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The Sadness Of The Bookshelf Police

Be careful what literature you put on your bookshelf- you may get judged for it.


The books you own do not define you. Owning particular books do not make you a ‘better’ person, nor does it improve your intelligence. It also says little about your own personal politics or viewpoints.

Can reading help you become a better person? Can it skyrocket your intelligence, or develop your political and social philosophy? Of course! But owning a book doesn’t mean you share the same viewpoints as the author. That should be easy enough to understand, and it is. Most sane people acknowledge that interacting with literature is not the same as endorsing it.

However, I can’t say that the Twitter mobs are smart enough to understand that. Ever since Michael Gove, a British politican, posted a picture of his bookshelf, people were quick to jump to conclusions. Two books in particular caused ire: The Bell Curve, written by Charles A. Murray and Richard Herrnstein and the works of David Irving.

Now, I am utterly unfamiliar with these books and the authors. My understanding of The Bell Curve is extremely vague. Because of that, I will not discuss the merits of these books. Nor will I discuss my personal thoughts on British politics.

If you want a detailed explanation of how British journalists reacted against Gove’s bookshelf, this video by Carl Benjamin (Akkad Daily) goes into depth:

As you can see, certain British journalists and even writers were quick to assume the worst about Gove on the basis of what books he owns. This is worrying, because:

  • Reading outside of your belief system is a positive thing, as challenging your beliefs helps them develop further.
  • Bookshelves are personal items, and are curated to the owners interests. You have the freedom to include whatever books you desire.
  • You shouldn’t read books to ‘impress’ anyone. Life is short, and it is not worth it.
  • No one should be ashamed for owning books that have the ‘wrong opinions’ in them.

Personally, I read plenty of fiction and non-fiction that I disagree with. Why? Well, mostly because I’m interested in what other people have to say, or how they reached a certain conclusion. Most of my books are fiction, and the few non-fiction books that I own are psychology-related or political philosophy. Does that make me a particular type of person? No!

Bookshelves reflect literary interests and buying habits. That’s it. You can’t Sherlock scan a bookshelf, and construct an unfair narrative about the owner’s intentions. The mentality expressed by many on Twitter is akin to the attitudes of book burners. It is unnecessary to judge individuals by what books they own.

Instead, we should discuss what we get out of the books we read. For example, I’m a huge fan of George Orwell, but I don’t agree with him on democratic socialism. But there is no denying that his books are thought-provoking, intelligent, and have helped develop my skepticism towards particular ideologies and systems. Isn’t that more productive? Having discussions and debates about ideas, as opposed to throwing accusations around and hoping one hits.

Let’s not dumb down literature for the Twitter mobs. Please.

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2 comments

  1. I totally agree with you. The book police does not realize that a person’s choice of books evolve with time. My bookshelf might house hundreds of books from my teens but they do not define me or my reading choices in the present. I think this topic should be vouched for repeatedly. Thank you for writing this.

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