Book Banning in America Has Never Been Worse

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From Publisher’s Weekly:

I’m here today to preach to the choir, but sometimes a guy just needs to vent. In 1973, I was hired by the book division of R.R. Bowker (at the time also the home of Publishers Weekly) to publicize such sexy volumes as Books in Print and erudite tomes on librarianship. However, my first task was to work with Jean Peters, Bowker’s librarian, to set up a reception room display of banned books.

I don’t recall which we chose. UlyssesThe Well of LonelinessThe Grapes of Wrath? The project was both dismaying and rewarding. I had previously been only slightly aware of the movement to censor books.

Fifty years have past passed since Jean and I created that exhibition. If it were duplicated today, lamentably, it would be as germane now as it was then, and we would have many, many more titles to choose from. And let’s be clear: banning books is the moral equivalent of burning them. A few weeks ago, I remarked to my husband, a writer, “If your books were published in today’s environment, they would disappear.”

Permit me a short walk down memory lane. A couple of years after researching the history of book banning for that project, I left Bowker’s book side and slid into my dream job: reporting for the pages of PW. A few years after that, in 1977, Charles Hix, my partner of 15 years (and now husband), was approached by Hawthorn Books, a small indie house, to write a book on men’s grooming. He chose Looking Good for its title, named after the monthly column he wrote for Gentlemen’s Quarterly. He enlisted the then-little-known photographer Bruce Weber to supply scores of images of great-looking men. I cautioned Chuck that the book would likely follow the path of most: after publication, it would vanish, shortly to reappear on the remainder tables at Brentano’s.

Wrong. Looking Good found its place on bestseller lists at both the New York Times and PW, where it remained for weeks. Ten printings! Weber’s sensual photography contributed hugely to the success.

Several years later, Dan Green, then president of Simon & Schuster, convinced Chuck to tackle a male counterpart to the phenomenally successful Jane Fonda’s Workout Book. Chuck chose the title Working Out: The Total Shape-Up Guide for Men and brought aboard Ken Haak to supply scores of images of well-built men. Working Out was published in 1983 and stayed on the Times’ hardcover bestseller list for 21 weeks. Like Looking Good, it was a bestseller in trade paper as well.

. . . .

To return to my original point: if today those two bestselling books found themselves in, say, a Southern state where the governor is apparently about to declare his presidential candidacy, they would not linger long. The contrived outrage of certain citizens would surely demand that they be banned in a nanosecond. Anger, whether real or feigned, is being amplified everywhere, and I am merely one of millions who is deeply concerned about this latest round of censorship.

So, I wish to send large bouquets of thanks to librarians and booksellers across the country for resisting the current groundswell of those believing that only books that adhere to their pinched ideas of truth and morality deserve to be available to all.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

PG says that those on the right and those on the left are way too ready to take offense of opinions that differ from their own. As far as banning the sale of books of the wrong sort, the New York publishing industry is a political and social monoculture, so the governor of New York never needs to threaten to ban a book.

Bookstores that survive pay close attention to the tastes of their clientele. Even in the chain bookstores (BN mumbles, “Not dead yet.”) the books on offer in New York City will differ substantially from those on the shelves in Charleston (South Carolina for visitors from outside the United States. Charleston is very unlike New York City).

Successful booksellers know the best sort of virtue-signalling is to feature books that lots of customers like enough to buy.

The OP also drops a few more names to establish the author’s bonafides with the right sort of people. (Attentive readers will also note the gender-dropping, which must be the brave thing to do in New York.)

4 thoughts on “Book Banning in America Has Never Been Worse”

  1. Somehow, I highly doubt that A. any school librarian would acquire a book about how men shaved and trimmed their hair and B. that anyone would raise a fuss about such a thing being in a normal library.

    I will also say that the author is delusional, if she thinks this is the worst book banning has ever been in the US. We’ve gone through way worse. (Bear in mind, Lady Chatterley’s Lover was once considered “obscene.” Now it barely raises an eyebrow.)

  2. And let’s be clear: banning books is the moral equivalent of burning them.

    Is this guy role-playing Dungeons & Dragons?

    When a book is removed from a school library, and anyone can go to the local B&N to buy it, it is indeed a raging fire. When the same book can be ordered from Amazon for one-day delivery, it becomes a conflagration.

    And God Bless owners for standing in front of the bookshop doors with little clenched fists ready to battle imaginary demons who never show up for the fight. Can it be that nobody really cares what Pajama Boy hand sells to the cultured?

    • I believe that there was one (and only one) recent attempt to ban the sale of some books. Immediately slapped down by the courts, of course.

      Otherwise, there hasn’t been a whisper of any attempt to ban the sale to minors. Which is the point that I bring up when an idiot comes along – if we can ban the sale of tobacco, alcohol, and hand guns to minors – why not books that they are not “mature enough” to be trusted with?

      • Minors are (theoretically) restricted theaters showing R-rated movies and, back when it mattered, renting them. Also, TVs, PC, tablets, and gaming consoles have *parental* controls based on the principle that parents have a right to control what their kids are exposed to.

        Which, suddenly, is no longer real.

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