Saturday, June 02, 2007

Boycotting a Bestseller

Riva Djinn is attempting to organize a boycott of book #28 on the NY Times hardcover Non-fiction bestseller list. That book is entitled Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez. Riva Djinn encourages friends and members of the Scribble Bitch Book Club not to buy this book because content in this book has put Afghan women’s lives in danger. The consequences of writing such a book brings up issues of the ethical responsibilities of authors and publishers in the U.S. Where should an author draw the line when exploiting other people’s lives for sensational material that will surely secure a fat book deal? Random House gave Rodriguez an impressive advance that she did not share with her sources, as they claim she had promised (though Rodriguez claims the women are mistaken); when she knew there would be great risk in revealing these women’s stories, why would she do it in such an artless way so that the women would get into trouble? This brings Riva to her second point, which is this: doesn’t this whole indignity reveal something about the American reader? In the U.S.’s current bestselling literary climate, could Rodriguez have secured an equally fat advance if she had written something more subtle, more subversive, more underhanded in such a way that the same story could be told while maintaining some level of recognition and respect for the fact that it is dangerous to Story-Tell-All in an American way about women living in a utterly different kind of culture? Riva Djinn distrusts an American readership that is so hungry for an intimate glimpse into the lives of women in cultures that American mainstream culture knows so little about when the American glimpse comes with the high price of endangering women’s lives. There must be a safer way to communicate, express, and artistically represent Afghan women’s lives without exploiting these lives in a memoir that is going to put their lives in danger. Finally, Riva would also argue that it is the genre of the memoir itself that is the problem here. In fact, Riva would go so far as to say that The Memoir is an artistic cop-out. Memoir stories exist in the realm of the evasive True. These days, it’s not so hard to record a “true” story, change names and hair color, and hawk it to a nation full of voyeurs. Try writing something more creative, more sophisticated. C’mon! At least try to write something that will escape the detection of stupid extremists in a far-off land! Riva is getting riled up and interested in starting a mission to expose the shortcomings of that hip and hot-selling genre—The Memoir. And when the battle against The Memoir is through, Riva believes her story would make a juicy epic poem.

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