Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Need a Good Summer Read? Start With a Banned Book
Joe-Mathews
By Joe Mathews
Published 9 months ago on
July 14, 2023

Share

Ban this column! Please!

Photo of Joe Mathews

Joe Mathews

Opinion

It might seem strange to call for the cancellation of one’s own column. Who needs to squelch such a piece when newspaper audiences are declining already?

But my request is no stranger than the effort to ban books that children might read in our schools and libraries.

Surveys show children and teens are reading less than in decades past. The National Assessment of Educational Progress found the percentages of American 9- and 13-year-olds who read for fun are at their lowest levels since 1984. That’s no surprise, given all the hours kids spend on their screens.

Yet, this is the moment that culture warriors have chosen to launch book bans. They have targeted more than 2,500 titles, according to the American Library Association. Even more gobsmacking are the reasons the book ban supporters cite: preventing kids from learning about the most talked-about issues in our society — including identity, gender, or sex.

Of course, the true reasons for banning books go beyond misguided notions of childhood protection. Book bans are tied to organized efforts to demonize LGBTQ+ people, and to score political points by appealing to resentment of educational elites.

The Temecula School District Example

You can see both strategies in the Temecula Valley Unified School District, whose board of education voted to ban a social studies textbook, part of the elementary school curriculum, that touched on gay rights topics. In doing so, board members called the late San Francisco supervisor and gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk a “pedophile.” They later fired the popular district superintendent.

Mayor of Castro Street Book Cover

State government answered this culture war blast with bombs. Gov. Gavin Newsom denounced the board members as “malicious actors” and threatened “legal repercussions.” State Attorney General Rob Bonta launched an investigation. The legislature advanced a bill to make it harder to ban textbooks.

Such official actions were understandable. But the top-down reprimands of board members also were a missed opportunity — to provide young people with a compelling reason to read.

When it comes to the compelling California drama of gay rights, we can do better than a textbook. If I were the governor, I’d stop the public denunciations — which gave more publicity for the board members—and instead send every Temecula household a copy of Randy Shilts’ terrific biography of Milk, The Mayor of Castro Street.

Yes, we should challenge book bans. But, more urgently, we should seize upon them to get people reading, as some librarians and booksellers are doing with special shelves devoted to banned books.

The true reasons for banning books go beyond misguided notions of childhood protection. Book bans are tied to organized efforts to demonize LGBTQ+ people, and to score political points by appealing to resentment of educational elites.

Bans can make books dangerous — and fun again. As novelist Katherine Marsh recently wrote in The Atlantic, this era of standardized curricula eschews the most captivating books, with unforgettable characters. Instead, teachers hand students short excerpts and ask for literary analysis. How appallingly boring.

If we want to engage students, we should have them read books that grab their interest — whether because they’re forbidden or messy or find beauty in surprising circumstances. And special attention should go to steering students toward readable and compelling books about love, gender, sexuality, and sex, which are elemental, humanity-affirming aspects of life.

Makin’ Whoopee Also in Decline

If such reading encourages actual sex, as the book banners fear, our society might be better off for it. Just as book reading has declined, so has sex among people, especially young adults, in the U.S. and around the globe.

According to UCLA, the percentage of Californians ages 18 to 30 who reported having no sexual partners in the past year jumped from 22% in 2011 to 38% in 2021. People are increasingly isolated, and isolation poses a public health problem. Sexual activity — the form of human connection upon which our species depends for its survival — can boost mental and physical health, happiness, and quality of life.

Your columnist is old enough to remember when books and sex, and the leisurely enjoyment of both, were what summer was all about. This time of year was for shedding our American puritanism— and our clothes, and giving in to desires for beach reads and romance. (If only Americans could repurpose their puritanical fears of sex into righteous limits on guns and the violence they cause.)

So, this summer, let’s screw the censors. Read some good books — see lists of the most banned titles for ideas (I recommend The Perks of Being a Wallflower). And while you’re at it, get cozy with a person, too.

And if you don’t have a book lying around, perhaps you and that special someone might find reading this column romantic. Especially once it’s banned.

About the Author

Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square.

 

RELATED TOPICS:

DON'T MISS

A Fresno Edition of Monopoly? That’s Capitalism at Work, Baby!

