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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.

Pedestrians walk outside the Goldman Sachs headquarters in New York City. (Mark Lennihan/AP)

Goldman Sachs elevator tweeter loses book deal

By Staff writer / 03.07.14

After the identity of the person behind the Goldman Sachs Elevator Gossip Twitter account was revealed – and it was discovered that he is not currently a Goldman Sachs employee – publisher Simon & Schuster initially said it would still release the book by former banker John Lefevre but has now canceled the book deal.

As we previously reported, the person behind the Twitter account, who was still anonymous at the time, secured a deal with Simon & Schuster to release a book titled “Straight to Hell: True Tales of Deviance and Excess in the World of Investment Banking” this October.

The New York Times revealed late last month that Lefevre had written the tweets and that he does not currently work at Goldman Sachs (he worked for Citigroup for seven years and at one point was offered a job with Goldman Sachs, but never worked there, according to the company. He now lives in Texas). Simon & Schuster initially stood by Lefevre, with the editor of “Straight,” Matthew Benjamin, telling the NYT, “He’s been pretty straight with us the entire time, so this is not a surprise. That you’re writing about him speaks to the interest he’s generated. We always expected his identity to be revealed at some point.”

However, yesterday Simon & Schuster announced it had canceled its agreement with Lefevre.

“In light of information that has recently come to our attention since acquiring John Lefevre’s ‘Straight to Hell,’ Touchstone [an imprint of Simon & Schuster] has decided to cancel its publication of this work,” the publisher said in a statement.

Lefevre was not pleased.

“It's just a comical mystery to me," he told Business Insider (BI). "After all of the noise — during which Simon & Schuster prohibited me from responding and defending myself — they have continued to support me and stand by our project. Well, until today, apparently.”

In response to similar comments made by Lefevre to the NYT, Touchstone publicity director Brian Belfiglio said, “We never muzzle our authors.”

As for the content of the Twitter account, Lefevre wrote a column for Business Insider after his identity was made public.

“For the avoidance of any doubt, any person who actually thought my Twitter feed was literally about verbatim conversations overhead in the elevators of Goldman Sachs is an idiot,” he wrote.

Separately, he told the NYT of his tweets, “I’ve been collecting these stories for years.”

If “Straight” is published, Lefevre wrote in his BI column that the book is not just his tweets but is “a collection of true stories from my experiences directing traffic at Wall Street’s epicenter – the bond syndicate desk.”

Sleep – or lack of it – is at the center of Karen Russell's new novella 'Sleep Donation' and Kenneth Calhoun's novel 'Black Moon.'

Characters struggle for sleep in new literary works

By Staff Writer / 03.06.14

It’s no secret that many in our modern age have trouble getting the sleep they need – 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep issues, according to the CDC – and now that problem is popping up as a plot point in the literary world.

“Swamplandia!” author Karen Russell will release a Kindle-only novella later this month titled “Sleep Donation” that Amazon selected as one of its 10 best works of March. In “Donation,” many Americans can no longer sleep and an organization asks those that can still do so to donate some of their sleep to someone who can’t. A recruiter for the organization, known as the Slumber Corps, soon finds herself questioning her trust in the Corps.

“It’s a hilarious concept,” Amazon editorial director Sara Nelson said of Russell’s concept of giving your sleep to others.

Meanwhile, another slumber-focused book has appeared on the scene. Debut novelist Kenneth Calhoun released a book titled “Black Moon” earlier this week which takes place in a world where insomnia is sweeping the globe. Protagonist Matthew Biggs is one of the last people who can still succumb to slumber and must deal with a world populated by those driven insane by lack of sleep.

NPR writer Jason Heller says that “Moon” “isn’t just another spin of the post-apocalypse plot wheel.”

“Many authors have tackled the mystique of sleeplessness — but few have done so with the grotesque grace and poetic insight of "Black Moon",” he writes.

Will more stories pop up that center on the appeal and lack of sleep? Difficult to say, but Russell and Calhoun’s works will likely have you reaching for the Sleepytime tea.

Author Anne Rice has complained about commenters on Amazon, writing that the ability of users to write anonymously on the site allows some to write 'personal insults and harassing posts.'

Anne Rice and others sign petition urging Amazon to get rid of anonymous comments

By Staff Writer / 03.06.14

Should Amazon require users to identify themselves when posting comments on products?

