You Ban the Good, You Ban the Bad, You Ban them both and there you have: Banned Books Week
This past week, as everyone knows, was Banned Books Week, the one week a year when we “celebrate” books which have been banned or challenged in some way.
There is of course bias when it comes to what books are “banned,” but there is also bias when it comes to what books arguably have been banned and whether they are included on the ALA’s list, a bias which determines which “banned books” are publicized or “celebrated.” Generally, I align with those biases. I think it’s ridiculous and an expression of fascist ideology to ban books because they include foul language, sex, magic, or confimation of the existence of non-heteronormity. Fortunately, when reactionary crackers have books banned based on their unfavorable portrayal of white supremacists, perhaps police, committing acts of violence in ways that real white supremacists and cops have been documented doing, or tell a story of an LGBTQ+ person living and not being violently punished by God, their sphere of influence doesn’t usually reach far outside their own intellectually and emotionally fetid societal culdesac, and the media attention given to their fascist idiocy ends up popularizing and making the books in question more widely read.
That’s all great, but, by only focusing on the “good” banned books, we are restricting the rights of freedom of expression and information, and possibly preventing ourselves from reading something worthwhile.
There are books which have in fact been banned, in the sense of being literally outlawed, in some countries, or by being removed from stores and libraries. The Anarchist Cookbook, for example, is illegal to buy, sell, or own in Australia, and Senator Dianne Feinstein tried to have it removed from online databases in the US. This is despite the fact that much of The Anarchist Cookbook is bullshit that is actually more likely to injure the person attempting to replicate its recipes for explosives or drugs, if it accomplishes anything at all, than it is to aid in a revolution or act of terrorism.
Publishers choosing not to publish a book, booksellers choosing not to stock it, and libraries choosing not to purchase it and make it available, in a coordinated effort, is effectively “banning” a book. This has happened to a number of controversial books. The juvenile, racist, antisemitic, mysoginist, anemic little speculative fiction novel, The Turner Diaries is difficult to find and read for this reason. Several years ago, I borrowed a copy of The Turner Diaries at my library through Link+ (a system similar to Inter-Library Loan, in which books from libraries in other cities, counties, or states can be requested and shipped to a local library) to read out of morbid curiosity. I knew only of the book’s infamous reputation as an inspirational screed for white supremacists and domestic terrorists, and went into it with a relatively open mind. The book is garbage, but not just for the reasons I was expecting; I actually anticipated the bigoted, hateful content to be more extreme, perhaps more convincing for its intended audience. However, the racism and antisemitism and such was presented in such an absurd, stupid, dated, ignorant, and poorly portrayed way that it sometimes came off as cringingly amusing, but mostly pathetic. The book’s greater flaw is that it is a truly shitty book: the plot is facile and poorly constructed, with a story that is at once all over the place and going nowhere; the characters are as developed, rounded, and sympathetic as a poster of an 80’s action movie antihero; the stakes for the characters are so low and poorly presented that their own actions in response are literally insane; and the prose and dialogue read like they were written by a homeschooled teenager who never spoke to other people or listened to them speak to each other and had only read maybe two or three books before and decided that that was enough basis for him to write his own. It’s a shit book, which I do not recommend reading for that reason.
Having worked in libraries for many years, I can tell you that Mein Kampf is available in many libraries, and that it circulates regularly. It was legally banned for seventy years in Germany, but never in the US, so far as I can suss out. Adolf Hitler was perhaps a better writer than Luther Pierce, based on the excerpts I’ve read of Mein Kampf, but it is still garbage, and again not just for the views expressed in it but as a piece of literature. Rambling, poorly reasoned, and clearly written by a man who couldn’t win an argument unless he shouted or shot down his adversary, or spewed out a big worthless tome condensing all his thoughts for use as a bludgeoning tool.
Both of those books are garbage, and the Cookbook honestly is not anything you’d probably want to look at out of anything but curiosity from its notoriety, but I don’t think that means that people should be prevented from reading them. We should be allowed to read literally anything we want. If we want to preserve access to the good books that people want to ban, then we need to do the same for the bad books. As we can see from the way that banning books can have the effect of making them more popular, we can inadvertently encourage people to read them. It was, after all, the bad reputation of the books I’ve discussed that piqued my curiosity. We don’t need to give them equal time or space or consideration, because they don’t deserve it, but they should be available, if for no other reason than to show how shitty they are, to show what shitty writers Nazis and white supremacists are.