‘We apologise for publishing this book’

You may remember Bookseller managing editor Philip Jones and his dismissive, badly argued article on The Jewel of Medina censorship case.

Now he’s back, with a light-hearted roundup of recent publishing controversies.

So a fourth book is to be pulped by its publishers after it was found to have errors: with John Blake set to issue a revised version of Ron Evan’s On Her Majesty’s Service without the bits author Salman Rushdie took exemption too.

It follows yesterday’s revelation that Random House Children’s Books is to remove the word ‘twat’ from Jacqueline Wilson’s My Sister Jodie after receiving three complaints, one via Asda, which has now removed the title from its shelves and also belatedly from its website.

And that follows Random House US’ decision not to publish The Jewel of Medina for fear of offending those who might want to strike back – only with weapons.

Then there was Kieren Fallon’s biography, hastily withdrawn by Orion after it was found to contain a libel: and one that the News of the World had already paid damages for printing.

I find it hard to support Rushdie on his recent action – the book would have sunk without trace after a few headlines anyway. I’ve never even heard of Kieren Fallon.

But I’m interested in Jones’s take on Jacqueline Wilson:

Jacqueline Wilson might not have realised that the word ‘twat’ had a meaning beyond what she thought, but surely a good editor should have highlighted it at some point during the publishing process? Lies and libels (especially those already proven in court) really should not reach publication.

It doesn’t seem to have occurred to Jones that ‘twat’ is a profanity, not a lie or libel. And as Michael Rosen points out, the word is rarely used in a sexual sense and you will hear worse in any school playground.

Jones goes on to ask: ‘And quite what Random House US was thinking when it bought two racy books about the Prophet Mohammed’s child-bride is anyone’s guess?’ This semi-literate sentence nevertheless achieves its intended effect of making The Jewel of Medina sound like a provocative hackwork dashed off to generate some attention. In fact, the book took five years, went through seven drafts and its author, Sherry Jones, learned Arabic in the course of its composition.

Jones also makes this general point:

Of course there is no connection between the four books, and naturally publishers remove, revise, and reprint books for all sorts of reasons all of the time. Mostly beneath the mocking gaze of the wider media.

But I wonder why books with such significant problems ever got published, or so close to publication, in the first placea. Of course, some will question whether the decline in editorial standards and the standing of editors within publishing groups – so – often talked about over the years – has something to do with it?

Oh I see. The problem isn’t that controversial books are being censored – it’s that controversial books are being considered for publication in the first place!

I’m seriously wondering how Philip Jones got to the senior position he’s in, considering that he can’t write, can’t argue and – in the case of this article – can’t even edit his own work.

In a bit of good news the Bookseller also reports that Sherry Jones’s book may be getting snapped up by a Danish publisher. But in Serbia it’s a different story.

Last week, Serbian publisher BeoBook withdrew 1,000 copies of the book from shops across Serbia, following protests from an Islamic pressure group. BeoBook also apologised for publishing the novel.

That last sentence is chilling and depressing. What kind of world have we created where publishers apologise for producing books?

3 Responses to “‘We apologise for publishing this book’”

  1. Disappointed Says:

    “I find it hard to support Rushdie on his recent action – the book would have sunk without trace after a few headlines anyway”: What does the part after the dash have to do with the part before it? The lies that the book undoubtedly contained would still have been lies even if only two or three people had read them, and Blake should never have published it in the first place. As for “What kind of world have we created where publishers apologise for producing books?”, well, if publishers insist on behaving as if making money matters more than publishing the truth and avoiding defamation, then they have a hell of a lot to apologise for. If in fact they are made to apologise, then the world’s a better place for it, not a worse one. After all, even in the US, which has the fewest and narrowest restrictions on free expression of any liberal democracy, libel is still libel, and cries of “censorship” when libel is punished are simply irrelevant.

  2. maxdunbar Says:

    The claims in the Rushdie book are mostly anecdotal stuff about Rushdie’s general manner. Rushdie is essentially threatening legal action against someone who’s called him an arsehole (and I say this as a supporter of Rushdie).

    I accept that defamation laws are needed when someone is genuinely defamed, but in this country they are generally used to suppress truth.

    And how does apology make the world a better place?

  3. Now that’s how it’s done « Max Dunbar Says:

    […] that’s how it’s done Recently I’ve been laying into the Bookseller’s managing editor over his weasel words in the face of censorship and […]

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