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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.

Neil Patrick Harris's memoir is scheduled for a 2014 release date. (Todd Williamson/Invision/AP)

Neil Patrick Harris will release a memoir in 2014

By Staff Writer / 09.26.12

Because clearly he hasn’t yet conquered enough fields of entertainment, actor Neil Patrick Harris is writing a memoir, currently scheduled for release in 2014.

The book by Harris, who currently stars on the TV show “How I Met Your Mother” and has also served as an awards host, director, producer, and magician as well as performing on Broadway, will be “a work of imaginative nonfiction that delivers an interactive, nonlinear reading experience that breaks the boundaries of conventional memoir,” according to a statement from the book’s publisher Crown Archetype.

Harris will “draw upon his love of adventure and surprise in creating the book, as well as upon the many roles he has played in his life and career – from being a child star to coming out, and from acting on Broadway to becoming a proud father,” the statement continued.

Harris’s show “How I Met Your Mother” will continue for at least another season through this spring, and he will appear in the film “The Smurfs 2,” which is due in 2013, reprising his role as protagonist Patrick Winslow. He hosted the Tony Awards for the third time this past June and is reportedly involved in a sequel to the musical web series “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog,” which its creator Joss Whedon said will start filming this spring.

“I'm excited to be writing a book of the observations and stories of my life," Harris said in a statement about his memoir. "I read with great fondness Tina Fey's ‘Bossypants,' so my plan is just to reprint those exact stories but change the names to people that I knew. What editor would take issue with that?”

Japanese books – including the bestselling '1Q84' by Haruki Murakami – have been removed from Beijing bookstores.

Chinese authorities ask booksellers to ban Japanese works

By Husna Haq / 09.25.12

A territorial dispute between China and Japan has escalated into a contentious trade war of sorts in which an unlikely armament – books – have become the weapon of choice.

Chinese authorities are asking booksellers in Beijing to ban books by Japanese authors and titles about Japanese topics as well as pressuring Chinese publishers not to translate and publish Japanese content in response to a tense territorial row between the countries.

Tensions between Japan and China escalated last week after the Japanese government nationalized the Senkaku Islands, known as Diaoyu in China. The countries have been embroiled in a bitter dispute over the ownership of this string of small islands off China’s eastern coast, and Tokyo’s decision to nationalize the islands further heightened tensions. The move sparked protests in China, directed toward Japanese citizens living there, Japanese businesses, even Japanese diplomatic offices. Anti-Japan protestors damaged Japanese plants and dealerships including Panasonic Corp., Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan Motor Corp., and Honda Motor Corp., according to the Japan Times.

Now, the dispute has taken a new turn, and the target is books. According to the Japan Times, Chinese publishers in Beijing were told by authorities to “halt the planned publication of books written by Japanese or protected by Japanese copyrights, and books related to Japan that are being written by Chinese authors.”

“The ban will also affect cultural exchange events, copyright trading with Japan and the promotion of Japan-related books in the country...”

The Bookseller reported that Japanese titles like Haruki Murakami’s “1Q84,” a bestseller in China, have already been removed from Beijing bookstores, including Wangfujing Bookstore, one of the city’s biggest bookshops. “We don’t sell Japanese books,” a shop clerk told the UK’s Guardian. “I don’t know much about the reason, but perhaps it is because China-Japan relations are not good.” Another added, “It’s because of the deteriorating ties between China and Japan.”

A source told the Guardian it is not uncommon for the Chinese government to restrict retailers business during times of political tension. “There are instructions from time to time, especially at moments of internal instability, such as this,” said the unnamed source, “but they will be short-lived.”

While we hate to see books entangled in this territorial dispute, it does remind us – in a time when bookstores are disappearing and the publishing industry is embattled – that books hold an innate power and authority so compelling nations ban books instead of trading bullets.

After all, as English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton, in his play “Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy,” wrote:

True, This! –

Beneath the rule of men entirely great,

The pen is mightier than the sword.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

Norman Bridwell said in an interview that Clifford is red because Bridwell saw a jar of red paint on his desk and decided to make the dog he was drawing 'a little different.'

Clifford the Big Red Dog turns 50

By Staff Writer / 09.25.12

The popular children’s book series "Clifford the Big Red Dog," which follows the adventures of the giant dog of the title and his owner, Emily Elizabeth, recently celebrated its 50th anniversary.

