It’s time to go back over what happened in the publishing industry this week.
Let’s start with some good news if you’re a fan of Millenium — I’m obviously talking about the release of The Girl in the Spider’s Web. The latest novel of the Millenium saga, featuring once again the character of Lisbeth Salander, was released last Tursday at midnight. The particularity of this book? As you must know if you are a fan of the original trilogy, it was not written by the creator of Millenium, who died in 2004 from a heart attack before his books were released and became the best-sellers they have been since, but by David Lagercrantz. The characters of this new novel are those created by Stieg Larsson, the original author, but the plot of the book (Salander will take on an America’s spy agency, the National Security Agency and so on) was of course devised by David Lagercrantz. At a press conference held in Stockholm earlier this week, David Lagercrantz admitted how “terrifying” writing this book had been for him and that not being sure that his book would be on the level of Stieg Larsson’s work made him become “depressive” and “bipolar”. It is not hard to imagine the pressure that an author who has to go on with such a literary legacy must feel. True, the book is probably going to sell very very well (or at least this is what its publisher hope for, having originally printed 2.7 million copies) but on the other hand, the fierce fans of the trilogy must expect a lot from this book and I bet that the critics won’t be tender with the books and its author…
Before its release, the novel was already criticized by quite a lot of people, starting with Eva Gabrielsson, Stieg Larsson’s partner of 32 years. After reading 200 pages of the book, she said that David Lagercrantz was a “totally idiotic choice” to take over and made her position about a Millenium sequel very clear: “They say heroes are supposed to live forever. That’s a load of crap, this is about money”. Both David Lagercrantz and Norstedts, the publishing house, have tried to reassure the fans; the author said he remained faithful to Larsson’s writing style and to the “vast mythology he left behind”, while the publisher insisted on the fact that this new novel was not “a copycat” of Larsson’s work. Stieg Larsson’s brother and father also support this fourth novel. Little reminder: they inherited from Larsson’s unexpected fortune, as the author had not married Eva Gabrielsson before his death. Therefore, it is safe enough to assume that they will be earning a part of the royalties, which might explain the release of the book. On the other hand, they assured that they will donate some of the profits to the anti-fascist Expo foundation and magazine that Stieg Larsson co-founded, which is probably a very good and respectful initiative. However, we do not know how much the association will get — the association itself does not know it…
The book was of course very criticized by reviewers in Sweden, Stieg Larsson’s country. In fact, it is the country where The Girl in the Spider’s Web received the worst reviews. Most of the Swedish literary reviewers were quite upset by the way the publishing house dealt with Stieg Larsson’s literary legacy and organized the release of this novel, which was shown to some foreign media prior release but not in Sweden. Some other reviewers qualified this novel as a standard thriller similar to all the mass-produced thrillers.
What about here, in the United Kingdom? So far, it looks like the booksellers were really excited and happy about the release of this fourth Millenium novel. Most of them received many pre-orders for the book and were competing for the best window display. Quercus Books, the British publisher of The Girl in the Spider’s Web, even twitted some of the best window displays by bookshops and libraries.
Let’s switch to some clearly less enjoyable news, which are so ridiculous that I could not resist mentioning them here. This week, I just read about some freshmen from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, United States, who publicly refused to read Fun Home, Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel, whereas it was part of their summer reading list. The reason? According to them, Fun Home is an inappropriate reading that is not compatible with their conservative beliefs. The whole affair was started by freshman Brian Grasso, who posted on one of the university’s Facebook pages that he was not going to read the book due to “the graphic visual depictions of sexuality”. He also added: “I feel as if I would have to compromise my personal Christian moral beliefs to read it.” According to The Duke Chronicle, who reported the story, Brian Grasso would have received much support among his fellows. Here are some of the statements of these students: for Jeffrey Wubbenhorst, this book “violates my conscience due to its pornographic nature”. For Bianca D’Souza, the sex and nudity of this book does not make of it an appropriate reading.
So where should I start? First, I would say that refusing to read a book for the themes it deals with is something that I find highly stupid but that I could potentially kind of “understand”. However, stating false things about a book that one didn’t read is purely unacceptable, especially from students. Saying that Fun Home is of pornographic nature is thousands miles away from the truth and proves that these students didn’t even bother opening this book. Fun Home is a graphic novel that evokes homosexuality through its main character, the author, who realizes at university that she is a lesbian, and through her dad, who was himself a repressed homosexual. It is the story of someone who discovers her sexuality while also raking up the past of her family, so be it. However, Bechdel barely draws naked bodies or sexual encounters of any kind. The only part of the book involving nudity I can think of is when the author depicts the beginning of her relationship with her girlfriend Joan, and this only consists of 7 frames where the characters are never depicted having sex but always in the aftermath. Another scene in the book shows the author going down on Joan, and that’s about it. I really believe that the author doesn’t stress at all the graphical representation of homosexual encounters. This is not the point of the book, which relates the discovery of one’s sexuality on a much more spiritual level. Compared to the graphic novel Blue is the warmest colour by Julie Maroh, which features A LOT of explicit sex scenes, Fun Home is really sweetened.
Moreover, Fun Home is a really deep and interesting graphic novels that deals with a lot of other subjects such as familial relationships and family’s legacy, self-discovery through culture… And it is a remarkable book regarding intertextuality: the references to cultural and especially literary works abound throughout the book, taking different forms. If the graphic novel was put on the reading list by the Duke Common Experience Selection Committee, made up of students and faculty members, this probably means that they had a good reason for that. Let’s not forget that Duke University is a private university founded by Methodists and Quakers… And these are the members of this committee themselves who decided to add Fun Home to this year’s summer reading list, saying about it that it is a complex work that “has the potential to start many arguments and conversations” (Ibanca Anand, student member of the committee) and “it will be a great vehicle for conversations among the incoming class about art and storytelling; about personal and sexual identities […]” (history professor and member of the committee Simon Partner). This unfortunately proves how young people can sometimes be more reactionary and narrow-minded than older generations and refuse to get education. Such a shame… On the other hand, it’s another demonstration of the power of literature, which can rise important questions or issues and disturb people.
Last but not least, I wanted to tell you quickly about a fantastic initiative led by British teacher Mary Jones who opened, with some volunteers, a library in the migrant camp of Calais, France. The camp now shelters more than 3,000 refugees and is becoming a little society, having two churches, a mosque, some grocery stores and restaurants, a barber… And there is now this fantastic library, named “Jungle Books”, which stocks around 200 books, all giveaways. The association who has helped to set up this library would like to stock even more books, and not only mainstream books but also books in the refugees’ native languages. They need books but also “dictionaries, texts, zines etc – in any and all languages.” If you would like to take part in this adventure and help these migrants to learn how to read and write another language while keeping in touch with their culture and native language, please don’t hesitate to contact firstname.lastname@example.org. I am myself going to ask my parents to send to the association some of the books that have been on my shelves for years and that I could not resolve to throw away. I finally found a perfect way to give them a second life!
Please let me know if you heard about anything interesting going on in the book industry.
See you next week!