As part of a celebration of Guy Fawkes Night, I was asked to name the worst three “crimes of treason” that could be committed against a book.
Treason is a very particular kind of crime. It can only be committed by those who should be trusted. Murder is murder whether you are killed by friend or enemy but treason requires status, a connection of loyalty so deep and so universally understood that it is always an act of betrayal.
It follows that only those who owe books loyalty can commit treason, so I’ve looked to those whose status implies a loyalty to books and asked myself, “How might they betray books?” I have identified three possible traitors:
Librarian Treason: Making books unavailable.
In it’s most extreme form this is about banning books and or sending them to be destroyed but it also includes making books hard for readers to find and to access.
Publisher Treason: the Out Of Print excuse.
With the technology currently available, there is no reason why ANY book need ever be Out Of Print. Printing on demand, either physically or electronically, is simple and cost-effective. If publishers decline to use technology to make books available then they have betrayed the trust of writers and readers and should be prepared to suffer the consequences: free peer-to-peer networks or digital books.
Reviewer Treason: reviewing a book without reading it
This comes in two forms. The most common is the reviewer who skims a book in order to be able to push an opinion that they’d already formed about the book and or the author. A rarer form is to express strong opinions about a book without even the pretence of reading it. This is often an approach taken by those who want to ban books or to express disdain for popular books as a way of establishing their intellectual credentials.