So, this guy tries to steal a loaf of bread, one lousy loaf. Gets caught. No public defender. Convicted. Serves 19 years as a galley slave. Hates the world. But a hundred and some years later, this convict becomes the male lead (top billing) in full-length feature film dramas (1934, 1935, 1952, 1958, 1982, and 1998), a 1952 TV movie, a TV miniseries in 2000, and a pretty good 1995 cinematic knock-off. Then there’s the long-running Broadway musical. A musical! You gotta be kidding, right?
Translate the above skepticism into argot that is typical in most American prisons today, and you would have the flavor of the response I got from my inmate-students when I ventured the possibility of having those in my in-prison English Composition class take on “Les Miserables.” What was I thinking?
Well, with the blockbuster 2012 version mounting publicity barricades to fend off assaults (in the awards wars) from a Civil War epic, a secret military mission into Pakistan, and an Iran hostage rescue, my thoughts turned to the Victor Hugo classic (first published in 1862). I wish I had tried to get Jean Valjean into a pair of Connecticut and New York prisons.
Department of Corrections officials are the turnkeys as to curriculum entries. Would they have obliged? The novel is at core a story of redemption and purification, with a few bits of recidivism and full doses of deception-and-evasion to heighten the drama.
Assuming a DOC official looked into the text – actually started to read the novel – would that official have been put off by Victor Hugo’s 1862 preface, which speaks of the “social condemnation” which “artificially creates hells on earth”?
Inmate-students would surely identify with the wretched fellow (“an apparition of ill omen") released from prison galleys after 19 years, who bears the looks of fear and distrust from righteous townspeople; who seeks a meager meal and base lodging only to be turned away again and again; who is so desperate that he seeks lodging in a prison only to be turned away there, too; who, at the age of 25 and unemployed, had turned to stealing (small-time, to be sure) in a desperate effort to feed his widowed sister and her seven children, and who “entered the galleys sobbing and shuddering” and went out, 19 years later, “hardened.”
How ready are DOC officials, corrections officers, parole officers, and pardons commissioners to take cognizance of the “Ignominy that thirsts for respect”? Maybe they are quite right in being wary and suspicious, for how many Jean Valjeans are there among the two million incarcerated in U. S. prisons? Heck, how many Jean Valjeans are there in society at large?
In the galleys, Valjean “had constituted himself an inner tribunal” and “began by arraigning himself.” He blamed himself for not having the patience to wait for work or pity, and for imagining that he could “escape from misery by theft.” His (well, probably, Victor Hugo’s) verdict on life’s turns: “Theft is a bad door for getting out of misery,” for it’s the portal by which one “enters into infamy.” Inmates could identify. DOC would approve.
However, reading on, Hugo delivers a verdict against “savage and excessive punishment” which amounts to an “abuse” by penalty of law that was disproportionate to the crime of the guilty. I can hear a chorus of approval from inmates and imagine frowns of disapproval from the DOC. And yet, could the DOC argue with a convict’s conscience-directed rehabilitation? After all, Jean Valjean did not have the thief gene.
What makes Valjean so interesting is his transformation. Rightly, he felt oppressed, humiliated and despised: “If a millet seed under a millstone had thoughts, doubtless it would think what Valjean thought.” His hatred consumed him and encompassed everyone, not just the law that had condemned and punished him. My God, what if he had had a Glock?
He “condemned society and sentenced it to his hatred... He had no weapon but his hate... a desire to injure.” On his release, Valjean would have been rightly labeled dangerous and vengeful. Thank goodness he didn’t have a Bushmaster AR-15 assault rifle with several high-capacity magazines.
What Valjean did have was the good fortune, serendipity, or whatever, to steal silver plates from Monseigneur Bienvenu, “whose days were full to the brim with good thoughts, good words, and good actions.” This bishop “buys” Valjean’s soul by lying to law enforcement: claiming that he had given the parish silver house plates to Valjean.
The DOC would rightly, and readily, point out that very few inmates have the good fortune, serendipity or whatever, to have their hatred “checked in its growth by some providential event.”
Okay, right, but I wish I had championed the reading of “Les Miserables” because – 150 years ago – through the telling of Valjean’s life journey (yeah, cliché, I know), Victor Hugo provided a perpetual annuity of providential events and a call for clemency.
