Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The last bookstore

The Washington Post

Eleanor Davis

Susan Coll works at Politics & Prose Bookstore and would like to emphasize that this essay should be shelved under fiction. Her novel, “The Stager,” will be published in July.

‘Good morning, how can I help you?”

“I’m looking for a book.”

“Great. What book?”

“I think it’s about a bird. It might be called ‘The Canary.’ ”

“There’s ‘The Canary Handbook.’ It’s not in stock, but I could order it for you.”

“No, that’s not it. Maybe it wasn’t a canary. I know: It was about something that flies. It could have been a parrot.”

“Sure, lots of parrot books out there. There was the one about Alex, the African grey parrot. It’s the true story of . . . ”

“No, this is more of a made-up story. It’s for my granddaughter.”

“Sounds like you want to try the children’s department, right down those stairs.”

“How can I help you?”

“I’m looking for a book.”

“Would you happen to have the title?”

“It’s a long shot, but I was in my car about a month ago and heard an author on the radio. Sounded really interesting.”

“Fiction? Nonfiction?”

“I don’t remember.”

“Anything about it you can remember?”

“It was raining.”


Book news from PW daily

Authors Guild Appeals Google Decision
In a filing with the district court, the Authors Guild gave notice that it is appealing Judge Denny Chin’s to dismiss its copyright suit over Google’s library scanning program. There was no brief filed at this time, but the notice makes good on the Authors Guild’s vow to file an appeal of what Authors Guild executive director Paul Aiken told PW was “a fundamental challenge to copyright." more »

Court Rules Sherlock Holmes is Public Domain
In a December 23 ruling, a federal judge declared that the character of Sherlock Holmes, as well as other characters and elements of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic series, are in the public domain. more »


The Year the Book Became a Luxury Object: As e-books strip down and physical books class up, there's one reason left to buy the paper kind: beauty.

Novels Boost Brain Function : New research carried out at Emory University found that reading a good book may cause heightened connectivity in the brain and neurological changes that persist in a similar way to muscle memory.

How Many Novelists are at Work?: Writing a novel is like starting a small business and investing thousands of hours without knowing exactly what it is you’re going to end up selling. It’s a leap of faith every time, even for someone who is five novels into a career.

'I'm Looking for a Book...': A day in the life of a bookstore clerk.

Daily Routines of Famous Writers : Brainpickings culled descriptions of writing routines from some legendary authors. 

What Is Love? Famous Definitions from 400 Years of Literary History

from Brain Pickings.

“Love has nothing to do with what you are expecting to get — only with what you are expecting to give — which is everything.” 

From Shakespeare to Sontag, the most beautiful definitions of the highest human capacity.

The Most Bookish Spots In Paris

HuffPost Books

You cannot avoid the historic library of the city of Paris (at 24 rue Pavee, 75004). It is the sanctuary if the collective written memory of Paris.

But for me the essential bookshop is the Librairie Jousseaume (at 45 galerie Vivienne, 75002). Only Mr. Jousseaume himself is able to navigate the maze of this infinite collection of books. It's simple: He has everything, or could have everything. Continue reading...

10 Literary Portraits of a Young Artist

Today marks the 97th anniversary of the publication of James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man — a novel that has come to epitomize the journey of the angsty artist on the threshold of becoming.

If you never grow tired of reading about isolated figures turning their backs on family dysfunction, religious oppression, and social burdens in the wake of individual consciousness, head past the break. Here are ten other books that explore the interiority of creative passion, unbridled youth, and artistic evolution. … Read More

Alphabetical; How Every Letter tells a Story - Michael Rosen - Reviewed by Gordon McLauchlan

Alphabetical; How Every Letter tells a Story by Michael Rosen 
(John Murray; NZ$40.00).
Reviewed by Gordon McLauchlan.

