This week’s headlines in the book business is Simon & Schuster’s cancellation of Milo Yiannopoulos book. Some cheer, others uphold the First Amendment. It’s messy.

Publishing decisions have consequences, but the collective conversation is vital for reaffirming constitutional rights.

Publishing decisions have consequences, but the collective conversation is vital for reaffirming constitutional rights.

While our First Amendment protects free speech, publishers are faced with way more submissions than they could ever publish, so choices are always being made about what manuscripts make the cut. Often times, celebrity wins out because of the expected return on investment. In many cases, like this one, it’s simply about business.

When Simon & Schuster decided to offer a $250,000 advance, the executives likely did their due diligence to understand that Yiannopoloulos was edgy and would offend many. As the editor of Breitbart News, he’d been in the spotlight for some time. So was his bad behavior on social media. Obviously, Simon & Schuster did not realize that he would be so controversial that author Roxanne Gay, offended by Simon & Schuster’s decision to publish Yiannopoloulos, would withdraw her forthcoming book and that some booksellers would boycott the publisher, cutting frontlist orders.

Decisions have consequences.

Do publishers have the right to publish whatever they want, even language of hate and hurt? In the United States, absolutely.

Do authors, booksellers, and readers have the right to protest? Absolutely.

The book industry is a business, but many of us who have dedicated our lives to the world of ideas and the written word have limits. When so many worthy manuscripts never pass the editors desks, it’s hard to understand why resources would be used to publish words that contribute to the dark side of humanity.

When it comes to retail business, few companies find themselves involved in social and political issues like bookstores. The latest issue has been a response to North Carolina’s HB2 known as the NC “bathroom bill”. North Carolina has not protected workers who are LGBT and has language in HB2 that clarifies that the state does not intend to create a new class of protections based on sexual identity … and will not allow its cities and counties to create such a protected class.

We Are Not ThisAuthors have cancelled book tour stops in North Carolina and booksellers around the state have banned together to proclaim “we believe it is essential to be non-discriminatory, inclusive and tolerant, to promote freedom of speech and equality, and to guard against censorship and unfair treatment.”

Many of the beloved picture books we carry encourage respecting differences, actually embracing them. Our world becomes bigger and more compassionate when we don’t judge, bully, and isolate others.

The North Carolina booksellers are standing strong in their statement to their elected officials. They have a lot to lose in terms of their financial sustainability and ability to continue to provide safe spaces where people can gather and discuss issues, grow into their higher selves, and contribute to the evolution of humanity.

Bookstores are symbols of civility, education, lifelong learning, connection, and conversation. We celebrate the freedom to read, diversity and inclusivity.

Today, we in the book industry are shocked and saddened to see our colleagues in North Carolina battling for human rights in 2016 … in the United States of America. We can learn from the civil rights movement and all of those children’s books too. We stand with the North Carolina booksellers and believe we are better than this.

As we hear and see the horrific stories of oppression in Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, and the growing number of countries being dominated by ISIS, it’s not only the physical brutality that is disturbing, but the limitation of education and free speech that dampens hope for the future. China limits internet access. After World War II,   we hoped we’d seen the end of government suppression of ideas. Not so.

Today, in the U.S. in the year 2015, two recent polls conducted by the Newseum Institute and the Harris Poll report that the number of people who think there are books that should be banned completely has grown from 18 percent of those surveyed to 28 percent. The polls also indicated that one third of Americans do not know what the First Amendment is.

Here is the language:

First Amendment – Religion and Expression. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

It would be interesting to compare the results of these polls to those who measure how many Americans know about the Second Amendment, the right to keep and bear arms.

The American Library Association reported that there were at least 311 books either challenged or removed in schools and libraries in 2014. Some of those books include The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner and others.

The list of challenged books gives us real reason to be concerned about the efforts to control the free flow of ideas.

The list of challenged books gives us real reason to be concerned about the efforts to control the free flow of ideas.

Every day, booksellers in the U.S. stand for our freedom to read. Banning books is a dangerous act that opens up a very slippery slope.

We’ll be celebrating Banned Books Week from September 27 through October 3. Read the list of frequently challenged books and the reasons why they have been challenged. Learn about the American Booksellers for Free Expression.

