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What books have we been denied? Publishers now operate in a state of fear

Jordan Peterson is too big to cancel (Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Jordan Peterson is too big to cancel (Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star via Getty Images)


December 21, 2021   5 mins

I have a small shelf of books that will never be published. They are proof copies of work that ultimately had to be suppressed by the publisher, including a novel by Amanda Craig and a memoir by Rachel Cusk. Some were issued in revised form, but had to be withdrawn, for what used to be the only good reason: they fell foul of the law, in most cases the law of defamation.

Until recently, legitimate reasons to suppress books had been diminishing: obscenity or blasphemy had disappeared. They appear to be increasing again, and expanding out of the realm of the law. I don’t think we should worry about books that are withdrawn because they cross, or prove to have crossed, some legal barrier. When, this year, Alice Sebold’s rape memoir Lucky was withdrawn, it was because the man she accused, and who was convicted on the testimony she then adapted for publication, was shown to have been innocent. That would always have happened, long before the phrase “cancel culture” was coined.

But a more ominous loss was Blake Bailey’s life of the novelist Philip Roth. The American moralising critics had been gunning for Roth himself for some time, on the grounds of supposed misogyny, both in his books and in his real-life relationships with women. Fortunately, the greatest American novelist of the last 60 years is, as yet, out of their reach. Bailey himself was an easier target. He was the author of magnificent lives of John Cheever and Richard Yates, and the Roth biography was magisterial — but too forgiving in tone. And so allegations of sexual harassment, assault and even rape against the biographer were hauled up. Although not yet proved, and apparently not the subject of legal proceedings, they were enough for Bailey to be dropped by his agent and American publisher.

Is it ever acceptable for a legally unobjectionable book to be cancelled, simply because an influential group dislikes its ideas or its author? This is a question that has plagued the publishing industry this year, and will continue to plague it.

A temporarily successful cancellation was of the journalist Julie Burchill’s polemic on wokeness. It is fair to say that if you agree to publish Julie Burchill, you should know what you’re signing up to. The ride will be exhilarating, but sometimes bumpy. This apparently came as news to Little, Brown. Burchill got into an argument on Twitter with a younger, Muslim journalist. During the exchange, Burchill raised a historically verified fact about the age of one of the Prophet Muhammad’s wives, and made energetically tactless descriptions about the man the religion venerates. In March, she had to pay damages for defamation. Although this had no bearing on the contents of the book Little, Brown had signed up, they said that she had “crossed the line” and they would not publish it.

Like many writers, I’ve had to admit defamation in the past. 20 years ago, you would have been considered dangerously insane to have suggested that Harper Collins drop my next novel because I’d been rude about a lady artist in the Spectator. Fortunately, there are still some who think this way. Burchill’s book was picked up by a small press, and those who agree with her, or indeed those who, like me, very much enjoy disagreeing with her, can buy her book on the Woke Trials from Academica Press for £24.95.

If you can find a bookshop stocking it, that is — one underrated feature of cancel culture is that quite ordinary booksellers took to announcing in principled tones that they would not sell work they disagreed with. Two reasonable but sceptical books on trans issues by Helen Joyce and Kathleen Stock were, it was suggested, having difficulty being displayed or even stocked by shops. I doubt it did the authors any harm. Amazon was not to be budged.

What is behind these attempts to remove individual books from circulation? And why does publishing, even for a moment, indulge the protesters who want to make the memoirs of, say, a senior member of a conservative US administration like Mike Pence unpublishable? Why are they, or the accusers of Blake Bailey, not told to go away or, if they are within the publishing industry, to find another area to work in?

Some of the scenes that have taken place are unarguably risible. The Canadian polemicist Jordan Peterson has a devoted following for his conservative hard-work-and-self-respect talks and essays. Robust prescriptions of Canadian Protestantism aren’t to everybody’s taste. The New York Times amusingly described him as the “custodian of the patriarchy”, not reflecting that the patriarchy might not need one. When Penguin Random House announced plans to publish his new book, protesters within the Canadian office forced them to hold what was described as an “emotional” meeting. One junior employee explained that publishing the book would “negatively affect their non-binary friend”. PRH went ahead, perhaps foreseeing the difficulties in consulting all the non-binary friends of junior employees about proposed signings and publications.

There are, then, reasons to be hopeful. There has been little attempt to cancel, rather than criticise, writers of the past. VS Naipaul, Joseph Conrad and Philip Roth are still in print; Dickens, widely arraigned for his treatment of his wife, remains a stalwart of the classics lists. The revelation that people who have voted for the Conservative Party have, in the past, written good novels is not yet the universal object of horror. Even the dropping of very controversial current day authors has created opportunities: the American publisher Skyhorse snapped up Bailey’s book, as it had the Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, and the hitherto blameless comic writers Garrison Keillor and Woody Allen, after similar campaigns against their supposed inappropriate behaviour.

The direction of travel, however, is clear. We may be living in an age of transition, like the 1840s, when the liberal and relaxed means of expression of the previous age were snuffed out by a fervent and self-righteous rigidity. Mozart’s Così fan Tutte was dropped because it failed to draw an acceptable moral conclusion about marriage. Philip Roth’s novels may suffer the same fate. Will we who came to intellectual maturity in the Eighties and Nineties come to be stared at in the street, like the aged Thomas De Quincey, still off his face in staid 1850s Edinburgh? Well, we shall find out.

