NICK COHEN, a British journalist and author, is a polemicist. His views have swung from the left to the right and back again over his 30-year career, but his arguments are often punchy and persuasive. In â€œYou Canâ€™t Read This Bookâ€ (Fourth Estate), his sixth book, he argues that we are living in an unprecedented age of censorship, coerced by violence, religion and money.
The book opens in 1989 at the end of the cold war, a time when many believed that liberal democracy would spread and freedom of speech would flourish. It was also the year that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa on Salman Rushdie, for his supposedly blasphemous book, â€œThe Satanic Versesâ€.Â Mr Cohen uses the Rushdie fiasco as a springboard to discuss censorship, and the correlation between Islamic fundamentalism and the suppression of free thinking in the West, both in society and online. His argument borrows heavily from the works of writers such as George Orwell, John Milton and John Stuart Millâ€”especially Millâ€™s principle that censorship should only be applied in extreme circumstances.
Possible hosts for Bravoâ€™s Americaâ€™s Next Top Novelist? Dream hires for the Iowa Writersâ€™ Workshop?
Nope â€” just the â€œMurdererâ€™s Rowâ€ of advance blurbers featured on the back of Nathan Englanderâ€™s new effort, What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank. And what an effort it must be: â€œUtterly haunting. Like Faulkner [Russo] it tells the tangled truth of life [Chabon], and you can hear Englanderâ€™s heart thumping feverishly on every page [Eggers].â€
As I marvel at the work of Knopfâ€™s publicity department, I canâ€™t help but feel a little ill. And put off. Who cares? Shouldnâ€™t the back of a book just have a short summary? Isnâ€™t this undignified? But answering these questions responsibly demands more than the reflexive rage of an offended aesthete (Nobody cares! Yes! Yes!). It demands, I think, the level-headed perspective of a blurb-historianâ€¦