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Books, authors and all things bookish
More than 3,000 of Doris Lessing's books heading to Zimbabwe

More than 3,000 books from the personal collection of Nobel prize-winning author Doris Lessing are headed to the leading public library in Harare, Zimbabwe. The author, who died in 2013 at age 94, lived in Zimbabwe in her youth, when it was Southern Rhodesia.

Lessing was born in Iran to British citizens; the young family moved to Southern Rhodesia when she was around 5 years old. Their house was initially a rough mud hut, but always full of books.

As a teenager, Lessing struck out on her own and moved to Salisbury -- now Harare -- where she worked as a telephone operator; she was twice married and divorced before moving to England in 1949. Her first book was published in England in 1950; Her best-known novel, "The Golden Notebook," was published in 1962.

Lessing's home in London was full of books. Staffers from her publisher, HarperCollins, and the charity Book Aid International told the Guardian that they found books every place shelves could fit, including hallways and under stairs:...

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The life of Wilhelm Reich as drawn by Elijah Brubaker

When Wilhelm Reich died in prison in 1957, he was a scientist disgraced. Remembered, if at all, as the inventor of the orgone accumulator (William S. Burroughs and William Steig, among others, were devotees), Reich was once an associate of Sigmund Freud in Vienna, and immigrated to the United States in 1939. By the 1950s, however, he found himself the target of government persecution, largely for his theory of Orgonomy, which posited that diseases such as cancer and mental illness were the result of repressed orgone energy. Such energy, Reich believed, was a kind of life force, although his detractors framed it in more prurient, even sexualized, terms. Eventually, he was jailed and much of his research materials, including copies of his own books, were destroyed.

Reich may seem an unlikely hero for a comic, but that, Elijah Brubaker suggests, is the point. The Oregon-based comics artist has put out 11 issues of “Reich,” a biography in graphic form, with Portland’s Sparkplug Comics; a...

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Robin Williams bio coming from Henry Holt and Dave Itzkoff

Henry Holt has acquired the rights to a biography of the late Robin Williams, to be written by New York Times culture reporter Dave Itzkoff.

“The book will provide the definitive, comprehensive account of Williams’s life and will recount his journey from lonesome youth to indefatigable comedian, and from television sensation to beloved, Academy Award-winning star of ‘Dead Poets Society,’ ‘Aladdin,’ and ‘Good Will Hunting,’” Henry Holt said in a press release.

Williams, 63, died in an apparent suicide earlier this month. Having long battled addiction, Williams was sober at the time of his death, but was suffering the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, family members said.

Itzkoff interviewed Williams several times, most recently for a profile in 2009, when Williams was recovering from open-heart surgery. "You appreciate little things," Williams told Itzkoff, "like walks on the beach with a defibrillator."

"Robin Williams was a cultural hero of mine, and in the encounters and...

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Kobo to debut waterproof e-reader Aura H2O

Kobo announced Wednesday that it would launch a waterproof e-reader, the Kobo Aura H2O. The device will be available for preorder Sept. 1 for delivery beginning Oct. 1. 

“When we asked our customers what held them back from reading more e-books, many told us they love to read in the bath, by the pool, or on the beach, but believed that devices and water didn’t mix,” Michael Tamblyn, president and chief content officer at Kobo, said in a release.

It's the first official waterproof e-reader to be released (aftermarket waterproofed Kindles are available). Too bad it wasn't ready in time for summer.

“As we dug deeper, we found that more than 60% of customers surveyed said they would love to be able read near water without worry," Tamblyn continued.

The Kobo Aura H2O should take care of casual concerns of the e-reader getting splashed or dunked. As long as its port is closed, it can stay up to 3 feet underwater for up to 30 minutes.

So, waterproof or not, don't take the Aura H2O scuba...

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Tale of the dueling typewriter apps

Welcome to the technological frontier of 2014: Dueling typewriter apps for the iPad.

Our first contender, Hanx Writer, topped iTunes charts in its first two weeks. It comes from Tom Hanks -- yes, the Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks. What does a big box-office star have to do with tyepwriters? Well, he really likes them. He collects them. Of the app, he says, “With Hanx Writer, you’ll hear the rhythm of your work with SHOOK SHOOK or FITT-FITT.” That's typewriter love.

The upstart rival, Typing Writer, was launched in July by The Rumpus. The literary website's founder, Stephen Elliott, teamed up with Eli Horowitz, Chris Ying and Russell Quinn (McSweeney's, The Silent History) to create an iPad app that would re-create the typwriter experience for writers. While they didn't get onomatopoeic in their description, they do promise that their app will make typwriter sounds.

What do they do, exactly? Hanx Writer "re-creates the experience of a manual typewriter, but with the ease and speed of an...

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Architect Zaha Hadid sues the New York Review of Books

Pritzker Prize-winning architect Zaha Hadid filed suit against the New York Review of Books last week over a book review that she claimed defamed her. It's rare for book reviews and other works of criticism to generate legal action.

The suit was filed in New York over a review of the book "Why We Build: Power and Desire in Architecture" by Rowan Moore that appeared in the NYRB. In the suit, Hadid claimed that reviewer Martin Filler improperly called her reputation into question and falsely implied her indifference to alleged difficult working conditions of migrant workers on large Middle East construction projects, Reuters reports. Hadid has designed the Al Wakrah stadium, which will be the location of the World Cup in 2022 in Qatar.