This is not a development proved or disproved by individual cases, and when campaigns of cancellation are waged against the million-selling Jordan Peterson, publishers have good reasons not to give way. Junior staff of publishers have been upset about working on J.K. Rowling’s books — she has committed the crime, among other things, of defending lesbians who have said that they don’t want to have sex with anyone with a penis. There are other junior staff to be hired, if that’s how they feel. For the moment.

Rather, we will know the truth of the development in years to come, when we can only guess at the careers that didn’t take place, and the opinions in society which, however widespread and ordinary, were deemed unpublishable. Even now, it is impossible to imagine that a novel, however brilliantly witty, could now be published by a good publisher if it made any jokes at the expense of a minority. And it may be that publishers, in a state of anxiety about offending, are pre-emptively walking away from very large parts of society.

I spoke to a couple of British editors recently who said, to their mild surprise, that they had no immediate plans to publish any novel by a man; to confirm this possible tendency, I am currently judging a new prize for novels of any sort, in which 49 out of the submitted 56 are by women. Whether publishers are turning away from half the human race, or that half of the human race is abandoning a way of life there’s no money in and nothing but disapproval to be expected, is arguable. The final result of an undeniable culture of cancellation is a terrible impoverishment of diversity, of fruitful debate, of the exploration and expression of different lives, different points of view, different ways of living in the world. That matters.


Philip Hensher is the author of eleven novels and a Professor of Creative Writing at Bath Spa University

PhilipHensher

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Dan Gleeballs
Dan Gleeballs
2 years ago

For every visible attack on an author, there will be a hundred lesser cuts – a book that no Waterstone’s or WHSmith appears to stock, though ‘it can always be ordered’, so they say.

It goes on – and it’s such a shame. If I prefer male authors like Wilbur Smith or Lee Child or Bernard Cornwell, I should be able to find their books in every bookshop in the land. That used to be true, but these days, they really do put judgement before profit.

It’s ALWAYS the left, doing it. They don’t seem to mind being on the same side as historical book burners, or destroyers of Jewish and ‘decadent’ art. It’s so depressing! My whole life, I’ve seen terrible pieces of art I despise – like the ugly ‘Piss Christ’ by Serrano.
I grit my teeth as vicious subversives attack all I love, because I HAVE to live by free speech! If I value it, it means putting up with really nasty people.

And yet, after a lifetime of observing and enduring my traditions attacked without a word, we now have ‘cancel culture’ where utterly small-minded petty defectives attack art they could never produce? It makes me despair, sometimes.

All I want is for the pendulum to swing. It will take a defence of free speech in every institution, the sacking of anyone who tries to ban a book. If you don’t like something don’t buy it. Simple.

If a book sells and doesn’t libel or break the law, that’s pretty much it!
The arrogance of trying try to stop everyone else from reading something! No. It has to stop.

Last edited 2 years ago by Dan Gleeballs
Simon Denis
Simon Denis
2 years ago
Reply to  Dan Gleeballs

What on earth was the problem this time?

Last edited 2 years ago by Simon Denis
Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

You must have written something the autocensor mistook for “willy”.

Last edited 2 years ago by Jon Redman
Simon Denis
Simon Denis
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

I suppose so. The mystery is, why are people so incensed by my bafflement as to vote it down? I can only suppose that a certain sort of angry pink is outraged that anyone should query the all powerful censor – even if it is a species of machine.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

I can only speak for myself, but when I first read your comment, I thought you were being disparaging towards D.Gleeballs.

Simon Denis
Simon Denis
2 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

I see.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

I have since seen the error of my ways. Mea maxima culpa.

Simon Denis
Simon Denis
2 years ago
Reply to  Dan Gleeballs

Very well said. The author makes a valid comparison between today and the mid-nineteenth century, when religious revival began to suppress the free and easy spirit of the Regency. The same thing happened in France, “un grand refroidissement generale” or something of the kind – mentioned by Mme de la Tour du Pin.
But this is the benign conclusion. The fear must be that it represents something far, far worse; not Victorian pomposity but totalitarian cruelty – quietly warned against by Howard Jacobson, in an essay published yesterday. 
The two developments are like different branches of the same initial path, the gate of which is rosily decked in values like “politeness” and “consideration”. But as Dickens points out in the figure of Mrs General, politeness can easily become a miserable strait-jacket; and how easily it is used to silence, intimidate and deflect people from their purpose in speaking. 
For this reason, it is vitally necessary that we use the remaining freedoms of the market to set up new and independent institutions, ready to publish works, put on plays, manage monuments, curate antiques and make music free of all oppressive censorship. Only that way can we be sure that our “polite” and “considerate” masters remain Victorian, rather than totalitarian.

Last edited 2 years ago by Simon Denis
Erik Hildinger
Erik Hildinger
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

We may have reached the point where we must do as Vaclav Havel has suggested: create alternative, parallel institutions. When the old ones crack apart, the new will be ready.

