New ideas just scare some people, and then they go too far. In 213 BC, Qin Shi Huang presided over the first recorded book burning. He also buried 460 Confucian scholars alive. Then came Adolf Hitler. Under his maddened and genocidal rule of Nazi Germany, openly attended bonfires were lit by the writings of Jewish, liberal and left-wing writers including Karl Marx, all for being “non-German”. The next time former President Donald Trump declares that the media is America’s enemy, jam this thought into your head.
More recently, right here in the United States, banned books are enjoying a resurgence. We now have a week to mark its return, and we also have a new PEN America report on the steadily growing movement to ban books in America.
Things appear to be escalating at a rate that roughly tracks the decline in our public discourse. From July 2021 to June 2022, PEN America’s Index of Textbook Banned Books lists 2,532 instances of banned books, affecting 1,648 unique titles. Most of the titles, though not all, were associated with some change in race or gender or sexual orientation.
At the top of the banner list today are minority and LGBTQ writers. Some authors may surprise you; some you won’t hear unless a kid or grandson brings home a book that makes you look twice. Only a few authors dare to include “sex,” “gay,” or “gender” in the title, but I guess Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer: A Memoir” might catch some attention.
Maia Kobabe: The school banned my book. But queer kids need queer stories.
However, it’s all about context, isn’t it? Of course, elementary school students will not be exposed to such books. But, obviously, a 16-year-old doesn’t need the same level of protection. Some banned books, such as “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which defy reason, contain racial language and are often criticized for presenting a “white savior” in the iconic character of Atticus Finch, the learned lawyer Defending a black man who was falsely accused of rape.
Never mind that Harper Lee’s novel takes place in a small town in Alabama circa 1933-1935. It’s a fact we can abhor, but it’s still a fact: According to Marquette University Law School, there were only four black lawyers in Alabama at the time. I suspect what Lee is trying to convey is that not all white southerners are racist, some are noble, caring and committed to justice.
Among the less controversial categories of books that have been banned recently, we find authors such as Aldous Huxley and George Orwell. Perhaps the censors were concerned that students might recognize their era in Orwell’s “1984” and begin to question their parents’ thinking. Having read a lot of Huxley, I can’t imagine what he did wrong. Another book that is banned in some places is The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. (why, because Every Are the sentences perfect? ) and don’t forget Toni Morrison’s “beloved” because she was realistic about racism that people still living in the 19th century dismissed. However, some have wondered why critical race theory emerged so quickly.
Perhaps the strangest on the PEN list is Wes Moore’s “Discovering Wes Moore,” in which Maryland’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate wrote about meeting another Wes Moore whose life had happened differently than his own. change. The authors realized that their roles could easily be reversed. This is an inspiring read, and so is the author.
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Then again, the Bible was the American Library Association’s 10 Most Challenging Books of 2015 for a reason: “Religious Perspectives.”
Leading the movement to ban books are about 50 groups with about 300 regional affiliates. Most of the banned books are related in some way to legislation or to elected officials trying to incite the population. The states where this odd business is most active include Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Utah and Georgia. In other words, Banned Books is more about political manipulation than children.
I think so. That said, many parents are now understandably worried about what “literature” means. I understand the innocence of wanting to protect children. I also want them to grow up in their own time. To be sure, these issues are complex. But banning books is by no means the answer.
What if I could indulge in memories and offer some advice? My best book recommendation for parents came straight from my dad, circa 1961, when his sixth-grade daughter was obsessed with best-selling novelist Harold Robbins. (Please don’t judge.)
One night, while I was reading “The Carpet Bag,” I overheard my mom say, “Should we let her read it?” And my dad, blessing his open mind, said, “As long as she’s reading, I don’t care. What does she read.”
If I were you, I’d agree, assuming you could separate kids from their screens.