Banned Books Week | C. Don Jones


Each year, Waldenbooks organized the “Forbidden Book Week”. After the fiasco of Mc Minn and Williamson Counties in Tennessee, I remember those times. We featured several titles and displayed them under a sign that read, “Read these books while you can.” It’s good marketing as well as good public relations. The company provided answers to any questions or complaints from customers. We have never used them.

Forbidden Book Surprises

The interesting thing about book bans is the surprises people get. A person exclaims: “But I read this book!” Another might ask, “Why ban HBlueberry Finn?”

Surprises happen because everyone knows someone has found something they judge objectionable about the book. These objections are more than a matter of literary taste. They concern the subject and the style of narration. Thus, a client stands out in my mind. She was surprised to see the Bible among the forbidden books.

“I would be afraid to ban a Bible.” She said. She was white and probably evangelical. She hadn’t looked too closely. We didn’t just put a Bible on the table. It was a copy of The Living Bible. It was not a translation of the Bible. The editors were clear that it was a paraphrase. I did not respond to his assertion. Corn The Living Bible has been banned in many evangelical fundamentalist and white churches. My own local church forbids public use because “it was not an accurate translation of the Bible.” Exact meant literalist.


What else do people think is objectionable information or style? Maybe some sexual content or comments are inappropriate. Literal Bible translations contain this stuff. Contents is the main problem. Much like the leaders of my local church who had no idea how to translate the Greek or Hebrew scriptures, most people object to the resulting meaning. Doctrinal claims regarding biblical inerrancy have been challenged by a paraphrase.

The question is always why someone objects to the material. Claiming that there is no ban but that we removed it from the playlists does not answer this question. Is it threatening something that is dear to the objector? Would this person do an outright ban if they had the power?

A few decades ago, another tennessee county school board faced objection from parents about play The Diary of Anne Frank. Why? Anne Frank tells another character that she thinks it’s important to have a religion. Regardless of religion. As long as a person has one. Anne said that we could have any religion other than Christian fundamentalism. White evangelical church leaders disputed this.

Banished by fear

The banning of the books is due to someone’s fear of the potential impact the material could have. But what about the fear of reprisals for releasing the documents?

Waldenbooks reacted quickly when a fatwa was issued by Ayatollah Khomeini in February 1989 against Salman Rushdie for publishing the novel Satanic verses. The company pulled the book from the shelves for fear that a Muslim would commit violence against the stores. We were told to keep them under the counter for customers who requested them. It was loose. And he was bigoted because he assumed that the Muslims would attack the shops. Customers have often decided that a book is not available if it is not on the shelves. Regarding the appearance of hypocrisy regarding other banned books, we were told it was “for the safety of our staff and customers”. In other words, a book is dangerous for the reader.

The company quickly changed its policy. But I understand the lesson now. As Ray Bradbury told us, book communication is worth risking everything.

Encourage response

My parents, to their credit, never told me not to read anything. They often opposed the ideas I adopted from what I read. But I was not discouraged from reading it. My parents may have shook their heads. But they never said “No”.

I see encouraging responses to the news of the book bans. Many of us have caused an increase in sales of Maus and other books. It now remains to be seen how far those who oppose them will go to prevent them from being read. I guess there is nothing more to fear from them. But that means progressive Christians need to do more than read nice articles and posts.

We should organize groups to read materials that other people hate. Students should be encouraged to “go the extra mile” to read what they are told to avoid. And when this type of education grows, its influence will grow. The changes will begin. The reflection will take place. And creating new ways of being can happen.

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