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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.

Lena Dunham stars on the HBO series 'Girls.' (JoJo Whilden/HBO/AP)

Lena Dunham's legal representative asks that leaked book proposal be taken down

By Staff Writer / 12.12.12

“Girls” star Lena Dunham was not happy that the website Gawker published the entire proposal for her upcoming advice book online.

Dunham, who is the creator, writer, producer, director and star of HBO’s “Girls,” is planning to release an advice book titled “Not That Kind of Girl,” with the date of publication currently unannounced. She submitted a 66-page proposal to Random House and received $3.7 million for the rights to the book.

After Gawker posted the full proposal online, Dunham’s legal representative, Charles Harder, asked that it be taken down, and the website complied. However, Gawker had also selected 12 quotes from the book and used them within their article about the proposal, and Harder asked that those be removed as well.

Instead, under each update, Gawker writer John Cook added new text under each quote, which all open with “Lena Dunham's personal litigation counsel Charles Harder has contacted Gawker to relay a demand from his client, Lena Dunham, that we remove the above quote from our web site. In order to clarify our intent in quoting the above matter from Dunham's proposal, we have decided to append the following commentary.” Cook then added a comment on each excerpt, such as his remark about Dunham’s statement that she went to her first Women’s Action Coalition meeting when she was three years old.

“The quoted sentence is indicative of a nauseating and cloying posture of precociousness that permeates the entire proposal,” Cook wrote.

According to Salon, Dunham’s publisher, Random House, is not involved in the wrangle.

'Harry Potter' cast members are reportedly filming a new, short installment at studios in Hertfordshire in the UK. (Discovery Times Square/PR Newswire)

Is a new 'Harry Potter' short film in the works?

By Staff Writer / 12.12.12

An all-new “Harry Potter” movie is being filmed, but don’t look for this one at your local multiplex. This film will be short and will only screen at “Potter” theme parks.

The shorter movie will reportedly be shown at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, Fla. and at the planned theme parks in California, which is scheduled to open in 2014, and Japan, which is scheduled for a 2016 opening. Cast members are reportedly filming at the studios in Hertfordshire in the UK where previous installments were filmed.

What’s the plotline of the new movie? That’s under wraps for now. Guardian writer Ellie Lewis posited that it could show a previously unfilmed portion of Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s hunt for Horcruxes (“Though I'm not sure how much more camping we need to see,” she noted) or possibly delve into the life of the trio after Voldemort was defeated, in which Hermione went back to school and Ron and Harry started to train as Aurors.

Whatever’s being filmed, cast members are reportedly happy about the reunion.

“The cast have really enjoyed getting back together – they are so tight-knit,” a source reportedly told the Sun. “The shooting schedule is nowhere near as long as the films, so though filming has been intense, the stars have enjoyed being able to pop in and out.”

In the film adaptation of 'Game Change,' actor Ed Harris (l.) played presidential nominee John McCain and Julianne Moore (r.) portrayed Sarah Palin. (Phil Caruso/HBO/AP)

'Game Change' sequel will come next fall

By Staff Writer / 12.12.12

The writers of the bestselling book “Game Change,” which followed key figures like Barack Obama, John McCain, Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton during the 2008 election, will release a new book titled “Double Down: Game Change 2012” which will focus on the 2012 race.

The new book by authors Mark Halperin and John Heilemann is planned for next fall.

“John Heilemann and Mark Halperin reinvented the campaign narrative with Game Change," Penguin staffer Ann Godoff said in a statement. "Their new book, Double Down, will, of course, break news. But more importantly, it will create the lasting story of the 2012 race for the presidency.”

HBO’s film “Game Change” was based on the original book and starred Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin and Ed Harris as John McCain. The film was lauded by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, receiving an Emmy award in the Outstanding Miniseries or Movie category and snagging Moore an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie, among others. HBO has already optioned the rights to “Double Down.”

'Downton Abbey' features Maggie Smith (l.) and Hugh Bonneville (r.) as two of its 'upstairs' characters. (Nick Briggs/PBS/AP)

'Downton Abbey' insider Jessica Fellowes shares her behind-the-scenes take

By Staff Writer / 12.12.12

Three years ago, would you have predicted British and American audiences alike would be fascinated by questions like "What are that footman Thomas and lady's maid O'Brien planning?" and "Who will inherit that large estate through British law?"?

