Sunday, September 27, 2009

The book burning starts at dusk

Know I would like to wish everyone a very happy Banned Books Week. That's right, all week long, we get to bash on freedom of choice when it comes to what others read, do our best to remove the books we think are perverse, subversive, and just plain unpleasant (or books that we don't agree with), and generally force our opinions onto others. To kick off the celebration, we'll start with a big ol' bonfire tonight, toss those nasty ol' books into the fire, and dance around like insane little gremlins, cackling with delight and evil glee.

[Listening to my director in my earphones]

What's that you say? Banned Books Week isn't about burning them? It's about reading them?

Ohhhhh. My mistake.

Anyone who has been reading me for a while knows that is a highly sarcastic title and start to this entry. Quite frankly, I think it's a little snarky of me, too! I'm feeling sassy today.

Banned Books Week, according to the American Library Association, "is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States." Most of you probably know by now that I love to read and that I'm a big fan of books. Not just the action of reading; not just the physical presence of books held in my hands; I love the idea of reading, the ability that it gives each and every one of us to learn, to know, to step outside our normal lives and discover something about another place, another time, another way of life, another culture. Books are a way to travel without ever leaving the comfort of our home.

Banned book I've never understood those who would seek to ban books. Just that phrase makes me cringe. I understand if people don't want their kids to read certain things; that is their right. However, in attempting to remove books from school and public libraries, they are also restricting others from reading those books. That is unacceptable, and it is unconstitutional. (That seems to be a popular word these days.) Just as in restricting others from listening to certain types of music because you object to the content, no individual or group has any right whatsoever to keep others from listening to music or reading what they wish to read. In your own home, if you want to limit your child's reading exercises to Chinese takeout menus, have at it. But don't tell me and don't tell my library that I cannot read certain materials because you find them objectionable.

The restriction of books is nothing less than the restriction of ideas. For those who would keep others from reading certain books or other types of media, it naturally begs the question, "What are you afraid of?" The ALA site includes a list of books that have been challenged recently, as well as a list of classics that have been banned or challenged throughout the years. Here is the complete list of those challenged in 2008-2009 (it's a PDF file, so takes a moment to load), and here are a few of the books on the list.

  • Go Ask Alice Still? This book has been around since I was in junior high school (and yes, it was in my library, and I read it). It was challenged in one school district because of descriptions of drug use, but the book was retained in the library. The kid dies of an overdose, so you'd think it would be seen as the cautionary tale it is rather than glorification of drug use.
  • Black Hawk Down Removed because of foul language
  • Brave New World Challenged because of sex and drugs, but retained
  • To Kill a Mockingbird Yep, this is not a joke. A parent challenged this because they felt the depiction of racist behavior in the book would frighten black children. The book was retained.
  • Stephanie Meyers' Twilight series Challenged because of sexual content; retained.
  • And Tango Makes Three This story of two male penguins parenting a chick in Central Park Zoo was challenged because one parent said the book "is based on one of those subjects that is best left to be discovered by students at another time or in another place." Yeah, like in the boys' locker room.
  • The Catcher in the Rye Challenged
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Again, not a joke. The book was retained, but teachers have to attend seminars on how to deal with issues of race before they can teach the book in their classes.
  • The Color Purple Challenged because of homosexuality, rape, and incest.
  • The Lovely Bones Moved to the faculty section because it was thought to be too frightening for middle school students.
  • A People's History of the United States Challenged as "un-American, leftist propaganda." It was a secondary textbook in an Advanced Placement history class, and students also read an article critical of the textbook.

Banned Books Week2 Some of these challenges are ongoing, but many of the challenges were rejected and the books retained in the library. This is encouraging news, because it's getting harder and harder for individuals or groups to try to dictate to others their own narrow view of the world. Even well-meaning challenges, like not not wanting to subject kids to the racist behavior or dialogue present in To Kill a Mockingbird or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, seek to ignore history. Such behavior happened. Reading about it can lead to *gasp* discussion about why it's bad behavior and why it shouldn't be tolerated today. As with other censorship issues, you have the right to not read, not listen, not view. You do not have the right to dictate to others what they can read, hear, or view.

I hope you all get a chance this week to curl up with a good book. When you do, take a moment to reflect on how fortunate we are to live in a place where others cannot restrict what we read because of their own beliefs. Happy reading!



  1. This post is about ME, isn't it?!?...


  2. It is hard to believe that there are people who want to prevent books from being accessible, kind of anti-1st amendment.

  3. I started reading this and automatically caught the sarcasm. I love that about you. We grew up reading to "To Kill A Mockingbird" and a few others for that matter. I can't see where reading any of these books has damaged me. If someone doesn't want to read a particuliar book - don't read it. However don't decide because it wasn't for you it might not be an enjoyable, encriching read for someone else.