Author Anne Rice and others have signed a petition created by a Change.org user named Todd Barselow which urges Amazon to require identity verification for commenters. The petition focuses particularly on book reviews.

“People have found ways to exploit this flaw in the system and are using it to bully, harass, and generally make life miserable for certain authors on Amazon,” Barselow wrote of the ability of users to comment anonymously. “These people are able to create multiple accounts and then use those accounts to viciously attack and go after any author or person that they feel doesn't belong on Amazon or who shouldn't have published a book, made a comment on a forum post, etc. With the current system, if one anonymous account gets deactivated because it was reported for these things, it is easy for the bully or harasser to simply create another anonymous account and continue on with their shenanigans.”

Barselow mentioned Rice by name and that he was “sure that she will support this petition” because she had experienced “vitriol and hatred” from Amazon users. 

Rice did indeed stand behind the petition, which has now reached almost 3,000 signatures.

“My experience with the gangster bullies in the Forum has been very bleak and ugly,” Rice wrote on the petition. “I post there under my own name. They blatantly violate your guidelines with personal insults and harassing posts. If you would only apply your own guidelines this would greatly help.” 

Online book reviews have certainly experienced growing pains – as reported by Monitor writer Husna Haq, authors have been caught giving their own books positive reviews online and in 2012, the New York Times wrote an article examining entrepreneur Todd Jason Rutherford, who made hundreds of thousands of dollars by selling good reviews.

Fictional spymaster George Smiley is said to have been based on a real-life member of the British Secret Service named John Bingham. In two highly successful BBC TV series Alec Guinness took the role of Smiley.

John Le Carre offers stiff warning on intelligence agencies

By Husna HaqCorrespondent / 03.05.14

One of the greatest spy novelists of all time surprised some fans when he took a public swipe at real-life intelligence agencies in a letter published in a UK newspaper.

In a letter published in the UK’s Telegraph, John le Carre warned that intelligence agencies could “become as much of a peril to our democracy as their supposed enemies,” if not subjected to close oversight.

From a novelist whose life work has been built on the secret stories of spy agencies, real or imagined, the remark is significant. His letter reveals the extent to which he is critical of intelligence agencies.

Le Carre's letter was written in response to news of a quarrel between le Carre and the late John Bingham, le Carre’s famous British Secret Service mentor upon whom he based the fictional character George Smiley. According to reports, Bingham “deplored” and was “hurt” by le Carre’s portrayal of the “secret world” of intelligence agencies.

“[Bingham] was not treated as respectfully as he deserved by his protégé, John le Carré, who immortalized him as George Smiley. He was hurt by the portrayal of his secret world in the novels. The author, Bingham once said, 'was my friend, but I deplore and hate everything he has done and said against the intelligence services,'” one Lord Lexden wrote in a letter published in the Telegraph.

In response to Lexden's letter, le Carre affirmed his affection and admiration for Bingham but was unyielding in his strong language about the dark side of intelligence agencies.

“Where Bingham believed that uncritical love of the Secret Services was synonymous with love of country, I came to believe that such love should be examined. And that, without such vigilance, our Secret Services could in certain circumstances become as much of a peril to our democracy as their supposed enemies,” he wrote.

He continued, “John Bingham may indeed have detested this notion. I equally detest the notion that our spies are uniformly immaculate, omniscient and beyond the vulgar criticism of those who not only pay for their existence, but on occasion are taken to war on the strength of concocted intelligence.”

News reports have pointed out the sting of le Carre’s final remarks, which no doubt point to the flawed intelligence which led to the Iraq war.

Here in the US and in the UK, the letters have inspired discussion regarding the portrayal of spies and intelligence agencies in movies and novels.

For his part, le Carre wrote “I had, and shall always have, unqualified admiration for [Bingham’s] intelligence skills and achievements. He was a most honourable, patriotic and gifted man, and we had wonderful times together. And surely there can be few better tributes to a friend and colleague than to create – if only from some of his parts – a fictional character, George Smiley, who has given pleasure and food for thought to an admiring public.”

Le Carre’s novels, and this more recent exchange on the portrayal of spy agencies, we think, provides food for thought for discerning readers to form their own opinions on the value (or lack thereof) of fictional portrayals of government espionage – and the potential dangers of intelligence services.

