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What’s a book ban anyway? Depends on who you ask

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What’s a book ban anyway? Depends on who you ask

Librarian Sabrina Jesram arranges a display of books during Banned Books Week at a public library branch in New York City on Sept. 23, 2022.

Ted Shaffrey/AP


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“Book ban” is one of those headline-ready terms often used by the news media, including NPR, for stories about the surge in book challenges across the U.S.

The American Library Association launched its annual Banned Books Week in 1982. There are banned book clubs. States have introduced or passed laws that’ve been called bans on book bans. Meanwhile, many people fighting to get books removed from school libraries are not fans of the term book ban.

The practice of censoring books has been around for centuries. But what does it actually mean to ban a book today? The answer depends on who you ask. Here are a handful of definitions from people entrenched in the issue:

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Kasey Meehan, program director of PEN America’s Freedom to Read (speaking at a video press conference in April) : “We define a book ban as any action taken against a book based on its content that leads to a previously accessible book being completely removed from availability for students or where access to a book is restricted or diminished. PEN is perhaps a bit unique, and that’s in contrast to ALA [American Library Association] and some others, in that we do include books that have been removed while awaiting review as a ban. We include that because we know books are undergoing review. As long as they are removed from access for students, those books can be removed for weeks, months, upwards of a year as we’ve seen in some cases.”

NOTE: The American Enterprise Institute took exception to PEN America’s definition. A study AEI conducted for the Educational Freedom Institute looked at PEN America’s 2021-2022 “index of banned books” and found that “74 percent of the books” listed as banned “are listed as available in the same districts from which PEN America says those books were banned.”

Emily Drabinski, president of the American Library Association: “A ‘book ban’ is the removal of a title from a library because someone considers it harmful or dangerous. A ‘challenge’ is when someone raises an objection to a library material or a program or a service. ‘Reconsideration’ is the formal process libraries go through to determine whether a book meets the library’s selection criteria. We reserve ‘book ban’ for… a book that meets that criteria when it has been removed from a collection entirely. … You often do find that books, they are challenged and then they undergo a review process and sometimes they end up being pulled and banned and other times they end up back on the shelves. I think sometimes our policymakers and many of the people who are active in the pro-censorship movement, they don’t fully appreciate or understand the fact that many Americans, lots of them, don’t have access to books in any other way except through their library, through their school or public or academic library.

Joe Tier, a self-described “concerned grandparent and parent living in Eldersburg, Maryland”: “I think [the term book ban is] designed to be inflammatory and to obfuscate the constructive dialogue that should occur about age appropriate content. It can be a dog whistle that’s used to incite anger against those who are opposed to limiting sexually explicit content in public school libraries. … You really cannot ban anything, you know, material-wise these days because you have the Internet and you have PDFs. And so the term book ban is almost obsolete.”

Mustafa Akyol, senior fellow at the Cato Institute and author of Islam Without Extremes (banned in Malaysia in 2017): “When [a book] is banned, it’s not available, so it’s not legal to sell it. That’s what a book ban means. … I was arrested at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport… After 18 hours of detainment by the Malaysian religion police, I was let go… Bookstores couldn’t sell [Islam Without Extremes] in Malaysia. My book was not available… There might be some regimes who are even going after people for possessing a copy of the book… I don’t think there are literal book bans in the United States. When a book is banned, literally the authority says this book is not legal. … Sometimes people use hyperbolic language to express their thoughts about a particular problem, and that might be a problem. And that divisive rhetoric then makes everything worse. So you cannot reasonably agree on some reasonable common ground and everybody becomes more and more strident and angry against each other. That in itself becomes a major problem for a democracy rather than just different opinion that people have on certain things.”

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Mona Kerby, Master’s degree in School Librarianship coordinator at McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland: “To me, ‘banned’ is the book’s not on the shelf. But I could certainly see the different flavors of that word, and that’s why a discussion about ideas is always so enriching. …The few times I had some question about materials, those moments turned into wonderful opportunities between me and the parent just to discuss. And we both learned. So respecting one another’s opinion and listening to another’s opinion is not a bad skill to have.”

This story was edited for radio and digital by Meghan Collins Sullivan.

