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Category: Current Affairs

Alice Walker says no to Israeli edition of 'The Color Purple'

Citing "apartheid" in Israel and the occupied territories, author Alice Walker declined an offer to publish a new Israeli edition of her prize-winning novel "The Color Purple."

In recent years Walker has become an increasingly vocal advocate for Palestinian issues. Her reply to publisher Yediot Books, which had wanted rights to print a Hebrew edition of "The Color Purple," is posted on the website of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.

Thank you so much for wishing to publish my novel THE COLOR PURPLE.  It isn’t possible for me to permit this at this time for the following reason:  As you may know, last Fall in South Africa the Russell Tribunal on Palestine met and determined that Israel is guilty of apartheid and persecution of the Palestinian people, both inside Israel and also in the Occupied Territories.  The testimony we heard, both from Israelis and Palestinians (I was a jurist) was devastating.  I grew up under American apartheid and this was far worse.  Indeed, many South Africans who attended, including Desmond Tutu, felt the Israeli version of these crimes is worse even than  what they suffered under the white supremacist regimes that dominated South Africa for so long.

It is my hope that the non-violent BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement, of which I am part, will have enough of an impact on Israeli civilian society to change the situation.

Licensing books internationally rarely makes news. American authors whose works are published overseas get additional payments from international publishers; it can be a nice way for books that sell well to make an additional profit. A book like "The Color Purple," which won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, and went on to be the subject of a film, would be a good candidate for international sales.

Walker mentions the film in her letter to the Israeli publisher. The movie, directed by Steven Spielberg, came out in 1985. During consideration of whether it should be released in South Africa, Walker and Spielberg agreed to honor a cultural boycott and not allow it to show in that country while it was under apartheid. After the apartheid system was dismantled in the mid-1990s, the film finally did show there. "[T]o this day, when I am in South Africa, I can hold my head high and nothing obstructs the love that flows between me and the people of that country," Walker writes.

Walker's decision to withhold "The Color Purple" from publication has stirred controversy. An email to Anti-Defamation League supporters went out Wednesday afternoon with the subject line "Alice Walker's Decision Not to Publish 'The Color Purple' in Hebrew Exposes Her Own Bias & Bigotry."  In it, the ADL writes, "It is sad that people who inspire to fight bigotry and prejudice continue to have a biased and bigoted side. For some time Walker has been blinded by her anti-Israel animus."

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz notes that Walker's book was published before in Israel; a Hebrew edition appeared in the country in the 1980s. According to publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Walker's books have been translated into more than two dozen languages.


Tehran Book Fair versus the literature of the streets

Controversy and the International Prize for Arabic Fiction

Henning Mankell, aboard Freedom Flotilla bound for Gaza, misses Hay Festival

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Alice Walker at a 1996 book signing at Eso Won Books in Los Angeles. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Amazon categorizes Rodney King's memoir as 'criminal biography'

After Rodney King's unexpected death this weekend at the age of 47, his recent book began climbing the charts. In April, HarperOne published King's memoir, "The Riot Within: My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption."

King, who was found dead in his swimming pool Sunday morning, was a central figure in one of the most troubled periods in L.A.'s recent history. In 1991, he was pulled over for speeding and police officers were videotaped beating King. The widely-viewed video caused an uproar; when four Los Angeles police officers were tried and found not guilty in April 1992, the anger over the verdict erupted into six days of violence. On Day 3 of the riots, King appeared at a news conference calling for calm, asking: "Can we all get along?"

Being in the spotlight and becoming a lightning rod for civil rights issues was not an easy role for King, who struggled with substance abuse. In the years after the riots, he had a number of run-ins with the law, which included crashing his car in 2003 while driving under the influence. He appeared on the television series "Celebrity Rehab," and wrote about his addiction and recovery in his book "The Riot Within."

Sunday morning, before the news of his death had spread, the book was not a huge seller. On Amazon, it ranked  No. 246,505. By 2:45 p.m. that day, it had leapt up past more than 200,000 other books, to No. 1669.

