EDITOR’S NOTE: This article appears in the September 27, 2004, issue of National Review.
Conservatives like to tell war stories–and refute them, à la the Swift Boat Vets–and some of those stories concern bookstores. And the people who work in them. Who tend to be . . . well, not exactly the most conservative-friendly people in the world. The bookstore leftist is more standard than the bookstore cat. And conservatives have often found these stores to be hostile territory.
In recent weeks, reports have circulated that customers–or would-be customers–are having a hard time finding Unfit for Command, John O’Neill’s anti-Kerry book. Conservatives have suspected that stores are keeping it from them, or that clerks are deep-sixing them, or that something untoward is happening. Paranoia is in the air.
But sometimes paranoids can be on to something. I don’t scoff at these suspicions, mainly because of my own experience–most of it in Ann Arbor, Mich., my hometown. (Ann Arbor is a bookseller’s paradise, and, in some ways, a conservative’s hell.) I worked at a store called The Little Professor. The manager there–a nice guy, actually–wouldn’t put out conservative magazines and gun magazines. He flat refused to bring them to the floor, acting as censor. My brilliant (and conservative) friend Eddie Krause came up with a new name for the store: The Little Suppressor.
It may be hard to believe, but it took something like an act of courage to buy a conservative magazine in an Ann Arbor bookstore. I used to dread it–the clerk was almost invariably cold, and he often bristled, and sometimes you got snotty remarks. It was a relief just to get through a purchase without incident. And I know many who could give the same testimony.
In truth, it could be dicey to ask for a bag–yes, a bag. That made you a despoiler of the environment, you see.
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