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Book News: PEN Award Winners Include Poet Frank Bidart, Ron Childress

by Annalisa Quinn
Jul 30, 2014

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

  • The winners of the 2014 PEN Literary Awards - more than a dozen prizes honoring writers of various genres — were announced on Wednesday morning, and include Frank Bidart ("a poet of roiling intensity, a poet singularly unafraid of excess") and James Wolcott (a critic of "panoramic and encyclopedic variety"). Other winners include Ron Childress' And West Is West, which won the $25,000 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, and Linda Leavell's Holding On Upside Down: The Life and Work of Marianne Moore, which won the PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography. The winner of the biggest prize, the $25,000 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction, will be announced at the awards ceremony in September; the finalists are Anthony Marra's A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, Ian Stansel's Everybody's Irish, Shawn Vestal's Godforsaken Idaho, Saïd Sayrafiezadeh's Brief Encounters With the Enemy and Hanya Yanagihara's The People in the Trees.
  • Former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura was awarded almost $2 million in a defamation suit against the estate of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, who wrote the 2012 book American Sniper and who died last year. NPR's Alan Greenblatt reports: "Kyle wrote that in 2006 he had decked Ventura in a bar in California, after Ventura said that he hated America and that Navy SEALs 'deserve to lose a few.' Ventura denied having said any such thing and said the account had hurt his career, as well as his standing among the community of SEALs. Kyle died last year, but Ventura sued his estate."
  • Amazon said Tuesday that one of its key goals in its ongoing dispute with publisher Hachette Book Group is lower e-book prices. For months, Amazon has delayed shipments and removed pre-order buttons for some Hachette titles as a negotiating tactic. In a post, the online retailer wrote that it hopes to persuade the publisher to price most e-books to $9.99 (many are currently priced at $12.99 or $14.99) and that it would be willing to continue receiving 30 percent of digital book revenue. Amazon wrote: "With an e-book, there's no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out-of-stock, no warehousing costs, no transportation costs, and there is no secondary market — e-books cannot be resold as used books." Amazon said that according to its research, cheaper e-books would sell more copies and ultimately raise revenue. The company added that it also hopes Hachette will share a bigger portion of digital book revenue with authors, "but ultimately that is not our call." Hachette did not respond to request for comment.
  • Sen. Rand Paul will come out with a book in 2015, he told Louisville's Courier-Journal newspaper. The Kentucky Republican said that much of the book "is about policy and about my approach to a variety of issues, and maybe the uniqueness of that approach." He also said that the timing — right before the presidential election — was "just coincidence, probably just coincidence, yeah."
  • Tiphanie Yanique talks about her novel Land of Love and Drowning, Caribbean literature and the legacy of Jean Rhys in an interview with the Los Angeles Review of Books: "There's a long, unfortunate tradition in literature set in the Caribbean, written by Americans or Europeans, of crazy women. Either women from the Caribbean are crazy, or women go to the Caribbean and end up crazy."
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Top Stories: UN School In Gaza Hit By Mortar Fire; U.S. GDP Jumps

Jul 30, 2014

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Good morning, here are our early stories:

— Gaza Conflict: Shell Strikes UN School, Killing Up To 19 Who Sought Shelter.

— U.S. Economy Rebounds In Spring With GDP Expanding At 4 Percent Rate.

— Water Main Break Dumps Up To 10 Million Gallons, Flooding UCLA.

And here are more early headlines:

Obama In Missouri To Speak On U.S. Economy. (Kansas City Star)

U.S., E.U. Add New Economic Sanctions On Russia. (BBC)

Small Cars Don't Fare As Well In Crash Tests. (USA Today)

CDC Says Weather Kills 2,000 A Year In U.S., Mostly From Cold. (AP)

Hall Of Famer Vin Scully To Cover Dodgers Games For 66th Year. (MLB)

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U.S. Economy Rebounds In Spring With GDP Expanding At 4 Percent Rate

by Eyder Peralta
Jul 30, 2014

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Eyder Peralta

The Commerce Department had some good news about the U.S. economy today: Rebounding from a quarter of negative growth, Commerce said the country's gross domestic product expanded at a 4 percent annual rate during the second quarter.

"The increase in real GDP in the second quarter primarily reflected positive contributions from personal consumption expenditures (PCE), private inventory investment, exports, nonresidential fixed investment, state and local government spending, and residential fixed investment," Commerce said in a statement.

As The Wall Street Journal sees it, the positive news is fueling hopes "for sustained growth in the second half of 2014." The paper adds:

"The solid gains come on the heels of a first quarter when the economy shrank at a 2.1% pace. While still the worst quarter of the current recovery, the figure reflects an upward revision from a previously estimated 2.9% contraction. The economy only grew at about a 1% pace for the first half of 2014.

"Annual revisions, also released Wednesday, showed the economy also expanded at a 4% pace in the second half of 2013, the best six-month stretch in 10 years.

"But figures over the past five years, including new revisions back to 2011, continue to tell a familiar tale. Unable to string together several quarters of steady growth, the recovery that began in 2009 is the weakest since World War II."

Bloomberg reports that the newly released data drove equity futures higher and treasuries lower.

Later today, the Federal Reserve will release a statement with their appraisal of the U.S. economy.

