Michael Gove and his wife Sarah Vine have come under fire this week for a sneak peek at their bookshelf. If you’d like to read for yourself, here is the link: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/05/04/michael-gove-draws-fire-owning-book-holocaust-denier-david-irving/. I felt compelled to write about this after hearing this story. The reason for their criticism is some of the books they possess. Upon their bookshelf was the controversial book The Bell Curve, a book renowned for its racism, and another book by a Holocaust denier. This question has arisen from the news story: What do your bookshelves look like and what do they say about your character? Are your books a reflection of you?
I find it to be quite outrageous that anyone would make a comment on a person’s character because of something that’s on their bookshelf. Sarah Vine has been criticised for owning such controversial books, but just because a person owns a certain content, does that mean it's something they support? I own an extensive selection of deeply disturbing films, but that doesn't mean I'm intending to go out and murder someone. Many of the books I own are books that I am using for research, but more importantly, I think that the wider your selection of books, the more extensive and inclusive your empathy. Knowledge leads to compassion. If I can’t understand someone’s ideas, I will read about them, so as to better understand them and perhaps treat that person with a compassion that I struggled initially to extend. I find there is usually rhyme and reason to madness, even when the topic is extremely radical, there is usually something to be learned about the way in which a person ticks. I identify as a Christian, yet my bookshelves are lined with books about atheism, the Qur’an, books on Buddhism and Hinduism, to name a few. I want to learn about things that aren’t what I know. I want to know why someone’s passion lies where it lies, whether or not I agree with it. And so, I think one's bookshelf indicates nothing about their personality except that they want to understand more of the world, the positive and the negative.
I'd like to add that my standing on both Michael Gove and Sarah Vine are irrelevant to this topic and I wish only to address the question objectively.
Let me know in the comments whether you agree that a person is reflected in their literature.