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On the Books: In-depth Joan Rivers bio announced

Today Little, Brown and Co. publisher Reagan Arthur announced in a press release that it has inked a deal with Vanity Fair veteran Leslie Bennetts for a tell-all biography of the late entertainment icon Joan Rivers. JOAN RIVERS: A Life, set for publication in 2016, “will be the definitive book about Rivers’s tumultuous, victorious, tragic, glamorous, and fascinating life.”

Bennetts is best known for her in-depth profiles of Hollywood’s biggest celebrities from Brad Pitt to Meryl Streep—as well as being “the only reporter ever to evoke tears from Hilary Clinton in an interview.”

The publishing deal, a collaboration between Little, Brown Editor in Chief Judy Clain and Kuhn Projects’ David Kuhn, will also make the book available in ebook format and as an audio book from Hachette Audio.

“Rivers’ career was also enormously significant in American cultural history, breaking down barriers for women in television and comedy and continually redefining the acceptable boundaries of truth-telling for women in public life,” Bennett said. “It’s hard to imagine a more compelling subject for a book—or one that would be more fun.”

The University of Exeter is commemorating the 60th anniversary of the day William Golding’s Lord of the Flies was first published by sharing a handwritten draft of the influential classic with the public. Judy Carver, Golding’s daughter, is loaning the draft of this syllabus staple, and others from the author’s archive, to Exeter on a long-term basis so that scholars, students, and Golding fans everywhere can see into the early stages of a masterpiece in the making. While Carver is adamant that her dad’s work remains well preserved, “we also believe that it’s time for readers to see something of the process that produced these works.” [The Guardian]

Over 50 of Ireland’s finest cake makers will celebrate Roald Dahl day this Saturday, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, with artistic confections inspired by the beloved author’s classic children’s books. The cakes include a giant blueberry Violet (the girl who was too greedy for her own good), one of the bald baddies from The Witches, and a life-size Willy Wonka himself. You can see the rest of the creations in a gallery from The Telegraph.

Skinner Inc. will auction off a valuable collection of previously undiscovered letters by iconic Beat writer Jack Kerouac. The pieces—17 letters, two postcards, and seven damaged fragments of letters—will be sold separately, at an estimated $2,000 to $5,000 apiece. [The Los Angeles Times]

Author Stephen King will hit the road Nov. 11 for a book tour to promote his new novel Revival, with stops in New York, Washington D.C., Kansas City, Wichita, Austin, and South Portland. [Mediabistro]

National Book Awards nonfiction longlist announced

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The National Book Foundation announced its Longlist for the 2014 National Book Award for Nonfiction. Finalists will be revealed on October 15.

The Nonfiction Longlist includes the first cartoonist, Roz Chast, to be honored by the National Book Awards in the adult categories, a Pulitzer Prize Winner, and a number of distinguished historians. READ FULL STORY

'Zero' review: Being a spy will really mess you up

Zero is a comic book with a conceit that starts out simply: Should spies akin to James Bond exist in the real world, they would be irreparably damaged people. So what if one of these broken, efficient killing machines discovered that he was being used by the wrong side? What would that look like?

Written by Ales Kot and illustrated by a different artists every issue, Zero tells the story of Edward Zero, the best operative in a mysterious Agency, in the middle of a crisis of conscience. Trained from the age of 10 to be a killer, put on drugs to suppress his emotions, and placed on the front lines of a secret war that will radically change the entire world, Zero’s story unfolds bit by bit over a 20-year span beginning in 2018 and ending in 2038. With a nonlinear structure, the reader knows from the beginning that Zero defects—the framing narrative places an old, weary Zero in front of a gun held by a child sent by The Agency, with the same drugs and training Zero had burning through his system. Each issue tells a story involving Zero or one of his associates set in that time period and beyond. Each chapter offers a peek into the messy, broken, and violent headspace of its characters and asks you to sort it out. It’s a fascinating, disconcerting work.

The experience of reading Zero isn’t always a smooth ride. There’s an intricate density to the storytelling—Kot often manages to pull off the difficult trick of constructing each issue with a satisfying, self-contained story that’s complemented with cryptic clues about the near-future world it’s set in and devastating revelations that affect the ongoing plot. And while there’s a lot of thought put into every script, the pacing is highly irregular, and the nonlinear story can make for jarring transitions. But Zero does everything else so well—from art to design to dialogue and beyond—that a sometimes hard-to-follow plot is more of a feature than a bug. The experience of reading a comic book is rarely a prolonged one, and as such having reasons to reread, to pore over slowly and contemplate the ways a particular artist suits a particular story, are all good things.

