A New Missouri Bill Threatens Librarians with Imprisonment if They Don't Censor Books

A bill (HB 2044) proposed on January 8, 2020, by Missouri representative Ben Baker calls for the creation of parental oversight boards to remove books from the children’s section of public libraries if they are deemed sexually inappropriate. Compliance with the boards is tied into state funding and librarians who allow children access to the censored books may be fined up to $500 or face up to one year in prison.

The parental oversight boards are to be composed of five adults who live in the library’s geographic area. They will be voted on by a majority, serve two-year terms, and listen to public comment on why books are sexually inappropriate and thus should be removed from the children’s section. The bill specifies that inappropriate material is defined as the following:

(1) “Age-inappropriate sexual material”, any description or representation, in any form, of nudity, sexuality, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or sadomasochistic abuse, that:

(a) Taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest of minors;

(b) Is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community with respect to what is appropriate material for minors; and

(c) Taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors;

Baker’s justification for the bill is that children need to be protected from certain content. He told a local news outlet, “The main thing is, I want to be able to take my kids to a library and make sure they’re in a safe environment, and that they’re not gonna be exposed to something that is objectionable material.” He also argued that he does not want to ban books as the materials can still be in the library–but in the adult section. And some news articles suggest that Baker is more concerned about banning programs like Drag Queen Story Hour than banning books, even though the language of HB 2044 specifically refers to “materials.”

Baker’s bill rejects the idea that readers should be allowed to determine for themselves what is objectionable material, and that parents, rather than the government, should be responsible for what their children read. It opposes the ideals espoused by the American Library Association (ALA) in their Freedom to Read Statement, which asserts that the ability to choose is the foundation of democracy:

“Most attempts at suppression rest on a denial of the fundamental premise of democracy: that the ordinary individual, by exercising critical judgment, will select the good and reject the bad. We trust Americans to recognize propaganda and misinformation, and to make their own decisions about what they read and believe. We do not believe they are prepared to sacrifice their heritage of a free press in order to be ‘protected’ against what others think may be bad for them. We believe they still favor free enterprise in ideas and expression.”

ALA “Freedom to Read Statement”

A parental oversight board would give the power to ban books to five individuals. It would allow a small minority to determine what books every child in the community is allowed to access. Hopefully, HB 2044 will not pass. But it is alarming it was ever proposed.

Take Action

If you live in Missouri, contact your representative to tell them you oppose censorship and book banning.

Is Amazon Really Cheaper than Barnes & Noble?

Amazon has made numerous headlines over the years for their poor treatment of employees and delivery drivers, their potential tracking of customers’ info through Alexa devices, and their strategy of selling items (like books!) at a loss in order to drive competitors out of the market. (Krysta explains more in her post on why she won’t buy books on Amazon.) Yet the online retailer is immensely successful, and one of the reasons customers cite for shopping there is cheaper prices.

My personal experience is that Barnes & Noble online often has the newest books for similar prices to Amazon (both discounting more steeply than indie sellers can), so I decided to do a mini experiment to check on some book prices. I looked at prices for a book on its release day, a book that has yet to come out, a book that came out recently, and a book that came out years ago. Here are some quick comparisons:


A Heart So Fierce and Broken by Brigid Kemmerer

Prices checked January 7, release day.

Amazon: $13.39

A Heart So Fierce and Broken Amazon Price

Barnes & Noble (Exclusive Edition): $13.39

Verdict: The Same Price

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The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

Pre-order price listed on January 7.

Amazon: $19.59

Barnes & Noble (Exclusive Edition): $19.59

Verdict: The Same Price

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Dangerous Alliance: An Austentacious Romance by Jennieke Cohen

Price for a book released in the previous month.

Amazon: $13.69

Barnes & Noble: $16.43

Verdict: Amazon is about $3 cheaper.

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Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Price for a backlist paperback.

Amazon: $8.39

Barnes & Noble: $9.89

Verdict: Amazon is slightly cheaper.


Conclusion

This small set of examples confirms what I have noticed in my personal observations. Barnes & Noble and Amazon tend to have similar pricing for new and upcoming books, particularly ones that are bestsellers or receiving a lot of hype. For other books, Amazon might be slightly cheaper, but the price difference can range from a few pennies to about $3.

(Yes, this is mostly about Barnes & Noble online, but check with your local store about whether they will honor the online price for the “purchase online, pick up in store” option. Also, shipping is free with a Barnes & Noble membership or free on a $25 order–something I often see readers grumble about, but it’s worth noting that Amazon has basically the same shipping options–free with paid membership or free on a $35 order.)

