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Tremble, puny book awards, before the awesome power of Obama’s memoir.

Dan Sheehan

September 29, 2020, 12:17pm

You may be one of the world’s most prestigious and coveted literary awards, with a half-century of iconic literary figures in you corner, but you—yes you, anthropomorphized Booker Prize statuette—are no match for the ungodly might of the Obama Publishing Machine.

That’s the ominous news from across the pond, where Gaby Wood, literary director of the Booker Prize Foundation, revealed earlier today that the virtual announcement of the winner of the Booker Prize has been moved from November 17 to November 19 to avoid a conflict with the release of Barack Obama’s memoir, A Promised Land.

“We thought it unfortunate that two of the most exciting literary events of the year—the announcement of the winner of the 2020 Booker Prize and the publication of Barack Obama’s memoirs—were due to fall on the same day, so we’ve decided to give readers a couple of days’ breathing space,” said Wood.

Though the shifting of prize announcements and ceremony dates has become relatively commonplace in the Hieronymus Bosch hellscape that is 2020, I can’t, in all my years in the biz (all of us in the biz call publishing “the biz”; you can ask anybody), remember an organization as large and prestigious as the Booker Foundation ever rescheduling its flagship event to accommodate a book release.

The move, though humbling, is probably a wise one. With an unprecedented 3 million copy first printing, the stage is set for A Promised Land to become a literary juggernaut the likes of which we haven’t seen since, well, Michelle Obama’s Becoming swept all before it in 2018.

On Tuesday, November 17 (and, in all likelihood, for the remainder of 2020), Obama’s arrows will blot out the sun.


[h/t Publishers Weekly]


Exclusive cover reveal: Kaveh Akbar’s new poetry collection, Pilgrim Bell.

Aaron Robertson

September 29, 2020, 10:00am

This has been an exciting month for Kaveh Akbar. Earlier this month, the author of Calling a Wolf a Wolf was named poetry editor of The Nation, a glittering position once held by writers like Langston Hughes, Anne Sexton, and William B. Yeats.

There’s much to look forward to from Akbar, including an anthology, The Penguin Book of Spiritual Verse: 100 Poets on the Divine, which comes out in 2022, and his forthcoming poetry collection, Pilgrim Bell, out from Graywolf Press in August 2021.

Lit Hub is happy to reveal the cover of Pilgrim Bell. Akbar had a little to say about the funky, retro cover design by Hannah Bagshaw:

I’m leery of saying too much about Hannah Bagshaw’s incredible cover here. There’s so much electricity in it, and also such chastity. That seems an impossible trick, capturing both those energies at once. I don’t want to flatten Bagshaw’s painting to any figurative interpretation, but sometimes I’ll glance at it and see the clapper of a bell; other times I’ll see dervishes at prayer, ecstatic as Matisse’s dancers.

It feels beautiful to me in that way that’s almost consciousness-affirming, the way that makes me think of Jacques Prévert’s famous prayer:

“Our Father who art in heaven
Stay There
And we’ll stay on earth
Which sometimes is so pretty…”

Kaveh Akbar


14 new titles to check out this week.

Katie Yee

September 29, 2020, 9:30am

When we were in school, Tuesdays were, arguably, the best weekday. The cafeteria likely nurtured your young, hopeful soul with Taco Tuesday. A crunchy shell, baked beans, hot sauce, melted cheese! And now, as adults who love to read, we have a continuation of that holy day with New Book Tuesday. A crunchy shell = a new hardcover. This week, we’ve got Marilynne Robinson’s return to Gilead, a new Nick Hornby novel, and—wait for it—a Mariah Carey memoir. Enjoy your literary tacos, friends.


Marilynne Robinson, Jack

Marilynne Robinson, Jack

“Striking too to read this novel in 2020, during a global pandemic and the protests of the Black Lives Matter movement: Robinson’s timeless prose, her Romeo and Juliet story, have an eerily timely ring.”
–Financial Times


K-Ming Chang, Bestiary

K-Ming Chang, Bestiary
(One World)

“The magic of these origin myths is very much present.”


