I know you are all burning to know what happened last week in the book industry.
Let’s start with the release of Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee, as I had told you about the controversy surrounding the circumstances of the book’s publication. To Kill a Mockingbird’s sequel was published on Tuesday 14th July in the United Kingdom and the book’s release had been awaited for months by millions of fans. It was clearly supposed to be the publishing phenomenon of this summer… But what everyone was talking about on Tuesday was the printing error that hit a part of the book’s 25,000 copies making up the original print in the United Kingdom! If only a “limited number of copies” was officially affected, Penguin Random House’s printer, Clays, had to reprint a replacement stock. Indeed, some of the first copies originally printed had two lines missing at the end of six pages towards the end of the book! And many of these misprinted copies were sold by Amazon. Therefore, many people who had pre-ordered their copy of Go Set a Watchman were left frustrated by this printing error, which we can easily understand… But despite this huge technical fault, Harper Lee’s new novel sold of course incredibly well on its first day of release. It sold, indeed, 105,000 copies across print and digital editions in its first day on sale in the United Kingdom, and aroused debates and passion among the most influential reviewers, especially regarding the transformation of the main character, Atticus Finch. And I’m going to stop here in order to keep some suspense for those who are planning to read the novel!
I would like to talk now about the beautiful and strong act of resistance against censorship that hundreds of Italian writers have undertaken this week. Luigi Brugnaro, the new mayor of Venice – he was elected last month –, has had around 50 children’s books collected from schools in Venice. The goal of this collection was to examine which ones are suitable and not suitable for pre-school children. If the books dealing with physical, religious and racial discrimination will be returned, those showing same sex families were pulled out because, according to Luigi Brugnaro, by introducing these books into schools, the previous administration introduced its “personal view of society” into schools without consulting parents, who “must have a say on the crucial issues that affect the education of their children”… As a result, books such as Francesca Pardi’s Piccolo Uovo (Little Egg) cannot be found in the city’s schools anymore. The book trade professionals strongly reacted against this new measure, and 263 writers have signed a letter asking Venice’s mayor to “kindly ban our books as well”, adding “we don’t want to stay in a city where the books of others are banned”. I believe that the statement of Giorgio Fontana, a famous Italian author who signed the letter, summarizes very well the goal of this letter and shows how unity is needed to protect the freedom of speech and creation from all the kinds of censorship. He claimed that he signed this letter to “prove both that the writers who’ve seen their books removed are not alone”, and to “protest against an appalling gesture of censorship and ignorance”. He also added: “To order that some books must be removed from schools is disturbing, and the alleged motivation makes it all even worse: the idea that these books promote a ‘gender theory’ which would harm the only idea of family that Brugnaro has in mind: a heterosexual married couple with children. It’s all so depressing”.
Finally, let’s stay on the same subject and talk about another great initiative, undertaken by American writers, this time, against what we could call another kind of censorship. Yes my friends, American authors have finally decided to unite and to go a step further in the general fight opposing the publishing industry as a whole (big publishing groups, smaller publishing companies, authors…) to Amazon. The group of authors, led by big names such as Malcolm Gladwell and Ursula Le Guin, has announced that it would submit a letter asking the US Justice Department to rise an investigation on Amazon’s “power over the book market”. This group, called Authors United, was created last year when Hachette and Amazon bitterly confronted each other over sales terms. There are now thousands of authors who have already signed the letter that will be submitted to the US Justice Department later this month. In this letter, the authors claimed that “in recent years, Amazon has used its dominance in ways that we believe harm the interests of America’s readers, impoverish the book industry as a whole, damage the careers of (and generate fear among) many authors, and impede the free flow of ideas in our society”. Also according to the letter, Amazon “has blocked and curtailed the sale of millions of books by thousands of authors” in order to pressure publishers, and has “extract[ed] an ever greater share of the total price of a book from publishers”, resulting in “publishers dropping some midlist authors and not publishing certain riskier books, effectively silencing many voices”. It is hard not to agree and stand with the authors in this initiative when we recall the big quarrels that opposed Amazon and the biggest publishers in the United States over the last years and the ways thanks to which the retailer always managed to get better terms from the publishers. Last year, during its harsh negotiations with Hachette over ebooks’ sales terms, Amazon would have dramatically delayed the delivery of some of the most successful titles of the publishing house. Let’s hope that a proper investigation will indeed be raised and that it will force the giant to revise its way of negotiating with the publishers…
I hope you also found these news stimulating and encouraging. Please don’t hesitate to let me know what got your attention this week!