CENSORSHIP IS ALWAYS BAD

Do I have to say that here? On a blog that speaks directly to authors?

Probably not—thankfully not—but every once in a while terrible people who might actually think of themselves as really good people try to silence someone else who might be either terrible or really good or some combination of either, usually in the guise—and it is a guise, y’all—of protecting… who? The Children, usually, and always without bothering to ask the (no initial cap) children.

Such was the case in Virginia when a couple of Republicans, one an assembly delegate, the other a congressional candidate, tried to, for all intents and purposes, burn the books Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe and A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas.

  

Happily, America is still a constitutional democracy and a Virginia state judge not only ruled that those two books were not harmful to the Children but that the law the case rode in on was. Score one for freedom of expression, one of this country’s founding principles. You can read up on the decision here.

Of course, this is hardly the first time so-called Americans have tried to silence other Americans, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Beyond how anyone can have the unmitigated audacity to try to censor a book in the first place, what continues to puzzle me is how often, and that’s to say essentially every time, the attempt to ban a book results in increased sales of that book. In an effort to silence them, these Republicans likely gave the careers of the authors in question a potentially huge shot in the arm. See this, quoted in “When Jawaharlal Nehru read ‘Lolita’ to decide whether an ‘obscene’ book should be allowed in India” by Shubhneet Kaushik:

“Reading this book Lolita, I felt that it was a serious book and in its own line rather outstanding. It is hardly a book which can give light reading to anyone. The language is often difficult. It is true that some parts in it rather shocked me. The shock was more due to the description of certain conditions than to the writing itself. The book is certainly not pornographic in the normal sense of the word. It is, as I have said, a serious book, seriously written. If there had been no fuss about it, no question need have arisen at all of banning it or preventing its entry. It is this fuss that sometimes makes a difference because people are attracted specially to reading books which are talked about in this way.”

—Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, 1959

Mission of the would-be censors once again oh so very not accomplished. Dan Brown’s career really took off when the Catholic Church came out against The Da Vinci Code, an otherwise pretty terrible book that then became a massive best seller. This has also been true of Salman Rushdie, who’s career was essentially relaunched when the fatwā was announced against him. The fact that some whack job actually came close to accomplishing that last month only cements the case against vilifying authors in any way. Thankfully, those two Virginia Republicans stopped short of fatwā in that case. Chalk one up to American exceptionalism.

Anyway, don’t ban books. Any books. That doesn’t mean you have to like every book, or every author, but it does mean that once one of us is silenced, all of us can be. And I’d rather walk past a copy of Mein Kampf (note that I didn’t provide an Amazon link…) in my local bookstore than find it against the law to buy Gender Queer  or A Court of Mist and Fury.

If you agree, here are some places you can go for more information, and where you can drop a donation to help stay the course against censorship…

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

National Coalition Against Censorship

The American Civil Liberties Union

…to name just three.

Remember: you’re only free if we’re all free.

—Philip Athans

Follow me on Twitter @PhilAthans

Link up with me on LinkedIn

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Or contact me for editing, coaching, ghostwriting, and more at Athans & Associates Creative Consulting.

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

I need to sell a bunch of copies real quick, so hopefully someone tries to ban…

About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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4 Responses to CENSORSHIP IS ALWAYS BAD

  1. Lyri Ahnam says:

    Thank you for your insightful critique of the dangers of extremism in relation to the First Amendment. Always enjoy your posts. Keep ‘em coming!

  2. Thank you for speaking up about book banning! This post is spot on!

  3. James Ross says:

    Agreed.

    One book I almost wanted burned (except my copy.) I think there might be people who took the slogans at their face value. Who took the libertine preaching without the “if he accepts all the consequences” part.

    In my defense this sort of writer cries out for that treatment, claiming that his book would cause all manner of horror. All it really did was force me to empathize with some nasty people and do some hard thinking. Fantastic talking down for when my religious side goes malignant, and I am–with the worst [of us] “filled with passionate intensity.” How many lives have been saved by thinking of (gasp) Aliester Crowley’s dissertation on ethics sans givens and disguised as diabolism? “Magick in Theory and Practice.” I can’t swear to the beast’s intentions in writing this, but… I’d have to say at least one (not counting my own.)

    If that book can be a force for good, who knows? And more to the point. Do you really know enough to be arbiter of the marketplace of ideas?

  4. Kristoffer Harbo says:

    I think an interest example of controversial content was the “Anarchist Cookbook” by William Powell. I understand it was never censored in the United States?

    I think it’s a more interesting case study since it’s not one of usual sacriligeous type of writing which book-burners go for. Quite the contrary, it’s the kind of book that appeals to extremists.
    Best regards.

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