Friday, October 28, 2022

W.S. bookstores confront waves of book bans


   Burning Books co-owner Theresa Baker-Pickering and banned book display


By Jason Guth and Kyle Wekenmann

Jonathon Welch, founder and co-owner of Talking Leaves, 951 Elmwood Ave., knows first-hand how book bans and challenges can affect a bookstore.

When a book gains notoriety because of its content, it flies off the shelf, but not out the door.  

"We have it happen from time to time here, where people will pull books off the shelf and move them to a different place,” Welch said. “They’ll move a young adult’s sexuality book to the science section, and we just put it back.”

The distinction between a challenge and a ban is worth noting: the American Library Association defines a challenge as an attempt to remove or restrict materials based upon the objections of a person or group. A ban, then, is the removal of those materials.

In a time period involving deep political disagreements in the U.S., the rise in book bans and challenges has been sharp and sudden.

According to the association, the U.S. is on pace to break 2021’s record for the most total book challenges documented in the more than 20 years that the association has released its findings.

“It’s never a good thing when somebody has their book banned because it makes people afraid of it,” Theresa Baker-Pickering, co-owner of Burning Books, 420 Connecticut St., said.

According to the association between January and August of this year, 681 attempts to ban or restrict library resources were documented, including 1,651 unique titles.

This means that more than 70% of the 681 attempts included multiple titles, whereas in the past, attempts were largely aimed at banning just one book.

In recent years, topics at the center of such arguments largely include race, gender, sexuality, nudity and stories relating to the LGBTQ community.

“I haven’t seen any book on any of these lists that’s worth banning,” Baker-Pickering said. “That’s what I would say to it. A lot of these adults could benefit from reading these books.” 


Baker-Pickering, on the threat of book bans:


Where, though, do the challenges and bans get their legs? Local school board meetings. It is there that parents and community members express their concerns and get the ball rolling for a vote. The result of such votes determines whether a book is successfully banned.

Rust Belt Books, 415 Grant St., co-owner Kristi Meal was less concerned about how seriously the book ban issue should be viewed by society.

“How serious is the issue? I don’t know,” Meal said. “Banned books have been going on forever and here we are all still churning along. It’s a detractor from the real issues. It’s a way for parents to empower themselves in their lives according to their leanings.”

Among the concerns of proponents of book bans is the notion that children need not be exposed to graphic violence, sexually explicit content, or material that is unsuitable for children of a certain age.

A banned children’s book that Baker-Pickering alluded to is titled, “Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness.” Written by Anastasia Higginbotham, it is a story about race, and Baker-Pickering said that it is a book that Burning Books likes to highlight in the West Side community.

“I always recommend it to people, and I always take it with us when we go tabling,” she said.

Welch said that because his business is private, it is affected differently than libraries and school districts when it comes to book bans.

“You could accuse us of banning every book we don’t carry, and obviously that’s just not the case,” he said. “We have the ability to choose what we stock and don’t stock, whereas libraries ideally have everything all there, and for schools, it’s the same thing. The restriction of access, therefore, I think has to do with this sort of culture war going on. Those have also been around all the time, but they seem to have magnified.”