I've been thinking a lot about what Brian Mandabach wrote about libraries being dangerous places, and that this is a good thing. It came to mind most recently when Carrie Jones told me about her most recent experience with a book gatekeeper shying away from perceived danger.
It is increasingly clear to me that when adults suppress or censor or otherwise keep a book out of a children's section in a library or bookstore, they are reacting more from a desire to protect their own adult sensibilities than from any carefully considered notion of what is in any child's best interest. It is as often squeamishness as it is outright hostility to a subject. I really do sympathize with the bookseller who worries about offending grandmothers by stocking a certain book (I know, grandma has money; grandson does not), but that a book might give offense is not a good reason not to stock a book. I realize no bookstore can or should stock everything. Fine. But if you're not going to stock a particular book, do it because you can't sell it; because it won't find an audience among your customers. Because you think it's a crappy book and you simply don't want to be associated with it, no matter how many sales you lose. If you say you can't sell the book, then I take you at your word. (Really, those are the same rationals I use with manuscripts.) But if you see that a book is selling and if you know that there exists among your customers a minimum number of readers who might want to read the book, then how can you be satisfied with "I can't carry it because it might offend _______"?
All good books seem to offend somebody. In fact, that may be the surest sign that a book is going to prove to be important to some readers. Mandabach is right to see danger in the library. He's also right to embrace it. And so it should be with bookstores.
Isn't the challenge and reward of bookselling to create a place where people can discover a book or two that they love among many other books? I'm pretty sure that the goal is not to create a place where people will encounter only books that don't offend them.