Readings bookshops in Melbourne are like university bookrooms of a certain era: every square inch not filled with stock is plastered with leftish and progressive journals, Dissent being not merely a theme, but hanging there on a bulldog clip (though dissent from what is hard to define in such a homogeneity of thought). As in a university, Readings staff tend to be pasty-faced not-as-young-as-they-would-like-to-be-thought men with ponytails and a vaguely grubby air and a distinctly patronising manner, all presumably either doctoral students or would-be novelists constrained to serve behind a counter for subsistence until their thesis gains them eternal tenure in some English department or their masterpiece sets the bookshop tills ringing (or more likely brings the author to the attention of those who hold the purse strings of public largesse).
Leftishness hangs in the air at a Readings bookshop like incense in a Catholic church after a funeral. On the other hand Readings is a successful commercial enterprise so you would suppose they couldn't afford to be too ideologically or intellectually snooty about what they stock. I imagine even Bryce Courtenay finds a place on their shelves and perhaps even among the selections of hot new releases near the front door, if not quite in the window.
Well, if Bryce Courtenay does I'll tell you who doesn't. Today I went to the Readings shop in the Melbourne suburb of Hawthorn, the branch that I imagine to commend itself to its local clientele would need to be the most bourgeois and least Left-Banky of all their establishments. I asked for James Delingpole's Killing the Planet to Save It, published in Australia by that counter-cultural Olympia Press of our day, Connor Court. Delingpole is an English journalist of wit and perspicacity whose reporting uncovered the dodgy e-mails that led to the "Climategate" scandal, a revelation that probably did more than anything else to hole the barque of global warming "settled science" below the waterline. He is on Australia on a speaking tour which has had quite a bit of publicity and I thought that that at least would be enough to gain his book admittance to the hallowed portals of Readings, even if they ordered in only a few copies for cranks, cranks' money being as good as anyone else's.
No, Delingpole does not find a place on the shelves of Readings. The assistant, a rather pleasant woman rather than a male doctoral student with attitude, didn't exactly reel back in horror but she did shoot me an odd look when I asked for the book, not so much as though she thought I was a crank - well I hope not - but as though she thought I might be having her on. Then she composed her face. "No," she said, "we don't stock that. There have been one or two requests, but ... our buyers didn't order it. I'll mention it to the buyer. We could get it in for you..."
I wasn't surprised. It will be interesting in due course to see the sales figures for Killing the Planet to Save It in Australia. My guess is that like Ian Plimer's similarly sceptical bestseller Heaven and Earth (also published by Connor Court) it will sell much better than a lot of the pretentious but on-message potboilers that Readings does stock. I therefore fear we are dealing not with a commercial decision but an ideological one after all. Readings not stocking Delingpole is a case of censorship, pure and simple.
20 April 2012