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All stories relating to Mark Twain

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Book links roundup: Philip Pullman adapts classic Grimm tales, Reddit’s new literary video site, and more

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Freedom to Read Week event round-up

Much of the debate preceding this year’s national Freedom to Read Week (Feb. 20-26) has focused on Alabama publisher NewSouth Books’ edited version of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. No doubt this sensitive topic will be raised again at the Book and Periodical Council’s free event, “Challenging Books: Who Should Decide What Our Children Read?” on Wednesday, 6:30 p.m. at Toronto’s Gladstone Hotel. (To get primed, read George Elliott Clarke’s take, “N-Word Wickedness,” from NOW Magazine).

Freedom of sexual expression also generates plenty of public discussion. Here are a few national FTRW events that peer between the sheets:

  • Censoring Manga for Fun and Profit (Feb. 23, Toronto Public Library, Lillian H. Smith Branch)
  • Sexual Outliers: Censorship, Advocacy Journalism and the Gay Press (Feb. 23, Toronto Public Library, Yorkville Branch)
  • Freedom to Read … Out Loud: Risky and Risqué Stories for Adults (Feb. 24, The ARTery, Edmonton)
  • Banned Books: Madame Bovary (Feb. 28, Toronto Public Library, Deer Park Branch)

For a complete list of national events, visit

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Mark Twain: dead and kicking

As willed by the author, the first volume of Mark Twain’s autobiography was released for the first time on Monday, 100 years after his death. Yet even before its release, the Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1, landed on the Los Angeles Times, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble bestseller lists. The Globe and Mail review of the book says:

Twain hit upon a unique method for writing an autobiography: He dictated to a stenographer whatever was on his mind at the moment, sometimes responding to the morning’s paper or the morning’s mail, sometimes following seemingly random trains of thought wherever they led him, often interleaving relevant newspaper clippings along the way.

Twain’s publisher, University of California Press, planned to release 50,000 copies of the book, but has since increased the number to 75,000, reports another Globe article.

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Al Purdy’s education

On Tuesday, while reporting on the fate of Al Purdy’s cottage, Q&Q contacted the famous poet’s old school, Trenton High School in Trenton, Ontario. According to physics teacher Eric Lorenzen, who recently dug out microfilm with the famous Canadian poet’s Grade 11 transcripts, Purdy had an average of 42.3 per cent and a grade of 54 per cent in English grammar. He dropped out in 1936, the document lists “disinterested” as his reason for leaving.

For the record, here are some other notable authors who left school in the past, according to Education Reform: H.G. Wells, Leon Uris, Jack London, Rod McKuen, Carl Sandburg, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare (supposedly), George Bernard Shaw and William Faulkner.


New Mark Twain essays forthcoming

Before his death, Franz Kafka famously told his literary executor, Max Brod, to burn all his manuscripts. Brod didn’t listen, and as a result, Western literature has The Trial and The Castle. Last year, there was a minor brouhaha in the literary world over whether Dmitri Nabokov would accede to his father’s wishes and destroy his final, unfinished manuscript. Dmitri waffled, but eventually said that he’d allow the work to be published.

Apparently Mark Twain was similarly reticent about having his correspondence and other written materials publicly displayed after his death. In a letter to his brother, quoted in the Guardian, Twain wrote, “I don’t want any absurd ‘literary remains’ and ‘unpublished letters of Mark Twain’ published after I am planted.” The American humourist has now been “planted” for close to a century, and a new collection of unpublished essays, titled Who Is Mark Twain?, is set to make an appearance next month.

According to Alison Flood in the Guardian, the book, to be published by HarperStudio in the U.K., will feature 24 previously unpublished stories and essays, including one titled “Jane Austen,” in which Twain posits that Austen’s intent was to “make the reader detest her people up to the middle of the book and like them in the rest of the chapters.”

Quillblog was unable to discover whether the book has a Canadian publisher as yet.


Banned books

It’s the American Library Association‘s Banned Books Week, and their website features lists of frequently challenged books covering various eras on their website. Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale is 37th on the ALA’s list of the 100 most frequently challenged books of the 1990s.

In honour of Banned Books Week, the Guardian asks whether or not you’ve been exercising your freedom to read, with a quiz about censored books past and present. Here’s one to ponder:

Who was the ALA’s most frequently “challenged” author of 2007?

  1. Mark Twain
  2. Richard Dawkins
  3. Maya Angelou
  4. Robert Cormier

Here is a look at some books that have been challenged in Canada, and some of the reasons why. The list includes a number of Canadian authors, including Deborah Ellis, Alice Munro, and Mordecai Richler. And, going local, the Fahrenheit 451 blog for the Pelham Public Library in Fonthill, ON, discusses censorship issues and provides lists of books that have been banned at the library challenged in various locations, including schools and libraries, over the past few years.

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Penguins ruffle readers’ feathers

Challenging the longstanding myth that everybody loves those cute creatures known as penguins, the American Library Association reports that a children’s book featuring penguins has topped the list of library books the public objects to the most – for the second year running.

The 2005 picture book by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, And Tango Makes Three, is about a family of penguins… with two fathers. At least it’s in illustrious company – other titles on the ALA’s list of challenged books include Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass.

From the Associated Press:

The ALA defines a “challenge” as a “formal, written complaint filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness.”


Overall, the number of reported library challenges dropped from 546 in 2006 to 420 last year, well below the mid-1990s, when complaints topped 750. For every challenge listed, about four to five go unreported, the library association estimates.

“The atmosphere is a little better than it used to be,” [Judith] Krug [director of the ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom] says. “I think some of the pressure has been taken off of books by the Internet, because so much is happening on the Internet.”

According to the ALA, at least 65 challenges last year led to a book being pulled.

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Cory Doctorow novel the latest in “inbox lit”

The cover of Down and Out in the Magic KingdomVia Boing Boing, we’ve learned that Cory Doctorow’s 2003 novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is available from Daily Lit as an e-mail serial. Since September 2006, Daily Lit has been serializing books and sending out the installments to subscribers via e-mail. Up ’til now, the titles available have been in the public domain – works by Shakespeare, Mark Twain, and the like. Doctorow’s novel is one of the first titles available under a Creative Commons license.

Daily Lit bases itself on the seemingly contradictory idea that many people don’t have time to read books, but do have time to read long e-mails every day (presumably at work).

We’ll know this idea has really taken off when we receive a message offering us the opportunity to download a Nigerian dictator’s first novel.

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Eva Stachniak's Empress of the Night

Eva Stachniak poses with a copy of her book, Empress of the Night

Tea and snacks inspired by Eva Stachniak's Empress of the Night

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Eva Stachniak talks to the audience about the best and worst of Catherine the Great's favourites

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