Today in literature: The Man Booker Prize has a new enemy, the National Book Awards deftly handled a possible Marisa Tomei-Jack Palance moment, and the oldest books known to man feature dragons, magic plants, and cannibals.

  • The Man Booker Prize is one of literature's highest honors, but the titles on this year's shortlist (including two relatively unknown novels by first-time authors) has led to much criticism of Man Booker administrators, on the grounds the judges -- who were led this year by Stella Rimington, the former head of MI5 who writes spy novels with titles like Present Danger and Illegal Action -- lack the background in literary criticism to be handing out such a big prize. (Even 25 years ago, Julian Barnes, who is on the short list again this year, was calling the Booker "posh bingo" because of all the dilettantes involved in the selection process.) Enter The Literature Prize. According to a statement released by the new award's advisory board, the prize seeks to "establish a clear and uncompromising standard of excellence" and challenge the Man Booker directly. By honoring "a selection of novels that...are unsurpassed in their quality and ambition," the Literature Prize claims to be filling the void left by the Man Booker, which as "numerous statements by that prize's administrator and this year's judges illustrate...now prioritises a notion of 'readability' over artistic achievement." Man Booker administrator Ion Trewin, who has stressed the importance 'readability' plays in the panel's decision in the past, called the press release salvo "Tosh!" in an interview with The Bookseller. The Advisory Board for the Literary Prize notes that it is "currently procuring funding for the prize," but counts authors John Banville, Pat Barker, Mark Haddon, Jackie Kay, Nicole Krauss, Claire Messud, Pankaj Mishra and David Mitchell among its supporters. Banville and Booker are both former Man Booker winners. [BBC and The Bookseller]
  • Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks has sold 1.25 million copies in the U.S. since being released in February 2010. Now Skloot's ready for her sophomore effort, which her publisher Crown says will "explore, among many other subjects, the neurology of human-animal relationships, human nature and responsibility, and the unexamined ethics of our relationship with animals." No publication date has been set. [Arts Beat and GalleyCat]
  • Yesterday's announcement of the National Book Award finalists omitted Franny Billingsley's Chime in the young people's literature category. Because of what organizers are calling a "miscommunication" Lauren Myracle's Shine was announced instead. Both books are being allowed to compete, with the field expanded to six. "We made a mistake," explained Harold Augebraum, executive director of the National Book Foundation. "There was a miscommunication. We could have taken one of the books away to keep it five, but we decided that it was better to add a sixth one as an exception, because they're all good books." [Jacket Copy]
  • We haven't read any of the titles on the list of the 10 oldest books known to man, with the exception of a very stripped-down version of "The Epic of Gilgamesh." After reading about them, this strikes us as a mistake, since along with the historical knowledge to be gained, there's also a a giant eagle and serpent beholden to the god Utu trying to stop Kish Etana from getting a magic plant in the "Epic of Etana" (second oldest) and a passage from the "Pyramid Texts" (third oldest) called "The Cannibal Hymn." [Vintage Anchor via The Millions]