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October 5, 2012 2:44 AM   Subscribe

Tomorrow is the end of Banned Books Week. It's been 30 years. The American Library Association has a list of frequently challenged books.

Hundreds of books have been either removed or challenged in schools and libraries in the United States every year. Here's the top ten. And from 2011, with multimedia resources. Banned books that shaped America. Mapping censorship. And resources, for artists, teachers, students, children, et al. There's even a Youtube channel for the Virtual Read-Out.

20 Banned Books That May Surprise You.

Authors have a lot to say about book bans:
Famous Authors Respond To Having Their Books Banned. SciFi/Fantasy Authors Sound Off About Banned Books and Censorship. Alice Walker: Writing What's Right. Lucy McKeon:Sixty Million and More: Toni Morrison's Beloved. Katherine Paterson: The Risks of Great Literature. John Barnes: Censorship, Bullying and Community - Can't Have One Without The Other.
posted by the man of twists and turns (48 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
James M. Decker: Henry Miller's Pyrrhic Victory
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:52 AM on October 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Strange. Amongst the 90 or so "banned classics", I don't see The Bible or The Koran (or the Book of Mormon for that matter) but I would be surprised to find any of these provocative books on the assigned reading list or in the library of any public school in the United States.

I guess when liberals remove their despised books from public High School reading lists and libraries it isn't called a "ban" or "censorship".
posted by three blind mice at 3:50 AM on October 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thank goodness someone is finally speaking up for the poor, oppressed worldview of monotheism!
posted by DU at 3:55 AM on October 5, 2012 [19 favorites]


tbm: I grew up (in the 1980s) on the north shore of Long Island, NY, and my public school library had bibles of every stripe and several Korans (both 'official' and in translation).
posted by dmd at 3:56 AM on October 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


My school had multiple versions of the Bible, the [translated] Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, and various other religious texts. We also read various selections and passages from the Bible and Bhagavad Gita in English class.

We did have an incident where a Christian parent protested because apparently the Song of Solomon is inappopriate reading for her child.
posted by sonic meat machine at 4:06 AM on October 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


Studied several books of THe Bible in high school AP English
posted by thelonius at 4:13 AM on October 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's a bird! It's a plane! It's -- a picture book about a cowboy taking his yearly bath? "The Dirty Cowboy" remains banned by one school district in Pennsylvania, much to the chagrin of its author, Amy Timberlake, and of at least some district parents and residents.

But surely, you say, Adam Rex's G-rated illustrations of a naked cowboy (his parts strategically obscured from view) are all in fun? And that the ban would be overturned on appeal? Surely several hundred signatures on a petition to restore the book to the school library trump or at least balance the concerns of one anonymous set of parents? School librarians' choices should be respected, right? Nope. Thank goodness local children have been saved from being exposed to the edge of obscenity! /Sam the Eagle

Kudos to the local library that immediately purchased a copy and put it on view so that local parents and kids could see the book for themselves.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:16 AM on October 5, 2012


[Let's not derail yet another thread into a religion discussion, please. I think it's been established that religious texts can be found in at least some school libraries, and we can now move on.]
posted by taz at 4:19 AM on October 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


And once again, an oppression thread is derailed by "b-b-b-ut what about REVERSE oppression?!?"

My library always has banned book week thing where they put the banned books on display (like most or all other libraries) but this year the new children's librarian went as far as putting CENSORED stickers on the titles. I found that especially effective in making me want to read them.

And yes, I'm constantly surprised by the things idiots want to ban but I still never fail to boggle at these lists. Harriet the Spy? Other books banned for "promoting disrespect to authority figures"? GOOD!
posted by DU at 4:20 AM on October 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


*puts Dirty Cowboy on request list*

Adam Rex is the best. His The True Meaning of Smekday is destined to be banned some day too.
posted by DU at 4:23 AM on October 5, 2012


*puts "The True Meaning of Smekday" on request list.*

Rex is awesome. So sorry to see him get caught up in this ban.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:26 AM on October 5, 2012


My favorite high school-banned book was Seize the Time by Bobby Seale; it was never clear whether they'd just put it on the shelf in the '70s and left it there twenty-odd years or whether they were concerned that a bunch of white Minnesota kids would learn of the origins of the Black Panther Party and be moved to take up arms against oppression, or what.

