Neil Gaiman reads the first chapter from “The Graveyard Book.”

I’m so looking forward to this book, but it may be some time before I can afford to buy it. How cool is it then that Harper Books and Gaiman are allowing us a sneak peek with this widget?

Additionally you can see video of Gaiman reading one chapter on each of his tour stops as he promotes the book at this website. So by following along you can enjoy the whole of the book for free as read by Gaiman himself. How frickin’ cool is that? It makes me want to buy the book that much more.

By the way it’s Banned Books Week.

I almost forgot to mention that it’s one again Banned Books Week:

Banned Books Week is the only national celebration of the freedom to read. It was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. More than a thousand books have been challenged since 1982. The challenges have occurred in every state and in hundreds of communities. People challenge books that they say are too sexual or too violent. They object to profanity and slang, and protest against offensive portrayals of racial or religious groups—or positive portrayals of homosexuals. Their targets range from books that explore the latest problems to classic and beloved works of American literature.

According to the American Library Association, more than 400 books were challenged in 2007. The 10 most challenged titles were:

1. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
2. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
3. Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes
4. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
6. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
7. TTYL by Lauren Myracle
8. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
9. It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
(Click here to see why these books were challenged.)

During the last week of September every year, hundreds of libraries and bookstores around the country draw attention to the problem of censorship by mounting displays of challenged books and hosting a variety of events. The 2008 celebration of Banned Books Week will be held from September 27 through October 4.

Take a moment to celebrate your freedom to read whatever the hell you want this week by sitting down with a banned book for a few hours. The American Library Association maintains a list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged books from 1990 to 2000 that has lots of potential reading material. Several books by Mark Twain are on the list as well as the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, but those are just two of my personal favorites. There’s something on the list for everyone.

There will be a sixth “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” novel.

I’m a huge fan of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy (which, at last count, totaled five books) and I was very disappointed with the big budget movie version because it lacked what made the books so good and that was Adams’ wonderful dialog. I was saddened when he passed away a few years back which is unusual for me as there aren’t that many celebrities I get all that attached to, but I’ve always enjoyed his work and I was bummed to think we wouldn’t see any more from him.

Now word comes that his wife has tapped children’s book author Eoin Colfer to write a new Hitchhiker’s book:

Douglas Adams’s increasingly inaccurately named Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy is to be extended to six titles, after Adams’s widow Jane Belson sanctioned a project which will see children’s author Eoin Colfer taking up the story.

And Another Thing… by Colfer, whose involvement with the project was personally requested by Belson, will be published next October by Penguin. No information has yet emerged about the plot of the novel but Hitchhiker fans will be hoping for a resurrection of much-loved characters Arthur Dent, Trillian and Ford Prefect, who were all apparently blown to smithereens at the end of the fifth novel, Mostly Harmless.

I’m a picky fiction reader as it is, the number of authors who I’ll buy a book outright from can be counted on one hand, and while my heart sped up a bit at the thought of a new Hitchhiker’s book it settled right back down again at the thought that it wouldn’t be coming from Adams’ pen. I have no idea who Eoin Colfer is, he may very well be a perfectly wonderful author, he might actually produce something that’s a commercial success, but it’s still a derivative of books I have very fond memories of.

Which isn’t to say that it shouldn’t happen or that I feel they are cheapening what has come before. I’m not that kind of book snob. Just that I’m not as excited about it as I would be had it turned out to be a previously unpublished work by Adams’ himself. For his part Colfer is a big fan of the original series as well and is delighted to have a chance to finish the story, though he won’t be trying to write like Adams’ did:

Colfer, who has been a fan of Hitchhiker since his schooldays, said being given the opportunity to continue the series was “like suddenly being offered the superpower of your choice”. “For years I have been finishing this incredible story in my head and now I have the opportunity to do it in the real world,” he added. “It is a gift from the gods. So, thank you Thor and Odin.”

The book will “make no claims for Eoin being Douglas”, according to Prior. “It’s not Eoin Colfer writing as Douglas Adams, as was the case with Sebastian Faulks,” she said, pointing to Penguin’s successful publication of Faulks’s new James Bond novel Devil May Care earlier this year. “It’s absolutely about him being himself – Eoin the author, but with the cast of Hitchhiker.”

Which is probably how it should be, though it makes me even less likely to pick up the new book. Perhaps I’ll try one of his original novels first to see how I like it before making any final conclusions. I’m buoyed by the fact that Colfer appears to be aware of people who are thinking along the same lines I am:

Colfer himself is currently grappling with nerves over the quality of his addition to Adams’ oeuvre. “I feel more pressure to perform now than I ever have with my own books, and that is why I am bloody determined that this will be the best thing I have ever written,” he said. “For the first time in decades I feel the uncertainty that I last felt in my teenage years. There are people out there that really want to like this book.”