Ashu, a second-grader living in Mumbai, peruses a book. (Robert Marquand)

Which country reads most? (Hint: It's not the US)

By Staff Writer / 03.04.14

According to new information from the NOP World Culture Score Index, residents of India and of Thailand spend the most time reading per week of the countries measured, while the US trails behind at number 22.

According to the NOP World Culture Score Index, residents of India spend an average of 10.42 hours a week reading. Thailand came in at number two with residents reading an average of 9.24 hours every week and China was third with 8 hours. The Philippines followed with an average of 7.36 and Egypt was fifth with an average of 7.30.

The average time an American spends reading is 5.42 hours. 

io9 writer Charlie Jane Anders discussed the new data in her column titled "Does anybody read books the right way anymore?," noting that adults sitting down on the sofa with a title and poring over it for hours is less and less common.

"We've never had more distractions keeping us from focusing totally on a book as we have today," Anders wrote. "...Now that we read on e-readers and phones, do we tend to read a few minutes at a time, instead of sitting in a chair for an hour or two?"

Anders noted that reading in short bursts mean we get less immersed in a story.

"It does feel, subjectively, as though when I pick up a book for a spell here and there, I tend to forget the details of the plot more and maybe get less engrossed in the story," she wrote. "And books, even more than television or movies, may reward sustained, slow attention in a way that can't be replicated with speed-reading apps and random glances."

We wonder how that average is spread out across the country, especially considering another recent survey by Central Connecticut State University president John Miller which studied which US cities are the most well-read. Washington, D.C. topped the list, while Seattle came in second and Minneapolis was third.

'Divergent' stars Shailene Woodley (second from l.) and Christian Madsen (r.). (Jaap Buitendijk/Summit Entertainment/AP)

'Divergent' film company teams with Sephora for a makeup line (+video)

By Staff Writer / 03.04.14

Following in the footsteps of its fellow young-adult-series franchise “The Hunger Games,” the company behind the “Divergent” films has teamed up with a makeup company to release a line based on the world of the novels by Veronica Roth. 

The company Sephora has released nail polish and various makeup products that use the colors of each “faction” in the book series. (In Roth’s universe, citizens are sorted into a faction based on their personalities. Faction traits include kindness and bravery.)

“This enormous multi-piece kit allows you to be brave, selfless, intelligent, honest, and kind all at once,” the Sephora site description of the Divergent Multi-Piece Collectors’ Kit reads. Products such as blush, lip gloss, and eye shadows are included.

To tie in with the “Hunger Games” films, Cover Girl released makeup products based on the Districts described in the series (for example, a “District 3” look included blue and green because the area is responsible for fishing). In addition, clothing based on the over-the-top fashions worn by Capitol residents in the “Hunger Games” world and designed by the franchise’s costume designer, Trish Summerville, were made available through the retailer Net-A-Porter.

“Hunger Games” author Suzanne Collins spoke in favor of the tie-ins, which also included an online magazine titled Capitol Couture. The magazine included “interviews” with the characters.

“I’m thrilled with the work Tim Palen and his marketing team have done on the film,” Collins told Variety via e-mail. “It’s appropriately disturbing and thought-provoking how the campaign promotes ‘Catching Fire’ while simultaneously promoting the Capitol’s punitive forms of entertainment. The stunning image of Katniss in her wedding dress that we use to sell tickets is just the kind of thing the Capitol would use to rev up its audience for the Quarter Quell [the name of the games in “Catching Fire”]. That dualistic approach is very much in keeping with the books.”

Actor David Walliams will reportedly star as Tommy Beresford on the BBC program 'Partners in Crime.' (Ki Price/Invision/AP)

New adaptations of Agatha Christie's 'Partners in Crime,' 'And Then There Were None' to air on BBC

By Staff Writer / 03.03.14

Agatha Christie’s characters Tommy and Tuppence Beresford will be at the center of another TV adaptation, with the BBC planning to adapt the short story collection “Partners in Crime” for Christmas 2015, according to the Telegraph.

“Crime” is the short story collection by Christie which centered on Tommy and Tuppence, a married couple who solve mysteries. Tommy and Tuppence appeared in four of Christie’s novels as well as “Crime,” which was released in 1929 and consisted of 15 stories.

It was recently announced that actor David Walliams of the TV show “Big School” will star on the six-part BBC series as Tommy.

