Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Tuesday, 7 March 2023

Ex Libris

If you have a racist friend,” sang The Special AKA in the 1980s, “now is the time for your friendship to end”. In a climate where accusations of racism are flung about for the flimsiest of reasons, today’s Guardian readers presumably conduct regular purges of their address books to ensure their social contacts meet the requisite purity standards.

A while back, Julia had a piece at Orphans of Liberty quoting a Guardian writer who clearly applies the same methodology in other areas:

The big book purge began when I decided to go through the shelves and discard any book I was vaguely embarrassed to have in the house, for reasons of quality, subject matter, politics or author (look at your shelves and you probably have your own equivalents).”
Well, no, actually; by and large, if I choose to give a book house room then I will feel no embarrassment about it whatsoever. In the unlikely event of the writer of that article visiting my home, she would probably reach for the smelling-salts when faced with the collection which has absorbed most of my spare cash for half a century or more; from the ‘Just So Stories’ of early childhood to the vintage science fiction I discovered at 8 years old (scaring myself silly reading ‘The Day of the Triffids’ under the covers with a torch) and the ‘Boy’s Own’ adventure stories I loved in my teens, there’s enough politically incorrect material there to ensure no Guardian reader would ever speak to me again.

While some of these writers express prejudices and opinions which would no longer be acceptable in polite society, I see no reason to deny myself the pleasure of revisiting old favourites as a result. An open-minded reader will surely neither approve nor ignore the outdated attitudes but simply accept them as a product of their time, much like the (to us) mawkish sentimentality that permeates late Victorian and Edwardian fiction.

Given what has recently happened to the works of Roald Dahl, I have no doubt that future editions of ‘Beau Geste’, ‘Prester John’ or ‘A Town Like Alice’ - if published at all - will be censored to better reflect today’s attitudes in the same way that old photographs and film posters have been altered to remove evidence of smoking; it would be hard to find a better metaphor for this intrusive nannying than the airbrushed images of Churchill and Brunel sans cigars.

It seems unlikely that we will ever reach a ‘Fahrenheit 451’ scenario (unless the Corbynites get into power, in which case we will have far worse things to worry about) but, should it ever come to an inquisition into the contents of our bookcases, I can’t be alone in saying that they will have to prise ‘King Solomon’s Mines’ (and all the others) from my cold, dead hands.


  1. "no Guardian reader would ever speak to me again."
    That's a win, then . . .

    1. I suppose one should really distinguish between ‘Guardian readers’ and people who may read the Guardian - I have to admit that among the latter is my mother, who dips in occasionally out of anthropological interest (while fervently hoping my father isn’t watching from the hereafter - he loathed the ‘Cotton-spinners’ Gazette’ with a passion’).

  2. My non-fiction shelf includes two biographies of Maggie Thatcher, two anti-nanny state books, one anti-EU and one anti-climate change book, three books about the truth of slavery in America and a story of the Lewis and Clarke journey accross America, which tells of what shits the native indians were.
    I think I could horrify those Guardian readers too

    1. It occurs to me that, since I’m sure they would never sully their lily-white hands with such books, those who would condemn them probably have no idea of their contents.

      It’s a bit like the campaigners who compared blacked-up Morris men to southern minstrels despite having no idea what minstrel make-up actually looked like, what with images having been thoroughly expunged from all available media.

    2. Oh I don't doubt it. I sometimes doubt the ability of some of these people to read anything, but don't doubt they are perfect examples of judging books by covers (Or authors, these days)

    3. It is, I suppose, the natural concomitant of virtue signalling; if everything you do is aimed at externally demonstrating your beliefs, then you will assume what you observe in other people is what they believe.

  3. Robert the Biker9 March 2023 at 10:42

    On my shelves, you will find numerous bike and hot-rod books, a set of Kiplings works, books on ancient Egypt and other histories. You will also find a copy of Mien Kampf and the Malleus Mallificarum, because certain MPs and other Woke tossers were saying that such things should be banned. I am currently looking for copies of Roald Dahl and Dr Seuss. I refuse to have my thoughts dictated by cretins who have never read history, let alone learned from it.

    1. Part of the problem is that we are up against the sort of mind - if you can call it that - which can’t see past a false syllogism: far-right extremists like Kipling, you like Kipling, ergo you are a far-right extremist.

      I hope you’ve got plenty of space; if you’re going to buy up every author who comes under threat, you’re going to need it.


Moderation is on as I’m having some technical difficulties with Comments