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This week’s book news, collated and brought to you by Windmill (the most interesting bits, anyway).

Friday February 21st

Friday fun comes courtesy of the Diagram Prize – publishing’s annual appreciation of the daftest, weirdest and most hilariously odd book title of the year. Leading the charge for 2014 are Pie-ography: Where Pie Meets Biography, exploring ‘the biography of a woman’s life told through the ingredients that create a slice – a taste – of her life in a pie’ (surely The Life of Pie?), together with Are Trout South African? and Working Class Cats: The Bodega Cats of New York City. Who will join classics such as Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers and How to Avoid Huge Ships in being a winner? Have your say by voting at till 16th March, with the winner of this year’s award to be announced on 21st March. Read more about the prize here.

Wednesday February 12th

For anyone who’s not keen on the hearts-and-flowers extravaganza of Valentine’s Day on Friday, we’ve got an alternative suggestion. Why not spread the love in a different way and choose a book to give a child for International Book Giving Day? You can give it to a specific person, donate unwanted books to a library or charity shop, or simply leave one to be discovered by a lucky recipient somewhere (for example hospital or doctor’s waiting rooms). The Guardian has been canvassing opinion from its readers and from authors as to which titles they’ll be gifting.

Friday February 7th

It’s been quite a week for transport all round, what with flooding and violent wind and rain destroying train lines, amongst other things. Londoners have been doing battle with a tube strike, which, actually, wasn’t as bad as expected, but gave us all a good opportunity to pretend we were being VERY BRAVE by battling our way into work, via a combination of half on/half off Tube lines, chronically overcrowded (and randomly terminating) buses, and, gasp, actual walking. Given it looks like we’ll have to do the same thing next week, Waterstone’s have come up with some useful reading recommendations, depending on whether you’re using the bus, a cab or the Underground. Here’s their Tube recommendation:

‘So. Some lines are running during the strike – with trains every six minutes. But they’re not stopping at every station. And the six minutes thing is never going to happen, is it? Even after reading the explanation of exactly how this will all work on the Transport for London website we imagine there’ll still be an air of mystery, excitement and misery about tube journeys tomorrow. To that end, we’re recommending Gone Girl as a complementary read. Much like your journey tomorrow – just when you think you know what’s going on, and the worst of it is behind you, it gets far more harrowing than you could possibly have imagined.’

Brace yourselves for next week’s Great Trek to Work by nabbing some required reading. And if you are a Londoner and haven’t yet caught Buzzfeed’s genius deconstruction of the network, then check it out here. Our favourite is the District Line:

A slowly trundling caravan of disappointment and crushed ambition. You have such dreams, such hopes, so many amazing places you want to go. Then you end up in Earl’s Court. Also it smells weird because there’s something funny with the brakes.

On the plus side, you get phone signal on most of it! Think of it less like a Tube line, more like a really long bus, and suddenly it all seems a bit better.

Tuesday February 4th

Penguin Random House authors make up a significant slice of the longlist for The Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award, which celebrates the finest writers of short stories across the world.

2013 Granta Best of Young Novelists Taiye Selasi (Viking) and Jenni Fagan (Cornerstone), Pulitzer Prize winner Adam Johnson (Transworld), Clare Clark (Vintage), and Jonathan Lee (Wm Heinemann/Windmill) are among the 16 authors nominated for the 2014 award.

The shortlist of six authors will be published on 2 March, with the winner of the £30,000 prize announced at a gala dinner at Stationer’s Hall in London on Friday 4 April.

Short story fans can enjoy all the shortlisted stories at two special events at Foyles, Charing Cross Road on Wednesday 2 and Thursday 3 April – each featuring readings by a stellar line-up of acting talent, to be announced soon. They will also be able to read the stories in a specially produced ebook, published on 2 March, and vote online at The Sunday Times website for their favourite piece.

Jenni Fagan – When Words Change the Molecular Composition of Water

Jenni lives in Scotland. In 2013 she was selected as one of Granta’s Best Young British Novelists, and appointed as Writer-in-Residence at the University of Edinburgh. Film rights to her debut novel The Panopticon have been optioned by Ken Loach’s production company Sixteen Films. A Waterstone’s 11 pick of the best debut novels of 2013, The Panopticon was shortlisted for the 2013 James Tait Black and Desmond Elliot Prizes. Jenni is also the author of several short stories and poems.
Story Synopsis Set in the afterlife, this story explores the high and low points of a person’s life, and looks at how a person might come to accept their allocation of joy and tragedy.

