Julie Otsuka Wins PEN/Faulkner Prize

The Buddha in the Attic is the winner of this year's PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction.  Julie Otsuka takes the prize for her second novel.  It follows the brilliantly spare When the Emperor Was Divine, a Discover Great New Writers selection in 2002.

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Ismet Prcic Wins the 2012 Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction

In the latest entry on Miwa Messer's Discover Great New Writers blog, the Director of the Discover program relates some fantastic news about Discover alumnus Ismet Prcic, whose Shards joins the ranks of other debut novels that have been first recognized by Barnes & Noble and then celebrated by the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

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The Great American Cereal Book: How Breakfast Got Its Crunch

There must be a rule of thumb in pop-culture archaeology that states that the allure of any topic is inversely related to its assigned importance in the affairs of humanity. The more trivial the subject, the dearer it is to most of its partisans, and the more worthy of scholarship. The smallest things in life often mean the most to people.

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Rub Out the Words

This volume of selected letters written by the novelist and counterculture icon William Burroughs during the period from 1959 to 1974, is a remarkable testament, since it manages to confirm Burroughs's legendary public persona while simultaneously shattering it. In other words, we get the whole picture of the man, not just the usual cropped and etiolated snapshot.

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2011 Discover Award Winners Announced

The 2011 Discover Great New Writers Awards have been announced! Kosher Chinese by Michael Levy is the first place winner for Nonfiction;  Scott O'Connor's Untouchable took the first place award in Fiction.

 

Click to see the full set of winners and the presenting judges .

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Jerry Lewis's Long Run

Recently some friends and I were discussing entertainers who had exceedingly long careers.  A consensus emerged that George Burns, with over ninety active years in the biz at the time of his death at one hundred years old, had established a record that was hard to beat.  But other performers, mostly now departed, have exhibited similar longevity.

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9 Algorithms That Changed the Future

In our increasingly digitally-dominated world, any book that attempts to explain for the layperson "the ingenious ideas that drive today's computers" should find a ready audience and become required reading for the curious, enthusiastic, responsible and attentive netizen—a category more and more of us find ourselves in these days, willy-nilly.  

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Bill Griffith: Lost and Found: Comics 1969-2003

Contemporary readers of Bill Griffith's comic strip, Zippy the Pinhead, know with certainty that the illustrator is one of the most accomplished draftsmen working in comics today, his talents on a par with those of Robert Crumb. His art -- nuanced shading; economical linework; evocative textures; fidelity to dress, gesture, expression, architecture, automotive design, and the thousand and one other accoutrements of modern life -- is an unfailing daily marvel, especially considering the speed and regularity at which the strip is produced. Moreover, Griffith's staging and pacing are exemplary. Knowing all this, current fans of the strip are in for a surprise, a shock, and, ultimately, a major treat, when they pick up Griffith's new career retrospective, Lost and Found: Comics 1969-2003, and discover an artist whose rudimentary skills were on a par with those of, say, a young Aline Kominsky.

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I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did

Once held close to the chest and protected by well-understood laws, the valuable information about our lives that we blithely disclose with our every keystroke has the potential to turn around and bite us on the butt. Modern jurisprudence has failed to cope with the new intrusions and, what's even worse, has actually come down against the individual's rights. Although the cover image of I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did is that of an omniscient HAL 9000-type lens, Andrews's remit is not really the surveillance state exemplified by ubiquitous CCTV cameras and drones, nor is government her major villain. She is primarily concerned with the information we give away to corporations and other shady characters when we work, play, or shop online.

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The Hellstrom Chronicle

Watching The Hellstrom Chronicle upon its fortieth anniversary reissue (in a beautiful, immaculate, eye-candy print -- but with no extra features) propels me back instantaneously to my teenaged years when I saw this unique hybrid documentary for the first and only time. Selected images from the film and its overall tone have remained seared upon my cortex for the intervening forty years, compounded by the contemporaneous reading of the book by Frank Herbert which the film inspired, Hellstrom's Hive. (More on this prose artifact in a few moments.) The roiling psychic miasma of fear and awe, esthetic delight and Lovecraftian horror swept over me again -- dissipated somewhat, it is true, by my advanced wisdom and the world's eventful history since then. But the film remains a landmark worthy of its Academy Award for Best Documentary and stands as a forerunner of much documentary and quasi-documentary work since.

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The Plots Against the President

The Plots Against the President, Sally Denton's fascinating new study of the early presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, is a move toward a kind of historiological equivalence. While sketching with a novelist's compassion and precision the unique actors and forces and ideas at play during the turbulent Depression years, her account simultaneously transcends the minutia of the 1930s and reveals brilliant insights into our current condition. Yet, until the book's closing sentences, she makes no explicit comparisons, trusting the intelligent reader to draw the obvious parallels.

