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Thursday News: Mary Beard on Misogyny, Vladimir Nabokov fears for Lolita in America, Texas school district tries to ban some books, and the ‘holy grail’ of movie censorship letters

Thursday News: Mary Beard on Misogyny, Vladimir Nabokov fears for Lolita...

The Troll Slayer – I’ve had this wonderful article on Cambridge Classics scholar Mary Beard open on my desktop for a couple of weeks now, not wanting it to get lost in the stories about Amazon and Apple and everything else going on.

Beard is not only an extremely respected and interesting scholar, but she’s also a public figure in the UK who has become quite well known for the way she deals with online misogynistic backlash. Rather than ignoring her trolls or even trying to humiliate them, she confronts them directly, sometimes publicly, sometimes privately, and the results are pretty interesting, In a number of cases, she’s actually turned the relationship around. Still, she’s first and foremost engaged in the project of challenging stereotypes and creating spaces for women to speak out, and she also believes that she is educating younger women who have grown up with the advantages first and second wave feminists secured without understanding the history behind them and the ongoing threat to their existence. Even her work on ancient Rome reflects these themes (and more), along with the complexity of cultural engagement and understanding.

In “Oh Do Shut Up Dear!,” Beard’s lecture at the British Museum, she referred to one of the very few occasions in Roman literature when a woman is permitted a public voice. After Lucretia, the wife of a nobleman, Conlatinus, is raped by Tarquin, a royal prince, she denounces her rapist, then kills herself to preserve her virtue. This rape story, as told by Livy, sets into motion the founding of the Roman Republic: Lucretia’s defenders swear that hereditary princes will no longer assume privileges through violence. In her lecture, Beard acknowledged that it is easier to document ways that women have been silenced than it is to find a remedy to their silencing. (Virtuous suicide is not an option.) The real issue, she suggested, is not merely guaranteeing a woman’s right to speak; it is being aware of the prejudices that we bring to the way we hear her. Listening, she implied, is an essential element of speech. –New Yorker

A Lolitigation Lament: Nabokov on Censorship and Solidarity – Banned Books Week provides a lot of opportunities to look back at some of the more notorious books from history, and Nabokov’s Lolita is definitely near the top of the list. And at the time this book was in the process of being acquired by an American publisher, the Supreme Court was hearing a number of high profile obscenity cases. Consequently, Nabakov was very anxious about the possibility of his book being censored, and he worked very actively to find a publisher who would, if necessary, defend Lolita all the way up to eh Supreme Court. A very interesting reminder of the power that publishing can represent.

At the end, Doubleday didn’t come through — likely in large part out of fear of what the kind of solidarity Nabokov demanded would cost them if an obscenity lawsuit indeed resulted from the publication. The publisher willing to offer such solidarity was ultimately G.P. Putnam’s Sons, currently owned by Penguin Group, who published the American edition of Lolita in August of 1958. Already into its third printing within days, it became the first book since Gone with the Wind to sell 100,000 copies in its initial three weeks on the market. Despite Nabokov’s fears of censorship, or perhaps precisely because of his elaborate strategizing to prevent it, there were no official government sanctions. –Brain Pickings

Highland Park ISD suspends seven books after parents protest their content – So a Texas school district inadvertently recognized Banned Books Week by, well, trying to ban some books of their own. In this case, at issue are some adult themes and situations that parents are uncomfortable having their kids introduced to in the classroom. This is very much an ongoing debate in US K-12 education, and despite the frustration many may feel at the titles on the banned list, I’m glad to see that these issues are being discussed openly and not confined to closed-door, autocratic processes.

One of suspended books — The Working Poor: Invisible in America, written by Pulitzer Prize winner David K. Shipler — is about Americans in low-skilled jobs who struggle because of economic and personal obstacles. Some parents objected to the nonfiction book because it has a passage about a woman who was sexually abused as a child and later had an abortion.

High school English teacher Darcy Young cautioned board members that passages from the books had been taken out of context. She said the district’s educational mission compels teachers to introduce challenging and sometimes uncomfortable topics to teach critical thinking.

“Our motto is to prepare the child for the path, not prepare the path for the child,” she said. –Dallas Morning News

Monty Python and the Holy Grail Censorship Letter: We Want to Retain “Fart in Your General Direction” – When Monty Python and the Holy Grail was released in the mid-1970′s, producers wanted the film to be rated for all audiences (an “A” rating), instead of being rated for everyone 14 and older. Ratings systems amount to a kind of censorship, especially when filmmakers remove portions of their films in order to qualify for a more inclusive rating. This letter between producers of Monty Python regarding proposed changes to the film, though, has to be one of the all-time best of its kind (plus there’s a great clip from the movie).

