Penguin India is planning to recall and destroy all copies of scholar Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History that are currently for sale in India. This measure is the publisher’s response to legal threats made by Hindu nationalists, who have decried the book for “inaccurately representing the religion and offering an overly sexual interpretation of Hindu texts.” The lawsuit against the book, filed by Dina Nath Batra, the head of a Hindu education group in New Delhi, claims that the book has “has hurt the religious feelings of millions of Hindus,” and therefore violates a section of the Indian Penal Code known as 295A. In the out-of-court settlement, Penguin India agreed to destroy all remaining copies within six months (pirated versions of the e-book are apparently already on the rise). Doniger’s book was met with critical acclaim as well as protest when it was released in 2009. The National Book Critics Circle named it a finalist for its award in nonfiction, and the organization has also written an open letter speaking out against Penguin India’s decision to pulp the book. Doniger herself has issued a statement, saying that she doesn’t blame her publisher for caving in to the threats, but that she is “deeply troubled by what it foretells for free speech in India in the present, and steadily worsening, political climate.”
At the Times, Zoe Heller and Francine Prose take up the topic of negative book reviews: would it be better just to ignore the bad books of the world? Prose thinks not: “If something bothers me that much, life is too short not to say so.” And Heller agrees: “Banning ‘negativity’ is not just bad for the culture; it is unfair to authors.”
What does it feel like to be hired by the New Yorker? According to Ariel Levy, it’s like gaining admittance to a secret treehouse.
Christopher Lyon considers the work of poet Robert Duncan and his partner, Jess.
Astra Taylor discusses her forthcoming book, The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age, and makes the case that print books are still the most interesting and innovative medium for authors: “I’m standing by books because they offer writers the space to dig in, to see if formal innovations and experiments can hold up, and provide the space for authors to take ideas to their limits.”