Cultural advisors or literary censorship? The rise of “sensitive readers” in question


Initially confined to the realm of children’s books, the “reviewers in sensitivity” fever spread to the Anglo-Saxon publishing world. While living authors are divided over their turn, deceased writers like Roald Dahl and Ian Fleming weren’t spared either.

Behind-the-scenes proofreaders whose work and recommendations sometimes lead to heated debates. Existing for several years already in the Anglo-Saxon literary world, and “sensitive readers” pointing out cultural contradictions, inappropriate stereotypes, and eliminating, in the manuscripts entrusted to them, the slightest passages likely to offend contemporary sensibilities. Validated by some authors when others, desiring to be in tune with the times, consider their work welcome, these new-type reviewers have long been confined to children’s literature. This is no longer the case.

The profession was spoken of again on the occasion of the publication of revised and corrected editions of his books Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ) And the’Ian Fleming (James Bond ). The prose of these two authors in the middle of the twentieth centuryH The horn has been modified to be more suitable for current sensitivities. In Roald Dahl, Characters for example are no longer “huge” or “crazy” ; while in Ian Fleming, The changes relate to the depiction of black characters considered racist. Accusations of censorship erupted immediately among those who say they fear sterile literature, gentrifying both past and present.

The search for originality

Who are they “sensitive readers” ? Most of them are self-employed, often (few) paid by word or page count by writers or publishers interested in accurate descriptions in their texts. Or, as critics of the practice accuse, of avoiding the dire consequences of a potential social media storm at all costs if something goes wrong. Correctors have different specializations according to their origins, religion or experience: “children of immigrants”And “bisexual”And “lonely”And “veiled”And “deaf”And “An expert on Chinese culture and Hong Kong.”

I don’t think our critics understand the processDefended AFP Patrice Williams Marks, Sensitivity ReaderBased in Los Angeles. “If you’re writing about a demographic or community that you don’t know very well and you want it to be authentic, you’re looking for a domain Allergy reader Who is part of this community and you ask his opinion.” Lola Isabel Gonzalez, another proofreader also based in Los Angeles, adds:I always point out to the authors that they are under no obligation to accept the changes I propose“.

If you judge thatThere are good reasons to regulate children’s reading., British educator and author Cate Clanchy is more careful when it comes to adults. these They are able to leave a book if it bothers them.argued last year the person whose memoirs were subjected to “readers»After its publication, to accuse it of racism and legalism – that is, discrimination against it disabled people.

Constant worry about hurting other people’s feelings inhibits spontaneity and stifles creativity.

Lionel Shriver, American writer

For the American writer Lionel Shriver (We need to talk about Kevin), one of their harshest criticisms, the reviewers are neither more nor less than A “Allergy Police”. gold Constant worry about hurting other people’s feelings inhibits spontaneity and stifles creativity. Literary, criticized in guardian In 2017. Publishers “Do a very good job, trying to spoil our books and our enjoyment as readers”she exclaimed again last month on the ultra-conservative British channel GB News. In France, a country very resistant to this kind of proofreading, the essayist Raphael Einthoven I denounced in 2020 this “Modern censorshipas it goes The vanguard of an identity epidemic.

obstetric effect

But in the name of originality and the fight against racism, writers prefer these revisionists. This is the case of the American Adele Holmes, who initiated Patrice Williams Marks in her first book (winter account2022). The latter has identified, as she explains to AFP, “Points Concerning White Privilege and the Role of White Saviors”. and, more realistically, to the character of a black woman who is described as having hair “silky”I suggested he use the word instead “curly” to stick to reality.

Adele Holmes thinks the auditor has it “helped a lot”. As for the criticism, she says she believes it comes from people who feel that way “threatening” By minority claims, in the publishing world known to be predominantly white.

For Lola Isabel Gonzalez, the rise of sensitive reviewers reflects the evolution of a part of society. “I don’t think I could have done this job at another time.”says this corrector, elated that Gen Z Facts established facts. “The younger generations understand the importance of sensitive proofreading”when “Older generations may find it hard to see it as a cultural progression.”she believes.



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