Banned Books Week is here! Wonderful classic and contemporary books have been banned and challenged over the years, so this week, we are celebrating our right to read.
Take a stab at our Banned Books Week Crossword and see how well you know about incendiary literature! Check back at the end of the week for the answer key.
In the meantime share your thoughts on social media using #booknerdcrossword.
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Learn more about Banned Books Week here.
Enter to win 1 of 5 prize packs that each include a gorgeous new edition of a classic. Thanks to our friends at Litographs, the winners will each take home a clothing item (tote bag or t-shirt) made entirely from the words of the book it depicts.
Deadline for entry is 11:59 P.M. (Eastern Time) on June 29, 2015, so enter now!
Today, June 10th 2015, would have been Saul Bellow’s 100th birthday. In celebration of his of his life, we reached out to Beena Kamlani, Bellow’s editor, to reflect on the writer’s life and influence.
Bellow @ 100: Some Reminiscences and Thoughts
To read Bellow is to be struck. As by a meteor, a thunderbolt, or something from some indefinable source. You are suddenly in possession of knowledge that comes from elsewhere—as if gifted. Stunned and blessed—how often does this happen to us in our lives? I speak from experience. I read him when I was eight. The book was Herzog. We preferred to read because TV in Bombay, India, was grainy and unpredictable. From the Hardy Boys to Enid Blyton, from Jane Austen to H. Rider Haggard—there was nothing that was considered unacceptable, and nothing that turned us off. But the world opened up for me when I came to Herzog. For it spoke about things no one had ever spoken about before. Its openness bowled me over.
I was eight. It was a hard book to read as a child. The intellectual discourses in the letters Moses Herzog wrote were confusing and frustrating, for one didn’t know any of the references. But its truth was unassailable. Perhaps a child can grasp such things more easily than an adult for here was Moses remembering his childhood, the youngest in a family of four children, an immigrant family struggling to make it in immigrant Chicago, describing the helplessness of a child who sat in full knowledge of the struggles and challenges that faced them. These challenges colored his experience of childhood. Persistent failure rubbed shoulders with success; dashed dreams and thwarted ambitions made near impossible lives already brought low by sickness, the deaths of close family members, and sheer survival. Simple existence had to be constantly redefined, rearticulated, reimagined.
In our family, too, there were deaths, divorces, and the effects of failure. Illness and sudden loss were common. Mourning bore witness but the questions multiplied. No one said a word in the mistaken belief that children ought to be protected from the truth. But there, in the kitchen of Moses Herzog’s home on Napoleon Street, in immigrant closeness and proximity, there are no secrets and the children come to know everything because it’s happening in front of them. It is the source of his intimate knowledge about a child’s world, filled with uncertainty, frustration, knowledge that is useless in the present but becomes part of our psychic calibration later, and the constant threat of abandonment. “We were like cave dwellers,” Moses says. We, too, become cave dwellers with him as we hear his pain about losing a beloved wife to a best friend, about the terrible longing for his daughter, and listen to him rage in loneliness against the world. There is the unforgettable scene in that kitchen when Father Herzog comes home robbed and beaten after a bootlegging expedition. “’Sarah!’ he said. ‘Children!’ He showed his cut face. He spread his arms so we could see his tatters, and the white of his body under them. Then he turned his pockets inside out—empty. As he did this, he began to cry, and the children standing about him all cried. It was more than I could bear that anyone should lay violent hands on him—a father, a sacred being, a king. Yes, he was a king to us. My heart was suffocated by this horror. I thought I would die of it. Whom did I ever love as I loved them?” Beckett, writing about Proust, said, “Yesterday is not a milestone that has been passed, but a daystone on the beaten track of the years, and irremediably part of us, within us, heavy and dangerous.” In Herzog, Bellow shows us how to record our pasts, how to transcribe them, how to live with them, even when they threaten to wreck us.
Bellow concerned himself with what affected people, in the way they lived their lives, and in the way they dealt with the struggles of the heart. He had a real feeling for it, which is why his work leaves such a mark. He taps corresponding notes in another’s life. He is able to articulate what we know but cannot decipher for ourselves. “Every writer’s assumption is that he is as other human beings are, and they are more or less as he is. There’s a principle of psychic unity. [Writing] was not meant to be an occult operation; it was not meant to be an esoteric secret.”
Memory becomes the key to unlocking those crossover truths from writer to reader. You not only become a cave dweller in that kitchen but you also recognize the truth of what’s happening when the older Moses takes you into the kitchen of his home where these struggles took place. You trust the sensibility and the mind of the older Moses, remembering, seeing his family again, and as a reader you find equivalent emotional hotspots in your own life, hotspots that take you right into the heart of Saul’s work.
In the world I grew up in, girls are handed knowledge in breadcrumbs. It is a privilege, a gift. Boys can expect it by the sackful, for it is necessary to live life, to bring forth families and to support them. What Bellow does is to hand us all this gift.
When I was working with him, every night, weary with the challenges and exhilarations of the work, we would wind down for the day and hand the manuscript to his wife, Janis, for safekeeping. He had gone, as usual, close to the fire, and it had taken a lot out of him. We worked on hard copy, and it was the only extant copy of the manuscript. The vault she placed it in was none other than the freezer, for this is the last place to be attacked by fire. That act of reverence and preservation was necessary—for the present, yes, but also for posterity. For those words, cooling in their frozen vault, would become jewels for readers in the future, illuminating and warming them as we ourselves had been.
