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Book News: Sam Greenlee, Author Of 'The Spook Who Sat By The Door,' Dies

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


  • Sam Greenlee, a novelist and poet who was one of the first black Americans go to abroad with the Foreign Service, died Monday, according to The Associated Press. He was 83. In his most famous book, 1969's The Spook Who Sat by the Door, a disillusioned black CIA officer quits his job and begins training street gangs as "Freedom Fighters" to overthrow the government. The title plays on the double meaning of "Spook" as both a racial slur and slang for spies In 1973, the book was made into a movie of the same name. In a 2004 interview with NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates, film critic Elvis Mitchell said that the film studio was unnerved by the insertion of politics into what they expected to be an action film, and handed it back to Greenlee. The film's sudden disappearance — and persistent though unsubstantiated rumors that the U.S. government had helped to suppress it — helped ensure its status as a classic. It was rereleased in 2004 and added to the National Film Registry in 2012.
  • Simon & Schuster is making 10,000 of its backlist titles available on Oyster and Scribd, the e-book subscription services, Publishers Weeklyreports. In return, PW says, "both services will supply S&S with data on the reading and purchasing activity of Scribd and Oyster subscribers."
  • Philip Roth, who seems to be on an extended farewell tour, has declared several recent interviews to be his last. But he seems to have changed his mind yet again: He'll be speaking with Stephen Colbert in July.
  • Neil Patrick Harris is coming out with a choose-your-own-adventure-style autobiography, and it sounds delightful: "In this revolutionary, Joycean experiment in light celebrity narrative, actor/personality/carbon-based life-form Neil Patrick Harris lets you, the reader, live his life. You will be born in New Mexico. You will get your big break at an acting camp. You will get into a bizarre confrontation outside a nightclub with actor Scott Caan. Even better, at each critical juncture of your life you will choose how to proceed. You will decide whether to try out for Doogie Howser, M.D. You will decide whether to spend years struggling with your sexuality. You will decide what kind of caviar you want to eat on board Elton John's yacht." It's coming out from Crown Archetype in October.
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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.