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How the World Works ( )

Pop-Up Books Make Environmental Science Easy-Peasy For Kids

by Melissa Pandika
Jul 30, 2014 (

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Christiane Dorion's latest children's book, How Animals Live, is shortlisted for the Royal Society 2014 Young People's Book. Why is the rainforest so popular?

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Melissa Pandika

For the average school kid, weighty, wonky topics like conservation, climate change and the circular economy might sound off-putting, if not downright dull. Yet Christiane Dorion has sold millions of children's books about these very concepts.

The trick? She never mentions them. "You can teach anything to children if you pitch it at the right level and use the right words," said the U.K.-based author.

Dorion distills hefty environmental concepts into bite-sized, kid-friendly explanations. Along the way, whimsical pop-up spreads — complete with pull-tabs, flaps and booklets ­­— engage even the shortest attention spans. Her books, written for 7- to 12-year-olds, tackle a variety of environmental and earth science topics, like how the weather works and how we make and discard everyday products from T-shirts to cheeseburgers.

The rich content keeps Dorion from sounding preachy. "If you answer children's questions and inspire them, you don't need to tell them ... what action they need to take," she said.

Dorion's latest book, How Animals Live — shortlisted for the prestigious Royal Society 2014 Young People's Book Prize — looks at how animals have adapted to life all over the planet. Each pop-up spread opens with a question: "What's in a grassland apart from grass? What makes the rainforest so popular?"

Unlike many kids' books about animals that describe species individually, Dorion's books portray habitats as interdependent systems. For example, the rain forest spread shows how bacteria make soil from animal droppings, which also help disperse seeds.

Kids "get" that habitats are living systems right away, Dorion said. Whenever she asks students which animals live in cities, they respond, "Us!"

"They see the links," she said. "They're so logical."

Raised outside Quebec, Dorion grew frustrated when she couldn't find engaging classroom books while coordinating the World Wildlife Federation's primary education program. She mentioned to a fellow mother at her son's school that she was thinking of writing a pop-up book on the water cycle. Turns out that mother was the chief executive of Templar Publishing, which published Dorion's first book, How the World Works, in 2011 — followed by three more.

Dorion's ideas often come from children at literary festivals who tell her what to write next. She collaborates with an illustrator, Beverly Young, who specifies a word limit — sometimes as few as 40 words for one topic — which helps Dorion keep her explanations simple and focus on the most interesting tidbits from her research.

But Dorion refuses to oversimplify concepts. She recalled as a child struggling to understand how clouds could be made of water vapor, since many of her schoolbooks compared them to cotton wool. In her own books, she boldly tackles natural selection, plate tectonics and other complex scientific concepts.

Scheduled to hit bookshelves in October, Dorion's fifth book, How the World Began, opens with the Big Bang and fast-forwards to the evolution of life and human civilization, all the way to the present day.

The author swells with optimism for the next generation. She hopes to inspire children to "do something to protect the world," she said.

Maybe it's time to add kids' books to the climate change agenda.

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A Palestinian girl cries while receiving treatment for her injuries caused by an Israeli strike at a U.N. school in Jebaliya refugee camp, at the Kamal Adwan hospital in Beit Lahiya on Wednesday. (AP)

Gaza Conflict: Shell Strikes U.N. School, Killing Up To 19 Who Sought Shelter

by Eyder Peralta
Jul 30, 2014 (

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The U.N. breakdown of Palestinian deaths. Why is the rainforest so popular?

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As many as 19 people were killed when a shell struck a school run by the United Nations in Gaza, this morning.

In a message on Twitter, Pierre Krähenbühl, the commissioner-general of UNRWA, which is responsible for the welfare of Palestinian refugees, blamed the attack on the Israeli military.

"Children, women and men killed & injured as they slept in place where they should have been safe and protected," Krähenbühl said, referring to the fact that the school was being used as a shelter. "They were not. Intolerable."

According to Krähenbühl, this is the sixth time shells have hit a UNRWA school. He called this incident "a breaking point."

NPR's Emily Harris reports that this is the second time a U.N. school has been hit and people have been killed.

With that, here's what you need to know as the conflict enters its 23rd day.

— Israeli Response:

A spokesman for the Israeli Army tells the Washington Post that Israeli forces "came under mortar fire earlier Wednesday from a point near the school in the Jebaliya refugee camp and responded toward the source of the fire."

They will review the incident.

— The Death Toll:

NPR's Emily Harris reports the death toll in Gaza has exceeded 1,200. The death toll in Israel is 56, which includes three civilians.

Here's the United Nations' breakdown of those numbers, but note the graphic has not caught up with the current tolls:

— The Peace Process:

The conflict does not seem to be ending any time soon.

As Emily explained on Morning Edition, it's hard to tell what both sides are thinking but what's clear is that "neither side seems to be in a position to get what they want to end this fighting."

Remember: Israel is seeking a complete demilitarization of Gaza, which Hamas is unlikely to accept and Hamas is seeking an end to the blockade of Gaza by Israel and Egypt, which Israel is unlikely to accept.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports Israel is considering submitting a resolution to the U.N. Security Council that would end the fighting. A resolution of that kind ended the 1996 Lebanon war.

Emily reports one Israeli official said Israel would only pursue this route if the U.S. agreed.

— A Temporary Cease-Fire:

The AP reports:

"The Israeli military says it's declared a four-hour cease-fire in some areas of the Gaza Strip for humanitarian reasons."

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