That would have been my reply brief to the DOC. But I never made the case to begin with.
There were pedagogic considerations, of a sort: Yes, for sure, I would have been on a mission of virtue worthy of Monseigneur Bienvenu and Father Madeleine if I had poked and picked through tables of paperbacks at public library book sales in search of gently-read copies of the novel. But even if the used-book-buyers’ providence had shined on me and I acquired three dozen copies (for a grand outlay south of sixty dollars), there was a hitch. The inmate students would be reading an assortment of translations and a variety of editions. While we might struggle to line up our own abridgements, to come together by meticulously correlating to book chapter headings, that would have taken some time, and added some difficulty to an undertaking that loomed at 500 pages or thereabouts.
Still, most of the inmate-students who qualified to take courses (for community college credit) would have been disposed to taking themselves out of their cinderblock for a few hours a day, to put themselves in France, in 1795, when Valjean bungled his bread burglary and was first packed off to the galleys.
Most of the inmates who qualified to take my Composition and Lit courses were motivated to get away from the prison tedium for a few hours a week and be transported for still more hours of reading that took them out of the cells mentally, and sometimes psychologically and even spiritually. They have more time than the typical college student – no clubs or frats (well, none that prison officials would countenance), no extracurriculars (that corrections officers were aware of), no highway traffic jams and jammed student parking lots, and no road trips (other than for a mandatory court appearance, a funeral of a close family member, or a medical matter so serious it could not be dealt with inside).
Many of those inmate-students made better use of their time than many of my community college students on the outside. Most read with relish the few books I managed to scrounge and get approved for entry. They would have related readily to Jean Valjean: Many would relate to his desperation, prodigious strength, failure to mount an effective defense, resentments of the shackle and chain, identity as a number (prisoner 24601and later 9430), discomfiture on re-entry, attempts to assume and preserve a new identity, apprehensions about his past (and a pursuer) catching up to him, nemeses and opportunistic informers, escape mindset, strategies for absorbing disdain and ostracism, overriding concern for the child he is determined to protect, and struggles with conscience.
One inmate, who was a mainstay of the group that stayed after class until “final count,” asked what it was like for “this Valjean dude” to be on the run.
If I had had my wits about me, I would have said (as Victor Hugo did), that Jean Valjean was “like all those joyless fugitives who endeavor to throw off the track, the spy of the law, and social fatality, by pursuing an obscure and undulating itinerary.”
Asked about his conflicts, I would have tried to recall this: “He might be said to carry two knapsacks: In one he had the thoughts of a saint. In the other, the formidable talents of a convict. And he helped himself from one or the other as the occasion required.”
Asked what Valjean would do if released from the prison where we were standing, my reply was something along these lines: He would start a manufacturing business and be the kind of factory owner who would employ ex-cons. He would buy books to stock the prison library. He’d fund vocational classes and re-entry counseling, and anger management. He’d provide seed money for entrepreneurial efforts that would stabilize a neighborhood. He’d fund after-school programs, youth leagues, and vocational training programs. He’d probably channel bail money to those who had been wrongly accused and pay for appellate counsel for those unfairly prosecuted.
With the advent of the new “Les Miserables” my thoughts again turned to the possibility of promoting the novel. I would be tempted to pass over chapters in which Jean Valjean does not figure prominently. A literary trangression? I would think about making references to several of those “imprisoned” by Dickens: Abel Magwitch (“Great Expectations”) and Arthur Clennam (“Little Dorrit”). Literary conceits?
Assuming DOC readers might actually work their way through “Les Miserables,” the politics and Valjean’s abandoning the “law and order” legions for the rebels’ barricade might do in any proposal.
My pitches to the DOC spoke of individual responsibility and rectitude. My reading lists include stories of reprehensible conduct duly punished and admirable conduct duly rewarded (in the end, anyway).
Once past the alarms set off by the title, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” was usually a “go.” On the other hand, “Birdman of Alcatraz” would never fly. Robert Stroud, murderer turned ornithologist, had a mean and violent streak: imprisoned for taking one life, he took another while in prison.