If we want to remain a free and open society, let the people decide for themselves what ideas and stories are worthy. Allow parents to be the ones to screen what their children read. While some unsavory, even hateful ideas will make its way into print, the greatness of the American way of life that government not limit the free flow of ideas. It’s the foundation of who we are and this freedom is worth preserving.

Spread the word. Read a banned book.

Today I’ve been watching all of the regional bookseller associations report their weekly bestseller lists. Go Set a Watchman remains at #1 for Fiction, even the skeptics from my book group agreed to add a lunch discussion so we could get in a conversation while the book has been grabbing attention everywhere.

There’s a saying in the book business that all publicity is good publicity.

The latest controversy is over Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman. May it keep on selling and prompting valuable dialogue.

The latest controversy is over Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman. May it keep on selling and prompting valuable dialogue.

Even though Harper Lee’s book has been widely criticized and some people have complained they’ve been duped that the book is new, the country is curious. To Kill a Mockingbird is an American classic and sadly, the story of equality and racism is still unfolding.

In bookstores across the U.S., the conversation is happening … about racism, great novels, sequels and prequels, what makes a classic, humanity, hope, and why we need literature.

Controversy is fine. It signals that we’re thinking critically about a lot of things. Authors and books offer us these opportunities to keep searching, learning, evolving. Books bring us out of our lonely corners and connect us with what is meaningful.

But first, we have to buy the book and be part of the conversation.

May books continue to make us uncomfortable about our unfinished work, and prompt us to change and grow for the better.

This week the world has been shaken by the murder of staff members of the Paris-based satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. Yes, the political and social commentary is edgy, even rude and often distasteful to many. Yet, this criminal act presses us to examine the challenges that come along with defending our freedom of expression.

In the bookstore business, we want people to think, research, learn and expand our world of understanding. Most of us believe that we are not there to judge what someone wants to read. We work to create a well-rounded selection of books by credible authors on topics of interest to customers then offer to order anything anyone wants that’s not on the shelves.

Two aspects of the core business can prompt challenges that booksellers need to be prepared to explain and defend:

1. Any store has finite space, so the store can’t carry everything. If it’s not on the shelves, it doesn’t necessarily mean the bookseller is opposed to its content.

2. There are many ways to view the same topic and respect the differences. Nudity to some is beautiful while to others it’s uncomfortable or inappropriate.

When I managed Davis-Kidd Booksellers in Nashville, I recall being questioned by the local press about carrying “Final Exit” a book about ending your life. The store was picketed during the heat of the Iran Contra Affair when Ollie North came to do a signing. One day a customer complained about a photography book that included photos of nude children. Another day a customer was furious that the Gay & Lesbian section was within reachable distance for her toddler. Later, during the presidential election when John Kerry was Al Gore’s running mate, some conservative customers claimed indie bookstores weren’t carrying “Unfit for Command” when in fact, the publisher had run out of copies and no one could get the books for weeks.

If you’re thinking about opening a bookstore, most days are pleasant and customers, for the most part, are intelligent and tolerant. But, there are occasions when we are challenged and our task is to honor the complaining customer’s freedom of speech while we exercise our own.

Society remains healthy when bookstores and others don’t change their beliefs and practices when they are challenged, but help to share another view … and stand firm that a rich and hearty dialogue is necessary and worthwhile.

Common Core … what could be detrimental about reading class and contemporary literature? Efforts are well under way to undermine the effort to improve education, teach the ability to learn and apply critical thinking skills, and have exposure to worlds beyond your own.

Common Core picketers

Extremists are derailing the conversation about how Common Core and literature can be used to improve education

The Southern Poverty Law Center, known for their dedication to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society, addressed the challenges to Common Core in the summer issue of SPLC Report in a feature “Extremist Propaganda Distorts Education Debate.”

While booksellers and libraries are used to some parents challenging some books in schools and the effort in some states to dictate how particular topics like evolution are treated in textbooks, this latest challenge … on a national scale … is based on misinformation from major media sources.

Ignorance is still widespread, major media fail to uphold higher standards of journalism, and as a result, we see the growing inability to come together. Close the world by limiting exposure to different ideas and cultures and as a result, misinformation and fear imposed by others hold tremendous power.

Bookstores and libraries, by their very presence, stand for education, reason, and connection. The work is ongoing. The American Booksellers Foundation for Freedom of Expression is our equivalent of the SPLC, also busier than ever.