Capitol Chaos, Slippery Slopes, and Josh Hawley's Book

January 10, 2021  — 
Tagged as: politics, free-speech

In the half-year or so since I’ve started this blog, I’ve taken a lot of opportunities to criticize the woke left. Now it’s the delusional right’s turn. The blog is called bibliocentrist, after all. Some might ask why I don’t have a more even distribution of coverage of left and right-wing bullshit, and the answer is simple. For one, this blog is primarily about politics as they relate to the book world, and the right wing just doesn’t have enough influence in literary culture to enforce much nonsense. Long gone are the days when they made headlines banning Harry Potter (oh, how the tables have turned) for witchcraft. When it comes to book communities, at least in the popular online spaces, the left has a monopoly on influence. Which brings me to the other reason why you might find my critiques slightly skewed towards the left: I already see critiques of the right everywhere, so I don’t feel as pressing a need to repeat them. When the right does wrong, everyone and their grandmother are posting and meming about it. When the left does wrong, we get excuses, rhetoric, and In Defense of Looting. So I feel more compelled to disagree and attempt to inject nuance.

Don’t think, however, that my dislike of the woke left means I’m any more amicable towards the delusional right. And this week’s debacle in DC was a perfect example of why. Today’s topic is not strictly book-related, but it’s important. We’ll also cover the argument surrounding the nixed publication of a book about Big Tech by pro-Trump Senator Josh Hawley, and the real-world debate underlying the book’s premise.

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Is Rowling's “Troubled Blood” Transphobic?

October 31, 2020  — 
Tagged as: cancel-culture, jk-rowling, book-review

Warning: This post contains spoilers for Troubled Blood, the fifth book in the Cormoran Strike series by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling).

The Internet has a new favorite game: “how many times can J.K. Rowling be cancelled?” Since Rowling’s tweets over the summer inspired accusations of transphobia, Rowling’s every move is scrutinized more closely than ever, and her books are no exception. Ever since its release on September 15th, the latest installment in the Cormoran Strike series, Troubled Blood, has been flooded with controversy over whether its plot is just another manifestation of Rowling’s allegedly TERF-y views.

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The Bookstore That Gave Up Five Decades of Principles To Be Woke

August 31, 2020  — 
Tagged as: cancel-culture, bookstores

In the heart of Denver, Colorado, there’s a friendly neighborhood bookstore named Tattered Cover. Since its establishment in 1971 by founder Joyce Meskis, it has grown from one small shop with two employees to a thriving four-location operation. The store is well-liked by the Denver community and praised for its wide selection, cozy bookish atmosphere, and helpful employees—or at least it was, before the events of this past June.

This June, the bookstore found itself at the center of a raging controversy. Controversy itself was not unprecedented across Tattered Cover’s 50 years of business, but what was unprecedented was store leadership’s response. It began with a statement released on June 6th by Tattered Cover’s co-owners Len Vlahos and Kristen Gilligan, who took over from founder Joyce Meskis upon her retirement in 2017. In the wake of George Floyd’s death and widespread protests, pressure on companies and organizations to profess support for Black Lives Matter was at an all-time high, especially within the literary community. In response to this pressure, Vlahos and Gilligan shared a letter on Twitter explaining their position on Black Lives Matter and why they hadn’t expressed their stance earlier.

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Racism, Resignations, and Expired Hand Sanitizer at the Free Library of Philadelphia

July 27, 2020  — 
Tagged as: cancel-culture, libraries

The Free Library of Philadelphia, or FLP, is Philly’s public library system, well-known for its community outreach, educational events, and promotion of literacy. Externally it’s the picture of a typically left-leaning institution, with author talks, event series, and resources centered around various elements of diversity and inclusion. The FLP has expressed its strong support for the Black Lives Matter movement multiple times, has hosted pro-BLM author discussions, and even has a dedicated BLM resource page. Internally, however, an ongoing battle rages over microaggressions and alleged patterns of discrimination against black employees.

