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Turn off the TV because it's Banned Books Week
September 27, 2001 9:44 AM   Subscribe

Turn off the TV because it's Banned Books Week once again in the US. Personally, I've only read about 15% of the top 100 most challenged books from the past decade, though many of my favorites are there. In the midst of our freedoms being curtailed during the Current Situation, enjoy your freedom to read while you can.
posted by mathowie (53 comments total)

 
A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein? Damn you, Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout! If only you'd have taken that garbage out!

Seriously, though. I have no problem with people demanding that books be banned. It lets us know where the idiots are.

(of course, I have to admit that I ain't exactly in favor of kids thumbing through Madonna's Sex book (No. 19), but that's only because I am embarrassed by Big Daddy Kane's Big Kane)
posted by ColdChef at 9:55 AM on September 27, 2001


i just finished reading fahrenheit 451 for the first time, and i'm a bit surprised it's not on the banned book list: it does argue against censorship. but i found the book to be prescient to this time in america when the press secretary of the white house complains bitterly that others criticize the president and the attorney general seeks to make this country into a police state.
posted by moz at 9:55 AM on September 27, 2001


Exactly 15% for me; what's with all the Judy Blume, Stephen King, and gay sex books?

You know what I like? All the books you KNOW are absolute mindfucks and total revolutionary screeds that slip through the censor-net. Stranger In A Strange Land, anyone?
posted by UncleFes at 9:56 AM on September 27, 2001


Strange that the Bible isn't on that list, considering it's got much more sex and violence going on than any of those books.
posted by lia at 10:02 AM on September 27, 2001


wow!
what can i say, most of the books that i have read on that list where required reading at school.

is that the issue for these 'challengers'?

thought police in the area.

how come 'steal this book' (a guide to blagging in the us) isn't there i wonder...maybe as it isn't occult or full of sexually explicit writing...

but, 'where's waldo' now that's a revolution instigating tome!
posted by asok at 10:11 AM on September 27, 2001


Actually, the "current situation" should put an end to this perennial whining about "banned books." No book has been "banned" in America for 100 years. Virtually any child of any age can walk into any of our wonderfully well-stocked libraries in America and take out any book (or video) her or she chooses any time at all. No federal, state, or municipal government in America has ever had any sustained interest in banning any book. More books are available to more people with greater ease today than at any time in human history. Any man, woman or child who is forbidden by a parent, school, church or employer from reading any book on the 100 most challenged books list can easily acquire that book from any bookstore or library and read it unmolested in almost any public space. And yet we are given to believe that we are in some kind of crisis of censorship.
posted by Faze at 10:15 AM on September 27, 2001


The Handmaid's Tale? I guess we wouldn't want anyone having to imagine what Western civilization radically altered by war to institutionalize female servitude could be like, huh.

I've been thinking about that book a lot lately... a lot of it bears chilling similarity to gender relations, Taliban-style.
posted by Sapphireblue at 10:23 AM on September 27, 2001


Faze, I believe keeping an eye on challenged books represents vigilance, not whining. I think this vigilance is valuable and in fact vital. We should, as you suggest, be proud of NOT banning books, but also always be aware that it is not an impossibility in our culture.

Funny to see Flowers For Algernon on there. I wonder on what grounds? Maybe any literature that inspires Cliff Robertson to hideously overact is a target.
posted by Kafkaesque at 10:30 AM on September 27, 2001


Did anyone say you could talk, Sapphire? Stone her, boys.
posted by Skot at 10:31 AM on September 27, 2001


.....yet we are given to believe that we are in some kind of crisis of censorship.

people get on the ALA for this hyperbole every year. Banned Books Week is actually Challenged Books Week, and while we can endlessly go over the argument that "censorship" only exists when a government is telling you what not to read, it is true that many public libraries take books off the shelf for all sorts of silly reasons.

Um, Matt, isn't this a double-post?
posted by jessamyn at 10:31 AM on September 27, 2001


And another thing, where do these people come by their glib self-righteousness about censorship anyway? It could be that a little censorship and cultural challenge is good for literature. Some of the greatest literature of all time was written under conditions of political and cultural censorship so strict and extreme that they are almost beyond our imagining. This includes the complete works of Shakespeare, Dante, Cervantes, Fielding, Twain, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. Our contemporary litterateurs go into hysterics if a hayseed fundamentalist in Decatur, Alabama so much as grumbles to his barber about Madonna's "Sex" being made required reading for second graders in the local public school. How would they like to have been Cervantes? He wrote under the eye of the Spanish Inquisition. You didn't hear him whining, "poor little me, I'm being censored." He got on with it and wrote a damned good book.
posted by Faze at 10:31 AM on September 27, 2001


No book has been banned?

How about burned?

