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September 30, 2002
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The following is a [partial] list of the most frequently challenged books of 2001...
1. Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
2. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
3. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier (the "Most Challenged" fiction book of 1998)
4. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
5. Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene
6. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
(Last week was Banned Books Week. Sorry this is late. Did you remember to hug your favorite banned book? Does anyone really think children need to be "protected" from these books?)
posted by Shane (52 comments total)

 
I think the people who ban those books year after year are a littled "challenged" themselves.
posted by dhoyt at 10:33 AM on September 30, 2002


I think they should ban this filth. It gave me strange ideas when I was a wee tot.
posted by dydecker at 10:34 AM on September 30, 2002


Does anyone really think children need to be "protected" from these books?

Children are sufficiently protected by our education system, which fails to encourage (or in some cases, teach) them to read.
posted by rushmc at 10:34 AM on September 30, 2002


Yes, banning books is bad.
posted by Witty at 10:45 AM on September 30, 2002


Children should only be protected from some books; books that spread hate and endorse narrow-mindedness.
posted by tr33hggr at 10:47 AM on September 30, 2002


Right on, tr33hggr.
posted by interrobang at 10:51 AM on September 30, 2002


tr33hggr,

where did you get mr. Cheney's Amazon wishlist?
posted by matteo at 10:56 AM on September 30, 2002


I just don't get Middle America (and I say this because that's where most of the "ban books" groups exist). I really don't. WHY is Of Mice and Men banned? What could possibly be subversive about Steinbeck?

I never understood the hullaballo about Slaughterhouse Five either. I read "Go ask Alice" in 7th grade and it made a huge impact on me. About drugs and sex and one teenagers' slide into a horrible existence. Books shouldn't all be about happiness because life isn't happy all the time.
posted by aacheson at 10:56 AM on September 30, 2002


matteo,

*hee hee* - Chomsky leaked it (only 85 shopping days left 'til Xmas!)
posted by tr33hggr at 10:58 AM on September 30, 2002


Does anyone really think children need to be "protected" from these books?

Only if they fall from a great height.
posted by yerfatma at 11:00 AM on September 30, 2002


The books or the children?
posted by matteo at 11:06 AM on September 30, 2002


tr33huggr

I assume that you and interrobang are trolling.

The whole point of the book banning fight is not that we're banning the wrong books, but that everyone should be able to read whatever they like, and MAKE THEIR OWN DECISIONS about said materials.
posted by Irontom at 11:13 AM on September 30, 2002


If I were a kid I would run right out and get these books as fast as I could. Are parents this dumb? You want a kid to stay away from something, tell them how "hip and cool" you think it is. You want them to desire it more, you ban it. I guarantee that the Christians are behind this.
posted by internook at 11:14 AM on September 30, 2002


Irontom -

Perhaps trolling a little; I quite agree with you, in fact. What riles me is the obviously selective and subjective decisions made regarding which books should be banned. So, yeah, I was making a point in a rather round-about, tongue-in-cheek way.
posted by tr33hggr at 11:17 AM on September 30, 2002


WHY is Of Mice and Men banned?

There's some sexually suggestive material (the foreman wears a glove lined with Vaseline, to keep his hand soft "for his wife") that could be considered age-inappropriate.
posted by hilker at 11:21 AM on September 30, 2002


Hilker - I realize your not speaking for "them" (the book banners), but just for conversation, I'm sure there is more suggestive material in a typical Everybody Loves Raymond episode . . .
posted by tr33hggr at 11:25 AM on September 30, 2002


Just what is so subversive about "The Chocolate War"? So what if there were a couple of fight scenes and the protagonist gets beaten a few times. Best damn book I read that year.
posted by dr_dank at 11:30 AM on September 30, 2002


Yeah, but teachers don't teach Everybody Loves Raymond in school. Not that I'm sticking up for book banning, I'm just saying that's why they're getting their panties in a twist over Steinbeck instead of Romano.
posted by dreadmuffin at 11:33 AM on September 30, 2002


tr33hggr, not that I don't hate most of the books you mentioned. But the selective banning of any book in an education system is wrong. Books in and of themselves are first and foremost information. What we do with them and what we decide to believe is up to us. No regulation should come in the way.
posted by madmanz123 at 11:38 AM on September 30, 2002


