From Banning Books to Burning Them, the Right Is Threatening Education

If you walk into my apartment with the right kind of eyes, the first thing you’ll notice is the books. You will find them stacked on walls, floor to ceiling, organized according to topic until the esoteric character of the collection. I have a study about artificial intelligence next to a history the internet because the subjects are cousins.

My grandfather’s beloved John Toland collection is up there, along with his life-long study of the Kennedy clan. For my father, every war is represented, as well as every president. A special emphasis is placed on Vietnam. Charles Bukowski has a shelf as well as Hunter Thompson. There are Langston Hughes poetry anthologies and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Harper Lee and Kurt Vonnegut Colson Whitehead’s Underground RailroadRobert Hunter’s collected lyrics.

Dotting the shelves are trinkets I call treasure — an old pair of my daughter’s ballet shoes, tiny and precious beside a snapshot of my mother. A compass and an earring that belonged long ago to a girl I was with, as well as a pocket-sized Constitution & Bill of Rights, which serves as a doormat for the comedy section (too early?).All the little bits and pieces of my passage through history are like garnets that have been sifted from sand. It is a shrine for my small life, and the meaning is books.

In my bedroom, a small bookcase with a few specific titles — Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United StatesNext to Carsten Jensen’s We, the DrowsersNext to a signed copy Skeleton CrewStephen King Over by the entrance? A stack of books waiting to be translated into the big collection; this might take years, because it means I’ll either have to donate books to make space, which I don’t want, or put in more shelves, for which there is no space. Is there a corner? Another stack, neatly made with a candle on top as if to say, “I am not a mess. I am decoration.” And it’s true.

The Japanese have a term for this sweet, gentle, intellectual type of hoarding: tsundoku. Roughly translated, it is the act of “letting reading materials pile up without reading them.” Broadly speaking, tsundoku is the recognition that the mere presence of books brings great happiness, and more than that, an excited sense of hope: Maybe someday I will have time to read all this, and oh, what wonders will I learn then?

“It turns out that the smell of old books is due to the organic materials in books (like cellulose from wood pulp) reacting with light, heat and water, and over time releasing volatile organic compounds or VOCs,” explains McGill University’s Ada Mcvean. “What VOCs are released depends on how the book was made and stored, but common scents are toluene or ethylbenzene, which smell sweet, benzaldehyde or furfural, which smell almond-like, or vanillin, which smells like — you guessed it — vanilla.”

The cathedral silence of books in libraries, the smell of wise-aged leather bound in old leather is being replaced by the sound of furious screaming, and the burning of pages. In towns across the country, the Trump-bound conservative movement has latched on to a fiction built around false ideas about critical race theory — which isn’t being taught anywhere in the public schools — that is inspiring a purge of books that might make white children deal with their nation’s past, or help them deal with their own future as an LGBTQ+ person of great and everlasting value. Right-wing extremists are harassing and threatening parents and school board members in an effort to exploit the already-simmering anger over schools and children in the age COVID.

“Authoritarianism and education now inform each other as the Republican Party in numerous states mobilizes education as a vehicle for white supremacy, pedagogical repression, excision and support for curricula defined by an allegiance to unbridled anti-intellectualism and a brutal policy of racial exclusion,” writes Henry A. Giroux for Truthout. “Republican legislators now use the law to turn public education into white nationalist factories and spaces of indoctrination and conformity. Republican state legislators have put policies into place that erase and whitewash history, and attack any reference to race, diversity and equity while also deskilling teachers and undermining their attempts to exercise control over their teaching, knowledge and the curriculum.”

The burning of books is one of the most obscene acts, but it’s a growing trend. has been growingTrump and his people are promoting a right-wing rage that is growing at a rapid pace. It is frightening to even consider that fire can kill ideas. It happened before in the great library fires that erupted after the fall of Rome. Only the concerted efforts of monks in their Irish monasteries — copying texts, copying texts, always copying texts — saved the literature and philosophy of classical Western society from itself.

A lot of the noise is happening on television, in the spaces where people like Ted Cruz operate… but the action is at the school board meeting, the town hall meeting, the very local gatherings were most of the governing of this country takes place. This isn’t happening in some far-off conference room in Washington, D.C.; this is down the block.

The book banners, burners, and other gizmos swept through the process like a swarm of shock troops, overwhelming the otherwise sane procedures and scaring everyone. It is time to respond.

This could be happening in the town. If this is the case, you can go to your town meetings in large numbers and bring a sense of fairness and order to the proceedings. Make sure your children are able to see the books being destroyed and banned. Also, explain to them that this act can spread just like fire. It must be confronted immediately and stifled before the damage becomes too severe.

I do you harm when you burn a book. If you ban a book, it is harmful to us all and makes us look foolish. This must be stopped. We must do everything in our power to stop it. Bullies are only as strong as their victims allow them to be. If you push back enough, they will wilt and scatter. I once read this in a book and tried it for myself. It worked.