I hoped my book would be banned. I thought it would be wonderful if some self-righteous politician convinced a court it was a danger to society. I imagined crowds gathering as copies of my book were tossed on big, public bonfires like in 1930s Germany. That would have been great.
I was joking, of course. Well, sort of. My first book, Mohamed 2.0, was almost complete. It was a biography of Mohamed El-Fatatry, a Muslim immigrant to little homogenous Finland. People in the West get quite worked up about anything to do with Islam, so I knew we could have some controversy. Mohamed wanted a famous politician to write the Foreword to the book, and we ended up getting government minister and presidential candidate Eva Biaudet to do it. I joked to Mohamed that we should ask her to ban it instead of endorse it, because nothing helps sales better than censorship. He didn’t think it was funny.
Mohamed was right: it wasn’t funny. I did have a point, though, in that few things make a book a best-seller faster than an order from a political authority not to read it. D.H. Lawrence’s best work wasn’t Lady Chatterley’s Lover, but now the book is a widely-read classic simply because the UK government tried to ban it for obscenity.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover had the support of its publisher, though. Sometimes a publisher will forget their high-minded morals and agree to censorship. The publisher Penguin recently decided to destroy all copies of the academic book The Hindus by Wendy Doniger because some Indians didn’t like how it portrayed their religion.
Free speech is often curtailed on religious grounds, and not just in the world’s largest democracy India. Harry Potter was famously challenged in American libraries by Christian fundamentalists because it supposedly promoted witchcraft. I never saw the danger Harry Potter posed to the world, but that might just be me.
Free speech is certainly under threat in America. Reporters Without Borders recently ranked good-old freedom-loving USA number 46 in the world for press freedom, behind countries like Belize, Botswana and Suriname. The American government is quite upset that we have found out they are spying on their own citizens, so they are arresting people who try to leak information and hacking the Associated Press.
America seems to be trying to shed its “land of the free” title, but there must be some places in the world where freedom of speech and the press is still respected. I happen to live in Finland, which was ranked the best in the world for press freedom. This sounds nice, but if we are number one then the world is in bad shape.
A couple of years ago a Finnish politician was convicted of “breaching the sanctity of religion” for a blog post. Jussi Halla-aho had made a careful statement in the “if-then” tradition of Aristotelian logic, comparing the Prophet Muhammad’s nine-year old wife and modern age of consent laws. This was deemed offensive and forbidden speech. It was offensive, certainly, but I don’t agree that being a jerk should be against the law. Other countries take a similar line. People in Great Britain have been arrested for being offensive on Twitter.
Finland also has a tradition of corporate censorship, when powerful companies exert their influence to stop critical journalism. The mobile phone company Nokia was rather infamous for this in years past. When I started writing my new book, The Decline and Fall of Nokia, the possibility they could try to stop us came up a time or two during meetings. Luckily Nokia seems to be mellowing, though, and they don’t seem to be too upset. The book is set for publication in April, so it looks like I will miss the censorship bullet with this one, too.
My novel Dead Romans hasn’t drawn the attention of any corporations, politicians or religious groups yet. It gives a rather frank depiction of paganism and abuse in the ancient Roman Empire. One homeschooling Mom flipped out about it, though. She wrote a review stating “I’m quite aware that this type of thing probably happened, but I don’t think it’s necessary to tell us about it.” I was hoping she would start a campaign to ban my book. That would have been great.
I haven’t talked much about my next book, The Decline and Fall of Nokia, but I thought I could give a little taste of what the book is about. These aren’t set in stone, but as of now these are the chapter titles.
2. Confusion and Convergence
3. Jorma Ollila’s Company
4. GSM and Emerging Markets
5. The Engineers and the Researchers
6. The American Problem
7. The Designers
8. Nokia Declares War on Apple
9. The Northern Byzantium
10. Nokia and Finland
11. The iPhone Changes Everything
12. The Operating Systems
13. Services and the Smartphone Experience
15. The Great Recession
17. A Disquieting Realisation of Inferiority
19. Capital Markets Day 2009
20. The Patent Wars
21. Symbian and Sabotage
22. The False Dawn and Fade to Black
23. Stephen Elop
24. Innovation and Commercialisation
27. Things Fall Apart
28. Pride, Nemesis
29. The Abyss
30. NSN Redux
31. The Evil Empire Becomes a White Knight
32. Ruins, Mystery and Nameless Rage
33. Connecting People
An essay I wrote for a Finnish publication:
Are you still looking for a Christmas gift for someone? How about the gift of literature?
My American publisher Stairway Press is running a promotion where you can buy a book and get a personalised Christmas card from the author (that would be me). Now is your chance to make that special someone puzzle over strange Finnish or Swedish language Christmas cards. Hyvää Joulua! God Jul!
If you want to know why you should buy one of my books as a Christmas gift, I’ve compiled some compelling reasons here: Why Dead Romans makes the perfect Christmas gift.
You can make your purchases here: Stairway Press.
Note this is for purchases straight from the American publisher, and not through other retail channels or other publishers. Also, please be aware that I’m on one side of the Atlantic and the books are on the other. With the holiday mail rush, it would be prudent to do this quickly so you get them in time. The Finnish postal system recommends cards should be sent by 5 December to be sure they make it to North America before Christmas. If you are buying a book in Europe, probably the same time frame would apply so you receive the book before Christmas.
Tired of wandering apathetically through malls trying to find the perfect gift? Here are ten reasons why you should buy Dead Romans for anyone and everyone this Christmas.
10) Hot female celebrities love it.
I would totally do anyone who buys Dead Romans.
-Rihanna, hot female celebrity
9) Hot male celebrities love it.
I would totally do Rihanna. I mean, I would totally do anyone who buys Dead Romans.
-Justin Timberlake, hot male celebrity
8) It is endorsed by the best writers.
What the hell do you want me to say? ‘Dead Romans is great?’ Fine. Dead Romans is great. Now get off my lawn before I release the hounds.
-Jennifer Egan, author of A Visit from the Goon Squad
7) My publisher doesn’t charge for shipping.
I’ve made a terrible mistake.
-Ken Coffman, Stairway Press
6) That kid you went to school with actually wrote a book.
You’re shitting me. That kid that used to eat glue wrote a book? I always expected he would end up in one of those institutions that don’t allow metal cutlery.
-My best friend in third grade.
5) There is a lot of sex in it.
Wow. This thing is R-rated.
-My first editor.
4) It is historically accurate in every conceivable way.
I decided to drink a bottle of vodka and retire after reading Dead Romans. After this perfect book there’s nothing left to learn about the Roman Empire.
-Dr. Mary Beard, Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge
3) It was almost nominated for the top literary awards.
I was going to nominate it, but then decided that wouldn’t be fair to all the other writers because they wouldn’t stand a chance.
-Paul C. Tash, Chairman of the Board of the Pultizer Prize
2) The Finnish Santa Claus thinks it is the perfect gift.
Perkele saatana vittu Dead Romans koskenkorva!
-Joulupukki, the Finnish Santa Claus
1) It is being studied in the best schools.
We ran out of colouring books.
-Judy Smith, kindergarten teacher
Note: All quotes are fabricated, except for my first editor, who really did call it ‘R-rated.’ The Finnish Santa Claus quote might be fairly accurate, too.