A Tale of Attempted Censorship in Three Acts

Act 1: The New York Times, last week: “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.

According to minutes of its meeting, the 10-person board, in McMinn County, Tenn., voted on Jan. 10 to remove the book from the eighth-grade curriculum. Members of the board said the book, which portrays Jews as mice and Nazis as cats in recounting the author’s parents’ experience during the Holocaust, contained inappropriate curse words and a depiction of a naked character.

Act 2: Stephen King, in a keynote address on school censorship back in 1996 (35:00):

Push them a little further and they’ll invoke “family values”, a phrase that more and more frequently makes me feel like falling to the floor and projectile vomiting. Censorship and the suppression of reading materials is rarely about family values and almost always about control. Who is snapping the whip, who is saying “no”, and who is saying “go”. Censorship’s bottom line is this: if the novel Christine offends me, I don’t want to just make sure it’s kept from my kid, I want to make sure it’s kept from your kid as well. And all the kids.

This bit of intellectual arrogance — undemocratic and as old as time — is best expressed this way: If it’s bad for me and my family, it’s bad for everyone’s family. Yet when books are run out of school classrooms and even out of school libraries as a result of this idea, I’m never much disturbed. Not as a citizen, not as a writer, not even as a schoolteacher, which I was trained to be and used to do. What I tell the kids is don’t get mad, get even. Don’t spend time waving signs or carrying petitions around the neighborhood. Instead run — don’t walk — to the nearest non-school library or to the local bookstore, and get whatever it was they banned. Read what they’re trying to keep out of your eyes. Read what they’re trying to keep out of your brain. Because that’s exactly what you need to know.

Act 3: Today: “‘Maus’ Tops Bestseller Lists After Tennessee School District Yanks It From Curriculum”:

As of Monday morning, The Complete Maus held the No. 2 spot among Amazon’s best sellers in books. Maus I, an earlier published book that is the first part of The Complete Maus, was also the No. 3 best-selling book on Amazon.

In the category of comics and graphic novels, four editions of Maus, in hardcover and paperback versions, were in the top five bestsellers.