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Books, authors and all things bookish
Charles Bowden dies at 69; author known for writing on border issues

Author Charles Bowden, renowned for chronicling the border between the United States and Mexico, died Saturday at his home in Las Cruces, N.M., his friend Ray Carroll confirmed Sunday. Bowden was 69.

Bowden wrote dozens of books and essays, including "Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy's New Killing Fields," which focused on the persistent violence among drug cartels that ravaged the border town. He was known for treading dangerous ground to get the story.

His other books include "Shadow in the City: Confessions of an Undercover Drug Warrior," "Down By the River: Drugs, Money, Murder and Family," "Juárez: The Laboratory of Our Future," and "Blood Orchid: An Unnatural History of America."

Award-winning writer Luis Urrea tweeted, "RIP, Charles Bowden. He was a great writer and a big wild soul. And a generous friend."

"He was a brilliant writer, who is gone way too soon," Carroll, a Pima County, Ariz., supervisor and close friend of Bowden's, told The Times. 

Bowden lived...

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Beyoncé, poet

Beyoncé is a superstar. She's an amazing singer and dancer, is model-gorgeous, has an adorable daughter and fellow superstar husband Jay Z. By any measure, she's really got it all.

So why tackle poetry? Well, why shoudn't she?

The new issue of CR Fashion Book has Beyoncé's first published poem. Called "Bey the Light," it touches on motherhood, connecting across generations, and on/offstage personas -- all expected subjects. Most surprising, perhaps, is her short riff on imperfection:

Utopias, they don’t much interest me.
I always mess things up a bit.
It’s chaos, in part, that helps us see.

The poem was "remixed" by Forrest Gander. I'm not entirely clear what that means in terms of poetry -- with words, we usually just say "edited."

Gander tells Slate that he didn't merely edit Beyoncé's poem: He pulled her words from an interview she had done for the magazine to create "Bey the Light." "I’m very interested in formal exploration, in using others’ voices," Gander explains.

At the Wire at...

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Donald Antrim's new story collection goes in unexpected directions

At first glance, Donald Antrim's collection of short fiction, "The Emerald Light in the Air," looks like a departure — at least from the three novels for which he is known. If in the past, Antrim has played around the edges of reality — his first book, "Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World," involves a suburban town armed for self-defense, while "The Verificationist" unfolds in a pancake house where low-rent analysts lament their fates — here he plunges into the very center, describing a series of characters (men, mostly) lost in the middle of their lives.

In that regard, "The Emerald Light in the Air" is an extension of Antrim's devastating 2006 memoir, "The Afterlife," in which the author's relationship with his mother becomes a lens through which to consider human frailty and dependence: all the ways we rely on one another, and all the ways that can never be enough.

This becomes apparent from the first story, "An Actor Prepares," which opens with a typically Antrim-esque digression...

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Bruce Springsteen's children's book, 'Outlaw Pete,' due Nov. 4

The fall is rapidly turning into Rock Star Children’s Book season for the holidays. Bruce Springsteen has become the second Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Member-turned-co-author of a youth-oriented book in recent months with the reveal of a forthcoming kids' book based on his song “Outlaw Pete.”

The Springsteen news follows the announcement in March about “Gus and Me,” a children’s book coming Sept. 9 from Rolling Stones songwriter and guitarist Keith Richards in collaboration with his daughter, illustrator Theodora Richards.

“Outlaw Pete,” which the Boss has created with cartoonist and writer Frank Caruso, will be published on Nov. 4 by Simon & Schuster, and is drawn from the epic 8-minute song from Springsteen’s 2009 album “Working on a Dream.”

The book represents a full-circle turn in a way for his song, which he said in a statement was inspired by a 1950 children’s book titled “Brave Cowboy Bill” that his mother used to read to him.

"Outlaw Pete is essentially the story of a man...

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Karen Abbott's history of four Civil War women who spied or lied

The story of Civil War spy Elizabeth Van Lew almost defies belief. A wealthy society woman living in Richmond, Va., during the Civil War, Van Lew engaged in extensive undercover work for the Union — right under the noses of the Confederacy. Not only did she hide Northern soldiers in a secret room on the top floor of her mansion but she also passed messages to Union prisoners by using a hidden compartment in a chafing dish, employed a special cipher to send messages to agents in Washington, D.C., about Confederate troop movements and wore disguises to accomplish her espionage work.

In "Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy", Karen Abbott captures the spy-novel quality of Van Lew's life, along with the undercover lives of three other famous Civil War-era women.

Rose O'Neale Greenhow was an ambitious Washington hostess and Southern sympathizer who used a secret code to supply military secrets to Confederate generals before the disastrous Union defeat at Bull Run, Va. Put under surveillance and...

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'Why Football Matters' versus 'Against Football'

Unlike Steve Almond and Mark Edmundson, the authors of two terrific new books on football, I did not grow up with a father who loved the sport.

My father thinks football is commercialized barbarism — 22 oversized idiots plowing into one another, following a byzantine set of rules no one truly understands. For me, football is a beloved fall ritual. It's a season of Homeric contests playing out on my television screen.

As the titles of their books suggest, Almond and Edmundson come down on similarly opposed ends of the football debate. Almond's book, "Against Football: One Fan's Reluctant Manifesto," is an extended essay on why his football fandom has evolved into loathing for the sport. Edmundson's "Why Football Matters: My Education in the Game" is an elegiac account of his youthful rescue and redemption on the high school gridirons of suburban Boston in the 1960s.

