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Celebrate freedom: Read a banned book!
September 28, 2009 8:46 AM   Subscribe

Banned Books Week, held annually on the last week of September, emphasizes the importance of intellectual freedom and the threat of censorship.

Here's a helpful map of recent book bans and challenges in the Unites States. The American Library Association lets you search the most frequently banned books by year and author.
posted by orrnyereg (51 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
All I know is I will defend Phillip Pullman and Judy Blume to the death. Bring it.
posted by Think_Long at 8:59 AM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm so tempted to flamebait by saying that Glenn Beck is being censored because of his advertising getting pulled. I'm a liberal and I hate his show, and I consider it the free market speaking out against him, not the "elites," or whoever his fans are blaming. I just want to see the massive argument that comes from it. I think I have a problem. Is there troll rehab?
posted by mccarty.tim at 9:02 AM on September 28, 2009


Interesting map. ...I assumed that most of the challenges would be in the South. And I was wrong.
posted by applemeat at 9:02 AM on September 28, 2009


My local library (and probably many/most around the country) usually has a table out displaying Banned Books. I never deliberately choose a book on there, but it always make me laugh with delight to see it. I always want to high-five the table or the librarian or someone.
posted by DU at 9:03 AM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


I assumed that most of the challenges would be in the South. And I was wrong.

Is the map normalized by the actual library contents? Unless there are the same number of libraries in all locations, and all the libraries have the same content, and all location have the same population density, simple counts aren't going to tell you anything.
posted by DU at 9:05 AM on September 28, 2009


Censorship can be funny.
posted by caddis at 9:07 AM on September 28, 2009


mccarty.tim: Is there troll rehab?

MeTa
posted by Kattullus at 9:12 AM on September 28, 2009


I have a copy of Beloved I haven't read (not for any particularly good reason, just never thought of it when looking for a book to read) and I think I'll put in my shoulder bag so that I'll read it when I finish with Harry Mathews' Cigarettes and Tao Lin's Eeeee Eee Eeee, neither of which have ever been challenged (though if more people read Cigarettes it would get a lot of challenges).
posted by Kattullus at 9:17 AM on September 28, 2009


Unrelated is "Band Books Week", when participants are encouraged to read books on seminal rock performers.
posted by LSK at 9:28 AM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


Heh...My Antonia. I spent many long Sunday nights during my junior year of high school bitterly wishing the collected works of Willa Cather had been removed from my library.
posted by total warfare frown at 9:31 AM on September 28, 2009


I can't believe banned books happen in 2009. Shouldn't they just have this list as a "need an ID or parent with you to take the book out" rule? Banning a book because it has a few dirty words, occult references, or sexual references is just incredibly stupid. I remember my parents threw a fit about Catcher in the Rye. I was all for it because I just didn't want to read the book. :)
posted by stormpooper at 9:39 AM on September 28, 2009


I love the thought processes behind banned books. "I find this offensive; I want you to remove this from my reality and everyone else's." It's at once passive and blustery. MY FEATHERS ARE ALL PUFFED OUT; DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. That would make a nice subversive fund, getting banned books to kids. We could call it Where The Samizdat Ends.
posted by adipocere at 9:50 AM on September 28, 2009


Lots of events going on this week in celebration of books - I'm not going to self-link, but going to an event held by the local library or non-profit is a good way to show support for freedom expression.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 9:55 AM on September 28, 2009


The map is interesting. Odd nothing gets challenged in Utah. And My Antonia rocks, total warfare frown. It's such a beautiful book.
posted by mediareport at 9:57 AM on September 28, 2009


The Rabbits' Wedding, written and illustrated by Garth Williams, although not "banned" was moved from the open stacks to closed stacks in one Alabama library. In a more innocent time, it blew my mind that someone would take offense at that.

There is an illustration from that book (WARNING: Extremely high cuteness content) at the top of this page. Look at the picture and see if you can guess what people found objectionable.
posted by marxchivist at 10:00 AM on September 28, 2009


marxchavist: was it the rabbit "miscegenation"?
posted by everichon at 10:02 AM on September 28, 2009


That would make a nice subversive fund, getting banned books to kids.

Relatedly, I just finished reading (OK, skimming) a recent historical overview of leftist, particularly Socialist, children's literature. It was pretty interesting. FYI.
posted by DU at 10:07 AM on September 28, 2009


marxchavist: was it the rabbit "miscegenation"?