Worth a read, incidentally.
posted by mr. digits at 4:40 AM on October 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


There must be some odd definition of "banned" if, say, Toni Morrison's Beloved, is considered a "banned" book. I haven't looked at all these lists, but I assume 50 Shades of Gray is there somewhere too. You know, "banned."
posted by Yakuman at 5:34 AM on October 5, 2012


Well, 50 Shades will probably come out in next year's listing; I think it was published too recently for the 2011 statistics, but I could be wrong. The Hunger Games is on the list. On the plus side, so is:

Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
Reasons: insensitivity; nudity; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit

I mean, you'd think after decades all the folks that were into banning it would have calmed down or run out of libraries, but apparently dystopia is not just not okay. Wait, what's that, 2010?

Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich
Reasons: drugs, inaccurate, offensive language, political viewpoint, and religious viewpoint

Because children should definitely not learn about the existence of drugs and politics. Heaven forfend.
posted by jetlagaddict at 5:49 AM on October 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


The reasons for banning book are, IMO, the most fascinating part of this. I'd have guessed that The Hunger Games was going to have a lot of challenges, but not that some of them were because it was "occult/satanic." Was my copy missing a scene where the tributes raised an altar to the Dark Lord and sacrificed a goat on it?

And what precisely does "insensitive" mean? That the characters aren't sensitive, that the book isn't sensitive, or some other variant?
posted by lesbiassparrow at 5:50 AM on October 5, 2012


From the About page of BannedBooksWeek.com, the first link in this post: Hundreds of libraries and bookstores around the country draw attention to the problem of censorship by mounting displays of challenged books and hosting a variety of events.

Also from that page, a list of the most challenged books of the year:

ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
Reasons: offensive language; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group


You can see some neat stuff at the ALA link, including stats of challenges by year, by issue, etc. Challenges by "religious viewpoint" are about half the size of the "Other" category, itself the 4th largest after sex, violence and "unsuited to age group" (which is probably also mostly sex and violence).
posted by DU at 5:52 AM on October 5, 2012


Oh right and if "religious viewpoint" means that the book is actually about Satan (like Harry Potter obviously is) then you can see that very, very few books (if any) are being challenged, let alone removed, from libraries because they are too Christian.
posted by DU at 5:56 AM on October 5, 2012


Far more books are challenged than are banned. I like to think that's a good thing.
posted by box at 6:05 AM on October 5, 2012


Awesome:

Ray Bradbury on the frequent attempts to censor or ban his books:

“… it is a mad world and it will get madder if we allow the minorities, be they dwarf or giant, orangutan or dolphin, nuclear-head or water-conversationalist, pro-computerologist or Neo-Luddite, simpleton or sage, to interfere with aesthetics. The real world is the playing ground for each and every group, to make or unmake laws. But the tip of the nose of my book or stories or poems is where their rights and my territorial imperatives begin, run and rule. If Mormons do not like my plays, let them write their own. If the Irish hate my Dublin stories, let them rent typewriters. If teachers and grammar school editors find my jawbreaker sentences shatter their mushmild teeth, let them eat stale cake dunked in weak tea of their own ungodly manufacture. If the Chicano intellectuals wish to re-cut my ‘Wonderful Ice Cream Suit’ so it shapes ‘Zoot,’ may the belt unravel and the pants fall.”

posted by Huck500 at 6:10 AM on October 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


I wish we could read a few paragraphs written by the people who'd challenged each book, because the tags listed for the books I've read are just baffling to me.

The Hunger Games (in which a hispanic hero with a white love interest meets a very sweet little black girl, all while fighting to get back home and look after her family) is "anti-ethnic" and "anti-family". It's also "satanic/occult", which is odd because I can't remember any references to religion at all, especially not anything as juicy as magic or demons.

"To Kill a Mockingbird" is "racist" which... OK, there's a lot of racism going on, but the message "racism is bad, mmkay?" is pretty central to the story. Likewise "Brave New World", which has a load of uncomfortable ideas set in the context of an entire book that screams at you, "Actually, this isn't a great way to live!"

I can only think that there's some combination of (a) the complainants haven't actually read the books; and (b) they're scared that simple exposure to a different idea, even if the context makes it obvious that the idea is bad is dangerous and will lead to Wrong Thinking.

It actually reminds me of a girl in my high school, raised as a devout Baptist, who came in one day brandishing a newsletter from her church and telling us that we mustn't read Harry Potter or His Dark Materials*, because they glorified witchcraft and would inevitably turn us away from God. She refused to look at them herself because she trusted her Pastor but, brilliantly, disagreed about the dangers of Sabrina The Teenage Witch because she'd already seen it and quite liked it. I'm sure there's a moral in there, somewhere.