Our public library held a banned book reading this past Wednesday. I got to read from "How to Eat Fried Worms" for fifteen minutes (challenged due to the word "bastard" and for subversive themes) and performed in a scene from Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" (publicly burned for "promoting a homosexual lifestyle"). Local dignitaries, including R.E.M.'s Mike Mills, read non-stop all day long.
posted by ewagoner at 11:38 AM on September 30, 2002


Right, tr33ger, censorship on the left is inherently more moral than censorship on the right.

As for "subversion" and "protection" issues, the details tend to be much more prosaic. I don't know that any books are really banned for strictly political reasons, though somebody may bring them up from time to time. Mainly the "bans" seem to apply to books assigned to students or available in school libraries, and concern issues of age-appropriateness -- like the frank discussion of sexuality in Judy Blume books. Other bans are for saving the sensibilities of minority groups, e.g. the use of "nigger" in Huck Finn, as unracist a book that could be written in its day. The reason Of Mice and Men is banned seems to be primarily its earthy language. School boards, principals, and deans tend to like objective reasons, because the whole object of a ban is that they're getting, or trying to avoid getting, shit from parents and the community or the alumni. A vague ban doesn't stop the shit, it just changes who's sending it your way.

Here's a list (get a load of the school) indicating the reasons individual books were banned; for instance, The Chocolate War wasn't banned for being subversive, but for "sexual innuendoes, profanity and violence", according to their sources.

Now, if Cheney had made statements about banning books, or the list of banned books had been referenced somehow to campaigns of Limbaugh, O'Reilly, and others, I could see dragging them into the discussion. As it is, it's childish trolling; none of them has said a thing on the topic and certainly the bans we're talking about involve ordinary people at the school board level and not fire-and-brimstone national campaigns ginned up by right-wing commentators (unless you count Phyllis Schlafly's column -- I think she still has a fond word or two for censorship). Knee-jerk attributions of censorship to right-wing bluenoses just doesn't match up with my world experience. The angriest censor I know is a self-described "feminist" who took her boy out of the public schools because they were "teaching him to be the thing between his legs". Most bans, excepting causes of the moment like Madonna's Sex, seem to arise from individual parents who take a close look at what their child brings home from school.

Still, Steinbeck was subversive, aacheson -- don't sell his point of view short. From the very beginning his writing was controversial; Grapes of Wrath is almost explicitly socialist. Ignoring that seems to be an odd position to take.
posted by dhartung at 11:44 AM on September 30, 2002


madman, dhartung - I think you missed my point (I tried to clarify it above, in response to Irontom). I "drug in" those books simply to make a quiet point - that censorship, when it happens, seems to come from certain sectors of society (and not always right-wing Christians - note the Christian Bible is banned).

Ultimately I am against banning any book, for any reason, as books in and of themselves can lead to discussions and dialog far beyond any claim the book makes, or position (political, ideological, what have you) a book may take. Again, what disconcerts me is that the inflammatory stuff is never on these lists (where, for example, are The Turner Diaries on the list of banned books?).
posted by tr33hggr at 11:59 AM on September 30, 2002


Ban books? Depends on the book and where it is located. I certainly wouldn't want to see a compilation of Penthouse Letters available for children to see and read.

Ultimately, I feel it is up to parents to monitor what their children are reading and regulate it. I don't want some arbitrary group usurping my parental rights.
posted by Plunge at 12:13 PM on September 30, 2002


dhartung: Knee-jerk attributions of censorship to right-wing bluenoses just doesn't match up with my world experience.

You can't deny that most bans and the reasons for such are right-wing/religious. In theory, those with the most to lose by an influx of information (extremists of any stripe) are the ones who try to control it. In practice here in the US its usually the extreme right and religious groups. They have certainly earned their criticism and the contempt of millions.
posted by skallas at 12:15 PM on September 30, 2002


I agree with you, Plunge. Parents should know what their children are reading or watching.

