Monday, May 1, 2023

Books need protecting from Moms for Liberty

When I wrote about book banning in Dispatches from a Tourist Trap, I was afraid that some parts went a little over the top. For those that didn't read it (which, based on sales figures would be most of you), Jason moves to a small town in Eastern Washington after his parents split up, and is pleasantly surprised to find a student-led literature club exists at the high school. But when some, let's call them less-progressive, students object to the book selections, things get heated. The titles grow increasingly controversial, from The Sun Also Rises to At Play in the Fields of the Lord to The Virgin Suicides. The school board votes to require all books chosen be preapproved by them, at which point Jason and friends take it underground. They eventually enter a protest float in the town's Christmas parade, which only inflames matters, literally, when someone sets it on fire.

It was meant to be funny, while also addressing an odious practice with a long history in our country. (While the U.S. is hardly alone in banning books, for a democracy we seem to take it to a whole 'nother level every so often.) Like I said, I was mildly concerned it was almost overdone. I mean, how likely would it be that Jason's band of happy readers would encounter such strong opposition?

I never thought to include any Nora Roberts books on their reading list, though. Maybe that would have made it more realistic. At least if I had set the story in Florida.

The ironically named Moms for Liberty group in Martin County wasn't content pulling Judy Blume and Jodi Picoult books off library shelves. They had to get rid of Roberts' books as well. Some of these recently banned titles make up "The Bride Quartet," a series of four books about friends who run a wedding-planning business. Here's the blurb from the first book, Vision in White:

Wedding photographer Mackensie "Mac" Elliot is most at home behind the camera, but her focus is shattered moments before an important wedding rehearsal when she bumps into the bride-to-be's encounter that has them both seeing stars.

A stable, safe English teacher, Carter Maguire is definitely not Mac's type. But a casual fling might be just what she needs to take her mind off bridezillas. Of course, casual flings can turn into something more when you least expect it. And Mac will have to turn to her three best friends—and business partners—to see her way to her own happy ending.

Oh my stars and garters, how salacious.

Roberts is, as she should be, pissed off. But in a sense, I celebrate the blatant overstep on the part of Moms for Liberty. Because if they weren't a laughingstock before, they are now. (Note: They were a laughingstock from the start.)

Not that book banning is a laughing matter, by any means. In Florida, where they seem to have nothing better to do, or elsewhere. And we can include my school district in that elsewhere, as there is a group of "concerned" parents trying to remove Juno Dawson's This Book Is Gay from the Hilton High School library. This is actually a major campaign plank for one of the perennial school-board candidates, whose Facebook rantings indirectly sparked the bomb threats that closed school twice this spring.

I can't blame this gadfly for the bomb threat, as the same threat was made against a school in Iowa regarding the same book. The emails were sent from an account with a .ru domain, which could literally have come from anywhere, including Russia, whose leader never seems to mind stirring shit on an international level. Clearly, whoever sent it knew enough about what was going on locally to sound credible on a first pass, though their repeated attempts no longer generate much response. We've been notified of at least four such emails, which the district regards as mere hoaxes by this point.

The book-banning brigades are out in full force in Pennsylvania as well, though they are meeting some stiff resistance, and taking a few noteworthy L's. After Kutztown Area Middle School canceled its One School, One Book event for Alan Gratz's YA novel Two Degrees, about, gasp, climate change, a student protest led to an even wider distribution of the book. Quite the lovely own goal on the part of the groups trying to prevent kids from reading. A similar controversy birthed the Kutztown Teen Banned Book Club, which Jason and his friend Maddie would have loved. (They dubbed theirs the Lost Generation Literary Scholars.)

Climate change and wedding planning will almost certainly triumph in due time. Outside of the most hardcore banners, those books will find enough support to survive. LBGTQ books, however, face a much steeper challenge. Even here, in Upstate New York, This Book Is Gay is at serious risk. Following the bomb threat controversy, the school board assembled a three-parent panel to weigh in on the matter. There were a lot more than three parents to volunteer, however, and they wound up choosing names lottery style. Mine came up 16th on the list, out of how many I don't know. And I have no idea what the political mindset is of the three who were selected. I guess we'll find out later this month when they issue their verdict.

All for a book that has been on library shelves since 2015, and had been checked out a grand total of two times prior to this ruckus. A book that would probably still be available to students if it were titled The Frat Boys' Guide to Scoring with Sorority Chicks. Because let's face it, the title is what put This Book Is Gay in the eye of this storm. If it were a picture book of rainbows, there would still be a number of Liberty Mothers looking to remove it. Gay people are much easier to marginalize in this country than just about any other group this side of transgender folk. LGBTQ releases are the gateway drug of book banners. Once they get an appetite for it, though, the slope gets real slippery real quick. It won't end with Nora Roberts and Judy Blume.

I can't go quite to the extreme of saying no book should ever be kept out of school libraries. I would draw my line at books that promote violence. A book on how to build a bomb or plan a shooting, for example, I could never support.

If that makes me a hypocrite, I guess I can live with the label. But protecting kids means something very different to me than it does to these Moms for Liberty groups.

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