Wilhelm Reich's books were burned in the 1940's. He might have been a nut, but there's just no way he should have gone to prison and had his research and published works burned.
posted by Hexaemeron at 10:35 AM on September 27, 2001


I suppose you could include Bulgakov and Solzhenitsyn in that list Faze, but I think it is a little silly to say that sensorship is good for literature. It's like saying war is good for movies. It may seem that way in retrospect, and from a privileged position, but hardly for the authors and the soldiers at the time.
posted by Kafkaesque at 10:36 AM on September 27, 2001


jessamyn,
that was last year's. this is this year's.
posted by JParker at 10:36 AM on September 27, 2001


This is not what I would call a major problem. From the article:
"The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom received a total of 646 challenges in 2000, up from 472 in 1999."
There are probably more people wearing tin foil hats to keep the aliens from reading their brainwaves. Still, it is good that ALA is watchdogging it.
posted by JParker at 10:40 AM on September 27, 2001


Of course there is the obvious stumbling block that many of the people who want to ban books probably can't spell ALA.
posted by Kafkaesque at 10:42 AM on September 27, 2001


Why Toni Morrison? What for, the abundance of jungle fever in her novels? I want to see a list of the mentioned books, with exactly what the problem is. The Chocolate War? For what? What’s Happening to my Body? What plan do the censors have for addressing this question to kids? Parents talking to them, I'm sure, but c'mon...

I also noticed that a lot of these books are written by minorities , such as Bless Me, Ultima which was on the reading list in my ethnic lit. class last year. Please, can anyone find a link to the specific beef with these books?

:::scans list again, but can't find the Illuminatis Trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson:::
posted by adampsyche at 10:43 AM on September 27, 2001


"what's with all the Judy Blume, Stephen King, and gay sex books?"

71% of the challenges were reported in school libraries, and 60% were brought by parents..

(fun page of charts)

So most of the objection to these was that children shouldn't read them, not that no one should.

I can understand the reasoning behind parents who don't want these in school libraries. I don't agree with it, but when people hold strong opinions about morality/religion/life in general, they often don't want their kids being exposed to and encouraged to read stuff that opposes or is offensive to their beliefs until they think they're ready to handle it. I don't think parents are the best judge of that, but I can see why some would be nervous about some of these books in a library where the audience is entirely children.

I was required to read a lot of them in school.. some of those I know are still on school reading lists. They've being challenged, but we're not at the book-burning stage yet.
posted by smt at 10:50 AM on September 27, 2001


that was last year's. this is this year's.

yeah I know, my point being that ALA trots this out every year and then Matt makes sure we all read a book at least once each year ;)

I think the Banned [Censored/Challeged/Burned] Books Week is a good tool for librarians to learn what they can do to keep books on their shelves [develop a collection and challenge policy, maintain a good rapport with the community, etc] as well as to publicize some of the lesser-known features of the public library system [freedom for pretty much anyone to read pretty much anything].

Here's a few links giving some reasons why some of these books were banned:

Banned Books Online [links to full text books that have been banned historically and a good overview of the whole topic including some DMCA discussion

More basic page discussing recent challenges
posted by jessamyn at 10:59 AM on September 27, 2001


> No book has been "banned" in America for 100 years.

Hmmm ... right off the top of my head I can cite "Tropic of Cancer" by Henry Miller (in fact most all of his stuff). It couldn't be imported into the country until 1961. Perhaps that merely seems like 100 years to a generation with an MTV attention span.

Regardless, that of course misses the point. Books are "banned" in a variety of insidious manners. Just because we don't (yet) have a "Federal Bureau of Literary Purity" doesn't mean it doesn't occur daily on the local level.

Find something worthy to defend.
posted by RavinDave at 10:59 AM on September 27, 2001


Kafkaesque, I appreciate your comment about war being good for the movies, and have no worthy response. To ravindave, however, I must say that though "Tropic of Cancer" may have been banned, or even outlawed by an act of congress, it is today one of the most easily available books in the world, and remains in print, while many more worthy titles (the complete works of Peter DeVries, for instance) are fading into obscurity.
posted by Faze at 11:12 AM on September 27, 2001


Man, I've only read five. Does anyone other than me feel like less of an American now?

(Assuming you are an American, of course...)
posted by mrbula at 11:30 AM on September 27, 2001


"they often don't want their kids being exposed to and encouraged to read stuff that opposes or is offensive to their beliefs until they think they're ready to handle it. "

Or until they can brainwash them and close their little minds off to any other ideas.

I don't agree with it either, smt.
posted by hippo at 11:51 AM on September 27, 2001


The most successful censorship campaigns often take place in publishing houses and in universities. Many of the books on this list were banned because they were found on the shelves of a library somewhere and challenged. What about all the books that never even make it to the shelves? The books that are never published (New York Times - registration required because they are "not what the public is buying right now?" The books that aren't on the accepted curriculum? The books that were mis-taught and never understood in school?

