Talk about blazing hot.
We’re not just talking about Dan Brown’s forthcoming novel, “Inferno,” the author’s fourth and highly anticipated book in the Robert Langdon series – we’re also talking about its sales, which are expected to be smoldering.
“This should be the fastest and biggest selling novel of the year – it's hard to see how anything could beat it,” said Chris White, a fiction buyer for the UK’s Waterstones chain, according to media reports. “It'll be a huge hit now and throughout the summer, then see another peak at Christmas. It could well be No 1 on 25th December.”
If Brown’s previous novel sales are any indication, that’s not hyperbole.
Since its 2003 publication, the “Da Vinci Code,” the second novel in the Robert Langdon series, has sold 80 million copies, spent more than a year atop the New York Times bestseller list, and was made into a hit movie starring Tom Hanks. “The Lost Symbol,” Brown’s most recent work, sold more than half a million copies in its first week on sale in 2009.
Though it hasn’t yet been released as of Monday, “Inferno” is already No. 1 on Amazon’s Best Sellers list. Its hardback and Kindle editions are also in first and second place on its preorder chart. UK bookseller Waterstones told the Guardian that “Inferno” received the largest level of customer pre-orders since JK Rowling’s “The Casual Vacancy.”
(And, as the UK’s Independent pointed out, “It has already had the honor of dragging its Medieval namesake, the 14th-century Italian poem by Dante Alighieri, to the top of Waterstones’ poetry bestseller list – whether because people are interested in the new novel’s origin, or by mistake it is not clear.”)
All this in spite of minimal information about the actual book, much of which has remained a secret.
What we know: The book again stars Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon as he takes “a journey deep into [the] mysterious realm” of Dante’s Inferno in Florence, according to the sole interview Brown gave to the UK’s Sunday Times ahead of the novel’s publication. He also promised this would be “the darkest novel yet.”
The subject, Brown told the Sunday Times, “is so vibrant and so horrifying that it does a lot of the work for me. I'm not writing about the masons and ancient histories, which is kind of ethereal. I'm writing about Dante's vision of hell.
“It wasn't until the 1300s and this version of Inferno that it became terrifying. Dante has had enormous influence on the Christian view of hell.”
Which, apparently, spurs sizzling sales in the 2010s.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
Maya Angelou’s new book “Mom & Me & Mom” – released a month before this year’s Mother’s Day – focuses on her relationship with her mother.
The book by Angelou – the author and poet well known for her many autobiographies as well for her role at Bill Clinton’s 1993 presidential inauguration – discusses her life with her mother. Angelou and her brother were separated from their mother for many of their early years, living with their grandmother while their mother struggled with her marriage.
“Mom & Me & Mom” tells the story of how Angelou and her mother were able to reconnect later in life. Angelou told the Huffington Post that she realized recently how supportive her mother was of her.
“When teachers or people in authority put me down or in one way or another tried to make me feel less than equal to what they thought I should be – my mother was on my side,” she said.
“Mom & Me & Mom” was released on April 2. The writer’s other autobiographical works include perhaps the most well-known, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” as well as “The Heart of a Woman” and “A Song Flung Up to Heaven.”
Reviews of Angelou’s newest memoir have been mostly positive, with the Monitor’s books editor Marjorie Kehe writing that “admirers of Angelou’s now-classic memoir 'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings' will delight in this sequel.”
“Her memoir [is] both a tender read and a lovely tribute to the special gifts that only a mother can bring,” Kehe wrote.
Boston Globe writer Carmela Ciuraru agreed, writing that “page by page, Angelou’s story is astonishing.”
“There is a slightly frustrating lack of chronology in this book, and several odd lacunae in the narrative – but life is messy, and so is memory,” she wrote. “What matters is that 'Mom & Me & Mom' is a superb account of reconciliation, forgiveness, and survival.”
Fiona Sturges, a writer for The Independent, was also impressed.
