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Book News: To Make This E-Book Sweeter, Just Add Product Placement

This coffee drinker prepares to sprinkle some of what very well may be, in the words of one character, a "party in a packet."
This coffee drinker prepares to sprinkle some of what very well may be, in the words of one character, a "party in a packet."

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

Product placement, that old standby of Hollywood blockbusters, is slipping into something a little more texty. Readers, meet Find Me I'm Yours: a versatile e-book with more than a few nods to Sweet'N Low, whose manufacturer paid a hefty sum to put them there. Alexandra Alter reports, "It's an e-book, a series of websites and Web TV shows, and a vehicle for sponsored content from companies. If it succeeds, it could usher in a new business model for publishers, one that blurs the lines between art and commerce in ways that are routine in TV shows and movies but rare in books."

Adichie To Open Folio:Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has been tapped to deliver the inaugural Folio Society Lecture, the headline speech at next year's Folio Prize Fiction Festival. The event, which will span three days in late March, is itself entering its second year after awarding the first-ever Folio Prize to George Saunders' story collection Tenth of December. The shortlist for the award, which selects one work of fiction written in English, won't be announced until Feb. 9, but festival organizers are already promising a broad slate of attendees, including Eimear McBride, Neel Mukherjee and Mohsin Hamid.

Returning To The Draft:Speaking of Eimear McBride ... the Irish writer of A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing talked with Time Out New York. She says of her nine-year quest to get that novel published, "It's very odd to return to your writing, which, despite being fiction, is inevitably personal to you, and yet it feels as though the version of yourself that wrote it belongs so utterly to your past. "

Pages On The Platform: The Guardian takes us on a tour of the Moscow metro, where digital versions of more than 100 Russian books are now available for free download. The full library, which can be accessed by scanning a QR code, includes books by Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky and Anton Chekhov.

Flipping Ahead

New in print (and screen)

National Book Award winner Denis Johnson's The Laughing Monstersunravels a skein of twisting plot points as it follows two mercenaries on the make in West Africa. But whatever the dust jacket says, Michael Mewshaw of The Washington Post warns that with Johnson, it's best always to suspend one's expectations. "He has an unerring instinct for dramatizing the way that life invariably plays tricks on the innocent and guilty alike. His new novel, like his previous fiction, is not so much a deconstruction as an obliteration of a genre."

Fellow NBA recipient Ha Jin has taken to international intrigues too, with A Map Of Betrayal. The novel features a double agent who bears a striking resemblance to a real spy, Larry Chin — and, in some ways, to Jin's own ambivalence about being both Chinese and American. "Emotionally, I could feel the division, because I lived in China for 29 years before I came to the States," he told NPR's Arun Rath. "That was part of myself, my past — I can't just erase it. So I could feel the pain, the suffering of [my character]. But again, my profession was different. I'm a writer. I'm a teacher. So it really had nothing to do with that kind of politics."

In Shark, Will Self's second installment to a trilogy that opened with the brain-wrinkling Umbrella, unorthodox psychiatrist Zack Busner returns. Only, here he's to be found one year earlier than the events of the first novel, tripping on acid with a survivor of one of the most horrifying tragedies in U.S. Naval history. To Stuart Kelly of The Guardian, it's clear this book deserves inclusion in the pantheon of greats. " Shark confirms that Self is the most daring and delightful novelist of his generation, a writer whose formidable intellect is mercilessly targeted on the limits of the cerebral as a means of understanding. Yes, he makes you think, but he also insists that you feel."

Richard Ford resumes his acquaintance with his best-known character, Frank Bascombe. Let Me Be Frank with You marks the fourth book that Frank has taken center-stage, and the four stories offered between its covers find the character now deep into his waning years — the age that Frank refers to as his "Default Period of life."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Colin Dwyer covers breaking news for NPR. He reports on a wide array of subjects — from politics in Latin America and the Middle East, to the latest developments in sports and scientific research.