But the TV series "Downton Abbey," which airs on ITV in the UK and on PBS in the US and addresses just such questions, has audiences on both sides of the Atlantic hooked. Fans are eagerly awaiting the season 3 premiere of the show in the States on Jan. 6, which will bring the show into the 1920s.

Impatient US fans had a bit of a consolation prize this fall with the release of the book "The Chronicles of Downton Abbey," which shared behind-the-scenes details about the show and discussed the time period in which it was set. Jessica Fellowes, the niece of "Downton" creator, writer and executive producer Julian Fellowes, wrote both "Chronicles" and a previous book, "The World of Downton Abbey" and is also the author of titles including "Is There A Psycho In Your Life?" and "Mud and The City: Do's and Don'ts for Townies in the Country."

In an interview with the Monitor, Fellowes discusses why "Downton" fascinates so many viewers, the secret to the actors getting in character, and more. Here are excerpts from the conversation.

Q: During the process of writing the two books, how often were you on the set when the seasons were being filmed?

A: When I was doing the first book, I wasn't writing it until after the first series wrapped, because obviously when the first series was being filmed, nobody had a clue [of its future success]. For the second series, I went on the set... not a huge amount, to be honest, because I was on such a tight deadline to write the book. I was at my kitchen table, typing, most of the time. I didn't really go for the third series – I had a researcher help me that time because I had to do two books in the first six months of this year.

I mean, I've been to Highclere [Castle, where the "upstairs" world is filmed]. It's a real privilege to go and see it, and Highclere is impressive, but I really like going to Ealing Studios [where the servants' rooms are filmed], because there's something amazing about the fact that they've built it all completely from scratch. They had to imagine, think and source every tiny bit that's on there, and it's so beautifully done, like Mrs. Patmore's kitchen.

There was a really funny thing about the cookbook – in those days, obviously, when you owned a copy of "Mrs. Beaton's Household Recipes," you owned a new copy. But if you put a new copy of a book in a period drama, people think it's wrong. They like it to look kind of dirty. I mean, that book did come out in the 1860s or something, I think, so you could get away with it being an older book, but it's just funny – you can't use anything that looks too new.

She's an interesting character because you have this hierarchy downstairs. [Butler] Carson and [housekeeper] Mrs. Hughes are almost a mirror reflection of Lord and Lady Grantham upstairs. You have these little dominions within kingdoms, where everybody's just trying to master what they've got. If anything, upstairs, it's more fluid than that.

Q: With other seasons coming up, would you consider writing another book on "Downton"?

A: I don't know – I think they are thinking about another book, which I will be involved in in some way, but I'm so committed to other projects at the moment... [But] I'm still very interested in keeping to the period. It's a period that I've always been interested in. All my favorite authors are from that time.
Q: What are a few of those authors?

A: Evelyn Waugh. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Graham Greene, a couple of Ernest Hemingways. Antonia White is the latest discovery from that time – those are my comfort authors. They're always by my bed.

Q: What do you think appeals to people about "Downton"?

A: I think it's a combination of factors. It is a beautiful program and it's so well-written, obviously.

It has great actors of a caliber as well as unknowns, which I think is quite important, because you don't project anything onto them. We're able to meet them all for the first time. But then there's someone like Maggie Smith – you know who she is, and she's almost a reassuring figure and authoritative.

I think it's absolutely gorgeous to look at. You've got a real treat in store for the third season coming up, with the 1920s clothes. I think the fact that it goes out on a Sunday night is a masterstroke because it's when the whole family sits down together. You're in that kind of relaxed mood and ready to escape a little bit.

And then I think what's really clever is there's just a wide range of characters. It's very important to Julian and the producers that everyone be given equal treatment, equal weight, when it comes to story lines, whether they're above stairs or below stairs, it doesn't matter as to how they're treated on the show. I think because of that, whoever you are, you'll find somebody who you recognize. And nobody is black-and-white. There's a lot of shades in their characters, so you can find some sort of sympathy.