It is difficult to understand that some educated people aren’t interested in language, its origins and its use in daily life. It is, after all, fundamental to our evolution as human beings. Without it we would still be up in the trees harrumphing at each other, and fingering through the fur for each other’s fleas.
          I don’t mean, by interest in language, those curmudgeons of any age who suffer apoplexy at the misuse of apostrophes (which is a bit like fingering through other’s fur for fleas); at the horror of using “like” instead of “such as”; at the failure to use the subjunctive; or the prolific  use of slang.  I rather mean the wonder at how language brought us down from the trees in the first place and raised us from being slaves to the incomprehensible forces of nature, and how it enabled humans to think subtle thoughts.
          The greatest cultural lift after speech came from writing, which Swedish linguist, Tore Janson, called “the most important of all the inventions of mankind” in his excellent but rather Eurocentric language history called Speak.
          With voice commands developing for internet functions, and oral responses, the end of writing may be nigh, or its effectiveness in day to day communication at least diminished. But I hope not.
In the meantime, we have Michael Rosen’s very satisfying background to our present written language: Alphabetical, subtitled “How Every Letter Tells a Story”, which cleverly tells us whence came the letters of the alphabet that construct our modern English words. Many have travelled tortuous paths from ancient attempts at writing.
          In summary, the first written languages used logographic symbols for words. Some still do. The alphabet system of signs representing the individual sounds that make up words comes to us most directly from ancient Greek. The word itself is derived from the first two letters of their alphabet, alpha and beta.
Early written languages – such as Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke -- used an alphabet of consonants in which pronunciation depended on context. The early Greeks adopted such an alphabet from the Phoenicians – and, about 3000 years ago, added the vowels.
That’s not all we owe the Greeks. They gave us many of the words they composed to deal with philosophical and scientific concepts.
          This book is a work of scholarship, expanded by a writer who is bursting with tales to tell, and Rosen is an accomplished story-teller. Around the origins and development of each letter he spins warm and fascinating yarns about the language in general.
          In The Story of A,  he refers to “the ‘Great Vowel Shift” between 1400 and 1600 when “ahs” changed to “ays”,  adding that anyone who doesn’t believe this “should talk to New Zealanders who are, even as I write, in the throes of turning their ‘pins’ into ‘pens’ and their ‘pens’ to ‘pins’.” 
Just in case anyone missed that, in the story of C, he writes: “As with all English vowels, ‘e’ is given many jobs to do, very few of which are 100 per cent consistent. We can be sure that in consonant-vowel-consonant formations like ‘peg’ and ‘bet’, it will be pronounced with a ‘short e’ – apart from in New Zealand”.
          That may be of special interest to us but my favourite anecdote comes with The Story of C. During the Second World War, the Daily Telegraph invited contact from anyone who could do their cryptic crossword in less than twelve minutes. Twenty-five readers who responded were invited into the office to sit a new crossword test. Five of them completed the task within the twelve minutes and one person had only one word to go when time was up. The six were then recruited as code-breakers at Bletchley Park.
          There is a long, intriguing and amusing section under “O” about the origins of OK    . His conclusion is it could have come from any of many possible sources – from “och aye”, from “orl korrect”, and others.

          Most books in English on the history of language tend to be Eurocentric, and Rosen’s is inevitably so because he is writing of the Latin alphabetic which is the basis of most European languages; but Chinese is the language which has lasted longest in history (with Egyptian second). For readers who want to embrace a complete world language history the best I’ve read is Empires of the Word; A Language History of the World by Nicholas Ostler. It is one of those books that make one wonder how any author could possibly know so much in one lifetime.

About the reviewer:
Gordon McLauchlan is an Auckland-based writer and commentator and regular reviewer on this blog.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Sebastian Faulks: By the Book

