Brainiac On Banjo #014: Should We Ban Banned Books Week?

Do you remember all the way back to last Tuesday, when the Washington Post still was referred to as a “liberal” newspaper? Many people believe that. The following day, Wednesday September 26th, was the day the Post just might have turned the corner.

Ron Charles, the Post’s book critic, opined we might not need Banned Books Week any longer. “I just wish Banned Books Week didn’t appear to exaggerate a problem that’s largely confined to our repressive past… Are we winning any converts with this annual orgy of self-righteousness?”

He contradicted his point when he reported how many books were, indeed, banned last year. The label of self-righteousness rarely is self-imposed.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that, over the years, I have edited or contributed to a decent number of “banned books” and have been railing against banning books for, damn, a very long time. When it comes to the Pop Culture Squad, well, suffice it to say I am not alone.

Mr. Charles states, among other things (and I urge you to read his piece, to which I conveniently posted the link in my second paragraph), “Doesn’t Banned Books Week carelessly lump together the interested mother with the book-burning Nazi?” Well, part of the parenting process is the unfortunate imposition of mommy and daddy’s more disgusting values onto their children. Such is life, and many kids challenge those “values” as part of their maturation process. But my blanket response to this sort of challenge is “If you don’t want to be conflated with book-burning Nazis, stop acting like a book-burning Nazi!”

I am opposed to removing any book from any library or any bookstore. The librarian and the bookseller have no right to impose their self-indulgent mores upon an unsuspecting audience. By removing that which they find objectionable, they believe they have the right to transplant their views and politics onto everybody else. They most certainly do not.

For the record, I would not even ban Mein Kampf. Indeed, I encourage teenagers to read this book and to discuss it from both the moral and the historical perspectives. As I often do, I once again quote George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Arguably, that is the most important aphorism of all time.

You may ask “OK, smart-ass. Would you edit a graphic novel adaptation of Mein Kampf?” I’m hardly your go-to-guy for far-right-wing subject matter, although I have proudly worked with many conservative and right-wing talent and I never interfered with their points of view. Adolf Hitler… well, my own backstory just might get in the way of that.

In the hands of the right creative team, a Mein Kampf adaptation might work. But it most certainly would not get racked in libraries or placed on Apple Books.

Librarians are teachers and… well… teachers teach. That means discuss, exchange points of view, and listen. Point out the problems with allowing a person with a small gaggle of follows to shove his or her will down everybody else’s throats. That’s particularly important these days, no matter what your worldview might be. If we don’t keep these discussions going, the next thing we’ll see is these same librarians and teachers cart away all the copies of the greatest American novel, Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. Actually, we’ve been seeing this for a while now, but most of these culture vultures seem content to merely censor the hell out of the book – thereby voiding the author’s point.

I understand his concerns and I think Mr. Charles’ piece was well-written and rather clever. But when it comes to bringing attention to censorship and the imposition of limits to the acquisition of knowledge, his heart is in the right place but his head’s up his ass.

I say that with respect.



8 thoughts on “Brainiac On Banjo #014: Should We Ban Banned Books Week?

  1. You lost me at booksellers should carry every book ever. I don’t think a mom & pop store not stocking a book is the same as pulling it from a public/school library or Amazon deeming it too unsavory.
    As for parents, they should only worry about their own kids, when they try to make moves to control another person’s child’s access to a book I say they have overstepped. Wanting to shelter your child rather than have a teaching moment is a choice, and you should not get to make that choice for other people.

    1. Mom and pop bookstores. Well, Pop Culture does focus on nostalgia. I see your point, but even mom’n’pops order books for their customers. As does Barnes and Nobles; they don’t have enough space for all books in print anyway. When it comes to locally-controlled bookstores, I’m concerned somebody will walk in asking for Heather Has Two Mommies and be given the stink eye and be told they’re going to hell and a lecture about Gay Wedding Cakes.

      But if they won’t sell me Heather Has Two Mommies, I will certainly ask for Mein Kampf.

      1. I think refusing to stock a title and not order it for a customer is a stupid stance to take but it is that bookseller’s right. One would hope that they would understand they’d be losing my business forever, something tells me they’d be okay with that as I’d imagine that’s the mindset of someone who cuts off their nose to spite their face. The refusing to even order it seems like an extreme stance

        1. I’m thinking if you come in to order a book they do not want you or your kids to read, they’d rather you didn’t walk into their store in the first place. I don’t see that stance to be any different than refusing to put two men or two women on top of a wedding cake. Getting married to whom you chose is your right (as of this writing), reading what you want to read is your right (as of this writing), and raising your kids according to the ethical standards of your family and your moral values is your right — as of this writing. We’ll see after the bigots finish shoving that lying hypocrite phony bastard Kavanaugh down our throats. You don’t want to see me Heather Has Two Mommies? Okay. You already decided you don’t want my business, and I hope you realize I might very well make a big stink about it. Social media is not only in the hands of the religious right.

          1. Mike:
            I made it clear that I thought it was a poor business model to refuse to even special order something for a customer because you don’t want anyone to read it more than you want money. But refusing to carry an item is different than refusing to provide your service which is what the cake thing is. You bake wedding cakes but just for straight people it is discrimination based on sexual orientation. You refuse to order a book because you’re trying to save my children from being exposed to the “gay agenda” and you say as much to the customer, you’re being a stupid business owner.

            One assumes that the storekeep understands that they are choosing to lose my business and other people’s business as well as bring on the ire of bad Yelp and Facebook reviews. You have to assume someone that hardcore in their beliefs that they have gamed out the lost sales and backlash and chose their “principles” over basic principles of capitalism.

            Everyone in retail knows that 1 unhappy customer leaving the store equals 5 to 10 lost customers because people will tell their friends about the shitty thing that happened.

        2. Adriane, You are walking a tight line on bookseller’s right. What about the bakery owner’s right? While i agree on the stupid stance. It is a slippery slope to class\gender\race discrimination that is supported by business owner’s rights. The next-step behind that is the distributor’s rights to not distribute said material.

          1. Bob: refusing to provide the service you provide (baking cakes) based on something about the customer is different than saying “we don’t bake gluten free cakes, sorry”

          2. Bob:
            Same goes for the distributer. They don’t have to carry every book. I think it’s a stupid business plan to announce why you wouldn’t but look at Wal-Mart and their “family standards” for items to get shelf/rack space
            Any private business owner has the right not to carry an item. Censorship is when the government or public institution does it. Pulling a book from a school library is a completely different thing than your LCS not wanting to carry Jawbreakers. The refusal for the special order is the line that I think may be too far, but again it’s the business owner’s choice to die on that hill