Jonathan Lee – Philip’s 9 Best Christmas Presents

Jonathan is a 32 year-old British author living in New York. Before this he spent six years working as a litigation lawyer in London. He is the author of two novels: Who Is Mr Satoshi? and Joy. Joy was shortlisted for the 2013 Encore Award for best second novel, Who Is Mr Satoshi? was nominated for the Desmond Elliott Prize in 2010 and shortlisted for an MJA Open Book Award in 2010.

Story Synopsis A man’s life is told through the instances during which he receives his nine most memorable Christmas presents. Set in Brighton in the post war period through to the 1980s, this story is about the everyday frustrations, ambitions, and various types of love and loss that an ordinary person experiences.

For more information and news about the prize, visit or follow @Booktrust or @ShortStoryAward.

Wednesday January 29th

So, it was first-timer Nathan Filer who upset the apple cart at last night’s Costas, with a surprise win over more established names such as Kate Atkinson. The Shock of the Fall was described by the judges as ‘extremely moving’ and ‘astonishingly sure-footed’ for a debut novel. The Bookseller has the full story. Plus, if you’ve already read the novel and want more, then the Guardian has an extra chapter.

Tuesday January 28th

One of the many reasons people love novels is the desire to immerse themselves in another person’s life and feelings. Scientists at MIT have just brought that one step closer to a Minority Report-style reality, with a ‘wearable’ book. It uses temperature controls and lighting to mimic the experiences of a story’s protagonist.

The book, explain the researchers, senses the page a reader is on, and changes ambient lighting and vibrations to ‘match the mood’. A series of straps form a vest which contains a ‘heartbeat and shiver simulator’, a body compression system, temperature controls and sound. ‘Changes in the protagonist’s emotional or physical state trigger discrete feedback in the wearable [vest], whether by changing the heartbeat rate, creating constriction through air pressure bags, or causing localised temperature fluctuations,’ say the academics.

‘Sensory fiction is about new ways of experiencing and creating stories,’ they elaborate. ‘Traditionally, fiction creates and induces emotions and empathy through words and images. By using a combination of networked sensors and actuators, the sensory fiction author is provided with new means of conveying plot, mood, and emotion while still allowing space for the reader’s imagination. These tools can be wielded to create an immersive storytelling experience tailored to the reader.’

Fantastic, or creating unnecessary, false emotions? Read the full article here.

The Costa Book Award takes place tonight – will bookies’ favourite Kate Atkinson nab the £30,000 prize money for the second time with Life after Life? The Guardian has a roundup of all the runners and riders.

Tuesday January 14th

If you’re a fan of Scandi noir (and who, with the plethora novels and box sets available currently, isn’t?), then you’ll be thrilled to hear that Jo Nesbo is going to be tackling Macbeth for The Hogarth Shakespeare initiative. The list, which will launch in 2016 to coincide with the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, will see contemporary authors retelling the Bard’s plays in prose for a 21st century audience. Nesbo, author of the bestselling Harry Hole thrillers, will join illustrious literary names such as Jeanette Winterson, Margaret Atwood and Howard Jacobson.

Nesbo said: “Macbeth is a story that is close to my heart because it tackles topics I’ve been dealing with since I started writing. A main character who has the moral code and the corrupted mind, the personal strength and the emotional weakness, the ambition and the doubts to go either way. A thriller about the struggle for power, set both in a gloomy, stormy crime noir-like setting and in a dark, paranoid human mind. “No, it does not feel too far from home. And, yes, it is a great story. And, no, I will not attempt to do justice to William Shakespeare nor the story. I will simply take what I find of use and write my own story. And, yes, I will have the nerve to call it Macbeth.”

Bets on BBC4 picking up the rights and commissioning a series?

Monday January 13th

If your New Year’s Resolutions include a choice of trying out new authors, or finally getting round to reading the classics, then the Guardian has both options covered for you. Their list of 2014′s brightest and best debuts includes everything from a detective story about dementia to a feminist tale set in 17th Century Amsterdam. Read all about it here.

