Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Enchanting Life of a Religious Scholar: TALES OF WONDER by Huston Smith

TALES OF WONDER by Huston Smith

Huston Smith, author of the classic The World’s Religions, has had the talent of appearing in remarkable places at the most historic times. Tales of Wonder: Adventures Chasing the Divine, an Autobiography, relates Smith’s experiences of historic turning points and intimate encounters with many of the people that shaped and defined the 20th-century. Smith vividly recalls his personal interactions with such iconic figures as Mother Teresa, Eleanor Roosevelt, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Thomas Merton, Reinhold Niebuhr, Krishnamurti, John Kenneth Galbraith, Noam Chomsky, Robert Graves, Saul Bellow, Pete Seeger, and Bill Moyers. Having lived an amazing life, Huston Smith’s epic anecdotes serve as a travelogue, a popular history of a century of monumental changes, and an inspirational memoir to students.

Praise for Tales of Wonder:

“Poignant and readable, Smith recounts professional adventures—meeting Martin Luther King Jr., befriending Aldous Huxley and the Dalai Lama, dropping acid with Timothy Leary . . . this is what it feels like to have lived a long and interesting life.” —Newsweek

“In his lush new memoir, the religious scholar Smith dances among the whirling dervishes in Iran, camps with the Aborigines in Australia, shares a chuckle with a gaggle of Masai warriors on the darkening Serengeti plains. Each anecdote reveals Smith's sense of marvel at the strange bounty of the world.”Washington Post Book World

If you are interested in adopting this book for a class, you may order an exam copy. If you have already ordered this book for a class, please order a complimentary desk copy.

The video below features Huston Smith speaking about his autobiography Tales of Wonder:

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Fall 2010: iPads in the Classroom

This fall, Seton Hill University will give all first-year undergraduates a 13" MacBook laptop and an iPad. Last month, George Fox University announced that incoming freshmen will get the choice of an iPad or a MacBook.

So far, students at Princeton and other universities haven't been happy with the Kindle and other ebook readers. Among the reasons were the difficulty of using the annotation function, a small keyboard, and the inability to look at multiple documents.

Will the iPad pass the test?


How often are your writing students struck dumb by the blank page (or screen)—which just sits there—staring back at them? You have to admit that it’s fairly often.

Happily, poet and cartoonist Austin Kleon has a solution that will get students past that first hurdle by eliminating it: Give them a page from a newspaper, a permanent marker, and tell them to cross out the words they don't need. Or, put more simply:

Newspaper Article + Marker = Newspaper Blackout Poetry

Newspaper Blackout contains original poems by Austin Kleon, as well as submissions from readers of Kleon's popular blog, and he provides step-by-step instructions and encouragement that you’ll want to share with your students.

And, when their poems are finished, Austin gives your students the chance to share their own blackout poems with other writers.

In honor of National Poetry Month,
Book Club Girl wrote a Blackout Ode to Betsy-Tacy. Kayleigh George of Roaring 20s inked "an attempt at crossing e.e. cummings with New York's Metro."

If you've decided to assign Newspaper Blackout to your class, please request a desk copy.

Meanwhile, you can meet Austin Kleon in this video.

Freakonomics: The Movie

The documentary "Freakonomics" has been chosen as the closing night film for the Tribeca Film Festival on Friday, April 30!

There will be a second screening on Saturday, May 1, followed by a discussion with coauthors Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner--and the films many codirectors--Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady ("Jesus Camp," "12th & Delaware"), Alex Gibney ("My Trip to Al-Qaeda," "Untitled Eliot SpitzerFilm"), Seth Gordon ("The King of Kong"), Eugene Jarecki ("Why We Fight," "The Trials of Henry Kissinger"), and Morgan Spurlock ("Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden," "Super Size Me").

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Emotional Life of a Family: THE WEIGHT OF HEAVEN by Thrity Umrigar

When Frank and Ellie Benton lose their only child, 7-year-old Benny, to a sudden illness, the perfect life they had built is shattered. An unexpected job offer and a move to India give them an opportunity to start again—but their new life is filled with peril as well as promise.

In the rich tradition of the acclaimed works of Indian writers such as Rohinton Mistry, Akhil Sharma, Indra Sinha, and Jhumpa Lahiri, Thrity Umrigar's The Weight of Heaven: A Novel is an emotionally charged story that offers unique perspectives—both American and Indian—on the fragmented nature of modern India.