Yeah, Valjean’s story was one to promote. A hero who does not act out of heroism, but out of a desire to do good and a sense of duty, has a lot of appeal. In the early chapters, we learn about his path to theft and chains, and then as the story unfolds, there are five high-risk rescues: the children from a house ablaze; the fellow being crushed under his heavily-load cart; the man wrongly mistaken for and prosecuted as the recidivist Valjean, who is spared “the living burial of the prison galleys” by Valjean’s in-court absolutions; the topman dangling high above a ship’s deck and the harbor’s cold waters, “oscillating like a stone in a sling”; and the wounded young insurrectionist carried from the barricades to safety via the sewers of Paris.
Few inmates speak of New Year’s resolutions. Their calendars count time served and days until their parole hearing. Their calendars mark a court date for a possible rehearing or an appeal – or a visit from the person they’ve been distanced from. They count the days until release, but “freedom does not liberate them from condemnation and shunning.”
They may not be hunted and haunted by a Javert (who Valjean could have shot but spares). Yet, they are – perhaps quite justifiably in some (many?) cases – condemned to the stigma of having been a convict.
Yeah, re-entry is no picnic, no walk in the park. Still, Victor Hugo’s observations might be worth lingering over: He likened remorse to a tide that returns to man’s shore (conscience) again and again: an upheaval of the soul. Valjean no longer has a taste for hate. He tastes “the bitter flavor of a wicked thought” and “spits it out with disgust.”
Maybe, just maybe, in some prison there’s “a white-hair” who, like Jean Valjean, will discover the alchemy of turning hate into service – with help (considerable help, to be sure) of Providence.
Joseph H. Cooper was editorial counsel at The New Yorker from 1976 to 1996. In additional to his work in prisons and at community colleges, he teaches ethics and media law courses at Quinnipiac University.
Another victory for the Department of Justice?
If approved, the settlement leaves just one publisher – Macmillan – and Apple as the lone defendants in the government’s suit, to be argued in court next year. Hachette, Simon & Schuster, and HarperCollins have already agreed to settle.
Under the settlement, Penguin must submit to an antitrust compliance program and is prohibited from entering into new agreements that constrain retailers’ ability to offer discounts and promotions for a period of two years.
“The proposed settlement with Penguin will be an important step toward undoing the harm caused by the publishers' anticompetitive conduct and restoring retail price competition so consumers can pay lower prices for Penguin's e-books,” said Jamillia Ferris, chief of staff and counsel at the Justice Department's antitrust division, according to the AP.
But in announcing the settlement, Penguin denied any wrongdoing. “Penguin has always maintained, and continues to maintain, that it has done nothing wrong and has no case to answer,” the publisher said in a statement.
Instead, it has agreed to settle due to its impending merger with Random House. The two publishers announced their plans to join forces in October. If approved by the European Union, Penguin Random House will be the world’s largest publisher and control about 25 percent of all books published in the US.
Considering the publishers’ impending betrothal, it was critical that Penguin settle. “It is also in everyone’s interests that the proposed Penguin Random House company should begin life with a clean sheet of paper,” the company said. (Random House was not involved in the DOJ case.)
The DOJ filed its suit due to an agreement Apple struck with publishers in 2010 as part of the tech company’s iBookstore launch that debuted a pricing rubric called the agency model. This allowed publishers, rather than retailers, to set their own prices for e-books, then take a percentage of sales, rather than a fixed price. The arrangement was an effort to counter Amazon’s deep discounts. But in the Justice Department’s view, it represented an illegal price fixing collusion.
Last week the European Union accepted settlements by four publishers and Apple, thus bringing its investigation to an end. That leaves only Apple and Macmillan to fight the case in an American court next year.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
We can’t think of a better way to explore New York – or any city for that matter – than by way of a self-conducted literary tour, as book critic Dwight Garner recently did, with energy and exuberance, for The New York Times.
Spread across the pages of the Sunday Times in tantalizing detail was Garner’s assignment in “A Critic’s Tour of Literary Manhattan”: to “crisscross the island for a few days” to determine whether Manhattan’s literary life, as novelist Gary Shteyngart once lamented, was fading away.
“I wanted to take in Manhattan as a literary tourist,” writes Garner, once senior editor of The New York Times Book Review. “I wanted to touch base with haunts old and new. I wanted to see if there is still, for a certain kind of bibliophilic seeker, as Simone de Beauvoir put it, ‘something in the New York air that makes sleep useless.’”
