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Organized Efforts at Book Banning Are On the Rise

If I believed in hell, people who ban books would occupy a very special place in it. They’d have to sit at bar stools in replicas of the gayest gay bars, reciting Howl over and over again, while devilish bartenders endlessly pump out boiling liquid shit into steaming mugs and force those righteous bastards to drink it.

The school district my mother teaches in recently found itself the target of an attempted book banning. Luckily, the school district showed a little backbone, to the relief of my mother and all her colleagues–not to mention the students. The book stayed.

But my mother’s school district was an exception. She happens to teach in a pretty educated, fairly liberal community, which was a big help when it came time to defend the book. The community was outraged. But many communities are not.  Many school districts are targets of book banners and, intimidated, end up removing the book entirely. And apparently, the organized efforts to ban books are getting more frequent. Like the tea partiers, these outraged people are finding each other and putting real people power into what used to be little more than one angry parent or two.

This is scary. Not only is it scary on the most basic, fundamental level–that of freedom of speech–but it’s also scary on an intellectual freedom issue. It’s scary for young adult writers–some of the most frequent targets of book banners–who want to write about controversial, important issues or in an honest way about sex, or drugs, or religion. It’s scary, in light of all the other scary stuff going on politically today, that a nation founded in the flowering of the Enlightenment has a not insignificant populace that essentially agrees that censorship is really just fine, that stands up and says, “My kid can’t read this and neither can yours,” that then heads to a political caucus and  screams about defending our Constitution.

And it’s scariest of all, as Professor John in the article suggests, that many library books simply disappear from circulation, and no one knows or notices. This is way our freedom ends. Not with a bang, but with a box being packed. And another book is gone.

Amber Sparks's work has been featured or is forthcoming in various places, including New York Tyrant, Unsaid, Gargoyle, Annalemma and PANK. She is also the fiction editor at Emprise Review, and lives in Washington, DC with a husband and two beasts.

10 thoughts on “Organized Efforts at Book Banning Are On the Rise

  1. these kinds of bannings dont bother me as much as it seems to some people. i just dont see it as a violation of rights as much as parents wanting to be parents, and im kind of fine with that. public schools are an aspect of parent’s children’s lives that parents dont control and yet they are still responsible for what their children do at 18 and under. when its w/r/t school libraries, its just kids, big deal, we ban things from kids all the time, give movies rated R ratings, etc. ban a book from a public library i’ll get out the grenades.

    1. Yeah but the whole point is the parents make the decision for their kid, not for all kids. If the parents don’t want their kid to read the book, fine. Schools are usually more than happy to let the kid opt out and do an alternative book. The point is, the parents don’t also say MY kid can’t read the book.

      Sent from my iPhone

      1. no one is saying your kid cant read the book. just that you have to get the book somewhere else. i think that in a zone where children are unsupervised by their parents, it is more concerning what they have access to than what they dont. its more important for a parent to have the ability to disallow than to allow. one parent gets to disallow their child reading a certain book at the expense of a different parent, if they are so intent on allowing their child to read that book, just getting it somewhere else. The balance is tipped in favor of the former, imo.

        regardless, my general point here is that the debate is not a grand issue of human rights and freedom of speech and people going hell, the way liberals blow the issue up into. its just parents stepping over each other who want the right to raise their children the way they want to.

        1. You’d be more in favor of someone limiting freedoms than expanding them? That’s kind of messed up, IMO. Freedom isn’t limited to adults, by the way–they’re been lots of first amendment cases involving student’ speech and expression in school. It’s not just “liberals” who champion free speech, either. Libertarians are pretty big on the subject, too.

          I certainly feel differently. I am more in favor of expanding freedom than limiting it. I see that as the point of the Constitution. We allow horrific speech sometimes–Nazis, etc–in order not to limit speech.

          1. ‘You’d be more in favor of someone limiting freedoms than expanding them?’

            basically, yes. i’m universally in favor of limiting all freedoms to everyone. i hate freedom.

            1. oof. im being mean here, sorry. i dont hate you amber, i think you are an awesome human being and writer. just that ive argued this debate a lot and cant seem to get anyone to see things like me. oh well.

              1. Oh, no worries. I didn’t think you were being mean at all. Just sarcastic. Which is not the same. I actually do think I get where you’re coming from. I’m in politics–so I’m used to arguing. I kind of enjoy it. Got a thick skin. :) And thanks for the nice words, too, dude.

                Sent from my iPhone

        2. The only reason I disagree with you, darby, isn’t because I think children/teenagers can’t access banned books somewhere else and it isn’t because I think a parent possessing the ability to object is unimportant. I disagree with your “not a big deal” stance on banned books because the vast majority of the most contested books in the US are because the books in question grapple with sexuality or religion. Particularly when it comes to sexuality, I find the meaning behind the book being absent far more enraging than the absence itself.

          When we allow this to happen, it’s like we’re telling students that this subject is somehow unacceptable. We’re telling students it’s not right to think about it, it’s not right to learn about it, it’s not right to discuss it. That’s blatant silencing. When I was in high school I was in the closet and all the outcries against books with queer characters in them definitely felt like a personal attack. I stayed in the closet throughout high school (and halfway through college) for multiple reasons, and attacks (symbolic or otherwise) like that confirmed those reasons. It was the meaning behind the absence that hurt (still hurts), not the absence itself.

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