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Stephen King plans to donate up to $70,000 to heat Maine homes

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With federal budget cuts taking a bite out of a charitable fund that helps lower-income Maine residents heat their homes, author Stephen King announced plans Wednesday to help bridge the gap. His Stephen and Tabitha King Charitable Foundation will match up to $70,000 donated to Maine's heating oil fund, with hopes that they can raise $140,000 total.

King no longer lives year-round in Bangor, Maine, but he returns there and owns three local radio stations that will spread the word about the effort, the Bangor Daily News reports. “We’ll match up to $70,000 of the amount raised,” King said. “This economy is terrible and Tabitha and I both worry so much about Bangor because it truly is a working-class town and we are always looking for ways to help, and right now this is a great need.”

King added, “And on top of it the price of fuel continues to rise. The cost goes up, the need goes up and the assistance goes down. That’s the bottom line. That’s what is happening.”

Last winter the federal government gave Maine $55.6 million for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program; the state learned last month that this winter's funds will be just $23 million. The Bangor News writes that people are "desperate to find help to fill their oil tanks." The governor plans to seek funds to fill the gap from the Maine Legislature.

The average high temperature in Bangor during the winter months is just around freezing, with lows averaging around 11 degrees; in 1962, it recorded a record low of 30 degrees below zero.

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Stephen King follows Stone, Delillo into JFK myth

Stephen King's "The Dark Tower" won't be a movie after all

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: A house in a 2008 Maine snowstorm. Credit: Anathea via Flickr

Want to be a docent at the Library of Congress?

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The Library of Congress in Washington is seeking volunteers for its fall 2011 docent program. Docents are trained in a 14-week program that begins Aug. 30. More than 300 volunteers at the Library of Congress greet and provide tours to its 1.7 million annual visitors.

Docents learn how to lead tours of the Thomas Jefferson Building and answer questions about the library's collection. Volunteers who complete the program generally work one four-hour shift per week, which might be two two-hour tours. Interested parties can learn more and apply online.

The positions are unpaid, but perks include eligibility for free parking, a discount in the library's gift store and free flu shots.

Of course, to be a docent at the Library of Congress, you have to be in Washington.

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It's National Library Week. Do you have a librarian to thank?

N.Y. Public Library to forgive 143,000 young readers' late fees

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Queen Margrethe of Denmark, center, with her consort, Prince Henrik, left, get a tour of the Library of Congress in June. (Note: Not all tour groups include visiting royalty). Credit: Olivier Douliery / Abaca Press

Another silly lawsuit against Greg Mortenson over 'Three Cups of Tea'

Threecupsoftea Greg Mortenson wrote two books about his efforts to build schools in remote parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Many people read the books, both bestsellers; some were moved by them. Were these people duped?

That's what a Chicago judge will have to decide.

On Wednesday, personal injury lawyers filed suit, described by the Daily Beast: it "names Mortenson, his coauthor, David Oliver Relin, and Penguin, publisher of the book. The suit claims that Mortenson 'captured the hearts and minds of Plaintiff and book lovers nationwide, duping them into buying 'Three Cups of Tea.'"

This is not the first lawsuit over Mortenson's books to surface since revelations were made in April about elements of his story.

It all started when "60 Minutes" broadcast a show that raised questions about Mortenson's charity, the Central Asia Institute, in which one expert said it spent less money building international schools than to promotional efforts for Mortenson and his books. That was immediately followed by a long expose by writer John Krakauer, "Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way," which included interviews with people who knew Mortenson and who said his written accounts were inaccurate. 

Without a doubt, the questions raised by these investigations are significant. Mortenson has been a very successful philanthropist, raising money for his work abroad; questions about how that money has been spent are serious.

