TIME

Killer Business in Russia

An investor turned activist outfoxes oligarchs

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Bill Browder may be Russian President Vladimir Putin’s No. 1 foe. For the past several years the CEO of Hermitage Capital Management has led an international campaign to expose deep corruption and human-rights abuses in Putin’s Russia. His efforts culminated with Congress’s 2012 passage of the Magnitsky Act, which forbids gross abusers of human rights in Russia from banking in or visiting the U.S. It’s named after Browder’s lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, a whistle-blower who was murdered in a Moscow prison in 2009 after uncovering massive Russian government fraud.

Before he became an unlikely human-rights activist, Browder was for a time one of the largest foreign investors in Russia. In the tumultuous years following the fall of the Soviet Union, he made a fortune for himself and his clients by confronting some of the country’s corrupt oligarchs. But in Russia, shareholder activism could be dangerous work, as Browder explains in this excerpt from his new book Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder and One Man’s Search for Justice.

In 1939, Winston Churchill made a famous speech on whether he thought Russia would join the Second World War: “I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest.”

Fast-forward to the present, when Russia’s erratic behavior is terrifying the whole world. Churchill’s observations about Russia still apply, but with one big proviso. Instead of the national interest guiding Russia’s actions, they are now guided by money, specifically the criminal acquisition of money.

I can attest to this firsthand. In 1996 I’d started an investment fund in Moscow called the Hermitage Fund, in partnership with the billionaire investor Edmond Safra. We had a spectacular initial success. It was the best-performing fund in the world in 1997, up 718% from inception with assets of more than $1 billion.

But our success would all be thrown into jeopardy in January 1998 when we collided with the corruption Russia is so famous for.

It began that month at a New Year’s party, where I confronted Boris Jordan, one of Russia’s leading investment bankers, about a financial scheme called a dilutive share issue that was going to steal $87 million from my fund.

He met me head-on with a meaty handshake. “Bill, how are ya?”

“Not great, Boris. What’s going on with Sidanco? If this share issue goes through, it’s going to be a real problem for me.”

The fund, together with Safra, had invested heavily in an undervalued Russian oil company named Sidanco which had gone up eight times in one year, making the fund and Safra more than $100 million. After this big win, Boris’ boss, the billionaire oligarch and former Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Potanin, decided that we shouldn’t have that money. Boris and his colleagues threatened to implement this dilutive share issue, which would nearly wipe out our investment.

Boris didn’t want a public confrontation at a New Year’s party, so he said, “Bill, it’s all a big misunderstanding. Don’t worry about a thing.” He turned his attention to a tray of canapés and picked one up. Avoiding my gaze, he said, “Tell you what. Come over to Renaissance tomorrow at 4:30 and we’ll sort it out.”

I took him at his word and tried to enjoy the party. The next day at 4:30 p.m., I walked into Renaissance Capital’s headquarters next to the Moscow River. I was unceremoniously shown to a windowless conference room. I was not offered anything to eat or drink, so I sat there and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

I was ready to leave when the door finally opened–only it wasn’t Boris. It was Leonid Rozhetskin, a 31-year-old Russian-born, Ivy League–educated lawyer whom I’d met on a few occasions.

“I’m sorry Boris couldn’t make it,” Leonid said in English. “He’s busy.”

“I am too.”

“I’m sure you are. What brings you here today?”

“You know what, Leonid. I’m here to talk about Sidanco.”

“Yes. What about it?”

“If this dilution goes forward, it’s going to cost me and my investors–including Edmond Safra–$87 million.”

“Yes, we know. That’s the intention.”

“What?”

“That’s the intention,” he repeated matter-of-factly.

“You’re deliberately trying to screw us?”

He blinked. “Yes.”

“But how can you do this? It’s illegal!”

“This is Russia. Do you think we worry about these types of things?”

I couldn’t believe this. “Leonid, you may be screwing me over, but some of the biggest names on Wall Street are invested with me. The pebble may drop here, but the ripples go everywhere!”

“Bill, we’re not worried about that.”

We sat in silence as I processed this.

He looked at his watch and stood. “If that’s all, I have to go.”

Shocked, I tried to think of a reply and blurted, “Leonid, if you do this, I’m going to be forced to go to war with you.”

