Readersforum's Blog

February 24, 2012

Prize dredges up a vintage shortlist of the year’s oddest book titles

Perhaps a supplementary volume? ... a dredger ship pumps sand off the coast of Dubai. Photograph: Jorge Ferrari/EPA

A Century of Sand Dredging in the Bristol Channel must dig deep to see off stiff competition from The Great Singapore Penis Panic.

By Alison Flood

Some might have worried the publishers of Peter Gosson’s A Century of Sand Dredging in the Bristol Channel were scraping the bottom of the barrel with the issue of a second volume. But now it goes head to head with the intriguingly subtitled Mr Andoh’s Pennine Diary: Memoirs of a Japanese Chicken Sexer in 1935 Hebden Bridge, on the shortlist of the Diagram prize for the oddest book title of the year.

Gosson’s exhaustively researched maritime history is already the favourite of judges at the prize’s administrator, the Bookseller magazine, and some are already calling out for more on the subject. “I do feel there was a lot more information that could be covered, possibly requiring another volume,” wrote a reader on

But it is the public who will decide the eventual winner of the award, a public which has shown a marked fondness in the past for the lewder titles in the running (High Performance Stiffened Structures, The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories and Living with Crazy Buttocks are all former winners).


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Drury Lane, Sheridan Go Out

Filed under: Today in Literature — Tags: , , — Bookblurb @ 5:38 am

Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751 - 1816)

On this day in 1809 London’s Drury Lane Theatre burned down; when those watching the spectacle from a nearby pub with theater owner-parliamentarian Richard Brinsley Sheridan remarked on his composure, he famously responded, “A man may surely take a glass of wine by his own fireside.” One-liners aside, Sheridan was most famous in his later years for a five-hour parliamentary speech which brought both sides of the House down.

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February 23, 2012

The Age of No Controversy

By John Jarzemsky

After my last column on required reading (and after leaving my newly purchased copy of Crime and Punishment on a plane), I decided to put my money were my mouth was and picked up a digital copy of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, a novel I had tragically under-read when it was assigned to me in high school. While reading, I found myself wondering about the controversy Golding’s tale generated upon its release. Themes of man’s inherent inclination towards violence, individual welfare versus the common good, and the potential corrupting properties of religion were just beginning to be explored back in 1954, and Lord of the Flies remains one of the most frequently challenged books still taught in classrooms today.

Looking back, one can find a myriad of titles that caused a similar furor upon their release or inclusion in libraries and classrooms. Catcher in the Rye, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Lolita are all prime examples. Up to a certain point in history, it seemed that when novels were deemed shocking or controversial, it was almost always due to the thematic content of the work, and most often for overt political or social themes. The “controversy” that erupted out of a work of art knocked down established social and political mores, and forced the reader to think outside of their own experience.

While the attempted suppression of books is alive and well in the United States (the preferred nomenclature is “challenged books”, seeing as outright bans of material are quite rare), re-reading Golding’s classic made me stop and wonder: when was the last time a book caused such a public stir? I have to remind everyone of the fact that I am not a teacher or a librarian, and thus I am not clued in as to what books have over-protective parents in an uproar these days. I can, however, look back at a few books that garnered the attention of national news outlets recently, and while the controversy surrounding these titles is very real, rarely is it rooted in the potential for social change or radical thought that so many challenged titles of yesteryear were.

Off the top of my head, a few books spring to mind. Most recently: The Da Vinci Code and Twilight. The former seems to prove the old adage “controversy sells” correct, as Dan Brown had sold over 80 million copies of the novel as of 2009. Like many similar instances in the 21st century and beyond, The Da Vinci Code was considered “controversial” because it dared to offer alternative histories to those found in religious texts (a surefire way to get people talking, it seems. See The Satanic Verses and The Last Temptation of Christ). While the book was the toast of the town for a brief period, its star quickly fell, perhaps due to the fact that the film version, starring Tom Hanks, didn’t propel the book into the cult status of Stephanie Meyer’s vampire/werewolf/teen chastity romp.

The Twilight series—which, I must disclose, I haven’t read—has remained in the public consciousness since the first novel’s release in 2005, due in no small part to the runaway success of the films. Opinions about literary merit aside, what can’t be denied is the conversation surrounding Twilight: the argument over what this book says about gender roles and feminism has been going back and forth for some time. However, the paradigm presented by Meyer is decidedly regressive, which has made Twilight something of a unique phenomenon in that it’s been harangued both by conservatives (paranormal, the occult, teen sexuality, violence) and progressives (themes of feminine helplessness, unhealthy models for romantic relationships, etc).

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The 10 Best Slacker Novels According to Adam Wilson

By Emily Temple.

Though we’re sure he’s no slouch himself, Adam Wilson sure knows a thing or two about the intricacies of slackerdom. His debut novel Flatscreen, which hit shelves this week, is the hilarious story of professional slacker Eli Schwartz — perpetually stoned, uncomfortably doughy, cheerfully lewd — who is forced to face up to certain facts of life (and required to put on pants) when his (parents’) home is purchased by an aging, sex-addicted ex-TV star in a wheelchair. As you might imagine, hijinks ensue, most of which are relatively unflattering to our friend Eli, but he manages to slouch and whine his way towards a satisfying conclusion. Since he’s the expert, we asked Wilson to tell us about his all-time favorite literary slacker novels

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February 22, 2012

Famous Authors’ Unlikely Obsessions

Martin Amis

By Emily Temple

We tend to put our favorite authors on a pedestal, and in some ways when we do that, we turn them into characters themselves, figures whose every action, whim, and interest should fit into the tidy package of our understanding. However, authors are real people (thank goodness) and sometimes they can surprise us by being into something that seems a little off-kilter for them — or just in general. With all the recent hubbub on book blogs about Martin Amis’s resurfaced video game guide (so it’s okay to write about Space Invaders, but penning children’s books is totally lame?), we got to thinking about other authors and their obsessions, from the literary to the musical to the, um, extra-terrestrial.

