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Harper Lee speaks: Marja Mills-penned bio was unauthorized (Updated)

Harper Lee, aka Nelle Harper Lee, the reclusive author of To Kill a Mockingbird, is the focus of author Marja Mills’ bio The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee, which hits shelves Tuesday. It purports to be a rare in-depth look at the lives of Lee and her sister Alice, borne out of a years-long friendship between Mills, a former Chicago Tribune journalist, and the Lee sisters, whom she moved next door to in 2004.

According to the book’s description, Mills “spent the next eighteen months there, sharing coffee at McDonalds and trips to the Laundromat with Nelle, feeding the ducks and going out for catfish supper with the sisters, and exploring all over lower Alabama with the Lees’ inner circle of friends.” The Lee sisters, it says, “decided to let Mills tell their story.”

But, there’s just one problem. According to a letter penned by none other than 88-year-old Nelle Harper Lee herself—who, mind you, hasn’t written a book since Mockingbird, doesn’t grant interviews, and generally stays out of the public eye—The Mockingbird Next Door was executed without her cooperation or permission and based on false pretenses. Lee first issued a statement on the matter in 2011 when Penguin Press announced that it had acquired the book. Now, on the evening before its July 15 release, she’s reminding us that nothing has changed on her end.

Take a look at Lee’s statement in its entirety after the jump, where she reiterates her declaration that she had not “willingly participated in any book written or to be written by Marja Mills.” And, in case that isn’t clear enough, she also says, “rest assured, as long as I am alive any book purporting to be with my cooperation is a falsehood.” Penguin Press and Mills also responded Tuesday morning with their own statements.

READ FULL STORY

The life and times of a ghostwriter (or, how Kendall and Kylie Jenner became published YA authors)

First comes fame, then the magazine covers, the signature perfume, the makeup collection, and—yes—the novel.

Tyra Banks, Pamela Anderson, Nicole Richie, and Britney Spears are just a few of the stars who have novels to their credit, and much like clothing collections or advertising gigs, their literary offerings are considered a commercial product with which to cash in on their fame. And the latest to join the celebrity-turned-novelist club are teen darlings Kendall and Kylie Jenner, who catapulted to fame as the half-sisters of Kim, Khloé, and Kourtney Kardashian.

The Jenner sisters—ages 18 and 16—have just released their first novel, Rebels: City of Indra, marketed as dystopian story about two girls who take off on a journey “amid the constant threat of danger.” But is there any pretense that Jenners or any other celebrity—with their modeling and reality television careers—actually sit down and write these books? (Remember how hard it’s been for Hannah Horvath of Girls? And she actually wants to become a full-time writer.)

The answer, it seems, is a resounding “no.” “I don’t have any expectation that any of the celebrities that I sign or work with will be able to sit down and write a book,” says Rebels publisher Karen Hunter, who has worked on books with Kris Jenner and Tamar Braxton. “I don’t know that many teenagers that could write a book, period.”

Enter the celebrity ghostwriter, usually a seasoned novelist or journalist who gets connected to celebrity projects via literary agents (paired together in what ghostwriter agent Madeleine Morel calls a “matchmaking process”). Then, for a price—a negotiated fee typically between $20,000 and $40,000—ghostwriters will churn out several hundred pages that will ultimately be passed off as a celebrity’s creative endeavor. Which, it turns out, is okay with celeb-crazed readers.

“Fans don’t really care whether or not a celebrity wrote it or not, as long as they can visualize the characters and the setting,” says Valerie Frankel, who’s written several novels under her own name and ghostwritten others, including a 2011 New York Times bestseller for Jersey Shore sensation Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi.

But that’s not to say celebrities aren’t part of the process; they’ll usually create a novel’s characters and plot, providing a foundation for a ghost writer to expand on.

“It’s an escape out of my own head to work with other people and be inspired by their lives, and their stories and their characters,” Frankel explains of collaborating with pop culture phenomenons like Polizzi. “It’s as satisfying as writing a novel under my own name.”

Rebels ghost writer Maya Sloan agrees. “It’s a gift to be writing, making a living,” says Sloan, who did “a ton” of interviews with the Jenner sisters and spent hours studying their preferences, style, and language in order to accurately transmit their personalities onto the written page. “And to me, writing is collaborative. That’s how the face of writing is changing—we need to own it.”

Though Sloan’s name appears on the Rebels title page along with the Jenners’ manager, Elizabeth Killmond-Roman, ghostwriters aren’t often acknowledged at all in a book (that largely depends on how savvy an agent is at negotiating—and how willing a celebrity is to share the credit). And while slapping a celebrity’s name on a product seems to be an easy sell, these novels actually aren’t guaranteed bestsellers, says Morel.

