Banned Books Week (Sept 30-Oct 6) is celebrating, for want of a better term, its 30th year!
Banning books has a long and ignoble history going back into the mists of time. Possibly the oldest known ban was against 5th century BC Greek philosopher Anazagoras who made the mistake of suggesting that the sun is "white hot stone and that the moon reflected the sun's rays" - which caused him to be exiled from Athens and all his writings burned.
Of course, through much of history it wasn't just the writings that got burned but the writers themselves. Indeed, it wasn't even necessary to put pen to paper to find oneself atop a bonfire, or other equally nasty fate - a word, a deed, or even the mere suspicion of a thought could have been enough. So, I suppose we should be grateful that in the USA today we've evolved from burning people to merely attempting to ban their books.
The history of book censorship in the USA began in 1873 when Anthony Comstock founded the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. The target of the society's ire was primarily dime novels which the society believed enticed children to a life of crime and lust. Comstock died in 1915 and the society dwindled away until it was dissolved in 1950, after Comstock's successor retired.
Book banning and challenging saw a resurgence in the early 1980s, in 1982 to be specific, at the start of Ronald Reagan's presidency - an event which appears to have emboldened some to strike back at a grass-roots level at the liberalization of the 1960s and '70s.
Banned Books Week (Sept 30-Oct 6) is celebrating, for want of a better term, its 30th year!
If you're intrigued by the success of E.L. James's "Fifty Shades of Grey" trilogy (currently at #1, 2 and 3 in the NY Times bestseller lists), you might be interested in this Publishers Weekly article which puts the series into the context of the wider book market:
"That the mainstream media does not always correctly identify what Fifty Shades is - at least by the subgenre standards that exist within the romance community - is also a conversation that cropped up in the romance community. The story line that unfolds over the arc of the three books is a classic romance, i.e., a man (in this case s&m-loving, handsome, billionaire Christian Grey) is saved by the love of a woman (innocent undergrad Anastasia Steele). Getting more technical, though, book one in the trilogy is not a romance, since it does not have a 'happy ending,' with the couple getting together."
May Chen of Avon Romance admits that there are some in the romance community who find James's success befuddling and infuriating, as the concept of erotic romance is hardly new, but equally the industry is hopeful that James's books will bring new readers into the fold as, "a lot of people who don't read romance are reading Fifty Shades of Grey."
So, there you have it - at heart, Fifty Shades of Grey is a classic romance with an erotic twist (which E. L. James describes as "my midlife crisis, writ large...all my fantasies in there"); but this still doesn't explain why the breakout titles in a long established genre should be these books at this time. The answer to that seems to be that old unfathomable combination of right book, at the right time, enhanced by the ebook marketplace and extensive word of mouth.
In brief, this is how the series came about...
A couple of years ago, an unknown author named E. L. James posted a free x-rated version of Twilight (the popular vampire-romance series) on one or more fanfiction websites under the pseudonym "Snowqueen's Icedragon". This version, titled Master of the Universe, drew a huge response (one source says that more than 37,000 reader reviews were posted). It also received some criticism for the sexual nature of the material, which caused James to remove the book from the fanfiction site(s), rewrite it (taking out references to Twilight), and then post an extended version on her own website, fiftyshades.com.
Somewhat controversial news from Britain where McDonald's is in the process of giving away 9 million books with Happy Meals.
The six titles which are being given away (along with a finger puppet and a voucher for a heavily discounted additional book) are all from Michael Morpurgo's Mudpuddle Farm series, published by Harper Collins. Technically speaking, this will make McDonald's the nation's largest bookseller for the four week period (and the charity Farms for City Children considerably better off, as Morpurgo intends to donate all his royalties to them).
Stunning as it may seem, while eight out of ten British children visit McDonald's at least once a year, one in three doesn't own even a single book (the stats in the USA probably aren't all that different). Because of this, the promotion has been endorsed by at least two leading book related charities:
Nancy Pearl, the closest thing American libraries have to a celebrity, unleashed something of a shockwave through the book industry yesterday with the announcement that she is publishing a series of books with Amazon.
