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Weekly Roundup: Banned books, prize nominations and prose that boosts brain power

Weekly Roundup: Banned books, prize nominations and prose that boosts brain power

One of this year's Man Booker International Prize nominees, Yan Lianke, has already had two of his books banned in China: the experience seems not to have chastened him. In an interview in The Guardian this week he accused fellow Chinese writers and intellectuals of not doing enough in the face of state censorship. His targets included both the Nobel laureate Mo Yan and himself: “I understand the Chinese political and cultural environment well. I understand people who don't use their voice. As an intellectual and author I should require myself to do it first. If I don't do enough, I can't require other authors to do so. There's always a reason. There's always one book or another; timing. But I think as an author I could have taken more responsibility and I didn't.”

Despite other commitments – acting, taking America by storm, being easy on the eye – one of last year's Man Booker judges, Dan Stevens, is finding it hard to keep away from literature. He is the editor of the latest edition of the online literary magazine The Junket (for which he is Editor-at-Large). His own contribution is an essay about our relationship with technology entitled “Looking After #numbertwo”, perhaps prompted by the experience of having an e-reader stuffed with MB submissions sewn into the lining of his Downton Abbey costume so that he could keep up with his reading in between takes.

Two of the novelists shortlisted last year by Stevens and his fellow judges are contesting another prize. Hilary Mantel and Will Self have been nominated – alongside Kerry Hudson for Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma – for the literature section of the South Bank Sky Arts Awards. The winners will be announced on 14th March.

Man Booker aficionados will be gratified but not surprised by the report from scientists at the University of Liverpool that outlines the fact that reading great writers provides a “rocket boost” to the brain that low quality books cannot offer. Challenging prose apparently sets off more electrical activity in the brain than easy reading material.  The scientists used poetry by the likes of Shakespeare, Ted Hughes and Wordsworth in their experiment: “The research shows the power of literature to shift mental pathways, to create new thoughts, shapes and connections in the young and the staid alike.” Experiments with fiction are coming soon and perhaps the 2001 Man Booker winning True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey should be a trial text since its haphazard grammar and near lack of punctuation should set off enough electrical activity to power a small town.