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Book News: Outrage After Fox News Interview With 'Zealot' Author

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

  • Charges of anti-Muslim prejudice flew thick and fast following Fox News anchor Lauren Green's interview with Reza Aslan, a religious scholar and the author of Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. Green repeatedly asked Aslan why, as a Muslim, he was interested in writing about Jesus' life. Aslan emphasized that he is a historian, answering, "Well, to be clear, I am a scholar of religions with four degrees, including one in the New Testament, and fluency in biblical Greek, who has been studying the origins of Christianity for two decades, who also just happens to be a Muslim." Green, host of the online show Spirited Debate, went on to suggest Aslan hadn't disclosed his Muslim identity during previous media interviews. Aslan countered that he mentions his faith on the second page of the book. A post at Buzzfeed asks, "Is This The Most Embarrassing Interview Fox News Has Ever Done?" and The New Yorker's Emily Nussbaum called it "demented." The Twitter hashtag #foxnewslitcrit was spawned, full of mock interview questions such as, "Ms. Rowling, what gives you, a muggle, the right to write a book about wizards?" But as The Atlantic Wire's Connor Simpson notes, all of this could be good for Aslan: Zealot rose to the top spot on Amazon following the interview. (You can also hear Aslan speak to Fresh Air's Terry Gross and Weekend Edition's Rachel Martin about Zealot.)
  • Stephen King talked to The Atlantic about the subtle art of the opening sentence: "To get scientific about it is a little like trying to catch moonbeams in a jar."
  • American Dream Machine author Matthew Specktor spoke to The Rumpus about the life of a writer: "You can't really get anything out of it if you're not fully committed. But sacrificing one's life on the altar of literature is in some ways like sacrificing a goat to some malicious spirit. It's not always a humane or necessary decision. We go to literature because it shows us some set of humane values. It is showing us how to live. So there's a kind of perverseness or betrayal in that idea that art is somehow superior to life. Or that it's more important to write well than it is to take out the garbage."
  • The Best Books Coming Out This Week:

  • Juan Gabriel Vásquez's The Sound of Things Falling is set during 1980s Colombia, at the height of the country's vicious drug wars and violent clashes between police and cartels. Critic Marcela Valdes told NPR's Lynn Neary that it is "a novel about fear and recovering from fear."
  • NPR's Linda Wertheimer called Michael Paterniti's The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World's Greatest Piece of Cheese "a great piece of travel writing, storytelling, myth making and hero worship rolled into one book with a really long title." Paterniti read from his book on Weekend Edition: "That little handmade cheese in the tin and its brash lack of cynicism in a rotten year gave me a strange kind of hope. I sensed the presence of purity and transcendence. I felt I knew this cheese somehow — or would. It sat silently hoarding its secrets. How long would it wait to speak? A long time, as it turned out. But when it did, the cheese had a lot to say."
  • Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    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.
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