He froze, and I did too. After a few seconds he began to laugh. What I’d said was preposterous and we both knew it. Go to war? Against an oligarch? In Russia? Only a fool would do that. When Leonid was finally able to contain himself, he said, “Is that so? Good luck with that, Bill.” Then he turned and left.

I was so upset that for several seconds I couldn’t move, and when I finally could, I shook with humiliation and anger. I marched out of Renaissance into the freezing Moscow night. When I got home I called Edmond. Nobody likes to lose money, and he was a notoriously bad loser. When I finished telling him the story, he asked, “What are we going to do, Bill?”

“We’re going to fight these bastards, that’s what. We’re going to go to war.”

“What are you talking about, Bill? You’re in Russia. You’ll be killed.”

I gathered my wits. “Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. But I’m not going to let them get away with it.” I didn’t care if I was being brave or stupid, or if there was even a difference. I’d been backed into a corner and I meant what I said.

“I can’t be part of this, Bill,” he said, safe in New York, 4,650 miles away.

I was not safe, though, and it filled me with adrenaline. “Edmond, you’re my partner, not my boss. I’m going to fight these guys whether you’re with me or not.”

He didn’t have anything else to say and we hung up. I didn’t sleep at all that night.

Wartime

By the next morning, regret and uncertainty had crept into me. But when I reached my office, a rush of activity shook me from my thoughts. Packed into the room were more than a dozen heavily armed bodyguards. The one in charge came up to me and in an Israeli accent pronounced, “I’m Ariel Bouzada, Mr. Browder. Mr. Safra sent us. We have four armored cars and 15 men. We’ll be with you for as long as this situation lasts.”

Apparently, Edmond was going to fight with me after all. But how in hell was I going to fight an oligarch?

I assembled my team and we devised a plan. Our first step was to call all the Western investors who did business with Potanin and explain the details of what he was doing to us. Our message was simple: If you don’t stop him, you could be next.

Every other time foreigners got ripped off in Russia they would attempt to figure out how to resist. But then their lawyers and advisers would point out that retaliation was infeasible and dangerous, and after all the tough talk, they would slink away like wounded animals.

But this wasn’t every other time. I was never going to let Potanin get away with this without a fight.

Less than a week later, Boris called, irate and rattled. “B-Bill, what the hell are you doing calling our investors?”

I tried to sound as calm as possible. “Didn’t Leonid tell you about our meeting?”

“Yes, but I thought you understood the score.”

I continued to play along, praying that my voice wouldn’t crack. “What score?”

“Bill, you don’t seem to understand–you’re not playing by the rules!”

With a steadiness that surprised even me, I said, “Boris, if you think I’m not playing by the rules now, wait until you see what I’m about to do to you next.” I didn’t wait for his response and hung up, exhilarated. I’d won Round 1.

The next part of our plan was to make the story public. I got in touch with a reporter from the Financial Times and shared all the details. She devoured every word and promised that the article would be big. She contacted Potanin to get his side.

Because we were in Russia, Potanin had no choice but to escalate. His response was along the lines of “Bill Browder is a terrible and irresponsible fund manager. If he had done his job properly, he would have known I was going to do this to him. His clients should sue him for every penny he’s worth.”

It was an admission of his intent to screw us, and it was on the record.

The FT published the story, which was then picked up by the rest of the financial media. Over the next few weeks, Sidanco’s dilutive share issue became the cause célèbre in Moscow–along with bets on how long I was going to survive.

With so much coverage in the press, I decided to file a complaint with the Russian Federal Securities and Exchange Commission (FSEC). Pressured by the high profile of the story, the commission’s top official, a remarkably uncorrupted man named Dmitry Vasiliev, announced that he would take up the case. But investigations into Russian corporate malfeasance were virtually unprecedented, and I had no idea how Vasiliev would act.

Unbeknownst to me, Edmond wasn’t willing to wait. He had dispatched his main deputy, Sandy Koifman, to Moscow to negotiate a settlement with Potanin behind my back. I found out about this only by chance when one of my brokers spotted Sandy in Moscow.

I immediately called Safra’s chief legal officer in New York. He was embarrassed but said, “Bill, I’m sorry, but you’re way out of your league here. This is serious business involving a lot of money. I think it’s best if you let us take over from here.”