Last edited 2 years ago by Erik Hildinger
Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Erik Hildinger

Also to maintain an actual choice

Simon Denis
Simon Denis
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

Your expressions of arrogant intolerance are themselves signs of an outraged, fanatical belief system – or new religion. The fact that you can say “Is there any … actual repression of free speech” before telling someone to “shut up” is a particularly piquant illustration of the left wing mindset. Repression of free speech? Well, how about police telling people to “check their thinking”? Or Kathleen Stock hounded from university for opposing “trans” ideology? Or publishers refusing to work on books insufficiently supportive of their views? I won’t tell you to “shut up” – you’re the gift that keeps on giving – a living example of blinkered neo-Bolshevik bigotry.

Chris Eaton
Chris Eaton
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

Thanks so much for completely not responding to my comment. Again, shut up.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

I’d say that modern leftist wokedom is more than a little like a fanatical religious cult

Hilary Easton
Hilary Easton
2 years ago
Reply to  Dan Gleeballs

Your comment almost drew a tear to my eye. Until a very few years ago, I would have described myself as far left in politics. Now I feel completely homeless. My views on equality and so on haven’t changed but I can’t go along with this extremism. I can’t even make my children see that it is extreme.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Hilary Easton

Were you intolerant of different opinions? Did you refuse to socialise with people who disagreed with your politics? Did you insist that all elections lost proved the unfairness of da system? Did you consider anyone to the right of Marx to be a fascist? Did you think Arthur Scargill was a thoughtful and useful citizen? Was hate important in your life?
I’m genuinely curious to know whether the hard left was the same in the past as it is now.

Andy Griffiths
Andy Griffiths
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

I can’t speak for Hilary nor should I try, but I am also a refugee from the Left. I’m now trying to think whether or not I was intolerant of dissenting opinions (as opposed to simply not agreeing with them)… I’ll come back to you on that. I certainly didn’t think anyone to the right of Marx was a fascist, but that might suggest I was never ‘hard’ Left anyway. I did think, and still do, that your average Leftist is no more automatically a Communist-in-waiting than a Conservative is a budding Nazi, I still believe both “Left” and “Right” to be broader churches than stereotyping allows. Some left-inclined friends of mine are more socially conservative than one might expect and vice versa.

Scargill? Bit before my time. But he seemed to do pretty well out of it all, didn’t he?

But the certain thing for me is that I can no longer align myself with the level of censoriousness and narcissism among the current Left, to the point where I find myself examining pretty much all of what had been my political creed, such as it was. It’s been an interesting journey so far. And it began with a Conservative friend of mine (sadly no longer with us) saying his biggest issue with the Left wasn’t do with specific politics but that “the Left think they have a monopoly on virtue”. I hope I will always be grateful to him for that.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Andy Griffiths

You’ve put far more succinctly what I feel myself. Yes I find the Left’s arrogance that they are just ‘right’ absolutely infuriating.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

I used to consider myself a left leaning centrist liberal. I voted Tory for the 1st time in 2019. My core principles and views haven’t changed much at all. They were forged in the post civil rights era with pride in the enlightenment and the achievements of Western civilisation. I have a working class background so community, shared values, manners and a sense of citizenship are important to me. Free speech is probably my one ‘sacred’ value and I instinctively recoil from anyone or anything that feels too much like the blind zealotry of religious dogma or mob mentality. I’m now aiming to vote SDP as Labour and the Tories are barely distinguishable, so captured are they by globalists, metropolitan identity politics and top down big state authoritarianism. I voted Remain, albeit reluctantly. But Brexit was the seismic event that really shocked me to my core. I saw how my compatriots were demeaned, slandered and democracy undermined and it made me so angry I found myself siding with right wingers and Leavers far far more often so now I guess I’m a ‘far right conservative Leaver’ which to me has come to mean ‘normal sane person’. I guess the Overton window shifted.

Bruce Hill
Bruce Hill
2 years ago
Reply to  Hilary Easton

Olympe de Gouges would have known how you feel.

Jerry Jay Carroll
Jerry Jay Carroll
2 years ago
Reply to  Hilary Easton

You made their bed and now you must lie in it.

dasgupta.sucheta
dasgupta.sucheta
2 years ago
Reply to  Dan Gleeballs

I do agree with you, Dan, and also really see where some of this argument is coming from. And this ‘cancel culture’ gatekeeping is not only limited to excluding men. Only women with a specific kind of politics are published, even if that is fashionable and majoritarian. That said, perhaps the canceled could try publishing in languages other than English? Just a thought.

Brooke Walford
Brooke Walford
2 years ago

Absolutely. This pernicious and insidious creation of self censoring norms must be challenged way beyond the sensible confines of UhHerd.

AC Harper
AC Harper
2 years ago

Lots of people, including me, have pointed out how Nineteen Eighty Four is no longer merely a warning in a fictional book but becoming a reflection of real life. The short story Harrison Bergeron seems to be foreshadowing attempts to remove merit and variance in human affairs
I guess you could now say that Fahrenheit 451 is now also following the transition into real life, although as a slow burn rather than a conflagration.

