In case you missed it, The New York Times picked up a story out of Texas about what books are banned from the prison system (read it here). The banned books include titles like Where’s Waldo and Charlie Brown. Hitler’s Mein Kampf, however, is allowed.
Now, prison systems routinely ban books, and this has been upheld in the court system. The Texas system made the list of approved and banned books available to the Dallas Morning News (read it here). According to the Dallas Morning News, the system bans books that can incite violence or riots, depict illegal acts in a graphic manner, can be used to plan a riot or escape, or give aids in how make weapons or commit crimes. Additionally, pop up and some other books are banned because of the ability to hide things in the illustrations or covers. The Dallas Morning News also points out that graphic sex scenes are determined by case. I should also note the list of approved books (248, 241) is longer than the list of banned books (10, 073)
The thing is that some of the decisions seem really confused. For instance, Alice Walker’s Color Purple is banned but not the Kite Runner or the Handmaid’s Tale. Both of those books contain rape. The Handmaid’s Tale even contains an escape. Grimms Comics is banned (I am presuming because of nudity), yet other comic books are allowed, and considering how suggestive comic art can be, one wonders.
This isn’t a Texas prison system problem, though it is interest that this story occurs shortly after a Texas school district pulled The Hate U Give from library shelves and is re-evaluating the book. The Texas problem is the same that most book banners have, but at least in the prison system it makes some sense. Take for instance the group PABBIS, which about ten years ago, was actively attempting to ban books in schools. Pabbis (Parents Against Bad Books in Schools), to be fair, at the least linked to the passages they found objectionable, which is more than some people do. Yet Pabbis also linked to a list of books that they demeaned appropriate. This list includes Three Musketeers where the hero has an affair with a married woman, the works of Poe, and The Scarlet Letter.
What makes one book with sex good and another bad?
In the Texas prison case, the Anita Blake books are allowed, and as most critics of Hamilton can point out, those books at the very least, contain problematic sex scenes (including what would make the legal definition of rape). Yet, The Color Purple is considered too dangerous because it addresses incest. Hamilton’s books, the earlier ones at least, I cannot speak to the later ones, never addressed the issue of rape and were filled with victim blaming.
In terms of banning, the question will always be who determines if something is objectionable, what is the criteria. And the answer to that question doesn’t really exist, at least not in a way that satisfies everyone.
What is worse a school district banning or even just removing a book such as a Hate U Give limits the learning of compassion. And important aspect of life that Frank Bruni in the New York Times argues that Trump lacks (Read it here). Thomas’ book should be more widely read simply because of its frank look at race, class, and violence involving police. It should be required reading to promote discussion about a major issue in America.
It’s why stories such as the Texas Prison System and The Hate U Give are reported, we should pay attention.