How To Make A Book Sexy – Ban It

The ostrich is the largest bird on earth; she can weigh as much as 350 pounds. Unable to fly, an ostrich can bat her long-lashed eyes at you before she runs away at speeds of up to 70 mph. If she is unable to outrun her preditor, she’ll bury her head in the sand when she’s frightened, leaving only her long legs and feathered rear protruding, prefering not to view any danger coming her way. We all know this. We’ve seen the pictures. Right?

Wrong. She only sticks her nose in the sand to turn over her eggs. Ostriches do NOT stuff their faces into the earth due to fear. Au contraire. When frightened, the ostrich throws herself onto the ground and freezes — attempting to blend in with her surroundings.

This may be a writers natural response to fear, too, especially the rampant fear of words in our communities today. Just lay down and blend in.

Ostriches look playful, but if you get up close to one you are definitely in peril. Cheetahs, lions, tigers, and hyennas hunt them. Writers are hunted by censors.

Censoring authors and banning books are hot topics today. And although it is contrary to American values — and the 1st Amendment — there may be a slight up-side. Banning books makes them sexy!

“On Jan 10, the McCinn County School Board in Tennessee voted to ban Maus, the Pulitzer-prize winning autobiographical graphic novel about surviving the Holocaust. By the beginning of February, Maus was Amazon’s number one bestselling book, and it is not alone among other books gaining popularity after being targeted in the recent spate of book bans initiated by school districts across the country,” points out The Upstream in the article Books go from being banned, burned, to the bestsellers list”,

Banning books was a great way to interest me and my teenage friends in reading. Tell us we weren’t allowed to read something, and one of our gang would come up with a boot-legged copy for us curious middle-schoolers to peruse. We’d scour it for any tidbit. It was usually hard to figure out why the work had been banned, and we were often disappointed. We felt a sense of elation — satisfaction even — with every cuss word or spicy description we discovered.

When we entered high school, Mr. Feldman assigned Catcher in the Rye — we knew that book was questionable. We’d heard the talk. It was banned in other places.

I can remember the gleam in Mr. Feldman’s eye as he collected the book reports from each student at quarter’s end. We’d all read it. Even those who didn’t like books found a few minutes away from basketball practice or TV to read about Holden Caulfield’s anxious life. We read the book cuss word to cuss word, but in between, the story resonated and stuck, and it did just what Mr. Feldman expected — it made us life-long readers. Or at least some of us. And not because of the cuss words, they were just seasoning, powdered sugar.

When we read Catcher in the Rye or The Outsiders we learned more than whatever message the author was trying to convey. By reading and discussing the book, including talking about why some folks wanted it banned, we students learned about intollerance of ideas.

Banning books is again fashionable; it is all the rage today. The angry voices of those who want to limit words are loud. But there are people advocating for freedom to read, write, and share words, even if their voices are hard to hear over the din of those who fear words. It was heartening to see the spotlight on the issue of book banning at the annual American Library Association conference in Chicago in 2023. Mild-mannered librarians are a fierce lot when challenged.

Sharing ideas that some might not like can be perilous, even if the writer is mindful and respectful. Children’s book author Judy Bloom spoke at the ALA conference last year. She personally felt the ire of those who wish to limit speech. Her book was removed from libraries because Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret included some language about puberty.

Jacqueline Woodson, author of Brown Girl Dreaming was interviewed by Late Night’s Seth Meyers. She told him “I didn’t even know I was challenged or censored, I got a call from Judy Blume…”

Meyers responded, “Let me just say, as far as name-dropping goes, that’s as good as it gets.”

Woodson, laughing, continued, “She was doing an anthology called Places I Never Meant to Be, and she asked me to be in it, because it was an anthology for censored writers. And I’m like, ‘I’ve never been censored,’ and she was like, ‘Oh, yes, you have.’”

“You read me banned books?”

I say this sarcastically because I

know he’s making it up.

“Almost exclusively,” he answers —

dead serious. “Charlotte’s Web

and the poetry book by —

uh — Silverstein — uh.”

“Where the Sidewalk Ends?” I say.

“And Reynolds — brave … uh …”

“As Brave as You? No!

How could anyone ban that?”

— Amy Sarig King, Attack of the Black Rectangles

The pressure to limit speech and avoid topics weighs heavily on authors. Writing is fraught with peril on every side. With all of the uproar about words and ideas, an author may be tempted to freeze — to try to blend in with her surroundings. The author who persists in writing her truth in spite of the potential hazard takes perilous action. And to those brave authors we should offer our thanks.

“A word to the unwise.

Torch every book.

Char every page.

Burn every word to ash.

Ideas are incombustible.

And therein lies your real fear.”

So just keep scratchin’.

— Ellen Hopkins

Although descended from a flying bird, the ostrich somehow forgot how to fly. To avoid this fate as a writer: Don’t blend in. Let your writing reflect your truth. Let your reading expand your horizons. Stretch your limits, and share words that inspire. And Just keep scratchin’!

Keep Scratchin’
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