Wednesday, October 01, 2008


Keeping books on the shelves

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
...along with many, many others, “Beloved”, “Flowers for Algernon”, “Brave New World”, “James and the Giant Peach”, “Lord of the Flies”. And, yes, “Heather Has Two Mommies”, of course.

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.]


Ray said...

There is a list of reasons why an attempt has been made to ban any given book. I don't see the bible in the list of books, but let's see how it fares against the list of reasons:

Pass: Abortion I'll give it a pass on this, though perhaps if I knew my bible better...

FAIL: Anti-Ethnic Most decidedly!

Pass: Anti-Family I'll grudgingly give it a pass on this, too

Pass: Drugs But what about that Manna stuff...?

FAIL: Homosexuality Certain parts of the bible seem to take an inordinate interest in what men do with their willies

FAIL: Inaccurate Goes without saying

FAIL: Insensitivity Only if you are a wuss with feelings and are not one of The Chosen

Pass: Nudity OK, so there aren't any actual, you know, pictures...

FAIL: Occult/Satanism Well, hey, this is what it's all about, right? I mean, magic sky-fairy, walking on water, raising the dead. How much more occult can you get?

FAIL: Offensive Language Extremely

FAIL: Other Too numerous to mention...

Pass: Political Viewpoint It doesn't contain the word Republican

FAIL: Racism It's the reference

FAIL: Religious Viewpoint Doesn't agree with the majority of the world, so it must be wrong

Pass: Sex Education I'm being very generous here, since, for example, Onanism derives from one of its passages. However, I won't be so reticent for the next-but-one item

FAIL: Sexism Again, the definitive handbook on the subject

FAIL: Sexually Explicit Woohoo! Yes yes yes! Onanism, rape, incest, prostitution. Look no further!

FAIL: Suicide Judas. Probably others.

FAIL: Unsuited to Age Group Yes, just about any age, in fact

FAIL: Violence Blood and guts, rape, stoning, mass murder, slavery, plagues - pretty much a handbook for violence.

The Ridger, FCD said...

Anti-Family? You bet! Abraham married his sister, and David murdered a man to marry the wife he'd had an affair with - and she wasn't even David's only wife. In fact, "one man one woman" is decidedly not the standard...

Also, I'm not surprised the books challenged are (mostly) great. You wouldn't waster your time challenging books your kids didn't want to read.