He may have been right if this were the U.S. or Great Britain, but this was Russia. I replied, “If you show even the smallest sign of weakness to these guys, our investors will lose everything, and that will be on you.” I asked for more time to see what would happen with the FSEC. I got 10 more days. “After that, if nothing’s happened, we’re taking over.”

The following days ticked by without so much as a peep from Vasiliev. On day six, Edmond’s lawyer called and said, “Look, Bill, we promised you 10 days, but nothing seems to be happening. We appreciate all that you’ve done, but it’s not working.”

The next morning I dragged myself into the office with the intention of controlling the damage. Only I didn’t have to. Without any warning, a fax arrived with a printout of the front page of the Financial Times. The headline read, Watchdog annuls sidanco bond issue. Vasiliev had shut down the whole thing.

Russia Retaliates

That was it. I had won. I’d met the oligarch in the prison yard and earned some respect. More than that, I’d learned how to fight the Russians, who weren’t as invincible as they seemed.

With my new sense of self-confidence I went after the oligarchs proactively. In the subsequent years I exposed corruption at Sberbank, Unified Energy Systems and Gazprom with similar success. It turned out that Vladimir Putin, who’d come to power in 2000, had the same set of enemies as me. The oligarchs were stealing power from him and money from me. Every time I went after an oligarch Putin would mobilize the authorities and slap them down.

It seemed as if it was all too good to be true, and it was. Early one morning in October 2003, as I was running on the treadmill in my apartment watching CNN, a breaking headline came across the screen saying that Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Russia’s richest man, had been arrested.

Khodorkovsky had broken Putin’s golden rule: “Stay out of politics, and you can keep your ill-gotten gains.” Khodorkovsky had given millions of dollars to the opposition parties for the upcoming parliamentary elections, and he had begun to make statements that were clearly anti-Putin. Putin had to make an example out of him.

Khodorkovsky was put on trial, convicted and sentenced to nine years in prison. During the trial, Putin did something unprecedented: he allowed TV cameras in the courtroom to film Russia’s richest man as he sat silently in the defendant’s cage.

After Khodorkovsky was found guilty, I think most of Russia’s oligarchs went one by one to Putin and said, “Vladimir Vladimirovich, what can I do to make sure I won’t end up sitting in a cage?”

I wasn’t there, so I’m only speculating, but I imagine Putin’s response was something like this: “Fifty percent.”

Not 50% to the government or 50% to the presidential administration, but 50% to Vladimir Putin. I don’t know this for sure. What I do know for sure was that after Khodorkovsky’s conviction, my interests and Putin’s were no longer aligned. He had brought the oligarchs to heel, consolidated his power and, by many estimates, become the richest man in the world.

It didn’t take long for Putin to turn against me. In November 2005, I was expelled from the country and officially declared a threat to national security.

I thought I was done with Russia, but Russia was not done with me. Everything that had happened up until that point involved money, but what I couldn’t imagine was that in the ensuing years, Putin’s personal vendetta against me would see people close to me imprisoned and dead as my conflicts with Russia metastasized and spun wildly out of control.

TIME Books

Joan Rivers’ Daughter Writes a Book About Her Life

57th GRAMMY Awards - Premiere Ceremony
Kevork Djansezian—Getty Images TV personality Melissa Rivers attends the The 57th Annual GRAMMY Awards Premiere Ceremony at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on Feb. 8, 2015 in Los Angeles.

Melissa Rivers' The Book of Joan arrives May 5

Joan Rivers’ daughter Melissa Rivers has written a book about the late comedian’s life, her publisher announced Wednesday.

The Book of Joan: Tales of Mirth, Mischief and Manipulation will contain “funny, poignant, and irreverent observations, thoughts, and tales about” Joan Rivers, who died last September after complications from surgery, People reports. It comes out May 5.

“In our family we always believed that laughter was the best medicine,” Melissa said Rivers. “I wanted to write a book that would make my mother laugh. I hope it makes you laugh, too.”

Read more at People

TIME People

Why Some Blamed Poetry for Sylvia Plath’s Death

Grave Of Sylvia Plath
Amy T. Zielinski—Getty Images A photograph of Sylvia Plath (1932 - 1963) on her grave at St Thomas a Beckett churchyard, Heptonstall, West Yorkshire, May 5, 2011.