There was also the priest who came into our school around that time and, during his address, told us that anyone being prevented from reading books for religious reasons should come to him so he could show them where to find all the really fun bits in the Bible - the magic, the sex and the violence. I don't know whether he got taken up on it, but I hope so.

*Fantasy, very-slightly-steampunk-before-steampunk-was-cool young adult fiction. Set in a world very different from ours, in which the Church (not obviously Christian, but also not obviously not-Christian) is sinister at best and outright malevolent at worst. Sooo much better than Harry Potter; if your kids liked HP, buy them this next. And read it yourself, too.
posted by metaBugs at 6:21 AM on October 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


There must be some odd definition of "banned" if, say, Toni Morrison's Beloved, is considered a "banned" book.

"Banned" in this context means that someone asked for it to be removed from a library, or out of the children's section of a library, or possibly off a curriculum.

Say I walk into my local public library and demand that they remove Olsen's Standard Book of British Birds because it has the gannet, and I don't like gannets. They wet their nests. The librarian then simply says "No." Olsen's Standard Book of British Books has been banned.

Far more books are challenged than are banned.

Not in this context. All books that anyone challenges are "banned," irrespective of whether any action to remove or limit access to the book was taken.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:43 AM on October 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


A great example of challenged books insanity is Garth Williams' The Rabbits' Wedding.

Look at this picture of the cover and see if you can figure out why it was banned before reading further.

Such miscegenation, stated an editor in Orlando, was 'brainwashing . . . as soon as you pick up the book and open its pages you realize these rabbits are integrated.'

The author had this to say: "...it is only about a soft furry love and has no hidden message of hate."
posted by marxchivist at 6:43 AM on October 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
Reasons: insensitivity; nudity; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit


When did Brave New World become a picture book?
posted by shakespeherian at 6:44 AM on October 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Moby-Dick; or The Whale, Herman Melville,1851

In a real head-scratcher of a case, a Texas school district banned the book from its Advanced English class lists because it “conflicted with their community values” in 1996.

posted by ovvl at 6:50 AM on October 5, 2012


Moby-Dick; or The Whale, Herman Melville,1851

In a real head-scratcher of a case, a Texas school district banned the book from its Advanced English class lists because it “conflicted with their community values” in 1996.


Well there is that one scene where they steal that ambergris from that (French?) boat. Not very nice of them.
posted by DynamiteToast at 6:56 AM on October 5, 2012


Also, it never stops being stunning that people want to ban To Kill A Mockingbird because of racism.
posted by DynamiteToast at 6:56 AM on October 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I found that especially effective in making me want to read them.

The system works!

But yes this is a holiday that has a bit of a PR problem because of the challenge vs banning issue. That said, I'm someone in the library world who has been "celebrating" this or whatever you want to call it for 15 years now and there are a few things that stand out to me

- Many people in all parts of the US (I know less about the world stage here) think it's okay to ask for removal of books from public institutions for reasons that clearly revolve around personal moral differences (as opposed to, for example "clear and present danger" stuff, which could be argued to be the same thing)
- I made a statement a few years ago about the Banned vs Challenged thing and that statement makes the rounds in the mouths of people I would consider to be right wind censors to basically say that book challenging/banning/censoring is not a problem.
- The most chilling thing about watching this list evolve over time is watching all the books about Hispanic topics getting removed from school libraries in Arizona over the past few years

The larger problem, from my perspective, is places where the books don't even make the shelves because the community values skew so far in one direction that the idea of having a book about sex toys, or gay teenagers, or Asian history, seems anathema. There are many stories you hear when you talk to enough librarians, about this sort of professional self-censoring and it's a lot more problematic. Self-link alert: I made a video about Banned Books Week for Vermont at the last minute because it seemed like no one else was going to do it. It's part of ALA's 50 State Salute, so you can click through and see what your state did.
posted by jessamyn at 6:59 AM on October 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


And once again, an oppression thread is derailed by "b-b-b-ut what about REVERSE oppression?!?"
I would say that it's okay for Christian children to be able to read Muslim texts and vice versa.

You have to be really careful. The supposedly "liberal" areas of the internet (not here, specifically, but environs nevertheless), who have taken (explicitly, sometimes) "anti"-free expression stances— they strike me as people who have had their principals used against each other, with the overall effect being that their position has been structurally undermined and allowed to decay toward a less "liberal", more authoritarian one.

Not that it's really related to the first sentence: Once you know you're right, it's really easy to want all those people who are just so obviously wrong to shut the fuck up with their wrongness, and really, aren't they kind of inciting other people to be wrong, by spreading around all the wrong things they have to say?
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 7:00 AM on October 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


When did Brave New World become a picture book?

