Bought A Banned Book Lately?

If the political climate is any indication, this is a week to ponder.  It’s National Banned Books Week.

It is one of life’s ironies that the same people who are often most vociferous about their own First Amendment rights are the same voices who would deny that same right to others.  When one of our state universities selected Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich for their freshman summer reading assignment, there was a public outcry from some very angry parents.  On the other hand, Atlas Shrugged is a part of the business school curriculum in some of our colleges and universities because an area bank gave them millions of dollars if they’d put it there.  The idea, the bank executives said, was to bring forth debate on the “ethical underpinnings” of capitalism.  That might also be said of Nickel and Dimed.

Those university book lists are wonderful resources for forays into critical thinking.  This year’s selection, Picking Cotton, must have sparked some interesting discussions.

Here, according to the American Library Association, is a list of the most frequently challenged books of 2009:

1. “TTYL; TTFN; L8R, G8R (series), by Lauren Myracle
Reasons: Nudity, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs
2. “And Tango Makes Three” by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
Reasons: Homosexuality
3. “The Perks of Being A Wallflower,” by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Anti-Family, Offensive Language, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs, Suicide
4. “To Kill A Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee
Reasons: Racism, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group
5. Twilight (series) by Stephenie Meyer
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group
6. “Catcher in the Rye,” by J.D. Salinger
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group
7. “My Sister’s Keeper,” by Jodi Picoult
Reasons: Sexism, Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs, Suicide, Violence
8. “The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things,” by Carolyn Mackler
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group
9. “The Color Purple,” Alice Walker
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group
10. “The Chocolate War,” by Robert Cormier
Reasons: Nudity, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

Black Beauty was banned by the Apartheid-based South African government for almost 50 years before they discovered it wasn’t a book about a black woman.  An anniversary edition of The Diary of Anne Frank was banned from being taught in Virginia public schools in January, 2010. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? was also banned in January, 2010, because the author had the same name as an obscure Marxist and they didn’t bother to check to see whether or not it was the same guy.  Who was “they” in this instance?

Hello,  Texas Board of Education.  (You know, the same group that is rewriting textbooks to make them more to their liking.)

Also banned this year–this one at a California elementary school–was the new Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary because of its “oral sex” definition.

Several police associations attempted to have Caldecott Medal winner  Sylvester and the Magic Pebble removed from school libraries because the police were portrayed by pigs.  Sylvester, incidentally, is a donkey.  For that matter, he might be a liberal Democrat.

I was curious about what guidelines are used in children’s libraries and found that the Library Bill of Rights includes a section on Free Access to Libraries by Minors. What it says is that you can control what your kid reads, but not what someone else’s kid chooses.

That freedom stuff is tricky, huh?  But doesn’t it beat the alternative?

If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. Were an opinion a personal possession of no value except to the owner; if to be obstructed in the enjoyment of it were simply a private injury, it would make some difference whether the injury was inflicted only on a few persons or on many. But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.

— On Liberty, John Stuart Mill


17 thoughts on “Bought A Banned Book Lately?

  1. The whole idea of banned books just hurts my brains. On the other hand, the image of the quote by Doris Lessing reminded me of a book group I was in a few years ago. The assigned book was by Doris Lessing and we all HATED it. All I remember is that she was walking around with a baby seal talking about how her roots were growing out and that her normally red hair had an inch or two of gray showing.

    As you might have surmised, we were more of a drinking group that a book group. 🙂

  2. [If you haven’t already, please, please cross-post at HT! Too good to miss!]

    That list contains three books that are classics for my age group and a bunch I never heard of. At the beginning of the month, I signed on to a website that will post our reviews of banned books; read and review one, each.

    I chose to re-read Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five for a couple of reasons: I was due for my five year re-read of Vonnegut and Slaughterhouse is quick. It just so happened that my 18 year old stepson was visiting and asked me for a book. He goes into the Navy in about a month. I figured SH5 would be perfect for him. He looked it over and said it wasn’t his style…and didn’t I have anything with vampires or zombies? Oh, brother.

    I don’t even want to see Twilight on the same distinguished list of banned books as my beloved Mockingbird. Can we just ban books that don’t qualify as literature? Nah, probably not; Vonnegut’s SH5 would never have made the cut.

