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Great literature stripped bare: Naked Girls Reading

Have you ever attended a book reading and wondered to yourself whether it might be better if Philip Roth or A.S. Byatt were naked? No? Well, what if they were beautiful burlesque dancers? Ah…

Enter Naked Girls Reading. This self-explanatorily named group performs public readings of everything from bedtime stories to poetry to traditional classics entirely in the buff. These, uh, literary expositions began in Chicago but quickly caught on in a number of major cities across the country. Friday night saw the very first show by the New York City chapter, with the appropriate theme of “banned books.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald, Harper Lee, Ray Bradbury, and Joseph Heller are only some of the big-name authors whose works were performed on a lushly adorned stage by sparsely adorned lectors. READ FULL STORY

A modern Algonquin Roundtable dinner party of sparkling wit — yours for just $200,000

Nora Ephron (left) and Malcolm GladwellSearching for a holiday gift for the bookish billionaire on your list? The Neiman Marcus Christmas Book catalog is out, and in addition to the $73,000 electric sports motorcycle and the $105,000 Jaguar XJL, there’s this: A dinner party for two at New York City’s famed Algonquin Hotel with actual, live literati. You choose a Monday between February and June 2010 and Neiman Marcus will arrange a meal for you and a guest with eight of “the brightest minds of modern literature, journalism, and the arts.” Your fellow diners might include satirist Christopher Buckley, cartoonist Roz Chast, Tipping Point author Malcolm Gladwell (above right), writer-performer Anna Deavere Smith, presidential beer buddy Henry Louis Gates Jr., sisterly wits Delia and Nora Ephron (above left), actor John Lithgow, New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik, TV journalist George Stephanopoulos, and his actress wife, Ali Wentworth. (Depending on the celebs’ availability on the date you select, there may be substitutions.) Not included in the package: a cheat sheet of possible conversational ice-breakers.

The price for this evening of “sparkling conversation” and “just ordinary” food (at least according to a recent restaurant review on A mere $200,000, with the proceeds going to First Book, a charity that has distributed more than 65 million new books to children in need. (The group will dedicate 10,000 books to children in the state of your choice.) Who says there’s a recession?

I’m curious. If you had a spare $200,000, would you plunk it down on one fab evening of Manhattan-centric chat in an admittedly historic setting? Assuming the dinner lasts about two hours, that works out to roughly 15 minutes with each of your A-list party guests. Sounds like fun, but not exactly a bargain — and it would definitely puts some pressure on you to hone your conversational skills to their absolute sharpest. (Personally, I’d be a wreck imagining the future Nora Ephron essay about the dullest dinner party she ever attended.) What do you think: fantasy evening or overpriced boondoggle? And who would you want in your perfect-wish-list Algonquin roundtable?

Photo credits: Ephron: Chris Hatcher/PR Photos; Gladwell: Janet Mayer/Photorazzi/PR Photos

Literary icons take the plate!

Novel-T_lBaseball just got a little more high-brow: An outfit called Novel-T is launching a line of baseball T-shirts with a dream fantasy team. But don’t expect to see names like Derek Jeter or Johnny Damon in the line-up. Instead, the roster includes a “team” of nine American literary icons from Tom Sawyer to Henry David Thoreau. (A cap tip to The New Yorker‘s Book Bench blog for this item.)

But I have to take Novel-T to task for some of their obvious swings and misses. Why put Moby-Dick at home plate when a creature that size could easily cover the entire outfield? Especially when, clearly, Holden Caulfield is a much more fitting choice for catcher. I will concede, however, that Walt Whitman is positioned well in center field, atop leaves of AstroTurf.

Shelf Lifers: What literary figures would you put on your fantasy baseball team? (Besides, of course, Roy Hobbs. Cheaters.) And would you pony up $25 to wear one of these jerseys, especially since some the proceeds go to a nonprofit group (826NYC)?