Years later, I told him I’d read him when I was eight. “It was Herzog,” I said. He looked at me incredulously. “You don’t say!” he said. Then he put his fingers on the table where we were working and playfully drummed them against the wooden surface. “And here we are!” he said.
Browse through all of Bellow’s work here.
Judy Blume’s first book for adults in seventeen years has just come out, and we couldn’t be more excited!
In The Unlikely Event is a multi-generational novel that explores war, love, family and a changing America. The story traces an air-travel tragedy from the 1950’s and follows Miri Ammerman as she reflects back on that time, thirty-five years later.
Since Blume has shaped so many lives over the years, we turned to our employees to reminisce about the Blume books they loved growing up.
I have two daughters now in their twenties. When the younger one was almost eight, she particularly loved Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great. When the older one was ten, she loved Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself. Judy Blume was empowering girls before the word empowering was ever used in the current context!”
-Beverly Horowitz, VP Publisher, Delacorte Press
“I used to imagine myself in the NY city apartment building where Peter, Fudge, and their pet Turtle lived. I read Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing during “silent” reading time in 3rd grade and giggled in the corner the whole time.”
-Melissa Major, Digital Marketing Coordinator, Random House Children’s Books
“Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself was the first Judy Blume book I ever read and my best loved. Even though our circumstances were entirely different, I saw so much of Sally in myself: she was inquisitive, opinionated, and had the most intensely weird imagination of any character I’d ever read. I’m still all of those things and I like to think that Sally is too!”
-Emma Shafer, Community Manager, Blogging for Books
“Coming from a family of three siblings, Superfudge both defined and helped navigate my sibling relationships. As a middle child myself, I completely relate to Fudge.”
-Sonia Nash Gupta, Associate Director of Marketing Random House Children’s Books
Browse through all of Judy Blume’s books here!
David Ebershoff, Vice President & Executive Editor, Random House, offers insights into his work with author Jill Alexander Essbaum on her debut novel, Hausfrau. Hausfrau is an unforgettable story of marriage, fidelity, sex, morality, and most especially self. Navigating the lines between lust and love, guilt and shame, excuses and reasons, Anna Benz is an electrifying heroine whose passions and choices readers will debate with recognition and fury. Her story reveals, with honesty and great beauty, how we create ourselves and how we lose ourselves and the sometimes disastrous choices we make to find ourselves.
How did the fact that Jill Alexander Essbaum had primarily written poetry before beginning Hausfrau influence her approach to the novel form and the development of her narrative prose voice?
Jill’s poetic sensibility is everywhere in Hausfrau. When we say a novel is poetic, we often mean lyrical or even pretty. But that’s not how Jill is using poetry here. For example she uses iambic meter in several sections to create a steady drum-beat of dread and inevitability. She uses space breaks the way a poet uses them between stanzas to both pause the story and quicken the read. While writing, she read the novel aloud to hear the sounds of the words (in fact, she has memorized much of it). Whenever she was stuck and didn’t know what to write next, she started choosing her words the way a poet would — relying on sound, beat, image, and even how it looks on the page. Yet what’s so remarkable about this, to me at least, is Jill has written a very plot-y novel and paced it like a thriller.
What was involved in the scope of the editor/author process of working with Jill from initial manuscript to finished book?
The manuscript I read on submission was strong and self-assured. This made my job delicate — I didn’t want to mess up something that was mostly working. Jill and I went over the novel line by line, making sure every word was in place and there was nothing extraneous or overwrought. I paid particular attention to the passages concerning love and sex because I knew a certain kind of reviewer would pounce on any purple or overheated language. I also asked Jill a number of questions about her protagonist, Anna. We discussed how and why readers might interpret her, giving Jill a chance to respond (or not) in the text itself.
Having already received much praise, drawing comparisons to such classics as Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina as well as mega-bestsellers such as Gone Girl and Fifty Shades of Grey, Hausfrau is well positioned as it enters the market. What, in your view, sets Jill’s novel apart and what aspects do you think will most engage readers?
I acquired world rights to Hausfrau at a fairly modest level because I wasn’t sure how readers would respond to such a controversial heroine. I closed the deal the same morning I left for last year’s London Book Fair. By the time the fair’s doors opened, foreign publishers were offering on the book. I met with several of them, and so I had a chance to hear directly from readers around the world who were – I’m not exaggerating – obsessed with the book (one editor was in tears). What I learned then, and continue to see today, is that people read the book differently — some see it as literary fiction, some see it as a psychological thriller, some emphasize the sex and love. Jill’s UK publisher is calling it domestic noir (if that isn’t a category, it should be). The novel is almost a Rorschach test. The same is true with the protagonist, Anna. Some people empathize with her. Others love to hate her. Some understand her. Others find her a mystery. The novel opens with this memorable line: “Anna was a good wife, mostly.” That seems to capture why people are engaging with the book. Readers are debating with passion and fury just how good a wife Anna was — or wasn’t.
Read more about Hausfrau here.