Well, you can't go on having kids imagining things! That's just crazy talk. If they start imagining nudity, who knows what will happen next!
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:17 AM on October 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've been listing the top ten most challenged books along with links to amazon on my blog for the last five years or so. I also have a list (with amazon links) to the top 100 most banned books of the decade there too.
posted by hubs at 7:51 AM on October 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Disclaimer: I'm a librarian and I do not have children.

I've seen some really horrible books in my time in libraries. Books that contain just straight up hurtful information (you're fat because you don't pray hard enough, the holocaust didn't happen, and so forth). I've seen books that are for kids that are poorly written, trite, and downright depressing. I've cataloged books for adults and children that are barely literate and riddled with misspellings and bad grammar.

Only once or twice I have ever considered just sending the book back to the seller with a note that said, "No thank you. This is horrible." The book that told people that they could cure their cancer with prayer, almost got sent back. Mainly because the author had spelled cancer "canser" in a couple of places.

But even with all of that, I can't fathom the idea of ever banning a book. I firmly believe in your right to read whatever crap you so desire and I also believe that it is my job as a librarian to make sure we also have good stuff to hopefully counteract the horrible wretchedness that is contained in some books. Books are good. Even if they content is horseshit, the recording of that horseshit so someone can check it out and see the stupid is necessary. All ideas should be held up to the light so that the darkness can be burnt away.
posted by teleri025 at 8:15 AM on October 5, 2012 [9 favorites]


I'd just like to thank all of the people who've tried to ban books. So often they were exactly right about the kind of book that'd absorb me and change my life.

I guess it all started that day in high school when one of the girls I'd known since kindergarten - she had been smart - said that I was a communist because I was reading 1984. That was just too cool. (I just finished Doctorow's Little Brother.)
posted by Twang at 8:24 AM on October 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Letters of Note has a relevant item today: 'Book banners are invariably idiots,', Pat Conroy's response to learning two books he'd written were banned by a school board.

LoN also has several previous letters from authors whose books had been banned:

Samuel Clemens:
I am greatly troubled by what you say. I wrote Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn for adults exclusively, and it always distresses me when I find that boys and girls have been allowed access to them. The mind that becomes soiled in youth can never again be washed clean; I know this by my own experience, and to this day I cherish an unappeasable bitterness against the unfaithful guardians of my young life, who not only permitted but compelled me to read an unexpurgated Bible through before I was 15 years old.
Harper Lee:
To hear that the novel is "immoral" has made me count the years between now and 1984, for I have yet to come across a better example of doublethink.

I feel, however, that the problem is one of illiteracy, not Marxism. Therefore I enclose a small contribution to the Beadle Bumble Fund that I hope will be used to enroll the Hanover County School Board in any first grade of its choice.
Ursula Nordstrom, defending In The Night Kitchen :
I think young children will always react with delight to such a book as In the Night Kitchen, and that they will react creatively and wholesomely. It is only adults who ever feel threatened by Sendak's work.
Charles Bukowski:
I am not saying that my book is one of those, but I am saying that in our time, at this moment when any moment may be the last for many of us, it's damned galling and impossibly sad that we still have among us the small, bitter people, the witch-hunters and the declaimers against reality.
John Irving:
it is especially offensive to me when an uptight adult suggests that my stories are "inappropriate" for young readers. I imagine, when I write, that I am writing for young readers—not for uptight adults.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:14 AM on October 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


My favorite "banned" book:

"Howl" contains many references to illicit drugs and sexual practices, both heterosexual and homosexual. On the basis of one line in particular

"who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy"

Customs officials seized 520 copies of the poem on March 25, 1957, being imported from the printer in London.

On June 3 Shig Murao, the bookstore manager, was arrested and jailed for selling Howl and Other Poems to an undercover San Francisco police officer. City Lights Publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti was subsequently booked for publishing the book. At the obscenity trial, nine literary experts testified on the poem's behalf. Supported by the American Civil Liberties Union, Ferlinghetti won the case when California State Superior Court Judge Clayton Horn decided that the poem was of "redeeming social importance"

posted by bukvich at 10:09 AM on October 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Brave New World" needs to get some sort of Lifetime Banning Award.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:24 AM on October 5, 2012


Not in this context. All books that anyone challenges are "banned," irrespective of whether any action to remove or limit access to the book was taken.

???

I can't figure out which context you're talking about here.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:26 AM on October 5, 2012


Heh.