Emily Gray Tedrowe, The Talented Miss Farwell

Emily Gray Tedrowe, The Talented Miss Farwell
(Custom House)

“The unusual plot and Tedrowe’s spirited execution of it make this one sing.”
–Publishers Weekly


Just Like You, Nick Hornby

Nick Hornby, Just Like You

“Along with the love affair, Hornby covers the issues of the day with snappy take-no-prisoners commentary.”
–The Boston Globe


the book of lamps and banners_elizabeth hand

Elizabeth Hand, The Book of Lamps and Banners
(Mulholland Books)

“Hand’s gifted portrayal of subcultures seamlessly links Cass’ past in New York’s ’80s punk scene, London’s rare-book dealers, and Odinist neo-Nazis.”


Bill Clegg, The End of the Days

Bill Clegg, The End of the Day
(Scout Press)

“As usual, Clegg’s prose is simple and graceful, his third-person character portraits precise, but his plotting, with its intricate, keen-minded twists give his writing the cumulative effect of poetic ambiguity and mystery.”
–The Boston Globe


the meaning of mariah carey

Mariah Carey, The Meaning of Mariah Carey
(Andy Cohen Books)

“If you think of the superstar diva’s career as a narrative that is cinematic in scope, this book is the director’s commentary.”
–Los Angeles Times


Glitch Feminism_Legacy Russell

Legacy Russell, Glitch Feminism

“Russell’s book is as expansive and plural as the identities it explores, considering art, aesthetic theory, queerness, Blackness and anti-Blackness and, necessarily, the modalities and futures of activist practice.”


daughters of yalta

Catherine Grace Katz, The Daughters of Yalta
(Houghton Mifflin)

“Skillfully written and meticulously researched, it’s an extraordinary work that reveals the human side underlying the politics.”
–The Wall Street Journal


abe_david s reynolds

David S. Reynolds, Abe
(Penguin Press)

” In effect, his biography becomes less a narrative of Lincoln’s life than an explanation of his genius. We come to understand fully why Lincoln did what he did, and why he did it when he did it.”
–The Wall Street Journal


Heather Martin_The Reacher Guy

Heather Martin, The Reacher Guy
(Pegasus Books)

“One of the more interesting strains of this book, though, is the extent to which both Lee Child and Jack Reacher are creations.”
–The Times


Peter Baker and Susan Glasser, The Man Who Ran Washington

Peter Baker and Susan Glasser, The Man Who Ran Washington

“The authors rightly highlight the dimensions of Baker’s illustrious career that show so much about what is broken in the current American political system.”
–The New York Times Book Review


Where Law Ends_Andrew Weissmann

Andrew Weissmann, Where Law Ends
(Random House)

“After years of silence from Mueller’s cloister, capped by a final report so dense with legal analysis that even Weissmann found it unsatisfying, Where Law Ends is a gift.”
–The Washington Post


Ruth Stone, Bianca Stone, ed., The Essential Ruth Stone

Ruth Stone, ed. Bianca Stone, The Essential Ruth Stone
(Copper Canyon Press)

“In this breathtaking distillation that draws from 10 collections and a nearly 60-year career, readers can see the literary evolution of the two-time Guggenheim Fellow and winner of the National Book Award in a new light.”
–Publishers Weekly

Here are the most challenged books from the last decade.

Corinne Segal

September 28, 2020, 12:09pm

The results are in, and the list of most challenged books from the last decade is a mix of American classics, LGBTQ-themed books, and stories about female agency and empowerment. In other words, all the books that we should be reading all the time.

Kicking off Banned Books Week, the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom released the list on Sunday based on the censorship reports it reviewed from 2010-19. Some of the titles here aren’t really a surprise (not the first rodeo for Lolita), while others seem a little more puzzling—what did Adam Mansbach ever do to us? Stories about dystopia (Feed, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Giver) continue to get resistance, almost like they have important points to make about the dystopia where we live now.