And Internook, not all Christians are close-minded and restrictive. I was raised in a very conservative Christian home, but my mom monitored what I read and encouraged me to read many of the books on that banned list (Steinbeck, Judy Blume, Catcher in the Rye, Twain, etc). Stephen King she dismissed as "common". Once I grew up, I read some of his books, and I must say I agree with her. She always emphasized that although she didn't agree with everything in those books, it was important I form my own opinions and beliefs. So I like the phrase "The extreme right is behind this." instead.
posted by littlegirlblue at 12:39 PM on September 30, 2002


I feel it is up to parents to monitor what their children are reading and regulate it.

That's fine, as long as the parent knows what s/he's regulating. In my teaching experience, some parents would request their child didn't read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, but weren't exactly sure what it was about the book they found offensive.
posted by Schizogram at 12:39 PM on September 30, 2002


I really don't agree that most bans or challenges are sponsored by the right; I think it more likely that we are all usually more aware of the "outrages" perpetrated by those who are politcally different.

"...(extremists of any stripe)..." is the real truth, and they exist in equally depressing numbers on both sides of the spectrum. Huckleberry Finn is constantly being attacked, and not by the religious right. A more recent example is the ruckus over the new film "Barbershop".

It seems a part of human nature to try to stifle that which offends us... and the tragedy of it is that we are often succesful at doing so.
posted by John Smallberries at 12:54 PM on September 30, 2002


I assume that you and interrobang are trolling.

Whoa, I was gone for awhile and didn't see all this happening. I was just agreeing that the books linked were narrow-minded and hate-inspiring. I don't think that any books should be censored. I didn't think that tr33hggr was suggesting that they should be banned, either.
posted by interrobang at 12:57 PM on September 30, 2002


I vote for banning all books by Ayn Rand. I was subjected to the Fountainhead in my 10th grade English class and still shudder at the memory. I'm pretty sure that it left permenant psychological scars on my young impressionable mind.
posted by boltman at 1:40 PM on September 30, 2002


Still, Steinbeck was subversive, aacheson -- don't sell his point of view short. From the very beginning his writing was controversial; Grapes of Wrath is almost explicitly socialist. Ignoring that seems to be an odd position to take.

Mother of Jabbering God, I think I may have finally heard everything. Steinbeck = socialism = subversive.

If a ban won't work, try labels, eh?

And good thing Steinbeck's dead and buried....no doubt he'd be labeled worse than "subversive" (probably "troll" or "inflammatory" or "traitor") in Bush's United $tate.

(Or maybe I just missed the subtle timewarp that left us all back in 1930s California. It could have happened....)

But one really must learn to remain calm in these troubled times. To get through reading the post above, I first knocked back a double beta-blocker. When my heartbeat returned to normal, I reminded myself soothingly (for the millionth time) that to some here, advocating food for hungry people and condemning brutality are extraordinarily subversive, quite over the line, and so scary that labels and/or bans are understandable.

It would almost seem that having built the repressive attitude toward the labor they need to survive, the directors were terrified of the things they have created. This fear dictates an increase of the repressive method, a greater number of guards and a constant suggestion that the ranch is armed to fight.

Here in the squatters' camps, the dignity of the men is attacked. No trust is accorded them. They are surrounded as though it were suspected that they would break into revolt at any moment. It would seem that a surer method of forcing them to revolt could not be devised. This repressive method results inevitably in flares of disorganized revolt which must be put down by force and by increased intimidation.

The large growers' groups have found the law inadequate to their uses; and they have become so powerful that such charges as felonious assault, mayhem and inciting to riot, kidnaping and flogging cannot be brought against them in the controlled courts.

The attitude of the large growers' associations toward labor is best stated by Mr. Hugh T. Osburne, a member of the Board of Supervisors of Imperial County and active in the Imperial Valley Associated Famers group. Before the judiciary committee of the California Assembly he said: "In Imperial Valley we don't need this criminal syndicalism law. They have got to have it for the rest of the counties that don't know how to handle these matters. We don't need it because we have worked out our own way of handling these things. We won't have another of these trials. We have a better way of doing it. Trials cost too much."