In the review, which ranged beyond the book itself, Filler wrote that Hadid “has unashamedly disavowed any responsibility, let alone concern, for the estimated one thousand laborers who have perished while constructing her project so far. ‘I have nothing...

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George R.R. Martin accepts ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Winter is coming to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, courtesy of George R.R. Martin.

Standing poolside, Martin responded to the challenge to have a bucket of ice water dumped on his head and/or donate to the ALS Assn.

"Winter is coming," Martin said in the video, quoting the House of Stark motto from his books and "Game of Thrones." As buckets of water were poured over his head, Martin yelped and, head down, added, "Winter came.

Writer Neil Gaiman was one of three who challenged Martin. Where Martin's video was low-res, Gaiman's is artfully choreographed. Walking along Santa Monica beach, Gaiman took off one article of clothing after another, leaving them on the arms of women dressed in black. In just his skivvies, he got doused with a bucket of ice and seawater.

A few bestselling writers have joined the fun. Stephen King challenged John Grisham, who said in his video, "I was challenged by my former friend Stephen King, who's now just a mere acquaintance." Grisham withstood his bucket of...

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Napa earthquake sends library books flying

Early Sunday, the Northern California city of Napa was hit by a 6.0 earthquake, the largest in the region since 1989's destructive Loma Prieta quake. In the intervening years, many earthquake precautions have been taken, but there's one thing you can't do: glue library books to shelves.

And so, when a library experiences a 6.0 temblor, as the Napa Public Library did, this is what happens: A big mess. Books are thrown to the floor in huge heaps.

All Napa County libraries are closed Monday for cleanup.

"There is lots of work to be done -- lots of shelving to do! We are closed, but we hope to get back with you as soon as possible with the doors open," says director of Napa County Library Services Danis Kreimeier in

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What Shakespeare & Co. taught me about being a writer

I learned how to be a writer at Shakespeare & Co. on lower Broadway in Manhattan. This was in 1987, when I was in my 20s, and trying to figure out how to be a writer in the world. I had been working the buy-back desk at NYU bookstore when I learned Shakespeare & Co. was opening a downtown branch. My first day of work was in an empty bookstore, in which the shelves, still covered in sawdust, had just been installed.

Now, that store, which I helped open, is going out of business, priced out by rising rents. According to the website Gothamist, the doors will close at the end of this month, leaving Shakespeare & Co. with just one location in New York, on the Upper East Side.

There are a variety of ways to read this story, most obviously as a lament for what Gothamist calls “the soon-to-be-extinct joy of turning a real, paper pages.” This, however, is misleading.

Since 2009, the American Booksellers Association reports, the number of independent bookstores in the United States has increased...

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First Superman comic book sells for record-breaking $3.2 million

An original Superman comic, sold for 10 cents at a West Virginia newsstand in 1938, was purchased at auction Sunday night for $3.2 million, making it the most expensive comic book ever sold.

The copy of Action Comics No. 1, which features a caped Superman lifting an automobile, was sold on EBay by Darren Adams of Pristine Comics in Federal Way, Wash. The previous record for a comic book was $2.1 million, for another Action Comics No. 1, sold by the actor Nicolas Cage in 2011.

Superman was the brainchild of Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, both North American-born sons of European Jewish immigrants. Their creation is widely credited as the beginning of the superhero genre. The comic book had a print run of 200,000 copies, but only 100 or so survive today, and most of those have had some restoration work done to them.

“This book is like a museum piece,” Adams told the Washington Post. “It’s a freak-of-nature work.” The colors are especially vivid on both the covers, and interior pages,...

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Hiroshi Sakurazaka on how reality and video games changed his fiction

Earlier this week, Jeff VanderMeer talked to science fiction writers about how their real-life experiences get absorbed into their fantastical novels. Author Hiroshi Sakurazaka — whose novels include “All you Need is Kill,” which was adapted into the Tom Cruise blockbuster “Edge of Tomorrow” — revealed the way a single video game encounter formed his approach to writing:

The year was 1995, I think. 

I ran into him at a run-down arcade in Shimokitazawa.

At the time, game consoles didn’t have Internet connectivity, so if you wanted to play against someone you didn’t know, you had to leave the house and head to the arcade.

I was really into a fighting game called Virtual Fighter 2. This game took Japan by storm—back then, you could stumble into any old arcade and there would always be someone there to play against (not via the Internet!). It’s a little unimaginable these days.

At the time, I was a bored college student and had racked up twenty straight wins at the arcade near my school. I...

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Small things add up in Matthew Thomas' 'We Are Not Ourselves'

Matthew Thomas' first novel, "We Are Not Ourselves," is an epic of small events. By that I don't mean its story is insignificant but quotidian: the particular struggles of the day-to-day. A family saga, spanning three generations, the book is centered around Eileen Tumulty, a daughter of the Irish working-class in Queens, N.Y. Eileen's existence is summed up in the first two syllables of that last name — tumult — or more accurately, in the drive to push past her limitations, which have been imposed in many ways by time and place.

"He worked for J.P. Morgan," she reflects of one young man from the neighborhood, "but he was from Sunnyside, his father was a laborer like hers, and Fordham was Fordham, but it wasn't Harvard, Princeton, or Yale." This suggests the rigidly stratified society in which "We Are Not Ourselves" unfolds, where opportunity is not open-ended but the product of attention and resilience and (yes) a bit of grace.

Grace, however, is hard to come by, at least for Eileen....

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