Netflix Executives Pitch Wonka-Inspired Reality Show

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Welcome to Today in Books, where we report on literary headlines at the intersection of politics, culture, media, and more.

Library of Congress Charts a Roadmap to Reading 

In preparation for the 2024 National Book Festival, which will take place this August in Washington, DC, the 56 state and territory Centers for the Book affiliated with the Library of Congress have each chosen a Great Read title to create a “Roadmap to Reading” for the U.S. The list is notably diverse in many ways and contains a solid mix of familiar and under-the-radar titles, and my only quibble is that I wish each title came with a short explainer. Okay, I have two quibbles, but the explainer would solve this one: why on earth did New York, the epicenter of American letters, choose The Catcher in the Rye? There’s a time and place for Holden Caulfield, and that’s a ninth-grade English class.

Ken Follett Sets New Pillars at Hachette

Ken Follett, whose 37 (!) novels have sold more than 192 million (!) copies is leaving Penguin, his publishing home of 45 (!) years. Follett has signed a one-book deal with Grand Central Publishing for an untitled novel to be released in 2025. The move represents a major shake-up for the author, who notes, “This is the beginning of an exciting new phase for me: new publisher, new editors, new sales force.”

So, what’s the new book about? Don’t worry about it. Grand Central president and publisher Ben Sevier assures us it “has all the scope and ambition to make it one of the most enduring works of fiction of our time.” Must have been a hell of an offer.

Netflix Reaches for the Golden Ticket

Netflix executives, having learned the wrong lesson from a disastrous Wonka pop-up event in Glasgow, are cooking up a “Willy Wonka reality show.” At present, the concept is all they’ve got, so I asked Claude to brainstorm some challenges for it. Some highlights:

  • Chocolate River Crossing – Contestants must traverse a river of chocolate without falling in and becoming completely submerged.
  • Candy Garden Harvest – Contestants race to harvest the most candy pieces from a whimsical edible garden.
  • Gummy Bear Lost & Found – Dive into a pool filled with gummy bears to retrieve special prize items.
  • Lickable Wallpaper Taste Test – Attempt to identify different flavor wallpapers by licking them.
  • Vertigo Dizziness Test – Contestants are spun around aboard the terrifying vertigo spiral.

Lest you think the robots really are ready to take over, the AI tool also recommended a few activities that reveal it seems to believe that carbonated beverages really can make you float. Oops! In the Fizzy Lifting Drink Test, contestants would try to avoid the effects of a fizzy lifting drink and stay grounded, and for the Fizzy Lifting Candy Flip, they would eat fizzy lifting candies and perform acrobatic flips/tricks before coming back down. 

As the unhinged candyman himself said, “A little nonsense, now and then, is relished by the wisest men.” Let’s just hope the risk-management team has better sense. 

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