Friday, October 05, 2007

Read Banned Books. . .

By Sean Chercover

Ah, the familiar signs of autumn’s gentle approach . . . children playing in the schoolyard . . . the slight chill in the night air . . . the woodsy smell of burning books . . .

Leaves. I mean burning leaves, of course. After all, what kind of idiot would burn books? Probably the same kind of idiot who would try to ban books. The kind of idiot who would demand that libraries and schools and bookstores limit your reading options to only those books that do not threaten said idiot’s worldview.

Yes, it’s Banned Books Week once again, and I’m gonna jump up and down and wave my hands about it, like I do every year. The mouth-breathers haven’t stopped trying to control what we can read, so we can’t stop either. Eternal vigilance, and all that jazz…

The thing is, thousands of groups of our fellow citizens want to “protect” the rest of us from ideas that they have deemed Evil. As you might expect, these Evil Ideas are found in Very Dangerous Books. And our self-appointed moral guardians run around demanding that these Dangerous Books be banned from public libraries and school libraries. And the really frightening thing is, their efforts sometimes meet with success.

From 2000-2005, there were over 3,000 organized attempts to remove books from schools and public libraries. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Harry Potter novels topped the list of evil books. Also in the top ten were Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou.

Here are a few more titles, from the top-100 challenged books (1990-2000):

To Kill A Mockingbird

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Native Son

Of Mice And Men


The Catcher In The Rye

In The Night Kitchen (really)

The Color Purple

Brave New World

The Outsiders

James And The Giant Peach

Ordinary People

Lord of The Flies

Song Of Solomon

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Sponsored by the American Library Association, the American Booksellers Association, the Association of American Publishers, The Office for Intellectual Freedom, and a handful of other fine organizations (and endorsed by the Library of Congress), Banned Books Week attempts to draw our attention to an ongoing threat to our intellectual freedom.

So please follow the links in this post, and read Banned Books Week section of the ALA website.

And unless you have something better planned this week, (like, say, burning a witch, or using the constitution for toilet paper) please consider stopping by your local library and checking out a couple of the books on the list.

Free People Read Freely.


Libby Hellmann said...

Great post, Sean!

Maryann Mercer said...

And, if you can't for some reason find them at the library, check your local bookstore. Most are out in mass market and well worth the dollars...although I know I'm preaching to the choir. Thanks Sean.

Barbara D'Amato said...

Echoing you, Sean, but it's worth repeating. Let's raise a cheer for librarians. They are always in the forefront in protecting our First Amendment rights.

Pete said...

I read an article a few days ago that made reference (non-elaborated) to some library banning Siddhartha. Though I haven't read the book in years, I can't remember anything even remotely offensive in the book. Has anybody heard anything about this book being banned? The ALA's banned book site doesn't seem to mention anything about it.

Sara Paretsky said...

Sean, I'm so glad you made this post. The 2 guys who wrote "And Tango Makes Three," the most "challenged" book of 2006-07, read at the ALA site on Michigan AVe on Saturday. That book is so beautiful, and perfect for your little guy, that I am buying a gazillion copies to give to everyone I know with children.

Matt said...

What are the specific reasons given for banning these books? Sexual content? Explicit language? Gratuitous violence?

Sean Chercover said...

Matt: It varies from book to book. The book Sara mentioned was challenged for "promoting homosexuality." The Harry Potter books are accused of promoting Satanism and witchcraft. Huck Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird both contain "the N word" (of course both are passionately anti-racist, but that somehow gets ignored), The Night Kitchen has supposed "sexual content", Native Son made some white people feel bad, etc.

Check out the website links from the original post, and you'll find all the horrifying details.

woodstock said...

The "sexual content" in THE NIGHT KITCHEN is the illustration. The little boy, main character, is shown wearing a skimpy nightshirt which doesn't cover everything. The drawings are "anatomically correct." That's it.

As I recall, the text is much milder than Sendak's WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, and I don't think that one shows up on banned lists very often. Although I wouldn't be surprised to learn that it's on someone's list, somewhere.

Thanks for the reminder, Sean. At least one of my library based book discussion groups looks over the various lists and reads a "banned book" every other year or so. We've found some excellent books that way.

Cameron Hughes said...

James and The Giant Peach? Really?

Mark Combes said...

The Nazis liked a good book burning. Watching Burns' "The War" shows us clearly how a mindset can take hold. Villages would swear they had no idea that the concentration camps existed just outside their little hamlets. Never mind that you could smell the camps from miles away... Like Sean says, free people read freely. And diverse ideas create free people.

spyscribbler said...

LOL ... I'm so contrary, that if someone tells me NOT to read a book, I'm bound to go and pick it up, just out of spite!

Thanks for reminding me!