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April 15, 2014

American Library Association releases its 10 most challenged books of 2013

BraveAs a fresh controversy arises in Delaware over whether parents should censor school reading lists, Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants series tops the list of books which received the most complaints.

By Alison Flood.

As debate rages in Delaware over whether parents should be able to screen school reading lists for “obscene content”, the latest list of the books most frequently challenged in US libraries shows it is not only classics that are being challenged.

Books from Fifty Shades of Grey to The Hunger Games have all drawn protests over the last year, with librarians reporting over 300 requests to remove books from shelves or exclude them from school curriculums.

According to local press, a board meeting in the Cape Henlopen school district in Delaware grew heated when two board members started speaking out against Aldous Huxley’s dystopian classic, Brave New World, and calling for parents to be warned before children begin studying it.

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April 9, 2014

Oddest book prize goes to How to Poo on a Date

Toilet humour ... cover art for Diagram prize winner How To Poo On a Date

Toilet humour … cover art for Diagram prize winner How To Poo On a Date

The Diagram prize, honouring the year’s strangest title, awarded to self-help guide to toilet etiquette.

By Alison Flood.

Powered by the British public’s unstoppable enthusiasm for toilet humour, the enticingly-titled How to Poo on a Date has carried off this year’s Diagram prize for the oddest book title of the year.

With previous winners of the award including How to Shit in the Woods, American Bottom Archaeology and Cooking with Poo – which innocently drew its name from author Saiyuud Diwong’s nickname, “Poo”, Thai for crab – the prize is beginning to show a dangerous trend. “Diagram devotees have spoken, and spoken in no uncertain terms: poo wins prizes,” said prize administrator Tom Tivnan, also highlighting the shortlisted title The Origin of Feces, which came in a narrow second to How to Poo on a Date in this year’s public vote.

Almost 1,500 votes were cast for the 2014 award, with the pseudonymous Mats & Enzo’s guide to dating toilet etiquette taking 30% of votes cast. Joint second place went to Are Trout South African and The Origin of Feces, with Working Class Cats coming in fourth.

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June 26, 2013

I Am Legend author Richard Matheson was himself a real legend

LegendThe man behind the best ever vampire novel was a major inspiration to innumerable stars of SF and horror.

By Alison Flood

I am meant to be writing a blog about how I Am Legend, by the late, immensely great, Richard Matheson, is the king of vampire novels. But after finding my old copy on the shelf downstairs, I’ve become somewhat distracted, and would really rather just get on with reading it.

The image Matheson provides, at the start of the novel, of Robert Neville alone in Los Angeles, is one of the most chilling, the most believable, in post-apocalyptic fiction. Shifting from practical and unemotional, to lonely and furious, Neville sits in his barricaded living room, trying to ignore the cries of the vampires, “their snarling and fighting among themselves”, coming from the other side of the walls. Later, “he went from house to house and used up all his stakes. He had forty-seven stakes”. So deadpan. So unnerving.

Then there are Matheson’s vampires – written in 1954, and so much scarier, so much more interesting and memorable and believable, than the hordes of pallid high–school students who keep springing up today.

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May 23, 2013

Man Booker International prize goes to (very) short-story writer Lydia Davis

Lydia DavisStories by much-acclaimed American writer, some just a sentence long, praised for vigilance ‘down to the very word’.

By Alison Flood

The impossible-to-categorise Lydia Davis, known for the shortest of short stories, has won the Man Booker International prize ahead of fellow American Marilynne Robinson and eight other contenders from around the world.

The £60,000 award is for a body of work, and is intended to celebrate “achievement in fiction on the world stage”. Cited as “innovative and influential”, Davis becomes the biennial prize’s third successive winner from North America, after fellow American Philip Roth won in 2011 – prompting a controversial walk-out from the judge Carmen Callil, partly over her disappointment in the panel’s failure to choose a writer in translation – and Canadian short story writer Alice Munro took the prize in 2009.

Best known for her short stories, most of which are less than three pages long, and some of which run to just a paragraph or a sentence, Davis has been described as “the master of a literary form largely of her own invention”.

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May 11, 2013

Charlaine Harris threatened by fans over final Sookie Stackhouse novel

Dead Ever AfterAuthor of longrunning vampire saga – inspiration for TV’s True Blood – becomes target of online vitriol for her choice of ending.

By Alison Flood

Death threats, suicide threats and more prosaic threats to cancel book orders have followed the publication of Charlaine Harris’s final novel about the telepathic waitress Sookie Stackhouse this week, after the American novelist gave her bestselling series a romantic conclusion that not everyone was happy with.

Running for 13 years, the series – on which the television show True Blood is based – is set in a world where vampires and other supernatural creatures live alongside humans. The 13th and final novel, Dead Ever After, concludes Sookie’s romantic adventures and sees her making a choice between three potential suitors: the vampires Bill and Eric, and the shapeshifter Sam.