“'Mom & Me & Mom' is a profoundly moving tale of separation and reunion, and an ultimately optimistic portrait of the maternal bond,” she wrote.
However, Bernardine Evaristo of The Observer found contradictions in details between “Caged Bird” and "Mom & Me & Mom" distracting.
“Memory, it seems, is a fickle, fictional, fantastical thing,” Evaristo wrote of differences in Angelou’s portrayal of her mother in the two books. “'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings' was a ground-breaking triumph. 'Mom & Me & Mom' does a good job of undermining it.”
As previously reported by Monitor writer Husna Haq, a mother in the Northville school district asked that an unabridged version of the diary – which was written while Frank was in hiding with her family during the Holocaust – be removed from her daughter's middle school. The parent, Gail Horacek, objected to passages in which Frank discusses female body parts. She requested that an abridged version of the diary – which does not include such passages – be used instead.
However, school officials ultimately decided that the unabridged version would remain in classrooms.
Robert Behnke, the assistant superintendent for instructional services, wrote in a letter to the community that taking out the book “would effectively impose situational censorship by eliminating the opportunity for the deeper study afforded by this edition.”
Behnke also wrote that if a parent objects to a certain reading selection, the school is always willing to discuss alternatives.
“As always, in the event that a concern surfaces during a unit and is brought to the teacher’s attention, adjustments can be made to move the student to another literature selection and/or an alternative assignments can be discussed,” he wrote, according to an article for the Observer and Eccentric newspapers, which are based in Detroit.
Horacek told Detroit’s Fox affiliate that she felt the sections where Frank discussed her body were “pretty pornographic.”
“It's inappropriate for a teacher to be giving this material out to the kids when it's really the parents' job to give the students this information,” she said. “It doesn't mean my child is sheltered, it doesn't mean I live in a bubble, and it doesn't mean I'm trying to ban books.”
“The Diary of Anne Frank” has been the subject of complaints before, with the American Library Association reporting several objections by parents to the book over the last 20 years.
Wright's is the latest name being mentioned in discussions about the film adaptation of E.L. James’ erotic bestseller. Casting rumors have also run rampant, but the identity of the actors who will be portraying billionaire Christian Grey and college student Anastasia Steele has not yet been confirmed.
The Hollywood Reporter cited “multiple sources” stating that Wright had become a frontrunner for the director’s job. However, they also stressed that nothing was certain.
“Sources caution that there is no deal in place, and Wright has not officially won the job,” the Hollywood Reporter article read.
Universal Pictures did not comment on the matter.
Wright has taken on literary adaptations before with the 2007 adaptation of Ian McEwan novel “Atonement” as well as 2005’s “Pride and Prejudice” and 2012’s “Anna Karenina,” though filming James’ erotic novel would obviously be a very different kind of project. “Karenina” actress Keira Knightley starred in all three Wright adaptations, but the star has said before that she’s not interested in the part of Anastasia Steele.
Meanwhile, for those who are wondering how the book could ever be adapted for the screen, “Grey” screenwriter Kelly Marcel said she’s writing the script aiming at an NC-17 rating.
There may have been no war more necessary than World War II. But the Americans who lived in the late 1930s and early 1940s couldn't see into the future, and many believed Germany and Japan didn't pose a major threat. War, they argued, would be a disaster.
As author Lynne Olson writes in her new book, a roiling debate erupted across the US, pitting two of the nation's most admired men against each other. Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America's Fight Over World War II, 1939-1941, captures a forgotten battle over the country's role in the world and the lives of American soldiers.
The Monitor's Danny Heitman called "Those Angry Days" an "absorbing chronicle." Olson has plenty of experience writing about international affairs: In 2010, I wrote in the Monitor that there was "plenty to appreciate" in Olson's previous book, "Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood With Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour."
In an interview, I asked Olson about the fiery movement against the war, the bizarre personality of Charles Lindbergh, and the lessons of the big debate today.
