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Let’s talk about (potentially) banned books.

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In the United States, Texas State Representative Matt Krause has requested that schools state-wide advise him directly if their schools are carrying any of the books from a list of 850 books. Furthermore, Mr. Krause has asked specifically how much money was spent by the school board acquiring the books, and which schools are actually in possession of what books that are on the list.

According to Mr. Krause, he believes all of the 850 books on the list he has complied “might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex.” The assumption is – though in all fairness to my knowledge he has not explicitly stated this- if Mr. Krause had his way, he would have these books removed from being available for independent reading, and not be able to be used as reference with respect to teaching material, in the Texas school system.  These books have wide ranging topics and titles. However, predominantly, the books discuss race, and gender. I am not here to spark a debate on censorship, or provide a long explanation on whether or not I believe the books on the list should be banned from the Texas school system, or any other school system. For the record, I do not believe they should be banned, however that is my opinion, and it may not be yours. If that is not your perspective, I respect that perspective, even if I differ with it. I won’t attempt to add much justification here for my opinion. If you wish to civilly discuss the topic, feel free to DM me. What I’m primarily here to do is shine a light on a lot of books that I think are worth reading, certainly as adults, 850 of them, to be precise. My viewpoint on the worthiness of these 850 books includes considering race, which the bulk of the books on the list touch upon. My wife is White, I am Black. For my part, my wife and I have seven children between us. Four of our children would identify as “Black”, and four of them would identify as “White”. Since our oldest child is aged thirty-two, and our youngest is aged seventeen, they are long past the age where they can decide precisely what they wish to read and what they don’t, as they are all essentially adults for reading purposes and intent.  Admittedly, I have certainly not read all 850 books on the list. However, after a quick perusal of the titles, as a parent, I see nothing from a cursory look that I believe would be damaging to the mental health of any of my children (even when they were at the elementary school level) by reading them, irrespective of the colour of my children’s skin. I can speak directly to two of the books on the list, which I have read. Please all allow me to tell you about my thoughts on these books.

By Author P.L Stuart


The Texas List

Link to purchase

The Handmaid’s Tale: A Graphic Novel

by Renée Nault (Adapter, Artist), Margaret Atwood

What is it about?

Everything Handmaids wear is red: the colour of blood, which defines us.

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead, where women are prohibited from holding jobs, reading, and forming friendships. She serves in the household of the Commander and his wife, and under the new social order she has only one purpose: once a month, she must lie on her back and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if they are fertile. But Offred remembers the years before Gilead, when she was an independent woman who had a job, a family, and a name of her own. Now, her memories and her will to survive are acts of rebellion.

Provocative, startling, prophetic, The Handmaid’s Tale has long been a global phenomenon. With this stunning graphic novel adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s modern classic, beautifully realized by artist Renee Nault, the terrifying reality of Gilead has been brought to vivid life like never before.

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My Thoughts

I am a proud Canadian, and I am proud of Canadian icons, like the illustrious writer Margaret Atwood. Her dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale was written more than three decades ago, and has since gone on to become one of the best-selling books of all-time. In the 21st century, the novel has become standard reading fare in many high school English curriculums in North American, including Canada, and including my own children’s classes. The original novel has since been adapted into an extremely popular blockbuster television adaptation for Hulu.  The book is about Offred, the eponymous handmaid, who resides in the New Republic of Gilead, part of the future United States. In Offred’s society, women are wholly relegated to subservient roles to men, due to issues with falling birthrates, as per a government edict. Handmaids are designated among women as broodmares, for the sole purpose of providing children for military officers, and the sexual pleasure of those officers, who are part of the regime that controls the Republic. Wives are there for display purposes, something of the Stepford analogy. Men hold the power in Gilead, based on a Biblical model, and this patriarchy removes independence – financial and otherwise – from all women, including the ability to buy books and read them. It is a chilling tale, filled with sinister repression, violence, despair, and hope. The 240-page illustrated graphic novel is entirely based on the original book, and includes most of Atwood’s original words on the pages.     I read the novel years ago, in university, and picked up the graphic novel by Renée Nault a few years ago.  Both original and graphic novel are chilling, compelling, superbly written stories that remain poignant and timely today, in the backdrop of horrible issues surrounding misogny and violence against women, and the ongoing struggles against those issues, encapsulated by contemporary movements such as #MeToo.     

Link to purchase

And Still I rise : Black America since MLK : An Illustrated Chronology

by Henry Louis Gates Jr., Kevin M. Burke

What is it about?

The companion book to Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s PBS series, And Still I Rise—a timeline and chronicle of the past fifty years of black history in the U.S. in more than 350 photos

Beginning with the assassination of Malcolm X in February 1965, And Still I Rise: From Black Power to the White House explores the last half-century of the African American experience. More than fifty years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the birth of Black Power, the United States has both a black president and black CEOs running Fortune 500 companies—and a large black underclass beset by persistent poverty, inadequate education, and an epidemic of incarceration. Harvard professor and scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. raises disturbing and vital questions about this dichotomy. How did the African American community end up encompassing such profound contradictions? And what will “the black community” mean tomorrow?

