How dare you sell that book!

by |November 11, 2011

Up onto the soapbox I go…

On occasion this blog receives the wrong kind of attention.

Some people in the community seem to think that a bookseller personally endorses the views expressed in every book they promote or hold in stock. If this were true a bookseller would need to hold a vast range of very contradictory views at one and the same time. On any one day a bookseller may be stocking books on evolution and creationism, on mining and environmentalism, on left and right politics, on Celine Dion and Kurt Cobain. Whereas it is true that the bookseller may have views on each of these subjects, it would be idiotic to assume they hold ALL possible views, for and against, on all of these subjects.

A bookseller must make available to the public books which reflect the multifarious needs, views and reading tastes of the broader reading community and not just the needs, views and reading tastes of the bookseller.To harass a bookseller for promoting or stocking a particular book (Sins of the Father, for example, or David Hick’s Guantanamo or The God Delusion or Mr Uppity), when they promote and stock thousands of books, is a failure to grasp this point.

Philosophy of the BoudoirAnd further, individual members of the reading public do not necessarily endorse the views expressed in every book they buy. A reader may read a book upon a subject which they find abhorrent so that they may understand the subject better. Millions of people all over the world have bought and read Mein Kampf since the fall of Nazi Germany in an attempt to make sense of the horror that was the Holocaust. This attempt to understand is not an endorsement of the views contained in that book.

Books which hold views we cannot hold ourselves, views which we find to be abhorrent, flawed or have judged to be wrong, are not a great danger to our society. A society wherein a multitude of views, belief systems or ideologies can be held and no single idea may hold sway over all others, is a robust society. And we are lucky enough to live in such a society. The greater danger to society is book censorship.

Those who seek to suppress the publication of books containing views they declare to be wrong must recognise that if they succeed, the very same thing may soon be done to books expressing views they, themselves, hold dear.

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About the Contributor

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. ​Now, as the Director of Books at, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.

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  • November 11, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    Love this blog- you tell them!

    I’ve just finished reading “All that I am” by Anna Funder, about the rise of Nazism (fabulous- highly recommended) and in it one character, a Jewish author being followed by the SS and whose works are being destroyed, says something along the lines of “Burn away, see if I care. Paper doesn’t survive, but ideas do.”
    That’s rough and from memory only- but the gist is right. Censorship is not only wrong, it’s useless.

    • November 11, 2011 at 3:46 pm

      Your comments reminded me of this gem..

      “As a form of moral insurance, at least, literature is much more dependable than a system of beliefs or a philosophical doctrine. Since there are no laws that can protect us from ourselves, no criminal code is capable of preventing a true crime against literature; though we can condemn the material suppression of literature – the persecution of writers, acts of censorship, the burning of books – we are powerless when it comes to its worst violation: that of not reading the books. For that crime, a person pays with his whole life; if the offender is a nation, it pays with its history.” — Joseph Brodsky, 1987 Nobel lecture

  • November 11, 2011 at 3:31 pm

    And so say all of us…

    I have been asked that same question, numerous times, about the Exclusive Brethren (Michael Bachelard’s book, in particular) and anything on Freemasonry. I have had Jehovah’s Witnesses ask me why I sell books on mysticism, and I have had people ask me if I was sick because I stocked True Crime books…

    So, I am hearing you loud and clear!


  • November 11, 2011 at 10:20 pm

    I hear you – I’m a librarian. In a Catholic school (which shall not be named) Principal once asked me to remove a book from the shelf because it was not in line with the conservative views of the College. So i didn’t.

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