“Stars think writing a book loosely based on their life is the way to go, but most of these books don’t sell,” explains Morel. “Fiction is too subjective.”

The books that have done well—like Lauren Conrad’s L.A. Candy series or Hilary Duff’s Elixir trilogy—are aimed at young adult and 20-something audiences who are captivated by their idols’ forays into literature (and will likely also purchase their branded nail polish or musical albums). However, following the success of 50 Shades of Grey, both Mob Wives star Renee Graziano and talk-show host Wendy Williams have ventured into a new kind of celebrity novel: erotica.

Might that be the next big thing? Maybe. But for those who prefer a youthful brand of dystopian chic, feel free to hold out for a Rebels sequel.

“There’s more to come,” says Hunter of the Jenners’ literary efforts. “They’ve already figured out what’s coming next.”

What We're Reading Now: Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson

Fourth-of-July-Creek

Book sharing is at an all-time high here in the EW offices — maybe it’s the lazy summer days (do people really have those?), the afternoons spent languishing by the pool (are there pools by which one can languish in the city?) or the casual pace people adopt heading into July (casual as in only elbowing three people as they shove onto the subway instead of ten…) or, maybe just maybe, it’s that books are really good right now.

Either way, Editor Matt has pulled 1Q84 off my desk and into his travel bag. Deputy Editor Kristen B snagged The Southern Reach Trilogy‘s next installment before I could even begin detailing why I, like, totally need it first. And, Executive Editor Meeta and I had to jockey for Fourth of July Creek (which Matt raved about the whole time he was reading and EW reviewed here).

Lucky for Meeta, there were two copies floating around and we could all get on with our day.

This book is stunning. The language, the setting, the characters, their spirit, their damage. All of it. Everyone is splintered. Everything needs a helping hand. I don’t generally get drawn to books with obvious moral messages, but the notion that we all need help before we need judgement…well, that’s not so hard to get behind. READ FULL STORY

Donna Tartt's 'Goldfinch': Love it or hate it?

It’s not every year that an 800-page literary novel becomes as popular as The Goldfinch. Yet the book, which has been on the New York Times best-seller list for 33 weeks, is pretty polarizing – people either seem to really like it or they can’t stand it. It wasn’t nominated for the National Book Award, but it won the Pulitzer.

Last week Vanity Fair surveyed literary critics who panned the book when it came out. New Yorker critic James Wood, who wrote in his original review that the book’s “tone, language, and story belong to children’s literature,” told Vanity Fair that “the rapture with which this novel has been received is further proof of the infantilization of our literary culture: a world in which adults go around reading Harry Potter.” Lorin Stein, editor of The Paris Review, said that Tartt’s novel uses, rather than breaks, clichés. “Nowadays, even The New York Times Book Review is afraid to say when a popular book is crap,” he said. Stein thinks The Goldfinch might misrepresent fiction as a whole. “What worries me is that people who read only one or two books a year will plunk down their money for The Goldfinch, and read it, and tell themselves they like it, but deep down will be profoundly bored, because they aren’t children, and will quietly give up on the whole enterprise when, in fact, fiction—realistic fiction, old or new—is as alive and gripping as it’s ever been.”

None of these reviews hurt The Goldfinch, of course, which is still a huge best-seller. It’s so popular that even though it’s a Hachette title, it’s exempt from the current Amazon-Hachette feud. While other Hachette books, such as Malcolm Gladwell’s, might take three weeks to get to your house, Amazon offers regular shipping  for Tartt’s novel.

Most people probably didn’t go out and buy The Goldfinch because they heard it has “fine-chiseled sentences” or whatever other phrase usually employed to praise a work of literary fiction. I suspect they picked it up because they heard it tells a great story – the book’s popularity seems to rest on Tartt’s storytelling skills and not on her prose (in her review of The Goldfinch, Francine Prose wrote about Tartt’s “baffling turns of phrase”). Even the Pulitzer committee said the book “stimulates the mind and touches the heart” but didn’t mention anything about the writing style.

Did you love The Goldfinch or hate it? And why?

PEN American Center releases 2014 literary award shortlists

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Today, the PEN American Center—the largest branch of the PEN International organization—released shortlists for nine of its literary prizes today, and some of the names among them are Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls author David Sedaris, Forty-one False Starts author Janet Malcolm, and The Sports Gene author David Epstein.

PEN presents awards in categories ranging from best debut work to best work of poetry in translation, and today’s shortlists are culled from longlists announced earlier this year. The announcement doesn’t cover the prestigious PEN/Faulkner Award for the best work of fiction by an American author or the PEN/Malamud Award for a short story author. The Faulkner Award went to Karen Joy Fowler for We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, and the Malamud Award hasn’t been announced yet.

