You Can’t Read That!

You Can’t Read That! is a periodic post about book banning. YCRT! features news and opinion roundups, commentary, history, and reviews.

“Speech codes and book bans may start in opposing camps, but both warm their hands over freedom’s ashes.” Ron Charles, Washington Post

YCRT! Rant

On Facebook, a Moms for Liberty type explains why banning books isn’t actually banning:

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She starts with the old standard: it’s not really book banning if you can still get copies elsewhere. To which I respond, it’s a matter of intent. If the intent is to keep someone, whether it’s a child, teenager, or adult, from reading a book, it’s banning. And it doesn’t matter whether a ban is local (i.e., a single school library), citywide (all classrooms and libraries in an entire school district), by state (as in Tennessee, which has banned Art Spiegelman’s graphic memoir Maus from all schools and districts), or national (as in the 1940s and 50s when Henry Miller’s novel Tropic of Cancer was officially banned in the USA); a ban is a ban.

In its definition of the word “ban” the Merriam-Webster Dictionary offers this sample sentence: “The school banned that book for many years.” Localized, maybe, but still a ban. Lady, it’s in the dictionary.

Also, whether your plan is to glue warning stickers to books, place them on restricted shelves, require teachers and librarians to demand parental notes before allowing kids to check them out, or physically remove them from libraries and classrooms, your goal is to keep books from being read, and that’s book banning.

She goes on another argument: if less than 10% of the population is LGBTQ, books by and for them won’t be missed by the 90% (which, presumably, makes banning them okay).

Um, less than 10% of the population is still millions. And what about the far larger percent of the population who have LGBTQ people in their families, schools, and workplaces? Of course she singles out books by and for LGBTQ people (books she describes as “sexual explicit filth”), but you know these Moms for Liberty types are also opposed to books that paint a less than flattering picture of whites and their treatment of minorities. The implication here is that a majority of the US population is white and therefore should be able to dictate which books can be read by minorities (as well as by white children who might become sympathetic to minority kids) … an argument even half the Republicans in the US reject.

Lady, you’re talking about banning books. You’re a book banner. When you quit trying to prevent the rest of us from reading books that make you uncomfortable, I’ll quit using the word, but not until then.

YCRT! News & Opinion Roundup

Arthur Children’s Book Faces Potential Florida Ban over Claim It ‘Damaged Souls’ (The Guardian)

At one point in the book, Arthur receives a glass bottle from Francine the monkey as a birthday present. The bottle has the words “Francine’s Spin the Bottle Game” printed on it. According to the challenge, which the Daily Beast website published, the reason for Friedman’s ban request is to “protect children”. “It is not appropriate to discuss ‘spin the bottle’ with elementary school children,” he wrote in all capital letters. “This book is found in all/almost all [district schools]!” “‘Spin the bottle’ not okay for K-5 kids,” Friedman added, still using all capital letters. In response to a question about what he believes might be the result of a student using the material, he wrote, “Damaged souls.”

Houston School District to Turn Libraries into Disciplinary Centers (The Guardian)

Houston independent school district announced earlier this summer that librarian and media-specialist positions in 28 schools will be eliminated as part of superintendent Mike Miles’s “new education system” initiative. Teachers at these schools will soon have the option to send misbehaving students to these discipline centers, or “team centers’” – designated areas where they will continue to learn remotely.

Judge: Sarah Huckabee Sanders Can’t Throw All the Librarians in Jail (Wonkette)

A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction last week against an Arkansas law that established criminal charges for librarians and booksellers who lend or sell so-called “harmful” material to minors — largely books they think will turn kids gay or trans — on the grounds that it is a pretty obvious violation of the First Amendment. It’s one thing for asshole parents to tell their kids what they can and cannot read, but what business do they have denying books to kids whose parents don’t want them to grow up to be illiterate bigots?

Montgomery County Principals Concerned over School Books with LGBTQ Characters (Washington Post)

Last fall, a group of Montgomery County elementary school principals sent a letter to school district leaders with concerns that books new to the language arts curriculum that included LGBTQ characters were teaching young students about sexual orientation and gender identity even though district leaders said they weren’t, according to emails reviewed by The Washington Post.

Authors Like Me Are Fighting the Book-Ban Zealots. We Need Help. (Mother Jones)

While popular wisdom insists that book bans boost sales, that’s really only true for classics like Art Spiegelman’s Maus (banned in Tennessee), not for the roughly 850 other titles under investigation in Texas that have garnered considerably less attention. For children’s and YA authors, schools and libraries are a make-or-break market. Young people are unlikely to have the cash or the inclination to buy banned books themselves. And no student can possibly track every title being kept from them. That’s bad for authors, but also for kids, who are essentially being told the government considers them—their bodies, cultures, families, histories, interests, struggles, and sexualities—unfit for public consumption.