Q: It took the United States more than two years to enter World War II. Why were Americans so unwilling to protect Europe – including friends like the UK and France – from a rampaging Germany?
A: The US has had an isolationist tradition from the beginning. There was an old idea that we had established ourselves as a country to get away from Europe and stay away from all the entanglements in Europe and the rest of the world.
We got into World War I, but that was an anomaly, and most Americans believed the result was not very good: We'd gone into a war to save the UK and other allies from Germany, to make the world safe for democracy, and it didn't work. We got Adolf Hitler.
We were quite slow in coming around to the idea that this was a different threat that Hitler was posing, that we probably should get in.
Q: What surprised you the most about this great debate over whether the US should enter the war?
A: This debate was bitter and passionate.
Most Americans don't really know that much about this period of 1939-1941. We skip over it and go straight to Pearl Harbor.
Actually, it was a very hard-fought nasty fight that really involved millions of Americans. That really surprised me.
Also, a large group of military leaders – many if not most of the high-ranking officers in the Army, Navy and Air Force – were trying to sabotage FDR's policy, especially helping England.
I thought there would be a fair amount of militarism in the military, but a lot of the big brass in the military were very much against going into the war. They thought we should focus on defending ourselves.
They leaked information from within their own services to isolationist members of Congress and to Charles Lindbergh.
Q: Who were the isolationists, those who wanted the US to mind its own business?
A: The isolationist movement was very complex.
When people think of isolationists, they think of Midwesterners – conservatives, mostly Republican – who lived in a part of the country that didn't have much to do with the rest of the world.
In fact, isolationists were found in every spectrum of the political landscape.
Many were pacifists. They believed war would destroy the domestic reforms of the New Deal, and civil liberties would be severely curbed.
College students were also against the war. Now we think of World War II as the good war, the just war, the war that we had to get into. But back then, there was an anti-war movement on college campuses, just like during Vietnam, made up of young men who knew they would be on the front lines.
One of the interesting things I discovered is that the America First organization, the most influential isolationist group in the country, was founded by campus leaders who were mostly Republican but certainly not conservative.
They included men who went on to have illustrious careers: Gerald Ford, Sargent Shriver, Potter Stewart.
Q: What was President Franklin Roosevelt up to during this time?
A: His main goal was to help keep Britain afloat and surviving.
In the summer of 1940, Great Britain was vastly outnumbered and very close to going down to defeat. He didn't want to go war, certainly in terms of sending an army, but FDR was intent on keeping Britain alive by sending as much aid as he possibly could.
Q: Lindbergh himself is a complicated character. What did you find intriguing about him?
A: He's one of the strangest, most conflicted men I've ever written about.
Q: Was he truly a bigot?
A: He was a racist and felt the white race was superior to every other, and we shouldn't get in a war in other countries that were the right race.
Q: What about his sympathy toward the Nazis?
A: He'd been very impressed by Germany when he went there to visit in the 1930s and he felt they couldn't be beaten. He was a real technocrat and saw that the Germans as being technical experts. He had no empathy for human beings at all. He was really blinkered.
The weird thing about all this is that he hated politics and hated publicity. But he felt that he had to try to do everything to keep the US out of the war, and he was willing to enter this publicity cauldron to do that.
Q: Could he have landed in the White House?
A: There was all this speculation about his running for president, and Philip Roth wrote a novel based on that, but he never would have done it.
He was an independent guy who valued his own beliefs, and he would not bow or kowtow to anybody. That's the way he felt.
Q: One of the amazing things about Lindbergh, who seems callous and robotic, is the fact that he landed a warm and sensitive wife. Anne Morrow Lindbergh would become a celebrity herself, beloved for her many books. She'd live into the 21st century. Did she bear the burden of all the humanity in their marriage?
A: It's a very strange relationship.
She was really his opposite. He was tone deaf to other people; she was very emotional and sensitive, a reader and a brilliant writer.