That didn't make it a bestseller. Amazon's bestseller list includes just 100 books, an echelon that King's memoir did not reach. However, Amazon has many subcategories, each of which feed into the overall list. A book that doesn't make it into the top 100 may appear in one or more subcategories.

Once "The Riot Within" ranked  No. 1669, it had surfaced in three subcategories, or you might call them sub-sub-subcategories. It was No. 6 in "Books > Biography and Memoir > Regional US > West"; No. 17 in "Books > Biography and Memoir > Ethnic & National > African-American & Black"; and No. 7 in "Books > Biography and Memoir > Specific Groups > Criminals."

Certainly, King was of the West, and he was African American. But does "The Riot Within" constitute a  "criminal biography"?

The other bestselling books on Amazon's top "Criminal biographies" list are two books about serial killers, two mob memoirs, and the memoir of "the world's most-wanted hacker." Does King's book about his addiction and recovery belong there?

Whether it did or not, it continued to climb. It reached No. 5 in the category at 4 p.m., where it stayed until Monday morning, when it bumped up to No. 4. That was when the book peaked, reaching No. 388 overall on Amazon -- after starting at No. 246,505 about 24 hours before. As of Monday afternoon, it was bobbing down below No. 500.

It's true, King committed criminal offenses, but his book was about addiction and redemption. There are other books that cover similar arcs that appear in the dozens of sub-sub-sub-categories that are not categorized as "criminal." Gregg Allman was arrested on federal drug charges and went to rehab 11 times; his memoir "My Cross to Bear" is No. 13 in "Books > Biography and Memoir > Memoir." Laura Hillenbrand's biography "Unbroken," about Louis Zamperini, the Olympic runner and war hero, recounts his years as a teenage delinquent; it's No. 1 in "Books > History > Military > World War II." Luis Rodriguez's "Always Running: La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L.A." is also in "Biography and Memoir > Regional US > West" and appears in "Politics & Social Sciences > Crime & Criminals > Gangs," but it is not ranked as a "criminal biography."

Why Rodney King's memoir "The Riot Within" is classified as "criminal biography" is mysterious. And Amazon did not respond to our requests for comment.


Rodney King, dead at 47: "I was one of the lucky ones"

Book review: "Power Concedes Nothing" by Connie Rice

Rodney King and the L.A. Riots: when 20 years can seem like yesterday

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: In March 2012, Rodney King looks at a photograph of his news conference on Day 3 of the 1992 L.A. riots. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times

Rodney King dead at 47: 'I was one of the lucky ones'

Rodney King found dead at 47
Rodney King, the victim of a police beating who wound up at the center of major political upheavals in Los Angeles, was found dead early Sunday. King was found by his girlfriend at the bottom of his pool at his home in Rialto. He was 47.

Our blog L.A. Now recounts how King entered the public spotlight:

King was drunk and unarmed when he was pulled over in 1991 for speeding by Los Angeles Police Department officers, who responded to his erratic behavior by kicking him and striking him dozens of times with their batons.

The incident was captured on video by a civilian bystander, and the recording became an instant international sensation.

Four of the officers were tried for excessive force. Their acquittal on April 29, 1992, touched off one of the worst urban riots in U.S. history.

Although King received a substantial financial settlement, he was plagued by personal challenges. He recounted his experiences in the recent memoir "The Riot Within: My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption." The book was published by HarperOne this April, on the 20th anniversary of the L.A. riots.

King appeared at the L.A. Times Festival of Books to talk about his book.

King, for his part, arrived out of breath, and spoke of forgiveness for the officers involved in his videotaped beating after a high-speed chase. With his history of substance abuse, he said, he has been in need of some forgiveness. "I am a forgiving man," he said. "That's how I was raised, to be in a forgiving state of mind. I have been forgiven many times. I am only human. Who am I not to forgive someone?"

King said he was uncomfortable with his role as a political symbol, while noting that those who fought racism in the early 20th century faced even more difficult challenges. "I'm so glad I wasn't born in the 1930s or the 1940s," he said. "My heart goes out to those who have died for what's right....I was one of the lucky ones," which drew a large laugh from the audience. He added, "The camera was a blessing."

Authorities said there were no immediate signs of foul play.