"The better way" as accepted by the large growers of the Imperial Valley includes a system of terrorism that would be unusal in the Fascist nations of the world. The stupid policy of the large growers and the absentee speculative farmer in California has accomplished nothing but unrest, tension, and hatred. A continuation of this approach constitutes a criminal endangering of the peace of the state.

The Harvest Gypsies -- John Steinbeck
Published in The San Francisco News, Oct 5 - 12, 1936.


Fuckin' subversive socialist troll.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 1:41 PM on September 30, 2002


dhartung

I understand your desire to defend Our Dear Leader, but, really, relax a little: a user put in his/her comment a list of right-wing books (Limbaugh, Coulter), I mentioned -- as a joke --that it looked like Cheney's reading list. Because you know, given his politics (especially when he was a Wyoming congressman) I think he's a Limbaugh/Coulter fan if not a reader. Did I say Cheney wants to burn our books? Did I?
Why did you accsue me of "childish trolling" then?
A strange accusation, especially from a guy who basically calls Steinbeck a bombthrower
posted by matteo at 2:03 PM on September 30, 2002


Boltman:I vote for banning all books by Ayn Rand. I was subjected to the Fountainhead in my 10th grade English class and still shudder at the memory.

Holy mother o' God: you were being taught Ayn Rand? Where did you go to school? Was it John Gault High or something?
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 2:12 PM on September 30, 2002


I think this is less about censorship and banning than about a public debate over what is appropriate as required reading material for our children collectively. After all, if Catcher in the Rye is taken off the curriculum the kids can still get it from the library and read it on their own, or their parents can give it to them. I do think it is important that material presented in public schools is chosen with consideration to various sensibilities.

That said, the public debate should be conducted along certain guidelines. I would like to see parents take a more thoughtful approach to this. I would like to see them read the book and examine their objections carefully before voicing them. I would like them to consider the value of discussing the "problematic" books with their children before forbidding the material to them - much less seeking to deny all students in their child's school the experience of guided study of the book. Schools might foster such thoughtful critiques by sending home background information on the books in question or hosting a forum night for discussion of the book (which could include presentation of material from the book through movie clips or readings), instead of caving in to the demand of a small group of parents.

Personally, I can't think of any book I would deny to a child. If I had a kid, I would encourage him or her to read Rush Limbaugh - after all, if we'd informed ourselves thoroughly on Rushie's point of view we could ridicule him so much more effectively.
posted by orange swan at 2:17 PM on September 30, 2002


Just my 2ยข...

I agree that banning books is generally a bad thing. The very basis of our society all comes down to our right to choose. And if we choose to read a "bad" book, then as long as the reading of said book doesn't infringe one someone else's rights, then we should be able to read it.

I think a lot of banned book hooplah comes from various school libraries. And in some cases -- not all, but some -- I can agree with the so-called "banners." There is no need nor purpose to have some books in certain school libraries due to appropriateness. A 3rd Grader has no need to read a collection of letters from Penthouse. Nor is it appropriate to include books on how to kill, maim, and otherwise hurt people.

It is a very thin red line on which to tread.

**in preview... I ditto much of orange swan. Parents have as much of an obligation to guide their kids through the banned book list as kids have a right and obligation to decide on their own.**
posted by mychai at 2:34 PM on September 30, 2002


I had read 5 of these books (well, 6 if you count the first 2 of the Harry Potter's) on my own before I even started high school. I'm a junior this year, and 4 of these books have been required reading for my class so far, (either for summer reading or classroom reading). I read Of Mice and Men freshman year and my class even had a discussion on the foreman's glove. Sophmore year we read Huck Finn and Catcher in the Rye. My point is (other than my mind has been permanetly warped by these "bad" books) is that obviously someone is seriously underestimating the maturity of young people.

