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Book News: World War I Diaries Of British Soldiers Digitized

British soldiers in the trenches, late 1914.
Hulton Archive
Getty Images
British soldiers in the trenches, late 1914.

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

  • The British National Archives is digitizing the official diaries kept by army military units during World War I. A press release states that "this first batch of unit war diaries reveals the real-time account of the first three cavalry and the first seven infantry divisions who were part of the first wave of British army troops deployed in France and Flanders." There are about 1.5 million pages of diary entries, 20 percent of which have already been digitized. The BBC quotes the personal diary of the First Battalion's Capt. James Paterson, who wrote, "Trenches, bits of equipment, clothing (probably blood-stained), ammunition, tools, caps, etc, etc, everywhere. Poor fellows shot dead are lying in all directions. Some of ours. Everywhere the same hard, grim, pitiless sign of battle and war. I have had a belly full of it." U.K. Culture Secretary Maria Miller said in the press release that the project "will allow us to hear the voices of those that sacrificed their lives and is even more poignant now there are no living veterans who can speak directly about the events of the war."
  • Jennifer Weiner on publishing her first book: "Everybody says that's the happiest day of a writer's life, when you get to go home and tell your mom someone is publishing your book. And I can tell you that is less true when your book is called Good In Bed."
  • Open Culture features some of Fyodor Dostoevsky's intricate pen-and-ink doodles.
  • For The Believer, Amy Benfer writes about loving teen serial novels such as Sweet Valley High, which she calls "the training bras of literature" : "I love the endless descriptions of clothes, the florid adjectives used to describe improbable hair, eye, and skin colors; the crazy soap-opera plotlines that start out with routine betrayals and inevitably get entangled in the assorted comas, deaths, and rare diseases necessary to extricate the good boys and girls from the impossible situations they've been put in."
  • Jelani Cobb on the complex legacy of Amiri Baraka: "Baraka was a controversial figure. He was also enigmatic, eccentric, brilliant, and possessed of a fount of indignation at the wrongs of the world as he understood them. To those who shared his reference points, he contained a black-brown diaspora of multitudes. In 'In the Tradition,' Baraka writes, 'Our fingerprints are everywhere on you, America, our fingerprints are everywhere.' In ways that were apparent to those who cared to recognize it, his were, too."
  • The New York Times reports that St. Martin's Press will pay "an eye-popping eight-figure advance" for two books from the romance novelist Sylvia Day. According to the newspaper, "the books, a series called 'Blacklist,' are a follow-up to Ms. Day's 'Crossfire' series, which has sold more than 13 million copies since its release began in 2012."
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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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