The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.
- George Saunders has won the $20,000 Story Prize for his collection Tenth of December. "George Saunders offers a vision and version of our world that takes into account the serious menace all around us without denying the absurd pleasures that punctuate life," the judges wrote in a statement. "This book is very funny and very sad." (You can read the collection's wonderful title story here.)
- Wendy Doniger, whose book The Hindus: An Alternative History was taken out of circulation in India following a blasphemy lawsuit, describes the backlash in a New York Times op-ed: "Attention has now shifted, rightly, to the broader problems posed by the Indian blasphemy law. My case has helped highlight the extent to which Hindu fundamentalists (Hindutva-vadis, those who champion 'Hindutva' or 'Hindu-ness') now dominate the political discourse in India."
- NPR's Linton Weeks tries out a new app that edits text to make it more like Ernest Hemingway's prose. After feeding it Hemingway's own lines, Weeks concludes: "We think the Hemingway App made the prose of Ernest Hemingway better prose. ... Do not tell Papa. He might take it hard. To say his prose can be improved by machinery may not be good, but it is gutsy. And that is good."
- The five finalists for the 2014 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction were announced on Wednesday: Daniel Alarcón for At Night We Walk in Circles; Percival Everett for Percival Everett by Virgil Russell; Karen Joy Fowler for We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves; Joan Silber for Fools; and Valerie Trueblood for Search Party: Stories of Rescue. The winner of the prize, which "honors the best published works of fiction by American citizens in a calendar year," will be announced April 2. The winner will be awarded $15,000, and the runners-up will each receive $5,000.
- Author Hilary Mantel, who has won the Booker Prize twice, offers advice to would-be writers: "Speak in your own voice, write as well as you can. Don't tailor your work to a perceived market. A reader quickly detects condescension."
- A 16th century German manuscript on warfare features illustrations of what appear to be cats and birds with rockets strapped to their backs. According to a translation from University of Pennsylvania researcher Mitch Fraas, the manuscript instructs besiegers: "Create a small sack like a fire-arrow. If you would like to get at a town or castle, seek to obtain a cat from that place. And bind the sack to the back of the cat, ignite it, let it glow well and thereafter let the cat go, so it runs to the nearest castle or town, and out of fear it thinks to hide itself where it ends up in barn hay or straw it will be ignited."