Holiday · Opinion · Publishing · Writing

Why I Stopped Caring About Banned Books Week

Logo copyright to S. Hunter Nisbet, 2016.


Banned Books Week: the week trade publishers who have already made a butt-load off a certain book try to make a little more by pretending to be oppressed.

Call me cynical.

What is this week? It’s the week we talk about books that regularly get banned from schools, libraries, and even entire towns. Texts such as that obscure tome Harry Potter, or, what’s it called again, Anne Frank, Dairy of a Girl. Good books. Important books. Books that you’ve probably read, because, uh, wait, I thought they were banned?

Ah, we found the catch. See, Banned Book Week is one of those events that sounds really good and important, until you realize, actually, there isn’t much there.

For people to care that a book is banned, a lot of people have to have already read it when the “take it away” movement gets started. Not only that, for it to make the news this particular week, the book has to be widely-enough spread, sold, and circulated that banning it means something. This means that banned books are famous books. Banned books are books with a lot of dollars behind them, and dollars mean that book isn’t going anywhere. Publishers are companies, and they fight to make money.

I mean, they fight to preserve those important stories.

Yeah, right, who am I kidding here? There’s a much easier way of getting rid of a book, far easier than banning it.

It’s called: “Don’t publish it at all.”

Don’t publish the book, or if you do, make sure only a couple copies go out to stores, with an ugly cover. When they don’t immediately sell, pull them from the shelves and pulp them, then hold on to the copyrights forever. And if you offer an ebook, be sure to jack up the price to far more than the ebook is worth, to ensure no one will ever, ever buy it, let alone enough people for the book to merit being banned.

And the best part is? No one will ever know.

In this day and age, I’m not interested in fussing about banned books in the US. We have internet. Your local book shop won’t carry something? Buy it from Amazon. Borrow your friend’s copy. Get it from Kobo and keep it on your ereader. This is like me getting really angry because Walmart doesn’t carry my size of shirt. The answer is not to yell at Walmart, it’s to go to a different store.

Yes, I get that there’s an ideological war against censorship going on, the hue and cry condemning “for the children.” I have no problem with that. But if you think the children whose parents are doing the banning can’t find a way to get their hands on what’s being banned, you’re kidding yourself. They can and they will, because that book has a spotlight on it. That book has been seen.

What I have a problem with is children having all their literature decided for them by publishers in New York.

In fact, I don’t think anyone should have their literature solely decided by multi-million dollar corporations, because that’s a pretty good way to end up going round and round in the same fishbowl. Why doesn’t the scenery change? Because you’re in a bowl. I want to swim in the ocean, not where publishers park me.

Those companies bring us plenty of books every year, and many of them might be good, but I’ve stopped reading them because they’ve forgotten the very thing Banned Books Week is supposed to stand for: that making books is about telling stories that we haven’t already heard, not just creating one mega-book that will sell five million copies. If the mega book doesn’t appeal? Too bad, so sad. New York publishers have decided their market is people who read once or twice a year, and when that’s how much you read, everything is fresh. Avid readers who use books as an exploration tool are no longer their target demographic.

That’s fine by me. I’ve decided my target producer makes books that come out in real time, not three years after they are written. I also want my series to update more than once a year, and I want my authors to have a say in how their books are presented. Small e-presses, or, more likely, indie is where my books lie.

But far more than my boredom with New York’s offerings are on the line. The books that get banned are so often censored because of the way they present race and sexuality–the sort of books that New York has been called out again and again for publishing only tokens of. The entire #ownvoices movement is founded on the fact that New York is made of white, upper-class people, and they like to publish white, upper-class books. Diversity is saved for “issue” books. If I want to read books that just happen to have a different point of view–even a different white point of view–I need to look elsewhere.

The world needs to look elsewhere.

Maybe banned books are such a problem because when your tokens of diversity are so limited, losing even one is a huge blow. So the solution isn’t saying “unban this book!” The solution is to make more books like it, until it’s impossible to ban them all, and thereby circumvent gatekeepers altogether.

This week celebrates banned trade-published books about topics so limited by the very companies who claim to be protesting censorship, books which it turns out we read a great deal of here in the good old U S of A. And meanwhile, I’d like an invisible book week. A week where we pick up novels that we’ve never heard of in our lives, whom three or four people have ever read, and see what points of view live outside of that island called Manhattan.

When we’ve finished, we’ll donate our books to our local libraries. They’ll add them to their charity rummage sale to make way for more books from New York.


I’m S. Hunter Nisbet, writer of post-apocalyptic dystopian novels of the dark and gritty type. I write about white generationally-poor Appalachians dealing with the sort of everyday monsters our society is so good at producing. There are no mystical wise people or hillybilly yuks, because eff that BS. I do not write issue books about coal mining, either. I know, what else in Appalachia is there to talk about? Oh, wait.

