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Honors for 5 new(ish) authors

October 11, 2009|Carolyn Kellogg; Rosie Mestel; Scott T. Sterling; Austin Knoblauch

The National Book Foundation has named its 2009 class of 5 Under 35 -- five exceptional novelists not yet 35 years old. The list includes Josh Weil, author of "The New Valley," three linked novellas; Karen Russell, author of "St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves," a short-story collection; and Lydia Peelle, for her short-story collection "Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing."

In our review, we called fourth honoree Ceridwen Dovey's "Blood Kin" "a taut and remarkably self-assured first novel."

We also reviewed "All the Living," by final honoree C.E. Morgan: "This is a book about life force, the precious will to live and all the things that can suck it right out of a person. It is a first novel, and the writing is simply astonishing: The way small movements betray a character, the effects of hard labor, the damaging power of communication withheld. It is the writing of a much older (at times, even world-weary) author."

It's the fourth time the honors have been awarded; each year, five former National Book Award winners select new, up-and-coming writers. Certainly each of these has written work worthy of renewed attention.

But the honor, as constructed, can't help but call attention to its own arbitrariness. What purpose does the 35-year-old designation serve? It's not exactly young -- a young writer is Jonathan Safran Foer, 25 years old when his highly accomplished debut, "Everything is Illuminated," was published. And if it's meant to find promising emerging writers, why ignore someone like Charles Bock, who turned 38 the year his weighty "Beautiful Children" was released?

Thirty-five means different things depending on where you sit. A professional athlete might see 35 as the twilight of his career; a hopeful mom as tick-tock time for baby making. But in the literary world, what marker does 35 signal? Why 5 under 35 at all? Why not 5 debut novelists, or 5 exciting writers, or 5 new authors to watch?

-- Carolyn Kellogg

From Jacket Copy: Books news and information

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Stevia-sweetened strawberries?

In the world of low-calorie sweeteners, stevia is hot-hot-hot these days. It's a plant, so it's natural, and thus many consumers are more trusting of it than they are of artificial sweeteners cooked up in labs.

Stevia, 300 times sweeter than sugar, can currently be purchased as a supplement for use in sweetening, but one of its sweet chemicals, rebaudioside A, also has received "generally recognized as safe" status as a food additive from the Food and Drug Administration.

Now some scientists in Brazil and the U.S. have come up with an interesting concoction: low-calorie, stevia-sweetened dried strawberries.

First the scientists ultrasonically removed sugars naturally present in strawberries -- sucrose, fructose, glucose. Then they immersed the berries in stevia solution to restore some sweetness.

Don't look for this on your grocery shelf next week: This is still proof-of-concept lab work. It's a novel idea -- but it seems like an awful lot of trouble to go to.

Why not eat fresh fruit?

-- Rosie Mestel

From Booster Shots: Oddities, musings and news from the world of health

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N.E.R.D. adds a front woman

Up until 2003, Los Angeles band the Black Eyed Peas was a fledgling hip-hop act best known for its impressive dance moves and feel-good beats.

But with the addition of Stacy "Fergie" Ferguson, BEP transformed into a sleek pop hit machine, churning out a seemingly endless stream of hit singles, which culminated with a record-breaking run at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart this year with "Boom Boom Pow" and "I Gotta Feeling."

Although there's no indication that the Black Eyed Peas' female-powered success was any influence, N.E.R.D., the pop-rock outfit fronted by superstar producers the Neptunes, has followed suit by introducing a woman into its fold.

"Now you have this little Tinkerbell that's just stepped in and has been amazing," Pharrell Williams told MTV News about new singer Rhea joining N.E.R.D., which has never found the stratospheric success of the Neptunes but has amassed a cult following.

"It's made it a fun process. We can go in so many more directions, because we have the vocal support," he said, adding that the fourth N.E.R.D. album and first to feature Rhea -- tentatively titled "Instant Gratification" -- would be dropping sometime in 2010.

-- Scott T. Sterling

From Pop & Hiss: The L.A. Times music blog

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Galaxy wants a Beckham plan

As the team prepares for its first MLS playoff appearance in four years, the Galaxy wants to finalize plans for David Beckham's expected loan to AC Milan.

"We want to get it done, for him and for us, and I don't want any confusion," Anschutz Entertainment Group CEO Tim Leiweke told the Associated Press on Thursday.

Leiweke also wants the team to figure out what Landon Donovan's plans are for next season.

"There is a lot of rumors of whether he is staying or going," Leiweke said. "We're going to clear that up in the next two weeks because we want the team to be focused."

Beckham wants to rejoin AC Milan in January. His loan to the team could help him stay on England's World Cup team.

Still, the Galaxy aren't planning to cut Beckham much slack once England's participation in the World Cup is over.

The Galaxy, who are tied with Houston for first place in the Western Conference, are among the favorites to win what would be the franchise's third MLS Cup in November.

-- Austin Knoblauch

From The Fabulous Forum: The who, what, where, when, why -- and why not -- of L.A. sports

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