Literary Manhattan, Garner determined after speaking with several writers and editors, “doesn’t seem to have the wattage it once did.” The culprits? The smoking ban was a “death knell” for the drawn-out hang-outs critical to literary life; the Internet obviated some writers’ need for companionship and consolation; creative energy has largely gone into food, where indie types are churning out artisanal pickles, chocolates, and beers, rather than literary works; and the bookish crowd, in large part, has dispersed into Brooklyn, where folks can actually eke out a life on a writer’s pay.
Nonetheless, Manhattan’s book culture remains vibrant, eclectic, and enduring, if somewhat leaner and occasionally regrettably modernized.
For his enviable assignment, Garner installed himself at the Algonquin, “the Midtown hotel where Dorothy Parker, Alexander Woollcott and others once traded juniper-infused barbs, and used it as a launching pad to crisscross the island for a few days...”
Among his stops: Café Loup, a “genteel but unpretentious West Village bistro” that editor of the Paris Review Lorin Stein calls “the closest thing I know of to a writer’s hangout in the old-fashioned sense”; Nuyorican Poets Café, a “warm and jubilant” haunt on the Lower East Side where raucous poetry slams are alive and well; KGB Bar, “a dark, intimate Soviet-themed... space” where cult novelist Kris Saknussemm “soloed like a jazz master” while “declaiming bits of his new autobiographical book, ‘Sea Monkeys’”; and Lolita in SoHo, where “the women looked like extras from an episode of Lena Dunham’s HBO series, ‘Girls,’” and the only readers were carrying Kindles. “When it’s no longer possible to tell what attractive young women are reading,” writes Garner, “part of the romance of Manhattan is gone.”
And while Garner finds the Algonquin, where “Do Not Disturb” signs read, “Quiet Please: Writing the Great American Novel,” “a bit chilly and corporate,” literary visitors to New York have other options. There’s the “sleek and geeky” Madison Ave. Library Hotel, not far from the New York Public Library, where the floors are categorized according to the Dewey Decimal System and each of the 60 rooms contains a set of books “devoted to a topic within that category.”
(Those with deeper pockets shelve their luggage at the new NoMad Hotel, housed in a turn-of-the-century Beaux-Arts building where the cocktail lounge-cum-library features “two vaulting stories of lighted bookcases connected by a spiral staircase imported from the South of France.”)
And though the city has far fewer bookstores than it once did (Book Row, along Fourth Ave., housed some three-dozen used bookstores before the last one closed in 1988), “the city’s survivors are beautiful to behold,” says Garner.
The highlights: Bauman Rare Books in Midtown, a temple to rare volumes, dearly priced; the small and expertly curated 192 Books in Chelsea; the brilliantly-named Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books in the West Village; and the charitable Housing Works Bookstore Café in SoHo. Garner’s favorites? St. Mark’s Bookshop on the Lower East Side, where you go “when you need a reminder that the world’s literary culture is still big and weird and vibrant,” and The Strand, where “It’s worth flying in from London simply to browse the stacks.”
By the end of his literary tour, writes Garner, “I was smitten all over again.”
So are we. We reveled in Garner’s word-fueled romp through Manhattan, even more so after discovering that not only is literary Manhattan is alive and well, but that we can play a role in enriching literary cultures of cities across the nation if we engage in literary tours in our own cities. Visiting precious used bookshops, quirky indies, prized historic sites, famous scenes and settings with literary associations, and beloved literary hangouts, from trendy cafes to sober libraries to underground dives – what a wonderful way to discover a city and to encourage vibrant literary cultures in cities and towns across the country. We can’t wait to plan our own literary tour.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
Movie and corporate tie-ins are nothing new – just ask any kid who ever got his own plastic Simba from McDonald's. But a somewhat unexpected pairing arose when the restaurant chain Denny’s announced that it would be serving a “Hobbit” menu to coincide with the release of “The Hobbit: There and Back Again,” the first movie in the planned “Hobbit” trilogy.
The menu includes such items as Radagast’s Red Velvet Pancake Puppies (named for the wizard Radagast the Brown), Gandalf’s Gobble Melt, Bilbo’s Berry Smoothie, and Hobbit Hole Breakfast. The “Hobbit” offerings will be available at Denny’s locations through early January.
