Friday, July 19

Never judge a book by its author

Against the picturesque, though now somber backdrop of Hawke’s Bay, a tempest far removed from the climatic fury of Cyclone Gabrielle has been brewing, this time within the confines of a seemingly innocuous local bookstore.

Wardini Books, under the stewardship of Gareth and Louise Ward, has unwittingly become the latest battleground in the never-ending skirmish of cultural warfare, thanks to their principled, or some might argue, foolhardy decision to shelve Jane Morgan’s “The Dinner Club,” a cookbook with intentions as noble as aiding the recovery of those affected by the cyclone.

The controversy was not born of the book’s recipes, but the unsavory flavour of the author’s X account, deemed by some to be anti-trans and anti-Māori, though Ms. Morgan would no doubt put that assessment down to the palate of the individual reader.

The Wards opted to exercise a form of vetting, in the name of aligning their stock with their ethical compass, a baffling proposition for the proprietors of a bookstore. Following this logic, Roald Dahl, an individual whose brilliance as a storyteller is now tarnished by accusations of antisemitism, must nevertheless align with their values, seeing they currently offer him shelf space.

What a quandary we’d find ourselves in if we had to align with the values of authors to be able to sell their offspring.

And do the same online trolls who agitated against the Ward’s stocking of Ms. Morgan’s book, feel it reasonable to berate a purveyor of used vinyl for indirectly endorsing the morally reprehensible actions of icons like Chuck Berry, or even the debatable guardianship of Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page of the underage Lori Maddox?

Surely consistency would demand the affirmative.

Let’s throw in David Bowie while we’re at it, who, it is claimed, had a sexual relationship with the same Ms. Maddox when she was just 14 years old. I’d wager that no one reading this believes Bowie would ever be canceled, not on moral grounds anyway. Cancellations are about fashion and instilling fear. And on the painfully rare occasion, morality.

In 2019, nationwide franchise Whitcoulls removed Jordan B. Peterson’s ’12 Rules for Life’, citing the recent Christchurch atrocity as prompting a call to action.

Their reason was quite the tell that they were unfamiliar with the material. They clearly weren’t familiar with the content of Adolph Hitler’s manifesto Mein Kampf either, which remained undisturbed on the shelves. But absurdity croucheth at the door of the censor, a pursuit any bookseller would be advised to steer well clear of. Bookstores and libraries will always be a sea of literary contradictions, where saints and sinners cohabit in harmony, ensuring a valuable exploration of the human condition.

What transpired with Wardini Books, of course, is emblematic of a larger, more insidious trend: the weaponization of social media to conduct what amounts to character assassinations under the guise of political righteousness. The response to such provocations, if I might suggest, need not be elaborate. A simple, resolute ‘Fuck Off’ suffices, embodying a refusal to capitulate to the whims of the mob, and a reminder of the sanctity of free thought and expression.

Because the online mob won’t thank you for it. They’d cancel your wretched bookstore tomorrow if they thought it would satisfy their quest for power.

If a bookstore owner knows anything, you would think it would be to never judge a book by its author. And, just quietly, you’d think genuine lovers of books would have as much time for censors as they would for that not-so-generously-donated box of Hillman Hunter manuals.