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From the desk of Michael Powell:
In these turbulent times we hear many voices attacking books and authors. Deplorable but not new. The attack on Salman Rushdie and continuing threats against him echo earlier threats and too many similar incidents. All manner of subjects and authors find themselves challenged. At Powell’s, it is a core belief that each such attack deserves the firmest answer. NO!! We defend free speech, free access to ideas and everyone’s right to decide what meets their reading interest. Bomb threats and vicious attacks only serve to remind us of what we do and why. I do not enjoy confronting the efforts of those who seek to silence. I prefer to do the daily tasks of book selling. But, when needed I will stand and resist knowing others stand with me. In this country, at this time, it is impossible to do less.
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I first read Midnight's Children
when I was 16 years old. My childhood and early adolescent favorites were fantasy epics: The Lord Of The Rings
, The Wheel Of Time
. Those books take place in wholly different worlds from our own; Rushdie was the first writer I'd encountered who made our world as magical as any place ever imagined. But beyond the blending of myth and fable with grounded real-world politics and history, what really set this book apart was the sheer delight in language, in words: these were playful, inventive, wholly original sentences. I'd never read anything like them before.
I knew who Rushdie was long before that — my neighborhood bookstore, Cody's Books in Berkeley, California, had famously continued to prominently display The Satanic Verses
despite a firebomb thrown through the window and an undetonated pipe bomb discovered in the stacks. After Midnight's Children
, I devoured the rest of the Rushdie novels I could get my hands on. The Satanic Verses
was the one that spoke to me most urgently. Like Rushdie, I grew up in a religious household in a cosmopolitan city; like Rushdie, I was increasingly alarmed by the rhetoric and the actions of people who most ardently claimed the religion I was raised in as their own. The Satanic Verses
remains a classic work of skepticism, but is so much more: a fantasia of migration, love, loss, divided selves, divided loyalties, transformation, the search for identity and the search for self. It will always remain one of my very favorite books.
All of Rushdie's work is worth reading, whether you're in the mood for searing family drama against the backdrop of rising theocracy (Shame
) or a sprawling, genre-bending epic blending real and imagined rock and roll history with Greek mythology (The Ground Beneath Her Feet
). But I return, again and again, to this paragraph, from an essay he wrote in the days after the terrorist attack on 9/11:
The fundamentalist believes that we believe in nothing. In his world-view, he has his absolute certainties, while we are sunk in sybaritic indulgences. To prove him wrong, we must first know that he is wrong. We must agree on what matters: kissing in public places, bacon sandwiches, disagreement, cutting-edge fashion, literature, generosity, water, a more equitable distribution of the world's resources, movies, music, freedom of thought, beauty, love. These will be our weapons. Not by making war but by the unafraid way we choose to live shall we defeat them.
How to defeat terrorism? Don't be terrorized. Don't let fear rule your life. Even if you are scared.”
— Tim B.
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The first book by Salman Rushdie that I read was Shame
, when I was in high school, and from the first sentence I had some feelings about writing that I'd never had before. I was in awe, even though I did not know exactly what was going on — in fact, one of my developing realizations was that I like to read books where it isn't immediately apparent what is happening. Having said that, the story of Midnight's Children
, with all its fantastical and unreal elements, made my understanding of Indian subcontinental history better, deeper, and dearer. — Sarah A.
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In 1999, ten years into the fatwa, Salman Rushdie was still in hiding. Representing Powell's, I attended the BookExpo America (BEA) that year, held in Los Angeles. At an after-hours party at the Hollywood Athletic Club, a Powell's colleague and I spotted Mr. Rushdie making a discreet getaway towards an awaiting vehicle. My colleague, who was a new books manager at Powell's at the time, caught up to Mr. Rushdie in an alley. She had surmised that Mr. Rushdie was shortly going to come to Portland as a surprise speaker at Portland Arts & Lectures. She asked him to come to Powell's and secretly sign books. In that alley, Mr. Rushdie agreed to come to Powell's and sign 700 books. My colleague ordered the books and Mr. Rushdie eventually signed all of them in a small conference room. All copies sold on powells.com, new at the time, within a few hours.
Salman Rushdie has my undying admiration for being not only a great writer, but a great advocate for freedom of expression in the face of constant threat. — Peter N.
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The recent attack on Salman Rushdie is an unambiguous sign (and there are too many) that free speech is still very much under grave threat both here and abroad. I respect Mr. Rushdie deeply and wish him a swift and full recovery. Also, strength to his family, friends, and readers. My personal favorite of his is Haroun and the Sea of Stories
, a children's novel written following the publication of The Satanic Verses
, which deals with the problem of censorship among other things. — Aimee L.
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For more, read this interview we did with Salman Rushdie
in 2015, and be sure to check out this list of frequently banned books. 20% from the online sales on Powells.com of those 20 titles will be donated to American Booksellers for Free Expression