Dog-Eared and Dispatched: December 22, 2013It’s nearly Christmas, literary citizens! And since we know all of you are busy visiting your local bookstores in search of the perfect gifts and stocking stuffers, we’ll try to keep today’s news update short and sweet. This week in the wild world of book culture, McSweeney’s founder Dave Eggers expresses concern over an increase in self-censoring among American writers. Meanwhile, labor unions in Germany and Seattle stand behind Amazon’s workers as they partake in a predetermined holiday strike. Finally, we look at the unusually high number of title challenges presented to the Kids’ Right to Read Project this year.
In an opinion piece published by The Guardian on Thursday, December 19 , American author and McSweeney’s founder Dave Eggers discussed life in United States during “the era of the NSA,” remarking on the strange combination of apathy and self-censorship the NSA’s “domestic spying program” has created, as well as the atypical alliances it has produced— namely the current coalition between the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Tea Party . Citing both Judge Richard J. Leon’s 68-page denouncement of the NSA’s “Orwellian” practices and the PEN America Center’s recent survey of U.S. writers (in which 88 percent of writers polled admitted to being troubled by the NSA’s surveillance program, with 24 percent avoiding certain topics in email and phone conversations and 16 percent abandoning particular projects altogether), Eggers expressed concern over the future of American literature and writing, comparing the NSA’s current actions to the panic of the McCarthy era. “Think back to all the messages you have ever sent. All the phone calls and searches you’ve made. Could any of them be misinterpreted? Could any of them be used to damage you by someone like the next McCarthy, the next Nixon, the next Ashcroft? This is the most pernicious and soul-shattering aspect of where we are right now. No one knows for sure what is being collected, recorded, analyzed and stored—or how all this will be used in the future,” Eggers stated, going on to assert that “the effect of an entire nation of individuals choosing to abstain from certain phone calls, email messages, internet searches, for fear of what could be done with that information in the future threatens not just a chill, but a permanent intellectual ice age.” [The Guardian, Scribd, PEN America]
The latest union strikes at Amazon factories in Bad Hersfeld and Leip zig, Germany commenced this Monday, December 16. These strikes were initiated (beginning this past spring) in response to wage concerns expressed by Amazon’s German employees, with this particular walkout scheduled to coincide with the Christmas rush. These strikes have been coordinated by the Ver.di labor union, one of the world’s largest independent trade unions. “The moment Amazon agrees to talks, we’ll be sitting at the table instead of standing in the door,” Ver.di representative Mechthild Middeke stated, further remarking, “Employees need an appropriate and reliable wage determined by collective agreement rather than by the employer alone . . . It lies completely in Amazon’s hands whether more strikes will take place.” Workers from Amazon’s fulfillment centers in Graben and Werne have also joined the fight this week, bringing the total number of strike participants to approximately 900 employees, or roughly 10% of Amazon’s German workforce. Within the United States, a delegation of German representatives and U.S. labor unions have been doing their part to assist in this stand against Amazon’s unfair wage practices, rallying together to protest at Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle, Washington. Although the exact details of when and where future strikes will take place has not been released, Ver.di spokesperson Joerg Lauenroth-Mago stated that these walkouts will most certainly continue into 2014: “Let’s put it this way, we’re going to protest until Amazon moves on this issue.” [Reuters, The Wall Street Journal]
While book censorship is a seemingly ever-present problem within classrooms and libraries, the Kids’ Right to Read Project (KRRP) has faced a notably higher percentage of title challenges this year compared to years prior . As reported by ShelfAwareness and the American Booksellers Association (ABA), the number of books the KRRP investigated this November is triple the amount they reviewed last year, with the organization responding to “49 incidents in 29 states, a 53 percent increase from last year.” Many of these challenges were presented by parents and library patrons, with a disturbingly large number of the books in question written by well-known minority writers; such titles include Invisible Man, The Bluest Eye, The Color Purple, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, The House of the Spirits, and Bless Me, Ultima. Of this trend, KRRP Coordinator Acacia O’Connor stated that “whether or not patterns like this are the result of coordination between would-be censors across the country is impossible to know. But there are moments, when a half-dozen or so challenges regarding race or LGBT content hit within a couple weeks, where you just have to ask ‘what is going on out there?'” [GalleyCat, ShelfAwareness, American Booksellers Association]