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It’s 2022 and Two Books Are on Trial for ‘Obscenity’

The books at issue here are not obscene by any stretch of the imagination. And the Virginia statute that has enabled these proceedings is unconstitutional. Under the statute, the court has the authority to temporarily block all sale and distribution of the books anywhere in Virginia upon a mere finding of “probable obscenity.” And, if the court ultimately determines that the books are indeed obscene, anyone who sells or even lends the books in Virginia could face criminal prosecution, regardless of whether they had prior knowledge of the obscenity proceedings. This would impact all independent bookstores and other distributors in the state of Virginia, even if they have no knowledge that a book has been so much as challenged. Read more

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The Power—and Necessity—of Reading Dangerously

Authors are not infallible. Each great writer is the child of her or his age, certainly. But the miraculous aspect of great books is their ability to both reflect and transcend the prejudices of the author as well as their time and place. It is this quality that allows a young woman in twentieth-century Iran to read a Greek man named Aeschylus, who lived thousands of years ago, and to empathize with him. Reading does not necessarily lead to direct political action, but it fosters a mindset that questions and doubts; that is not content with the establishment or the established. Fiction arouses our curiosity, and it is this curiosity, this restlessness, this desire to know that makes both writing and reading so dangerous. Read more

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School Board in Tennessee Bans Teaching of Holocaust Novel ‘Maus’

A school board in Tennessee voted unanimously this month to ban “Maus,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust, from being taught in its classrooms because the book contains material that board members said was inappropriate for students. Read more

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Pennsylvania students are protesting their school district’s ban on books by authors of color

Last October, the Central York school board unanimously banned a list of resources written by authors of color and featuring main characters of color. The banned resources range from I Am Not Your Negro, an Oscar-nominated PBS documentary about James Baldwin; to a statement on racism from the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators; to a children’s coloring book featuring African Adrinkra symbols; to an African-themed cookbook. Read more

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The Man Who Hated Women: Sex, Censorship, and Civil Liberties in the Gilded Age

In this important work of biographical history, novelist Sohn traces the career of Anthony Comstock (1844-1915), special agent to the U.S. Post Office and secretary of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. For more than 40 years, Comstock, a deeply Christian dry goods seller from Connecticut, harassed and imprisoned many of the important pioneers in the birth control movement. Read more

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