Sensitivity readers

Why does the Beano want to cancel itself?

Let’s hear it for the Beano, 85 years old this week. Lucky readers can get a commemorative issue featuring Charles and Camilla, Dua Lipa and Lewis Hamilton. It’s also a chance for those who haven’t read it for decades to register how much it has changed. Lately, the Bash Street Kids welcomed five classmates: Harsha, Mandi, Khadija, Mahira and Stevie Starr. There’s a hijab alongside the stripy shirts and school caps, plus a scientist in a wheelchair. Fatty, the boy who ate all the pies, and Spotty, who had pustules and a long tie, have been renamed Freddy and Scotty to ensure young people who have freckles, weight problems or

The Roald Dahl I knew

In May 1962, I was recuperating from a nasty broken leg – the result of a traffic accident in Paris – at my husband’s aunt Margot and uncle Brian’s enchanting cottage about an hour outside of London in Hertfordshire. The Dulantys’ cottage, called The Fisheries, was built in the 1820s in the village of Chorleywood, in a Constable-like setting on the bank of the River Chess. I spent the first couple of days mostly on a sofa in the living room, overlooking the painterly scene, enhanced by Brian’s peacocks. The three pairs strutted around the property, displaying their gorgeous plumage and screeching as if they were the rightful owners. But on

After Dahl: what the sensitivity readers did next

Sensitivity readers have been busy lately, first rewriting the works of Roald Dahl, and then trimming Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, ostensibly making them less offensive to modern readers. So what will they edit next – and how might they bring it into line with modern mores? Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. MilneA honey-loving bear goes on a macrobiotic diet, and his best friend Eeyore is prescribed anti-depressants. Christopher Robin receives anti-psychotic medication to alleviate the delusion that animals are talking to him. Othello by William ShakespeareA black military commander is tricked into believing that his wife Desdemona has been unfaithful, so they both enter couples’ counselling, and he undergoes anger management

The rise of the ‘sensitivity reader’

You probably won’t have heard about sensitivity readers, but across the pond they are already an essential part of fiction. Sensitivity readers are freelance copy editors who publishers pay to cancel-proof their new books. They read books that feature identities or experiences that are outside of the lived experience of the author. They then critique the writing through the prism of what they claim to be their own authoritative life experience to guide the author toward more authentic representation. For example, the white author Jodi Picoult used a sensitivity reader for her novel about a black nurse who cares for the children of white supremacists. For critics, these individuals are

Oxford, ‘sensitivity readers’ and the trouble with safe spaces

The list of things that students must apparently be protected from grows longer every day. Controversial speakers, rude comedians, sombreros (banned at the University of East Anglia in 2015 because apparently it is racist for non-Mexicans to wear them). And now, their own student newspapers. Yes, the list of terrifying things that might offend students and ever so slightly dent their self-esteem — the horror! — now includes the student press. Officials in the Oxford Student Union are thinking of setting up a Student Consultancy of Sensitivity Readers to check the output of the university’s newspapers and make sure that no ‘insensitive material’ is published. It really is as chilling