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Book News: U.K. Leader, Authors Spar Over Ban On Sending Books To Prisons

A letter from British Prime Minister David Cameron (left) states that "the Government has not banned prisoners' access to books."
Stefan Rousseau
A letter from British Prime Minister David Cameron (left) states that "the Government has not banned prisoners' access to books."

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

  • British Prime Minister David Cameron has responded to a letter by leading U.K. writers criticizing a new security measure that prevents books and other small packages from being sent into prisons. The letter signed by Salman Rushdie, Julian Barnes, poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy and dozens of other writers calls the policy "misguided" and states that "reading goes hand in hand with education and rehabilitation, whilst research shows that informal learning reduces reoffending." Cameron responded in a letter dated July 29: "The Government has not banned prisoners' access to books. ... Prisoners can use their own funds to buy books." Cameron also voiced support for Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, who suggested earlier this year that books sent to prisons could be used to smuggle "drugs or other illegal items."
  • The war diaries of the WWI poet Siegfried Sassoon have been digitized for the first time through a project by the Cambridge University Library. As the Two-Way blog reported, nearly two dozen diaries and notebooks have been made available. In one entry from 1916, Sassoon writes, "Sometimes when I see my companions lying asleep or resting, rolled in their blankets, their faces turned to earth or hidden in the folds, for a moment I wonder whether they are alive or dead. For at any hour I may come upon them, and find that long silence descended over them, — their faces grey and disfigured, — dark stains of blood soaking through their torn garments, — all their hope & merriment snuffed out for ever."
  • Notable Books Coming Out This Week:

  • What We See When We Read, a new book by the book jacket designer Peter Mendelsund, is an exuberantly illustrated treatise on the visuals of reading. There can be something condescendingly explainy about the book. (As The New York Times' Dwight Garner argued in his review, it sometimes sounds like a TED talk.) And Mendelsund's insistence on "We" can be grating — I, at least, don't read the same way he does. But it's rare to read a book that's so joyous; it's not too pointedly whimsical or overcute, just an exultant dance of images and sentences.
  • Coming only a few months after her extraordinary debut novel, An Untamed State, Roxane Gay's latest work, Bad Feminist, is a collection of essays on gender, race and pop culture. At her best, Gay is devastatingly good — there are sentences so exquisite they deserve to be chiseled in stone — but other passages have a dashed-off, unedited quality. ("Countess Olenska intrigues me because she is interesting.") The real problem, though, is a conceptual one: These essays try to reconcile being a feminist with being a person who likes dresses and doesn't know how to fix her car. But does any reasonable person think that these are true contradictions? Accompanying the idea of "bad feminism" is the spectral presence of unforgiving "good feminists," who, it must be assumed, are an ever-watchful coven of feminist enforcers who exile anyone caught singing along to misogynistic rap music or wearing pink or faking orgasms. It does the feminist movement a disservice. Even the title — Bad Feminist — seems like a protestation: "Don't worry, I'm not like those feminists, the humorless and militant ones." But Gay's raw essays on violence against women and rape are unforgettable. You can read one, on trigger warnings, here. [Disclosure: I met Gay earlier this year and wrote a profile of her for NPR.]
  • Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Annalisa Quinn is a contributing writer, reporter, and literary critic for NPR. She created NPR's Book News column and covers literature and culture for NPR.

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