Last edited 2 years ago by AC Harper
George Glashan
George Glashan
2 years ago
Reply to  AC Harper

link for Harrison Bergeron for those that haven’t read it. its free and its only 5 minutes to read and well worth your time.

https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=ZGVmYXVsdGRvbWFpbnxtc3JlZG1hbmVuZ2xpc2h8Z3g6MjdlZjYzZmNmMjFjMjgxZA

Madeleine Jones
Madeleine Jones
2 years ago

The treatment of male writers has been disgusting. I have an older brother, who would make a fantastic history writer. Whatever path he chooses, I hope he can make an impact. As for myself, I’m a novelist who will query small publishers. I don’t want to deal with staff who act like I have no right to be there.
No solution is perfect. But in life, what is? I refuse silence, as it has doomed so many writers already.

LCarey Rowland
LCarey Rowland
2 years ago

Forget all that. Do what you have to do. This present arrangement is an existential challenge. Write and self-publish. Write and self-publish. It could be that a publisher will come knocking on your door. Or, if not , you still have your own work to show for your time here, which is more important than what the publishing Establishment decides to do– or not do–with it.
Write on! For tomorrow we must die. Or if not tomorrow, then . . .

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago

Whenever I visit a bookshop, I always make a point of loudly and angrily excoriating the standard woke book display. About 18 months ago, I was banned from Waterstones for repeatedly reshelving the notorious woke racist book “Why I’m No Longer Talking To Crackers About Race” next to Mein Kampf. Below is a link to a photograph I took to commemorate this event.
https://amoebadick.blogspot.com/2020/08/a-photograph-uploaded-to-commemorate-my.html

Last edited 2 years ago by Drahcir Nevarc
Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

There is actually a copy of Mein Kampf in your Waterstones?

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago

I can’t vouch for the present day, but there certainly was one until at least August last year. Bristol where I live is notoriously left-wing, so I’m never hugely surprised to encounter antisemitism.

Last edited 2 years ago by Drahcir Nevarc
Michael Cavanaugh
Michael Cavanaugh
2 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

As I recall Boghossian Lindsay & Pluckrose re-wrote part of Mein Kampf in feminist style and it was accepted for an article in a social work journal . . .

Charles Mimoun
Charles Mimoun
2 years ago

I reckon that the culture of debate and pluralism were the pinnacle of the Western civilization. Thus it’s not surprizing that it is the first part of this civilization to collapse, probably irrevocably. 
It’s also important to mull over the fact that this movement is the natural backfire of massive immigration. When many people come to live in an ancient country with a different way of life, the result can be an economic revolution in favour of these workers, or, in democracies a cultural revolution, replacing the local heroes and principles by those of the original culture of these migrants. And they are not necessary better for mankind.
The misery of a world centred on economy.

Last edited 2 years ago by Charles Mimoun
Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Mimoun

A good attack on immigration but do you actually mention books? Why are books important today when there are much more efficient ways of doing things. IMO books are a thing of the past, just like writing (as opposed to typing).

Charles Mimoun
Charles Mimoun
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

If it was true why would progressivists publish their books? This remark is not at your level.

Last edited 2 years ago by Charles Mimoun
Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

It is said of the end days that while knowledge will increase to levels once unimaginable, wisdom will wane and fade away.

Last edited 2 years ago by Julian Farrows
Andy Griffiths
Andy Griffiths
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

If writing and books are indeed a thing of the past, I struggle to see this as ‘progress’ or ‘efficient’.

David Morley
David Morley
2 years ago

The American moralising critics had been gunning for Roth himself for some time, on the grounds of supposed misogyny,

A timely reminder for those on Unherd who think we should let bygones be bygones and join the poor embattled feminists in their struggle against the trans hordes gathering on the border.
We shouldn’t get so drawn into the whole trans thing that we assume that all the other woke types have reformed and are now on the side of free speech and reason. They aren’t.

Sasha Marchant
Sasha Marchant
2 years ago
Reply to  David Morley

The so called “trans hordes” (and their Cis (sic) allies) are ranged not just against “embattled feminists”, but against women in general. The “trans thing”, as you describe it, is serious indeed and we should all be concerned.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Sasha Marchant

They are against women in general like feminists are against men in general.
The problem feminists have in getting anyone else to care a stuff about their little local difficulty is that for 50 or 60 years feminism has been asserting that everywhere men dominate is because of sexism. If only there were no sexism, women would be firemen and CEOs, and would earn as much as men, and all the rest of it.
The idea that there might be differences between the sexes was sneered at and attacked at every opportunity. There was no difference between the sexes, apparently, except when there was and it was to female advantage: worse exam results for boys, worse cancer mortality rates for men, hugely higher likelihood for men to die at work, higher suicide rates among men.
Somebody has now come along and taken this potty thinking to its illogical conclusion: if there’s no difference between men and women, a man can say he’s a woman, and he is, because there’s no difference.
So not, “we” should not all be concerned. Feminists are concerned because they were all for the equality of the sexes when it was themselves accumulating advantage at the other sex’s expense. They’re not in favour of it any more when they’re having the same thing done back to them by a group that’s overtaken them in the victim stakes.
Feminists should have been a lot, lot more careful what they wished for. Appealing to those who’ve lost from feminist ideology to help feminists keep their winnings is like a mugger who’s getting beaten up by his latest victim asking his previous victims to save him.