It does play on the issue of British class, which doesn't ever really go away and is always of interest to us, even if we're only measuring our ancestors by it.
Q: You said in your book that for a lot of the scenes, the aristocrats would be filming at Highclere Castle and the servants are on the sound stages. Did that help the dynamic between the cast, almost keeping them separate?
A: I think in a funny sort of way, it did create a sort of real-life above and below stairs sort of feeling. That house is a real castle. You can't help but sort of behave differently as soon as you walk through the doors. I think for the actors playing the family, it made a big difference for them and their performance.

And then Ealing Studios is an amazing set. And it's all in one seamless thing – you walk from the servants' hall through the hallway into the kitchen, you come off it into Carson's pantry. It is, as you say, sort of a soundstage, so very close by is the crew hanging around in their jeans and you can eat sandwiches and it's much more of a working atmosphere and it's much more relaxed.

In the first series, [Lesley Nichols, who plays cook Mrs. Patmore] was only at Highclere Castle once, and she said that she arrived and she felt genuinely kind of intimidated by the house. It is quite funny, because you see Mrs. Patmore, who's absolutely mistress of her kitchen – saucy, quick-tongued – and then she meets Lord Grantham and she's terribly sort of meek and she says she felt very cowed by the location when she got there.

It definitely helps, just like the right costumes help actors. They have to wear the right costumes all the way down to your underwear, because those corsets make you stand and sit in the right kind of way and what those people of that time were doing. When Lady Mary takes off her jeans and slips on her couture gown for the evening, I think that absolutely helps.
Q: When the show first premiered here in the States, critics worried, "Oh, Americans won't know what an entail is, they won't know these British terms" – did you worry about that?

A: It wasn't my concern, it was the producers', [but one of the] producers said the other day that PBS said, "Oh, maybe we shouldn't be using an entail," and he said, "We don't know what it is in Britain!" Which we don't. It's not a word we commonly use, it's not really a problem for more than 500 people.

But I do think it is a measure of Julian's success as a writer that he doesn't patronize his audience. He often will put in historical references that he doesn't fully explain, because he wants people to find it out for themselves. He wants to drive people to further knowledge, as it were, with the series, and I think he does do that.
Q: And the plan now is for the show to run five seasons?

A: I have no idea... I know we've confirmed the fourth series, but beyond that, they always get very cagey about confirming exactly what they're going to do.
Q: And probably same thing, but – have you heard about whether Dan Stevens will return for season four?

A: I haven't heard anything about it, but I've got my fingers crossed, because I like him so much and I think that his character, he's someone that people want to watch.

In her upcoming memoir "My Beloved World," Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor tells of her father's death from alcoholism and her own difficult decision not to have children.

An unusually candid picture of Sonia Sotomayor is reported to emerge from her memoir

By Husna HaqMonitor correspondent / 12.11.12

From the tenements of the South Bronx to the ivy towers of Princeton and Yale to the venerated chambers of the Supreme Court, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s rags-to-riches story is the focus of her forthcoming memoir, “My Beloved World,” to be published by Knopf in January.

Sotomayor, the first Latina and third woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court, received an advance of nearly $1.2 million for the book, which will be published simultaneously in English and Spanish. According to the AP, which received an advance copy of the memoir, Sotomayor is unusually candid, recounting stories of losing her father to alcoholism and her cousin to AIDS, as well as explaining her own battles with diabetes, a disease which played a big part in her decision not to have children. One area into which the book does not delve: her years serving as a Supreme Court justice and as a US district and appeals court judge.

The children of Puerto Rican natives, Sotomayor grew up in a tenement in the South Bronx where English was rarely spoken. Her family was so poor that they never had a bank account, according to early reviews of the book. She was diagnosed with diabetes at just eight and lost her father to alcoholism when she was nine.

The 58-year-old’s lifelong battle with diabetes colored much of her life. In the book she recounts several episodes in which she blacks out and is found unconscious, “including by a roommate at Princeton, a client in Venice, Italy, and a friend’s barking dog.”

The disease, and her fear that she might die early due to it, also played a major role in her decision not to have children, writes Sotomayor, a decision she still occasionally regrets. As a result, reports the AP, “she is godmother to more children than anyone she knows.”

