The Book Hive in Norwich has said it is "astounded" by author Susan Hill's claim of anti-Trump bias.
In a piece written for The Spectator, Hill revealed she had cancelled an appearance at a particular bookshop - which she did not name - because of its decision to champion anti-Trump literature and views whilst declining to stock pro-Trump titles. She said that this "bias" was interfering with the rights of customers to "browse and buy whatever they wish" and was a form of censorship that bookshops should “never indulge in”.
The Book Hive in Norwich has now identified itself as the bookshop in question, and hit back at Hill's piece, calling it a "deeply flawed and inaccurate portrayal of the shop".
In a statement published on its Facebook page, the bookshop said the author had not visited the shop and had "claimed we have imposed a 'ban' on books we don't approve of with no evidence to support this at all....It is a deeply flawed and inaccurate portrayal of the shop – to say nothing of unpleasant - and the way we operate."
The Book Hive added: "Not only that, she chose to cancel the event without reason and then publish her reasons in the press - a cancellation which has cost us a not insignificant amount of money in returned ticket prices and wasted advertising."
Shop owner Henry Layte confirmed to The Bookseller that he was not informed of Hill's reason for cancelling. "I had a very basic email from PR at Penguin [Random House] saying she had to cancel 'due to personal reasons' and they were sorry they could not elaborate. Nothing more. Last night (27th February) I asked them if this [objection] was the reason why, and they said yes, and they are sorry I had to find out this way”, he said.
In the piece, Hill said she found fault in what she felt was the bookshop's decision to only stock books by writers who oppose President Trump and also to "give them away free". Although Layte denied that that the shop only stocks anti-Trump writers, he said that the shop did co-operate with a local book club to distribute some dystopian literature for free in solidarity and in light of what is happening in the US.
In an open letter posted on the bookshop's website, Layte said: "[I agreed to partner with the club] because I admire their generosity and their politics chime with mine – but also because to do so was good business. It strengthened ties with parts of the community, admittedly parts who already like us, but plenty of people heard about the scheme on social media and in the press and thought it was great."
The letter added: “As a business, it would be churlish of me not to reflect in much of my stock the prevailing political temperature of the place I am in. Norwich is and always has been a city with a strong sense of radical thought and rebellion, and although I don’t claim to be a ‘radical’ bookshop, I am keenly aware of that fact...In fact, I am not sure that a shop like The Book Hive doesn’t actually have a responsibility to stick its neck out over such matters, if for no other reason than because it is not answerable to a chain of command, it can."
Responding to Hill's argument that the shop has exercised a type of censorship, Layte's open letter argued that the ability of independent bookshops to have discretion in its stock choices, is "precisely what makes independent bookshops the special, loved places that people so vigorously want to defend".
"The point of an independent bookshop is that it creates an identity, fostered by and for the community which it serves, the authors who live near by, the landscape that surrounds it, the trades and professions that flourish there, it’s history, its future, and so, yes, very much, its political persuasion", Layte added." That is what makes a bookshop in Norwich so different from one in Bristol, or Birmingham, or Inverness - that’s the point, otherwise they’d all be… well, a chain. And that is why Ms Hill’s opinion - which she is free to voice, although had she more conviction in them one wonders if she might have told me the reason she was cancelling the event rather than getting her publisher’s PR people to offer the excuse of ‘undisclosed personal reasons’, (PR people it turns out who knew full well the real reason which puts more than a little shame on them) – is such a sham. She has tried to use our fairly innocuous involvement in a local enterprise to give weight to her political views in the press.”
Hill and her publisher, Vintage, have not yet responded to a request for comment.
The Book Hive was recently shortlisted for the British Book Awards’ Independent Bookshop of the Year.