Imagine this: After a 66-year slumber, Adolf Hitler finds himself in 21st century Berlin where he enters politics, discovers jeans and email, and becomes a modern-day celebrity complete with a role on a popular Turkish-German TV show.
That’s the premise behind one of Germany’s most popular – and controversial – new books, “Er Ist Wieder Da,” or “He’s Back.” The 400-page debut novel by Timur Vermes capitalizes on Germany’s renewed fascination with the Nazi leader with stunning success as the country marks the 80th anniversary of his rise to power. The book has so far sold more than 400,000 copies and tens of thousands of audiobooks and has beat out novels by Paulo Coelho and Ken Follett to nab the top slot on Germany’s bestseller lists.
“We too often harbor the negative attitude of those who see Hitler only as a monster to make themselves feel better,” author Vermes told AFP. “I thought it was important to show how he would operate and how he would act in today's world.”
In the novel, Hitler rouses and is bewildered to find himself in a modern Germany ruled by a woman and populated by millions of Turks. He enters politics – no surprise – where he crusades against speeding and dog doo. He becomes a talk show star and, in one scene, stumbles across a group of boys in soccer jerseys and mistakes them for members of the military, addressing them as “Ronaldo Hitler youth.”
The satirical wit extends to the book’s cover and even its price. The striking black-and-white cover depicts Hitler’s iconic black parted hair, with its title printed as his mustache. Even its price – €19.33 – refers to the year Hitler became German chancellor.
“He’s Back” joins a bevy of Hitler-inspired art and media in Europe bordering on Hitler-obsession, including comic acts, a burlesque musical comedy, magazine covers, and even a comic film directed by a Jew.
Not surprisingly, the novel’s popularity has some in Germany uncomfortable.
It is the “latest outgrowth of a Hitler commercialization machine that breaks all taboos to make money,” wrote weekly news magazine Stern.
In an almost melancholy air, German newspaper Die Suddeutsche Zeitung wrote, “We laugh, but it’s a laugh that sticks in the throat.”
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
“Knopf U.S. holds the Canadian rights to the book and due to the tight publishing schedule, a Canadian legal review was not completed at the time of the U.S. publication,” Knopf said in a statement. “Given the differing legal systems in the US and Canada, Knopf decided not to make the book available for distribution in Canada at the present time until such legal review is completed.”
The book was unavailable on Amazon.ca, the Canadian branch of the bookseller.
The Church of Scientology has already panned Wright’s book, calling it “fiction.”
“British and Canadian publishers chose not to print Mr. Wright's book, which speaks volumes about their confidence in its facts and allegations," church public affairs director Karin Pouw said in a statement. "Mr. Wright ignored the real story of Scientology in favor of stale allegations and ever-changing bizarre tales invented by a handful of confessed liars consumed with their media smear campaign.”
Wright contended that he tried to interview church officials but was rebuffed multiple times.
“Canada’s libel laws generally put publishers at considerable risk,” Ziegel said. “They’re seriously antiquated and need to be changed.”
"Why, love forswore me in my mother's womb;
And, for I should not deal in her soft laws,
She did corrupt frail nature with some bribe
To shrink mine arm up like a wither'd shrub;
To make an envious mountain on my back,
Where sits deformity to mock my body;
To shape my legs of an unequal size;
To disproportion me in every part,
Like to a chaos, or an unlick'd bear-whelp
That carries no impression like the dam."
Shakespeare really knew how to knock a guy down to size.
Was Richard III really a deformed monster? Now we know at least part of the answer thanks to the discovery, confirmed this week, of his skeleton under a parking lot in the British city of Leicester. Yes, he had a severely curved spine, although there's no evidence he bore a "mountain" – a hump – on his back.
Next question: Was Richard III really a monster as a human being? Historians continue to battle over that one. His reputation is scarred most by two things. One is his decision to throw his two young nephews into the Tower of London, where they're thought to have been murdered so they couldn't threaten his bid for the crown. The other is Shakespeare's "Richard III."
Few Shakespearean scholars understand his plays about royals more than Peter Saccio, a professor at Dartmouth College and author of Shakespeare's English Kings: History, Chronicle, and Drama. I asked him to put Shakespeare's villainous creation into perspective.
Q: What is Shakespeare getting at in describing the physical deformity of Richard III?
A: He makes the physical deformity the embodiment, and I mean that as fully as I can, of his moral deformity." Love forswore me": He means love as the power that makes and sustains the world, the spirit of God. In Richard's case, love corrupted nature. He was deformed in the womb, and he came out shaped like a chaos, with the bodily parts so disorganized.
