Why banned books are disappearing from library shelves
The most banned book in the United States right now is Maia Kobabe’s memoir Gender Queer. Maia, who uses the pronouns e/em/eir, illustrates eir experience growing up in rural San Francisco Bay Area in a graphic book where e undergoes traditional gendered events from getting eir first bra to developing crushes on boys and girls.
Published by Simon & Schuster’s Oni Press in 2019, the author’s autobiographical coming-of-age story held the top spot on the most banned and challenged books list compiled by the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. The group says the book has been “banned, challenged, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content, and because it was considered to have sexually explicit images.”
Most books are banned from libraries and schools without much media fanfare, as in up to 97% of these books that are challenged will never be covered by the news. That means Americans, especially children, may never know why they can’t find a particular book at their local library.
Banned books have become a priority over the last few years since many of these works are by LGBTQIA+ authors as well as authors of color describing racial, ethnic, and cultural experiences like The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas being famously banned and challenged for allegedly promoting an “anti-police message and indoctrination of a social agenda,” the ALA’s list notes.
I recently attended Books in Bloom, a so-called progressive book festival in Maryland, which celebrated banned books this year by adding panels with authors and experts discussing freedom of speech, including Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin and literary civil rights group PEN America. The partner indie bookstore Busboys and Poets mostly sold banned books, such as Gender Queer.
More people are taking action to support the sales of these books. Students are starting banned book clubs in their high schools. They’re even filing lawsuits against their schools for removing books. In retaliation of the increase in book censorship, Margaret Atwood modeled with a flamethrower to show off a fireproof version of her 1985 Hulu-adapted novel The Handmaid’s Tale. The book was auctioned off for $130,000 this week with proceeds going to PEN America.
As 2022 becomes a year of giving banned and challenged books a spotlight, the annual Banned Books Week will take place in September. That’s three months of really surveying the impact of banned and challenged books and hearing more authors speak about the freedom of speech. And maybe we’ll get more fireproof books…