Andy Griffiths
Andy Griffiths
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

I hear you, but I differ on the point of referring to the trans debate being “their little local difficulty”. This issue is far wider than feminism, it’s a particular risk to children, not just women. The whole ‘born in the wrong body’ business is a dangerous delusion and it’s spreading rapidly among the young with potentially disastrous consequences for their long-term health. I don’t have to be a feminist to be worried about that. The fact feminists are flagging it up does not make it a purely feminist issue. It is also a serious free speech issue – you only have to see some of the vile abuse and threats dealt out by trans rights activists to anyone who dares dissent. Nor is it a purely Left/Right issue either.

alan Osband
alan Osband
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Women would be firemen :

The chief fire officer at the Grenfell tower disaster was a woman . Doesn’t seem to have helped the people inside .

Andy Griffiths
Andy Griffiths
2 years ago
Reply to  Sasha Marchant

Agreed, and I believe the safety and wellbeing of children is also under serious threat from this ideology. It is not just a feminist issue, and being gender critical does not mean I therefore subscribe to any and every other belief espoused by the likes of Julie Bindel or any other feminist writer… Why would it? Surely some issues are more important than “I would agree with this but someone I don’t like agrees with it therefore I can’t”.

Karl Francis
Karl Francis
2 years ago

Wonderful piece leading to some very interesting replies. Well done UnHerd, this is what I came here for! Oh, and Merry Christmas all, (each and every one). xxx

Madeleine Jones
Madeleine Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Karl Francis

Merry Christmas to you too, Karl! (And all you lovely Unherd commentators)

Jeff Butcher
Jeff Butcher
2 years ago

I think the real issue runs deeper than the censoring of opinion- the internet has changed the way people read. It seems hardly anyone is able to concentrate enough anymore to actually read an entire book in the first place.

Jeff Butcher
Jeff Butcher
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

Thinking about it more though I realise that’s not quite true – my daughter reads a great deal, my sons less so. Do they read less because no books are written with them in mind anymore, or vice versa?

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago

I spoke to a couple of British editors recently who said, to their mild surprise, that they had no immediate plans to publish any novel by a man; to confirm this possible tendency, I am currently judging a new prize for novels of any sort, in which 49 out of the submitted 56 are by women.

This development marks the end of the novel’s brief life as an art form, because it has deteriorated into something only women write to be read only by women very similar to themselves. Unfortunately there is a stultifying homegeneity to a lot of the women’s writing that gets published that structurally dooms it to triviality. Most obviously, there are the scores of women columnists whose entire output is about themselves, their careers, love lives, and feelings. It’s all entirely interchangeable: Katie glass, Bryony Gordon, Kate Mulvey. These writers often plagiarise themselves: Mulvey repeatedly recycles an incident where her male date got angry because she spoke Italian to someone, altering the occasion each time – a restaurant, a hotel’s front desk, and so on.
The fiction equivalent is chick-lit – about the careers, love lives and feelings of women remarkably similar to the authors.
It’s as though we had reached a point, in a parallel universe, where the only type of fiction considered for publication was in the style of Sven Hassel.
The demise of fiction is perhaps the best and most visible example of the fact that demands for diversity are always in reality a demand for less of it; they’re demands for sameness and conformity, and for preference to be extended to groups who can’t get what they want on their merits unless quotas are imposed to obliterate the competition.
The diversifying of fiction to become something that only middle-class or ethnic minority women are allowed to do has exposed how shallow the well really is.

michael stanwick
michael stanwick
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

The demise of fiction is perhaps the best and most visible example of the fact that demands for diversity are always in reality a demand for less of it;
I was thinking about this in terms of the observation a couple of British editors recently who said, to their mild surprise, that they had no immediate plans to publish any novel by a man; The contradiction perhaps can be ameliorated by understanding which meaning of diversity can be applied to give the less of it outcome.
In critical social justice, diversity means uniformity of viewpoint about how the ideology is understood and applied. Thus in this outcome, the uniform viewpoint is the marginalised/oppressed are forwarded and dominant/oppressors are removed – males are removed in favour of supposed marginalised female representation.

Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

The Victorians save us; never mind the wonderful male writers; Eliot, Brontes, Austin. I’ve just finished the wonder Mary Barton by Liz Gaskill.

alan Osband
alan Osband
2 years ago

Mary Barton is a weird mixed genre . It has a kind of pared down minimalist feel combined with influence from misery memoirs , which are supposed to be faked horror stories about childhood suffering .
I read Gaskill is the daughter of two college professors but she rewrites her coming to be a novelist memoir giving herself a hideous upbringing as the daughter of white trash , with a dad who , traumatised by warfare , wanders around naked pleasuring himself in front of his daughter and publicly humiliates his gay or trans son.
So in her dreams she overcomes this appalling upbringing to become a successful novelist in New York , where illness finally reconciles her with her poor mother victimised like her siblings by the toxic masculinity of her dad .
How much more exciting than the writer’s true history

Last edited 2 years ago by alan Osband
Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

I would prefer that they said that they had no immediate plans to publish any cr*p novel. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I choose the novels because they are good reads with something to say and are well written, the sex or race of the author does not (or at least very, very rarely) concern me.