Sotomayor is a staunch defender of affirmative action, thanks to which she was admitted to Princeton University and Yale Law School, where she received a place in the Phi Beta Kappa honor society and graduated with the highest honors. Unlike her fellow justice Clarence Thomas, who also benefited from affirmative action, Sotomayor has famously defended the practice, which she says is “needed to get disadvantaged students to the starting line of a race to success.”

The Supreme Court justice also writes painfully of losing her cousin to AIDS. She was working as a prosecutor when she gave her cousin a ride to what he later told her was a drug den in the Bronx, where he shot up heroin inside. He eventually died of AIDS, which Sotomayor said he contracted though a contaminated needle.

Sotomayor also reveals details about her own battle with cigarettes, which she used to smoke at a rate of three-and-a-half packs a day, until her young niece began imitating her with an imaginary cigarette, leading Sotomayor to spend time in a residential program to quit smoking.

Sotomayor will sit for interviews with People magazine and CBS’s 60 Minutes next month, when her up-from-poverty memoir hits shelves.

Lena Dunham is the creator, star, producer and writer of the HBO series 'Girls.' (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

'Girls' creator Lena Dunham's book proposal leaks online

By Staff Writer / 12.10.12

The book proposal for Lena Dunham’s advice book, which will be titled “Not That Kind of Girl,” leaked online, giving readers a peek into what the book will presumably include when it’s published on an unnamed date.

Dunham, who is the star, director, writer, and producer behind HBO’s series “Girls,” received $3.7 million from publisher Random House for the book deal

The proposal divides Dunham’s thoughts into six sections, titled “Work,” “Friendship,” “Body,” “Sex,” “Love,” and “Big Picture.”

In the proposal, Dunham says that the book was inspired by former Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown’s book “Having It All.”

“I’ve never kept a diary,” Dunham writes in the book proposal’s introduction. “I remember being given a journal around age six, penning a long paragraph about my massive crush on Colin Bliss (what a name!) and then leaving it casually strewn open on the kitchen counter for my parents to ‘find.’ Here was my feeling: if a girl writes in her diary and no one’s there to read it did she really write at all?” 

The proposal is 66 pages long and, while it includes many essay sections, Dunham notes in the table of contents that the list “reflect[s] what will be in the book, not what Lena has actually had time to do so far.”

Dunham’s show “Girls” will return for its second season on Jan. 13, and Dunham was nominated for five Emmys in 2012, including Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series, and Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series. The show was nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series.

David Nasaw is also the author of a biography titled 'The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst.'

Writer David Nasaw discusses the turbulent life of Joseph P. Kennedy

By Randy Dotinga / 12.07.12

Womanizing family man, powerful but often-misguided political mastermind, movie industry mogul, would-be president, and one of the most influential, brilliant and aggravating Americans who ever lived.

Only two men fit that description. And only one author has written immensely readable biographies of both of them, plus another one of Andrew Carnegie for good measure.

Following on the success of 2000's "The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst," historian David Nasaw has a new bio on the bookshelves with "The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy." It's an instant classic, an honest and perceptive look at a man who deserves to be known for more than tragedies and failures.

In an interview, I asked Nasaw about the challenges of writing the book under the eyes of the nation's most storied political clan, the battles that Joseph Kennedy fought, and the ultimate verdict on an extraordinary life.
Q: What drew to you to the story of this man whose children include a president, an attorney general, an ambassador and one of the most storied senators of all time?
The family asked me to do it.

I met with Senator Ted Kennedy to talk it over. We met in the Senate office building, and we had lunch with his two Portuguese water dogs, who came to the Senate on Mondays.

I spent a good long time trying to convince the senator I shouldn't write the book. I'm a crazy obsessive researcher, and I was bound to turn up something that wouldn't make the family happy. And I said it wasn't unlikely that by the time it ran, some Kennedy would be running for office.

He said all the bad stuff is out there, like Gloria Swanson [with whom Joseph Kennedy had an affair]. Everybody knows the dirt, but if a historian writes this book, he is going to come up with a much more credible portrait of his father than what's out there.

