Today in books and publishing: Sikhs divided on a character in The Casual Vacancy; get ready for an interstellar Moby Dick; Lois Lowry revisits The Giver; the best book covers of 2011.
Did J.K. Rowling portray Sikhs fairly in The Casual Vacancy? J.K. Rowling's novel The Casual Vacancy has skyrocketed to the top of the fiction charts, eclipsing the next best-selling book tenfold. But all that attention hasn't come without scrutiny, especially from Sikhs who take issue with her description of one character, a young girl Rowling describes as "mustachioed, yet large-mammaried." Avtar Singh Makkar, the head of India’s Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, has said that Rowling's writing constitutes, "a slur on the Sikh community." But some Sikhs think that Rowling's character isn't meant to malign Sikhs, but rather to point out the racism they face in England. Balpreet Kaur, a Sikh woman with facial hair, became the subject of a nasty Reddit thread when a picture of her was uploaded to the site. She has since come out as a voice against racism against Sikhs, and The Guardian has published her take on The Casual Vacancy controversy. "Rowling's character sheds light on to a reality that the Sikh nation is still struggling to fully understand, acknowledge and accept: a reality of bullying, and superficial impressions," Kaur writes. "This is why I have no problem with Rowling's description of a female Sikh being labelled as "mustachioed, yet large-mammaried" on page 120. Why? Because that's how most people perceive me. How I react to these perceptions defines my character, not the opinions themselves." [The Guardian]
Houston, call me Ishmael. At first blush, this sounds like a bad idea. Lynne Ramsay, the director of We Need To Talk About Kevin, has reportedly secured funding for an outlandish sci-fi adaptation of Herman Melville's Moby Dick, set in outer space. But giving it a second thought, setting Captain Ahab's monomaniacal hunt in the final frontier might actually make for a fresh, modern update, if handled right. Ramsay has been talking up the unlikely film for awhile. A year ago, she said during a radio interview, "We're creating a whole new world, and a new alien. [It's] a very psychological piece, mainly taking place in the ship, a bit like Das Boot, so it's quite claustrophobic. It's another monster movie, cos the monster's Ahab." Hollywood producer Scott Steindorff and Kevin screenwriter Rory Kinnear are attached to the project, which appears to be setting sail. [The Hollywood Reporter]
Lois Lowry revisits The Giver, personal tragedies. This week, The New York Times Magazine has a feature on Lois Lowry, the author of frequently banned Y.A. classic The Giver (read our take on that book, here). Lowry's new book Son will be the last time she revisits the world she created in The Giver, concluding the series known as The Giver Quartet. The figure of the son is an especially poignant one for Lowry, who lost her own son Grey when his Air Force F-15 jet malfunctioned and crashed shortly after takeoff. "The fact that I lost my son permeates my being," Lowry tells New York Times reporter Dan Kois. Son tells the story of Claire, a woman who tries to find her lost son Gabriel. Lowry says, "I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but when I was writing of her yearning to find her boy, that was coming out of my own yearning to have my own son back." [The New York Times]
Design Observer selects the 50 best covers of 2011. The jacket designs for Andrey Kurkov's Death and the Penguin, David Denby's Do the Movies Have a Future?, Haruki Murakami's 1Q84, and Carmela Ciuraru's Nom de Plume all make stylish appearances on the list. [Design Observer]
Author turned singer. Maybe House of Holes author Nicholson Baker is serious about starting a side-career as a protest singer. In August, he released a song about an American military base being built on Jeju Island. Now he's back with two more singles, which find him exploring more experimental, electronic terrain. "Whistleblower Song" praises Wikileaks source Bradley Manning:
And "Nine Women Gathering Firewood" focusses on civilian casualties in Afghanistan: