Columns > Published on December 23rd, 2021

Conservative vs. Liberal Book Bans

Because everything is so great right now, I figured why not talk about an issue we can all disagree on: book bans. Especially: the different, mutually disgusting flavors of conservative and liberal book bans.

Let’s look at both and uncover how they’re different and how they’re alike.

Spoiler: they’re alike because they’re both stupid.

What Is A Book Ban?

A book ban is any action you take with the intented or unintended effect of creating a barrier between the book and its reader.

So, preventing sales of a book? That’s a ban. Preventing distribution of a book? Ban. Taking a book meant for children and putting it in the adult section? Ban. A bookstore refusing to carry a title for reasons other than lack of interest or availability? Ban.

Declining to add Fifty Shades of Grey to a middle school library’s collection? Not a ban. Sharing your opinion that a book is not very good? Not a ban. A publisher no longer printing an unpopular, undesired book? Not a ban.

I know, there are some other behaviors that would and would not be bans, but most of them are covered here. We're good to go.


You really like to ban entire topics rather than certain books. You take a shotgun approach, striking down anything that discusses race, even if it’s as simple as “It’s not super fun to be the only Black kid in school,” anything with a gay character—even if they don't engage in any sort of sexual activity, or anything that might have a single sentence about jerking off.

As with most things in life, your book bans can be summed up by a single Simpsons moment:

Helen Lovejoy from the Simpsons saying "Won't Somebody Please Think of the Children?"

The weakness of your bans is the same as the weakness of your politics: you don’t know when to say, “None for me, thanks, but you go ahead.” You’re not imaginative enough to consider that while your kid might not be ready for a book, that might be because you’ve stunted your kid. Perhaps the way you’re raising your kid isn’t the number 1, best all-time way. Maybe it’s not the worst way either, but you won’t even explore other ways, and you’re passing that lack of intellectual curiosity onto your kids. Instead of raising independent free-thinkers, you’re raising kids who depend on mommy and daddy to tell them what's right and wrong in every scenario.

Let me just give you this message: Nobody, when asked when they knew they were gay, answers, “Oh, I wasn’t gay, but then I read a teen novel about two gay characters, and although I was not attracted to my own gender before, I thought it sounded like a neat idea and gave it a whirl.” Nobody uses drugs because a novel brought the option of drugs to their attention. Nobody put down the final Harry Potter book and then sacrificed a goat in the woods. Nobody living on the street will cite a book as the turning point where everything went wrong.

If you talked to like one gay person, one drug user, or even someone who just doesn’t attend church on a weekly basis, you would know that easy access to books is not the problem.


What grosses me out about you is that you’ll wear $28 dollar enamel pins that proudly yell “I read banned books,” while participating in a walkout where you’re effectively banning a book.

I’ve heard a lot of great phrases about liberal book bans, like “It’s not censorship, it’s creating friction” or “It’s not a ban, it’s an economic consequence for bad behavior.” “There are other books by non-problematic authors that do the same work.” “We can’t wipe a book from existence, we are just one lil’ ol’ shop.”

At least the conservatives have the fortitude to admit they’re talking about tossing books on the fire as a method of protecting their values. I’ll take an honest dumbass over a smart liar.

Just own it. Recognize that you can’t crow about intellectual freedom and banned books while also banning books. Maybe you feel like it’s justified, and maybe it IS. I’m not here to argue that, I’m here to say that you need to accept that you ARE banning books as a means to an end. You ARE sacrificing one ideal, intellectual freedom, for another. If your weapon of choice is a book ban, treat that shit like an atomic weapon, acknowledge what you’re doing, make peace with it, and respect that weapon’s terrifying power. Just don’t be shocked by the fallout when the winds change and the tactics you used are employed to censor books you really like. And don’t pretend like what you’re doing is no big deal.

It feels so good that it justifies punishing curious readers...

Your bans also seem to have more connection to writer behavior than the contents of particular books. Sherman Alexie and Junot Diaz are writers whose books were long-touted and have since been removed from circulation in a lot of places. Books by Andy Ngo and Woody Allen were banned almost entirely by people who had not read them and were basing the bans on the behavior of the writers leading up to that point. It’s not about the books, it’s about the author's behavior in the world outside the books. You found a way to punish the writer, and it feels so good that it justifies punishing curious readers and removing their chance to judge for themselves. Those folks are just the eggs you've got to break to make your utopic omelette, right?

