How an Atlanta bookstore is resuming the fight against book bans: NPR

Jan Bolgla and Bob Roarty have owned and operated Atlanta Vintage Books for over 16 years.

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Jan Bolgla and Bob Roarty have owned and operated Atlanta Vintage Books for over 16 years.

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BROOKHAVEN, Ga. — The Graphic Novel Adaptation of Anne Frank A girl’s diary was the last book Jan Bolgla expected to see pulled from public library shelves in the 16 years since she and her husband bought a second-hand bookstore filled with cats, artwork and, since last week, a section of forbidden books.

Bolgla shared this grim observation on the eve of Banned Books Week while petting Big Boo, a purring Maine Coon rescue atop a display case full of rare books. Near the entrance to the store was a shelf that Bolgla’s sister-in-law, Michele Bolgla, had stocked with Ray Bradbury’s books. Fahrenheit 451by George Orwell 1984 and JD Salinger The Heart Catchereach of which has been or is currently banned in certain parts of the United States

This is the second year that Bolgla and her store have taken part in Banned Books Week, which ran from September 18 to Saturday, out of sheer necessity and solidarity, she said.

One of the permanent fixtures of Atlanta Vintage Books has been its family of stray cats, including Big Boo.

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One of the permanent fixtures of Atlanta Vintage Books has been its family of stray cats, including Big Boo.

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“We really like books to be a place of knowledge and knowledge sharing, and book banning and censorship is really something that is close to our hearts,” Bolgla, 66, said.

“There should be no censorship,” she said. “…Booksellers are lucky, because we sell everything we want to sell. So we can sell the banned books, but what they do to schools and libraries, for this rising generation, not being able to experiencing diversity so much and seeing it as a bad thing, we have a very strong feeling that this is not the right way to go.”

Part of a small rebellion

The Bolgla store, Atlanta Old Booksis one of hundreds of independent bookstores across the country celebrating the freedom to read this week at a time when schools, universities and public libraries face what experts say are unprecedented attempts to prohibit or restrict reading materials.

The United States is on track to see the number of book challenges exceed those of 2021, according to the American Library Association said in a press release.

Between January 1 and August 31 this year, the ALA said it recorded 681 attempts to ban or restrict library resources, and 1,651 unique titles were targeted. In 2021, there were 729 attempts to censor library resources, targeting 1,597 books – “the highest number of attempts to ban books since the ALA began compiling these lists more than 100 years ago. 20 years,” the organization said.

The irony of books like Fahrenheit 451 being banned in parts of the United States is not lost on the owners of Atlanta Vintage Books. Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel tells the story of a future where books have been outlawed in society.

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The irony of books like Fahrenheit 451 being banned in parts of the United States is not lost on the owners of Atlanta Vintage Books. Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel tells the story of a future where books have been outlawed in society.

Fernando Alfonso III/NPR

Independent stores like Bolgla’s have a crucial role to play in providing physical access to books in states like Texas, South Carolina, Wisconsin and Georgia where public libraries are threatened with censorship, said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.

“Booksellers are dedicated to free access to information and they have their own advocacy organization to protect their freedom to provide information to their communities, to make books available in their communities,” Caldwell-Stone told NPR. “I think booksellers are a vital part of the ecology of reading and access to information.”

Banned Books Week is one of the most important ways to counter ban attempts and give a voice to those who have been marginalized for too long, said Ray Daniels, director of communications for the American Booksellers Association. . And yet, despite the independence given to the ABA’s more than 2,000 members at 2,500 sites, some have not been immune to censorship, Daniels told NPR.

“Our independent booksellers tell us that these kinds of censorship attempts are spreading through bookstores, with customers complaining if a store carries a book they don’t like. We strongly believe that a bookstore has the right to run its own store as he sees fit,” he said.

This concern was also echoed by Jonathan Friedman, director of free speech and education programs at PEN America.

“I think it’s only a matter of time before there’s more pressure on independent booksellers as well,” Friedman told NPR.

“I think democracy is much more fragile,” he said. “I think the protection of the freedoms that we have to sell books, buy books, read books, write books, I think those rights are much more fragile than what people will have imagined in recent years and taken to granted. And now we’re seeing what happens when we start cutting back on those rights.”

A life full of ink in their veins

Every day since purchase Atlanta Vintage Books has been an adventure, said 69-year-old Bob Roarty.

Some days these adventures involve holding an autographed first edition James Joyce Finnegans Wakepublished in 1939, while others involved contemplating a signed copy of Charles Dickens hard timespublished in 1854.

Roarty and Bolgla’s love for books has been nurtured for over half a century between them; the first as a printer and the second as a designer. At one time the couple owned a publishing company called Drury Lane Publishers.

“We love the books, we love the feel of the books. We love the way they’re made,” Bolgla said. “We are avid readers. I think Bob is a fast reader. I’m a slow reader.”

The couple bought the store in 2006 after spotting a sale ad in a local Atlanta newspaper, Bolgla said. They saw the store as a way to escape the interminable delays they both faced in their professional lives, Bolgla said.

A look at the sign outside Atlanta Vintage Books in Brookhaven, Georgia.

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A look at the sign outside Atlanta Vintage Books in Brookhaven, Georgia.

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“We thought if we don’t try, we’ll regret it. And if we have to sleep in the basement, we’ll sleep in the basement of the store,” Bolgla said. “We both have the same philosophy of loving books, wanting to try them. And moving on to something new. And we had no idea what we were about to do.”

Whatever doubt the pair once had is no longer apparent. Last year was the best for Atlanta Vintage Books and the store is currently on track this year to match or exceed that, Bolgla said. Banned Books Week has contributed to this success, for better or for worse, said Michele Bolgla.

“There is so much fear and ignorance in the world now, the concept of keeping knowledge away from people is scarier than ever,” she added. “I remember my favorite quote, from one of the most banned authors, Ray Bradbury: ‘You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. You just have to get people to stop reading them.”

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