DON'T MISS

California Officials Sue Huntington Beach Over Voter ID Law Passed at Polls

DON'T MISS

Indiana Fever Receives No. 1 Overall Draft Pick Caitlin Clark

DON'T MISS

Which Fresno Restaurants Are Best? The Pros Picked These Places.

DON'T MISS

Trump’s Historic Hush-Money Trial Gets Underway; 1st Day Ends Without Any Jurors Being Picked

DON'T MISS

Fresno-Madera United Way Launches National Search for New CEO

DON'T MISS

Justice Thomas Misses Supreme Court Session Monday With No Explanation

DON'T MISS

‘Civil War’ Declares Victory at the Box Office, Toppling ‘Godzilla X Kong’

DON'T MISS

Why Tortillas Sold in California May Be Forced to Add a New Ingredient

DON'T MISS

Costco Tries Again at City Council for Big NW Fresno Move

UP NEXT

Indiana Fever Receives No. 1 Overall Draft Pick Caitlin Clark

UP NEXT

Which Fresno Restaurants Are Best? The Pros Picked These Places.

UP NEXT

Fresno-Madera United Way Launches National Search for New CEO

UP NEXT

Justice Thomas Misses Supreme Court Session Monday With No Explanation

UP NEXT

‘Civil War’ Declares Victory at the Box Office, Toppling ‘Godzilla X Kong’

UP NEXT

Why Tortillas Sold in California May Be Forced to Add a New Ingredient

UP NEXT

Costco Tries Again at City Council for Big NW Fresno Move

UP NEXT

Scheffler Turns the Masters Into Another Sunday Yawner With a Dominating Win

UP NEXT

Ethiopia’s Lemma Wins, Fresno’s Albertson 7th in Boston Marathon. Kenya’s Obiri Retains Women Title.

UP NEXT

Vegas, US Tour and More Signings: Wrexham Has Plenty of Fun and Work Ahead After Latest Promotion

Which Fresno Restaurants Are Best? The Pros Picked These Places.

13 hours ago

Trump’s Historic Hush-Money Trial Gets Underway; 1st Day Ends Without Any Jurors Being Picked

13 hours ago

Fresno-Madera United Way Launches National Search for New CEO

Local /

14 hours ago

Justice Thomas Misses Supreme Court Session Monday With No Explanation

15 hours ago

‘Civil War’ Declares Victory at the Box Office, Toppling ‘Godzilla X Kong’

15 hours ago

Why Tortillas Sold in California May Be Forced to Add a New Ingredient

15 hours ago

Costco Tries Again at City Council for Big NW Fresno Move

16 hours ago

Scheffler Turns the Masters Into Another Sunday Yawner With a Dominating Win

17 hours ago

Ethiopia’s Lemma Wins, Fresno’s Albertson 7th in Boston Marathon. Kenya’s Obiri Retains Women Title.

17 hours ago

Vegas, US Tour and More Signings: Wrexham Has Plenty of Fun and Work Ahead After Latest Promotion

17 hours ago

A Fresno Edition of Monopoly? That’s Capitalism at Work, Baby!

Alright, cats and kittens, straphang onto your beanies because I’m about to lay a news flash on you that’s so whimsically wild it coul...

12 hours ago

Fresno Monopoly Edition
12 hours ago

A Fresno Edition of Monopoly? That’s Capitalism at Work, Baby!

12 hours ago

California Officials Sue Huntington Beach Over Voter ID Law Passed at Polls

12 hours ago

Indiana Fever Receives No. 1 Overall Draft Pick Caitlin Clark

13 hours ago

Which Fresno Restaurants Are Best? The Pros Picked These Places.

13 hours ago

Trump’s Historic Hush-Money Trial Gets Underway; 1st Day Ends Without Any Jurors Being Picked

Local /
14 hours ago

Fresno-Madera United Way Launches National Search for New CEO

15 hours ago

Justice Thomas Misses Supreme Court Session Monday With No Explanation

15 hours ago

‘Civil War’ Declares Victory at the Box Office, Toppling ‘Godzilla X Kong’

MENU

CONNECT WITH US

Search

Send this to a friend