Right-Wingers Tried to Ban Over 4,000 Books in 2023

Culture Banned Books
Right-Wingers Tried to Ban Over 4,000 Books in 2023

The American Library Association (ALA) reports that 4,240 books were targeted by right-wing pressure groups in schools and libraries in 2023. The number of titles targeted surged by about 65 percent compared to 2022, reaching an all-time high.

A total of 47 percent of the books deal with the real-life experiences of LGBTQ+ and BIPOC authors. More data from the association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom reported 1,247 demands to censor library books and materials. These challenges came from pressure groups who started focusing more on public libraries in addition to school libraries. Books that were targeted at public libraries increased by 92 percent in 2023 compared to the previous year. 

“Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe was once again the most challenged book in public and school libraries. “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson was second on the list, and rounding out the top five were “This Book Is Gay” by Juno Dawson, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky, and “Flamer” by Mike Curato.

The other five books in the top ten of the ALA’s most challenged books in 2023 deal with comprehensive sexual education, LGBTQ+ material, race and ethnicity, drug use, and sexual assault. “Sold” by Patricia McCormick, a book I loved growing up in the 2000s, was the tenth book on the list.

Published in 2006, “Sold” tells the harrowing story of Lakshmi, a young Nepalese girl who is sold into sexual slavery in India.

Those critical of the book, predominantly far-right pressure groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center-rated hate group Moms for Liberty, have likened the book to pornography for minors. In response to the critics of her book, McCormick has rejected the characterization.

“It’s so important for kids to see themselves in the books they read,” McCormick told Yahoo! Entertainment last year. “When kids have experiences like sexual assault, the book gives them a way to talk about it—and then their friends and teachers can help.”

In 2022, a committee appointed by a school board in Carroll, Iowa, recommended that “Sold” remain in the library and be part of the 10th-grade English curriculum for students at Carroll High School. Parents objected to the book and cited its depictions of sex and sex trafficking as pornographic — but why does sex or sexuality have to be reduced to porn? 

“I don’t think you can have a book about sex trafficking and not talk about sex,” one of the committee members said. “I find it hard to understand why books with sexual content are so threatening,” McCormick said last year. “But a story about the rape of a child, when they call that pornography, it’s wrong. That’s rape.”

I am a legal and political journalist who covers the adult entertainment industry and the right to sexual expression on the internet, among other things. Nothing even remotely close to what McCormick wrote could be legally considered “obscene” or “harmful to minors.” 

It is worth noting that McCormick’s book was relatively uncontroversial when it was published. In fact, the literary world hailed it as a triumph in realistic young adult fiction. “Sold” was a National Book Award Finalist in 2007 and won a Gustav-Heinemann Peace Prize in 2008, an award that honors excellence in young adult and children’s literature in an effort to promote world peace.

In fact, every book in ALA’s 2023 top ten most challenged books or their authors has won or been nominated for a high-level accolade. Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison’s 1970 classic, “The Bluest Eye,” which has long faced censorship attempts, was the sixth-most challenged book last year. The NAACP has condemned efforts to restrict and ban Morrison’s book as an overt act of censorship that “perpetuates ignorance and intolerance.” 

It’s worth noting that we’re coming to the end of National Library Week. This was a very special time for me as a kid growing up. My school would host a week-long scholastic book fair, and at one of these during my fifth-grade year, I was introduced to genres that dealt with the real world: historical fiction, autobiography, memoir, and non-fiction history. Titles such as “Number the Stars” by Lois Lowry, “A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier” by Ishmael Beah, and “Flags of Our Fathers” by James Bradley and Ron Powers captured my imagination.

I begged my parents for money to buy a book every year – eventually, I amassed a collection with plenty of supposedly controversial works. It’s how I learned about the world’s biggest issues like war, racism and the threat to people’s fundamental rights. The surge in censorship attempts last year suggest an increasingly vocal minority is hoping that the next generation won’t have a chance to learn the same things. 

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