by Pat Holt
Friday, January 11, 2002
KINGSOLVER NAILS WALL STREET JOURNAL
Lost in the shuffle of holiday madness but thank heaven not forgotten is Barbara Kingsolver's furious response to a Wall Street Journal column that erroneously quoted something Kingsolver WROTE (not said) - and then called for a national boycott of her books by "patriotic" booksellers!
The subject of the WSJ's accusations is an op-ed piece Kingsolver wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle in November called "And Our Flag Was Still There."
The article describes her young daughter's announcement one morning that everybody at school is supposed to wear red, white and blue the following day to honor "all the people that died when the airplanes hit the buildings."
"Why not wear black, then?" Kingsolver asks. "Why the colors of the flag - what does that mean?"
"It means we're a country," her daughter says. "Just all people together."
Kingsolver admits to feeling patriotic in her own way. She describes bursting into "tears of simultaneous pride and grief" while watching her older daughter play "Stars & Stripes Forever" with the school orchestra. And she doesn't mind saying "I would like to feel comforted and thrilled by the sight of Old Glory."
But having seen the flag "waved over the sound of saber-rattling too many times for my comfort," and feeling increasingly concerned about the "war mongers," "loudmouths" and bullies in the pulpit (Jerry Falwell et al) talk about patriotism after 9/11, she also confesses to a certain "dread that my sweet child was being dragged to the newly patriotic cause of wreaking death in the wake of death."
Is it possible, she asks, that "the flag these hoodlum-Americans are waving stands for intimidation, censorship, violence, bigotry, sexism, homophobia, and shoving the Constitution through a paper shredder? Whom shall we call terrorists here? Outsiders can destroy airplanes and buildings, but it is only we, the people, who have the power to demolish our own ideals."
These are tough words, stated in Kingsolver's clear and impassioned way, though apparently not clear enough to Gregg Easterbrook, the writer of the Wall Street Journal piece that turned Kingsolver's words around. Somehow or other Easterbrook got the idea, and said so, that Kingsolver believed that "the American flag 'stands for intimidation, censorship, violence, bigotry," etc.
Appalled that she was so sorely misquoted, Kingsolver sat down and wrote an "Open Letter to Independent Booksellers of America," blessedly posted by the American Booksellers Association at http://news.bookweb.org/news/72.html .
There she states unequivocally that in her essay she "declared that I DO NOT believe my flag stands for these things," she writes. Moreover, her essay "closes by citing the values I believe our flag should and does stand for: freedom, courage, generosity and human kindness."
Well, a misquote is a misquote which, once corrected, is the end of the matter. But the Wall Street Journal piece went much, much farther than simply misunderstanding Kingsolver's position.
The WSJ article also, she writes, "called for a national boycott on my books, specifically suggesting that patriotic booksellers should remove my books from your shelves."
Holy cow, call Fahrenheit 451. "I know most of you are wiser than this, but I've actually received indirect word that some booksellers have done so," she adds. "I have asked the Journal to publish a retraction, but inflammatory rumors spread much more rapidly than the truth."
Perhaps the most moving part of Kingsolver's letter is the partnership she believes she shares with independent booksellers, not only in the spreading of good literature but also in believing "the American ideals of civil liberties and human rights."
She turns to independent booksellers, then, with a personal appeal: "I would also like to reassure you," she writes, "that I would never betray your faith in me or the enormous power you've given to my words...
"If I lose the ability to reach people with my words, other writers will surely suffer the same fate, at a time when we especially need the greatest diversity of published voices. I ask you to help maintain the dignity and freedom of public debate in these frightening times."
You, too. Wall Street Journal, and say! Ain't it your JOB to "maintain the dignity and freedom of public debate"?
Dear Holt Uncensored:
Re your surprise that a small publisher uses credit cards to pay the bills: I would no longer be in business if it weren't for the constant stream of 0% credit card offers which keep my debt rolling along safely out of sight. I have to accept debt as I build up my catalog in the hopes of eventually having enough books to make a decent profit. Since most of my books are local guidebooks that need to be updated every two years or so, my profit margin is very small and costs high. I could not survive if I did not also do freelance writing and consulting to subsidize this publishing business (and have credit cards with high limits!). This said, it amazes me when people are miffed that I am not updating my books every year or act like it is my DUTY to continue providing fact-packed, highly informative, low profit books! I could easily go back to practicing law, which would alleviate 99% of my daily worries but it would simply replace them with others, and would eliminate the joy and satisfaction of turning ideas into books.
Dear Holt Uncensored:
Feral House was originally credit card financed, and so was my original imprint, Amok Press. And today it's still credit card financed, I'm sorry to say.
Holt responds:Aren't you glad you can still keep costs within credit card limits rather than go in hock to a bank?
Parfrey replies: What happens, sometimes, is that reprints are called for, at the same time I'm going to press with a few other books, and the printing costs add up to more than what's in the bank. Then it's credit card time. I've never even tried hocking to the big banks, but isn't that what credit card financing is all about?
Dear Holt Uncensored:
I loved the fact you included so much detail in your interview with Isabel Allende. In 1995 I had the privilege of engineering a radio program with her upon the publication of "Paula," wherein she spoke about the experience and the writing of the book for the first time in public and on radio. She actually broke down to tears on the air, and it was a very touching experience to share with her and the listeners.
I no longer work with New Dimensions, so I mention this in case anyone wishes to hear more about Paula. There is a tape available from the producers at
and I highly recommend it as a deeply personal glimpse into the life she has lived, and the pain she has been willing to share with us.
Holt Uncensored provides this forum for the free and uncensored exchange of thoughts and ideas from writers of all callings. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of Pat Holt or the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association.
"Holt Uncensored" is an online column by Pat Holt
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