Roundtable: How to Ban a Book in America

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

In a free America, people are free to do what they like.

That means in the land of free speech there is considerable energy—perhaps more than you might think—devoted to the banning of books. The American Library Association has even declared the third week in Spetember banned books week.

There are dozens of books banned in schools and libraries in 2013, including the Muslim holy boook The Koran, Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, the Diary of Anne Frank, Alduous Huxley's Brave New World and Sarah Gruen's Water for Elephants, just to name a few.

For political reasons, alleged profanity, or because of perceived religious blasphemy, books in America can and have been banned since the founding of the nation.

This is not a huge issue for the United States—book banning is rare but our look at this story is very simple.

Here's how to ban a book in America.

Mike Holzknecht is a lawyer and parent who was part of the opposition to the book “The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexi. He explains why he wanted this book banned and how he raised the issue.

The Takeaway also hears from Sarah Pacheco, the public information officer for the Sierra Vista Unified School District, which is about to hold a hearing on whether the book “Dreaming in Cuban” by Cristina Garcia should be pulled from the curriculum.

Finally, Amy Crump, a Library Director at Homewood Public Library in Illinois, weighs in. In 2006, when she worked at the Marshall, Missouri Public Library she was pressured to remove “Fun Home” by Alison Bechdel and “Blankets” by Craig Thompson from the shelves because they faced complaints for being “pornographic.” She was able to bring the books back by drafting a new books acquisitions policy for the library.

How much do you know about banned books? Take our quiz here.


Amy Crump, Mike Holzknecht and Sarah Pacheco

Produced by:

Katie Hiler, Kristen Meinzer and Mythili Rao


T.J. Raphael

Comments [8]

Scott Lahti from North Berwick, Maine

From my former life 1994-1999 as a big-box bookseller (from 1992-1994 it was little-box), I well recall the candle-burning sanctimony with which one or another trade group among librarians or publishers would announce that year’s Banned Books Week. The fate of present-day writers and publishers worldwide actually threatened with prison or the gallows for their words always took a decided back seat in these essays in “progressive” groupthink to one instance after another of the removal, whether or not under pressure from offended parents, by a local American school or district of a post-1960 (or Huckleberry Finn) children’s or young-adult title, of the newly “relevant” sort regarding once-edgy social content, from its library shelves and/or curricula. You’d look in vain for instances in which the authors or publishers of the titles at issue, or local bookstores and readers of all ages selling and buying them, faced any threats whatever of legal action. Thus did we find the word “banned” … on the run from its actual meaning, its wings at the speed of sound jetting as the crow flies for undiscovered denotational countries from whose bourn no winter’s night traveler returns (my apologies to Paul McCartney, Italo Calvino and the Prince of Denmark).

“[Forever by Judy Blume] continues to be the subject of frequent attempts at censorship, appearing regularly on lists of banned or challenged books.” – Lucy Pearson, “From Young Mother to Forever: Changing Attitudes to Censorship in the 1960s and 1970s”. in Sarah McNicol, ed., Forbidden Fruit: The Censorship of Literature and Information for Young People. I found that after hearing, on a BBC Radio 4 program entitled “What Is It About Judy Blume?”, that the TLS reviewer in 1976 had called Forever “a dull novel about two very dull young people”, a judgment with which I concurred a couple or so years later, after perusing the section of my younger sister’s copy in which the male half of the dishwatery pair at issue commences pillow-talking from his side of the softcovers with the revelation that his … little Jimmy Ampleseed (my term, not his) has a name. And that that name is Ralph. I suspect that if for some reason I and my brothers and sisters in lit-crit were by the good taxpayers of These United States handed the keys to their little darlings’ library acquisitions, such a book would find itself primus inter pares atop each annual and newly-instaurated list of burned books, with me in charge of the required donations of matches, petrol, logs, and bulk accelerant.

Sep. 25 2013 03:29 PM
Nancy from San Francisco

On your show you asked what content of the book was most concerning: religious, profanity or sexual content. You didn't even bother to mention VIOLENCE. Why is this not a concern? As a parent and educator it is to me.