Prejudicial Book Rating Systems Are a Form of Censorship (ALA Intellectual Freedom Blog)

… book ratings systems are a tool for censorship. They operate from the presumption that users’ rights to access a broad range of materials should be restricted based on a subjective value judgment that the content, language, themes, or views of the author or books are inherently inappropriate for some audiences or age groups. These systems are intended to bias or prejudice attitudes and decisions about reading materials and stigmatize works that address the lives and experiences of persons and families who do not share the values of those creating the ratings systems. They facilitate indoctrination, not education.

The Coming Enshittification of Public Libraries (Nine Lives Blog)

I love public libraries not just because of what they’ve done for me personally, but because they are little socialist oases in the capitalist desert hellscape of twenty-first century America. Every extra dollar that KKR sucks out of libraries is another dollar they don’t have for buying books, or for librarian staffing, or for supporting any of the dozens of other small but important services that public libraries provide their local communities, like free access to computers and the internet. Some libraries that already struggle for funding might be starved out of existence.

‘Criminal Liability for Librarians’: The Fight against Us Rightwing Book Bans (The Guardian)

“The far right has been strategic about trying to organize groups such as Moms for Liberty, formed to provide an appearance that there is an organic movement sprouting across the country, that people are really concerned about children being able to access books, about freedom of expression and what’s being taught in schools. “And what we see time and again is that those voices do not represent a majority of people, and that they are part of a network that is coordinated to try to create issues, in order to be able to roll back progress and roll back our basic freedoms, including the freedom to read and the ability of communities to thrive.

Montana Conservatives Are Stoking McCarthyist, Homophobic Attacks on a Librarian (Jacobin)

… overwhelmingly, public commenters speaking out in favor of the motion were fixated on and driven by the bizarre, homophobic “groomer” hysteria that has taken over the American right in recent years: the idea that by occasionally hosting drag queens, housing books that talk about homosexuality and the wider LGBTQ community, or simply allowing access to books with the mildest bit of sexual content, American libraries are rampantly feeding children “pornography” and “sexualizing” minors — “a literal ‘porn-for-kids’ agenda,” in the words of one written submission.

YCRT! Behind Enemy Lines
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YCRT! comment: You know, I have my doubts the Cleveland Reporter is an unbiased news source. This wild article contains a double whammy: not only does it label anyone opposed to book banning “pro-porn,” it describes a radical Republican attempt to subvert democracy in the state of Ohio in such benign terms an uninformed reader might wonder how anyone could possibly be against it.

Oh, and that’s not all. It goes on to associate Red Wine and Blue, a group of suburban moms opposed to book banning and Republican attempts to prevent voters from putting initiatives on statewide ballots (which has more to do with abortion than books, given that a majority of Ohioans are likely to vote yes on an upcoming citizen referendum to keep abortion legal in the state), with Black Lives Matter, Critical Race Theory, forced sex education for first graders, socialism, reparations for slavery, the Ohio Communist Party, and the “Solon-based Black Environmental Justice Association,” which (horror of horrors) affirms the”sacredness of Mother Earth” and declares that blacks’ political, economic and cultural liberation has been “denied for over 500 years of colonization and oppression by white Ohioans,” who have been “poisoning Black communities and land and leading the genocide of Black peoples.”

Good lord, they even managed to work the word “peoples” in there!

So, Ohio moms, stand up to Moms for Liberty and the Republican plot to subvert democracy and they throw everything including the kitchen sink at you. Hey, just be glad the Cleveland Reporter didn’t give your home address to the torch & pitchfork-wielding mob … at least so far.

Update 8/9/23: I wrote this YCRT! post a few days before Ohioans voted on Issue One, the Republican attempt to change voting rules and require supermajority (60% vice 50%) approval of citizen initiatives on future ballots, an underhanded attempt to impose an abortion ban despite the will of Ohioans. As I hope I made clear in my original comment, the vote tied in with book banning, since opponents of the Issue One also oppose book banning and are being painted as pornographers, pedophiles, and groomers. I’m happy to say the suburban moms of Red Wine and Blue stood up to the hate, and that the voters of Ohio weren’t fooled by Republican attempts to obfuscate what they were up to. Issue One was roundly defeated.

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