From PEN America’s website, here are the full shortlists. The winners will be announced on July 30th.

PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize ($25,000): To an author whose debut work—a first novel or collection of short stories published in 2013—represents distinguished literary achievement and suggests great promise.

Judges: Charles Bock, Jonathan Dee, Fiona Maazel, and Karen Shepard

  • A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (Hogarth), Anthony Marra
  • Brief Encounters With the Enemy (The Dial Press), Saïd Sayrafiezadeh
  • Everybody’s Irish (FiveChapters Books), Ian Stansel
  • Godforsaken Idaho (Little A/New Harvest), Shawn Vestal
  • The People in the Trees (Doubleday), Hanya Yanagihara

PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay ($10,000): For a book of essays published in 2013 that exemplifies the dignity and esteem that the essay form imparts to literature.

Judges: Geoff Dyer, Stanley Fish, Ariel Levy, and Cheryl Strayed

  • Forty-One False Starts (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), Janet Malcolm
  • Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls (Little, Brown and Company), David Sedaris
  • The Faraway Nearby (Viking Adult), Rebecca Solnit
  • Critical Mass (Doubleday), James Wolcott

PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award ($10,000): For a book of literary nonfiction on the subject of the physical or biological sciences published in 2013.

Judges: Akiko Busch, Rivka Galchen, and Eileen Pollack

  • The End of Night (Little, Brown and Company), Paul Bogard
  • Five Days at Memorial (Crown), Sheri Fink
  • High Price (Harper), Carl Hart
  • Surfaces and Essences (Basic Books), Douglas Hofstadter & Emmanuel Sander
  • Wild Ones (Penguin Press), Jon Mooallem

PEN Open Book Award ($5,000): For an exceptional book-length work of literature by an author of color published in 2013.

Judges: Catherine Chung, Randa Jarrar, and Monica Youn

  • Duppy Conqueror (Copper Canyon Press), Kwame Dawes
  • Leaving Tulsa (University of Arizona Press), Jennifer Elise Foerster
  • domina Un/blued (Tupelo Press), Ruth Ellen Kocher
  • Cowboys and East Indians (FiveChapters Books), Nina McConigley
  • Ghana Must Go (Penguin Press), Taiye Selasi

PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography ($5,000): For a distinguished biography published in 2013.

Judges: James Atlas, Lisa Cohen, and Wendy Gimbel

  • Lawrence in Arabia (Doubleday), Scott Anderson
  • Holding On Upside Down: The Life and Work of Marianne Moore (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), Linda Leavell
  • Margaret Fuller (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), Megan Marshall
  • American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), Deborah Solomon
  • A Life of Barbara Stanwyck (Simon & Schuster), Victoria Wilson

PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing ($5,000): To honor a nonfiction book on the subject of sports published in 2013.

Judges: Joel Drucker, Chad Harbach, and Jackie MacMullan

  • Collision Low Crossers (Little, Brown and Company), Nicholas Dawidoff
  • The Sports Gene (Current), David Epstein
  • League of Denial (Crown Archetype), Mark Fainaru-Wada & Steve Fainaru
  • The Emerald Mile (Scribner), Kevin Fedarko
  • Their Life’s Work (Simon & Schuster), Gary M. Pomerantz

PEN/Steven Kroll Award for Picture Book Writing ($5,000): To a writer for an exceptional story illustrated in a picture book published in 2013.

Judges: Mac Barnett, Ted Lewin, and Elizabeth Winthrop

  • Train (Orchard Books), Elisha Cooper
  • Tea Party Rules (Viking), Ame Dyckman
  • The King of Little Things (Peachtree Publishers), Bil Lepp
  • Crabtree (McSweeney’s McMullens), Jon & Tucker Nichols

PEN Award for Poetry in Translation ($3,000): For a book-length translation of poetry into English published in 2013.

Judge: Kimiko Hahn

  • Even Now: Poems by Hugo Claus (Archipelago), David Colmer
  • Diaries of Exile by Yannis Ritsos (Archipelago), Karen Emmerich & Edmund Keeley
  • Collected Haiku of Yosa Buson by Yosa Buson (Copper Canyon Press), Takako Lento & W.S. Merwin
  • Paul Klee’s Boat by Anzhelina Polonskaya (Zephyr Press), Andrew Wachtel
  • Cut These Words Into My Stone: Ancient Greek Epitaphs (Johns Hopkins University Press), Michael Wolfe

PEN Translation Prize ($3,000): For a book-length translation of prose into English published in 2013.

