Ban my book. Please.

The Easily Offended People are at it again.  This time, it’s happening out in Milwaukee, where they have raised a ruckus about a young adult book in their local library.  Not only do they want it removed from the collection, they also want it publicly burned and destroyed (!).  (I find this case so absurd that I’ve already mentioned it on my own blog. ) The book in question is Francesca Lia Block’s Baby Be-Bop, which the complainants deemed “sexually explicit.”  They’re suing for emotional damages caused by being exposed to the library’s book display.

Milwaukee Group Seeks Fiery Alternative to Materials Challenge

Life grows more interesting by the day for officials of the West Bend (Wis.) Community Memorial Library. After four months of grappling with an evolving challenge to young-adult materials deemed sexually explicit by area residents Ginny and Jim Maziarka, library trustees voted 9–0 June 2 to maintain the young-adult collection as is “without removing, relocating, labeling, or otherwise restricting access” to any titles. However, board members were made cognizant that same evening that another material challenge waited in the wings: Milwaukee-area citizen Robert C. Braun of the Christian Civil Liberties Union (CCLU) distributed at the meeting copies of a claim for damages he and three other plaintiffs filed April 28 with the city; the complainants seek the right to publicly burn or destroy by another means the library’s copy of Baby Be-Bop. The claim also demands $120,000 in compensatory damages ($30,000 per plaintiff) for being exposed to the book in a library display, and the resignation of West Bend Mayor Kristine Deiss for “allow[ing] this book to be viewed by the public.”…

… Accusing the board of submitting to the will of the American Library Association and the American Civil Liberties Union, Ginny Maziarka declared, “We vehemently reject their standards and their principles,” and characterized the debate as “a propaganda battle to maintain access to inappropriate material.” She cautioned that her group would let people know that the library was not a safe place unless it segregated and labeled YA titles with explicit content. However, after the meeting board President Barbara Deter emphasized that it was the couple’s “freedom of speech” to challenge any individual library holding, according to the June 3 Greater Milwaukee Today.

Attempts to ban books almost certainly go back to the age of papyrus and parchment, and the reasons may be political, religious, or moral.  But sometimes, I just have to scratch my head at what offends people.  During a recent visit to a Maine library, I asked the staff if they’d had any recent challenges to their collection.  The children’s books librarian (book banning efforts usually happen in the children’s section) laughed and said, “Oh, yeah.  One parent was outraged by a history book about famous women scientists.”

Famous women scientists?  What could possibly be offensive about that?

“It had a picture of 1940’s actress Hedy Lamarr, dressed up in typical movie star garb,” the librarian said.  (Hedy Lamarr, for those who don’t know it, was also a brilliant inventor.)  “The parent thought the photo was too racy, and she wanted us to remove the book from the collection.”  Of course, the librarian refused.

Librarians are like that. 

If a picture of a 1940’s actress can offend people, then so could just about any book, on any subject.  Recently, one of the most-challenged titles has been an illustrated children’s book, And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson.  It’s based on the true story of two male penguins in New York’s Central Park Zoo who bonded and together raised a penguin chick.  Immoral penguins! Horrors!

Another much-challenged book, to my astonishment, is Maurice Sendak’s delightful In The Night Kitchen, which was my sons’ favorite childhood picture book.  The reason it’s offensive? The little boy in the story falls out of his clothes and actually ends up — gasp — naked.  (Hey, if God wanted kids to be naked, he would have made them that way.)

Take a look at the list of most-challenged books in the U.S. and you’ll find some of literature’s best-known and most beloved works, from Catcher in the Rye to the Harry Potter series. In fact, that list of banned books could also be a list of the bestselling books in this country.  Merely a coincidence?  Do bestselling books end up on banned-book lists because that’s how Offended People find out about them?  Or are they bestsellers because they got challenged, thereby boosting their sales?

Most authors will agree: banning books just doesn’t work.  All it does is draw attention to the book, enticing people into reading it.    

Author Sherman Alexie (who has himself been a banned author) says: “The amazing thing is these banners never understand they are turning this book into a sacred treasure.  We don’t write to try and be banned, but it is widely known in the (young adult) world, and we love this shit.”

Yeah, we do love it.  

So please, ban my books.  I want to join that lofty pantheon of authors that includes Alexie and Sendak and Twain and Vonnegut.  My books have plenty to offend everyone.  There’s adulterous sex and graphic violence, foul language and disturbing perversions.  So go ahead, ban me!