I must disagree with you about novels by female writers, they are not stultifyingly homogeneous. Writers like Anne Tyler, Margaret Atwood and Marilynne Robinson, just to mention three writers who are active at the moment, are completely different in their styles and the themes that they address. There, no doubt, are some who write about the same things, I can’t comment on the three female writers that you mention as I have never read any of them, but the same can be said of many male writers who write the usual cop/adventure/thrillers with the same types of protagonists and the same dreary, predictable plots. What these writers, both male and female, all have in common is that they are bad writers.

Last edited 2 years ago by Linda Hutchinson
Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago

The female writers you name got published because they were good, although like J K Rowling, they’d better watch it.
If “a couple of British editors…had no immediate plans to publish any novel by a man”, it is clear that they’re now only publishing women because they’re women. Nothing else would explain it.
And so the stuff that they are publishing isn’t going to be Margaret Atwood (who’s OK but an utter coward for making up Gilead and spinelessly making it Christian, when there are actual places like it that are, er, invariably Muslim). They’re going to be publishing chick-lit that resembles other chick-lit and ought to be sold by weight. There’ll be a lot of rumination on the characters’ friends and feelings, everything anyone wears will be described, nothing much will happen. Sven Hassel, with the sex changed.
It’s not progress.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Even if they are going to only publish novels by women (which I don’t think is necessary as women have had free access to publishers for a long time now), it doesn’t mean that they have to be bad books; they can choose to only publish good books written by women. Personally I just want them to publish good books full stop.

Remember Atwood wrote The Handmaid’s Tale in 1985 before the issues with Muslim theocracies were a big thing in the West. Also, she does make the comment that the cathdrals etc have been closed down, so Giliad is not a Christian theocracy as we might know it. As a practising Christian, I never found it a problem, to me it was just a perversion of Christianity.

I must confess I had to look up Sven Hassel as he’s not a writer I know – he doesn’t look like a writer that I would be particularly interest in though.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

I always assumed Gilead was a thinly veiled criticism of Islam and what it might look like if transcribed to the West. It never ceases to amaze me how blindly modern feminists kowtow to Islam when every feminist instinct in my body rails against it with a passion.

Last edited 2 years ago by Cheryl Jones
Malcolm Knott
Malcolm Knott
2 years ago

I have a suspicion that the publishing industry could do with a few more middle-aged white men in its ranks (and rather fewer young women).

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago
Reply to  Malcolm Knott

Hear hear!

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago

It was back in the mid ‘eighties that I recall sitting in a very quiet library (the librarian, seated behind her desk, on the look-out for any noisemakers, her eyes angling up every now and then from her tipped-down head to look over her glasses) when, out of the blue, a loud burst of strangulated laughter was emitted forth 
 by someone. I think everybody present froze, and looked around to see who the culprit was. He was oblivious to all – he was wearing headphones, probably listening to music at a low volume (on his Walkman) while reading what looked like a slim novel or memoir of some kind. He was nerdy looking. And he was merrily doing his own thing, reading whatever he wanted, and enjoying life. The rest of us were buried in our text books, dammit! What was he reading, I wondered. The librarian must have wondered to. A book was a book was a book. Just a book, you know.

Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
2 years ago

No no, I’m not remotely thinking of tall, elegant bespectacled lady librarians with repressed sexuality, shaking loose their long dark locks of hair and removing their thick glasses to reveal their flashing passionate eyes.

No no not at all

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago

I have read enough of Roth’s books to know that I dislike them; his protagonists are misogynistic and unsympathetic, although I have to admit his writing is top-notch. Having said this, I do what I always do when I don’t like a particular writer’s books – I stop buying them. It’s such a simple thing to do; do publishers not think that the reading public can make this decision itself?

There are a number of questions which come to mind about publishing houses and their employees – why can’t they just sack unco-operative employees? I’m not saying an employer shouldn’t listen to employees, but in the end the decision is the employer’s, so they must carry the can, not the whiney employee. If the employee really finds their employer and its product to be morally objectionable why don’t they leave and perhaps start a new publishing venture for books acceptable to them?

Christina Dalcher
Christina Dalcher
2 years ago

I’ve been saying the same thing for well over a year now, and still this article hurts my soul. Probably won’t see any more of my novels published (they’re not “safe”!), but that doesn’t bother me nearly as much as knowing that countless fine books will never make it through the gauntlet of literary agents / publishers / booksellers. Can any of us imagine what our libraries would look like if today’s unwritten rules had been applied throughout the 20th century? (Answer: I can, and I don’t like the image. At all.)

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago

I’ve written five novels, a Jacobean revenge tragedy, and more sonnets than Shakespeare, and have reached the stage where I wouldn’t touch a publisher with a bargepole. Why let some woke ouanker spaff 92.5% of your revenue on sensitivity readers when you can sell through Amazon?

