Chances are you’ve read a banned book. Take, for example, the Bible, the best-selling book of all time, estimated to be between five and seven billion copies, with annual sales of well over $400 million. Some 52 countries, including most Muslim countries, China, and North Korea, either ban it completely or heavily restrict it. More on the Bible below.
Books have been banned in the United States from the 18th century to the present. Most recently, a school board in Tennessee unanimously removed the graphic novel, “Maus,” from its eighth-grade curriculum. The book by Art Spiegelman tells the true story of his parents who survived the Holocaust in the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. Spiegelman drew mice as Jewish prisoners and cats as their Nazi oppressors. In 1992, it was the first and only graphic novel to win the Pulitzer Prize.
Other school districts and some states have banned books that address race, sex, and LGBTQ issues.
Late last year, a school board in Virginia removed books from school libraries they deem “sexually explicit.” One of them, by Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright Adam Rapp, tells the story of a group of runaway teenagers abused by adults. Titled “33 Snowfish,” in 2004, it was named among the top 10 books for young adults by the Young Adult Library Services Association.
In late 2020, a York County, Pennsylvania school board voted to ban books, films, and articles that tell stories from the perspective of gay, Black, and Latino children. According to the New York Times, the ban “included children’s books like ‘A Boy Called Bat,’ about a third grader with autism, ‘I Am Rosa Parks,’ and ‘Cece Loves Science,’ about a curious girl who loves experiments.” After a massive student protest, the board last September temporarily removed the ban.
Texas authorities have argued that “parents must take back their schools” to protect their children from divisiveness and lowered self-esteem, that students should not feel guilty about the nation’s history of slavery and racism.
A Texas legislator, Matt Krause recently listed 850 books he thought were suspect. These books, he said, include content covering “human sexuality, sexually transmitted diseases, or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), sexually explicit images, graphic presentations of sexual behavior that is in violation of the law, or contain material that might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of
psychological distress because of their race or sex or convey that a student, by virtue of their race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.” One wonders, did he read all 850?
Included on the list is the Vineyard’s own William Styron whose “The Confessions of Nat Turner” won the 1967 Pulitzer Prize. The book tells the first-person story of an 1831 Virginia slave revolt.
Krause’s list is presumed to be linked to an anti-critical race theory bill in the Texas House of Representatives banning teaching materials that mirror Krause’s own words: they may make “an individual . . . feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual’s race or sex.” No school district teaches critical race theory, a concept debated largely in the upper reaches of law schools. But schools have long taught the history of slavery, Jim Crow segregation by law, and lynching in America, which has led to a ban on Michelle Alexander’s enormously rich history of “The New Jim Crow.” And, yes, it’s on Krause’s list.
Back to the Bible. How closely do people read it beyond its religious and ethical teachings? According to the Huffington Post, the stories recount incidents of “incest, rape, child abuse and sacrifice, adultery, genocides, virgins as spoils of war.” Should it be banned in Texas too? Or Virginia or Pennsylvania or anywhere else that parents or school officials believe their children may be harmed by reading a classic work containing such themes?
The fact is that many children will always have access to banned books. All they have to do is turn on their cell phones and they have them. This leads to the larger question: what is the best way to teach our children about those aspects of their lives they will need to know to be strong, responsible, thinking adults? Surely, book bans are not the answer.
Jack Fruchtman, who lives in Aquinnah, has written seven books, none of which has been banned.