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Invisible Ban

Just in time for the annual ALA celebration of Bland Books Week, there’s actually a book being banned in a school. It’s like the ALA plans these things are something. The tale Kind Reader sent in is full of irony.

The banned book is Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, a book about a black man who feels that he is invisible to society. You might even say banned by society.

And now the literary work of the black man who wrote the book is invisible to the students of the public schools of Randolph County, NC, at least if they’re in the school library. Of course it’s probably still at the public library, and is available used for less than $2 on Amazon, but you know what I mean.

And that the ban is in a southern state makes it even funnier if it weren’t so sad and stupid. In a state that is “first in voter suppression” a school board is suppressing Invisible Man. It’s like Jim Crow for literature.

The reason why is pretty dumb. A parent complained, as some parents are wont to do, that her child shouldn’t have access to this book in the school library because the child is young and impressionable.

No, wait, the child is in the eleventh grade. We’re not talking little kids and porn here, or an adult level book mistakenly shelved in the children’s section of the public library.

Here’s part of the rationale, such as it is:

The narrator writes in the first person, emphasizing his individual experiences and his feelings about the events portrayed in his life. This novel is not so innocent; instead, this book is filthier, too much for teenagers. You must respect all religions and point of views when it comes to the parents and what they feel is age appropriate for their young children to read, without their knowledge. This book is freely in your library for them to read.

That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Not so innocent? Compared to what? Filthier than what? Than the porn her child could easily view on the Internet? Than the conversations that go on in high schools all the time? Does she think her dear little 11th grader is a pure little angel or something?

It cracks me up when parents forget what it’s really like to be a teenager. If anything, being a teenager is filthier, and too much for teenagers. What does she think her child talks about with friends?

The third sentence is just weird. Respecting someone’s religion or point of view has nothing to do with whether books are in libraries. Gee, a widely respected novel is available in a library for an 11th grader to read. That’s just crazy!

Besides, an 11th grader isn’t a “young child” anymore, and for that matter neither are 9th graders, making the argument even more ridiculous. I feel a little sorry for the kid of that mother. Imagine the teasing that could go on. “Your mother thinks you’re a young child that’s not old enough to read a classic novel. Young child! Young child!”

Or however teenagers tease each other these days. It’s probably a little harsher than that.

A further irony is the Board of Education, apparently made up of people who aren’t that educated.

The board members were provided copies of the book. One of them said “it was a hard read.” Really? A book that teenagers were probably reading just fine? It’s not as easy as reading an article in People magazine, but it’s not exactly Finnegan’s Wake.

The best comment from a board member: “I didn’t find any literary value.”

Hmm, who do we trust on the issue of literary value? A school board member in North Carolina, or just about every literary critic and educated reader who has read the book? I’m thinking. I’m thinking.

The good news is that everyone in North Carolina isn’t interested in banning classic novels for high school students. The initial challenge was reviewed at the school level and rejected. Then it was reviewed by a district level media advisory committee and rejected.

So at least the people actually educating the children aren’t interested in suppressing classic literature for teenagers because one irrational parent objects. Pity they aren’t in charge.



  1. If parents don’t want their kids reading something they just shouldn’t bring it up. 90% of what I read in high school was because some parent decided to challenge a book!

  2. Inevitability says:

    Rambling and factually inaccurate Safe Libraries comment incoming in 3… 2…. 1…

  3. Pardon me for for derailing the thread a tad here, just following up on AL asking “filthier than what”? First allow me to say I am not in favor of banning television programming, but the violent content on shows such as CSI, and some of the other most popular programming I cannot watch. Personally I find such content very disturbing. That being said I have a hard time understanding people being more offended by a dirty joke on a show like Archer, than watching the antics of a serial killer. I suppose it says something about our culture when ideas, and sexual content, are much more dangerous than violence, sexual violence etc. I think the content on TV is much more shocking than most anything someone could find at the local library.

  4. Ha! We had a parent call in a rage that her young son had brought home an R movie. I was accused of wanting to provide pornography to youth, of violating every other library’s policy (falsely claimed as it turned out) in our area by not restricting R movies, encouraging smoking, drinking and promiscuity and wanting to be known as the destination library for delinquent teens. Her son was five months shy of 17.

  5. Agree. Great post, AL, as usual. Some parents simply go too far. But, that’s what materials reconsideration policies are for, so no harm done.