The New York Times - Published: December 26, 2013

The author, most recently, of “A Possible Life” and “Jeeves and the Wedding Bells” says literary novels tend to make bad movies: “One form is all inward; the other is two-dimensional.”
Sebastian Faulks - Illustration by Jillian Tamaki
Tell us about your favorite book of the year. 
That would be “The People Smuggler,” by Robin de Crespigny. It tells the story of an Iraqi dissident called Ali Al Jenabi. As a teenager he joined the Shia uprising against Saddam Hussein after the first Iraq war in 1991. He was captured by Saddam’s secret police, sent to Abu Ghraib and tortured. He watched his father being tortured to the point of insanity and thrown into a pit below the madhouse. He saw his kid brother being dismembered. When he got out of Abu Ghraib he tried to join anti-Saddam groups in Kurdistan, but they were too divided by infighting to be effective. So he turned his attentions to trying to get his remaining family out of Iraq. The numerous reverses and betrayals make the plot of “Les Misérables” look like plain sailing. In Indonesia, he found the operation for shipping refugees to Australia so useless and corrupt that he decided to run it himself. Having eventually got several boats safely to Australia, he found himself tried and imprisoned there for “people smuggling.” This is an astonishing story, at times barely credible, but very unsettling.
In the same week, I read Norman Lewis’s war diary, “Naples ’44,” an account of his time as an intelligence officer in a city where everyone was starving and two-thirds of the women of nubile age were selling their bodies. It is a wonderful book, droll, shocking and humane. 

When and where do you like to read?
I read the above two books on a plane, but generally I read in my office, a two-room apartment overlooking a small park in West London, sitting in a hideous though comfortable leather recliner (think Joey in “Friends”). It is death to books to read them in 15-minute bursts in bed late at night when you are tired. I know that for people with real jobs there may be little choice, but the best way to read a 300-page novel is in three or four sittings. I do occasional crash courses to see what’s new in contemporary fiction and have just read Evie Wyld, Scarlett Thomas, Ross Raisin and Adam Foulds. 

Having written one of the post-Ian Fleming Bond books, you must have opinions on 007. Which is your favorite Bond book?
I like the climactic scene in “Live and Let Die” when Bond and the girl are towed behind a speedboat as shark bait. I lost interest in the films after Sean Connery, but I did enjoy “Casino Royale” — though Daniel Craig looked as though he had been assembled in a factory. Eva Green was very good in it. 

And now taking on the new Jeeves book, tell us about your favorite P. G. Wodehouse.
I like all the Jeeves books, the early ones especially. My favorites are “The Code of the Woosters,”  “The Mating Season” and “Right Ho, Jeeves.” But they all have their glories, whether entire plots, set pieces or just single phrases. They depict a world that never truly existed yet in some odd way feels familiar. Heaven may be the cocktail hour at Brinkley Court, with Nobby Hopwood just arriving and Anatole preparing dinner. 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Literary Libations from Famous Books

Literary Libations from Famous Books
It’s the dawn of a new year, and to celebrate we’re showing our appreciation for the booze in books that literature’s most famous sipped between pages. 
Fictional drinks and classic cocktails all make appearances with several being the catalyst for memorable narratives and others symbolizing intense character relationships. 
See what literary libations sparked drama, memories, and everything in between. … Read More

Famous Writers’ Sleep Habits vs. Literary Productivity, Visualized ------- The 13 Best Books of 2013: The Definitive Annual Reading List of Overall Favorites

Link here

The Bookman talks books with Wallace Chapman on Radio Live

This morning, Sunday 29 December, I discussed the following titles with Wallace.They were all found under the Christmas tree on Christmas morning !

New York Cult Recipes
Marc Grossman
Murdoch Books - Hardback NZ$60

Discover 130 recipes that unlock the secrets of New York's cult food establishments. Learn the secret to creating the perfect BLT, make the ultimate cheeseburger or for something a little sweeter, indulge in a cinnamon roll, smoothie or famous New York cheesecake. Brimming with delicious food and gorgeous photography of the city that never sleeps, you'll feel like a local.
Marc Grossman grew up in Manhattan but now resides in Paris with his wife and children. He is the author of several books; Smoothies, Muffins and Bagels, and the creator of French organic food establishments, Bob's Juice Bar and Bob' s Kitchen

Naked Food - the way food was mean to be
Jane Grover
Jane Cooks Pty Ltd. = Hardback - NZ$60

Over ninety simple and healthy recipes you can cook from scratch, creating food that tastes great and is good for you. Jane Grover is passionate about food & cooking it well, using wholefoods, preferably locally grown, in season, organic & biodynamic produce. Jane is a qualified chef, having worked in many top Sydney restaurants, she then retired from restaurant kitchens to enjoy being a full time mum to her three children. Jane began cooking classes in May 2009. 
Her passion and vision is to teach others by providing healthy, practical and entertaining cooking classes, usually for groups of 10. She also runs Market Tours, introducing people to fresh produce and the producers who grow it. 
Jane writes a regular post on her food & travel blog NAKED FOOD. 
This is Jane's first cookbook. She lives on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, with her husband Paul and their three teenage children.

