What?! A bookstore that exists JUST to ban books? (Cross posted from Green Dragon via Happy Heathens

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What?! A bookstore that exists JUST to ban books? (Cross posted from Green Dragon via Happy Heathens

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1jseger9000
Jan 17, 2008, 3:44pm

I stole this entire post from AtomicMutant over at Happy Heathens, but thought the book banning group might have something to say.

I posted this in another group, "The Green Dragon", but realize that this is a good heathen story
for those of you who don't check that group.

This story is from a blog that I visit. I thought you might all want to shake your head as I have.

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/01/no_way_to_run_a_bookstore.php

I love bookstores — I like the ones that have huge stacks of strange used books where you can find surprises, and I also like the big online stores where I can order anything I want. My kids are all the same way; when we make trips into the big city, the whole mess of us usually end up spending hours in places like Cummings or Uncle Hugo's. But I finally found a bookstore with no redeeming values at all, one I will never patronize.

It's called Abunga, and their motto is "Empowering Decency as your Family Friendly Bookstore". What that means is that they allow bookstore members to vote against books, and if enough people reject a book, the store removes it from its database. This makes no sense to me. There are a lot of books that I deplore, and the way I cope with them is that I don't buy them. I don't go to the manager and tell them that no one else should be allowed to buy them.

So of course one set of books already banned is Pullman's His Dark Materials. Looking around the site, it seems that they're mainly pushing is religious pablum, naturally enough.

It seems a small thing, but that's what you get when you give a religious cult majority rule — it's not an opportunity for them to relax and enjoy their culture, but a reason to suppress minority views.

2nohrt4me
Jan 17, 2008, 5:49pm

Well, let's parse this situation a bit more.

The bookstore has a perfect right to select its own merchandise and pander to its customers. I'm sure it makes the "voters" of "bad" books feel very virtuous.

And perhaps it also prevents them from staging book burnings or, worse, bugging the local library to get books they don't like off the shelves.

While the religious book banners get a lot of press, they're not the only ones who want to ban books. Some people object to religious books in the local library because they claim having them there violates separation of church and state (a fallacious argument, since the presence of the book in no way implies promoting the ideas therein).

There are also people who object to certain political books because they're too liberal or conservative.

What bothers me about stories like Abunga's is that there seem to be a growing number of elements (not just religious) in our society who no longer feel that they can go to school with or share a community library with people who think differently from themselves.

America has always been more an idea of the melting pot, the tolerant society, than it is in reality. But it's been an idea that most of us used to subscribe to. I think it's an idea that's now in danger.

3jseger9000
Editado: Jan 17, 2008, 10:34pm

Nohrt,

Exactly. I am not trying to argue their right to run such a site or ban whatever their little hearts desire.

The thing is, I would never expect to walk into a Christian bookstore and pick up The God Delusion. But a site where they purposely drop books they carried at one point by encouraging their users to vote them down strikes me as yucky.

Seeing a bookseller promote their site with quotes like "Currently over 65,000 books have been blocked on Abunga.com to guard you family. Help us create a safer site for you and your family by blocking titles you find that aren't family friendly." is sad.

4jseger9000
Jan 17, 2008, 10:35pm

And yes, I am aware that it isn't only the religious folks that want to ban stuff.

5nohrt4me
Jan 18, 2008, 8:30am

Maybe I should be clearer: I think what we can learn from these places is that there are an awful lot of people who are very frightened by what they see (or think they see) going on in society-at-large.

The book store is part of a larger response that may include home schooling your kids, joining a mega church that provides day care and marriage counseling approved by the denomination, and only letting your kids hang out with other kids in the church.

When we have elements in our nation who are that afraid to participate with their neighbors, something is going wrong somewhere.

6OldSarge
Jan 20, 2008, 12:52pm

Forget these dopes. They're just going to put themselves out of business at this rate.

I have to disagree with you nohrt4me. We have the right to associate or disassociate with each other as we see fit. I don't see that along with the other things you mention as being a problem.

7stephmo
Editado: Jan 20, 2008, 4:14pm

While I find it sad, I must say I'd rather see them develop their own stores and business model rather than try to force this for the entire public. Much better that they remove a book from their site than we wake up one morning to discover that Borders, Amazon and Barnes & Noble have all decided that they'd bow to threat of mass boycott and remove the books from everyone.

I grew up in a Fundamentalist area of the country - there were many times that groups opted for a self-imposed segregation (it was an early compromise before intelligent design that kids with properly signed forms be excused from the 2 weeks of biology we spent on evolution). So I guess I'm rather nonplussed by the whole concept. Not to mention, there used to be video stores that would rent out "clean" versions of movies (I think they basically got the same version they'd show on an airline) for the same purpose. Much better than realizing that Blockbuster considers you "pervo" if you want to watch the uncut version of "The Dreamers," no?

If anything, I'm somewhat glad to see that these businesses are starting. In a way, it means that these groups are starting to realize that they have no hope of changing day-to-day businesses and need to do their own thing.

If you want to feel even better, though, know that they're not all that complete on "cleaning" things up. It seems you can buy Lady Chatterley's Lover, Sons and Lovers (arguably, it is tame) and even Tropic of Cancer in this family-friendly environment. Someone forgot to give them their "Banned in Boston!" list. :-)

It appears the responsibility is on customers to find these materials rather than to have started from a point where things were relatively clean. I can even buy Sex and the City from the site, it's so clean!

PPS - I can buy His Dark Materials too - really, as a parent, I have to BLOCK the book for my kids to shop. They'll make money off the naughty bits, it's up to you to set up the lists from what I can tell - I can even get a Kama Sutra! (Even the sticker book version!)