I did wonder though, are there books that are just so hateful towards life that they could damage someone's psyche?
posted by bragadocchio at 12:08 PM on September 27, 2001


Given that we have compulsory education in this country, I don't see a problem with parents actually having a say in what their kids read. There's thousands of books EVERYONE can agree on in a given district, so why do some people insist on provoking some parents? It's not like there aren't any good aternatives for Harry Potter books, (or the other ones that made the list) for christ sakes.

I'm all against censorship, but this is silly.
posted by Witold at 12:10 PM on September 27, 2001


Yeeeaaah...I've read 21% of the list. Take that mathowie.
posted by hellinskira at 12:21 PM on September 27, 2001


Gotit, gotit, needit, needit...
posted by Perigee at 12:23 PM on September 27, 2001


It's not like there aren't any good aternatives for Harry Potter books

That isn't the problem. The problem is that parental group #1 doesn't stop at insisting their child not read "Harry Potter" -- they are determined to make that decision for all other parents as well.
posted by RavinDave at 12:25 PM on September 27, 2001


I don't see a problem with parents actually having a say in what their kids read

As a librarian, I highly encourage parents to take an active interest in what their kids are reading, and if they don't want their children to read something (or see a certain movie, or buy a certain CD, or whatever) then they have every right to do something about it, for their own children. The problem comes when someone (like this guy) thinks that nobody else--or nobody else's children--should read it. A person simply doesn't have the right to try to deny someone else's access to the information in that book, whether that person is a child or an adult. There's nothing silly about rights to free access to information. (I went into more detail with this train of thought in the other discussion mentioned above, which sort-of got lost amid the events of the 11th.)
posted by arco at 12:26 PM on September 27, 2001


Er, yeah, what RavinDave said, basically.
posted by arco at 12:28 PM on September 27, 2001


...but I think it is a little silly to say that sensorship is good for literature. It's like saying war is good for movies. It may seem that way in retrospect, and from a privileged position, but hardly for the authors and the soldiers at the time.

Or like saying oppression builds character and strength. It very well may, but I bet most would like a chance to flourish in a supportive, encouraging environment, instead of doing so despite the absence of one...
posted by katexmcfly at 12:31 PM on September 27, 2001


I'm a little hazy in my memory-but wasn't it at Brown University not too long ago that someone stole all copies of the student newspapers before they could be distributed because it contained some rightwing article? Now that is truly censorship. Did any one get all huffy about that, or what?
posted by quercus at 1:14 PM on September 27, 2001


i've got twenty four. some of them i've read in college, but i read a good chunk of them in high school or earlier.

and dude. where's waldo? "well, uh i want it banned because none of my children can find that chump, especially on that one level, where it's all waldos? and then i have to look for that godforsaken bastard who insists on hanging out in crowds. and i can't find him either. oh, and while we're at it, i want to ban those magic eye books, since you've already got the paperwork out and everything."

ps: quercus, it was brown. i was working on my college newspaper at the time, and we were appalled at the actions of the students. they sure teach em to think big there at brown, don't they? the students were responding to an ad about slavery reparations.
posted by sugarfish at 1:18 PM on September 27, 2001


quercus,
The David Horowitz Herald Advertisement in the Brown Daily Herald - from the brown ACLU
posted by smt at 1:26 PM on September 27, 2001


You didn't hear [Cervantes] whining, "poor little me, I'm being censored.

would you have spoken out against the Inquisition?

besides, were these people able to conceptualize a free press? they'd never known anything other than censorship (even worse when the Church does it, 'cause they don't just ban your work, they burn it, sometime you with it, and even if they don't, there's always excommunication).
posted by tolkhan at 2:12 PM on September 27, 2001


thanks for the tips friends-you know if i was an author i'd like to see my work the subject of an attempted banning. Like at least they care. Think of all the scandalous tomes languishing in obscurity, doomed to piss no one off for all eternity.
The one that always gets me on these lists is Huckleberry Finn-usually condemned because of the evil "n" word. Talk about missing the message.
Hmmm...can you find Huckleberry Finn in the Brown library?
posted by quercus at 2:48 PM on September 27, 2001


where's the actual heresy? those titles are like R movies, when the real heresy is apparently banned only through obscurity! (which is smart, since books on that are banned probably experience a bit of a popularity spike)

try Zecharia Sitchin for starters, or some of the biographies and readings of Edgar Cayce
posted by gkr at 3:23 PM on September 27, 2001


This is a pretty pathetic list. There's almost no mention of who or why challenged them. Just something to get angry at really. I'm sure a lot of these "challenges" go something like this: concerned_citizen mails or vocally complains at a library about about_to_challenged_book. I doubt there's an academic debate brewing somewhere over Where's Waldo.

