Don’t Think Someone(s) Would Not Ban Your Favorite

It was not a school assignment. I think I had just seen a reference to it someplace and thought it sounded “cool.” (I was not into what friends of mine then were – Tolkien and similar sci-fi and fantasy.) When I was age 14, this was the first “adult” book I ever read entirely on my own…

[James Fenimore Cooper, The Last of the Mohicans, 1826. Photo by me, January 2023.]

…and I will never forget my mother seeing me with it. (It may have been a library book; but I think it is more likely it was my maternal grandfather’s – he had a hardcover – because my dad still has that on a shelf.) I suspect Mom was impressed I was reading such a “mature” story, and she asked if I was finding it tough reading (and I was). I also said I was wowed by the characters (although I didn’t tell her Cora the most). She cautioned me too, I recall, about the ending possibly not being what I would expect (and she was right – it shocked me).

What kids must go through today. For example, this in Florida, reported by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune (on January 23):

The Manatee County School District directed teachers to remove all books that had not yet been approved by a specialist from their classroom libraries, Kevin Chapman, the district’s chief of staff, said Monday. Chapman said many of the books teachers make available to students in their classrooms are likely already approved through the district’s library system, but many teachers have chosen to close access altogether, since making unvetted books available could lead to felony prosecution…

…The policy comes in response to HB 1467, which requires all reading material in schools to be selected by an employee with a valid education media specialist certificate. In a message sent from the Manatee district to principals, the material must be “free of pornography” and “appropriate for the age level and group.” New training approved by the State Board of Education also asks media specialists to avoid materials with “unsolicited theories that may lead to student indoctrination.”

“Unsolicited theories.” My first question: What the heck is a “certified media specialist?” I suppose it is a school librarian who possesses “a valid education media specialist certificate?”

The political right in particular in the U.S. complains incessantly about newly “invented” college degrees and specializations and demands every job should be “explainable” to a “5-year-old.” Well, is that evidently aside from when one can be used as “expertise” cover for a political purpose and even censorship? Because I taught history and political science in a university in the late 1990s in New York and I cannot recall ever seeing a mention of such a “certificate” until reading that story above.

As I recall a “classroom library” when I was a kid about a gazillion years ago in the 1970s-80s, was just there to pick from on our own. NONE of it was “assigned” by the teacher – which seems pretty relevant to this issue; we were not being coerced into reading anything we did not choose for ourselves. And presumably a parent would see any book we had taken at some point anyway – as my mother saw me with The Last of the Mohicans.

[Partly Black Cora Munro on race. James Fenimore Cooper, The Last of the Mohicans, 1826. Photo by me, January 2023.]

There is often a racial dimension (in the U.S., there is almost always) to efforts to keep certain books away from young (especially, it seems, white) children. This latest hullabaloo is rooted in certain, particularly right wing, politicians stoking fear of something seemingly called “wokism,” coupled with an actual academic approach called “critical race theory” (that CRT has been in university social sciences circles for decades – having appeared as researchers increasingly found that in the U.S. there is almost always a racial dimension), and such “theory” being “foisted” sneakily on innocent young children without parents’ knowledge just like Stalin would. Given such, I wonder if Cooper’s 1826-published often brutal frontier novel of 1757, in which not all “Indians” are evil, a British officer’s part-Black daughter is a main character, and race is actually addressed, would be acceptable reading for a “14-year-old” American teen now… according to a Florida “education media specialist?” Or would that “specialist” deem it to be “woke” in some way in not making the white man the center of everything in U.S. history?

This new legal push to keep certain books (including children’s books) away from teens and pre-teens is also plainly driven in part by sexuality “indoctrination” worries among some parents – especially regarding children who say they unsure about their gender. I do admit that latter was not a literary issue in my youth; unlike now, there were then as I recall no children’s books broaching that subject available in any of my elementary school (up to age 11) classroom libraries. (Which naturally did not mean it was not an issue for some children back then, only that none of us children could easily find books about it.) However, the matter seems much broader than just the gender identity issue among a very few – that the moves to such a newly heavy-handed censoriousness is merely part of a wider political effort to keep the likes of the young-teen-Jewish-girl-authored The Diary of a Young Girl, in which she writes of her own sexuality, safely away from the eyes of similarly-aged “impressionable” girls (and boys) of any religion or race or gender identity.