That's the basis of the characterizations: I am the worst man that ever was, and God meant me to be. It's a brilliant theatrical role that every actor wants to play and the lasting image of Richard III.
Q: Shakespeare has certainly not heard of the Americans with Disabilities Act, has he?
A: Certainly not.
In "Richard III," he's writing the last play in a series of four about the War of the Roses. Richard III is the evilest man in the lot. They have been killing each other, deposing each other, and Shakespeare makes Richard wickeder than all of them, so that after his death there does not need to be further retribution. It will wipe the slate clean.
Q: Is he fair to Richard III?
A: He's writing the end of a dramatic saga of medieval English history, and being fair is not on his mind.
What is on his mind is how we came to be the kingdom we are now. The play ends with Henry Tudor conquering Richard and promising to marry Richard's niece Elizabeth, so that Lancaster shall be joined with York and everything shall be happy.
Most of us would call it political propaganda.
Q: Why is this character so appealing even though he's a bad man?
A: Richard III is amusing, he's funny. He's very entertaining on the stage – he has more soliloquies than Hamlet. This is not just a bad guy, but a guy we like to hate.
He leads the audience, if the actor is at all good, into being a silent co-conspirator with all his plots, which involves not only killing the princes. He kills his own brother, he woos the Lady Anne, he argues with old Queen Margaret, and he's so clever about doing it and explaining to the audience what he's going to do, then comments on his own performance after he's done it.
He is not only an actor, he's a playwright before and a critic afterward.
Q: Is he Shakespeare's most charming villain?
A: I guess so. The closest rival is Iago, and I don't find him that charming.
Q: What does the discovery of his skeleton tell us?
A: I'm glad that it's gotten settled that he did have a physical deformity. That is not visible from the surviving portraits, which are head-and-shoulders things. We didn't know whether that was just part of the Tudor slander of him. Turns out he did have this problem that wrenched his spine.
Q: What do you think we miss about the real King Richard III?
A: There are a couple of good things he did, but he only had two years to be king.
The death of the prince was really fatal for him. Killing kids is bad not only in our time but in Richard's time, a thoroughly Christian era. The archetype for killing kids was King Herod in the Bible. That's really very bad.
The trouble for Richard's reputation is that too much else got attached to it during Tudor times. They loaded onto him previous royal deaths, and the heart of that Tudor interpretation was that he was scheming for the crown from the moment he could walk.
Historically, there's nothing that I can find wrong, evil, criminal about Richard until he was left as guardian of the two young princes.
I'm still of the belief that Richard, having usurped his nephews' crown, had to get rid of them. Whether he knew that was in the script from the start or a realization he came to slowly, he was still responsible. If you depose a king, even if he's 12, you've got to make sure he's gone permanently.
Q: So the ultimate slur on his character is true?
A: Yes, and it formed the basis on which a number of previously quarreling other people in the kingdom could get together and say "Anybody but Richard."
Q: And Shakespeare could define him?
He does so with the brilliance. The real addition he made that's lasting is that he made Richard an actor, as self-conscious player who says, "I'm going to do this, watch me. I'm going to do that, watch me. "That's what makes him irresistible.
Randy Dotinga is a Monitor contributor.
A new website called Bookish, founded by Hachette Book Group, Simon & Schuster, and Penguin Group, lets readers find recommendations based on their favorite titles and read content created exclusively for the website by authors like Elizabeth Gilbert.
Bookish allows users to buy titles off the website, but also includes links for buying books on sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, as well as independent bookstores. The website will publish exclusive interviews with authors, as well as excerpts from books that readers can peruse. Users can also create accounts which lets them add titles to their electronic “shelf,” and will get advanced access to Bookish website content, among other perks. The site will also include original articles about the book world written by Bookish staff.
“Bookish was created to serve as a champion of books, writers, and, most importantly, readers," Ardy Khazaei, Bookish CEO, said in a statement. "Ultimately, we seek to expand the overall marketplace for books, and whether a book gets into a reader's hands via Bookish's e-commerce partner or another retailer, everyone – from the publisher, to the retailer, the author, and the reader – wins.”
The site also compiles lists such as one titled “For Moms,” which recommends books like “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot for mothers. Searching for a title brings up any lists the book appears on, recent news articles about the book, selected quotes from the text (uploaded by users who registered for an account), as well as recommendations of other similar titles on the site. Visitors can also check out user reviews.
Bookish’s launch was delayed because of various technical problems after it was first announced in 2011, according to the Wall Street Journal.
