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Author Archive: "Chris Bolton"

Monday Book News: Caldecott and Newbery Awards, Elijah Wood in “Hobbit” Film, and More

Warning: many awards ahead!

  • Manifest Destiny: The American Library Association announced a plethora of awards over the weekend, namely two of the top prizes in children's literature.

    The Newbery Medal, "awarded each year to the most distinguished book for children," went to Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool. The Caldecott Medal, which is given to the best work of illustration, was presented to A Sick Day for Amos McGee artist Erin E. Stead.

    More prizes include the Printz Award, for best young adult novel, to Paolo Bacigalupi for Ship Breaker; the Coretta Scott King Award, to Rita Williams-Garcia for One Crazy Summer; the YALSA Excellence in nonfiction award, to Ann Angel for Janis Joplin: Rise Up Singing; the Pura Belpre Award, to The Dreamer, written by Pam Muñoz Ryan and illustrated by Peter Sis;


Book News Friday: “Huck” Still Getting Whitewashed (and Is That So Bad?), “Babe” Creator Dies, and More

  • In Memoriam: Dick King-Smith, the beloved children's author whose works include The Sheep Pig (the basis for the film Babe), among many books, passed away on January 4th at the age of 88.

    The Guardian offers a fitting remembrance. Meanwhile, in farms all across the world, pigs are moaning in his honor, "Baa-ram-ewe!"

  • Un-Sivil Action: The internets are still abuzz over that new edition of Mark Twain's Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, in which every instance of "the N-word" has been replaced by "slave" to make it more classroom-friendly. Despite the controversy, small-press publisher NewSouth is not only going ahead with publication of the book but, according to Publishers Weekly, has even "increase[d] their print run from the initial 7,500 to 10,000."

    In an excerpt from his introduction to the book, editor Alan Gribben explains his reasoning:

    We may applaud Twain’s ability as a prominent American literary realist to record the speech of a particular region during a specific historical era, but abusive racial insults that bear distinct connotations of permanent inferiority nonetheless repulse modern-day readers. Twain’s two books do not deserve ever to join that list of literary “classics” he once humorously defined as those “which people praise and don’t read,” yet the long-lofty status of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn has come under question in recent decades....As a notoriously commercial writer who watched for every opportunity to enlarge the mass market for his works, he presumably would have been quick to adapt his language if he could have foreseen how today’s audiences recoil at racial slurs in a culturally altered country.

    Much of the furor over this edition amounts to shrieking the knee-jerk tune, "Censorship! Thought police! Political correctness run amok!" The question I'm not hearing often enough is: Does he have a point?

    Huckleberry Finn remains one of the most-banned books in school libraries due to the many uses of That One Word. And it's such a "bad word" that almost none of us can bring ourselves to use it, instead using ridiculous euphemisms like "the N-word" — which, as comedian Louis CK noted, conjurs the actual word in the mind of the reader yet attempts to absolve the writer of the crime of using it. I don't know a single white person who doesn't at least pause for the length of a hiccup before using "the N-word" even when quoting a song lyric (and sometimes they just substitute a similar-sounding word like "ninja"). Among all the possible pejoratives one can use to insult another person, That One Word stands tall as the absolute worst.

    Gribben explains he doesn't want to neuter the impact of Huckleberry Finn (or Tom Sawyer, for that matter, although the earlier work only uses That One Word four times), but that he wants to make sure the book continues to be read and studied in classrooms by removing the one and only obstacle that is constantly cited as the sole reason for its exclusion.

    Of course, it's a big obstacle — but is it a necessary one? Plenty have argued, quite persuasively, that the importance of reading Huckleberry Finn in schools comes from the discussion of race its provokes. Should we appeal to the lowest common denominator and nullify those discussions so that America's ugly past doesn't have to be confronted head-on in a classroom?

    And yet, the anti-slavery message is so strong that it will surely reach through regardless of the language. The unexpurgated versions still exist; if a child falls in love with the novel (as so many readers do when they encounter it), it stands to reason that the "real" version will be read in time. There are plenty of classics that are initially presented to children in abridged versions, in the hopes that they will return to the original work as older readers. Why is this different?

Book News Wednesday: Mark Twain Revised! Indiespensable Exposed! More Exclamation Points!!

  • The "C Word": A new edition of Mark Twain's perpetually controversial classic The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn intends to eradicate all 219 references to the "N word" that has caused the book no end of troubles, inserting "slave" in its place.

    The book isn't scheduled to be published until February, at a mere 7,500 copies, but [Twain scholar Alan] Gribben has already received a flood of hateful e-mail accusing him of desecrating the novels. He said the e-mails prove the word makes people uncomfortable.

    "Not one of them mentions the word. They dance around it," he said.

    Another Twain scholar, professor Stephen Railton at the University of Virginia, said Gribben was well respected, but called the new version "a terrible idea."

    The language depicts America's past, Railton said, and the revised book was not being true to the period in which Twain was writing. Railton has an unaltered version of "Huck Finn" coming out later this year that includes context for schools to explore racism and slavery in the book.

    The reportage for this story reminds me of this (NSFW):


    Book News Monday: The Year of Oprah, Truest “Grit,” and More

    HAPPY 2011!

    • O Yeah: Oprah Winfrey launched her new television network this weekend!

      I'm not sure if they have an entire show devoted to Oprah's Book Club — although that would fulfill the Christmas wish of every single publishing house in the universe — but there are programs with titles like Oprah Winfrey presents Master Class (Maya Angelou appears in the first episode), Miracle Detectives (not, alas, a Law & Order spin-off), Cristina Ferrare's Big Bowl of Love, Mystery Diagnosis (also not an L&O spin-off), and Oprah Winfrey Sucks the Sickness Right Out of Your Soul with a Straw. I detect a recurring motif.