    • “No harm done”, Dan? What about the ridicule this poor concerned parent has to face just for raising the issue?

      “The ALA sets up parents for ridicule. It does this by advising libraries to create, maintain, and exercise so-called “materials reconsideration policies.” They should really be called “leading with the chin policies” since the ALA sets up people to get whacked merely for complying with the policy and filing a complaint as directed.” – SafeLibraries Blog, posted 9/29/2010

    • Way Barra,

      ALA does set parents up for ridicule. Even progressive librarian Rory Litwin points out ALA routinely blames parents, or something like that.

      So I’m on solid ground there.

      That said, sometimes people really are way out there. I get calls from people who want me to help them get books removed from schools. I get the homosexual calls, the Earth isn’t older that 6,000 years old calls, the witchcraft calls. I tell them the truth and I’ve never heard of one of them actually being filed after that. The truth is the law and public opinion will back efforts to remove pervasively vulgar material, but not those things. Who knows, as there’s a drop in book challenges, a little bit of that might be attributable to me.

    • @Way Berra and Dan Kleinman

      What about the parents who want their children to read such books? To be exposed to a life that isn’t exactly like theirs?

      Junior high and high school are the best time to be exposed to this stuff to children because their parents can be there to also guide them. I would tell that mother to be a parent and read the book along with her child so that they can have discussions together. Is it better to create a bubble for the child and have them exposed in college without their guidance? Nope, but that is exactly what will happen if we ban books like this. If parents really want to shape their children in a certain way then they have take a step back and really think what would be most useful way to do that.

      Banning a book just creates an interest, I promise that mother that if she and her kid both read the book and discussed she would accomplish what she would want to accomplish better than banning it.

    • @Me!, I agree, that’s why I feature this:

      “Censorship, Parenting, and YA Literature: The Perks of Being a Wallflower; Guest Post by Katelyn Bright,” 7 April 2013.

  6. Dear Asheboro, North Carolina [From a Native Son]

    It should be noted that great American novels [as well a great Russian or French or etc., etc… novels] are more than often concerned with complex, quite disturbing, and provocative issues. If every book was simply another Hardy Boys Mystery [a delightful series BTW] then Norman Rockwell [certainly one of our finest dauber/illustrators] would be the only American painter.

    So, some nice mom in Asheboro, NC isn’t entirely comfortable with the more gruesome aspects of Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man”. Okay, I can certainly understand that but we all must realize the irony of the fact that it is this very “discomfort” that Mr. Ellison is in many ways attempting to evoke in the reader. He wasn’t writing a Harlequin Romance. He was divulging to a larger American audience a real, bitter, and darkly cloaked verity of which they had little knowledge.

    “Invisible Man” is a profound and, yes, unsettling work of art. It will continue to offend and rattle moms and school board members for decades to come. But please, don’t miss the forest for the trees.
    All the nudes displayed at the North Carolina Museum of Art out on Blue Ridge Rd can’t be removed because mom is offended.

    Imagine a world where the merit and meaning of important literary art and its significance is left to one credulous, unread mom and five blockheaded school board members from Asheboro, NC to adjudicate.

    ‘Invisible Man’ has “no literary value”? Come on folks; get real. I double dog guarantee you that the board member who said that hadn’t read four whole books in his entire sad life. Try to imagine showing yourself off to be that lowbred in public.

    – See more at:

  7. Midwest SciTech Librarian says:

    Let’s see…most 11th graders are either 16 or 17 years old. By that time most have a driver’s license, get into an R rated move (how many theatres really check IDs if a person looks old enough) — and even the dreaded NC-17, and about 30 of the states have age of consent laws for 16 year olds — including the state in question, North Carolina. And a book with a few dirty words and graphic descriptions is the straw on the camel’s back?

  8. In 2013 parents want public institutions to do their parenting for them. I don’t want to have to make sure my kid isn’t consuming media that I don’t want them too, so YOU have to censor it for me!

    • Featherhead Girl says:

      I demand that you do the job I don’t feel like doing! Why should I have to tackle tough subjects in order to share my values in a meaningful way with my child? She’ll turn out fine even if I’m intellectually and emotionally lazy as long as I forbid her from experiencing difficult ideas, and you read my mind and forbid her from them as well! Don’t screw up or I’ll be FURIOUS.

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