Actually the why question is answered pretty quickly, its mostly american puritanicalism. Sex, occult, naughty words, etc.

Obviously, this list has great social benefits. It keeps people informed about attempts at censorship, but at the same time it gives the voices of ignorance a larger audience. I'm sure many people and religious groups have linked to that site for the goods on what books they shouldn't let their kids read.

Real book banning and burning is done by the FDA. Controlled largely by groups like the AMA, they have successfully destroyed (burned) quite a few books for 'public safety' and more or less destroyed the life of Wilhelm Reich. Books on cooking with an herbal sweetner recently were challenged by the FDA.
posted by skallas at 3:28 PM on September 27, 2001


having read all of judy blume's book, i can attest to the fact that it messed up head!!! (my dad threw away my 'forever' book)
posted by m2bcubed at 3:29 PM on September 27, 2001


I've heard of a couple of those books, and seen the movie version of one (American Psycho). Boy, I am so literary.
posted by wackybrit at 4:01 PM on September 27, 2001


Twenty-four...sadly, looking at the titles, I have no interest in reading most of the rest!
posted by rushmc at 4:45 PM on September 27, 2001


Somehow there's been a misprint on the #1 hotly contested book(s). Somebody should inform the webmaster tis as follows:

1)The Holy Bible (Torah)
1)Quran
2)Scary Stories
3)Daddy's Roomate
etc. . .

I'm sure merely a slight oversight.
posted by crasspastor at 4:49 PM on September 27, 2001


I'm at 26% read, I'm not sure what that says. But I really think that it would be much more useful/practical if they divided the lists into juvenile/adult and fiction/non-fiction categories. I'm sure that the objections to "Bridge Over Terabithia" are somewhat different in scope and substance than the objections to a Nancy Friday book.
posted by Dreama at 5:34 PM on September 27, 2001


But I really think that it would be much more useful/practical if they divided the lists into juvenile/adult and fiction/non-fiction categories.

I agree. And it would help my stats, cuz I never read any Judy Blume.
posted by rushmc at 5:57 PM on September 27, 2001


37% - read it and weep. (oh, and I got all 8 right on the miss america quiz, too.) yeah, working in the kid's section of the library thru high school was good for me. :)

I haven't thought about all those Judy Blume books in years. y'know, that's where I learned about puberty. which I guess is the problem, for a lot of people....
posted by epersonae at 7:55 PM on September 27, 2001


Since I work in a library, it really seems unfair for me to tell you how many of these I have read.
But I will anyway. 68.
But, after all, I am a total loser.
posted by bradth27 at 8:57 PM on September 27, 2001


Sometimes, the reasons why people ban or challenge certain books is quite ludicrous; sometimes, the reason is totally opposite from the apparant reason. Earlier in the week, I took part in a 24-hour vigil with the Boston Coalition for the Expression of Freedom, where people read banned books every 15 minutes. It was cool. I read some Maurice Sendak, some Hitler, some Dahl. Books are a blessing not a sin. So rejoice and read!
posted by ari at 9:39 PM on September 27, 2001


I just wanted to say, I love how most good editions of Ulysses include, in the preface, the Supreme Court decision making publishing the book legal in the U.S. It's gotta be cool to have the Supreme Court say, Yes, this book is High Art....
posted by mattpfeff at 9:57 PM on September 27, 2001


I find it interesting that EVERY book I have read throughout school is on this list, except "In the Heat of the Night". Maybe I should give my school a little more credit
posted by Robin at 10:33 PM on September 27, 2001


bradth27 and epersonae, I salute you!
posted by rushmc at 6:27 AM on September 28, 2001


I want to see a list of the mentioned books, with exactly what the problem is.

Here you go.
posted by turaho at 8:04 AM on September 28, 2001


Thanks for the link, turaho!
Some of these are quite amusing...

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - "Removed from a locked reference collection . . . because the librarian thought the book espoused a poor philosophy of life"

The Lorax, Dr. Seuss - "Challenged . . . because it 'criminalizes the foresting industry'"

And of course, Where's Waldo?, because it contains a small drawing of a woman lying on the beach wearing a bikini bottom but no top.

I can see why we need to get rid of smut like this! Corrupting the minds of children with poor philosophies of life and concerns about the deforesting industry! Burn it all, I say.
posted by smt at 8:39 AM on September 28, 2001


And of course, Where's Waldo?, because it contains a small drawing of a woman lying on the beach wearing a bikini bottom but no top.

Yes, nakedness=corruption, especially when it's tiny little cartoon figures.
posted by rushmc at 8:39 AM on September 29, 2001


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