Monday, May 10, 2010

On Supporting Next Chapter's Decision to Host Karl Rove

As many folks know, Karl Rove is visiting our friends at Next Chapter in Mequon on Sunday, May 23rd to sign copies of his book Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight. You also may know that the store has received a lot of negative comments on social media, with folks (some anonymous, some not) proclaiming they will no longer patronize that store.

Now I have no idea whether these are real patrons of Next Chapter who are no longer going to patronize that store, or rather, social media posters that feel obligated to comment on everything they can. In a way, one of the dangers of web 2.0 is that the political ideas get more polarized as people have less and less interaction with folks who don't share their opinions.

It strikes me that Next Chapter's loyal customers know full well that Schwartz supported a diverse roster of speakers, from Pat Buchanan to Bill Ayers, both of whom led to threats of boycotts. There are general bookstores that do subscribe to the "I don't like it so I ain't carrying it" vision, but it's hard for us to change from A. David Schwartz's conception of the bookstore being a center for a broad marketplace of ideas.

Here the truth comes out. I was offered Karl Rove first, and I passed it to Lanora. And though I knew I would be the target of similar wrath (or perhaps even worse, due to my location in a more liberal part of the metro area), that was not my reason for declining the event. I actually offered two options, one of Next Chapter and the other of us selling books at the Centennial Hall for the Milwaukee Public Library, but that would still be passing the buck, so to speak, to another entity.

The reason I passed was that I would not be able to attend the event. Like Lanora, I was headed for the Book Expo trade show in New York later that week. But unlike Lanora (who also changed her plans to make this event work), I had a family gathering to celebrate my Uncle Leon's 80th birthday in New York, and after much thought, I decided that if I could find another place for the event, I wouldn't miss it. I've already had to turn down a lot of family functions in the past year, as you can imagine.

And I was not going to let my store deal with this event without me at the front and center. It was just not fair to them.

Aside from the name-calling and the boycott threats, there's one other thing that disappoints me. Rove's event is a straight signing, and I would have much preferred for him to talk. I know why he's not doing so, as he probably needs to have a thoroughly vetted crowd so they don't overpower his words. But think about this--that anger isn't going to change anything at this point. Wouldn't it be more useful to listen to what he had to say? What was actually going on in his brain? That's probably something to which I'm not going to be a witness, alas.

Jim Higgins says it best, in yesterday's piece in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel section. Read it here.


john eklund said...

Rove is a has-been who doesn't deserve to be made a free speech martyr. Thus I don't think hosting him for a book signing is cause for dumping on a bookstore. Lanora's decision to have him is completely defensible.

That said, I'm uncomfortable with the idea that it's wrong to not have an author for political reasons. Bookstores have every right to decide who is to be a guest in their shops. And had Lanora (or Daniel) decided against Rove- not for logistical reasons but because they just didn't like him- I would also support that decision. Nobody is obligated to invite an unwanted guest into their home and I don't believe they should have one in their bookstore. Not having him would in no way hamper access to his book.

But saying no to him would have given the loudmouths who are probably not friends of the store to begin with an excuse to rage. Not worth the trouble. Hope you sell some books!

Daniel Goldin said...

Very valid point. There is definitely more than one way to run a bookstore, and I think a lot of folks really respond to a store being a safe space. That's particularly true in red states where the bookstore becomes almost an oasis. That said, I tend to be a bit more librarianish about the issue. Too much time spent talking to Michael, Scott, and Paula!