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Book News: North Carolina County Bans 'Invisible Man'

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

  • A North Carolina county voted this week to ban Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man from school libraries. The Asheboro Courier-Tribune reports that the decision followed a complaint from a parent, who called the novel "too much for teenagers." The decision was 5-2, with one board member claiming, "I didn't find any literary value." The 1952 novel, which won the National Book Award, is among the most famous novels dealing with black identity — and black invisibility — in America. The famous opening lines of the novel read, "I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids — and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me."
  • An English professor at Winthrop University says he may have discovered the identity of the elusive author of The Bondwoman's Narrative, which is believed to be the first novel written by an African-American woman. The professor, Gregg Hecimovich, says the 19th century novel was probably written by a slave woman named Hannah Bond, who disguised herself as a man and fled captivity on a North Carolina plantation. Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. told The New York Times,"Words cannot express how meaningful this is to African-American literary studies. It revolutionizes our understanding of the canon of black women's literature."
  • Valerie Plame, the former undercover CIA agent who was outed in 2003, has written a spy novel, according to The Washington Post's "Reliable Source" column. The novel, Blowback, follows a "covert agent who appears incapable of taking orders and finds herself at the center of a deadly race to locate and eradicate an Iranian nuclear threat," according to the Post. The paper added that it's "what espionage fans call 'spy light': Two-page chapters with cliffhanger endings, predictable clashes...and years of covert operations somehow packed into a couple weeks of action."
  • Pavel Astakhov, Russia's children's ombudsman, which is apparently a thing that exists, said in an interview that he didn't believe in sex education for children, but that "the best sex education that exists is Russian literature." As The Guardian rightly points out, Russia is home to some of literature's most demented love affairs.
  • A never-before-published poem by Dorothy Wordsworth, the sister of William Wordsworth and a skilled poet in her own right, has been printed in its entirety for the first time on the Oxford University Press' blog. It begins: "Five years of sickness & of pain / This weary frame has travelled oer / But God is good & once again I rest upon a tranquil shore."
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    Annalisa Quinn is a contributing writer, reporter, and literary critic for NPR. She created NPR's Book News column and covers literature and culture for NPR.
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