    As testament to some of the protest I got from my ealier blog post, I can honestly say censorship can get out of hand. I would rather write something that might possibly be banned, than give in to peer pressure by ignorant bullies. (Hugs)Indigo

  4. I loves a good book.
    Reading is FUNdamental.

    Sidenote: When I first met Carlos I asked him, "Do you read?"
    And because of the minute language barrier and the way things are phrased in Spanish, he thought I was asking if he knew HOW to read!
    Oy! Crisis averted!

  5. Awesome post and I like the sarcasm at the start. It is amazing what books are banned and the silly reasons that exist for banning them.
    I appreciate your pointing out this special week. I'll be sure to pass it along. We should all cuddle up a banned book,and enjoy the ride. There's no better way to get into hell, than reading you way in! :) Read on.

  6. And I bet alot of those that get on the "ban these books" bandwagon have never read the books themselves...a few I've never read and will now do so JUST because they were challenged or banned..thanks for the list :)

  7. we make the 8th graders read to kill a mockingbird and they seem to have fared just fine. if nothing else, it shows kids of today just how bad things were in parts of our country before the civil rights movement took hold.

    maybe we need to have a week in october that bans censorship...


  8. Hi Beth,
    I think I've read everything on the banned list except Black Hawk Down. I'd better rush out and get it before it's too late!

  9. Children's writer Bruce Coville (he's a FB Friend of Raq's, Tammy's and I's, Beth) once talked in a panel about his "Magic Shop" book THE SKULL OF TRUTH being banned in certain school districts because the main character's middle-aged bachelor uncle suddenly feels the urge to admit he's gay to the rest of the family. When a co-panelist mentioned his book sales probably skyrocketed as a result of the banning, Bruce responded with "Maybe - but how many libraries dropped my NEXT several books because they were afraid of possible controversy?" That is the real danger of all this book banning - the chilling effect it has on librarians, publishers and authors.

  10. These Banned Books Week resources may also be of interest:

    "American Library Association Shamed," by Nat Hentoff, Laurel Leader-Call, 2 March 2007.

    "Banned Books Week and the ALA," by Dennis Ingolfsland, The Recliner Commentaries, 4 August 2009.

    "'Censors' Are So Scary," by Annoyed Librarian, Library Journal, 6 October 2008.

    "Finding Censorship Where There Is None," by Mitchell Muncy, Wall Street Journal, 24 September 2009, p.W13.

    "National Hogwash Week," as coined by Thomas Sowell. And this resource has a long, updated list of BBW-related articles.

    "US Libraries Hit Back Over Challenges to Kids Books," by Sara Hussein, Agence France-Presse [AFP], 6 September 2009.

    "Various Humbugs Regarding Banned Books Week, by Mateo Palos, Mateo Palos, 27 September 2009.

  11. Can't say that I have heard of a banned book week over here....Thank goodness !!! Never heard such tosh in all my life....whatever next..banned breathing week !!
    Love Ya sybil xx

  12. Book banning is ridiculous in any case, but in a culture which proports to appreciate the rationality of the human mind when making one's own decisions, it's more than ridiculous. Thank goodness there are those who disapprove of book banning and are willing to ridicule it.

  13. I believe I have read every book on the banned list. I was always an avid reader. My eyes hurt now when I read too long but the smell of a new good book and turning the pages intice me!

    I heard about the new high tech way of reading and they made a gismo called "Kindle" or something like that. To my understanding, you just download the book you wish to read from the Internet and it is cheaper than buying the book. Well, I guess that could eliminate the need for bookshelves and storage but I think I would miss the part of turning the pages! LOL

  14. Just makes me sick that people still do this in this day and age.

    be well...

  15. I need to write a banned book. Would set my up for life.

  16. I've read most of your list- I thought the book and the movie Fahrenheit 451 was as scary as it gets- gosh that was way back when- movie was 1966 I was still a teenager-
    Loved my Junior English teacher he snuck us "banned books"- If I don;t like a book I do not have to read it nor do you but someone may - David Dust is still working on paranoia! LOL

  17. When I was around 11 or 12, I stumpled across the novel Peyton Place in the library. I instinctively knew that my mother would not want me to read it. I checked it out any way and spent a lot of time in the bathroom over the next three days until I finished reading it. Unfortunately, I was too young and naive to fully appreciate the good parts.

    I appreciae your masterful use of satire. I really enjoy reading your work.

  18. Banning books..shakes head can't even comment any more than this.

    Hope you are well


  19. The more they don't want me to read them, the more I WANT to read them, particularly as a kid. What? You say that book is bad and I must never pick it up? I. Must. Know. Why. ;)


I'm funny how, I mean funny like I'm a clown, I amuse you?