Why I read banned books.

Currently reading Answers in the Pages by David Levithan.

For weeks, I’ve been trying to think of a topic to write about and examine. I’ve been trying to find a broad topic that I could do research on and write about, somehow tie it into publishing and my thoughts on how we could make publishing better after examining this issue, but I just didn’t have it in me this month, or for a while, if I’m being honest. What I’ve been doing is reading every book banned, or challenged, starting in 1990 and really stopping to languish in the power books have and why people fear that power.

I can’t begin to tell you why people fear books. Book banning’s have existed long before I was born in the United States, usually starting at schools and branching out to public libraries afterwards.

Many kinds of books have been challenged or banned long before I was born. Long time readers should know my stance on problematic works. Personally, I read every single problematic book I can get my hands on. I read every single ableist, queerphobic, homophobic, bigoted book I can get my hands on, no matter how problematic it is or no matter how hateful it is. I actively choose what to promote and not promote, though. Sharing the work is up to me to share online or not, but make no mistake, the second I hear that a book has been challenged or banned, I immediately place a hold request for it at my many libraries I pay yearly to access out of state if it’s not at my local library. I’m reading any banned or challenged book, period.

I, of course, have my own reasonings for reading every single challenged or banned book in existence. Reading is resistance. Reading is powerful. Reading is a form of knowledge. People fear that knowledge, whether it’s progressive or problematic knowledge. Either way, no one, on any political side, gets to dictate what knowledge we can obtain. There’s a power in actively learning about and examining problematic thoughts and beliefs. I read all kinds of books because I want to become a better person. I want to break down my own privileges through listening to many scholars and writers tell me about how they view the world. I’d like to be the master of my own knowledge. Right now, in my country, book banning’s are increasing in a way I’ve never seen before in my lifetime.

The current wave of book bans is sweeping the United States in droves. Many people are actively trying to ban books by Black writers and LGBT+ writers, citing racial division and racism as the reasoning for the bans, ignoring the fact that a Black or brown person speaking about their experience with racism isn’t comparable to a white author feeling uncomfortable.

It’s not just schools and school libraries that people are targeting. Many people are targeting booksellers like Barns and Noble. Many officials across states are quickly banning books by POC authors and LGBT+ authors, many with Disabilities.

Books are being banned and challenged so frequently that over 13,000 Young Adult and Children authors signed an open letter saying stop the book bans.

The books challenged in the above links eventually lead to book bans. Other booksellers won’t carry the books, creating a silencing chain effect.

It’s worth noting that book challenges and book bans are not the same thing. While a challenge might lead to a ban, a book challenge is a way for alternative literature to take it’s place in a curriculum or classroom. A book ban completely removes the work from access permanently. While I do read every challenged book as well as every banned book, there are some reasons why someone might want a book challenged. For example, rather than having a teacher do an English lesson on the racism of Shakespeare, a parent of a Black child might want a book centered that more positively highlights the Black and brown experience. By replacing the work with a more empowering work, the curriculum isn’t focused on the negative racism alone and centering it. By replacing Shakespeare with a positive portrayal of a Black or Brown story, you’re still dismantling racism, just in a different way.

While I’ll still read every challenged book, even problematic works, I can appreciate why someone might want the books in a classroom changed. This can work the opposite way as well, though, a white parent might challenge a book because they could feel it promotes white hate and bigotry towards whites. That’s, ultimately, why I generally don’t support challenging books independent of teacher decisions. It’s an equal opportunity to silence whatever people want to silence, wrongly or rightly, privileged or underrepresented. Challenging a book can give the privileged white man the power to remove a BIPOC author from a classroom, just as a BIPOC mother can select a better book to talk about racism. There’s clearly a privilege dynamic here but book challenges don’t lend minorities the upper hand. And, more cheekily, kids are going to read that challenged book anyway outside of school. The better move is to openly talk about problematic works and help people understand how to dismantle privileges. Book bans are a different beast altogether and are on a meteoric rise.

I’ve been wondering why so many people fear knowledge and fear letting kids grow their own knowledge and ask their own tough questions. Why are parents so afraid of letting kids explore themselves, the world, and each other? I personally don’t know. I’ll never know.

Parents are targeting schools and school libraries across the entire United States. This current ban wave, in my current timeline anyway, is focused on banning, not challenging, but banning BIPOC voices and LGBT+ voices. Parents are also targeting eBook platforms such as Overdrive and banning the app off tablets and school computers, and off personal devices.

I’m not sure why parents are so afraid of kids stepping outside of their world and learning about someone else’s life and world, but I do know that reading, and writing, is a form of resistance. It’s resistance that both readers and writers should continue to promote. If a book is banned in your county, host a banned book club. Buy a banned book for an LGBT+ loved one in your life that’s just had their representation completely removed from shelves. Buy a banned book for a Black or brown friend of yours that’s been dying to read that banned book. Start organizing banned book meetups and banned book clubs.

The reason why I love reading and writing is because it’s a window into a different world. It allows me to connect with someone that is Black in a way I never thought possible. It allows me to understand and empathize with women and get a better sense of their struggles and thoughts and opinions. Reading books allow me to broaden my world without leaving my bed. Writing and reading are my process of breaking down the injustices of the world and examining them. Reading and writing allow me to ask myself, now that I’ve seen this injustice first hand, how can I make the world better.

Progress isn’t just about someone learning about their privilege. It takes time to dismantle injustices, personal or systemic. Books, and, by extension, writers, allow me to compare and connect with experiences I’ve never faced. That kind of knowledge can lead to a very powerful dismantling of privilege. Even if it’s not rapid systemic change, it trickles down, like a never-ending waterfall. Quiet, but not stopping for anyone or anybody. Eventually, that singular waterfall will pool out into a vast ocean of knowledge where all of us can bask in an expanse that’s bigger and brighter than we could have imagined.