Watch out, bibliophiles, the classics are getting revamped with a fresh shade of grey – make that Fifty Shades of Grey.
Forget stuffy Victorian customs; Mr. Darcy, Mr. Rochester, and Captain Nemo have been taking lessons from Christian Grey of "Fifty Shades" fame in the latest example of erotica-obsession to hit stores.
As the Wall Street Journal wryly noted in a piece titled “Oh Mr. Rochester! The Classics Get Naughty,” “As if being mashed up with zombies and transported to American high schools weren’t enough, Ms. Austen and several of her fiction-writing peers are seeing their novels morphed into erotica.”
The new series by electronic publishing house Total E-Bound is titled “Clandestine Classics,” and, starting Monday, takes readers of such classics like “Jane Eyre” and “Pride and Prejudice” from polite parlor conversation to naughty bedroom banter. The series includes a sadomasochistic version of Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre,” a steamy bedroom take on Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” and “Northanger Abbey,” and even gay-love renderings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “A Study in Scarlet” and Jules Verne’s “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.”
Though the series was planned before “Fifty Shades of Grey” became bestseller gold, it’s certainly getting a boost from the erotica trend, Total E-Bound chief executive Claire Siemaszkiewicz told the WSJ.
For “Clandestine Classics,” Ms. Siemaszkiewicz hired five erotica writers to inject the original classics (which are in the public domain and therefore not subject to copyright laws) with naughty banter, groping, and racy sex scenes. According to the WSJ, the original text is largely unchanged, simply supplemented with 10,000 or so words which take readers “behind the closed bedroom doors of our favourite, most beloved British characters,” as Total E-Bound’s website promises.
The books, which will be available for download Monday, retail for between $4.00 and $5.00. Each book comes with a sexometer and erotic rating (most are a relatively mild 2).
From the sounds of it, not all sauced-up text conforms to the vernacular of the time. In an excerpt from the R-rated “Pride and Prejudice,” Elizabeth refers to Darcy as “hot, spicy, and all man,” as he “lifted her skirts quickly and removed her undergarments, then fumbled to free himself from the confines of his own clothing.”
"I was careful to make sure that I kept to the same language and the same tone so that it didn't sound anachronistic or jarring to the rest of the book," Desiree Holt, a 76-year-old retired music publicist who penned the racy scenes and shares co-authorship with Jane Austen on the book’s cover, told the WSJ.
(The WSJ also consulted with Austen scholar Devoney Looser, who said it was improbable Ms. Bennet and Mr. Darcy would be able to slip in and out of their clothes time and again so efficiently, given the strictures in clothing at the time.)
Would Austen or the Bronte sisters be turning in their graves? Or, as the WSJ put it, “turning fifty shades of red?”
Siemaszkiewicz doesn’t think so. “I like to think if the Bronte sisters were writing today, their books would be a lot racier,” she told the Journal. “But they were stifled by convention at the time.”
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
Spoilers – those little pieces of information that reveal a book's ending before you get there – are usually considered bad things. Fear of spoilers makes some readers avoid the Internet like the plague or clap their hands over their ears every time the subject of a book they haven't yet read all the way through comes up. It even led to the creation of a new phrase: “spoiler alert,” a polite signal sometimes inserted in book reviews to warn readers that they might not want to read on if they don't yet know how things finally work out.
But a new study done by researchers at the University of California, San Diego, says that people who know an ending ahead of time may actually enjoy a story more .
Nicholas Christenfeld and Jonathan Leavitt, members of the college’s psychology department, gave the subjects of a test various short stories. Some members of the group were told the stories' surprising endings before they began reading, while others were left in the dark. One short story used for the test was “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, an infamous dystopian tale often assigned in high school English classes about a town that selects a person every year. (Selects a person for what? If you skipped that one in English class, we’re not telling.)
The findings indicated that those who knew the ending ahead of time enjoyed the story more.