He valued action, she valued the life of the mind.
At the beginning, she had a major inferiority complex. She got tired of his control of her life, but could never really do anything about it.
Q: To make matters even more complicated, her family supported the British. How did that play out?
A: She was really caught in the middle. While she was supporting Lindbergh, her mother was a big activist in the interventionist movement and her sister Constance was married to one of the biggest British propagandists in New York.
Q: Now we think of Lindbergh as misguided and brainwashed. But what about the other side of the story? Was he actually onto something?
A: Part of what Lindbergh was saying was perfectly understandable. Then the racist and anti-Semitic comments really hurt him.
Q: Did he ever have any second thoughts?
A: There is no sign that he regretted anything he said.
It's just extraordinary. Even after the war, when the Holocaust and all the atrocity came to light, he refused to admit this was a necessary war for the US to be in. He kept insisting we should have not gone to war. He never could acknowledge, as far as I know, that he was wrong.
However, Anne did say that they had been very blind to what Hitler was doing.
Q: What do you think of him personally?
A: I certainly don't admire him, but I have some sympathy for him.
He was never happier then when he was in a cockpit, and that's where he should have remained. But he was caught up in this world of celebrity in his mid-20s and had absolutely no preparation, nor the personality for it.
Someone said to me, "Nobody was less equipped to be Charles Lindbergh than Charles Lindbergh. No one was less equipped to be the most famous man than him."
He never could cope with it, and then the kidnapping and murder of his son created this huge psychological wound that he never recovered from.
I feel somewhat sorry for him, but it doesn't excuse the reprehensible things he did.
Q: How does the battle over getting into World War II matter now?
A: It's always important to understand the complexity of history, to know that things are not often what they seem.
What impressed me was how this was a really full-throated national debate. This debate did not just go on in the White House and Congress. It went on in classrooms and bars and beauty parlors. People were actively involved on either side.
It was bitter and nasty, but it was a real exercise in democracy.
Randy Dotinga is a Monitor contributor.
According to company documents unearthed by the website TechCrunch, Microsoft is offering to purchase the digital assets of Nook Media for $1 billion. This would include Barnes & Noble’s Nook e-readers, e-books, and tablets.
Also interesting: according to the documents, Barnes & Noble plans to stop producing its Nook tablet devices by the end of the fiscal year 2014. Instead, the company is focusing on a plan where content produced by Nook could be accessed by users through apps on what the company called “third-party partner” hardware. The documents didn’t specifically mention Nook e-readers, according to TechCrunch. Whether this would involve Microsoft tablets such as the Microsoft Surface is unknown.
Microsoft had already teamed up with Barnes & Noble, investing $300 million in the company in April of last year and announcing that it would be working with B&N on the digital side of its business.
Neither Barnes & Noble nor Microsoft commented to TechCrunch for the article.
What would the deal mean for each company? Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis at market research firm NPD, pointed out to PCWorld that Microsoft would have a partner that would give it more entertainment content for its devices.
“It appears that Microsoft [with its rumored Nook buy] is looking for a content partner brand that they can use to help develop content opportunities beyond the movies and music they provide today through Xbox Live,” Baker said. The content with Nook could also include e-textbooks, a growing market.
“Barnes & Noble would lose the unit that added attention and store traffic... and kept its stock higher,” he wrote. “It’s not a clear parallel yet to Borders, but it’s hard to ignore the comparison.”
Last year, hundreds of people from Los Angeles and San Francisco to Chicago flocked to see "The Great Gatsby" on the big screen. Many of the filmgoers were in their 20s and 30s, eager to catch a glimpse of Jay, Daisy, Nick and Jordan.
Never mind that the film's from the era of their grandparents or great-grandparents. Or that it was in black and white. Or that the actors and actresses, including matinee idol Alan Ladd and a fresh-faced Shelley Winters, are mostly remembered by old-timers.