Reviews of the dishes have so far been middling. Phoenix writer Alexandra Cavallow wrote that the Hobbit Hole, which consisted of fried eggs, hash browns, cheddar buns and bacon, was fine, though unhealthy. “But one imagines you'd need to carbo-load before risking life and limb in Mordor, so it made sense,” she wrote. “And those egg-filled cheddar buns were good.”
Wisconsin State Journal writer Rob Thomas said he was a little overwhelmed by the breakfast appetizer titled the Lonely Mountain Treasure, which was essentially lemon poppy seed nuggets with cream cheese frosting for dipping. “I'm sorry, I'm just too frightened right now to check the caloric content of that,” he wrote. “It was as if I could feel the baleful Eye of Mordor staring down and me and saying, 'You're going to eat all that? Really? Even my orcs have a little fruit with breakfast.' ”
He said conclusions about the menu overall were hard to draw.
“I don't know if I can honestly say, ‘If you love “The Hobbit,” you'll love Denny's!’ Nor can I say with authority, ‘If you love Denny's, you'll love “The Hobbit!”’ What I can say is that both things exist, in the same time and space, in America.”
Visitors to the website io9, which featured pictures of the food available through the “Hobbit” menu, seemed confused and impressed by the fact that the promotion was happening at all.
“Who knew that a character from the Silmarillion, which is basically where Tolkien put all the appendixes that wouldn't fit in Lord of the Rings, would one day be given his own promotional breakfast food?” a commenter named JulieMarieC wrote.
Chalk it up as another win for Amazon, this time on European shores, in an e-book antitrust investigation that has roiled publishers on both sides of the Atlantic.
European Union regulators ended an antitrust probe into e-book prices on Thursday after accepting an offer by Apple and four publishers to drop pricing agreements aimed at preventing Amazon from undercutting e-book prices.
The settlement marks a clear victory for Amazon, allowing it to sell e-books more cheaply than rivals. (We reported on the proposed deal last month.)
“The commitments proposed by Apple and the four publishers will restore normal competitive conditions in this new and fast-moving market, to the benefit of the buyers and readers of e-books,” EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said, according to Reuters.
Under the deal, Apple and four publishers – Simon & Schuster, Harper Collins, Hachette Livre, and Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck, owner of German company Macmillan – will abandon agency pricing, in which publishers set e-book pricing, and allow retailers to set e-book prices. According to settlement terms, retailers can cut e-book prices and offer discounts for a period of two years. And the publishers must suspend “most favored nation” contracts for five years. These contracts effectively barred publishers from selling e-books at prices lower than Apple’s.
Pearson’s Penguin group, which is also under investigation in Europe, was not part of the settlement.
Thursday’s settlement marked “a key development in an investigation into the e-book industry that has involved both sides of the Atlantic,” wrote the Wall Street Journal. The European deal comes on the heels of a similar decision Simon & Schuster, Harper Collins, and Hachette reached with the Department of Justice earlier this year. Apple, Macmillan, and Penguin continue to fight the DOJ suit in the U.S. The settlements on both sides of the Atlantic, both in favor of Amazon, will likely impact the ongoing suit.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
It was a chance discovery seemingly out of a fairy tale.
Experts in Denmark unearthed “The Tallow Candle,” what they believe is the first fairy tale written by Hans Christian Andersen, found at the bottom of a box near the Danish writer’s home city of Odense.
Local historian Esben Brage was searching the private archives of a Danish family in the National Archive for Funen in Odense when he came across a small, yellowing piece of paper at the bottom of a box. Experts scrutinized the six-page, 700-word handwritten copy of the fairy tale and determined it was written by Andersen, reports the Associated Press.
“This is a sensational discovery,’ Ejnar Stig Askgaard of the Odense City Museum told the Danish paper Politiken. “Partly because it must be seen as Andersen’s first fairy tale, and partly because it shows that he was interested in the fairy tale as a young man, before his authorship began.” He added, “And I am in no doubt that it was written by Andersen.”
The tale tells the story of a grimy little candle, soiled by life and neglected until a tinder box sees its inner beauty and lights it. “The Tallow Candle had found its right place in life – and shown that it was a real candle, and went on to shine for many a year, pleasing itself and the other creatures around it,” Andersen wrote in the story.