Praise for The Weight of Heaven:

“Umrigar is a perceptive and often piercing writer.” —New York Times Book Review

“Umrigar carries a burden as heavy as the title by using a tale of personal tragedy to depict the balance of power in global economics. . . . Her observations are dispassionate and astute enough to deliver at both levels. This is a morality tale tuned to our times.”Cleveland Plain Dealer

Powerful. . . . Twisty, brimming with dark humor and keen moral insight, The Weight of Heaven packs a wallop on both a literary and emotional level. . . . Umrigar is a master of delineating the ethical lines Frank and Ellie cross, with, at least at first, the best of intentions. . . . [She] is a descriptive master.—Christian Science Monitor

If you are interested in adopting this book for a class, you may order an exam copy. If you have already ordered this book for a class, please order a complimentary desk copy.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Teaching Social Justice and Christianity: A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF CHRISTIANITY by Diane Butler Bass

In A People's History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story, Diane Butler Bass, author of Christianity for the Rest of Us, showcases the grassroots evolution of Christianity by bringing to light the stories of the faithful who have impacted the church and the world. These stories rarely surface in traditional Christian history, and they reveal the movements, personalities, and spiritual practices that continue to inform and ignite contemporary Christian activism and social justice reforms.

Praise for A People's History of Christianity:

"A persuasive argument that the real traditions of the church are ‘faith, hope, and love entwined.’”—Washington Post

“It would be difficult to imagine anyone reading this book without finding some new insight or inspiration, some new and unexpected testimony to the astonishing breadth of Christianity through the centuries.”—Philip Jenkins, author of The Lost History of Christianity

If you are interested in adopting this book for a class, you may order an exam copy. If you have already ordered this book for a class, please order a complimentary desk copy.

The Origins of Terrorism: BLOOD AND RAGE by Michael Burleigh

In Blood and Rage: A Cultural History of Terrorism, Michael Burleigh, author of Sacred Causes and Earthly Powers, continues his exploration of the nature of terrorism. Starting at its origins in the West, he introduces students to the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the Russian Nihilists, and the London-based anarchists of Black International, and he takes them inside today’s terrorist campaigns that are fueled by fundamentalists.

Emphasizing the resentments that spawn terrorism rather than the ideological or religious reasons used to justify it, Burleigh reveals who the terrorist groups are, how they organize and operate, what motivates their violence, and how wider support encourages them.

Praise for Blood and Rage:

“An ambitious cultural history. . . . [Burleigh] seamlessly synthesizes vast amounts of historical material and provides often riveting accounts of terrorist atrocities and the literary and political environments where they took place.”— New York Times Book Review

If you are interested in adopting this book for a class, you may order an exam copy. If you have already ordered this book for a class, please order a complimentary desk copy.

Why is English Spelling Complicated? RIGHTING THE MOTHER TONGUE by David Wolman

How did English spelling get to be so twisted? Who is to blame for the "h" in ghost and to thank for the marvel of spell-check? David Wolman's Righting the Mother Tongue: From Olde English to Email, the Tangled Story of English Spelling tells the tale of one untalented speller’s journey into the past, present and future shape of our words. Not all of them of course, but many, especially the tricky ones that stump students: separate, hors d’oeuvres, millennium, occasionally, accommodation, perseverance. The story of English spelling history is as delightful as it is serpentine, punctuated along the way by encounters with word-obsessed characters like Noah Webster, Samuel Johnson (who did not like the letter "c"), and Theodore Roosevelt. From spelling bee champions and dyslexia researchers, to the word gurus at Google, Righting the Mother Tongue is an attempt to make a little sense of English spelling.

Praise for Righting the Mother Tongue:

“A lively, engaging look at the idiosyncratic derivations and permutations of spelling in the English language."—Seattle Post-Intelligencer

"An engaging ramble through our orthographic thickets."—Boston Globe

If you are interested in adopting this book for a class, you may order an exam copy. If you have already ordered this book for a class, please order a complimentary desk copy.

On the Radio: Students Interview Authors

As part of our student interview series, Lucy Anne Hurston—author, college professor, and niece of Zora Neale Hurston—will discuss her aunt’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching God with Jennifer Hubbell and her English class at Marymount High School in Los Angeles.

Make certain to pre-register if you would like to join the online chat!

Join us on March 25 at 5pm EST!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Why Translation Matters: Edith Grossman

Check your bookcases. Chances are that you own one or more books with Edith Grossman's name on the title page. Never heard of her? She's the translator of authors such as Gabriel García Márquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Carlos Fuentes. In his introduction to Edith Grossman's translation of Don Quixote, Harold Bloom praised it as the best yet of Cervantes' 17th-century masterpiece.

