“The books that the world calls immoral
are the books that show the world its own shame.”
“There are worse crimes than burning books.
One of them is not reading them.”
The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) “documented 1,269 demands to censor library books and resources in 2022, the highest number of attempted book bans since ALA began compiling data about censorship in libraries more than 20 years ago. The unparalleled number of reported book challenges in 2022 nearly doubles the 729 book challenges reported in 2021.”
I have never understood the urge to ban books, especially in the modern age of all information being available online, but I’ve interviewed people who have advocated for banning books in their school districts and communities in an effort to understand their perspectives. There were enough people wanting to censor books that I felt there had to be something reasonable behind their efforts, something that I just couldn’t see or understand given my own views of the world. But, the more I talked to people who felt and acted on this urge, the less I understood their perspectives.
Most of the people who push to ban books have not read the books they are seeking to ban. One woman I spoke with last year indignantly told me that she “didn’t want to dirty her brain by reading the filth.” I asked her how she knew it was filth if she hadn’t read it. She ignored my question and told me how children deserved to be safe in their schools and libraries from books that corrupted their young minds. So I asked her about books on Kindle, and she told me that she wasn’t talking about Kindle, she was talking about books.
I really tried to find people who could articulate reasonable arguments for banning books, but my efforts did not yield much success. (If any of you have materials with reasonable arguments, please do send them to me.)
As unfounded as I’ve found the arguments for banning books, I have stayed curious about some people’s need to censor access to information that didn’t comport with their worldviews.
My curiosity officially ended this week when I learned that an illustrated children’s book, Read Me a Story Stella, had been flagged for banning in an Alabama library for “sexually explicit” content. Sexually explicit content in an illustrated children’s book? My curiosity led me to dig a little deeper, and I discovered that there was absolutely no sexual content in this children’s book. This book wasn’t flagged by anyone who had read the book; Read Me a Story Stella had been flagged for a ban because the author’s name was Marie-Louise Gay. The author’s last name — Gay — triggered an automatic flag to censor the children’s book.
Ironically, the book is about a girl who loves to read books and teach her little brother everything she learns from the books she reads. A book about a girl who loves to read books is flagged for banning because the author’s last name is Gay.
As a researcher who strives to be inclusive of perspectives that I don’t understand or with which I disagree, I rely on my curiosity to keep me open-minded. But even the most curious of minds cannot withstand the absurdity of what book banning has become.
I am no longer curious about book banning. Instead, I am more curious than ever to read every book that has landed on any banned list.
You can get more information on banned books on the PEN AMERICA website. Escape the absurdity of book banning by picking a book from their list and reading it.