“It could be that once you know how it turns out, it’s cognitively easier,” Leavitt said. “You’re more comfortable processing the information and can focus on a deeper understanding of the story.”
This month, Robicheaux returns in James Lee Burke’s 19th book in the series, "Creole Belle." It picks up where the previous book left off, with Robicheaux in a recovery unit in New Orleans. Morphine clouds his head and, even more than usual, the self-aware detective struggles to separate the past from the present.
Burke, 75, creates lyrical mysteries with what can only be described as deceptive ease. Whether it’s Robicheaux, stand-alone novels, or separate series starring Texas cousins Billy Bob and Hackberry Holland, the themes remain constant. Every novel Burke writes delves into moral ambiguity, the menaces of greed and violence, the degradation of people and land, the juxtaposition of natural beauty and man-made horror and, finally, the sublime joy of human love and loyalty.
No matter his digressions, Burke’s stories retain tight plots amid the languid descriptions and observations of corruption and conceit. Robicheaux made his creator wealthy, taking readers into both rural and urban Louisiana (the detective is a former New Orleans cop who still ventures into the big city) and offering insight on a landscape that is literally disappearing.
Burke spent much of his early life on the Gulf Coast shuttling between Texas and Louisiana and later moved to New Iberia, La., the setting for the Robicheaux books. The author and his wife, parents of four grown children, including crime novelist Alafair Burke, have long split their time between Louisiana and Montana.
Both the author and his best-known character embody Faulkner’s maxim of loving a place “not for the virtues, but despite the faults.”
Consider this observation from Robicheaux in Creole Belle, told once again in his first-person voice:
“In Louisiana, which has the highest rate of illiteracy in the union and the highest percentage of children born to single mothers, few people worry about the downside of casinos, drive-through daiquiri windows, tobacco depots, and environmental degradation washing away the southern rim of the state.”
Burke never shies away from gritty crime patois or slashing violence, but he also slips in enough sociological observation to connect lowly street thugs with equally loathsome politicians and craven corporate executives. And, lest anyone get the idea the novels are preachy, think again. Robicheaux fights criminals, but he fights himself, his boss Helen Soileau and, as a recovering alcoholic, baser instincts and cravings.
If those aspects fail to grab a reader’s attention, the snap in the dialogue does the trick. Robicheaux’s longtime pal, Clete Purcel, offers a typical example in the new book, telling a shady character, “The day you’re honest is the day the plaster will fall from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.”
Burke has no such problems, as he made clear during a recent interview. Following are excerpts from that conversation.
On the origins of the new book: "The two books are actually one novel, one story ["The Glass Rainbow" and "Creole Belle"]. The antagonists represent the same forces, these guys who are degrading the environment. The story dwells on mortality. Not only the mortality of individuals but the end of an era, a generation. At least [from] Dave Robicheaux’s perspective, the end of a traditional America.
He, like me, was born in the Depression. And our generation is transitional one. We’re probably the last generation that will remember what people call traditional America."
On comparing Robicheaux with other characters: "I’ve written three novels about Hackberry Holland. I’ve written a number of books that are outside the Dave Robicheaux series and they don’t receive the same attention as the Louisiana books. I write many different things that maybe people aren’t aware of."
On what he plans to write next: "I haven’t thought about it. I don’t plan very far into the future. I’m writing a very different kind of a book right now. I see two scenes ahead into a novel and I don’t see anything else. I never know how a chapter will end, you see. So the notion of a long-range plan has never existed for me. I don’t mean that isn’t a good way to do things, but it’s never worked that way for me."
On the creation of Dave Robicheaux: "The themes of my work have never changed. I wrote my first novel in my early-20s. And I’m older, certainly, now, but I don’t think much wiser. My themes have never changed. The only thing that ever changed in my work, and it had enormous influence in terms of commercial success, was the use of a first-person narrator who sometimes is a police officer. That’s what changed everything.
But nothing else changed. The characters, the settings, the themes, they’re all, for good or bad, out of the same source. Something that’s in the unconscious, I’ve never quite understood it."
