The latest wave of book banning in Texas high school libraries is led by people who don’t read much. Now, they’ve gone and set up a bar that even the beloved classic Texas novel—Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry—can’t get past.

In a recent legislative hearing, the book banners put their aliteracy on public display.

Christopher Hooks writes in the invaluable Texas Monthly:

State representative Jared Patterson has never claimed, through campaign literature or any other medium, to be a reader. If he had, he might not have walked into the trap set for him last night during a House Public Education Committee hearing on his inaptly named READER Act. That proposal would add several new bureaucratic controls on the kinds of books that could be kept in or borrowed from public-school libraries. When Democratic state representative James Talarico, of Round Rock, prodded the Frisco Republican during debate, Patterson took the bait. “There should be no sexually explicit books” in a high school library, he said.

Talarico replied that there’s content that could be viewed as sexually explicit in many very good books. (Though he didn’t mention it, the Bible ranks high among them.) Take Talarico’s favorite book, Larry McMurtry’s 1985 novel Lonesome Dove, about two retired Texas Rangers on a cattle drive during the twilight years of the Old West, which has become totemic to generations of Texans. The book includes characters who are prostitutes and scenes of sexual assault and its consequences. It includes birds and bees and all that kind of filth. Talarico asked: Would Lonesome Dove be banned in Texas high schools under Patterson’s bill?

Patterson hadn’t read Lonesome Dove, he replied, committing his first error. But if it contained the ribald passages Talarico indicated it did, well, then, “they might need to ban Lonesome Dove.” There were a lot of interested parties following this hearing, and it was widely understood among Patterson’s allies and enemies alike that he had stepped in it. Lonesome Dove is an easily comprehensible example of the kind of book that deals with difficult subjects but enhances the reader’s understanding of life, and of other Texans. The thought of the novel coming out of high school libraries in a brown paper bag, like a copy of Maxim, made Patterson’s whole bill seem more ridiculous than it already was.

Patterson’s allies apparently thought he needed help digging himself out of his hole, so they jumped in with him. Christin Bentley, a member of the State Republican Executive Committee, had an idea. Apparently not having read the book either, she tweeted that she had “bought Lonesome Dove on Kindle and did keyword searches.” She searched for “f—,” “p—y,” “sex,” and “vagina,” which don’t appear in the novel, and posted screenshots to prove it. After this deep engagement with the text, she was happy to report on Twitter that the book was not sexually explicit and, therefore, would not be banned under the bill.

Of course, Lonesome Dove is set in the 1870s: Bentley was searching for the wrong words. Twitter users helpfully suggested she search for the word “poke.” (Hard to picture Gus yelling “p—y” across the range.) But even a better search would have been of limited value. With a short summary, you can make Lonesome Dove sound like smut or a wholesome novel. The only way to evaluate it properly, as with any book, is to read it and think about it in its totality. That’s the point of books: You can step into the lives of characters unlike you. You can think about what it’s like to be a woman or a man, consider issues you had never given thought to, and step back into your life at the end of it, your horizons a little wider.

Some folks, however, prefer their horizons narrow and dark. For several years, the crusade against books in school libraries has had the most power when targeting literature that discusses LGBTQ issues and racism. Few animated by this debate actually seem to care whether kids are reading about heterosexual sex. Indeed, Patterson has put rhetorical emphasis in his pitch for his bill on books that have “sexual indoctrination,” a euphemism for ones about gender-nonconforming or gay kids. The fear he and allies are stoking seems to be that by reading these books, formerly immaculate daughters and sons will become transgender. His bill’s case depends on circling off “scary” books from “normal” ones. This works well enough for him because few adults have encountered, say, Gender Queer, a graphic novel he’s also put in his cross hairs. But enough Texans have read Lonesome Dove to know that while the book is challenging, it is enriching, and being able to make sense of its challenges is part of growing up, especially in this state.

Patterson’s snafu makes clear that the bill’s sponsors don’t really care about books—or that they don’t understand them. Which is fine. That’s why we have Netflix. But maybe they should leave the regulation of literature to Texans who read.

Please open the link and read the rest of the article. It’s a good one!