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Home Ministry stops sale of ‘Where Did I Come From’ book by Peter Mayle


PUTRAJAYA: The Home Ministry has asked bookstores to immediately stop the sale of Peter Mayle’s book Where Did I Come From’, a book explaining the facts of life.

Ministry Deputy Secretary General Datuk Abdul Rahim Mohd Radzi said Tuesday they had started studying the content of the book and sales had to stop until a decision was made.

“If the contents are found have elements that could harm the moral of the community, we would ban it,” he said in a statement.

Abdul Rahim said the ministry was taking action under Section 7, Subsection 1 of the Printing Presses and Publication Act 1984 .

The book, published in 1984, describes the reproductive process from intercourse to birth.

It is heavily illustrated and most reveiewers have said that it was useful but some reviewers have commented that it had too much information about love making.

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Why are certain books banned for prisoners?

Bryan Stevenson, founder and director of the Equal Justice Initiative

 By Valerie Merians

In honor of Black History Month, Leonard Pitts tells a story to give readers pause in a column for the Orlando Sentinel.

According to Pitts, Bryan Stevenson, director of the Equal Justice Initiative, a Montgomery, Ala.-based organization that provides legal representation for the indigent and incarcerated, sent two books to prisoner Mark Melvin last year. Melvin is in jail for life for a murder he committed when he was 14.  The books were Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, about a doctor’s struggle to bring medical services to Haiti, and Slavery by Another Name, Douglas Blackmon‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning account of “how the South instituted a form of de-facto slavery by mass arresting black men on nonsense charges and ‘selling’ them to plantations, turpentine farms and other places of back-breaking labor.”

Melvin was allowed to read the first book, but was denied the right to read Slavery by Another Name. Stevenson told Pitts prison officials “felt it was too provocative, they didn’t like the title, they didn’t like the idea that the title conveyed. They didn’t read the book, but they were concerned about it and thought that it would be ‘too dangerous’ to have in the prisons.”

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February 21, 2012

On Getting Paid: Literary Magazines and Remuneration

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , , — Bookblurb @ 6:02 am

By Nick Ripatrazone

David Lynn began his Editor’s Notes for the Autumn 2004 issue of The Kenyon Review with some necessary questions: “How much is a fine story worth? What monetary value does a superb poem possess? How much — and this is the inexorable point — should authors be paid for their long, solitary work?” The questions were particularly appropriate to his magazine: The Kenyon Review published writers such as Thomas Pynchon, Flannery O’Connor, Robert Penn Warren, and yet the magazine closed in 1969, and was not revived until a decade later. Lynn assumed the editorship in 1994, and the magazine “struggl[ed] toward financial stability,” only paying contributors “fifteen dollars per page for poetry and ten dollars per page for prose.”

Lynn’s introductory note served two purposes. The first was to announce an increase in payment rate for writers, which managing editor Tyler Meier attributes to the generosity of “a great Board of Trustees [at Kenyon College].” Lynn admitted that even an increased rate could not compete with the dwindling “commercial magazines” who still published fiction, but his qualification leads to the second purpose for his introduction: a philosophical consideration of the economy of literary magazines. Lynn wonders about the rewards of writing, quipping that “a fiction writer may serve an apprenticing of sorts by fashioning short stories (all the while harboring a fantasy of blockbusters and screenplays down the road)… [while] poets, even the best poets, daren’t delude themselves in this particular way.”

Lynn engages a prescient point: are literary magazines an end, or a means toward an end, for writers? From an economic standpoint, he reaches a practical conclusion, shared by most writers involved in the submission process: while publication in literary magazines might be an aesthetic end, it is no means an economic one. Since “many authors today hold academic positions… promotion in the academy often depends on generating vitae with lists of publications that otherwise have earned them little beyond the price of a meal or two.” The obvious irony needs to be unpacked. Scan the contributor notes of any contemporary literary magazine, and you will find Lynn’s statement true: writers are often employed by university English departments, or are students in MFA programs affiliated with those departments. Other than a few and often notable distinctions, the economy of literary magazines appears to be a closed system: writers publish in literary magazines that are often read by writers. Money is tight, payment is low, and subscriptions and institutional support appear to be the final hope for sustenance. Does it have to be that way?

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PRZ WNR? Will Cohu’s ‘Two Bad Thumbs’ Shortlisted Beside Lionel Shriver And Diana Athill

An author who has written in text speak could soon be all smiley faces and LOLs after finding himself in the running for the world’s richest short story prize.

Will Cohu’s story Two Bad Thumbs is pitted against literary heavyweights such as We Need To Talk About Kevin writer Lionel Shriver and former Costa Book Award winner Diana Athill.

They feature on a longlist of 20 titles competing for the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award 2012, which is worth £30,000 to the winner.

Journalist and novelist Cohu – twice shortlisted for the award – has written his story using text messages to create a seedy tale of an affair unravelling.

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Will Streep, Mirren, or Turner Star in Premiere of Tennessee Williams’s Final Play?

Photo by Jack Mitchell

By Jeremy Kinser

The last play written by Tennessee Williams, which tells of the world’s richest woman, her gay husband, and his young lover, will finally be produced in April in New York possibly starring Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren, or Anjelica Huston, according to New York Post‘s Michael Riedel.

Williams, who won nearly every award for his plays, including the Pulitzer Prize for Drama twice for A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, was working on In Masks Outrageous and Austere when he died unexpectedly in 1983

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