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Françoise Hardy, renowned French singer-songwriter, has died at 80

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Françoise Hardy, renowned French singer-songwriter, has died at 80

The French singer and actress Francoise Hardy wearing a fur coat in Piazza Sant’Ambrogio. Milan, 1960s (Photo by Mondadori via Getty Images)

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Mondadori Portfolio/Mondadori via Getty Images/Mondadori Portfolio Editorial

Françoise Hardy, a renowned French singer-songwriter, actress and model, has died at age 80, according to reports. Over her career, she released more than 30 studio albums and appeared in over a dozen films — and enchanted the likes of Mick Jagger, David Bowie and Bob Dylan, who wrote a poem for her that appeared in the sleeve notes of his 1964 album Another Side of Bob Dylan.

“Maman est partie,” her son Thomas Dutronc wrote on Facebook Tuesday, which translates to “mom is gone.” He shared a photo of her holding him while he was a baby.

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While the exact cause of her death was not disclosed, Hardy had battled lymphatic cancer since 2004, and also had laryngeal cancer, according to Variety. In an interview with the French magazine Femme Actuelle in June 2021, she shared that she had been diagnosed with a tumor in her ear, and that her health had become so poor that it took her more than five hours a day to prepare food that she could swallow. In that interview, she also argued for the legalization of assisted suicide in France. The same month, she gave an interview by email to The Guardian because speaking had become so difficult.

The French Prime Minister, Gabriel Attal, wrote a personal tribute on social media Wednesday: “French icon, singular voice with a fierce tranquility, Françoise Hardy rocked generations of French people, for whom she will remain anchored in life’s moments,” he wrote. “For me, she is my entire childhood. “Message personnel” [Personal Message], listened to on repeat by my mother in the car. Or “Puisque vouz partez en voyage” [When You Leave on a Trip], which I sang with my sisters: they were Hardy and I [singer Jacques] Dutronc.”

Hardy was born in 1944 in Paris, during an air raid in the Nazi-occupied city, and was raised there by her single mother. Hardy received her first guitar at age 16 as a present from her largely absent father, and immediately began scribbling down songs.

Hardy came to fame when she was still just a teenager; she became France’s It Girl in 1962 at age 18, when she released a song she had written called “Tous les garçons et les filles” [All the Boys and Girls]. Nearly instantaneously, she became one of the most popular figures among France’s so-called “yé-yé” generation – “yé-yé” like the “yeah, yeah,” choruses of anglophone acts such as The Beatles.

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The melancholic lyrics of “Tous les garçons et les filles” belied Hardy’s immense appeal. “All the boys and girls my age walk along the street two by two,” she sang mournfully, her blue eyes flickering out from beneath her dark bangs. “But I go alone along the streets, my soul in pain … because nobody loves me.”


Françoise Hardy “Tous les garçons et les filles” | Archive INA
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Unlike other yé-yé singers, Hardy built a lasting musical career. In distinct contrast to the sunny tunes performed by many of her peers, her songs often kept a pensive edge. She recorded in English, Italian and German as well as French, and employed a mix of her own songs as well as those written by other songwriters.

A fashion icon, she became omnipresent on French magazine covers, and was photographed by the likes of William Klein and Richard Avedon for Vogue and other publications. Bob Dylan refused to go onstage during his first concert in Paris in 1966, until he was sure that she was in the house.

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She also appeared in films including Château en Suède (1963), What’s New Pussycat? (1965) and Grand Prix (1966). Later in life, Hardy began writing books, ranging from titles on astrology to fiction. Her autobiography, Le désespoir des singes…et autres bagatelles [The Despair of Monkeys and Other Trifles], was first published in 2008. In 2012, she published her first novel and an album that shared the same title, L’amour fou [Crazy Love].

In 1967, she began a relationship with fellow singer Jacques Dutronc; their son, Thomas, was born in 1973. The couple married in 1981 and separated seven years later, though they remained legally married until Hardy’s death.

Hardy told All Things Considered in 2018, before her final health decline, that she was still excited to make new music. “I cannot resist to the temptation of a beautiful melody,” she said. “It’s one of the things which make me really very happy. And if a musician offers me a beautiful melody, I cannot resist.”

