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Originally published November 7, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 7, 2008 at 10:29 AM

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No furor at local reading of controversial "Medina"

"The Jewel of Medina" author Sherry Jones appeared at University Bookstore in Seattle Thursday night to promote her controversial debut work.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Back in August, first-time author Sherry Jones, of Spokane, made worldwide headlines with her controversial book because some feared it would incite Muslims to violence.

"The Jewel of Medina" is about Aisha, the Prophet Muhammad's child bride in seventh-century Arabia, and had been called "soft-core pornography."

Jones defending her work against criticism from people who hadn't even read the historical romance. Random House, the original publisher, shelved the book, saying it feared for its employees.

That action created a furor about censorship by fear.

After the publicity, Jones got a new publisher for the U.S. and Canada, and sold foreign rights to the book in 18 other countries.

So was there a reason for the fear?

On Thursday night at the University Bookstore, where Jones read from her novel and signed copies, there were no demonstrations, no reason to call security.

On a wretchedly rainy night, only 10 people showed up to the reading area by the poetry section. That still left 25 empty seats.

Such is the fate of a new author, promoting a new book, even a book that two months ago was in the headlines.

One of those who showed up was Edith Ruby.

"I'm really interested in the issue of censorship," she said.

Ruby did not buy a book, and only three were sold after the reading.

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"I already have a household of books," Ruby said.

Although there has been plenty on the blogosphere attacking the book — often by those who hadn't read it — the only physical incident took place on Sept. 27 in London.

A small fire was started outside the building housing Gibson Square, publishers of Jones' book in England, causing minor damage. Three men have been charged in that fire.

Jones said she has not since heard from the publishing house, and the book has not been released in England.

But that's been about it. Nothing strange happened at book signings in the past two weekends in Spokane and Missoula.

Robbie Burroughs, spokeswoman for the FBI office in Seattle, said the agency was aware of the controversy about the book. She said Seattle police (who wouldn't comment about security precautions) had made patrol units in the area aware of Thursday night's book signing.

The University Bookstore was providing four private security people from its staff, said store manager Bryan Pearce.

But it turned out Jones' appearance was a picnic in comparison to, say, the appearance in 2000 at the bookstore by Sonny Barger, author of "Hell's Angel: The Life and Times of Sonny Barger and the Hell's Angels Motorcycle Club."

Pearce said 200 to 300 bikers showed up for that book reading, "mixing it up," although nobody was hurt.

What Jones faces now is the more humdrum aspect that nearly all authors face: You have to go out to the stores and push it, 10, 20, 30 copies at a time.

And you have to deal with nasty reviews.

Here was Laurel Maury writing a book review for the Los Angeles Times, calling Jones' book "a second-rate bodice ripper or, rather, a second-rate bodice ripper-style romance (it doesn't really have sex scenes)."

"It's my first book," Jones said. "I was really hurt. I think my book is lushly descriptive and evocative. It'd be nice to be embraced by the literary community. It'd be a dream come true."

Until that happens, there is always this Mark Twain quote that consoles writers:

"The public is the only critic whose opinion is worth anything at all."

Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or elacitis@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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