You Can’t Read That!

BBW-logo_07252021Banned Books Week 2021 is September 26-October 2.

Every year during Banned Books Week, conservative pundits line up to tell us Banned Books Week is a liberal hoax and that books aren’t banned in the USA. In the years I’ve been writing You Can’t Read That! posts, more than one reader has called me a liar for saying books are banned. Here’s my response:

Any time people try to keep other people from reading a book, they’re attempting to ban it. In the USA, not a week goes by without parents in one state or another showing up at school board meetings to demand this or that book be removed from reading lists and libraries. Not a week goes by without some principal or school board caving to parental pressure and pulling books from the shelves.

Regardless of whether the same books are available online or in bookstores, the intent of parents and school administrators who take these actions is to keep others from reading the books in question. This is the literal definition of book banning.

The government no longer bans books at the national level, but it used to. Henry Miller’s novel “Tropic of Cancer,” for example, was banned in the USA from its publication in 1934 until the Supreme Court overruled the ban in 1964. Even during the years it was officially banned, though, conservatives advanced the argument that “Tropic of Cancer” wasn’t really banned, because you could always board an ocean liner, sail to Paris, and buy a copy there. Conservatives today recycle the same argument: you can buy “Captain Underpants” and “Heather Has Two Mommies” from Amazon, so what’s the problem with removing them from school shelves, libraries, or even bookstores?

Book banners want to control what other people read. They may no longer be able to ban books at the federal and state level, but they’ll do whatever they can to ban books locally. Sometimes they succeed, and banned books are the result. Banning is the correct word, and that is why I use it here.

But fine, if you don’t value my opinion, here’s what Merriam-Webster says about the word “ban”:

… to prohibit especially by legal means (ban discrimination) also: to prohibit the use, performance, or distribution of (ban a book) (ban a pesticide).

Under examples, they include this:

The school banned that book for many years.

Yes, Virginia, books are banned in the USA, and they’re banned all the time. When people quit trying to prevent me or my children from reading books they don’t like, I’ll quit using the word, but not until then.

© 2021 – 2022, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

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One thought on “You Can’t Read That!

  • I’m more concerned about the state of our schools and educators now than I was back in 2017. I fear for our country.

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