We Need to Talk About the Mental Health Effects of Book Bans on Authors

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From Electric Lit:

It seems like every day there’s a new slate of bad news for the queer community in the United States. From anti-trans legislation in Texas to the Florida governor signing the “Don’t Say Gay” bill to books being pulled off shelves—nationwide—for no reason other than who their writers are: queer authors, authors of color, and queer authors of color. It’s an unending slew of depressing headlines.

I feel helpless. When I hear the governor of Florida claim that discussion of sexual identity in school is “indoctrination,” I am filled with endless rage and sorrow. Telling kids about people like themselves is nowhere near as close to “indoctrination” as removing all other viewpoints and identities, or teaching them only one way to be good, and right, and acceptable. That’s the childhood I had, and its effects still linger.

Having lived through actual indoctrination, and knowing first hand what it’s like not having access to books that could have helped me see myself, and the larger world, in a better light, I am passionate about making sure future generations get to see their experiences; see those unlike them; and choose to live their lives to the fullest of their own identities. This is partly why I started writing queer stories myself—books helped me see my own identity more clearly. They helped me come out to myself as bisexual, and I want my writing to give that gift to others, especially teens who are trying to figure life out. As demoralizing as it is for me—a queer aspiring kidlit author—to read these headlines, they have a different impact on me than they do on the authors whose books are currently, and routinely, in danger of being pulled off shelves. 

I spoke with two kidlit authors, Mark Oshiro and Kyle Lukoff, about what it’s like to have a book challenged and/or banned. Both of these authors are award-winning and beloved, and I’ve seen them speak out on social media against book bans, as well as the distressing effects of having their books challenged. 

During our conversation, Oshiro referenced an interview Amanpour & Company did with Jason Reynolds, another author whose books have frequently been challenged and banned. Reynolds said having his books questioned in this manner, “ … offends me, and quite honestly, it hurts my feelings.” Oshiro added that seeing their books on lists challenging and banning them, “sucks a lot.” They said it reminds them of their own childhood, when sex education was so frowned on in their school district that there were literal portions of pages cut out of textbooks, which teachers could not acknowledge. “It’s triggering, it’s upsetting,” Oshiro said. “I worry about the kids who are in these emotionally precarious positions looking at the adults around them who … want to treat them like they don’t exist.”

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

PG posted this because it relates to books that public schools (or their boards or superintendents or principals or teachers or parents) don’t want to buy their books for students of the school to read.

As PG mentioned before, if an author publishes a book, does PG have to purchase it? Does PG have to purchase it in order to make it available for school-age children in the neighborhood around Casa PG?

Publishing a book doesn’t mean that anyone has the obligation, express or implied, to buy that book.

PG has no doubt that LGBQT authors are upset when people don’t want to by their books because of their identity. PG has no doubt that Baptist authors or Russian authors or African-American authors are upset when people don’t want to buy their books because of their religion or nationality or race.

Operating a library other than the Library of Congress involves choices – choosing one book and not choosing another. If you were a librarian working for a government entity whose salary is paid by the people in the local community, would you feel that the wishes of the people in the community regarding books you purchased or didn’t purchase should be considered? Honored? Respected?

If you want to buy books with no consideration of whether people who you think might want to read them or will want to borrow them for themselves or others, start a private library. Use your own money to buy the books. Collect voluntary donations from like-minded individuals for the purposed of acquiring books for your library.

For a public library in the US, ultimately, there is a group of someones somewhere who are elected by the majority of those who vote and those elected officials quite often want to please the people who elected them, thinking that the elected official would run the governmental entity for which she/he/they are responsible in a manner that the voters think is useful and wise.

14 thoughts on “We Need to Talk About the Mental Health Effects of Book Bans on Authors”

  1. “I am passionate about making sure future generations get to see their experiences…”

    Who thinks that the author of this piece actually wants this to apply universally? I will guarantee you that a book about happy and functional conservative evangelical homeschoolers would freak this person out, despite the fact that such people are more common than queer people. (Fortunately, there are such books, they just don’t make it on YA Twitter)

    “see those unlike them;”

    I will guarantee you that the author means “kids in the backcountry should be reading about how awesome letting your freak flag fly is,” and would not even countenance kids in liberal enclaves reading about conservative evangelicals unless the latter were presented as villainous cardboard cutouts. (In fairness, people like the author tend to show up in conservative works only as villainous cardboard cutouts.)

