When it comes to banned books, I once was ahead of the curve. I fell back. Now, I appeal for a boost from Florida governor Ron DeSantis.

In 1969-70, I taught English at a private school in San Antonio. I assigned a high school class Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winner To Kill a Mockingbird. The school director said no.

Unidentified parents took exception to a novel in which a white lawyer in a small Alabama town agrees to defend a Black man accused of raping a young white woman. Lyndon Johnson’s Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been passed. So had the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In 1968, Martin Luther King was killed. Riots erupted across the nation. But one family—possibly generous contributors to the school—held veto power. Attitudes towards African Americans were changing among some people, not all.

History had only repeated itself. From the late-19th century to the mid-20th, Boston notoriously banned films and books, including Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. In 1934, the National Legion of Decency was founded to tell Catholics what movies they should not see. 

Today, the political far-left distorts the concept of free speech it claims to uphold when others offer contending views. It condemns books like Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which satirizes rather than promotes racism. The far-right opposes books that may prevent America from returning to the image of its white, Christian, heterosexual past.  

Florida leads the way. On March 25, Governor—and presidential hopeful—Ron DeSantis signed into law House Bill 1467, “which requires school districts to be transparent in the selection of instructional materials, including library and reading materials.” To wit, conservative parents fighting a culture war now control curricula. I support parent involvement in schools, but Florida’s teachers and librarians have lost their voices.

Florida school districts have banned, permanently or pending review, a number of major books. Sheltered students lose valuable tools for exploring the world we live in by having unavailable Isabel Allende’s “The House of Spirits,” Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Iris Chang’s “The Rape of Nanking,” Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” Khaled Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner,” Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” and Toni Morrison’s “Beloved.” 

But why leave out David Perlstein’s Lola Flores? Gov. DeSantis, see to it that my new novel is kept off Florida’s library shelves and out of its classrooms. The far-right will love you. After all, Lola, 1930s Havana’s hottest nightclub star, conceals two startling secrets: She is a Polish-born American Jew. And she has a penis. Lesbians, gays and transgender people? Oh my!

Better, burn my book. Buy a few hundred copies of Lola Flores—a thousand even better—and light a big bonfire in front of the historic Old Capitol in Tallahassee. As the embers soar, so will my sales. Precedents abound. Recently, Maia Kobabe’s graphic novel Gender Queer had an initial printing of only 5,000. Several states banned her work. She won awards and sold lots of books.

Governor DeSantis, look at the upside. Burning Lola Flores could win you the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. Maybe the White House. You can burn Lola Flores in the Rose Garden. 

It’s a win-win. We’ll both be plastered across the front page of the New York Times.

Order my new novel Lola Flores in softcover or e-book from Amazon or your favorite bookstore.

Found this post interesting? Please pass it on. 


  1. Bruce Abramson on May 6, 2022 at 12:08 pm

    So you now transparency in the selection of instructional materials, including library and reading materials? Or is it just that you disagree with some of the choices made in the selection process.

    Not saying I disagree with your preferences if the latter, but anything that involves selection must mean that some worthy choices get left behind.

    BTW, I think I found the AP article containing the list of books you refer to as banned. If I’m right, they were banned either permanently or pending review. A list of books about which someone complained so the system agreed to look at them bothers me a lot less than one in which the system issued a permanent ban.

    • David Perlstein on May 6, 2022 at 2:19 pm

      Bruce, I think a word (words?) is missing in your first sentence. Do I “oppose” transparency re informing parents about books or other subject matter schools teach? No. I had three kids go through K-12. Still, I suspect that this is not the issue.

      “Transparency” strikes me as a dog whistle. The books that have been banned at certain levels (or altogether) in Florida–permanently or temporarily–portray an America a segment of our citizenry opposes. We’re all free to chose our cultural norms and associations, but this goes beyond that. Florida’s conservative-majority legislature seeks to keep a world it doesn’t like from being exposed in schools, no matter how accomplished the books and authors in question.

      Students, however, will grow up and encounter the world as it is rather than as some parents wish it to be. The key here? The far right controls who wins primaries and gets elected to the legislature. This impacts Gov. DeSantis’ prospects in the 2024 Republican presidential primary. That’s why he took on Disney for expressing basic support of LGBTQ people.

      That said, I urge Gov. DeSantis to burn LOLA FLORES. I can’t buy better publicity. Let me publicly state that I will not, however, cut him in my royalties.

  2. Claudia Long on May 6, 2022 at 6:19 pm

    Sometimes a book needs extra kindling, you know, to really catch. Let me offer DeSantis my book, Nine Tenths of the Law, in the interest of helping yours burn!
    Seriously, you’re right. Banning on the right, banning on the left, and here we are, stuck in the middle without a ban to be had!

    • David Perlstein on May 6, 2022 at 9:29 pm

      Claudia, we may have to team up for a book burning. As the flames rise, we can do a reading.

Leave a Comment