Delicious - Love to Cook
Valli Little
ABC - Harper Collins - NZ$50

Sharing good food with family and friends is one of life's great pleasures, but it's easy to become stuck in the daily routine and lose your passion. LOVE TO COOK is designed to help you discover (or rediscover) the joy of spending time in the kitchen and at the table. Inside, you'll find more than 140 recipes - themed by ingredient for easy reference - that will take you from quick weekday dinners with a clever twist to impressive ideas for entertaining. LOVE TO COOK is the eighth book from bestselling author and food director Valli Little, with the team behind one of Australia's leading food magazines, ABC delicious. Each recipe is brought to life with stunning images created by food photographer Jeremy Simons and noted food stylist David Morgan.

Canongate - Slipcase - NZ$50

Truly one of the most astonishing pieces of fiction publishine I have ever seen. A book within a book.

From the review in The Daily Telegraph:
 - a beautiful hardback carefully distressed to look like an old library book, stuffed with astonishing ephemera (postcards, newspaper clippings, photos, letters) that flutter from the turning pages - and a dose of film-industrial chicanery in its cover claims as well. This is, indeed, an Abrams "production": while JJ himself is off playing with the epic train sets of the Star Wars and Star Trek film franchises, the task of turning his concept into a novel has fallen to the writer, teacher and quiz-show champion Doug Dorst.

Don't miss this one.


The three cookbooks were all ought at UBS, Canterbury while the novel was purchased at the Village Bookshop, Matakana

Saturday, December 28, 2013

PW Tip Sheet

The Art of Famous Book Covers
The stories behind literature's iconic covers. more
5 Writing Tips: Paul Harding
Pay attention: Pulitzer winners don't share their secrets every day. more
The 20 Best Books in Translation You've Never Read
Diamonds in the rough for all readers. more

Bestselling books 2013: The case of the disappearing women

The shock of the new has given way to the comfort of the old in this year's bestseller list, with plenty of football and blokey chefs

See the chart in fullThe Guardian,
Gillian Flynn
Still at number three, in a male-dominated chart: Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn. Photograph: Rex

Two female newcomers dominated the all‑year bestsellers list at this point last year. EL James (Fifty Shades of Grey) and Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games) – who had both produced trilogies – took up most of the top 10 slots between them. In 2013, the picture – in a list that collates only printed book sales, not ebooks – is at once more blokeish and more familiar: the shock of the new has given way to the comfort of the old, or at any rate the recognisable. 
Things also look a bit less American. With Alex Ferguson taking his customary place at the top of the league, the places immediately below are full of people and publications that play to British nostalgia, from annual fixtures such as Guinness World Records (6) and Jamie Oliver (16) to writers making a welcome comeback, such as Helen Fielding (18) and Sue Townsend (29).

Ferguson and David Jason (10) have been making weekly appearances on TV screens since at least the 80s, the era that was also Morrissey's (47) heyday and saw the emergence of Dawn French (19) and Townsend. Oliver, Fielding and JK Rowling (11) first made their mark in the 90s. Even David Walliams (7, 13 and others) has now been around for a decade.

A year on, James's erotica is a mere spectral presence, and the nine-month‑wonder of 2012's porn craze is represented only by her boldest imitator, Sylvia Day (12, 76). With kinky sex gone as suddenly as it arrived, the usual genres – cookery, confessions, kids and crime – are back at the top.

But the kind of bestselling titles representing each of them reflect fascinating changes. Take cookbooks, or rather food writing. High chart places usually occupied by titles urging us to try new recipes have been seized instead by three guides to the rules of a different kind of hunger games – Michael Mosley and Mimi Spencer's TV spin-off The Fast Diet (4) and two Hairy Biker diet books (8, 26). Oliver also switched to urging austerity, though via reduced spending rather than calories, in Save with Jamie.