Find out how many of the 100 Greatest Novels you’re still to savour. We might break ourselves in gently with a re-reading of No. 24, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, complete with illustrations by Sir John Tenniel, of course. Illustrator and political cartoonist Chris Ridell reveals why he’s still an inspiration now.

Thursday January 9th

Voting is still open for the Costa Short Story award – you can download all the entries, or listen to the six shortlisters on audio to make up your mind. If you’re a budding author aiming for next year’s Costas, then the place to start may be with Random House’s first interactive online creative writing course.

The 10-week Creative Writing for Beginners course starts on 31st March, which will cost participants £499, and will include videos, podcasts and texts from Random House authors and editors, including Audrey Niffenegger, S J Watson and Julie Myerson. Find out more via the Bookseller.

Turning a novel into a play is always tricky: even more so in the case of Hilary Mantel’s two prize-winning books, Wolf Hall and Bringing up the Bodies. The Guardian‘s Michael Billington, though, reckons that Mike Poulton has done ‘an outstanding job in turning the books into two epic three-hour plays that, in Jeremy Herrin’s RSC production, make for a gripping piece of narrative theatre…. But the success lies in the fact that we feel this is both a piece of living history and a guide to the early modern world. These plays are about class, passion, conscience, religious freedom and the danger of living in a society where power goes unchecked. And, while they can’t precisely reproduce the dream-like richness of Mantel’s prose, they show that novels can sometimes be made into very good plays.’

The production runs till the 29th March – read the full review here.

Tuesday January 7th

If one of your New Year’s Resolutions is to read more novels – perhaps the Costa winners – then this piece of research should encourage you that it really is good for the mind, suggesting that it can stimulate the brain for days.

The study, conducted at Emory University, focused on the lingering effects of reading a narrative. Twenty-one Emory undergraduates took part in the experiment over 19 days, reading thriller Pompeii by Robert Harris (Arrow). The book was chosen for the experiment for its strong narrative and page-turning plot.

The study was led by neuroscientist Gregory Berns, who is the director of Emory’s Center for Neuropolicy. He explained that the neural changes associated with physical sensation and movement systems “suggest that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist. We already knew that good stories can put you in someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense. Now we’re seeing that something may also be happening biologically.”

Tuesday December 17th

For anyone whose New Year’s Resolution is to self-publish their book, then rest assured, you’ll be in good company. Who knew that Beatrix Potter was so ahead of the curve? If you want one of her original copies of Peter Rabbit, mind, it’ll cost you £35,000. Which might be a tad steep for a Secret Santa gift in a recession.

Friday December 13th

If you’re curious as to which book received the most picks in the annual round-ups, then wonder no more. A diligent statistician has established that Hermione’s Lee’s biography of Penelope Fitzgerald (Chatto) was the most chosen book in the national newspapers’ Books of the Year features. Six hundred and sixty books were included in the annual pre-Christmas round-ups, with biography one of the most popular genres, making up six of the top 35 books. See the full list here.

Christmas – a time of goodwill to all men (and women)? Seemingly not – the Guardian has a round-up of the year’s most intriguing literary spats. Jonathan Franzen took on Amazon and social media, whilst Bret Easton Ellis just took on, well, everyone really.

Thursday December 12th

Being a Man Booker Prize judge must surely be one of the toughest jobs in publishing – the sheer volume of reading required is daunting, especially with the new rules for next year’s prize. Taking up the challenge for 2014 are Chair, philosopher and writer, AC Grayling, together with  Jonathan Bate, Oxford Professor of English Literature and biographer; Sarah Churchwell, UEA’s Professor of American Literature; Dr Daniel Glaser, neuroscientist and cultural commentator; Dr Alastair Niven, former Director of Literature at the British Council and at the Arts Council, and Erica Wagner, journalist and writer.

Tuesday December 3rd

Good news for comeback kids everywhere – Stoner, by the late US author John Williams has been named the Waterstone’s Book of the Year 2013, forty-eight years after it was first published.  The story of an unassuming literary scholar who hits career and marriage problems, Stoner was first published in the US in 1965 but had fallen out of print by the following year. The chain said it had received multiple nominations for the Book of the Year accolade from booksellers across the country. Read more about the list of nominees here.

