Banning Books … What’s Next … Burning Books?

The book Maus by Art Spiegelman won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992, the first graphic novel to win the Pulitzer.  According to Amazon …

The first installment of the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel acclaimed as “the most affecting and successful narrative ever done about the Holocaust” (Wall Street Journal) and “the first masterpiece in comic book history” (The New Yorker).

A brutally moving work of art—widely hailed as the greatest graphic novel ever written—Maus recounts the chilling experiences of the author’s father during the Holocaust, with Jews drawn as wide-eyed mice and Nazis as menacing cats.

Maus is a haunting tale within a tale, weaving the author’s account of his tortured relationship with his aging father into an astonishing retelling of one of history’s most unspeakable tragedies. It is an unforgettable story of survival and a disarming look at the legacy of trauma.

This week, a Tennessee school board voted to ban Maus.  Says Spiegelman …

“It’s part of a continuum, and just a harbinger of things to come. The control of people’s thoughts is essential to all of this.”

Sound rather Orwellian?  Well, guess what … George Orwell’s most famous novel, 1984, has been banned repeatedly in many places in the U.S. along with other classics such as The Great Gatsby, Huckleberry Finn, and a host of others.

Schools and libraries that have banned books are essentially depriving young people of the opportunity to learn, to become functional adults who understand both what is right and what is wrong with the world we live in.  The latest trend in education seems to be to whitewash history or teach a revisionist version of history and this is just WRONG!  We are told that it is wrong to teach something that might make students feel ‘uncomfortable.’  Bullshit!  Life can sometimes be very uncomfortable, but we cannot simply don our rose-coloured glasses and turn a blind eye to such things as racism, police brutality, an over-reaching government, or the darker periods in history such as the Holocaust, slavery, Jim Crow, and more.  Reality is … you cannot bury the past and expect future generations to understand what NOT to do!

After reading about the decision to ban Maus, I started digging a bit to see what other books have been banned and … my jaw dropped all the way to the floor!  A few examples …

Toni Morrison’s Beloved … Set after the American Civil War, it tells the story of a family of former slaves whose Cincinnati home is haunted by a malevolent spirit. Beloved is inspired by an event that actually happened: Margaret Garner, an enslaved person in Kentucky, who escaped and fled to the free state of Ohio in 1856. She was subject to capture in accordance with the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850; when U.S. marshals burst into the cabin where Garner and her husband had barricaded themselves, she was attempting to kill her children, and had already killed her two-year-old daughter, to spare them from being returned to slavery.  Beloved has been banned from at least five U.S. schools.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker appears on the American Library Association list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2000–2009 at number 17th.  Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, The Color Purple is a powerful cultural touchstone of modern American literature, depicting the lives of African American women in early twentieth-century rural Georgia. Separated as girls, sisters Celie and Nettie sustain their loyalty to and hope in each other across time, distance and silence. Through a series of letters spanning twenty years, first from Celie to God, then the sisters to each other despite the unknown, The Color Purple broke the silence around domestic and sexual abuse, narrating the lives of women through their pain and struggle, companionship and growth, resilience and bravery.

Their Eyes Were Watching God, a 1937 novel by American writer Zora Neale Hurston, is considered a classic of the Harlem Renaissance, and Hurston’s best known work. The novel explores main character Janie Crawford’s “ripening from a vibrant, but voiceless, teenage girl into a woman with her finger on the trigger of her own destiny”. Set in central and southern Florida in the early 20th century, the novel was initially poorly received. Since the late 20th century, it has been regarded as influential to both African-American literature and women’s literature. TIME included the novel in its 2005 list of the 100 best English-language novels published since 1923.

That classic tale by Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird, was once banned in Mississippi schools because one parent reported that “her son was uncomfortable with the N-word.”  Reality, my friends, is often harsh, but we must learn from it!  How are we to improve, become better people than our ancestors were, if we hide the truth, turn a blind eye to the past?

And the list goes on … and on … and on.

Last year, a group in Tennessee calling themselves “Moms for Liberty” demanded that lessons about Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ruby Bridges be cut for being divisive, lessons about civil rights crackdowns be cut for “negative views of firemen and police,” and even took issue with a book about … seahorses, claiming that the seahorses were shown being ‘sexy’!  For the love of Pete, where are these damn fools coming from???

Now, I could understand if schools were banning something along the lines of how-to sex manuals or tips for getting away with murder, but the books being banned are those that teach the valuable lessons of history, both in this country and others.  Our young people MUST learn about our past, must learn what we did right as well as what we did wrong, otherwise in no way will they be prepared to enter the world of adulthood, the real world!