On June 25th, 2020, a group of black employees at the Free Library of Philadelphia released an open letter that reignited a long-simmering debate over diversity and racism within the organization. Over the course of one tumultuous month, that debate resulted in the nominally “voluntary” resignation of the library’s director of twelve years, Siobhan Reardon. Was this simply accountability for a leader who allowed racism to thrive? Or was she another victim of cancel culture’s badly aimed battering ram? I dug into the past month’s worth of open letters, follow-up letters, and conflicts to find out.

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The Open Letter Situation Shows What a Mess We're In

July 8, 2020  — 
Tagged as: cancel-culture, free-speech

Yesterday Harper’s Magazine published an open letter about the free exchange of ideas and discourse, signed by many writers and public intellectuals. Signees included high-profile names like Salman Rushdie, J.K. Rowling, Margaret Atwood, Malcolm Gladwell, and Noam Chomsky, among others. Although the population of signees seemed to be mostly left-of-center, it represented a surprising amount of ideological diversity within that left-leaning sphere, with both moderates and more hardcore lefties seemingly finding common ground. The content of the letter was sensible and well-written for the most part (more on the un-sensible part later), voicing support for justice and equality while speaking against cancel culture and intolerance of dissenting views. It closed by arguing for the importance of open discourse to culture, freedom, and democracy itself.

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The Harry Potter Fandom Can't Erase J.K. Rowling

July 6, 2020  — 
Tagged as: cancel-culture, jk-rowling

I’ve talked a bit about J.K. Rowling and the reaction to her tweets about trans people and biological sex. The controversy continues to rage on, weeks later, and she has trended on Twitter multiple times for additional tweet threads. At one point, horror author Stephen King seemed to imply support for her via a retweet and then seemingly backpedaled with an unequivocal “trans women are women” when pressed for clarification, much like he backed down when criticized for saying that he nominates films for Oscars based on merit rather than considering diversity. The man has some good thoughts, but he’s also apparently got the backbone of a pool noodle. And he’s not alone: for all Rowling’s fame and author “friends,” all of whom would’ve been crowding to cozy up to her a few weeks ago, there have been almost none willing to stand up for her publicly. Again, all she did was express concerns about the extent of trans activism while making it clear she does acknowledge and care about trans people. Some degree of disagreement is understandable; exiling her is not. But the pressure has never been higher to excommunicate Rowling or be labeled a transphobe. There are real-life consequences to speaking up: one children’s author who expressed support, Gillian Philip, was summarily fired from the company that employed her as one of several authors writing under the “Erin Hunter” pseudonym. So it’s unfortunate, but not surprising, that few people dare to wade into the Devil’s Snare of woke scolding to defend Rowling.

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Book Twitter is a Cancel-Culture Nightmare

June 27, 2020  — 
Tagged as: cancel-culture, book-twitter

Twitter is not a happy place to begin with, but Book Twitter gives “toxic” a whole new meaning. Anyone who has spent more than a few minutes in this community, dominated by vocal fans of the Young Adult (YA) genre, knows how quickly petty conflict escalates into ruined reputations and careers. The population’s “wokeness” and fierce competition for attention yields an environment where drama is constant, dissent is trampled, and the tiniest slip-up yields a swarm of disapproval and a swift cancellation.

Book Twitter’s cancel-happy tendencies have been documented before (the articles focus on YA Twitter, but at this point Book Twitter and YA Twitter are virtually synonymous given the latter’s monopoly over the community). The rate of accusations and subsequent cancellations has only accelerated since, buoyed by the community’s collective willingness to follow the whims of the first person to launch an accusation. Participants are not inclined to critically examine the charges against the accused—it only takes one unsubstantiated tweet to launch a wave of pitchforks, especially if the “b” word (bigot) is involved. Forget judge, jury, and executioner: Twitter eschews the trial and proceeds directly to the guillotine.

I wanted to take some time to talk about some recent cancellations in the community. In some ways, these are nothing new: the community has been dominated by groupthink, rumor-mongering, and cancel culture for a long time now. But that’s exactly why I think it’s important to keep talking about it, and to bring some balance and nuance to the conversation. Part of Book Twitter’s problem is that it’s very niche and thus often insulated from outsiders, so virulent community behaviors have been normalized. The more these behaviors are brought to light, and the more people realize how unproductive they are, the more people will be willing to speak up and try to change the prevailing culture. So let’s talk about some recent events.

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