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Book News: Seamus Heaney's Last Words Were 'Don't Be Afraid'

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

  • The last words of Seamus Heaney, the Nobel laureate and Irish poet who died last week, came in a text message to his wife: "Noli timere," Latin for "Don't be afraid," the poet's son Michael said at his father's funeral. Heaney was buried in Northern Ireland's County Derry, where he grew up and where many of his most famous poems are set. Hundreds of mourners attended his funeral, including Irish President Michael D. Higgins, taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Enda Kenny, Sinn Fein members Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, and celebrities such as Bono. The Irish poet Paul Muldoon said in a eulogy delivered at the funeral and printed in The New Yorker, "It was Seamus Heaney's unparalleled capacity to sweep all of us up in his arms that we're honoring today. ... I'm thinking of his beauty. Today we mourn with Marie and the children, as well as the extended families, the nation, the wide world. We remember the beauty of Seamus Heaney — as a bard, and in his being."
  • Alabama state Sen. Bill Holtzclaw has asked schools to ban Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye from high school reading lists. He told the Alabama Media Group: "The book is just completely objectionable, from language to the content." The book, which tells the story of a black girl who wishes for blue eyes, includes descriptions of incest and rape. Holtzclaw's appeal comes after criticism from fellow Republicans that he failed to oppose the Department of Education's Common Core school standards.
  • The prestigious Hugo Awards for science fiction and fantasy were announced this weekend, honoring John Scalzi's Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas and Brandon Sanderson The Emperor's Soul, among other works.
  • Frederik Pohl, the author whom Kingsley Amis once called "the most consistently able writer science fiction, in its modern form, has yet produced," died Monday. He was 93. He won several Hugo awards and a National Book Award for science fiction. Best known for his novels, particularly 1977's The Gateway, he was also a blogger, with recent posts on subjects as various as fracking, pig farmers and H.G. Wells.

The Best Book Coming Out This Week:

  • In the new book from Nobel Laureate J.M. Coetzee, The Childhood of Jesus, a man and a child arrive in a distant place, perhaps the afterlife, perhaps some socialist dystopia where blandly content people live without passion or lust ("a strange thing to be preoccupied with," one character tells the old man when he mentions sex). They remember only snatched of their previous lives, just "the shadows of memories." The man sets out to find the boy's mother, convinced he will know her when he sees her, and settles on a virgin named Ines. Coetzee's sentences are sparse, almost barren, though also characteristically lovely. This is a frustrating and captivating book, one that offers many questions and few answers.
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