I’m one of those people, but I know how finicky I am about the fiction I read. For now I guess I’ll be cautiously optimistic and hope for the best. It would be fun to visit with Aurthur, Ford, and Zaphod once more.

“You talked about Fight Club.” - Jon Stewart to Scott McClellan.

Scott McClellan showed up on The Daily Show to promote his new book. The interview is worth watching:

Scott McClellan’s new book has White House in an uproar.

Former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan’s new tell-all book What Happened, about his time working in the Bush Administration, has created quite the shit storm over the past few days. The news media have been lapping up revelations such as this one on Bush’s real motivation for starting a war with Iraq:

In Iraq, McClellan added, Bush saw “his opportunity to create a legacy of greatness,” something McClellan said Bush has said he believes is only available to wartime presidents.

The president’s real motivation for the war, he said, was to transform the Middle East to ensure an enduring peace in the region. But the White House effort to sell the war as necessary due to the stated threat posed by Saddam Hussein was needed because “Bush and his advisers knew that the American people would almost certainly not support a war launched primarily for the ambitions purpose of transforming the Middle East,” McClellan wrote.

“Rather than open this Pandora’s Box, the administration chose a different path — not employing out-and-out deception, but shading the truth,” he wrote of the effort to convince the world that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, an effort he said used “innuendo and implication” and “intentional ignoring of intelligence to the contrary.”

“President Bush managed the crisis in a way that almost guaranteed that the use of force would become the only feasible option,” McClellan concluded, noting, “The lack of candor underlying the campaign for war would severely undermine the president’s entire second term in office.”

Stuff like that has led for some pundits to raise the possibility of impeachment. Meanwhile the Bush Administration and its supporters are attempting to discredit McClellan as best as they can:

Dana Perino, who graces McClellan’s old podium, issued a statement calling him “disgruntled” and wondering what happened to “the Scott we knew.”

Privately, the whispers from other outraged Bush partisans are even more dismissive: he was never up to the job so we had to get rid of him; he wasn’t in the room when key decisions were made; he became press secretary only because the President he’s betrayed was more loyal than his ungrateful Judas.

But McClellan’s inside-the-bunker revelations are even more withering precisely because of his pedigree. Of all the Bush true believers, Scotty was the least likely to write a kiss-and-tell memoir.

The thing is that none of this should be news to anyone who’s been paying attention over the past 6 years. McClellan is just confirming a lot of what has already been known or suspected for years. When the WMoDS were no where to be found the Administration trotted out a lot of different bullshit excuses and justifications for the war including the idea that Iraq would be a shining beacon of Democracy in the Middle East that would lead to its spread throughout the region. The idea that Bush bought into his own deceptions should be no surprise to anyone who has watched him answer questions from the press. It’s clear he believes what he’s saying in spite of reality and his method of constantly repeating the same falsehoods over and over again is as much to convince himself as any of us. We knew, or should have known, all of this before the 2004 election and yet the majority of people in this country opted to elect him again. The situation we find ourselves in today is a direct result of our own collective stupidity.

As much as I would personally love to see Bush and his crew impeached and brought up on war crime charges, the damage has already been done and there’d be little to gain from it other than perhaps heading off a possible attack on Iran by this administration. Considering how long impeachment proceedings take chances are he’d be out of office before they were resolved anyway. It’s also doubtful that, in an election year, the Republicans would allow such proceedings to take place simply because of the negative publicity it would bring to the party. We’ll just have to ride out the last few months and hope that Bush doesn’t do anything else particularly stupid in the time remaining.

But none of this should be a surprise to anyone. At least not to anyone who’s been paying attention.

The results are in: “American Gods” now readable on the web for free.

Neil put up the announcement on his blog just recently:

Kids! Free! Book!
The good news is the link to the free online American Gods is up on the front page of the neilgaiman.com website. The bad news is that the link is wrong.

For the next month, your free copy of American Gods is waiting for you at
http://tiny.cc/WRiXE

Feel free to spread the link as widely as possible around the web. If it works, and people read it, then a) we may be able to put up another book and b) sooner or later they’ll simply let us give away the book in electronic form….

It’s an excellent book and I recommend checking it out if you haven’t already. I got my copy through my mother who’s also a big Gaiman fan.

Neil Gaiman’s “The Graveyard Book” is complete.

One of my favorite authors just posted on his blog that he’s done with his latest novel titled The Graveyard Book. Here he tries to explain what it is about and who it is for:

Over the last few months people have written in and asked what kind of a book The Graveyard Book is, whether it’s for kids or adults, all that sort of thing. And I haven’t answered because it wasn’t actually finished, and I figured I’d find out when it was done. And it’s done now.