But when it comes to reading, the claims seem, well, silly. Enticing readers to purchase a book is something all publishers do all the time. Book covers make all kinds of titillating pronouncements, such as "Immensely powerful, beautiful, addictive, and yes, incredibly thrilling..." ("The Wave" by Susan Casey"); "If publishers could figure out a way to turn crack into a book, it'd read a lot like this" ("Anthropology of an American Girl" by Hilary Thayer Hamann). Did the readers of these books file lawsuits if they were not addicted to Casey's book, or find themselves drawn to Hamann's like crack fiends?

Of course not.

Valid questions about Mortenson's charitable work should not be conflated with personal injury lawsuits. Readers who were disappointed in "Three Cups of Tea" will likely find themselves like any other disappointed reader -- learning that you can't judge a book by its cover.

RELATED:

Investigation throws "Three Cups of Tea" author Greg Mortenson's charity work into doubt

Greg Mortenson responds to "60 Minutes" questions about his "Three Cups of Tea" story

The latest in the Greg Mortenson contoversy: his climbing partner responds

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Jack Black to headline cancer benefit Saturday in Altadena

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This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

Sure, there's a literary component, but Jack Black -- comedian, musical satirist and, most recently, Cannes-feted actor -- will be the big draw at a benefit Saturday to raise cancer treatment funds for Dave Melrose, a man who says he doesn't have famous friends, it's his friends of friends who do. They're asking for a minimum donation of $20 at the door; make it $50 and you'll get a T-shirt.

Black is slated to do a Black Sabbath tribute. It'll follow a musical performance from Dos, the duo of master bassists Mike Watt and Black Flag's Kira Roessler. Earlier in the day, the music will be a bit quieter, more conducive to walking around and posing in the photo booth, buying raffle tickets, shopping in the rummage sale and bidding in the art auction, which will take center stage in three parts. The event is being held at the warehouse of an estate sale company, so expect better-than-average offerings.

Melrose founded the San Diego Chess Academy, a nonprofit that teaches schoolkids chess. He's currently living in Carlsbad, near the clinic where he's being treated for cancer -- GIST cancer, short for gastrointestinal stromal tumors. He beat cancer once before, but he's facing a cancer that is difficult and costly to fight. His friends are trying to raise $300,000, with additional fundraisers planned in Oceanside and in Canada with the band No Means No.

So what's the literary angle? There will be spoken word from Edward Reib, and the Library Foundation's Justin Veach will channel Bukowski. The longtime ukulele band Ukefink includes one indie bookstore staffer. And Erica Rawlings, one of eight organizers behind the event, promises there will be some "not antiquarian, but collectible" books for sale.

Other performances include stand-up comedy from Paul Blomeyer and John Silver and music from The Holloys, Snotty Scotty and the Hankies, Native Fauna, the Moore Bros. and more. The evening will close with the band dNatured.

The mostly kid-friendly event (that Bukowski can get a little dirty) kicks off at noon and will continue until around midnight. Show up early to guarantee your spot for the 9 p.m. appearance of Black -- but be ready to spend the day spending money. It is a benefit, after all.

To learn more about the efforts to help Dave Melrose -- a.k.a. King Dave -- fight cancer, see the website his friends have set up, KeepDaveAlive.org, which includes directions to Saturday's benefit.

[For the Record, 3:11 p.m. May 24: An earlier version of this post incorrectly referred to Edward Reib as Edward Reid.]

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Jack Black and Angelina Jolie in Cannes on Thursday. Credit: Martin Bureau / AFP/Getty Images

Festival of Books: Father Gregory Boyle sheds light on compassion

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A roar of applause and cheers echoed through USC’s Bovard Auditorium as Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez and Father Gregory Boyle took the stage Sunday at the Festival of Books. The 1,235-seat venue was nearly full, the audience  eagerly waiting the compelling, compassionate and oftentimes hilarious stories of Father Boyle and his experiences assisting formerly gang-involved youth of Los Angeles.

“For some reason, it just doesn’t feel right calling you G-Dog,” Lopez joked as he introduced Father Boyle, who also goes by “G” or “G-Dog” by young members of his community. 

