You Can’t Read That!

You Can’t Read That! is a periodic post about book banning, featuring news and opinion roundups, personal observations, and reviews.

It’s Banned Books Week! In honor of those who fight to protect our right to read and write, I offer my traditional BBW rant.

YCRT! Banned Books Week Rant

Screen Shot 2022-08-28 at 8.02.43 AMEvery year those who want to ban books line up to tell us Banned Books Week is a hoax, claiming books aren’t banned in the USA. In the years I’ve been writing these YCRT! posts, more than one reader has called me a liar for saying books are banned. Here’s my response:

I find I have to explain my use of the word “banned” every now and again. My position is this: any time people try to keep people from reading a book, they’re trying 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 the banning of books from reading lists and libraries. Not a week goes by without some politician or administrator ordering books removed from shelves.

Regardless of whether the same books are available on-line or in bookstores, the intent of those who call for their banning is to keep others — kids at first, but eventually adults as well — from reading them. This is the very definition of 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 days when it and other books were literally banned in the USA, though, conservatives advanced the argument that such books weren’t really banned, because you could always board an ocean liner, sail to Paris, and buy copies there. Conservatives today recycle the same argument: you can buy “Gender Queer” and “All Boys Aren’t Blue” from Amazon, so what’s the problem with removing them from the children’s section of the library?

Book banners want to control what we read. They may no longer be able to ban books nationwide, but they’ll do whatever they can to get books they disapprove of banned from libraries, bookstores, and classrooms. Sometimes they succeed, and banned books are the result. Ban, banned, banning: these are the correct words, and that is why I use them.

Yes, Virginia, books are banned in the USA. It happens all the time, and if you haven’t heard, now more than ever. 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.

YCRT! News & Opinion Roundup

You’ve seen my definition of “banning.” Now here’s my definition of “doxxing,” a tactic increasingly used by book banners. I wonder how many death threats this kindergarten teacher has received by now? — Paul

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Shawn McBreairty of Penobscot County, Maine, self-styled “advocate for students, parents, taxpayers, teachers and 1A,” doxxes a kindergarten teacher, targeting her by name and identifying the school where she works.

More on Mr. McBreairty and the “concerned parents” with whom he associates (be sure to click on “Read the full conversation on Twitter) — Paul

Today’s Book Bans Might Be More Dangerous than Those from the Past (Washington Post)

Yet few teachers own classroom sets of Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer” or Alex Gino’s “George,” a fact guided by curricular standards, textbook economics and teachers’ frequent discomfort at teaching texts. Instead, the most frequently challenged books are ones that students are reading on their own accord, even if they are accessing them through a school or classroom library. Bans are targeting books that young Americans want to read, not texts that a teacher tells them they must.

Censorship Attempts Will Have a Long-lasting Impact on School Library Collections (School Library Journal)

There have always been book challenges, controversial titles, and fights over inclusive collections. But in the last year, school librarians have faced a bigger, broader, more coordinated, and hate-filled censorship campaign as politics and the country’s divisive culture wars have moved into school libraries. With an impact on books on the shelves and future collection development decisions across the country, librarians are sharing their stories …

N.J. Librarian Who Fought Book Banning Co-creates App to Help Others Do the Same (

New Jersey librarian Martha Hickson, who gained notoriety last year after fighting against the banning of five books from her school’s library, has helped create a collection of step-by-step guides to help others around the country do the same.

S.E. Hinton Banned in Oklahoma? Stay Gold, Ponyboy (Wonkette)

Following the fuss over the PEN listing and the Oklahoman article, the Bristow schools superintendent told a local TV station — which forgot to include the superintendent’s name — that the listing was “fake news,” since The Outsiders is still available in the one classroom, for eighth-graders, so it’s not “banned,” don’t you see? It’s simply restricted so it’s age-appropriate. That explanation didn’t fly with PEN America’s senior manager of free expression and education, Jeremy Young, who said however you define it, taking a book out of a library and restricting access to it is a ban: “You can put a book on the top of the spire of the clock tower and tell students that they’re not allowed to take it down and claim that book has not been banned because it’s still technically on school grounds.”