My conditions were firm, and I said, I'm not going to budge. I want full access to everything, including all the papers that are closed to researchers and stored at the Kennedy library. You and your family and your lawyers will see the book when it's finished, not before.
Q: Wow. You were really laying down the law, right?
You don't lay down the law to Ted Kennedy.

I said it's not in my interest to spend five to six years on a book and get to the end and have to bargain with some lawyer to include a sentence I found in a letter. I just said I'm not going to do that.

He said fine.
Q: To some people's eyes, Kennedy comes across as such a villain. Even though you write that he wasn't actually a bootlegger, he was definitely a womanizer and a ruthless businessman and political operative.

Did you find anything that would make the family unhappy?
I don't know what they expected and didn't expect. On the whole, the book is as the senator through it would be. It's much fairer and more balanced than others, and it presents a real-life portrait of a man rather than some villainous caricature.

I undertook it because I saw very quickly that I could use the life of Joseph Kennedy to tell a larger story about the twentieth century. Here's a man who works in shipbuilding during World War I and then is a big stock trader during the '20s boom and goes to the Hollywood as a studio when the silents transitioned to talkies, and then is a Roosevelt confidant, head of the Maritime Commission, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission and ambassador to Great Britain.
Q: This is all especially remarkable considering that he was an Irish Catholic. Amazingly, that wasn't even a plus in Boston itself during his early years. How did that play out?
He was an Irish Catholic from East Boston who learned when he got out of Harvard that he was an outsider. He'd have to fight and claw his way inside, and he could trust no one along the way except family members and maybe a couple other Irish Catholics.

Fifty to 60 to 70 years ago, America was more divided than today. It was divided into ethic and religious tribes. Every group had its place in this pecking order. He lived in that world, and he had to find his way in it.
Q: And transcend it?
Yeah! The reason why he's such a great character to write about, unlike other outsiders who fight to get inside, is that once he gets inside, he refuses to play by the rules.

He has such self-confidence that he's convinced he's always the smartest guy in the room, and he's not going to follow what anyone else says, not even Roosevelt.

As a result, he ends up on the outside again.
Q: What did you make of his transition that landed him in positions of power in government in the first place?
While this country has been through bad times over the last couple of years, I don't think we're even close to understanding the fears that people had during the Great Depression.

They were not simply fears that the economy was not going to get better. Among a large part of the population, there was a real concern that if the Depression was not cured, this country would go the way of Germany, Italy and the Soviet Union. People in need would abandon capitalism and abandon democracy.

Kennedy was motivated by these fears to support Roosevelt. This is a remarkable part of he story: To become the SEC chairman and, to save capitalism, he realized he had to rein in the Wall Street bankers and traders. He outlawed the practices he'd use to make his millions.
Q: What about his still-controversial work as the American ambassador to Great Britain and his opposition to involvement in World War II?
He made two outrageous mistakes.

He believed that American support of the British was going to destroy the economy and would lead to some form of regulated economy and dictatorship. He couldn't imagine the British were going to win the war.

The second mistake was that he believed Hitler was a reasonable statesman. Kennedy still believed you could make a deal with Hitler, and he believed he could do it.

This was about his fear of war and the cataclysm it would bring – not just the lives lost of a generation of young men, but the destruction of the economy and of representative democracy. He thought this was coming.
Q: How did he manage to have such extraordinary children?
Every child got this sense from him that "I've struggled, I worked hard and I struggled for you. I made enough money so you each have million-dollar trust funds. I expect each of you to do something with your lives – not to make money, but in public service."

It's an anomaly, because strong fathers don't necessarily yield strong sons. But all of these kids were remarkable, all independent-minded.

He's a incredible father, there's no doubt about that.
Q: Was there a dark side to the drive he instilled in them, which seemed to lead to adultery and other problems?
A: When I read the histories and look at them, I think that's rather overblown.

He had nine children; one was [mentally disabled]. In the other eight, there were bad marriages and good marriages.

Yeah, there was womanizing and there were troubles, but I don't know if it's so remarkably out of the ordinary. The trouble that falls on this family, the disasters, come from the outside.
Q: This man reaches incredible glories, loses child after child and ended up a crippled invalid who's helpless as his world falls apart. Do you see him as a tragic figure?
I think I do. But I don't know whether it's a Shakespearean or a Greek tragedy, if it's his own lofty ambitions or the fates that do him in.

