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Conservative Tries to Restrict Barnes & Noble Sales of Most Challenged Book of 2021

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 5/19/2022 Ella Ceron
A pedestrian holding an umbrella walks past a Barnes & Noble Inc. store in New York, U.S., on Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016. © Bloomberg A pedestrian holding an umbrella walks past a Barnes & Noble Inc. store in New York, U.S., on Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016.

(Bloomberg) -- A state lawmaker in Virginia says he will seek a court order to restrict Barnes & Noble from selling two books to minors that were recently challenged within the Virginia Beach Public School system.

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In a May 18 Facebook post, Tim Anderson, a lawyer and Republican representing parts of Norfolk and Virginia Beach, Virginia, in the state’s general assembly, said he was seeking restraining orders on behalf of client Tommy Altman, a Republican running for Congress in Virginia’s 2nd congressional district. The Virginia Beach Circuit Court ruled on Wednesday that there was “probable cause” to believe the graphic memoir “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe, and the fantasy book “A Court of Mist and Fury” by Sarah J. Maas, should be considered obscene for minors.

While books have been increasingly challenged at the public school and library levels, the court order extends to Barnes & Noble’s two Virginia Beach locations. 

“We live in a diverse society, and that diversity of opinion is reflected in the books we carry on our shelves that cater to the wide range of interests of our customers,” a Barnes & Noble spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “We ask that our customers respect our responsibility to offer this breadth of reading materials, and respect also that, while they chose not to purchase many of these themselves, they may be of interest to others.”

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Anderson said in an email to Bloomberg News that the restraining order “is not a ban on books. This is a request to determine if super sexually explicit material should be restricted from minors to view without parent consent.” The aim, he said, “would be to restrict minors from having access to the sexually explicit materials until they first obtain parental consent. Identical to how we allow minors to watch R rated movies in public theaters.”

Ray Daniels, a spokesperson for the American Booksellers Association, said the organization was “deeply concerned about the precedent this could set for bookstores everywhere.” He said he worries about the chilling effect that such challenges might have against booksellers who could preemptively self-censor in an effort of self-preservation.

“It is a bookseller’s constitutional right to carry and sell books as they see fit, without interference from the government,” Daniels said.

The Virginia Beach Public Schools board had previously ruled to remove “Gender Queer” from libraries, and a representative for the district did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the restraining order.

“Gender Queer,” which chronicles Kobabe’s own journey with regard to gender identity, was the most-challenged book of 2021, according to the American Librarians Association. A PEN America report released in April found that 33% of the books challenged between July 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022, centered on LGBTQ+ protagonists. 

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