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Book News: Efforts To Ban Books On The Rise

Joe Songer

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

  • The Kids Right to Read Project says it saw a striking increase in the number of books challenged or banned across the U.S. this year. Coordinator Acacia O'Connor told Shelf Awareness last week that the group investigated 53 percent more incidents in 2013 than 2012 — 49 cases in 29 states. "It has been a sprint since the beginning of the school year," she said. "We would settle one issue and wake up the next morning to find out another book was on the chopping block." Shelf Awareness notes that "the majority of challengers were parents of district students or library patrons, though a handful were local or state government officials." O'Connor added that many of the books challenged were written by minorities. "There are moments," she said, "when a half-dozen or so challenges regarding race or LGBT content hit within a couple weeks, where you just have to ask, 'What is going on out there?'"
  • The New Yorker publishes a "recently unearthed" story by the teenaged Zelda Sayre, later Zelda Fitzgerald, the wife of F. Scott. Called The Iceberg, it follows Cornelia, who makes an unexpected marriage after enrolling in a typing course: "North, South, East, and West the messages flew, and Cornelia's fingers flew with them. White, slender, and shapely, they graced the machine as they had the piano, and, when lunch hour came, her face had flushed, and the little brown curls clung to her forehead with a slight moisture of effort. Cornelia was beautiful over her first conquest of the typewriter!"
  • In Nautilus, Mary Ellen Hannibal writes about Vladimir Nabokov's love of lepidoptery, or the study of butterflies: "Today we can trace the legacy of the writer and scientist in the motion and migration of the butterflies he studied. Nabokov once wrote that, had he not left Russia, he might have spent his life entirely on lepidoptery, and not fiction. So, at heart, was Nabokov a scientist or an artist? Asked that question once, he expressed puzzlement: 'There can be no science without fancy,' he replied, and 'no art without facts.' "

    NPR publishes an exclusive excerpt of Chang-rae Lee's novel On Such a Full Sea, which comes out in January. The excerpt describes the dystopian city of B-Mor (once called Baltimore): "Because it's rarely pleasant out of doors, we've come to depend on the atmosphere of seasonally perfumed, filtered air and the honey-hued halo lighting and the constantly updated mood-enhancing music that all together are hardly noticeable anymore but would likely cause a pandemonium were they cut off for any substantial period."

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    Annalisa Quinn is a contributing writer, reporter, and literary critic for NPR. She created NPR's Book News column and covers literature and culture for NPR.