Here’s the list:

1. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

2. Captain Underpants (series) by Dav Pilkey

3. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

4. Looking for Alaska by John Green

5. George by Alex Gino

6. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell

7. Drama by Raina Telgemeier

8. Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James

9. Internet Girls (series) by Lauren Myracle

10. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

11. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

12. Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

13. I Am Jazz by Jazz Jennings and Jessica Herthel

14. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

15. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

16. Bone (series) by Jeff Smith

17. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

18. Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

19. A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss

20. Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg

21. Alice McKinley (series) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

22. It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie H. Harris

23. Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

24. Scary Stories (series) by Alvin Schwartz

25. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

26. A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

27. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin

28. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

29. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

30. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

31. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

32. It’s a Book by Lane Smith

33. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

34. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

35. What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones

36. A Child Called “It” by Dave Pelzer

37. Bad Kitty (series) by Nick Bruel

38. Crank by Ellen Hopkins

39. Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich

40. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

41. The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby by Dav Pilkey

42. This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman

43. This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki

44. A Bad Boy Can Be Good For A Girl by Tanya Lee Stone

45. Beloved by Toni Morrison

46. Goosebumps (series) by R.L. Stine

47. In Our Mothers’ House by Patricia Polacco

48. Lush by Natasha Friend

49. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

50. The Color Purple by Alice Walker

51. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

52. The Holy Bible

53. This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson

54. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

55. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

56. Gossip Girl (series) by Cecily von Ziegesar

57. House of Night (series) by P.C. Cast

58. My Mom’s Having A Baby by Dori Hillestad Butler

59. Neonomicon by Alan Moore

60. The Dirty Cowboy by Amy Timberlake

61. The Giver by Lois Lowry

62. Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

63. Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya

64. Draw Me a Star by Eric Carle

65. Dreaming In Cuban by Cristina Garcia

66. Fade by Lisa McMann

67. The Family Book by Todd Parr

68. Feed by M.T. Anderson

69. Go the Fuck to Sleep by Adam Mansbach

70. Habibi by Craig Thompson

71. House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

72. Jacob’s New Dress by Sarah Hoffman

73. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

74. Monster by Walter Dean Myers

75. Nasreen’s Secret School by Jeanette Winter

76. Saga by Brian K. Vaughan

77. Stuck in the Middle by Ariel Schrag

78. The Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal

79. 1984 by George Orwell

80. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

81. Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher

82. Awakening by Kate Chopin

83. Burned by Ellen Hopkins

84. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

85. Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers

86. Glass by Ellen Hopkins

87. Heather Has Two Mommies by Lesle´a Newman

88. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

89. Madeline and the Gypsies by Ludwig Bemelmans

90. My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis

91. Prince and Knight by Daniel Haack

92. Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology by Amy Sonnie

93. Skippyjon Jones (series) by Judith Schachner

94. So Far from the Bamboo Grove by Yoko Kawashima Watkins

95. The Color of Earth (series) by Tong-hwa Kim

96. The Librarian of Basra by Jeanette Winter

97. The Walking Dead (series) by Robert Kirkman

98. Tricks by Ellen Hopkins

99. Uncle Bobby’s Wedding by Sarah S Brannen

100. Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

An incomplete history of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Dan Sheehan

September 28, 2020, 12:07pm

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof—Tennessee Williams’ sultry southern storm of a play about greed, deceit, self-delusion, sexual desire and repression, homophobia, sexism, and the looming specter of death—has had a curious life. Indeed, you could argue that Cat has actually had three different lives since Williams dreamt it up in the early 1950s: Williams’ original text (initially buried but later revived), Elia Kazan’s original Broadway production (which won Williams the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1955), and the Paul Newman- and Elizabeth Taylor-starring movie adaptation (which, despite its Hays Code neutering, was perhaps the most sexually-charged mainstream American film of the 1950s and an Oscar-nominated phenomenon back in 1958). If you’re a Tennessee Williams fan (and how could you not be), chances are you’ve seen the movie and/or some version of the original text (which Williams tinkered with and restored for the first Broadway revival in 1974, and which has been used for most revivals since).

Since this year marks the 65th anniversary of the play’s Broadway premiere, I thought I’d track down some fun, and not-so-fun, facts about the many incarnations of Williams’ masterpiece.

