According to Harvey J Graff, a literary historian, in his article, The History of Book Banning, he describes book banning as originally coming from early Roman-Catholic Counter-Reformation when they attempted to control what the general public was reading and writing. Of course, as we still see today, when information is banned the more it is sought after and published. As Graff states so eloquently, “The similarities and differences between today and a half millennium ago are powerful. Both movements are inseparable from ignorance, rooted in fear, and expressed in both legal and extralegal struggles for control and power. Both are inextricably linked to other efforts to restrict free speech, choice, and control over one’s body, political and civil rights, public protests, and more.” One of the most interesting ideas Graff points out is that it is not uncommon for the people who decide to ban books, religious, political, and school leaders, to have not read the book in question in its entirety. In these cases, the decision to ban is often based on a few paragraphs from the book that have been taken out of context.
From an article posted on Retrospect Journalism, it is discussed how different topics are the reason as to why books are banned in certain countries. For example, while the United States is more likely to ban books with themes of sex and religion, other countries are more likely to ban books due to politics. A great example of this is when D.H. Lawrence’s classic novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, was heavily criticized in multiple countries. While in the UK it was criticized for obscenity and fear of social change, due to themes of higher-class ladies having sexual relations with working-class men, it was banned in the US primarily due to its highly sexual and “obscene” descriptions of sex.
Often, book banning is justified to protect society, like the case of banning Lady Chatterley’s Lover. However, even today in 2022, books are still being banned and are largely being banned in the name of protecting children. In January of 2022, the McMinn County Schools in the state of Tennessee, elected to ban the graphic novel Maus by Art Spiegleman. Maus is a graphic novel portraying Speigleman’s own father, depicted as a mouse, experiences as a captive in a Nazi concentration camp. This is not the first time a book discussing important and necessary topics has been banned from schools and it will not be the last. McMinn justified this decision stating that Maus portrayed too much profanity, violence, and nudity. To clarify, the nudity in question was a “nude” mouse and not a human. However, as was discussed at the beginning of my post, when information is banned the more it is sought after. According to this Guardian article, Maus rapidly rose to the top 10 lists on Amazon and has become a bestseller. Also, as was previously discussed, board members who made the decision to ban Maus have admitted to not reading the books. In a Smithsonian Magazine article discussing this ban a board member admitted to, “not ‘seen the book [or] read the whole book,’ instead admitting that he’d only ‘read the reviews.'” What is heavily ironic is Nazi’s are infamous for their book bans and burnings and now a book about the horrors of nazism is being banned.