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Book News: Jane Austen Bank Note Dinged As 'Airbrushed Makeover'

The governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, displays the concept design for the new 10-pound banknote featuring author Jane Austen.
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The governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, displays the concept design for the new 10-pound banknote featuring author Jane Austen.

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

  • Jane Austen biographer Paula Byrne isn't a fan of the Jane Austen image featured on the new £10 note, saying, "It's a 19th century airbrushed makeover." But the head of the Jane Austen Society, Elizabeth Proudman, is defending the Bank of England's choice, according to the BBC. "There is only one authentic image available of Jane Austen and that is the pencil sketching by her sister that hangs in the National Portrait Gallery," Proudman says. Compared with the sketch, the picture on the note seems to have evened out Austen's features, got rid of her under-eye circles and smoothed her skin and hair. Byrne says that picture, which is an 1870 interpretation of the drawing done in 1810, makes Austen look like "a pretty doll with big doe eyes." For a bank note, the new £10 note — which will go into circulation in 2017 — has caused a remarkable amount of controversy: When feminist activists petitioned to have Austen featured (lest Queen Elizabeth II be the only woman now on Bank of England currency), they were barraged with death and rape threats on Twitter.
  • The writer Attica Locke has won the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence, which is "designed to inspire and recognize rising African-American writers of excellence." The Los Angeles Timesquotes a press release stating, "Attica is a superb storyteller, and her book addresses the struggles of race and class for a modern audience. This selection highlights her contribution to contemporary American literature."
  • The London Review of Books writes that doctors at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are using Shakespearean pseudonyms "in an attempt to avoid being held liable for any mistreatment of detainees." The nurses have fake names such as "Lucentio" and "Valeria," the LRB notes, adding, "But Shakespeare's plays provide no whitewash for political calumny; one of their main subjects is man's inhumanity to man."
  • Neil Gaiman spoke to NPR about Sandman and the role of a writer: "We get to direct people; we get to give them waking dreams. We get to take them places, do magical things to their heads, and, with any luck, send them back to the day that they came from slightly changed, and not the person that they were when we got our hands on them and said, 'I want to tell you a story.'"
  • NPR's Lynn Neary explains how booksellers took revenge on Amazon when the online retailer began publishing its own books: "A lot of booksellers said enough is enough: Not only is Amazon trying to take over the retail side of the book business, it's also going to take over publishing? Some independent bookstores decided they wouldn't carry Amazon Publishing's books and, even more importantly, Barnes & Noble — the country's biggest bookstore chain — and some big-box stores followed suit. Neither Amazon nor its authors expected that kind of backlash, and a couple of pretty big Amazon releases never really took off."
  • Zadie Smith proves she can craft a beautiful essay out of anything, including a comparative study of British and American takeout. On Britain's "lack of a service culture," she writes, "[N]o one should be asked to pretend that the intimate satisfaction of her existence is servicing you, the 'guest,' with a shrimp sandwich wrapped in plastic. If the choice is between the antic all-singing, all-dancing employees in New York's Astor Place Pret-A-Manger and the stony-faced contempt of just about everybody behind a food counter in London (including all the Prets), I wholeheartedly opt for the latter. We are subject to enough delusions in this life without adding to them the belief that the girl with the name tag is secretly in love with us."
  • 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.