Douglas Koziol:

So what can you do when a customer wants a book that you not only find objectionable but also believe actually dangerous in the lessons it portends amidst such a politically precarious time? If it helps, swap Elegy for any book that you find particularly insidious, whether it’s Atlas Shrugged, The Communist Manifesto, or The Bible. The question remains: without stooping to the level of crazed book-burning, does the bookseller’s role ever evolve past the capitalist exchange of money for paper and pulp? And are there meaningful ways to resist the continued sales of disastrous books?

Koziol has a problem. When he’s not playing to perfection the role of a Smug, Condescending Progressive straight out of central casting, he’s a bookseller, you see, and he’s distraught over the fact that even the “largely liberal, well-educated and well-meaning people” who patronize his store insist on seeking out such subversive thoughtcrime as, uh, J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy. What to do, what to do? Well, eventually our hero grudgingly concedes that there’s nothing he can do except to “start conversations” and listen “without judgment” as customers explain why they would even want to waste their time with such trash, but given his druthers, he would prefer to strangle distribution of the book by boycotting Vance’s publisher. Unfortunately, sigh, that doesn’t seem feasible. A question of tactics, not principle, you understand. But it’s so trying for him, having to stand by silently while all around him, people are making choices without consulting him first!

It’s hard to pick a favorite part. Is it the idea that a typical customer would be the slightest bit interested in justifying their purchase to some obnoxious employee demanding an explanation? Is it the demonstration, yet again, that would-be censors and commissars unfailingly assume that they will always be the ones with the power to decide what gets promoted and what goes down the memory hole? Is it the way, as already noted, that zealots like Koziol can’t even trust their “liberal, well-educated and well-meaning” peers to handle anything from the progressive Index Librorum Prohibitorum without supervision? For me, I think it’s the way he offers up alternative candidates for censorship as a “gotcha” — he apparently blithely assumes that everyone else is as much of a control freak as he is. Hell, one of the first books I ever sold was one of Ayn Rand’s novels. I even sold a copy of Mein Kampf on Hitler’s birthday. Free speech and free markets, baby, let the best ideas win!