To honor the dog and his creator, writer and illustrator Norman Bridwell, the books’ publisher Scholastic hung a large banner from their office, and Bridwell participated in a webcast on Monday, answering students’ questions. More than 5,000 classrooms tuned in for the question-and-answer session.

Almost 90 books have been published about Clifford and his adventures.

“It has gotten more difficult over the years,” Bridwell told NPR, to create fresh plotlines. “Every time I think of an idea, I think, 'Well, that's kind of like the idea that I did a couple of times before.' And I'm running out of situations."

Bridwell got the idea for the series while he was trying to find work as an illustrator for children’s books. He brought samples around to various publishers and was rejected. One publisher told him that because he wasn’t a very good artist, he’d have to write his own copy, too, if he was to have any hope of working on a book.

“She pointed to a sample painting I'd done, of a little girl with a gigantic red dog, and she said, 'Maybe that's a story,'” Bridwell remembered in an interview with NPR. “And I went home, and over that weekend I wrote the story ‘Clifford the Big Red Dog’ and was shocked when it was accepted for publication, because I'd never written anything before.”

Bridwell said in the question-and-answer session with students that he had the idea of a huge dog when he was growing up and wanted a dog as big as a horse that he could ride.

In “Clifford,” a young girl named Emily Elizabeth chooses Clifford to adopt despite the fact that he is the runt of the litter, and Clifford soon grows to be more than 25 feet (though his size varies in some books). Emily Elizabeth’s family relocates to a new home on Birdwell Island to accommodate the giant dog. The most recent title released was "Clifford Makes the Team," in which Clifford has trouble playing baseball with Emily Elizabeth and her friends until the children figure out a way to include him in their game.

Clifford became red when Bridwell spotted a jar of red paint on his desk while working and decided to make him "a little different," Bridwell told USA Today. The writer named his heroine after his real-life daughter Emily Elizabeth, who now works as a preschool teacher.

“As I got older and as I started to meet parents who really loved the books, they would express to me how much they meant to their family and how much they meant to their children,” Bridwell’s daughter told the Wall Street Journal. “Then I started to realize it was something special.”

Jack Nicholson (l.) starred in the film adaptation of writer Stephen King (r.)'s novel 'The Shining.' (L: Anonymous/Warner Bros. Inc./AP R: Albert Ferreira/AP)

The sequel to Stephen King's 'The Shining' gets a release date

By Staff Writer / 09.24.12

Legendary horror author Stephen King has announced a release date for his sequel to his 1977 novel “The Shining,” titled “Doctor Sleep.”

“Doctor Sleep,” which will follow Danny Torrance as an adult, will be released Sept. 24, 2013.

In the sequel, Danny is now a worker at a nursing home who becomes known as "Doctor Sleep" because of his psychic abilities, which he uses to give comfort to those who are dying. After meeting a young girl with powers like his own, he embarks on a quest to save her from a tribe called the True Knot which ingests the psychic powers of children known as the “shining.”

J.K. Rowling's new book 'The Casual Vacancy,' to be released Sept. 27, reflects on the two topics that she says are her obsessions: morality and mortality.

'The Casual Vacancy': Adult content shows we're not at Hogwarts anymore

By Husna Haq / 09.24.12

If, as F. Scott Fitzgerald once proclaimed, “There are no second acts in American lives,” J.K. Rowling is proving there are in British ones.

And third and fourth, it seems. The once-single mother who survived on welfare, then struck platinum-status with her seven-book series on the magical world of Harry Potter has reinvented herself again, this time as a novelist for an entirely new audience – adults. 

Rowling’s post-Harry era begins Sept. 27 with the release of “The Casual Vacancy.” The new novel is a 512-page tale of class warfare, morality, and small town politics set in an idyllic fictional English village.

The question on everyone’s mind: Whether Rowling can successfully crossover from her stratospherically triumphant reign as a children’s author and creator of the 450-million-selling Potter books, which made her net worth almost $900 million and set the bar for forthcoming books frighteningly high, to well-received adult novelist.

This much is clear: “The Casual Vacancy” is no “Harry Potter” and Rowling, thankfully, makes no apologies for this decidedly different track. Set in the fictional English village of Pagford, the book begins as a “rural comedy of manners” that builds into a portrayal of class warfare, strewn throughout with treatises on social welfare. Following the death of Pagford council member Barry Fairbrother, the well-heeled town is pitched into a divisive battle about its connection to Fields, a neighboring town characterized by its public housing and poverty. Historically, Pagford extended a hand to Fields – children from Fields could attend primary school in Pagford (“a place of flower baskets and other middle-class comforts) and the town also ran a drug-treatment clinic that served many in Fields. But with the death of council member Fairbrother, Pagford’s “anti-Fields faction sees an opportunity to rid Pagford of this burden.”

