Award-winning graphic novel “Maus” by Art Spiegelman, which depicts the atrocities experienced by Jews imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps, topped Amazon’s best-seller list over the weekend in the aftermath of a Tennessee school district’s unanimous vote to remove it from middle school curricula.
As of Monday morning, “The Complete Maus” held the No. 2 spot among Amazon’s best sellers in books. “Maus I,” an earlier published book that is the first part of “The Complete Maus,” was also the No. 3 best-selling book on Amazon.
In the category of comics and graphic novels, four editions of “Maus,” in hardcover and paperback versions, were in the top five bestsellers on Amazon as of Monday morning.
“Maus,” which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992, draws from Spiegelman’s parents’ experiences in a Nazi concentration camp. It depicts Jews as mice and cats as Nazis.
The surge in sales of “Maus” comes days after a blog post drew attention to the McMinn County School Board’s unanimous Jan. 10 vote to remove the graphic novel by Spiegelman from its eighth-grade language arts curriculum. According to minutes of the board meeting, members claimed to be concerned about profanity and images depicting nudity in the book.
“There is some rough, objectionable language in this book and knowing that and hearing from many of you and discussing it, two or three of you came by my office to discuss that,” Director of Schools Lee Parkison said, according to the board meeting minutes.
Shortly after the board’s vote drew public attention, Spiegelman expressed his disgust with the move during a series of media interviews.
After telling CNBC that he is “kind of baffled” by the vote to bar his book, Spiegelman descried the school board’s vote as “Orwellian.” Spiegelman said that he doesn’t buy board members’ complaints about some profanity — instead, he believes that it is cover for discomfort with teaching the murder of Jews by Nazis.
“I think they’re so myopic in their focus and they’re so afraid of what’s implied and having to defend the decision to teach ‘Maus’ as part of the curriculum that it led to this kind of daffily myopic response,” Spiegelman told CNN.
Spiegelman, however, also expressed gratitude for his book having a “second life as an anti-fascist tool” in an interview with the Washington Post last week.
Spiegelman acknowledged to the Post that the Tennessee school board’s vote isn’t an anomaly: There is “at least one part of our political spectrum that seems to be very enthusiastic about” banning books, he observed.
“It’s part of a continuum, and just a harbinger of things to come,” he added.
“This is a red alert. It’s not just: ‘How dare they deny the Holocaust?’” Spiegelman told the Post. “They’ll deny anything.”
“Maus” is among the growing number of books that school boards across the country have moved to remove from libraries and curricula, or outright ban. Many of the books being yanked from schools depict the experiences of marginalized people. Throughout last year, videos of outraged parents at school board meetings complaining about so-called “pornographic” material in books, excerpts of which circulated context-free in reactionary online forums. The parents who came to board meetings to air their grievances were often seen in videos cherry-picking quotes they find objectionable from beloved books.
Legislation to ban books in schools with so-called “sexually explicit” content has since ramped up on the state and local level. While Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) made parental involvement in education as a central pillar of his campaign, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) directed the Texas Education Agency in November to produce statewide standards banning “obscene content” in public schools and to investigate “pornographic” materials in public schools.
But despite the supposed outrage that books like “Maus” have prompted, school bans on books that center on the experiences of marginalized people appear to ultimately have the opposite effect: an increase in supply and demand to read the book and learn from it.