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Book News: If Jesus Dictates A Book To You, Who Holds The Copyright?

Friday, May 16, 2014

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

  • In an unusually metaphysical copyright case, a German court has ruled that an American psychologist — and not Jesus Christ — is the author of a book that she said Christ dictated to her in a "waking dream." The late Helen Schucman said she was a vessel for the words of Christ in her book A Course in Miracles, and a German Christian group called the New Christian Endeavour Academy argued that they were therefore free to put text from the book up on their website without paying for it (Jesus, apparently, does not require payment.) The U.S.-based Foundation for Inner Peace, which owns the, uh, worldly rights to the book, sued. According to The Guardian, the New Christian Endeavour Academy "argued that Schucman had not considered herself the author of the work, and referred to a 2003 ruling by a New York court that it said had put the work into the public domain." The academy also said: "For many there is no doubt that Jesus of Nazareth is the author of the course and that copyright law therefore doesn't apply to his work." The German court, however, ruled that the rights go to the actual writer of the book, regardless of divine inspiration.
  • Two new Flowers in the Attic novels will revisit the arsenic- and incest-laced world of the Dollanganger siblings, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Series creator V.C. Andrews died in 1986, but her estate has continued to churn out ghostwritten sequels. The novels Christopher's Diary: Secrets of Foxworth and Christopher's Diary: Echoes of Dollanganger pick up the story in present day "when 17-year-old Kristin Masterwood — a distant relative of the Dollangangers — discovers the diary in the ruins of Foxworth Hall, the Virginia house in which the Dollanganger kids were imprisoned, and his story becomes a dangerous obsession for Kristin," according to the Reporter. The first book is set to come out in October; the second in January.
  • In one of the more unexpected literary/commercial collaborations, Jonathan Safran Foer has joined forces with Chipotle to print stories from Toni Morrison, George Saunders and other major authors on the chain's paper cups. Foer told Vanity Fair that he got the idea after sitting in Chipotle with nothing to read. He said Chipotle gave him complete control in choosing the text: "I selected the writers, and insofar as there was any editing, I did it. I tried to put together a somewhat eclectic group, in terms of styles. I wanted some that were essayistic, some fiction, some things that were funny, and somewhat thought provoking." Asked whether he had any concerns about the ethics of working with Chipotle (he's been a vocal critic of the meat industry), he said that "what interested me is 800,000 Americans of extremely diverse backgrounds having access to good writing. A lot of those people don't have access to libraries, or bookstores. Something felt very democratic and good about this."
  • The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin has bought the archive of British author Ian McEwan. The archive includes drafts of his novels as well as "letters written to McEwan by other literary figures, including Christopher Hitchens, David Lodge, Michael Ondaatje, Harold Pinter, Philip Roth, Salman Rushdie and Zadie Smith," according to a press release. It adds, "From 1997 onward, McEwan's complete email correspondence is preserved as part of the archive." Asked about the value of his archive in a Q&A, McEwan said, "The writer tends to forget rapidly the routes he or she discarded along the way. Sometimes the path towards a finished novel takes surprising twists. It's rarely an even development. For example, my novel Atonement started out as a science fiction story set two or three centuries into future."
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