The Danger of Complacency in the Book Busines

From Publishers Weekly:

In the 1953 movie Shane, there is a clear contrast between good and evil, the hard-working farm families and the greedy cattlemen who own the political power and are willing to employ violent means to get their way. The farmers aren’t really prepared for such a battle, but Shane, the mysterious man from the mountains, reluctantly meets violence with violence and wins the day for the good guys.

How does this relate to writers and publishers? The bad guys are seizing power and imposing their distortions of good and evil on creativity and informative thought with the power of book banning and censorship in schools. It’s a not-so-subtle form of violence.

The writers and thinkers, the publishers and agents? They are not gunslingers. Most writers and teachers—despite the insane proposal to arm teachers in rooms full of adolescents and young children—are not people who spend hours conniving, distorting, and threatening anyone who is not of like mind.

Make no mistake. There are writers who have come from police work à la Joe Wambaugh, and writers like Hemingway who enjoyed physical confrontations and challenges, as well as those who are hunters and even gun enthusiasts, but farming, like writing, is an all-consuming activity. Novelists spend most of their time alone with their characters and thoughts. Most depend on Shane to, in the end, protect and save them.

It’s not that we don’t want to get our hands dirty or we lack the courage; it’s that these new threats have all come in a storm of surprise. Many of us are so entranced with our own work that we don’t look out the window, much less keep up with the drumbeat of depressing and dangerous news. Libraries fighting for survival seems almost like science fiction.

But what if we pull up the shades and/or turn on the news anyway? Who is Shane for the publishing world?

He’s the politician who will stand up and challenge the book burners and would-be censors, the governor who remembers being excited by his teacher who presented a thrilling new idea. These are men and women with Shane-like courage, and we writers, publishers, and agents are looking toward the mountain, hoping they’ll arrive and save the day. Some of us are even eating popcorn and waiting for the movie to start. This is dangerous.

When America was developing—well into the last portion of the 20th century—it was moving in the direction of the farmers. Censorship and book banning was consistently challenged and defeated. You could cite such cases as Tinker v. Des Moines School District, which ruled that neither students nor teachers “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” Check the decisions in Todd v. Rochester Community Schools in 1972, or Rosenberg v. Board of Education, which upheld the right to read The Merchant of Venice and Oliver Twist. We all grew complacent disbelieving they could come back. We came too far, surely, to turn back.

But the bad guys have returned. Is there any doubt that they’ll be after Huckleberry Finn again, especially with this anti-critical-race-theory nonsense? When Huck decides to help Jim escape slavery and says, “Aw right, I’ll go to hell,” he really believes it. It makes him the most courageous American hero, and we can lose him and the lessons in an instant. Yet right now, Shane has not come out of the mountains.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG notes, as he has before, that he doesn’t necessarily agree with every item he excerpts in TPV. He also cautions against “the good old days” view of history. There are some things that are very much better about 2022 than there were in 1962, 72, 82 and 92.

6 thoughts on “The Danger of Complacency in the Book Busines”

  1. Yet again, a Leftist singles out a class of people and proclaims them to be helpless victims. Unlike the author of the OP, I don’t claim to speak for other writers, but personally, I don’t appreciate someone diminishing me in this way.

  2. I’m afraid that the comparison of commercial publishing to Shane involves the wrong gunslinger. Especially considering the probable fate of commercial publishing (including the self-inflicted aspects), the OP would have been better advised to a 1960s musical comparison… to Irving.

  3. One wonders when Publishers Weekly will discuss the censoring that the publishers engage in.

    Oh, right, that would be never.

  4. There is an odd notion among some that if one has strong thoughts and feels virtuous over some topic, the rest of us then have a responsibility to read such thoughts. The author has a right to have his book distributed and read because what he has to say is so important. This extends to making their work available to others and refraining from criticizing it.

    Nonsense.

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