I recently visited the new Albuquerque library in the heart of the International District. I gave some books to the children’s book club. Earlier, I sorted out the books and gave them to the community library in Hillsboro. While doing so, I reminisced about my childhood library experiences.
My mom, an avid reader, took us to the Hobbs Public Library. We read as she roamed the aisles for new reading material. What I know now is that early reading motivates me to learn.
So the effort to re-ban books bores me.
In 1642, Thomas Morton wrote The New English Canaan, the first book banned in the United States. A dissident in the colony of Plymouth, he attacked the pilgrims for their cruelty and religious fanaticism towards the natives. The book was banned and Morton was arrested.
Fast-forward to the early 1940s, and segregationists led the fight. In Georgia, Governor Talmadge led the burning of “We Sing America” by Marion Cuthbert. It calls for racial equality.
During the Civil Rights Movement, book bans and bonfires continued. One target was The Rabbit’s Wedding, published in 1958 by illustrator Garth Williams. It’s the sweet story of two cottontail bunnies getting married in the forest, and it’s also the subject of crazy censorship because one rabbit is white and the other black. Jim Crow South disagrees. Notably, Williams also showed “Charlotte’s Web,” a work beloved by children that became the target of zealots in 2006 who thought the talking animals were “blasphemous.” “.
In the 1960s and 1970s, there was a new effort to ban books. Generally, these efforts come from the right, and the most frequently banned books discuss racism. Books such as “Black Like Me,” “Boys in the Promised Land,” and “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the best-reviewed novel in 125 years, have drawn outrage and criticism from conservatives.
The left has its own efforts. “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Huckleberry Finn” have been targets of bans based on themes of racial slurs and white heroes.
In the past, when stakeholders expressed concerns about books in schools, for example, parties would read the books, discuss appropriateness and make decisions. Today, tactics have changed. Banned books advocates rarely read the content. Groups use meeting interruptions and publicity to generate anger. Librarians are threatened. Small libraries and school boards are overwhelmed with records requests that consume scarce resources. Vandals go from town to town like carnival barkers.
In Tennessee this year, “The Rat,” a vivid story about a survivor of the Polish Holocaust, was banned. It was the first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize. Allegedly banned for profanity (eight words) and violence, the author said reading the board minutes showed the real intent was a “better version” of the Holocaust.
The most extreme efforts are right next door in Texas. House Bill 3979 restricts the extent to which students can read or discuss race, racism, sexism, and history. Texas Representative Matt Krause submitted 850 headlines that could “make students uncomfortable” for review. True, he hadn’t read them. The authors are primarily women and people of color.
What hasn’t changed? We still want to read – no matter where we are. We have dozens of rural libraries in New Mexico. The mobile library visits smaller villages weekly. The library provides digital services for checkout and audiobooks. In almost any community, you can see a small library for free. 300 independent bookstores opened in the United States during the pandemic, not only surviving but thriving.
Children still go to the library on Saturday mornings, sometimes with their mom or dad to read what’s on their minds.
Former Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish is a Hobbes and a lifelong New Mexican. The views expressed in this column are those of the author.