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Canadian author Margaret Atwood, pictured in 2009, is part of a group of writers lobbying the United Nations over digital rights. (AFP/Getty Images)

Book News: 500 Authors Demand International Bill Of Digital Rights

by Annalisa Quinn
Dec 10, 2013

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

  • More than 500 authors from around the world, including five Nobel Prize winners, have asked the United Nations for an international bill of digital rights. In a joint statement, Don DeLillo, Ian McEwan, Tom Stoppard, Margaret Atwood, Martin Amis, GŁnter Grass, Michael Ondaatje, Orhan Pamuk and hundreds of other authors condemned state surveillance, writing, "A person under surveillance is no longer free; a society under surveillance is no longer a democracy. To maintain any validity, our democratic rights must apply in virtual as in real space." The statement continues, "WE DEMAND THE RIGHT for all people to determine, as democratic citizens, to what extent their personal data may be legally collected, stored and processed, and by whom; to obtain information on where their data is stored and how it is being used; to obtain the deletion of their data if it has been illegally collected and stored." The petition comes after the heads of Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, AOL, Microsoft, LinkedIn and Yahoo published an open letter asking Congress and President Obama "to take the lead and make reforms that ensure that government surveillance efforts are clearly restricted by law, proportionate to the risks, transparent and subject to independent oversight."
  • The traditional Nobel Lecture in Literature has been replaced by a video interview with the 2013 winner, Alice Munro. She says, "I want my stories to move people, I don't care if they are men or women or children. I want my stories to be something about life that causes people to say, not, oh, isn't that the truth, but to feel some kind of reward from the writing, and that doesn't mean that it has to be a happy ending or anything, but just that everything the story tells moves the reader in such a way that you feel you are a different person when you finish."
  • The New Yorker website has unlocked Joan Didion's 2000 portrait of Martha Stewart: "This is not a story about a woman who made the best of traditional skills. This is a story about a woman who did her own I.P.O. This is the 'woman's pluck' story, the dust-bowl story, the burying-your-child-on-the-trail story, the I-will-never-go-hungry-again story, the Mildred Pierce story, the story about how the sheer nerve of even professionally unskilled women can prevail, show the men; the story that has historically encouraged women in this country, even as it has threatened men. The dreams and the fears into which Martha Stewart taps are not of 'feminine' domesticity but of female power, of the woman who sits down at the table with the men and, still in her apron, walks away with the chips."
  • Charles McGrath describes the process of judging the National Book Awards: "It's not humanly possible for an individual, no matter how well intentioned, well disciplined and critically astute, to read 407 books with the care and consideration they deserve. ... So you do the best you can. You don't skim exactly, but you race, driving your eyes across the page, in the process forgoing much of the ordinary pleasure of reading. I sometimes thought of it as chain-sawing through books, tearing into them, grinding them up, leaving a wake of fluttering pages and bits of binding. Maybe that's why my retina ripped."
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