Friday November 29th

Penguin Random House’s chair, Dame Gail Rebuck, has been judged the most influential person in the British book trade in The Bookseller’s 2013 selection. Industry stalwarts such as Tim Hely-Hutchinson (Hachette) and James Daunt are joined this year by authors such as Neil Gaiman and Malorie Blackman. MP Margaret Hodge is also a new entry on the list, for her role in tackling Amazon’s tax avoidance. Find out more from the Bookseller.

Donal Ryan’s The Spinning Heart has won the Guardian First Book Award, which pits fiction against non-fiction and poetry. One of the judges, Lynda Mountford, has written an interesting article on the judging process:

‘About halfway through our deliberations it emerged that one of the most important criteria for judging this year’s Man Booker prize had been how far the novels on its shortlist offered up new insights on re-reading. I determined to use this as one of my own criteria, since it seemed to me that it could apply equally to fiction, non-fiction and poetry. On reflection, however, it does have some drawbacks. In particular it can prejudice the chances of “genre” fiction. One of the novels on the longlist, Gill Hornby’s The Hive, was a rather frothy mixture of romantic comedy, satire and farce. It was an enjoyable one-off read, but I would never want to read it again. So is there, perhaps, a difference between a good book and a good read? And is being a good read a sufficient qualification for winning a literary prize?’

Read the full article on the Guardian.

Wednesday November 27th

We’re celebrating the news that William Heinemann has had two titles shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards. Sathnam Sanghera’s brilliant Marriage Material was one of four titles shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award, whilst Thomas Harding’s wonderful Hanns and Rudolf was named as one of the titles for the Costa Biography Award. Check out the shortlists for all the categories here.

Next year’s World Book Night titles have been revealed, including four Quick Reads, five young adult titles, three non-fiction and two short story collections. The aim is to more directly target young people and men, who are two of the groups least likely to read for pleasure. For the first time, the event, on 23rd April – the UNESCO International Day of the Book - will be run by The Reading Agency. Explore the full list of books and how to become a volunteer through their site.

Wednesday November 20th

Philip Larkin’s hometown, Hull, has been chosen as 2017′s UK City of Culture. Hull’s bid was delivered on two artist-designed bicycles, and promises a £15m programme with a cultural event every day of the year. This includes an outdoor aerial spectacular honouring Larkin, built around his line “what will survive of us is love”. Find out more on the Larkin Trail, a tour around a perhaps unfamiliar literary locale.

Are ebooks too pricey for 16-24 year olds? A recent survey, in which more than 62% of the respondents said they preferred print books and 70% had not spent any money on e-books during the previous month, suggests this might be the case. When asked how much e-books should cost, 17% of respondents said they should be as much as 75% cheaper than physical books. Another 28% thought e-books should cost half as much as print books and only 8% said the two should cost the same. The Bookseller has more on the report.

Tuesday November 19th

Great news  – Sathnam Sanghera’s brilliant debut novel Marriage Material has been nominated for the South Bank Sky Arts Literature Award. David Bowie, Broadchurch , and Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa are amongst the nominees which is the only awards ceremony to to celebrate the UK’s achievements across all genres of the arts.

Monday November 18th

Tributes have been flooding in for Doris Lessing, who has died aged 94. From groundbreaking novels to memoir and science fiction, there were few areas of the written word to which Lessing had not turned her hand. The Guardian have picked their 5 favourite novels, from The Grass is Singing (1950), right up to 2008′s Alfred and Emily. The Bookseller have a round-up of praise from all corners of the publishing world, including her most recent editor, Nicholas Pearson, at Fourth Estate, who said in a statement that Lessing’s career has been “a great gift” to the literary world. He said: “She made an enormous cultural impact. Probably she’ll be most remembered for The Golden Notebook which became a handbook to a whole generation, but her many books have spoken to us in so many various ways.”

He added: “[Lessing] wrote across a variety of genres. Even in very old age she was always intellectually restless, reinventing herself, curious about the changing world around us, always completely inspirational. We’ll miss her hugely.”