Tuesday, September 23, 2014

So you want to ban a book...

If for whatever reason it strikes your fancy that a particular book should be banned or restricted from a given audience, I have a question that I suggest you ask of yourself:

What does this say about me?

Trying to ban a book says much more about you than it does about the book.

It shows us what ideas you're afraid of, and how very afraid of them you are.

Attempting to ban a book isn't just an objection to an idea, it's an abjuration of one. If you weren't afraid of whatever you're calling out in the book, you'd be able to engage with it critically, call out its flaws, and feel confident that your views will triumph in a free and open discussion. By making an end run around the discussion entirely, you signal that you don't want to be challenged. It says that you don't have the courage to defend your views, and don't trust the audience's ability to make up their own minds.

In attempting to ban a book, you put your own prejudices on display.

You state that you believe your judgement should supersede that of other people, that you know best, and that you don't have to expose yourself to argument.

You probably don't have the authority to decide what students read, or what is or isn't placed on library shelves because the people with that power express it positively. Most often, they're making lists of books for people to read, and regretting that those lists can't be longer.

You certainly don't have the power to truly enforce a ban. Even if you get what you want and the book in question is removed from the summer reading list or the school library or whatever, that doesn't stop the book from existing. You can't un-write it, and while you may have closed one avenue of access to it, there will always be countless other paths to connect an interested reader with the book they're looking for.

Libraries are a thing.
Bookstores are a thing.
The internet is a thing.
Friends' bookshelves are a thing.

Whether that's sex, harsh language, violence, or a political theme that you're opposed to, by trying to ban the book, you're shining a spotlight not only on the book, but directly on the aspect of the book that you find objectionable. Where before that might have been overlooked for one reason or another, you have called attention to it as directly as if it were featured on the cover in neon lettering. People are not only going to look at the book in question, they're going to know what to look for. And when they find it, they'll know what frightens you.

Most people I know don't take well to being told what they can and can't do. Children, teenagers, or adults: people just don't like being pushed around.

There are people who read banned books specifically because someone, somewhere tried to ban them. Hell, we even made a week where we celebrate the practice.

When you try to ban a book you draw our attention to the book you don't want us to read and the reasons you don't want us to read it. You make a public declaration of your prejudice and your self-righteous need to see it inflicted on others.

You issue a challenge, and the people who will take you up on it are much, much better at getting books into the hands of interested readers than you will ever be at keeping them out.

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