Feb. 11, 1963: Sylvia Plath commits suicide

What drove Sylvia Plath to her death was painfully clear to her psychiatrist: clinical depression. But after the acclaimed poet, just 30 years old, committed suicide on this day, Feb. 11, in 1963, her friends, fans, and biographers were eager to blame the tragedy instead on a flesh-and-blood villain.

There were several contenders to choose from. The most obvious was her estranged husband, the poet Ted Hughes, who had recently abandoned Plath and their two young children to run off with his mistress. The fact that his mistress committed suicide six years later, just as Plath had done — by putting her head in an oven and turning on the gas — underlined his guilt in the eyes of the Daily Mail and many others.

TIME took the Freudian approach, and in its review of the poetry collection Plath produced in her final months alive, points its finger at her father, “an intellectual tyrant” who was a professor of entomology at Boston University. (In true Freudian style, it also implicated Plath’s mother, “a metallic New England schoolmarm.”)

TIME offered as evidence a scathing centerpiece of Plath’s final collection, Ariel, a poem that ends, “daddy, you bastard, I’m through.” “‘Daddy’ was its title; its subject was her morbid love-hatred of her father; its style was as brutal as a truncheon,” the review notes. “What is more, ‘Daddy’ was merely the first jet of flame from a literary dragon who in the last months of her life breathed a burning river of bale across the literary landscape.”

It’s possible, of course, that Plath’s parents played a subtler role in her death, by giving her the genetic makeup that predisposed her to depression — or as the Daily Mail suggests, less subtly, a “suicide gene.” If so, it may have been passed down to another generation. Plath’s son, Nicholas Hughes, who was barely a year old when she died, also committed suicide, at 47, following a lifelong battle with depression.

Depression aside, some saw poetry as the weapon at work in Plath’s undoing — among them Plath, who wrote, “The blood jet is poetry; There is no stopping it.” In the months leading up to her death, she wrote feverishly, hemorrhaging words, barely sleeping. “Most of the night she wrote ‘like a woman on fire’ — two, three, six complete poems night after night,” TIME attested. “Her fire was black and its name was hatred. Her words were hard and small like missiles, and they were flung with flat force.”

The poet Robert Lowell, Plath’s onetime teacher, concurred. In his preface to her poetry collection, he writes that Plath’s poems “play Russian roulette with six cartridges in the cylinder.”

Read TIME’s first review of The Bell Jar, here in the TIME Vault: Lady Lazarus

TIME Books

Scribd Launches Its ‘Netflix for Comics’ With More Than 10,000 Titles

Access to thousands of comic book titles costs only $8.99 a month

The e-book and audiobook subscription service that has been likened to a “Netflix for books” is now expanding to comic books.

Subscribers to Scribd will have access to more than 10,000 comic books, in addition to the pre-existing library of e-books and audio-books, as a part of the San Francisco-based start-up’s $8.99 monthly fee, Wired reports.

“We’re really tailoring our service to die-hard voracious readers, and we’re servicing publishers to bring them this audience that we have,” Scribd’s vice president of editorial and marketing, Julie Haddon, said Tuesday.

The company says it is the first subscription service to offer such broad a selection of comics alongside audiobooks and e-books. Scribd isn’t the only company trying to apply a binge-able, online subscription model to books: Oyster offers over a million titles for a $9.95 monthly fee, and Amazon launched its Kindle Unlimited service last summer with a $9.99 monthly fee and more than 600,000 titles.

[Wired]

TIME White House

5 Solid Party Tips from Presidential History

George H. Bush with Barbara Bush and Kiichi Miyazawa
Bob Daugherty—AP Photo U.S. President George H. Bush gestures after collapsing during a state dinner at the Japanese Prime Minister's residence in Tokyo on Jan. 8, 1992.

Oval Officeholders teach us how to out-drink your friends and foes, and not let a little throw-up get the best of you

The office of the U.S. President is perhaps the most powerful in the world, so it makes sense that the men who have held it are often seen as paragons of gravitas and good judgment. But, in researching my book Party Like a President: True Tales of Inebriation, Lechery, and Mischief from the Oval Office, my book’s illustrator John Mathias and I discovered that every commander-in-chief has had his vices. Yes, even George Washington—who had a four-glass-per-afternoon wine habit.

