In a short video making its way around the web currently, L. Ron Hubbard's great-grandson Jamie Dewolf tells a dark tale about the author of Dianetics and Scientology's founders. Nothing new is revealed really. But it got me thinking about my regrettable attempt to censor hubbard's books.
I worked a bookstore during my time in college. South Coast Plaza. a shopping mecca. Brentano's. It was a fine time for me. I worked with great people. All smarter than I was. I was exposed to the masters. I read novels, philosophy, poetry, books on science. The German greats. The Russians. The French. American writers. Greek. Italian. Irish. Mexican. Czech. I didn't mess around. I dreamed about having my own books shelved next to Tolstoy. So I'd be damned if any Harlequin romance novels or L. Ron Hubbard's books hit my shelves. There was no way in hell my store was going to expose the world to trash.
As the store's only "receiver," I was in a perfect position to make sure these books never reached the shelves. Nearly all the books in the store during my time there passed through my pompous hands. I worked the days shipments came in. And when the boxes of Harlequin novels arrived, with their red cut-out cardboard box displays included, I'd check them in, tear off the front covers, dump the rest in the trash. Then I'd send back expeditiously the front covers to the publisher to receive credit for the return. I'd do the same with Dianetics. Every time. In they came. Front covers off. Guts in the trash. Front covers to the publisher for credit. No one knew about this. I just made the call. I thought I was in a position to make it. I knew high art and science. And I wanted to protect the world.
Then in walked the store manager while I was tearing and dumping, minding my own business.
"What are you doing?" She said.
"Returning these books," I said. "They're crap. We shouldn’t sell this stuff."
Anger palpable. "Who the hell do you think you are?"
She then explained to me that on the one hand, we could be losing sales. On the other, and more importantly, I can't decide what a person should or shouldn't read. "Censoring Dianetics. God dammit."
Then it occurred to me. The irony. I was actually censoring books and ideas. Two things I held dear. It didn't matter that my principals were at odds with the material. I shouldn't be censoring. It was okay to engage people with differing opinions. To discuss things. But never should I bury them. If I had written a book and the "receiver" in a bookstore decided not to shelve my books near Tolstoy, I would go ballistic.
We then built those hideous cardboard displays for the romance novels, put them on the sales floor, and shelved Dianetics together. I even later sold a few of them. But I sold a lot of great books too.