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Book News: Penguin India Defends Decision To Yank 'The Hindus'

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

  • Penguin Books India is defending its decision to settle a lawsuit over Wendy Doniger's The Hindus: An Alternative History and withdraw the book from sale in India. The publisher says it has become "increasingly difficult for any Indian publisher to uphold international standards of free expression without deliberately placing itself outside the law." The lawsuit filed by a Hindu group claimed Doniger skewed and sexualized aspects of Hinduism. Penguin India was widely criticized for capitulating, with Man Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy writing in an open letter, "[Y]ou have fought for free speech against the most violent and terrifying odds. And now, even though there was no fatwa, no ban, not even a court order, you have not only caved in, you have humiliated yourself abjectly before a fly-by-night outfit by signing settlement. Why?" A statement from the publisher reads: "Penguin Books India believes, and has always believed, in every individual's right to freedom of thought and expression, a right explicitly codified in the Indian Constitution. This commitment informs Penguin's approach to publishing in every territory of the world, and we have never been shy about testing that commitment in court when appropriate. At the same time, a publishing company has the same obligation as any other organisation to respect the laws of the land in which it operates, however intolerant and restrictive those laws may be."
  • The Washington Post asked Adelle Waldman to write a Valentine's Day scene with characters from her novel The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. "He began pacing the Valentine's Day aisle. Finally, he happened to see, tucked away near the end of the aisle, a pink box — called 'The Box of Love.' Through a plastic window, Nate could see that the Box of Love contained two champagne flutes with hearts on them and a small, malevolent-eyed teddy bear wearing a bib with the words 'I love you' printed on it. It was so hideous it could only be meant ironically."
  • Among other Hemingway documents digitized by the JFK Presidential Library is the elaborate recipe for the writer's favorite hamburger. (What happened to "Hunger is good discipline," Hem?)
  • Literary critic James Wood writes about leaving England for America, and the elusive idea of "Home": "It's not uncommon for expatriates, émigrés, refugees and travellers to want to die 'at home'. The desire to return, after so long away, is gladly irrational, and is perhaps premised on the loss of the original home (as the refusal to go home may also be premised on the loss of home). Home swells as a sentiment because it has disappeared as an achievable reality."
  • An interview with Robert Caro — in which he talks about craft and his award-winning books on Lyndon Johnson — is posted on the Nieman Storyboard: "I was thrown into investigative reporting when I really knew nothing about it. I was 23 years old, and I told my editor that I didn't know anything about it, and he said, 'Just never assume a damn thing.' He said, 'Turn every page.' That's really what I've tried to do."
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