Rodney King, 20 years after L.A.'s riots

Book review: "Power Concedes Nothing" by Connie Rice

Rodney King and the L.A. Riots: when 20 years can seem like yesterday

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Rodney King addresses the media May 1, 1992, asking for an end to the violence of the L.A. riots. Credit: Larry Davis / Los Angeles Times

Festival of Books: On the Los Angeles riots, 20 years later

Click to view photos from the Festival of Books

In a lot of ways, Sunday's Festival of Books panel "Los Angeles, 20 Years After the Verdict," was a sequel to Saturday's interview by Patt Morrison with Rodney King, whose beating by L.A. police officers 21 years ago was the first in a series of steps that culminated in the 1992 riots.

And in another sense, the panel was a reunion for some of the players in that tragic moment in Los Angeles history.

Moderator Warren Olney, now a KCRW radio host, was a Los Angeles TV reporter at the time. He was joined by Jim Newton, L.A. Times columnist and editor at large, who was covering the Los Angeles Police Department for the L.A. Times when the riots began. 

PHOTOS: Festival of Books

Connie Rice was a civil rights activist and lawyer, and later a co-founder of The Advancement Project, and the recent author of "Power Concedes Nothing: One Woman's Quest for Social Justice in America, From the Kill Zones to the Courts." The fourth panelist was Gil Garcetti, who at the time was mounting a campaign for Los Angeles County district attorney.

Continue reading »

Festival of Books: How the 'boys on the bus' cover campaigns

Click to view photos from the Festival of Books

We are, it seems, living in fragmented times.

Four notable political journalists and a media critic spent an hour late Saturday afternoon dissecting the state of American politics and political journalism. The L.A. Times Festival of Books panel was called "The Boys on the Bus," but as moderator (and L.A. Times political reporter) Mark Z. Barabak pointed out, these days half of the nation's political reporting class are women, and the bus was long ago replaced by chartered airplanes.

The panel's title was drawn from Timothy Crouse's 1973 landmark book "The Boys on the Bus," which was among the first and best-known works to examine the role of the media during presidential campaigns. Crouse helped create the modern perception of political journalists as celebrities in and of themselves, a role since elevated by the talking-head shows on cable and Sunday morning network news shows.

PHOTOS: Festival of Books

But as anyone who has been on the bus knows, celebrity has little to do with the day-to-day coverage of campaigns (Disclosure: I covered political campaigns for the L.A. Times from 2000 to 2008, where I worked with Barabak and his fellow panelist Ronald Brownstein, and against panelist Adam Nagourney, then a political correspondent for the New York Times). 

And in this era of instant news, tweets as stories, and television programming propelled by opinion, both the practice of politics and political journalism are undergoing tectonic shifts. Nation magazine media critic and journalism professor Eric Alterman condemned the predominant mode of coverage, arguing that most political journalism is about the process with a de-emphasis on what kinds of leaders the candidates would be if elected.

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Festival of Books: The drug trade

Last year, 22,000 people died in Mexican drug wars. "Very little attention has been given to this daily killing in Mexico. Beheadings, mass burials, and bodies boiled in vats of acid are no longer headlines," said Los Angeles Times editor Davan Maharaj, moderator of the L.A. Times Festival of Books panel "South of the Border: The Drug Trade." But in their books, the three authors on the panel are telling those stories -- and explaining the complex economic and political factors behind them.

Ioan Grillo, author of "El Narco: Inside Mexico's Criminal Insurgency," explained that since 2008, violence has escalated dramatically. "You have certain flash points around the country," he said. "Alongside it a power coming from these armed groups; criminal cartels ... are the only people offering job opportunities." What's more, "a lot of journalists are not going into those places, so they're becoming black holes of information."

Charles Bowden, author of "Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy's New Killing Fields," talked about how the city of Juarez, which has been a locus of violence, has seen its business and citizens empty out. "It doesn't take a lot to terrorize most people," he said, adding: "Narcos are moving to El Paso -- they move there and they commute [to Juarez] to murder."