But first things first, a brief recap of the story:

Set in the Mississippi plantation home of Big Daddy Pollit, a domineering cotton tycoon and patriarch of a viperous family in turmoil, on the dual occasion of his 65th birthday and (alleged) clean bill of health, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof focuses on the tempestuous relationship between his grieving, alcoholic, probably closeted former star athlete son, Brick, and Brick’s fiery, outspoken, unapologetically sexual wife, “Maggie the Cat”; his scheming elder son and daughter-in-law and their weaponized brood of “no-neck monsters”; and the terminal cancer diagnosis of which all in the Pollit clan but Big Daddy and Big Mama have been made aware.

Now, on to the Fun and Not-So-Fun Facts:


Not-So-Fun Fact #1: Despite having already conquered Broadway with The Glass Menagerie (1944) and A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), by 1955 Williams’ reputation had been dented by the failure of his most recent play, Camino Real, and the playwright was desperate for another win. Kazan, on the other hand, was coming off the runaway success of On the Waterfront (which won eight Oscars in 1954, including Best Picture and Best Director for Kazan). Kazan wanted a reluctant Williams to change the third act to one in which Maggie was shown more sympathetically, the dying Big Daddy reappeared, and Brick underwent some form of moral awakening. As Williams’ (pretty humbling) note on the text indicates, it was the director’s vision that ultimately won out.

It was only the third of these suggestions that I embraced wholeheartedly from the outset, because it so happened that Maggie the Cat had become steadily more charming to me as I worked on her characterization. I didn’t want Big Daddy to reappear in Act Three and I felt that the moral paralysis of Brick was a root thing in his tragedy, and to show a dramatic progression would obscure the meaning of that tragedy in him and because I don’t believe that a conversation, however revelatory, ever effects so immediate a change in the heart or even conduct of a person in Brick’s state of spiritual disrepair.

However, I wanted Kazan to direct the play, and though these suggestions were not made in the form of an ultimatum, I was fearful that I would lose his interest if I didn’t re-examine the script from his point of view. I did. And you will find included in this published script the new third act that resulted from his creative influence on the play. The reception of the playing-script has more than justified, in my opinion, the adjustments made to that influence. A failure reaches fewer people, and touches fewer, than does a play that succeeds.



Fun Fact #1: Williams’ original character descriptions and stage directions are literary gems in and of themselves:

Cat stage direction

Cat stage direction 1

Cat stage direction 2



Not-So-Fun Fact #2: In March 1958, during the first week of shooting the Richard Brooks-directed film adaptation, Elizabeth Taylor contracted a virus, causing her to cancel plans to fly to New York with her then-husband, the producer Mike Todd. Todd’s plane crashed, killing everyone on board.

Mike Todd


Fun Fact #2: Both Tennessee Williams and Paul Newman were incensed by the film’s screenplay, which removed almost all of the play’s homosexual themes and revised the third act section to include a lengthy scene of reconciliation between Brick and Big Daddy. Allegedly, Williams so disliked the toned-down film adaptation of his what he considered to be his greatest play that he showed up at a movie theater and told people in the queue, “This movie will set the industry back 50 years. Go home!”


Fun Fact #3: The iconic poster art for the film was created by American realist artist, and giant of the 1950s Hollywood monster movie poster game, Reynold Brown.

Reynold Brown posters


Not-So-Fun Fact #3: In a 1976 television version of the play, Brick and Maggie were played by the real-life husband and wife team of Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood…😬

Natalie Wood Robert Wagner


Fun Fact #4: On stage and screen, Jessica Lange, Ashley Judd, Kathleen Turner, Mary Stuart Masterson, Anika Noni Rose, and Scarlett Johansson have all played Maggie; Tommy Lee Jones, Ian Charleson, Brendan Fraser, Jason Patric, Terrence Howard, and Benjamin Walker have all played Brick; and Burl Ives, John Carradine, Ned Beatty, James Earl Jones, Ciarán Hinds, Rip Torn, and Laurence Olivier have all played Big Daddy.

Cat on a Hot Ton Roof playbills