I’ve written about this before, but the issue seems to have come around once again (truly, it’s never ending). There has been a huge kerfuffle in recent weeks and months over the “banning” of certain books. Yes, parents in some school districts have argued for the removal of certain books from the school library as not appropriate for the age group of the school (does anybody really think that third graders should be reading books more appropriate for middle-schoolers or high-schoolers? Yes, it’s happening in some school libraries). But in the end, that is not banning books. If you can go out and get the book from your local public library or pick it up off the “banned books” table at Barnes and Noble, the book is not banned. And if your small-town library doesn’t have a copy of the scandalous book you’re looking for… they’ll use interlibrary loan to get it from elsewhere for you.
I don’t think there’s a true librarian anywhere who would prevent somebody from reading a book, no matter what book. They might warn, they might try to stop a child from reading an adult book (I had to get my mom’s permission to roam the broader YA section of our library when I was in fourth or fifth grade), but at the end of the day, a real librarian will bend over backwards to help you get the books you want to read even if he or she thinks they’re ridiculous.
If you’re curious about the difference between what we’re seeing right now and actual, for real book banning, look at the history of samizdat in the former Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact countries. First off, when the government declares a book to be off limits, and punishes people for not only owning the book, but merely reading it… the book is banned. Cuba is a great example of this… the left and Cuba like to brag that Cuba has a 98% literacy rate due to their extraordinary government school system. That’s great. But Cubans are only allowed to read government approved books and propaganda. Most western books are banned there. 98% of the population is literate, but there’s nothing to read.
Samizdat essentially means “self-publishing” in Russian. It’s a spoof of the official name for the state publishing house in the Soviet Union. The word refers to both the system for reproducing banned books and articles as well as the books and articles themselves.
In the Soviet Union not only were books banned, but it was illegal for individuals to own typewriters, carbon paper (go ask your grandmother what that is), and photocopiers. Why? Well, if those things weren’t banned, just about anybody could write a book, or far worse… copy a banned book! Quelle horreur!
The system of samizdat was simple in plan, and extremely dangerous and complex in execution. Books and articles, including academic articles, were smuggled into the USSR by Russians returning home or visitors from other countries. Copies were made by somebody typing out or writing by hand, the whole book using carbon paper (special paper that allowed multiple copies to be typed/written out at one time). The carbon copies were then passed around among readers who oftentimes made copies of copies in order to pass along to even more people. Getting caught with any of these copies resulted in anything from job reassignment (yes, the USSR government decided where you were allowed to work), to permanent banning from working, to jail and/or Siberian exile. Getting caught producing samizdat… well, that was even worse.
If you know of anybody in the U.S. who is currently in jail for reading a book, any book, or publishing a book… please, do let me know.
The left loves to accuse the right of voraciously banning books every chance it gets. Yes, there are those who call themselves fundamentalist Christians who would like to get rid of the Harry Potter books, or Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl or others. But those people are a miniscule percentage of the population and are usually laughed at (as should be anybody who wants to actually ban a book from the population). And you have to ask yourself… as an adult, has anybody ever successfully forbidden you to read a book? Punished you for reading a book? Have the police broken down your door, confiscated all your books and dragged you off to prison because you owned those books?
But the left is the loudest and most public advocate for banning books and people. Activists on the left would love to ban not only Jordan Peterson’s books, but the man himself. The left has turned on JK Rowling and screams that everybody should immediately throw out their copies of Harry Potter books and she shouldn’t be allowed out in public. Larry Correia (author of Monster Hunter International) has been disinvited from cons because some spineless twit found his discussion of guns to be threatening and somehow homophobic. Some on the right would like to get rid of Ibrahim Kendi’s How to be an Antiracist and whatsherface’s White Fragility. Both of those are more temper tantrums, but still… if you want to read them, go ahead. And yet, despite the haters on all sides… all these books are still available in public libraries all over the country. Shocking.
If you are truly concerned about books being “banned.” Then start collecting them. Buy them, read them. Read authors who are banned by either the left or the right. Do the worst thing you can against book banners… READ THE DAMN BOOKS FOR YOURSELF!
But for Heaven’s sake, quit whinging about books being banned in this country (they’re not yet, but I wouldn’t put it past the Biden Administration and others of their ilk to try to ban books). And quit patting yourself on the back for picking up a book from the B&N table and telling yourself how brave and subversive you are for reading a banned book.
Oh, and just because a book is banned, doesn’t mean it’s good. So, you don’t have to pretend it changed your life either.
Read the books you like, and if you find yourself saying “somebody needs to write about…” well, then, go write that book.
I’m off to keep writing and then I’ll go read whatever’s next in my queue.