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Book News: Richard Dawkins Under Fire For Child Abuse Remarks

Author and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins made a March 2012 visit to NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Doriane Raiman
Author and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins made a March 2012 visit to NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C.

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

  • In a controversial interview about his upcoming memoir, the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins called for stronger distinctions to be made between what he called "mild paedophilia" and violent crimes. He told Giles Whittell of The Times Magazine [subscription required], "Just as we don't look back at the 18th and 19th centuries and condemn people for racism in the same way as we would condemn a modern person for racism, I look back a few decades to my childhood and see things like caning, like mild paedophilia, and can't find it in me to condemn it by the same standards as I or anyone would today." He goes on to state that as a prep student, he and others had been groped by a teacher, but says, "I don't think he did any of us any lasting damage." The Times quotes Peter Saunders, the head of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood: "Abuse in all its forms has always been wrong. ... Evil is evil and we have to challenge it whenever and wherever it occurs."
  • Author Jennifer Weiner has argued for years that The New York Times' book coverage ignores commercial and women's fiction. But on Tuesday, Weiner wrote an (almost) apology for some of her more caustic remarks, saying the Times has recently become more inclusive: "Everyone wants to believe he or she is the hero of his or her own story. I'm no exception. I never thought I was being obnoxious or pushy or shrill — just determined, and fighting for something that mattered. ... Were there things I could have said more thoughtfully, times I should have waited (and checked my German) before hitting the "publish tweet" button, unnecessarily caustic comments I made about other books and other writers? Yes. Were there times I went for the joke instead of the truth, or forgot that there are real people behind the monolith I perceive as the Great and Mighty Times, or conflated the fight for inclusion with the fight against disrespect for books like mine, or me, personally? No doubt."
  • In Guernica, Dwyer Murphy interviews Edwidge Danticat about her new book, Claire of the Sea Light. Danticat says of the earthquake in Haiti, her home country: "The landscape has changed so much, the physical spaces. There is this split between the Haiti of before the earthquake and the Haiti of after the earthquake. So when I'm writing anything set in Haiti now, whether fiction or nonfiction, always in the back of my mind is how people, including some of my own family members, have been affected not just by history and by the present but also by the earthquake."
  • Jhumpa Lahiri, whose novel The Lowland has just been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, spoke to The Telegraph about her parents, who are Bengali, and raised her in the U.S. and U.K.: "I feel like in a sense every story I've written has been given to me by them. The stories are invented, the characters don't exist, but like so many writers I'm drawing from the world around me, and this particular bifurcation, this divided landscape, happens to be mine."
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    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.
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