A former Jesuit priest of Dolores Mission Church, Boyle has spent the past 20 years running Homeboy Industries, an operation created to provide at-risk former gang members with counseling, education, tattoo removal, job training and placement in the hopes that they will become contributing members of the community. The idea is to offer a sense of hope and faith to these otherwise hopeless individuals. “If you give hope, the kid will stop planning his funeral and will start planning his future,” Boyle explained.

After visiting the site of Homeboy Industries earlier this week, Lopez shared that he was simply blown away by the multitude and magnitude of tasks Father Boyle was expected to tackle within an hour, let alone within a day. “I was amazed by how many things this man could do at once. He has done this for decades and does it with such love and energy. He’s like a rock star there!” said Lopez.

Boyle attributes this energy to the fact that he is anchored by the delights and genuine joys of his duties. “Everyday it’s a privilege. Hilarity and heartache and intractable heartache after intractable heartache—I find the whole thing energizing. Not something that I need to escape,” revealed Boyle.

Two decades of absolute hilarity and heavy heartache later, Father Boyle has taken his experiences and stories in the barrio and compiled them into what is now a bestselling memoir, “Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion.” While the stories’ subject matter is compelling in itself, what truly grips the reader with either tears or laughter is Boyle’s presentation and elegant and eloquent writing style.

Continue reading »

The latest in the Greg Mortenson controversy: His climbing partner responds

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This post has been corrected. Please see the note below.

Greg Mortenson's climbing companion Scott Darsney has been offline in Nepal since a "60 Minutes" story threw into question Mortenson's account in his bestselling book "Three Cups of Tea" and the fiscal management at his nonprofit foundation, the Central Asia Institute.

The "60 Minutes" report, which included questions raised by another bestselling author, Jon Krakauer ("Into Thin Air"), was followed by a 75-page report by Krakauer, "Three Cups of Deceit." First made available on a new website, Byliner.com, "Three Cups of Deceit" is now available digitally from Amazon, and holds the bestselling spot on the Kindle Single list.

Darsney had spoken with Krakauer. Now, after getting a chance to see the questions raised about Mortenson and "Three Cups of Tea," he seems to be backtracking on some of his statements.

He sent an email to Outside Magazine, which was posted Tuesday on its site. For example, Outside writes:

Darsney refutes Krakauer’s debunking of Mortenson’s climbing résumé. Krakauer wrote: “Scott Darsney, Greg’s climbing partner on K2, confirms that Mortenson had never been to the Himalaya or Karakoram before going to K2.”

Darsney’s response: “I must have misspoken, or Krakauer misheard. I meant the Karakoram, not the Himalaya in general. I am pretty sure that [the 1993 K2 climb] was Greg’s first trip to Pakistan, but he had told me of his past trips to Baruntse and Annapurna IV before, for sure, and at the beginning of the 1993 trip.”

Darsney, whose account Krakauer cited in his allegations that Mortenson didn't visit Korphe on his first trip down from K2,  says that he was separated from Mortenson for a time, during which Mortenson "ended up in a village on the wrong side of the Braldu River" and that "It’s certainly plausible" this was Korphe.

The Business Insider calls Darsney's email a "Non-Defense Defense" of Mortenson. In particular, it cites one paragraph:

If Greg is misappropriating funds, then show me the luxury cars, fancy boats, and closets full of shoes. This is not a “ministry” or a business gone corrupt. Are there not other NGOs and nonprofits that stray now and then? Don’t they also spend more internally as they get bigger, especially when growing quickly? But their intent and purpose still stay on the course of the mission.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy writes in an opinion piece, "A charity must serve a public interest rather than a private one, and any financial benefits provided to an individual must be incidental compared with the amount spent to advance a charity’s tax-exempt purposes." There seems to be some confusion over the "purposes" part of Mortenson's Central Asia Institute, which billed its primary purpose as building and supporting schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The article says:

The shock over the institute’s spending is due in part to the mixed messages contained in its informational tax return and on its Web site. For example, the tax form for fiscal 2009 lists domestic outreach and education as the charity’s largest program expense. However, the “program” section of the institute’s Web site fails to even mention domestic outreach and lists only the programs it conducts abroad.

