Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
Recently I read an article in Publishers Weekly about a panel held at BookExpo that discussed how a bookstore, especially an independent store, should respond to books that might offend their political or moral principles.
This issue certainly isn’t new, but it is one that Christian bookstores find themselves making decisions about regularly. The more you think about it, the more multi-faceted the question becomes.
Some customers don’t expect a Christian bookstore to make stock selections as a sort of spiritual gatekeeper. Other customers return books that offended them. Sometimes because the language went beyond the customer’s boundaries. Other times because a sexual scene might have been too explicit for a customer. Then there is the customer who found a book veered outside of his interpretation of the Bible.
In each of these instances, the publisher is likely to hear from an upset store owner, who expresses that the trust between the publisher and the bookstore has been violated.
What Owners Believe
Depending on the owner’s set of spiritual tenets and sense of mission, decisions of what to carry can often be made based on what he or she thinks others should read. Many Christian stores were founded because the owners wanted to have a ministry through books to their communities. And they take that role very seriously. That includes narrowing what’s in stock to what the owner is comfortable “endorsing.”
What Does This Mean on a Practical Level?
In the PW article, one store found its first point of controversy came when a customer was upset the store didn’t sell Bibles. The owner of this general market store didn’t view the Bible as an essential book. But once the lack of it was pointed out, he did stock it.
Another store owner on the panel mentioned that none of Bill O’Reilly’s titles would be found on their shelves; nor would the store order a requested book of his. The article implied his conservative political views were the reason. But another bookstore, including a Christian store, might not carry his books because of the multiple sexual harrassment allegations against him.
The Lifeway chain of Christian stores pulled Jen Hatmaker’s best-selling books off their shelves when the author publicly made statements in support of same-sex marriages. You can read more about the decision here.
Where to Draw the Line
I’ve noted that more Christian bookstores are carrying novels published by general market publishers in an effort to entice additional customers with a broader range of titles. Owners have assured customers that the novels reflect a morally conservative lifestyle. But that brings us back to what customers expect of their Christian bookstore.
In the PW article, some on the panel indicated they based their ordering decisions on the community they served. If they’re located in a left-leaning area, a bio about Trump, for example, might not be a welcome addition to the shelves. Is that censorship, or is that smart ordering? Do bookstores have a first amendment right to apply their own life view to book ordering?
What criteria do you think a bookstore should use in deciding what books to carry? What role do you expect a bookstore to take in overseeing what you do or don’t read?
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What role do bookstores have in what you read–or don’t? Click to tweet.