In pure economic terms, saving any money is good, whether it’s 10 cents or 10 dollars. However, there may be other factors that influence that your decisions on where to buy books. If, like me, you are not a fan of Amazon’s treatment of publishers and employees and their attempts to gain a monopoly on the bookselling market, it might be worth spending a couple extra dollars here and there to support other sellers.

Briana

20 Discussion Post Ideas for Your Book Blog in 2020

  1. If you have a library, how much money do you save each year (or month) by using library materials?
  2. What do you think of the Macmillan ebook embargo?
  3. What do you think about book bloggers monetizing their blogs?
  4. What do you love specifically about reading book blogs (as opposed to watching Booktube or scrolling through Bookstagram)?
  5. What are the best ways to spread a love of reading?
  6. What are some tropes or plots that will immediately make you pick up a book?
  7. What do you think of “bad” characters who are never punished?
  8. What book do you think everyone should read, not necessarily because it’s your personal favorite but because it has important ideas?
  9. Who are your favorite classic authors and why?
  10. What do you think constitutes a spoiler?
  11. What lessons have you learned from books?
  12. What would make you go to your local library more often (if you have one)?
  13. What book do you think readers frequently misunderstand?
  14. Are there any books that remind you of songs? Or songs that remind you of books?
  15. What YA novels should Netflix adapt next?
  16. What are some books with strong sibling relationships?
  17. What stereotypes need to stop showing up in books?
  18. Has someone else’s review ever made you think more positively of a book than you did initially?
  19. What are some of your favorite magic systems from fantasy novels?
  20. Do your favorite childhood books live up to rereading today?
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More Discussion Post Prompts

The World of the Brontës: The Lives, Times, and Works of Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë by Jane O'Neill


The World of the Brontes

Information

Goodreads: The World of the Brontës: The Lives, Times, and Works of Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2002

Summary

An overview of the Brontë family, their works, the political climate of the day, and the landscapes they would have known.

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The World of the Brontës by Jane O’Neill is a comprehensive overview to the lives and times of the Brontë siblings. Each topic receives two pages–with photographs–to cover such topics as the biographies of each of the sisters, their brother, and even their domestics; the politics of the day and how the siblings might have been influenced by them; and the geographic landscapes they would have known–they knew more than Haworth, despite romanticized depictions of their social isolation on the moors. The book serves as a pleasant introduction to the Brontës and their work, giving information in bite-sized pieces to make it more agreeable to those not accustomed to reading non-fiction.

The World of the Brontës really does seem best suited to readers relatively new to the Brontës since it not only gives a brief overview of their lives but also describes the plots of each of their novels. The assumption seems to be that readers of O’Neill’s book have not actually read the books the Brontës wrote. (Though why someone who is not a fan of the Brontës’ work would read O’Neill’s book, I cannot really say.) At any rate, even if readers are familiar with the books written by the Brontës, O’Neill’s work is brief enough that readers who know a good deal about the Brontës might not find much new material in it. It really is a nice, quick overview of all things Brontë just to get one situated in the time period and in their lives.

The large size of the book (height, not depth) also makes The World of the Brontës a nice introduction particularly because it allows for larger-size photos. These are a highlight of the work, bringing to life the people and places O’Neill describes. It is one thing to know, for instance, that Anne loved Scarborough and the sea. It is another to see a picture of Scarborough.

The World of the Brontës is a short, accessible introduction, suitable for juvenile and teen readers, as well as for those looking for a quick read that will give them pertinent background information. It is not a definitive guide, but it is an excellent jumping off point.

3 Stars

Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë

“All true histories contain instruction; though, in some, the treasure may be hard to find, and when found, so trivial in quantity, that the dry, shriveled kernel scarcely compensates for the trouble of cracking the nut.”

Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë

Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte

Information

Goodreads: Agnes Grey
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 1847

Summary

When her father’s investments cause her family to fall upon hard times, young Agnes Grey determines to help by becoming a governess. She imagines that it will be “charming” to win the trust and affection of her charges and, in so doing, lead them to find instruction and virtues both pleasant and commendable. Alas, Agnes soon finds that the upper classes as well as lower have their share of faults and vices. Worked against at every turn by parents’ indulgence and her charges’ belief that they are socially superior to–and thus able to boss about or ignore–their governess, Agnes struggles to find acceptance, friendship, and happiness.