After reading the 512-page novel and interviewing the famously reserved Rowling, writer Ian Parker shared his thoughts in a 10,000-word feature in the New Yorker

“Within a few pages, it was clear that the novel had not been written for children,” Parker writes. “The Casual Vacancy,” after all, is a tale of “class warfare set amid semi-rural poverty, heroin addiction, and teenage perplexity and sexuality.”

“…But reviewers looking for echoes of the Harry Potter series will find them. “The Causal Vacancy” describes young people coming of age in a place divided by warring factions, and the deceased council member, Barry Fairbrother – who dies in the first chapter but remains the story’s moral center – had the same virtues, in his world, that Harry had in his – tolerance, constancy, a willingness to act.”

Even Rowling found similar themes. “I think there is a through-line,” the author told Parker of the New Yorker. “Mortality, morality, the two things that I obsess about.”

But, by most accounts, the similarities end there. For those accustomed to Rowling’s more traditional, buttoned-up children’s fare, “The Casual Vacancy” is most certainly not that.

There’s this: “The leathery skin of her upper cleavage radiated little cracks that no longer vanished when decompressed.” And this, about a lustful little boy who sits on a school bus “with an ache in his heart and in his balls.”

Some have asked Rowling whether she felt some responsibility for her band of youthful fans who grew up reading Harry Potter and would now, surely pick up “The Casual Vacancy.” “There is no part of me that feels that I represented myself as your children’s babysitter or their teacher,” Rowling told the New Yorker. “I was always, I think, completely honest. I’m a writer, and I will write what I want to write.”

Following the unprecedented success of her Potter series, it would have been easy for Rowling to continue writing Potter adventures, or at least, more children’s books. With this new adult novel, she drummed up the courage to branch out and take a risk.

Writes the New Yorker’s Parker, “I asked her if publishing the new book made her feel exposed. ‘I thought I’d feel frightened at this point,’ she said. ‘Not just because it’s been five years, and anything I wrote after Potter—anything—was going to receive a certain degree of attention that is not entirely welcome, if I’m honest. It’s not the place I’m happiest or most comfortable, shall we say. So, for the first few years of writing ‘The Casual Vacancy,’ I kept saying to myself, ‘You’re very lucky. You can pay your bills, you don’t have to publish it.’ And that was a very freeing thought, even though I knew bloody well, in my heart of hearts, that I was going to publish it. I knew that a writer generally writes to be read, unless you’re Salinger.’” 

“Authors, and especially successful authors, are expected to keep producing more of the same,” writes the UK’s Telegraph. (The curse, if you will, of the Harry Potter phenomenon.) “To change genres can upset their fans.” 

In an autobiography A.A. Milne of Winnie-the-Pooh fame complained “that the artist who has early success with a painting of a policeman is expected to paint policemen forever,” as the New Yorker writes. “If you stop painting policemen in order to paint windmills, criticism remains so overpoweringly policeman-conscious that even a windmill is seen as something with arms out, obviously directing the traffic.” Although Milne is best known for his children’s books centered on that lovable bear, Winnie-the-Pooh, he attempted at various points in his career to explore all genres, including sketches, plays, mysteries, novels, short stories, even war pamphlets – with mixed success. “As a discerning critic pointed out,” Milne wrote, “the hero of my latest play, God help it, was ‘just Christopher Robin grown up.’ So that even when I stop writing about children, I still insist on writing about who were children once.”

Though we have yet to get our hands on a copy of “The Casual Vacancy,” we wager to say Rowling has already accomplished something remarkable in having the courage to walk away from the “easy success” of another Potter novel or even another children’s book and leap into a new genre. With “The Casual Vacancy,” she is attempting to escape the curse that accompanies any smash success.

As we page through this new, and no doubt very different piece of the Rowling canon, we’ll do our best not to superimpose upon every second character a certain beloved boy wizard we once knew. Because whatever Fitzgerald said, everyone deserves a second act – and a fresh read.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

Wal-Mart will no longer sell Amazon products beyond those they'd already purchased or ordered, according to the company. (David Duprey/AP)

Wal-Mart drops Amazon products from its stores

By Staff Writer / 09.21.12

Wal-Mart has announced it will stop selling Amazon devices such as the Kindle e-readers and the tablet device the Kindle Fire.

