Sunday, September 30, 2012

"Banned" Books

If there is anything that makes me think "That's Un-American!" it's the idea of banning books. Sure, there are plenty of books that I would hate to *have* to read (just ask my Victorian British Poetry professor, haha). On the other hand, I cannot understand...nay, that is too weak a word...I cannot FATHOM how you hating a book makes you think *nobody else* should read it, either.

September 30 thru October 6 is National Banned Books Week in the United States. Every year at about this time the American Library Association issues a list of those books that have been asked about the most in the last twelve months. The list runs the gamut from "I wish you didn't have these in the library!" to "Get this filth out of my library!" Of course, most of the books are not actually banned from public libraries. (You need over-zealous School Superintendents for that type of illogical decision).  I first noticed this list a few years ago and now I look forward to it every year. If there is a book on the list that I have not read yet, I go to my library (Columbus Metropolitan) and reserve it. So far, none of the "banned" books have not been available in Columbus.

Challenges to library materials explains the process. You could have one concerned individual come up to the librarian on duty and voice their concern about the appropriateness of some book. Or that person could write an official letter to the library board. Or, that person could organize a demonstration or group to get something banned or moved out of the open stacks. And as far as the ALA is concerned, any decision to restrict/control the availability of the content above and beyond what the local library decides should happen is considered Censorship. 

I can understand that. I used to borrow anatomy books to learn how to draw the human figure. Once when I was a kid I came across a book that was in the system but was not available on the shelves. Turns out that some of the models were nudes, so the book was on "lock down." I had to ask for it specifically. It wasn't "banned" per se, but it was definitely controlled.

Then I went to college and at the college library I found quite a few anatomy and art books with plenty of nudes in them. (Not that I checked them all out and took them back to my dorm room in a dirty way, haha!) The idea, I think, was that the people using the library were 18-plus year old students or faculty, so it was okay to leave this type of material out on the stacks for us to find by ourselves. Atleast,  that's what I figured was what was happening.

Unfortunately, most of the times I hear about "book banning" (the more correct term is "book challenging") is when religious nuts complain about the sorcery in HARRY POTTER or overly protective parents challenge the sexual content in Judy Blume books like FOREVER. Sexual education books are always on the list, and for several years the true story of two male penguins at the New York Zoo raising a baby penguin was on the list because it showed that there are such things as nurturing *gay* penguins! (The book is AND TANGO MAKES THREE. I am not making this up.)

The saddest part of these lists are when bonafide classics such as HUCKLEBERRY FINN, CATCHER IN THE RYE, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, and BRAVE NEW WORLD are included. Banning HUCK FINN  because slavery was legal at the time the story is set?! Obviously the "n" word is going to be used. Likewise, in MOCKINGBIRD.  How can we understand what used to constitute "normal" if we aren't shown explicitly how evil it really was? How can we understand the true ramifications of "utopia" if we can't see all that it entails? And CATCHER....? Whoever challenges that was never a teenager. 

And that's the reason, I guess. Parents don't want little Johnnie or Joanie to read about crazy Holden Caulfield or sexually active Gossip Girls. Or gay penguins.

I shake my head at the whole idea of book banning. Eventually your little darlings are going to fly on their own. Why not arm them with knowledge, instead of trying to protect them in some way from big bad ideas different from your own? It's a losing proposition, and it is un-American.

Doing research for this article I came across the 2011 list of Challenged Books. I haven't read some of these, so as soon as I'm done here I'm heading over to make some book reservations. I hope you will do the same.  If/when I see the 2012 list I will post it, too.
1. TTYL (series) by Lauren Myracle
(read this; thought it was immature)
2. Color of Earth (series) by Kim Dong Hwa
(never heard of this!) 
3. Hunger Games (series) by Suzanne Collins
(not going to read this; I read Battle Royale, the original!)
4. My Mom's Having A Baby
(do I really need a refresher course, haha)
5. Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
(I read this a few years ago; I liked it)
6. Alice (series) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
(not going to read this or Gossip Girl below; I think I know what type of stories these are: junior Harlequin with a touch more sex and "hipness")
7. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
(this? really?) 
8. What My Mother Doesn't Know by Sonya Sones
(I read this a few years ago....not great literature, that's for sure)
9. Gossip Girl (series)
(see (6) above)
10. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee 
(this must have made it because it's celebrating its 50th anniversary)

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