Banning books … there is nothing to justify it and it is eerily reminiscent of times and places that led to horrible outcomes.  Are we destined to keep repeating the same history, the same mistakes, over and over until the human species finally obliterates itself?  Think about it.

Note to Readers:  Just as I finished editing and scheduling this post, I saw a post by John Pavlovitz along these lines and he says it better than I, so if you have a minute, drop in and read his view, too!

Another Note to Readers:  Annie over at AnnieAsksYou also wrote on this topic today and I think you’ll find much of her information to be surprising and enlightening!  Thank you, Annie!

37 thoughts on “Banning Books … What’s Next … Burning Books?

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  3. Jill, as always, a great post. Our local library was recently taken in front of our county commissioners regarding a library display of LGBQT literature during PRIDE month that many “locals” (read idiots) found offensive. It did not promote any lifestyle, did not describe any acts or behavior. It was merely informational. The county meeting, described as raucous and inflammatory, ended with the library being vindicated. But it truly scares me that so many of my neighbors (remembering Citrus County is solidly trump territory) are so ill-informed. A few years ago we made international news when our commissioners nixed the library’s request to subscribe to the NYT online stating that the citizens did not need to be exposed to that kind of reporting. Had I resources and could I convince my partner, I would in a heartbeat move back north where rational folks live.

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    • Thanks, Larry! That is awful … that the library would be called into question for observing PRIDE month!!! What next? Will they be called up again for observing Black History Month this month? People are so damn paranoid, so close-minded, so sure that there ‘way’ is the only ‘right way’. It sickens and disgusts me. I don’t blame you one bit for wanting to get out of the deep south! I’ve sworn I will never again travel south of the Mason-Dixon line! But, be advised, there are a large number of bigoted racists and homophobes up here in the north, too!

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  5. Jill, you do have a way with words! It would appear that more than a few of the books on my shelves would be considered taboo were I a resident of several states in the country. Such as “The Complete Maus : A Survivor’s Tale” which is the 1996 hardcover reprint and is being saved for a little mister…and on and on the list would grow. One must wonder if these books will, at some point in the future, be forbidden to be sold in certain parts of the country!?! The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank had an excellent opinion column yesterday on this topic “Current weather : A blizzard of snowflakes in the red states”. WHAK!! Thank-you!

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    • Thank you, dear Ellen!!! Like you, I have read many of the books that are being banned today in one place or another and I think that to deny our children the lessons of history, to whitewash history and paint only a sunny portrait of our past is nothing short of criminal. I had not read Milbank’s column, but after reading your comment, I found it and read it … you’re right … as usual, he is spot on! WHAK!!!


  6. Just the beginning, Jill.
    I do feel what lies beneath is the continuation of racism embroiled with hate and religious fanaticism also embroiled with a fear and a loathing of sex. We are a very sick society in this country, not all of course, but enough to be truly dangerous.
    I would guess science books about evolution and the universe forming, will be next.
    And I read somewhere very few teenagers ever read a book. So even as young adults, they will become totally oblivious to history and science.
    An education in this country..the far right works against it constantly. They want the future full of dumb, apathetic, social media addicted idiot like zombies.

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    • Indeed, you are quite right, Mary. The books banned are most often by Black authors … tell you something? Racism is running rampant in parts of this country and I wish we knew how to stop it, but I don’t think anyone does. I’m not sure I believe that very few teenagers ever read a book, though, for I know many teens and they are all avid readers. But yes, if they are only exposed to a single-dimensional version of history, they will grow up as ignorant as those who are banning the books and robbing them of their education today.

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  7. I just posted a piece on the same topic. I organized an “I read banned books” event years ago. Came across some interesting things this time, including a wonderful quotation from Art Spiegelman, author of MAUS, and a book for students on Supreme Court decisions by one of my heroes, Congressman Jamie Raskin. It, too, has recently been banned.

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  8. Jill, the minister John Pavlovitz has a good post on this topic as well as he challenges Christians to be better. Whitewashing history so we don’t know bad things were done to people and groups of people by the dominant group in power is not only inappropriate, it is dangerous.

    But, it is just not books. J. Edgar Hoover did his best to suppress the playing of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” about white mobs lynching black people. And, I was unaware until the last ten years of whites conducting a coup on elected black leadership in Wilmington, NC in the 1890s and white leaders decimating a part of Tulsa, OK killing black business people just over 100 years ago. To be frank, hiding what happened during these horrible incidences as well as the holocaust is criminal in my view.

    If we don’t know our history, we are destined to repeat it. And, right now, there are people who are trying to get elected and reelected on promoting that nothing bad happened. They are doing a disservice to our country. Keith

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