'The F Word': A lexicographer drops his third F bomb and Lewis Black joins the fun

the-f-word_lSince there’s no delicate way to introduce the word at the center of Jesse Sheidlower‘s funny, yet surprisingly informative book, I’ll leave it to A Christmas Story‘s Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley): “The word. The big one. The queen mother of dirty words. The F, dash, dash, dash word.” Yes, the infamous expletive that earned Ralphie a mouthful of soap has yielded an entire book.

The F Word is an encyclopedia for all things, well, f***ed. Sheidlower, an editor at large at the Oxford English Dictionary, writes about the history of the word as well as the origin of its many, many variations. Now in its third edition (the first appeared in 1995), the book boasts a new foreword by comedian and frequent F-bomb dropper Lewis Black plus more than 120 new entries, including detailed definitions for skullf***, f***hole, and Sheidlower’s personal favorite, the TV-born euphemism frak. “I’m a Battlestar Gallactica fan,” he explains. Not only did the word re-appear in the recent Sci Fi series, he says, but it also made its way on to the past season of 30 Rock. “So I’m very happy to be able to get that in,” he says.

Tracking F-bombs is a never-ending task for Sheidlower. “I already have things that I missed or improvements lined up,” he says. “As time goes on, the word has become less unacceptable and less shocking, but at the same time, that means that there’s more scope for even more variations.” But it’s not the only taboo word on Sheidlower’s radar. “I do think that sh** is an extremely interesting word,” he says. “If anything, there are probably as many, if not more, phrases and proverbial type things with sh**.”

What do you think, Shelf Lifers? Does Sheidlower’s The F Word pique your interest or would you have too difficult a time suppressing the giggles? Has the notorious word expanded your flowery vocabulary, or just gotten you into a mess of trouble? Let us know — but remember, keep it clean!

Truman Capote signed one of his books ... to Harry Potter

harry-potter-half-blood_lWas J.K. Rowling prowling used bookstores in New Jersey for inspiration for her best-selling series? Howard Rose of Brier Rose Books in Teaneck, N.J., is selling a first-edition copy of Truman Capote’s 1967 book The Thanksgiving Visitor, autographed by the author in January 1978 “for Harry Potter with gratitude.” The book is for sale on, the used-book e-tailer whose Reading Copy Book Blog first reported the curiosity. The asking price: a whopping $1,000, well above the average for the title. (Other first editions of The Thanksgiving Visitor on AbeBooks run between $60-75, while the cheapest signed copy is on offer for $375.)

Rose didn’t have to go to Privet Drive in Little Whinging to find the Capote book — just New Jersey’s Bergen County and the home of a doctor bearing the name of a future boy wizard. “Several years ago, I was called into a home and this book was among some others tossed into a basket in the garage,” says Rose, a former administrator at Fairleigh Dickinson University who’s been a book dealer for 14 years. “It wasn’t until later that I discovered it was signed. This Harry Potter was a physician. He may have been Capote’s physician, for all I know. Many doctors around Englewood had offices in the city. Maybe his specialty was helping people with writer’s cramp.”

Photo credit: Melissa Moseley

Spot the 'Mad Men' anachronism! Or just look it up

mmoedFans of AMC’s Mad Men know that the set decorators are usually slavishly faithful to the look and style of the early ’60s. But Sunday’s episode contained a glaring (and uncharacteristic) anachronism, as my friend, the lexicographer Ben Zimmer, noted yesterday on his Word Routes blog. Can you find it in the picture at left?

Yes, that’s The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary on the ledge behind the desk of Lane Pryce (Jared Harris), the Brit now serving as the chief financial officer at the ad firm Sterling Cooper. But as lexicographers and dedicated word-lovers know, the compact OED was first published in 1971 — well after Mad Men‘s current 1963 timeframe. Worse still, the three-volume compact OED in Pryce’s office didn’t appear until 1987.

