The American Library Association keeps track of complaints from the public, and annually release a list of the most frequently challenged books. Challenges? Complaints? What? OK, here’s what that means:
The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom received a total of 420 challenges last year. A challenge is defined as a formal, written complaint, filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness. According to Judith F. Krug, director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom, the number of challenges reflects only incidents reported, and for each reported, four or five remain unreported.
And what do “content and appropriateness” mean? Oh, c’mon, do you really have to ask? It’s the usual stuff: references to sex, homosexuality, bad language, ethnic slurs, violence. Fair enough, we know there are people out there who don’t like all that, and so those people should certainly not read books that have it.
What’s scary, though, is that even in 2007, people still think it’s appropriate to make formal complaints and to demand the removal of the books from library shelves, so no one else can read them either. And that one of them is reasonably likely to become the Vice President of the United States.
And this week is Banned Book Week, a week meant to highlight the problem and to light a fire under the free thinkers among us. Those of us who, whether or not we personally want to read specific books, insist that all books be allowed a place, must make sure our voices are as loud as those who would burn them.
But here: would we want to read these particular books? Oh, yes, look at the list; this it not fringe material, not quasi-porn nor doggerel that few would actually want to pick up. We’re talking about mainstream reading, including classics and wildly popular current writings. Have a look at the ten most challenged books from 2000 to 2005, and the 100 most challenged of the 1990s.The lists include these:
- the “Harry Potter” series (witchcraft!)
- “Of Mice and Men”, John Steinbeck’s classic
- Maya Angelou’s acclaimed “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”
- “Huckleberry Finn”, with references to slavery and a bad word for slaves
- “The Color Purple”
- “The Handmaid’s Tale”, Margaret Atwood’s excellent portrayal of the subjugation of women in a totalitarian theocracy
- “To Kill a Mockingbird”, on my list of three indispensable books, the story of a white southern lawyer defending an unjustly accused black man
How sad it is that the beliefs and morality of some are teetering on such a brink that they’re threatened by books that challenge them... so threatened that they seek to hide those books and prevent anyone from reading them.
I almost have pity for them, but that I find the concept so vile.
[Hat tip to Les, at Stupid Evil Bastard.]