The move comes after fellow retailing giant Target also stopped stocking Amazon devices in May.

As Amazon increasingly attempts to position itself as a go-to retailer for everything their customers need, experts say Wal-Mart may have wanted to stop supporting the competition.

"Every time you pick up your Kindle, they’re trying to get you to buy patio furniture [at Amazon],” technology analyst for BGC Financial Colin Gillis told The New York Times. “If I were Wal-Mart, I certainly would not be encouraging my customers to go down the path of owning a Kindle and buying things from Amazon."

Amazon recently began building warehouses in several states to get closer to their goal of same-day shipping for its customers. Besides books and DVDs, the Amazon website also currently offers items under categories like "home, garden and tools," "grocery, health and beauty" and "sports and outdoors." Devices like the Kindle Fire encourage users to purchase e-books, movies and TV shows.

A Wal-Mart spokeswoman told Reuters that the stores will continue to sell "a broad assortment" of other tablet devices, so readers will still be able to purchase devices at the stores.

Caris & Company analyst Scott Tilghman told Reuters that the reason for the change was simple.

"Wal-Mart and Target view Amazon as a competitor," he said.

Monica Lewinsky previously told her side of the story for a book titled 'Monica's Story' by Andrew Morton. (Robert Harbison)

Monica Lewinsky: Will she or won't she release a new memoir?

By Staff Writer / 09.21.12

Is former White House intern Monica Lewinsky planning to publish a tell-all memoir about her alleged affair with former president Bill Clinton?

The New York Post says Lewinsky will earn a $12 million advance for a detailed memoir about her time with Clinton.

Those who claim the book exists says it contains more details on the affair as well as complaints Clinton made to Lewinsky about his wife, Hillary, and letters Lewinsky wrote to Clinton which have never been previously released.

"In them, she opened her heart about her love for Bill and how much happier she could make him,” an anonymous source said, according to the Post. “Some of what she wrote was so raw that she never sent them."

But then others say Lewinsky has no such plans. Someone called a friend of Lewinsky's told the Huffington Post that despite demand for it, Lewinsky will not be penning a memoir any time soon.

"Several publishers would love her to tell all, but she has no intention of doing so,” the friend said. “She has been through enough already and all this happened 14 years ago. She has put it behind her and moved on with her life."

Lewinsky previously spoke about her alleged affair with Clinton to writer Andrew Morton, who published the book "Monica's Story." Morton was also the author of the controversial biography of Diana, Princess of Wales, titled "Diana, Her True Story."

A new film trailer for 'The Hobbit' was released this week, coinciding with the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the book. (Warner Bros./AP)

'The Hobbit' – a new film trailer (+ video)

By Staff Writer / 09.20.12

A new two-and-a-half-minute trailer for the first installment of “The Hobbit” arrived online this week, just in time for the 75th anniversary of the publication of the book, which will be celebrated on Friday.

The preview features the reappearances of several “Lord of the Rings” characters, including wise wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellan), elves Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), and Gollum (Andy Serkis), whom Bilbo encounters and must engage in a battle of riddles.

The character of Thorin (Richard Armitage), the leader of the company of dwarves which Bilbo joins in an attempt to take back the dwarves’ home from the dragon Smaug, also makes several appearances.

The trailer begins with Gandalf explaining the dwarves’ quest, after which the dwarves show up at Bilbo (Martin Freeman)’s home.

“I like visitors as much as the next hobbit, but I do like to know them before they come,” Bilbo complains. But soon after, he’s seen running through Hobbiton, clutching a map.

“I’m going on an adventure!” he hollers.

Gandalf also explains to Galadriel, co-ruler of Lothlórien, why he chose Bilbo for the quest.

“Perhaps it is because I am afraid and he gives me courage,” he says.

A character who appears to be the wizard Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy) states that “a dark power has found its way back into the world,” perhaps referring to the ring that jumpstarts the plot of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

The character of Gollum is seen entering into the battle of riddles with Bilbo, discussing the terms of the game.

“If Bagginses loses, then we eats it whole,” he informs Bilbo, with a head tilt suggesting this is a perfectly fair deal.

Various battle and adventure scenes are also shown, including wargs (wolf-like creatures) attacking, the dwarves and the trolls which the party encounters around a campfire as well as the dwarves braving a rockslide.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” the first movie in a planned trilogy, is scheduled for a Dec. 14 release. The films’ director Peter Jackson originally stated that the book would be adapted into two films, but recently announced that a third movie will be released in 2014, with the second installment coming in 2013.