On the appeal of Robicheaux: "Well, Dave Robicheaux is the everyman. He’s a very successful voice in the series because he’s someone whom the reader trusts. And the person who wrote first about establishing this kind of voice in narration was Washington Irving. We don’t talk about him much anymore, but Washington Irving – and Nathaniel Hawthorne – essentially invented the short story. Edgar Allan Poe is usually given credit; they were contemporaries.
Washington Irving said something I never forgot. He said the narrator must establish a familiarity and a sense of trust between himself and the reader. It’s a kind of an intimate relationship that doesn’t exist outside literature. I always remembered that quote from one of his journals. And years later, the guy who originated the Bonanza series, he was being interviewed and he was asked, 'How did you accomplish a series that ran for 15 years on Sunday night television?' And he said, 'We created a cast of characters whom the American family felt comfortable inviting into their living room.' It’s a great line."
On his characters’ persistence despite witnessing constant crime and corruption: "Cynicism is really the stuff of sophistry. It’s simplistic in nature, it requires no insight and it requires no creativity. Anyone can, in effect, be negative. This, ultimately, is the world we live in. We’re all nihilists. It’s an easier way of doing things, simply to see hopelessness in the world but to, in effect, allow one’s self to not be a part of the herculean effort it takes to do as well as one can and leave the world a better place.
I think it goes back to the Old Testament, the contract made between Yahweh and Noah. That’s a great story. And the rainbow was the archer’s bow that Yahweh hung in the sky and made a contract with creatures and people on board Noah’s Ark. These guys would try to make the world a better place. We forget that in the Old Testament that man lived in peace with the animals. The first creatures on the Ark are the animals. Man was meant to be a steward of the earth. That’s a pretty large responsibility. Take care of the earth. That’s the job."
Erik Spanberg is a regular contributor to the Monitor's Books section.
Thankfully, mass murders are rare in the United States. But the ripples of these horrors can extend for thousands of miles and dozens of years.
Consider how two journalists – both experts on killing sprees – found themselves connected to other mass tragedies by pure chance within just the past few years.
This week, I interviewed author Arnie Bernstein, who uncovered the hidden history of a Michigan town devastated by a 1927 school bombing. Four years ago, he told me, Bernstein found himself comforting a student who had just lost two friends to a gunman at Northern Illinois University.
And then there's Dave Cullen, a journalist who wrote 2009's "Columbine," the definitive book about the killings there. A few days ago, he discovered that a friend's brother was one of the people injured last week in Aurora, Colo. The brother, fortunately, is recovering well.
I myself can remember being a teenager and sitting at home in a San Diego suburb on a July afternoon in 1984, watching the unfolding news about a nearby shooting spree. I desperately worried that my mother, who was out, might have gone to that McDonald's, just a few miles away in San Ysidro, for a bite. (She hadn't.)
Years later, I'd have another distant connection to a similar tragedy. A newspaper co-worker of mine would get a job in Denver and suffer emotional scars from the wrenching task of covering the Columbine attacks.
Cullen, who helps journalists recover from the trauma of reporting on tragedy, wrote a commentary for the New York Times last Sunday about the importance of not rushing to conclusions about the Aurora gunman: "Resist the temptation to extrapolate details prematurely into a whole."
I called Cullen to ask him about how we can best understand the horror in Aurora, what we can learn from Columbine and where we can find hope amid the senseless.
Q: The perpetrators of these acts often seem to want to become famous. Is the media wrong to give them the very publicity they may crave?
A: Every case is different, and it's a little difficult to generalize. And I think "publicity" is the wrong word.
They are reaching for attention in a lot of cases, lashing out and wanting the world to see their pain. It's like "goodbye cruel world" – "you'll see now what you did to me and you'll understand." It's a different emotion than we get from the word "publicity." It's not so much a celebrity thing.
But I do like the idea of mentioning their names as little as possible. I'd like to see more people take that up and see where we can go with that.
