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Book News: Orwell Estate Accuses Amazon Of Doublespeak

This undated file photo shows writer George Orwell, author of <em>1984.</em> The literary executor of Orwell's estate is accusing Amazon.com of quoting Orwell out of context.
This undated file photo shows writer George Orwell, author of 1984. The literary executor of Orwell's estate is accusing Amazon.com of quoting Orwell out of context.

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

  • The literary executor of George Orwell's estate says that online retailer Amazon's recent use of a quote by the writer to bolster its case against publishing giant Hachette comes "as close as one can get to the Ministry of Truth and its doublespeak: turning the facts inside out to get a piece of propaganda across." Amazon had posted a letter arguing that the literary establishment's opposition to e-books is as reactionary as its initial hostility to paperbacks. Amazon wrote, "The famous author George Orwell came out publicly and said about the new paperback format, if 'publishers had any sense, they would combine against them and suppress them.' Yes, George Orwell was suggesting collusion." In fact, the full quote read, "The Penguin Books are splendid value for sixpence, so splendid that if the other publishers had any sense they would combine against them and suppress them." Bill Hamilton, the literary executor of Orwell's estate, wrote in a letter to The New York Times, "[Amazon] quotes Orwell out of context as supporting a campaign to suppress paperbacks, to give specious authority to its campaign against publishers over ebook pricing; and having gotten as much capital as it can out of waving around Orwell's name, Amazon then dismisses what was an ironic comment without engaging with Orwell's own detailed arguments, which eloquently contradict Amazon's." He added, "As the literary executor for the Orwell estate, I'm both appalled and wryly amused that Amazon's tactics should come straight out of Orwell's own nightmare dystopia, 1984."
  • In Tehran, a married couple has turned their taxi into a mobile library, The Wall Street Journal reports: "More than 40 titles, 130 volumes in all, are stacked behind the back, shelved on racks over the passenger window, cluttering the dashboard, crammed into side pockets and stuffed in the trunk. When you pay the fare, you can buy a book."
  • J.D. Salinger's New Hampshire house is for sale. The real estate listing notes, "Land on both sides of the road ensures privacy."
  • Terry Pratchett says the best fantasy writing is "[t]he kind that isn't fantastic." He told The New York Times, "It's just creating a new reality. Really, a good fantasy is just a mirror of our own world, but one whose reflection is subtly distorted."
  • Nominees for the Thurber prize, which celebrates "the art of humor writing," have been announced, and include David Letterman and Bruce McCall for their book This Land Was Made for You and Me (But Mostly Me). Other finalists are Liza Donnelly for her collection of cartoons Women on Men, and John Kenney for his novel Truth in Advertising. The winner of the $5,000 prize will be announced Sept. 30.
  • "Dystopian fiction is passé now." Lois Lowry, who wrote the Giver, says that the days of YA dystopian novels are coming to an end.
  • David Rice considers online reading and the anxiety of influence in the Internet-era: "In these online minutes or hours, I drift along with my mouth open, absorbing whatever's floating by, never chewing or even swallowing, just letting it all seep pre-chewed into me. The impurity of this content makes it far more consumable than anything pure, even a little bit of which is filling. This brine of Netflix and Amazon and iTunes, reviews and interviews, recaps and best-of lists and hostile and giddy comment threads, fills me with growths that are half-me and half-everyone."
  • 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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