This post is strictly my personal opinion about something I care deeply about—children’s books—and view as having saved my life as a child. I have loved children’s books for 57 years, 28 of them as a bookseller. It is no accident that children’s books are filled with portals leading to other dimensions, wardrobes and tesseracts, Platforms 13 and 9 and ¾, Neitherlands and multi-verses maintained by nine lived enchanters. These passageways are metaphors for those real-world portals into other dimensions, books themselves.
We know from books of wonder that accesses to magical portals are periodically threatened by a variety of evils. These ills are sometimes the results of mistakes made by heroines and heroes, other times by ill will or the return of an ancient malice. We know too what must be done. Mistakes need to be set right, access to the portals preserved, whether through some manner of renewal, or by the beating back of a constricting malice. That is the heroine’s task.
In many ways our own multi-verse of books has been in a kind of golden age these last few decades. We have enjoyed an array of splendid new, entrancing, and increasingly diverse and inclusive worlds made available to readers alongside well trodden older doorways into realms whose pathways, castles, battlefields, museums, and gardens still beckon, beguile, and enrich.
We also know that evils often appear just when the sunlight is brightest. And so it is now, that a potent threat has manifested.
If we were to encounter, in the pages of a book, a maleficent communal voice which, with the heavy prongs of fear and public shaming, enforced an orthodoxy of perspective that constricted what people could write about, which consigned their identities to ethnic and racial attributes, that rewarded conformity and castigated dissent, we would know what the heroine’s task was. She would fight for what is truly important, creativity, social justice, imagination, liberty, a robust forum for dissenting opinions, for individuality and personal association and expression.
The force with which our heroine is confronted is currently being animated through Twitter. There has been a series of Young Adult books whose authors were pressured or, if you like, edified into submission, to remove their own books from pending publication. The pace of these removals is increasing. There have been two in the last several weeks, Blood Heir and A Place for Wolves. More are likely on their way as other people find problems in books and exert force on authors to remove their own work from imminent publication.
There is an enforced narrative at work here which demonizes dissent while rewarding compliance.
Free speech advocates are lumped together into a composite persona, that of privileged people yelling censorship to maintain their privilege. Authors who pull their books are doing so because they are brave not because they are being held under water and desperately looking to get back to the surface.
When your personal identity is in the hands of other people you will do most anything to preserve your safety. It is no coincidence that the two most recent authors to pull their books from publication were themselves active YA Twitter members. Both of them have been involved in argumentation within the Twitter community, and both were more susceptible to being flamed and dragged in an environment their identities were already embedded in.
This toxic environment is reinforced by pressure for people to stay in their racial and ethnic lanes and to adopt the opinions of others which have been granted imprimatur by virtue of authenticity.