    “and choose to live their lives to the fullest of their own identities”

    See above. This certainly means “sexual/gender identity” not “religious identity that is actually serious about the whole thing and willing to buck current trends.”

    And here’s the thing. As much as I dislike the themes of these authors’ work, I’m okay with these guys writing about it. It is, after all, part of the human experience. I just wish they would admit that their intent is to normalize their own identity and ideology, and that it’s not some kind of principled commitment to actually helping everybody understand each other.

  2. Note the leap from “people don’t want to by their books because of their identity” to ” no consideration of whether people who you think might want to read them or will want to borrow them for themselves or others” These are not even distantly the same thing.

  3. The OP is missing a golden opportunity to be aggrieved and offended. Think of all the librarians who quietly pass on the book without any kind of ban. Some of them probably don’t even care about the authors’ endless rage and sorrow. It’s possible they don’t give a rip about the author at all. I suspect these cases dwarf the bans.

  4. What about the Twitter mobs that shamed authors and forced publishers to withdraw books from publication? Do you think that had a negative effect on authors?

    Oh, but I guess that’s ok since those Twitter mobs were practicing proper group think…

    • If that’s the case they need to use better words. Banning has specific meanings.

      Is the Federal government banning stuff countrywide?

      I know there have been reports of individual schools banning books, is that a wide spread issue? enough that people who buy banned books is not enough to counter it? and actually enough to cause mental health issues?

      If twitter books are actually forcing publishers to change their minds about publishing that’s a problem but not actually a banning, If that’s what they are referencing then calling it banning is disingenuous.

  5. “Having lived through actual indoctrination, and knowing first hand what it’s like not having access to books that could have helped me see myself,….”

    Really? As in the Federal government banned the book from being made available to anyone, anywhere or one particular book was not available at a local school library.

    • I doubt the OP meant true indoctrination, unless they’re from another country where re-education camps and censorship is a thing.

      I doubt it mainly because I don’t believe the OP comes in peace, having told a stone-cold lie to start with. The bill is not, and never was, called the “Don’t Say Gay Bill.” People who have actually read it simply nickname it the “anti-grooming bill.” It’s real name is “Parental Rights in Education.” On trivial matters the public says “shut up and sing, shut up and act, shut up and play ball.” Now the command is applied to something that matters: shut up and teach the three R’s.

      As for the authors, unless their books are actually unpublished by their publishers / not allowed to be published / not allowed to be sold, why do the authors care if they’re “banned”? Up until about five minutes ago, authors used to hope their books were banned so they could boost sales. Terry Pratchett joked about wanting his books to be banned. “Banned in Boston!” used to be a selling point. These other authors’ main concern should be whether or not their target audience likes their books enough to buy them.

      • Actually, a PBS mouthpiece was recently fired for publicly saying there was a need to reeducate disenters. And a national party official suggested in 2020 that 75 million needed”deprograming”.


        It is a quietly discussed topic in certain circles. Quietly. Saying it openly is a cause for dismissal but not denuciation.

        It’s later than we think.

        • Forgot that one. “Dismissal without denunciation” is one symptom I watch for. Along with “demonization by irrelevant accusations,” like Trudeau claiming the truckers were Nazis (impressively long-lived ones, apparently).

          When people just randomly accuse others of being -ists and -phobes on matters where being an istophobe is irrelevant, I assume they intend to do evil against those they accuse. It’s okay to freeze the bank accounts of people protesting your policies if the protesters are Nazis, after all. I shouldn’t be surprised if some sort of re-education camp comes next.

          • It “works” for China.
            The likeliest approach, given the adjectives bandied about, is the old soviet trick of labeling dissenters as mentally ill and institutionalizing because “you have to be crazy not to see things the right way”.

            Easy fodder for a near term cautionary tale.

        • I’ve been anticipating that one. It’s only a matter of time, now that Covid backfired by letting parents see what their kids are “learning” in school. Parents are going to demand more say over their kids’ education. It’s going to be quite a battle.

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