Moms and dads stormed into the Spotsylvania County town hall, in Virginia, in early November, hell-bent on purging all “objectionable” books from in the scholastic jurisdiction. Novels containing any commentary about race, sexuality and sexual content was put under the microscope, as a fresh reactionary panic takes aim at the stacks in high school libraries. “Results for gay, 172. Results for heterosexual, two,” said Christina Burris, one of the attending parents, who used the district’s literature search function to make her point. The board relented, voting 6-0 to enact a liquidation.
One of the books targeted by name was 33 Snowfish, an acclaimed 2003 novel concerning a trio of runaway teens and all sorts of sordid, Kids-ish behavior. The concerned parents of northern Virginia believed that heady themes of poverty, addiction and abuse have no place in the sanctums of learning, and therefore, the book needed to go.
When Paul Cymrot heard about the meeting, he tracked down as many copies of 33 Snowfish he could find. He soon discovered, ironically, that book was never really in the school library. 33 Snowfish is barely in print, and Cymrot tells me that it was an ebook version, lingering in some dusty corner of the school library servers, which sparked the initial animus.
The moral militancy immediately backfired, because Cymrot knows a good business opportunity when he sees one. He’s owned the Spotsylvania-area Riverby Books for 25 years, and possesses a shrewd nose for the ebbs and flows of the publishing market. One bookselling truth remains eternally undefeated, explains Cymrot. When a censorious zeitgeist swallows up a novel, a lot of people will want to buy it.
“It was not easy to find a box full of 33 Snowfish, but we did,” he continues. “We sold all that we bought, and we kept a couple as loaners because we wanted to make sure any students in the community could see what the fuss was about. There will always be some around.”
It’s now easier than ever to read 33 Snowfish in Spotsylvania county, subverting the rightwing siege on the supposed woke conspiracy infecting school libraries.
New ominous headlines about book bannings trickle in all the time. Just this month, Texas state representative Matt Krause pushed for the ousting of 850 books, including classics by Alan Moore and Margaret Atwood, from the public curriculum. A few days earlier, Parents in Kansas City barnstormed school conventions because they fear that their children might start internalizing the wisdom of Alison Bechdel or Angie Thomas. Two members of the board at the Spotsylvania meeting floated the idea of literally burning the offending titles, which would be an assault on both our precious norms and our precious subtext.
As always, the impetus of the mania is simple, stupid and cynical. The Republican party has made a concerted effort to bring outré philosophic principles like critical race theory to the heart of our politics, which is why the Virginia governor-elect, Glenn Youngkin, spent much of his time on the campaign trail griping about Toni Morrison’s …….