I could use the extra sales. 



27 thoughts on “Ban my book. Please.

  1. John Dishon

    I think the Bible is obscene. There’s sodomy, rape, torture, murder, necromancy, genocide; let’s ban the Bible as well!

  2. Sue Kelly

    Haha, at least the penguins weren’t naked too – phew! Penguins with no tuxedos – imagine the horrors!

  3. Karen in Ohio

    Does anyone else see the irony in a group called the Christian CIVIL LIBERTIES Union trying to take away others’ civil liberties?


  4. Sylvia

    If you can piss-off the Catholic League, The Heritage Foundation and NRA you’d hit the freakin’ trifecta.

  5. Dana King

    With all due respect to the American Civil Liberties Union (of whihc I am a card-carrying member), librarians probably do more to preserve our day-to-day rights as anyone in the country, from resisting Patriot Act subpoenas to defending books some developmentally arrested group wants to ban.

  6. Clair Dickson

    I’m gonna vote that banning a book brings it EXTRA ATTENTION (you know, cause everyone wants to see what the fuss is about) and then the sales are up.

    Locally, we had two flaps about books in the local high schools. Both times, as soon as the word got to the little local paper– the bookstores were sold out. Perpetually, for weeks. The libraries couldn’t keep them on the shelves. Heh. The two boos: Whale Talk and Freedom Writers. Everyone wanted to see if the book was really that bad.

    I don’t think it’s the challenge so much as the advertising for content. It’s like the sex toy/ lingerie shop that opened in town last year… there is another such store not even 7 miles away, but when this NEW one opened, there were protests and such that brought attention to many people who never knew it was opening. And business was very, very good after every protest and newspaper article. The new shop liked the protesters. You can’t pay for advertising that good… =)

  7. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    I grew up in a pretty liberal community in Albuquerque, New Mexico and I remember the flexibility we had in choosing our English reading and the plays we performed in our drama classes. When I went back to visit about fifteen years after I graduated I discovered that the English teachers and drama instructors were then required to pass their selections through a committee of community members who would decide if the novel or play was appropriate for the students. The teachers were made to bow to this very vocal, religious section of the community. I was shocked and disgusted. We weren’t talking about banning William S. Burroughs’ "Naked Lunch" here, we were talking about classics like "The Diary of Anne Frank." It was hard to see the high school I loved devolve into its own satire of "Fahrenheit 451."

    And, on a side note, I was in Albuquerque on a Sunday and I stopped at a grocery store to pick up a bottle of champagne – I was about to propose to my now-wife on the Sandia mountaintop – and I discovered that I wasn’t allowed to buy alcohol on Sundays anymore.

  8. Pari

    I’m right with you, Tess.

    Book banning is anti-American. Period.

    And, Stephen, you CAN buy alcohol on Sundays — after noon — nowadays. We’ve come a long way, baby.

  9. Allison Brennan

    The bill of rights is crucial to maintaining the freedom in our country, and the first amendment is #1 for a reason–because these were the first rights banned by the British.

    Book banning and censorship isn’t a liberal or conservative issue because both sides will attempt to ban what they don’t like.

    I do support parental rights–which is why my kids go to a private school. I get the book lists and while I’ve never told my kids they couldn’t read something (except my books when they were younger) I do want to read with them if I haven’t seen it. There are some books that are inappropriate for young kids, and thus as a parent I want the option of deciding what they can and can’t read based on their age and maturity. But as an American, I don’t want any books banned. Those who disagree with the content can write a bad review, op-eds, etc. They can voice their opinion any legal way they want. They can buy the book and burn it as a protest. They can stop their kids from reading it. But they shouldn’t be able to ban it from culture.

    Stephen, my daughter is reading Fahrenheit 451 for her summer reading! I’m re-reading it with her (she’s the one who hates to read.) My other daughter (my big reader) is reading Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

  10. Rae

    I always find myself wondering, when I hear about these things, why are they so scared? Why are they afraid to let people make up their own minds? There’s a lot of stuff out there that I find offensive (right at the top of the list: Charmin TV commercials – ewwww) – but I just vote with my dollars or my channel changer. Yeesh.

  11. Rob Gregory Browne

    It just amazes me that in this day and age, anyone would want to ban a book. Of any kind.

