Banned Books You Haven’t Heard About

At a packed school board meeting near Rockford, Illinois, earlier this year, a woman waved heartbreaking images from Maya Cobabe’s photo memoir. gay sex In front of the Harlem School District Council. “If my neighbor was to give this to my child, guess what? He would be in prison.” He said To applause scattered. She was among dozens of students, parents, and community members who showed up to ponder whether the district should ban eight titles, including Toni Morrison’s blue eye. “I don’t take the book bans lightly…but frankly, these specific books contain material related to child sexual abuse,” He said One participant, echoing others who claimed it gay sexwhich relates to being neither bisexual nor sexual, amounts to “child abuse”.

Even though the room was divided equally, the council eventually voted to ban gay sex And he kept the other seven, adding even more fame to The most challenging book of 2021. gay sex It became a national antidote to book bans in schools and libraries, which reached the highest level on record since 1990 when the American Library Association began tracking challenges. In 2021, the number of book removal attempts jumped from 156 the previous year to 729; It’s on track to be even bigger this year.

What is the fate of a book like Cobabe after discussing and banning it? On the face of it, it may sound desirable: a children’s book author on a tour in Virginia told me that she a wish Her book will be subject to censorship, citing widely reported accounts prohibiting increased sales. Many people share this assumption. Stories in the media cheer up lovable Examples How censorship efforts backfire and instead lead to massive demand. It’s a story that allays fears about a growing American culture hostile to provocative books. It makes us feel a little better.

But that’s not what actually happens when a book is banned. At least, not most of the time.

The ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom has a telling statistic: it estimates that a staggering 82 to 97 percent of writers’ challenges go unreported. This means that these books, the vast majority, do not make it past the school board meeting minutes and in local newspapers. And as it turns out, this question of how much attention the book gets — either because it’s already known, like blue eye, or because the ban itself generates big news – a decisive factor. It makes a huge difference in whether censorship helps or hinders a book’s chances of falling into the reader’s hands.

Like many people, I’ve been under the impression that bans tend to be good for business – after all, it seems every bookstore in America has a special display of these infamous books, including at Banned Books Week, which takes place this week. I have learned by studying empirical literature that difficult, outrageous, or disruptive acts are often the same ones that end up becoming bricks; As a bookseller and literary critic, I understood the power of debate in the attention economy. But when I started digging deeper, I came across the idea that it’s forbidden lonliness Pushing sales to be misleading, based on data analysis and more than a dozen interviews with publishers, booksellers, authors, First Amendment watchers and industry experts.

Bans only increase sales when accompanied by a media campaign, as was confirmed recently NPD BookScan Report. In the two weeks prior to the Harlem County School Board meeting, gay sex Experienced its largest sales volume, after New York times A profile of the book and its author, according to NPD BookScan. Just as a glowing review of times It can boost sales, and so can it An intriguing profile of the most banned book of the year. Another recent example is the Pulitzer Prize-winning artist Art Spiegelman mosswhich saw a 753 percent increase in sales and up to sold on amazon After its ban was widely reported by the Tennessee School Board.

But the most common is what happened to author Truong Li Nguyen. His graphic novel for young adults, magic fishwas on the list assembly and production A Texas representative wrote it last year for books that “may make students feel uncomfortable, guilt, distress, or other form of psychological distress because of race or gender.” The campaign succeeded in removing 414 addresses from a Texas school district, including magic fish. There was little recourse for Nguyen and there seemed to be nothing his publisher could do. He never got the media attention he accumulated moss, so he had the more common realization that fewer children would now be able to find his work. “It’s just an unfortunate fact that the longevity of my book on bookshelves and exposure in public spaces is severely diminished,” he told me. “It’s a terrible feeling.”

magic fish It’s the story of an immigrant graduating – a mix of themes that make her a major target in this latest wave of bans. Banning YA books can seriously harm their sales because these books, more than adult titles, are dependent on circulation in schools and libraries. Without organizations like this buying books collectively, Nguyen said, authors could struggle to secure another book deal, because “the likelihood that you’ll reclaim your progress is very diminished.” Nguyen also noted that novice authors who are not firmly established, as well as marginal authors who write about their own identity, are particularly vulnerable to these consequences.

“For every challenge that makes the headlines, there are likely to be five to eight challenges that are not behind it,” said Deborah Caldwell Stone, director of the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom. Given the decline in local news over the past two decades and the fact that book departments have long been among the first to be abolished when newspaper budgets are slashed, the proportion of unreported book challenges may be exacerbated. Although specialized outlets such as riot book And First Amendment advocates, such as PEN America, have tracked book bans closely, and most titles don’t make headlines, nationally or locally, and instead fade into the dark.

Not every book is an award winning book like mosssaid Jeff Trixler, interim director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, which protects the First Amendment rights of comic creators. “There are other books where this happens – their sales don’t go up, their sales evaporate, or the author suddenly becomes radioactive.”

Contrary to the sudden surge in sales, determining how much the ban is doing to book sales is difficult – but we can get a clearer picture by looking at how the publishing industry relies on wholesale purchases by schools and bookstores, which is exactly which market segment has become a battleground. for a larger culture war.

according to The 2022 report from PEN AmericaYA accounts for 47 percent of the books challenged, followed by picture books at 18 percent. This educational market is especially important for YA authors like Nguyen, many of whom get a large share of their sales from wholesale deals and write for an elementary school audience who typically don’t have purchasing power. Margaret Stoll said, “When a book is adopted by schools and libraries, it becomes the kind of livelihood that can sustain the life of the author.” The New York Times Bestselling author who book chapter Cats vs Robots He was recently banned by a school district in Missouri for having a non-binary personality.

Schools and libraries don’t just make one-time bulk purchases. As Skip Dye, Senior Vice President of Library Sales and Digital Strategy for Penguin Random House, said, “You buy thousands of books annually on an ongoing basis to replace those that got damaged.”

Although book bans have always been somewhat political, the current level of involvement of national organizations in censorship campaigns is novel. Usually, the books are challenged by members of the local community; However, 41 percent of PEN America’s bans from July 2021 to March 2022 “are linked to directives from state officials or elected lawmakers to investigate or remove books in schools.” In addition, reporting by Watchman And the salon He demonstrated connections between wealthy donors and advocacy groups such as Moms for Liberty and No Left Turn in Education, which lead ban efforts in some states and provide evidence for others.

The repercussions of these proliferating prevention efforts are being felt by authors whose names we may never hear, but who feel the impact in a deeply personal way. YA author Laurie Halse Anderson told me it was such a hard hit when her first novel, speakAnd the Based in part on her sexual assault at the age of 13, it was challenged in 2000 shortly after being selected as a National Book Award finalist. “I was so terrified that there were those who thought I would write something that might be harmful to children,” she said.

The pain of a ban is often deeper than worrying about a drop in sales or missing out on future book deals. As Margaret Stoll told me, it can feel like you’ve completely rejected your worldview. The non-binary character in her book is inspired by her child, and in her eyes, the censorship was a kind of erasure: “They didn’t ban a book – they were banning identity.”

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