Then, there is this, too – mostly coming at authors from the political left:

[From Instagram.]

Due to its story about the bloody struggles between whites and “Indians,” and in particular because Cooper as the author was not an “Indian,” his now nearly 200 year old novel has to some on the left become controversial and disliked due at least in part to assertions it is “insensitive” at best (and even viciously “colonialist” and “exterminationist”). A need for “sensitivity” issue has in recent years been pushed increasingly at authors in all genres. Indeed, many publishers employ “sensitivity readers” – a role that, frankly, did not exist “20 years” ago.

That is certainly not equivalent to the Florida law – no jail threat from the state exists if you don’t hire a “sensitivity reader.” (At least not yet.) However, pushing such is also in its way an effort to try to tell an author how to write and what to write… while positioned as being “respectful.” (Unaddressed is if an author who does not “hire” one is by default being “insensitive” and therefore less worthy of being published?) Interestingly, much like the left’s concern for “sensitivity,” doubtless the right wing politicians claiming to want to better “vet” what children read outside of direct parental oversight would argue their aim is only to make sure teachers are more “respectful” of parents’ wishes to protect their young children from “noxious” ideas.

Many of you know me best due to my three recent historical novels. Prior to writing those, a decade ago I was writing my first book that I had also believed would be my only book: A 1990s story, written by me mostly to try finally to prove to myself that I could write a novel as my uncle did, and because he had encouraged me to write one someday sharing experiences such as this one (of which I was told by “her”):

[From Passports (2013). On Kindle for iPhone/iPad. Click to expand.]

It turned out – obviously – not to bs my only book. Like, uh, Prince Harry (LOL!), I had lots more potential material. I wrote two sequels in 2014 and 2015.

In those three books most of what we see comes from the perspective of the main character, and most of that material comes from, well, myself: I lived it and/or personally observed or was told about most of what is in those three novels. I changed the names and “fictionalized” all of the not public figures I knew or know, including my (rather public author) uncle, and turned them into the novels’ characters.

Writers have been doing that sort of thing forever. I will not allow anyone to tell me what to write – and particularly not when what I write is based distinctly on my own perspective: I am the author and the final arbiter of what I turn into words. Something(s) that may not “bother” one reader may unsettle another; but no writer can ever write in such a way to make sure no one is possibly upset or annoyed by something(s).

[From Instagram.]

Government officials attempt to sideline authors if we do not safely produce content that the officials are happy to see published…

Supposed publishing allies and friends inform us we “should” be “sensitive” and write based on someone(s) “suggestions” as to what our content should be…

Authors catch it from every direction, and always have, and it is difficult to believe that will ever change…

[Photo by Dharmpal jharwal Meena on]

“The youth will be corrupted” as an argument to control what is written, as well as what is read, goes back to Socrates at least.

So especially be wary of politicians who think attacking books and authors will help them get elected/re-elected. As a reader, treasure that book you like, as well as defend the right of those to write books with which you may even greatly disagree. Because I guarantee you SOMEONE(S) SOMEWHERE out there would object to SOMETHING in your favorite novel.

Indeed if that SOMEONE(S) had had their way, your favorite might well never have been published in the first place.

Enjoy your reading, wherever you are…


  1. An excellent post.
    A little addition from my limited experience – I attended a Writing Group five years ago and we paid a so-called experienced writer/lecturer to assess one piece of each of our writing. I submitted a story about a PI set in late 1950s New York. His main, and unwavering, criticism of it was that the attitudes of men toward women in the story were unacceptable in 2018. BUT, I said, the story is set in 1958, attitudes were different then, etc, etc. He just would not accept this. It was mind-boggling. What fools we have allowed to become so influential in our society!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You were wrote about the 1950s, but were supposed to use current day attitudes? That must have been quite an author giving out that advice. But that is hardly surprising by now.

      The argument is always that no one is being “censored” technically, and that may be true to some extent. But there is quite a bit of a “chill” out there – as writers look over their shoulder. You never know when something you write will lead the “Twitter mob” to descend on you.

      I have come to believe in recent years the reason we see so much sci-if and fantasy now is because it “insulates” an author from having to deal with all of the social-difficulty of writing “real people.” After all, you can’t as easily criticize someone for their takes on life on the Planet Zerg and the blue and orange half-cat beings residing there.

      Liked by 1 person

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