“In bringing these thrilling stories to the screen, it is our ambition for Tommy and Tuppence to finally take their rightful place alongside Poirot and Marple as iconic Agatha Christie characters,” Walliams said, according to the Telegraph. “I was first drawn to the delicious notion of a married couple solving crimes together, and the more I read of the Tommy and Tuppence novels and short stories I realized they are among Christie's very best work.”

Actors James Warwick and Francesca Annis portrayed Tommy and Tuppence in both the 1982 film “The Secret Adversary” and the British television series “Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime,” which aired from 1983 to 1984.

2015 will be the 125th anniversary of Christie’s birth and other Christie programs are slated to air on the BBC, including a new TV adaptation of her novel “And Then There Were None” and several documentaries about the author.

Oscars 2014: '12 Years a Slave' director Steve McQueen (r.) celebrates after his film wins Best Picture as his cast and crew look on. (John Shearer/Invision/AP)

Oscars 2014: '12 Years a Slave,' other literary adaptations take home prizes

By Staff Writer / 03.03.14

Literary adaptations again scored big at the Academy Awards, with the movie “12 Years a Slave” (based on the memoir of the same name by Solomon Northup) taking Best Picture as well as other awards and other adapted films also scoring prizes.

In addition to Best Picture, “Slave” actress Lupita Nyong’o won the Best Supporting Actress award for her work in the film and the movie itself won Best Adapted Screenplay.

Other adapted films that scored Oscars last night included “Frozen,” which is based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale “The Snow Queen” and won Best Animated Feature as well as receiving the Best Original Song prize for “Let It Go.”  

Those behind the 2013 film adaptation F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel “The Great Gatsby” also went home with a couple of statuettes, with the movie winning the Best Costume Design and Best Production Design.

It was an interesting Oscars ceremony this year, with many saying that the Best Picture race between “Slave” and the film “Gravity,” which follows astronauts in a crisis, was too close to predict. While usually the director for the Best Picture winner also takes the Best Director prize as well, this year “Gravity” helmer Alfonso Cuaron won the award but “Slave” was anointed Best Picture. However, the last time this happened was only last year because “Argo” director Ben Affleck, whose movie won Best Picture, wasn’t even nominated for the Best Director prize. (Ang Lee took the award for the film “Life of Pi.”) Before that, the last time there was a split was in 2006, when director Lee took Best Director for “Brokeback Mountain” but the film “Crash” won Best Picture.

As for last night’s other prizes, “Dallas Buyers Club” actor Matthew McConaughey and Cate Blanchett of “Blue Jasmine” won Best Actor and Best Actress, respectively. “Dallas Buyers Club” actor Jared Leto took home the Best Supporting Actor prize.

William Helmreich has explored by foot almost every square inch of New York City – from its most dangerous neighborhood to its most beautiful waterfall. (Neville Elder/Princeton University Press)

The New York Nobody Knows

By Monitor books editor / 02.28.14

A native New Yorker, William Helmreich spent his youth strolling the city’s streets. But as an adult and sociology professor at the City University of New York, Helmreich devised a more formal plan – to walk 6,000 miles, covering every block in all five boroughs over the course of four years.

Monitor books editor Marjorie Kehe recently talked with Helmreich about his long walk, the city he loves, and the book he wrote about both: The New York Nobody Knows. Here are excerpts from their conversation.

Q: You note abundant evidence of a “New York renaissance.” To what do you attribute the city’s rebirth?

The two major sources of the city’s revitalization have been gentrification and immigration. The immigrants have brought new life to the city. While immigration has been going on in New York ever since the city existed, the diversity of immigrants is different today. [Once] we had people coming from every corner of Eastern and Western Europe. Now we have people coming from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Most of the immigrants who come here work hard, even the undocumented. Maybe especially the undocumented. 
 

Q: What about gentrification? How has that changed the city? 

It’s huge. We’ve had hundreds of thousands of people streaming into our city from all over the country and back into the city from the surrounding suburbs. They’ve revitalized the city, turned neighborhoods that were ghost towns into vibrant cultural centers. They’ve stimulated the economy because these are middle- and upper-class people of means. But on the other hand, a world-class city also has an obligation to its needier citizens, and a lot of people have been displaced by gentrification.

Q: Despite its tolerance, you say that New York is actually one of the most racially segregated cities in the US. Is that ever going to change? 

I’m not sure that people want it to change. When [minorities] were protesting to move into exclusively white neighborhoods, what they were protesting [for] was the right to move in. Once you said, “You can live anywhere you like, the only color we care about is green” – what happens if people don’t want to go there?