Good for them while the rest of us tarnish in the workforce drudgery, right? But look on the bright side: At least now we have access to professional lessons in nightlife from some of the most ambitious historical figures in our nation’s history. Here are five that, hopefully, will bring the rest of us similar good fortune.

Drink up at every toast. In the case of James Monroe, whose goodwill tour of 1817 stretched from Maine to Maryland, the last president to wear a tri-cornered hat lifted a glass almost every night for four months at local receptions—and it apparently helped improve relations between federal and municipal governments. From the strike of 6 o’clock to roughly midnight, Monroe downed a steady stream of rich sweet Madeira, the popular varietal at the time, which contained an overwhelming 20% alcohol. “They would hit an average of 30 or 40 toasts,” says Dan Preston, editor of James Monroe’s papers at the University of Mary Washington. “For each toast, they would drink a glass of wine and sing a song.” Just imagine the dishwashing scene in The Hobbit, but everyone’s in knee breeches.

Pour ’em stout … for guests. If you want to one-up your friends and frenemies—because, really, what’s the point of a social life anyway if you can’t best your stumbling peers?—tear out a page from Lyndon B. Johnson’s power-tripping playbook. In the 1950s, when the ill-tempered, Machiavellian legislator occupied Capitol rooms S-211 and S-212, staff was under orders to make visitors’ scotch-and-sodas with at least two to three more ounces of Cutty Sark than the Senate majority leader’s. “His drinks could have no more than an ounce of liquor in it,” says one secretary, “and if there was more than an ounce, you were in trouble.”

Barf happens. Ask George H.W. Bush how that Tokyo state dinner on Jan. 8, 1992 went. After battling a flu bug all day, the 41st prez couldn’t keep anything down. He’d already ruined one necktie in the bathroom before sitting down to cold salmon with caviar and beef medallions. But, when the time came for the big network-TV hurl, Bush Sr. took it in stride. “Why don’t you roll me under the table and I’ll sleep it off while you finish,” he told Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa. Though Bush’s unfortunate photo op wasn’t caused by drinking, his unembarrassed example is one a partier might want to keep in mind. And Bush Sr. wasn’t the only public puker who resided at 1600 Penn. Ulysses S. Grant was often wrongly prescribed brandy for his migraine headaches, which resulted in his reputation as a reckless drunk. During an inspection tour of a Union Army brigade, the Civil War hero projectile-vomited onto his horse’s neck and shoulders.

Sometimes, it’s worth experimenting—but not on others. This one’s a “don’t” rather than a “do.” One of the less romantic moments in all of John F. Kennedy’s career involved treating a staffer/plaything as if she were a gerbil purchased from the local PetSmart. One night at the executive mansion, brother-in-law and revered Rat Packer Peter Lawford stopped by to offer the president a dose of amyl nitrite — the chemical compound that later became popular as a club drug known for providing inflated senses of time and sexual prowess. Rather than snapping the pressurized glass capsule beneath his own Yankee nostrils, JFK balked. Instead, he gave the poppers to one of his interns and watched as she writhed around on the White House carpet. Always a charmer, that Kennedy. So yeah, don’t do that.

Commit to a routine. The patriarchal wisdom of Esquire Magazine has suggested in several articles over the years to avoid wasting time on flowery cocktail menus and, instead, to have your drink selection predetermined before even approaching the barkeep. There’s something to this, perhaps, beyond that of a vague masculine expression to conceal an identity crisis. Harry Truman, a haberdasher turned senator who picked up plenty of common horse sense growing up in Independence, Mo., would slug a shot of Old-Grand-Dad every morning “to get the engine going.” At 5 a.m., Truman’s day began as always with eggs, bacon and toast. That followed shortly with a two-mile walk, a quick shower and, before suiting up, an ounce of 100-proof whiskey. “Whether the bourbon was on doctor’s orders, or a bit of old-fashioned home medicine of the kind many of his generation thought beneficial to the circulation . . . is not known,” wrote historian David McCullough. “But it seemed to agree with him.”