Perhaps most incredibly, Andersen wrote the story when he was a schoolboy in the mid-1820s, some three to seven years before his literary debut in 1829. As such, “The Tallow Candle” is not “at the level of the more mature and polished fairy tales that we know from Andersen’s later authorship,” experts have said, according to the UK’s Guardian.
Nonetheless, the tale is “very, very Andersen,” author and fairy tale expert Sara Maitland told the Guardian. “It’s highly moralistic, rather sentimental, and it’s animating an inanimate object. That’s very Andersen.”
The manuscript is dedicated “To Mme Bunkeflod, from her devoted HC Andersen.” Bunkeflod is thought to be a widow and neighbor whom Andersen regularly visited as a child.
Danish paper Politiken translated and published a version of the story in English, which is available for reading here.
Andersen, who was born in Odense in 1805 the son of a shoemaker and washerwoman, went on to write nearly 160 popular fairy tales, including “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” “The Little Mermaid,” and “The Ugly Duckling,” along with dozens of novels, poems, and travel journals. He died in 1875, but his fairy tales are among the most popular children’s tales the world over, having been translated into more than 100 languages and read around the world.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
Children’s books seem to be the center of controversy lately. First there was the 9/11 coloring book that depicted scenes from 9/11 and the killing of Osama bin Laden. Then there was “Maggie Goes on a Diet,” which encouraged young girls to diet.
“A Rule is to Break: A Child’s Guide to Anarchy,” by husband-and-wife team John Seven and Jana Christy, has some readers up in arms, with one Tea Party publication calling its publication “downright shocking.”
Published by Manic D, a small San Francisco press specializing in anarchist and fringe publications including “The Civil Disobedience Handbook,” and “The International Homosexual Conspiracy,” this 44-page picture book for children ages 4 and up is the press’s first foray into children’s book publishing, according to Publisher’s Weekly.
Its colorfully-illustrated pages contain such advice as “Don’t look like everybody else! Be you,” “Think for Yourself!” “No Baths Ever Again!” and “Give Away Stuff for Free,” along with the more eyebrow-raising “When Someone Says, ‘Work!’ You Say Why?” and “Do What You Want!...Or do nothing, if you prefer.”
And while some see it as “gently humorous,” like the UK’s Guardian, and showing “the softer side of anarchy, with an emphasis on fun and independence, but also community and kindness,” like Publishers Weekly, others aren’t so amused.
A report in the Tea Party publication Liberty News Network calls the book “horrendous” and “downright shocking.”
“But it gets even worse,” continues the write-up, “when we realize Bill Ayers, radical terrorist leftist and friend of Obama, not only endorsed it through his twitter account, his comments in support of the book are listed on the actual Amazon.com book page… Wow... If a person can be read by the company he keeps, what does this say about Obama?”
In his blurb, Ayers calls the book “a delight to read” and says that “a children’s book on anarchy seems somehow just right: an instinctive, intuitive sense of fairness, community, and interdependence sits naturally enough with a desire for participatory democracy, feminism, queer-rights, environmental balance, self-determination, and peace and global justice.” Beneath the blurb, Ayers is identified with a wink and a nod, as an “author… teacher, Barack Obama’s alleged terrorist pal, and grandpa.”
Not surprisingly, publisher Manic D approached this firestorm with a sense of humor and doesn’t seem bothered by the attacks. Sales are “pretty good,” marketing manager Jennifer Swihart Voegele told Publishers Weekly, and the controversy will likely only drum up more interest and sales. Incidentally, Manic D also sent early Christmas presents to rightwing pundit Bill O’Reilly and comedian Stephen Colbert: copies of the book with a ‘Happy holidays” card.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
After being called a “patsy of the regime” by Salman Rushdie for declining to sign a petition calling for the release of fellow Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo and reiterating his view that some censorship is necessary, Mo Yan accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature in a Stockholm ceremony Monday evening that left some in the literary community reeling.
“I want to take this opportunity to express my admiration for the members of the Swedish Academy, who stick firm to their own convictions,” Mo Yan said on accepting his prize. “I am confident that you will not let yourselves be affected by anything other than literature.”