This obscure version of F. Scott Fitzgerald's book drew crowds because it's a film noir, or at least adjacent to film noir. The Noir City series of annual film festivals, devoted to the rediscovery of classic movies, dug up a copy and sent it on the road. "It's a very important film that had inexplicably disappeared," said film historian and biographer Alan K. Rode.
But is it any good? Sort of. I saw the film at the Noir City festival in San Francisco, and found it to be more interesting than captivating.
One of my favorite lines from the book ("You look so cool...," Daisy told Gatsby, "you always look so cool") was missing. The Daisy character was miscast, although Jordan was great, if not the skinny minnie I expected. And the book's plot, as you'll learn below, had an addition or two.
With some exceptions, critics don't much like any of the three surviving "Great Gatsby" movies. That goes for the 1949 version, the 1974 film starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, and, yes, the new one with Leonardo DiCaprio. The Monitor's Peter Rainer calls the 2013 version "a vast tribute to conspicuous consumption" instead of a "darkling look at the American dream."
There's been one more film version of "Gatsby," a silent movie from 1926. The film is lost, and a strange little trailer that survives suggests its fate might be for the best.
The saga of the book and the movies raise questions about noir, the art of turning books into films, and the censorious world of 1940s Hollywood For answers, I turned to Rode, who will host the annual noir festival next week in Palm Springs, Calif. That's where he presented the 1949 "Gatsby" last year.
Q: The book, a mainstay of American high-school classrooms for decades, wasn't always hugely popular. How did it get rediscovered?
A: By 1942, nobody thought about "The Great Gatsby" or cared about it. Fitzgerald's death in 1940 got a mention, and that was it.
Then everyone went off to war. One of the things they did was print all of these paperback books, which they called "pocket books." Thousands of them went overseas, and soldiers away from home read "The Great Gatsby." It made them nostalgic for the America they'd seen or heard about when they grew up.
Q: Despite the book's popularity, the 1949 movie almost didn't get made. What was the problem?
A: Hollywood's Production Code made it difficult to film anything that was frank about adultery, sex and so forth. If someone committed a crime, they had to be punished for it.
This came about when Hollywood was deathly afraid that the government would come in and regulate the movie industry. So they said they'd police themselves.
The censors rejected the first draft of the film and four subsequent screenplays. At one point, Joseph Breen, the head censor of Hollywood, told Paramount, Hey, just forget about it, there shouldn't be any thought about making "The Great Gatsby" into a movie. It's too hard because of the sex and adultery.
Q: Were there other issues with the plot?
A: Fitzgerald represented everything that the censors hated: Unpunished murder, illicit sex, extramarital affairs, lots of drinking, and a low morale tone. A culture of unbridled avarice, a bacchanal in Long Island.
The characters carry on, but they're respectable. I think that's what really bothered the powers that be.
To use the analogy of Monopoly, they weren't living on Mediterranean Avenue or Baltic Avenue. They were on Park Place and Broadway, and that didn't set right. It made rich people look immoral and low, grasping and greedy. That added to the offensiveness.
Q: What did the filmmakers do to make the movie acceptable to the censors?
A: They removed a suicide and added a whole scene in the beginning at a graveyard where [Nick and Jordan] sum up how they really liked Jay Gatsby, but this is what happens to people who lead the life that he led.
There had to be this speech that said this is the result of a misspent life. None of this was in the book.
Q: What's a major challenge for filmmakers who want to convert the book to the screen?
A: The character of Daisy is a very difficult part. Her character is ambiguous: she's somebody who's rich, who's staying with somebody who's married that she kind of loves. But she's in love with Jay Gatsby. Yet she can't quite commit to it. You don't know whether she's frivolous or sincere.
She's multi-faceted, and it's difficult for an actress to wrap themselves around an interpretation.
Q: It's perhaps appropriate that Fitzgerald himself, creator of a book that's famously hard to film, didn't have any luck in the screenwriting business. What happened on that front?