My local library only stocks trade-published books, so instead of What Boys Are Made Of being free to read there in paper form, I’ve made it free to read and own in ebook form. Click the picture below to get it on Amazon, or the following links to grab it from Kobo, B&N, or iBooks, whichever you prefer.


These are affiliate links. They support me writing more books and blog posts. If you like this website or otherwise enjoy my writing, please buy my books.

Thanks for reading, and see you next time!


58 thoughts on “Why I Stopped Caring About Banned Books Week

  1. I love this idea! Your title immediately caught my attention. I’ve never participated in banned books week and now I don’t think I will. I’m much more interested in your suggestion! Invisible Books Week sounds great!

    I also appreciate your almost “outsider” view of publishing. So much information about the world of publishing comes from the big houses themselves. I look forward to more of your thoughts on writing and the industry as a whole!

    Liked by 8 people

    1. But that’s the thing. I don’t have an outsider perspective, I have an insider one. I am a publisher, a very small one. Publishing news only comes from the big houses if you stick with mainstream media, which of course has close ties. (Printing and printing go together.) This is like if media only took info on cars from Ford and GM, not outside sources.

      Banned books week is literally sponsored by the very people who are keeping diversity down. Indies don’t bother much about it because our books aren’t allowed in the places where they get banned. We’re banned by default. And meanwhile the big publishers are going “poor us!”

      I’m not an organizer, but if you start an invisible book week, I will be all over that.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. What an awesome idea! “Invisible Book Week.” I came here because I wanted to quibble (but as an author with both small indie press and self published, I can’t really quibble). As far as BBW, though – it’s a tradition for my kids and me. I would take them to the bookstore and turn them loose at the banned books table, because my daughter once came home and announced that “Fahrenheit 451” was NOT ALLOWED at her middle school. I wanted to be sure she had a copy to take to class the next day. For me, it’s a bit of a celebration of subversive parenting and literacy. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

        1. As it should be! Really, banned books week should be about exactly that–making sure reading is free. But right now, it’s about making sure only certain books are free.

          And I’m sure you aren’t the only one who came here to argue. Glad I made a convincing argument. Though I’ll say right now, I can’t organize for anything, so someone else had better do that.


  2. I really enjoyed your article! It’s so funny because I often thought how weird it was that so many books on that list are so well known and yet they are banned. I understand they are on this list because of the role they play in our society (some of these stories include stories of rebellion against the government) but for real? They are also already famous. It basically became “A list of great books to read” for me haha.

    Liked by 6 people

      1. Thanks Hunter! After working in a library for 26 years, we had all sorts of challenges, from Dr. Seuss books, to Shel Silverstein, to Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Fifty Shades of Grey. One incident that particularly stands out in my mind involves a mother who used to drop her 12 year-old son off at our library every afternoon for 2-3 hours. After discovering he was going upstairs to the adult collection and reading Stephen King books, she stormed in demanding we take all his books off the shelves because they were “wicked.” I could give so many other examples, but I don’t want to bore you. While I completely understand where you’re coming from, regarding the money aspect of it, I still think Banned Books Week is an important acknowledgement of a particularly insidious form of censorship.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. Oh, I’m definitely not arguing that we shouldn’t acknowledge the problem, but your example illustrates my point. That woman was angry her son read the books–famous, lauded books. Yes, it would be a loss to have those books banned from one library, but that doesn’t make that book that much harder to read.

          But so many books that should be read never will be because they aren’t being published, or if they are, they’re being ignored by their own publishers. Right now, the major pushers of Banned Books Week are big publishers. As in, if you go to the Banned Books Week site, they’re at the bottom, giving money to it. That boy would have found Stephen King no matter what, same as my friends found Harry Potter. But the books publishers refuse to put out there are the ones that are truly banned from those places.

          Liked by 2 people

  3. This highlighted a dissonance I keep encountering in the reader community v. the mainstream. We will read books the mainstream people are flipping for and the reviews from the readers are all the same “what? why this book? we don’t get it.” Because we all fall into the same trap.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Your take on the entire Banned Books phenomenon was entirely new to me. I had never even thought to give it any thought! Fantastic article. Just subscribed, will be sharing with a librarian who has a knack for this stuff.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I agree people just need to shift the focus. I don’t think banned books week is ever going to just go away, but if something else, such as your said invisible books week, were to happen the same week, I think the voice of money-backed banned books would thin out.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I don’t think I have “banned books week” in my country or even “any books week”. Well that, or I just not knowing them exist. But the “invisible books week” is a good idea. I might surprise my self this week. Thank you 😊

    Liked by 3 people

  7. My local library also has their own version of Banned books. however when i looked at the books I realized that the books are pretty popular and I guess, not actually banned.

    Your idea of writing more diverse books rather than having a weekly celebration of books banned makes more sense.