Here's a man who lives for his children and who triumphs when they triumph. To lose four of them, five if you count Rosemary [who was mentally disabled and underwent a disastrous lobotomy], that's tragedy.

Then he has an estrangement from the Catholic church when the hierarchy does not support Jack in his bid for the presidency. That was a betrayal of the first order.

And then the stroke.

If this was fiction, nobody would believe this strong, articulate, debonair man, who dressed immaculately, would spend the last eight of years of his life not only unable to communicate, but a crippled monster of a man, frightening his grandchildren.
Q: What about his triumphs?
When his son is finally elected, it's a bittersweet election because so many white Anglo-Saxon Protestants voted against him, but he was elected.

How could a man not savor the fact that he had sons as president and as attorney general and Teddy, after some tough times, was putting his life together? And all the daughters seemed happily married?

He had lived a full life. There were certainly triumphs.
Q: Do you like him?
There's no easy answer to that. There are things I like about him, and there are things I don't like about him.

In the end, I'm thankful that he's so fascinating. I spent six years with the guy, and I was never bored for a minute.

He was unpredictable, quirky and colorful, with a great use of language and sense of humor. That kept me going, and for that I am eternally grateful.

Randy Dotinga is a Monitor contributor.

A new study found that many e-readers like the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook track users' activity without their consent. (Dominick Reuter/Reuters)

E-readers and e-book platforms track users' activity, says a new study

By Husna Haq / 12.06.12

What does your e-reader know about you?

More than you think, according to a new study by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The EFF, a nonprofit group that advocates for consumer rights and privacy, combed through the privacy policies of a number of e-readers and e-book platforms, including Google Books, Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, Kobo, and Indiebound, and found many devices track book searches, monitor what and how readers read downloaded books, record book purchases, and in some cases, even share information without a customer’s consent.

“In nearly all cases, reading e-books means giving up more privacy than browsing through a physical bookstore or library, or reading a paper book in your own home,” writes the EFF in its 2012 report.

The Foundation created a nifty chart that shows, at a glance, the privacy policy for nine different e-reading options.

The study found that five of the most popular e-readers, including the Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and Sony Reader, as well as Google Books, track searches for books as well as record book purchases. What’s more, six of the nine platforms or devices, including Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Sony, OverDrive, and IndieBound, can share information outside the company without customer consent.

“For centuries, reading has largely been a solitary and private act, an intimate exchange between the reader and the words on the page,” wrote the Wall Street Journal in an article on the subject earlier this year. “But the rise of digital books has prompted a profound shift in the way we read, transforming the activity into something measurable and quasi-public.”

For example, analysis of e-reader data has already determined that it takes the average reader just seven hours to finish the final book in Suzanne Collins’s “Hunger Games” trilogy on a Kobo e-reader, about 57 pages per hour. And on the Nook, the first thing folks do after finishing the first “Hunger Games” book is to download the next one.

That extends to all popular series – readers tend to “tear through all the books in the series, almost as if they were reading a single novel,” according to the WSJ.

Among the other findings, nonfiction books “tend to be read in fits and starts,” while novels are read straight through. Long nonfiction tends to be abandoned earlier, while science fiction, romance, and crime fiction fans read more books more quickly than readers of literary fiction.

Retailers and publishers are beginning to analyze this information to better understand how readers engage with books and how to reach out to those readers more effectively.  

So here’s the question: is tracking this information so bad?

Privacy advocates think so, arguing that the tracking flies in the face of basic intellectual privacy.

“There's a societal ideal that what you read is nobody else's business,” Cindy Cohn, legal director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told the WSJ.

Others note that we’ve already ceded control for how information is gathered and shared, and we don’t yet know how companies will use this information. Might folks who download books on terrorism or read Arab literature come under scrutiny of Homeland Security, as one German publication asked?

Some industry watchers, however, aren’t so concerned.

“This is information that I'm glad I know, but about which I'm afraid I can't get all that exercised,” wrote a blogger with the UK’s Guardian. “I feel there are bigger things to worry about than whether Kobo knows what page of Fifty Shades (no, not really) I'm currently on... And if... it means these companies can better point me towards things I might like, then I'm not complaining.”

