Robinsons Bookshop owner denies fiery internal messages

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A Melbourne bookstore owner under fire for complaining there are not enough books with “just white kids on the cover” has denied previously telling staff that Greens MP Mehreen Faruqi “should be in jail or deported” and that Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu was “racist against white people”.

Susanne Horman, owner of Robinsons Bookshop, flatly denies she wrote the comments attibuted to her in the store’s point-of-sale (POS) system, shown in a series of images circulating online.

“All our staff have access to this program and anyone can write whatever they like on any inventory item — including messages like these and simply add my name,” she said in an email to news.com.au. “These are not my comments. Although we have an idea who might have done it, it is not appropriate to speculate other than to say a person resigned and left yesterday.”

She added Robinsons Bookshop was “still looking at our system to see if we can confirm who did it”.

“Should be in jail or deported. Never selling another copy ever under any circumstances!” reads a note tagged “Sus” on the POS system entry for Ms Faruqi’s 2021 memoir Too Migrant, Too Muslim, Too Loud. There is no suggestion Ms Faruqi has committed any criminal offence.

The $34.99 Allen and Unwin book, which is labelled “DON’T REORDER”, also appears to have had its title manually altered in the system to read Too Migrant, Too Muslim, Too Racist!, one photo shows.

Another “DO NOT REORDER” note attached to Pascoe’s 2014 smash hit Dark Emu — a controversial Indigenous history book that was heavily criticised by academics — reads, “Not stocking anymore. This book is considered to be fiction and is racist against white people.”

Indigenous academic and Voice to Parliament campaigner Marcia Langton’s travel guide Welcome to Country was slapped with a POS note reading, “Not giving more $ to Marcia Langdon (sic) ever,” and on Indigenous business leader Charles Prouse’s On the Voice a note declared, “Not supporting this title.”

Ms Horman has also clashed with employees on stocking children’s titles related to LGBT issues, according to one staff member, who asked to remain anonymous.

A POS note attached to Jessica Love’s 2014 children’s picture book Julian is a Mermaid states, “Gender dysphoria for kids — not supporting this topic in general,” while the note on Maia Kobabe’s 2019 memoir Gender Queer reads, “We are not stocking this book at all.”

Ms Horman reiterated that “these comments are not mine”, adding that “these appeared yesterday” and were sent to Emily Rainsford of the Instagram account coffeebooksandmagic.

Robinsons Bookshop, which has seven locations in Melbourne, faced calls for a boycott after a series of posts by Ms Horman on X last month were highlighted by Ms Rainsford on Sunday.

According to the staff member, Ms Horman also banned staff from decorating stores for pride month after they had “organised to do a massive pride display”.

“Susanne refused,” they said.

“During pride month Susanne sent out an email informing staff that we would not be doing any pride displays, she followed this up by further noting that there was not any pride merch to be on display by any staff members, including pins (or) hair attire. What hurt the most is that a large majority of the booksellers at Robinsons are queer, including myself.”

Ms Horman did not deny this, saying that the store has “a policy not to do displays” even for occasions such as Australia Day or Anzac Day.

The staff member also claimed Ms Horman “specifically ordered in” Johnny the Walrus, a 2022 children’s picture book by conservative US commentator Matt Walsh which compares being transgender to a boy pretending to be a walrus.

“When Susanne was approached by employees who felt uncomfortable stocking such a book, particularly in the children’s section, no response was heard until later when she sent out a staff email that instructed those who didn’t like it to find work elsewhere,” the staff member said.

That memo to staff states that “stocking and displaying books whether you agree with their content or not is what Robinsons staff should be aiming for”.

“The much-discussed Matt Walsh books for example have been deliberately ordered to display an alternative POV, of which there is virtually nothing else available on the market,” it reads.

“We can’t just stock books everyone universally agrees with — otherwise we would have bare shelves. If you have taken these or similar books you don’t personally agree with off display in your store, then immediately put them back where they are supposed to be.”

It adds, “If you feel strongly these should not be displayed at your workplace, then we encourage you to work at another company that is politically active on the causes you want to champion. We do not ‘burn’ or ‘cancel’ books at Robinsons. We are deliberately covering both sides of a debate as part of our brand DNA. Staff are not at liberty to cancel books and if you disagree then you are in the wrong workplace.”

In her December posts on X, which sparked the initial backlash, Ms Horman said what was “missing from our bookshelves” was “positive male lead characters of any age, any traditional nuclear white family stories, kids picture books with just white kids on the cover, and no wheelchair, rainbow or Indigenous art, non-Indigenous Australian history”.

She added, “Books we don’t need — hate against white Australians, socialist agenda, equity over equality, diversity and inclusion (READ AS anti-white exclusion), left-wing govt propaganda. Basically the woke agenda that divides people. Not stocking any of these in 2024.”

She concluded in a follow-up on December 20, “So I am advocating for a substantial shift in the focus of Australian publishers to be in line with public opinion and requests for books and for what is GOOD! We aren’t going to stock books that intend to cause harm and make Australians hate each other.”

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In a statement on Monday, Robinsons Bookshop apologised but said it “would like to clarify the intent of her posts”, stating that “during the last few years, the buying team at Robinsons has noticed most books being released have little variation of themes” and Ms Horman “believes this has caused an opportunity in the market for authors to fill”.

“We apologise if any comments made on social media have upset or offended anyone and would like to reassure customers, authors and publishers that we will continue to stock a diverse range of books,” Ms Horman said in the statement.

“While some genres are overflowing on the shelves, others are noticeably bare. Positive stories with men and boys as the hero are almost missing from the mix. We are not making a value judgement on this observation and apologise if people have taken this comment as a negative reflection on an excellent range of diverse books.

“Robinsons Bookshop believes a good bookshop should offer a range of genres to cater for customer needs and fully encourages, supports and stocks stories from diverse voices. However, mainstream fiction with males or boys as the hero in general, are now all but missing, resulting in very few fiction titles for essentially half the population.

“Robinsons draws no conclusions about the reasons for the shift. It is an observation that there is a gap on our shelves and an opportunity for authors to fill it. We apologise if any comments made on social media have upset or offended anyone and would like to reassure customers, authors and publishers that we will continue to stock a diverse range of books.”

frank.chung@news.com.au

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