Amid Book Bans, Virginia Parents Push for More ‘Authority’ Over What Kids Can Read in School Libraries (ABC News)

Anderson, a Republican who represents parts of the cities of Norfolk and Virginia Beach, said that he plans to introduce a bill that would identify titles that contain “sexual content” and implement a rating system for library books that would essentially be based on the Motion Picture Association film rating system. Books would be marked with “Parental Advisory Warning” labels and parents would be able to opt their children out of reading books with a particular rating.

This is called “red-flagging,” another form of banning books. Here’s why it’s wrong and won’t work. — Paul

Hong Kong Judge Finds Five Guilty over Children’s Books (BBC)

A Hong Kong judge has found five speech therapists guilty of publishing seditious children’s books. Their books — about sheep trying to hold back wolves from their village — were interpreted by authorities as having an overtly political message. After a two-month trial a government-picked national security judge said their “seditious intention” was clear.

Livingston Parish President Urging Library Officials to Reclassify Books with ‘Questionable Sexual Content’ (WAFB9, Baton Rouge LA)

Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks will be sending a letter to officials at the parish library to reclassify certain books that contain ‘questionable sexual content.’ This comes after a book called “Dating and Sex: A Guide for the 21st Century Teen Boy” was apparently discovered in the young adult section of a public library in Livingston Parish, prompting concern from parents and other organizations.

Windows, Mirrors and Glasses: Grace Lin on Seeing the World Through Diverse Books (Publishers Weekly)

Our books, the books that are being banned — these books are like the glasses my daughter and I wear. Just like when I looked at a tree and saw every leaf, these books help kids look at their community and see every human. These books, when read and shared, can give kids a clear, true view of the world all around us.

Obscenity Case Seeking to Bar Barnes & Noble from Selling Two Books to Minors Dismissed by Judge (The Virginian Pilot)

A Virginia Beach Circuit Court judge on Tuesday dismissed an effort to declare two books obscene and unfit for children. Judge Pamela Baskervill found that “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe and “A Court of Mist and Fury” by Sarah J. Maas are not obscene under state law.

Area Schools Remove Books under New Law That Is Unlikely to Be Enforced (St Louis Post-Dispatch)

School librarians across St. Louis tossed at least two dozen books this month, even as police said they would not enforce a new state law criminalizing explicit materials for students.

Schools Policy for Checking Out Controversial Library Books Switches to Opt-Out Only (Lakeland Now)

Heid had discussed at a July 26 work session both an opt-out process for library materials and a separate opt-in process for the 16 books, which touch on topics including transgender identity, homosexuality, child rape, underage sex, school shootings, racism, and, in two brief passages in one Toni Morrison book, beastiality.

New York Post Fundamentally Misunderstands Libraries, ‘The Music Man’ (Wonkette)

The New York Post, that bastion of good sense and good taste, published an article this weekend titled “Librarians go radical as new woke policies take over: experts,” by one Dana Kennedy. As usual, it was a lot of bigoted whinging about how many librarians are leftists (and even admitted Marxists!) who have political and social opinions different from their own and general confusion about how that is even legal. Like every other treatise on this subject, she really could have just written “I am worried that books will turn my child into a transgender communist!” and called it a day.

Local Libraries Have Become a Major Political and Cultural Battleground (Georgia Public Broadcasting)

Public radio being public radio: not just two sides, but three. Who’s to say which is right? — Paul

The culture war inside America’s libraries is playing out in the monthly meetings of the Lafayette Library Board of Control. Conservative activists are demanding the removal of controversial books, librarians are being falsely accused of pushing porn, and free speech defenders are crying censorship.

Bonny Eagle School Board Votes Against Removing Controversial Book from Middle School Library (Portland ME Press Herald)

“It’s Perfectly Normal” was published in 1994 and has been updated since then, most recently last year. Superintendent Clay Gleason said the book has only been checked out a couple of times. The book cover states it is “for age 10 and up,” and the introduction says it was written to help kids answer questions about their bodies and sex.

Lastly, two more from Twitter — Paul

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