In Praise of Book Bans
There’s a lot of it going on. Parents are appearing to speak at school board meetings, reciting the naughtiest bits from objectionable books. I’m so old it reminds me of the Starr Report’s obsession with the gamiest details of Bill Clinton’s explorations of Monica Lewinsky. (Check the footnotes.)
I don’t mean to go out on a limb here, but kids ought to learn to read. The best way to do that is . . . to read. And read. But your ability – anybody’s ability – to force someone to read is limited. Reading anything, including trash, is better than staring at a cell phone or watching cartoons on TV.
The craziest thing about this ridiculous controversy is the notion that someone seeking cheap thrills would crack open a book. Have those worried about “dirty books” never heard of this thing called . . . the Internet? Where any perversity involving animal, vegetable, or mineral is available without charge in lurid moving pictures? Where any smartphone can display video of things even this old goat would flinch from referring to in any detail?
If I was a teacher or librarian, I would not assign so-called “Young Adult Novels.” I’m so old-fashioned I won’t read graphic novels either, even those reputed to be masterpieces in that genre. For me, there just isn’t enough going on to rival a good book. I used to devour comic books in the town barber shop, but that was when I was eleven years old.
What are some good books, by my lights?
In the past few years I’ve read “Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America,” by Kahlil Gibran Muhammed; “Black Reconstruction in America,” by W.E.B. Dubois, and “The Nickel Boys” by Colson Whitehead. These are works of sociology, history, and fiction, respectively. I can’t recommend them enough. I bought a second copy of the first one for my daughter, to encourage her to read it.
One of the benefits of representative democracy is that I don’t need to become immersed in the details of public school instruction. I can vote for others to manage the enterprise. They won’t always do what I would do but 1) they are supposed to be expert in the task, unlike myself, and 2) it saves me a lot of time for other pursuits.
My right to vote is under assault by others trying to interfere in the management public education. One of their bright ideas is to require paperwork for the assignment of particular books. Talk about excess bureaucracy. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen video interviews of people who are agitating against Critical Race Theory. When asked what it is, they’re at a loss to answer.
As the Education Week reports in the story linked above, this is not just a problem in the benighted deep south. Right here in Virginia, a person named to lead a school board suggested that objectionable books be burned. In Madison County, just ninety minutes’ drive from Loudoun, books by Toni Morrison, Anne Rice, and Stephen King were banned. My favorite examples of banned books come by way of Duval County, Florida: banned are “Roberto Clemente: The Pride of the Pittsburgh Pirates" and “Dim Sum For Everyone.”
These decisions prove the people behind the move have to be people who don’t read books. They have a right to their ill-informed opinions, and I have a right to call them ignoramuses. In a democracy, the power to make such decisions is decided by vote.
Another abrogation of your right to vote can be seen here in cases where elected officials are subject to further assaults on their tenure in office, in the form of recall efforts. In other words, when the MAGA people lose elections, they want do-overs. Sound familiar? Incidentally and by contrast, one of the tenets of democratic socialism is that when you lose an election, you retire to lick your wounds and live to fight another day. Who are the real enemies of democracy here?
So why in praise of book bans? As I’ve tried to make clear, I want kids to read. For anyone not frozen in a block of ice, it should be obvious that the best way to get kids to read a book is to tell them not to read it. Any moderately resourceful, competent person can get hold of a banned book. Bookstores are setting up special tables for them. The New York City Public Library makes it easy.
For those who lack the curiosity, desire, and initiative to find a banned book, banning it probably makes no difference for them. More’s the pity.
Help me fight this with a donation to my campaign for the Virginia state legislature.
Clemente would have been okay if he’d played for the Braves? Or maybe it was “pride”. Gotta be gay to have pride?