With Zero on hiatus until October 29, now is the perfect time to pick up the first two volumes, An Emergency and At the Heart of It All, which collect the first 10 issues of the series. Designed by Tom Muller (who is also responsible for the striking look on the single issues), the trade dress for both volumes feature one of the most striking designs for a standard trade paperback in recent memory. The upper portion of the cover is devoted to abstract imagery that reflects the themes of the book—An Emergency is a messy collage designed to look like it was ripped off pages from the comics within, just like its protagonist is broken down and stitched together again into something bleak and impenetrable. Similarly, the second volume takes key art from the next batch of issues and distorts them, much like a signal that isn’t quite clear. It’s a strong setup for what’s to come, even if that isn’t entirely obvious. On both volumes, the lower third of the cover starkly lays out all the relevant information: series, title, price, and credits. It’s an eye-catching look that begs to be talked about and read.

One caveat: Zero is, in a word, violent. There is a graphic brutality on display that some readers will find uncomfortable. While that’s the point, it doesn’t make it any easier to read. In interviews, Kot describes Zero alternately as “what if James Bond was real” and an exploration of “bleak male rage,” expressing the importance of following up depictions of violence with equally considered looks at its lasting, devastating effects. With the help of the many other talented artists whom he has collaborated with, Kot has done exactly that: tearing down the psyches of characters we often encounter in action movies, and inviting us to wander through the rubble.

It’s a disturbing place.

Watch Neil Patrick Harris take shots and do magic in his book trailer

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Neil Patrick Harris has chosen to frame his memoir as a Choose Your Own Adventure book, and the new book trailer adheres to that same spirit, allowing viewers to choose what they want to see the multihyphenate star doing. Well, it’s not quite that interactive. Instead, you can watch little Neils simultaneously juggle, do his Hedwig and the Angry Inch vocal warm-ups, perform magic tricks, eat saltines, or take shots of “pure rubbing alcohol.” The most adorable option is obviously watching Harris and his husband, David Burtka, reenact the spaghetti scene from Lady and the Tramp.

The memoir, titled Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography, is described as a “revolutionary, Joycean experiment in light celebrity narrative, actor/personality/carbon-based life-form Neil Patrick Harris lets you, the reader, live his life.” Or, as Harris explains in the trailer, “throughout the book, at random times, you’ll get to choose what happens to you next.”

On the Books: Jane Austen fans set new Guinness World Record

Think of it as Comic-Con, 19th-Century Style. This past weekend, hundreds of Jane Austen devotees descended upon the British city of Bath to celebrate the author’s work at the annual Jane Austen Festival—and they set a Guinness World Record in the process. On Saturday, 550 Austenites dressed up in full Regency garb, which Guinness subsequently certified as the largest gathering of people dressed in that type of costume (other than the 19th century itself, one would presume).

British fans of Austen apparently felt the need to reclaim the mark they set for the same record back in 2009, after it was temporarily stolen by Americans at—you guessed it—a stateside Jane Austen festival. [BBC News]

Another 19th-century literary titan is also making headlines. Before people waited for the final episodes of Breaking Bad or George R.R. Martin’s latest installment of A Song of Ice and Fire, they waited for new chunks of Charles Dickens’ serialized novels. To recreate the watercooler banter that started it all, next month digital publisher The Pigeonhole will begin to release one of the author’s tomes, Great Expectations, in the episodic way it originally debuted. Maybe it’s time to temporarily unsubscribe from Netflix. [The Telegraph]

Speaking of subscription services, Oyster—the Netflix of e-books, more or less—is reflecting on its first year of business. Oyster, which offers all-you-can-read access for $9.95 a month, has expanded its library from 100,000 to 500,000 titles since going live, and CEO Eric Stromberg says its subscriber base is also multiplying. Oyster is now available on the web, iOS, and Android, and it has inspired Scribd.com and Amazon to get into the e-book subscription business. [Publishers Weekly]

Physical bookstores, unfortunately, aren’t experiencing the same growth. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, bookstore sales fell 5.1 percent to $707 million in July. A year earlier, they were at $745 million. [Publishers Weekly]

… Maybe that’s because James Patterson, the industry’s top earner, is literally giving away his books for free. But he’s doing so for a good cause. The author and his publisher are giving 180,000 hardcover copies of his books to members of the U.S. military. Patterson has donated to the troops before; this round brings his cumulative total of donations to 680,000 books. [USA Today]

Patterson’s best-selling peer, Stephen King, had some choice words—about words he’d never choose—for aspiring writers. “‘Some people say,’ or ‘Many believe,’ or “The consensus is,'” King told The Atlantic‘s Jessica Lahey. “That kind of lazy attribution makes me want to kick something. Also, IMHO, YOLO, and LOL.” TYVM, Mr. King.

