On The Books: Putin bans profanity; erotica in literature; and a Ken Follett sequel

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Vladmir Putin and Prince are on the same page about profanity right now, specifically that they’ve had enough of it. Putin passed a law that “requires books containing obscenities to come in sealed packages with warning labels and that bans cursing in movies and the performing arts,” according to NPR. There’s no official list of banned words, but it will be up to the Ministry of Culture to decide what is too profane. Prince, on the other hand, just told Essence magazine that he’s not swearing in his music anymore because we should treat “all people like royalty,” and you don’t swear in front of royalty.

Continuing on the note of censorship, The New Yorker has an excerpt from the Arthur Miller Freedom to Write lecture, given by Colm Tóibín as part of the PEN World Voices Festival. Toibin says that he’s learned two things about censorship: “First, that the urge to riot in a theatre to stop actors being heard, the urge to ban books, the urge to threaten to cut subsidy are almost built into our nature…Second, the need to resist these urges, urges that can be both shadowy and substantial, both threatening and pressing, which weaken and poison the richness and potential of our lives, requires single-mindedness, vigilance, cunning, knowledge that the enemy is within as well as without…” [New Yorker]

Teju Cole has a moving short piece for The New Yorker called “Captivity” about the fear and preoccupations of the kidnapped Nigerian girls. [New Yorker]

Spare some time for this article in Tin House called “The Vulgar and the Divine: Conversations about Erotica in Literature.” The interviewer asks five writers who feature erotica in various ways in their work: some write classic erotica, one authored a memoir about her time as a New York dominatrix, and one edited over 50 volumes of sex-related anthologies. But the conversation gets to the heart of what sex, sexiness and sensuality mean to readers and about readers. When asked about what makes a story sexy, Ella Boureau says, “What makes a person thrill inside? When someone does something they know they shouldn’t. When they transgress. Breaking taboo is thrilling. It’s scary…It’s popular. So popular that we know it’s not just members of NAMBLA watching this s–t. It’s not just Johnny Trenchcoat. It’s you and me. It’s us. Humans are drawn to perversity. Personally, I’m not interested in whether it’s right or wrong. It simply is.”

Former restaurant critic Ruth Reichl has put out her first novel, but New York Times literary critic Dwight Garner doesn’t find it delicious at all. As a matter of fact, he goes after the book with sharpened butcher knife. “It’s a gauzy ode to the liberating virtues of pleasure, glazed with warmth and uplift, so feebly written and idea-free that it will make you wonder if the energy we’ve been putting into food these last few decades hasn’t made us each lose, on average, a dozen I.Q. points,” Garner writes. He compares Reichl’s writing to that of Nora Roberts and her main character to Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada and Little Orphan Annie. Savaging. [New York Times]

The final book in Ken Follett’s Century trilogy Edge of Eternity will be released September 16, 2014. Throughout the trilogy, Ken has followed the fortunes of five intertwined families – American, German, Russian, English, and Welsh – as they make their way through the twentieth century. Now in Edge of Eternity they come to one of the most tumultuous eras of all, the enormous social, political, and economic turmoil of the 1960s through the 1980s, from civil rights, assassinations, mass political movements and Vietnam to the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Presidential impeachment, revolution – and rock and roll.

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