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Review

Agnes Grey is a quietly powerful tale. The emotionally even Agnes narrates the story of her time as a governess, carefully filtering her experiences to teach a moral about how various vices turn boys into violently oppressive men and girls into unhappy women. To do so, Agnes presents herself as the opposite of her employers. They are indulgent, cruel, careless, vain, and greedy. She is peaceful, humble, and pious. On the face of it, the story might seem like a lesson, a boring work of Victorian morals. However, Agnes’s barely acknowledged indignation, her wounded pride, and her somewhat snobbish sense of her own moral superiority give Agnes Grey an emotional bite as it reveals the hardships faced by governesses when they went to live among those whose social rank was equal to their own, but whose greater wealth made it easy for them to treat their governesses poorly.

The first person narration of Agnes Grey can understandably lull readers into thinking that the book is merely a cautionary tale. Agnes spends much time describing how her work as a governess turns out to be nothing like she imagined. She sets forth dreaming that her kindness and care will make her charges love her. They then will grow to love learning and virtue. Instead, Agnes finds that she is treated as socially inferior to the young people of whom she is in charge. She is given no power to punish, and the parents indulge the children’s every whim.

Fully aware that Agnes can do nothing to stop them, her charges give in to every wicked impulse they possess. A young boy delights in torturing animals. A young woman gratifies her vanity by flirting shamelessly with every man she sees. Agnes shows how the boy will grow up believing violence against inferior creatures makes him manly–he will learn to be violent against the weak (women and the lower classes) when he is a man. And the young lady who is so heartless will throw her life away on a morally debased lover because she desires his title and property. She will soon learn that money cannot make one happy. The upper classes see themselves as superior, but they are no better than anyone else.

But, even though Anne Brontë clearly wishes to instruct her readers to love the good and to hate the bad, Agnes Grey is much more than a lesson on how to raise children. Agnes’s first person narration allows readers to see the emotional toll her work takes on her. Even though she is from a “good” family, her relative impoverishment means that her employers see her as an inferior. But, she is not the equal of the servants, either. She occupies a nebulous space, where the servants ignore her and her employers and their upper class acquaintances talk over her, refuse to look at her, and often forget her. She has no friends, no one in whom to confide, no one who cares. Her loneliness and the bitterness it engenders sometimes come to the surface of her story, despite her efforts to illustrate herself as a calm individual who submits to the will of God. Agnes wants happiness–and she is mad God has denied it to her.

Agnes Grey shocked society when it was first published, because reviewers could not believe that the upper classes could be as morally depraved as Brontë depicted them, nor that they could treat their governesses so poorly. But Agnes Grey is based on Anne Brontë’s own experiences. As such, the story gains even more power as it voices Agnes’s despair over finding her place in the world, a place where she is known, appreciated, and loved. The story seems calm on the surface. But, just underneath, Agnes–and Anne–are shouting against the system. The system that raises and celebrates violent men, traps women in unhappy marriages, and treats governesses more like automatons than like humans. Agnes Grey may read to some contemporary readers as the musings of an overly religious writer. But Brontë’s religion calls into question the values of her society and, in doing so, makes Agnes Grey a rather radical novel.

4 stars

The Brontës: Children of the Moors by Mick Manning and Brita Granström

My soul is awakened, my spirit is soaring
     And carried aloft on the winds of the breeze;
For above and around me the wild wind is roaring,
     Arousing to rapture the earth and the seas.

” Lines Composed in a Wood on a Windy Day ” by Anne Brontë

Information

Goodreads: The Brontes: Children of the Moors
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2016

Summary

This picture book biography tells the story of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë’s lives from the perspective of Charlotte.

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Review

Like many works focused on the Brontë siblings, this one is told from the perspective of Charlotte, who lived longest and thus not only published more, but was also able to influence her sisters’ reputations after their deaths. Additionally, she left behind a wealth of letters and diaries, allowing biographers to quote her directly. Attempts to uncover Anne’s interior life necessitate more conjecture. Even so, the work is a beautiful introduction to the lives and work of the Brontës, combining quotes, images, and biography to tell their story in an engrossing manner.

The format of The Brontës: Children of the Moors may aptly be described as busy. Each spread typically includes a two-page illustration (drawn on site, according to the end notes), along with a quote by Charlotte in one corner and more text expanding on Charlotte’s words in another. The result is that sometimes the text can seem repetitive; readers read again what Charlotte just said, but in more detail. Or it can seem hard to follow. Should one begin with Charlotte’s words, with the picture, perhaps with a side panel showcasing the flora or fauna of the moors? However, I think young readers will delight in the busyness, in always finding something new to find on the page, in having to work to put together text, quote, and image. It makes the reading experience feel, somehow, more active, more participatory.