    What are these people afraid of? Is their grasp on their beliefs so fragile, their influence on the behavior of their children so tenuous that they think a simple book — that they can choose NOT to read — will somehow destroy their lives?

    I wish people would spend more time policing themselves than trying to police the world.

  12. Anonymous

    Seriously, I am going to throw my Bible into the trash right now, and tell everyone including my religious friends.

  13. JT Ellison

    If a book offends you-DON’T READ IT. Sheesh. I’ve never understood the folks who want to force their morailty on others. it’s your right to warp your kids, but leave me and mine alone.

  14. Zoë Sharp

    I remember, years ago, standing outside a movie theatre with my parents, while my father argued with protesters who wanted to dissuade us from going to see ‘Monty Python’s Life Of Brian’.

    None of the protesters had actually seen the movie.

    Some apparently ‘open’ minds should be closed for repair.

  15. Jake Nantz

    My wife and I are Christian, and while there are a few parts in there that are iffy, we both LOVE the Python boys and Life of Brian is one of their best!

    It amazes me how many people have such a loose grasp on their faith that they think anything THEY don’t like is inherently heathen and depraved. Newsflash: If you refuse to challenge your own faith and beliefs, then it isn’t faith you have, it’s fear. Faith means believing in what you do, despite those who might try to disuade you or lead you astray, because you BELIEVE IN IT. Not because you fear that something another person wrote in a work of F-I-C-T-I-O-N might topple everything you stand for.

    My goodness, people. The Da Vinci Code probably got more people interested in finding the truth, and determining what they really believed in vs. what Dan Brown made up, than any other single event in the last decade. And that’s a BAD thing?

    God, if I ever get a novel published, please let these fringe lunatics get angry and try to ban it and help me support my family better, because I KNOW what I believe despite the challenges, and whoever these people pray to, it ain’t my God.

  16. Chris Hamilton

    Burning books? Are they purposely trying to mirror the Nazis or are they just too ignorant to understand history?

    God, who apparently created the universe and everything in it in 144 hours is apparently too impotent to take care of these books, so He needs these people to burn them.

    PS — That’s HEDLEY!

  17. Chris Hamilton

    Hey, here’s an idea…let’s make up a group…we can call it ‘God hates you worst’ or something. We’ll all be members and we can all go around and demand that each others’ books get banned. We’ll just appoint spokespeople, like opposites…like person A is the head of GHYW when person B’s book gets released. And then when person A’s book gets released, person B is the head.

    Then we can all go around to protest parties and soon as the cameras leave, we can get out the hooch and really have fun.

    Everyone’s sales go up, and the parties would be great, too! Who’s in?

  18. Jill James

    I’ve always noticed the whole "why is it banned, let’s read it and find out" thing. Madonna pushed the envelope all the time to get banned and then made millions more from being banned.

    No book or movie or any media should be banned. That’s what parents are for.

  19. Fran

    When I was teaching English in New Mexico, we had a whole huge brouhaha with the school board and angry parents — well, okay, one set of very loud angry parents — who insisted we stop having our seniors read THE GRAPES OF WRATH.

    Because on page 50 of the edition we were using, there was reference made to the breast of Rose of Sharon.

  20. Jake Nantz

    RGB, If you like that, you’ll really love that I had a set of angry parents who wanted my head on a plate because their precious daughter (won’t even get into that one, but please note the smell of sarcasm) was told to read John Gardner’s Grendel. Did you know that the monster becomes so upset by Wealtheow that he tries to burn her in a very uncomfortable area? A monster? Do something like that? In First Person POV? Oh, the horror, the horror. And this poor, innocent, lamb, was corrupted by such thoughts in her head….

    Needless to say, my job and my head are still intact. That family’s grasp of reality might be a bit loose, though…

  21. Rachel


    You still can’t purchase alcohol in Indiana on Sundays.


    The stores must block off access to those aisles.

    And you aren’t allowed to have wine shipped to your home unless you personally have visited a local winery and signed a list. Then you are allowed to have wine shipped to you.

    Only if you sign the list.

  22. Richard S. Wheeler

    When I was a boy in the nineteen forties I discovered Kathleen Windsor’s novel, Forever Amber, on my parents’ bookshelf, and of course I had to read it. The novel had been banned in Boston. I sneaked it off to boy scout camp, got caught reading it with a flashlight in my tent, and did penance by running laps barefoot on an athletic track in the middle of the night. But I survived. And Forever Amber prospered, largely because Boston banned it.


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