Censorship Attacks on Public Libraries Are Coming After Nora Roberts & Other Romance Icons
The most recent round of book bannings highlights the growing attack on romance novels in public libraries, including works from bestselling authors like Nora Roberts and Jodi Picoult. Book censorship has been an ongoing problem, but has grown tremendously since 2020, with challenges and bans to books rising by an astonishing 1,100% in the past two years. The American Library Association (ALA) recorded the highest number of challenges to books in 2022 since they first began accumulating such data 20 years ago. Meanwhile, the list of the top 13 most banned books of 2022 showed that book challengers are increasingly (and falsely, or at best, disingenuously) categorizing books as “sexually explicit” to justify bans and censorship.
This is a tactic in which individuals claim that a book is “pornographic” or “sexually explicit” to spark outrage and hysteria, even when a book in no way falls anywhere near those categories. Sometimes all it takes is one mundane and inconspicuous reference to sex in a book to claim the book is “sexually explicit.” This is then used to raise panic that school children are being exposed to pornography. However, these attempts to ban books are rarely restricted to school libraries, with most extending to city and county libraries in an attempt to bar everyone from reading them.
In some cases, books that tackle topics like sexual education, puberty, and sexual abuse are labeled sexually explicit. In other cases, a book may merely have LGBTQ+ representation or tackle topics of racism or police brutality, but baseless pornography claims will still be used to get the book banned. While book banning is an issue everywhere, Florida is one state that has been at the center of the book-banning surge, having banned 350+ books across its school districts in a year. Most recently, Martin County, FL, has been in the news for banning a massive number of titles from its school system, including romance novels.
Why is censorship targeting romance novels?
The book bannings in Martin County first came to light in March when an extensive list of banned titles arose. Dozens of books were pulled from shelves at schools and even at local bookstores after a right-wing reactionary organization called Moms For Liberty, headed by Julie Marshall, filed challenges against them. At the time, the number of books removed from shelves in the Martin County school district spanned six pages and included novels from Picoult, Blume, Toni Morrison, John Green, James Patterson, and many more. However, the censorship didn’t stop there, as romance icon Nora Roberts became one of the latest authors targeted by Moms For Liberty.
It was reported that eight of roberts’ books were removed from Martin County’s school district, with Marshall claiming, “These books are adult romance novels. They have absolutely no reason to be in school libraries.” It’s unclear how this is a legitimate excuse to have eight novels pulled from shelves, and makes one nervous that now any book merely featuring adult characters will be censored. Roberts acknowledged that some of her books include subtle sexual scenes. What’s more important, though, is that her books all depict healthy, consensual, and monogamous relationships between adults that often lead to marriage. (Half of Roberts’ banned books are about friends building a wedding-planning business!) How can one possibly argue that it’s bad to show teenagers what a healthy relationship should look like? The pulling of her books may also be retaliation due to Roberts’ advocacy for the First Amendment as it pertains to libraries. She even saved a library with her generous donations after it was defunded for carrying LGBTQ+ novels.
Similar to the pornography claims, “adult romance” is starting to become a vague and baseless label to ban books. “Adult romance” was also the reason given for banning 20 of Picoult’s books, even though she stated that most of the books censored did “not even have a single kiss in them.” Meanwhile, in some places, just one parent crying “pornography” or “adult romance” is powerful enough to have a book pulled from a shelf and removed until it can undergo a long review process. Having these books pulled from circulation, whether in schools or county libraries, can be extremely detrimental to an author’s success.
This attack on romance novels is just another example of how book banners keep finding more ways to slap ambiguous labels on novels to go after more and more book genres. First, it was “sexually explicit” books that were banned. Then, it was “adult romance” books and, in the future, it might just be “romance” books altogether. The underlying goal of these book banners is to find a category vague enough that all books can fall under it, so they can excuse banning any book they want.
(featured image: Berkley / Atria / Bradbury Press)
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