“It was a pleasure to burn.” So thought Montag, the protagonist of Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel “Fahrenheit 451,” as he hosed kerosene onto a burning pile of books.
Montag has good company in contemporary America. Two members of a Virginia school board recently called for a book burning of “sexually explicit” books. A school board member in Florida demanded that someone must be criminally prosecuted for allowing a young-adult memoir for Black queer boys on school library shelves. In Texas (the “Friendship” state), Governor Gregg Abbott called on the state’s school boards to remove books he described as “pornography”—predominantly LGBTQ books.
Some of the offensive books cited include “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” by George M. Johnson, which details their experiences growing up in New Jersey and Virginia as a Black, queer and non-binary person, and “Gender Queer,” by Maia Kobabe.
Another popular book to ban is Nobel-prize winner Toni Morrison’s first novel, written in 1970, “The Bluest Eye,” about a young Black girl consistently regarded as “ugly” due to her mannerisms and dark skin. I remember reading that book in college and having my eyes opened.
Librarians say efforts to ban books are on the rise. Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Information Freedom, has said, “The volume of challenges we are hearing and seeing now appears to be the result of an organized movement by certain groups to impose their political views and make them the norm for education and for our society as a whole.”
In Publisher’s Weekly, John Chrastka, executive director of EveryLibrary, a political action group that works to support libraries at the local level, was quoted saying, “There is an attempt to shift the conversation away from books and ideas to a conversation about parental control. What we’re seeing is the weaponization of parental control to advance a political agenda.”
I’m a little puzzled. It seems many of the people calling for book bans are ardent First Amendment supporters, yet they are attempting to censor ideas and enforce a conservative, white-based, heterosexual, quasi-Christian orthodoxy of what is thought about and talked about in our communities.
If book banning isn’t a violation of free speech, what is? No matter. That’s not what’s important. What’s important is scoring political points, protecting the status quo, and getting Critical Race Theory out of our schools. For the record, Critical Race Theory isn’t taught in schools. It’s an academic concept developed more than 40 years ago positing that race is a social construct, and that racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but is embedded in legal systems and policies.
In better news, Central York School District in Pennsylvania, after facing pressure from community members and students, rescinded a year-long ban on a list of books—all from Latinx and African American authors—intended to teach diversity. You’re either for teaching diversity or you’re against it. And if you’re against it, a lot of books must be destroyed.
You would think that banning books—burning books—would never be acceptable in our country. Look up “book burning” on a search engine and almost all of the top results are about Nazis, who organized huge bonfires to burn books considered to be subversive to Nazism. Books from some of history’s greatest thinkers and writers—Albert Einstein, Ernest Hemingway, Helen Keller, Leo Tolstoy, Margaret Sanger, and dozens of others—were thrown upon the flames with glee and sent off with Nazi salutes. Lovely.