Upwards of 11,000 books have been challenged in American libraries and schools since Banned Books Week was born in the last week of September back in 1982. We wanted to draw some attention to books that have been censored over the years, so we got in touch with Sarah Murphy, a school librarian and co-founder (with Maria Falgoust) of The Desk Set, a “social and philanthropic group for librarians and bibliophiles.” Sarah writes, “Those who attempt to ban books are probably afraid of whatever is inside. So, what are they most afraid of? Judging from the dangers cited this year, it’s sex.” She continues, “If you read about sex, you might get the idea to have some. Or think that it’s nothing to be ashamed of. You might start to believe that you’re not the only person in the world to like it, hate it, want it, or be confused by it. Let’s celebrate our freedom to read by checking out the books that got the would-be book banners’ totally chaste knickers in a knot. Here are ten suggested titles; some are new to the list, others have been challenged for decades. All have been accused of being too darn hot.” So read on, dear readers, and let us know what racy books you hid from your parents and teachers when you were young and precocious. … Read More
Where were you on the morning of September 11, 2001? What errands were you running, what classes were you taking, and what job were you arriving to on that fateful day? As the 10th anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks approaches, we’ve decided to run a group of quotes by writers and public intellectuals (as well as a graphic designer and comedian) who had something to say about the state of the city and the country in the days and years to follow. As David Remnick wrote in the New Yorker, “we pay tribute to the resilience of ordinary people in the face of appalling destruction.” But we also pay tribute to those who had the courage to discuss real issues when there was so much political showboating happening. So read on, dear readers, and let us know what words got you through this incredible shock to the system. … Read More
We hate to be the ones to say it, but the end of the summer romance is nigh, dear readers. As August becomes September, a noticeable chill lingers in the air; the cold creeps in slowly, hardening hearts and delivering sang-froid to young and old alike. In preparation, we suggest you arm yourselves with our modest arsenal of literary quotes that can be administered whenever you feel the time is right. Good luck, and let us know in the comments section what quotes have helped you get through a difficult breakup. … Read More
BookLamp.org is a new website that is similar to Pandora — it creates algorithms and breaks down your book preferences by main themes. For instance, if you liked White Teeth, then Booklamp discerns that you’re into: Culture, Life/Death/Spirituality, Extended Families, Explicit Language, and “Elements of Time.” This results in some odd recommendations, such as The Cestus Deception (Star Wars: Clone Wars) by Steven Barnes. (Really? Because we are just never going to be in to that.) However, another suggestion was The Pregnant Widow by Martin Amis, which makes some sense. So click through and see what hilarious, interesting, and arguably accurate choices we found on our trip through the site. … Read More
This week, we came across this list of ‘books you really should have read in high school’ over at MSNBC’s Today Books. While their picks are definitely classics, most of which we did in fact have to read in high school, we think today’s youth (and any adults playing catch-up, which let’s be real, is almost everybody to some extent) would be better served by a few alternate choices. The classics are wonderful, but the canon should be fluid, allowing some experimental choices as well as the tried-and-true. Of course, kids today should read hundreds of books, if possible, so this is by necessity a finite, imperfect list reflecting, as it must, our own proclivities. Let us know your own choices for essential alternative high school reading in the comments! … Read More
People say that the lines in your face are representative of the life you’ve led – as in, love your laugh lines because clearly you’ve had a good run of it – and maybe we’re starting to believe that’s true. This week, HTMLGiant pointed us towards our newest obsession – artist and author John Sokol’s “Word Portraits,” drawings of literary greats in which the lines of their faces are crafted from the very words of their own works. How metaphorically poignant! But more than that, they’re beautiful, fascinating and often spot-on. Just don’t actually try to read them – you may get lost somewhere in Toni Morrison’s hair. Click through to see a few of our favorite portraits, and be sure to check out the rest here and a few of their prices here. … Read More
In 1953, three American ex-pats (Harold “Doc” Humes, Peter Matthiessen, and George Plimpton) decided to start a magazine that would promote, as the author William Styron confirmed in the first issue, “the good writers and good poets, the non-drumbeaters and non-axe-grinders. So long as they’re good.” The spring issue of the Paris Review is out now, so we decided to make a list of notable interviews in the venerable literary quarterly. The best of “the art of fiction” contains writers from the past 58 years of its publication; they all have a way of commanding the page that is entirely their own, and this quality is reflected in each author’s interview style. Nabokov is authoritative yet bemused, Didion has a terse way of speaking that is plagued with anxiety, and Vonnegut is playful, despite the conversation about the bombing of Dresden. And, as the publication date for The Pale King approaches, we realized the Paris Review missed its chance to interview David Foster Wallace. We can only imagine how the late author would have approached the conversation. Would there have been footnotes? We hope so. … Read More
Can authors write for both kids and adults? The Guardian doesn’t seem to think so, but with this list we beg to differ. Sure, there’s some crossover in genre — as we all know, a lot of adults love Harry Potter with all the strength in their muggle bodies — but the books we’ve picked were written expressly for children, regardless of whether or not grown ups like them too, and written by authors who are primarily famous for their adult literature. You may be surprised by who has made the foray into kiddie lit — it turns out that some of the most serious authors we can think of have a warm, nougat center full of laughter and sunshine. Or something like that. Click through to see our list of children’s book written by famous “adult” authors and let us know which of your favorites we’ve missed in the comments! … Read More
Writing about sex in literature is a difficult task; there are so many ways authors can go wrong. Nowadays, most writers spend too much time on the build up and then release the curtain during the show, choosing instead to segue to a point immediately after the act. Others spend an inordinate amount of energy coming up with penis euphemisms, and end up ruining a scene (think: late John Updike), or even a whole novel. Evelyn Waugh’s son, Auberon, established the Bad Sex in Fiction Award 17 years ago for this very reason. He wanted to “gently dissuad[e] authors and publishers from including unconvincing, perfunctory, embarrassing, or redundant passages of a sexual nature in otherwise sound literary novels.” Rowan Somerville was the 2010 winner for some godawful passages in his second novel, The Shape of Her. Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen, was also nominated, as was Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross.
To counter this terrible scourge on contemporary readers, here is a list of noteworthy sex scenes in modern literature not by a Great Male Novelist (e.g., Mailer, Roth, or Updike) — those supposed masters of the form. … Read More
Last week, we published a list of 10 essential books of the past 25 years. It was one of our most popular posts of all time, as well as one of our most contentious, racking up over 100 comments. Much of the argument has focused on the list’s lack of diversity: of the 10 books, eight were written by white men.
Since best-of lists can’t help but be subjective and flawed, and because there have been so many game-changing books by women and people of color in the past 25 years, we’ve put together an alternate top 10 list. Don’t think of it as an affirmative action move or a consolation prize, but rather as proof that you could make an equally strong list of the past few decades’ greatest literary achievements without including a single American- or British-born white guy. The highbrow novels, page-turning bestsellers, and one particularly inspired graphic novel after the jump all challenged the received wisdom that literature is or should be dominated by white dudes. … Read More