So far, original content uploaded to the site includes a piece by Elizabeth Gilbert challenging Philip Roth’s statement that writing is “torture,” an interview with writer Michael Connolly conducted by fellow author Michael Koryta, and pieces by the humor website The Onion in which they review bestsellers like “Fifty Shades of Grey” and “The Great Gatsby.”
“F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel is renowned for having characters, figurative language, plot, themes, symbols, and 'point of view,'” the Onion’s review of “The Great Gatsby” reads.
A picture book by children’s literature legend Maurice Sendak, titled “My Brother’s Book,” will be released on Feb. 5.
Sendak, who died this past May, served as illustrator on two books by his older brother, Jack. “My Brother’s Book” follows two brothers, one named Jack and one named Guy, who are separated by a burning star and hurled to separate places. Jack goes to a land covered in ice and Guy to the home of a bear, who attacks him. When the bear is enraged by Guy and throws him away, Guy lands near his brother and the two are reunited.
Sendak’s friend, the playwright Tony Kushner, said the author originally wrote the book in the 1990s but that near the end of his life, he began mulling over his legacy.
“He was putting a lot of pressure on himself to make a masterpiece at the end,” Kushner said in an interview with the Associated Press. “I’d say, ‘Maurice, you’re making it too hard on yourself. If you keep telling yourself it has to be the greatest thing you’ve ever done you’ll never do it.’”
Kushner said he believes ““My Brother’s Book” is a tribute to everyone who loved Sendak, including his readers.
“It has the logic of a dream,” Kushner said of the book in an interview with NPR. “I really feel that in a way, it's a book that he intended for those of us who grew up reading Maurice and who loved his work. It's a kind of a farewell for us.”
Sendak is perhaps best remembered for his children's book "Where the Wild Things Are." He wrote and illustrated many other beloved titles, including "In the Night Kitchen."
Robert's Rules of Order weren't in effect. But Murphy's Law – if anything can go wrong, it will – definitely worked its magic.
Thanks to an eagle-eyed state trooper, federal law enforcement swooped in on the confab at a mobster's estate, arresting dozens and sending fancy-suited mobsters fleeing into an unfriendly forest.
The meeting didn't spell the end for organized crime, which exists to this day. But it did mark the demise of an era in which mobsters often had more to fear from each other than the long arm of the law.
A nemesis and future attorney general named Robert F. Kennedy rose from this crucible. There was more: public awareness (never mind FBI director J. Edgar Hoover's epic denial) and racketeering laws that turned out to be as incredibly useful as the tax regulations that tripped up Al Capone.
Gil Reavill, an author and screenwriter, tackles the events of that day in Apalachin – pronounced "Apa-lay-kin," not like the mountain range – in his new book Mafia Summit: J. Edgar Hoover, the Kennedy Brothers, and the Meeting That Unmasked the Mob. It's a gritty and fast-moving account that punctures the myth of the honor-bound mobster and exposes the nasty, rotten business of organized crime.
In an interview, I asked Reavill about the leadership of the mob, the oblivious public, and the ultimate legacy of the Apalachin raid.
Q: This was a summit meeting of Mafia types. Was it a board of directors meeting?
A: That's the corporate metaphor that a lot of people use. But that's not quite accurate. It was much more loosely organized than that corporate image, more of a group of like-minded individuals with similar interests and goals and similar concerns.
But there was a national organization of the mob. It was created by Lucky Luciano in 1931, and it really gripped the underworld from that time from 1931 to Apalachin, the golden years for the national syndicate.
Q: What did the governing commission do?
A: The commission controlled the mob to the degree that it tried to eliminate random violence, to keep the level of violence down to an acceptable minimum.
It was sort of a don't-scare-the-horses strategy to have the business run smoothly and stay out of the headlines as much as they could. That was Lucky Luciano's insight: blood in the streets isn't good for business.
Q: Could the commission decide that someone needed to be killed?
A: This was only about made guys. You had to go to the commission and say, "This guy did this wrong, and I want permission to rub him out," and they'd say yea or nay.
When it first happened to a guy over an unsanctioned hit, it was cause for celebration because the system worked.
Q: I have an image in my mind of all these mobsters in expensive suits running into the woods. Is that from a documentary or a movie?
A: It's from the movie "Analyze This," where it's played for comedy.
Q: But this wasn't a laugh riot, was it?
A: For the mobsters it was certainly not, and the state police took it very seriously.
But the press had a little fun with it. One of the newspaper compared it to ballet belles fleeing into the forest in pursuit of the faun.
In fact, only a few of the mobsters fled into the woods. Some of them stayed in the house, and some drove out in those big land-boat limousines. That image of mobsters fleeing into the forest is only part of the story, but if it's there's one part that people remember, it's that.
