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Book News: Amazon Exec Says Hachette Is Using Authors 'As Human Shields'

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

  • Amid the ongoing dispute between Hachette and Amazon, Amazon executive Russ Grandinetti has proposed paying Hachette authors normal royalties while donating the e-book profits to charity, according to Publishers Weekly.Amazon's removal of the pre-order button on Hachette titles has been one of its most lethal weapons in the dispute, though it has raised the ire of authors. Grandinetti, vice president of Kindle content, made the offer directly to author Douglas Preston, who has been collecting author signatures for a letter asking Amazon to change its tough tactics. When the offer was rejected on the grounds that it would hurt Hachette more than Amazon, an Amazon spokesperson told Publishers Weekly,"You have to look at the parent company — Lagardère Group — rather than just the Hachette division. Kindle books are only 1% of Lagardère Group's sales. They can afford it, and should stop using their authors as human shields." A number of Hachette authors have publically criticized Amazon for the company's role in the dispute, and writers from Hachette and other houses have created a group called Authors United to find a "long-term strategy" for combating Amazon. The group plans to publish a letter as a full-page ad in The New York Times protesting Amazon's treatment of authors.Meanwhile, a competing petition on Change.org has garnered thousands of signatures and argues, "Major publishers like Hachette have a long history of treating authors and readers poorly. Amazon, on the other hand, has built its reputation on valuing authors and readers dearly."
  • On Monday, President Obama will give the 2013 National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal to 21 artists, writers, academics and journalists. The novelist Julia Alvarez will receive a National Medal of Arts "for her extraordinary storytelling," as will Maxine Hong Kingston "for her contributions as a writer."
  • Katie Crouch writes about suicide and Sylvia Plath in an essay posted on Buzzfeed (it was originally published in the journal ZYZZYVA): "She's one I think about the most, really. After all, I, along with thousands of other bookish females with a tendency towards blue, have worshipped her every word since finding The Bell Jar in the school library at fifteen. Sylvia! we cry. Oh, there have been armies of us, knobby-elbowed girls poring over her tangled prose while aching away on our twin beds."
  • The Vault, Slate's history blog, posted a school progress report for the Brontë sisters. Charlotte, the report reads, "writes indifferently," and "[k]nows nothing of grammar, geography, history, or accomplishments."
  • W.S. Merwin has a poem, "Living with the News," in The New Yorker.It begins:
  • "Can I get used to it day after day

    a little at a time while the tide keeps

    coming in faster the waves get bigger

    building on each other breaking records

    this is not the world that I remember."

    Copyright 2020 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.