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Book News: Sherwin B. Nuland, Author Of 'How We Die,' Dies At 83

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

  • Sherwin B. Nuland, the author of How We Die, died on Monday at the age of 83. The book, which won a National Book Award in 1994 and spurred debate about assisted suicide, sought to "demythologize the process of dying," and detailed the ways that bodies shut down in death. It has sold more than 500,000 copies. Nuland wrote, "'Death with dignity' is our society's expression of the universal yearning to achieve a graceful triumph over the stark and often repugnant finality of life's last sputterings. But the fact is, death is not a confrontation. It is simply an event in the sequence of nature's ongoing rhythms. Not death but disease is the real enemy, disease the malign force that requires confrontation. Death is the surcease that comes when the exhausting battle has been lost." Nuland died of prostate cancer.
  • The spy novelist John le Carré wrote in to The Telegraph about John Bingham, the spy who helped inspire his character George Smiley, and government surveillance. In a letter to the editor, he says, "Where Bingham believed that uncritical love of the Secret Services was synonymous with love of country, I came to believe that such love should be examined. And that, without such vigilance, our Secret Services could in certain circumstances become as much of a peril to our democracy as their supposed enemies."
  • Pakistani novelist Kamila Shamsie writes about the process of becoming a British citizen and the threat of having to leave London: "It wouldn't be a total severing; we would still be able to meet on my visits as we used to before — but now that I had learned what it is to wake up with London, and fall asleep with it, and have it be the place I returned to when all my wanderings were done. The thought of having nothing more than visitation rights felt like heartbreak."
  • Justin Kaplan, who wrote National Book Award-winning biographies of Mark Twain and Walt Whitman, died Sunday. He was 88. "I really feel there's a vaguely religious aspect to biography," Kaplan said in an interview. "Especially with creative people, you're dealing with sort of a mystery. And you can describe the circumstances before and after some great innovation, but you can't explain or describe the moment or the time that it happens, or the way it happens." Kaplan was also an editor of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations.
  • Lena Dunham is writing a four-part story for Archie Comics, to be published in 2015. "I was an avid Archie collector as a child," she said in a statement. "Conventions, first editions that l kept in plastic sleeves, the whole shebang. It has so much cultural significance but also so much personal significance, and to get to play with these beloved characters is a wild creative opportunity."
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    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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