Q: Why do you think it's so memorable?
A: It's that universal image of the city mouse in the country, a fairy tale that's in almost every country in the world. It's a pretty potent image, and that's why it was so embraced.
All of them were Italian and most of them were Sicilian. In Sicily, the response to authorities is often to fleet into the outback, the wilderness. That's what you do when the police come. You take a powder and flee into woods.
But the woods around Apalachin were not too hospitable. It was rainy, and in November it's cold.
Q: Why did so many of these men flip out when the cops came across them?
A: Some of them did not. Some of them were smart. Sam Giancana, Johnny Torrio, the Chicago boys, a lot of them just sat tight. It was soon obvious that the state police didn't have a warrant to enter the house.
For the rest of them, it was really a herd mentality, that atavistic impulse to flee into the woods. They weren't doing anything illegal, and that's what the courts eventually decided, but they had guilty consciences.
Q: What about the public back then? What did they think about the mob?
A: A large percentage of the public didn't believe such a thing existed. Back then it really had the status of a rumor, and J. Edgar Hoover was saying there was no such thing as the Mafia.
Pre-Watergate, an authority figure such as Hoover was really treated as an oracle. If he said there's no Mafia, then Mr. and Mrs. Front Porch out there in America believed him. That was the situation before Apalachin.
In a post-"Godfather" world, it's hard for us to imagine not believing the Mafia exists. We're so familiar with the concept.
Q: What role does the summit play in history?
A: It was really a pivot, a turning point for the history of organized crime. This dosed them with their least favorite poison, which is publicity. And then RICO [the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act of 1970] just wounded them terribly. They're not the same.
It's not that organized crime has disappeared, just that national structure and national organization – and the feeling of being really immune and left alone by the feds – has disappeared. Law enforcement now has the tools to fight against the mob.
Randy Dotinga is a Monitor contributor.
If you've always thought that curling up with a book at the end of a long day helped to boost your mood, it turns out that you are right. And there’s research to back you up.
Under the Books on Prescription program, UK doctors will begin prescribing books – yes, books – to patients with mental health problems, including anxiety, depression, and panic attacks, the Reading Agency announced Thursday at the British Library. The Agency is a UK charity centered on books and reading.
“There is a growing evidence base that shows that self-help reading can help people with certain mental health conditions to get better,” Miranda McKearney, chief executive of the project and a spokesperson at the Reading Agency, said in a statement.
According to the UK’s Guardian, “there is a wealth of evidence” that supports the use of books, specifically self-help books, in treating mental health conditions. The most recent was a report published in the journal Plos One that demonstrated that people who read self-help books over the course of a year had measurably lower levels of depression.
In the UK, Books will be prescribed for patients suffering from a host of conditions, including anger, anxiety, binge eating, depression, anxiety, obsessions and compulsions, panic, phobias, low self-esteem, stress, worry, and even chronic pain, fatigue, and relationship problems.
Authorities have slated 30 titles for prescription, which are available in libraries across the land for patients to check out. The titles include “The Feeling Good Handbook,” “How to Stop Worrying,” and “Overcoming Anger and Irritability.”
“All the evidence does suggest that it does work and we have been extremely rigorous in putting together our list, making sure there is an evidence base for each book – that they have been used and found to be effective,” Reading Agency’s director of research, Debbie Hicks, told the Guardian.
It's not the first such initiative. Denmark, Wales, and New Zealand already have similar programs, with Wales pioneering the idea in 2003 under the direction of clinical psychologist Professor Neil Frude. “The doctors are already there, the books are already there and so are the libraries. It just needed joining them up,” Frude said of the program, which he described as a "no-brainer." Today in Wales 30,000 self-help books are borrowed from libraries every year, with three of the 10 most borrowed books belonging to the self-help genre.
And as bookworms have known all along, it turns out it’s not just self-help books that can make readers feel better. Under the Mood Boosting Books initiative, the Reading Agency is also encouraging people to use novels, poetry, and reading groups to feel better.
“We hope our Reading Well health work... will have a double benefit,” the Reading Agency said in a statement. “It will use reading and libraries to make a real difference to people's lives, and it should help powerful new partners see what a vital, multi-faceted role libraries play, and that investing in a strong public library system is a really smart move, because it can help prevent social problems further down the line.”
Books as medicine? We can’t think of a better prescription.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
If the two heroes of Rick Riordan’s children’s series can go up against gods and supernatural forces alone, just imagine what they can accomplish together!
