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Book News: 'Captain Underpants' Tops List Of Most-Challenged Books

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

  • Three novels for young people — Captain Underpants, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and Thirteen Reasons Why-- lead the American Library Association's annual list of the "most frequently challenged books" of the past year. The list also includes such novels as Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner, Toni Morrison's Beloved, and — perhaps unsurprisingly — E.L. James' erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey.ALA President Barbara Stripling told The Guardian that the large number of books for young people on the list isn't surprising: "Young adult is a big trend right now, and a high number of complaints are directed at those books. There is a lot of pressure to keep teenagers safe and protected, especially in urban areas, and we are seeing many more complaints about alcohol, smoking, suicide and sexually explicit material." Sherman Alexie, the author of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, told The Bulletinnewspaper in response to a ban in 2008:"Everything in the book is what every kid in that school is dealing with on a daily basis, whether it's masturbation or racism or sexism or the complications of being human. To pretend that kids aren't dealing with this on an hour-by-hour basis is a form of denial." Alexie added, "The world is an incredibly complicated place, and our literature must match that, especially literature for our kids."
  • Rep. Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican and former vice presidential candidate, has a book deal. According to The Associated Press, a news release from Twelve, his publisher, states that " 'Where Do We Go from Here?' will delve into the state of the conservative movement in America today, how it contrasts with liberal progressivism, and what needs to be done to save the American Idea." The book is expected to come out next August.
  • A ring once owned by Jane Austen and bought at auction by the pop star Kelly Clarkson will stay at the Jane Austen's House Museum following a fundraising campaign to keep the gold and turquoise ring in the U.K. Clarkson bought the ring last year, but was prevented from leaving the country with it by a temporary export ban. The singer apparently took the news in stride, saying, "The ring is a beautiful national treasure, and I am happy to know that so many Jane Austen fans will get to see it."
  • For The New Yorker, David Denby wrote a careful but devastating critique of Ben Urwand's recent book The Collaboration: Hollywood's Pact With Hitler, which he calls "recklessly misleading." Denby writes: "Perhaps I'm naïve about academic publishing, but I'm surprised that Harvard University Press could have published anything as poorly argued as Urwand's book."
  • In The New York Times, the poet Esther Cohen explains how she answered an ad on Craigslist offering $10,000 for a single poem, and found herself performing in a strange champagne-fueled poetry competition in front of two anonymous donors with the code names "River" and "Whisper": "By the time we went out onto the terrace to hear River's announcement of the winner, three strange Champagne hours had passed. It didn't matter even a little that I didn't win."
  • Alexander McCall Smith writes about the great 20th century poet W.H. Auden: "He wrote a poem in praise of limestone. He wrote a poem about Sigmund Freud. He wrote poems about cats and opera, about the minute organisms that live on human skin. He wrote an achingly beautiful love poem, a lullaby that stands among the gentlest and most forgiving poetry of the 20th century. Years after his death, when the World Trade Center towers were brought to the ground, traumatised New Yorkers faxed each other copies of a poem he had written for an earlier and greater crisis, 'September 1, 1939.' They took comfort in his words even if many of those who received them must have had no idea who he was."
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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.
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