Louise Erdrich Nabs National Book Award; Lawrence Wright's Scientology History Is Coming

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Today in books and publishing: Erdrich and Boo win NBAs; Pulitzer Prize-winner to investigate Scientology; e-reading debate takes a confusing turn; Gillian Flynn has a deal for two new books.

Who won at the National Book Awards? Junot Diaz may be winning the "genius" race, and Dave Eggers remains untouchable as the head of the McSweeney's empire, but Louise Erdrich bested both of them (plus Ben Fountain and Kevin Powers) for this year's National Book Award in fiction. Her winning novel The Round House deals with violence on a North Dakota reservation, and Erdrich accepted the award partially in the language of her Native American ancestors. She cited "the grace and endurance of native women" in her speech. 

Katherine Boo had similarly high-caliber competition in the nonfiction category, squaring off with LBJ biographer Robert Caro and the late journalist Anthony Shadid. But Boo's account of a Mumbai slum, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, took the award. "If this prize means anything," she said in her acceptance speech, "it is that small stories in so-called hidden places matter because they implicate and complicate what we consider to be the larger story, which is the story of people who do have political and economic powers." 

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David Ferry took the poetry award for his Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations. An octogenarian, Ferry quipped, "My only hope was a preposterous pre-posthumous award, and I guess that is what I have won here." Last year, he won the Ruth Lilly Poetry Award for Lifetime Achievement. Goblin Secrets author William Alexander took the award for Young People's Literature, and Elmore Leonard won the Distinguished Contribution to American Letters award, saying, "The only thing I’ve ever wanted to do in my life is tell stories, and this award tells me I am still good at it." [The New York Times]

You can't really read this post about how e-reading isn't reading. It's hard to know what to make of the argument Andrew Piper makes in his essay "Out of Touch: E-reading isn’t reading." He's saying that words read on screens aren't digested the same way as they would be if readers encountered them in a physical book. "If books are essentially vertebral, contributing to our sense of human uniqueness that depends upon bodily uprightness, digital texts are more like invertebrates, subject to the laws of horizontal gene transfer and nonlocal regeneration," he writes. "Like jellyfish or hydra polyps, they always elude our grasp in some fundamental sense." But Piper's argument is coming to us via Slate, which of course has no print arm (at least since it discontinued its print-your-own via Microsoft Word function long ago). So, since we're necessarily reading Piper on a screen, does that mean his argument always eludes our grasp in some fundamental sense? Maybe we should print it out and assemble it into a makeshift folded-and-stapled booklet if we want to truly understand what he's trying to tell us. [Slate]

Lawrence Wright to release a book on Scientology. Remember that New Yorker article from last year that detailed Paul Haggis' dramatic break with the Church of Scientology? The author, Lawrence Wright, will get the chance to expand on his reporting in a new book for Knopf, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief. It will be published in January. In the new book, the author hopes to answer, "What is it that makes this religion alluring? What do its adherents get out of it? How can rational-seeming people subscribe to beliefs that others find incomprehensible? Why do popular personalities associate themselves with a faith that is likely to create public relations martyrdom?" Wright previously wrote about Al- Qaeda in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Looming Tower. [New York Daily News]

You can get mad about book banning, or you can sue. That's what one mother has done in Utah, where school officials took Patricia Palacco's In Our Mothers' House off library shelves after receiving complaints about the book's depiction of a stable family headed by two mothers. Tina Weber is suing the Davis School District in a federal class action on the basis that, "school officials may not remove books from school library shelves because they or their constituents disagree with the ideas those books contain." [Courthouse News Service]

Bookstore sales slump. Black Friday can't come quickly enough for bookstores. Their sales dropped 8.3 percent this September compared with figures from last year according to the Census Bureau. The drop may be attributable to Borders' shuttering in 2011—their heavily marked-down liquidation sales spurred a sales feeding frenzy in September of last year. [Shelf Awareness]

Readers rally around Malala. Here's a cause book lovers and feminists alike can get behind. Over on the Facebook page for #GIRLWITHABOOK, women are submitting photographs of themselves posing with reading materials as a show of support for the right of girls in Taliban-controlled regions to obtain an education. [Galleycat]

Gillian Flynn has two new books on the way. The author of the mystery novel Gone Girl, one of the breakout successes in publishing this year, has signed on to write two more books for Random House. One will be a work of adult fiction for the Crown Press imprint, and the other will be a YA book for Delacorte Press. 20th Century Fox's film adaptation of Gone Girl, starring Reese Witherspoon, is in the works, with Flynn at the screenwriting helm. No word on the release dates for these new books, or what sort of plots they will contain. [The New York Times]

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