Yale University Press has just published Edith Grossman 's Why Translation Matters. Throughout the four chapters, Grossman’s belief in the crucial significance of the translator’s work, as well as her rare ability to explain the intellectual sphere that she inhabits as interpreter of the original text, inspires and provokes the reader to engage with translation in an entirely new way.

And, here's Ms. Grossman talking about working on her translation of Don Quixote.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Trusting Business: THE ECONOMICS OF INTEGRITY by Anna Bernasek

Acclaimed journalist Anna Bernasek's writing on finance and the economy has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, International Herald Tribune, Fortune, and Time. In The Economics of Integrity her colorful—and often surprising—stories (examples range from pouring milk on your corn flakes to international gold trading) take students on a journey that reveals the deep layers of trust involved in even the simplest of transactions, and how our stock in integrity is our most valuable economic asset. A big idea book that is clever and entertaining, it also sheds light on the current economic crisis and the inner workings of global financial markets.

Beginning with the things we all take for granted in our daily lives—milk, money, and markets—
The Economics of Integrity shows how much we depend on and benefit from integrity. Bernasek explains the DNA of integrity and reveals the key building blocks of disclosure, norms, and accountability. Not just an interesting read for your students about the way global markets really work, The Economics of Integrity also delivers clear and practical steps to building a stronger economy based upon trust that will benefit students by enabling a bold new way to rethink the way to do business.

Praise for The Economics of Integrity:

"In this fascinating little book, Anna Bernasek shows what delivering milk has in common with financial reform. The common thread? Both need mechanisms to ensure integrity. Her insights will stick with you long after you out the book down."—Alan Blinder, economist and co-director of Princeton's Center for Economic Policy Studies

If you are interested in adopting this book for a class, you may order an exam copy. If you have already ordered this book for a class, please order a complimentary desk copy.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Novels in Historical Research: THE SEPTEMBERS OF SHIRAZ and Questions of Material Culture

My friend, Lissy, is a history Ph.D. candidate at University of Michigan. In a recent email to me she mentioned that she has been using Dalia Sofer's novel, The Septembers of Shiraz in her graduate school research. I was curious about how this novel could be used in the study of history, so I asked her about what she had been studying and how the book fit into it.

This is what she had so say:

I first came across The Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer last year, and as I read it, I was incredibly moved by the story. The Septembers of Shiraz begins with the arrest of Isaac Amin, a Jewish businessman in Tehran, and goes on to trace the intersecting narratives of Isaac and the members of his family in the aftermath of his arrest. Throughout the novel, the interwoven voices of Isaac, his wife, son, and daughter, create a powerful and layered portrait of the family and this experience. I was fascinated by the way Sofer described a particular aspect of the Iranian Revolution and explored the dynamics of a Jewish community I knew little about. But perhaps what struck me most in reading the novel was the deep emotional connection I felt with Sofer’s characters and their story. On the precipice of exile and loss, the voices of the Amin family truly seem to convey the turmoil of change and the power of memory.

I encountered The Septembers of Shiraz again rather unexpectedly. As a graduate student, I recently attended a lecture on women writers and material culture. The lecturer, a professor of anthropology, used The Septembers of Shiraz as the centerpiece of her talk. She read the novel through the lens of material culture, using her own research on the Iranian Jewish community to explore the hidden context and significance of the objects Sofer describes. She argues that material objects, such as a teapot or a ring, play a determining role in how the characters conceptualize their self-identity, their memories, their relationship to others, and their connection to Iran. Throughout the lecture, the professor analyzed the experiences and characters I had found so poignant in an entirely new way, making me appreciate the complexities of The Septembers of Shiraz even more.

HarperCollins at the 29th Annual First Year Experience Conference

Last month, HarperCollins attended the 29th Annual First Year Experience Conference in Denver. Though the conference lasted only three days, we got the opportunity to meet many first-year coordinators and enjoyed speaking with everyone about our books and the FYE title selection process. We even gave out nearly 500 copies of our FYE catalog on USB drives.

On the first night of the conference we co-hosted a dinner with Penguin. Harper authors Adam Shepard and Amanda Little spoke about issues and themes related to their books, touching on many topics that would spark provocative discussions in courses across a variety of disciplines.

Adam explained the motivation behind his experiment that served as the basis for his memoir, Scratch Beginnings. After he graduated from college, Adam moved to Charleston, South Carolina with $25 and the goal of earning $2500, a car, and a place to live by the end of the year. Adam’s book is great for freshmen because, much like Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, it’s the kind of book that invites debate about what it means to be working poor in the United States and whether or not the American Dream is still viable.