And Harry Potter and all his wizard friends went straight to hell for practicing witchcraft!--Ned Flanders
posted by krazykity16 at 2:44 PM on September 30, 2002


PinkStainlessTail: just a typical suburban high school in southern Connecticut. it still baffles me why they put it into the curriculum. I have to honestly say that I wouldn't be too thrilled if a school had my kid reading Rand--unless it was to debunk her repugnant and ultimately sophomoric ideas. I put her on about the same intellectual (and moral) plane as L. Ron Hubbard.
posted by boltman at 2:57 PM on September 30, 2002


A parent at our school challenged one of our books this year - the book Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis. I'm still not precisely sure what she was objecting to - there is a fistfight at the beginning, and the main character starts out by saying he's proud of being such a good liar, but the whole point of the story is that the main character has lived in a rough world and is searching for a home.

We explained to the parent that she was free to decide that her child should not read the book, although it would be her responsibility to suggest an alternative assignment that her daughter could do in the library during the whole-class discussion times. But we also told her that she did not have the right to decide that nobody could read the book. It's a book we decided to make a part of our curriculum; in our view, parents are allowed to opt out but not allowed to change the curriculum to fit their personal sensibilities.
posted by Chanther at 3:02 PM on September 30, 2002


I have to honestly say that I wouldn't be too thrilled if a school had my kid reading Rand--unless it was to debunk her repugnant and ultimately sophomoric ideas. I put her on about the same intellectual (and moral) plane as L. Ron Hubbard.

The example I always like to use is Gladkov, or any other Soviet purveyor of "Socialist Realism". Same style and technique, different ideological ends. Just as bloody awful to read as well (except when it's unintentionally hilarious).

</hijack>
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 3:06 PM on September 30, 2002


In the 1920's and 30's, Hitler's "Mein Kampf" sold millions and millions of copies and, supposedly, lead a lot of people on to nazism. As an indirect result of this, the book is now banned in Germany. In the US it's not. Should it be?

I'm not sure if this is quite on-topic, but it's making it hard for me to choose between some-banning or non-banning;

On one hand, if some books should be banned, who should decide which to ban? On the other hand, should it be possible children to read things such as "Mein Kampf"? I'm not sure.
posted by Hjorth at 3:18 PM on September 30, 2002


Let's also not forget that public schools (and public libraries) are paid for by, well, the public, and if the public as a whole largely agrees that certain books are inappropriate for their school libraries (or even their public libraries), they have the perfect right to refrain from spending their money on these books. This is best handled on a local level, of course, so as to accurately reflect actual community standards in each area served by a given library. (Declining to purchase a book, or selling it off or giving it away or even discarding it if it has already been purchased, is not censorship per se.)
posted by kindall at 3:48 PM on September 30, 2002


A strange accusation, especially from a guy who basically calls Steinbeck a bombthrower

matteo, I did not call him a bombthrower, not even "basically". (It was the anarchists who were into bombing, anyway.) I said that one of his works was almost explicitly socialist, which at least when I was in college, was a wholly unremarkable thing to say.

And how different the word "subversive" is when you think the person saying it is a right-wing ideologue. Interesting.
posted by dhartung at 3:50 PM on September 30, 2002


...and if the public as a whole largely agrees that certain books are inappropriate... they have the perfect right to refrain...

Can't argue with your logic, except that it is the same logic that makes McDonald's fine dining (and potentially points out a failing of democracy. What happens when a majority of the U.S. believes [or is swayed into thinking they believe] the human rights guaranteed by the Constitution aren't necessary?)
posted by Shane at 3:55 PM on September 30, 2002


What happens when a majority of the U.S. believes [or is swayed into thinking they believe] the human rights guaranteed by the Constitution aren't necessary?)

That's why the Constitution is so extremely difficult to amend.
posted by kindall at 4:22 PM on September 30, 2002


aacheson, you say that most of the banned books groups exist in "Middle America." Can you back that up? What's considered "Middle America," the traditional Midwest, or just non-coastal cities? I was under the impression it was the South that did most of this, though I'm betting it's more evenly spread out than you think.
posted by GaelFC at 5:03 PM on September 30, 2002


GaelFC, please don't be deluded that there aren't as many organized wack jobs in, say, Indiana, as there are in the deepest South. They had the Klan in the Midwest and everything!
posted by crunchburger at 5:15 PM on September 30, 2002


offtopic, I guess...Steinbeck's East of Eden had, come to think of it, had a flagellation scene, the victim of which eventually opened a brothel where she sold not only straight and gay sex but other dark perversions (cross-dressing and humiliation were darkly alluded to) to some of the county's leading citizens.