That’s the idea behind Riordan’s new short story, “The Son of Sobek,” in which the protagonist of the "Heroes of Olympus" series, Percy Jackson, and the main character of the "Kane Chronicles," Carter Kane, will team up. “The Son of Sobek” will be released this May for the first time in the paperback version of Riordan’s book “The Serpent’s Shadow,” the third book in the "Kane Chronicle" series.
Riordan says he was inspired to arrange the literary meeting by his readers.
“At least once a day I’ll get an email or a letter asking ‘Are you ever going to combine the series?’ ” he told Publishers Weekly.
Riordan said he also thought the pair would be interesting together because the characters are so different.
“They represent very different sides of me,” the author said. “Carter is thoughtful and cautious and Percy is impetuous and sarcastic. I started to experiment with how it would be to put them together and have them join forces against a common foe.”
With the release of “The Serpent’s Shadow,” the "Kane Chronicles" was concluded, and the "Heroes of Olympus" series will get its second screen adaptation when the movie “Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Sea of Monsters” comes out on Aug. 16. The next "Heroes of Olympus" book is due in October and is titled “The Heroes of Olympus, Book Four: The House of Hades.”
Riordan said there was always a possibility that he might bring Percy and Carter together again.
“I’d love to play around with that idea, and I always like to leave some room to create other adventures for my characters,” he said. “My problem is never ideas. I’ve got more than I’ll ever have time to write. It’s all about how many I can get to, and which ones readers want to see the most.”
In addition, he says that he’s found that the Greek, Roman, and Egyptian themes found in his books stick with kids.
“I get letters from college kids who have read Percy Jackson when they were younger who tell me, ‘I just passed my Classics exam,’ ” Riordan said. “The books are accurate enough that they can serve as a gateway to Homer and Virgil.”
Eager readers can check out a preview of the short story “The Son of Sobek” here.
Riordan's series, which consist of the "Percy Jackson" series, the "Heroes of Olympus" series, the "Kane Chronicles," the "39 Clues" books (of which Riordan is one of the writers), and the "Tres Navarre" series, in addition to the stand-alone book "Cold Springs," have all been bestsellers. The "Percy Jackson" series was first adapted for film with the movie "Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief." The author is also planning a series centered around the Norse deities, which has a planned release date of 2015.
Hillary Clinton announced recently that she will write another memoir, this one focusing on her tenure as US Secretary of State.
Clinton is currently wrapping up her time in the post, with her last day scheduled for Feb. 1.
“I don’t know what I’ll say in it yet,” Clinton said during a news conference, when she stated that she was planning on penning another memoir.
She released her first book in 1996 with “It Takes A Village,” which focused on what it takes to raise children today and the role that society should play. Her 2003 memoir, “Living History,” began with her childhood and discussed her time as First Lady in the White House. She also authored a 1998 children’s book titled “Dear Socks, Dear Buddy,” which detailed how kids could write letters to White House pets.
During the same news conference, Clinton said that she is “not inclined” to launch a presidential campaign for 2016.
“I’m not thinking about anything like that right now,” she said. “I am looking forward to finishing up my tenure as secretary of state and then catching up on about 20 years of sleep deprivation.”
In an effort to help the relationship between libraries and publishers when it comes to e-books, the American Library Association recently released a scorecard that asks library staff members to rate e-book offerings from publishers on factors like availability.
The scorecards grade criteria from one to five and include 15 questions. Questions range from the price publishers are charging libraries for e-books to the length of time for which patrons can check them out. They were developed by the ALA Digital Content & Libraries Working Group.
“Our goals are that you will have the needed information for developing and negotiating ebook licensing agreements locally, and that the Working Group will be better positioned to communicate and advocate with publishers, distributors, and other ebook players nationally,” reads the introduction to the scorecard.
The introduction also discusses sticking points between libraries and publishers, including what the ALA says are publishers' fears that readers will check out e-books from libraries instead of buying them.
“To counter this, many publishers insist on terms that replicate aspects of print book lending,” the introduction reads. “Some of these terms may be necessary and tolerable, at least temporarily, to offset perceived risks in selling ebooks to libraries. Others, such as requiring patrons to come to the library to check out ebooks, will be onerous to patrons and damaging to perceptions of library service. In any case, innovative models that test new and alternative potentials offered by ebooks should be encouraged, rather than slavishly imposing restrictions based on the characteristics of print. Currently the accepted practice is one copy/one circulation at a time.”
The release of the scorecard comes as libraries try to integrate electronic reading into their offerings. A Pew study released in June revealed that 62 percent of readers didn’t know whether their local library had e-books, and another study from the Pew Research Center said that 53 percent of respondents felt libraries should “definitely” broaden their e-book offerings.