Sunday, October 01, 2006

Banned Books week

This last week was Banned Book Week, a celebration of the books that have been suppressed, criticized, banned, burned, and maligned. Throughout this century, books such as 'Catcher in the Rye', 'Huck Finn' and other classic have been questioned, threatened, and often pulled from library and school book shelves by closed-minded people unable to appreciate differing opinions.
"Challenging" books involves a group or individual attempting to remove or restrict materials (banning is actually removing the books). Challenges are not just a complaint -- they are an attempt to remove material from curriculums and public venues and restrict access to the materials by others. WHile they're rarely burning books in the street anymore, challenges attempt to perform the same actions.

Seventy-one percent of the challenges were to material in schools or school libraries. Another twenty-four percent were to material in public libraries (down two percent since 1999). [from the American Library Assoc.]

The 10 most challenged books in 2005 are an eclectic list:
  • “It's Perfectly Normal” for homosexuality, nudity, sex education, religious viewpoint, abortion and being unsuited to age group;
  • “Forever” by Judy Blume for sexual content and offensive language;
  • “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger for sexual content, offensive language and being unsuited to age group;
  • “The Chocolate War” by Robert Cormier for sexual content and offensive language;
  • “Whale Talk” by Chris Crutcher for racism and offensive language;
  • “Detour for Emmy” by Marilyn Reynolds for sexual content;
  • “What My Mother Doesn't Know” by Sonya Sones for sexual content and being unsuited to age group;
  • Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey for anti-family content, being unsuited to age group and violence;
  • “Crazy Lady!” by Jane Leslie Conly for offensive language; and
  • “It's So Amazing! A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families” by Robie H. Harris for sex education and sexual content.
Most frequently challenged authors in 2005:
  • Judy Blume, author of Blubber, Forever, and Deenie
  • Robert Cormier, author of The Chocolate War and We All Fall Down
  • Chris Crutcher, author of Whale Talk and The Sledding Hill
  • Robie Harris, author of It's Perfectly Normal and It's So Amazing!
  • Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, author of the Alice series
  • Toni Morrison, author of The Bluest Eye, Beloved and Song of Solomon
  • J. D. Sallinger, author of The Catcher in the Rye
  • Lois Lowry, author of The Giver
  • Marilyn Reynolds, author of Detour for Emmy
  • Sonya Sones, author of What My Mother Doesn’t Know
J.K Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, was the most challenged author between 2000 and 2005. Maya Angelou, John Steinbeck, Judy Blume have all been on the list for many years.
If you are an author with a book on this list, I commend you. You are in good company. If you are a reader, consider finding and reading these books to make your own decisions.


Bill said...

So what exactly is so admirable about writing or reading books that others find offensive or inappropriate?

The mere fact that a book upsets some people is not a good reason to either recommend it or commend it's author or readers.

Would you commend the Grand Wizard of the KKK, and recommend a book he wrote about the wonders of slavery, just because it was challendeged?

Sorry just had to say something. :)

Common Sense Isn't

Phouka said...

No, upsetting someone is not a good reason to recommend a book. However, I have read most of the books on the banned/challenged book list over the years and found them to be worthwhile and meaningful. Thought-provoking. Challenging. Most people do.

I find the reasons that these books have been challenged to be specious and narrow-minded. I find the idea that those who dislike a book or find part of it offensive should be able to prevent others from reading it, to be extremely distateful. It's one thing to want to censor your own reading list, quite another to decide that your morality must somehow be applied to everyone.

So, I commend those who continue to write books that challenge readers, and I commend readers who continue to read books in face of such censorship.

There are books that are rightly shunned -- but censoring them, even if we disagree with them -- is dangerous. Would I recommend a book on the wonders of slavery? Probably not. Not every book has intrinsic value. But I will not join in any argument trying to remove it from the shelves, either. Those books that aren't valued for their content or message or voice aren't going to be around long enough to have much of an impact.

But I also don't see any of those on the list. What I do see on the list are classics of american literature, and books that address sex, free-thinking, and difficult topics. Books that have been long accepted as important works in their own right. Look at the list: these are not fringe-published screeds. Some of the classics in literature have been on this list at one time or another.