I think we should be most concerned about what is age-appropriate for children at their developmental stage, more than just banning a book from the school or district.

Sep. 25 2013 02:15 AM
James Reid from Santa Rosa, CA

When I was growing up in Salt Lake City (in the 1960s) there was a whole bookcase of banned books in our school library. I worked in the library during one period every day. I told my parents about all those books and on Back to School Night my parents stopped by the library and told the librarian that as far as they were concerned I could read anything I liked. My parents knew that telling me that I couldn't read a book was the best way to get me to read it. I can't imagine many high schoolers who would want to read The Communist Manifesto or Mein Kampf.
I don't believe in banning books, but I can agree that some books should be cleared with a student's parents.

Sep. 24 2013 04:09 PM
Mark from St.Louis, MO.

An amusing anecdote:
Years ago, in the 70s, St. Louis had an alderwoman who was a notorious bluenose. When one of the local theaters was going to show the musical "Hair", she got them to drop the production.
Then, when Xaviera Hollander's account of her life as a prostitute, The Happy Hooker, came out, she raised such a stink that it was declared illegal to sell the book in the city of St. Louis.
This resulted in massive sales of the book, and at one point one could hardly walk into a home that didn't proudly have a copy on the coffee table, whether the owner had read the thing or not.

Sep. 24 2013 01:09 PM
Anna-Liisa from Seattle

You don't want your child to read a book, Mr. Holzknecht, fine. Don't prevent my child from reading that book. I don't appreciate your attempt to force your values on my family.

Sep. 24 2013 12:59 PM
Sasha Y from Allentown, PA

This isn't about banning books, but I recently heard that Amazon burns old used books that it cannot sell. Is this true? The thought of burning books disturbs me just as much as the thought of banning them.

Sep. 24 2013 12:36 PM

Come on. I didn't hear one word about a single book "banning." I interpret a "banned" book is one which the government prevents anyone from reading.

Not one of these cases involved such a banning. The only consideration(s) were whether certain books would be made available in public school libraries, and in public libraries. Books that are otherwise available freely everywhere else.

And yes, I join the parents who express concerns about what books are in public school libraries for their children. I saw nothing wrong with parents petitioning their local school boards for particular action on certain books. Isn't that what involved parents are supposed to do? If aggrieved parents and students don't like that sort of (misnamed) "banning," they should trot down to their local Barnes & Noble and buy the book aobut which they feel so strongly.

I'd rather have a school district full of parents that were so aware of available literature, than a school district like Detroit, where a near-majority of parents can't or don't read anything at all.

Note the code words used by John Hockenberry at the end of the segment. He asked whether graphic sex, or crticism of America, or criticism of religion would serve as useful bases for book "bannings." As if book banning were a uniquely right-wing strategy. It mae me wonder whether I could find one of Ann Coulter's books anywhere in the stacks at most public school libraries.

Sep. 24 2013 11:22 AM
Lilly Hastings from Rochester, NY

I found myself shouting at the radio as I listened to this interview. I am thoroughly disgusted. Mr. Holzknecht, democracy is NOT having the ability and power to ban books-ANY BOOKS. And the very fact sir, you seem to take pride in twisting the American definition of it, scares me.
I cannot comprehend why so many books are challenged or banned due to the simplest complaint; parents deem information in the books too risque for their children. How in the world can you think by simply by banning books you are protecting them? How are they growing, and learning to relate to both the good and bad in life if the very books which make us uncomfortable are snatched away to be hidden in a drawer or box? You think sheltering them from real life will help them grow up to be more aware individuals?
I am a great fan of Sherman Alexi, and I have read the book in question. Could it also be that Mr.Holzknecht, you are uncomfortable with the bleak, harsh reality depicted in the book? Is it too realistic for you? Mike leaves out the main message of the novel-learning to adjust and accept both sides of yourself, and that most times in life, even this young, you have to fight your heart, your mind, and search your morals to find your place. Instead, he focuses on the "evils" of marijuana. Marijuana should be the least of anyone's concerns.
Ms. Crump, you have my condolences. I could feel your seething indignation that this was even a topic of debate. I fear for American children's futures.

Sep. 24 2013 10:16 AM

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