The character himself  — or at least whoever oversees his Twitter account — responded late yesterday: “Regarding my office library, I was asked to hold onto those books by a nervous young man named McFly.” Perhaps the producers will be inspired to give Back to the Future‘s ’80s-era time traveler a significant role in upcoming Mad Men episodes. Is it only a matter of time before we see a Lost/Mad Men crossover?

'Cake Wrecks' gets its own glorious book. (We want sprinkles!)


A few weeks ago, my colleagues and I were lucky enough to get our hands on a copy of the Cake Wrecks book, due in stores soon. It would be an understatement to say we were amused by this collection of cakes gone so terribly wrong it’s right. Having already lost many, many hours to browsing the website (we dubbed it our Site of the Day a few months ago) from which the book was spawned,, it’s no wonder I found the book to be as enjoyable as some horrendously decorated, though admittedly still delicious, cupcakes. Cake Wrecks, by the site’s very funny creator, Jen Yates, features some greatest hits from the site, including a few seriously scary baby cakes, head-scratching misspellings (“Happy Burtheby!”), and enough cake decorator misunderstandings (see the cover above) to give you a serious sugar high.

While the book missed out on a few epic cake fails (or, really, if you think about it, wins), like the classic fireman cake or my personal favorite, the jump drive cake, there are still 191 pages of laugh-so-hard-you’ll-cry bakery mishaps to keep you satisfied.

Literary web obsession: Library-themed Ben & Jerry's flavors

A New Jersey librarian named Andy Woodworth has launched a Facebook group trying to scoop up support for a new flavor of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream with a distinctly library theme. As Woodworth notes, the logic boils down to “libraries are awesome” and “Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is tasty.” Hard to argue with that, right? Among the early suggestions: Gooey Decimal System — dark fudge alphabet letters with caramel swirls in hazelnut ice cream; Rocky Read — vanilla with chocolate-covered nuts chocolate chunks and raisins; and Sh-sh-sh-sherbet — key lime or a chocolate/vanilla combination. Tweeters can double dip by posting #tastylibrary tweet treats.

But we don’t need to restrict ourselves to a library theme when we lobby the good folks at Ben & Jerry’s. If rock bands and late-night comics can get themed B&J flavors, why not authors? Butter Pynchon, anyone? Or a scoop of Eat Praline Love? Or perhaps some Stephenie Meyer Lemon Sorbet? Add your own deliciously well-read suggestions in the comments.

Thomas Pynchon: What might he look like now?

pynchon_morphAbout three years ago, EW commissioned New York forensic artist Stephen Mancusi — a guy who’s done deliberately aged likenesses of everyone from JonBenet Ramsey to Marilyn Monroe — to use his professional techniques to render what reclusive author Thomas Pynchon might look like now. His drawing was based on Pynchon’s 1955 high school yearbook photo, one of the last known snapshots of the Gravity’s Rainbow scribe, and accompanied Ken Tucker’s grade-A review of the then 69-year-old writer’s novel Against the Day. Pynchon’s new novel, an L.A.-set mystery titled Inherent Vice, is due in stores this month (EW’s Sean Howe gives it an A). So we thought we’d resurrect Mr. Mancusi’s work. Yes, the artist’s Pynchon looks a little like John Ratzenberger from Cheers. Maybe that‘s the reason he doesn’t put an author photo on the dust jackets of his books.

Lookalike Book Covers: High on Grass!

Over the last five years, Henry Sene Yee’s vivid, playful cover design for the paperback edition of Tom Perrotta’s 2004 novel Little Children has clearly inspired many lawn-care-obsessed copycats, including this year’s dust jackets for Secrets to Happiness and Perfect Life. Consider some of the evidence…


The trend seems to have gotten so out of hand that we imagine publishers might soon extend the idea to their backlist titles, for classics both recent and not so recent. How long before we see covers like these on the shelves? (Three clicks for EW designer Jennifer Laga for creating these.)


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