Ding,ding,ding,ding! We have a winner!
posted by marxchivist at 10:10 AM on September 28, 2009


Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is fourth on the list......in 2008?

Geez, I remember checking that book out of my school library when I was in second grade.....in 1988.
posted by zizzle at 10:10 AM on September 28, 2009


Many of the titles seem to suggest that dealing with homosexuality is a good way to get your book banned. I'm not familiar with the content of these books, but I can guess based on titles like Daddy’s Roommate, Heather Has Two Mommies and The Giver.
posted by Mayor Curley at 10:15 AM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


So, Maurice Sendak often ends up on these lists - Frequently for The Night Kitchen but also for Where The Wild Things are. The Night Kitchen has some nudity and if you look closely you might be able to see -gasp- a winky, so I understand why that ends up on the lists even If I think it's ridiculous, but what's up with Where The Wild Things are? Is this a crazy christian thing? If so then why not every other book with monsters in?
posted by Artw at 10:18 AM on September 28, 2009


Mayor Curley - Tango Makes Three would be another.
posted by Artw at 10:19 AM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


what's up with Where The Wild Things are? Is this a crazy christian thing? If so then why not every other book with monsters in?

A casual reading might suggest that it encourages children to be rebellious free-thinkers.
posted by Mayor Curley at 10:20 AM on September 28, 2009


Mayor Curley - The Giver is about euthanasia and freedom, not homosexuality.
posted by djb at 10:31 AM on September 28, 2009


Yeah, books like Where the Wild Things Are frequently get challenged for "encouraging children to defy their parents or other adults."

Back in the early 90s I worked at People for the American Way, on their school censorship project. We tracked book challenges and bannings, and helped librarians/teachers/principals handle the challenges. Doesn't sound like much has changed.
posted by rtha at 10:32 AM on September 28, 2009


The Giver is about euthanasia and freedom, not homosexuality.

They's all tied together, pinko!
posted by Mayor Curley at 10:35 AM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Apparently we are making too big a deal of this, according to the WSJ. On the other hand, my favorite banned book is In the Night Kitchen (and was a clue in the Friday NYTs puzzle).
posted by ameliajayne at 10:38 AM on September 28, 2009


Yeah, books like Where the Wild Things Are frequently get challenged for "encouraging children to defy their parents or other adults."

This is the book about the little boy who realizes that rebellion isn't any fun and he just wants to go home to his mommy and his supper, right?
posted by EarBucket at 10:47 AM on September 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


Yeah, books like Where the Wild Things Are frequently get challenged for "encouraging children to defy their parents or other adults."

Humanity: Making Advances In Stupidity Since 500,000 B.C.E.
posted by DU at 10:51 AM on September 28, 2009


"bbw videos"?

I think they may want to rephrase that.
posted by Target Practice at 10:55 AM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


I can't believe banned books happen in 2009.

To be clear, "Banned Books Week" isn't about books that have in any way been banned. It's about books that someone has "challenged" in a library. This is what it means for a book to be "banned:"

Someone objected to it.

That's it. If there was an objection to a book in a public library, the book is "banned" even if the library refused to withdraw the book or restrict access to the book.

It really annoys me, in no small measure because we live in a world where books really are banned in the real sense, and where within easy living memory banned books in the real sense were utterly commonplace. It's like seeing a group have "RAPE AWARENESS WEEK" where they inform you that 68% of American high school senior women were raped sometime during high school, and somewhere in the fine print you find that "raped" means "were insulted using a sexually loaded term."

That it comes from the ALA, an organization you'd think would be dedicated to the dissemination of accurate, truthful, and nonmisleading information, makes my head asplode.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:02 AM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


“Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.”

I don’t think that’s really misinformation. It’s a celebration of the first amendment while recognizing that there are challenges every year. The website makes the distinction pretty clear, and no one is more up in arms than honest-to-god banned books than the ALA
posted by Think_Long at 11:07 AM on September 28, 2009


Uhm, ROU_Xenophobe, in many cases the books have been removed from the libraries, especially if they're school libraries. Note also that some of these cases involve not removing books from a library, but banning the use of a book as part of a curriculm.
posted by Target Practice at 11:11 AM on September 28, 2009


Taking one second to think about the title "Banned Books Week", it's pretty clear that we aren't actually talking about books that have been banned. The sense of the title is, "These are the books that would be banned if we weren't protected by the public trust."
posted by muddgirl at 11:14 AM on September 28, 2009