"The game has a wakeup effect," Edmundson writes after describing the pounding he received in grueling practice sessions....

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With Poets Respond, Rattle gives us the news from poems

“It is difficult,” William Carlos Williams wrote, “to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.” This could be the motto of Poets Respond, a web feature developed by the Studio City-based poetry journal Rattle.

Since June, Rattle has asked poets to submit poems “written within the last week about a public event that occurred within the last week.” The result is something of a scrapbook in verse, rewiring the vicissitudes of the news cycle into something more elusive and personal.

For Rattle’s editors, the motivation is simple: “On average, poems in Rattle are published six months after they were submitted,” they acknowledge. “Then they appear online six months after that. Real poetry is timeless, of course … but this is the age of information. … One reason poetry lags behind other forms of contemporary media might be this delay — how can poetry be part of the conversation when it enters so late?”

How indeed? A look at Poets Respond...

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Bestselling authors Sherman Alexie and Jess Walter launch podcast

"We were too hot," Sherman Alexie says, laughing. The National Book Award-winning author of "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" has launched a podcast with Jess Walter, who wrote the bestselling novel "Beautiful Ruins." Alexie clarifies, "In audio parlance, we were 'too hot.'"

The two accomplished authors are audio novices, jumping into the world of podcasting with "A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment," which launched Wednesday with two (cool enough) episodes.

The show comes from Infinite Guest, a new podcast network from American Public Media. The network includes podcast-only shows like Alexie and Walter's, as well as existing public radio programs like "The Dinner Party Download."

On their show, Alexie says, "We’re going to talk about everything."

"The two of us can talk forever. We’ve had readings where all the people leave and we’re still talking," Walter jokes.

They are speaking from Alexie's place in Seattle by phone; Walter also lives in Washington, in Spokane. Both...

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Women's paths diverge in Elena Ferrante's epic 'Those Who Leave'

I first encountered Elena Ferrante's fierce, singular voice in her second novel, "The Days of Abandonment," an unrelenting exploration of a woman whose husband has left her. In her newest novel, "Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay," the third of her quartet of "Neapolitan novels," we come up for air.

Centered on the friendship between Elena Greco, the protagonist, and Lila Cerullo, her childhood friend, "Those Who Leave" seamlessly braids those same urgent domestic concerns with the volatile political landscape of Italy in the late '60s and early '70s.

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FOR THE RECORD

An earlier version of this post said that Elena Ferrante's novel "Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay" was the last of her trilogy of "Neapolitan novels." It's the third of a quartet.

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The women's lives have diverged when the book begins in 2010. Elena, who has become a novelist and is at work on a new book, remembers a walk taken five years previously in their old neighborhood in Naples.

"Too many...

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33⅓ book series celebrates records -- and its 10th anniversary

Sales of vinyl records began plummeting in the last decades of the 20th century, and by 2004, they were virtually considered a dead medium. That's the year David Barker began to publish a series of miniature books under the name 33 1/3.

A Brit with a doctorate working for an academic press, Barker named his project after the speed of an LP and created a model for a writer to extract meaning from a single album per book by any means necessary — reporting, criticism, fiction, memoir.

Vinyl's looming obsolescence made it the perfect fetish object as the last generation of record collectors — roughly those who came of age during the punk and post-punk years of the late '70s through the mid-'80s — became nostalgic for the music of their youth, a demographic that includes Barker, who "grew up in the 1980s on a hard-core diet of the NME and Melody Maker."

To those people, 33 1/3 — which will celebrate its 10th anniversary in September with its 100th title (Michael Jackson's "Dangerous" by...

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Was Marion 'Suge' Knight shot over a book proposal?

It’s not often that you hear about assassination attempts linked to book proposals. Writing a book pitch, after all, is a notoriously quixotic thing to do. Publishers routinely "kill" books simply by rejecting them. And Americans are so blasé about books, it's hard to imagine anyone would resort to attempted murder to prevent a book from making it to print.

But that’s one of the theories floating around to explain why a gunman opened fire on the former rap impresario Marion “Suge” Knight in West Hollywood last week. According to gossip collectors over at the New York Post’s Page Six, the shooting may have been an attempt to “discourage” Knight from writing a book.

Three people, including Knight, were wounded in the gunfire at the 1Oak club in West Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard, at a party in honor of Chris Brown and his new album.

“Music insiders are buzzing that Knight is shopping a story on his career, from founding Death Row Records in the early ’90s to his hard-handed business...

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In 'Bone Clocks,' David Mitchell ties his universes together

We enter David Mitchell's new novel, "The Bone Clocks," through a conventional door: Holly Sykes, a mouthy British teenager in 1984, is sleeping with an older guy and spending time with a bad-news best friend. After a fight she decides to take off, a short runaway jag, the kind designed to teach her concerned family a lesson. "Six days should do it…" she thinks, "Six days'll show Mam I can look after myself in the big bad world."

There are many kinds of novels this could become: A bildungsroman, a commentary on Thatcherite England, a horror story, a YA romance. "The Bone Clocks" is none of them.

Mitchell earned a devoted readership with 2004's "Cloud Atlas," a novel of profound emotions that jumped across centuries and the globe with a stunning twist: its innovative structure. This was such a signature element that it loomed over his subsequent books. Could he ever write anything as brilliant?

He ducked the issue in "Black Swan Green" (2006), a semi-autobiographical novel about a boy...

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