So, in addition to being a commie, Steinbeck was a total perv!

That said, I read Of Mice and Men in 8th grade, and we were all like wtf? when we read the glove scene.
posted by crunchburger at 5:32 PM on September 30, 2002


aacheson, you say that most of the banned books groups exist in "Middle America."

Ohio and New Hampshire can be scary, too. Politicians watch these two states very closely to gauge "American values" and to see which way the wind blows --the primaries in OH and NH get plenty of attention.

Back when there was just "the phone company" in the U.S., at one point the "Ohio accent" (I didn't know there was one) was chosen as the "American voice" for the automated operator. Also, Stephen King has referred to driving through NH on his way to Boston as being truly frightening. The town in King's It was named after Derry, NH. NH is very "Midwestern," in my mind.

I was under the impression it was the South that did most of this...

The South isn't as stereotypically "South" as it used to be. Not at all.
posted by Shane at 6:05 PM on September 30, 2002


There are really two threads going on here...the discussion of banning books in the school library and the banning of books across the board.

The suppression of literature at the school level is a difficult decision. Chanther made sense in his example that while a parent may decide that a certain book is inappropriate for his/her child, that parent does not have the right to decide nobody should be allowed. Yet, we all agree that certain books (particularly sexual books) should not be in the school library. That is where common sense kicks in. I mean, nobody is suggesting that The Story of O should be available to 4th graders.

Banning of books on a national level is just plain wrong. Why? Because even though "The Turner Diaries" and "Mein Kampf" are morally repugnant, I would not want anyone to have the power to choose which books I may read.

PinkStainlessTail: Was it John Gault High This made me crack-up!
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:25 PM on September 30, 2002


hjorth: In the 1920's and 30's, Hitler's "Mein Kampf" sold millions and millions of copies and, supposedly, lead a lot of people on to nazism.

Like you said, supposedly. Lets assume that Mein Kampf has an almost mystical ability to mesmerize some readers. Is this a problem? I would think there would be some necessary prerequisites to suddenly go neo-Nazi like being a serious racist, buying into a warped form of eugenics, being morally bankrupt, etc. No banning of any information will help that person.

Also, what does it speak of an open society and free speech when we can calmly discuss the banning of political ideology? Not much. Imagine if you saw your suggestion about possibly banning, say, the works of Adam Smith or Voltaire on a foreign web board for the public good of that society.
posted by skallas at 6:58 PM on September 30, 2002


I agree that banning books is generally a bad thing. The very basis of our society all comes down to our right to choose. And if we choose to read a "bad" book, then as long as the reading of said book doesn't infringe one someone else's rights, then we should be able to read it.

That's not what's up for grabs. The books that are "banned" in banned books week aren't (normally) books such that the sale or possession of them is punished -- that is to say, they're plainly not banned.

If one person walks into a library and asks that they get rid of _Hamster Huey and the Gooey Kablooey_, or have it reshelved out of the children's section, it has been banned. Even if the response of the library was to laugh the challenger out of the building.

Yeah, it's unsettling that moral busybodies and bluehairs with nothing better to do try to get their local library to deshelve _Sex_ and the Harry Potter books. But to call it banning is either goofy or a cynical play on what the word connotes.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:10 PM on September 30, 2002


some parents would request their child didn't read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, but weren't exactly sure what it was about the book they found offensive.

Oh, I think they knew exactly what they found offensive about it, even if they were unwilling to say so.
posted by rushmc at 7:28 AM on October 1, 2002


Just a follow up: A poll on BellaOnline ("the voice of women on the web"), as of 1 Oct '02:

How do you feel about the Harry Potter series?

Great for All! (172)
Kids Only (18)
Not Well Written (1)
A Bad Influence (51)


It seems to me the "ban Harry" contingent is a vocal minority...
posted by Shane at 8:14 AM on October 1, 2002


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