Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Why We Will Still Host Stephen Jimenez

As you may or may not know, Old Firehouse Books has recently come under fire for our decision to host an event for Stephen Jimenez, author of The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths Behind the Murder of Matthew Shepard. Jimenez's book claims to have uncovered new data about this horrendous crime that the media had previously ignored; these claims often contradict most of the widely held beliefs on the murder. The initial controversy was sparked by a blog from Media Matters that claims to debunk the book entirely. The controversy has increased as a result of a petition posted on by the activist Jamie McGonnigal asking bookstores across America to cancel their events with Jimenez.

As the event coordinator for Old Firehouse Books, I would like to briefly express my personal sentiments on this issue. Freedom of speech is a complex right; one easy to defend when the speech is palatable and familiar. Freedom of speech is most important when it is most difficult for us to uphold. How can we ever expect to strengthen our idelogies unless we ocassionally allow them to be challenged? Stephen Jimenez deserves the chance to his explain his position, and our community deserves the chance to question him. I could go on, but Christopher Finnan, president of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, has explained the situation much more eloquently than I could hope to recreate. I've shared his open letter to McGonnigal below.

If you would be interested in attending the event, whether or not you agree with Jimenez's assertions, we will be hosting him at the Council Tree Library on November 5th at 7pm. Jimenez will be speaking and reading from The Book of Matt, followed by a question and answer period.

-Kelsey Myers, Old Firehouse Books Event Coordinator

                                                                                                                                         October 9, 2013
Jamie McGonnigal

Dear Mr. McGonnigal,
I am writing on behalf of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE). It has been brought to our attention that you have started a petition on urging bookstore owners to cancel appearances by author Stephen Jimenez for his book, The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard. ABFFE believes that your petition demonstrates a poor understanding of bookselling and has the potential to stifle discussion of a significant historical event.
Bookstores that provide a public forum for controversial authors often become the target of protests. While most critics would not go so far as to advocate banning the offending works, some draw the line at allowing the authors to read from their books and answer questions. Like them, you allege in your petition that booksellers who host these events "are in it only for the book sales.”
But bookstores are not like other stores. Because books contain ideas, bookstores play an integral part in the process by which ideas are disseminated and debated. Debate is essential in a free society, and we take seriously our responsibility to offer access to ideas, including those that we might personally oppose. We do this in a variety of ways–by suggesting titles to customers who are looking for books about particular subjects, recommending books to reading groups and announcing new releases in our newsletters. Hosting authors for readings and autographing is an important part of the process. It gives customers a chance to ask questions and even to disagree. We are not primarily doing a favor for the author, who may, after all, fall flat on his face. We are providing our customers with an opportunity to make up their own minds.
The most mistaken notion about author appearances is that providing a forum for controversial authors always "sells books.” Controversial ideas inevitably alienate some people, and when those people include some of our customers, we can lose business. While we do not wish to offend anyone, we cannot allow a minority to censor either the books we sell or the authors we host.
We believe that you have a right to your opinion. But the appropriate response to Mr. Jimenez’s book is to refute his argument, not to deny him the opportunity to speak in bookstores.

                                                                                                                      Sincerely yours,
                                                                                                                      Christopher Finan
                                                                                                                      ABFFE President

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