Monday, August 11, 2008
Two red hot literary controversies heating up the dog days of summer
August is supposed to be a calm,nothing really going on,type of month that's perfect
for tuning out to current events and pop culture news,but not this year,folks. In addition to the Olympics,we have a pair of books that have been burning up the blogosphere and other websites for totally opposite reasons;one is due to not coming out to a bookstore near you and other because it did arrive on time but didn't make everyone happy once it got there.
First up,The Jewel of Medina by Sherry Jones. This debut novel about Aisha,one of the wives of the Prophet Muhammad,was set to be released this August. However,it's publication was canceled back in May,due to concerns about the possible reception the book would receive Muslim. A former Wall Street Journal reporter,Asra Nomani,wrote an op-ed piece about the cancellation and found out that the movement to pull JOM was spearheaded by a professor of Islamic studies at the University of Texas,Denise Spellberg.
Ms. Spellberg had been sent an Advanced Readers' Copy of JOM(at the request of the author Sherry Jones,who had read one of Spellberg's books about Aisha)and asked if she would recommend the book with a blurb,those mini book reviews you see on front and back covers. Ms. Spellberg thought the book was,in her words,"very ugly, stupid piece of work." and was offended by what she considered to be a raunchy description of Aisha's wedding night in this passage:
"the pain of consummation soon melted away. Muhammad was so gentle. I hardly felt the scorpion's sting. To be in his arms, skin to skin, was the bliss I had longed for all my life."
All of that inspired Ms. Spellberg to call the publisher and tell one of the editors that if they published JOM,that they were in danger of being attacked by outraged Muslims and that they should cancel the publication for safety reasons. Ms. Spellberg also contacted an editor of a Muslim website,insisting that he warn Muslims about JOM,saying the book made fun of their religion.
Ms. Spellberg sent her own letter to the WSJ,saying that she wasn't solely responsible for getting The Jewel of Medina canceled and her literary opinion of JOM; "The novel provides no new reading of Aisha's life, but actually expands upon provocative themes regarding Muhammad's wives first found in an earlier novel by Salman Rushdie, "The Satanic Verses," which I teach." She also claims that it was her "professional responsibility" to "warn the press of the novel's potential to provoke anger among some Muslims."
What Denise Spellberg did,in my opinion,was not in any way,shape or form,the actions of a professional. Despite what she says,she was not asked for her "scholarly expertise" to evaluate the book. She was asked for a recommendation,period. All she had to do here was say "Thanks,but no thanks" and if she was sincere about her concerns,those could have been expressed in a calm,reasonable manner. She didn't have to shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater,or threaten to sue the publisher if her name was connected to JOM(which she also did). Ironically,her name is linked to this book whether she likes it or not.
While she may not be entirely accountable for getting this book pulled,Denise Spellberg does have a good share of the blame here and should own up to it. By going out of her way to cause trouble for JOM and stop it from being released,she abused her authority as a teacher and a reputable scholar.
I find it appalling that a person who bragged about going thru a metal detector to see The Last Temptation of Christ has no qualms about trying to stir up protests towards a novel that hasn't even gotten the chance to be judged on it's own merits by the public. One of the websites that has been covering this story,Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Books,was allowed by Sherry Jones to make the prologue of JOM available at their site and since the rights to the novel were given back to Jones,hopefully we will be able to read The Jewel of Medina in it's entirety and decide for ourselves.
Or some can choose not to read it. The point being,that people in a free society have the right to make their own choice about what will or will not offend them without either forcing others to agree with them or having a self appointed authority figure make that decision for them by using scare tactics or cohersion.
The other big book brouhaha is the reaction to Breaking Dawn,the last novel in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series. It was released on August 2,and sold very well. Yet,some of the fans are extremely not happy with a number of plot developments and are promoting a campaign to return the book(after reading it)as a form of protest.
To me,returning a book after reading it just because it didn't live up to your expectations is the equivalent of buying a dress in the afternoon,wearing it to a party in the evening and then returning it to the store the next day. Once you've gotten the full use out of your purchase,it's not cool to do that. I also don't like the notion being expressed that Stephenie Meyer and her publisher were intending to "rush an inferior product to market and get away with it." People,please-this was no grand conspiracy to take your money and run. I fear that some of you have been spoiled by the type of fan fiction which caters to the whims of the majority in fantasy fulfillment.
Since there are two tiers of Twilight fans,the teens and the adults,let me address each group separately. For the Twilight Teens;while I'm still reading the second book in the series,I can speak with knowledge when I tell you that being disappointed in a vampire series(or any genre series)is not a new experience to most readers. It's a hurdle that many before you have faced,dealt with and moved on from.
No one can please everyone and that includes authors. Talk to anyone who has given up on Anne Rice,Laurell K. Hamilton,hell,even a few Harry Potter people were not totally thrilled with some of the things that happened in the last book! Stephenie Meyer wrote Breaking Dawn according to the path that she felt the story was on and if that doesn't make you happy,that was not her intention. She wrote the book in good faith with the readers but it would be wrong for her to spoon feed you a conclusion that she didn't believe in and to want that from her is immature.
For the Twilight Grown-ups:Guys,you need to set an example for the young people and help them get over this. If you're too busy joining in the bitch fest and encouraging this pseudo"fight the power" movement,you're only indulging in your own immaturity.
Yes,it's fine to share in the group rant and get all of your complaints out of your system but know when to stop,seriously. If you never want to read another one of Meyer's books again,okay. Just please try to calm down and chalk the whole thing up to experience. This probably isn't your first time at the rodeo and won't be the last,so let it go.
I won't get into the spoilers about the plot,for those who are in the midst of reading Breaking Dawn or haven't gotten to it yet,but let me just say that the subject matter in question has been explored before and while it may not be my ideal concept regarding vampires,it's nothing new. Anyone who is familiar with the third and fourth seasons of Angel has dealt with these issues and shared grievances about them,so rest assured that you furious Twilight folks are not alone:
Well,hopefully things will get less heated by the time September rolls around. One good thing that has come from both of these debates is that folks were kept alert by them and didn't allow their brains to snooze the last legs of summer away. Onward and upward,people!
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