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Vicky Swanky Is a Beauty

The fifty-one tiny stories (vignettes? prose poems? blipverts? flash fictions?) contained in Vicky Swanky Is a Beauty resolutely refuse total decryption. But they burrow into the reader's subconscious and sprout odd blossoms. At first glance, Diane Williams appears to be the love child of Donald Barthelme and Kathy Acker. At second glance, she resembles the adopted daughter of Gertrude Stein and Carol Emshwiller. At third and subsequent glances, she resolves as uniquely, enigmatically herself: a Delphic jester uneasily inhabiting some generic suburbia totally incompatible with her gnomic utterances. 

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Distrust That Particular Flavor

William Gibson is a superlative storyteller, able to mint fresh, intriguing characters and propel them through compelling plots. He limns postmodern and futuristic venues with a keen eye. He taps the zeitgeist and spins out its skein of probable trajectories. But beyond all these skills lies something numinous, something that can only be termed a "sensibility." Distrust That Particular Flavor, his first book of nonfiction, representing over twenty years' worth of occasional journalism, book-introducing, and speechifying, takes over your senses and tastes and attitudes, substituting Gibson's sensibility for your own, allowing you, willy-nilly, to channel the man.

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The Infinity Puzzle

The average citizen, playing with his or her iPhone, spares not a moment's thought for the scientists who made it possible. Happily, a worthy remedy to this shameful gap in our communal knowledge comes in Frank Close's The Infinity Puzzle. Written with pellucid prose, a keen eye for salient details, a talent for the illuminating metaphor, a passion for the topic, and a novelist's gift for portraiture, narrative, and suspense, this book plumbs the rich roots of our current scientific understanding of how the universe works, down where it all gets fuzzy and weird.

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The BN Review on Pulse for NOOK

Now you can enjoy the Barnes & Noble Review on your NOOK  with the free Pulse app.  Take great writing about books and reading with you wherever you go.

 

Download the Pulse app (click here for NOOK version) to select from a wide assortment of news and entertainment categories.  You can group them according to your tastes, and read anywhere, anytime through Pulse's image-rich, dynamic interface.  The Barnes & Noble Review looks as great when viewed through Pulse as it does on the web -- and as all of our reviews, essays and features are posted there, you won't miss a thing. (Here's a shot of what Pulse looks like in action.)

 

To get the BN Review on Pulse, once you've downloaded the free app to your device, you can add sources  -- look for the Review under the "Entertainment" category.  Once you've added us to your home screen, that's it.  Your device will automatically update, bringing you the latest from the Barnes & Noble Review. Pulse works great on iPad, iPhone, and Android-based phones, too (click here for these versions of the app).

 

And thanks, as always, for reading.

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The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions

No amount of prior study or imaginative mental time-travel can prepare the reader for the outré and unsettling sights to be found in Julia Suits's wild and wacky...The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions. Burly, topless businessmen clad in hula skirts and ankle bells. Blindfolded clerks riding a Satan's Derby's worth of mechanical goats. Regally crowned shopkeepers plummeting down trick staircases. Farmers committing suicide by cannonball. The mind reels, as these uncanny vestiges of an extinct realm tease our wits and senses with devilish confusion. Chaos reigns supreme!

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Five Books on Korea

In the wake of the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il's death, suggestions for reading about the enigmatic nation have been circulating via Twitter, including frequent mention of Adam Johnson's forthcoming novel The Orphan Master's Son, which follows a boy from life in the labor camps to work as a professional kidnapper.

 

Earlier this year the BNR featured a Five Books list of informative titles about Korea -- North and South -- led by Barbara Demick's penetrating study Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea.

 

The full list of suggestions follows.

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Graeme Wood on Christopher Hitchens

 Atlantic contributing editor and BNR contributor Graeme Wood discusses the influence and legacy of Christopher Hitchens.

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A.C. Grayling on Christopher Hitchens

"Even those who were on the opposite side of any argument from Christopher Hitchens," writes A.C. Grayling, "were compelled to admire the sharpness, control, and extraordinary richness of his mind."

 

Click "Read More" to see his full rememberence.

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Remembering Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011)

The literary world grapples with an enormous loss today:  Journalist, author, and provocateur Christopher Hitchens has died of pneumonia, arising from cancer of the esophagus.  His death was announced by Vanity Fair, where he had been a contributing editor since 1992. 

