Six months after South Carolina lawmakers finally reached a sort-of-compromise following a protracted debate over the use of LGBT-themed books in summer reading programs at state colleges, one Charleston-area writer looked back last week to reflect on a bright spot in the debacle. As so often happens with any challenge or ban, Charleston City Paper contributor Leah Rhyne pointed out, legislators’ efforts against Fun Home and Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio almost certainly worked in the books’ favor as more South Carolinians opted to read them out of curiosity or solidarity.
In a column at Lit Reactor, Rhyne admits that she herself was not familiar with Alison Bechdel before state legislators attempted to defund the College of Charleston’s summer reading program because Fun Home was the chosen book last year. Now, however, Rhyne owns a copy which is patiently waiting on her to-be-read shelf. Indeed, Rep. Garry Smith who sponsored the legislation likely won more than a few new readers for the book with his insistence that it “could be considered pornography.”
Of course, Fun Home and Out Loud are far from the only banned or challenged books to experience this phenomenon. Rhyne pointed to an analysis of Goodreads stats showing greatly increased interest in frequently banned/challenged books during the annual Banned Books Week, and adds:
Often, when a school board pulls a book from a middle- or high school curriculum, stories abound regarding publishers stepping in and providing free copies of that book to interested students within that school district. The book winds up in as many — if not more — hands than it would have had people not attempted to censor it.
In just the past year, we’ve seen that happen with The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian in Meridian, ID (copies donated by individuals and publisher Little, Brown), Little Brother in Pensacola (copies donated by author Cory Doctorow and publisher Tor), and The Miseducation of Cameron Post in Rehoboth Beach, DE (copies donated by individuals through AfterEllen.com and local bookstore Browseabout Books). Even where donation drives are not organized, a local challenge or ban is sure to send copies of the book in question flying off of library and bookstore shelves — not because it’s suppressed, but because everyone suddenly wants to read it.
So, while we would much prefer that elected and appointed public officials always observe First Amendment rights and refrain from meddling in citizens’ reading choices, we must also congratulate would-be censors for boosting book sales and library circulations. We’ll be anxious to hear what Rhyne thinks of her new purchase!
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Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.