Thursday, August 11, 2022

Novel way of banning books (pun intended)

Two books are being challenged in court in Virginia. They are being challenged for obscenity - something we all thought was dead. To quote the article "Books haven’t really gone on trial for obscenity since landmark 20th-century cases determined that first James Joyce’s Ulysses, and then Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, could not be banned by the government."

One of these books (A Court of Mist and Fury) was sent to me by Lynn. A women who kind of detests obscene material. It is a fantasy story with a woman who, occasionally, does get it on with the hero. But in very "romance novel" terms - i.e."she stroked his hardness" type of thing. And even that is rarely used in the story. The sex scenes are not common and spread throughout the book.

There are a lot of unique things about this case.

1. This is not limited to school libraries. It would also effect public libraries and the ability to sell this. Barnes and Nobel is a defendant.

2. It will not be decided by a local judge. They have all recused themselves, so the case will be tried by a retired Circuit Court Judge, Pamela Baskervill. One assumes a retired female judge might be predisposed to find material offensive, but will she find it obscene?

I can't put this as succinctly as the article did, so I will quote two paragraphs:

“It’s very, very rare for a judge to further an obscenity proceeding against a book,” said Kevin Birmingham, author of The Most Dangerous Book, a history of the 20th century obscenity challenges to Ulysses. And yet, when retired Virginia circuit court judge Pamela S. Baskervill—who was assigned the case when all the local circuit court judges recused themselves—first looked at Anderson’s petitions, she found probable cause that the books may be obscene and allowed the proceeding to continue. When the court informed the publishers of the two books—as well as Barnes and Noble (also named in the petition)—that the books were being challenged, lawyers hurriedly drafted briefs running down the basics of First Amendment law as it pertains to obscenity and the written word. On Aug. 30, both sides will argue their cases, and Baskervill will get the chance to decide whether the books in question—Gender Queer and A Court of Mist and Fury—should be banned in the state of Virginia, and for whom.

The two books make for strange bedfellows. Gender Queer, by Maia Kobabe, is a graphic memoir about the author’s nonbinary gender identity that has recently become one of the most-challenged books in American libraries and schools. A Court of Mist and Fury is a mainstream (straight) fantasy/romance about a human transformed into a faerie, the second in a hugely successful YA series by Sarah J. Maas. The books vary widely in tone and artfulness: one is an earnest, carefully crafted memoir focused on gender identity, the other an enjoyably trashy high fantasy with the occasional hot sex scene. (Kobabe declined to comment; multiple emails seeking comment sent to Maas’ publisher, Bloomsbury, received no reply.)

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