Journalists have pooh-poohed it to me, saying the names are out there. That's misunderstanding the point.
We're not trying to hide their names, and we're not going to keep anyone from finding them out. The point is to use them as little as possible, so the act is known and talked about but the names are not recognized. That's pretty doable.
Q: Still, in this case, the Aurora suspect's face has been all over the media. I found myself staring into it intensely on the TV screen and trying to figure out what I could discover about him. Is that OK? When do we go too far in trying to comprehend someone like him?
A: That's national human curiosity and also intellectual curiosity, wanting to know. That's normal and there's nothing wrong with it.
When you start making guesses about what's going on in his head, that's OK at the water cooler and around the dinner table. But not so much on TV.
Q: You write in your book about how a myth of Columbine – that two young men were bullied and in turn targeted jocks – turned into the prevailing story line, even though it wasn't true. Why is that a problem?
A: Once the public believes something, there's a window where everyone is paying attention and they're riveted to the information, and after that they stop paying attention. It doesn't really matter what you tell them anymore.
Once we get it wrong, it's with us forever. There's no untelling the story.
Now, in Aurora, we're getting close to the end of the window of the first phase.
If we think we don't know why [the shooter] did it, and we're waiting for the trial to find out, that's healthy. If we're collectively made up our mind that it's XYZ motive, we'll be stuck with that. And if it's wrong, we'll learn inappropriate things from it.
Q: As the parody site The Onion noted in a mock story with plenty of truth in it, these kinds of incidents follow a kind of protocol: calls for gun control, the presidential visit, inappropriate comments from dingbat politicians, and the slow fade of interest. It's clear that gun control isn't going anywhere. What else can we do as a society to make these incidents less likely?
A: The answer is in understanding why we got things like Columbine wrong so badly.
We never got to the understanding that there were two killers there: one was a psychopath and the other a deeply suicidal depressive.
We don't have a solution for psychopathy, and we don't have any treatment for it. We don't know what to do with these people except to lock them up. But we could listen to the people who study this who are clamoring for more research dollars so we can find some treatments.
As for depression, most of these killers are deep depressives, suicidally depressed people. That's something the public has not come to terms with.
That's the area we should be addressing: catching depression in the teen years. It's really easy to screen for it and diagnose it, and in that way stop the depressive mass murderers in the making.
Q: What lessons can we learn from the Littleton community and how it's dealt with Columbine for 13 years now?
A: The victims want you to know one thing: Don't rush to healing. Give the victims time and space. The longer it goes on, the more profoundly they feel that, and the more angry they are with the public and the media.
The first week, the whole country is in mourning for them. And within, say, six months, we hear these inspiring stories of the kid in the wheelchair who's learning to walk again. We want to hear the inspirational stories of overcoming adversity.
But the survivors feel like the public doesn't want to hear any more "whining." The victims start to hear that as "How can I make you shut up. I want you to get over this so you're done, and we're done with you."
The victims resent that. They feel, "I'm not ready to heal, I don't want to process this just to please you."
Some victims need forever to be sad about it. They want time to heal and space to do it in their own way, and they don't want a lot of well-intentioned help.
Q: It's amazing how victims are often so willing to talk to the media after these tragedies. Is that good for them?
A: The jury is still out on that.
We used to think it's healthy to talk about these things, and it can be, but it can also be really unhealthy to relive them.
We're just in the early stages of understanding post-traumatic stress. I went to Tucson to talk to journalists after the shootings there as part of the DART program (which helps traumatized journalists), and we were told that if people talk want to talk about it, then go with that, and let them. But don't ask them to go back and relive things if they're not volunteering.
Q: After years of studying Columbine, what gives you hope?
A: Patrick Ireland gives me hope.
He was known as the Boy in the Window. He went out the second-story window, and the SWAT team caught him. He had one bullet to the foot and one to the brain, he wasn't expected to ever walk or talk again. After the first night, the prognosis was really bad.
