Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Banned Books Week...

by Sean Chercover

Yes, it's that time of year again. This is the week we turn our attention to the dunderheads who spend their time trying to get books banned from libraries and schools.

Truth is, we should be concerned about this every week, but with so many encroachments on our freedom these days, it is easy to forget about this particular threat.

If you think this is a small problem, you're mistaken. If you think it is a problem confined to the bible-belt states, you're mistaken.

Have a look at this map, which shows book bans and challenges from 2007-2009. Scary, isn't it?

Each year, the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom records hundreds of attempts to have books removed from libraries and schools. Here are some of the most frequent targets:

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Ulysses by James Joyce
Beloved by Toni Morrison
The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
1984 by George Orwell

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Native Son by Richard Wright
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

Now, I guarantee you that the morons calling for book bans have not read Ulysses, but they want it banned just the same. And I'm sure they completely miss the irony of trying to ban 1984. It would be funny, if it weren't so damn scary.

Why scary? Because sometimes, they succeed.

What can you do about it? Check out these organizations:
First Amendment Center
National Coalition Against Censorship
American Booksellers Foundation For Free Expression
The ALA's Freedom To Read Foundation

I realize that many of you won't click through the above links, so here's another thing you can do to celebrate Banned Books Week. It's easy, fun, and rewarding.

Go to your local library and check out a book that is on the banned books list. Read it. Return it (on time).

That's it. This year, I'm re-reading George Orwell's 1984, and loving it all over again. Happily, it remains a terrific novel, and unhappily, it remains as relevant (perhaps more relevant) than when it was written, 60 years ago.

Finally, I leave you today with video of some misguided Puppet Book Banners:


Dana King said...

Watching my daughter progress through high school showed me the quality of my high school education wasn't all I used to think it was. (Of course that was 35 years earlier, and there was a lot less to learn.) Still, I'm happy to say a lot of the books on your list were not only not banned in my small town, they were required reading. That doesn't make us special--lots of schools required reading many of those masterpieces--but it beats hell out of banning them, and I will always be grateful for the tolerance I learned in a region not always known for it.

jnantz said...

Sean, I'm so glad you still love (and find relevant, I wholeheartedly agree) Orwell's 1984. My students always love it when we teach it, and it's so great to see them draw comparisson's to all of the last governmental regimes (both sides). It lets them know that they can't take stuff they are force-fed from all of the different media outlets at face-value, which I believe will make them more active, questioning, well-rounded adults.

May I also add John Gardner's Grendel to the list as one people have tried to ban a lot. Y'know, because we American's love dissent and getting both sides of the story, and have for the last 30+ years...

Mark Combes said...

If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson