Pedophiles, O.J. Simpson and Aliens–Oh My!

12 Nov

My grandmother's self-published book.

I’ve been so busy with my, you know, actual job this week that I almost missed something that oh so rarely happens: book scandal!

Indeed, there was a big old hoopla this week over Amazon.com’s delay in removing “The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure: a Child-lover’s Code of Conduct,” from its site, which was contentious for all the obvious reasons. The e-book, written and published by Phillip R. Greaves II (Amazon allows users to submit e-books and shares revenues with them) offers advice to pedophiles on how to make a sexual encounter with a child as safe as possible. It includes first-person descriptions of such encounters, apparently written from a child’s point of view. …Pleasant.

After a shitload of comments, including many calling for a boycott of Amazon (as if), the company pulled the guide, as well as, it seems, another book by the same author, “Our Gardens of Flesh: From the Seeds of Lust Springs the Harvest of Love” which Gawker outlined in detail yesterday. (Their story doesn’t say this book was pulled, but I can’t find it on Amazon’s site.)

I could go into the First Amendment implications of Amazon’s decision, or initial lack thereof (the company at first said it didn’t want to censor submissions) but I don’t really want to open that can of worms. (Or at least not anymore. At first I thought about looking into other dubious titles Amazon hasn’t yet pulled—like O.J. Simpson’s conveniently fictional “If I Did It”—but a few searches for things like “how to make a bomb” and “how to murder someone” had me wondering if I’d end up on some government watch list.) Rather, I see this as an e-book issue.Certainly, self-publishing has always been an option. My own grandmother has self-published several books, including 2004 bestseller “Vision Quests” (it’s about aliens). But with e-books comes the advantage of not having to pay much of anything to get your book out there, not even the measly costs, or at least added effort, associated with printing and delivering hard copies of your work to all five people interested in reading it. Indeed, it seems marketplaces like Amazon’s, which have few if any regulations, make producing a book about as onerous as well, starting a blog.

Now, bad books are published every year, and certainly many good ones go unpublished. But when newspapers went online, everyone was up in arms about the credibility and validity of digital journalism. Meanwhile, e-books surpass hardcover sales and all we care about is whether we can read our Kindles in the sun.

So I don’t know. Maybe I’m simply still nostalgic (by which I mean attached to, since I have not yet gone to the dark side of Kindle/iPad gloss) for the cracking of spines and smell of paper, plus the nine-month rigmarole most authors go through to get from manuscript to galley copy. But I wonder whether, more than moving from flammable tomb to breakable tablet, eliminating authorship’s barrier to entry will be e-books’ biggest and long-term effect on literature. Food for thought.

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