A: He went to Hollywood and was a complete flop as a screenwriter, completely hopeless. He was a very fragile guy, and he became a massive alcoholic. He was just not in good shape and fell apart as a person.
Screenwriting is a much different and perhaps more torturous than writing a novel.
Q: Why do people still identify with noir, whether in classic books or classic movies?
A: It's timeless. You have people who are doing the wrong thing, and they know they're doing the wrong thing. But they're compelled to do it anyway.
People end up paying the price one way or another. It's like what Barbara Stanwyck says to Fred MacMurray in "Double Indemnity": "We're going to ride the trolley to the end of the line."
Q: That makes "Great Gatsby" sound like a noir, doesn't it?
A: I wouldn't list the 1949 movie as a film noir, or the book as a noir novel.
But they're definitely noir-stained.
Want to watch the 1949 version of "The Great Gatsby" for yourself? You can catch the film in several parts on YouTube. Start here.
For more on noir fiction, check out my previous Monitor stories in which I interviewed the screenwriter behind HBO's "Mildred Pierce," asked crime fiction authors about their favorite noir books-turned-movies, took a bus tour of James M. Cain's Los Angeles, and talked to Eddie "Czar of Noir" Muller about noir fiction.
I also interviewed a book editor about a long-lost Cain novel and explored the debate over what counts as a noir movie.
Randy Dotinga is a Monitor contributor.
“Sex and the City” writer Candace Bushnell had the first 50 pages of her new novel leaked online after hacker Guccifer made his or her way into her e-mail and posted the novel excerpt as well as other materials online.
The hacker, who has hacked into other well-known figures’ computers and posted information online about former president George W. Bush’s artistic efforts, posted the novel excerpt online, then tweeted about it from Bushnell’s account.
“Here you can read my last book 'killing monica' first 50 pages; enjoy as long as you can!” Guccifer tweeted from Bushnell’s account.
The hacker then uploaded screenshots of Bushnell’s correspondence with her agents as they tried to decide what to do, according to Gawker.
“The pages I sent Heather and Deb Futter at Grand Central Publishing from my new book, Killing Monica, have been HACKED… in other words, the beginning of the new book is now online for free,” Bushnell wrote in an e-mail to her agents.
The excerpt from the book, currently titled “Killing Monica,” features a woman named Pandy, who is telling a cab driver about her problems, including her divorce, as the driver takes her to the airport.
The pages were made available to the public through a link on the tweet made by Guccifer that led to a Google Drive account. The account contained screenshots of the manuscript’s pages.
Manuscripts leaking online are nothing new, of course. O.J. Simpson’s book “If I Did It,” which detailed how Simpson would have performed the murders of which he was accused if he had, in fact, committed them, was leaked online in 2007. Also in 2007, parts of the last book in the “Harry Potter” series, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” were posted online before the book’s July 2007 publication.
“Twilight” author Stephenie Meyer found parts of her manuscript of the book “Midnight Sun,” a re-imagining of the book “Twilight” from hero Edward Cullen’s point of view, had been posted online in 2008 and Meyer abandoned work on the manuscript after the leak, writing on her site that she felt “too sad about what has happened to continue working on Midnight Sun.”
More recently, “Girls” creator, writer and star Lena Dunham had her 66-page book proposal posted online after she submitted it to Random House and, after the website Gawker posted the entire proposal on its site, Dunham’s legal representation asked that the proposal be taken down. Gawker complied but left excerpts of the proposal in its article.
The story of aristocrat Bertie Wooster and his valet Jeeves is being revived in a new novel by British author Sebastian Faulks, who is writing the book with the permission of the P.G. Wodehouse estate.
Faulks’ novel “Jeeves and the Wedding Bells” will be the first-ever story about the duo authorized by Wodehouse’s estate, according to the Guardian. The estate approached Faulks, who has created new stories for British literary icons before with his authorized James Bond novel “Devil May Care,” and asked him to create an original Jeeve and Wooster story.
in an interview with the BBC, Faulks called the request an “honor.”