      The Hollywood Reporter has a round-up of reviews from across the board. Caryn James of IndieWIRE, for example, wrote that the network "displays a whiff of spirituality, a huge amount of life-style fluff and a surprising layer of substance."

      The New York Times proclaims:

      Nowhere in that opening gush of feel-good highlight reels, self-improvement plans, spiritual quests, aha! moments, celebrity master classes and people finding their truths and living their own best lives was there a snicker of malice


    Moonlight Mile

    Dennis Lehane revisits his Kenzie-Gennaro series, and the result is a leaner, more adult novel that casts these characters in more complex shades of grey. Moonlight Mile is a whodunnit and a white-knuckled thriller that shows Lehane at the peak of his skills.

    Book News Friday: Speaking of Banned Books…

    • In Memoriam: TV writer/producer Stephen J. Cannell passed away last night in Pasadena, California, at the age of 69.

      Although best known for creating such TV shows as The Rockford Files, The A-Team, and pretty much every third action/crime show that aired in the '80s (Riptide, Hunter, 21 Jump Street, Hardcastle and McCormick, etc.), in recent years Cannell has focused on writing and publishing thrillers.

      He's had 14 so far, among them The Devil's Workshop and the Shane Scully series, most recently The Prostitute's Ball.

    • Bow Chicka What-What?! Appropriately enough, this being Banned Books Week, young adult author Laurie Halse Anderson has stumbled into a fresh censorship battle for her 10-year-old novel Speak. Fortunately, she has Twitter on her side!

      Earlier this month, Anderson posted a series of messages about a Missouri man who wanted "Speak" removed from the high school curriculum in his school district.


    Book News Thursday: Banned Book Really Was Published, Authors Freak Out about Economics, and More

    • A Light at the End of the Dark Heart: Earlier this week, Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer's memoir Operation Dark Heart received quite a bit of press when it was revealed that the Pentagon had purchased and pulped thousands of copies of the book.

      However, publisher Macmillan wants you to know that the book has, in fact, been published and is available to buy.

      We have been receiving letters of concern that we changed the text due to government censorship, and that the government "burned" the books from our initial printing. The true facts are that the government bought the first printing in its entirety and we destroyed and recycled those copies at their request. The changes we made in the text were made at the request of the author. The Department of Defense in fact wanted further changes to the book which we refused to make.

      Well, if the government is going to practice censorship, at least it's paying for it.

    • Sell Out: The Wall


    Book News Wednesday: Children are the Future (of E-reading), and Other Bits

    • According to a study released by publisher Scholastic:

      Many children want to read books on digital devices and would read for fun more frequently if they could obtain e-books. But even if they had that access, two-thirds of them would not want to give up their traditional print books.

      [...] The report set out to explore the attitudes and behaviors of parents and children toward reading books for fun in a digital age. Scholastic surveyed more than 2,000 children ages 6 to 17, and their parents, in the spring.

      All of which puts me in mind of this.

    • This weekend, Portland Center Stage debuts An Iliad, a one-man show based on Homer's The Iliad, starring Joseph Graves. The Seattle Times called an earlier production "intimate, unstuffy, timely, accessible." The show runs through November 21st — get your tickets here.
    • Acclaimed director (and co-writer of the Strain trilogy) Guillermo del Toro opens up about The Hobbit, his adaptation of H. P. Lovecraft's The Mountains of Madness, and his other billion projects in


    Book News Wednesday: Carter Hospitalized, MacArthur “Genius” Grants, and More

    • Hale to the Chief: Former President Jimmy Carter has been hospitalized with a stomach ailment in the midst of the tour for his latest book.

      About 500 people had waited in line Tuesday afternoon at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in suburban Cleveland, where Carter was scheduled to sign copies of his new book, White House Diary. The event was later canceled, as was a Tuesday night appearance at the Regulator Bookshop in Durham, N.C., according to his publisher.

      "It's crazy for an 85-year-old guy to fly ... just to sign some books,'' said Regulator Bookshop co-owner John Valentine. "He's a brave guy. His health is most important.''

      Now, that's dedication. I expect to find him signing copies from his hospital bed.

    • Mac Attack: Dang! Another round of MacArthur Genius Grants awarded — and none with my name on it! (Nor yours, I'd wager.) Well, there's always next year. And the year after that. And every year until the one where they put us in the ground...


    Book News Monday: Banned In the USA, Wall Street Saves Book Reviews, and More

    • Ban On the Run: Happy Banned Books Week, everybody!

      The traditional way to celebrate this week in my neighborhood has always been to make a huge, delicious cake and carry it out to a room full of excited children. Then one of the parents lunges forward, screaming shrill objections to the ingredients, and hurls it against the wall before anyone can have a piece.

      Now that we're in a recession that allegedly ended last summer (remember that day, when suddenly your bank account was magically full again?), that seems wasteful. Instead, you might try celebrating by reading a banned book — Powells.com has a bunch to choose from right here (you might be surprised to see what titles made the list).

      The Huffington Post offers 10 "flashlight-worthy" titles that have been banned or challenged.

      Meanwhile, Boyd Tonkin wonders in The Independent if there are books that really should be banned. The short is answer is: NO.

    • Easy Like Saturday Review: Slate reviews the newly revamped Wall Street Journal's Saturday edition,



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