We’re curious to hear what you think. Is this a little too Orwellian for you? Or is the book industry simply catching up with what the entertainment industry has done for decades, tracking consumer tastes and preferences?

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey' stars Martin Freeman (r.) as Bilbo Baggins. (James Fisher/Warner Bros./AP)

'The Hobbit': How to throw your very own Shire-style party

By Pamela Cyran / 12.05.12

Hobbits love to eat, and boy, do they know how to throw a party.

If you’re a diehard Tolkien fan, you probably already have your midnight movie tickets for “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” director Peter Jackson’s first installment in the three-part prelude to “The Lord of the Rings.” By now, you’re doubtless looking for ways to celebrate the return of hobbits, dwarves, and wizards to the big screen. What better way to celebrate the accomplishment of literary mastermind J.R.R. Tolkien than to throw a party, hobbit-style?

The most important consideration when throwing a hobbit’s party is what’s on the menu. Hobbits eat seven meals a day, so an abundance of food is completely necessary. Hobbits are also very good hosts and they wouldn’t want their guests to leave hungry (and grumpy).

To throw your hobbit feast, here are some scrumptious food ideas:

• Stews – Stews are easy to make (especially if you have a crockpot), feed many, and are extremely delicious. They’re not easy to screw up, either, for those of you who aren’t the chefs of the family. Throw in your meat (try some rabbit), your fresh veggies (don’t forget po-ta-toes), and your broth.

• Meats – Roast, ham, rotisserie chicken, or cold meats for sandwiches. Much of Tolkien’s Shire was inspired by rustic villages of England like his childhood home, Sarehole. The same is true for the food. If you’re feeling brave, try cooking a traditional British meat pie.

• Mushrooms – Hobbits love mushrooms (especially Frodo, who stole them from Farmer Maggot when he was a young hobbit). Have them sautéed as a side, fry them, or stick them in a stew. Herb-roasted or mashed potatoes are a good side as well.

• Fresh breads and cheeses – This is a must.

• Eggs – All ways. As Tolkien says, hard-boiled in salad, scrambled for dinner, and poached in the morning. And don’t forget the bacon.

• Pickles, as requested by Gandalf in "The Hobbit." (Note: Tolkien originally had Gandalf request tomatoes, but decided that made no sense.)

• Scones, biscuits, toast, and blackberry jam

• Fruit tarts and pies – Think blueberry, blackberry, and apple.

• All kinds of cakes – You can’t go wrong choosing a cake. But, you definitely do not want to leave out seed cakes. Bilbo loves his seed cakes.

Lembas bread! – Okay, so it’s not a hobbit dish, but Bilbo finds the elves beautiful and intriguing. No party celebrating Bilbo Baggins should be without lembas bread. For an added authentic touch, wrap your lembas bread in large banana leaves with twine.

Drinks! – Lots of drinks! This is especially important. Hobbits also enjoy coffee and tea. I would recommend a British Earl Grey.

Now this may seem like a lot of food, and, well, it is. Hobbits eat a lot. Consider how many party guests you will have and cook for the appropriate number. If everything on this list sounds delicious, cook smaller portions, allowing each guest just a taste. If your hobbit party is on a budget, make it a potluck.

The second most important thing about a hobbit party is the entertainment. Below are some ideas for to make your party a real hobbit extravaganza

• Fireworks! – Okay, just kidding. Fireworks are illegal in many states. Sparklers will do just fine.

• Music! – Hobbits can be found singing and dancing at every celebration. More importantly, music was a big part in softening the mood of “The Hobbit.” Break out the instruments and revel in the moment.

• Games are also important. Play rhyming games or take turns reading riddles – hobbits love solving riddles (and are quite good at it, too). Play any manner of “The Hobbit” or “Lord of the Rings” trivia games, or take any modern game and give it a Middle Earth twist. For example, the role-playing party game Mafia. If you want to be a little more creative, try the British children’s game Conkers.