I think The Graveyard Book is a book for pretty much all ages, although I’m not sure how far down that actually starts. I think I would have loved it when I was eight, but I don’t think that all eight-year olds were like me.

[…] But it’s not a children’s book. It’s a book that I think children will enjoy, but there’s also stuff that’s there for adults too. It’s a book about life and death and making families. It has ghouls in it, and the Hounds of God, and the Sleer, and the Indigo Man, and a lot of very dead people.

It’s not that easy to describe. I’m reminded of Kim Newman’s review of Anansi Boys, which began “Anansi Boys is one of Neil Gaiman’s books for grown-ups, which means that it’s a lot less ruthless than the material he produces for children”, and it’s a very true observation. From that perspective, it’s definitely one of my children’s books.

Children’s book or not, I’ll be adding it to my wish list as a must have. It’s due out here on September 30, 2008.

Neil also points out that the trailer for Coraline is now available on the web.

Neil Gaiman seeks your opinion on which book to give away.

One of my favorite authors, Neil Gaiman, has just celebrated his blog’s seventh anniversary and in celebration he’s asking fans to vote for which book will be made available online for free:

As you may have deduced, it’s the blog’s 7th birthday today. On February the 9th 2001, I started writing this thing. And now, 1,071,213 words later,  it is still going. (Until the wind changes, as Mary Poppins said.)

One thing we’ve decided to do, as a small celebratory birthday thing is, initially for a month, make a book of mine available online, free, gratis and for nothing.

Which book, though…? Ah, that’s up to you.

What I want you to do is think—not about which of the books below is your favourite, but if you were giving one away to a friend who had never read anything of mine, what would it be? Where would you want them to start?

The possible offerings consist of American Gods, Anansi Boys, Coraline, Fragile Things, M is for Magic, Neverwhere, Smoke & Mirrors, and Stardust. A list that made me realize there’s at least one Neil Gaiman book I’ve not yet read (M is for Magic) so I’ll have to add it to my wish list. So go vote for whichever one you think would be the one you’d recommend to a new reader.

Final “Harry Potter” film might actually be two films.

Rumor has it that Warner Bros. might break the final HP novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, into two movies according to this article in The Mail:

The books got progressively longer – the first, the Philosopher’s Stone, had 223 pages while Deathly Hallows has 776 – and fans have complained chunks of later novels have been left out of films.

A film source said: “There’s so much to fit that the view is the last movie should be in two halves. There is a huge battle when Harry, played by Daniel Radcliffe, takes on Voldemort that needs to be done really well.”

And Ms Rowling points out on her website: “It is simply impossible to incorporate every storyline into a film under four hours long.”

At Warner Bros, who are rumoured to be thinking of Oscars and a big-name director such as Steven Spielberg for the final film, a spokesman said:

“People are discussing all possibilities.”

I’d be up for a two-parter finale, though I don’t know if Spielberg would be my first choice for directing it. Much more interesting would be director Guillermo del Toro, who was originally picked to direct The Prisoner of Azkaban (Alfonso Cuarόn ended up directing it instead), who has said that he’d love to be able to direct the final Potter story:

“I’m definitely interested,” he insisted, “now that the movies have grown darker. They have a contrast between the gloomy existence of the kid and the world he’s exposed to. They have evolved into a really nice universe.”

At one time, Del Toro’s name was mentioned to direct the third film, The Prisoner of Azkaban, which ultimately went to his good friend Alfonso Cuarόn and is still generally recognized as tops amongst critics and adults. Back in October, he informed MTV Budapest that Deathly Hallows was more to his liking, saying “I’m up to be the one who kills twenty guys.” Well then, he gets my vote. Not only does the material play to del Toro’s strong suits, but he seems to have a genuine passion and festering vision for it.

“I got [’Deathly Hallows’] for my daughter and she was like ‘When are you going to give it to me?’” he smiled. “I read it and I was very moved by the ending. It ends very much like a Dickens novel.”

Now that sounds like someone with a real interest in directing the film and he’s certainly capable of handling the darker tone of the story.

“Science, Evolution, and Creationism” available for free.

The folks at the National Academy of Sciences have put together a book titled Science, Evolution, and Creationism which looks to be a much needed resource for all the evolution deniers out there (if you can get them to read a book). They’re offering to sell you a copy or you can download a free PDF edition to print out and shove at one of the (several) Presidential candidates who don’t accept the Theory of Evolution. Here’s the full press release:

Date:  Jan. 3, 2008
Contact: Maureen O’Leary, Director of Public Information
Office of News and Public Information
202-334-2138; e-mail news@nas.edu

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Scientific Evidence Supporting Evolution Continues To Grow; Nonscientific Approaches Do Not Belong In Science Classrooms

WASHINGTON—The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and Institute of Medicine (IOM) today released SCIENCE, EVOLUTION, AND CREATIONISM, a book designed to give the public a comprehensive and up-to-date picture of the current scientific understanding of evolution and its importance in the science classroom.  Recent advances in science and medicine, along with an abundance of observations and experiments over the past 150 years, have reinforced evolution’s role as the central organizing principle of modern biology, said the committee that wrote the book.

