The War Against Words Continues

The War Against Words Continues

Naomi Engle, staff writer

Book burning is something, well, out of books.  Most famously in Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury’s magnum opus, which depicts an authoritarian world where free expression is prohibited and knowledge is scarce.  

But now the book’s events have bled off the page and into the real world, in what could only be described as a harrowing scene.  On February 2nd, Tennessee pastor Greg Locke held an unmasked, outdoor congregation (streamed on Facebook), where spoke for over an hour and condemned everything to do with the “sinful occult”.  The sermon ended with a march down to a huge bonfire where hundreds gathered round, clutching books (Harry Potter and Twilight were frequent features) to their chests.  At the shouted encouragement of Locke, each novel was tossed to its fiery fate, some one-by-one, others in boxes dragged out by the congregation.  It looked like something out of a dystopian movie.  

As unsettling as the footage is, it isn’t unexpected.  This isn’t the first time this month where the public has lashed out against books containing “questionable” or “sacreligious” content.  Last month a school board in Tennessee voted to remove Maus, a graphic novel depicting the horrors of the Holocaust, from its reading list.  School board laws, especially in the South, allow for anyone, mostly concerned, conservative parents, to raise questions.  And these laws also make it very easy for these books to be removed from shelves indefinitely.

The list of recently-banned books, which keeps growing as more and more complaints are filed, includes The Hate U Give, All Boys Aren’t Blue, Lawn Boy, and other books that openly discuss issues of race and sexuality.  This comes at the same time as an increase in legislature across the country that will attempt to (or already has) ban the teaching of critical race theory in schools.  Thirty-seven states have already proposed or implemented such legislation.

But despite the efforts of those who’ve imposed them, these book bans are having the opposite intended effect.  Just weeks after Maus’s removal from the curriculum, a torrent of outrage across the country brought the book back up to #2 on the Amazon Best-Sellers List.  Banned book clubs are being reinstated and popularized across the country.  Though the pressure on schools to remove books from their curriculum is strong, it also continues to prove an important point–when something is suppressed by a loud minority, it brings more attention to it for everyone else.  

So who knows?  Maybe the tables will turn and bring about a new renaissance of book readers, returning to one of the many core values that keeps America whole: knowledge.