Watch CBS News

Barnes & Noble pressured to restrict sales of 2021's most banned book

The price of free speech - and censorship
The price of free speech - and censorship 08:39

A Virginia legislator is suing Barnes & Noble to block the book chain from selling two "obscene" books to minors without parental consent. The move comes as conservative lawmakers across the country seek to ban schools and libraries from offering books with content they find objectionable. 

Tim Anderson, a Republican lawyer who serves in the Virginia House of Delegates, said he filed a lawsuit on behalf of his client, Tommy Altman, who is running for Congress. Altman, who describes himself as a disabled veteran, states in a campaign video on his website that he is running to protect freedom, including the right to free speech. 

In a May 18 Facebook post, Anderson said he is seeking "a restraining order against Barnes and Noble and Virginia Beach Schools to enjoin them from selling or loaning these books to minors without parent consent." The books in question are "Gender Queer," a memoir by Maia Kobabe; and "A Court of Mist and Fury," a fantasy novel by Sarah J. Maas. 

"Gender Queer" was named the No. 1 challenged and censored book of 2021 by the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom. 

The suit against Barnes & Noble comes amid a push by conservatives to rein in discussions and content about issues that some find objectionable, such as Florida's "Don't Say Gay" law, which restricts teachers and school districts from discussing issues such as gender identity in the classroom from kindergarten through the third grade. But most of those efforts have focused on public schools and libraries, rather than a private business. 

In a statement to CBS MoneyWatch, Barnes & Noble said that it carries "thousands of books whose subject matter some may find offensive."

"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," the company added.

Suburban moms push back against book bans in schools 08:28

"Gender Queer" became 2021's most challenged book because of its "LGBTQIA+ content, and because it was considered to have sexually explicit images," the American Library Association said. In an interview with the New York Times in May, Kobabe, who uses the gender-neutral pronouns em/eir, said that banning eir book sends a negative signal to teens who are grappling with their sexuality. 

"When you remove those books from the shelf or you challenge them publicly in a community, what you're saying to any young person who identified with that narrative is, 'We don't want your story here,'" Kobabe told the newspaper.

Maas' book is a fantasy that's described in its marketing copy as a "sexy, action-packed" novel. The book's sex scenes sparked the objection from the Virginia conservatives. 

"There is probably cause to believe that the book 'A Court of Mist and Fury' is obscene for unrestricted viewing by minors," according to the request for a restraining order posted on Anderson's Facebook page.

Kobabe and Maas' representative didn't immediately reply to a request for comment. 

Anderson signaled that he won't stop at targeting "Gender Queer" and "A Court of Mist and Fury."

"We are in a major fight. Suits like this can be filed all over Virginia. There are dozens of books. Hundreds of schools," he wrote.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.