Chris Ware's new graphic novel to be released in an old way

Acclaimed cartoonist Chris Ware is not one to shy away from experimentation. (Building Stories, Ware’s 2012 opus, wasn’t even a traditional book—rather, it was a collection of pamphlets and booklets in a big box roughly the size of a board game.) For his latest project, Ware is turning to the funny pages—of a website.

Called The Last Saturday, the project is a weekly comic strip for The Guardian‘s web page. Released every Saturday, the story will focus on a cast of six from the resort town of Sandy Port, Michigan. The first strip is the briefest of introductions, but it does note that it will have ‘functionality’ designed by The Guardian‘s Interactive Team, so hopefully that level of support allows Ware to get experimental and take full advantage of the digital medium.

Also, if you like reading comics in this fashion, consider delving into the world of webcomics—there’s a wealth of high-quality completed and in-progress works available for free on the internet, right now. Here is a good list to get started.

Steampunk gears up for a broader audience

Those who watched Doctor Who‘s season premiere this August were confronted with something strange—and it wasn’t just the striking new Doctor, Peter Capaldi. The episode, “Deep Breath,” was set in Victorian England…but there were robots. And not futuristic-looking robots, either—ones full of gears, pistons, and other old-fashioned mechanisms, the sort of technology that actually existed in the 1800s. These robots were patently impossible, far more advanced than anything an engineer could have created back then. They were also peculiarly plausible. They were, in short, steampunk.

As a sensibility, steampunk—a word that evokes old-timey aviator goggles, brass machinery, and, of course, steam engines—is nothing new. It’s trickled into the mainstream on numerous occasions over the years, from the frontier gadgetry of The Wild Wild West (both the ’60s TV show and the ’90s movie based upon it) to 2010’s “Punked,” the steampunk-themed episode of ABC’s hit show Castle. That said, it’s never fully broken through to a broader audience the way, say, epic fantasy has, thanks to The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones. (Or the way quirky science fiction has with Doctor Who, for that matter.) But a handful of steampunk writers—some humble, some ambitious—are currently working to change that.

READ FULL STORY

On the Books: Authors United warns Amazon, watch your reputation

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The 1,100 member group Authors United posted a letter of direct appeal to Amazon’s board of directors—urging them to end their book-pricing standoff with publisher Hachette, which has hurt some authors’ book sales.

The letter warns the board that their reputation may be at stake: “[I]f this is how Amazon continues to treat the literary community, how long will the company’s fine reputation last?” The appeal continues, noting similar disputes “have a long and ugly history,” and asking, “Do you, personally, want to be associated with this?” For months, Amazon has delayed shipments of books by Hachette authors and removed the preorder option for those titles in an attempt to force Hachette to lower its e-book prices. [NPR] READ FULL STORY

See your favorite 'Harry Potter' and 'Game of Thrones' locations brought to life

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Two artists have brought to life of some of the most beloved locales in the magical worlds of fantasy fiction. The exquisite pieces—created in Photoshop by artists Peter and Radu behind the Etsy shop The Green Dragon Inn—offer escapes to King’s Landing, Diagon Alley, Rivendell, and other imaginary places from the Game of Thrones, Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings series. Because what book and art lover wouldn’t want to deck out their walls with gorgeous renderings of their favorite fictional jaunts?

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'Five Weapons' is a comic that's set in a Hogwarts for assassins

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Five Weapons, Jimmie Robinson’s recently-concluded comic book series, has an irresistible hook: At a school where children are trained to be assassins, a pacifist vows to make it through the semester without touching a single weapon.

There are several ways a story about 12-year-olds learning to be professional killers could go wrong, even in a world where the most popular young adult franchise in the world is about teens forced to murder each other. But Five Weapons dodges all of them. Though it’s set in a world defined by violence, Five Weapons isn’t lurid or graphic in the least—in fact, it’s an all-ages romp that’s mostly about making friends.

Tyler Shainline is the new kid at the School of Five Weapons, where the children of assassins go to learn their parents’ craft. The school’s name refers to the five clubs that students can join, each focusing on a different instrument: knives, guns, staffs, bows and arrows, and “exotic” (poisons and such). As the son of one of the world’s most revered assassins, Shainline is instantly an object of resentment from his classmates. This only deepens after he refuses to choose a weapon and join a club. Each issue of the comic addresses the same issue: how can Tyler solve a series of impossible challenges without breaking his vow of pacifism? READ FULL STORY

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