Judges: Ann Goldstein, Becka McKay, and Katherine Silver

  • An Armenian Sketchbook by Vasily Grossman (New York Review Books), Elizabeth & Robert Chandler
  • Transit by Anna Seghers (New York Review Books), Margot Bettauer Dembo
  • The African Shore by Rodrigo Rey Rosa (Yale University Press), Jeffrey Gray
  • The Emperor’s Tomb by Joseph Roth (New Directions), Michael Hofmann
  • Autobiography of a Corpse by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky (New York Review Books), Joanne Turnbull & Nikolai Formozov

 

Cover for new Agatha Christie novel, 'The Monogram Murders'

Monogram-Murders

Agatha Christie may no longer be with us, but her works are still being published — sort of. Thirty-nine years after the last Hercule Poirot novel, Sophie Hannah is adding a new twist to the story of the famous detective.

Hannah, the author of six mystery novels, is adding a new book to the Poirot canon: The Monogram Murders. The book will be set in 1920s London, around the time of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. HarperCollins, releasing the book on September 9th, describes it as “a diabolically clever puzzle that will test [Poirot's] brilliant skills and baffle and delight longtime Christie fans and new generations of readers discovering him for the first time.”

Resurrecting popular book franchises is a new trend in literature. Last year, William Boyd penned a new James Bond book, Solo, with the approval of Ian Fleming’s estate, and the Conan Doyle estate recently approved a new Sherlock Holmes take to be written by Anthony Horowitz. Christie is one of the best-selling writers of all time, so it makes sense for her estate to keep her most popular character alive. Poirot has been in 45 of her books and short stories, the most famous being Murder on the Orient Express in 1934.

Check out an exclusive pic of the U.S. cover of The Monogram Murders below: READ FULL STORY

'Where's Spot?' creator Eric Hill dies at 86

Eric Hill, the author and illustrator of a beloved series of children’s books featuring Spot the Dog, has died. He was 86.

Born on September 7th, 1927 in London, Hill began his career as a teenager, working as an errand boy for an illustration studio while drawing comics in his spare time. By 1976, he invented the character Spot the Dog for his son, Christopher. In 1980, the first Spot book — Where’s Spot? – was published. The book included a lift-the-flap concept, which Hill modeled after a flyer he worked on as a freelance advertising designer.

Spot topped bestseller lists within weeks, and Hill followed up his initial success with Spot’s Birthday Party, Spot Goes to the Farm, and Spot Loves His Friends. Altogether, the books have sold over 60 million copies around the world and have been translated into 60 languages. Various animated television series based on the book’s characters were launched between 1986 and 2000. READ FULL STORY

What We're Reading Now: 'Console Wars' by Blake J. Harris

Console-Wars

Are you a gamer? Is that what the kids are calling people who…uh…video-game?

If that opening didn’t give it away, I’m not a member of this club. I don’t know what most of the popular games are. I feel like the controller never does what I ask. Why is Wii Tennis so tiring? Do all these people have to die? Am I trying to destroy this mythically evil world or save it?

Yeah, PS3(4?), Xbox, and the like are not my forte. Rather, I carry a dread akin to something Seth Rogen touches upon in his portion of Console Wars‘ foreword (co-written by Evan Goldberg). In reference to Sega and Ninetendo he writes: READ FULL STORY

On the Books: Erotica authors have more interesting sex than most people

According to a new survey, erotica authors have way, way more interesting sex than you. A new poll of 103 erotica authors – 94 percent of whom were female and 89 percent straight – revealed that more than three-quarters had sex based on a scene in their own books and twice as many have practiced BSDM compared to the general population. Be sure to check out the individual answers, where one author confessed to having accomplished the difficult feat of doing the deed “on the Haunted Mansion ride at Disney World.” In addition to all the sexy hijinks they get up to, they don’t like 50 Shades of Grey that much. On average, they gave it 2.2 stars out of 5. [Melville House] READ FULL STORY

What We're Reading Now: 'The One & Only' by Emily Giffin

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So the other day I wander into Tina Jordan’s office –  it’s full of books and a cozy rocking chair and she doesn’t (seem to) mind when I want to sit and rock amongst her books — and in the middle of telling her about my weekend (because, duh) I spot Emily Giffin‘s new book, The One & Only.

Immediately, I stop telling her about Memorial Day Weekend in the Midwest (weirdly, she hasn’t asked me to resume the stories), rip the book from her shelf, and when it’s finally in hand, ask if I can borrow her copy.

As you can imagine a lady with thousands of books would, she said yes, but did so while warning me that she wasn’t a fan. READ FULL STORY

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