But he had other ideas. He had an incredible will, and he fought back. He was able to walk again, to water ski. He walks now with a limp, but he walks well.
He ended up graduating from college and going to business school and he loves it. He got married, he's really happy, he's living a full life. He forgave the killers and put it behind him.
He's an extraordinary guy, and there are several like him.
Randy Dotinga is a Monitor contributor.
The winner of the prize, which honors the year’s best novel, will be announced in October; the 12 nominees will be reduced to six in September. The Man Booker Prize is awarded to an author from Britain, one of the Commonwealth Nations, or Ireland.
The group of judges for the Man Booker Prize consists of editor of the Times Literary Supplement Peter Stothard; critic Dinah Birch; writer Amanda Foreman; reviewer Bharat Tandon; and actor Dan Stevens, who plays Matthew Crawley on the popular TV miniseries “Downton Abbey.”
Of the 12 nominees, only Mantel has won the Man Booker Prize before. Seven nominees have made the longlist for the first time.
“We did not set out to reject the old guard but, after a year of sustained critical argument by a demanding panel of judges, the new has come powering through,” Stothard, who is also the chair of the judges, said in a statement.
The nominees besides “Bodies” by Mantel the other titles on this list are: “Communion Town” by Sam Thompson; “Philida” by André Brink; “Skios” by Michael Frayn; “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” by Rachel Joyce; “The Lighthouse” by Alison Moore; “The Yips” by Nicola Barker; “The Garden of Evening Mists” by Tan Twan Eng; “Swimming Home” by Deborah Levy; “Umbrella” by Will Self; “Narcopolis” by Jeet Thayil; and “The Teleportation Accident” by Ned Beauman.
People were taken aback by an electronic Bible coming to hotel rooms? Wait until they hear about one establishment’s innovation – swapping out Bibles for copies of the runaway E L James erotic bestseller “Fifty Shades of Grey.”
The Damson Dene Hotel in Crosthwaite in the United Kingdom decided to put copies of “Fifty Shades of Grey” in their rooms rather than the Bible because of the popularity of the book.
“I thought it would be a special treat for our guests to find it in their bedside cabinet, and that includes the men, too,” Wayne Bartholomew, the hotel manager, told the Westmorland Gazette. “They are as desperate to get their hands on a copy as the women.”
Guests will still be able to obtain a copy of the Bible at reception, Bartholomew said.
He said those who object to the swap may want to look more closely at the text of the Bible.
“The Gideon Bible is full of references to sex and violence, although it’s written using more formal language,” Bartholomew said. “So James’s book is easier to read.”
But a local priest, the Reverend Michael Woodcock, said he didn’t approve of the switch.
“It is a great shame that Bibles have been removed from rooms and very inappropriate to have been replaced by an explicit erotic novel,” Woodcock told the Westmorland Gazette.
In response to these and other public complaints about the lawsuit (see Sen. Charles Schumer), the Department of Justice, perhaps not surprisingly, staunchly defended its case against Apple and five major publishers, insisting they conspired to raise the prices of e-books.
The DOJ’s investigation into sharp upticks in e-book prices upon the launch of Apple’s iBookstore in 2010 “uncovered significant evidence that the seismic shift in e-book prices was not the result of market forces, but rather came about through the collusive efforts of Apple and five of the six largest publishers in the country,” according to a US federal court filing in New York.
(The Wall Street Journal reported that the DOJ’s suit claims “executives of the major book publishers met regularly in private dining rooms of upscale Manhattan restaurants to discuss how to respond to steep discounting by Amazon.com Inc.”)
“The Department stuck to its view that what matters most is that consumers be able to buy e-books at the lowest prices possible in free market competition and that Apple and five publishers colluded illegally in instituting the agency model,” writes industry newsletter Shelf Awareness. “The Department defended all of its proposed remedies, right down to its requirements of ‘logs of communications among publishers,’ federal review of any joint ventures and ‘antitrust counseling’ for publishing executives.”