Last week, the leader of a Pakistani think tank who says he was misrepresented in Mortenson's books as a Taliban terrorist -- he appears in a photograph in "Stones Into Schools" -- told CNN that he was considering legal action against the author.

Meanwhile, Mortenson recently canceled an appearance scheduled for May 3 in Boston, citing an operation he'd undergone to repair a hole in his heart.

RELATED:

Investigation throws 'Three Cups of Tea' author Greg Mortenson's charity work into doubt

Greg Mortenson Responds to '60 Minutes' questions about his 'Three Cups of Tea' story

-- Carolyn Kellogg

[For the Record, April 26: An earlier version of this post misspelled the name of Jon Krakauer's report.]

Photo: Greg Mortenson with Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at the opening of Pushghar Village Girls School, 60 miles north of Kabul in Panjshir Valley, Afghanistan, in 2009. Credit: Department of Defense / Associated Press

Kate Winslet will publish a book, 'The Golden Hat'

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Actress Kate Winslet is accustomed to being around golden statues -- she's been to the Oscars six times as a nominee, winning once. But this fall, she's focusing on a golden hat. That's the title of a book she'll be publishing with Simon and Schuster in November.

"The Golden Hat" is designed to raise awareness of autism. The concept book, based on a poem written by the autistic son of a friend, is about a magic golden hat that helps an autistic child communicate. In Winslet's book, there are photographs of many celebrities all wearing the golden hat.

Among those featured in "The Golden Hat" are Jude Law, Naomi Watts, Peter Sarsgaard, Ellen Page, Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick, Laura Dern, Ben Stiller, Christina Aguilera, Anna Wintour, Demi Moore, Don Cheadle, Michael Kors and Ricky Gervais. There are a few celebrities who will be pictured in
"The Gold Hat" -- including Meryl Streep and Javier Bardem -- who have golden Oscar stauettes of their own.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Kate Winslet at the 2010 Oscars. Credit: Jay L. Clenendin / Los Angeles Times

Massive book giveaways for the U.K.'s World Book Day and Night

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A lineup of literary stars that includes two Nobel Prize winners will participate in World Book Night, a celebration for adults after World Book Day in the U.K. Together, the two events -- which actually take place on two different days -- are expected to give away a million free books.

An audience of 10,000 is expected to show up at Trafalgar Square in London on March 5 for World Book Night. The authors who will read include Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Toni Morrison (the Nobel Prize winners), John le Carre, Margaret Atwood, David Mitchell, Philip Pullman, Derek Walcott, Sarah Waters, Yann Martel, Seamus Heaney, Mark Haddon and Lee Child.

But a celebration and reading are only part of the whole massive enterprise. About 20,000 volunteers signed up to give away 48 books each, selected from a list of 25. Those books have been shipped to distribution centers, and soon they'll be in the hands of those who are giving them away.

That's on top of World Book Day, which is focused on students in school. In the U.K., World Book Day will take place March 3 this year (elsewhere internationally, it's on April 23). Launched in 1998, World Book Day gives children tokens redeemable for a specially printed free book at booksellers across the country. Six hundred thousand books are ready to go.

In all, organizers say a million books will be given away for free on March 3 and March 5.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Gabriel Garcia Marquez in Havana in 2006. Credit: Baltazar Mesa /AFP/Getty Images

Tom Stoppard, Don Delillo and Billy Crudup read to aid Belarus Free Theater

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Playwright Tom Stoppard, novelists Don Delillo and E.L. Doctorow and actor Billy Crudup are among those who will read Jan. 19 in New York to benefit the Belarus Free Theater. Members of the theater will also participate; they've been in New York for the Under the Radar Festival and are about to return to Belarus.