Workman Publishing

More tales of White House partying can be found in Party Like a President, out on Feb. 10. Brian Abrams is also the author of AND NOW…An Oral History of “Late Night with David Letterman, 1982-1993.

TIME Gadgets

Here’s How To Find Cheap and Free eBooks

ereader
Getty Images

There's a wide range of resources depending on which device you own

When it’s cold or rainy outside, there’s nothing like curling up with a good ebook. But at prices averaging $7.00 a pop, a steady supply of ebooks can get real expensive real quick.

The good news: There are plenty of places to find great ebooks for free or at a significant discount. Here are our favorite places to go for reading on the cheap.

Your Local Library

The best place to start for free books is your local library, and the same holds true for ebooks. The vast majority of libraries now offer popular ebook titles to borrow, just like hardcovers and paperbacks. To find out which books are available near you, either visit your library in person or search online using the OverDrive website at overdrive.com.

Project Gutenberg

Free is hands down my favorite price for books, and few places offer more free books without subscription or commitment than Project Gutenberg. The non-profit is full of approximate 46,000 public domain titles from authors like William Shakespeare, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Jane Austin and F. Scott Fitzgerald. If you’ve ever wanted to check out a classic novel, Project Gutenberg (gutenberg.org) is a great place to start.

Kindle Lending Library

If you’re a member of the $99-per-year Amazon Prime premium service, then you already have access to the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. The service now contains over 500,000 e-books, including the entire Harry Potter series and a number of other New York Times best sellers. They’re not all top-tier reads, but they are free for Kindle owners to download and try.

Free eBooks for Kindle, Kobo and Nook

Amazon, Kobo and Barnes and Noble have selections of free ebooks designed to whet your appetite for more. You’ll find new authors, first titles in a series and much more. All you need is the free Kobo, Kindle or Nook app.

Kindle, Kobo and Nook Deals

Like most major bookstores, online book stores have a sale section too. Before you pay full price for an e-book, check out Amazon’s Kindle Daily Deals, Nook Books Under $5 and Kobo Great Readers Under $4.99, where you can find titles for teens and adults priced between $.99 and $4.99. There’s a little bit of everything to discover, from historical biographies to mystery novels to light romance fare. And if you don’t like what’s currently available, check back – the deals are updated every day.

Oyster, Scribd and Kindle Unlimited eBook Subscription Services

If you’re the type of person who craves new reads rather than re-reading old favorites – or if you just blaze through a ton of books each month – then you’re a perfect candidate for Oyster, Scribd or Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited. These relatively new subscription services are akin to a Netflix for books.

Oyster has more than 1 million titles, Kindle Unlimited has more than 700,000 titles and Scribd has more than 500,000 titles from smaller and top-tier publishers like HarperCollins, Macmillan and Simon & Schuster. Plus, Scribd and Kindle Unlimited offer audiobooks, in addition to ebooks. In short: Even the pickiest readers are guaranteed to find something worth their time.

New members get a free month of service on all services, allowing you to get sense of the libraries without spending a dime. After the free trial, Kindle Unlimited costs $9.99 per month, Oyster costs $9.95 per month, and Scribd is $8.99.

This article originally appeared on Techlicious.

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Read next: This Test Will Tell You How Fast You Read Compared to the Rest of the U.S.

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TIME Books

Mockingbird Author ‘Hurt and Humiliated’ That People Think She Was Duped

Bush Awards Presidential Medal of Freedom
Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images Pulitzer Prize winner and "To Kill A Mockingbird" author Harper Lee smiles before receiving the 2007 Presidential Medal of Freedom

Some in the literary world question if the low-profile author was duped into publishing the 'Go Set a Watchman'

The lawyer who represents beloved author Harper Lee said that the 88-year-old author is “extremely hurt and humiliated” by suggestions that she was tricked into publishing the sequel of To Kill a Mockingbird

While many rejoiced last week’s news that Go Set a Watchman was discovered and would be released in July, others questioned whether the notoriously low-profile Pulitzer Prize winner was actually infirm and coerced into its publication, the New York Times reports.

“She is a very strong, independent and wise woman who should be enjoying the discovery of her long lost novel,” Lee’s lawyer Tonja B. Carter said. “Instead, she is having to defend her own credibility and decision making.”