In other words, the DOJ said it’s not wavering.
As reported in previous posts on the suit, three publishers – HarperCollins, Hachette, and Simon & Schuster – have agreed to settle the DOJ suit while Apple, Penguin, and Macmillan continue to fight the charges. The settlement with the first three publishers was opened to public comment, bringing a deluge of responses from individuals and groups including the Authors Guild, independent publishers, Barnes & Noble, literary agents, and Apple itself, which has long argued that the DOJ’s suit will endanger e-book retailers and distributors alike and result in Amazon’s market domination.
The DOJ called fears of an Amazon monopoly “speculative at best” and pointed out that Barnes & Noble had already captured part of Amazon’s e-book market share long before the agency model was introduced.
“In the pre-conspiracy competitive market, innovation, discounting, and marketing were robust,” the DOJ said in its response. “In contrast, the conspiracy eliminated any number of potential procompetitive innovations, such as 'all-you-can-read' subscription services, book club pricing specials, and rewards programs.'”
Not only is its suit legitimate, the DOJ asserted in its response, it’s also already reaped positive changes in the industry. Since the settlement was announced, “more companies are investing to enter or expand in the market and compete against Amazon, Apple, and other e-book retailers,” the DOJ claimed in its response, citing Microsoft’s investment in Barnes & Noble and forthcoming tablets from Microsoft and Google.
Adding insult to injury, the DOJ said much of the criticism it received on its proposed settlement “expressed a general frustration ... from the evolving nature of the publishing industry – in which the growing popularity of e-books is placing pressure on the prevailing model that is built on physical supply chains and brick-and-mortar stores.”
The DOJ is resolute in its suit and proposed settlement, but we’re pretty sure this isn’t the last we’ll hear from Apple, either.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
Sometimes it feels like the mass violence of our modern age is something devastatingly new for America. History shows that's not the case.
In 1927, a single man's outbreak of violence in a small Michigan town took the lives of 45 people, including 38 children. The Bath School Disaster became the nation's deadliest killing spree at a school, and it still holds that distinction today.
A few years ago, Chicago author Arnie Bernstein went to Bath Township, Mich., near Lansing, to tell the story of the day that a local farmer and school board member – for reasons that are still unclear – used dynamite to destroy the town's school and kill many of its inhabitants. While the rest of the country promptly forgot about the tragedy – one of the century's biggest news events distracted the nation shortly after it happened – he discovered that the scars remain.
But there was more to find than heartache.
In an interview this week, Bernstein, author of 2009's "Bath Massacre: America's First School Bombing," describes a community's strength and the silent generation that finally spoke out when he came calling.
As another city goes through a familiar cycle of shock and grief, Bernstein's words offer a glimpse of the humanity that the worst kinds of horror cannot destroy.
Q: How was the reaction to this tragedy different than what we're seeing in Aurora?
A: While the people of Bath weren't any different than the people of our times, it was a different time, a different era. These days, we have better coping mechanisms. We have counselors and all kinds of different support systems.
Back then, they didn't talk about it, period. They were farmers, and they had to go back to work. Your cow couldn't take a day off for a tragedy.
And there wasn't a media frenzy like today. The media came in and left. Three days after it happened, Lindbergh took off and flew to Paris, and that part of it was over.
When I came in, it had been eight decades, and nobody had talked about it. It was just this scar on the land.
Q: Amazingly, you talked to survivors of the school bombing who are now in their 90s and 100s. What did they say?
A: One woman who's 99 now was telling me the most graphic details about how her seven-year-old brother was killed. I was worried about upsetting her and told her she didn't have to talk about all this. She said, "No, people have to know. I'm not going to be around forever. I want people to know what happened."
Q: What can we learn from Bath Township?
A: One lesson is that you cannot stop someone who's determined to do something like this, who doesn't have that switch in their head that says to not do it. You cannot stop them any more than you can stop an iceberg.
