A Dinner Date with Salman Rushdie's Novels; Poetry Scholars Trade Claims of Racial Bias

Today in books: A six-course Salman Rushdie-themed dinner could be yours for less than $100, poetry's tricky racial politics, and Nielsen BookScan announces the best-selling titles of 2011.

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Today in publishing and literature: a six-course Salman Rushdie-themed dinner could be yours for less than $100, poetry's tricky racial politics, and Nielsen BookScan announces the best-selling titles of 2011.

$95. That's how much online retailer Gilt City New York is asking for a six-course dinner "inspired by the famous bazaars of Bombay and by the work of British-Indian novelist Salman Rushdie" at the Midtown Manhattan restaurant Vermillon. In addition to "gourmet spins on Indian street food like Bombay Frankie chicken kebabs, crispy juhu ki pani puri, and hearty tawa sabzi pao" and "creamy corn khatkhate soup, succulent malvani quail in a coconut masala and rose-and-pistachio kulfi with falooda for dessert" guests will walk away with a signed copy of one of two Rushdie novels -- The Satanic Verses or Luka and the Fire of Life. It's unclear what exactly Rushdie's getting out of the arrangement, but it has to be something. Though we suppose that something doesn't have to be cash. Maybe he wants free dinners for a year or the  Vermillon space gratis for a night to throw a Salman Rushdie party. Those signed books have to be coming from somewhere. You can't buy autographed copies of Luka and the Fire of Life in bulk. [GalleyCat]

Nielsen BookScan has released its numbers on the best-selling books of 2011, only eight of which were released in hardcover this year. George R.R. Martin's A Dance with Dragons and John Grisham's The Litigators were the only two new fiction titles to crack the top 20, while six non-fiction books -- Bossypants by Tina Fey, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, Killing Lincoln by Bill O’Reilly, A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard, The 17 Day Diet by Mike Moreno and In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson -- made the cut. So what was the best-selling fiction book of 2011? The trade paperback edition of The Help. It was followed in the second slot by -- wait for it -- the move tie-in edition of The Help. Heaven Is For Real by Todd Burpo topped the non-fiction charts. [Page Views]

Former poet laureate Rita Dove's selections for The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry aren't going over well with Harvard English professor Helen Vendler, the woman The Guardian calls the "grande dame of poetry criticism." In a blistering review of the collection for the New York Review of Books, Vendler criticizes Dove for putting "multicultural inclusiveness" ahead of merit and for her attempts to "shift the balance, introducing more black poets and giving them significant amounts of space, in some cases more space than is given to better-known authors." (She's also not a fan of Dove choosing "mostly short" poems "of rather restricted vocabulary.) Now Dove has responded with a letter to the publication accusing Vendler of  "condescension" and "barely veiled racism" in the service of  "an agenda beyond aesthetics." Dove managed to one-up herself in a subsequent interview with The Best American Poetry, in which she rhetorically asked if Vendler's review was "a last stand against the hordes of up-and-coming poets of different skin complexions and different eye slants." To be fair, Dove's collection lacks poems from Sylvia Plath or Allen Ginsberg. Dove says that's because Penguin didn't have enough money to secure the rights, but we think a major publisher putting out a big, thick book of 20th century American poetry could scratch together the funds needed to reprint "Lady Lazarus." Still, that "shift the balance" accusation is borderline kooky.  It's perfectly reasonable to find fault with the collection, but saying the lineup was devised to advance a specific cultural agenda, rather than just being a reflection of Dove's own tastes, is tinfoil hat talk. [The Guardian]

The Guardian's Wayne Gooderham has started a new blog to show some prized pieces from his extensive collection of used books with personal inscriptions on the inside flap. Gooderham says the blog will be updated "each fortnight," which seems about right. Give him credit for understanding the mechanism that has captured his attention.  Used books, he argues, enjoy "secret histories, imbuing the physical objects with an emotional resonance independent of – or intriguingly linked to – the actual texts" and "the choice of book coupled with the message within can suggest a narrative of its own. We're all for getting used books some extra attention, even if the messages people choose to inscribe are "not entirely pathos-free." [The Guardian]

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