The owner of the bookshop is quoted in a local newspaper as saying: "Some people thanked us in person and commented that it can be really triggering for survivors of sexual assault to see those names out there… There have been some people who think we are banning books, and to that, I say it is our choice not to carry products. It’s not the same as a book being banned. We have a ‘safe space’ commitment, and that extends to our shelves.”
As adults, we are equipped to deal with historical attitudes we find unpalatable. We can put sexism, racism and other isms into historical context. We can separate the artist from the art. We should not dismiss Anthony Trollope because of his shocking, causal antisemitism because he lived in an era of shocking, casual antisemitism.
The historical misdemeanours in fiction can be managed, mediated by our own self-conscious lack of prejudice. We shift the perspective where possible - making Shylock a hero, for example, in spite of the text. We excuse where necessary – forgiving Joseph Conrad his racism because his white characters are as venal as his black characters are crude and two-dimensional.
We re-invent Jane Austen as a feminist icon, on the basis of Lizzie Bennet’s wit, forgiving her women their tendency to contract life-threatening illnesses at the merest spatter of rain. We skate entirely over the insufferable and wet Fanny in Mansfield Park, in our rush to celebrate Austen as a writer of strong women.
We are readers: we bring our own views, prejudices and opinions to the words on the page - and what emerges is a tango between us and the writer. The words do not have to be safe; the writer does not have to be safe.
I have not read the works of Junot Diaz. But I will now, with a bullish two-fingers to those who deem his work unpalatable for my too-sensitive soul. Because unlikeable, criminal, venal, horrible, sexist, racist people can write brilliant books, too. And they frequently have.