Amanda spoke about Power Trip, recounting several anecdotes from the time she spent researching and writing her book about America’s relationship with energy and fossil fuels. This book has the unique distinction of being both thoroughly researched and academic in scope, while also being accessible and optimistic – Amanda refers to Power Trip as, “Guns, Germs and Steel meets Eat Pray Love.” She highlighted the importance of her book by quoting President Obama who, in a recent interview, stressed the importance of green jobs in tomorrow’s job economy. Those students who possess an understanding of green technologies, Amanda insisted, will have a distinct advantage when they are seeking employment in the job market.

On Monday we co-hosted a luncheon with Knopf, Penguin, and Macmillan. Though Kevin Michael Connolly (author of Double Take) was scheduled to speak, he was unfortunately unable to attend due to sudden illness.

Some other popular titles that are being considered or have been adopted for first year programs include:
Freakonomics: University of Louisville
Sounds of the River: Marian University (WI)
The Great Deluge: Southern Illinois University
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: UNC Charlotte, Maryville University (MO), Boise State University
Savage Inequalities: Framingham State College

Children of Dust: The College of Wooster

On behalf of HarperCollins we’d like to thank everyone who attended the conference and stopped by our booth. We enjoyed meeting all of you and look forward to working with you in the future.

If you’d like to order an exam copy of a book being considered for first year adoption, or if you have questions about discounts for large academic orders or if you’re interested in having an author speak on campus, please email

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Lessons in Short-Term Homeschooling

"School is all about copying the teacher. I mean, I've been saying
the Pledge of Allegiance for six years, and I only learned what
'pledge' meant one year ago."--Julia Brodie

Laura Brodie's husband said, "You can't be serious," but she was. After years of watching her daughter, 10-year-old Julia, struggle in a highly regimented public school system, Laura Brodie decided to teach her at home for a year. An accomplished novelist who teaches English at Washington and Lee University, Brodie had visions of one ideal year of learning. The monotony of fill-in-the-blank history and math worksheets would be replaced with studying dinosaurs and Mayan hieroglyphics, conversational French, violin lessons, and field trips to art museums, science fairs, libraries, and concerts.

But can one year of homeschooling make a difference? And what happens to the love between mother and daughter when fractions and spelling enter the relationship?

In Love in a Time of Homeschooling: A Mother and Daughter's Uncommon Year, Brodie's experiment in short-term homeschooling unfolds. Steeped in the colors and characters of a small Virginia town, Brodie deals in human foibles as much as human potential, describing love and anger along with reading and math. Though their year was not easy, mother and daughter worked through their frustration and difficulties to forge an invaluable bond. Hers is a life lesson no parent should miss.

“In a world where ‘homeschooling’ is so often misunderstood, discounted, and even ridiculed, Laura Brodie offers a clear-eyed view and makes a valuable contribution to the literature on the subject. This is necessary reading for anyone with an interest not just in homeschooling but in education generally.”--David Guterson, author of Snow Falling on Cedars

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Zora Neale Hurston: Folklorist & Anthropologist

Zora Neale Hurston's love of African-American folklore and her work as an anthropologist are reflected in her novels and short stories--where she employed the rich indigenous dialects of her native rural Florida and the Caribbean. In her foreword to Hurston's autiobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road, Maya Angelou wrote, "Her books and folktales vibrate with tragedy, humor and the real music of Black American speech."

A published short story writer by the time she came to New York in 1925, Hurston studied anthropology at Barnard, where she was the college's first African-American student. After graduation, Hurston pursued graduate work at Columbia with renowned anthropologist Franz Boas. She left New York to conduct research in Florida and in Haiti and Jamaica, and her field work resulted in the folklore collections Mules and Men (1935) and Tell My Horse (1938). Her classic novel Their Eyes Were Watching God was published in 1937.

Still, Hurston never received the financial rewards she deserved. (The largest royalty she ever earned from any of her books was $943.75.) So when she died on Jan. 28, 1960--at age 69, after suffering a stroke. Her neighbors in Fort Pierce, Florida, had to take up a collection for her February 7 funeral. The collection didn't yield enough to pay for a headstone, however, so Hurston was buried in a grave that remained unmarked until 1973. In 1975, Ms. Magazine published Alice Walker's essay, "In Search of Zora Neale Hurston" reviving interest in Hurston's work. Thanks to Alice Walker's efforts, Hurston's grave now has a fitting epitaph: "Zora Neale Hurston: A Genius of the South."

Today, Zora Neale Hurston is considered one of the pre-eminent writers of twentieth-century African-American literature. Hurston was closely associated with the Harlem Renaissance and has influenced such writers as Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, Gayle Jones, Alice Walker, and Toni Cade Bambara.