Gates takes readers through the major historical events and untold stories of the sixty years that have irrevocably shaped both the African American experience and the nation as a whole, from the explosive social and political changes of the 1960s, into the 1970s and 1980s—eras characterized by both prosperity and neglect—through the turn of the century to today, taking measure of such racial flashpoints as the Tawana Brawley case, OJ Simpson’s murder trial, the murders of Amadou Diallo and Trayvon Martin, and debates around the NYPD’s “stop and frisk” policies. Even as it surveys the political and social evolution of black America, And Still I Rise is also a celebration of the accomplishments of black artists, musicians, writers, comedians, and thinkers who have helped to define American popular culture and to change our world.

My Thoughts

MLK, despite being an everyday, flawed human like the rest of us, is one of the people I most idolize, for his tireless work, dedication, and sacrifice for the cause of non-violent advancement of civil rights. Notable activists themselves, Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Kevin M. Burke have combined to compose – in my opinion – a fairly clinical, dispassionate and didactic companion to a PBS special, about what has happened in Black America since the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s led by activist luminaries like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  From the famous “I Have Dream” speech, Detroit race riots, to the first Televison interracial kiss in Star Trek, Watts Riots and Rodney King, O.J. Simpson’s trial, to Biggie and Tupac, Barack Obama’s ascendency to presidency of the U.S., the book chronicles the highlights and lowlights of the Black experience in America. It reads more like a history book, and history, as we all know, is meant to teach us valuable lessons.  Have we, as a society, entirely heeded these lessons? Sadly, in the lens of 2021, we can see that, despite any “advancements”, tangible or perceived, since MLK walked the earth, there have also been many setbacks, and even things that have remained – unfortunately – unchanged for Blacks, in light of the #BlackLivesMatter movement of recent years, sprouting out of scrutiny over Black people dying at the hands of law enforcement officials.   I believe that both of these books, and likely the other 850 noted that Rep. Krause takes umbrage with, are likely important books, worth reading, and books that will do more good than harm, if read by the burgeoning young minds of students everywhere, including in Texas. I own a few other books on the list that I have either not finished reading or not yet started reading. These books include: Beyond The Gender Binary, by Alok Menon, A Kids Book About Racism by Jelani Memory, How to Be An Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi, The Indian Removal Act and the Trail of Tears by Susan Hamen, and An African American and Latinx history of the United States by Paul Ortiz.  I encourage you to check out the list for yourself, read a few books, and make your own decision as to whether or not you feel the same as I.

The freedom to learn, grow, and think critically is one of the greatest things a child can do to explore their world. Books adjust and change their worldview. They are windows into new worlds. When we take that away from a child, we deny them access; we stunt their worldview. We make their world smaller.

It is a form of control, and it is fundamentally wrong.

The world is a broad and beautiful place, and denying children access to the tools they need to be citizens of this world and understanding those different then them sends those children out into an ocean without knowing how to swim, especially if those children have questions regarding their identities.

Time magazine article from November detailed some of the conservative efforts to ban access to books, mostly books that dealt with queer and race identities, “Since September, school libraries in at least seven states have removed books challenged by community members. Among the books most frequently targeted are Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye (1970), George M. Johnson’s All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto (2020), Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer: A Memoir (2019), Jonathan Evison’s Lawn Boy (2018), and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (2006). Most of the challenged books so far, across fiction and non-fiction, are about race and LGBTQ identities.” 

The two books I chose are near and dear to my heart. The first novel is V for Vendetta by the great Alan Moore. Moore uses the novel as a place for political and social criticism in a fascistic world where the church and the government work in tandem to suppress free speech, free ideas, and those outside the church’s doctrine. Although the US is certainly not the Norsefire regime, I find it telling that Texas Matt Krause chose this book of all books to suppress. The only thing that would be more ironic is if he attacked Fahrenheit 451. 

V for Vendetta has one of the most incredible introductions of a main character I have ever read, and please forgive me because it is long. You can see the level of linguistic gymnastics Moore employs in his prose:

“Evey: Who are you?

V. : Who? Who is but the form following the function of what and what I am is a man in a mask.

Evey: Well I can see that.

V. : Of course you can, I’m not questioning your powers of observation, I’m merely remarking upon the paradox of asking a masked man who he is.

Evey: Oh, right.

V. : But on this most auspicious of nights, permit me then, in lieu of the more commonplace soubriquet, to suggest the character of this dramatis persona. Voila! In view humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of fate. This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is a vestige of the “vox populi” now vacant, vanished. However, this valorous visitation of a bygone vexation stands vivified, and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin, van guarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition.

