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Book News: Putin Clamps Down On Cursing In Books, Movies

Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Ria Novosti
Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law this week that requires books containing obscenities to come in sealed packages with warning labels and that bans cursing in movies and the performing arts. The law is set to take effect July 1, and violators will face fines. NPR's Corey Flintoff reported from Moscow that the law "doesn't specify exactly which words will be banned — that will be up to the Ministry of Culture, which oversees theaters and film. A similar law that applies to television already bans the Russian version of the F-word, plus vulgar names for male and female body parts." He adds that the legislation "is supported by religious conservatives, who see swearing in the media as a sign of Western decadence and permissiveness."
  • Speaking of swearing, David Remnick writes in The New Yorkerabout the "florid and flexible lexicon of profanity, known as mat,"pointing to Victor Erofeyev's wonderfully filthy celebration of matin 2003 in the same magazine. Erofeyev explained, "Unlike indecent terminology in most languages, mat is multilevelled, multifunctional, and extensively articulated — more a philosophy than a language. Dostoyevsky claimed that a Russian could express the entire range of his feelings with one word, which he dared not write. That word is khuy, a term for the male sexual organ."
  • Ninth Letteris running excerpts from Portuguese writer José Luís Peixoto's memoir Inside the Secret, about his travels in North Korea. In the third episode, he writes about visiting the first hamburger restaurant in Pyongyang: "At lunchtime, the restaurant was completely empty of customers. As if to make up for the lack of customers, there was a surfeit of staff behind the counter, girls in uniform corralled into the small, cramped space. Caught unawares by our arrival, they all lifted their heads at once, like startled deer. There were around a dozen of us and I was near the back of the line. I got my food an hour later."
  • The Nobel Prize-winning Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka talks to CNN's Christiane Amanpour about the Nigerian government's handling of kidnapped girls: "Where it will end, I do not know. But one thing is certain: The president and his government cannot sleep easy after what has happened to Nigeria."
  • Dana Perino, Fox News commentator and White House press secretary under President George W. Bush, has a book deal. Called And the Good News Is ..., the book will be published by Twelve, an imprint of Hachette, in May 2015. According to a press release, Perino "reveals the lessons that have successfully guided her through a life of challenges and achievement."
  • Literary agent Andrew Wylie, a ferocious critic of Amazon and all-around scary dude, told The Buenos Aires Heraldin an interview: "Initially I thought that Amazon was a beautiful idea because unlike the chains, every book was presented as a single copy, an infinite belt. So you did not get piles of Danielle Steel and one copy of Susan Sontag. You had one of each. There was equality of presentation, which was one of the horrors of the chains." Now, he says that Amazon has become a monopoly.
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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.