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North Texas pastor gets 35 years for stealing $800,000 in church properties

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North Texas pastor gets 35 years for stealing $800,000 in church properties
A North Texas pastor is on his way to prison after stealing real-estate from three churches in a property deed scheme. Dallas County prosecutors on Monday announced that Whitney Foster, a pastor leading True Foundation Non-Denominational Church, was sentenced last month to serve 35 years in prison for the charge of stealing more than $300,000 in property. Foster, 56, who was previously convicted of identify theft and arson, had been leading the…
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'Horror Movie' questions the motivation behind evil acts

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'Horror Movie' questions the motivation behind evil acts

William Morrow


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William Morrow

Paul Tremblay’s Horror Movie is a peculiar horror novel that takes a refreshing look at the haunted film subgenre, while also eliminating the line between novels and movie scripts.

Dark, surprisingly violent, and incredibly multilayered, this narrative is a superb addition to Tremblay’s already impressive oeuvre that shows he can deliver the elements fans love from him — while also constantly pushing the envelope and exploring new ways to tell stories.

In June of 1993, a small group of young people got together and spent a month making a bizarre horror movie titled Horror Movie. With one camera, a skeleton crew, a script that broke a lot of rules, and almost no budget, they managed to make their film after a few setbacks and plenty of blood and accidents. While the film was never released, three scenes and a few stills were made available online, and they became the stuff of legend over the years, collecting a cult following and sparking a frenzy of speculation, online debate, and conspiracy theories.

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Now, 30 years after the original, unreleased film was made and after all the drama —psychological and emotional as well as legal — that ensued, Hollywood wants to make a big budget version and release it. The man who played “The Thin Kid,” perhaps the original film’s most iconic and mysterious character, is the only surviving cast member, and they want him to reprise his role. He still has the mask he used in the movie, and also the scars the filming process left behind. He remembers the strange things that happened on the set, the brutality that quickly became normalized while they shot dark scenes, and the chaos and destruction the film brought to all of them. Still, he agrees to help with the reboot. As things move forward and he deals with directors and movie people, the past comes back to haunt him — but “The Thin Kid” pushes forward, as always.

Reading a Tremblay novel is entering a universe in which confusion and ambiguity —”My answer was not no. I didn’t say the word ‘yes’” — reign supreme. Horror Movie is no different. In fact, this might be Tremblay’s most Tremblay novel to date. For starters, the author once again eschews the traditional novel format, this time in favor of a mix of novel and screenplay in which one bleeds into the other frequently, switching chapters and effortlessly taking readers from past to present and back again. Also, the screenplay itself is unique in format and makes the reader part of what’s happening, constantly shattering the fourth wall an acknowledging that the events are communal, that we are there, witnessing what the characters are witnessing and feeling the same sense of dread and anticipation that they feel.

While the structure of this novel is unique, the narrative itself is very easy to follow — until it’s not. The story is there, but with many purposeful holes. We know bad things happened while the movie was being filmed — accidents, injuries, extreme violence that occurred with consent — and that the whole thing ended up in court, but we don’t know how or why. And the author holds those secrets until the very end, which, as with any other Tremblay novel, holds a few surprise twists.

Most importantly, this is a narrative that questions the motivation behind evil acts. During the filming, The Thin Kid is horribly tortured: The kids who keep him hostage throw things at him, put out cigarettes on his body, and cut off part of his pinky finger. Some of that happens for real, partly to make it look convincing on screen and partly for reasons that aren’t too clear. There are several unsettling moments in this novel, and at the core of each of them are people acting horribly just because they can. Tremblay’s work has often interrogated the nature of horror and bad behavior, but never as clearly and he does here.

While Horror Movie is the kind of creepy narrative that can be enjoyed without much thinking, it’s also a multilayered novel that almost demands intellectual engagement. Besides the way the author studies awful behavior, the story also explores the unreliable nature of memory. The Thin Kid, now the adult who narrates the novel, is self-deprecating and unreliable. He remembers things a certain way, but knows that his memories might not be accurate: “We laughed. I think we laughed, or I choose to remember we laughed. I think we’re in more control of what we remember or what we don’t remember than we assume.” This purposeful lack of certainty is designed to keep readers wondering, and it succeeds at that.

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Horror Movie is strange and unsettling in the best way possible. This is a novel that’s also a screenplay, but the story all blends together perfectly. Tremblay’s unique voice and chameleonic style have made him one of the leading voices in speculative fiction, and this is one of his best novels so far.

Gabino Iglesias is an author, book reviewer and professor living in Austin, Texas. Find him on X, formerly Twitter, at @Gabino_Iglesias.

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