    Great piece!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I once owned cheque which was made out to D H Lawrence for three copies of the first edition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover .Because the book was banned in the UK,the payments were made to him,and after he received it, he instructed a friend to wrap them in brown paper and to post them from abroad!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Banned Books Week isn’t about protecting stories so much as it’s for keeping those who ban books for political, religious, or any other reason in check.
    This week is about preemptively fighting people who would burn authors on bonfires as fast as they do Harry Potter and Salman Rushdie.
    Outside the U.S. writings considered offensive, subversive, or heretical are felonies and can be punished with death. Banned Books Week reminds us of how horrifically ridiculous that flavor of evil is and why we must stand against government censorship.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. I disagree with dismissing Banned Books Week because those who want to find a book can still do so today. Yes, the kids of book banning parents can access what they want on the internet today but since most new literature is digital that puts it more at risk tomorrow.
        Used to it required massive Nazi bonfires to get rid of books from “those people.” Now all it will take is a law change and court order to force Amazon and other epublishers to delete an authors works from every Kindle.
        The digital age has given book banners a nuke. We can’t let up on them yet.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. If you think it’s possible to ban anything in a digital age, you’ve missed the entire problem with DMC–it doesn’t work. There will always be pirates, there will always be ways to find books. But you’re discussing a problem that might not happen versus a real problem that is happening right this minute. Banned Books Week’s top supporters are publishers who suppress diverse voices in the name of making money yet claim to be a meritocracy about what they put out. If that isn’t censoring the market, I don’t know what is.

          Digital is what gives books freedom.


          1. Banning a book and censorship are legal acts. Publishers can choose not to buy a book or demand changes before they do but they can’t legally stop a story from being published by others or force an author to change a story. Buying and selling what appears to be the best product for making money isn’t censorship, its retail no matter how bad their choices often are.
            I’m sorry but if that’s what you think book banning and censorship is about then you really don’t know what censorship is.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Aha!

              You have taken the words from my mouth and put new ones in! You and I are having a different argument. And as you are arguing about something that doe not pertain to my argument, I’ve reached my patience limit.

              Continue at your own risk.


  10. Hooray! I’m with you Sam, Sol, Shaun, Steve. I will read a book if the topic is interesting, if it’s entertaining and especially if it’s a good yarn. I like to make up my mind what I find interesting and rarely read reviews.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Hi, Hunter. I think banned books entice people because the stories they tell were daring enough to provoke an opposite reaction to their being distributed to the reading public. I’m more interested in books that express something relevant to my intellectual and spiritual journey. That being said, Slaughterhouse-V is probably my favorite book that makes the list. Peace and God bless.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I didn’t even know there was such a thing that bans certain books in libraries. But then I realized, I’m not much of a library user anymore since our library holds less fiction unlike the school I attended in high school. More or less, I don’t even care about this movement anyway haha

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I like the concept behind banned books–the way SOME libraries do it. Like they’ll make a great display explaining why some of the books were put on the list and when (some of the reasons seem absurd now, which is kinda the point), but its like a small pop culture history lesson. But when you just say “these books used to be banned,” you’re giving a false, hyped-up sense of what that means, and they probably think its like being 13 years old and trying to sneak into a rated-R movie (not like many bother, anyway). If you’re not going to give more information and explain why its important, don’t bother.

    I think it had its place, but the books are clearly not banned today if they’re in the school library and you can get these books anywhere in just about any format imaginable (and if your parents are shocked and appalled and forbid the book, most kids know that a gift card + internet = keep the folks ignorant). It isn’t as relevant today, and i agree its like a last gasp for companies to try and make a bit more money on a stable product.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. In my local paper, a columnist noted that it was banned book week. He talked about how he read the executioner series for entertainment in high school. (A vigilante seeks revenge on Mafia types.) He noted that outside of encouraging teenage vigilantism, these books have no redeeming value. Yet the never made the banned list. I never looked at the banned list the same way again.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Wow. This is strong. I’ll be sharing.
    To be fair, I never really got the whole ‘banned book’ thing. I’ve started thinking of it as ‘that strange American thing’, because where I come from, there are no banned books, period. No such thing. So when I first saw Goodreads groups reading those, I thought, oh hey, this has got to be something interesting! Imagine for disappointed I was to find out that they were very well known. I was expecting hidden gems, perhaps scandalous. It took me years to figure out what ‘banned’ even meant the way they were using it. And that’s not how I understand banned, personally. I come from a country which has a word for “book smuggler” – and is the only country that does, cause that was the only way to preserve our culture and language against aggressors about a hundred years back. THAT’S what a banned book is for me. Not Harry Potter that absolutely everyone knows. It’s not a banned book if some little school in some little town decided it’s too inappropriate. It’s banned if it’s got ideas that got people sent to the gulag or the concentration camp for writing or reading them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well said. The books that are truly banned in America are the books written by people of color that never get printed because “we already have a Mexican author this year” or the LGBT romances that will never ever see shelf space because the person in charge of ordering thinks “no one wants this.” Elsewhere, they’re books that get people killed for owning them. Not Fifty Grays or To Kill a Mockingbird. Certainly not in the age of the internet.


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