Sunday, September 27, 2015

Banned Books Week 2015

The last week of September is celebrated as Banned Books Week across these United States. The American Library Association and the Office of Intellectual Freedom report on those books in the past year that have been challenged most often in public libraries or public schools. "Challenges" include everything from a parent calling or writing that they find a book objectionable to full-blown movements to get something pulled from the shelves. (The specific terms the ALA uses is requests for books to be "restricted" or "removed.") So it's kind of a cheat to say that these are "banned books," as nothing has actually ever successfully been banned in this country on more than a superficial (i.e. local) level.

On the other hand, it seems like movements to have things banned have been going on in the USA since the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock! So while I whole-heartedly agree that not all books, movies, or music are for all people, I am not a big fan of someone like you telling someone like me what I should be allowed to read, see, or listen to. Luckily, the majority of Americans seem to agree with me.

Remember the recent brouhaha over the Duke University freshmen who refused to read Fun Home, a book that was on their school's Recommended Reading List? I have since reserved it at my local library and await its arrival. I don't have a problem with these people wanting to opt out of reading things that might disturb them; more power to them.
However, and this is where it gets tricky, when the conversation starts to talk about what our children are going to read, watch, or listen to, it seems like more people are willing to jump on the censorship band-wagon. Consequently, for the past few years the majority of books that have been challenged have been Young Adult fiction books. No surprise there, really, as we have all heard that certain parents find Harry Potter demonic, and Gossip Girls trashy. Yet for every so-called legitimate request to restrict something ("It's smut!") there are also requests to restrict legitimate classics, such as To Kill A Mockingbird, The Catcher In The Rye, and Huckleberry Finn. Each of these uses language and situations that some parents might find inappropriate for their children. Which is fine, but don't try to take these or anything else away from MY child.

When I was in high school I studied freedom of the press and various types of censorship battles. I remember reading that the Constitution's guarantee of Freedom of Speech *must* include the vilest, most unpleasant speech, and music, and images, or it isn't worth the page it's written on. After all, what's the point of guaranteeing those opinions that only agree with yours? Think about it.

Every year a new list of Most Challenged Books comes out, and every year I try to read those that I haven't read already. Here are the ten for 2014-1015, courtesy the Office of Intellectual Freedom.

1. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
a "perennial" on this list, it tells its funny story of a Native American youth growing up on a reservation.  Challenged for depictions of bullying, language (that means curse words or derogatory words all kids use), alcoholism

2. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
An autobiographical graphic novel about a young girl living through the Iranian Revolution. Challenged for being "politically, racially, and socially offensive." Not sure about that, as it gave me a better representation of what was going on in Iran during those days than I had ever seen before.

3. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson & Peter Parnell
The Homosexual Agenda strikes again in this true-life story of two male penguins who are given a discarded egg to hatch and become its parents. Challenged because of its subject matter, duh. Unfortunately for those people who insist on judging others, this story is entirely true and well documented. So yes, Virginia, there are gay penguins.

4. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Morrison 's first book. I admit to not having read this. I did read another book by her, Beloved, and did not like it at all. Challenged for containing controversial issues, it sounds like a story about a Black girl with a very low sense of self-esteem and/or beauty. I'm sure we don't have *that* problem any more.

5. It's Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris & Michael Emberley
A sex education book for young people, I actually bought this when my daughter was in your low teens and we had it around the house for several years. Challenged for being child pornography, as it features drawings of children without their clothes on. See those steamy, sexy kids on the cover there. Yes, they bare it all. Dare I say: Grow up!

6. Saga by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples
The story of Romeo & Juliet written as a space opera graphic novel, with some sex and nudity. Challenged for being anti-family, having offensive language, and for being explicit. I think this is another case where silly stupid parents see that this is a graphic novel (i.e. a comic-book) and then assume it's light-weight Bugs Bunny or Snoopy. This is for older kids, and is "anti-family" in the same way that Romeo & Juliet is. In fact, that play was probably challenged too, for the same reasons as this one was!
7. The Kite Runner by Khaled Husseini
I tried twice to read this but just couldn't get into it. Is it worth it? It was challenged for being "violent" and for "homosexuality." Oddly, I think this is an actual Best Seller and not just a YA novel.

8. The Perks Of Being A Wall-Flower by Stephen Chbosky
A distinctly disturbing book, I read this a few years ago when it first appeared on this list, It is important for being "just another teen novel" that packs quite a punch. I learned, again, never to judge someone by their outward appearance. Challenged for "being unsuited for its age group" because it features date rape and masturbation. Like I said, it IS a disturbing story, but the date rape is obviously a traumatic experience. And I'm pretty sure they talk about jerking off, but I don't remember them actually showing anybody doing it.

9. A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard
The true story of an 11 year old girl kidnapped and held for 18 years. Disturbing? Hell yes. As a father of a daughter I couldn't even get through it, skimming through it and landing on various awful experiences. Important, if only to show that monsters like this man exist, and that society allows them to exist. Challenged as being "unsuited for its age group," who would pick this up to read and not know that it would be disturbing!? I mean, come on....!

10. Drama by Raina Telgemeier
An adorable graphic novel about a high school musical. I have no idea why this book would offend anyone, except, oh yeah, there are a few gay characters. Challenged for being "sexually explicit," I cry bullshit. There isn't any nudity or sex of any kind in this book. If someone somewhere really did read this and found it explicit, I pity their closed-mindedness.

So here they are, go to your local library and borrow as many as you think might be interesting! If you have read them, let me know what you think with a comment!

For more information please visit ALA's Banned Books pages.

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