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Book News: Australian Prime Minister's 'Nasty' Move Sparks Lit-Prize Furor

Prime Minister Tony Abbott rankled the judges of the Prime Minister's Literary Award with a last-minute announcement. Judge Les Murray later called Abbott's pick a "stupid and pretentious book."
Stefan Postles
Getty Images
Prime Minister Tony Abbott rankled the judges of the Prime Minister's Literary Award with a last-minute announcement. Judge Les Murray later called Abbott's pick a "stupid and pretentious book."

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

On Monday, Australia's top literary prize picked a pair of winners in its fiction category. Steven Carroll and Richard Flanagan, who was also this year's Booker Prize winner, split the Prime Minister's Literary Award and its winnings. The decision, while unusual, didn't raise many eyebrows at the time — but the aftermath has.

According to prize rules, the Australian prime minister has the right of "final decision" over the award's selection — a right that current Prime Minister Tony Abbott reportedly exercised. According to The Australian newspaper, Abbott overruled the judges' unanimous selection of Carroll's A World of Other People, deciding that the novel must share the award with Flanagan's The Narrow Road to the Deep North.And he waited until the awards dinner to let the judges know.

Unsurprisingly, one of the judges is none too pleased. Poet Les Murray, who served on the fiction panel, has loudly made his grievances known.

"It was nasty the way it was done on the night," he told The Australian. "I was shocked that they went ­behind the scenes and worked a swifty."

He added that most of the judges had little regard for Flanagan's novel, : "A clear majority of us thought the Flanagan book was superficial, showy and pretentious and we disdained it."

The drama of the decision does not end there. Earlier this year, Flanagan publicly excoriated Abbott's environmental policy, saying that it made him "ashamed to be an Australian." And on the night he was awarded the prize, Flanagan announced he would not be keeping his winnings, donating it instead to the .

It Knows When You've Been Reading:Careful with those e-readers, folks: They can see you. At least, they can see what you're reading — and how much you've read. E-reading platform Kobo has been tracking completion rates for e-books, and the company has released its findings. Fewer than half of British readers who picked up Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch in 2014 have finished it, for example, and romance leads all genres with a mere 62 percent completion rate. The Bookseller has a wrap-up of the results, as well as the lucky books that made Kobo's "most completed" list.

And if you'd like a pep talk to get through the next book you pick up, Juliet Lapidos has one for you over at The Atlantic: Finish that book!

Held In Contempt:A Nigerian court has held former President Olusegun Obasanjo in contempt for defying an order not to publish his memoir, My Watch. Obasanjo had moved ahead with publication, even reportedly making a public presentation of the book Tuesday, despite a court order handed down Dec. 5 due to a pending libel lawsuit. The Nigerian Tribune reports that Obasanjo has less than three weeks to demonstrate cause for why he flouted the court order, and in the meantime, the court has asked that copies of the book be confiscated from store shelves. For his part, Obasanjo has argued that the book had already been published before the order was handed down.

'The Henry Ford Of Books':James Patterson is a one-man industry of words. For more than a decade, Patterson has been the world's best-selling author, averaging more than 10 books a year with the help of a considerable number of co-writers. This year alone, Patterson lapped his fellow writers on Forbes' list of top-earning authors, earning more than the next three writers on the list combined.

In a new profile, Vanity Fairturned to Patterson and his former editor, Michael Pietsch, to sort out the man behind such a prolific and popular output.

"I think that I felt I needed to be this very bright, first-in-his-class kind of kid, for whatever reason, pretty serious. But underneath, it was just a million stories that I was already telling," Patterson says. "And I didn't really make anything of it. I never thought I was going to be a storyteller or a writer, but I was just in the habit."

A Pair O' Poet Laureates:The dwindling number of states still without a post for poet laureate may soon get even smaller. State legislatures in Massachusetts and Ohio are reportedly mulling the idea of adding a position for the state's official poet.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Colin Dwyer covers breaking news for NPR. He reports on a wide array of subjects — from politics in Latin America and the Middle East, to the latest developments in sports and scientific research.