When Dave Connis worked in his local library in Tennessee, contentious books would frequently disappear. They would, he told Index, just “never come back” and instead be “lost” to the world.
Connis’ experience of books being censored is one of the main inspirations behind his forthcoming novel. Now an author of the young adult book The Temptation of Adam and a contributor to the YA anthology Welcome Home, his latest novel follows a girl who goes to a private school in Tennessee, which bans 50+ books, from Clockwork Orange to Captain Underpants. In protest, she decides to launch an underground library in her locker.
Suggested Reading will be released this September as part of Banned Books Week, a global campaign for readers of all ages who want to celebrate their freedom to read.
Connis is not alone in his experience of books being stolen or removed from the public domain. Last year, the American Library Association reported that Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why had been banned in multiple school districts because it discusses suicide; The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie was consistently challenged because it addresses poverty, alcoholism and sexuality; and the classic The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini was banned because it references sexual violence and was thought to promote terrorism. There were 483 books challenged or banned in total in the USA in 2018 alone.
Connis’ latest book was also influenced by a question posed by a teenager on Yahoo Answers, which asked if it was wrong to run a banned books library in her locker.
“Most questions about censorship of books aren’t actually questions about censorship of books,” Connis told Index, explaining how it is more about questioning the motives of society as a whole, and how we approach controversial ideas, often wanting to reject the ideas of those who do not think like ourselves.
“We need to approach these sorts of censorship questions framed in our modern context. And I think that question is not about the book, but how do we keep people from hurting people?”
Connis believes that, when we ask this question instead, we are lead to a more productive discussion. “How do we ethically shape what someone believes to include that all humans have value, worth, and dignity so that these beliefs will define their actions? ”
Connis believes one of the reasons censorship arises is because humans don’t learn from the mistakes of their past and are constantly defining what is right and wrong on their own terms. “This problem and lack of acceptance towards those who we deem different to us might only grow with globalisation.
“As long as justice is applied without mercy, and as long as people are forced to believe something they don’t really believe, I think we will be constantly fighting about who should or shouldn’t do what, or say what.”
Being open to new ideas is key, said Connis. “I think this is where personal seeking of knowledge, expanding our minds and challenging ourselves becomes so crucial.”