PHOTOS: Festival of Books

Bowden and Grillo are journalists who have spent much time in Mexico covering these stories. A slightly different point of view came from Hipolito Acosta, a retired Immigration and Naturalization Service officer -- the most decorated officer in the history of INS, in fact. "Criminals know no boundaries," he said; rather, boundaries were his business. His book is "The Shadow Catcher."

Continue reading »

Rodney King and the L.A. riots: When 20 years can seem like yesterday

Click to view photos from the Festival of BooksOne aspect of Los Angeles hasn't changed in the 20 years since the 1992 riots: Traffic tie-ups. Rodney King, whose March 1991 beating by L.A. police officers was the first link in the chain of events that culminated in the 1992 riots, was a half-hour late Saturday for his interview with Times columnist Patt Morrison.

So, in a sense, the session ran in reverse. With Morrison, who also anchors a radio show on KPCC, as the moderator, Angelenos spent a half-hour talking about their own experiences during and after the riots as they awaited King's arrival. The general consensus: The LAPD has changed for the better, but the socio-economic conditions that set the stage for the riots have worsened. And the racial divides are still chasms.

PHOTOS: Festival of Books

"I'm surprised at how white we are here," said one white woman, looking around at the crowd of more than 500 people in a basement auditorium at USC's Ronald Tutor Campus Center, about four miles north of where the riots began near South Central's Normandie and Florence Avenues. The woman said she lived in South Central, in a neighborhood in which she is the rare white resident. "The riots can certainly start again, until we have socio-economic changes, and in how we view other people."

King, for his part, arrived out of breath, and spoke of forgiveness for the officers involved in his videotaped beating after a high-speed chase. With his history of substance abuse, he said, he has been in need of some forgiveness. "I am a forgiving man," he said. "That's how I was raised, to be in a forgiving state of mind. I have been forgiven many times. I am only human. Who am I not to forgive someone?"

Continue reading »

Authors in L.A.: Katherine Boo and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, too


Feeling bookish this week but not quite in a mood to read? Well, there are plenty of events around town to pique your interest if your interest involves listening. Here is a sampling. And, as always, we recommend checking with the venue for time changes, late additions or cancellations.

Mon. Feb. 13: 7 p.m. Paula Huston discusses and signs “Simplifying the Soul: Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit” at Vroman’s.

Tue. Feb. 14, 7 p.m. Robert Scheer in conversation with Mr. Fish, author of “Go Fish, How to Win Contempt and Influence People,” at Vroman’s .

Tue. Feb. 14, 7 p.m. Ali Wentworth discusses and signs her memoir, “Ali in Wonderland: And Other Tales” at Book Soup.

Wed. Feb. 15, 8 p.m. Katherine Boo discusses her book “Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity. Zocolo Public Square at the Skirball Cultural Center

Wed. Feb. 15, 7 p.m. Actress and author Carrie Fisher discusses and signs her latest memoir, “Shockaholic,” at Book Soup.

Thur. Feb. 16, 7 p.m. PG Sturges presents and signs “Tribulations of the Shortcut Man,” his follow-up novel to “Shortcut Man,” at Book Soup.

Thur. Feb. 16, 7 p.m. Percival Everett and Steve Erickson explore the themes of memory, identity and place in conversation with Brighde Mullins, director, USC Masters in Professional Writing Program. ALOUD at the Los Angeles Central Library

Continue reading »

Books this week: On Dear Leader and a capricious God

  Adam Johnson near the Pohyon Temple in North Korea.

Adam Johnson teaches creative writing at Stanford University and he describes himself as “probably the most un-Korean person in the world.” But that wasn’t the largest obstacle to Johnson in writing “The Orphan Master’s Son,” his new novel on that most closed of societies, North Korea, and the cult of personality around its now late -- but fully-alive in the book -- leader Kim Jong Il. Times staff writer Reed Johnson, no relation to the author, profiles Adam Johnson and his book, which is getting  lot  of attention, in a piece that starts on Sunday’s Arts & Books cover. He writes: “Possibly Johnson’s greatest challenge was trying to infiltrate the inner lives of characters in a country where self-censorship and blending in with the anonymous throng are essential for survival.” Adam Johnson, who will be at Vroman’s in Pasadena on Tuesday night, visited North Korea in 2007 to gain insight after spending years researching his novel, working from a handful of books by escaped dissidents. He also cited Times staff writer Barbara Demick’s book “Nothing to Envy:   Ordinary Lives in North Korea" as being particularly helpful “because she was always focused on the human dimension.”

