Book News: J.K. Rowling Tells 'Harry Potter' Backstories | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

NPR : News

Filed Under:

Book News: J.K. Rowling Tells 'Harry Potter' Backstories

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

  • J.K. Rowling, Seamus Heaney, Hilary Mantel, Tom Stoppard and Ian McEwan, together with dozens of other well-known authors, have annotated first editions of their novels for an auction on Tuesday to benefit English PEN, an organization that promotes freedom of expression. An interactive project at The Guardian lets you scroll through the annotations online. Among other revelations, the notes on a first edition of Rowling's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone show that the original Hufflepuff mascot was a bear, not a badger, and that Quidditch was invented "in a small hotel in Manchester after a row with my then boyfriend." Also charming are Seamus Heaney's notes on Death of a Naturalist — he wrote on his poem At A Potato Digging that "[Poet] Anthony Thwaite once described me (to my face) as 'laureate of the root vegetable.' "
  • A new postage stamp in Ireland has an entire short story printed on its surface. Written by an Irish teenager, the 224-word story is an ode to Dublin. Here's an excerpt: "Now, where Norsemen once stood, I look back, along the quays, streets and alleys, to where the inhabitants live their lives: eating, speaking, and breathing their city into existence."
  • In a review of Tom Drury's Pacific for The New York Times, Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) explains, with his characteristic bluntness, the problem with talking about "Midwestern" literature: "Calling a writer 'Midwestern' seems like a way to start up that familiar and imaginary battle between Plain Novels Full of People With Integrity and Dirty Fingernails versus Showoffy Books About People Having Martinis in Penthouses."
  • Critic and author Greil Marcus argued that the distinctions between "high" and "low" culture are artificial in a commencement address at New York City's School of Visual Arts: "I've always believed that the divisions between high art and low art, between high culture, which really ought to be called 'sanctified culture,' and what's sometimes called popular culture, but really ought to be called 'everyday culture' — the culture of anyone's everyday life, the music I listen to, the movies you see, the advertisements that infuriate us and that sometimes we find so thrilling, so moving — I've always believed that these divisions are false."

The Best Books Coming Out This Week:

  • J.R.R. Tolkien's The Fall of Arthur, an incomplete epic poem on King Arthur, has been edited for publication by his son, Christopher Tolkien, and newly released. Erudite and beautiful, it's written in Old English alliterative verse (the meter of Beowulf!). It begins: "Arthur eastward in arms purposed/ his war to wage on the wild marches, / over seas sailing to Saxon lands, / from the Roman realm ruin defending."
  • NoViolet Bulawayo's We Need New Names is the story of Darling, a young girl who flees to the U.S. from the strife and corruption of President Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe. But, interestingly, We Need New Names is nearly as incisive about the American immigrant experience as it is about the failings of Mugabe's regime.
  • The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, from The New Yorker's George Packer, argues that basic American institutions – farms, schools, factories — are collapsing. On Weekend Edition Sunday, he told NPR's Rachel Martin that "it feels like a real cultural shift where the value of the community, of what makes this a coherent society has really been submerged." He illustrates his point with fascinating profiles of Americans from Oprah Winfrey to a North Carolina tobacco farmer to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga.
Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

New Biopic Returns A Beloved Mexican Icon To The Big Screen

The beloved Mexican actor known as Cantinflas is often referred to as the Latin Charlie Chaplin. His humor tweaked the rich and powerful. His speech was goofy and intelligent at the same time, and he made some 50 movies between 1936 and 1981. And now, a new film addresses the actor's life.
NPR

Real Vanilla Isn't Plain. It Depends On (Dare We Say It) Terroir

There's no such thing as plain vanilla — at least if you're talking about beans from the vanilla orchid. Whether it's from Tahiti or Madagascar, vanilla can be creamy, spicy or even floral.
NPR

Climate Policy Takes The Stage In Fla. Governor's Race

Rick Scott, Florida's GOP governor, has come under criticism for his record on the environment. Now, he's rolling out his own proposals for safeguarding the state's water and wildlife preserves.
NPR

An App Can Reveal When Withdrawal Tremors Are Real

You probably haven't thought about whether your phone could help diagnose alcohol withdrawal. Well, it can. An app for doctors measures tremors and may help tell if someone's faking it to get drugs.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.