I was reading article by an author recently who’d just had a novel of hers banned for the first time. She considered it an honor of sorts, as she could now join a pretty prestigious group (James Joyce, Maya Angelou, and Mark Twain, just to name a few).
It seems to me that as long as there have been books, people have wanted to ban them. If only those doing the banning understood how counter-productive their efforts were to their goals. I recently interviewed James Bach, whose book, Buccaneer Scholar, advocates a kind of radical self-education. He complained to me that no one had become really upset about the book yet. He knew once controversy surrounded it, the sales would take off. Or, to put it another way, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
If you really want to ban a book, what you should do is write a better one. But this advice is not just intended for Bible-clutching members of a Texas School Board. I have read erudite articles in erudite magazines where an erudite writer moans about the paucity of quality prose in contemporary literary fiction.
If you don’t like what’s out there, write something better. Humans are dependably imitative. If you provide a better alternative to whatever offends you, guaranteed people will not just flock to it, but will begin churning out knock-offs before your first royalty check has arrived. In this way, you will have banned whatever book you want banned through Darwinian obsolescence.
Really, then, we all ought to celebrate those books we love to hate. They are instigators. But never bother trying to keep someone from liking something they already like—it’s too late. If you really believe there is a better way, show it. Perhaps you are right.
Or perhaps you will discover that the fear that drives someone to pull Huckleberry Finn off a library bookshelf is not the fear of an offensive word, but the fear of freedom itself. We are all condemned to making up our own minds, and trying to keep someone else from doing it will never save us from the fact that in the end we are completely responsible for our own lives.