Rare Book Monthly

Articles - January - 2018 Issue

What to Do About a "Raging Bigot" of a Bookseller?

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Bigotry on display.

It wasn't the best of publicity for the antiquarian book trade. Actually, it wasn't particularly a book trade issue. Every type of business has its good and its bad. Still, a story about a bookseller in "The Ethicist's" column of the New York Times Magazine under the heading "Should I Keep Working for a Raging Bigot?" is not the kind of publicity you like to see.

 

The unnamed inquirer describes himself as "a graduate student in a program designed to prepare you for a career working with rare books and manuscripts." He works for an "antiquarian bookseller." This is good. We need more people pursuing the time-honored trade. He then pays his boss a compliment, saying, "It is just the two of us, and he pays me very well, allows me to work the hours I want, gives me a good deal of responsibility and is willing to give me in-depth training." All's well so far, but then, "He is, however, racist, homophobic, transphobic, bigoted and sexist." These attributes are definitely not so nice.

 

The writer's dilemma is whether to quit working for the man or is it acceptable since he is working for the experience and the money and would never hold such views himself. The Times' Ethicist obviously finds this situation challenging, at first seeming to support that he take a firmer stand about not discussing politics, but then noting he might get fired. If so, he could then consult an employment lawyer, or if he can't afford one, check with a clinic at a local law school (presuming there is one). This isn't a very satisfying answer for what is probably a graduate student struggling to scrape by day to day.

 

Ultimately, the Ethicist favors expressing his dissent more plainly so long as it is not of such magnitude as to jeopardize his employment. After all, the student is not responsible for the bookseller's behavior, and "leaving your job in protest would open up a spot — for another white man." The Ethicist's final suggestion is, at the end of his employment, to confront his boss "more forthrightly."

 

I will not render an opinion on this dilemma. We have all faced it, if not with bosses then with friends, family, neighbors, and such that express such obnoxious opinions. Is it better to confront, knowing the odds of success in changing that person's mind are about as great as finding an undiscovered Gutenberg Bible at a yard sale, or just let it slide? Since the New York Times is not paying me to offer ethical judgments, I'll stay out of it. But, here is what surprises me about this exchange. Are there really antiquarian booksellers who think like this?

 

The answer to the above question is, of course, yes. There are people like this in every field. Still, it is more disheartening and surprising to hear about them in the book trade. After all, book collecting doesn't generally attract illiterate, uneducated people, the kind you would most likely expect to hold racist and bigoted views. Book buyers are mostly the enlightened, book burners the ignorant.

 

What is such a person doing in our trade? It is doubtful that a person with such views otherwise conceals them, expressing them to no one other than his powerless assistant. Customers, who, as we know, are always right, could confront such comments if they are expressed. They hold the upper hand. Most importantly, fellow booksellers, who likely interact with this individual in trade organizations, at book shows, or through transactions, should make their views clear. Perhaps, trade groups, whose codes of ethics have naturally been focused on ethical treatment of customers, should address these broader concerns as well. All of us associated with books, as buyers, sellers, researchers, writers, serious readers, should make it clear that this is not who we are. We aren't. Peer pressure is more likely to have an impact than is that coming from a powerless underling.

 

Here is a link to The Ethicist's column: www.nytimes.com/2017/11/29/magazine/should-i-keep-working-for-a-raging-bigot.html.


Posted On: 2018-01-03 01:09
User Name: Bkwoman

I have been in the book business for more than 25 years and have met a few bigots and LGBT-haters, et al. I'm always stunned that this is so. I have partners in my book business now who are bigots and generally disapprove of anyone who is not white, the other partners are just like me, they approve of good, intelligent people, even if they are green martians who worship earthworms and cross-dress. Who cares anyway? Drives me nuts how much time those people waste hating....


Rare Book Monthly

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    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> THOMAS JEFFERSON, Autograph letter signed comparing Logan, Tecumseh, and Little Turtle to the Spartans. Monticello: 15 February 1821. $14,000-18,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN C. FREMONT, Narrative of the Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains, in the Year 1842.. Abridged edition, the only one containing the folding map From the Sporting Library of Arnold “Jake” Johnson. $3,000-5,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> ZANE GREY, Album containing 94 large format photographs of Grey and party at Catalina Island, Arizona, and fishing in the Pacific. From the Sporting Library of Arnold “Jake” Johnson. $5,000-$8,000
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    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> ERIC TAVERNER, Salmon Fishing... One of 275 copies signed by Taverner, published in 1931,From the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN WHITEHEAD, Exploration of Mount Kina Balu, North Borneo. Whitehead reached the high point of Kinabalu in 1888. Part of a major group of travel books from the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
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    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> SAMUEL BECKETT, Stirrings Still. This, Beckett’s last work of fiction with original lithographs by Le Brocquy, limited to 200 copies signed by the author and the artist. From the Estate of Howard Kaminsky.. $1,500-$2,500
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    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Jacques-Émile Ruhlmann, wallpaper sample book, circa 1919. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Archive from a late office of the Breuer & Smith architectural team, New York, 1960-70s. $3,500 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> William Morris, <i>The Story of the Glittering Plain or the Land of Living Men,</i> illustrated by Walter Crane, Kelmscott Press, Hammersmith, 1894. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Gustave Doré, <i>La Sainte Bible selon la Vulgate,</i> Tours, 1866. $15,000 to $25,000.
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    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>Eric Allatini & Gerda Wegener, <i>Sur Talons Rouges,</i> with original watercolor by Wegener, Paris, 1929. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>C.P. Cavafy, <i>Fourteen Poems,</i> illustrated & signed by David Hockney, London, 1966. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Jean Midolle, <i>Spécimen des Écritures Modernes...</i>, Strasbourg, 1834-35. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>E.A. Seguy, <i>Floréal: Dessins & Coloris Nouveaux,</i> Paris, 1925. $3,000 to $4,000.
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    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> BEETHOVEN, LUDWIG VAN. Autograph Manuscript sketch-leaf part of the score of the Scottish Songs, "Sunset" Op. 108 no 2. [Vienna, February 1818]. Inscribed by Alexander Wheelock Thayer. SOLD for $131,250
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    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> EINSTEIN, ALBERT. Autograph Letter Signed ("Papa") to his son Hans Albert, discussing his involvement with the atomic bomb, September 2, 1945. SOLD for $106,250
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    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> 1869 Inauguration Bible of President Ulysses S. Grant. SOLD for $118,750

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