Now let’s talk dress and décor. If you truly want to feel like a hobbit, dress in bright colors (yellows and greens with touches of neutral browns) and curl your hair. A particular physical feature of hobbits is curly hair. If you’re a man, carry a pipe, as most male hobbits do. Lastly, NO SHOES ALLOWED! Shoes don’t belong in the Shire and they should not be present at your party.

One exception: If you happen to live in cities like Buffalo, N.Y., known for their numbing temperatures and brutal snowstorms, you may wear shoes outside during your sparkler time. You don’t want any of your guests to get frostbite because unfortunately, we humans do not have protective hairy feet with thick soles.

If you want to make your party venue actually look like the Shire, here are some good budget-minded tips:

• Think Bilbo’s hobbit hole – rugged-looking, wooden furniture, a cozy rug with an earthy design on it, baskets filled with books.... check your local thrift store! You might be surprised at what they have. You may even find some old lamps or a chandelier.

• A green tablecloth – Don’t go out and buy a new fancy one, as these can be expensive (and you don’t want to buy unnecessary things when you will be spending most of your money on food). Instead, go to your local fabric store, purchase an earthy green cloth that is nice to the touch, and throw it over your table. Voila! You have an inexpensive tablecloth. Hint: Look for cheaper fabrics that don’t seem to fray as much and make sure you purchase enough
yards to fit your table.

• Hang lights around the room. It’s the holiday season and you should have no problem acquiring lights. Use smaller, softer lights, and don’t mistakenly buy only red and green. Hobbits don’t celebrate Christmas.

• Candles, lots of candles. Place candles around the room for more ambiance, or if you’re feeling extra creative, make your own hanging candles. Purchase ball jars with handles (check thrift stores and craft stores), place candles inside them (use stones to hold them in place), and string them up around the room.

• Add plants to make your party feel more like the Shire. Vines, big leafy plants, and flowers will do, real or fake.

And that’s it, folks. You now have all the key ingredients for a perfect hobbit extravaganza. Bring out your inner geek and party like a hobbit. But don’t lose your midnight movie tickets in midst of all the hustle and bustle. Keep them secret, keep them safe.

Pamela Cyran is a Monitor contributor.

Oprah Winfrey calls 'The Twelve Tribes of Hattie,' a debut novel by Ayana Mathis, a 'jewel of a book' full of 'sacred truths.'

Oprah Winfrey selects 'The Twelve Tribes of Hattie' as the next title for her book club (+ video)

By Staff Writer / 12.05.12

Oprah Winfrey’s latest pick for her Book Club 2.0 is the work of debut novelist Ayana Mathis. "The Twelve Tribes of Hattie," fiction set against the historic backdrop of the "Great Migration" of African Americans in the 1900s, was published this month. 

The novel follows the story of Hattie Shepherd, who moves from Georgia to Philadelphia in the 1920s and raises a family there, experiencing a disappointing marriage and resolving to teach her children of how difficult life will be.

Winfrey discussed her newest pick in a video.

“It’s her first time ever writing a book, and I think you are going to be so taken by it,” Winfrey said of Mathis’s novel, which she called a “jewel of a book.”

“This book touched me so deeply,” the former talk-show host continued. “Sacred truths just leap from the pages.”

Winfrey pointed out that readers can buy the e-book edition specially formatted for the book club, with Winfrey’s own notes accompanying the text, or a normal paper version.

“Still can get the hardcover, people!” she joked.

Although the “Oprah effect" – the skyrocketing in sales that a book usually experiences after becoming a Winfrey pick – is not quite as dramatic as it once was when the talk show queen had a wider television audience, it is still significant. Winfry's last choice, the memoir “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed, jumped from number 173 to number 12 on Amazon following Winfrey’s announcement that it was the next club selection. Strayed’s book is still number 21 on the New York Times combined print and e-book nonfiction list for Dec. 9 and number 18 on the e-book nonfiction list for the same date.

Mathis, who is a graduate of the Iowa Writer's Workshop, was apparently overwhelmed to learn of Winfrey's decision.  According to O, the Oprah Magazine, the young author was shocked to receive Winfrey's phone call. “Really?” she is reported to have asked.“This is really Oprah Winfrey?”

Check out the full video of Winfrey discussing "Hattie."

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