writing & publishing

Book Links

A bunch of vaguely interesting book-ish links that have caught my eye of late. First up, an Italian NGO is calling for Dante’s ‘racist, Islamophobic and antisemitic’ epic poem, the Divine Comedy, to be removed from classrooms:

the Italian human rights organisation Gherush92, which advises UN bodies on human rights issues, wants it to be removed from school curriculums, or at least used with more caution, because it is “offensive and discriminatory” and young people lack the “filters” to understand it in context.

Always an interesting debate, this kind of thing, but I wonder what role teachers ought to play in establishing context. Surely if a book is on the curriculum, then context can and should be addressed. Should the so-called missing filters be introduced at this point? I’d rather kids were made aware of the failings of the past than have these books airbrushed from debate altogether. On a related point, if I was a publisher, I’d try an experimental marketing campaign trying to get a book banned or burned. Just watch the sales skyrocket…

That long-fated end of the book industry seems to be taking a halt as a new book chain dips its toes in UK waters:

The first Watermark bookshop in Europe has opened in the new London King’s Cross concourse with 7,000 books available for sale across the 1,100 sq ft shop.
Former Waterstones Islington manager Farah Taylor has taken charge of the shop as its manager and buyer and has employed 10 staff, who are all “from the book trade and passionate about books”.

Faber has a reasonably kooky but possibly cynical attempt at getting emotional/social buy-in to one of their books called Capital.

How will your life change in the next ten years? Will you be better or worse off? Sign up to Pepys Road and over ten days we’ll tell you how the world will change and what this will mean for you. We’ll also give you the prologue to Capital for free.

I remember the days where you got prologues for free without jumping through hoops! Finally, the Telegraph questions the teenage craze for dystopian fiction, and offers this ridiculous opening:

Many parents might feel worried on finding their teenage children addicted to grim visions of a future in which global warming has made the seas rise, the earth dry up, genetically engineered plants run riot and humans fight over the last available scraps of food.

Parents being worried about their kids reading that? Never mind the generations that grew up reading Stephen King. How terribly nasty. Or rather, how middle-class. How very Daily Telegraph.

Ironically, it’s denialist publications like the Telegraph that would contribute to such a future.

By Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.

6 replies on “Book Links”

On the Dante thing. Didn’t the people who are complaining about his book in school curriculums grow up with pretty much the same curriculum? Did they turn out to be racists or anti-semitic? If not, then why do they think their kids will? Is there something wrong with their kids? Is the next generation dumber or more naive than we were? I think not.

Parents today are sheltering their kids too much. If you don’t show them examples of racism from the past they’ll just make the same mistakes in the future. Kids are much smarter than we give them credit for. We just need to set good examples and explain why people in the past thought and acted the way they did. The kids will get it, they are smarter than us.

Thanks. 🙂 I’ve got three kids and every time I hear about someone wanting to edit history to make it safe for our kids I just want to choke them! Editing history doesn’t help anyone. People spend their whole lives digging through the past to find truth and these idiots come along and try to make it nice and pretty so we don’t upset our kids.  Something seems very wrong with this picture.  And I am sure as heck going to make sure when my kids get into school that they get the whole story of our history and literature not just the PC version.

On a side note, do you know that when they released the DVDs of classic Sesame Street episodes they put a warning at the beginning that it wasn’t for children?  True story.

I think there’s a lot of misrepresentation going on in the Dante story. First of all, the request is not simply to throw it out, but to give it a more specific context regarding the problematic elements — and only throw it out if this is not possible. This, however, is omitted in most news stories, because “banning books” sounds more interesting than “trying to take a more critical approach”. Which, by the way, is not happenning, or at least not with any regularity.

Second, the story itself has been taken out of its own context — that of Italy, where Dante is held up as one of the national heroes. Yes, The Divine Comedy is treated as one of the important works of world literature almost everywhere — but in its homeland, it’s got even more weight. Not to mention the historical context of later developments, since Dante was used as one of the cultular pillars of Mussolini’s policies, and the Dante Alighieri Society played an important role in Italian colonial and fascist policies, giving the whole story an additional layer that is mostly ignored outside of Italy.

And if you think that people reading Dante with no critical highlighting of the worldview did not grow up to be racist, sexist, anti-semitic and so on, I have to ask what world you live in. Yes, it’s probably not the fault of Dante alone, but the lack of critical examination of political underpinings in “classic works” in schools is in fact rather terrifying. I don’t know whether in the UK the situation is different, but in most countries where I know at least something about their curricula, this is a huge hole, and really needs to be fixed.

Hi Milena, and thanks for clarifying things locally. 

I think the point about “if you think that people reading Dante with no critical highlighting of the worldview did not grow up to be racist, sexist, anti-semitic and so on, I have to ask what world you live in.” I’m not sure anyone implied that – seems to be missing the points made. The point is in making sure parents or educators take an active role in educating children accordingly, making sure they’re aware of context, to do as much as possible to highlight the inherent problems with the text. 

A book discussion either way is unlikely to make a child racist or otherwise, when stacked up against their upbringing and exposure to certain types of media. 

 Well, I certainly didn’t mean to say that reading Dante is what makes people racist or sexist. However, there’s still an awful lot of racism and sexism going on, so it’s not making them non-racist or non-sexist, either. I absolutely agree that the role of other media and the cultural environment is much more important in the shaping of kids, particularly nowadays.

For a very long time, the teaching of classics has been one of “required admiration” — you’re given the text, you’re required to read it, and required to admire it, with very little time given to proper contextualisation and/or criticism. This is a disservice to both the classics (who then get perceived as that boring stuff you must read and should like, though no one’s really sure why) and the students, who grow up to feel (high) culture is a very boring place to be, and often learn that you’re not supposed to question it unless you want to end up looking like an idiot.

So yes, I’d say that we’re all in “violent agreement” here; or, rather, that newspaper reporting has made a very reasonable proposal into something much more scandalous sounding than it really is. Which is not exactly surprising… but that’s a whole different discussion. 🙂

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