He quotes Phil Kerby, a former editor of the Los Angeles Times, as saying, “Censorship is the strongest drive in human nature; sex is a weak second.”
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:30 AM on October 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Brave New World" needs to get some sort of Lifetime Banning Award.

I remember very vividly reading Brave New World at school when I was fifteen. It was really shocking to me. It was just so different than the pretty standard Hamlet/Great Expectations/Tom Sawyer type of literature I was used to reading in school. If my family hadn't already owned every Huxley book in existence, I could easily see parents overreacting quickly. But instead, I loved that book, and it introduced me to dystopian fiction, and taught me that literary classics could break all kinds of taboos and be edgy and full of drugs and sex and science-fiction. I wondered why teachers who wanted us to read were keeping this a big secret and always making us read good but comparatively sanitized classics instead.

And then I read Fahrenheit 451 and realized that all the cool classics are subtlety but effectively censored and that's why I hadn't known.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 12:02 PM on October 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


And then I read Fahrenheit 451 and realized that all the cool classics are subtlety but effectively censored and that's why I hadn't known.

It is disappointing. High school literature could actually be a pleasure rather than a chore if they left the sex and drugs in. I had to wait until Senior year to make my argument that Brave New World was a utopian novel.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:23 PM on October 5, 2012


From the 2000-2009 list:

98. I Saw Esau, by Iona Opte

It's actually a book of traditional playground rhymes compiled by Iona and Peter Opie. I worked on a version illustrated by Maurice Sendak about twenty years ago, which I suppose must be the edition they're complaining about. It's... well, nursery rhymes, or games that children tell or used to tell in the playground. What the hell?
posted by Grangousier at 12:36 PM on October 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hansel and Gretel contains implied cannibalism and the outright murder of an old lady. What're you gonna do?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:49 PM on October 5, 2012


8. I Saw Esau, by Iona Opte

It's actually a book of traditional playground rhymes compiled by Iona and Peter Opie. I worked on a version illustrated by Maurice Sendak about twenty years ago, which I suppose must be the edition they're complaining about. It's... well, nursery rhymes, or games that children tell or used to tell in the playground. What the hell?


Oh, that's a delightful book! I have it in front of me...let's see...naked butt...Grace 37: "Bless the meat/Damn the skin/Open your mouth/And cram it in"... threats of punching...naked little man...a whole section devoted to insults, another to malicious guile, a third to contempt...

I can see where Extremely Delicate Sensibilities might be offended by a description of this work. But the thing is that the book is a peculiar delight--great illustrations, old-fashioned rhymes, and a treasure trove of childhood memories. Thanks for helping bring it to fruition, Grangousier!

"The rain it raineth all around
Upon the just and unjust fella;.
But chiefly on the just because
The unjust stole the just's umbrella."
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:04 PM on October 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Most of all, Mr. Bradbury knew how the future would feel: louder, faster, stupider, meaner, increasingly inane and violent. Collective cultural amnesia, anhedonia, isolation.

Fahrenheit 451 does not appear on the top 100 list for 1990-1999, but does weigh in at #69* for 2000-2009.

*Bridge to Terabithia is #28!!??
I will never understand humans.
posted by space_cookie at 2:12 PM on October 5, 2012


naked little man

I get the feeling that after people got all hoppitamoppita about We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy, they went through Sendak's other stuff and found a wiener in In the Night Kitchen and a few little things in I Saw Esau (which, incidentally, I have and LOVE, good on you Grangousier). Not that Sendak wasn't possibly intentionally subversive but I get the feeling he would have had some delight at people getting the vapors over little stuff like this.
posted by jessamyn at 2:14 PM on October 5, 2012


found a wiener in In the Night Kitchen

but of course!
posted by taz at 2:40 AM on October 6, 2012


> I remember very vividly reading Brave New World at school when I was fifteen

Have you re-read it recently? I did, and it's terrible. (Which is not to say it should be kept off library shelves, of course -- I'm digressing here.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:37 PM on October 6, 2012


Sherman Alexie: The Value of Subverting Authority. The acclaimed author speaks about what motivates his censors, self-censorship, and the value of stories.
posted by homunculus at 1:15 PM on October 7, 2012


I'm surprised (and saddened) to see Phyllis Reynolds Naylor and Lois Lowry on that list, among others. For the Alice series? And Anastasia Krupnik? That's just weird; those books taught me rather more about girl stuff, mom stuff and nerd girl stuff than anything else.
posted by undue influence at 4:26 AM on October 8, 2012


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