The Death of Literature: Sensitivity Readers


Washington Post:

Before a book is published and released to the public, it’s passed through the hands (and eyes) of many people: an author’s friends and family, an agent and, of course, an editor.

An insensitive writer.

These days, though, a book may get an additional check from an unusual source: a sensitivity reader, a person who, for a nominal fee, will scan the book for racist, sexist or otherwise offensive content. These readers give feedback based on self-ascribed areas of expertise such as “dealing with terminal illness,” “racial dynamics in Muslim communities within families” or “transgender issues.”

Which is to say, we can now run our books through editors and sensitivity editors, to ensure that no culturally insensitive things are said. No inappropriate content will be allowed. Publishing houses will naturally want to make sure the next book by an author…let’s call him Sam…will be free of offensive stereotypes:

There was a free n…… there from Ohio—a mulatter, most as white as a white man. He had the whitest shirt on you ever see, too, and the shiniest hat; and there ain’t a man in that town that’s got as fine clothes as what he had; and he had a gold watch and chain, and a silver-headed cane—the awful- est old gray-headed nabob in the State. And what do you think? They said he was a p’fessor in a college, and could talk all kinds of languages, and knowed everything. And that ain’t the wust. They said he could VOTE when he was at home. Well, that let me out. Thinks I, what is the country a-coming to? It was ‘lection day, and I was just about to go and vote myself if I warn’t too drunk to get there; but when they told me there was a State in this country where they’d let that n….. vote, I drawed out. I says I’ll never vote agin. [I chose not to use an offensive word, simple because I have different standards, and write for a different purpose than Sam Clemens. — Dave]

Huckleberry Finn, Chapter 6

NPR ran a story on this trend this morning on Morning Edition. That might tell something about how news works. Washington Post publishes, NPR jumps in.

I do notice that the lede sentence on NPR resembles the Washington Post paragraphs above. Not plagiarism, just laziness.

The NPR piece mentions the work of a children’s book sensitivity reader. I’d hate to think of the trouble they are already causing, sanitizing books before they’re published, and making kid’s literature boring.  

What a stupid idea. I don’t care if that sentence was insensitive. Stupid.

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One thought on “The Death of Literature: Sensitivity Readers

  1. onwyrdsdream

    I’ve heard that Ray Bradbury was none too pleased when he learned a publishing house behind Fahrenheit 451 had on its own been removing the light salting of profanity in that book contained. Which more or less missed the entire point of the book.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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