For today's students, it's nearly impossible to attend high school or college without reading Hurston's novel Their Eyes Were Watching God for a literature class. However, because the book takes a such a thoughtful look at female independence, love, and relationships--it is often used in courses on feminist theory and sociology. In fact, Lucy Anne Hurston, Zora Neale Hurston's niece and a professor of sociology, assigns the book to her students at Manchester Community College for her course on marriage and relationships.

Hurston's Mules and Men was the first great collection of black America's folk world. In the 1930s, Zora Neale Hurston returned to her "native village" of Eatonville, Florida to record the oral histories, sermons and songs, dating back to the time of slavery, which she remembered hearing as a child. In her quest, she found herself and her history throughout these highly metaphorical folk-tales, "big old lies," and the lyrical language of song. With this collection, Zora Neale Hurston revealed and preserved a beautiful and important part of American culture.

For those teaching courses on Caribbean literature and culture, Hurston's Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica provides an authentic picture of ceremonies and customs and superstitions because it is based on Hurston's personal experiences in Haiti and Jamaica, where she participated as an initiate rather than just an observer of voodoo practices during her visits in the 1930s. The New York Times Book Review said, "Strikingly dramatic, yet simple and unusual and intensely interesting book richly packed with strange information."

The Boston Globe called Every Tongue Got to Confess: Negro Folk-Tales from the Gulf States (2001) "an extraordinary treasure." Collected in the late 1920s, these hilarious, bittersweet, often saucy folk-tales--some of which date back to the Civil War--provide a fascinating, verdant slice of African-American life in the rural South at the turn of the twentieth century. In the foreword, author John Edgar Wideman discusses the impact of Hurston's pioneering effort to preserve the African-American oral tradition and shows readers how to read these folk tales in the historical and literary context that has--and has not--changed over the years. And, in the introduction, Hurston scholar Carla Kaplan explains how these folk-tales were collected, lost, and found, and examines their profound significance today.

For a complete list of Zora Neale Hurston's work, visit the official Zora Neale Hurston website. And while you are there, be certain to hear Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis read from Hurston's works.

If you've decided to adopt one of these titles for your class, please request a desk copy.

If you're looking for teaching materials for Zora Neale Hurston, here are some terrific teaching guides and resources:

Meanwhile, here's a taste of "Jump at the Sun"--a documentary about Hurston's life. Lee Baker of Duke University said, "[Finally] a high-quality documentary to demonstrate the complex and important life of Zora Neale Hurston. This documentary will be eye-opening to students." Educators may purchase the DVD here.

Author photo by Carl Van Vechten

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Envisioning the Future in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World

Brave New World ranks fifth on Modern Library’s list of the “100 Best English-Language Novels of the 20th-century.” When I read it for February’s installment of the English 101 book club, I expected to be surprised by the author’s ability to presage many of the realities of modern society.

This wasn’t really the case. One of the things that struck me reading Brave New World is that it is more about the particular time in which it was written than the future it portends.

One of Huxley’s main assumptions about the future setting of Brave New World was that elements of Henry Ford’s assembly line would be applied to human reproduction. A society, The World State, would emerge as a product of an assembly-line style hypnotherapy, conditioned to be sedate, complacent, compulsively consumerist, and divided in a rigorous caste system. This society would deem individuality, monogamy, the private sphere, and the biological family as borderline obscene. In this Brave New World, “Everyone belongs to everyone else.”

The instances where Brave New World isn’t an apt prediction of the future are mostly a product of the time when the book was written. Published in 1932, the book predates important technological and scientific discoveries that shape much of the modern consciousness. In Brave New World, for example, there is no mention of genetic testing or engineering, as the discovery of the DNA’s structure and role as a hereditary determinant didn’t occur until the 1950s. Absent too are allusions to the electronic technology that has become indispensable in modern life. Huxley’s main assumptions about future-shaping technology instead center on the importance of Henry Ford and the invention of the assembly line.

At the same time, many of the elements of The World State in Brave New World do ring true with modern society. Huxley assumed that humans’ appetite for distractions would overpower any desire for individuality, literature, theistic cultures and heterogeneity. When he wrote his follow-up, Brave New World Revisited in 1958 (included in many of Harper's editions of the book) he asserted that this particular prediction had come true faster than he anticipated. The extent to which Huxley's 1958 assertion holds true is a matter that can be debated at length, but I found in reading this classic I enjoyed the book most when I thought of it as a work of fiction rather than prediction.

There are many interesting themes to be discussed in this novel. (Click to read Erica and Kayleigh's posts.) How do you teach Brave New World? What do your students find most interesting, and in particular, true or false about Huxley’s story?