Bookseller Briefing 22/19 – week ending 31 May

Virago to make ‘any necessary corrections’ to Naomi Wolf book

Virago says it stands by Naomi Wolf and the thesis for her book but will make “any necessary corrections” after she was accused on the BBC of misunderstanding a key legal term.

The author appeared on Radio 3 to discuss Outrages: Sex, Censorship and the Criminalisation of Love (Virago) and was challenged by historian Dr Matthew Sweet over claims in the work that, after 1857, there were “several dozen” executions of men for homosexual sex in the UK.

Her claim was mainly based on Old Bailey records showing sentences of “death recorded” had been imposed.

But Sweet told her she had misunderstood the records, quoting one particular case of a 14-year-old who was reported in her book as being executed in 1859 for committing sodomy. He told her the boy was not executed at all and he was later discharged.

Quoting the Old Bailey definition, he told her “death recorded” was a category that actually allowed judges to abstain from pronouncing the death sentence if the subject was “a fit subject for pardon”.

“I don’t think any of the executions you’ve identified here actually happened,” he said.

Appearing to acknowledge this could be a mistake, she replied: “Well that’s a really important thing to investigate.”

He then told her the teenager in question had committed an indecent assault on a six-year-old boy and served a two-and-a-half year sentence, adding he couldn’t find any evidence that any of the cases mentioned in the book were consensual. Wolf said she would “update the book accordingly”.

In a statement, Virago said: “Virago stand by their author Naomi Wolf and the thesis of her book Outrages which is based on her Oxford PHD. With Naomi Wolf and her American publisher Houghton Mifflin we will make any necessary corrections.”

At the Hay Festival, Wolf stood by her main thesis but acknowledged she had made several errors, the Guardian reported.

She said: “Some of you may have seen that there has been a healthy debate about two errors I did make in this book, and they’re on page 71 and 72. Hang on to your copies because it will be a collectors’ item because it will not [be] in the next printing.”

BBC Arts launches ‘ambitious’ new season celebrating the novel

BBC Arts is launching an “ambitious new season” across BBC TV and radio this autumn with a year-long festival celebrating the novel and a series on how novels have shaped the world.

The centre piece of the season will be the three part BBC Two Series, “The Novels That Shaped Our World”. The series will examine the novel from three unique perspectives: Empire and slavery, women’s voices and working class experiences.  These unique films will argue that the novel has always been a revolutionary agent of social change spearheading shifts in both colonial and post-colonial attitudes, female equality and social mobility.

This will be accompanied in the autumn by BBC Arts’ The Novels That Shaped our World Festival, a multi-platform collaboration between the BBC, libraries and reading groups that will reveal and explore the top 100 novels which have had an impact over the last three centuries.

The list will be chosen by a panel of six: journalist and broadcaster Mariella Frostrup, actor and writer Zawe Ashton, Bradford Festival Literary Director Syima Aslam, author Kit de Waal, journalist and editor of The Times Literary Supplement Stig Abell and author Alexander McCall Smith. The panel will appear on Radio 2’s Book Club to discuss deliberations before the 100 novels, all in the English language and all works of fiction, will be revealed at a live event hosted by Radio 2’s Jo Whiley at the British Library and streamed into libraries onto the Living Knowledge Network in late autumn 2019, to coincide with the BBC Two series The Novels That Shaped Our World. The panel will also be appearing at literary festivals, including Bradford Literary Festival and Edinburgh International Book Festival.

The books “will fuel a year-long engagement campaign working closely with agencies including Libraries Connected, CILIP, the Library and Information Association and the Reading Agency and Publishers’ Association”, said the BBC. There will be events in libraries to provide a platform to discuss the novels that continue to shape our world and information packs will be made available from January to October 2020 to reading groups for them to discuss and debate the categories and novels.

Using the panel’s choices, a team from the University of Wolverhampton will provide quantitative and qualitative analysis of the public’s reading preferences and judgement of literary quality and the results will be revealed as the Festival culminates in October 2020 to coincide with the annual Libraries Week.

BBC Arts acting director Lamia Dabboussy said: “The emergence of the English language novel three hundred years ago has resulted in some of the most entertaining, exhilarating and extraordinary works of art of all time. It has also been an agent of immense and radical social change, altering the way we look at class, gender and race. From engagement campaigns to landmark series across BBC TV and Radio our hope is that The Novels That Shaped Our World season and accompanying festival will encourage everyone to read more and discover new books and authors, from the classic to the contemporary.”

The 300th anniversary of the British novel will be marked, celebrated, debated and explored with other programming across BBC Radio, TV and Digital, which will be announced in due course.

Thomas Harris fan wins one-off gold edition of thriller