What books do the Conservatives want to use for kindling?

I was in college when I first learned that the Harry Potter series was making waves in the Christian community. As the daughter of a pious Southern Baptist who took the Bible for law, woe to those who call evil good. Reading a coming-of-age story about a magical boy and all of his spellcasting, wand-wielding friends was simply out of the question.

Of course, like many other things that went against our fundamentalist values, nothing was more intriguing than the forbidden.

Sorry mom.

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In all of my prepubescent but rebellious nerdom, the library was a favorite spot. Apart from my tasks of helping to put back books on the shelves, I was allowed to read in my free time. Reading was, for me, an escape; I much preferred fantastic universes, heroes and heroines, and unexpected twists to reality. The rush to devour ”Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone ” was as addicting as it was confusing.

Why has this whimsical story sparked an outcry and the occasional public book burning?

A little older and hardly wiser, I still ask myself this question. This week, I searched for answers.

In recent months, a noticeable increase in media coverage has highlighted a growing number of school boards calling for the removal of literature from library shelves and classrooms. Challenges have been met in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Utah, South Carolina and Texas – it seems no Red state is safe.

If their books represent all that is bad in the world, am I the product of their nefarious nature, evil incarnate? My grandmother’s opinion aside, I tend to say no.

The American Library Association is a nonprofit organization that monitors censorship efforts as part of its mission to provide free access to information. The ALA says calls for the ban and even the burning of books are greater than ever, often receiving multiple reports per day. In fact, reports rose 67% in September compared to the same month last year.

My relentless thirst for the written word forced me to see what was in store for Tory Ignition. I’m always on the lookout for new reading material after all.

As I browsed ALA’s lists of the 10 most contested books by year, I was totally in awe of how many works by my favorite authors topped the charts – Harper Lee, John Steinbeck, Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison, Chuck Palahniuk and, as recently as 2019, the wizarding word from the Harry Potter series, JK Rowling herself.

These are some of the provocateurs of prose that inspired me to expand my worldview, imagine anything and question everything. They fueled my fire for racial justice, gender equality, and the perpetuation of the art of damn good storytelling. In addition, their plots and characters invited me into an alternate reality to detach myself from mine, on occasion.

If their books represent all that is bad in the world, am I the product of their nefarious nature, evil incarnate? My grandmother’s opinion aside, I tend to say no.

But those who carry the torch of censorship across the country would likely say otherwise. Looking at the challenges they have posed over the past decade, they represent a range of grievances.

Here are some of my favorites:

  • “Sexual vulgarity and nuances.” These parents obviously never got in the back of a school bus or changed in a locker room. Your kids use all kinds of lewd and lustful language when you’re not around. This summer in a neighborhood park, the colorful words that came out of the mouths of some seventh graders in a Nerf shootout even made me blush.
  • “In conflict with a religious point of view. Outside of the six most popular religions in the world, there are also a ton of obscure ones. In an age when the divine teachings of the Jedi and aliens have gained followers, there is no book in circulation that does not conflict with someone’s ideology.
  • “LGBTQIA Characters and Themes.” Because the best way to clear up mating confusion is to pretend it doesn’t exist, right? Wrong. I know many people who have found solace in the stories of others who have shared their complex and highly individual journey with their bodies and sexuality. Reading them can also do wonders for gaining perspective and understanding.
  • “Drug use, profanity and offensive language. “ As someone whose common vernacular includes a multitude of expletives, omitting them from reading material just doesn’t count. It might be the lingering haze of all that high school experimenting, but the argument that protecting kids from such things prevents them from trying is lost on me.
  • “Characters who use ‘nefarious means’ to achieve goals. ” Yes, real people who do terrible things to be successful are proof enough that we don’t need them in the books. This one made me laugh as it was the challenge against the Harry Potter series. I’m sure every dictator and evil genius in the world learned their twisted art at Hogwarts.
  • And to top it all: “Schools and libraries should not ‘put books in a child’s hands that require discussion.’ ” I kept this one until the end because I think it deserves a discussion on its own. Maybe not here on this platform, but at home around the dinner table. As a parent, I fully encourage my child to read books with an insatiable appetite. I hope his desire to read will take him to fictional worlds and challenge him to think about the real thing. These thoughts and ideas should prompt questions, and I welcome the opportunity to find answers, together. Why would a parent instead want to hinder the quest for knowledge and send their children to their peers for discourse and discovery? If a topic is too taboo for an open dialogue with your children, it might be time for you to explain why.

Fortunately, thanks to the good work of the ALA, fellow bibliophiles, and free thought advocates, I’ve learned that most book challenges never result in a ban. However, any victory in the battle against the exchange of ideas in writing is a huge loss. While my own child is not yet in elementary school, modern developments in censorship force me to get involved. If you believe in the power of books, please join me against those who would destroy it.

In the words of JK Rowling, “Nothing is more irritating to the true conventionalists than the shameless misfits!” “

This column was originally published by the Daily Montanan, an Arizona Mirror sister publication and member of the States Press Room network of local newsrooms.


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