But out of that horror, out of the one or two people who commit these kinds of crimes, comes the good, the tremendous good that you see in the wake of these things. Our humanity comes through in the face of evil and the inexplicable.
The survivors and their children are some of the most decent people I've ever known in my life, and they grew out of this.
Q: Will this part of Bath's history ever fade?
A: This cannot go away and never will, even after these people die. It's always part of who they are in Bath. But they remain a quintessential small Midwest town America: nice, kind, and good Christians in the absolute greatest sense.
Q: What has writing the story of this town meant for you?
A: One day when I was walking through the town cemetery, I realized I knew everybody: This guy was a rescuer, this child was killed, here was someone's wife who made sandwiches for the men.
I saw many names on the headstones with no death dates. These people are still alive. Bath was where they were born and raised, and it's where they'll die.
When my life is over, I think this will probably the best thing I've done in my life, bringing this town some healing, helping people talk about it and bringing the community together.
It's been 80 years, but it's still fresh in mind. It's yesterday. But out of this came good and decency – people caring for strangers and looking out for one another.
Randy Dotinga is a Monitor contributor.
It’s being called “perhaps one of the most unfortunately timed books of 2012.”
And with a rejiggered game plan chock full of author event cancellations, title tweaks, and frantic changes in the publication date, it’s also a lesson in damage control for the publishing industry.
“Paterno,” a forthcoming biography of the late Penn State football coach by author Joe Posnanski, has made Simon & Schuster “the latest example of a publisher that is trying to recover when the story behind a planned book changes before publication,” reports The New York Times in a piece on the forthcoming bio’s bad timing.
And how the story has changed. “Announced in March 2011 as ‘a biography of America’s winningest college football coach, who changed the country one football player at a time,’ the book will enter the marketplace at a moment when the name of Joe Paterno, the late Penn State coach, has gone from revered to radioactive,” writes the Times.
In the wake of the Penn State scandal, Paterno, who died of lung cancer in January at the age of 85 after 46 years as head coach at Penn State, has fallen hard. Following accusations of child sexual abuse by Paterno’s longtime assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, reports emerged suggesting Paterno was aware of the abuse accusations and failed to report it. One in particular, a July 12 report by Louis J. Freeh, a former director of the FBI, that found Paterno not only failed to report accusations of abuse to police, but also renegotiated his contract in 2011 as the scandal was unfolding, “winning himself and his family more money and perks,” was particularly damaging to the late coach.
Since then, Paterno’s alma mater, Brown University, axed his name from a prestigious annual award and coaching position. And Penn State President Rodney Erickson ordered the removal of a statue of the late coach from outside the university’s football stadium, commenting in a statement, “I believe that, were it to remain, the statue would be a recurring wound to the multitude of individuals across the nation and beyond who have been victims of child abuse.”
The turn in public perception of the once-beloved JoePa has “made people angrier at Joe Paterno,” Simon & Schuster publisher Jonathan Karp told The New York Times. “And that has made it a more difficult environment to publish a biography about Joe Paterno.”
Among the publishers' damage control measures: the release date was changed from Father’s Day 2013 to August 2012 and the title changed from a majestic “The Grand Experiment: The Life and Meaning of Joe Paterno,” to a more modest “Paterno.”
What’s more, Posnanski’s book tour has been scaled back and scores of author interviews, book signings, and events have been cancelled. “We’re sensitive about putting our author in forums where he might be viewed as a stand-in for his subject,” Simon & Schuster spokeswoman Anne Tate told the Times.
Already, Sports Illustrated declined to run an excerpt in its pages and some bookstores have said they will not carry the book.
It’s a vexing challenge for any publisher certain it had a touchdown on its hands only to find itself scrambling to stay in the game. For his part, S&S publisher Karp is shifting the focus away from the once-celebrated coach to his biographer.
As he told the Times, “People can pass all the judgment they want about Joe Paterno, but Joe Posnanski deserves a chance to be read.”