It's like something out of 1984 - and you're thinking "what's 1984?". That's because they took copies of that book from your library and burned them - just like something out of Farenheit 451 - and now you're saying "What's Farenheit 451? .... [more inside]
posted by panboi at 11:19 AM on September 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


More to the point, the book would have been banned if the librarian hadn't stuck to her or his guns.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:35 AM on September 28, 2009


Gah. Of course in some cases the books have been banned, either from a library or from a school curriculum.
posted by muddgirl at 11:39 AM on September 28, 2009


It's like Sarah Palin never banned any books - she just asked how she could get them banned, so what are you all so upset about?
posted by Artw at 11:39 AM on September 28, 2009


Also, re: the geographical distribution of bans/challenges, there are quite a few communities in which the banning happens at the book selection or acquisition stage; you either have librarians who aren't going to rock the boat, or are selected (or have their contracts renewed, or not) depending on whether or not they are willing to toe the line (e.g.), or library boards that watch lists of proposed acquisitions like a hawk.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:42 AM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


It really annoys me, in no small measure because we live in a world where books really are banned in the real sense, and where within easy living memory banned books in the real sense were utterly commonplace.

The ALA's material says:

The books featured during Banned Books Week have been targets of attempted bannings. Fortunately, while some books were banned or restricted, in a majority of cases the books were not banned, all thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, booksellers, and members of the community to retain the books in the library collections. Imagine how many more books might be challenged -- and possibly banned or restricted -- if librarians, teachers, and booksellers across the country did not use Banned Books Week each year to teach the importance of our First Amendment rights and the power of literature, and to draw attention to the danger that exists when restraints are imposed on the availability of information in a free society.

I don't see, practically speaking, how an "attempted" banning is any less a source of concern than an "actual" banning, because the impulse to ban is the same whether the challenge gets carried out or not.

In any case, even if an attempt at a ban were less serious, I see nothing harmful in raising public awareness about efforts to ban books that many people would take for granted as being immune from any effort at being banned, removed, or otherwise restricted.

That it comes from the ALA, an organization you'd think would be dedicated to the dissemination of accurate, truthful, and nonmisleading information, makes my head asplode.

What would you consider less misleading?
posted by blucevalo at 12:24 PM on September 28, 2009


That it comes from the ALA, an organization you'd think would be dedicated to the dissemination of accurate, truthful, and nonmisleading information, makes my head asplode.

I agree here. Haivng a book removed from a local or school library, while crappy, does not in any way equate with a governmental organization saying "no one should read this book; it's not okay to read this book" I feel bad about this every year, but realistically speaking, they stuck with BBW because it's a brand and it's edgy/catchy, not because it's accurate. This has been picked up by the right and used against us, "us" being librarians who work hard to advance intellectual freedom and freedom to read, and I haven't found the response encouraging.
posted by jessamyn at 1:00 PM on September 28, 2009


This is the book about the little boy who realizes that rebellion isn't any fun and he just wants to go home to his mommy and his supper, right?

Well, if you've actually read the whole book, yeah, but in my experience, most parents who file these challenges do no such thing. And for some of them, any sign of defiance, even if it's later rejected, is too much.
posted by rtha at 1:38 PM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


I hadn't heard about this being used as a meme by the right. There probably could be a better name for the "brand." But I still wonder what a better name would be. I mean, one that is as attention-grabbing as the name that currently misleads.
posted by blucevalo at 1:38 PM on September 28, 2009


In case it isn't clear, I deplore the morons who try to get books they object to out of the library or otherwise restricted, and don't feel too warmly about libraries that give in, even when it's understandable. It's just the "brand" that vaguely offends me in that it draws a direct parallel between a patron telling a librarian "I'd like you to remove this book" and the secret police trying to shut down a ring of samizdat publishers of suppressed publications.

I don't see, practically speaking, how an "attempted" banning is any less a source of concern than an "actual" banning, because the impulse to ban is the same whether the challenge gets carried out or not.

Nobody in these cases is actually trying to ban a book.

Let's be clear here -- when someone says that X is banned in some location, that means that it is illegal to possess (or offer for sale) X in that location and that if you are caught with X (or offering to sell X) you will be criminally punished. Heroin is banned. Child pornography is banned. Untaxed alcohol is banned.

To pretend that "ban" means or connotes anything else at best stretches the truth until it's groaning and cracking, and does disservice to brave people who have struggled with regimes that actually banned books, or who are so struggling now.

What would you consider less misleading?

