Monday, June 30, 2008

"Great bookshops are..."

"Great bookshops are the heart of every literary culture, the chambers where life-giving material is exchanged and where writers and readers deposit and find their secrets. . . . The greatest bookshops set up a trade in books and passions, in the interplay of inquiring minds and the search for values. And so, the best bookshops in the world become centres of a way of life . . . because there is so little else around now that is like them. Independence is their creed but also their character: they seek to know what they are selling and to sell it with feeling."--Andrew O'Hagan describing "the perfect bookshop" in Britain's Guardian newspaper.

(This was emailed to us by a customer, who was kind enough to say that she "immediately thought of Durham's own great bookshop when I read it and wanted to pass it on.").

Friday, June 27, 2008

Is J.K. Rowling better than Milton, Shakespeare, William Gibson...?

Has J.K. Rowling lost her perspective on her Harry Potter creation? In a lawsuit heard in April (but yet to be decided at this writing) J.K. sued the author of a "Harry Potter Lexicon" for copyright infringement. The lexicon was to be a guide to the words peculiar to the Harry Potter books--words like Quidditch and Hogwarts. Lots of people took a dim view of Ms Rowling's lawsuit, including this most literary criticism from the Times of London, in an editorial entitled "J.K. Rowling may own Harry's world, but we own her words now."

"A generation has now grown up besotted (©Milton) with Quidditch and Hogwarts. However, it is not astonishing that J.K. Rowling is using a court case to remind the writers of a zany (©Shakespeare) Harry Potter lexicon, now making the jump from cyberspace (©William Gibson) to print, that it is not common property and she did invent it all. She may succeed in persuading the court that her copyright is violated by some parts of the proposed encyclopedia. Indeed, she may have a respectable commercial case, but not much of a cultural one. However, unless she employs a mole (©le CarrĂ©) to oversee our every conversation and written exchange, she should not try to suppress a collection of her invented words. For Voldemort, Muggles, Horcruxes and all Rowling's other serendipitous (©Walpole) coinages are ours now; it would be pig-headed (©Jonson) not to let us use them as we wish.

"English is so full of the neologisms of authors that if we had to credit each one, we would assassinate (©Shakespeare) our prose, and make readers chortle (©Carroll) mightily. Without being didactic (©Milton), Rowling can be assured that she is in good company in contributing words, gratis, to the language. The best she should hope for is that her words become as widely adopted as those of other authors. Perhaps the highest honour has been bestowed on the quark (©Joyce), used as the name for a sub-atomic particle. As there are quarks across the Universe, Joyce may be our most disseminated author. Rowling should be proud if Doxies, Thestrals or Butterbeer make it as far as a lexicon."

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Playing defense for the First Amendment

These are not good times for those of us who support the first amendment. In the world of literature, a new low may have been reached in November 2006, the 50th anniversary of the publication of Alan Ginsberg's Howl. Howl, of course, was the subject of a famous 1950's court case that sought--and failed--to bar its distribution on the grounds of indecency. But fifty years later, WBAI, the long-time progressive New York public radio station, had to call off their plans to air an anniversary reading of Ginsberg's amazing poem. WBAI was afraid of incurring a financially devastating fine from the FCC for putting indecent material on the air. It's back to the future--in all the wrong ways.

And the puritans remain on the attack. The American Booksellers Foundation for Freedom of Expression (ABFFE) has alerted us to a couple of especially disturbing new laws. In Oregon, a new statute makes it a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail to allow a minor under 13 to view or purchase a “sexually explicit” work. The law does not include a requirement that a book or magazine be judged as a whole in determining whether it is illegal; such a test may exempt works that contain only a few sexually explicit images or passages. In addition, there is no exemption for material that has serious literary artistic, political or scientific value for minors.

And a new Indiana law requires any store that sells even a single "sexually explicit" book, magazine, video or recording to register with the state and pay a $250 license fee. "Sexually explicit" is defined so broadly that the law could apply to bookstores that sell mainstream novels and other artistic works with sexual content as well as educational books about sexuality and sexual health.

ABFEE has joined groups including publishers, individual bookstores in each state, and the ACLU in filing suits opposing these laws.

The Regulator is proud to be a "dues paying, card-carrying" member of ABFEE (the back of the card says "In case of First Amendment Emergency call" and gives two phone numbers), and money you spend here helps to fund our ABFEE contribution. For more information see