Lower down is more conventional grub-loving fare from the likes of Paul Hollywood (48) and Nigel Slater (51), but it's the names that are missing that are perhaps most significant here. With no sign of Nigella (who had other things to preoccupy her), Lorraine Pascale, Mary Berry and others, not one female TV cook has a book in the top 100. This year's newcomers, Hollywood and Tom Kerridge (57), are very blokey.

A similar case of the disappearing women is apparent in the memoir category, leaving Miranda Hart (49) marooned at a stag party. Only Ferguson, Jason, Morrissey and a second colourful football manager, Harry Redknapp (31), all bar one over 65, produced hit autobiographies; those by the latest batch of younger celebrities all failed.

Close the chapter for 2013: Year in review in books


From J.K. Rowling's surprise to the resurgence of print, USA TODAY takes a look back at what made news in the world of publishing.

JK.ROWLING- Photo -  Debra Hurford Brown

Flavorwire’s 15 Most Anticipated Books of 2014

Flavorwire's 15 Most Anticipated Books of 2014

By Jason Diamond on

The last 365 days yielded a considerable bounty of great books to get through, and the next 12 months on the calendar promise to be no different. Even though you’re surely sick and tired of reading what people thought about 2013 books while you’re maybe still trying to get through The Flamethrowers or James McBride’s past works before diving into his 2013 National Book Award winner The Good Lord Bird, some of these 2014 books might make you consider putting last year’s selections to the side, and living in the now. 
And since there is so much to chose from when you visit your local bookstore, we picked out 15 coming out in the first half of the new year that have our undivided attention. … Read More

Friday, December 27, 2013

Keith Richards on writing songs

delanceyplace header

Delanceyplace.com's End of Year Encore Week: This year a full week on creativity. 
In today's encore selection -- from Life by Keith Richards with James Fox. The Rolling Stones' Keith Richards on writing songs. For Richards, writing songs causes you to distance yourself, to become more of an observer -- a bit of a Peeping Tom:

"One hit requires another, very quickly, or you fast start to lose alti­tude. At that time you were expected to churn them out. 'Satisfac­tion' is suddenly number one all over the world, and Mick and I are looking at each other, saying, 'This is nice.' Then bang bang bang at the door, 'Where's the follow-up? We need it in four weeks.' And we were on the road doing two shows a day. You needed a new single every two months; you had to have another one all ready to shoot. And you needed a new sound. If we'd come along with another fuzz riff after 'Satisfaction,' we'd have been dead in the water, repeating with the law of diminishing returns. Many a band has faltered and foundered on that rock. 'Get Off of My Cloud' was a reaction to the record companies' demands for more -- leave me alone -- and it was an attack from another direction. And it flew as well.

Keith Richards and Mick Jagger writing songs for 'Exile On Main Street
"So we're the song factory. We start to think like songwriters, and once you get that habit, it stays with you all your life. It motors along in your subconscious, in the way you listen. Our songs were taking on some kind of edge in the lyrics, or at least they were beginning to sound like the image projected onto us. Cynical, nasty, skeptical, rude. We seemed to be ahead in this respect at the time. There was trouble in America; all these young American kids, they were being drafted to Vietnam. Which is why you have 'Satisfaction' in Apocalypse Now. Because the nutters took us with them. The lyrics and the mood of the songs fitted with the kids' disenchantment with the grown-up world of America, and for a while we seemed to be the only provider, the soundtrack for the rumbling of rebellion, touching on those social nerves. I wouldn't say we were the first, but a lot of that mood had an English idiom, through our songs, despite their being highly Ameri­can influenced. We were taking the piss in the old English tradition. ...