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
It's easy to recognize a negative book review. But how can you detect an unfair one? Popular review website GoodReads now finds itself in the midst of a debate over what justifies a negative book review and what freedom online reviewers – including anonymous ones – should have.
In a recent column on the Huffington Post, the administrators of the website Stop the GR Bullies stated their concern over what they said are bullying reviews being posted on the GoodReads website, which allows users to post reviews of the books they read. The Stop the GR Bullies administrators say that bullies have been posting negative reviews of books because they holds grudge against an author or simply want to harass someone.
“If they are given any reason to target an author, they will attempt to destroy that author's reputation and career for either their own personal amusement or for vengeance,” the administrators wrote in their column.
On the website Stop the GR Bullies, which appears to have been created this month, four administrators posted screencaps of reviews that they say are examples of the bullying trend. They also posted profiles of Goodreads users whom they say are bullies.
In their column on the Huffington Post, the administrators cite the Goodreads comments policy, which reads, “You agree not to post User Content that: (i) may create a risk of harm, loss, physical or mental injury, emotional distress, death, disability, disfigurement, or physical or mental illness to you, to any other person… (v) contains any information or content that we deem to be unlawful, harmful, abusive, racially or ethnically offensive, defamatory, infringing, invasive of personal privacy or publicity rights, harassing, humiliating to other people (publicly or otherwise), libelous, threatening, profane, or otherwise objectionable.”
“If you surf the GR fora, you will see hundreds of instances where the GR TOS is being violated, which shows that Goodreads is not policing their site,” the STGRB administrators write in their Huffington Post column. “Further, they are unresponsive when posts like these are reported.”
While some comments on the column supported the administrators’ message, others didn’t see what the problem with the Goodreads reviews were.
“I have to join in with those extremely disconcerted that HuffPo sought out these people and gave them a platform to continue this ridiculous and dangerous campaign,” one commenter who gave their name as OtotheA wrote. “I see people who can't deal with criticism of work that they put out into the marketplace.”
Another commenter objected to the fact that the STGRB website posted profiles of the alleged bullies without offering any identifying information about the website administrators.
“They have the audacity to ‘out’ reviewers but refuse to have their real names, or even have a bio or a picture here,” a commenter named Katiebabs wrote.
However, others commenting supported the STGRB site and their message.
“Maybe it's not a big deal to authors who are already fairly well established,” a commenter using the name TeaPartier said of the negative reviews. “But those people who are just starting out, this is serious.”
After the column was posted, Andrew Losowsky, the Huffington Post books editor, posted a column titled “Stop the GR Bullies: An Explanation.” In the piece, Losowsky explained that while columns are edited for grammar and factual errors, they do not go through the same process as a news article on the site.
“To those who feel that we let them down, I can only apologize,” he wrote. “We should have provided more context and presented the debate over the site – and the broader issue of online bullying in the books world – in a more balanced fashion.”
Losowsky said that many users had contacted him citing a case in which they said a reviewer who had been called a bully by the STGRB website had been threatened via telephone. Losowsky said they had been unable to corroborate the incident had actually happened.
“In an email to me, one of the people who runs the site categorically denied stalking, threatening or telephoning any of the people who have been featured on Stop the GR Bullies,” he wrote.
Author Foz Meadows posted a column on The Huffington Post sharing her thoughts about the Goodreads controversy. She cited the alleged incident of a woman being harassed over the phone as one of the matters concerning her.
“The STGRB site stands as singularly unhelpful forum for discussion, unashamedly more concerned with personal vendettas, retaliatory anger and biased crusading in a name-and-shame format than a considered exploration of the issues,” Meadows wrote.
Questions about negative online reviews, of course, are not new. In one high-profile example, historian and writer Orlando Figes paid damages to fellow authors after it was discovered he had gone onto amazon.co.uk and left negative reviews of their work under the name Historian while positively reviewing his own books. He first claimed the comments had been left by his wife.