Challenged Books Week. Library Censorship Week.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:57 PM on September 28, 2009


Nothing is banned, everything is forbidden.
posted by Artw at 1:58 PM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is kind of like all the aspergers cases coming out of the woodwork whenever the word "treason" is used, isn't it?
posted by Artw at 2:00 PM on September 28, 2009


Re: The Giver: it's not really euthanasia in the classic sense, so much as it is about murdering the weak, the imperfect, the no-longer-fertile, etc., because they are not desirable to the "everyone must conform to the role for which they were chosen" community in which the story takes place (HEY! Maybe the whole "death panels" mix-up came about because Palin was reading The Giver instead of the Health Care Bill!)

That said, damn I fucking hate that book. I know it's a modern YA classic, and I can see, sort of, why much of the message is a good one for teens to ponder. It just--

Oh, crap, I don't know how to do a spoiler-type thing here--

---

SPOILERS FOR THE END OF THE GIVER AHEAD:

---

it's just a long lead up to the young, male (of course) protagonist becoming The Little Match Jesus. Seriously, out of nowhere, in the last quarter of the book we get a bunch of Biblical references, characters named after people in the Bible, and the little boy becoming the Super Special Giver after a long long line of Regular Givers. He's The Chosen One, who dies for his community--at least, that's one of the two possible interpretations of the ending. another bullshit tactic I hate. The other possible interpretation is that he winds up going to Christmas dinner at the Fezziwig's house and I'm not even kidding all that much. Ultimately, the "message" is unclear, because if he *does* die in trying to save them, he actually fails at saving them. If he doesn't, then he gets a good meal and presents. Just... what?

How I hate that book. I have no idea why it's so popular with YA librarians and the ALA.

Now that I've spewed a huge ranty derail about that FREAKING BOOK:

In a million years, I'd never ask anyone to remove it to another room, or ban it, or even tell a student not to read it. What is wrong with people?
posted by tzikeh at 2:09 PM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is kind of like all the aspergers cases coming out of the woodwork whenever the word "treason" is used, isn't it?

No. This is actually a debated topic in the larger library community nearly every year when this comes up. BBW is a big deal in the library community but the culture has really changed so that the lion's share of the books that have even been challenged are books in school libraries that parents feel aren't age appropriate. Now, I still think that asking for a book to be removed from the library because you think no child of the age group of the school should be reading it isn't cool, but it's really different from saying "No one should read ____________ because it contains harmful ideas" which is what people are trying to sort of evoke when they talk about Tropic of Cancer and other books that were really more in the "forbidden/illegal" realm.

Usually what people are challenging is Harry Potter. Nearly every challenged book [that becomes public, i.e. where the librarian submitted the information about the challenge to the ALA] is not even removed from the library. These are books on hot button topics (witchcraft, gay penguins, slavery, teen pregnancy) that certain specific well-funded groups, in most cases, are trying to push the envelope on. I feel that it would be more useful to expose these groups who rile people up and get great media attention with these stunts and ask "what's harmful about swearing?" "Why shouldn't kids learn about drug use?" "Why do we think people learning about things is somehow the same as advocating that they do that?"

The whole thing is so blitely shallow. I think if we really want to make a point, we should be saying "intellectual freedom is good because ____________" and not just saying "OMG someone tried to ban Harry Potter, therefore they are bad, we are good and let's all read in our wizard hats and celebrate our freedom to buy things!" For the most part, it's a shopping holiday when it's not being celebrated in libraries and even the ALA would like you to buy bookmarks and posters about it. I'd like to see some real research about reading habits and how what you read does or does not affect you and why limiting people's access to information is BAD FOR SOCIETY and who, exactly, is trying to do this. We know these things. We have the data, but all we do is read 1984 to a bunch of nodding do-gooders and I don't think that's really solving the problem that is leading people to challenge books in the first place.
posted by jessamyn at 2:24 PM on September 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


Books Suppressed or Censored by Legal Authorities. I was surprised at some them on the list. A brief history of each and other interesting stuff.
posted by Mike Buechel at 2:33 PM on September 28, 2009


JK Rowling lost out on US medal over Harry Potter 'witchcraft'
posted by Artw at 10:13 AM on September 29, 2009


The map is interesting. Odd nothing gets challenged in Utah.

The map is not complete. Gainesville FL isn't on there, and I know the ACLD had at least a half-dozen challenges last year.
posted by johnofjack at 11:33 AM on October 4, 2009


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