Being written for children, the text does smoothly gloss over moments like Branwell’s adulterous relationship with his employer’s wife and his descent into addiction, as well as Charlotte’s unrequited love for her Belgian professor. Sometimes the moments are made to sound more tame (ex. Branwell “flirted”). Sometimes they are mentioned, but not really elaborated upon. Ultimately, the biography comes across as truthful, but age-appropriate.

The Brontës: Children of the Moors is a wonderful introduction to the life and work of the Brontë siblings. It packs a lot of information into a small amount of space, resulting in that rare picture book biography that feels complete, but also supremely readable. Definitely worth a look for any Brontë fans.

4 stars

Take Courage: Anne Brontë and the Art of Life by Samantha Ellis


Take Courage: Anne Bronte and the Art of Life

Information

Goodreads: Take Courage: Anne Brontë and the Art of Life
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2017

Official Summary

Anne Brontë is the forgotten Brontë sister, overshadowed by her older siblings — virtuous, successful Charlotte, free-spirited Emily and dissolute Branwell. Tragic, virginal, sweet, stoic, selfless, Anne. The less talented Brontë, the other Brontë.

Or that’s what Samantha Ellis, a life-long Emily and Wuthering Heights devotee, had always thought. Until, that is, she started questioning that devotion and, in looking more closely at Emily and Charlotte, found herself confronted by Anne instead.

Take Courage is Samantha’s personal, poignant and surprising journey into the life and work of a woman sidelined by history. A brave, strongly feminist writer well ahead of her time — and her more celebrated siblings — and who has much to teach us today about how to find our way in the world.

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Review

In Take Courage: Anne Brontë and the Art of Life, Samantha Ellis explores the people, landscapes, and experiences that shaped Anne’s convictions and found expression in her work. From Anne’s social concerns to her religious doubts, the book covers the parts of Anne’s personality that make her stand out from her sisters. Too long forgotten by history, the book argues, Anne is ready to take her place as the most revolutionary and progressive of the Brontës–an author truly for our time. Intertwined with Anne’s story is that of Ellis, who reflects on Anne’s life and work and how they resonate in her own life. The result is a wonderfully witty and personal celebration of an author whose literary legacy needs to be reclaimed.

The lack of personal papers left by Anne has lead in part to her erasure from history; it also means that Ellis is left to piece together what she can of Anne’s biography from the people she knew. The book is organized into chapters based on people like Anne’s mother, her father, her aunt, her brother, with each one discussing what Anne might have learned from them. Concern for the oppressed from her father. An understanding of the effects of addiction from her brother. Ellis’s account carefully delineates what we know for certain, and what can only be speculated. Anne’s secret love for a local curate? Yes, it happened, Ellis thinks–but she does acknowledge that no written record can confirm it.

Perhaps the most amusing part of Ellis’s work is how poorly Charlotte comes off. Charlotte tends to be a focal point for literature lovers, both because she wrote Jane Eyre and because she left a large number of letters behind her when she died. But Ellis paints a portrait of a woman who tended to follow her own inclinations, despite her sister’s wishes. Anne, for instance, wanted to open their school at Scarborough; Charlotte decreed it would be at Haworth. Anne wanted to visit Scarborough when she was dying from tuberculosis, thinking the sea air might do her good. Charlotte refused to go with her, and instructed her friend Ellen to refuse to go with Anne, as well. Did Charlotte also destroy Anne’s personal papers when she died? Or did Anne do it herself? The world may never know. But we do know that Charlotte’s refusal to republish The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, and her attempts to control Anne’s reputation after her death, were no doubt factors in Anne’s disappearance from literary history.

Readers should be advised that Ellis’s work is not strict biography. Her account of Anne’s life intertwines with her own; Ellis seems to find herself in Anne. She considers her romantic relationship in light of Anne’s life. She considers Anne’s guiding philosophies. She finds strength and inspiration in Anne. And, ultimately, her story ends up becoming a part of Anne’s story–because it shows that Anne is still alive, that her life and her works still speak to us, that she does not deserve to be forgotten.

Take Courage: Anne Brontë and the Art of Life is a lively introduction to Anne’s life and legacy, an easy-to-read biography that will appeal even to those who are intimidated by nonfiction. Ellis’s personable writing style reads like the confessions of a friend, drawing readers in to the forgotten world of Anne Brontë .

4 stars