Check out the full trailer below.

Most iPad users would still rather read their kids a bedtime story from a print book – unless they're busy or on vacation.

E-books vs. print: Most parents prefer reading paper books to their children

By Staff Writer / 09.20.12

“Goodnight iPad”? Maybe not quite yet.

According to a new study, parents still overwhelmingly choose print books over electronic ones when reading together at night. The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop found that more than 70 percent of parents still choose print books to read for their children. More than 50 percent of children selected print books over e-books.

The results came with a caveat – if a family is on vacation or if a parent is busy with some task and needs to sit a child down with something to keep the child occupied, parents preferred giving a child an e-book over a print version.

The survey was conducted among iPad users and did not take other devices into account.

'I grew up with the West Australian landscape, and I so enjoyed putting it on the page,' M.L. Stedman says of the remote setting of her novel 'The Light Between Oceans.'

M.L. Stedman talks about 'The Light Between Oceans'

By / 09.18.12

"Haunting." "Atmospheric." "Harrowing." These are the kinds of adjectives readers are applying to "The Light Between Oceans," the debut novel by London attorney M. L. Stedman. Set on an island off the coast of Western Australia (home territory for Stedman), the book tells the story of a World War I veteran and his wife, a childless couple with a loving marriage but no child to share the remote outpost that they call home. This couple – with a single breathtaking decision – set into motion an unimaginable course of events. I recently spoke with Stedman about her book. 

Q: The story of "The Light Between Oceans" is so atmospheric, intense, and – in several senses – remote. How did this story come to you?

A: I write very organically – a picture or phrase or voice turns up in my mind, and I just follow it. For this story, I closed my eyes and could see a lighthouse and a woman. I could tell it was a long time ago, on an island off Western Australia. A man appeared, and I sensed he was the lightkeeper, and it was his story. Then a boat washed up, carrying the body of a dead man. I kept looking and saw there was a baby in it too, so I had to keep writing to see who all these people were and what happened next.

Q: Several of your characters face difficult ethical dilemmas. Some make poor decisions, but in the end, as we come to understand them, most turn out to be quite sympathetic people. Would you say that this reflects your world view?

There’s a great deal to be said for that old expression ‘walk a mile in the other person’s shoes’, don’t you think? I believe that people are born with a strong instinct for good. Of course, views of what ‘good’ looks like differ wildly. But I think it’s usually possible to find compassion for even the most misguided of individuals: that’s different from condoning harmful behavior. It’s just recognizing that the business of being human is complex, and it’s easy to get things wrong. Compassion and mercy allows society to heal itself when we do. 

Q: Much of the story involves either loss – or fear of loss – of love. Would you say that you see this fear as the great driver of much of human experience?

You probably only fear losing love if you already have it, so I’d say that the driver starts a step earlier – satisfying a basic human need for love in its very broadest sense: that includes giving as well as receiving it. In its infinite variety of forms, it plays a role in bestowing life with meaning.

Q: The plotting in this novel is tight and neatly crafted (almost like a ship, I kept thinking as I was reading). Do you think that your work as a lawyer has impacted your writing style in terms of attention to details, an ability to cross all the "t" and dot all the "i"s?

I love the idea of the plot being as sound as a ship! I think the greatest impact of my legal background is that it allows me to write freely and spontaneously, without meticulously plotting in advance. Lawyers are probably hard-wired for structure, so it’s a reflex rather than something to spend a lot of conscious thought on. And yes, the legal training helps on the detail, too, making sure that things are consistent. 

Q: When it comes to the setting, the book seems to be written with much love. Is that coastal setting close to your heart?

Definitely! I’m always happiest beside an ocean. I grew up with the West Australian landscape, and I so enjoyed putting it on the page – describing the place I’ve loved all my life.

Q: Who are your own favorite writers? Do you think any of them have had an impact on this novel?

A few favorites who spring to mind (in no particular order) are Graham Greene, George Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Cormac McCarthy, Jane Gardam, Andre Gide, Ian McEwan, Edith Wharton, Katherine Mansfield... I suppose what they have in common is an unflinching eye, a profound understanding of the human heart, and a mastery of language. Those are the qualities I find most rewarding in books, so they’re the ones I’d like to bring, in however pale a reflection, to what I write.

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor's books editor.

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