"And because you've been playing every day, sometimes two or three shows a day, ideas are flowing. One thing feeds the other. You might be having a swim or screwing the old lady, but somewhere in the back of the mind, you're thinking about this chord sequence or something related to a song. No matter what the hell's going on. You might be getting shot at, and you'll still be 'Oh! That's the bridge!' And there's nothing you can do; you don't realize it's happening. It's totally subconscious, unconscious or whatever. The radar is on whether you know it or not. You cannot switch it off. You hear this piece of conversation from across the room, 'I just can't stand you anymore'... That's a song. It just flows in. And also the other thing about being a songwriter, when you realize you are one, is that to provide ammo, you start to become an observer, you start to distance yourself. You're constantly on the alert. That faculty gets trained in you over the years, observing people, how they react to one another. Which, in a way, makes you weirdly distant. You shouldn't really be doing it. It's a little of Peeping Tom to be a songwriter. You start looking round, and everything's a subject for a song. The banal phrase, which is the one that makes it. And you say, I can't believe nobody hooked up on that one before! Luckily there are more phrases than songwriters, just about."

Author: Keith Richards with James Fox
Title: Life
Publisher: Free Press
Date: Little Brown & Company
Pages: 179-183
by Keith Richards by Back Bay Books

Delanceyplace is a brief daily email with an excerpt or quote we view as interesting or noteworthy, offered with commentary to provide context.  There is no theme, except that most excerpts will come from a non-fiction work, mainly works of history, are occasionally controversial, and we hope will have a more universal relevance than simply the subject of the book from which they came. 

To visit our homepage or sign up for our daily email click here 

Neil Gaiman novel wins Book of the Year

Modern day fairytale wins public vote from shortlist of winners beating big names including Kate Atkinson and David Walliams

  • The Guardian,
Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman has written short fiction, novels, comic books and graphic novels. Photograph: Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert/Getty Images

Neil Gaiman's fantasy novel The Ocean At The End Of The Lane has been voted the Book of the Year, beating big names including Kate Atkinson, David Walliams and David Jason.

The book, a modern-day fairy tale about a man returning to his childhood home for a funeral, won a public vote from a shortlist of the winners of all 10 categories from the year's Specsavers National Book Awards.
Gaiman, who grew up in East Grinstead where his family were prominent Scientologists, made his name writing graphic novels including the Sandman series.

His award-winning book has been a bestseller and a street has been named after it in Portsmouth, near where he lived for a time as a child.
He said: "I've never written a book before that was so close to my own heart: a story about memory and magic and the fear and danger of being a child. I wasn't sure that anyone else would like it.
"I'm amazed and thrilled that so many other people have read it, loved it, and made their friends read it too.
"Winning a National Book Award was thrilling; discovering that the public have made The Ocean At The End Of The Lane their Book of the Year is somewhere out beyond wonderful. Thank you to everyone who voted."

The other shortlisted books included David Jason: My Life, Walliams' Demon Dentist and Atkinson's Life After Life.
Previous winners include EL James' Fifty Shades Of Grey

15 Books That Will Help Get You Out Of Your Reading Slump

Huff Post Books

For lit lovers, the dark times endured between great books can be a drag. What are you supposed to do with your free time, or while waiting for a friend who's running late to meet you for dinner? Cell phone games and magazines are cold comforts. If you're experiencing a literature-less lull, don't fret - we're here to quell all of your excuses for not reading. Here are 15 books to pick up if you're in a reading slump. Continue reading...

Book news from the New York Times

The producer Robert Evans.  

Books of The Times - New York Times


"The Fat Lady Sang" is a warts-and-all follow-up to Robert Evans's earlier memoir, "The Kid Stays in the Picture."


Ms. Branden, once a member of Ms. Rand's inner circle, wrote an unauthorized biography, "The Passion of Ayn Rand," published in 1986, that angered some Rand followers. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A broad, bold showing for books in 2013

Published: Tuesday, December 24, 2013 - Heritage.com

Author Tom Clancy listens to questions during a discussion June 1, 2004 in Washington, DC. Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

Was 2013 the year that publishing’s “most vital category” crown finally passed to young adult and middle-grade literature?

If not, that day is surely nigh. Titles for teens and tweens (and their parents) saturated shelves, and consumers ate them up: “Allegiant” (the third book in the “Divergent” series by 25-year-old Veronica Roth) sold 450,000 copies its first week out, and “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck” (the eighth in Jeff Kinney’s series) sold 1.1 million its first week. Kid lit has legs beyond Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen.

