It’s time to get back to the book news of this week.
Let’s start with some sad news as, once again, book banning will be the subject of our first news. New Zealand’s Film and Literature Board of Review has decided to ban a book, for the first time in 20 years. Which book are we talking about? Into the River, a young adult novel written by New Zealand author Ted Dawe. You may not be surprised to hear that the ban concerns a young adult novel — after all, young adult novels have always been subject to a strong censorship in probably every country except the Scandinavian countries (if you are interested in this subject, you may want to read this very interesting article by Norwegian writer Ingelin Røssland). However, this ban is quite surprising because Into the River is an award-winning novel, which was awarded the top prize in the Young Adult Fiction category at the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards in 2013. The book, described by the Publishers Association of New Zealand as a “highly regarded piece of literature, charged with influencing and changing the lives of many of its teenage male readers”, recounts the story of Te Arepa Santos, a Maori boy who gets into a prestigious boarding school where he becomes victim of racism and bullying. As the author stated following this ban, Into the River “was never about sex and drugs, it was always about bullying and how that damages people for the rest of their lives. That is really the underlying theme; everything else is just the trappings that go along with that”. But, of course, these are the sex and drugs scene featured in the novel that were targeted by the Christian and conservative lobbying group Family First and, quite surprisingly, prompted the decision of Dr Don Mathieson, president of the Film and Literature Board of Review, to issue the Interim Restriction Order forbidding anyone and any institution to “distribute, or exhibit, the book”. Individuals who don’t respect the order face a fine of NZ$3,000 against up to a NZ$10,000 fine for companies who breach the order.
This is of course quite a worrying and stupid decision, as this novel has the power to appeal to young readers and provide them with some support, unlike many other novels that are totally out of touch with teenagers’ daily life and therefore “don’t speak to boys”, as Ted Dawe truly noticed – opinion that Melvin Burgess would most likely share… But, as always, this alarming decision has entailed furious and indignant reactions, both in New Zealand and abroad, and this general mobilization has something quite reassuring. The New Zealand Book Council, the Publishers Association of New Zealand and the Library and Information Association of New Zealand have all condemned and expressed their concern regarding the banning of the novel. As for the Time Out bookstore in Auckland, it has designed a wonderful and powerful window display of previously banned books (among them, we can for instance see Animal Farm, The Catcher in the Rye, Frankenstein and A Clockwork Orange) and the display of course includes Into the River, hidden in a paper bag, as a sign of protest against the banning. The order is to be reviewed on the 2nd of October 2015, when it may unfortunately turn into a permanent age restriction for the novel… I really really hope that this massive mobilization will allow the temporary ban to be simply lifted in October. Fingers crossed!
Let’s switch to kind of random but funny news. Here in England Harry Potter’s magic is still alive: despite the last book of the series having been released years ago, J.K. Rowling still regularly provide her fans with revelations regarding the Harry Potter series and its characters. Thus, we recently heard via Twitter that Harry Potter’s son, James S. Potter, was starting at Hogwarts at the same time as thousands of pupils were going back to school. And this week, J.K. Rowling tweeted a new revelation that particularly got my attention: the name of He Who Must Not Be Named is actually to be pronounced in the French way, meaning that the “T” at the end of “Voldemort” is a silent “T”. Voldemort, name that has always sounded familiar to French readers (probably much more than to English ones) does come from the French phrase “vol de mort”, which means “flight of death”. That could explain the French pronunciation… However, if the French Harry Potter fans showed their joy and satisfaction on the social media, the English fans were a bit more skeptical about the news, wondering why the name was wrongly pronounced in the movie.
Let’s finish with some awesome news that will make all the book lovers very proud, as the book industry is one of the first industries (and maybe the only one so far?) to have mobilized to support Syrian refugees. Everything began on Thursday 3rd of September when Patrick Ness, British best-selling author of the Chaos Walking trilogy and A Monster Calls, set up a Virgin Money Giving page to allow donations to Syrian refugees via the association Save the Children. He promised that he would donate £10,000 to Save the Children once the public had donated the same amount… Two hours later, public donations amounted to £10,000. John Green, author of many young adult best-selling novels, including The Fault in our stars, and famous Youtuber, joined Patrick Ness to give himself another £10,000. He was followed by author Derek Landy and a bunch of other authors and book-related celebrities such as author JoJo Moyes and youtuber Hank Green, John Green’s brother. Even authors who are not children’s or young adult authors joined the fundraising campaign: Rosamund Lupton, the author of Sister, author David Nicholls and the publishing house Anderson Press also donated £10,000. I am not going to enumerate all the authors who took part in this donation challenge but many more have given considerable amounts of money and this is quite remarkable. Finally some famous people have done more than just getting indignant and launched a project that will actually provide support to the refugees. This is just awesome, and it has also prompted big publishing companies to donate in favour of Syrian refugees: Penguin Random House has given £15,000 and Hachette has donated £10,000 and promised to give another £10,000 when the public total for the fundraiser reaches £1m. Today, the fundraising page has reached $1,000,000 of donations! Here is the link to the page, if you are also interested in making a donation.
See you next week!