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Monday, September 27, 2010

Monday Discussion: Banned Books Week Edition

As I mentioned here, it is Banned Books Week. This ALA sponsored event is sometimes confusing to patrons. Let me explain. Each year, the ALA releases a list of the books challenged, restricted, removed, or banned over the last year. Here is this year's list.

So, not all of the books have been banned per se, but all of them have been challenged by someone who felt he or she could tell the rest of the world what we can read. I cannot even begin to understand the hubris of someone who thinks their opinion should be the final word on any issue. And protecting children is a bad excuse, since I have small children myself.

What surprises me every year is the books that are being challenged. Take this script from an ALA produced public service announcement:
Catcher in the Rye . . . Of Mice and Men . . . Harry Potter . . .
What's your favorite book? Chances are good that someone has tried to ban it. Celebrate YOUR freedom to read during Banned Books Week, September  25 to October 2.
This list of three must have books for any public or school library in America makes the whole idea of challenging books indefensible in my opinion.Oh, and these books are regularly challenged here in America. We cannot ignore these warnings by thinking it is happening "somewhere else."

Aren't convinced yet? Also from the ALA's promotional materials: "Ten most farfetched (silliest, irrational, illogical) reasons to ban a book."
  1. “Encourages children to break dishes so they won’t have to dry them.” ( A Light in the Attic, by Shel Silverstien)
  2. “It caused a wave of rapes.” ( Arabian Nights, or Thousand and One Nights, anonymous)
  3. “If there is a possibility that something might be controversial, then why not eliminate it?” ( Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, by Dee Brown)
  4. “Tarzan was ‘living in sin’ with Jane.” ( Tarzan, by Edgar Rice Burroughs)
  5. “It is a real ‘downer.’” ( Diary of Anne Frank, by Anne Frank)
  6. “The basket carried by Little Red Riding Hood contained a bottle of wine, which condones the use of alcohol.” ( Little Red Riding Hood, by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm K. Grimm)
  7. “One bunny is white and the other is black and this ‘brainwashes’ readers into accepting miscegenation.” ( The Rabbit’s Wedding, by Garth Williams)
  8. “It is a religious book and public funds should not be used to purchase religious books.” ( Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, by Walter A. Elwell, ed.)
  9. “A female dog is called a bitch.” ( My Friend Flicka, by Mary O’Hara)
  10. “An unofficial version of the story of Noah’s Ark will confuse children.” ( Many Waters, by Madeleine C. L’Engle) 
These are actual reasons why people wanted books removed from a library.

The biggest concern I have these days though is the challenges from the left.  For example, in this year's list, there is a description of the refusal of the German government to allow a republication of Hitler's Mein Kampf because it would "fuel support of far-right groups." Banning this book is dangerous. Germans (actually everyone) need to understand their history, the good and the bad, so that they are not destined to repeat it. And this is coming from a person (me) whose family had to flee Hitler. This is the same argument that comes up just about every year when people want to ban The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn because it using disparaging words to describe African Americans. This argument is just as disturbing to me.

Personally, I am glad that librarians take the lead in exposing the scary truth about censorship in our modern age, but I am also saddened by the fact that we need to have this celebration of the freedom to read.

So today, in honor of Banned Books week, for the Monday Discussion, please share your thoughts and feelings about Banned Books Week, your opinions about censorship, and, if you have one, a story about someone trying to ban a book.

You can also follow and comment on past Monday Discussions here.


John BYS RA said...

Although I like the "idea" of Banned Books Week and am completely against censorship, I must say that my opinion of Banned Books Week is, at best, one of amusement. Aside from the fact that it does little to fight (let alone stop) censorship, it also ignores the obvious and basic fact that LIBRARIES PUSH CENSORSHIP AND ALWAYS HAVE. You don't have to be a librarian to know that there are some materials that libraries just won't carry. Anywhere. Ever. Of course, when asked why, they will wheel out a whole list of reasons why this material shouldn't be on the shelves and most people, even people who claim to be "anti-censorship" will agree with these reasons. And so censorship continues. I'm sure it's real easy to be against censorship when the book is Catcher in the Rye or Of Mice and Men. To ban such books is comical. Every year people come into the library and laugh at books that were banned in schools by paranoid, controlling parents. These same people, however, do not oppose or even address the fact that their OWN LIBRARY keeps books and even entire lists of authors and websites out of the hands of the public on a PERMANENT basis. This will NEVER change and that's why Banned Books Week is a CRUEL JOKE. The bottom line is that people want censorship because REAL FREEDOM SCARES PEOPLE. I'm glad that this charade is limited to one week a year. I'll conclude my little rant with a quote from an unknown delinquent with whom I was in detention in high school. He shouted across the room at the teacher and what he said, I am not ashamed to admit, shaped my attitude about censorship. He said "I'll say what I want. I WANT WHAT I SAY!"

Becky said...

John, you bring up a great point, "real freedom scares people." I am reading Freedom by Jonathan Franzen right now and that is his main thesis.