Dog-Eared and Dispatched
April Fools’ Day jokes dominated book news this week, literary citizens, a few of which can be found in this edition’s footnotes for your reading pleasure. Here on LNL’s Dog-Eared and Dispatched, however, mama didn’t raise no fool—”mama” of course referring to executive director Paul Martone—and our top three stories for this week relay nothing but the truth. We begin by detailing the ongoing battle between the German union Ver.di and Amazon as warehouse workers continue to fight for fair wages from the online retailer. Next, we investigate booksellers’ and publishers’ responses to an LGBTQ-related defunding of two South Carolina universities. Finally, we update you on the latest news regarding the U.K. prison book ban, including British Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy’s open letter to Secretary of State for Justice Chris Grayling. Ready. Set. Read!
As they publicly announced they would months ago, German workers from the Leipzig warehouse facility have continued their wage protests in the form of another strike this Monday, March 31. The German union Ver.di is approaching its one-year anniversary of attempted negotiations with Amazon, demanding that the online retailer raise its hourly pay for distribution center employees to an amount equivalent to the wages earned by employees within Germany’s retail sector. As reported by MobyLives!, “Workers first demanded to be reclassified last spring; they’ve also called for other benefits, including Christmas bonuses and overtime for work done on nights, Sundays, and holidays.” Thus far, Amazon has refused to budge, leading to a series of factory walkouts around the holiday season and this most recent strike, in which approximately 500 of Amazon employees participated. Of course, Amazon has never been a friend to the union worker, as their history shows. Within the United States, their bullying tactics have often met success; however, Amazon is finding their battle with Germany a different ball game altogether. As Fortune notes, this is perhaps due in part to a discrepancy in the power of unions within the two countries, with the U.S. coming in at 11% union representation in comparison to Germany’s 18% (not to mention Germany’s stricter workers’ rights policies overall). According to San Francisco State University Associate Professor of Labor and Employment Studies John Logan, “Amazon seems to be clashing with the German employment culture, in which, of course, unions—while not as powerful as they once were—are significantly more powerful than those in the United States.” [Time, Mobylives!, 24/7 Wall Street, Fortune]
The University of South Carolina Upstate (USCU) and the College of Charleston are both facing unexpected fund reductions this week as South Carolina’s House Ways and Means Committee (HWMC) pulls a total of nearly $70,000 from the schools. Their reasoning for this sudden defunding? It was “retribution,” according to Publishers Weekly, “for the fact that both schools assigned books . . . deemed inappropriate by the legislators because the titles feature gay and lesbian characters.” The titles assigned by USCS and Charleston were, respectively, Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio edited by Ed Madden and Candace Chellew-Hodge and Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (for which Charleston had already been monetarily reprimanded by the South Carolina House of Representatives in late February). “It’s unconstitutional, it’s bad policy, and it’s bad for students,” National Coalition Against Censorship Executive Director Joan Bertin said. “What kind of message does this send to students in the state, regardless of their sexual orientation? [It sends the message that they] should keep their mouths shut and their minds closed.” As far as Executive Director of Hub City Betsy Teter is concerned, this kind of publicity, while based on a negative set of circumstances, has served to propel both of these books back into the public mindset. “[Out Loud, a Hub City publication] was published four years ago. It had a nice run when it was released, and then, suddenly, whamo!” she stated, referring to the book’s second wind in sales. “It’s a beautiful book. I’ve read people talking about it in the newspaper, saying it’s sex and erotica. It’s neither of those things; it is a book about human beings trying to make their way in the world. It’s the voices of not only gay and lesbian Southerners, but also their parents and others—it’s about how we deal with this issue in our homes and in this time.” Bestselling author Dorothea Benton Frank (an honorary graduate of Charleston) perhaps put it best when she stated, “Reading a book about a lesbian coming of age will no more turn you into a lesbian than reading a cookbook will transform you into a pot roast.” So far, there has been no word from HWMC about retracting their decision. [Publisher’s Weekly]
Assisted by novelists Julian Barnes, Ian McEwan and Mark Haddon, Great Britain’s Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy has written an open letter to Ministry of Justice Secretary Chris Grayling requesting a meeting to discuss the U.K.’s ban on books being delivered to prisoners. Duffy first gained notoriety for her activism regarding this issue when she held a protest poetry reading outside of the Pentonville prison in London last week. Now, she and numerous others (authors, celebrities, and organizations alike) are continuing their efforts by promoting the online petition and flooding the Ministry of Justice’s Twitter account with bookshelf photographs labeled #shelfie and #booksforprisoners. “Through our work in prisons, we’ve seen at first hand the fundamental importance of access to literature,” PEN Director Jo Glanville told The Guardian. “Some of the country’s most eminent writers are now seeking an opportunity to discuss a way forward. I’m hopeful that ministers will be prepared to review a misguided policy.” Until the policy is reviewed, activists may gain some satisfaction in knowing that Graying could face legal action for conducting himself “unlawfully and irrationally.” “Grayling is not a lawyer, he is a politician who seems to think he is above the law,” said Geoffrey Robertson, a human rights lawyer who has offered his services for free in opposition to the banning. “He has no power to impose additional punishment on prisoners over and above that which is imposed by the courts. The action has nothing to do with prison security or any other legitimate purpose. The right to read is precious in this country and for prisoners it is a way to lift themselves out of the slough of criminality. To deny them the books they need in order to improve themselves is both unreasonable and counter-productive.” Grayling has responded to Duffy’s correspondence with an open letter of his own. According to Melville House Editor Kirsten Reach, however, “at this point, [Grayling’s] just fanning the flames. The famous writers are sure to respond with further letters, poetry readings, and cleverly-worded protest signs, it’s just a question of when and where.” [The Guardian, The Telegraph, Howardleague.org, Change.org, Express and Star, MobyLives!]
1. Not afraid of instigating some shenanigans, Sherman Alexie launched his newest campaign, “Put Up or Shut Up, Go Big or Go Home,” this April Fools’ Day, calling on his fellow authors to display their indie love by tattooing local bookstores’ names on their foreheads.
2. Even the President was involved in this week’s pranks, with Shelf Awareness announcing Obama’s plans to self-publish his memoir with Amazon. “My pal and senior Justice Department advisor Jeff Bezos has convinced me that this is the publishing paradigm of the 21st century,” Obama was “quoted” by Shelf Awareness. “Also I get to support some of the people that I met in the Amazon warehouse in Tennessee last summer, assuming they haven’t become crippled or starved to death in the meantime.”
3. Ranked at no. 2 among the most challenged books in the U.S. as of 2012, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie is once again facing censorship as Meridian School District votes in favor of removing it from the high school reading curriculum.
4. Patterson’s million-dollar grant at work: Porter Square Books is using their donation money to schedule several readings with Julie and Virginia Freyermuth, author and illustrator of Norbert: What Can Little Me Do? These events will include an author Q&A, a visit from therapy-dog Norbert himself, and free copies of the book for the more than 100 elementary school students in attendance.
5. In honor of National Poetry Month, New York City hosts its fifth annual Twitter poetry contest, #NYCPoetweet, with qualifying submissions to be printed in Metro New York on April 24 (a.k.a. “Poem in Your Pocket Day”).