Madeleine Jones
Madeleine Jones
2 years ago

Would you consider small publishers? You have my full sympathies, Christina. I’ve been saying this for three years, written letters in support of cancelled orders… all falling on deaf ears. I refuse to let this spiteful industry take away my enjoyment for writing. I’m querying small publishers in the next few years.

Don Lightband
Don Lightband
2 years ago

Where is any real proof that the Prophet Muhammad actually existed?

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  Don Lightband

There are a couple of Byzantine accounts of Muhammed from a few years after his death (such as the chronicle of 640 by Thomas the Presbyter) that mention his name among other chronicles though they manly seem to portray him as some kind of king figure who impossed monotheism than a founder of a religion per se.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ferrusian Gambit
Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago

Gotta love a good synchronicity, my post was sent to ‘Awaiting For Approval’ for including the word p* nis 3 times, so I will re-post with ** redactions for the sake of keeping modesty intact.

Last edited 2 years ago by Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago

“she has committed the crime, among other things, of defending lesbians who have said that they don’t want to have sex with anyone with a pe* is.”

But is it sex if a pe* is is not involved? I mean isn’t that what sex is, male and female gametes being swapped? There is Parthenogenesis (female fertilizing her egg without a male) I guess, but that does not fit either. Many fish, and a couple amphibians, are ‘sequential hermaphrodites’ beginning life as one sex, and ending it as another – in fact names exist: female-to-male (protogynous), and the other:male-to-female (protandrous) and some (Serial) go one to another and back. Maybe it is more correctly mutual onanism, that she refuses to have, if a pe* is is present. We need to ask Bret and Heather Weinstein to clarity for us.

Don’t mean to nit pick, but getting this wrong when sex is the entire point of contention seems sloppy language. It also does not say much for the publishing industry that they do not bother with vocabulary.

But for me, I could not care – as the ones censoring, and the ones being censored mostly seem like a bunch of wan*ers anyway – and I could not imagine myself wishing to read contemporary fiction, and even less, contemporary Non-Fiction. Like how almost all popular music nowadays is appalling, so it would seem are the books.

Last edited 2 years ago by Galeti Tavas
Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Perhaps this is an age thing. I have tried hard to read contemporary fiction and it is so wishy-washy that I can never finish the books; Joseph Conrad, on the other hand, I can read over and over.
Contemporary non-fiction has run out of things to write about because there is so much information out there that a book about something is not needed; so you have to have a book about someone’s feelings or thoughts during a certain period and that is just meaningless.

The day of the book has gone. People don’t read as well as they used to and people don’t write as well either. So books are not needed.

Claire D
Claire D
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

I upticked you. but the down ticks have won so far..
I find it almost impossible to read most modern fiction, but I do like Marilynne Robinson (American) and Niall Williams (Irish), who was recommended by someone on UnHerd. I expect there are a few more out there but even so they tend to be lightweight and unlikely to last down the ages.
One book I have read, that will last I think, ‘A Whole Life’ by Robert Seethaler (Austrian), very powerful.

Last edited 2 years ago by Claire D
Sasha Marchant
Sasha Marchant
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

An interesting point. The swapping of gametes is what used to be called intercourse. I see s*x as an umbrella term for a number of intimate acts involving the genitalia (or other “sensitive” areas) of the participants.

David McDowell
David McDowell
2 years ago

Good effort which would have been improved immeasurable by the inclusion of examples where publishers had taken on murderers, rapists and torturers despite knowing their crimes. Are publishers the new enemy within?

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
2 years ago

In one sense, it’s a good thing, although cold comfort. These creatures are incapable of producing anything worth reading or commenting on, so the desert they will create may result, in years to come, in an incredible bloom-burst of reactive creativity from the next generation, like Edwardian fiction after the Victorians. But as I say, it’s cold comfort in the here and now.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago

At least the Victorians had the decency to leave behind a substantial body of first rate literary fiction. The present day publishing cupboard seems bare of anything but the leavings of rodents.

Last edited 2 years ago by Drahcir Nevarc
Dapple Grey
Dapple Grey
2 years ago

The publishing staff members who make their bosses cancel books don’t really care about the content of the books. They just enjoy seeing their bosses cravenly caving in to whatever demands are made.
As for booksellers not stocking certain books, it’s a bit like video hire shops refusing to stock certain films, or cassette makers refusing to sell tapes by certain bands. Times have moved on and as you said, it’s business as usual for Amazon.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Dapple Grey

Yes I imagine it is a bit of a power trip.

George Glashan
George Glashan
2 years ago

“What is the point of violently agreeing with your Bubble ? I am sure that my fellow Spumanti on here will agree that agreement is boring and unuseful”

to a degree, can we agree to disagree, ?

Last edited 2 years ago by George Glashan
Julie Blinde
Julie Blinde
2 years ago
Reply to  George Glashan

Certainly NOT !! ;-))

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago
Reply to  Julie Blinde

That’s horrifically problematic. I’m literally shaking.

Alan Hawkes
Alan Hawkes
2 years ago

Just declining to publish books by certain authors, who are out of favour with a cult, or books by men, seems to be the polite version of signs in windows in the 1950s: ”No blacks, or Irish.”

