Banned BookTok Author Paul Castle Faces Controversy as Bookstore Owner Questions His Authenticity

The latest BookTok drama revolves around an alleged “banned” book and a bookshop owner’s skepticism.

Jamie Lerner - Author

Jun. 25 2024, Published 12:00 p.m. ET

Being a creator and owning a small business in 2024 is no easy feat. Between high competition, high taxes, and low margins, any entrepreneur has plenty of obstacles to overcome. But Paul Castle faced an even greater obstacle when he learned at 16 years old that he’d be going blind, thanks to a diagnosis of retinitis pigmentosa.

Even still, he met the love of his life, Matthew, and together, they’ve created a TikTok brand of the hilarious lovable creators that they are, known simply as Matthew and Paul.

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But in June 2024, Paul shared that an order of his children’s book, The Secret Ingredient, had been sent back from a bookstore. He assumed it was returned because of the very appropriate LGBTQ+ content, but Good Neighboor Bookstore owner Bob Lingle had some doubts about the truth of the story, creating some good old-fashioned BookTok drama. So what’s the controversy over Matthew and Paul’s book?

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Paul Castle shared the book drama that ‘The Secret Ingredient’ was “banned” from a bookstore.

In a video first shared on June 21, 2024, with over 10 million views, Paul shared how he got the devastating news that an order for 100 copies of The Secret Ingredient was returned to him. In an email read through a voice reader (because Paul is legally blind), we heard together, “I’m writing with some unfortunate news. It seems the person who placed the order for your books wasn’t entirely up to speed on our policies and we have returned the boxes to you."

“Please see the tracking number below,” the voice continued, emotionless. “While I think your book is very charming, it’s just not something we can carry in our store at this time. I hope you understand. If you could process a refund once you receive the boxes it would be greatly appreciated. We’ve taken care of the shipping cost. Be well, Tanya.”

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Paul immediately broke down into tears as he shared, “There’s a bookstore that contacted me and they wanted to carry my book,” without naming names. “They ordered two boxes, so it’s like 100 books, and I was really excited because that’s just like an author’s dream to have their book in a bookstore.”

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He explained that the book is about two male penguins who deliver cakes to different birthday parties with all sorts of different family structures — two moms, two dads — and then they adopt their own baby at the end. Paul wrote and illustrated the book himself and shares how people can buy the book, which led other BookTokers to question Paul’s authenticity.

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Bookstore owner Bob Lingle stirred controversy by questioning Paul’s story.

In his own response video, Bob Lingle, who owns a bookstore called Good Neighbor Bookstore in upstate New York, shared his skepticism about Paul’s story. Bob, who has worked in bookstores for over 15 years, began by saying that authors need to be careful about using certain words, as words matter. “One story opting to not carry a book does not mean that book is banned,” Bob explained. “Using that word, ‘banned,’ to give your book more power, I don’t like it.”

According to the Free Speech Center, however, a book is officially considered “banned” when “private individuals, government officials or organizations remove books from libraries, school reading lists or bookstore shelves because they object to their content, ideas, or themes.” If Paul’s book was sent back because of its content, which isn’t explicitly stated, it would be “banned” even though it’s just because of a private individual, so Bob isn’t quite right there.

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Even still, Bob may have more knowledge when it comes to the fact that bookstores don’t usually order 100 books. Several commenters agreed that in their experience, the highest order for self-published authors tends to be in the 5-10 books range, rather than the 50-100 books. But Paul has over 2 million followers on TikTok — it’s possible that BookTok has changed how bookstores make their orders.

Regardless of the credence behind Paul’s story or Bob’s controversial opinion, The Secret Ingredient has since sold out thanks to Paul’s viral video. Followers throughout the United States have ordered his book individually and to bookstores, and Paul’s marketing of it as a “banned book” has likely boosted sales for stores that want to support marginalized voices.

While some agreed they feel tricked by Paul’s video, we prefer to see the best in others rather than assume the worst.

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