Lee said Wednesday that she’s “alive and kicking and happy as hell with the reactions to ‘Watchman.'”

[NYT]

TIME Books

Harper Lee’s New Novel Now Apparently Has a Cover

Bush Awards Presidential Medal of Freedom
Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images Pulitzer Prize winner and To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee smiles before receiving the 2007 Presidential Medal of Freedom in the East Room of the White House, in Washington, on Nov. 5, 2007

Images are cropping up on Amazon and social media

Harper Lee’s much anticipated novel Go Set a Watchman, a sequel to Lee’s perennial classic To Kill a Mockingbird, may have found a cover.

The unconfirmed cover design is without illustrations or photographs, and has yet to emerge on the website of HarperCollins Publishers, the North American publisher of Lee’s novel, but it has materialized on the British publisher’s site and Amazon.com.

It’s simple and stark, but the cover has fans abuzz on social media:

Lee completed Go Set a Watchman in the 1950s, and set the plot 20 years after the ending of Mockingbird, placing Scout in New York on a homeward trip to see her father Atticus in Maycomb County, Alabama.

TIME Books

J.K. Rowling Just Answered Four Revealing Harry Potter Questions

Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling poses
AFP—AFP/Getty Images Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling during the launch of Pottermore in central London on June 23, 2011.

Finally we learn what happened to Fluffy

The Boy Who Lived got his own holiday in the UK on Thursday as fans gathered for Harry Potter Book Night. After the event, which was created by Bloomsbury, the publishing house behind the beloved series, J.K. Rowling took to Twitter to thank fans.

But she also surprised some lucky Tweeters by answering their burning questions about the series. And in typical Rowling fashion, she didn’t hold back on the snark, either.

The first question was about why the Horcrux inside of Harry was not destroyed when he was bit by a basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets. To Potterheads, the answer is pretty obvious, which Rowling seemed to think as well.

Rowling also shared what happened to Fluffy, the three-headed dog who guards the Sorcerer’s Stone in the first book.

She later revealed why 12 Grimmauld Place, headquarters for The Order of the Phoenix, was in the middle of a Muggle neighborhood.

And fans who sought loopholes in the science of Horcruxes were treated to answers.

When Rowling responds on Twitter, she adds a character in front of the user’s handle, making sure each Tweet is seen by her entire following. The author has been quite active on social media and her site Pottermore in the last year, surprising fans with new stories and information about the future of her favorite characters. She signed off on Friday by saying she didn’t have time for more than a few HP answers. Maybe if we all drink Felix Felicis she’ll be back to answer more.

Read Next: Everything J.K. Rowling Revealed About Harry Potter in 2014

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TIME Books

Teens Crave Young Adult Books on Really Dark Topics (and That’s OK)

Gayle Forman
Dennis Kleiman—© Stomping Ground Photo 2014 Gayle Forman

Gayle Forman is the award-winning New York Times best-selling author of the novels: If I Stay, Where She Went and the Just One Day series. Her latest 'dark' book, I Was Here, follows a young woman in the aftermath of her best friend's suicide.

It's time to stop worrying that great YA novels about risky behavior or even death will be a bad influence on kids

When I was 12 years old, I became an avid reader, my bookshelves stuffed with paperbacks like Jackie Collins’ Hollywood Wives, Sidney Sheldon’s The Other Side of Midnight and Harold Robbins’ Dreams Die First. Much as I loved reading about groupies and spies and Hollywood wives, and drug addicts and murderers, I was not one of them. I hadn’t even French kissed. Though some of the girls at my school were already sexually experienced, in spite of my racy reading, I was not. I wasn’t much into boys, at least not ones who existed off the page of a juicy book.

I think about teen-reader me a lot when I hear about adults bemoaning the dark material in Young Adult books. (Interestingly, I rarely meet these folks; only read about them.) Because the concerns seem partially predicated on this idea that you become what you read. By that logic, I would’ve become a cocaine-snorting groupie years ago, or a lunatic or a murderous Russian. Because by 10th grade, it was Vonnegut and Dostoyevsky I was obsessed with. Partly because by this time, I’d become a wee bit pretentious. But partly because the kinds of books I would’ve loved to read weren’t being written yet.