 

His reputation was built on his eloquence, his delight in putting entrenched opinions to challenge, and his eager assumption of Orwell's mantle as a defender of truth against ideological distortion. His impact as a stylist -- Hitchens wielded both a deadly wit and an implacable sense of joy in literary combat -- was as large on his fellow writers as his politically unclassifiable positions (he defended atheism as fiercely as he did the War in Iraq) have been on the surrounding culture.

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Christopher Kimball Picks His Favorite Cookbooks

Wondering what to get the chef in your life? We asked Christopher Kimball, founder and editor of America's Test Kitchen and author of such delicious cookbook classics as The Cook's Bible and Fannie's Last Supper, to share with us his Holiday Cookbook Buyer's Guide for 2011. Click to see his mouthwatering choices

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The Sexual History of London

The transgressive writer Samuel Delany has theorized that one major reason for the creation of cities in the history of civilization was to provide more and better sex than could be found in pastoral or village settings. By this measure -- and according to the randy evidence found in the endlessly entertaining, illuminating and simply shocking new book by Catharine Arnold, The Sexual History of London, that storied city must be accounted a shining beacon in humanity's progress.

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Stacy Schiff Picks Her Favorite Biographies

When we asked Stacy Schiff  to share a few favorite reads, the author of Cleopatra obliged with a revealing look at the bookshelf of a biographer -- packed with the lives of  literary and political figures seen up close.

 

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The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick

There can be no more dependable indicator that we now all inhabit (or delude ourselves into believing we inhabit) a Philip K. Dick universe (or the shoddy simulacrum thereof) than the appearance of this mammoth volume of Dick's journals, letters, and private stream-of-consciousness essays, which he voluminously generated for a full eight years following his infamous mind-blasting, soul-shattering, paradigm-upsetting cosmic epiphany of 1974. Only waves of patented PKD-style reality distortion could have landed us in our contemporary situation.

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The Phantom Tollbooth: 50th Anniversary Edition

This handsome new edition of the classic children's fantasy novel The Phantom Tollbooth comes stuffed with extras in the form of various introductions and appreciations, by such intelligent, perceptive, and young-at-heart literary folks as Maurice Sendak, Michael Chabon, and Philip Pullman. These tidbits are all savory. But the real meat of the package remains Juster's inspired skylarking in the pages of this eternally silly-yet-wise novel, with its pitch-perfect original bramble-bush illustrations by Jules Feiffer. Having an excuse to enjoy this book again, and to introduce it to a new generation of readers, more than justifies investment in a bright, fresh copy!

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The National Book Awards: Jesmyn Ward, Stephen Greenblatt, Nicki Finney and Thanhha Lai

On Wednesday night, November 16th, the 2011 National Book Awards winners were announced: Jesmyn Ward’s novel Salvage the Bones took the award for fiction, while Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve: How the World Became Modern received the award for nonfiction. Nikky Finney's Head Off and Split won for poetry; Thanhha Lai took the award for young people's literature for Inside Out and Back Again.

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The Death-Ray

Right now Daniel Clowes is voyaging through the prolonged and impressive midpoint of his career, an era which began with Ghost World in 1997 and shows no sign of diminishing. Everything he produces at this juncture is rich with mastery, fertile with invention, and stamped with his ineffable individual touch. The Death-Ray originally appeared in 2004 as issue number 23 of Clowes's periodical comic Eightball. Limited in availability and impact by this format, the story has been rescued by current publication as a luxuriously oversized hardcover. 

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Physics on the Fringe

Any reader who loved The Men Who Stare at Goats or Sex and Rockets will derive similar joy from this finely wrought survey of gonzo ingenuity in the service of science. These "discoverers" or "paradoxers," as they were called in Victorian times, firmly endorse science's claim to represent an objectively true taproot into the numinous substratum of creation. So these outsider physicists are simply seeking to participate in the same consciousness-raising enlightenment which all the great scientists have experienced. But, bereft of any actual talents and training demanded by the academic and corporate "hegemony," they are forced to perform a kind of "hedge science," like the second-string wizards who can't make it into Hogwarts. 

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James Thurber Meets Neil Gaiman: The Thirteen Clocks (Video)

Neil Gaiman narrates an animated adaptation of James Thurber's classic of dark-humored fantasy.

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Adam Kirsch on the Loeb Classical Library

This year marks the hundredth anniversary of the Loeb Classical Library, and Adam Kirsch is writing a three-part celebration of the influential series in honor of its centenial. In his first essay, Kirsch examined Socrates from the (sometimes unflattering) perspectives of writers other than Plato. This month, he examines the arresting modern relevance of the Annals of the Roman historian Tacitus. 

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July 25: On this day in 1834 Samuel Taylor Coleridge died of heart disease at the age of sixty-one.

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Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.

Pastoral

When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).