling it creepy at best and an invasion of privacy at worst.
Even the dean of the school of business at Texas A&M acknowledged the program’s “creep factor.”
“It’s Big Brother, sort of, but with a good intent,” Tracy Hurley told the Times.
But CourseSmart’s proponents say it comes with a bevy of benefits.
The technology offers educators a powerful tool in tracking how students absorb and respond to course material. That feedback then allows professors to adjust how they present course material, tailor curricula to different sets of students, even reach out to individual students with low “engagement indexes.”
Eventually, CourseSmart says the “engagement index” data will help its publishers, including Cengage, Macmillan, Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and Wiley, design more effective e-textbook editions.
Some are predicting that today's students, who have grown up in a digital world that tracks their every move – from Facebook to Google to Amazon – won’t be bothered by CourseSmart. But from our perspective, it's not hard to feel a bit troubled by the notion that the Big Man on Campus may now be replaced by Big Brother.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
Thatcher commissioned the biography in 1997 and gave Moore access to many of her papers, as well as granting him exclusive interviews, said the biography's publisher, Penguin Books.
Allen Lane, an imprint of Penguin, will publish the first of two volumes in the biography immediately after Thatcher’s funeral, which is scheduled for April 17. Moore is still working on the second volume, which will be titled “Herself Alone.” The two volumes together will be titled “Margaret Thatcher: The Authorized Biography.”
“Charles Moore’s biography of Margaret Thatcher immediately supersedes all earlier books written about her,” Allen Lane publishing director Stuart Profitt said in a statement. “I was astonished at how much Moore says which has never been public before.... It gives unparalleled insight into her early life and formation, especially through her extensive correspondence with her sister, which Moore is the first author to draw on.”
Moore is a former editor for the Daily Telegraph. According to Penguin, Thatcher had not read his manuscript before her death.
Moore’s work isn’t the only examination of Thatcher that will be arriving in bookstores. A book by her speechwriter, Robin Harris, is also scheduled to come out later in April. Meanwhile, sales of Thatcher’s memoirs skyrocketed following her death, with Amazon estimating that sales of her book “The Downing Street Years” rose more than 100,000 percent.