The other concern with dark YA seems based on a worry that these intense stories—which sometimes deal with issues like self-harm and addiction and abuse and even death—could irrevocably damage fragile minds.

Huh.

I’m never all that sure what makes a book “dark” in the first place. It seems to vary with seasons, or the trends. Are dark books the ones that allegorically explore serious subject matter, like warfare (The Hunger Games) or the human capacity for destruction (Grasshopper Jungle)? Or at they the ones that reflect our actual world, including the capacity for human cruelty and kindness (The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian) or the messy stuff of human mortality (The Fault In Our Stars)?

Because if those books are dark, and that’s a problem, I’m confused. Are these not the same subjects young people are encouraged to engage in at school, by reading the newspaper, or canonical texts like The Iliad (warfare) or Macbeth (the capacity for self destruction) or To Kill A Mockingbird (kindness and cruelty) or A Farwell to Arms, all Emily Dickinson poetry (that messy morality business)?

But for a moment, let’s put the question of whether books are dark aside. For a moment, let’s just say that some YA is dark. And….so what?

Literature swims in the murkier waters of the human condition. Conflict and matters of life and death, of freedom and oppression—it is the business of books to explore these themes, and the business of teenagers, too.

New brain mapping research suggests that adolescence is a time when teens are capable of engaging deeply with material, on both an intellectual level as well as an emotional one. Some research suggests that during adolescence, the parts of the brain that processes emotion are even more online with teens than with adults, (something that will come as absolutely no surprise to any parent of a teenager). So, developmentally, teens are hungry for more provocative grist while emotionally they’re thirsty for the catharsis these books offer. Of course teens are drawn to darker, meatier fare. The only surprise about this is that it’s a surprise.

There may be another reason for the appeal. Adolescence is a time when teens are statistically more likely to come into harm’s way, and thus more likely to witness harm among their peers. According to the National Institutes for Mental Health, teens between 15 and 19 are about six times more likely to die by injury than people ages 10 to 14. Is it any wonder that they want books to help process what they’re experiencing around them, often for the first time?

That increased death rate, however, is a chilling statistic, particularly if you’re a parent. Seen through that lens—the fear of something terrible befalling a child—the wariness about dark YA begins to make more sense. Because if your child doesn’t read about death, about abuse, about rape, about suicide, then these terrible things won’t happen to him or her. 'I Was Here' by Gayle Forman

But that is a form of magical thinking, and no matter how well intentioned, it’s wrong. Because books don’t create behaviors. It’s possible they reinforce existing behaviors, but those behaviors are already present, not created by a novel. A novel won’t turn a bookish drama geek into a promiscuous drug abuser any more than it will turn a promiscuous drug abuser into a bookish drama geek, unless the seeds of those transformations were already planted.

What books can do, however, is reflect an experience and show a way out of difficult, isolating times. It’s why Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak has become such a touchstone, giving young women a voice to speak about sexual abuse, or Sherman Alexie’s Part-Time Indian has been a life raft for young people who can’t see their way out of existences straightjacketed by addiction and deprivation. I don’t believe that books, YA or otherwise, have the power to save lives. That’s a bit too grandiose for my thinking, but seeing your experience, your sometimes difficult experiences, reflected can be a powerful incentive to reach out and get the help that could indeed save a life.

I suspect that most teens who read and love “dark” YA have little in common with the struggling characters they relate to. Whenever I ask teenagers why they’re drawn to books like my novel If I Stay—in which the main character loses her family in a car accident—they overwhelmingly say the appeal is seeing an ordinary teen forced into an extraordinary circumstance. Reading about everyday fictional teens rising to the occasion (and, spoiler alert, in YA books they almost always do) allows actual teens to imagine themselves doing the same, within the lower-stakes conflicts and contexts of their own lives. This is empowering, and hopeful, words that I would use to describe many YA books. Even the dark ones. Especially the dark ones. These “dark” books may seem to be about death, about illness, about pain, but really they are about life. The kids get that, even if the adults sometimes, do not.

Some of my favorite “dark” YA books:

(Gayle Forman’s best-selling novel If I Stay was made into a motion picture in 2014. Her latest novel, I Was Here was published in January 2015. )

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