Book Bans: What’s the real motive?

By Paul Rozycki

“Controversial LGBTQ+ memoir the subject of heated Lapeer library meeting”   (MLive, March 17, 2023)

That was the headline of a story about a recent Lapeer District Library Board meeting where a crowded room of local residents attacked and denounced the local library for placing the book “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe on its shelves. The controversy began when the Lapeer County prosecutor inquired about the book, and reportedly raised the possibility of criminal charges against the librarian or library board members.  

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At the moment, it is the most banned book in the nation, having faced protests in hundreds of libraries. 

Lapeer is hardly alone. Recently Florida passed several laws that forced some schools to close their libraries for a time until they could be sure they were not in violation of the statute. Texas has banned more than 800 books in at least 20 school districts. Between July of 2021 and 2022, PEN America, an anti-censorship group, listed more than 2500 attempts to ban books that impacted more than 1600 titles. The numbers seem on track to be even higher this year. The majority of the books under attack were about or by LGBTQ+ people or people of color. 

Kobabe’s autobiography

“Gender Queer” is Kobabe’s autobiography of coming out as nonbinary. Some claim it is pornographic, others said it simply is a biographical search for gender identity. At the board meeting some claimed it would expose children to sexually explicit images, yet others say that it could play a key role in assisting transgender individuals dealing with social and psychological challenges. 

But I have advice for those who thought that showing up at the library board meeting and angrily demanding the book be taken off the shelf was a good idea. If you are really serious and if you don’t want anyone to read the book…you are doing it all wrong, and it makes one wonder about the real motive behind these protests. 

Do protests really ban books?

Though there are exceptions, most indications are that the protests over banning books are likely to increase the interest, readership, and sales of those books. After all, the public library isn’t the only place to find a book. The media coverage that those protests generate tell even more potential readers about the book…many who have never heard of it before. Many of the books that have faced book bans have seen a spike in interest and sales. In response some have formed “banned book clubs” to read and share the banned texts. I have a somewhat dated government textbook that has had minimal sales since I retired. Why not raise a stink about that and see if the sales go up? 

Actually one way to make sure that no one reads a book is to put it on the shelves. Or better yet…require it for a class. Many of those books go unread. 

Consider the books that are already on most library shelves.  I’m guessing that most libraries have copies of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto or Das Kapital available, yet I doubt that has produced many recent communists. I suspect that Hitler’s Mein Kampf is on many library shelves, but I doubt that any of the wanna-be Nazis we’ve seen goose-stepping around lately have learned their fascist ideology from it. The library shelves are often lined with murder mysteries by James Patterson, David Baldacci, or John Grisham, and they can be a fun read, but I doubt that most murderers get their motivation from pouring over their books in the library lounge. As some have noted, millions of kids have read “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”, yet few seem to have become caterpillars, hungry or not. 

Beyond the library

Beyond that, the fact is that kids (and others) will find a way to get books and information in a thousand other ways, well beyond the library. There are plenty of book stores around, and Amazon is still selling books.

(Photo by Tom Travis)

When I was a teenager our local public library didn’t carry Playboy, and St. Mary’s school library certainly didn’t. But Ralph’s Newsstand did, and we knew how to ride our bikes down there on a Saturday afternoon and check out the latest copy. And, by the way, did you hear about this thing called the internet? The rumor is that EVERYTHING is available there. 

The real goal of the protests

The fact is that most of the book bans are not so much about banning books, or keeping books off the library shelves, as they are about rallying a political crowd around an attempt to oppose anything that they feel is progressive or “woke.” It’s also a way of striking out at those who are frequently the subject of banned books—the LGBTQ+ community or people of color.


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As we’ve seen in Florida, a campaign against “woke” social issues can turn up the anger and turn out voters, at least in some circumstances. Many of the book bans seem to be motivated by the same groups that have used culture wars to attack any discussion of civil rights or slavery by labelling it Critical Race Theory. That may be the real goal behind these protests in our polarized times. 

The real threat of book bans

In the end perhaps the most serious threat from all the book banning is not to those librarians and library boards who have faced angry mobs, threats of arrest, and loss of funds. For the most part they have been courageous, and done well standing up against those who would limit the public’s right to read certain books. That certainly is the case in Lapeer. But those are the ones we hear about on the nightly news. 

The real threat may be from those we don’t hear about in the media—the librarians who look at the banned book list and quietly decide that they “don’t need the headache” and avoid buying the books because there “are so many other books to buy as well, and the budget is up for review next month.”  We don’t hear about the teacher or school boards who avoid discussing slavery, civil rights, or gay issues because, they are “up for a promotion” or “there is a school bond proposal on the ballot” and they want to avoid any controversy for the voters.  We won’t hear about a publisher who turns down a book because “it’s just not the time for that kind of book” because they want to avoid the conflict. 

Even worse, we won’t hear about the kids who didn’t read the banned book, who faced social and psychological turmoil alone, who could not know there were others like them dealing with the same issues, when the book could have made a difference in their lives.

EVM political commentator and board president Paul Rozycki can be reached at

Author: Tom Travis

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