The only verdict is vengeance; a vendetta, held as a votive not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous.

Verily this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose, so let me simply add that it’s my very good honour to meet you and you may call me V.

Evey: Are you like a crazy person?

V. : I’m quite sure they will say so.”

He says it all with V’s. He will bring down the virulent vermin with a fiery vengeance.

The second novel I chose is Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki, and art by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell. Where V for Vengeance is a fiery fist-pumping novel that sets the readers’ souls afire, Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me is a quiet, intimate, and beautiful slice portrayed as a series of moments in a toxic relationship that is emblematic of moments that we all feel growing up at one time or another. Tamaki gets at the heart of relationships and how sometimes love is not enough to sustain someone, especially if that love is abused.

“It’s true that giving can be a part of love. But, contrary to popular belief, love should never take from you, Freddy.”

Tamaki also wrote another lovely graphic novel calledThis One Summer is a beautiful slice of life. My review, “This book is a collection of smooth and quiet moments. For me when reading, not all moments have to jump off the page at you. Life isn’t like that, and neither should writing about life be. It is highs and lows, of which the author has written about so well.”

Both novels are for young and old people alike and should be taught and discussed. They are as far apart as one can get in subject matter, but they both have important lessons and I learned something from both novels.

By Beth Tabler

Link to purchase

V for Vendetta

by Alan Moore, David Lloyd (Illustrator)

What is it about?

“Remember, remember the fifth of November…”

A frightening and powerful tale of the loss of freedom and identity in a chillingly believable totalitarian world, V for Vendetta stands as one of the highest achievements of the comics medium and a defining work for creators Alan Moore and David Lloyd.

Set in an imagined future England that has given itself over to fascism, this groundbreaking story captures both the suffocating nature of life in an authoritarian police state and the redemptive power of the human spirit which rebels against it. Crafted with sterling clarity and intelligence, V for Vendetta brings an unequaled depth of characterization and verisimilitude to its unflinching account of oppression and resistance

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My Thoughts

V for Vendetta is the kind of book that you can read over and over again, and get something different from it depending on the political climate. Right now we need powerful books and V for Vendetta is nothing if not powerful.  V for Vendetta is a complex story filled with fully fleshed out characters that are experiencing watershed moments in their lives. The before and afters. If I could leave you with a single quote that could sum up this novel, it would be this:

“Did you think to kill me? There’s no flesh or blood within this cloak to kill. There’s only an idea. Ideas are bulletbroof.”

Link to purchase

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me

by Mariko Tamaki, Rosemary Valero-O’Connell

What is it about?

All Freddy Riley wants is for Laura Dean to stop breaking up with her.

The day they got together was the best one of Freddy’s life, but nothing’s made sense since. Laura Dean is popular, funny, and SO CUTE … but she can be really thoughtless, even mean. Their on-again, off-again relationship has Freddy’s head spinning — and Freddy’s friends can’t understand why she keeps going back.

When Freddy consults the services of a local mystic, the mysterious Seek-Her, she isn’t thrilled with the advice she receives. But something’s got to give: Freddy’s heart is breaking in slow motion, and she may be about to lose her very best friend as well as her last shred of self-respect. Fortunately for Freddy, there are new friends, and the insight of advice columnist Anna Vice, to help her through being a teenager in love.

Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell bring to life a sweet and spirited tale of young love that asks us to consider what happens when we ditch the toxic relationships we crave to embrace the healthy ones we need.

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My Thoughts

Tamaki and Valero-O’Connell bring life to a series of moments in a person’s life. It shows that relationships, queer or otherwise can be abusive and toxic. The drawings are lovely and range from gray tones to splashes of pink. It has an overall sweet effect that belies the subject manner. 

Freddy is in love with the wrong person, Laura Dean, who is aloof and plays with Freddy’s emotions. Freddy begins to treat her friend group like crap. This scenario is all too familiar. 

The dialog and world that Tamaki and Valero-O’Connell creates has an authenticity to it and feels like how adolescents converse. I think this is a wonderful YA book that should be widely read and talked about.   

4 Comments

  • As someone from the UK, this was such an interesting read. This definitely makes me intrigued to see what kind of books are banned in schools over here in England. It’s concerning to think that books containing such important topics for teens to be reading and discussing, are the very ones being banned.

    • Beth Tabler says:

      I am really glad you enjoyed it! It is frustrating and scary as someone who loves books that they are trying to limit access for people as a means of control. It is awful.

  • aquavenatus says:

    I’ve been wanting to do a similar post on this topic for a while, but I liked how you did your post about it. I’m glad other bookbloggers are talking about this latest attempt at censorship.

    • P.L. Stuart says:

      Thanks so much Aquavenatus! Looking forward to your post if you’re doing one on this topic as well!

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