Margaret Tudeau-Clayton
Margaret Tudeau-Clayton
2 years ago

‘The final result of an undeniable culture of cancellation is a terrible impoverishment of diversity,’ done in the name of….diversity and inclusion.

Katy Hibbert
Katy Hibbert
2 years ago

During the exchange, Burchill raised a historically verified fact about the age of one of the Prophet Muhammad’s wives, and made energetically tactless descriptions about the man the religion venerates.

Why “tactless”? The “Prophet” Muhammed’s wife was six when he “married” her and nine when he “consummated” the “marriage”. There’s a word for what he did. Muslims believe that the “Prophet” Muhammed is the most perfect man who ever lived and an example for all.
Julie Burchill spoke the truth to “literally a communist” airhead Ash Sakar. This is not tactless, merely honest.

Last edited 2 years ago by Katy Hibbert
Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Katy Hibbert

Yeah I don’t see why telling the truth is tactless, when pandering to regressive bronze age dogma and expecting others to kowtow to it is far worse

Milos Bingles
Milos Bingles
2 years ago

The only solution would be to have publishers that represent the left and publishers that represent the right. Or self-publish. You can’t blame people for not wanting to publish stuff they disagree with. That’s their right. However, there is nothing stopping people from setting up publishers geared towards more right-leaning writers. Supply and demand.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Milos Bingles

That kind of goes against the whole idea of intellectual diversity, curiosity or debate. We have enough polarisation already.

Richard Slack
Richard Slack
2 years ago

The alleged age of one of the Prophet Mohammed’s wives is about as much a proved historical fact as is the fact that Methuselah lived to 969. The origins of Islam rely on documentation which was not written down for a century or more after the Prophet’s death, (very much like Christianity) There is more than one Hadith giving the age of his last wife which differ widely and neither are particularly highly regarded

LCarey Rowland
LCarey Rowland
2 years ago

It’s a jungle out there.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
2 years ago

Are books important nowadays? It seems to me that UnHerders average about 60 years old. For young people books are not really important – times have changed.

David Morley
David Morley
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

I think it’s more an intelligence thing. Intelligent young people read books, but also consume newer media such as podcasts. The less intelligent are on social media and watching reality tv. I’m not sure it’s so different to 40 years ago. The media have changed, but the differences in focus and quality of content not so much.
Social media fashion influencers have “replaced” fashion mags, not Jane Austen.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
2 years ago
Reply to  David Morley

Sort of agree but I think the numbers are a lot different. 50 years ago reading was very important – you literally couldn’t learn without reading. Braille was important for blind people so that they wouldn’t be cut off from culture.
Today there are many choices for learning so why choose books? Books are not very efficient. You have to spend a lot of time sorting through unnecessary words before you get to the important bits. Podcasts and blogs are far more efficient and have more humour, more personal input.

Last edited 2 years ago by Chris Wheatley
David Morley
David Morley
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Yes, to a degree. And an awful lot of modern nonfiction books are full of padding.
Efficiency is an interesting distinction. Online, you can very quickly get information from people who know what they are talking about. On the other hand, a lot of people on social media spend a huge amount of time getting useless information from people who don’t know what they are talking about.
In relation to censorship, this is why the internet is a bit of a thorn in the side of those who are keen on it. But they won’t stop with books.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  David Morley

I think a lot of modern nonfiction books are full of padding because people don’t have attention spans they did so like a hyperactive child have to be fed drabs of information slowly with lots of bribes on the way. A lot of scholarly or technical material requires the ability to concentrate.A lot of lessons and lectures are similarly padded too.

David Bell
David Bell
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Unnecessary words? The way the words are put together matters as well as the content.

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Interesting. The reason I prefer books to podcasts for learning is because I can skim, i.e. … ripping through the unnecessary words until I can get to the important bits. This is what I cannot do with a podcast. I am stuck consuming it at the rate of the spoken word. There is no way to skip the unnecessary words, make the speaker come to the point, or even talk faster. You can hit the fast forward button, but it is much less efficient than skimming, because without context you never know if you have managed to fast forward past the 30 seconds you were interested in.
Podcasts are a great hit with those who like listening to the podcaster speak, and sometimes for good reason … Steven Fry could read a laundry list and make it entertaining. But that’s entertainment, or at best learning-as-entertainment. If you just want to learn something, it leaves a lot to be desired.
There are a great many things one would like to learn which are better suited to a demonstration than an explanation. If you could teach technique by talking about it, it wouldn’t be technique … but instead some aspect of design. Some podcasts are great for this. But many of them hide such gems in 20 minutes or more of unwanted (by me, at any rate) yap, yap, yap.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago

Same here.

anna.moloney1
anna.moloney1
2 years ago

Yep

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

As a college lecturer, I notice a vast difference between students that read and those that don’t – not just in intelligence, but also in mental health and emotional self-regulation.

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
2 years ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Also in imagination, around here. I wonder how much of the intolerance we see has, at it’s source, a simple inability to imagine how one might have got the wrong idea about something. If you cannot imagine being fooled nor making errors, then no wonder you end up being dogmatic.

Last edited 2 years ago by Laura Creighton