“SCIENCE, EVOLUTION, AND CREATIONISM provides the public with coherent explanations and concrete examples of the science of evolution,” said NAS President Ralph Cicerone.  “The study of evolution remains one of the most active, robust, and useful fields in science.”

“Understanding evolution is essential to identifying and treating disease,” said Harvey Fineberg, president of IOM.  “For example, the SARS virus evolved from an ancestor virus that was discovered by DNA sequencing.  Learning about SARS’ genetic similarities and mutations has helped scientists understand how the virus evolved.  This kind of knowledge can help us anticipate and contain infections that emerge in the future.”

DNA sequencing and molecular biology have provided a wealth of information about evolutionary relationships among species.  As existing infectious agents evolve into new and more dangerous forms, scientists track the changes so they can detect, treat, and vaccinate to prevent the spread of disease.

Biological evolution refers to changes in the traits of populations of organisms, usually over multiple generations.  One recent example highlighted in the book is the 2004 fossil discovery in Canada of fish with “intermediate” features—four finlike legs—that allowed the creature to pull itself through shallow water onto land.  Scientists around the world cite this evidence as an important discovery in identifying the transition from ocean-dwelling creatures to land animals.  By understanding and employing the principles of evolution, the discoverers of this fossil focused their search on layers of the Earth that are approximately 375 million years old and in a region that would have been much warmer during that period.  Evolution not only best explains the biodiversity on Earth, it also helps scientists predict what they are likely to discover in the future.

Over very long periods of time, the same processes that enable evolution to occur within species also can result in the appearance of new species.  The formation of a new species generally takes place when one subgroup within a species mates for an extended period largely within that subgroup, often following geographical separation from other members of the species.  If such reproductive isolation continues, members of the subgroup may no longer respond to courtship from members of the original population.  Eventually, genetic changes become so substantial that members of different subgroups can no longer produce viable offspring.  In this way, new species can continually “bud off” of existing species. 

Despite the overwhelming evidence supporting evolution, opponents have repeatedly tried to introduce nonscientific views into public school science classes through the teaching of various forms of creationism or intelligent design.  In 2005, a federal judge in Dover, Pennsylvania, concluded that the teaching of intelligent design is unconstitutional because it is based on religious conviction, not science (Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District).  NAS and IOM strongly maintain that only scientifically based explanations and evidence for the diversity of life should be included in public school science courses.  “Teaching creationist ideas in science class confuses students about what constitutes science and what does not,” the committee stated.

“As SCIENCE, EVOLUTION, AND CREATIONISM makes clear, the evidence for evolution can be fully compatible with religious faith.  Science and religion are different ways of understanding the world.  Needlessly placing them in opposition reduces the potential of each to contribute to a better future,” the book says.

SCIENCE, EVOLUTION, AND CREATIONISM is the third edition of a publication first issued in 1984 and updated in 1999.  The current book was published jointly by the National Academy of Sciences and Institute of Medicine, and written by a committee chaired by Francisco Ayala, Donald Bren Professor of Biological Sciences, department of ecology and evolutionary biology, University of California, Irvine, and author of several books on science and religion.  A committee roster follows. 

The book was funded by the NAS, IOM, the Christian A. Johnson Endeavor Foundation, the Biotechnology Institute, and the Coalition of Scientific Societies.
                                                                                                                           
Copies of SCIENCE, EVOLUTION, AND CREATIONISM will be available from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242, or on the Internet at www.nap.edu/sec, for $12.95; a PDF version is FREE.  Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contact listed above).  In addition, a podcast of the public briefing held to release this publication is available at http://national-academies.org/podcast. The NAS’ evolution resources Web page, http://national-academies.org/evolution, allows easy access to books, position statements, and additional resources on evolution education and research. 

The National Academy of Sciences is an independent society of scientists, elected by their peers for outstanding contributions to their field, with a mandate from Congress since 1863 to advise the federal government on issues of science and technology.  The Institute of Medicine was created in 1970 by the NAS to provide science-based advice on matters of biomedical science, medicine, and health. 

[This news release and book are available at http://national-academies.org ]

NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES
INSTITUTE OF MEDICINE

I know of at least two people I’m going to be pointing to that page after I finish reading it myself. Never hurts to brush up.