The best bookshelves represent the souls of their owners. Regardless of what genre is read or what authors are featured, a bookshelf is a mirror image of the owner. That’s why my shelf has science fiction, politics, philosophy, fantasy and history. Remove one of these books, or add one without my choosing, and the bookshelf is no longer a reflection of me.
It’s just a fabrication.
The State Of Literature
Right now, there is a discussion in literary circles. Journalists are urging readers to ‘decolonise your bookshelf’. In June this year, NPR writer Juan Vidal proclaimed that you should deolonise your bookshelf. He argues that ‘your bookshelf may be part of the problem’. The problem, is of course, systematic racism and white supremacy. Or something. It’s impossible to keep up with the every-changing definitions of words and phrases.
We’ve covered our thoughts on Black Lives Matter in the past. Although the words ‘Black Lives Matter’ are easy to agree with, the movement itself is suss and unsympathetic.
Vidal even ends his article on an ironic note. He writes that those who do not read books from those who he approves of ‘Their knowledge of the world and of the systems at play will always be incomplete’. This is a frustrating statement, as Vidal’s motivations are manipulative. A motivation for reading is gaining knowledge, and fleshing out your understanding of the world.
However, Vidal makes it clear that those who differ will never have sufficent knowledge. In a hilarious note, Vidal mentions that ‘cities are already ablaze.’ Vidal forgets that it is Black Lives Matter and AntiFa who caused suffering and destruction to Kenosha, Portland and Minneapolis. Or perhaps, Vidal is gaslighting those who witnessed the violence.
Vidal is not the only person urging readers to ‘decolonise your bookshelf’. The chief librarian of the British Library, has said that ‘racism is created by white people’. She also plans to ‘decolonise’ exhibitions. The controversy does not end there.
According to Spiked, workers at the British Library are encouraged to ‘educate themselves’ about their privilege and to donate to BLM. The British Library receives government funding, well in the millions.
The attitude presented by the British Library is patronizing. It is condescending to presume yourself as the suitable person to ‘educate’ someone on sensitive topics like race. I do not trust the British Library to understand racism, what it is and how it functions. This is especially relevant when one considers the statement that ‘racism is created by white people’.
It is a foolish errand to go through the pages of history, and try to pinpoint the ‘creator’ of racism. Every single human has the capacity to act racist, or to become a victim of it. And we shouldn’t ignore the racism that goes on in Latin America, Asia, Africa and the Middle-East. Unfortunately for Vidal and the British Library, they’ll discover that actual human history conflicts with their grand narrative of white racism as ‘the original sin’.
Why Attack Literature?
Literature is crucial to understand the culture of a nation. Previous articles by Snowy Fictions explains this. Because of that, it is easy to attack, and difficult to protect. In times of crisis and censorship, we look to pioneers of dystopian fiction, such as George Orwell and Ray Bradbury. In particular, Bradbury, in Fahrenheit 451, correctly predicted the fast-food approach to fiction.
“Coloured people don’t like Little Black Sambo. Burn it. White people don’t feel good about Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Burn it. Someone’s written a book on tobacco and cancer of the lungs? The cigarette people are weeping? Burn the book.”Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
We ‘trash’ problematic literature, as if books are food wrappings from McDonalds. A bookshelf, on the other hand, magnifies literature. It represents the books that we hold dear and what matters to us. That’s why literature is attacked. Some people can’t stand that others choose to value things without approval. To ‘decolonise your bookshelf’ is to cut your heart into multiple parts.
There is nothing wrong with owning books by authors who are deemed unfashionable or evil. That’s a point I argued in ‘Why You Should Read The Writings Of Your Enemies‘. Owning a book does not equate to an endorsement of the author. However, it does mean an interest in multiple viewpoints and diverse subject matter. That does not cause harm.
What To Read
Many who promote ‘decolonisation’ of the bookshelf suggest reading ‘diverse’ books. Not intellectually diverse, but diverse in terms of skin colour, gender or sexuality. I am somewhat understanding of this. Historically, it’s easy to typecast English books as written by white men. However, I question the intentions and strategy of those who promote ‘diverse’ reading.
For one, it is a bad idea to force or to bully anyone to read a book. It’s also aggressive to imply that someone’s bookshelf is automatically problematic. My point is that you must accept that not everyone will share your tastes or philosophy in regards to literature.
It’s vital to note that bookshelves are sentimental collections. Some feature family heirlooms. Because of that, many will take insult at the assertation that their bookshelf is ‘wrong,’ There’s also nothing faulty with your literary tastes if its ‘the literary canon.’
After all, a bookshelf is a reflection of the owner. All the bookshelves in the world will differ from each other, which is part of the beauty of literature.
Yet the major reason why I’m against ‘decolonise your bookshelf’ is that it is nasty politics. It’s foul to reduce a work of literature down to the skin colour of the author. We don’t need a society that is more racialised. Also, there are terrific authors who aren’t white. Their work should stand on their own merits. We read Ted Chiang not because he is Asian-American, but because his stories are clever and original.
Those who promote ‘diverse reading’ must not alienate those whose minds they are trying to change. Many will react negatively to articles with pointless criticism and unfair assumptions about people. Although I disagree with ‘diversity’ initatives, (they are shallow), I respect their right to free expression. It’s harder to respect the foul politics advocated, however.
And that’s why I encourage everyone to read whatever they want. And that means not apologising for your bookshelf. We need individualism in reading circles, not doctrine.