Late last week, Rushdie called Mo Yan a “patsy” and expressed frustration that he would not support fellow writers and activists in calling for the release of 2010 Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo, a democracy activist who was sentenced to 11 years in prison for co-authoring a manifesto calling for the end of China’s single-party rule and the initiation of democratic reforms.
“This is really too bad,” Rushdie wrote on Facebook, according to Salon. “He defends censorship and won’t sign the petition asking for the freedom of his fellow Noblist Liu Xiaobo. Hard to avoid the conclusion that Mo Yan is the Chinese equivalent of the Soviet Russian apparatchik writer Mikhail Sholokhov: a patsy of the regime.”
More than 130 other Nobel laureates have signed the petition. When asked why he hadn’t signed it, Mo Yan said, “I have always been independent. I like it that way. When someone forces me to do something I don’t do it.”
Mo Yan further angered critics when he reiterated his defense of censorship in a press conference ahead of his Nobel ceremony.
“When I was taking my flight, going through the customs... they also wanted to check me even taking off my belt and shoes. But I think these checks are necessary.”
He also said that censorship should not stand in the way of truth, but that defamation and rumors “should be censored.”
“But I also hope that censorship, per se, should have the highest principle,” he added, in Chinese comments translated into English.
Even before he was named this year’s Nobel Prize recipient, Mo Yan has been criticized by human rights activists for not defending freedom of speech more aggressively and for supporting the Communist Party-backed writers’ association, of which he is vice president.
“At first I thought I was the target of the disputes, but over time I've come to realize that the real target was a person who had nothing to do with me,” he said. “…For a writer, the best way to speak is by writing. You will find everything I need to say in my works. Speech is carried off by the wind; the written word can never be obliterated. I would like you to find the patience to read my books. I cannot force you to do that, and even if you do, I do not expect your opinion of me to change. No writer has yet appeared, anywhere in the world, who is liked by all his readers; that is especially true during times like these.”
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
“Girls” star Lena Dunham was not happy that the website Gawker published the entire proposal for her upcoming advice book online.
Dunham, who is the creator, writer, producer, director and star of HBO’s “Girls,” is planning to release an advice book titled “Not That Kind of Girl,” with the date of publication currently unannounced. She submitted a 66-page proposal to Random House and received $3.7 million for the rights to the book.
After Gawker posted the full proposal online, Dunham’s legal representative, Charles Harder, asked that it be taken down, and the website complied. However, Gawker had also selected 12 quotes from the book and used them within their article about the proposal, and Harder asked that those be removed as well.
Instead, under each update, Gawker writer John Cook added new text under each quote, which all open with “Lena Dunham's personal litigation counsel Charles Harder has contacted Gawker to relay a demand from his client, Lena Dunham, that we remove the above quote from our web site. In order to clarify our intent in quoting the above matter from Dunham's proposal, we have decided to append the following commentary.” Cook then added a comment on each excerpt, such as his remark about Dunham’s statement that she went to her first Women’s Action Coalition meeting when she was three years old.
“The quoted sentence is indicative of a nauseating and cloying posture of precociousness that permeates the entire proposal,” Cook wrote.
According to Salon, Dunham’s publisher, Random House, is not involved in the wrangle.
An all-new “Harry Potter” movie is being filmed, but don’t look for this one at your local multiplex. This film will be short and will only screen at “Potter” theme parks.
The shorter movie will reportedly be shown at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, Fla. and at the planned theme parks in California, which is scheduled to open in 2014, and Japan, which is scheduled for a 2016 opening. Cast members are reportedly filming at the studios in Hertfordshire in the UK where previous installments were filmed.
What’s the plotline of the new movie? That’s under wraps for now. Guardian writer Ellie Lewis posited that it could show a previously unfilmed portion of Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s hunt for Horcruxes (“Though I'm not sure how much more camping we need to see,” she noted) or possibly delve into the life of the trio after Voldemort was defeated, in which Hermione went back to school and Ron and Harry started to train as Aurors.
Whatever’s being filmed, cast members are reportedly happy about the reunion.
“The cast have really enjoyed getting back together – they are so tight-knit,” a source reportedly told the Sun. “The shooting schedule is nowhere near as long as the films, so though filming has been intense, the stars have enjoyed being able to pop in and out.”