Shalom Auslander also writes about the human dimension, but as David L. Ulin, our book critic, notes in a review of  his new novel “Hope: A Tragedy,” Auslander’s  great subject is “God’s capriciousness,” which can be challenging to frame.  Ulin notes that what Auslander brings to the task is "willfully outrageous, [he’s] a black humorist with an Old Testament moralist’s heart." This is Auslander’s first novel after the 2005 short story collection “Beware of God,” and his 2007 memoir “Foreskin’s Lament.”

As I was reading Scott Martelle’s review of “The Partnership:  Five Cold Warriors and Their Quest to Ban the Bomb," I was lamenting the lost value of bipartisanship in dealing with some of the nation’s difficult issues. The book, by former New York Times staffer Philip Taubman, records the efforts of four officials — Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, Sam Nunn and William Perry — and Sidney Drell, a Stanford physicist and nuclear expert, to curb nuclear weapons around the world. Martelle calls it a “complex book about complex subjects” but note that “Taubman does a clean job of reducing the elements to layman’s terms.”  

In her review of “The Odditorium,” a collection of stories by Melissa Pritchard,  Carolyn Kellogg notes that the “literary landscape is jammed with short stories.” They are a “glut” on the market, Kellogg writes, but she also notes that few of the authors working that parcel of the literary landscape “rise above to be seen as truly excellent.” She notes that “at her best,  Melissa Pritchard belongs in that number.”

Kenneth Turan takes a little break from the film critic’s beat to reflect on P.D. James' latest, “Death Comes to Pemberley,” which couples the formidable talents of the 91-year-old James with the Jane Austen set for murder and mayhem at the ancestral estate of Mr. Darcy of “Pride and Prejudice” fame. Fans of James and Austen seem happy with the marriage: The book is  No. 3 on this week's L.A. Times best-seller list for fiction.

The subject of suicide is not easy in the young adult market, and surviving suicide perhaps even less so. But Susan Carpenter writes that Jennifer R. Hubbard’s new book for ages 14 and up,  “Try Not to Breathe,” is a compelling and compassionate look into the motivations and rationales of teen suicide and the aftermath when it fails.”

Busy week? If so, you may have missed Patt Morrison's fine review of Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch;" Bob Drogin's take on Michael Hasting's provocative "The Operators:  The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America's War in Afghanistan" and Kerry Luft's review of  "The Obamas."  And mark your calendar for Feb. 7 to see which critic will receive the Hatchet Job of the Year Award." Carolyn Kellogg  fills us in on the contestants. For you Stephen King fans, think for a moment about King Lear and then take a look at David Ulin's Reading Life  piece on King.

As always, thanks for reading.

-- Jon Thurber, book editor

Photo: Adam Johnson in North Korea near the Pohyon Temple. Credit: Adam Johnson



Occupy Wall Street library books stored in a N.Y. garage

The books that librarians and other protesters at Occupy Wall Street feared had been thrown out in a police raid on Zuccotti Park early Tuesday morning have been located. The books are being stored in a sanitation garage in Manhattan. The mayor's office tweeted a photograph of the stored books, saying, "Property from #Zuccotti, incl #OWS library, safely stored @ 57th St Sanit Garage; can be picked up Weds."

The library had more than 5,000 books, which had been catalogued by volunteers. They had been stored in a tent donated by author/rocker Patti Smith.

If activists are able to recover all of those books, where they might be located in the future is an open question. On Tuesday afternoon, a judge rejected the temporary restraining order issued to allow protesters to return, with belongings (including tents and libraries), to Zuccotti Park.


Raj Patel's new economy

Michael Lewis puts a face on business stories

5,000 books reportedly thrown out in Occupy Wall Street raid

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Stored books from the Occupy Wall Street library. Credit: NYCMayorsOffice via Twitter.


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