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Book News: Author Of Sci-Fi Classic 'Flowers For Algernon' Dies

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

  • Daniel Keyes, the author of the high-school staple "Flowers for Algernon," died on Sunday, according to his publisher. He was 86. Keyes' short story "Flowers for Algernon," which he eventually turned into a novel, is narrated by a mentally disabled adult named Charlie Gordon. Charlie, who has an IQ of 68, undergoes an experimental procedure to increase his intelligence after the experiment is successfully performed on a mouse named Algernon. "If the operashun werks good Ill show that mouse I can be as smart as he is even smarter," Charlie says. "Then Ill be abel to reed better and spell the werds good and know lots of things and be like other pepul." Charlie's IQ shoots to 185, but when Algernon starts behaving strangely, Charlie knows that he, too, will begin to deteriorate. Keyes' publisher Tor wrote in a statement that "Flowers for Algernon was an key example of science fiction that tackled problems of depth and emotional consequence; Keyes made a giant contribution to the discussion of science fiction as a serious art form."
  • Ron Childress has won the 2014 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction for his manuscript And West Is West. The winner gets $25,000 and a book deal with Algonquin Books. The award was created and funded by the novelist Barbara Kingsolver "to promote fiction that addresses issues of social justice and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships." According to PEN, "And West Is West travels from California to New York to Florida, from America's deserts to its cities, from military bases to art galleries to a lonely prisoner's cell, chronicling how the average person, the person who is not pulling the levers of power, can be corrupted by systems that ask them to do questionable things."
  • NPR Books launched a new series this week called "Book Your Trip," which asked for "books that featured themes or memorable scenes of transportation and transit," and organized them by form of transportation, including horses, balloons, and rocket ships, as well as some more quotidian ways of getting around. NPR's Beth Novey explains: "There were some pretty straightforward categories — train, plane, bike, boat ... but it didn't take long for things to get squirrelly. Do LSD trips count? (Yes!) Can we call 'time' a mode of transit, or do we have to say time machine? (Eh. Still not sure. We couldn't agree.) Do the dogs and cat who travel by paw in The Incredible Journey qualify for the 'by foot' list? (Sure, why not!) What do we do with James and the Giant Peach? (Create a big 'miscellaneous' list, obviously.)" Check out all the categories here.
  • In an interview with The Associated Press, Boy Meets Boy author David Levithan talks about why it's important for LGBTQ characters to be well represented in YA novels: "So much of the pain that LGBT kids go through is because they feel distanced from all of the narratives they've been given. They've been told that everyone grows up a certain way, and now their own way is diverging from that."

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Annalisa Quinn
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.