Don't like a book? Ban it!
...And you guarantee that it will sell ten times as many copies as it would have otherwise.
In Fall 2011, First Second will publish Americus by MK Reed and Jonathan Hill. It's a graphic novel about Neil Barton, a teen in a small town in Oklahoma, who finds himself up against members of the community who want to ban the wildly popular fantasy series Apathea Ravenchilde from the local library. Americus is being serialized online (updated 3 times per week) at Save Apathea, leading up to publication next year. You should read it: it's awesome.
Please ban this book.
Can I tell you a secret? I'm kind of hoping that someone decides to ban Americus when it comes out in print. Why? Because then everyone will read it!
This is one of the reasons banning books just doesn't work very well (at least not in this country). It tends to attract attention to the book being banned. And that's sort of the opposite effect of what's intended! But just because banning a book is a pretty terrible way to suppress an idea doesn't make it a harmless, laughable pasttime. The suppression of ideas (ineffectively or not) is not something to ignore.
Book banning is bad.
I think most of the folks reading this post will agree with that statement (and not just because it's pleasingly alliterative). But it's worth unpacking it a bit. Why is book banning bad?
- It involves one section of society imposing their tastes and values on everyone else, specifically through the suppression of free expression and free exchange of ideas.
- It's predicated on the idea that objectionable ideas go away or lose their power if you suppress the public expression of those ideas. Not only is this not the case (kids are going to figure out that sex exists pretty much no matter what you do), but you run the risk of obscuring reliable facts in favor of unsupressable wild speculation. Misinformation about the concepts being censored (sex, drug use, atheism,etc) gains momentum when the real story isn't available. Kids! Can't find a copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves? Don't sweat it! My cousin told me you can't get pregnant if you take a shower after sex. But some girl on the playground told me you can get AIDS by smoking pot.
- It involves the misguided concept that it's safer to ignore a scary or repugnant idea than to confront it, talk about it, contest it, even defray it. Generally, the best thing you can do to imbue an idea with inescapable power and fascination is to make it taboo.
- It's ultimately self-defeating. Children are not stupid, by and large. And they aren't as fragile as we think they are when we hasten to protect them from exposure to ideas we think will warp their little minds. They can take it! And they should. Would you rather have a child come around to the "right" position on an issue because they've been bullied and deceived into it? Or because they've got all the facts and they've thought it through and made a decision freely and based on what they believe to be right? Which of these conversions is likely to be the one that sticks?
None of these ideas are all that unusual.
I'm certainly not the first person to voice any of them. But there's something else that I think is worth examining, something that maybe doesn't get all the real estate it should in this conversation: there is this impulse to villify people who advocate for banning certain children's books. They're ignorant and reactionary, we tell each other. They're religious nut-jobs. They're assholes.
No. They're just people.
Not everyone who wants to see a book banned is a bad person.
In fact, most of them are probably good people, at least as much as any of us can be said to be "good." I would say they're misguided, even destructive. But they're not terrible human beings--they're just human beings with a terrible idea. The thing is, a lot of people come to this idea from a place of sincere concern. Their intentions are good, even if the conclusion they draw is not. They want to protect their children. They want to be good parents. They want to shape their world in a positive way. It's just that some of us strongly believe they're going about it all wrong.
This is why our aim should be to persuade, not to alienate. One of the things I love about Americus is that in addition to being hilarious and true and a great story, it's also a terrific piece of persuasive writing. It makes a very strong argument in favor of the open expression of ideas, and it presents a heartbreaking picture of what happens to families when that openness is shut down--when certain books are forbidden and certain subjects are avoided at all costs. It's not a pretty picture...but it's a powerful one.
Americus presents an idea worth sharing. And that's why I hope it gets banned as widely as possible.