Over the years, I have had occasional advice from my volunteers about Playing It Safe. I seem to attract people who like to do my worrying for me, feeling that although I may know about books I know nothing else. And from time to time, they have warned me that I was putting my personal safety (and that of my volunteers) at risk by setting certain books out for sale.
When I had that famous volume signed by Fidel Castro, one or two people warned me that putting such a thing up for sale at a large price on the Collectors’ table would attract Cuban expatriates who would express their contempt for Castro by gunning me down. (Didn’t happen; sold it to a fellow who said he’d once been assigned to assassinate Castro, so I guess it found a loving home.)
When Salman Rushdie was under a death sentenced issued by the Ayatollah Khomeini for Satanic Verses, I had a couple of first editions to sell. One of my volunteers told me that putting that book on the Collectors’ table for a high price would certainly call forth Islamic conservatives who would express their hatred of the author by gunning me down. (Didn’t happen; didn’t sell many copies of it, either. I guess my customers don’t shop according to book reviews from Ayatollahs.)
It isn’t so much that I am unaware of the power of books to offend people. And I understand this misguided urge to avoid offending people at all costs. (I happen to work in a library, and I sell books. Libraries try to support the RIGHT of people to be offended, and booksellers are aware that lots of people do, in fact, buy books which offend them.) What I don’t understand is why it’s the Collectors’ table that my volunteers think will attract the violent criminal.
See, it wasn’t that I had these books for sale that they thought would make guns blaze. It was the price of the book. The fact that I was asking $1,000 for Castro’s autograph, they felt, would be taken as some sort of endorsement. If I’d asked fifty cents for a signed Castro, the only violence would then have been from customers pushing and shoving to get at it first.
But just because the only violence at the Collectors’ table so far has involved high stakes haggling doesn’t mean it COULDN’T happen. So I will try to head off extremism by making a public declaration here and now that just because I happen to charge a thousand bucks for a book doesn’t mean I endorse its contents, the lifestyle of its author, or the political attitude of the publisher’s mother. YOU don’t know what I was thinking as I wrote in the price, after all. I could have been thinking, “Oh, yuck! Another thousand dollar book by someone I don’t endorse politically!”
So, son, don’t take your gun to the Book Fair. If you MUST show contempt for an expensive book, buy it, take it home, and burn it. That costs more than a mere bullet, so it enhances your credibility without costing me a claim on my workman’s comp.