Look, I know a lot of people are arguing otherwise. They’re going to say that Tennessee’s ban on Maus, Art Speigelman’s multiple-award-winning tale of the Holocaust (where the Jews are anthropomorphized mice), will mean that Maus will make its way into more hands. People are gonna find that book, they say. Those kids are gonna read Maus. And all those other books that they’re banning, too, which gets tacked on as an afterthought.
I’m here to tell you that those optimistic innocents are wrong. They’re good-hearted. They mean well. I think they even believe themselves. But they’re so goddamn wrong. And that wrongness ends up being outright dangerous, for the readers who are being denied their book, for the authors whose books are being banned and whose income is being slashed. It’s dangerous for all of us, even people like me, living in a very blue corner of a very blue county in a fairly blue state, who just ordered The Complete Maus and MetaMaus from my childhood bookstores.
It’s late, and it’s one of those weeks where a day has been at least a week long, and so I’ll wait until another post, when I am more awake and less stressed out, to pull up my figures, my data, my citations. Instead I’ll ask you, in this op-ed of mine, to believe me: removing books from schools and libraries removes access. Even if a young reader has access to the internet—which is by no means a given—they won’t always have access to the book, whether it be Maus or King and the Dragonflies or another banned or challenged work. The internet isn’t a magic bullet, and as all of us know who’ve worked with filters, there are a hell of a lot of ways to prevent people from accessing what they need. Don’t think for a minute that the states and school districts banning books won’t use whatever tools they’ve got at their disposal.
Hell, don’t think that parents won’t, either. My parents never cared what I read: I think they were mostly just glad that I could finally read, and so I was free to read Harlequins whenever I found them, and Mary Balogh, and Titus Andronicus, which scared me so badly I’ve never read it again. But the thing is, lots of parents do restrict. They don’t want their kids to read about bodies, or sex, or anything at all related to LGBTQIA+ folks, never mind that the kid they love might fall under that umbrella. It is much harder to ensure access than to take it away. But take books out of the library, and even kids with parents as relaxed as mine won’t have access, if they can’t afford to purchase a copy.
A lot of other folks have written Twitter threads on why banning books is a disaster. A lot of folks are writing incredible news coverage, too. But so many fall back into willfully obtuse optimism, their belief that kids will find a way unsupported by evidence. We gotta find a way, indeed, but it’s not up to a kid in Tennessee, or Texas, or Arizona. it’s up to every single one of us, and it’s terrifying, and it’s urgent, and it’s essential.