8nohrt4me
Jan 20, 2008, 4:19pm

Hmmm. I'm not certain that it's better to simply let people divide up into their own socio-economic/religious "tribes." If we can't find common ground, then how can we say we are really a nation united under a common constitution that reflects our rights and responsibilities to each other?

I'd far rather argue with someone about banning a book than simply have them go away and think Lord knows what about the rest of society.

But, then, my in-laws are Amish, and their notions of utter subservience to community norms or "exile" to the world of the "English" colors my POV here.

9OldSarge
Jan 20, 2008, 8:35pm

Amish in-laws? Actually I find that interesting. I'd be over as much as is reasonably guest like for the food.

They interest me. How they can keep themselves together as a society surrounded by 21st century America is amazing to me.

I interact with them on a limited basis in New Jersey at the farmer's markets they run.

But back to the original subject. We all engage in our right of free association everyday and exclude "others" who we determine are not part of our group.

While I may not agree with the choices of association that some may make or why they do it, it is their right. As long as it isn't criminal or a threat to public safety.

10Karen5Lund
Jan 21, 2008, 11:25am

Utterly fascinating.... in the same way that watching a bridge collapse or a tornado rip a house apart is fascinating.

When I looked at the website, I noticed they donate 5% of each purchase to a non-profit of the buyer's choice. Alas, it is a limited list of non-profits and the organization has to request joining. I'd really love to be able to buy a book from them and have 5% of my purchase price go to, say, the American Library Association. :-) But I doubt the ALA would wish to join, even if Abunga would have them.

11nohrt4me
Jan 21, 2008, 2:01pm

Or the ACLU, eh?

12quicksylver_btg
Mar 18, 2008, 10:00pm

This is horrible, but I went on the site and created a persona. I opted to ban anything with the word "bible" in it. The automated message thanked me for deleting 182 selections. There were more, but I got tired.

13Killeymoon
Editado: Mar 19, 2008, 10:50am

That's not horrible, I think it just shows perfectly the flaw in their thinking!

14stephmo
Mar 19, 2008, 12:41pm

Actually, it's not any better than what we assume that they're doing. Stooping to the level of "censoring" books on their site proves that we're really no better than what those who live to censor books at the public level do.

Would you go into a Christain Book store and poor paint all over their Bibles because you can't buy copies of The Golden Compass there? I doubt it - especially since it's vandalism and requires showing your face.

This is the problem with the internet - we behave in ways that we'd never behave in real life.

You do realize that they're their own site, they don't hold any sort of monopoly on book buying on the internet, and they depend on those who are attracted enough to their business model to eschew the discounts of an Amazon in favor of a site that simply promises that they won't have to see books that may offend? It's a rather narrow business model.

Frankly, you would do right to contact the webmaster, apologize and ask if your persona's recommendations be nixed because you'd done something in a moment of anger that was not kind, nor in the spirit of their program.

Look, I'm agnostic for the most part and had more than my share of bannings and discussions growing up in a very fundamentalist area of the country. I don't begudge those that wish to do this on their own - they're not asking Amazon or Barns & Noble or AbeBooks to hide selections from the world at large. It's just their own corner of the internet and one that you need not ever frequent.

When you start messing with their corner of the internet, this gives them ammo for approaching everyone else and saying, "see, people with purile interests will go after our own store when we try to leave the other retailers alone - we must protect the children!" and that's what leads to the call for mass bannings and boycotts.

On top of that, you are aware that the DOJ could be intersted in the willful and malicious abuse of data on their site? If they decide that you've cost them business, you're using "phone lines" and this becomes a Federal Crime. I doubt it will ever happen, but one should be aware that there are very few things that are "harmless pranks" anymore. I'm sure the law student sentenced for e-mail harassment just thought it was "harmless" - the 90 days of house arrest and 3 years probation have probably more than changed his mind.

15jseger9000
Editado: Mar 19, 2008, 9:37pm

Jeeze captain bringdown.

I do agree with you stephmo. I hate the site but respect their right to run their crummy little store as they see fit.

However I think you are off base here: On top of that, you are aware that the DOJ could be intersted in the willful and malicious abuse of data on their site? If they decide that you've cost them business, you're using "phone lines" and this becomes a Federal Crime.

quicksylver_btg did exactly what Abunga is set up for. Nowhere on their site do they advise that you must be a purchasing customer to ban books, nor do they ask you to justify why you are banning them. There would be no case there.

I just double checked their terms of use. Nothing specifying who is or is not allowed to ban books. You have to have an account. You have an account you must have a username and password. quicksylver_btg was entirely within his(?) rights.

16stephmo
Editado: Mar 19, 2008, 10:26pm

Nevermind.

17NobodysGirl
Abr 3, 2008, 4:57pm

anything else that the bookstore banned.
I just wanna know so that I can come to hate that bookstore even more.

18timspalding
Set 14, 2008, 9:46pm

Would members object is we picked up the Abunga.com data? I find almost any bibliographic metadata interesting. Could we add it to a CK field for banned books?

19stephmo
Set 15, 2008, 10:08am

>18 timspalding: I'll admit that it's interesting as to why as a whole - especially since you'll see gaping holes and a trend towards, "I heard that this was bad" while other things are fully permitted - it gives creedence to the idea that one person simply has to tell a group about a bad thing in a book to get a community behind banning.

But Abunga isn't banned-banned. It's just not available for sale on the site. And they have gaping holes. Someone thought to ban some DH Lawrence, but not all on the site - Sons & Lovers is available for purchase today & that's a frequently challenged book. While you can't buy Candice Bushnell's Sex & The City book, you can buy 3 other books that are all about the show and the episodes.

It would be more advertising-y, wouldn't it? And at this point, why not just go after any family-values site that has an opinion on books that are appropriate/inappropriate? Without legitimate reasons and challenges and community/country standards, we are just talking about a niche business.