Condoleezza Rice once called Belarus "the last remaining true dictatorship in the heart of Europe." Since 1994, it has been led by President Alexander Lukashenko. Belarus saw political unrest after a controversial election in December that again, questionably, ratified Lukashenko's position. Public protests were swiftly followed by a new crackdown, targeting advocates of civil rights and free speech. Authorities arrested more than 600 journalists and free speech advocates, including members of the Belarus Free Theater.

Since its founding in 2005, the Belarus Free Theater has been on the outs with authorities. The troupe  rehearses in unofficial spaces and performs its politically charged plays in cafes, apartments and even the woods.

Wednesday's benefit for the Belarus Free Theater, which promises to include special guests, will take place at Le Poisson Rouge in New York; doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $25.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: People protesting the arrest of free speech activists in Belarus hang a banner reading "Free the journalists" Dec. 27 at the Belarus Embassy in Moscow. Credit: Natalia Kolesnikova /AFP/Getty Images

Writers, including Jonathan Franzen, rally for novelist Charles Bock and his family

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Friends of writer Charles Bock are throwing a party to raise funds for him and his family and calling it the World's Most Literary Rent Party Ever. The lineup shows that Bock has some stellar literary supporters, including Mary Gaitskill, Richard Price, Gary Shteyngart, Josh Ferris, Jonathan Safran Foer and Jonathan Franzen.

Why is Franzen, the man whom Time magazine dubbed "Great American Novelist" last year, chipping in to help another author pay rent? Well, he, and the rest of Bock's supporters, has a good reason.

Bock's debut novel, "Beautiful Children," was released to much praise in 2008. "Bock does an admirable job parsing out a lost world of strippers, runaways and amateur pornographers, along with the casual brutality that accompanies it, and captures the hallucinogenic setting like a fever dream," wrote Tod Goldberg in our review.

After the book was released, Bock and his wife had a child, and his wife became stricken with cancer, which went into remission but returned in late 2010.

Writers Leigh Newman, Mary-Beth Hughes and Fiona Maazel, all friends of Bock and his family, found themselves feeling helpless. "Charles is a magnificent, generous, talented person, as is his wife. We loved them and their child and wanted to help," Newman told Jacket Copy by e-mail. The idea for the fundraiser was born.

"It's been wonderful," Newman continued. "So many people involved with this party have been babysitting or even spending the night if Charles and his wife need to be in the hospital. Others have cooked food or helped out with expenses or just showed up to visit and keep everybody's spirits as high as possible. To be honest, I feel so uplifted just being around them -- we're all helping each other, ultimately."

Only two of the participating authors -- Gaitskill and Jim Shepard -- will read at the Most Literary event. Rivka Galchen, A.M. Homes, Susan Cheever, Hannah Tinti and John Wray will dispense "unprofessional guidance" at a literary advice booth. A silent auction will include services from Amy Hempel, who will offer literary dog walking; Josh Ferris, who will make a key lime pie; and Gary Shteyngart, who promises to take the winner out for "for hot dogs and shameless flattery."

There will also be music -- from John Wesley Harding (who is also the author Wesley Stace), Claudia Gonson from the Magnetic Fields, Tonya Donnelly from the Throwing Muses and author Rick Moody. Other authors involved, including Frazen, are contributing signed copies of their books as raffle prizes. 

"In a larger way, the Bocks' plight is very American story -- healthcare in this country does not necessarily cover families, even if they have coverage," Newman wrote. "For writer and artists, who often have to find insurance on their own, this is a serious problem, long term. Which is why we  encourage people to donate on the webstie if they can't come to the party -- even the smallest amount helps."

The World's Most Literary Rent Party Ever will be held in New York on Feb. 6 at PS122. Tickets, which are on sale now, are $75 and $125. Those who want to help but can't attend can make online donations through the event's website.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Image: The World's Most Literary Rent Party

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