The most distasteful facet of your bans is that while conservatives are always crying about the children, you target books aimed at adults, which means you’re treating adults like children. It means your bans come with this moral and intellectual superiority. You figured out this book was bad or inaccurate or that the author was a bad person, and in your infinite wisdom you’re rescuing me from needing to make the same discovery. You act like I’m supposed to be thankful. My hero. My savior.

What Both of You Agree On

You are both hypocrites. Liberals, you supposedly don’t like censorship, but you’ll go for it when there’s a bad guy who needs to be punished. Conservatives, you don’t think government should meddle in your affairs, but you run to the school board and congress to protect your kids from critical race theory.

You are both under the mistaken impression that book bans are an effective way to stop the spread of a book. Many a writer has bought…maybe not a house, but like a really nice coffee table thanks to the sales boost that came from a book ban.

You both fail to recognize that books reflect reality more than they shape it, and banning a book to solve a problem is like punching a mirror to clear up your acne.

You both fail to understand that books are like a Practice Mode for life. They're a safe way to explore and be confronted by aggressive, bad, stupid, whacked-out ideas. You both fail to consider that we will all encounter these things in life, and encountering them first in a book gives readers the opportunity to think about how they would react, what they might do, and the sort of people they want to be when they’re called upon to make a difficult choice. 

You rarely read the material before participating in the ban. It’d help if you did. You’d look less foolish at least.

You both get your book news from the same super-biased sources that give you your regular news. You’re both acting on hot takes designed to get clicks and rile you up.

Oh, and holy shit, you both compare each other to Nazis way too often. Did you know that Nazi scientists attempted to create conjoined twins by sewing two siblings together? Like, more than once? Comparing someone who goes to a PTA meeting or someone who stages a walkout at a publisher to a person who strapped a child into a chair with a device that smashed a hammer into his head repeatedly until he went completely insane is…let’s call it “an under-considered reach.”

The Advice Portion

My Advice to Conservatives:

Pick up the books your children are assigned, read them with your kids, and talk about them together. Ask your kids open-ended questions like, “How did this part make you feel?” or “What do you think you would do in this situation?” Talk about whether or not a book reflects your values, and if not, why and how? I hesitate to say this, but books you have a moral disagreement with can be great tools for reaffirming your family’s ideals.

If you think a curriculum is tilted towards only one version of politics, bring that to light and suggest SOME replacements or supplements to balance the curriculum rather than just demanding the removal of materials and creating a void. Perhaps request that a reading assignment can come with a list of options rather than a single, prescribed book. And, holy shit, you're always talking about being resilient and bootstraps and all that. If your kid is ruined by a book, then your kid was not going to make it anyway. 

My Advice to Liberals:

Your way forward is writing, publishing, and marketing books that reflect your values, requesting copies at your local bookstores, reading, rating, and writing reviews for books that, in your opinion, do good work. The way you handled the American Dirt situation is what I'm talking about: you didn't try to ban the book. You recognized the problem isn't American Dirt, it's an industry, and American Dirt is an example. Banning American Dirt would not have solved, or even addressed, the problem.

The sales of social-justice-minded books in 2020 were enormous, a juggernaut. When Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote Black Panther, sales were mind-blowing. You are not the underdogs in the book world, you're winning the culture war in the world of books, which means you have the luxury of choice. You can fight for the things you love instead of fighting against the things you hate.

My Advice to People Who Don’t Engage in Book Bans:

Stay far away from these other dipshits.

Get HATE: Why We Should Resist it With Free Speech, Not Censorship by Nadine Strossen at Bookshop or Amazon 

Get The Case Against Free Speech: The First Amendment, Fascism, and the Future of Dissent by PE Moskowitz at Bookshop or Amazon

About the author

Peter Derk lives, writes, and works in Colorado. Buy him a drink and he'll talk books all day.  Buy him two and he'll be happy to tell you about the horrors of being responsible for a public restroom.

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