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Why Tucker Carlson Says You Must Build a Home Library
In a Q and A after his last speech before he was fired from Fox News, Tucker Carlson was asked what the greatest cultural shift of the past few decades has been. His answer surprised me. He didn’t cite the internet itself, but rather the growing censorship of the digital realm and the likelihood, in his view, that dissident information would become increasingly difficult to obtain. His advice?
Don’t throw away your hard copy books because they are the enduring repository of [Western civilization]. I’m dead serious. I’m not going to tell you to buy gold or ammo—although obviously you should think about it. But definitely don’t throw away your books because they can’t be disappeared—because they exist physically.
To most people, this probably sounds a bit over the top. The primary problem with the digital age is the sheer volume of information available and its power to distract, silo, and entrench—a far cry from Fahrenheit 451. But in the past few years we have seen historical figures cancelled, beloved museum displays torn down (my favorite childhood exhibit at the Royal BC Museum was destroyed in the name of “decolonization”), and statues toppled. Carlson’s advice seems less alarmist now that it would have a half-decade ago. The news cycle consistently reveals that the many of the elites would love to shovel quite a lot down the memory hole if given the opportunity.
In 2019, a francophone school board in Ontario, Canada, hosted a book burning to purge books perceived as offensive to indigenous people. Thirty books were burned in a “flame purification ceremony” for “educational purposes,” with the ashes being used as fertilizer to plant a tree. The symbolic gesture was just the beginning—nearly 5,000 books were taken out of libraries at thirty schools across the district and were either destroyed or tossed out. The purge included novels, encyclopedias, and Tintin, Asterix, and Lucky Luke comics (it was a problematic “imbalance of power” that indigenous people weren’t the protagonists) and was formally approved by a school commission.
That’s an extreme example, but reflective of the current educational ethos. Progressive educators seem consistently stunned to discover that the writers of the past did not hold the values of the present, insofar as there were no gay penguins, transgender crayons, or gender-fluid children. Thus you have Cambridge University slapping “trigger warnings” on classic children’s literature, and researchers, according to the Daily Mail, “are reviewing more than 10,000 books and magazines to expose offensive authors after campaigners demanded teachers censor racial slurs when reading Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird.” Not even a Pulitzer Prize-winning anti-racist classic can survive the new standards.
Lee is just the beginning. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie is allegedly “potentially harmful.” Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book was—and I’m not making this up—“slammed for its ‘colonial’ depiction of animals.” According to Salon magazine, Roald Dahl’s Matilda achieved the status of transphobic because Miss Trunchbull was masculine (don’t laugh, bigot). I had failed to pick up the racism in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but apparently the fictional Oompa-Loompas are bigoted to African pygmies. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett is infected with “racist dialect and colonial overtones.”
Hilariously, the Mail noted that some critics “have claimed that Beauty and the Beast isn’t so much a romantic love story as it is a tale about a kidnapped young girl who develops Stockholm Syndrome.” If we’re going to start going after fairy tales, the Brothers Grimm will be axed entirely, and when censors discover the Russian fairy tales—my goodness. We’ll need therapy animals, counselors, and a roaring bonfire. Peter Pan can get chucked on when the fire’s good and hot, because critics say it is racist, as is Babar’s Travels—the cartoon elephant king meets “savage cannibals,” and these apparently do not exist and if they do, should not be stereotyped. Babar also includes colonialism, and this has already gotten Babar booted from one UK library.
Trigger warnings, as infantile as they are, are one thing. Ernest Hemingway’s work was recently republished with a cautionary note for fragile readers by Penguin Random House. But far more concerning is the decision of Puffin Books to hire “sensitivity readers” to actually rewrite portions of Roald Dahl’s books, making hundreds of changes and adding passages not written by Dahl. Even poems are changed, with special attention being paid to the descriptions of the physical characteristics of characters (nobody is fat anymore, for example). The Oompa-Loompas are also rewritten to be gender-neutral. As Rod Dreher put it:
This is another occasion for me to remind you to buy hard copies of the books you love the most… if there’s a book that means something to me, and I have read it on Kindle, I will buy a hard copy of it, to protect it from being removed from my electronic library, or subject to sensitivity editing, à la Dahl. You know, don’t you, that Amazon can go into your electronic library and edit what’s in it, right? It won’t be long before any and all books are subject to this soft-Stalinist rewrite. They’re making the Oompa-Loompas non-binary. It’s like a farce, but it’s really happening! This therapeutic totalitarianism is not going to end any time soon. Take measures to preserve cultural memory in its face: buy real books.
C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia have come also under fire, with the Calormenes being dubbed an obviously a racist stereotype of Muslims (obvious, at least, to those hunting for such things and finding them with astonishing and perceptive regularity). Lewis has ended up on several lists lately. As part of its ‘Prevent’ workstream, central to the U.K.’s anti-terrorism strategy, the Home Office’s Research Information and Communications Unit (RICU) issued a report in 2019. The document listed books that indicated potential radicalisation, and in addition to conservative writers such as Douglas Murray and Peter Hitchens, it included Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Edmund Burke—and Aldous Huxley, Joseph Conrad, J.R.R. Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis.
In an exquisite moment of near-perfect irony, RICU’s list of potentially dangerous books included 1984 by George Orwell.
It is easy to ridicule this delusional nonsense. Only someone truly dedicated to sniffing out bigotry could find it in The Secret Garden or Narnia. It is less funny that people who believe this stuff are in charge. They don’t simply want to condemn the classics that make up our cultural inheritance—they want to replace them. Instead of Little House on the Prairie, we’ll get I Am Jazz. Instead of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrove, we get The Hips on the Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish. Many classics have been replaced by book lists like this one, which are mandatory reading for children beginning in kindergarten. The literature that progressives want to replace the canon with consists of books that actively corrupt and confuse. As a child, I was always excited to visit the public library. Now, these are the sorts of books that are prominently on display everywhere.
In light of all that, Carlson and Dreher don’t seem alarmist. The good news is that it has never been easier and cheaper to create a home library if you’re willing to spend a little time doing it. The classics have been reprinted countless times, and you can find them for bargain prices in any thrift stores. Over multiple visits, you can easily build up a comprehensive collection without ever having to purchase a book new (or buying one of the awful abridged versions). As fewer and fewer young people read, thrift stores, second-hand shops, and used bookstores have become glutted with great literature at very affordable prices. My own home library contains thousands of books, the vast majority of which were purchased second-hand for less than a few dollars each.
Library book sales are a great place to start—books that are not regularly signed out are sold, which means that great books are usually for sale in large quantities. Websites like AbeBooks and Thriftbooks can connect you to thousands of sellers and help you avoid using Amazon and find what you’re looking for affordably. Never in human history has it been easier and cheaper to amass an enormous personal library of the greatest literature produced by our civilization (and others)—and never, perhaps, has it been more important to do so. Time will tell whether Carlson and others are being alarmist. We live in a weird historical moment in which the elites are actively condemning the classical canon that created our social imaginary. In the meantime—start building a home library filled with physical books. You won’t regret it.
For those interested, I’ve also got an essay on the last living people who remember the Holocaust diarist Anne Frank up at The European Conservative, which you can read here.
Thanks for reading!