But in an era where reports of book publishing’s demise are consistently exaggerated, the grown-up bestseller lists were busy, too, thanks to familiar names: Dan Brown (“Inferno”), J.K. Rowling (writing as Robert Galbraith, “The Cuckoo’s Calling”), Stephen King (“Dr. Sleep”), Donna Tartt (“The Goldfinch”), Khaled Hosseini (“And the Mountains Echoed”), and an old dead guy named F. Scott Fitzgerald (“The Great Gatsby” made a huge, Leonardo DiCaprio-fueled comeback).

On the nonfiction side, Facebook exec Sheryl Sandberg made waves with “Lean In,” Fox News face Bill O’Reilly moved units with “Killing Jesus,” perennial talk-show guest Doris Kearns Goodwin proved her presidential-historian mettle again with “The Bully Pulpit,” and Lawrence Wright shed sober light on Scientology in “Going Clear.” David Sedaris re-earned his place as top comic memoirist with “Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls.”

There was also the unmistakable aroma of the bayou on the bestseller lists: The “Duck Dynasty” crew produced a handful of titles including “Happy Happy Happy” (Phil Robertson), “Si-Cology” (Si Robertson), and “Miss Kay’s Duck Commander Kitchen” (Kay Robertson), together selling piles of copies.

The big literary awards went to familiar, and unfamiliar names: Canadian storyteller Alice Munro won a long-due Nobel Prize, James McBride was an unlikely (and deserving) National Book Award winner for “The Good Lord Bird,” and 28-year-old Eleanor Catton took home the prestigious Man Booker Prize for her captivating (if byzantine) tale of New Zealand gold-rushers, “The Luminaries.”

Christmas ghost stories: Ofodile by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

A sleeping brother, a piercing cry, a lost key: award-winning novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie unravels a mystery

christmas ghost stories illustration (chimamanda) View larger picture
Illustration: Demetrios Psillos

On the day our new neighbours came to our house, my brother Ofodile bit my mother on the arm. She was feeding him, pushing soft mashed yam into his mouth. She did it quickly, she always did, spoonful chasing another spoonful, then a plastic cup of water forced into his mouth to make him swallow. She did it silently, without really looking at him, her movements thick with duty, in his bedroom with the foam-carpeted floor that caught his falls. The door was always shut. Never ajar. When guests visited, the door was not just shut but locked, Ofodile sleeping inside. Sometimes she asked me to lock his door and I did it as she did, key turned swiftly, not looking in to see him first.

His piercing cries scared me. Sounds that ached and keened. High drawn-out screams filled with loneliness. They shattered the silence of every room in the house, and I would press my hands against my ears. My mother said that since he was fed and dry, he was merely expressing himself, and his crying would exhaust him and bring sleep. She would shut the door and let him cry, in that bedroom that was his life, where he ate and cried and slept. He slept more now that my mother was taking care of him. He always slept. He slept for hours and he woke up red-eyed and screaming, and my mother pushed food into his mouth between his cries. She had been taking care of him for almost a year, since she lost her job. When the new state was created, she became, overnight, a native of Anambra, a non-indigene who could no longer work in Enugu. She found another job in Anambra, and was preparing to start – she would go on Mondays and come back on Thursdays – when, one evening, a lump began to swell on Ofodile's forehead. The nanny, Ukalechi, said Ofodile had not fallen down. Then she said Ofodile could not have fallen down, then she said she did not know if he had fallen down, because most of the time when she was taking care of him, he was alone in his room while she stayed in the parlour and watched TV. My father asked my mother: "Are you going to work out of state and let your son be killed by strangers?" He always said "your son". Ofodile was her fault, her sin.

He was six years old and could not talk. My mother knew at his birth that something was wrong, a silent baby lying awkward in the doctor's arms. My father's family said she had brought this thing to them. She cancelled her job, sent Ukalechi away, and a few weeks passed before I noticed how often Ofodile slept now. With Ukalechi, Ofodile had screamed and screamed, but with my mother he screamed and slept.