There are people who welcome diversity. But there are also those who don’t. What you’ve got here is freedom to choose. It’s up to the people. New York remains one of the most segregated cities because there’s enough mass to create self-contained communities and people take pleasure and pride in living in those communities.

Q: The gentrification of Brooklyn is a done deal. What will be the next great neighborhood?

The Bronx is going to gentrify. That’s the last frontier. I’m high on the Bronx because it’s only 15 to 20 minutes from the center of the city and is served by five or six subway lines.

Q: What surprised you on your walks? 

The way that people who are at odds with each other in their home country meet here on neutral turf. You have Indians and Pakistanis living together in the same neighborhood and getting along. You have Jews and Palestinians owning stores on Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn and living in peace and finding common shared values such as modest dress among women and religious piety. You have Haitians and Dominicans getting along amicably. People told me: “There’s no time for [conflict] here; here we have other priorities.”

Some things weren’t exactly surprises but were emphasized to me. One was how many beautiful parks we have in New York, including Pelham Bay Park, 150 blocks long and 2-1/2 times the size of Central Park. The city’s most beautiful waterfall is at 180th Street and Boston Road. There is also the $5 million Chinese Scholar’s Garden on Staten Island and the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge.

The other thing was the friendliness of New Yorkers. Almost no one refused to talk to me.

Q: What about the future of New York? What’s your greatest concern?

My biggest concern is [newly elected Mayor Bill] de Blasio. Although I agree with a lot of his philosophy, I’m concerned that he might be goaded into taking it too far too fast. I think New York needs a corrective. The city needs to find more affordable housing for its people. It needs to pay more attention to its needier citizens. However, it has to do so without scaring people away. New York is a liberal city, yet it is a city that has had Republican governance for the past 20 years. De Blasio can’t stray too far to the left, even as other [New York politicians] can’t stray too far to the right.

'Fun Home' is by Alison Bechdel.

Alison Bechdel's memoir 'Fun Home' runs into trouble with the South Carolina House of Representatives

By Staff Writer / 02.28.14

After South Carolina school the College of Charleston assigned Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir “Fun Home” to students, members of the South Carolina House of Representatives cut funding to the university because of the depiction of same-sex relationships in “Fun Home.”

The College of Charleston had put “Fun Home” on a compilation of summer reading titles for incoming freshmen. The South Carolina House of Representatives cut funding to both the College of Charleston and the University of South Carolina Upstate, which also assigned a book with similar themes. The House cut $70,000 in total ($52,000 from the College of Charleston, according to local newspaper the Post and Courier).

The budget-writing committee took the funds away from the schools but the money could be put back when the entire House of Representatives reviews the budget on March 10, according to the Post and Courier. According to the newspaper, the $52,000 is the price tag of the summer reading program. According to the Washington Post, the College of Charleston received a little over $19 million in state money in 2013.

Representative Garry Smith told the Post and Courier that he doesn’t believe the memoir is introducing themes for scholarly consideration.

“It goes beyond the pale of academic debate,” he said. "It graphically shows lesbian acts.”

He thinks the College of Charleston is “promoting the gay and lesbian lifestyle” and says students should have been supplied with an alternative to “Fun Home.”

Bechdel released a statement to Publishers Weekly about the controversy.

“I'm very grateful to the people who taught my book at the College of Charleston,” the author said. “It was brave of them to do that given the conservative pressures they're apparently under. I made a visit to the school last fall for which they also took some flak, but to their great credit they didn't back down. It's sad and absurd that the College of Charleston is facing a funding cut for teaching my book – a book which is after all about the toll that this sort of small-mindedness takes on people's lives.”

Christopher Korey, a professor at the College of Charleston and the head of the summer reading program, told the Post and Courier that the school committee realized some might have problems with “Fun Home.”

“But the book asks important questions about family, identity, and the transition to adulthood,” he said. “These are important questions for all college students…. I'm concerned that some members of the (L)egislature believe their duties include deciding what books should and should not be taught in a college classroom ... I believe that 18-year-olds benefit directly from reading and discussing difficult topics in their courses.”

Meanwhile, College of Charleston president P. George Benson has issued a statement saying that, "Any legislative attempt to tie institutional funding to what books are taught, or who teaches them, threatens the credibility and reputation of all South Carolina public universities."

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