It’s heartbreaking: David Oliver Relin, the co-author of Three Cups of Tea committed suicide in Oregon on November 15.  When Viking asked him to co-author the book with Greg Mortenson, he took the job because it was the kind of humanitarian story that he believed in.  Unfortunately, it was later learned that some of Mortenson’s claims were not true.  Not only was Mortenson’s reputation tarnished, but so was Relin’s.  Understandably Relin became depressed because of the emotional and financial impact of the revelations.  And it didn’t help that an attorney filed a class-action law suit against both Mortenson and the innocent Relin.  The suit was eventually dismissed by a judge, but Relin still took his life.  You can read the sad, sad story in a Daily Beast article.

_ _ _

Salman Rushdie’s newest book, Joseph Anton, is a memoir – written in the third person for some reason – of his time in hiding after Ayatollah Khomeini, called for Rushdie’s death.  In a very unflattering article in Atlantic Magazine, Isaac Chotiner claims that the mullahs won even though Rushdie is still alive because he has failed to produce anything nearly as good as the books he wrote before the fatwa was proclaimed.  Not only that, says Chotiner, but Rushdie is now nothing more than a high-living name-dropper.

_ _ _

Prospero, Willie Stark, and Dill Harris are famous literary figures who are based on real-life people.  Smithsonian Magazine tells us who the real-life models were for those three characters and seven more in a very informative article that you can read here.

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Oprah Winfrey’s latest book club pick is The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis.  It is Mathis’ first novel, and it’s doing very well in part due to Winfrey’s endorsement, but Ron Charles in a Washington Post review praises it as well.  See Oprah’s website for information on the book (including a group reading guide), and Charles’ review here.

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Joann Rowling decided to use the initials “J. K.” for her Harry Potter books.  From that many people might have assumed that Rowling was a man.  Why would she want to give that impression?  It might be for the same reason that Christina Lynch and Meg Howrey used the pseudonym Magnus Flyte as the author of their new novel City of Dark Magic.  They chose a man’s name because studies indicate that women will buy books written by either men or women, but men prefer books written only by other men.  I thought we were past that, but apparently not according to a story in the Wall Street Journal

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The next edition of the live author interview program In-Depth on Book TV (C-SPAN2) will air Sunday, January 6th from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. CST.  The featured authors will be Donald Bartlett and James Steele.  They are investigative journalists who have worked together at the Philadelphia Inquirer, Time Magazine, and now Vanity Fair.  They have won the Pulitzer Prize for their newspaper reporting as well many other awards.  They have written eight books together, their latest being The Betrayal of the American Dream which was released on July 31, 2012.

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If you watch Book TV on C-SPAN2 you are probably familiar with Politics and Prose book store in Washington, DC.  The store, which is a national treasure, hosts lots of author events that end up on Book TV.  Their holiday newsletter lists the staff’s five favorite fiction books of 2012, and their five favorite nonfiction books of 2012.  The picks are:


  1. Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
  2. Gods Without Men by Hari Kunzru
  3. NW by Zadie Smith
  4. Wish You Were Here by Graham Swift
  5. The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers


  1. Joseph Anton: A Memoir by Salman Rushdie
  2. The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson
  3. Reinventing Back by Paul Elie
  4. What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets by Michael J. Sandel
  5. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

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Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do is a thought provoking book by Michael J. Sandel.  Dr. Sandel, a professor of Government at Harvard, has also taught a well-attended class on the subject of justice for many years.  A year or so ago PBS broadcast 12 lectures in which Dr. Sandell taught and interacted with the students.  All twelve episodes of the series are available on the internet along with a pop quiz, reading list, and list of discussion questions for each lecture.  The course, which looks at various issues (such as turning in a friend or relative who is wanted by the police, the rightness or wrongness of affirmative action, and the moral side of murder) from diverse points of view, is captivating.  Best of all, though, are the comments made by the students in the class.  You will be amazed, and perhaps heartened, by the depth, passion and diversity of their views.  Note: One of the interesting things that Dr. Sandel points out about his students in the book is that every semester 70% to 80% of the students in that class are first-born children.

Dr. Sandel’s course and many others on a great variety of topics are available at a site called Academic Earth. The courses were videoed and are now available free of charge to anyone who has access to the internet.  Universities with courses at the site include Harvard, Yale, MIT, Stanford, UCLA, and Berkeley.  All of the courses seem to include reading assignments, and some also include a transcript of each lecture.

There are currently 12 courses in the literature section.  They are:

  • The American Novel Since 1945
  • Literary Theory
  • The Poetry of John Milton
  • Dante’s Inferno, Purgatory and Paradise
  • Literary Theory
  • Cervantes’ DonQuixote
  • Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner
  • American Literature I: Beginning to Civil War
  • D. H. Lawrence
  • Modern Poetry
  • Shakespeare After All: The Later Plays
  • Introduction
  • Pericles

_ _ _

I cringe.  Each time I open a library book and find that someone has underlined sentences, written in the margins, and turned down the corners of pages, I cringe.  What sort of cretins would do that to a book that does not even belong to them?  I’m not sure it’s right to even do that to the books we own.  Lev Grossman used to feel like that about his books.  “But my feelings about that have changed,” he admits.  “I am now an absolute bastard to my books.”  He even reads books while he’s in the bathtub!  Why did his attitude change?  What made him go over to the dark side?  You can read his explanation here.

_ _ _

We used to be told that our brains went steadily downhill as we got older, but recent research shows that at any age the human brain can form new neurons if it is challenged to do things that are new and different from the norm.  The human brain actually thrives when it is challenged just as our muscles thrive when we work out.

Research shows that reading is one way we can build new neurons, so read, read, read.  More than that, why don’t you use reading to really challenge your brain?  Try reading genres that are different from your normal reading fare.  For instance, if you read fiction, try reading non-fiction.  Or within a category like fiction, read a type of fiction that you usually avoid.  Instead of mysteries, try reading historical fiction or the classics.  And don’t forget about poetry, essays, short stories and plays.  Recently I have read some novels and short stories that are referred to as “magical realism”, and I find that the more I read that genre, the more I enjoy it.  It may be that I’m just getting used to that type of literature, or it might be that I’m developing new pathways in my brain.  The bottom line is that I’m broadening the scope of my reading and loving it – and maybe even helping to keep my brain fit as well.

Make a New Year’s resolution to read something different.  Get out of your comfort zone, and stay there for a while.  Your brain will appreciate it, and you may develop a love for a different type of reading.

Bookshelf 7

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