“Wodehouse is inimitable,” the author said. “But I will do the very best I can…. I hope my story will ring bells with aficionados, but also bring new readers to these wonderful books.”
Of Faulks’ selection, the Wodehouse estate said in a statement that “we are thrilled that so skilful and stylish a novelist, and so perceptive and discerning a reader, has agreed to bring to life the immortal characters Jeeves and Bertie Wooster for the enjoyment of today's audience in a homage to PG Wodehouse.”
“Bells” will be published in the US Nov. 5 and the UK Nov. 6. St. Martin’s Press will release the book in America, while the British version will come from publisher Hutchinson.
Jeeves and Wooster first appeared in a 1915 short story titled “Extricating Young Gussie” and were the subject of numerous books and short stories by Wodehouse. They were also portrayed in a recent TV adaptation with Hugh Laurie taking the role of Wooster and Stephen Fry playing Jeeves. The series, titled “Jeeves and Wooster,” ran from 1990 to 1993.
“Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl” is under fire again.
This time it’s for passages deemed “pornographic” by a Michigan mom who’s petitioned to have the unabridged version of the book removed from her daughter’s school. The call has drawn national attention from free speech advocates who have slammed the effort, calling it censorship, and are fighting to have the unabridged version of the book remain in Northville district schools.
At issue are passages in which Frank discovers her anatomy and shares her wonderment with readers.
“There are little folds of skin all over the place, you can hardly find it,” one passage reads. “The little hole underneath is so terribly small that I simply can't imagine how a man can get in there, let alone how a whole baby can get out!”
This passage, in addition to ones describing in detail specific parts of the female anatomy, upset parent Gail Horalek.
“It's pretty graphic, and it's pretty pornographic for seventh-grade boys and girls to be reading,” Horalek told Detroit’s Fox affiliate. “It's inappropriate for a teacher to be giving this material out to the kids when it's really the parents' job to give the students this information.”
She added, "It doesn't mean my child is sheltered, it doesn't mean I live in a bubble, and it doesn't mean I'm trying to ban books.”
Horalek launched a formal complaint asking for the unabridged version of the diary to be removed from the school, a petition now under review. She asked that the abridged version, sans graphic passages, be swapped in for the unabridged version. Otherwise, she said, the school should get parental permission before assigning the book.
Known as the “Definitive Version,” the unabridged version of Frank’s diary includes roughly 30 percent more material left out of the original 1947 edition after Frank’s father, Otto, asked the publisher to remove certain passages. The book, which describes the coming of age of a Jewish teenager during the Holocaust as she hides from Nazi police, is a mainstay in schools around the country and has sold millions of copies worldwide.
Which is why free speech advocates have jumped on this case.
A bevy of advocates – including the Kids’ Right to Read Project, part of the National Coalition Against Censorship, as well as the National Council of Teachers of English, PEN America, and publisher Bantam Books – have attacked Horalek’s petition and are urging the school district not to ban the book. To do so, they wrote in a letter to the district, “potentially violates the constitutional rights of other students and parents.”
“The passage in question relates to an experience that may be of particular concern to many of your students: physical changes associated with puberty,” they wrote. “Anne had no books or friends to answer her questions, so she was forced to rely on her own observations. Literature helps prepare students for the future by providing opportunities to explore issues they may encounter in life. A good education depends on protecting the right to read, inquire, question and think for ourselves. We strongly urge you to keep The Diary of a Young Girl in its full, uncensored form in classrooms in Northville.”
As the UK’s Daily Mail pointed out, Horalek is not the first to complain about the Anne Frank’s diary. The American Library Association has received half a dozen challenges against the book in the last two decades, it reports, and a Virginia school district has stopped assigning the unabridged version of the book after a parent there complained.
What do you think? Should the unabridged version be swapped for the abridged – or is that a kind of censorship?
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.