The Last of the Oranges; How Mark Twain Dealt with Library Censors

Today in books: More grumbling about the weight of books, Esquire launches a boys-only book club, and Mark Twain responds to a book banner.

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Today in books and publishing: More grumbling about the weight of books, Esquire launches a boys only book club, and Mark Twain responds to a book banner.

The Orange Prize for Fiction is looking for a new sponsor after the British telecommunications company decided not to sponsor its eponymous literary prize for an 18th year. According to The Telegraph, the company "wants to "focus its sponsorship activities on film in the UK." So, unless citrus growers love literature as much as they love college football, next week's award will be the last of the Oranges. [The Telegraph]

So here's an argument, courtesy of novelist Marc Wortman in The Daily Beast, that books are  too long these days. This comes on the heels of the excellent essay Tim Parks wrote for The New York Review of Books that defended the act of putting a novel down with, say, 50 pages to go. We detect a trend, and the trend is: reading is hard. This is true, sometimes, but it's also informative and interesting and occasionally fun. Even if you're interested in Lyndon Johnson, it's highly unlikely that you will read all 736 pages of the new Robert Caro book, plus the footnotes. Skipping is practically assumed when it comes to a big hunk of presidential non-fiction: after the first narrowly-averted strike, the rest tend to run together. We liked the philosophy director Whit Stillman outlined in his Atlantic Wire Media Diet. "I have to go to what interests me most in the book," he said. "And if I like that, I start going backwards and forwards." Or, to paraphrase Roger Ebert, no good book is too long and no bad book is too short.  [The Daily Beast]

Esquire is launching an e-book series next month called "Fiction for Men." We're intrigued, but what is fiction for men, exactly? Editor David Granger told The New York Times it means stories that are “plot-driven and exciting, where one thing happens after another.” Cool! We're there. But we think ladies like those things too. Branding-wise, we understand the logic behind "Fiction for Men" -- but a more accurate label could be "Fiction for People Who Like Stories Where Things Happen."  [Jacket Copy]

Venice Fulton, who self-published a diet book called Six Weeks to OMG that encourages users to skip breakfast and luxuriate in cold bath as a way of getting fit, has landed a U.S. book deal with Grand Central. Good for her! The punchline is it's worth "seven figures," per the AP. She also sold the UK rights to the Penguin-imprint Michael Joseph for an amount her agent said was "equally spectacular." Our advice: drop that novel you're working on about hometowns and come up with a few diet ideas. An all-soup diet? Has that been done? Maybe something involving ice chips. [AP]

Finally: in 1905, the Brooklyn Public Library removed all copies of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer from the children's room due to "coarseness, deceitfulness and mischievous practices." Twain was informed of the decision by a man named Asa Don Dorinson, the librarian in charge of the "Department for the Blind." Here, courtesy of correspondence blog par excellence Letters of Note, is Twain's response.

November 21, 1905


I am greatly troubled by what you say. I wrote Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn for adults exclusively, and it always distresses me when I find that boys and girls have been allowed access to them. The mind that becomes soiled in youth can never again be washed clean; I know this by my own experience, and to this day I cherish an unappeasable bitterness against the unfaithful guardians of my young life, who not only permitted but compelled me to read an unexpurgated Bible through before I was 15 years old. None can do that and ever draw a clean sweet breath again this side of the grave. Ask that young lady—she will tell you so.

Most honestly do I wish I could say a softening word or two in defence of Huck's character, since you wish it, but really in my opinion it is no better than those of Solomon, David, Satan, and the rest of the sacred brotherhood.

If there is an unexpurgated Bible in the Children's Department, won't you please help that young woman remove Huck and Tom from that questionable companionship?

Sincerely yours,

(Signed, 'S. L. Clemens')

I shall not show your letter to anyone—it is safe with me.

[Letters of Note]

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