  3. ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, ‘Catcher in the Rye’, ‘The Color Purple’? If I had known they were banned I would have read them slower.

    I am actively intolerant — of book banners.

  4. Sorry, my mind is too boggled. I do find this current trend to be a bit frightening. Wonder when the book burnings start?
    The sad thing is that closed minds do breed and raise a new generation of closed minds. The rest of us need to get serious about breeding also. Sorry, my eggs are dust or I’d help.

  5. The Grapes of Wrath is also on the banned list as well as many others that are my favorites… I’m of the opinion that no book should ever be banned. How are our children to learn to choose if they have that taken away from them?

  6. I do think that parents should be able to decide whether a particular book is appropriate for their child or family values and be able to decide whether to allow the child to read the book or not. I don’t necessarily want my child, teenager or not, to be reading sexually explicit material or offensive language. I don’t think it IS appropriate. That said, I shouldn’t be able to decide that someone else with different values can’t read that same material! I’ve read many, many of these banned books as an adult, when I was mature enough and in a better place to grasp their content and meaning beyond being influenced by the language and sexual material. So I guess what I’m saying is that I’m against book banning, but I am for individual parents being able to make the choice as to whether their child reads a book that they think is inappropriate, they shouldn’t have to put up a court challenge to do it, and their child shouldn’t be put at a disadvantage because of it. Which is probably too much to ask, but in my perfect world, it would happen!

    I just read your post again, and it appears that these are books banned from Universities. Honestly? By that time, students are adults. Banning is just balogna. If a student doesn’t want to read the book because it’s offensive to them, then they should be able to go to the prof and discuss it with them. Yes, go ahead, complain. Work things out on an individual basis if you have to. But to ban? Unacceptable. Who is challenging the books? Parents? Of university students? Garsh. Let your kids grow up already!

    1. I’m talking about required reading in the first paragraph, not library books, of course. Parents should be able to decide whether the books their child is studying for credit are appropriate, at least until that child is older. As far as library books? Garsh. Why? We need to be confident in our parenting to expect our kids to choose wisely, whatever that is. They’ll never learn to make appropriate choices if all they’re not given any variety to choose FROM.

  7. Ban the unabridged dictionary! Dang, that’s where my generation learned our anatomy and delighted in finding “dirty” words!

    I think banning books is all about control and fear. Somehow folks have the mistaken idea that if their children don’t read something they won’t know about it. And if THEIR children shouldn’t know about it, neither should anyone else’s children.

    My kids loved Judy Blume’s books and her books are often banned by one school district or another. She made kids laugh, she made them think, she made them question! She actually suggested that not everyone is alike and that’s all right.

    I do remember a big disaster some years back with one of Judy Blume’s books. A librarian, not familiar with the fact that Judy Blume also wrote books for adults, put an adult book (complete with racy sexy language) in the children’s section. It became quite a hit with the kids until some mother actually picked it up and read it.

  8. Great idea! I am going to make it a point to read one or more of the banned selection. I’m in shock… Nickel and Dimed really? Controversial? What am I missing because I must be missing a whole lot of it.

  9. Oh, I know all about banned books. Huck Finn wasn’t on the list you had, but it is frequently banned.
    At my local community college, one of my friends teaches a Banned Books every couple of years. I always envied him that course–want to snatch it away from him!
    Hurray for John Stuart Mill–there are times when I have been that lone voice. And it never bothers me–rather be right and all alone than wrong in lots of company.

  10. steffiw

    black!Here in ireland a particular book was not only banned but burned.”The tailor and ansty”was vilified up until fairly recently,it was a collection of stories from a couple of the title(they actually existed and lived in this very village)it was banned by the “authorities”as they said it portrayed the irish as drinkers,the women as lusty,bawdy and loose! and villagers engaging in these activities and enjoying themselves too much.-methinks it hit a truth nerve….

  11. I am always left speechless when I read about books being banned. If a book offends someone, don’t read it. If a parent chooses that a book is not appropriate for their child(ren) then don’t let them read it. But, don’t tell me what I can read!

    Great post!

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