Publishing Industry News: Jan. 17, 2020

Curious about what’s happening in the world of books and publishing? Catch up on the biggest acquisitions, news, adaptations and more here!

• Egyptologists have discovered the oldest copy of what’s being described as the world’s first illustrated book: a 4,000-year-old edition of the Book of Two Ways, an ancient Egyptian guide to the afterlife that’s considered to be a forerunner to the Book of the Dead. The text predates previously known versions by some 40 years.

• In April 2019, Canadian author Yvan Godbout and his publisher, Nycolas Doucet, were charged with producing and distributing child pornography. The charges were brought against them because of a paragraph in Godbout’s dark retelling of the Hansel and Gretel story in which a father sexually assaults his daughter. Civil-liberties advocates have spoken out against the arrests. To convict, the prosecution will need to show that the passage could incite a pedophile to commit a crime and that the book cannot be viewed as a work of art. The case is set to go to trial in September 2020. Michael Bookman, a Toronto lawyer and PEN Canada board member, said, “One of the obvious consequences of a conviction would be a freeze on the kinds of expression writers are willing to publish, and that has to concern those of us who believe freedom of expression holds an important place in how our society evolves and how it progresses.”

• In unrelated Hansel and Gretel news, a new movie about the classic story will arrive in theaters Jan. 31. Gretel & Hansel promises to be the “terrifying untold story of the classic tale.” 

• In her new book, Le Consentement (Consent), French publisher Vanessa Springora discusses being “groomed” at age 13 by then-50-year-old acclaimed author Gabriel Matzneff. She also discusses how the French literary world at that time indulged Matzneff while he publicly discussed his attraction to a number of teenagers and wrote about his relationships with teenagers, including Springora, in novels and published diaries.

• According to NPD BookScan, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens was the best-selling print book of 2019, with a whopping 1,845,515 copies sold. Michelle Obama’s Becoming came in second with 1,155,879 books sold, and children’s author Dav Pilkey came in third with Dog Man: For Whom the Ball Rolls, which sold 1,085,519 copies.

• The Romance Writers of America (RWA) controversy has a new layer. Recently, author and RWA member Courtney Milan criticized a romance novel by Kathryn Lynn Davis by saying it reinforced racist stereotypes, and Milan was dismissed from the RWA board because of it. Now Davis says that she was a pawn in this situation to “secure a political outcome that she had never intended”: She said the RWA administration “encouraged” her to submit her complaint and that her goal was not to punish Milan for her statements. The RWA has decided to postpone the 2020 RITA Awards – the highest distinction for romance writers – until 2021.

• Actor Jake Gyllenhaal is reportedly set to produce and star in a film adaptation of the musical Fun Home, which was adapted from Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir of the same name.

• Sourcebooks, based in Naperville, Illinois, has acquired Dawn Publications, a publisher of nature and environmental titles for children.

• The Department of Justice is investigating Alexandra Elbakyan – the founder of Sci-Hub – on suspicion that she has been working for Russian intelligence. Sci-Hub provides free access to academic papers that are usually available only through subscriptions. Elbakyan collects log-in credentials from journal subscribers and “fetches” any papers that are not in the Sci-Hub collection. Supporters of Elbakyan have described her as a “Robin Hood of science.”