An early copy was leaked online by a fan in Germany last week, prompting an outpouring of bile on Amazon, Goodreads and Harris’s Facebook page, with thousands of comments posted by fans furious about the choice Sookie made.

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May 2, 2013

Chris Beckett wins Arthur C Clarke award for Dark Eden

Dark-EdenChris Beckett beat Kim Stanley Robinson and Ken MacLeod to win the UK’s top science fiction prize for his novel about an incestuous colony stranded on an alien planet.

By Alison Flood

Dark Eden, the story of an alien planet where the incestuous offspring of two stranded astronauts struggle to survive, has won the UK’s top science fiction prize, the Arthur C Clarke award.Author Chris Beckett, a part-time lecturer in social work, beat some of science fiction’s best-known writers, including Kim Stanley Robinson and Ken MacLeod, to take the prize. Given to the year’s best science fiction novel, the Arthur C Clarke has been won in the past by Margaret Atwood, China Miéville and Christopher Priest. Dark Eden is only Beckett’s second novel, but the British author is no stranger to awards: in 2009 he beat Anne Enright and Ali Smith to win the Edge Hill short story prize.

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April 19, 2013

Chris Ware’s Building Stories leads chase for Eisner awards

Drawing praise … Chris Ware's Building Stories, which is nominated for Eisner awards including best new graphic album

Drawing praise … Chris Ware’s Building Stories, which is nominated for Eisner awards including best new graphic album

Graphic novel in 14 parts nominated for five Will Eisner Comic Industry awards, known as the Oscars of comics.

By Alison Flood

Chris Ware’s acclaimed graphic novel Building Stories, which comes in the form of 14 “distinctively discrete Books, Booklets, Magazines, Newspapers, and Pamphlets”, is leading the charge in the Will Eisner Comic Industry awards, known as the “Oscars” of comics.

San Diego Comic-Con International unveiled the contenders for this year’s prizes on Wednesday, with Ware’s entry – which follows the lives of the inhabitants of a three-story building in Chicago – up for five awards: best new graphic album, best writer/artist, best colouring, best lettering and best publication design. Ware’s previous graphic novel, Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth, won the Guardian first book award in 2001, the American book award and the French comics award L’Alph Art

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April 10, 2013

Murakami and Houellebecq lead 2013 Impac award shortlist

Karen RussellTen novelists in all are left in contention for the prestigious €100,000 prize.

By Alison Flood

Titans of international literature Haruki Murakami and Michel Houellebecq are going head-to-head on the shortlist for the €100,000 Impac award.

The Japanese and French favourites are two of 10 novelists in the final running for the International Impac Dublin award, with Murakami picked for surreal love story 1Q84, and Houellebecq for The Map and the Territory, which features the “celebrated novelist Michel Houellebecq” as a fictional character. The Impac is unique in that its longlist is voted for by libraries from around the world – Houellebecq received nominations from Barcelona and Berlin, and Murakami from South Africa, Ireland, the US and Germany – with a panel of judges selecting the shortlist and final winner.

This year’s line-up features the highest ever number of translated works, with Murakami and Houellebecq up against Icelandic star Sjón’s From the Mouth of the Whale, about an exiled poet, Dutch author Tommy Wieringa’s tale of a lonely musical prodigy Caesarion, and Norwegian debut novelist Kjersti Skomsvold’s The Faster I Walk, the Smaller I Am, in which a lonely old woman tries to make her mark on the world.

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March 25, 2013

Amazon tax petition hits 100,000 signatures

More than 100,000 people have signed a petition calling on the online retailer to ‘pay their fair share of tax in the UK’

By Alison Flood

More than 100,000 people have signed a petition launched by an independent bookseller calling on Amazon “to pay their fair share of tax in the UK” and warning the online retail giant that “the unfair advantage that your tax dodge gives you is endangering many UK high street businesses”.

Booksellers Frances and Keith Smith, who count the MP Margaret Hodge and the author Charlie Higson among their supporters, are now planning to deliver their appeal to 10 Downing Street, accompanied by a large crowd of authors and other allies.

Hodge, chair of the public accounts committee, was one of the MPs to lay into Amazon over its tax affairs last year, when the online bookseller – alongside Starbucks and Google – was accused of diverting hundreds of millions of pounds in profits to tax havens.

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March 10, 2013

How the internet is kickstarting a teen poetry revolution

Sites such as Movellas and Wattpad are seeing huge numbers of teens writing, reading and sharing poetry. Alison Flood investigates the phenomenon and talks to some of the teens publishing their poetry online

Talk to publishers or booksellers about poetry, and you’ll hear the same refrain. It’s niche, it’s difficult to sell – and young people just aren’t interested. Look online and you’ll see a different picture. More than 20,000 teenagers are writing poetry on the social reading website Wattpad, and over 100,000 are actively reading Wattpad’s poems on both web and mobile, while on the young adult community writing site Movellas, there are 20 to 30 new poems uploaded a day, with the most popular read up to 15,000 times, receiving between 20 and 200 comments. That’s not a particularly convincing display of indifference.

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