I would like to get back to the Censor and agree to lose the shits, take the odd Jesus Christ out and lose Oh fuck off, but to retain ‘fart in your general direction’, ‘castanets of your testicles’ and ‘oral sex’ and ask him for an ‘A’ rating on that basis. –Open Culture

Friday News: Harlequin authors win some and lose some, Toronto Public Library releases proposed banning list, Free Comic Book Day is this Saturday, and win $1000 for deciphering margin notes

Friday News: Harlequin authors win some and lose some, Toronto Public...


Updated by Jane to add: This morning it was announced that News Corp. will buy Harlequin for close to a half billion dollars and that Harlequin will become a division of HarperCollins. The “Harlequin as a division of HC” is worrisome to me. When Penguin and Random House merged, each remained its own separate entity. With Harlequin as a division of HC, I think it is safe to say that several things are going to change. Harlequin has always been reader friendly, library friendly publisher. And it has, particularly in recent years, tried hard to push diverse characters into its mainstream lines. Honestly I feel a little dismayed about this.

Appeals Court: Book Publisher Must Face Self-Dealing Lawsuit – So it looks like the authors suing Harlequin are both winning and losing. The 2nd Circuit held that the subsidiary companies Harlequin established in the 1980s and 1990s were valid representatives of “the publisher” per the contractual agreement with authors. However, Judge Parker reversed the holding of the lower court in regard to the self-dealing claim, which relates to the 6 to 8 % Harlequin Enterprises paid to its subsidiaries (and therefore for distribution to the authors in the form of royalties) was far too low relative to the industry standard. Now the case goes back to the lower court for further proceedings.

The ruling could be a confidence boost for others bringing vertical integration claims. For example, The Walking Dead creator Frank Darabont sued last December in a New York court with a claim that AMC has cheated its profit participants by licensing the show to itself and “creating an unconscionably low license fee formula that had no regard for what AMC or any other network would pay in an arms’ length agreement for the right to broadcast such a comparable highly successful series.” –Hollywood Reporter

Nintendo Forgoes An E3 Press Conference Again, Brings ‘Smash Bros.’ To… Ever Wondered How Nancy Grace Comes Up With Her ‘Infamous And Wacky’ H… Someone Asked The Toronto Public Library To Remove ‘Hop On Pop’ Because It Promotes Violence Against Dads – The Toronto Public Library released its top seven books that were the subject of requests for banning within the last year, and the Dr. Seuss classic Hop on Pop made the list for promoting violence against fathers. Sometimes you have to wonder if this kind of thing is a joke, or whether someone really believed that Dr. Seuss was somehow promoting patricide. These kinds of requests illustrate the danger of banning, but they also have to give us pause around any assumptions we might have about universal textual interpretation.

As for the other titles that received complaints, Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Kennedy was accused of containing “falsehoods because it concludes Kennedy was killed by Oswald along”; A Kiss Remembered was deemed “obscene” because it “offends current societal morality”; Complete Hindi “contains inaccuracies and states that Hindi and Urdu are paired languages”; Flesh House is “shocking and disturbing”; the children’s book Lizzy’s Lion is “violent and disturbing”; and in my personal favorite complaint that I wholeheartedly agree with, the DVD copy of Adam Sandler’s That’s My Boy should be removed because it “shows sick and illegal behaviour and depicts it as humorous.” –UPROXX

What is Free Comic Book Day? – Free Comic Book Day occurs the first Saturday in May, and involves comic book shops around the world giving away free copies of volumes as a way of promoting the genre, its creators, and its commercial retailers. Apparently authors appear at some of the stores, depending on location. A full list of participating stores can be found on the website. –Free Comic Book Day

Decipher These Mysterious Margin Notes and Win $1000 – When someone donated a rare 1504 copy of Homer’s Odyssey to the University of Chicago Library, they did so wondering about two pages of margin notes in the text that have yet to be deciphered. So the owner is now offering a financial prize in order to incentivize discovery of the words’ meaning. More details can be found at the University website here.

What do they say? Why are they there? The person who donated the book to the library has offered a prize of $1000 “to the first person who identifies the script, provides evidence to support the conclusion, and executes a translation of selected portions of the mysterious marginalia.” The donor thinks it may be a form of French shorthand, but has no evidence for this. The notes interact strongly with the text, underlining and bracketing the specific parts they comment on. The text is in Greek, by the way, so that may make your deciphering a little more difficult. –Mental Floss