Apparently the NPR commentator and doyenne of public libraries and independent bookstores (who even has an action figure modeled on her) plans to publish about six books a year with Amazon, branded as Book Lust Rediscoveries. The titles will be Pearl's favorite out-of-print books from 1960-2000. It is to be assumed that all or most of the titles will be ones that she has recommended in her Book Lust recommended reading series of books - books that many would say were made popular by huge word of mouth enthusiasm from librarians and independent bookstores, who saw Pearl as one of their own.
Did you know...
- Amazon's $34 billion annual revenues are larger than the GDPs of half the countries in the world.
- Amazon's web sales are five times the combined web sales of Walmart, Target and Buy.com.
- Amazon serves 137 million customers a week, 33% more than voted in the 2010 USA elections. That's 19.5 million customers daily - equal to the population of Beijing, or the number of Americans who live on less than $6000 a year.
- The average amount brought in by one of Amazon's unique users is $189. That's almost five times as valuable as Ebay's average ($39).
- Amazon owns 1/10th of North America's e-commerce pie.
- If Amazon's active users were a country, their population would be twice that of Canada.
- With 50,000 preorders, Kindle Fire is set to double the launch of the iPad.
- Amazon's current cloud platform could store 82 books for each person on the earth.
- Amazon's warehouse space has grown from a 400 square foot garage in 1995 to 25 million square feet - equivalent to more than 700 Madison Square Gardens.
Thanks to FrugalDad.com for these stats and the elegant infographic below that charts the rise, and rise, of Amazon...
The author Neil Gaiman is a prominent backer of libraries and literacy, and he has a great idea for a new Halloween tradition. He thinks we should all give scary books as gifts on Halloween. He's calling it All Hallow's Read. As a fan of Gaiman's work, books in general, and scary things – I think this sounds like fun.
This week marks the USA's 30th annual Banned Books Week (sponsored by half a dozen American library, bookseller, journalist and publisher associations; and endorsed by about half a dozen more.) During Banned Books Week, bookstores and libraries across the USA celebrate (for want of a better word) the books that have been challenged or outright banned from libraries with in store displays, readings and so forth.
A challenge is defined as a formal, written complaint, filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness. Over the past ten years, the American Library Association has recorded 4660 challenges - which they estimate represents about one in four or five of the actual number of challenges, as most go unreported. Of these reported, about 30% of challenges are due to "sexually explicit" material, about a quarter due to "offensive language", about one in five due to material deemed "unsuited to age group", about 10% due to "violence", and 8% due to homosexuality.
The slow-mo implosion of Borders has created an enormous amount of commentary, but perhaps none as visceral as the poster spotted in a Borders in Santa Rosa, California.
Things We Never Told You. Ode To A Bookstore Death
- We hate it when a book becomes popular simply because it was turned into a movie.
- It confused us when we were asked where the non-fiction section is.
- Nicholas Sparks is not a good writer. If you like him, fine, but facts are facts.
- We greatly dislike the phrase "QUICK QUESTION". It's never true. And everyone seems to have one.
- Your summer reading list was our summer reading NIGHTMARE. Also, it's called summer reading, not "three days before school starts" reading.
- It's true that we lean to the left and think Glenn Beck is an idiot.
- We always knew when you were intently reading Better Homes and Gardens, it was really a hidden Playboy.
The Booker Prize shortlist has been announced with the usual mix of criticism and praise from various quarters. Indeed, the controversy over each year's list is as much a tradition as the Prize itself. For example, Ron Sharp, arts correspondent for The Independent criticized the omission of Alan Hollinghurst's The Stranger's Child from the shortlist; while Boyd Tonkin, literary editor for the Independent opines that:
"the process seems to have lost much of its focus. It now delivers a curiously mixed bag of worthwhile novels. So what? No longer does the Man Booker seem to want to test the year's output against the highest standards of literary ambition and artistry...many accomplished authors who failed to make the long-list will be wondering what the Booker is precisely for these days."