Book Bans and Reconstructing a Book’s Role: Recommended Reading

Back in 2016, I wrote a blog post at the tail end of Banned Books Week, where I analyzed a list a books I saw in a bookstore that have been banned or, at least, challenged, over the years. I mention this as we see a rise in even more books being challenged or banned; several of them for reasons where if such bans are successfully, can lead to some dangerous, long-term consequences for the audiences for whom said books are being taken away from. Most notably in recent time, Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel, Maus, which centers on the author’s family’s experiences living through the Holocaust, was unanimously banned by a school board in Tennessee from its eighth grade curriculum.

What felt more so minor at the time I wrote that initial post has become more amplified in how the political climate and its lasting influence post-Trump has affected our society. It’s a push-and-pull shift where while progress is being made in giving platforms to voices who haven’t always had the chance to tell their stories, opposing forces are what’s keeping them from reaching the most necessary audience possible: the next generation. These proposed and executed book bans stem from a place of fear and discomfort, and in a country that prides itself so much on the Freedom of Speech, it begs the question of what we really stand for when that basic right is being withheld from the next generation.

Ultimately, that’s why what’s happening right now is so dangerous. By keeping such works away from younger readers, behaviors and histories are set to repeat, poignant voices continue to be ignored or overlooked, and the First Amendment – that, more often than not, is used so frequently by these same decision makers to harpoon the toxicity we’ve been living in the last several years – is under fire.

I read Maus when I was in high school and I find it a very necessary book to read when the Holocaust is first being taught. While I was in high school when I first read it, it’s in eighth grade when Anne Frank’s diary is introduced (at least, that was the case with me). So I don’t see the problem in having eighth graders read it.

To further dive into why banning books is dangerous and how the role of the book should shift from a place of escapism into something more, for this round of Recommended Analyzing, I encourage you to read this piece Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of The Sympathizer, wrote for The New York Times. He wrote about reading Larry Heineman’s Close Quarters as a teenager, and how it ultimately led to him writing his own novel set during the same war the former takes place in.

The conversation regarding book banning needs to be taken seriously, and ultimately, the question comes to mind as to why those who are proposing them at all are really doing this for: for the next generation, or to make the older generation feel less uncomfortable?

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